Welcome to Smugglivus 2017! Throughout this month, we will have guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2017, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2018, and more.
Our next Smugglivus guest is Chelsea AKA The Reading Outlaw: fan, critic, Youtuber and one half of the reading & fandom podcast Not Now, I’m Reading!
It’s probably fair to assume that 2017 was a complete hellfire shithole for everyone. And while the world around us teeters on the brink of total annihilation (happy holidays, amirite) it would be a lie to say that there aren’t still several silver linings among all these clouds. So when the intrepid Book Smugglers reached out and asked me for my Smugglivus List Of Things That Got Me Through 2017 (my title), I sat down to really give thanks and credit to all those amazing pieces of media and media-related spaces that saved my life this year, some metaphorically and others less so.
Eliza and her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
If you’ve spent more than five minutes with me, either on the internet or IRL, in the last three months or so, I have shoved this book at you and told you not to come back until you were finished. It’s officially taken my Favorite of the Year spot, and I’m tempted to just tattoo the whole thing all over my body.
This book is all about Eliza, the secret creator of internet sensation webcomic Monstrous Sea, and Wallace, the boy/fan she falls in love with. This book is so many different things that I love, all wrapped up in the package of intelligent prose, fast pacing, and incredibly observant commentary on being a creator, being a fan, and how we define ourselves by our work. I’ll go ahead and give you all the content warnings for depression, anxiety, and honest discussions of suicide, but if you’re in the head space where you can handle all those things, there isn’t a more perfect book for Smugglers everywhere.
The Archive of Our Own (AO3) & The Office of Transformative Works (OTW)
If I’m being completely honest, this should probably just read “fandom”, but it’s hard to recommend a general concept as something to pick up over the holidays. Which is why I’m so incredibly grateful for the Archive, the best (in my incredibly humble opinion) place to go for all your fanfiction, podfic, and fanvid needs. There are, obviously, other places to find all of those things, but none with the user interface and search functions the Archive has! We even spent an entire episode of the Not Now I’m Reading podcast breaking down the best ways to get the most out of your time there. And, of course, I couldn’t thank the Archive without thanking its parent group, the OTW, a group of imperfect-but-passionate people constantly working to protect, legitimize, and defend fanworks and fan communities.
Seriously, y’all. It is almost impossible to overstate how much fandom has meant to me this year – everything from Stargate: Atlantis to Hockey RPF to Law and Order: SVU and Hannibal, if there has been one place I go first when my heart hurts, my brain is sad, or if I just need that little bit of squishy goodness to get me through, it’s the Archive. Go, find your pool, and swim your fannish heart out.
The Court of Fives series by Kate Elliott
The final book in this series came out this year, and HOLY SHIT am I glad I waited to pick up this series, because once I picked it up, there was no putting it down. Jessamy lives in a world highly stratified into those who are born into the world of recognition and power at their fingertips, and those that are not. Amid a country and a family at war, she just wants to run the Fives, a kind of five-part obstacle course whose tasks mirror the local history and culture. However, her fate becomes more and more intertwined with the future of her people as those she trusts the most turn their back on her, and the people she’s been raised her entire life to distrust come to her aide. It’s an amazing young adult book that combines issues of gender, class, race, and destiny in a story that moves with breakneck speed. These books are full of the spectrum of ‘strong female characters’, and turn the classic tale of revolution on its head.
As of the time I’m writing this, The Last Jedi hasn’t come out yet. I don’t care. It’s not like I don’t know I’m going to love it. But even more than the upcoming movie, I’m giving these thanks to the entire IP that is Star Wars. There are a lot of days I spend on Twitter that just blur together into a general malaise of memes and misogyny. However, I can remember with complete clarity the day that the Vanity Fair Star Wars covers came out, and the day the trailer dropped, and the day Carrie Fisher passed, and the day Swapna Krishna and Preeti Chibber finally met Mark Hamill. Some of the best days on Twitter this year were Star Wars related, and at a time when all my friends’ extra energy was going to fighting fascism and resisting by existing, it gave me a huge sense of relief to see all of us being able to take a break and celebrate the fact that Finn is most definitely still wearing Poe Dameron’s jacket in that trailer.
Also, fuck I miss Carrie Fisher.
