Welcome to Smugglivus 2015! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2015, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2016, and more.
Who: Kelly and Kim, the amazing librarian-reader duo who run Stacked, a book blog that is an incredible source of go-to information, reviews and commentary on literacy, Contemporary YA, Kidlit and more. Kelly is also an associate editor and community manager at Book Riot.
Please give a warm welcome to Kelly and Kim, everyone!
We’re so happy that we’ve been invited to take part in Smugglivus 2015. It’s been a fun year. We thought in honor of 2015, we’d each share 15 of our favorite things from the past 12 months, ranging from novels to movies to music and more.
In no particular order, here are 15 of my favorite things in books, movies, television, and ~internetting~ from 2015:
>All the Rage by Courtney Summers
There’s nothing I haven’t really said about what a powerful, important book this is. It’ll be one that lasts in YA for a long, long time, since it explores, without any shyness, the way the world treats girls, especially girls who have been victims.
Ana of California by Andi Teran
I think this book really got lost due to marketing — it was published for the adult audience, even though this book screams YA (the voice isn’t perfectly YA but the story is). Ana is a Latina teen who got lost and shuffled through the foster system in LA. When she’s given the chance to intern at a farm in Northern California, she finds herself so cautious about losing the opportunity that she loses a bit of herself. But as she pushes more and more, she discovers a best friend and a romantic interest. This one gets called a modern day Anne of Green Gables set in poor, rural Northern California.
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
My love for books featuring ballet meets my love for books about juvenile justice and incarceration in one creepy, Shirley Jackson-esque package. This book is haunting, gorgeous, and so, so different from what’s on the market.
Lady Killer by Joelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich
A classy/classic 60s housewife who moonlights as a hitwoman? Yeah, I’m 100% here for this. The story is engaging and the art is to die for. This darkly humorous comic plays with expectations on gender and the way the story intersects with the vintage-style art works so, so well. There’s just one trade out so far, and I’m really hoping we get more because there’s so much to juice in this story line.
Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
This is a book about sex. Period. It’s specifically about pleasure for those who have a vagina, as it talks about sex drive, about anatomy, and about the things that turn us on and why, sometimes, nothing can turn us on, no matter how much we want to be turned on. It’s based on both biological and psychological science, and it’s completely approachable and down to Earth. For me, the biggest take away, the moment which took this from really good to outstanding, was her discussion on body image, on body weight, and how it is our culture plus some that screws us up so bad. In short, it’s the patriarchy that smashes female desire, love, and interest in sex and in their own sexual beings and experiences. We accept male-as-default forgetting that also means women lose out over and over and over again. This is a must-buy and must-read for anyone interested in female sexuality.
Rising Strong by Brene Brown
I really enjoyed Brown’s Daring Greatly from a couple of years ago, which is focused on how it’s important to allow yourself vulnerability if you want to make change in your life. Rising Strong, which came out this year, takes that idea and marries it with the question of what happens when you’re in the arena and your face is in the dirt. How do you get up and keep fighting and keep fighting better? The marriage of lab work with lived experiences works for me, and one takeaway I had with this book really changed my relationship with my anxiety — Brown emphasizes the need to question the stories you tell yourself and I’m not exaggerating when I said THAT was a life-altering thing to think about.
You Don’t Have To Like Me by Alida Nugent
There was not one single dud in this collection of feminist essays. It’s full of heart, as well as humor, and it’s just everything I want in a non-navel gazing collection of discovering and embracing one’s feminism. Highly recommended and especially appealing to 20-somethings figuring out their shit. Alida notes she’s imperfect, that it took her a long time to come into her own, and her own self-awareness in this collection is a feature, not a flaw.
I reread two books this year that have always been on my list of favorites and both left me reminded about why I love them so much.
The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
This has been my favorite book since I first read it, and now, many years and rereads later, I still love it and find it magical. It’s about a woman who plays a role in a fake marriage but finds herself connected to the family of her deceased (fake) husband. It’s set in Los Angeles and Alliance, Nebraska, and the way Patchett writes setting in this book is out of this world. But the reason this book burns this time is I recognized how damn young so many of these characters are. For so long, they’d been much older than me personally; now, most of the main players are a few years younger than me. That shift in perspective was huge and made me love this even more.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
I had totally forgotten how absolutely killer Melinda’s voice is in this one. I last read this book when I was a teenager, and coming back to it now that I’m decidedly not a teenager, I was really taken with not only how well it held up, but just how masterfully written it is. A real, honest classic YA novel.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
This Persian-language film is about a small, broken down Iranian town which is inhabited by a skateboarding vampire who preys on men who hurt women. It’s even more perfect than it sounds. Look at her go! The cinematography of this one is really, really great, too.
Christine and the Queens
I saw Christine and the Queens opening for Marina and the Diamonds on Halloween (I totally recommend Halloween concert going) and I haven’t stopped listening to her since. She’s French, has some mad fun dance skills, and her songs are so fresh and unique. “iT,” “Tilted,” and “Paradis Perdus” (which is a mashup of a high French song with Kanye west) are my favorites.
Best Bookish Moments
A few of the highlights from my bookish life this year included the following:
Getting a Book Deal — I sold my dream anthology of feminist essays for teens to Algonquin Young Readers in March, and it’s been coming together so well. It’s slated for Spring 2017 publication.
Meeting Margaret Atwood — I got to talk with this amazing person about Instagram and Tumblr while drinking wine in the Rare Books Room of The Strand, which is still not real to me.
