Bitch Planet Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine – review

Bitch Planet Volume 1

Bitch Planet Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine
by Kelly Sue DeConnick (Writer), Valentine De Landro (Artist), Robert Wilson IV (Artist)
Series: Bitch Planet (Vol. 1)
: October 7th 2015 by Image Comics
Genre: graphic novel, science fiction
Pages: 156p
Source: purchased
Rating: ★★★★☆

Eisner Award-nominated writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (Pretty Deadly, Captain Marvel) and Valentine De Landro (X-Factor) team up to bring you the premiere volume of Bitch Planet, a deliciously vicious riff on women-in-prison sci-fi exploitation.

In a future just a few years down the road in the wrong direction, a woman’s failure to comply with her patriarchal overlords will result in exile to the meanest penal planet in the galaxy. When the newest crop of fresh femmes arrive, can they work together to stay alive or will hidden agendas, crooked guards, and the deadliest sport on (or off!) Earth take them to their maker?

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository

Volume One of BITCH PLANET collects the first five issues and it was a treat! This was such an interesting read. Some points made definitely pour salt in fresh wounds. I had to finish this in a series of sitting because, especially in the climate we’re living in today, the tyrannical patriarchy aspect really chapped my ass.

BITCH PLANET features a cast in skin tone, body type, and sexuality (this hasn’t really been touched on much yet but there do appear to be some queer characters). Every main character is a woman. Even better, it’s written by a woman, so this doesn’t have that uncomfortable aftertaste of “I can tell a man wrote this female character because her breasts are mentioned on nearly every page.”

The nudity is not gratuitous, it is secondary to what’s happening even though it’s necessary given their circumstances. Women shower naked. What they’re talking about in the shower, and what it leads to, are far more important that the outlines of average breasts. (This was another favorite part of mine – they look like normal women of all shapes and sizes, including their breasts that don’t sit just beneath their collarbones like skin-colored grapefruits.)

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know that I could name more than a couple of characters though I do recognize them when they show up. The same thing happens to me with TV shows, and I wind up referring to Eleanor Guthrie as “the blonde lady” for the whole first season of Black Sails before her name sticks in my head. When it sticks though, it does stick. BITCH PLANET has a large cast of characters and I am just used to fiction that reminds you of someone’s name every other paragraph. The characters are definitely intriguing, especially when it’s mentioned what they’re ‘in for’ before they’re really introduced. Sci-fi is normally hard for me to connect with (probably because it’s often weighed down beneath the male gaze) but I had no such issues with BITCH PLANET.

The art has a very typically comic book style. It’s not the most polished thing, but it definitely suits the aesthetic of the story. Let me tell you, this is one of the more aesthetically pleasing, humorous graphic novels I’ve yet put my eyeballs on. The story is hard to follow in some places, especially if you only read the first issue or two. Definitely pick up the volume for a more full story arc if you’re interested.

One of the final pages (possibly an endpaper? my copy is digital so I don’t know) reads:







What sci-fi trope are you least fond of?

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Plutona #1

Plutona #1

Plutona #1
by Jeff Lemire, Emi Lenox, Jordie Bellaire (Illustrator)
Series: Plutona (Issue #1)
: September 2nd 2015 by Image Comics
Genre: comics, fantasy
Pages: 31p
Source: purchased
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

A brand new heartfelt super-hero series by JEFF LEMIRE (DESCENDER, Hawkeye) and amazing newcomer EMI LENOX! PLUTONA follows the story of five suburban kids who make a shocking discovery while exploring the woods one day after school…the body of Plutona, the world’s greatest superhero. A dark and heartbreaking journey about friendship and coming of age all through the lens of the superhero genre.

Goodreads | Amazon

I’m not normally a fan of superhero… anything. Sorry, Marvel fans (or DC). I like a good Batman or Spider-man film on occasion, but more often than not I am not interested in the typical superhero thing. I like my characters to be way more imperfect than the stereotypical super allows.

While I do like the idea of a glimpse into the world of an average person in a world where there are superheros (I was a massive fan of The Rest of Us Just Live Here, after all), this just didn’t really speak to me. I would’ve rather seen more of how Plutona came to be in the woods instead of 95% of the first issue being about the kids, especially since them finding Plutona in the first place is spoiled by the blurb. If I already know the major thing that happens, what’s the point?

Also, I don’t think the r-slur was necessary. At all. Characters don’t need to fling slurs around to show that they’re grimy people.

The art style is very cute. It reminds me of a webcomic or a 90s Nickelodeon cartoon.

I don’t know. I just really don’t vibe well with single-issue comics because I want much more than they’re willing to tell. I feel like if you’re trying to draw me in with just 31 pages, it better be a damn good 31 pages.

