Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Before the FallBefore the Fall by Noah Hawley
Published by Grand Central Publishing
Review copy provided by SheReads

From the publisher:

On a foggy summer night, eleven people—ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter—depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs—the painter—and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members—including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot—the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

This is one of those books that absolutely everyone is talking about, and for good reason. The novel starts out with a bang – literally – as there is a plane crash within the first few pages, and it continues to move at an extremely rapid pace as the two survivors fight for their lives, swimming miles and miles to get to shore and finally surviving both the crash and their arduous journey to safety. The rest of the book goes back and forth in time, shedding light for the reader on the lives of everyone before the crash while at the same time, letting the reader see the way the crash affected the two survivors and their relationship with each other. I loved that the story was told that way – it gave me such a complex and complete view of these characters, but slowly, over the course of the book.

There is definitely a thriller aspect to Before the Fall, but I wouldn’t put it firmly in that category. A lot of time is spent getting to know the characters and seeing how the various players were involved with one another and, in some cases, basically strangers. Much can be said of the fact that they were all keeping secrets, all hiding major things which could have possibly contributed to the reason for the crash – that’s the suspenseful part of the book. The suspenseful part is the fact that you KNOW one of these people was somehow, directly or indirectly, responsible for this horrific thing that happened, but it could be so many of them for so many reasons. I guessed a lot of things but didn’t figure it out until the very end – Hawley did a great job leading me astray, that is for sure.

Several people I’ve spoken to about this book didn’t like the ending at all. I’m not sure that I quite fall into that camp but I definitely didn’t love the ending, either. It felt like a cop-out just a bit, although it was definitely plausible. I don’t know. I liked the book so much that I kind of don’t care how I feel about the ending, does that make sense?

Anyway. Before the Fall. I liked it a lot. Definitely recommended!

Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon

Flight of DreamsFlight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon
Published by Doubleday
Review copy provided by the publisher

From the publisher:

On the evening of May 3rd, 1937, ninety-seven people board the Hindenburg for its final, doomed flight to Lakehurst, New Jersey. Among them are a frightened stewardess who is not what she seems; the steadfast navigator determined to win her heart; a naive cabin boy eager to earn a permanent spot on the world’s largest airship; an impetuous journalist who has been blacklisted in her native Germany; and an enigmatic American businessman with a score to settle. Over the course of three hazy, champagne-soaked days their lies, fears, agendas, and hopes for the future are revealed.
Flight of Dreams is a fiercely intimate portrait of the real people on board the last flight of the Hindenburg. Behind them is the gathering storm in Europe and before them is looming disaster. But for the moment they float over the Atlantic, unaware of the inexorable, tragic fate that awaits them.

Brilliantly exploring one of the most enduring mysteries of the twentieth century, Flight of Dreams is that rare novel with spellbinding plotting that keeps you guessing till the last page and breathtaking emotional intensity that stays with you long after.

This is the second time that Ariel Lawhon has impressed me by writing about a historical event that I previously thought I cared nothing about. (The first time was The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress and it is a super great book!)  She took this event in history, about which there is very little in the way of actual historical facts, and took what research was able to give her about the historical context and the major players, and created this incredibly compelling story filled to the brim with characters I deeply cared about. And the book was so much fun.

There’s an author’s note at the end of the book which details what Lawhon speculated versus what in the book is actual fact, but honestly I couldn’t have cared less what was true and what was speculation on Lawhon’s part – I loved every minute I spent with this story and these characters. From the stewardess, to the journalist, to the navigator, to the cabin boy, to the American – I loved them all and loved how Lawhon told this story from each of their different points of view. There’s also a love story here, major secrets being kept, and possibly some kind of conspiracy – Lawhon gives the reader just enough details on what’s going on to make the wheels in your head turn constantly, yet feel the desperate need to keep turning pages in the hopes of learning more.

