The 2021 Reading List: April

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.

I finished my entire March stack (plus way more, courtesy of a graphic novel rampage through the library) in March, and since April is poetry month, I decided to try some poetry collections I had around the house. Now that I’m using my local library a bit more, the actual to-read pile will be a bit more fluid, as I’ll have to prioritize anything that has a time limit.

My April 2021 to read stack: The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire, Prime by Poppy Z. Brite, House of Mystery by Courtney Bates-Hardy, Black Salt By Édouard Glissant, and Trejo’s Tacos by Danny Trejo and Hugh Garvey.

I finished the stack (plus a whole lot more)!

The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire: An October Daye book. I actually finished this on the 31st of March, but it has an extra novella at the end, so I’ve decided to count it for April. I really enjoy the Toby Daye books, I’m not sure what else to say about it. This deep in the series, you either enjoy what McGuire is doing, or you don’t, but she is excellent at building an ongoing series and paying off seemingly small moments from previous books when the time is right.

Excalibur Vol. 1 by Tini Howard, Marcus To, and Erick Arciniega: Part of Marvel’s House of X relaunch of the X-Men spearheaded by Jonathan Hickman. Excalibur was always one of my favourites of the X-books, back in the day, although this doesn’t share many of the characters that I loved. It was interesting to see Betsy Braddock as Captain Britain, and some Otherworld hijinks though. I enjoyed the story, and it probably has my favourite art of the House of X relaunch, because Marcus To’s crisper lines remind me somewhat of original Excalibur artist, Alan Davis, who’s probably my favourite superhero artist.

Dungeons & Dragons Candlekeep Mysteries: An anthology series of short adventures. This reads like an expanded issue of the old Dungeon Magazine. I really enjoyed it, some of the adventures I’m excited to use, some I doubt I’d ever use, but they all seem to offer plenty of ways to customize them to one’s own D&D campaign.

Trejo’s Tacos by Danny Trejo with Hugh Garvey: Recipes and stories from Los Angeles. I really enjoyed this. Both the stories and the recipes. Lots of tips to make the most of the recipes as presented in the book, too. I can’t wait to try some of these!

The Terrifics Vol 1 Meet the Terrifics: by Jeff Lemire, Ivan Reis, José Luis, Joe Bennett, and Evan “Doc” Shaner: DC clearly trying to poke at the Fantastic Four, but it’s got Metamorpho in it, so it’s got my attention. I enjoyed it. The art and the story were a good match too. I typically like Lemire’s work more on his creator owned books than I do on his Marvel and DC work, but I’m intrigued enough to keep reading.

Spire by Grant Howitt and Christopher Taylor: A roleplaying game I’ve been keen to read for a while now. I picked it up in December and have been slowly picking away at it chapter by chapter and section by section in between other books. I really like the simplicity of the rules along with the potential they evoke. I also love all of the options for player characters. Unfortunately, while I love the worldbuilding too, I doubt I’ll get this game to the table. I’d rather read novels set in this world than run the game. I’d be totally up for playing in it if someone else was the GM though.

Cyberpunk Red by R. Talsorian Games: Another roleplaying game I’ve been keen to look at even though I never played much of previous editions. As with Spire, I started reading this one back in December, and slowly picked my way through it in between other books. I typically went for Shadowrun which covered similar territory, but had a fantasy overlay on its dark future. I am really impressed with the layout of this book. I like the rules and character creation. I don’t think I’d be a good GM for this game, but I’d love to play it.

Dungeons & Dragons Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything: I was a little disappointed in this one. Not a lot of the new character class options jumped out at me as something I’d use, the Artificer class and Group Patron rules had already appeared in the Eberron: Rising from the Last War book (I didn’t compare and contrast to see if there were any serious differences between the two books), a few new spells, a few GM tips, and some puzzles. It just felt…thin. I think these days, I prefer the books that have more DM-facing content, Ah well. Can’t like them all.

Prime by Poppy Z. Brite: I think I read the series out of order, and should’ve read Prime before Soul Kitchen, it was still enjoyable, but maybe my least favourite of the three Rickey and G-Man books because I had an idea of where the plot was going as I read it. One thing I’ve noticed about these books is the endings have come all in a rush after a slow burn throughout the book. Not a complaint, just a trait they all seemed to share. Reading this series has often made me want to try cooking new things, and always leaves me hungry.

