2019 Reading Review

Another year, more great books.  In 2019, I read about 145 books, of which about 2/3 were Regency romances.  The rest were from various genres, and I reviewed 17 of them here on this blog (you can check out the Book Reviews category to see them all).  Here are some highlights.

Fantasy

I really enjoyed the Wayward Children series of novellas by Seanan McGuire, starting with Every Heart a Doorway.  The characters and worlds of this portal fantasy series have stayed with me; read my full review here.  I also enjoyed exploring the novel length version of Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, which reads like an original fairy tale; read my full review here.

I read very little YA fantasy this year, and I what I did read was pretty average, nothing really outstanding.  I’ve been a little disappointed with the quality of current popular series.  Anyone have recommendations for recent must-read YA fantasy?

Comics

I highly recommend both the Darth Vader and Doctor Aphra comics by Kieron Gillen.  If you only read one Star Wars comic, I’d recommend the Vader Down crossover issue, which features the OT characters as well as Aphra, one of my favorite new canon characters.  It has everything you want: action, humor, great characterization.

Nonfiction

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I’ve been working through Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book of essays, We Were Eight Years in Power, since the beginning of the year.  These are essays on various topics previously published in The Atlantic (including “The Case for Reparations”), compiled here with his reflections on each piece.  It’s not light reading, but I feel like I’ve gained a lot of perspective, especially as we enter another election cycle.  And I’m so glad I discovered Coates’ beautiful writing.  I also enjoyed his run of Black Panther, and I can’t wait to read his novel debut, The Water Dancer.

As a relatively new mother I also enjoyed Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott. Everything she wrote rang so true to me!  Plus she is just an entertaining writer.

Author of the Year: W.R. Gingell

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Awhile back I raved about Gingell’s Masque, an inventive version of Beauty and the Beast, but this year I really started reading through her oeuvre, and the more I read the more I fall in love!  Luckily, she now works full-time as an author and is continuing to release several new fantasy stories every year.  So far, I’ve read her fairy-tale inspired Two Monarchies series (of which Masque is a part), her epic fantasy Shards of a Broken Sword trilogy, and her hilarious urban fantasy City Between series.  I’m going to do some more detailed reviews of these in the coming months,  but if you are looking for a quick, entertaining read, I highly recommend her work.  Also, check out her blog and Facebook page.

pile of books
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

At the end of last year, I made some reading goals for myself for 2019 and I think I did pretty well with them.

  1. Read from more genres.  I tried really hard with this one and I succeeded.  Some genres I read this year include: cozy mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, classics, historical fiction, memoir, non-fiction essays, short stories, poetry, comics, and YA.  I also listened to some more audiobooks; though I still don’t love them, I started to use them in conjunction with ebooks to allow me to continue the story wherever I am.
  2. Finish Heyer’s romances.  I read Venetia, which is one of her best, as well as a mystery from her.  I still have 2 more Georgian romances to read!
  3. Read books I already own.  Yeah…still working on that.  Definitely a goal to continue next year.
  4. Finish the books I started.  I did get better about this!  I finished most of the books I started last year, and while I still have a few I started this year that I’m in the middle of, I feel like it’s more under control instead of a revolving door of library loans.  I did have a couple of DNFs this year; mostly they had some element of mental illness that I couldn’t handle reading about at the time.

For 2020, I want to focus on getting back to reading physical books instead of being on my phone and Kindle all the time, as well as reading all the books that are already on my shelves.

What were your favorite books of 2019?  Do you have any reading goals for 2020?

Review: V for Vendetta (graphic novel)

V title page
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and plot
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason
should ever be forgot.

V for Vendetta, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, was originally published in the 1980s, but my recent reading revealed that it still has strong current relevance.  My rating: 4.5 / 5 stars

In a future Britain, war has led to societal collapse, and a fascist government has taken control, using fear to rule via surveillance programs and detention camps for undesirables.  Enter Codename: V, a terrorist with a penchant for bombs and knives who dedicates his life to overthrowing the government and restoring freedom to the people through anarchy.

screenshot_2016-10-18-20-31-04V typically wears a Guy Fawkes mask, referencing a member of the Gunpowder Plot that attempted to blow up the House of Lords on November 5, 1605.  V clearly sees himself as a contemporary Fawkes and does in fact blow up several London landmarks including Parliament and 10 Downing Street.  The Guy Fawkes mask has recently been co-opted by the hacker group Anonymous, which loosely shares V’s anti-censorship/pro-civil liberties views. The masks are frequently seen at protests, making a statement in addition to hiding identities.