I also enjoyed getting to learn more about this now-extinct form of travel that I didn’t know much about and about the last flight of the Hindenburg in particular. I really find it fascinating that it was possible to travel this way and that it was done for such a short period of time in history. I particularly loved how Lawhon described the way the ship looked and felt, how everything was laid out – I can completely picture the whole thing in my mind, and it made the book so much better because I was playing out scenes in my head almost like a movie. Can this be a movie? It would be a great movie.

Anyway. I loved Flight of Dreams! Highly recommended.

Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood by Claire Hoffman

Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent ChildhoodGreetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood by Claire Hoffman
Published by Harper
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours

From the publisher:

When Claire Hoffman is five-years-old, her mother informs her and her seven-year-old brother Stacey, that they are going to heaven—Iowa—to live in Maharishi’s national headquarters for Heaven on Earth. For Claire’s mother, Transcendental Meditation—the Maharishi’s method of meditation and his approach to living the fullest possible life—was a salvo that promised world peace and enlightenment .

At first this secluded utopia offers warmth and support, and makes these outsiders feel calm, secure, and connected to the world. Claire attends the Maharishi school, where her meditations were graded and she and her class learned Maharishi’s principals for living. But as Claire and Stacey mature, their adolescent skepticism kicks in, drawing them away from the community and into delinquency and drugs. Eventually, Claire moves to California with her father and breaks from Maharishi completely. A decade later, after making a name for herself in journalism and starting a family, she begins to feel exhausted by cynicism and anxiety. She finds herself longing for the sparkle filled, belief fueled Utopian days in Iowa, meditating around the clock.  So she returns to her hometown in pursuit of TM’s highest form of meditation — levitation. This journey will transform ideas about her childhood, family, and spirituality.

Greetings from Utopia Park takes us deep into this complex, unusual world, illuminating its joys and comforts, and its disturbing problems. While there is no utopia on earth, Hoffman reveals, there are noble goals worth striving for: believing in belief, inner peace, and a firm understanding that there is a larger fabric of the universe to which we all belong.

This book sounded interesting to me because I am always up for learning about a different religion, especially one considered to be strange or, even better, cult-like to outsiders. I knew almost nothing about Transcendental Meditation before reading this book, so in that area this was a total win for me, as Hoffman does a pretty good job familiarizing the reader with the religion and explaining why they do certain things and what it’s all supposed to mean. I was fascinated by this religion, and specifically loved when Hoffman went into details about the different rules and rituals, the symbolism of different aspects of the faith, and some of the history behind the faith and its leader, Maharishi. This was by far my favorite aspect of the book – every time she started getting into details about the faith and the practice of meditation that seemed to be the bedrock of that faith, I was riveted to the page, eager to take in more and more information.

Unfortunately, that’s kind of where the love for this book starts and stops with me. I didn’t really connect to Hoffman, so that made it really difficult for me to latch onto any specific aspect of her personality OR care about her story. I was interested, yes, but did I care what happened to her? No, not at all, which is a definite issue when reading a memoir – for me, at least, I kinda have to give a crap about the person telling me their story. And in this case, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t.

The other issue I had was that when I turned the final pages, I was still asking myself why. Why did Hoffman choose to write this book? What story was she really trying to tell? Was the point for her to explore how and why people blindly follow religious figures, even to their personal detriment? Or was the point to say that, sure this religion is kind of messed up and weird, but lots of people who follow it are normal and just looking for a spiritual path, and actually they might be right about doing it this way? The fact that I can’t really tell where Hoffman falls on the wide spectrum between those two ideas is strange to me, and I don’t enjoy not understanding what the whole point of her telling this story actually was. Maybe this is a weird thing for me to be annoyed by, but it really turned the book into one that I just couldn’t fall in love with.

So. I was definitely interested in parts of Greetings from Utopia Park, but overall the book did not thrill me. I’m not sure if I’d read more from this author, but I’m glad I got the chance to learn about a faith practice that I had no previous knowledge about before picking up the book.

