Dec 17, 2014

Reading Notes: All the Comics

Reading Notes: All the Comics Edition

These past few months I’ve been reading a lot of comics by women. I wish I had time to do full-length posts about some of these, but alas. These brief notes will have to do instead:

Ms Marvel Vol 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

Ms Marvel Vol 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

Ms Marvel made it onto my radar for being the first superhero comic whose protagonist is a young Muslim woman. Kamala Khan is a Pakistani-American teenager from Jersey City who unexpectedly develops super powers, and the first story arc is all about her coming to realise it’s okay to be Ms Marvel and still be herself, in all her multilayered glory.

I loved Kamala from page one. She’s dorky and adorable and funny and smart, and like thousands of teenagers all over the world, she occupies and moves between different cultural spaces with ease. Kamala writes fanfiction about her favourite superheroes and wants to go to parties and be seen as “normal”; she also cares about her family and goes to Sheikh Abdullah’s Saturday youth lecture with her friend Nakia. As No Normal unfolds, Kamala realises that there’s nothing inherently incongruous about these things. It’s okay to be complex and to claim the space to be everything that she is. It’s the idea that superheroes can’t be Pakistani-American girls from Jersey City that needs fighting, not any part of her.

Although I’ve been reading comics for a good while, I’m a complete superhero newbie; part of me was therefore worried that my lack of familiarity with the MCU would make Ms Marvel difficult to get into. Friends, I needn’t have worried. Kamala was the perfect guide to this universe: although her story unfolds against a larger narrative backdrop, it was personal enough that it was easy to feel invested right away. Also, as a new superhero, Kamala made it seem like it was okay for me to develop my understanding of her universe and its rules page by page, plus her geeky nature and sense of humour appealed to my sensibility and made me feel at home. I’ve had a couple of awkward experiences with pieces of media that were recommended to me as perfect entry points to complicated narrative universes, but which I unfortunately found confusing and inaccessible. It was a relief, then, to find Ms Marvel as welcoming as advertised. I can’t wait for the second trade paperback to come out next year.

Good is not a thing you are. It’s a thing you do.

I was intrigued by Captain Marvel’s appearances in this series; based on that and on this recommendation I went on pick up…

Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: In Pursuit of Flight by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Dexter Soy and Emma Ríos

Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: In Pursuit of Flight by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Dexter Soy and Emma Ríos
Goodbyebird was 100% not kidding about this book “[mashing] your face straight into awesome ladies and female mentor-ship”. For the first few pages I felt that perhaps Captain Marvel required a bit more background knowledge than Ms Marvel, but I was fine as the story progressed and became about time-travelling; women pilots in WW2; the Mercury 13 program; smart, capable, ambitious women struggling against gendered constraints in a historical setting; and placing a complex relationship between two women front and centre.

In short, it was totally my sort of thing. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that there was so much for me here, but because part of me was still expecting to feel at a loss I kind of was. I’m sure there’s a lesson in here somewhere.

In Pursuit of Flight is about Carol Danvers, who is trying to decide whether to take on the name Captain Marvel and everything it implies, supporting a friend through a serious illness, attempting to work out why her role model, WW2 pilot Helen Cobb, left her her plane, and doing her best to save the world from a serious riff in the space-time continuum — all at the same time. As I mentioned above, there’s time travel involved, which means that Carol and Helen get to spend some time together. Their relationship was the best thing about a story choke-full of things to love, which is saying a lot. It’s teeming with tension and humanity and genuine respect, all of which culminate in a letter that will break your heart. Two quotes that perfectly express what I loved about it — first, one from Bleeding Cool:
Kelly Sue lets Carol settle into historical context. Helen was more than able, but Carol was the first generation that was allowed and that complex knot of admiration and tension between the two women is subtly played and rife for exploration in future issues.
And then there’s this, which is actually about different Carol Danvers stories but still applies perfectly:
I love it when women mentor other women in the stories I read, and it’s even better when that relationship is both beneficial and flawed. It’s compelling and it’s human, and it doesn’t need to focus on men to achieve that.
Yes and yes.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Emily Carroll’s collection of Gothic stories is nightmare-inducing in the best possible way. The title couldn’t be more apt: these are stories set in dense, mysterious forests, drawing from the tradition of the darkest fairy tales. Comparisons to Angela Carter are difficult to avoid — what Carter accomplishes with her exuberant use of language, Carroll does with colours. I was especially taken with the way she employs darks and reds to create the perfect atmosphere.