The Turner Series by Cat Sebastian especially The Lawrence Browne Affair
It’s probably cheating to recommend an entire author’s catalog, but it’s my list, so…. I’m going to do it anyway. Cat Sebastian writes male/male regency romances that just take your heart and put them through the wringer before wrapping you up in a fluffy warm blanket and making you cocoa. The Turner series’ is, like most romances, tied together by a shared cast of major/minor characters, so while The Lawrence Browne Affair is technically book two, it’s my favorite and definitely where I would start. The romance of a ‘mad scientist’ and the con artist who arrives to be his assistant, this book tackles mental health and sensory processing concerns while also being super fucking sexy and just a total delight. Cat’s upcoming book, It Takes Two to Tumble, is out in 2018 and is a male/male retelling of The Sound of Music that, trust me, you’re going to want to go ahead and preorder.
The Sport of Hockey
SHUT THE FRONT DOOR, y’all. If you’d told me a few years ago that ANY sportsball event would make my end of year Best-Of list, I would have laughed so hard I broke something. But guess what, friends? It’s 2017 and we’re all living in the Upsidedown and all bets are off. Hockey, as a sport, doesn’t really have any traction in my local area, but thanks to the magic of internet radio, a casual knowledge has quickly become a passionate hunger for all things power play. The real truth is that, while nothing and no one is problem free, hockey is a sport that seems: LGBTQ friendly, free of domestic violence, and super into charitable giving on a local level. That plus the sheer number of hockey players with amazing butts is enough to get my loyalty.
It can be really, really hard to stay creatively inspired when you’re busy stressing about the end of the world. It’s why there are so few books on this end of year list. But at the same time, I’ve never been more desperate for narratives of joy, of success, of talented people doing talented things. Enter: musical theatre. Especially Dear Evan Hansen, West Side Story, Company, and Zanna, Don’t! Listening to broadway scores, even of shows I haven’t seen, gives me the chance to sing along at the top of my lungs to a song as catchy as any pop tune (looking at you, “Despacito”) while also being part of a larger narrative to get invested in. There are a number of lessons to be learned from musicals, everything from how to pace your narrative to where your character arcs intersect and surpass one another, and falling back under their spell has been incredible in refilling the often empty well of inspiration.
The Spindle Cove series by Tessa Dare
This is another time where I’m going to shamelessly cheat on my own list and recommend an entire series of books, including the interstitial novellas, all written by Tessa Dare. These books have officially entered my pantheon of Fictional Places I Would Like to Live, and man oh man will you fall in love with every one of these characters, both primary and secondary. Tessa Dare is an absolutely astounding writer who is one of my auto-buys, and this series revolves around Spindle Cove, a seaside town for women who just don’t quite belong. The odd balls, the wallflowers, the girls who have reputations of questionable quality. Spindle Cove is where they go to live, convalesce, and fall in love. AND BOY HOWDY DO THEY FALL IN LOVE. The first book, A Night to Surrender, follows the daughter of a local arms inventor and a recently returned and injured soldier, and you might want to go ahead and put all the rest of the books on hold. You’ll thank me.
Podcasts, Podcasts, Podcasts
Just go ahead and slot this one in right behind musical theatre in terms of auditory storytelling that I just can’t stop consuming. The ‘story’ part might be debatable, but if 2016 was my year of audiobooks, 2017 has been my year of podcasts. Whether political (Hellbent, Lovett or Leave It), pop cultural (Fangirl Happy Hour; Smart Podcast, Trashy Books; My Brother My Brother and Me), or the one I record with a darling friend (SHAMELESS SELF PLUG) I think podcasts are perfectly suited for folks who are looking for bite sized chunks of story or information but who can’t seem to work up the energy to read, you know, an actual book.
Ashwin by Kit Rocha
A year ago, I read a thirteen book erotica series by writing duo Kit Rocha in less than two weeks. To say that I was obsessed would be an understatement. So when 2017 rolled around and the same author had a new book coming out in the same world, but starting a new story, I clicked autobuy so fast I cracked my phone screen. This book is about Ashwin, a genetically engineered supersoldier who has been bred to live without feelings, and Kora, the medic who helps him learn how to feel again. Yes, I know how that sounds. Yes, it’s completely amazing and is chockablock of found family feelings and sexy tattooing to boot.
And I think that’s it. I mean, it’s not, one of the great things about gratitude is once you start, it becomes easier and easier to think of things you’re grateful for. So I could go on, but I’m preeeetty sure the Smugglers are playing the music and flashing the lights, and my speech is done. Happy Smugglivus, friends, and may your 2018 bring you rest, hydration, and a whole host of media you love!