Invincible Summer by Alice Adams

Invincible SummerInvincible Summer by Alice Adams
Published by Little, Brown and Company
Review copy provided by Netgalley

From the publisher:

Inseparable throughout college, Eva, Benedict, Sylvie, and Lucien graduate in 1997, into an exhilarating world on the brink of a new millennium. Hopelessly in love with playboy Lucien and eager to shrug off the socialist politics of her upbringing, Eva breaks away to work for a big bank. Benedict, a budding scientist who’s pined for Eva for years, stays on to complete his PhD in physics, devoting his life to chasing particles as elusive as the object of his affection. Siblings Sylvie and Lucien, never much inclined toward mortgages or monogamy, pursue more bohemian existences-she as an aspiring artist and he as a club promoter and professional partyer. But as their twenties give way to their thirties, the group struggles to navigate their thwarted dreams. Scattered across Europe and no longer convinced they are truly the masters of their fates, the once close-knit friends find themselves filled with longing for their youth – and for one another. Broken hearts and broken careers draw the foursome together again, but in ways they never could have imagined.

A dazzling depiction of the highs and lows of adulthood, Invincible Summer is a story about finding the courage to carry on in the wake of disappointment, and a powerful testament to love and friendship as the constants in an ever-changing world.

I suppose there have been a few books recently that follow a similar formula – college friends graduate and let’s see what becomes of their lives and their friendships for years after – but I don’t think I’ve read any in recent memory, so the concept was relatively fresh for me when I picked up Invincible Summer. And I really enjoyed the book!

The author definitely allows the reader to get to know Eva better than the other three characters, and as a result I was drawn to her character the most. Either that, or she was the most similar to me in personality – or both. For whatever the reason, I was drawn to her and liked her character quite a bit. I deeply understood her struggle growing up without a ton of opportunities and being immersed in friendships with people who were privileged in every way  – that felt so similar to my own experiences growing up and I just got where she was coming from. I understood her drive and determination to be financially successful in life at absolutely any cost. While I didn’t get her attraction to Lucien in the beginning of the novel, I could certainly relate to falling for the wrong guy – and she certainly fell hard for him, the WAY wrong guy. It’s a good thing that Eva’s story propelled most of the book forward because she was definitely my favorite of the four.

Sylvie was a character I didn’t care for at ALL for most of the book. However, Adams definitely did the most with her character development out of all four of them and I was really impressed with her story. It felt a bit all over the place, but when things kind of settled down, Sylvie was probably the most interesting and remarkable character of the four.

Lucien was just … there. He was the most one-dimensional of all of them, didn’t display much in the way of development, and overall kind of seemed to exist within the novel. I think Adams could have done a lot more with him, to be honest.

Benedict. Oh, Benedict. I was not a fan of Benedict either, and even looking back on the book I can’t quite wrap my head around him as a character. He came across as pretty spineless to me, for almost all of the book, and so many of his actions frustrated the hell out of me. In the end, Adams painted a picture of all of his mistakes and missteps and second-guessing of himself turning into a pretty fantastic life that wouldn’t have become what it was had he not made those mistakes. But still. I don’t know about this guy.

Even with me only liking one of the characters, really, the book was super fun for me to read. I just fell into the story, into their lives, into all the twists and turns that happened to them and that they caused by both good and bad decisions. You could say that nothing really happens in the book, but you could also say that a ton of stuff happens. It was just, honestly, an enjoyable experience and I’ll definitely be looking for what else this author has to offer me.

Also – this trope of following a group of friends for years after school? Can I have more of this, please? Any recommendations of other novels that do this really well?

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

The Kind Worth KillingThe Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
Published by William Morrow

From the publisher:

On a night flight from London to Boston, Ted Severson meets the mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing intimate details about themselves. Ted talks about his marriage and his wife Miranda, who he’s sure is cheating on him. But their game turns dark when Ted jokes that he could kill Miranda for what she’s done. Lily, without missing a beat, says calmly, “I’d like to help.”