The 2006 movie adaptation tones down the fascist-anarchist themes, instead targeting a US audience that was learning how to live in a post-9/11 world.  I absolutely love this movie, and I think it’s one of the best comic book movies ever made.  The cast, particularly Hugo Weaving as V, is wonderful.  There are some changes from the source material, some good, some not.

Take the character of Evey for example.  We meet her in the first pages of the graphic novel as a sixteen-year-old going out to begin prostituting herself; she then forms romantic attachments to two adult men over the course of the story.  To me, this screams “female character written/seen through male perspective.”  (I don’t think the other females characters fare much better in this regard.)  Hence I prefer Natalie Portman’s version of Evey, questionable accent included, because she has more independence and agency to start with.  But does that perhaps lessen the necessity and impact of the “re-education” that V puts her through?

Similarly, in the graphic novel we get a much better picture of the workings of the government.  Each branch is detailed: the Mouth sends out propaganda, the Ear does surveillance, the Nose investigates, etc.  And the Leader, very much a flat character in the movie, is given some interesting development.  But the movie also streamlines many of the government characters and plots that I found a bit confusing in the novel.  After a bit, a lot of white men in suits start to look alike.  Detective Finch also gets a slightly more heroic character arc in the movie, which I think lends more optimism to the ending.

Now, I posted this today specifically for several reasons.  First, because Saturday is the 5th of November, so that felt appropriate.  Second, because the US is about to have an election, and this story has a whole lot to say about the relationship between the government and its people.

Those following the presidential election here will understand why I did a serious double take on the second page, where a minister in the fascist government espouses his desire to “make Britain great again.”

make Britain great again

Can you believe that something written in the 80s has such relevance today?  V for Vendetta is explicitly saying that the politicians that use this kind of rhetoric are also the kind that rule by fear, the kind that curb our civil liberties, the kind that persecute minorities for the sake of “strength” and “unity.”

Further, if these are the politicians in power, V asks, whose fault is that?  Only our own.

So I will conclude by simply saying: please go vote next Tuesday and have your say in our government, without having to blow up anything at all.

If you really want to hear more about Alan Moore’s opinions on current politics, check out his interesting recent interview here.

One last, more frivolous note: I’ve started reading comics on my Kindle Fire, and it’s really pretty good.  You can double tap a panel to enlarge it, which is super important in a comic like V for Vendetta where there’s all kinds of details in the backgrounds.  I also have access to a lot of digital comics for free from my public library through Overdrive; if you live in Ohio, check it out here.  I think I’m going to try Fables next.

GeekyNerdy Book Club: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Welcome back to GNBC, a bimonthly virtual book club hosted by Geeky Musings from a Nerdy Girl.

VintageWe’re back to nonfiction this month with Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman.  There is a lot of information in this book, not just about Wonder Woman but also about her creator William Moulton Marston and the women in his life that influenced the superheroine.

I came to this book not knowing a lot about Wonder Woman.  I’ve never read her comics, and I wasn’t alive for the 70s TV show, so my primary experience with her was the DCAU’s Justice League and JLU cartoons.  To me, she’s always been the weak point of DC’s Big Three: too powerful to be interesting, and too…fashion-challenged to represent comic women as a whole.

But with this year being the 75th anniversary of her creation, I was eager to learn more about Wonder Woman, and I’m happy to report that I am now definitely on Team Wondy.

I got off to a bit of a rocky start with this book, because I was turned off by the tone; the author’s intro has things like “Stop the presses. I’ve got the history of Wonder Woman.” that I found hyperbolic, bordering on smug. (For context, those sentences echo lines from a WW comic, but the reference felt more patronizing than something that would come from a fellow geek.)

