The Red Menace's Top Five Books of 2017

By all accounts, 2017 has been a difficult year, one plagued by natural disasters, tragedy, and a polarizing political climate. Yet, in spite of it all, or in some cases even because of it, we've been privy to some incredible stories this year - books that challenge, enlighten, inform and inspire. Here are a few of my favorites - some I've reviewed here before, some I haven't. All of them are written by women.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

I reviewed this book for 2017's "Summer Reading," but if you slept on it then, consider picking it up for your winter holiday book pile. This graphic novel depicts the life of Karen Reyes, a 10-year old living in 1960's Chicago who thinks of herself as a monster. The reasons for this belief become clear as the story unfolds, and if you don't finish thinking it might be better to be a monster than to be a human, you're reading it wrong. The Bic-pen drawings are mesmerizing, particularly Ferris' depictions of lurid horror comic covers. One of my favorite books of any year. We'll be reading this for Comicazi Book Club in the spring, so if you're local, come join the discussion.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti Also one of my "Summer Reading" picks! Loo is a young woman who lives with her father, Samuel Hawley, in a small Massachusetts fishing town called Mount Olympus. Her mother is dead, memorialized in a small bathroom shrine Samuel takes everywhere they've ever lived. And until recently, Loo and Samuel have lived in a lot of different places, for reasons that become heartbreakingly clear as we learn about Samuel's past.

Henchgirl by Kristen Gudsnuk One of our beloved LadiesCon 2017 guests! I reviewed Henchgirl here, but the quick rundown is that this is the story of Mary Posa, a somewhat aimless young woman with a dead-end job working as a henchman for surprisingly nasty butterfly-themed villain. She's conflicted about working for a bad guy - but a girl's gotta pay the bills. Henchgirl manages to explore several well-worn comics tropes - conflicted villains, buffoonish superheroes, and magical girls - in totally fresh ways. It's also incredibly funny and surprisingly poignant.

Heathen by Natasha Alterici

Another upcoming Comicazi Book Club pick! Heathen is the story of Aydis, a young Viking woman. Banished from her home for loving the wrong person, Aydis sets off on a quest to become a great hero. Her first mission is to save the Valkyrie Brynhilde from her prison - but the consequences of that choice are more dire than Aydis can imagine.

The art is dreamy and gorgeous, perfect for this epic fantasy. In a year where many women have stood up to the bullying and abusive men in their lives, Aydis' fight for her right to be herself fits right in.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

I just finished this book and I can't stop thinking about it. It's a book about different kinds of power - political, physical, emotional - and a very literal ability to conduct electricity that all of the women in the world suddenly develop. At first, the power is used as a tool for freedom. Women in abusive relationships are able to defend themselves; women in bondage to become free. But as the influence of power grows, it changes the person who wields it.

Though the topic is heady and extremely timely, this book was also a compulsive read. Alderman is the head writer of Tiny Doom's beloved Zombies, Run! app, so you know she can spin a fast-paced, thrilling yarn. And I learned more about electric eels than I feel entirely comfortable knowing.

Hope that gives you all some great holiday reading ideas and last minute gift suggestions. Happy holidays everyone - see you in 2018!