The 2021 Reading List: March

Since one of my writing goals for 2020 was also to read more, I thought it would help to keep track of what I knocked off Mount Tsundoku. Here’s as good a place as any to post what I’ve read in 2020 to keep me honest, and what I thought of each book immediately after finishing.

In 2020 I decided to be a little more systematic about my reading plans. I started putting an actual to-read pile to stack on the nightstand and limited the stack to five books, which seemed doable for the month. Occasionally comics and graphic novels or roleplaying games jump the queue, but I typically tried to get through the pile in the order I stacked them. I also used this strategy to try and diversify my reading. The goal was for each to-read pile to contain at least one book by a BIPOC or LGBTQ2S+ author, one book by a woman, one non-fiction book, and one book by an author I know personally.

Here’s what was on the to-read stack in February. I almost cleared them all, despite it taking me a few extra days to finish January’s pile!

The February 2021 to-read pile: Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite, City of Ghosts by J.H. Moncrieff, The Break by Katherena Vermette, Rings of Anubis by E. Catherine Tobler, and The Wave by Susan Casey.

The Wave by Susan Casey: I really enjoyed this one. I was expecting a bit more of the scientist point of view than the surfer point of view, but maybe that’s what made the book so engaging. You can feel a little bit of the ocean’s power while you’re reading it, and it brought back some happy memories of my first time swimming in the ocean (and made me even happier that I wasn’t dealing with fifty foot waves).

The to-read stack for March has six books again, because reading The Wave made me want to revisit Fluke.

March 2021 to-read stack: Fluke by Christopher Moore, The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris, Soul Kitchen by Poppy Z. Brite, Fragment by Craig Russell, Scion of the Fox by S.M. Beiko, The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara and Susan McClelland.

Fluke by Christopher Moore: A reread of one of my favourite Christopher Moore books to pair with The Wave (both have sections in Hawaii, and I don’t like reading non-fiction before bed). What worked for me in the past mostly still works for me, and what bugged me back in 2002 (yikes) when I first read it, still does, but I really enjoyed revisiting it, especially juxtaposing it with The Wave.

The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris: I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, and the timing synched up nicely with my nearing the end of a reading stack and a friend saying they’d just finished the book, and enjoyed it. This is the first read not to come from my own stacks in ages. A very enjoyable, and at times, gross, book. I’ve never been more thankful to not have been alive during the Victorian Age. Fitzharris does an amazing job of conveying the stink and squalor of the period. I’d definitely read more science/medical history from her, depending on the topic.

Batman Grendel Vol. 1: Devil’s Riddle by Matt Wagner:

Grendel Batman Vol. 2: Devil’s Masque by Matt Wagner:

Continuing my graphic novel (and my Matt Wagner) rereads. Oh man. I forgot how much I loved Wagner’s art in these two. And how dense every page is. I’d love to see a deluxe edition with a larger trim size that combines the two volumes and showcases Wagner’s page layouts, but I realize that’s not likely to happen. Anytime comic world’s crossed over in my youth was an exciting time, and having some fan arguments about who would best who portrayed was quite the treat (and usually led to more arguments). Grendel makes a great foil for Batman, and could easily sidle into Batman’s rogue’s gallery. Or vice versa. The contrasting portrayals of Batman/Bruce Wayne and Grendel/Hunter Rose make it. Wagner’s art in this series reminds me of David Mazzucchelli’s art in Batman: Year One.

Soul Kitchen by Poppy Z. Brite: Another fantastic culinary fiction read with some crime overtones. I think I liked Liquor better, as the freshness and rawness of Ricky and G-Man trying to get their titular restaurant off the ground was a bit more engaging than some of their trials maintaining it, but I love the characters and Brite’s writing, so I’m sure I’ll be adding Prime to my to-read stack soon.

Justice Riders by Chuck Dixon, J.H. Williams III, Mick Gray, Lee Loughridge: Another graphic novel reread. I think this was my first experience with the art of J.H. Williams III. I’ve always been a sucker for superheroes in the Wild West. This one mostly held up, but I kind of wish that a different assortment of heroes had been chosen to recast. I would’ve loved to have seen Zatanna, Black Canary, or Hawkwoman in the mix. Most of the Wild West takes I enjoyed, but I found the chemistry between Blue Beetle and Booster Gold to be lacking, or at least, not to my tastes, missing some of the Justice League International camaraderie.

Fragment by Craig Russell: I loved Russell’s previous work, Black Bottle Man, even saw it performed as a play. Continuing my water-themed reads, this book has a whale narrator, among the characters reacting to an Antarctic ice shelf the size of a country calving away and causing earthshaking changes to the world we know. I enjoyed Fragment quite a bit, although I think I still prefer Black Bottle Man, which is a bit more in wheelhouse, I’m looking forward to what he comes up with next.

Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert: Another graphic novel reread. It’s been a while since I’ve read this, and while I used to really enjoy how Gaiman weaved the Roanoke colony history and legend into this time-displaced Marvel universe, the story doesn’t hold up for me anymore. Kubert’s a fine artist, but his work as never really been to my taste. Glad I reread it before I let it go off to a new home, however.

Scion of the Fox by S.M. Beiko: The first book in Beiko’s The Realms of Ancient trilogy. Sam is an excellent friend and writer. Full disclosure that she was also my editor on Graveyard Mind. Scion of the Fox has an incredibly vivid start. I was reminded after finishing reading the opening that the first time I encountered it was when she read it aloud at an event on her phone and I was livetweeting her reading and tagging her and almost made her drop her phone/murder me. Great worldbuilding, and very evocative prose. I don’t know if it’s of interest to her, but some of the passages made me long for a Beiko-written horror story.

Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume One by Grant Morrison, J.H. Williams III, Simone Bianchi, Cameron Stewart, Ryan Sook, Frazer Irving, Mick Gray:

Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume Two by Grant Morrison, Simone Bianchi, Cameron Stewart, Ryan Sook, Frazer Irving, Mick Gray:

Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume Three by Grant Morrison, Ryan Sook & Mick Gray, Frazer Irving, Yanick Paquette & Serge Lapointe, Doug Mahnke, Billy Dallas Patton & Michael Bair, Freddie Williams III:

Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume Four by Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke, Freddie E. WIlliams II, Yanick Paquette, J.H. Williams III, Serge Lapointe:

Another Graphic Novel series reread. Grant Morrison’s attempt to revitalize a number of minor or mostly forgotten characters in the DC stable through seven individual limited series, that when read together also told a larger story. To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of Morrison’s work, but this series was always one that worked for me.

Volume One has an introductory issue, and features The Shining Knight, Guardian, Zatanna, and Klarion the Witchboy. I love all the artists in this volume. I’m not sure I really dig Morrison’s take on Zatanna who is probably my favourite DC character, but the Ryan Sook art makes up for that. Volume Two continues The Shining Knight, Guardian, Zatanna, and Klarion the Witchboy. Volume Three concludes Klarion the Witchboy, Zatanna, and introduces Mister Miracle, The Bulleteer, and Frankenstein. Volume Four concludes Frankenstein, Mister Miracle, and Zatanna, and has a special outro issue that resolves the entire series. I loved The Shining Knight and Frankenstein series. Bulleteer and Zatanna were a mixed bag. Zatanna has always been one of my favourite DC characters, but I didn’t care for Morrison’s take on her, even if Ryan Sook’s art was great in that series. Where I liked the story on Bulleteer, the art got a little too cheesecake for me and felt exploitative. Yanick Paquette draws some beautiful women, but I think I preferred his art on Swamp Thing. The art for Klarion was gorgeous, but the character doesn’t do anything for me. I think Mister Miracle suffered from losing Pasqual Ferry on art in the first issue, the other artists didn’t capture the character as well, but then, I’ve never really cared for the Jack Kirby related 4th World characters, other than Darkseid as a villain.

I don’t think Morrison’s goals were met here, as none of his takes, beyond Frankenstein, who eventually got a series in DC’s New 52 relaunch, seemed to long survive the series. In the end, I was glad I reread it, but I’m also happy to let it go. I won’t be keeping it in the collection.

Spellfire by Ed Greenwood: A Dungeons & Dragons nostalgia reread snatched from a local “little free library.” I didn’t really enjoy it back when I first read it and was obsessed with the Forgotten Realms, and yet I always came back to it. While younger me didn’t like the story or the character of Elminster, I loved the banter of the Knights of Myth Drannor, who play a minor but significant role. As an adult, and a writer, I still have a number of issues with the story and pacing. For one, I completely forgot how randy this book was, and I still love the Knights of Myth Drannor, who if nothing else, feel like they come straight off the game table. It reminds me that the more the D&D novels became more traditional fantasy novels, with a single protagonist instead of an “adventuring party”, the less they reflected the game to me, and the less I enjoyed them.

