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.
I don’t know about the rest of the world, but here in Massachusetts the weather has finally embraced full-on summer, the kind with clear blue skies, warm nights, and the occasional thunder-storm to keep things exciting. It’s a great time to hit the beach or a park and catch up on some reading, so here are some suggestions to get you started. Continue reading
LadiesCon 2016 may be over, but we’re still thinking about what made it such a great time. One of the things that I was really excited about was the opportunity to speak directly to so many creators and artists about their original works. One of the creators I was most excited about was Mildred Louis, who writes and draws a comic called Agents of the Realm. I hadn’t heard of her work before the con, but when she contacted us about having a table, I looked at her work and knew I’d be paying her a visit. I had the supreme good fortune (thanks to a huge assist from Smalerie) of snagging the last copy of her book, which collects the first volume of an ambitious work which, luckily for me, continues online.
The premise is a twist on the classic magical girl genre of manga (see Crystal Cadets for a more standard version): five young women discover that they are the protectors of our world, which is being threatened by strange beasts entering our realm from a sister dimension. In the classic magical girl style, Norah, Adele, Kendall, Paige, and Jordan have special brooches that transform them into uniform-wearing warriors, each with her own weapon, powers, and attendant element. Through the magic of the brooches, they find each other and begin to learn about their powers, the other realm, and why and how they were chosen to protect the world.
The twist comes in from the fact that in standard magical girl stories, there is an emphasis on girl – the protagonists are typically tweens or young teenagers, and part of the transformation is that they become an adult version of themselves. They’re all Mary Marvel, if her posse were other girls instead of two boys and talking tiger. The Agents are all adults already – young adults, to be fair, but in college and of legal age. This immediately has different implications about how they make the choice to accept their roles and for how Louis is able to explore the relationships between the characters and the problems that they face. When you’re watching or reading Sailor Moon, you know that while Sailor Moon is presented as an adult, Usagi Tsukino is really still a kid, and her concerns when she isn’t saving the planet are appropriately childish. The Agents, on the other hand, are young adults, and they have concerns that an adult can relate to, in addition to fighting off giant spirit birds.
Another thing that makes the series great is the level of representation of both people of color and of LBGTQ folks. Most of the characters, including 4 of the 5 Agents, are not white. They also have a wide range of body types – and they keep them after they transform. They do not become “idealized” versions of themselves. This is a powerful message delivered with subtlety – that they are already good enough, already powerful just as they are. They are also beautiful, and feminine, without needing to all fit into the white, western ideal shape.
The orientations of the various characters are handled with that same grace – we’re shown characters who have loving relationships of all types, completely integrated into the story. It doesn’t feel like anything that’s being called attention to, a lesson we’re meant to learn – these are just people, and people have many different approaches to sex and love and romance.
Norah, Adele, Kendall, Paige, and Jordan feel like real people – they have strengths, but also flaws – and not just “oh, she’s such a klutz.” It’s apparent even in the first issue that Norah struggles with social anxiety. Paige is driven and ambitious to the point of being rude at times. Kendall is a peacemaker. It’s refreshing to see the trope of the “chosen ones” applied to characters who feel like more than a cardboard cutout.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the art. As you can see from the pictures here, it’s gorgeous and dynamic. There’s a clear progression as Louis’ style evolves – I think that she continually improves her panel layout and visual storytelling – but the technical excellence is on display from the beginning.
Do you read Agents of the Realm? Tell me what you think in the comments!
Recommended age: Teen to adult. The content is far from racy, but the website does have a trigger warning that suggests that not all of it might be suitable for younger readers.
You might like it if: You like realistic ladies kicking fantastical butt.
Bonus features: If you’re local, Mildred Louis will be at MICE! So if you missed getting a physical book at LadiesCon, you might have another shot.
As someone who reads a lot, and has a pretty widespread taste in books, folks frequently ask me for book recommendations. Some friends I give the full list, knowing that they are also literary adventurers who are equally happy reading Harry Potter, The Corrections, or a book about oysters. If I know what they like, I might give them a tailored list of mysteries or urban fantasy or great literary fiction. However, I have a special, curated list as well – the books I think any right-minded, well-read person would like. These are the stories that transcend genre and individual tastes. They’re practically a litmus test for my friendship – if you don’t like these stories, we’ve just got such radically different worldviews that I don’t see how we could possibly get along. (Okay, that might be going a little far. And yet…) As a bonus, in addtion to being great reads, all three of these books are written by women, and all three have girls or women as protagonists. So for this year’s Summer Reading post, I present the three lady-centric books I think anyone (and everyone) will enjoy.
