Comics I’ve Been Reading Lately

This year, I’ve really tried to jump into the world of comics in my own way. I had never really read comics before, but after trying Saga and Fables and loving one and not so much the other, I decided to continue trying more. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately.

Saga, Volume 5Saga, Volumes 2-5 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Published by Image Comics

This series is truly a wild and crazy ride and I absolutely love it. There is interplanetary warfare, star-crossed lovers, all kinds of species living together in harmony and in the total opposite of harmony, tons of female badassery and a central plot that revolves around one family’s undying love and support for each other. I haven’t reviewed each individual volume because, to be honest, they all kind of run together in my head as one full story, but I’ve enjoyed every second I’ve spent inside this world and with these kick-ass characters.

Lumberjanes, Vol. 2:  Friendship to the MaxLumberjanes, Volumes 1 and 2 by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, Brooke Allen, and Maarta Laiho
Published by BOOM! Box

Lumberjanes is an adorable and quirky comic series about hardcore lady campers who constantly have major challenges to what is supposed to be a fun camping experience with friends. The first volume is a little bit crazier than the second, which delves a bit deeper into character development and has fewer hi-jinx, but both volumes were really fun to read. I loved how the characters are so very different, yet together they make this amazingly tight-knit group of friends who really care for each other. I loved that Stevenson sprinkles so much feminism throughout what the girls say and do. I had really high expectations for this comic in particular before I started it, so I am not sure I fell as much in love with it as I was hoping I would, but I really, really like it and will definitely continue the series.

Alex + Ada, Vol. 1Alex + Ada, Volume 1 by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughan
Published by Image Comics

This one REALLY hooked me. The basic premise is that Alex’s grandmother sends him an X5, the newest model of realistic androids, as a companion for him. Alex had no interest in this type of companion, and almost sends it, who he names Ada, back at one point, but decides against it. Then things get interesting. I seriously loved this comic and am so excited to see where it goes. The end was a pretty big cliffhanger and I’m really looking forward to reading the next volume. I think this will end up being an absolute favorite series of mine.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No NormalMs. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphoma
Published by Marvel

This comic is about an ordinary Muslim girl named Kamala living in Jersey City who discovers that she has a hidden superhero-like power and personality inside of her. I had really high hopes for this one, and I really liked it, but it wasn’t quite as incredible as I was expecting. I’m thinking I will need some time for the characters to develop before I really fall in love. But I did like it! I enjoyed how fast-paced things were once the superhero powers came to light, and I loved how the internal struggle Kamala had to deal with balancing her “normal” self with her new self was shown on the page. Also, who doesn’t want more diversity in books? I am sure young Muslim girls who don’t see a ton of people who look like them or share similar beliefs to their families’ beliefs will love seeing Kamala on these pages. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of this series.

Mini-reviews (attempting to wrap up 2015 reading part 5)

Fables: The Deluxe Edition, Book OneFables: The Deluxe Edition, Book One by Bill Willingham
Published by Vertigo

All of the legends of folklore and fairy tales have been exiled to modern-day New York City, where they live among regular people, but have created their own secret society. This first story focuses on Snow White and her sister, Rose Red, who has gone missing. It’s up to Bigby, the sheriff and recovering Big Bad Wolf, to find the culprit and hopefully find Rose Red herself.

Okay, I’m just going to come out and say that reading Fables cemented something in my head that I’ve sort of been feeling for a while now: I don’t enjoy fairy tale re-tellings. I can’t think of one example of a fairy tale re-telling that I have enjoyed. While I appreciated the art in here, and liked the story arc, it was just not my thing. I won’t be continuing with this series. It’s not you, Fables, it’s me.

Another Day (Every Day, #2)Another Day by David Levithan
Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers

Rhiannon has a so-so, mostly boring relationship with her boyfriend Justin, and she’s accepted that’s just the way it’ll always be. But one day, one perfect day, Justin shows her a side of himself she’s never seen before – he’s sweet, super into her, and they share a connection unlike they ever have in the past. The next day, Justin doesn’t remember their day at all. Rhiannon is crushed, disappointed, and so sad until she meets a stranger who tells her that for that one perfect day, she wasn’t actually with Justin at all.