What superhero do you like the most?

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Discussion: Where do you get book recommendations?

This is something that’s always been interesting to me. A friend of mine texts me pretty regularly with “I need books!!!” and ends up with a twenty-book-long list.

Despite being such an avid reader, I don’t know that I’ve ever asked anyone I know for recommendations. I do occasionally stalk the Goodreads pages of people whose taste I trust, but I don’t know that I’ve ever personally sought out recs beyond shrieking of the void that is book Twitter.

I’ve tried Goodreads’ recommendation feature before and found it to be, frankly, pretty shit. Most of the recs I received were “not exactly what you’re looking for but I love this!” with a John Green novel when I specifically asked for YA with no romance in it. I’ve had better luck just stalking the updates feed.

Personally, I have some lists bookmarked in a folder on my browser and browse through that when I’m not feeling anything on my TBR. More often than not I wind up coming across a RT on Twitter that’s by an author I’m unfamiliar with and badabing badaboom it’s requested from the library before I know what’s happening.

Some Q’s

Do you use the recommendations feature on Goodreads or just read from your shelves and damn the rest?

Do you comb through book Twitter or bookstagram for your next read?

Do you text your bookish pals for what they’re reading or Google things your interested in and wind up in a black hole of blog-hopping and suddenly find that it’s 4am?

Do you ask the nice librarian or indie bookseller for something good?

Maybe a combination of all of these?

Let me know! I am genuinely curious.

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The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco – review

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Series: The Bone Witch (#1)
: March 7th 2017 by Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Pages: 400p
Source: ARC from NetGalley
Rating: ★★★★☆

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha — one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository

The Bone Witch is a bit of a slow burn, and it’s very good at teasing a future that I am 100% invested in. Seventeen year old girl on a beach of corpses? Heck yes I want to know how she got there! It’s a cliffhanger in that this does not come full circle – the final chapter of Tea’s retrospective storytelling does not match up to her meeting the bard at the very beginning. (I am also a big sucker for rune-based magic systems, especially those with a visible cost. Hooray!)

This is very much an apprentice tale, where badass necromancer Tea tells the story of how she came to be a Dark asha – or Bone Witch. As someone who’s read a lot of geisha autobiographies lately, I really enjoyed even the smallest of parallels between geisha and asha. Tea really comes into her own in the second half of the novel, which is when I first started to truly see present-day Tea reflected in her past self. For much of the first half I found myself worried that past-Tea was a little too passive, but I think that was just a product of her circumstances.

After watching Tea grow into her own throughout the story, as well as seeing what she will ultimately become, it was disheartening to have it all hang on some boy at the very end while having near-zero mention of romance in The Bone Witch at all. I expected it, since it’s YA and it comes with the territory, but I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. I just really hope the story isn’t overwhelmed in book two by the apparent necessity of a romance that overwhelms the (in my opinion, far more interesting) plot. While it’s certainly open to a future love triangle (my god, I hope not), I am definitely in for book two at the very least. Tea and her world are far too interesting for me to let go of. For me, this is four stars only because the implication of a future love triangle.

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Yvain: The Knight of the Lion eARC review

Yvain: The Knight of the Lion by M. T. Anderson and Andrea Offermann

Yvain: The Knight of the Lion
by M.T. Anderson and andrea offermann
Published: March 14th 2017 by Candlewick Press
Genre: graphic novel, fantasy, historical fiction
Pages: 144p
Source: eARC provided via NetGalley
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

In his first graphic novel, National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson turns to Arthurian lore, with captivating art by Andrea Offermann bringing the classic legend to life.

Eager for glory and heedless of others, Sir Yvain sets out from King Arthur’s court and defeats a local lord in battle, unknowingly intertwining his future with the lives of two compelling women: Lady Laudine, the beautiful widow of the fallen lord, and her sly maid Lunette.

In a stunning visual interpretation of a 12th century epic poem by Chrétien de Troyes, readers are — at first glance — transported into a classic Arthurian romance complete with errant knights, plundering giants, and fire-breathing dragons. A closer look, however, reveals a world rich with unspoken emotion.

Striking, evocative art by Andrea Offermann sheds light upon the inner lives of medieval women and the consequences Yvain’s oblivious actions have upon Laudine and Lunette. Renowned author M. T. Anderson embraces a new form with a sophisticated graphic novel that challenges Yvain’s role as hero, delves into the honesty and anguish of love, and asks just how fundamentally the true self can really change.

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository

Note: I received an advance copy for review. Some things may have changed in the final version.