On occasion, it’s appropriate to step back from raptor questions, book reviews, and opinions about movies and just talk about a random assortment of things we really love. All the odds and ends that don’t quite fit into a properly themed post, but are worthy of mention all the same. So here, in no particular order, are some things that are making me happy lately – maybe they’ll make you happy, too!
I’ve written a bit before about my love of running – it’s been a passion of mine for about a decade now. For years I focused my training on increasing my distance, but after running more than one marathon it was time for a new challenge, so I’ve been working on getting faster. There are many tools out there for tracking your progress, but Smashrun is the one I like the best. It syncs with whatever fitness tracker you use – I have a Garmin watch – so you don’t need a new piece of hardware or even to download an app. You just connect whatever you already use to the website, and it will import all of your data. Then you can look at what pace, cadence, mileage, and elevation you did for any particular run – but also over time. That information lets you know what conditions work best for you and what you need to do to get faster. It also rewards you with badges for certain distances or goals that accumulate from the date you sign up. They’re silly and fun but oddly satisfying to achieve – I recently accumulated the total miles from Sydney to Melbourne, Australia. Who knew?
Finally, it breaks down the calories burned for each run by telling you the equivalent in both a healthy and unhealthy food, which is a great, tangible way to really understand what you burned, since most folks overestimate. Last night’s track workout got me the equivalent of a bagel with cream cheese, not shabby!
I guess a lot of people get happiness from homemade bread, but my joy has been coming from baking it, rather than eating it. For the past two years I’ve baked a loaf or so every single week. It started as a way to use up a pound of yeast I’d ordered by mistake, but it’s become so much more. It does all of the things you’d expect – provides food for my family, and is a healthier alternative to commercial bread, which is full of chemicals and sugar – but it’s also been a rewarding personal project. Much like my running, baking has provided a routine that allows me to grow in skill, to get better at each week. The early efforts were still useful, but I can track how far I’ve come, and see how far I can still go. At the same time, unlike some of my other hobbies, the product has a short life span. We’re not accumulating more stuff with this project, and in fact have been able to reduce the amount of bread we buy. If you’re interested in trying your hand at bread, I recommend this English muffin recipe from King Arthur (my flour brand of choice.) It’s pretty easy, and so much better than Thomas’ that you’ll wonder why you never tried it before.
The tagline for their website is “A New Boogie for All Mankind” and I am here to tell you, darlings, that the hype is real. I first discovered this band through the tune-yards – Merrill Garbus performed backing vocals on “Little Queen of New Orleans” and shared the video on ye olde Facebook. I gave it a listen and was instantly smitten. I bought Hi Honey, the album it came from – the band’s third. This was quickly followed by the entire back catalog and waiting obsessively for the band to come to Boston, then dragging Mr. Menace to one of the most heartfelt live shows I’ve ever been to. This is old-fashioned rock and roll at its finest, complete with saucy lyrics and co-founder Adam Weiner’s forceful piano. The keys haven’t been played this hard since Jerry Lee Lewis, and the result is the perfect soundtrack for some summer fun. Grab the tunes and bring ’em to your next barbecue – you won’t be sorry.
I’ve written about the works of Patrick Ness before , and he’s gaining some recognition in the larger fantasy/sci-fi circles as the man behind the upcoming Doctor Who spinoff, Class. Since that show will be set at the Coal Hill School, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, which revolves around a group of friends in their senior year of high school, is the perfect introduction if you’re curious about his work. Lighter in tone than A Monster Calls (the crying book) or his fantastic Chaos Walking trilogy, The Rest of Us still brings plenty of depth. It’s about the kids who aren’t the chosen ones, but who are surrounded by those who are. While the indie kids are battling vampires, zombies, and fairy queens, Mikey and his friends are just trying to survive the madness they bring, go to prom, graduate, and maybe get a date. I loved reading a story about what happens to everyone else while someone is saving the world, and I loved the little snippets of the chosen ones’ story that were the intro to each chapter. If you’ve ever had to find the extraordinary in being ordinary, you’ll get a kick out of this.
