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Each month, we look back over the media we loved in the previous months, from books to film to video games and more.


Clare



poster for Ex Machina


Ex Machina (2015) — As devastating as advertised. Although don’t let the advertisement fool you—this isn’t a film about two men subjugating a woman, but about a robot achieving her humanity through any means possible. I apparently have quite a thing for feminist-tinged sci-fi that tackles a world without any actual women in it.


KJ



cover for League of Dragonsposter for Uncharted 4


League of Dragons by Naomi Novik — This is the final book in the Temeraire series (beginning with His Majesty's Dragon), which I found a highly satisfying wrap-up. I actually re-read the entire series in June, and was pleased to find that the previous books hold up, and the whole story hangs together quite nicely. I am happy to say that this series has earned its place among my all-time favorites.

Uncharted 4 by Naughty Dog — I've never played the other games in the Uncharted series (and to be fair, I haven't really "played" this one either, I just watched T play it), but this final entry stands alone well enough that it wasn't really a problem. The story was fun, the characters and their relationships were great, and T enjoyed the gameplay (climbing, jumping, gun combat, puzzles, some stealth). If you're interested in an Indiana Jones-style swashbuckling adventure (complete with the problematic tropes common to the genre, admittedly) — it's worth a look.

Jodie


cover of Saving Montgomery Solecover of We Go Around in the Night and Are Consumed by Fire


Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki — I'm slowly working my way through all of Jillian and Mariko Tamaki's books (they're so great). Most recently I tried this YA novel about Montgomery Sole; a weirdo kid stuck in a town that's far too normal. Montgomery lives with her two moms, and hangs out with her best (and only) friends Thomas and Naiko. The three friends make up their school's Mystery Club, and one day Montgomery buys the Eye of Know (a crystal from the internet) in the hope of discovering a genuinely powerful mystery.

The Eye allows the story to talk about the limits and ethics of magical vengeance (so, a little bit like Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Signal to Noise but more obviously marketed at young adults) but the supernatural side of this story is minimal. It's more about Montgomery and Thomas trying to deal with the homophobic limits of their small town, the extra conflict an anti-LGBTQ preacher brings into her life, and how she copes with that (and the way her town surprises her at the end). I really liked the relationship between Montgomery and her family; the gulf between them and the way they close that gap. Mariko Tamaki is great at writing side characters whose stories you really want to know more about, and I wanted perhaps a bit more about her moms and the girl from the yoghurt shop.

We Go Around in the Night and Are Consumed by Fire by Jules Grant — This debut novel is about lesbian gangsters in Manchester. Lesbian gangsters in Manchester. Run, don't walk, to your nearest bookseller.

I think the best way to describe We Go Around in the Night and Are Consumed by Fire is crime fiction in love with lit-fic. The story is all about Donna, her all female, lesbian crew - The Bronte Close Gang - her beloved second-in-command Carla, and Carla's daughter Ror. There's a standard crime plot that runs through the book about betrayal and gang warfare (spoilers: this involves Carla's death), and lots of detail about the day to day operations of the drug-dealing gang. However, the style of the book does a lot to set it apart from other gangland tales out there (as does that little matter of lesbian gangsters in Manchester). Donna's first person narrative is told in a very naturalistic way: dialect-heavy; stream of consciousness; at times meandering. The reader learns a lot about Donna's background and the personal details of the women in the gang. It's one of those books that builds itself out of layers of small details until the reader realises they've been presented with a complete and complex picture of a group of women who would cause grievous bodily harm for each other. Fuck me, it was energising to read an entire books that was devoted to love affairs, friendships, rivalries and parental relationships that take place between women.


Renay



cover of Monstress Volume 1cover of Saga Volume 6cover of Ms. Marvel Volume 5


Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana TakedaMonstress was dark and gritty and gutting in a way that I tend to shy away from in stories, but for some reason the mythology and the characters pulled me in and I came out the other side both awed and also somewhat charmed. Maika is callous and hyperfocused on her goal of learning about her mother to the exclusion of everything, but it doesn't make her unsympathetic at all. The side characters are great, too, especially Kippa and their cat guide. Also, the art is gorgeous. There are so many spreads in this volume that deserve to be pulled out and framed; I'm not very familiar with Sana Takeda's art, but I'll be on the lookout for more of her work in the future because between the great writing and the art this feels like one of the deeper worlds I've ever been introduced to in a graphic novel because so much of the world building is happening in the art in the background, and isn't directly referenced by the text. Also, the cliffhanger they leave the volume on is excellent; expanding the mystery without creating too much frustration at having to wait, which I appreciated. I highly recommend this graphic novel; it's probably my favorite so far this year.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee — This book was one of the most challenging things I've read all year but super entertaining. Between the political machinations of the hexarchate, calendrical rot caused by heretics, our main character deciding the best way to fight the heretics is to rouse the disembodied consciousness of former sociopathic general, and all the weird, impossible physics and math, there's a ton going on. That doesn't even get into the examination of revenge, loyalty, trust, and war that this novel picks up and pulls apart. It's great and a super good time. Check it out if you're into thinky science fantasy with cool Robot Pals.