Through the Woods is full of untidy endings that leave questions lingering and refuse to settle the tension her stories raise. When I went to see Sarah Waters discuss the Gothic tradition recently, she said that this lack of resolution and the way it lingers in your mind is one of the hallmarks of Gothic fiction. Through the Woods accomplishes that better than anything I’ve read in a long time.

Pretty Deadly Vol 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Ríos

When trying to describe this comic, there’s one sentence that keeps popping into my head: “It’s like a Nick Cave song”. If you ever thought it might be fun to read a horror/western crossover featuring interesting women, then Pretty Deadly is the comic for you. The story is narrated by the haunting voices of Butterfly and Bones Bunny, and their tone is reminiscent of old folk tales. It’s really no wonder I was hooked straight away.

Pretty Deadly is dark and eerie and occasionally terrifying. The mood of the story reminded me a bit of Bayou, though the two are thematically very different. You could describe it as the origin story of Ginny Death, Alice and Sissy; if I have one complaint, it’s only that the first five issues spend a long time setting up a story that is then resolved rather hastily. I want to see the women Pretty Deadly introduces so skilfully go on to do interesting things. It seems that the comic is currently on hiatus, but I hope we’ll see more volumes in the future.

Red Sonja, Vol. 1: Queen of Plagues by Gail Simone and Walter Geovani

Red Sonja was another Comics and Super Women Week recommendation. I was advised to look past the chain mail bikini Sonja wears on some of the covers, and I’m glad I did. Gail Simone, whose stuff I’d been meaning to try for ages, never hypersexualizes her protagonist or reduces her to a stereotype. Instead, we get a messy and complicated sword and sorcery heroine who occupies the kind of space normally reserves for male characters.

Sword and sorcery has never been my favourite subset of fantasy, and Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues never pretends to be anything other than what it is. On the other hand, I do like stories that deconstruct certain aspects of a genre while staying within its storytelling conventions. Terry Pratchett’s Cohen the Barbarian is a good example of this, and so is Red Sonja.

I enjoyed Simone’s determination to allow women to occupy grey areas; and also the fact that, unlike what you might think at first, this isn’t a story that sets two women against each other but rather one that shows patriarchal power at work. Red Sonja wasn’t closely aligned with my interests in the same way Ms Marvel and Captain Marvel were, but I’m glad I gave it a chance anyway.

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg

I loved this book so much. I think I first added it to my TBR list when I started seeing it listed among last year’s best graphic novels — in typical fashion, it took me a whole year to get around to reading it. The Encyclopedia of Early Earth is a series of stories nested within each other, following a central character known as The Storyteller as he goes on a quest for a missing piece of himself (there’s a story to go with that), tells his stories to the people his travels introduce him to, and hears theirs in return. The different parts of the book are modelled on different world mythologies, and the overall framing story is like a myth itself. There’s an uncaring god, Birdman, and there are his two children, the ravens Kid and Kiddo, who take a considerable interest in our hero and his journey.

All of the above is more than enough for a reader like me, who loves mythology and stories within stories, to fall for The Encyclopedia of Early Earth. But what really makes this book stand out is Greenberg’s narrative voice, to which I’m not sure I can do justice. It’s savvy, humorous, metatextual and full of warmth, and it was the best thing about a book I’d have a hard time not loving anyway.

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Dec 15, 2014

2014 in Review: My Year in TV

2014 in Review: My Year in TV

It makes me feel very accomplished to sit down to write this post and realise that, for the first time since I started blogging about TV semi-regularly, I can mostly post links just like I do for my favourite books of the year posts. This year I actually succeeded in writing about the majority of my favourite TV series, and had a ton of fun doing so to boot.