Stumptown Volume One: The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini) by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth: I’ve long dug Rucka’s writing but this series wasn’t on my radar until I stumbled across the Stumptown tv series with Cobie Smulders, who I really enjoyed in the lead role of Dex Parios. The art perfectly suits the story, and I’m stoked to read more.

Black Hammer Volume One: Secret Origins by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, and Dave Stewart: I really enjoyed this. Lots of Golden Age love and plenty of mystery and weirdness to look forward to as the story unfolds. I’ll definitely be checking out more.

House of Mystery by Courtney Bates-Hardy: First poetry collection I’ve read in years. This collection explores and transforms fairy tales. Bates-Hardy is another former CZP author and I was thrilled to have hosted her at the reading series I used to host with S.M. Beiko. I really enjoyed House of Mystery, but I also find that I prefer listening to poetry rather than reading it, and certainly reading a collection all in a short span. Not the author’s fault, I think I’m just rusty as a poetry reader. There’s definitely some poems that’ll stick with me though, and I’d recommend this to anyone interested in speculative poems.

Silver Shadows by Elaine Cunningham: Another old D&D novel reread. I forgot about the elven werewolves that were particular to the Forgotten Realms. Fun. I didn’t remember much of this one at all, I know I’ve read it, but I must not have owned it. I think I have only one of Cunningham’s Harpers series novels left to reread, which I will, whenever I’m able to track it down.

Latest library haul: A Killing Frost by Seanan McGuire, New Mutants Vol. 1 by Ed Brisson, The Terrifics Vol. 3 by Gene Luen Yang, X-Force Vol. 2 by Benjamin Percy, Pulp by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Excalibur Vol. 2 by Tini Howard, The Terrifics Vol. 2 By Jeff Lemire, Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios, Stumptown Vol. 2 by Greg Rucka & Matthew Southworth

Killing Frost by Seanan McGuire: Another October Daye novel. A lot of big events happened in this one, but not quite the big events I was expecting. Not a bad thing. There also felt like a bit more backfill matter to remind the reader of what has come before. Also not unexpected for the fourteenth book in a series. Perhaps only notable because I read the latest two volumes practically back to back. Now I’m caught up until at least September 2021 when the next book in the series releases.

Hilda and the Troll by Luke Pearson: I love the Hilda cartoon on Netflix so much! The graphic novels it’s based upon are fun, but I think I prefer the animation style of the cartoon to the actual illustrations. I may read more, as it was a quick read, but I’m not in a rush for the next book the way I am for the next season.

New Mutants Vol. 1 by Ed Brisson, Flaviano, and Marco Failla: Another collection from Jonathan Hickman’s new architecture of the X-Men side of the Marvel universe. I preferred the other New Mutants book, written by Hickman himself. More of the classic characters I was familiar with and the conceit of using Sunspot’s narration really worked for me. Nothing wrong with this one, just not my cup of tea.

Excalibur Vol. 2 by Tini Howard, Marcus To, & Walton Santos: Another collection from Jonathan Hickman’s retooling of the X-Men side of the Marvel universe. So far this one is my favourite of the books outside of Hickman’s main X-Men book, but then Excalibur has been my favourite part of the X-Verse since it launched soooo many moons ago. I do love me some Captain Britain, even when it’s Betsy Braddock and not Brian Braddock wearing the mantle. Howard gets the tone right and the art, while not by Alan Davis, has the same clean lines that I love about Davis’ work, and makes the book feel more like classic Excalibur.

X-Force Vol. 2 by Benjamin Percy and Stephen Segovia: Another collection from Jonathan Hickman’s new architecture of the X-Men side of the Marvel universe. I’ve liked Percy’s writing in the past, but this book isn’t really clicking for me.

Marauders Vol. 1 by Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, Michele Bandini, Lucas Werneck, and Mario Del Pennino: Another collection from Jonathan Hickman’s new architecture of the X-Men side of the Marvel universe. Like Excalibur, this one was another standout to me of the recent X-Men fare. I really like Kate Pryde as a pirate, the art was a good complement to the story too.