I’ve only had one experience with M.T. Anderson’s work before – I read Feed in high school which was…. Well, it was more than half a decade ago. I loved it then but I haven’t touched it since. The fact that he was the author drew me to this more than a promise of some insight about Arthurian lore.The action scenes are dynamic but there were some panels which I felt were wasted opportunities to show more of a setting or have a more dramatic angle than ‘straight-on shot of a bloke sitting at a table with mouth open to show he’s talking’. Not all of the panels were like this, they were a minority, but what stood out most was that there would be so many of these such panels in a row.

A lot seems lost on me since my only knowledge of Arthurian legend is from other adaptations – you know, “strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government” and Quest for Camelot and all that. Without knowing anything “true” and “accurate” (I could go on with the scare quotes there) about Arthurian legend, my guess is that this is supposed to be a “faithful” adaptation for Serious Arthurian Scholars.

Again, this is just my guess, but it seems to use the Frozen excuse of “historical accuracy” to not draw anyone darker than NC15 in its fictional representation of things that never actually happened. BBC’s Merlin had a more diverse cast than this for crying out loud. The horses in this graphic novel have a more diverse range of coat colors than the characters do skin tones

On top of that, the instalove could put many YA books to shame. Convention of myths or not, it’s still bad. At least the entire point of Romeo and Juliet is that they’re being foolish.

Part one, for me, was dull. I couldn’t follow a lot of what was happening because it seemed like a lot of things were meant to be implied but not really explained. It seemed to rely on me to know ahead of time what was going on and, as I’ve said, my knowledge begins and ends around Quest for Camelot. I don’t know how accurate any of this is to ‘true’ Arthurian legend. Lunette and Lady Laudine have some especially gorgeous pages, and their discussions are some of the better examples of making dull, necessary conversation pretty and dynamic. Unfortunately, this is in stark contrast to many of the other panels that are just plain, close shots of whoever’s doing the talking and then a close shot of the next person who talks.

In part two, Yvain temporarily transforms into this topless hairless-but-beardy hunky Jesus type of character that hulks around in what is clearly the shreds of his old clothes but in most of the panels appears to be a less than modest grass skirt. I lost all ability to try and take this seriously at this point because I couldn’t stop thinking of Yvain as anything other than hench Jesus. The action scenes were very dynamic and quite cool – the leviathan (I think) was really beautiful. The landscapes in part two are particularly gorgeous and far more interesting than the boring close-ups of people chatting. This is also where he receives his title of Knight of the Lion

Part three was intended to have more of an impact than it made on me, I think. I didn’t find the big reveal or its surrounding dramatics any more heart-stopping than a bill two days overdue.

I was really hoping that I would enjoy this more, that it would be an inspiration to learn more about Arthurian legend. Instead I’m just disappointed. As far as adaptations go, this is a miss for me. I’d just as soon watch Merlin again, which at least inspired me to look up the characters since I actually cared about them. Frankly, this just further reinforces my thoughts that ‘faithful’ adaptations suffer from their insistence on ‘accuracy’.

Are you an Arthurian Legend buff or more casually knowledgeable?

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If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo review

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

If I Was Your Girl
by Meredith Russo
Published: May 3rd 2016 by Flatiron Books
Genre: young adult, romance, contemporary
Pages: 288p
Source: library borrow
Rating: ★★★★☆

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school in Lambertville, Tennessee. Like any other girl, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret. There’s a reason why she transferred schools for her senior year, and why she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

And then she meets Grant Everett. Grant is unlike anyone she’s ever met—open, honest, kind—and Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself…including her past. But she’s terrified that once she tells Grant the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that she used to be Andrew.

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository

If I Was Your Girl is raw but it is not tragic. There is no tiptoeing around the pain in Amanda’s story – although it is mentioned in the author’s note that Amanda was made to be as ‘unchallenging’ to cis readers (that’s me) as possible. I read the author’s note before I started the book and I’m glad that I did. There are no spoilers within, and it adds another dimension that I think is important to remember as you’re reading.

From the author’s note, “To my cisgender readers:”

I have, in some ways, cleaved to stereotypes and even bent rules to make Amanda’s trans-ness as unchallenging to normative assumptions as possible. She knew from a very young age. She is exclusively attracted to boys. She is entirely feminine. She passes as a woman with little to no effort. She had a surgery that her family should not have been able to afford, and she started hormones trough legitimate channels before she probably could have in the real world. I did this because I wanted you to have no possible barrier to understanding Amanda as a teenage girl with a different medical history from most other girls.

The author’s note continues, bookended with reminders to take Amanda’s story as neither gospel nor dogma, then breaks again to address the trans readers as well. As a cis woman, I can’t pull a quote from that portion and praise it as helpful or insightful because it isn’t meant for me and it’s not my place to tell a trans person what I think might aid their experience of a story about them.