From there, Ted and Lily’s twisted bond grows stronger as they plot Miranda’s demise, but soon these co-conspirators are embroiled in a game of cat-and-mouse–one they both cannot survive–with a shrewd and very determined detective on their tail.

You know how every thriller these days is advertised as the next Gone Girl or Girl on a Train? And how annoying that is? Well – I’m about to annoy you, because The Kind Worth Killing reminded me so much of both of those books, but only in the best possible way. I’m actually surprised it didn’t get more attention, because this book was SO GOOD.

Right from the start of the book, it’s clear that things here are not exactly as they seem. On the surface, sure – guy meets girl, guy wants to kill his wife, girl agrees to help – sounds simple and uncomplicated, right? (ha!!) Wrong. So much is happening in this book, so many twists and turns that I did not see coming. It’s a hell of a ride.

I’ll be honest and say that for a second there, I thought the book was going to go into a direction I was NOT a fan of – but it didn’t! Even crazier shit happened than what I had been anticipating. There are connections between people that I did not see coming, characters going rogue in ways I could not have imagined, just crazy stuff all over the place. Honestly – I just could not put this thing down. It was so incredibly captivating.

If you’re looking for a great thriller, look no further than The Kind Worth Killing. I was so hooked on this thing from page one. Read it!

April & Oliver by Tess Callahan

April & OliverApril & Oliver by Tess Callahan
Published by Grand Central Publishing

From the publisher:

Best friends since childhood, the sexual tension between April and Oliver has always been palpable. Years after being completely inseparable, they become strangers, but the wildly different paths of their lives cross once again with the sudden death of April’s brother. Oliver, the responsible, newly engaged law student finds himself drawn more than ever to the reckless, mystifying April – and cracks begin to appear in his carefully constructed life. Even as Oliver attempts to “save” his childhood friend from her grief, her menacing boyfriend and herself, it soon becomes apparent that Oliver has some secrets of his own–secrets he hasn’t shared with anyone, even his fiancee. But April knows, and her reappearance in his life derails him. Is it really April’s life that is unraveling, or is it his own? The answer awaits at the end of a downward spiral…towards salvation.

This is not a novel that has a ton of plot, nor is it a book that moves quickly. It is very character-focused – it is a spotlight on these two characters, with a few others factored in, and if you don’t like that kind of book you should probably pass. But if you do, April & Oliver has a lot to offer.

April had an extremely tough childhood and her adulthood has not been great either. As a result, she is the type of person who walks through her life pretending to be okay, but really she has been shaken to her core from all that has happened to her, and has chosen to react to her grief and pain in inappropriate ways. Oliver is there for her, but he almost tries too hard and ends up letting his own life be affected by her in dangerous ways. Oliver has a fiancee, who can clearly see that there’s some unsaid history between the two of them and is of course suspicious of their relationship.

I found these characters extremely nuanced and interesting. The book has a gloomy, depressing feeling throughout, yet I couldn’t stop reading. I continued to hope, despite clear evidence to the contrary, that April would figure herself out and improve the way she felt about herself and her life circumstances. I continued to hope, despite the fact that Oliver was happily engaged, that the two of them would get together. It just felt like no one understood April like Oliver did and no one would be able to help pull her out of her depression and help her live a happy life like he could.

The writing in April & Oliver was quite beautiful and I think that, in combination with how drawn in I was to these characters, was what kept me turning pages in a book that had very little in the way of plot. One major thing that I didn’t like about the book was the ending, which is problematic. That being said, I did really enjoy the time I spent with this novel and I’ve continued to think about the characters, long after I’ve finished it.

Flight Patterns by Karen White

Flight PatternsFlight Patterns by Karen White
Published by NAL
Review copy provided by Netgalley

From the publisher:

Georgia Chambers has spent her life sifting through other people’s pasts while trying to forget her own. But then her work as an expert of fine china—especially of Limoges—requires her to return to the one place she swore she’d never revisit…

It’s been thirteen years since Georgia left her family home on the coast of Florida, and nothing much has changed, except that there are fewer oysters and more tourists. She finds solace seeing her grandfather still toiling away in the apiary where she spent much of her childhood, but encountering her estranged mother and sister leaves her rattled. 