Before I move on to my list I would like to, as per tradition, beg you for recommendations of series I could try out in 2015. You see, I have this irrational fear of running out of TV to watch, in a way I don’t with other media. It’s not that I think there’s a shortage of good TV out there; it’s just that I don’t have the same go-to places and people I do for books, and so I often find myself not knowing where to turn. This post will give you a good idea of my taste — if you can think of anything I might enjoy, please let me know in the comments. It would absolutely make my day. Also, you should absolutely do it even if it’s something you’ve recommended before, because my memory is not that great.

Here they go — the most memorable TV series I watched in 2014:

  • Friday Night Lights

  • My favourites lists tend to come in no particular order, but Friday Night Lights is the unequivocal number one here. As I said back when I talked about it (at great length), “I could try to convince you by emphasising the excellent characterisation in Friday Night Lights, or by saying that, like all the best stories, it’s really about life. But while this is true, I don’t want to tell you, “it’s not really about sports”, because that would be selling the show and my experience of it short. Friday Night Lights IS about sports (and yes, also about life), and I grew to care passionately about the team at its centre because that’s what the best stories do. They illuminate corners of human experience that you were a stranger to up until then, and suddenly they make perfect emotional sense.”

    Also, Tyra Collette: all these months down the line thinking of her college application essay still makes me tear up. There are no words for how much I loved her and her story arc. This show is full of amazing ladies you’ll want to get to know, so if you’re still on the fence, I hope that will sway you.

  • My Mad Fat Diary

  • A wonderful series that “is every bit as hilarious as it is moving. My Mad Fat Diary has excellent characterisation, warmth and real heart, and lots of feminist concerns that are dear to me at its centre. If you’re a fan of heartfelt teen shows like My So-Called Life or Joan of Arcadia, this is something you absolutely need to watch.”

  • Orange is The New Black

  • As I was saying just the other day, “there are a lot of women in Orange is the New Black, and there’s power in numbers. There are middle-class women and poor women; Latina women, black women, and Asian-American women; a trans woman played by the amazing Laverne Cox; older women; immigrant women; lesbian, straight and bisexual women; women coping with illnesses; and so on. The large cast helps ease the pressure to be all things to all people that inevitably befalls characters from underrepresented groups. The fact that there is, for the most part, more than one of them allows the focus to shift to these women’s individuality. This was wonderful and refreshing, and it’s something I always want to see more of in my media.”

  • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

  • I fell hard for this 1920’s set feminist mysteries series, and that description alone should tell you why. From my post: “Watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries feels like a respite because, to a viewer like me, this is a series devoid of constant reminders that women aren’t allowed to do or be certain things. It’s an effortlessly feminist series whose core assumptions are a source of immense comfort to me, and that’s certainly worthy of note.”

  • The Legend of Korra: Book Three — Change

  • Oh, The Legend of Korra. I continue to love you and you continue to let me down, except for the glorious moments in which you don’t. Book Three gave me something straight out of my list of dreams for this series: a wonderful, open conversation between Korra and Asami about not letting Mako come between them, and also lots of hangout time between these two ladies. For the first time since the series started, it truly felt like Korra and Asami had an important connection that was independent from the men in their lives. I loved that so much.

    On the not so bright side, I felt, much like in Book One, that the series’ politics were a hot mess. Long gone are the Avatar days of sophistication, subtlety and insight (this is, however, still very much present in Gene Luen Yang’s comics — clearly he should have written this series). The Legend of Korra’s handling of the Red Lotus’ motives made me cringe, much like its handling of the Equalists did. In “Long Live the Queen”, we see political grievances and discontent about inequality be aligned with senseless looting in the most facile way imaginable. Perfectly legitimate concerns are never really delved and are instead reduced to a caricature of violence. And because we only ever get a cursory look at what happens in Ba Sing Se, this is pretty much it. There’s no nuanced treatment of the space violence can occupy in popular revolutions fuelled by injustice, and I really don’t think this would have been too much to ask from the creators of a series like Avatar.

