January 31, 2018

Jenn Recommends, What I’m Reading

Favorite Stories of 2017

(Shush, it’s still technically January, I can still do year-end retrospectives!)

Let’s be honest: 2017 was a hard year. I had a number of personal highs, sure, but on the whole I will not be looking back on it with any great fondness. So it was important for me to find books and movies and TV series that lifted up my experience, and while I didn’t set any records for quantity of new media consumed, I was overall quite satisfied with my reading/watching choices. Let’s just dive straight in, then, a roundup of my favorite new-to-me fictional worlds.


One thing of note from this past year: I ended up reading a lot less genre fiction than I have in… a long long time. This wasn’t a conscious choice, not really, although I was eventually aware of the fact that I was craving literary fiction. As a genre author myself, I obviously adore a lot of science fiction and fantasy novels, but… I don’t know, sometimes I just need a break from all of the excessive world-building and high-stakes plots and fake political upheavals, in favor of slow-burn, introspective glimpses into the human psyche. Not to mention the heavy emphasis on the beauty of language for it’s own sake that literary fiction often provides. With that in mind, here are the books that I enjoyed the most in 2017.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill

If we’re breaking things down by category, then this book wins “most beautiful prose” for the year. That is… honestly the only thing I really remember about it? Which makes it sound like the book itself wasn’t very good beyond that, but it was—it’s just that the writing itself was so gorgeous that it kind of overrides everything else. Listen, I read a lot of beautiful books, okay, but I don’t remember the last time I was this blown away by the craftsmanship. Heather O’Neill’s metaphors and similes, especially, took my breath away with their ability to be so unique and imaginative and yet so spot-on that it made me wonder how I’d never drawn the connection before. It’s been a while since I was outright jealous of someone’s writing, but this one did it for me.

No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal

I made an effort in 2017 to consume more #OwnVoices media, and I have to say, the experience did not disappoint. No One Can Pronounce My Name was gorgeous. It was also the first book I’d read in more than a year that was written by a man, and it was the perfect title to break my girl-power streak on. I adored these characters, and I adored the slow unfolding of the past, and the way they grew and moved toward their futures. Also, as someone that had recently joined a writer’s group, every scene from that setting made me want to laugh out loud.

Dreadnought by April Daniels

I already talked about this one in my post on quality superhero fiction, but it was so great that it easily deserves a spot on my year-end roundup as well. I loved this book so much. Not only was it a fantastic superhero story, I loved the #OwnVoices capture of the trans lesbian experience. From an outsiders perspective, I’d say this was easily the best book about a transgender individual that I’ve read yet. Gorgeous book, heartbreaking and hopeful and funny and empowering.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Sometimes you need a book that just makes you feel good. When Dimple Met Rishi is the perfect romcom: nerdy, adorable, just the right amount of drama, ultimately satisfying. I loved everything about this #OwnVoices novel, but from a personal perspective, having the plot that so heavily involved both programming and drawing (especially drawing superheroes) made this a book that was basically tailor-made to win me over.

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Also mentioned in my superhero and comics fiction post, but… I’m calling it, this was my favorite book of 2017.

Unlike some of my other favorites, this was not a light or easy book by any means. The subject matter gets really intense, and the protagonist has a lot of anxiety issues that were a little too close to home, at times. That said, this book left me breathless. SUCH an amazing look at life as a creator, as an outsider, as a person trying to find their place in the world. I loved everything about this book, but I especially loved the moment when I realized that the monsters in the title were not, in fact, a reference to her webcomic universe at all. I’m not going to say anything more on that, but… it’s beautiful. Seriously, jut go read it.

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Another top-notch, #OwnVoices romcom, but this time featuring two equally adorable romances playing out simultaneously. I mean, there’s no way I am not going to love a romance set at a con, okay? That alone just checks for many boxes for me that it’s not even funny. Throw in a diverse cast, shyness, cute YouTubers, and a positive look at fandom? My heart was doomed from the start.

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

This is one of those books were, the whole time I was reading it, I wouldn’t have necessarily jumped up and down and professed my love for it, but… As soon as it was over and I had some time to reflect, I found my thoughts circling back to this #OwnVoices book over and over again. I guess you could say that this book was impactful, more than anything else. So many things end up reminding me of it, that even now, a few months later, it’s trailing with me like an imaginary friend.