This companion to Levithan’s One Day is basically that exact story told from Rhiannon’s point of view instead of A’s. I absolutely loved the first book and found it incredibly creative and compelling. I liked this companion novel, and it was definitely interesting to see things from Rhiannon’s perspective, to get inside her head and see how she really felt about this whole A thing. But honestly, I’m not sure that this book added much to the overall story. It was pretty much the exact same story told another way. I would have liked to see a simplified version of this story with a lot more after, more of a continuation of the first book. I liked it but definitely can say I wanted more from it.

Sisters of TreasonSisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle
Published by Michael Joseph, Penguin Books

Sisters Katherine and Mary Grey are devastated and terrified after Queen Mary orders the execution of their sister and her cousin, Lady Jane Grey. But the two sisters must find their own places at court if they are to survive and thrive under the aging and paranoid Queen. Mary, born with a physical deformity and the short stature of a child, becomes the Queen’s confidante, and beautiful Katherine is one of the queen’s maids, but her beauty may cause problems as she entangles herself with one romantic prospect after another. The two sisters find themselves in the middle of suspicion and potential danger, as their royal blood, with this queen in particular, keeps them far from ever being safe.

This is the second volume in Fremantle’s Tudor trilogy. Having enjoyed the first I was excited to dive into this one and I was not disappointed. Fremantle is the perfect historical fiction writer for me. Her books are detailed enough to be believable and rooted in fact, yet there’s enough exploration of the characters and their motives and all the drama to make me continuously want to turn pages. This book is a perfect balance between the fluffy dramatics of the time and the seriousness of what was actually going on – beheadings everywhere you look, betrayals, no one trusts anyone, everyone is power-hungry and will stop at nothing to advance their family’s interests, etc. Mary and Katherine are both sympathetic characters and I like that they are people slightly obscure in terms of being highlighted in history books. I have to say that I liked Katherine’s sections slightly more than Mary’s – I guess they were just a bit juicier – but I loved both characters and was captivated by their stories. I’ll definitely be reading the third book in this trilogy and can highly recommend Fremantle as an author!

Mini-reviews (attempting to wrap up 2015 reading part 4)

Saga, Volume 1Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
Published by Image Comics

Publisher’s summary: When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

I chose to read Saga because I have been wanting to try more comics and everyone raves about this one, so I thought it would be a good choice. I really loved it! I loved the angle of these star-crossed lovers – individuals from two different intergalactic species that happen to be at war who fall in love, have a child together, and have to try to make it despite the universe telling them they cannot be together. There is war, drama, love, ghosts – you name it, Saga has got it. And the illustrations are absolutely beautiful and SO creative. I am by no means an expert on comics but I found this one truly excellent and am looking forward to reading the rest.

Mambo in ChinatownMambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok
Published by Riverhead Books

Charlie Wong has spent almost no time throughout her twenty-two years of life outside of Chinatown, where she lives with her father and younger sister. Her job as a dishwasher makes her miserable, so when she lands a new job as a receptionist at a dance studio, she’s thrilled. As Charlie gets to know this new world of dance, her own talents begin to rise to the surface and her life quickly changes into something she had never dreamed for herself. At the same time, however, her sister is having trouble in school and seems to become almost chronically ill. Charlie has to figure out how to grow into her new identity in the American world while at the same time figuring out how to get her firmly Eastern world-minded father to help her sister.

Jean Kwok has a talent for bringing to life the experiences of people I don’t read much about – in her first novel, she detailed the life of Chinese immigrants, and in this one it’s all about American-born Chinese – those who were born here in America, but have lived their lives immersed in Chinese culture. I really enjoyed this novel and felt SO deeply for Charlie. She is the kind of character the reader connects to immediately and roots for throughout the novel. I read so anxiously and hopefully as Charlie discovered this new world, as she learned that she has true talent for something other than washing dishes, and as she stood up to her father and her uncle in regards to her sister’s care. I was proud of her, even! Kwok really showed the reader how difficult a balance children of immigrants must strike between their parents’ ways of thinking and living and the ways of the culture they’ve been immersed in here in the US. Mambo in Chinatown is a fantastic story with a lot to think about, a ton of heart, and great characters. Highly recommended.

Why Not Me?Why Not Me? By Mindy Kaling
Published by Crown Archetype

Mindy Kaling’s second collection of essays invites readers to see inside her brain as she talks about career, her quest to find happiness and excitement in life, falling in love, and looking different from just about every other person in Hollywood.

