Welcome to Smugglivus 2016! Throughout this month, we will have guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2016, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2017, and more.
Our first Smugglivus guest this year is Tansy Rayner Roberts, Australian author and award-winning podcaster, Tansy is also one of our own authors with Kid Dark Against the Machine and the upcoming novella Girl Reporter.
Please give a warm welcome to Tansy, everyone!
What media have I loved this year?
Well. This was the year I found Hamilton.
I resisted it for a long time, because I’m a theatre kid, and why would you listen to the soundtrack of a thing when there’s no hope of seeing the legit stage production any time soon? But as the enthusiasm of people I liked and trusted rose and swelled around me, I gave in.
It’s not just me. My daughters are in love with it too. We listen to it in the car constantly. We swap opinions about characters and lyrics and favourites. We talk about real historical details as compared to the play narrative. We sing along. It’s ours.
My eleven year old loves Jefferson best, and is insanely gleeful whenever King George arrives, but her favourite songs are Burr’s. She refuses to sing along to any of the sweary lyrics. We have a shared fan art board on Pinterest. My seven year old is obsessed with the barely-appearing Peggy Schuyler, and screams for joy when ‘Thomas Jefferson’s coming home’ starts up. Actually screams. With flailing.
Me, I’m drawn to Burr and Angelica, but it’s Hamilton himself, his writing, his ongoing dialogue with Washington and Eliza on the nature of legacy, that’s where the story’s heart is for me.
It’s not just the soundtrack. I also lovingly paged through ‘the Hamiltome’ which is a fascinating exploration of how art is made, one of the most genuinely interesting books on the writing and collaboration process that I have absorbed since Russell T Davies’ The Writers Tale.
Now there’s the Hamilton Mixtape, with a few songs already released as I write this, and more to come! Hamilton’s position as a cultural milestone inspiring other creators is one of the most interesting things about it. Everything is interesting about it. I love it.
This has also been an important year for Check! Please, one of my favourite all time web comics. I a couple of scary, stressful months earlier in the year, and the Check! Please fandom pulled me through until I was ready to face the world again. Check! Please was already an adorable gay hockey comic about bros and sports and friendship and pies, but its creator Ngozi gave us so many gifts this year, starting in February with The Kiss which pretty much made the comics fandom lose their collected minds.
Their love is so canon, y’all!
We’ve also had several waves of updates throughout the year, following the ups and downs of our hero Bitty and his secret NHL boyfriend. Ngozi also launched a Kickstarter for the book publication of Year 2 which was crazy successful, showing how dramatically her work’s popularity has soared since Jack Zimmermann got a clue that he was a character in a sweet gay rom com, not a gritty hockey tragedy.
My love of Check! Please (and the sporadic updates) led me down the rabbit hole of gay hockey romance novels. I discovered Avon Gale, whose Scoring Chances series about hockey affiliate teams (the lowest pro league, two levels below the NHL) is just wonderful. I discovered Taylor Fitzpatrick, whose novel You Could Make a Life belongs to a complex web of alt-universe NHL players she has been writing about on Tumblr for years. You could just read the book, which is great, but then there’s all the side stories on Archive of Our Own which may themselves be turned into books someday, and then there’s all the crossover storylines, and then there’s the Tumblr mini-stories, and THEN there is David Chapman who will break your heart and heal it all over again. So many feels, you guys.
My most recent hockey romance writer discovery is Sarina Bowen. I really liked Him and Us, two books she co-wrote with Elle Kennedy which are also about being gay in the NHL. They follow in a trend I’ve seen across all of these books, in that ‘getting together’ or resolving the love story is not the climax of the stories, which focus more on the work it takes to build a successful relationship in the face of adversity. I find this angle a lot more interesting than the old ‘will they won’t they’ because you know, it’s romance. Probably they will.
I just started Sarina Bowen’s The Ivy Years series which includes straight and queer romantic pairings — the first book, The Year We Fell Down, gives us a wheelchair-using heroine who starts college seven months after being partially paralysed in a hockey accident. It’s a fantastic romance that deals with all kinds of disability/life issues like accessibility, sexuality, identity and voicing your fears/needs.
Just to prove I also read romance that’s not about hockey, Courtney Milan has had some fabulous releases this year. Hold Me, the second proper novel in her highly political Cyclone series, gives us crunchy themes about the perception of women in STEM, along with a bisexual Asian-American hero and a trans heroine. Best of all, while being trans is significant to everything about Maria’s life, history, trust issues and decision-making processes, it isn’t in itself an obstacle to the romance. This is such a good series, highly recommended — Milan also put out a short story this year, following up the issues of Tina and Blake from Trade Me (Cyclone #1) about their parents meeting for the first time. That is, her highly political Chinese immigant parents, and his obnoxious billionaire father who owns factories in China…
Milan is still writing historicals, which are just as political in their exploration of wealth, power and comparative privilege. I really liked her recent novella in the Worth saga, Her Every Wish, which follows Daisy, a young poor woman hoping to start a business in Victorian England, and Crash, a handsome, swaggering black man who promises to show Daisy how to bluff your way through a world that doesn’t want you to succeed. Featuring velocipedes: the terrifying Victorian precursor to the bicycle. The velocipede is a metaphor.
What else about this year? I’m loving Class, the YA spin-off from Doctor Who by Patrick Ness, which has to be one of the darkest and most complex TV stories about teenagers since Skins. It’s powerful and clever in subverting the tropes of teen heroes — particularly in its use of parents and their involvement in the “adventures.” This is a series that has so much interesting to say about sexuality, race, family, friendship, war crimes, and gives completely fresh takes on character tropes like ‘the nice girl,’ ‘the jock,’ ‘the brainy one,’ etc.
I adored Mockingbird, the best new comic from Marvel this year, and I am gutted that it was cancelled after only 8 issues. Bobbi Morse is my hero, and I love that the entire thing was framed as a feminist spies-and-science adventure, with the male characters relegated to entertaining and decorative love interests/support characters. But the whole thing was so clever, with so many visual jokes and layers to it, it seemed impossible that it was written by a comics newbie. Chelsea Cain and Kate Neimczyk, you are spectacular and you deserved better.
Mockingbird was drawn brilliantly and written sharply, and did so many interesting, inventive things with the genre. It blew me away, just as Fraction/Aja did with Hawkeye four years ago. The fact that it didn’t get the same level of fandom acclaim and support makes me sad. It’s that good.
This was a year in which family friendly female superheroes started being a thing in the media that my daughters could take for granted, instead of having to hunt for. Ms11 is in love with The Miraculous Ladybug, a supercute French cartoon (US dubs available) web series which is modern, funny, and full of powerful young women.
Meanwhile, Ms7 has been spoiled for choice with the release of the DC Super Hero Girls range of toys, books and films. Hero of the Year is a great movie that showcases many of DC’s most interesting female characters without having to wade through boob poses and sexism. It’s lovely, I’m so glad she has this.
But do you know what she liked even better than her new action figure of Wonder Woman? GHOSTBUSTERS, which has taken over from Charlie’s Angels as Ms7’s favourite all time movie. Patty is her favourite.