Marauders Vol. 2 by Gerry Duggan, Stefano Caselli, and Matteo Lolli: Another collection from Jonathan Hickman’s new architecture of the X-Men side of the Marvel universe. Really enjoyed this volume as well. The tiny moments of Kate interacting with Rachel and Nightcrawler also hit me in the old time Excalibur feels. I really miss seeing Rachel Summers/Grey in this new X-Men paradigm. Apparently she’s involved in the X-Factor book, which got me very excited for a moment, but (of course) sadly it isn’t available at my library.

The Terrifics Vol. 2: Tom Strong & The Terrifics by Jeff Lemire, Dave Eaglesham, Viktor Bogdanovic, and Joe Bennett: I enjoyed this volume even more than the first one. I’ve always had a soft spot for Tom Strong. I also loved all of the artists in this collection.

Spider-Gwen: Ghost Spider Spider-Geddon by Seanan McGuire, Rosi Kämpe, Takeshi Miyazawa, and Alti Firmansyah: My first time reading McGuire’s comic work. I have no particular connection to Gwen Stacy as a character; she’s been dead for as long as I’ve read Spider-Man comics. I like this alternate universe take where she got superpowers instead of Peter Parker though, and her costume design is really cool. The art was a good match for the character. I’d like to see how I react to McGuire’s comic writing with a character that is more in my wheelhouse someday.

The Terrifics Vol. 3: The God Game by Gene Luen Yang and Stephen Segovia: I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I did Lemire’s run on the book, but I’ve liked what I’ve read of Yang’s comic work in the past, so I’d probably give him another chance with these characters.

Dungeons & Dragons Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica: My first did not finish of the year. I did more skimming and page flipping than reading. Not much I’d use here as a player or a DM. I’ve never been more than a casual Magic the Gathering player, so most of the worldbuilding elements didn’t interest me, ditto the monsters, and the player’s options I might use were largely reprinted in another book (Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything), so I’m glad I borrowed this one instead of buying. The Guild options could definitely be interesting to some players so your mileage may vary.

Black Salt by Édouard Glissant (Translated by Betsy Wing): My second poetry read of the month. I’d hoped to read more poetry than two collections for Poetry Month, but I think reading a collection at a time is not really how I enjoy consuming poetry. This was a really interesting collection though, containing three of Glissant’s major works. His poem “Carthage” in the second of the three collections (also entitled Black Salt) was probably my favourite piece in the book, but the third Yokes, was probably the sequence that spoke to me the most. Perhaps because of editor notes to give a little more context to what I was reading. Reading this (and House of Mystery, earlier) makes me miss going to launch parties and hearing poets read from their own work. I like hearing the cadence and inflection of their words.

Pulp by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips: So good. I’ll read anything by this duo. A bit of a mixture of western and crime pulp. Highly recommended.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle: I’ve been meaning to read this one for quite a while. It was so great! Cosmic horror from a different POV and some turns of phrase that were chilling. I’ll be reading more by LaValle for sure.

Stumptown Vol. 2:The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth: Really enjoying this series! A fun case about a rock star’s missing guitar. Southworth packs so much intensity into his panels, and while the trick of changing page orientation during a car chase could come across as gimmicky, it really added intensity here. Looking forward to continuing with the series.

Pretty Deadly Vol. 2: The Bear by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Ríos: This volume was set during the Great War instead of the Wild West. Still gorgeous art, and it’s interesting to see more of the worldbuilding unfold.

Pretty Deadly Vol. 3: The Rat by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Ríos: This volume was set in ’40s Hollywood, it might be my favourite of the bunch, but I do have a weakness for weird westerns so that’s hard to say. I definitely hope this duo returns to the series.

Spider-Gwen: Ghost Spider Vol. 2: Impossible Year by Seanan McGuire, Rosi Kämpe, and Takeshi Miyazawa:

Ghost Spider Vol. 1: Dog Days are Over by Seanan McGuire, Takeshi Miyazawa Rosi Kämpe, and Ig Guara:

I enjoyed both of these volumes a lot more than I did the previous volume. Maybe more familiarity with the character and her cast, or that fact that the previous volume felt like it spun out of a crossover I didn’t read (have never been more than a casual Spider-Man reader). Both written and artistic characterization is super on point, and the book is a lot of fun.

Here’s what I read in January.

Here’s what I read in February.

Here’s what I read in March.

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

My 2020 in Books

One of my goals for 2020, and really the only one I wholly succeeded in, was to read more than I had in 2019. I thought it would help to keep track of what I knocked off Mount Tsundoku (and it did!).