I’m a huge Mindy Kaling fan and I really enjoyed these essays. Kaling is smart, witty, extremely funny, and really has an eye for what’s going on in society. She pokes fun at people and ideas without being hurtful, while at the same time shows readers how tough it can be to be yourself in a world that wants you to be the same as everyone else. She is just great, I enjoy her tremendously, and if you like her humor you should definitely read both of her books.

Mini-reviews (attempting to wrap up 2015 reading, part 3)

The Bishop’s WifeThe Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison
Published by Soho Crime

Linda Wallheim, devout Mormon, wife of the Bishop, and mother of five, finds herself increasingly involved in the disappearance of a woman in her community, Carrie Helm, who left her husband and young daughter behind. As Linda gets deeper into her own investigation of Carrie’s husband, Jared, she comes to the conclusion that he must have murdered his wife. Although Linda’s husband has asked her to stay out of it, she can’t help feeling for Carrie as she learns more about her life with Jared, and gets pulled closer emotionally to Carrie’s young daughter. She’s pulled between her duty to her husband and church, and what she feels as her duty as a woman to help uncover the truth behind Carrie’s disappearance.

I didn’t grow up around the Mormon church, so everything I know about the religion has been from books, movies and TV, so I have no background upon which to judge if Harrison’s depiction of Mormon life in this book is accurate. That being said, The Bishop’s Wife was pretty darn entertaining and it certainly felt relatively realistic. I’m not a huge fan of when women feel that they have to defer to their husband’s wishes, whether because of religion, culture, or another reason, but I felt that Harrison did a nice job depicting the internal struggle of a woman for which that was the expectation, but she was pulled to do differently by her own conscience. The mystery kept me turning pages and I didn’t guess what really happened until close to the reveal at the end. I’m not sure I loved it enough to continue with this series, but this book was certainly enjoyable.

Empire State: A Love Story (or Not)Empire State: A Love Story (or Not) by Jason Shiga
Published by Harry N. Abrams

Jimmy lives in Oakland, California, with his parents, has few friends, and works in the library. Sara is his best friend, but has bigger dreams for herself than what Jimmy imagines his own life to be. When Sara moves to New York City, Jimmy decides to finally get the courage to tell her his real feelings and arranges a Sleepless in Seattle style meetup at the Empire State Building. His trip to New York is exciting and scary, but what’s scarier is what he discovers when he gets there – Sara has a boyfriend.

This was a cute graphic novel that was an easy, fun way to spend an afternoon. I loved the nerdy way Jimmy responded to the world around him and there were some laugh-out-loud moments during his time traveling to New York. The illustrations were well done and I liked the simplicity of them. I enjoyed Empire State and would recommend it for a quick, light read.

China Rich Girlfriend (Crazy Rich Asians #2)China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
Published by Knopf Doubleday

This sequel to the incredibly funny and surprisingly heartfelt Crazy Rich Asians brings back Rachel Chu and Nicholas Young just as they’re about to get married. Rachel is sad that her estranged father won’t be able to walk her down the aisle, until she learns that she might be able to forge a relationship with him after all.

I hugely enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians so I was definitely looking forward to this book. Overall it was almost as fun as the first, and I’m still looking forward to whatever Kevin Kwan does next. This book was a bit sillier than the first, and a little less poignant, but still really fun and a highly amusing read. I love these characters, how they are just insanely spoiled rotten and so disgustingly rich, but on the inside they have problems just like the rest of us. My favorite moments throughout these books is when the humanity of these crazy rich Asians shows through their glitz and glamour. China Rich Girlfriend was a really fun read and a must-read for anyone who loved the first book in the series!

 

Mini-reviews (attempting to wrap up 2015 reading, part 2)

Pretty GirlsPretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
Published by William Morrow

Twenty years ago, Claire and Lydia’s teenage sister, Julia, disappeared and hasn’t been seen since. Though the sisters have not spoken in years, when Claire’s husband goes missing, they agree to a shaky truce in order to uncover the truth behind both disappearances and find out if there is any way the two are linked.