    To end with a few more positives, Book Three also gave us wonderful new female characters like Suyin and Opal Beifong, and we got to learn more about Lin’s backstory (though I have mixed feelings about how the two sisters’ choices were portrayed). Plus, old Zuko. I had a lot of feelings about that because of course. I’m about to start the fourth and final season (sniff), and hopefully I’ll do a better job of writing about it in more detail next year.

  • Orphan Black S2

  • This is another series I wish I had written about — although I did write about season one, and much of what I loved about it was present here too. Season two left me with some doubts about where Orphan Black might be going plot-wise (I desperately want the writers to have it all under control, but I’m not so sure at this point), but I love the characters too much to really care.

    I was also less than thrilled with the repeated toying with my emotions re: my beloved Cosima, as well as with some aspects of Rachel’s storyline; but on the other hand I’m now a complete Helena convert, Felix continues to be marvellous, and Tony was a wonderful inclusion. In short, I adore this series and I can’t wait for season three.

  • Bunheads

  • A series that made an unlikely recovery from a truly godawful beginning to become a humorous and warm look at the lives of four teenage girls and two women in a small Californian town.

    As I said back in April, “with Hubbell out of the way, Bunheads becomes a story about women — one where their ambitions, their struggles, their work and their relationships with one another are taken seriously and take centre stage. Michelle inherits Hubbell’s house in Paradise, California, his land, and the dance academy her mother-in-law Fanny runs. The story is very much about Michelle finding her place in this small, tight-knit community and learning to navigate her relationship with Fanny. Fanny is as complicated and strong-willed as Michelle herself, and watching the two banter, grow to respect each other, and eventually become friends was an absolute delight. But it’s the four ballet students at Madame Fanny’s academy we get to know well — Boo, Sasha, Ginny and Mel — who were, for me, the heart of the series.”

  • Dollhouse

  • A bad ending, it turns out, is harder to forgive than a bad beginning. I’ll never get over the absolute train wreck that was the Dollhouse finale, but overall I still feel as I did when I wrote about it in August: “I admired its premise and ambition; I found it, at its best, remarkably smart; I wished these moments came more often; I thought that when it failed, it mostly did so in interesting ways; I felt, all the same, that it often bit more than it could chew; I’m glad to have watched it; and I’m never, ever, ever going to stop being furious about the ending.”

  • Call the Midwife S3

  • Perhaps one day I’ll be able to motivate myself to write a full-length post about Call the Midwife. I do love it, after all. I’ll acknowledge it veers close to sentimentality sometimes, but at the end of the day it’s still a story that puts women’s experiences front and centre, and which sheds light on the staggering difference access to public health care makes in people’s lives — particularly if they’re powerless or disenfranchised due to factors like gender, disability, class or ethnicity. I keep returning to Emily Kenway’s perfect phrasing at The F Word:
    One of the subtler and most politically apposite stars of the show is the welfare state, which was established in 1948. When a delivery gets complicated and the mother thanks God, the doctor tells her that "credit should go to the National Health — ten years ago we’d have had none of this; no obstetric flying squad, no ambulance — no chance." The programme serves as a sobering reminder of how far our healthcare provision has come, and particularly of the difference it has made to women’s lives.
    I’m very interested in the shift we’ll see in Call the Midwife’s next season, with Jenny moving away and the supporting cast being given a chance to shine in terms of character development — perhaps the series will become a real ensemble show, much like Orange is the New Black in its second season. Likewise, I’m excited about the introduction of a lesbian character, who I hope we’ll see much more of next year. Roll on, Christmas special and season four.

  • The Bletchley Circle S2

  • Awww, just look at these ladies. I’ll never stop missing them. I agree with much of this post about why this series was so special. The Bletchley Circle is, again (I sense a common theme in this post), a series about the experiences of women who tend to be sidelined, and one where their relationships with each other are a key focus point. I was disappointed that this season’s second story arc defaulted to the thoughtless demonization and othering of immigrants we see in so much of our media, but all in all I still loved it and I really wish the show hadn’t been cancelled.