You may be wondering why I’m recommending the Instagram feed of a library located in Rochester, NY, a city 8 hours away from where I currently reside. And to be honest, if a very dear friend didn’t work there, I’d probably never have stumbled on this particular gem. But luckily for me and you, she does and I did and now I’m sharing the good fortune with you. This is a list of things that spark happiness and this feed has it in spades. Do you like our Fashion Raptor posts? Check out Henrietta’s whole Dinovember series (which we are totally doing this year.) Like a bit of whimsy? (and what are you doing here if you don’t?) Look for the photos of the Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly, who swallows various resources around the library (cleverly letting you know that they exist.) The feed makes me happy with its content, which is funny and charming and sweet, but also because it’s such a stellar example of a library showcasing its relevance in the modern world. It’s also a great example of the power of social media when it’s done well – the folks behind it also run workshops for other libraries on how to use Instagram effectively. And they have a turtle named Cooper wearing a Batman balloon, which I think is pretty great.
So that’s what’s been bringing a smile to my face lately – what makes you all happy?
The term “Mary Sue” gets thrown around a lot, in fanfiction circles, in criticism of books, TV shows, and films, and as the name of a well known lady-centric pop culture website. Like many terms born in recent decades, it seems ubiquitous, but not everyone is 100% clear on what it actually means. Who is “Mary Sue”? Where did she come from? Why is calling a character a “Mary Sue” a putdown? Today’s LoC will answer your questions about the nature of the Mary Sue.
By now, you’ve almost certainly heard about the bizarre, offensive interview that the author of the new book Slimed!, a history of the early years of kids’ cable network Nickelodeon, did on Flavorwire. If you haven’t, here’s the original interview.
Sadly, racist and sexist drivel like this is all too common in the world of pop culture nerds. That’s part of why I usually don’t comment on it. Most times, I’m content to let other people who share my feelings on the subject do the talking. But this case goes beyond just the usual ignorant garbage.
Should we be mad at Mathew Klickstein because his views on race and gender are vile? Absolutely. But there’s a whole slew of other things he’s done in this single interview that shouldn’t be ignored.
As I pondered what topic to write about this month, I toyed with a few different options. Should I write about my weekly bread project? Try another recipe from The DC Super Heroes Super Healthy Cookbook? Nothing seemed quite right. Well, I thought, it’s the heart of summer…maybe I should make some summer reading recommendations…wait, did I do that last year?
As it turns out, not only did I write a summer reading post last year, I did it exactly this week last year. So it seems like the right way to go. I bring you – The Son of Summer Reading! (But hey, if you want me to write about either of those other things, let me know in the comments. I can’t tell if the bread thing is great or hideously dull.)
It seems that over the years I’ve gained a bit of a reputation. I’d like to say that it’s totally undeserved, or at the very least that it’s greatly exaggerated, but the pure fact of the matter is that the rumors are true. I’m every bit as bad as they say…if I recommend a book to you, it’s probably gonna make you cry.
Lest you be too shocked, let me explain that I read plenty of other kinds of books. I’m a huge fan of comedic fantasy, I like the odd mystery, and I’m a sucker for food writing and popular science. And certainly, I know folks who like these things too, and I pass them along accordingly, typically with great success and smiles all around. But the books that really get around, the ones that seem to be universally acclaimed and enjoyed? They’re almost always crying books.
Lest we be confused by terms, let me explain here the kind of crying I mean. We’re not talking about a slight lump in the throat, nor a single tear that might roll softly down your cheek at a touching moment. We’re talking about an ugly cry, the sort of sobbing that’s embarrassing and inappropriate in public. The fantastic Forever YA blog has coined a term for these sorts of stories – DNRIP: Do Not Read In Public. For a frame of reference without having to read an entire novel, here’s a story from The Moth (you listen to The Moth, right? Remind me to do a post on all of the podcasts you should be listening to soon) that gives a pretty good example of what I mean. Go listen to it, but don’t make the same mistake that I did and do so on the MBTA. You’ve been warned.
As you know, the Ladies recently celebrated our first blog-birthday; for over a year now, we’ve been entertaining and informing you with our musings. We decided that a celebration was in order. Since few things say “party!” like a museum, we chose to hit the road and take a trip to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art!
Careful readers of this blog will figure out pretty quickly that this was a trip I proposed – while all four Ladies share an appreciation for kids lit, I have a particular fascination for it. Some of that is due to my job, which involves trying impart a love of reading on to impressionable youth, and some of it comes from having a niece and two nephews who all love reading. But beyond my interest in kids books for kids, I’m really interested in what adults like me get out of the experience of reading them. The best of these books work on multiple levels, often disguising the complexity of their ideas behind the simplicity of their story telling.
One of the masters of this is Mo Willems. Those of you with small children are probably familiar with Mo – he’s the author of several popular children’s book series, including Knuffle Bunny, Elephant and Piggy, and my personal favorite, The Pigeon. Continue reading