This book is a LOT darker than I was expecting. It is extremely tough subject matter to get through – don’t say I didn’t warn you. But if you can deal with the most grisly, disturbing aspects of humanity, this is a must-read for sure. The relationship between Claire and Lydia is strained, to put it mildly, and it takes Slaughter a little bit to show the reader why exactly that is. While both women are extremely prickly and difficult to get to know, it’s clear from the beginning that they are both hiding major pain underneath their tough exteriors. And the book is SO fast-paced, the definition of unputdownable, if you like that kind of thing, this is a winner for sure. The book stuck with me for quite a while, it actually put me in a bit of a funk, seeing how the absolute worst of the worst things can happen to young girls be played out in the novel in excruciating detail, but also I think that’s a mark of an excellent read – one that you can’t stop thinking about after. If you can stomach the most horrific kinds of rape and murder that can happen to a person, Pretty Girls is an excellent read.

The 9/11 ReportThe 9/11 Report by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon
Published by Hill & Wang

This is a graphic nonfiction version of the 9/11 Commission Report published in 2005, a huge nonfiction account of the 9/11 attacks that most people never read. Jacobson and Colon sought to make that report much more accessible to the public, and in creating this work of graphic nonfiction, they’ve done that.

I don’t have much to say about this one other than I highly recommend it. Most people won’t ever read the MASSIVE nonfiction 9/11 report that was written in 2005, so this is a great substitute and seems to hit on all the important facts. Beyond that, the artwork is great and the book itself is written in such a way that makes the events of 9/11 extremely easy to follow and understand. I visited the 9/11 Museum in New York City in October, so reading this shortly after that visit just brought all that I saw back to the top of my mind. If you’re going to read or learn about the events on 9/11 at all and don’t have time for a 500+ piece of nonfiction, I suggest starting here.

Dirty Wings (Metamorphoses, #2)Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry
Published by St. Martin’s Giffin

This is the story of Cass and Mia, two unlikely friends who find solace in one another when the world has failed each of them. Mia is a teenage piano prodigy and spends her days isolated in her home, laser-focused on her future, under her parents’ close watch. Cass is a runaway, a homeless teen who is knowledgeable about the world in ways Mia never could be. When the two meet and Cass springs Mia from her prison, they have the adventure of Mia’s lifetime. And Cass thinks everything couldn’t be more perfect, until Jason comes along. Jason, who takes Mia’s attention away from Cass, and just might ruin everything the girls have built together.

I enjoyed this book a lot but felt that there were things I might have been missing about it. It’s a retelling of the Persephone myth, which I am embarrassed to admit that I’m not familiar with. In addition, it’s the second book in a series, and I hadn’t read the first book. Even so, I really liked this story and was inspired by the courage shown by both of these girls. I love reading about friendship between girls and women, especially when it’s not based upon their relationship to a boy (which, in this case, it wasn’t until Jason came into the picture), and it’s something extra to see that friendship have the potential to blossom into something more. I would definitely read more from McCarry – her writing is gorgeous and her characters are truly complex. I’m not certain I grasped everything this story was trying to show me, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Mini-reviews

The One & OnlyThe One & Only by Emily Giffin
Published by Ballantine Books

Emily Giffin is an author I usually adore – one of the few authors I’ve read every single one of her books and loved them all. The One & Only features Shea, a thirty-three-year-old woman who lives and breathes her college football hometown – she has stayed in the town her entire life, and even works at the University as an adult. Her best friend, Lucy, is the daughter of the legendary coach of the University’s football team, and has always been a father figure in Shea’s life. Until Lucy’s mom passes away, and Shea finds herself having feelings for the coach.

So I didn’t love the premise of this novel. I also have zero interest in football. The ONLY reason I read it is because, duh, Emily Giffin. I shouldn’t have been surprised when I didn’t love the book, but it just did not work for me. I didn’t believe in the relationship between Shea and Coach – the first chapter of the book is his wife’s funeral, and 75 pages later they are flirting! It was just weird. It made it difficult for me to like Shea herself, and I couldn’t relate to her at all. Plus, football, no thank you. Maybe other readers will have a better reaction to this book than I did, but it was just not my thing.

Carry Me HomeCarry Me Home by Sandra Kring
Published by Delta

This is the story of a rural Wisconsin family as their oldest son joins the military and goes off to war in 1940. Jimmy is eighteen years old when he enlists in the military and leaves his parents, girlfriend, and sixteen-year-old brother Earl “Earwig” behind. Told from Earwig’s perspective, this is a story about how war affects even the most innocent among us, and how people are changed forever because of it.