Seeing them after all this time makes Georgia realize that something has been missing—and unless she finds a way to heal these rifts, she will forever be living vicariously through other people’s remnants. To embrace her own life—mistakes and all—she will have to find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past and the secrets she was forced to keep…

I am a Karen White fangirl. I love her Tradd Street series, have read and loved several of her standalone novels, and when I met her at SIBA a couple of years back (and got to have dinner with her!) I almost lost my mind. Although I haven’t read any of her recent novels, she’s one of those authors I’ll always go back to for comfort reading. Flight Patterns was a comfortable, enjoyable read, which is what I expected, but I have to admit that it wasn’t one of my favorite of her novels. I liked the book enough, but it didn’t exactly wow me.

There is a lot to appreciate about this book. Georgia is the kind of character the reader really wants to root for – she’s clearly made some mistakes in her life, and is running from something in her past, yet the reader can feel that she’s tried to atone for whatever it is she’s done wrong. It’s obvious that she’s tried and succeeded to make something of her life, something beyond the life that she left behind all those years ago. When Georgia’s mother, Birdie, comes onto the scene it’s apparent that she is at least part of Georgia’s issues, and at least some of the reason why Georgia left her hometown.

Maisy, Georgia’s sister, does not come across as the kind of character that the reader can easily like. She’s prickly and everything she says seems to be a deliberate jab at Georgia. She obviously doesn’t want Georgia around and makes that crystal clear by what she says and does anytime Georgia comes near her. It was difficult to read about this relationship between sisters that was SO strained, but there is some growth to their relationship throughout the book, which was nice to read about and made me come around to Maisy a bit.

Most of White’s books have some kind of romantic intrigue happening, and this book was no different, although it took quite a bit of time to get there. I liked what she did with the romantic elements of the book, but I would have appreciated a little more of it and slightly earlier in the story, too.

What I didn’t love about the book were two major things. One was simply that it felt too long. It felt, to me, that White could have told the exact same story perhaps even a bit better with 50-100 fewer pages. At a certain point, I felt bogged down with too many details, things moving too slowly, and I almost felt bored. The other thing I disliked about Flight Patterns was that there were a few secrets that needed to be uncovered, a few from just the reader and a few from the characters. The major one that was supposed to be a big reveal to the reader was obvious from the very beginning, and that annoyed me. If I was supposed to be surprised by it, I most definitely was not. The other big reveals were less obvious, but still easy to figure out, and maybe not as “big” as to cause the huge repercussions that they caused.

So, Flight Patterns. I liked you but didn’t fall in love with you. Karen White is still an author I can depend upon to deliver sweet, comfortable stories of women finding themselves amidst family drama and sometimes ghosts, and I will continue to seek out her novels. Especially those Tradd Street novels – are there more? Or perhaps another mystery series in development? I’d take some of that, please.

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

The Night StrangersThe Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
Published by Crown

From the publisher:

In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts. 
The home’s new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain after double engine failure. Unlike the Miracle on the Hudson, however, most of the passengers aboard Flight 1611 die on impact or drown. The body count? Thirty-nine – a coincidence not lost on Chip when he discovers the number of bolts in that basement door. Meanwhile, Emily finds herself wondering about the women in this sparsely populated White Mountain village – self-proclaimed herbalists – and their interest in her fifth-grade daughters. Are the women mad? Or is it her husband, in the wake of the tragedy, whose grip on sanity has become desperately tenuous?   

The result is a poignant and powerful ghost story with all the hallmarks readers have come to expect from bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian: a palpable sense of place, an unerring sense of the demons that drive us, and characters we care about deeply.

The difference this time? Some of those characters are dead.