Some Girls Are Book Drive — When Some Girls Are was pulled from a summer reading list in Charleston, South Carolina, the internet delivered by donating 1000+ copies of the book to the local library for anyone to pick up and keep for free.
Not Related To Anything At All
I attended a very important event this fall. It was a real, honest to god, Cat Circus. It was even better than it sounds — cats perform tricks! They’re all rescue animals! There’s a CAT BAND! If the Acrocats ever are in an area near you, you have to go see them.
This was the year of romances and re-reads, two things that tend to be “comfort” reads for me. Aside from my Cybils reading near the end of the year, I let go of the feeling that I needed to be reading certain books (new releases and buzz titles) and let myself gravitate toward the things that I felt naturally drawn to. Of course, I also managed to work in some great comics and other reads, plus some pretty great media. Below are my top 15 of ‘15, in no particular order.
Never Judge a Lady By Her Cover by Sarah MacLean
I had read a little of Sarah MacLean’s stuff in previous years, but this year I really dug into everything she has written (which isn’t nearly enough!). This book, the fourth in a series about a group of scoundrels all connected to a gaming hell in London, is far and away my favorite of hers. It’s a superb romance that features several of my favorite plot points (revenge, subversion of gender roles, a big reveal), with strongly written hero and heroine who are perfectly suited to each other.
Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart by Sarah MacLean
This was definitely a Sarah MacLean year. I loved this one when I didn’t really expect to, since it features as its hero someone who was pretty unlikeable in previous books in the series. But such is MacLean’s skill that she easily made me believe he had hidden depths and grew as a person over those books and this one. This isn’t as popular as her other books, but it’s one of my favorites.
The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas
This was my first romance by Sherry Thomas and I was really impressed. The storyline is fairly typical of a lot of historical YA; it’s Thomas’ writing that makes this a standout. I believed completely in the arc of the two leads from first meeting to happily ever after – it was gradual, heartfelt, and real.
The Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters
I first read several of these as a teenager, then again while I was in graduate school. This was my third go-around and I feel like each time, I appreciate something new about them. This time, I picked up on more of Amelia’s faults, which actually made me appreciate the books more. Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat, these are among the best historical mysteries: funny, fascinating, nearly flawless.
Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke Allen
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Fun, funny, featuring five very different but vividly-realized girls at a not-all-is-as-it-appears summer camp – this is a winner from start to finish.
Princeless by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin
This is a comic for kids who love fairy tales and also want to see them played with and turned upside down. So, almost all kids, basically. It features a Black girl as the princeless princess and doesn’t shy away from pointing out that this is unusual for a fairy tale.
Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things by Ted Naifeh
I sell this one to people by telling them that it’s a comic for children where the burgeoning friendship between Courtney and another kid is cut short when the kid is eaten by a goblin. So Courtney makes friends with the goblin instead.
Exquisite Corpse by Penelope Bagieu
The only comic geared for adults on my list, this is a bit of a slow burn. It’s amusing for the first ¾ and then goes totally subversive in the last ¼, which makes it pretty great. It’s a little bit of a romantic comedy with a good dash of dark humor.
Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski
This is the first book about sex I’ve read that felt really relatable and useful to my own life. Nagoski doesn’t use a lot of jargon or talk down to her readers. If you’ve ever felt like parts of your body or sex life aren’t normal, this book will reassure you that yes, you are normal. And you’ll believe it, because it’s true.
Going Clear by Lawrence Wright
This hefty tome goes by in a flash thanks in part to Wright’s clear writing style, but mainly because the subject is so endlessly fascinating: Scientology, including its history and its connection to Hollywood. Whatever you’ve already heard or read about Scientology – the stuff included here is way more eye-opening. Some of it is simply strange, but there’s a lot that’s really unsettling, and Wright’s final musings on why people believe what they do leave a lot to ponder.
Burning Nation by Trent Reedy
This is the second in Reedy’s near-future series about America’s second civil war. It’s frightening in its plausibility, but what makes this a stand-out audio production are the extras outside the story proper. Reedy punctuates almost each chapter with snippets from radio programs, social media, speeches, and so forth, providing context for the conflict engaging the characters, and these snippets are fully voiced with static and other sound effects. Often cheesy in other audiobooks, these sound effects add a great deal of authenticity here and make for a riveting listen. In many ways, these outtakes are more interesting than the main plotline.
Short Story Collection:
Slasher Girls and Monster Boys edited by April Genevieve Tucholke
I rarely read short story collections, since they’re usually so hit and miss. This one, though, doesn’t have a bad story in the lot. There are definitely some I loved more than others, but each story had something I appreciated. Most are horror or horror-tinged, and the really great ones touch on sexism, rape culture, and other horrifying things, alongside the more traditional monsters you find in horror.
Melissa McCarthy is a comedy genius and she totally carries this film about a desk worker for a spy agency who finds herself volunteering to go out in the field – and kicking ass at it. The plotting is clever, the jokes are rapid-fire, and the story is feminist and body-positive. I loved it.
Magic Mike XXL
It is really rare that I watch a movie I feel like was actually made with someone like me in mind. The obvious pandering to straight cis women aside though, this was a really fun movie that felt safe to watch – no surprise rape for superficial character development, for example. There was no fear of getting punched in the face and it was glorious.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
Phryne Fisher may be my favorite TV character currently on air. If you haven’t yet heard of this series, you probably will soon. Phryne is a well to do socialite living in Australia in the roaring 20s. She operates a private detective agency and works closely with the local constabulary. She’s smart, confident, sex-positive, and throws her support behind other women constantly. She’s a feminist not just for her time, but for ours as well. And the stories and supporting characters are pretty great too.