My irritation continued into the details of Marston’s psychological experiments (which included developing a lie detector test).  This was not the fault of the author, but rather Marston himself, who was apparently a terrible scientist.  His “experiments” often barely warrant the name, with small sample sizes, questionable methodology, and dubious conclusions; yet he was constantly trying to “sell” his science to the media and the public.  Reading these descriptions, it’s hardly surprising that experimental psychology is currently undergoing a reproducibility crisis.

Also irritating is the fact that it was Marston’s name on all these papers, professorships, etc. when his wife Sadie Elizabeth Holloway had nearly identical credentials and worked on many of these projects with him.  For me, she was the most interesting “character” in the story.  My respect for her was cemented by her reaction to Marston’s ultimatum regarding his affair with Olive Byrne; she agreed to let Olive live with them, but Holloway would keep her career and let Olive raise the children.  Also, after Marston’s death she lobbied heavily to take over writing WW, but naturally was denied, which lead to a decline in quality of the comic.

Part way through, the book shifts into the history of early 20th century feminism, which I knew shockingly little about and found fascinating.  This leads up to the introduction of Olive Byrne, who was Margaret Sanger’s niece.  Olive was also very interesting to me, because while she seemed perfectly happy living the kind of “nontraditional” lifestyle that she did, she also lied and lied and lied about it until her death, even to her children regarding who their real father was (Marston).  Her bracelets were the inspiration for Wonder Woman’s.

By the time we got to the actual creation of Wonder Woman I was quite enjoying the book.  I had never even seen a strip from WW’s original run, so I was thrilled that the book makes liberal use of the images from it.  After reading this, I feel like I can really understand and appreciate Marston’s vision for Wonder Woman, who was strong both physically and emotionally and whose ultimate goal was “community.”

This vision has unfortunately been deviated from over the years, resulting in a Woman Woman wields a swords and shield and kills people while spilling out of her bustier.  It will be interesting to see which version we get in her feature film debut next year.

Lastly, for another perspective on this book, I was able to hear the granddaughter of William Moulton Marston and Holloway, Christie Marston, answer some questions at a Wonder Woman symposium last month.  Her opinion of the book was that it was “fiction;” she particularly disagreed with how the Moulton family was portrayed.

Fiction or not, it was a very enlightening and thought-provoking book.  It may be a bit dense in places for casual readers, but I would definitely recommend it to comics fans or feminists.

Want more (better) Suicide Squad?

So I finally went to see Suicide Squad on Monday, and while I liked the characters a lot, the movie had some problems (as you may have heard haha).  Though I haven’t read a lot of their comics, I’ve been a fan of DC since I started watching the DC Animated Universe (DCAU) cartoons like The New Batman/Superman Adventures back in the 90s.

So whether you loved the movie and want more, or just want something to wash the taste out of your mouth, here are some recommendations for further viewing of the Suicide Squad and its members.

Harley Quinn

You may have heard that Harley was originally created for Batman: The Animated Series by Dini and Timm; I’ve been a fan ever since.  Margot Robbie absolutely nailed the role in the current movie!  However, the relationship between Harley and the Joker was not portrayed as well.  If you want to see how it should be done, check out my all-time favorite episode of The New Batman Adventures, based on the award-winning comic of the same name.

Watch: “Mad Love”

Batman: The Animated Series, season 4, episode 21

Available on Amazon Prime

Killer Croc

Croc was rather wasted in this film (plus he looked like he had smallpox ewww), but he also gets time to shine in Batman: The Animated Series.  He’s got several good episodes including one explaining his origins, but my favorite is where a group of villains tell tales of how they almost defeated Batman.  “I threw a rock at ‘im!”  But maybe that’s not a fair representation…stick around for the twist at the end.

Watch: “Almost Got ‘Im”

Batman: The Animated Series, season 2, episode 18

Available on Amazon Prime

Captain Boomerang

Another wasted character in the film–I didn’t find him particularly funny, endearing, useful, or really anything except meh.  But this Flash villain can be so much more entertaining when teamed up with others from that Rogues Gallery, as in this fun episode.  Plus, who doesn’t enjoy Mark Hamill as the Trickster?