I feel compelled to start by saying that I LOVE Chris Bohjalian and have pretty much loved everything I’ve read from him. So I was surprised and disappointed when I didn’t love The Night Strangers, didn’t even like it much, in fact. For many reasons, the book just didn’t work for me.

I didn’t feel drawn to any of the characters in the book. I felt for Chip, sure, what he experienced when his plane went down and all of those people were killed was absolutely devastating and I cannot imagine feeling responsible for such a tragedy. But I didn’t connect with him in any real way, and that made it difficult for me to truly care about his situation. With Emily, again I felt for her – having to move to a new town and start a new life and having to live with a husband who has PTSD, all while holding down a job and caring for two children is certainly something I cannot imagine having to deal with – but again, I felt no real connection to her so it was just surface-level caring on my part. And I felt the twins were kept at arms’ length from me, that I wasn’t able to truly get to know them.

Second, the ghost story part of the book. I like a good ghost story as much as the next person. To me, this wasn’t a “good” ghost story. It was simply a few ghosts, from the plane that crashed, scaring Chip. Or were they even ghosts? Was that his PTSD talking and they were all in his head? The reader never really knows, which can be cool, but in this case I found it relatively annoying. Especially when Chip started going off the deep end – I just didn’t get it.

And then we have the herbalist women. My absolute least favorite thing about the entire book. They felt SO out of place among the rest of the novel. I just could not with these women. And the ending? Not a fan, not even a little bit.

Basically … I found the entire book to be uneven and not very cohesive. It’s very likely a case of this particular book and this particular reader not being a good match, because truly I have loved most everything Bohalian has done and I will continue reading his novels. But this one will never be one I can recommend.

Missoula: Rape and the Criminal Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College TownMissoula: Rape and the Criminal Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
Published by Doubleday

From the publisher:

Missoula, Montana is a typical college town, home to a highly regarded state university whose beloved football team inspires a passionately loyal fan base. Between January 2008 and May 2012, hundreds of students reported sexual assaults to the local police. Few of the cases were properly handled by either the university or local authorities. In this, Missoula is also typical.

In these pages, acclaimed journalist Jon Krakauer investigates a spate of campus rapes that occurred in Missoula over a four-year period. Taking the town as a case study for a crime that is sadly prevalent throughout the nation, Krakauer documents the experiences of five victims: their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the skepticism directed at them by police, prosecutors, and the public; their bravery in pushing forward and what it cost them. These stories cut through abstract ideological debate about acquaintance rape to demonstrate that it does not happen because women are sending mixed signals or seeking attention. They are victims of a terrible crime, deserving of fairness from our justice system. Rigorously researched, rendered in incisive prose, Missoula stands as an essential call to action.  

I have been putting off writing this review because I don’t even know what to say. It is absolutely insane to me that we still have to convince people that there is only one reason ever that a woman is raped: because someone decided to rape her. Not because she drank too much, not because she let a guy she didn’t know well walk her home, not because she wore tight clothes, not because she started fooling around with a guy and decided to stop, not for these reasons or any other reason besides the fact that someone chose to rape her. The fact that culturally and within the criminal justice system it is regularly assumed that the woman did something to “cause” her own rape or that the responsibility is on the woman somehow to prevent being raped is absolutely fucking ridiculous and I cannot believe we are still talking about it. I’m sickened by the whole conversation.

That being said, this book is incredible. To say that it is disturbing and sad and infuriating is also true, and to some people it may be very eye-opening. Nothing in the book was a surprise to me because I have read a lot about and studied how rape is treated in our culture and within the criminal justice system so I knew exactly what to expect while reading the book. But I was still amazed by Krakauer’s ability to get to the bottom of the issue, the real problem of rape that exists on college campuses specifically (although rape occurs everywhere, of course, the book specifically focuses on one college campus).

There’s not a whole lot more I need to say here, other than please read this book. To say it is a must-read is one of the biggest understatements ever. Oh, and the audio is pretty great, too.

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.