Earwig isn’t the smartest kid – he probably has some kind of intellectual development disorder – he has difficulty counting change at his family’s store, he gets along better with ten-year-olds than with teens his own age, and it’s clear that his family treats him differently from how they treat Jimmy. But Earwig might just be the most astute observer of the atrocities of war out of all these people. He gets it in a way that adults with their rational thinking and their intellectual debates simply can’t, or won’t. I really liked this novel and cried several times while reading it. I hadn’t read anything by Kring before but this one definitely won’t be my last.

NimonaNimona by Noelle Stevenson
Published by Harper Collins

Nimona is a young shapeshifter who is looking who is looking for a villain to hang out with. Enter Lord Ballister Blackheart, a villain with a mission, also a guy who didn’t know he needed a sidekick. Together the two team up to show the world that the head of the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics isn’t the perfect hero everyone thinks he is.

Everyone has been raving about this gorgeous graphic novel, and I completely see why. The illustrations are amazing. Nimona herself is an incredible heroine, she has a dark past, she can be terrifying at times but is tenacious and strong, wanting to right the wrongs of the world, and is ultimately looking for someone to recognize and value the humanity in her. This books turns the idea of heroes and villains upside-down as it’s clear that there is no black and white good guys and bad guys – everyone here is just doing the best they can.

There’s so much more to love about Nimona that I can’t even explain properly. Nimona herself is not your traditional beautiful superhero – she’s average-sized with bright red hair that’s shaved on two sides. The villain and hero in this story are former lovers and best friends who now have vendettas against each other – oh and they’re both guys, and that’s not even discussed, and the fact that it doesn’t have to be discussed is GREAT. Please read Nimona! It’s awesome.

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Boxers (Boxers & Saints, #1)Saints (Boxers & Saints, #2)

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Published by First Second

From the publisher (Boxers):

China, 1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers roam the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants.

Little Bao has had enough. Harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods, he recruits an army of Boxers–commoners trained in kung fu–who fight to free China from “foreign devils.”

Against all odds, this grass-roots rebellion is violently successful. But nothing is simple. Little Bao is fighting for the glory of China, but at what cost? So many are dying, including thousands of “secondary devils”–Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity

From the publisher (Saints):

China, 1898. An unwanted and unwelcome fourth daughter, Four-Girl isn’t even given a proper name by her family when she’s born. She finds friendship–and a name, Vibiana–in the most unlikely of places: Christianity.

But China is a dangerous place for Christians. The Boxer Rebellion is in full swing, and bands of young men roam the countryside, murdering Westerners and Chinese Christians alike. Torn between her nation and her Christian friends, Vibiana will have to decide where her true loyalties lie…and whether she is willing to die for her faith.

American Born Chinese was one of the first graphic novels I’d ever read, and it opened my eyes to the amazing way storytelling and illustrations can come together in this medium to create an incredible reading experience. Since then, I’ve read many more, but I always think fondly about Gene Luen Yang as he is literally the person who introduced me to the graphic novel – so I always pick up his books when I can. Boxers and Saints are two separate books, but in my opinion they must be read together – otherwise you’re only getting half of the story. I loved that he did these as companion books, as they are two very distinct books with their own characters and events, but they truly come together to complete the picture of this scary time in Chinese history.

I love Yang’s illustrations and these books were no exception to that. He is so detailed, so precise, to the point where the illustrations alone would tell the story if the text wasn’t there. His drawings are gorgeous and I could pore over them for a long time without even needing the words.

But the story itself is an important one. And by showing the Boxer Rebellion from both sides, he really illuminated the fact that in all conflicts, there is no right or wrong, necessarily. There are just people, fighting for what they believe in, for what they know in their hearts is true and what they feel desperately needs to be done. Both Little Bao and Vibiana showed me that their stories have value, their beliefs are real for them, and I just thought, how unfortunate and tragic that this conflict even had to happen in the first place.

What I love is when books make me want to do more research upon finishing them, and these books did exactly that. I read more about the Boxer Rebellion – something I knew almost nothing about – after finishing these books and can now say I’m more educated on this particular time in history. After learning more about it, I am even more impressed by the way Yang managed to combine facts with his own fictional spin on things, and actually want to reread the books armed with more background knowledge about the conflict.

Highly recommended! Graphic novels are awesome – do pick one up if you never have before, your eyes will be open to a whole new world of reading.