  • Parks and Recreation S6

  • Another favourite series I didn’t write about — though I did write about the first five seasons, and, as before, much of what I said also applies here. In season six we lost beloved characters (sob), but there were exciting guest appearances like Kristen Bell and Tatiana Maslany, plus a Friday Night Lights shout-out that filled me with glee (I love TV allusions so much. That and actor overlap). The season finale was surprising and made for an interesting set-up for the seventh and final season. I’m already sad about it ending and it hasn’t even started.

  • Veronica Mars movie

  • I know this is not actually a TV series, but it was too big an event in my media life this year for me to be able to leave it out. It’s not often that a brilliant series with a less than satisfying ending gets new life, so it’s no wonder that everything about this movie’s existence makes me happy. Even if it didn’t lead to the new Netflix series we all hoped for, it was wonderful to return to Neptune and to spend more time in these characters’ company. I need to read the books so I can visit them again.


    What about you? What did you enjoy this year? As I said in my introduction, TV recommendations are an easy way for you to earn my eternal gratitude.

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    Dec 11, 2014

    Catching Up: Christmas Reading, London Frolicking, Book Tree, &c

    Copies of My True Love Gave To Me edited by Stephanie Perkins and A Merry Christmas and Other Stories by Louisa May Alcott
    Hi, everyone. This is a catch up post, because everything else I wanted to post this week, or indeed before the end of the year, is currently sitting unfinished in my drafts folder. I’ve pretty much reached the end of the stash of pre-written posts that have kept this blog going over the past few weeks, so fingers crossed that my one day off until I go away for the holidays proves sufficient to finish all the things.

    On the bright side, I’ve done a lot of fun stuff recently, and as a result I’m feeling more positive about Christmas than I imagined I would this year. Last weekend I went to see Daniel Kitson’s Christmas show at the Battersea Arts Centre, and it was, well, everything you’d imagine a Daniel Kitson Christmas show to be. It was funny and thoughtful and moving and very much about keeping a sense of life’s possibilities alive even in the face of loss. You’ll have to trust me that it does this far better than I make it sound. Anyway, what I really wanted to say is that a few lines from the show have been running through my head: one of the characters (inept paraphrasing ahoy) tells the other that Christmas is simply about sitting in a room full of ghosts, and she replies that yes, sometimes it is, but that’s not all. You don’t just notice what you’ve lost; you also notice what you haven’t lost. And you notice yourself, carrying on living despite everything. That’s a fair summary of where I’ve been emotionally these past few weeks. I’ll be happy if it lasts through the rest of the holiday season.
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    Dec 9, 2014

    2014 in Review: Favourite Picture Books

    2014 in Review: Favourite Picture Books

    The time of year for list making is here again, and like in 2013 I thought I’d begin by devoting a post to all my 2014 picture book discoveries. As I explained last year, I knew next to nothing about picture books when I started my job two years ago, and learning about them as I go along has been an enormous and unexpected delight.

    As per usual with my lists, this one contains books I discovered this year, rather than necessarily 2014 releases. If one pattern emerges when I look at my list as a whole, it’s that I seem to really enjoy picture books about storytelling and the imagination. It’s a good concept to build stories around, and it’s been great to come across so many excellent executions. Also, I was pleased I ended up with something close to gender parity after the concerns I expressed earlier this year. Many thanks to those of you who left me recommendations that helped make that happen.

    Without further delay, here’s my list — whether or not you’re interested in picture books, I hope you’ll at least enjoy the pretty art:

  • 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert and Rex Ray

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    Dec 7, 2014

    2015 Book Releases I’m Excited About

    2015 Book Releases I’m Excited About

    It’s that time of the year again — when we look back on the stories we came across in the year that draws to an end and look forward to the ones that await us in the year to come, and media lists proliferate all over the blogging world. This year I’m contributing to a long and exciting list of over fifty 2015 releases over at Lady Business, but I wanted to maintain tradition by having a smaller one over here as well. You can consider this post a sneak peek of sorts, as many of my inclusions overlap with my contributions to that list.

    I hope that in 2015 I’m as lucky as I was this year, when much of what I listed as anticipated releases ended up among my favourite reads of the year. Fingers crossed for another year filled with stories that don’t disappoint.

