Top Ten Tuesday: My Favourite Graphic Novels

This week’s TTT, hosted as always by The Broke and The Bookish, is all about visuals, and I’m listing my favourite graphic novels. I’m quite new to reading in this format so I don’t have many to choose from in my Top Ten, but I’m very open to recommendations in the comments.

The Wicked and The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson
Although volume 3 of this series was terrible, it’s been excellent aside from that blip; the story of gods coming back every 90 years, taking over the bodies of teenagers before dying two years later is getting particularly demented now and I love it.

Wytches by Scott Snyder
This was SO creepy. I was genuinely quite scared, particularly thanks to the incredible artwork.

Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
Perfect for fans of Stranger Things (so, all sensible people); I haven’t read volume 2 yet but I need to get it.

Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick
This was gloriously mad, and feminist AF; unruly women are sent to a prison planet and forced to fight.

March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
The most recent read on the list, this was really special; it’s the story of congressman John Lewis’ involvement in the Civil Rights movement. I’ve only read the first part of the trilogy but I urgently need the next two now.

Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain
I am a massive Atwood fan so I was excited to read this. It is very weird and involves a lot of factual information about domestic cats. But it’s Atwood, so obviously it’s cool.

Descender Volume 1: Tin Stars by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen
I really enjoyed this story about a universe in which androids have been outlawed and one young robot tries to survive. Volume 2 is out and I need to read it.

Saga by Brian K.Vaughan and Fiona Staples
The space opera plot of this and the cast of weird beings (my favourite is Ghus the seal-like thing) make this very enjoyable; I have said repeatedly that the cartoon representations of genitalia are something I can do without.

The Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba
These two graphic novels were what got me into the genre last year; I love the dysfunctional family dynamic and the time travel-y plot of Dallas, the second book was brilliantly mad. I need a third book.

Deogratias, A Tale of Rwanda by Jean-Philippe Stassen
This is a harrowing story of a child soldier in the civil war in Rwanda, where genocide saw hundreds of thousands of people murdered. There’s a detailed introduction to the story, while the comic part shows the psychological effects on one soldier.

So what else should I be reading? Have you read any of these? Or have I convinced you that you should?

Review: Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson

hangsaman.jpgThe Premise: Natalie is a bored 17 year old with an unbearably pretentious father. She goes to college (to get away from him) and meets some more pretentious people. Oh, and she has imaginary conversations with a detective.

Thoughts: I was not quite prepared for how weird Hangsaman was going to be. I have decided that I love Shirley Jackson, having read and enjoyed We Have Always Lived In the Castle (how original of me, when literally everyone in the world loves that book) and The Haunting of Hill House, as well as her short stories, so I’ve made it my aim to read all her books this year. There’s not a clear horror element in Hangsaman, which sets it apart from the two novels I’ve mentioned, although the questionable state of Natalie’s mental equilibrium draws obvious comparisons with Merricat (I have been thinking recently, wouldn’t this be the best name for an actual cat?) and the character in Hill House whose name I have sadly forgotten. Hill House also had that weird sense of never quite letting the reader know what was actually happening, and Hangsaman relies on that to confuse you too.

In the sense of its bored protagonist limited by society’s expectations, Hangsaman reminded me of Plath’s The Bell Jar, particularly as Natalie tries to navigate a near-exclusively female society at college; I’ve also recently read Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry collection, Feminine Gospels, and there’s a section about the general stress of being around lots of girls that reminded me of her poem The Laughter of Stafford Girls’ High. The college experience is presented in an interesting way, particularly through the character of Elizabeth, married to her professor before she even got to graduate and swiftly descending into depression and alcoholism; Hangsaman was published in 1951, when women’s choices were limited and, obviously, still very much proscribed, and I think part of Natalie’s dwindling grip on reality can be read as a manifestation of her frustration with that. Just to add to the massive list of things with which I am comparing this book, it also reminded me of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper in that sense.

It was quite confusing to read, particularly in the sections where it’s hard to tell what’s “really” happening, but Hangsaman is witty too; Natalie receives the most horrifically pompous but hilarious letters from her writer father, who is far too busy correcting her use of split infinitives to notice that there’s something not quite right with his daughter. Perhaps Jackson uses this to demonstrate that style was all that was required of women in Natalie’s position at the time, and so nobody would notice her general ennui. Natalie’s the opposite of Merricat’s manic energy in that sense. I may write some fan fiction about the two of them going for a cocktail.

In Conclusion: Hangsaman has made me even more fascinated by Shirley Jackson. I really enjoy how weird her books are, as well as the economical yet entrancing way in which she writes. I’ll be filling in the gaps in my reading of her short stories next, before smuggling the rest of her novels into my book room without my husband noticing and crying, “have you heard of libraries, woman?”