Watch: “Flash and Substance”

Justice League Unlimited, season 2, episode 5

Available on Netflix

Katana

I was probably most disappointed with Katana’s character development in Suicide Squad, because there really wasn’t any.  I loved the inclusion of her character on Arrow, and they had to ditch her character on that show for this??  She’s introduced early in the 3rd season as Tatsu Yamashiro, but because I didn’t know the character’s “real” name, I didn’t realize it was her until she dons her trademark attire at the end of the season.

Watch: “This Is Your Sword”

Arrow, season 3, episode 22

Available on Netflix

Amanda Waller

The Wall, as she’s known, was another highlight of the movie; I hope to see more of her in the future DC movies.  I really enjoyed the mid-credits scene, because I loved seeing her face off with Batman, just like in Justice League Unlimited.  In that show, the first time she meets Batman, she snidely refers to him only as “rich boy.”  He retaliates by breaking into her house to hand her a towel as she’s getting out of the shower.  Viola Davis did a wonderful job in the movie, but to me Waller will always be C.C.H. Pounder.

Watch: “The Doomsday Sanction”

Justice League Unlimited, season 1, episode 16

Available on Netflix

El Diablo

Honestly, this character was new to me, but he completely stole the show.  After the movie I said to my husband, “Well, that was a great El Diablo movie, but it was about 80 min too long and for some reason called Suicide Squad.”  He even got some great lines, like “Ya te chingaste, güey” haha.

Anyone have any recommendations for more of him?

Belle Reve prison

We meet our convicts of the squad at the New Orleans prison called Belle Reve (“sweet dreams” in French) under pretty crappy conditions.  No wonder our team wants out.  Belle Reve is typically shown as a prison for metahuman criminals.  It features in a great episode of Young Justice, where Miss Martian and Superboy go undercover to help stop a prison break–Amanda Waller shows up as the warden with Hugo Strange as the prison psychologist.

Watch: “Terrors”

Young Justice, season 1, episode 11

Available on Netflix

The Suicide Squad, aka Task Force X

Nearly every DC franchise gets around to doing a Suicide Squad at one point or another.  Arrow did it in season 2.  Justice League Unlimited did a particularly good version in the first season episode “Task Force X.”

But if you want to see another possibility of what the Suicide Squad movie could have been, try Batman: Assault on Arkham.  It takes place in the same world as the recent video games, and is done in the currently popular Korean animation style (that I personally like).  It has a killer cast of voice actors, develops the characters pretty well, and has some good twists.

Watch: Batman: Assault on Arkham

Available for rent/purchase on Amazon Video (I borrowed it from the library)

Review: Runaways (v1)

So going along with my well-established love of stories about teenagers with superpowers comes the collected first volume of Marvel’s Runaways.  I picked it up because I love love love the writer Brian K. Vaughan’s current work Saga, and the premise sounded interesting: what if you discovered as a teenager that your parents really were evil?

runawaysI totally devoured this in a weekend, and there’re just so many things to love about it.  Great character design, quirky humor, drama and plot twists, and small nods to the wider Marvel universe.

The cast of characters is so great it’s hard to pick a favorite.  Gertrude, Nico, Alex, Chase, Karolina, and Molly decide to band together and run away from home when they discover their parents are all part of some sort of the secret evil organization.  They all have special abilities and items, from pet velociraptor to magic staff to alien psychedelic flight.  But one or more of them may actually have ulterior motives…

Nico Minoru

I particularly enjoyed the four female Runaways, and I especially gravitated toward Nico Minoru, aka Sister Grimm.  Maybe it has something to do with the Asian goth vibe she has, like Scarlet Witch meets an anime magical girl.  She’s smart and loyal, has great fashion sense, and her magic is interesting with potential to be really powerful.

This volume is really great because it compiles the first 18 issues of the comic, which is a complete story arc.  So the volume is a completely self-contained story, and you don’t need to read any other comics at all to enjoy it.

I would also give a special shoutout to issues 11 and 12, which were drawn by Takeshi Miyazawa in a slightly more anime style and feature a story arc with Cloak and Dagger, two Marvel characters who were themselves young runaways.  I really loved meeting these two and am looking forward to their upcoming TV show on the Freeform channel (formerly ABC Family).

5 / 5 stars