    Without further ado, here they are — my most anticipate book releases for 2015 (all blurbs come from the links provided unless otherwise noted):

  • Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

  • Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
    The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.

    As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?
    Third time lucky? The publication date for the sequel to the wonderful Seraphina has been pushed back a few times, but hopefully 2015 is the year when I’ll get my eager hands on it at long last.

  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
    Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.
    Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.
    At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.
    Until one day, he does…
    As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?
    I loved Doll Bones and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and need more Holly Black in my life. As if that wasn’t enough, the blurb promises a story that plays with fairy tale conventions in interesting ways.

  • About a Girl by Sarah McCarry

  • About a Girl by Sarah McCarry
    Eighteen-year-old Tally is absolutely sure of everything: her genius, the love of her adoptive family, the loyalty of her best friend, Shane, and her future career as a Nobel prize-winning astronomer. There's no room in her tidy world for heartbreak or uncertainty—or the charismatic, troubled mother who abandoned her soon after she was born. But when a sudden discovery upends her fiercely ordered world, Tally sets out on an unexpected quest to seek out the reclusive musician who may hold the key to her past—and instead finds Maddy, an enigmatic and beautiful girl who will unlock the door to her future. The deeper she falls in love with Maddy, the more Tally begins to realize that the universe is bigger—and more complicated—than she ever imagined. Can Tally face the truth about her family—and find her way home in time to save herself from its consequences?
    First of all: there are no words for how much I adore this cover. About a Girl is the last in Sarah Mccarry’s trilogy of loosely connected novels inspired by Greek mythology; having loved the first two, of course I’ll get my hands on the third as soon as I’m able.

  • The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

  • What if you lived in a world a lot like a YA novel? Where people you know have already battled vampires and zombies and soul-eating ghosts and whatever this new thing turns out to be? What if you just want to go to prom and graduate before someone goes and blows up the high school again?
    Not much is known about this one yet, beyond the above and the fact that it’s a comedy. BUT NEW PATRICK NESS! Need I say more?

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik

  • Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
    Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
    The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
    But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
    New Naomi Novik series! With dragons! I’m a big Temeraire fan and there’s no way I won’t be checking out this one.

  • The Just City and The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton

  • Created as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future—all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past.
    The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer's daughter sometime between 500 and 1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge, ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome—and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her.
    Meanwhile, Apollo—stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does—has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of the children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human.
    Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives—the same Sokrates recorded by Plato himself—to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect.
    Jo Walton has been a presence on my my favourite books of the year lists for several years running: first as I explored her back catalogue, and this year again with her wonderful 2014 release My Real Children. You won’t be surprised to hear, then, that I’ve already pre-ordered The Just City, and will be doing the same for the second instalment in this new series come June.

  • March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

  • The award-winning, best-selling series returns, as John Lewis' story continues through Freedom Rides and the legendary 1963 March on Washington!
    March: Book One was wonderful, and I can’t wait to read the rest of John Lewis’ moving story of being at the centre of the Civil Rights movement.

  • Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia

  • Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia
    Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern are off to Alabama to visit their grandmother, Big Ma, and her mother, Ma Charles. Across the way lives Ma Charles's half sister, Miss Trotter. The two half sisters haven't spoken in years. As Delphine hears about her family history, she uncovers the surprising truth that's been keeping the sisters apart. But when tragedy strikes, Delphine discovers that the bonds of family run deeper than she ever knew possible.
    I’m so excited there’s a title, cover and release date for the third book about the Gaither sisters!

  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
    The Buried Giant begins as a couple set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen in years.
    Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro's first novel in nearly a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge, and war.
    The blurb doesn’t tell us much, but as with Patrick Ness above, I don’t need much. It’s a new Ishiguro — his novels never fail to move me and I can’t wait to get my hands on this.