I’ve decided to start making better use of my local libraries resources, so depending on when my holds arrive, it may involve shuffling my to-read stacks, but I am excited! My old hometown library got tons of use from me when I was growing up. Here’s my first library haul:

First Library Haul: Trejo’s Tacos by Danny Trejo, Invincible Ultimate Collection Vol. 6 by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley & Cory Walker, Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios, X-Men Vol. 1 by Jonathan Hickman & Leinil Francis Yu& R.B. Silva & Matteo Buffagni, New Mutants Vol. 1 by Jonathan Hickman & Rod Reis, and movie night choice, Detective Pikachu!

X-Men Vol. 1 by Jonathan Hickman, Leinil Francis Yu, R.B. Silva, Matteo Buffagni: Finally checking this out. I’m not sure if I like Hickman’s take yet, or that it’s what I want out of an X-Men story, but I am curious where it goes. Hickman seems to be playing with all the X-Men toys: Starjammers, Krakoa, Apocalypse, original and new X-Men, so that’s kind of neat. I haven’t seriously followed X-Men since Chris Claremont stopped writing them, I read a few of the major runs since then, but it was only a dip in here and there. Jason Aaron’s Wolverine & the X-Men was the last run I really enjoyed. For years, it’s felt like the X-verse was such a vast part of Marvel that you could follow it, or the rest, but not both. Maybe just me. I’m glad I’m getting these from the library, in any event.

New Mutants Vol. 1 by Jonathan Hickman & Rod Reis: Very different art style from X-Men, almost enjoyed it more than the main book, largely due to the awesome narration from Sunspot.

Pretty Deadly Vol. 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios: I love a good weird western comic. Beautiful art. Can’t wait to read more.

Invincible Ultimate Collection Vol 6 by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, & Cory Walker: I really enjoy the Invincible comics. Probably one of my favourite modern superhero launches. It probably helps having the continuity of creators that being an creator owned book allows. You rarely see Marvel or DC writers and artists spend so long developing characters. The new cartoon based on the series is looking fun too.

X-Force Vol. 1 by Benjamin Percy, Joshua Cassara, & Steven Segovia: Professor Xavier is dead. Again. Percy does some interesting stuff with it, and more of the mystery of what’s going on on Krakoa begins to unravel. The art suits the story well. Strikeforce-style black ops X-men comics still not something I particularly want though.

Fallen Angels Vol. 1 by Bryan Hill, Szymon Kudranski, & Frank D’Armata: Probably my least favourite book in the new X-Men storyline. Nothing technically wrong with it, but the characters of Cable, Psylocke, and X-23 have never really been my jam.

The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara (with Susan McClelland): Tough read, simply told, about a survivor of violence in Sierra Leone. I didn’t know much about the conflict in Sierra Leone and its aftermath, and The Bite of the Mango obviously focuses on Kamara’s story, but I’m glad I read it.

Here’s what I read in January.

Here’s what I read in February.

Also, check out the roundup of my 2020 reading here.

The 2020 Reading List: October

Since one of my writing goals for 2020 was also to read more, I thought it would help to keep track of what I knocked off Mount Tsundoku. Here’s as good a place as any to post what I’ve read in 2020 to keep me honest, and what I thought of each book immediately after finishing.

I’ve decided to be a little more systematic about my reading plans. Now I’m pulling out an actual to-read pile to stack on the nightstand. I’m limiting the stack to five books, which seems doable for the month, even though odds are I won’t get through them all each month. Occasionally comics and graphic novels or roleplaying games might jump the queue, but I’m trying to get through the pile in order I stack them. The first time I did this, I basically grabbed the first five shinys to catch my eye, but for my next stack, I plan on adding some criteria to diversify my reading a bit. My intention is for each to-read pile to contain at least one book by a BIPOC or LGBTQ2S+ author, one book by a woman, one non-fiction book, and one book by an author I know personally (I’ve accumulated a lot of these over the years, and I’ve been a bit slower to get to many of them than I’d like. Sorry, friends!).

Here’s the to-read stack for October!

You may notice there’s six books instead of my usual five, but I’ve reread A Night in the Lonesome October a chapter a night in October for the last several years, and 2020 isn’t taking that away from me. You may also notice a CZP title in there, and while I’ve severed ties with them, I purchased this before that went down and I don’t want to punish the author. David Demchuck got the rights back to the book, and I believe there’s a new edition pending, so check that one out if it intrigues, and support another author who was taken advantage of by their publisher.

Atomic Robo Volume 2: Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, and Jeff Powell: Continuing my Atomic Robo reread. Most of this one takes place during World War II, but there are “B” stories included that happen throughout Robo’s career.