Now for the meat of the story. Half of the story is told in the present, when Amanda has moved to live with her dad after an incident in her hometown. The latter half of most chapters is at a relevant moment in her past, all from years before the present day.

Amanda’s tale is filled with hope and love and pain, though there is far more hope and love than hurt and heartache. It was easy to connect with her because she just felt so real to me. She felt like a girl I knew at school, even if I couldn’t name anyone in particular. This is a tricky line in most media – a lot of the times characters, especially in YA or films with a teen audience in mind, stray too far into #relatable Fellow Kids territory. For me, Amanda was whole and real and shared many of the same experiences that I had in high school. She isn’t holier-than-thou, supremely privileged (another problem I tend to have with contemporary YA but I won’t go on about that any more), hyper-intelligent, or really any far end of any spectrum, good or bad. She is just an average, kind girl who loves Star Wars, and I loved that about her.

It was really heartwarming how wonderful her friends were to her, at least for the most part. I feel like a lot of the time, especially in contemporary YA, the friends get shoved to the side once the love interest comes along. The balance between Amanda’s time with Grant and time with her friends was really refreshing. Oddly enough, I felt like I knew Grant less than I knew her pals, even though we learn deeper, more serious things about Grant than most of Amanda’s friends. As usual, I found myself caring far less about the love interest than the friends, though I found the romance bit of this to be pretty well done. That is to say, Grant is not a borderline abusive jackass.

This really isn’t related to the book’s innards (which is what reviews are mostly for) but the face that this is not only ownvoices, but also features a trans model on the cover is excellent! Kira Conley has done some excellent work.

Finally, I would like to mention that there is discussion of rape as well as attempted sexual assault. Amanda also experiences suicidal thoughts and at one point her past suicide attempt is described in detail during a latter chapter-half where we experience moments from Amanda’s past. Especially because this is told in first-person, this is something I would have liked to know before I came across it so I wouldn’t have been so affected by it.

If I Was Your Girl is a short read, technically ‘easy’ though emotionally trying, and a book I can easily recommend. If you are looking for a book about a trans girl that might pull on your heartstrings in a way that’s more heartwarming with a minimal amount of hurt, try George by Alex Gino. Both are ownvoices stories and both are excellent.

What is your favorite ownvoices novel with an LGBTQIA+ main character?

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Backstagers Volume 1 – eARC review

The Backstagers #1 by James Tynion IV, Rian Sygh

The Backstagers #1
by James Tynion IV & Rian Sygh
Series: The Backstagers (#1)
: July 25th 2017 by Boom! Box
Genre: graphic novel, LGBTQIA+, young adult, contemporary
Pages: ? (issues still being published)
Source: e-copy provided via NetGalley
Rating: ★★★☆☆
All the world’s a stage . . . but what happens behind the curtain is pure magic literally!

When Jory transfers to an all-boys private high school, he s taken in by the only ones who don t treat him like a new kid, the lowly stage crew known as the Backstagers. Not only does he gain great, lifetime friends, Jory is also introduced to an entire magical world that lives beyond the curtain. With the unpredictable twists and turns of the underground world, the Backstagers venture into the unknown, determined to put together the best play their high school has ever seen.

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository

My review copy was a sample – only #1 of the series as it is ongoing, so this is not a review of the full volume collection. However, the review is intended for the volume one collection since that how it was provided on NetGalley. Confusing, I know.

The art style reminded me so much of Bee and Puppycat (which I love), but the story itself was more reminiscent of Lumberjanes in terms of structure. Lumberjanes, unfortunately, I did not like very much for much the same reasons I wasn’t super wowed by this single issue of Backstagers. It’s cute, and a great example of POC and LGBTQIA+ rep but doesn’t go super deep in the first issue. Backstagers at least dangles more of an interesting plot to me than Lumberjanes did – what exactly is going on in that school? That fact alone was enough to interest me. For me, one issue isn’t enough for me to care terribly much either way  – I prefer my comics in volumes so I can really get to know the characters and the world more.

As I had a very small experience with theater – pit band only, no real stage experience, and I couldn’t have cared less about stage productions then and now – I didn’t connect with it too much on that level and found it a little difficult to get into. That’s generally an issue with me and more contemporary settings: If I can’t relate with the main focus of the main character’s interest (in this case theater, but it’s usually rich girls being rich) it’s hard for me to care. It did at least have quite the fantastical element to it! The world definitely has some intriguing bits to it.

Were I able to read more, perhaps this review would be a little more glowing. If you are into theater, might be more your style than it was mine. A good friend of mine would love this. Backstagers is something I would pick up the next issue of if I were to come across it at the library, but not something I would personally seek out. If you’re like me and more into fantasy settings and want some queer and POC rep, try Rat Queens!

What graphic novels are you excited for this year?

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