Saga, Volume 6 by Fiona Staples & Brian K. Vaughan — Six volumes deep into this series, something that [personal profile] nymeth and I wondered about awhile back has finally come to pass. Saga is built on bursts of action and then large time skips that get contextualized by our narrator, and this volume is the time after one of those skips that is incredibly effective in developing the characters, fleshing out the world, and raising the stakes for Alana, Markos, and Hazel again. They definitely fooled me with the end of Volume 5 to this volume with some of the character growth and additions, but I love how they continue to tackle cultural differences and bigotry, the complicated nature of parenthood and partnership, and the price of secrets. Also, the Big Reveal at the end of this volume had me like !!!!!!. It's great and so true to the unpredictability of life, even at war and on the run, that I laughed out loud. And as always, Fiona Staples knocks it out of the park on the art with her excellent ability to capture all the emotions of these characters.

Ms. Marvel, Volume 5: Super Famous by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona, Nico Leon, & Ian Herring — I was concerned that after the Secret Wars reboot things would be weird or different in Kamala's world in a bad way. But no, the series kept its core about Kamala, her friendships, her family life, and her struggles growing up as a superhero with the added pressure of being a member of the Avengers. The comic introduces a few new characters I immediately fell in love with, complicated Kamala's relationship with her secret identity, while also acknowledging the fact that she's still in high school and has problems any girl would have. The artists continue to bring really lively scenes and great color to the comic. There's a point in this volume that I gasped out loud with joy at something the artists did. Ms. Marvel deals with tough, dark, heavy subjects with an optimistic hand, never undermining their seriousness but instead approaching them the way a positive, justice-focused teenage superhero would. This comic is always so consistently great and well done; it's one of my Marvel happy places.


Susan



cover of Ninefox Gambitcover of We Go Around In The Night And Are Consumed By Firecover of Zodiac Starforce


Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee — In a shocking turn of events, that book that everyone I know has been praising as gorgeously written and absolutely heartbreaking? Is gorgeous and heartbreaking! Who knew.

It doesn't bother explaining a lot of the worldbuilding; it just throws you in the deep-end and lets you piece it together yourself. This worked pretty well for me? It was a really cool setting that has Complicated Politics and a magic system to match! But I have to admit, I was mainly here for the uneasy relationship between Cheris and Jedao, with bonus robots being done with everything. Funnily enough, a relationship based on mentoring and complete mistrust (that also happens to involve mocking each other's taste in TV) is completely my jam. I really enjoyed it and I'm flinging copies at everyone I know.

We Go Around In The Night And Are Consumed By Fire by Jules Grant — LESBIAN GANGSTERS IN MANCHESTER, YES. I am so grateful to [personal profile] bookgazing for bringing this to my attention because I really enjoyed it! The character voices are great, and I really enjoyed the narrative style. It felt very – realistic, is perhaps the word I want? In voice and reactions (especially Aurora's reactions), and in the fact that all but maybe two of the women in it are some flavour of queer! (Look, look, queer communities! Gimme!) I didn't like the ending too much, it felt like it had been slapped on from a different story, but apart from that it's pretty good!

Zodiac Star Force by Kevin Panetta & Paulina Ganucheau — Zodiac Star Force is REALLY CUTE! It has high school astrology-inspired magical girls trying to get on with their lives after they've saved the world (some of whom are openly queer!), it has cute art with bright poppy colours, it has awesome practical-looking costumes that look like armoured roller-derby outfits, it has such a focus on female friendships... It's like someone reached into my brain and went "Hey Susan, here are all of the things you want from a magical girl series!"

I think the decision to skip over the origin story and the exact details of how they saved the world was an interesting one that they handle well for the most part -- it's nice to come in on a mostly functional team who know each other and can work together! And there's a lot of backstory that is clearly evident but not explained because it doesn't need to be. But on the flip side, I wish the series had been a little longer, just so that it had space to breathe and give us more time with characters who aren't the main four? Either way it's fun, and I really like what it did with its themes and tropes!

Date: 2016-07-21 09:59 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
Yay, Susan, I'm so glad we both enjoyed Grant's book :) I have attempted to track down Zodiac Starforce but all my offline sources have failed me so...

KJ - Novik's is yet another series I have to complete. I loved the first one but kind of dropped off in the middle (probably because the series was in progress and I am so bad at reading incomplete series). Glad to hear it all holds up and finishes well.

Ms Marvel 5!! But I opened it the other day and was like 'There are so many feels, I just can't deal.' Hopefully I'll be able to get past having too many emotions soon. Planning to have my own solo readathon this weekend (also known as just reading on my weekend off and rejecting all other responsibilities) and trying to work out which graphic novels to include...

Date: 2016-08-21 04:43 pm (UTC)
spindizzy: A heartless standing on the stairs. (Heartless)
From: [personal profile] spindizzy
I am too! It is such a good book, I've been throwing it at people too. :) (In conclusion: you give excellent recommendations! ♥) Did I sees somewhere that you've found a copy of Zodiac Starforce now? I swear we had a conversation about it but I can't remember.

Date: 2016-08-21 04:58 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
Yes I did find a copy (think I talked about it a little bit in the latest instalment of Fav Media). It was really great - thanks for the rec :D I can't wait to read more volumes when they come out and to see if I can find more stuff by the creators.
(screened comment)

Re: Some recs

Date: 2016-08-21 04:44 pm (UTC)
spindizzy: A My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic style portrait of me. (Lady Business)
From: [personal profile] spindizzy
Hi, thank you for the recommendations! Would you mind replying to your comment with a name/handle so we know who we're talking to, as per our comment policy?

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