Wonder Woman

What more needs to be said? I already wrote about how much this movie meant to me, and every bit of that original post stands up upon multiple rewatchings. Favorite movie of the year, most important movie to me of the year.

Thor: Ragnarok

And then, of course, there’s Thor.

OH MY GOD THIS MOVIE WAS WAY TOO MUCH FUN. I mean, I’m a fan of the Thor movies anyway (second only to Captain America), but this? This is the best parts of Thor, filtered out and then amplified a hundred times and thrown in splashy, amazing colors at the biggest of big screens. All I can say to the powers that be behind the Avengers franchise is: MORE OF THIS, PLEASE.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Yup, it’s on my list. While I admit that my first viewing of this movie did not fill me with the same pumped-up amazement that I felt upon leaving The Force Awakens, the longer I sit with it, and the more I read about all of the implications and storytelling decisions that this movie made, the more I like and appreciate everything that it was saying. Easily the most… complex Star Wars movie of the franchise. I admit, I didn’t think the world of Star Wars had it in it, to tell a story this layered.



Listen, I’ve watched/read a lot of Sherlock Holmes adaptations, okay? Sherlock Holmes, like Pride and Prejudice, is almost guaranteed to get me to tune in. Modern day re-imaginings, old timey retelling, descendants of Holmes and Watson stories… doesn’t matter, I’m there. A lot of them—a lot of them—I think are really, really good, even if they have slightly different “takes” on the Holmes character. But this one? This one became my absolute favorite almost instantly.

On the surface, there were a lot of changes. Holmes is living in current-day New York, and Watson is an ex-doctor turned sober companion—not to mention a Chinese-American woman. And I admit, I held off on this show for a long time, in part because I thought the sheer number of changes to canon would weaken the story.

Oh my god, I was so wrong. This adaptation feels the most true-to-canon of anything I’ve ever watched. I love the way that they had to adapt Sherlock’s personality to fit and make sense within the 21st century, and it really revealed to me just how much of what we typically associate with “Sherlock Holmes” is, in fact, just the way that his character reacts to, and reflects, the Victorian, male-dominated society that he was raised in. Not to mention how fantastic it is to see the Watson character treated with such respect, by both by writing and Sherlock himself. Not just the best Sherlock story, but easily my favorite new-to-me show of the year.


That said, 2017 primarily was my year of comedy. With everything going on in the world and a few recurring issues in my personal life, I needed escapism more than ever. In that light, I fell in love with…


I don’t care if it wasn’t popular, I loved this tragically short-lived series. The combination of a superhero-filled world, but decidedly unremarkable characters, made it an instant hit with me. Were parts of it a little clunky? Sure. But I adored all of the easter eggs that the show was filled with, and the primary cast made me laugh so hard that I just couldn’t care about the rough edges. This show was a bright spot in an otherwise fairly dark few months for me, and I will always be grateful for it.

The Orville

I grew up on Star Trek: TNG. Every week, sprawled on my parents’ living room floor, eyes wide in wonder as the crew of the Enterprise raced around on campy adventures and rose above the petty impulses that plague our human nature. Listen, there is a time and a place for science fiction that plunges deep into the complexities of moral gray areas, and I am all for that, I guess? But mostly what I like from sci-fi is hope and optimism about the future. Old-school Star Trek series still deliver that, and The Orville delivers that. The Orville makes me feel the way I did when I was ten, watching TNG, when the world still seemed good, and the future looked like nothing but gleaming ships and social progress. Especially now, I need a show like this. I think maybe we all do.

Fresh off the Boat

This has become my go-to pick-me-up show. Like I said above, I’ve tried to diversify my media consumption lately. I’ve loved reading about experiences outside of the WASP-y upbringing I had, and immigrant/first generation stories especially have found a special place in my heart. It helps that this series is set in the ’90s, and that I was almost exactly the same age as the oldest child at the time. But I adore how endearing this series is, how much heart is has. It’s sweet and funny, and it somehow manages to capture both what it’s like to be an outsider, and what it was like to be an American in the ’90s middle-class, all at the same time. Don’t even ask me to pick a favorite character, because they are all fantastic.

So there you have it, finally, a glimpse into the stories that sustained me last year. What about you, what were your new favorites in 2017? Did you try any of the ones I did? Let me know in the comments!