Atomic Robo Volume 3: Atomic Robo and the Shadow from Beyond Time by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, and Jeff Powell: Next on my Atomic Robo reread. Now there’s some cosmic horror! H.P. Lovecraft makes an appearance along with Charles Fort, but my favourite cameo belongs to Carl Sagan. Reading the “B” stories reminds me of another similarity I’ve noticed between Hellboy and Atomic Robo for me, and that is, I also vastly prefer Robo drawn by Scott Wegener. Something in the expressions just never feels right otherwise.

Atomic Robo Volume 4: Atomic Robo and Other Strangeness by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, Jeff Powell, and Lee Black: An anthology of one shots, this volume features the gloriously wacky Doctor Dinosaur! I fucking love Doctor Dinosaur.

Atomic Robo Volume 5: Atomic Robo and the Deadly Art of Science by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, Jeff Powell, and Lee Black: A tale of Robo’s early days with lots of pulp hero inspiration.

Atomic Robo Volume 6: The Ghost of Station X by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, Jeff Powell, and Lee Black: A missing building, an assassination attempt, and Alan Turing make Atomic Robo public enemy number one.

Atomic Robo Volume 7: The Flying She-Devils of the Pacific by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, Jeff Powell, and Lee Black: Another tale of Robo’s past, set in the post-WWII Pacific Theatre area. Lots of fun! I have a bunch more Atomic Robo I could read, but this was the point were I started buying it in single issues, and I don’t feel like hauling out the comic long boxes.

Leave it to Chance Book One: Shaman’s Rain by James Robinson and Paul Smith, with Jeremy Cox: I’ve loved a lot of Robinson’s work over the years and Paul Smith illustrated my all-time favourite issue of Uncanny X-Men back in the day, as well as collaborating with Robinson on The Golden Age (one of my old favourite superhero graphic novels, which will probably end up on the reread pile soonish). Lots of fun concepts that didn’t necessarily age well. I enjoyed revisiting this volume, but when I tried to continue on with Book Two, I quickly lost interest. I think I’ll be donating this part of my collection.

Saga Volume One by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: Another graphic novel reread. I still love this series so much. Staples’ designs are as striking as ever and I love the relatively simple idea of star-crossed lovers just trying to get by in a galaxy at war. Also, rereading it, Hazel’s narration and the foreshadowing embedded within it hit so much harder. I both want, and do not want a Lying Cat of my own.

Saga Volume Two by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: Briefly continuing my reread, as after this point I started buying the series in monthly issues, and as with Atomic Robo, didn’t feel like hauling out the long boxes.

Trick or Treat Murder by Leslie Meier: From a Halloween Murder omnibus. Cozy mysteries aren’t my typical reads, but I found I needed some lighter fare than expected this month. It was fun. Arson in small historic town leads to murder. Interesting characters, but as I was mostly in it for fun Halloween content, I likely won’t dive too deeply into the rest of the series, which is substantial.

Invincible Ultimate Collection Volume One by Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker, Ryan Ottley, and Bill Crabtree: When this book came out it quickly became one of my favourite superhero books. I also enjoy it far more than the other property Kirkman is probably better known for, The Walking Dead. Teen hero Invincible is the son of the world’s greatest hero, Omni-Man, and once his powers kick in he starts getting his feet wet in the family business. Ryan Ottley takes over art duties from co-creator and original artist Walker halfway through, and ends up being a perfect fit for the series. This volume’s shocking conclusion upends what the reader thinks the story’s dynamic will be, and reverberates throughout the rest of the series (at least as much as I’ve read). I haven’t read through it in ages, the appearance of the trailer for the upcoming animated series probably thrust it back into my mind. I still really dig this series, with one caveat, and that is the characters occasionally use “gay” or the r-word as a pejorative, in the guise of friends joking around with each other (particularly when Invincible carries a male friend while flying, which becomes a running gag). I remember both words being used that way more commonly when the series was being published, and it definitely dates the dialogue and struck me every time I encountered it going forward in my reread.

Invincible Ultimate Collection Volume Two by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, and Bill Crabtree: Another reread. Invincible deals with the fallout of the revelation of his father’s true nature, as well as graduating from high school, and ends up creating a new arch enemy.

Invincible Ultimate Collection Volume Three by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, and Bill Crabtree: Invincible discovers some unexpected family and a lot of long running subplots come to a head in this volume. Kirkman’s pacing on this series is just immaculate, and Ottley’s art is as good as ever.

Invincible Ultimate Collection Volume Four by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, and Bill Crabtree: This was the end of my Invincible collection, and so the end of my reread. Despite my minor issues with some dated dialogue, I really enjoy the world of Invincible, and I think I’ll try and track down the next volume or two, which I don’t think I ever read, and keep going with the series. The series accomplishes a lot of what I loved in Chris Claremont’s epic Uncanny X-Men run from my formative comic-reading years.

Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E Volume One: This is What They Want by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen: This used to be one of my favourite series, and Warren Ellis used to be one of my favourite writers (in another life I won an award from his publisher for promoting his debut novel) but after revelations of Ellis’s toxic behavior, I didn’t want to keep his work on my shelves. I decided to give Nextwave a quick reread before it hit the donate pile, and while I’m kind of sorry to see it go (as it contains another of my favourite single comic panels, and I love the character of Elsa Bloodstone, and Ellis’s particular take on Machine Man), but also happy to have it gone. I decided not to bother with reading the second volume in the series.

Wicked Witch Murder by Leslie Meier: The second book in the Halloween Murder omnibus. Enjoyed the first enough to keep going, but I know I’m in it for the Halloween-y content, so I’m unlikely to dive much deeper into the Lucy Stone series, unless Meier has more Halloween books in her catalogue (pretty sure she does).

Clan Destine Classic by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer: Another graphic novel reread. This one has the first eight issues of the comic that Davis and Farmer worked on (the less said about what came after, the better) and a miniseries that teams up the Clan Destine with the X-Men. Davis is still hands down my favourite superhero artist. The X-Men team up didn’t hold up as well as I’d hoped though, largely because I’ve moved on from the X-Men in recent years.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter: So lush. I wish the print were larger, but the small print made me take more care with Carter’s perfect sentences. Fairy tale reimaginings include Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast. I didn’t care for Puss in Boots, the only story I didn’t love in the collection, actually. One of my issues with single author collections is that’s not how I tend to consume short stories. I read far more anthologies than collections, and stories that I find online. My other issue with this book, the print…so tiny on my aging eyes, which to be fair, is hardly Carter’s fault, but it made it difficult to digest her prose at times.

Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell by Paul Dini and Joe Quinones: Another reread. Zatanna is probably my favourite character in the DC universe, and Paul Dini writes her so well. Dini was also one of my favourite writers on Batman: The Animated Series. Still fun. Dini’s voice is great for the two main characters. Quinones’ art nails facial expressions and reactions better than action moments in my opinion, but was pretty well suited to the story.

The Bone Mother by David Demchuk: Most of my experience with this collection of eastern European-inspired stories has been hearing the author read from the book at various events and conventions. This has the interesting effect of me hearing Demchuk’s voice in my head while I read the book. The Bone Mother was full of wonderful bite-sized tales of terror. Highly recommend it.

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: A Mexican narco vampire novel. Moreno-Garcia’s a fantastic writer, and every time I’ve read one of her books, it’s ended up on my favourite books of the year list. Somehow, I was expecting something different from this one, not sure what, exactly, but I loved it in spite of my initial expectations not being met. Great characters, and a really interesting take on vampire lore. Especially loved Moreno-Garcia’s portrayal of Mexico City.

A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny: One of my favourite books, and one I’ve reread almost every year since I finally tracked down a copy of my own (it was out of print for far too long). The novel unfolds over the month of October and each chapter covers a single day as Jack the Ripper’s faithful dog Snuff tries to help prevent the rise of the Elder Gods in a game of Openers and Closers. Sometimes I’ve read the novel all in a burst, and that was how I first consumed it (it’s a pretty quick read), but for the last several runs at the book, I’ve read it a chapter a night over the month of October, and I find that’s how I best enjoy it. Already looking forward to next October’s reread!

Zatanna the Mistress of Magic Volume One by Paul Dini, Stephane Roux, Chad Hardin, and Jesus Saiz: A reread. I have all the individual issues of this series, but I’m not sure if they were ever all collected. As I stated above, I love Dini’s take on Zatanna. Jesus Saiz delivered my favourite art of the collection, pity they were only on board for a single issue. Stephane Roux’s pencils capture the spirit of the character excellently as well.

So my reading went a little of stack this month. There was a lot going on down Thunder Road Way, and so I sought some comfort in rereading old graphic novels. When I moved I decided to limit my graphic novels to one shelf (in a past age, at their height, I had almost two full bookcases in my collection but I realized I only ever reread the same stack of them). It was good in a way, as a few things I’ve been hanging onto for years without actually enjoying them are now free to be enjoyed by other readers, and no longer cluttering my shelves, while other series have reminded me that I’ve been meaning to get caught up for ages, but didn’t because of space limitations.

Here’s what I read in January.

Here’s what I read in February.

Here’s what I read in March.

Here’s what I read in April.

Here’s what I read in May.

Here’s what I read in June.

Here’s what I read in July.

Here’s what I read in August.

Here’s what I read in September.