Review: Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken

wayfarerThe Premise: Wayfarer is the sequel to 2016’s Passenger (which I reviewed here); consequently, if you’ve not read Passenger and plan to, don’t read this review. The follow-up picks up the story in the immediate aftermath of the first book, with everyone searching for the Maguffin astrolabe which evil Cyrus Ironwood wants to use in order to reset the timeline to bring his dead wife back. Or something. Modern girl Etta finds herself without traveler Nicholas (remember, they were all in love and stuff in Passenger. What do you mean, none of this rings a bell?). Lots of time travelling, making bad deals with dubious individuals and general disregard for one’s own life ensues.

Thoughts: as always when continuing a series, I was up against it from the start reading this, because I realised I had a very limited memory of what happened in the first book. What I really liked about Passenger was repeated and expanded here; the characters find themselves all over the place, from Carthage to St Petersburg, with several versions of New York along the way. I enjoyed how vividly realised each location and time frame was, and I liked the way that Bracken incorporated versions of real-life historical events into the fictional events of the novel; for example, Tsar Nicholas II feels fairly confident of the Thorns’ ability to protect him from assassination (sad times).  In my review of Passenger, I recall being very excited to have finally found a time travel concept that I understood; in Bracken’s duology, there are passages the travellers know about which take them to specific places and times. Scientifically, it’s probably not the most watertight explanation, but it works.

There’s loads of action in Wayfarer, with surprise appearances of characters everyone thought were dead and lots of combat in different centuries with historically-appropriate weapons. While I could have done with a bit more “previously in Passenger” type exposition, the action-packed nature of the story made it all very exciting. It took me a while to get back into the story and, particularly, to reacquaint myself with the main characters but, once I did, I remembered how much I liked angry Sophie and generally decent Nicholas. There’s less in Wayfarer about the difficulty Nicholas, as a mixed race person, faces in navigating some of the less enlightened eras through which he travels; I found this aspect of Passenger really interesting but, with the main characters splintering off in different parts of the narrative, it was inevitable that these kinds of details would be pushed to the background.

In Conclusion: I did Wayfarer a bit of a disservice; I started reading it just before I received a huge pile of books for Christmas, and so my mind was wandering to shiny new hardbacks while I was reading, which is foolish of me as Alexandra Bracken has continued to tell a really compelling and exciting story that spans continents and centuries. Despite its divergent narrative strands, Wayfarer is a coherent and inventive sequel to Passenger, and the two books together form a really satisfying duology.

Top Ten Tuesday: Perfect February Reads

It’s a freebie week on TTT, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. It’s nearly the end of January, which means everyone will get paid again soon and we can all stop being sad. So my list this week is focused on suggesting suitable book purchases to make February super-fun. Or just, you know, seasonally appropriate.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne DuMaurier
I have a lovely book called The Novel Cure, which suggests suitable books for ailments from the common cold to marital breakdowns. Luckily, I was suffering from the first of these two when I sought a suitable read and settled on Jamaica Inn. The chilly landscape and generally terrible weather are perfect for February (especially here in Yorkshire).

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie Sue Hitchcock
Oh, am I talking about this book again? Oh well. This is an excellent book for cold weather; snow and ice feature throughout and everyone needs a coat at all times. I mean, it is set in Alaska.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
I didn’t particularly enjoy this book, but it’s very suitable for coldness; like The Smell of Other People’s Houses, it’s set in Alaska, but, in this case, a counterhistorical version to which Jews were sent after WWII.

The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel
In case we don’t want to read books that make us even colder, here’s one that will make you feel unpleasantly sweaty, regardless of the weather outside. Set in a crazy heatwave, the weird, devil-related antics of this book should prevent you from having to put the heating on.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
February is the shortest month (which is good, because I am already sick of winter and it’s still January), so why not read a really short book to celebrate this. Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti is weird, brilliant and only 96 pages long, which gives you plenty of time to read that and its sequel, which is due out on January 31st.

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
February is the month of stupid Valentine’s Day, a concept I really hate, and so what better book to read than this terminally unromantic tale of a reasonably dull governess in a reasonably dull house? It’s perfect!

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Another Valentine’s related pick and an appropriate one because Ansari’s birthday is in February. This non-fiction investigation into modern day dating and relationships is both hilarious and very interesting.

Different for Girls by Louise Wener
Here in the UK, it’s the Brit awards on February 22nd. This used to be something that was worth watching, but now Ed Sheeran and Adele win everything and James Corden always seems to be involved, so it’s basically unwatchable. But a fun thing to read instead of watching the show would be Different for Girls by Louise Wener; she was the singer in Britpop band Sleeper, and this memoir offers some fascinating insights into what the music industry is like for a woman.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison/God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
I think February is Black History Month in the US (although apparently it’s in October here in the UK). So let’s all read Ralph Ellison’s amazing Invisible Man (which also features on Barack Obama’s list of favourite books) and Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child, because they are both ridiculously brilliant and we should all be reading them at least once a year anyway.