  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

  • Lord Ballister Blackheart has a point to make, and his point is that the good guys aren't as good as they seem. He makes a comfortable living as a supervillain, but never really seems to accomplish much - until he takes on a new sidekick, Nimona, a shapeshifter with her own ideas of how things should be done. Unfortunately, most of those ideas involve blowing things up. Now Ballister must teach his young protégé some restraint and try to keep her from destroying everything, while simultaneously attempting to expose the dark dealings of those who claim to be the protectors of the kingdom - including his former best friend turned nemesis, Ambrosius Goldenloin.
    This is 100% Memory’s fault.

  • All the Rage by Courtney Summers

  • The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear. 
    I read my first Courtney Summers this year (the wonderful Cracked Up To Be) and still have several titles from her backlist to catch up on, but I really like the sound of this one.

  • The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

  • Pretty book is pretty. Source.
    North and her bear live on a circus boat, floating between the scattered archipelagoes that are all that remains of the land. To survive, the circus must perform for the few fortunate islanders in return for food and supplies. Meanwhile, in the middle of the ocean, Callanish tends the watery graves along the equator, as penance for a long-ago mistake.
    All I know about The Gracekeepers is that it’s meant to be “a bewitching debut novel about a circus boat in a flooded world”. I’ve yet to read anything by Kirtsy Logan, but she’s been on my radar for ages and this sounds like a great place to start.

  • Lumberjanes Vol 1 by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis and Brooke Allen

  • Five best friends spending the summer at Lumberjane scout camp... defeating yetis, three-eyed wolves, and giant falcons... what’s not to love?! Friendship to the max! Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are five best pals determined to have an awesome summer together...and they’re not gonna let any insane quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way!
    You had me at “friendship to the max”. There’s been a lot of buzz about this comic book series among people whose taste I trust. I rarely manage to keep up with single-issue comics, so I eagerly await the publication of the first collection next year.

  • Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean edited by Kirsty Murray, Payal Dhar and Anita Roy

  • Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean
    Be transported into dystopian cities and other-worldly societies. Be amazed and beguiled by a nursery story with a reverse twist, a futuristic take on TV cooking shows, a playscript with tentacles - and more, much more. Plunge in and enjoy!

    A collection of sci-fi and fantasy writing, including six graphic stories, showcasing twenty stellar writers and artists from India and Australia: Isobelle Carmody, Kate Constable, Penni Russon, Margo Lanagan, Mandy Ord, to mention only a few.
    I love the premise of this anthology, plus new story by Margo Lanagan! Say no more.

  • Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

  • The eight exquisite examples in this collection show [Link] in full command of her formidable powers. In "The Summer People," a young girl in rural North Carolina serves as uneasy caretaker to the mysterious, never-quite-glimpsed visitors who inhabit the cottage behind her house. In "I Can See Right Through You," a onetime teen idol takes a disturbing trip to the Florida swamp where his former on- and off-screen love interest is shooting a ghost-hunting reality show. In "The New Boyfriend," a suburban slumber party takes an unusual turn, and a teenage friendship is tested, when the spoiled birthday girl opens her big present: a life-size animated doll.
    Hurricanes, astronauts, evil twins, bootleggers, Ouija boards, iguanas, "The Wizard of Oz, " superheroes, the Pyramids . . . These are just some of the talismans of an imagination as capacious and as full of wonder as that of any writer today. But as fantastical as these stories can be, they are always grounded by sly humor and an innate generosity of feeling for the frailty—and the hidden strengths—of human beings.
    And speaking of brilliant short story writers, new Kelly Link!

  • Binny in Secret by Hilary McKay

  • Binny in Secret by Hilary McKay
    Binny’s blissful summer is over and school is beginning. And it’s horrible. From the awful secondhand uniforms to the stuck-up kids, who call her a “grockle,” Binny hates everything about school and the kids who torment her.

    When a storm damages the roof of their home, Binny and her family must move to a rental home out in the country. Binny, her sensible older sister Clem, and her rambunctious brother James (and his chickens) begin adjusting to a new household. Then one of James’s beloved chickens vanishes. What kind of creature is lurking in the undergrowth? And does it need Binny’s protection.
    Sequel to Binny for Short! I adored that book, and earlier this year I had a lovely/heartbreaking conversation with a girl in the reading group I run, in whose hands I’d put it after our previous session. The UK paperback edition has a small thumbnail of the sequel in the back cover (with cover art I prefer, but couldn’t find online), and when she saw me next she pointed to it excitedly and said, “This! Where is it? Can I borrow it now?!” I had to explain it wasn’t out yet, and in fact at the time I hadn’t even been able to find a publication date — then we wailed together in agony for a few minutes. I feel your pain, kid. I feel your pain.

  • The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

  • NEW TIFFANY ACHING. This is all I know for now, but again, nothing more is necessary for me to reach maximum levels of excitement.

  • The Lola Quarter by Emily St John Mandel

  • The Lola Quarter by Emily St John Mandel
    Jack, Daniel, Sasha and Gavin, four talented musicians at the end of their high school careers. On the dream-like night of their last concert, Gavin's girlfriend Anna disappears. Ten years later Gavin sees a photograph of a little girl who looks uncannily like him and who shares Anna's surname, and suddenly he finds himself catapulted back to a secretive past he didn't realise he'd left behind.

    But that photo has set off a cascade of dangerous consequences and, as one by one the members of the Lola Quartet are reunited, a terrifying story emerges: of innocent mistakes, of secrecy and of a life lived on the run.
    This is not really a new book, but rather one that will be newly released in the UK next year with the gorgeous cover above. I loved Station Eleven and definitely want to explore Emily St John Mandel’s backlist. All of her books sound great, but The Lola Quarter is the one whose blurb appealed to me the most.

  • Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures by Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce

  • Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures by Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce
    Pip is a girl who can talk to magical creatures. Her aunt is a vet for magical creatures. And her new friend Tomas is allergic to most magical creatures. When things go amok—and they often go amok—Pip consults Jeffrey Higgleston’s Guide to Magical Creatures, a reference work that Pip finds herself constantly amending. Because dealing with magical creatures like unicorns, griffins, and fuzzles doesn’t just require book knowledge—it requires hands-on experience and thinking on your feet. For example, when fuzzles (which have an awful habit of bursting into flame when they’re agitated) invade your town, it’s not enough to know what the fuzzles are—Pip and Tomas also must trace the fuzzles’ agitation to its source, and in doing so, save the whole town.
    Creatures! Also Maggie Stiefvater.

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender — Smoke and Shadow by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

  • In the Fire Nation, Iroh still awaits the return of Fire Lord Zuko, who is bringing home Ursa and her family for the first time since her banishment. However, the capital city faces a new uproar caused by the New Ozai Society, who aim to dethrone Zuko in favor of his father, forcing Zuko to protect his family against the legacy of Ozai. Beside the political turmoil, the Fire Lord also needs to face his ex-girlfriend, Mai.
    Moar Avatar: The Last Airbender comics by Gene Luen Yang! I love what he’s done with these characters so far and can’t wait for this new story. Also, that cover! I still have a lot of feelings about Zuko and Aang.

  • Veronica Mars: Mr Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

  • The Neptune Grand has always been the seaside town’s ritziest hotel, despite the shady dealings and high-profile scandals that seem to follow its elite guests. When a woman claims that she was brutally assaulted in one of its rooms and left for dead by a staff member, the owners know that they have a potential powder keg on their hands. They turn to Veronica to disprove—or prove—the woman's story.
    The case is a complicated mix of hard facts, mysterious occurrences, and uncooperative witnesses. The hotel refuses to turn over its reservation list and the victim won’t divulge who she was meeting that night. Add in the facts that the attack happened months ago, the victim’s memory is fuzzy, and there are holes in the hotel’s surveillance system, and Veronica has a convoluted mess on her hands. As she works to fill in the missing pieces, it becomes clear that someone is lying—but who? And why?
    Lastly, another Veronica Mars book! To be honest I still haven’t read the first one, even though I’ve owned it since it came out, but no matter — I’m just thrilled that another one exists. The above blurb is the sort of thing that tends to make me suspicious, but it’s Veronica Mars. They won’t get it horribly wrong, right?


    What about you — what are you looking forward to in 2015? Anything I missed?

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