Being a little more systematic about my reading plans certainly helped. Now I’m pulling out an actual to-read pile to stack on the nightstand. I’m limiting the stack to five books (usually), 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 jump the queue, but I’m trying to get through the pile in the order I stack them. For my first reading stack, I grabbed the first five shinys to catch my eye, but since then I’ve added 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!).

Since I had success with my 2020 reading plan, I made a spreadsheet to track my reading more in depth, and see if there’s anything I can do to tweak it and make even more out of my 2021 reading year. I might add a new-to-me category to my tracking this year as well.

Here’s how 2020 went:

I cracked open 90 books, and finished 89 of them. I honestly thought I would’ve abandoned more books than that, but I’m still pretty stubborn about finishing what I start, book-wise. 30 of my books were rereads, and 36 were graphic novels, which inflates the number a bit, but I’m still totally counting them (especially during the trashfire that was 2020).

I read 10 books by BIPOC authors and 7 by authors I know to be LGBTQ2S+. I’d like to improve both of those numbers in 2021, but am still pretty happy that everything I read came off of my shelves and I spent most of a year hitting my to-read stack goals without having to order a new book or visit the library to make my stacks. I will likely have to prop up the home shelves with some new additions by the end of 2021 to keep this category going.

Only 29 of my books were by women, which doesn’t surprise me given the amount of old graphic novel rereads that were on the list. The ratio is a bit better when compared to my new reads for the year, but I’d hoped for closer to 50-50 parity, and will be aiming for an equal mix again in 2021.

I caught up on 8 books written by friends. Sorry it took me so long!

Only 5 non-fiction books were finished in 2020. I tend to read non-fiction much more slowly than fiction, as I often make notes to myself of things I’d like to remember, or things that give me story ideas, but I’d still hoped for more. At least this should be an easy goal to beat this year.

I read 12 roleplaying game handbooks in 2020, which means I probably read more RPGs than I played in game sessions. It was not a good year for gaming for me. What games I played were fun, but pandemic brain definitely caused me to step back from actual game sessions (and as good as Roll20 is at what it does, I vastly prefer to have my gaming take place in person).

Of the 90 books I cracked open in 2020, I liked 70 of them enough to recommend to others, and there were no real stinkers. Even the book I set down had some pretty admirable qualities, it just wasn’t for me.

Top Fiction Reads

  • Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw
  • The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
  • Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
  • The Bone Mother by David Demchuk
  • The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
  • Revenge by Yoko Ogawa
  • Armed in Her Fashion by Kate Heartfield

Top Non-Fiction Reads:

  • Story Genius by Lisa Cron
  • The Skeleton Crew by Deborah Halber

Top Graphic Novel Reads:

  • Heathen Vol. 1 by Natasha Alterici
  • Criminal: Bad Weekend by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
  • Criminal: Cruel Summer by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Top RPG Reads:

  • Spectaculars by Scratchpad Publishing
  • Vaesen by Free League

Everything I read in 2020:

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.

Here’s what I read in October.

Here’s what I read in November.

Here’s what I read in December.

And my first to-read stack of 2021:

The January 2021 to-read pile: Hungover by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty, The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, Mahu Surfer by Neil S. Plakcy, The Prairie Bridesmaid by Daria Salamon, and Savage Legion by Matt Wallace.

I’ve already broken my five books rule! After choosing my first five for 2021, I remembered that I’d planned to kick off the year reading Hungover, and didn’t want to bounce anything off the list.

Here’s to a great year of reading in 2021! What’s on your nightstand, friends?

The 2020 Reading List: June

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.

June: 

Domino: Hotshots by Gail Simone, David Baldeón, Michael Shelfer, Jim Charalampidis: Read as single issues, not a collected trade, like last month’s War of the Realms. I initially picked up Gail Simone’s prior Domino series because of  the Baldeón cover. I’ve never been a huge fan of the character, but I hadn’t kept up with her really since her debut back in the New Mutants/X-Force days. Simone’s Birds of Prey run was tons of fun though, so I took a chance, and really dug it. (Not gonna lie, Simone using Diamondback, one of my all time fav lesser known Marvel characters didn’t hurt.) I think the Hotshots series came out around my move last year which is why it took so long to get to it. Lots of fun! The art was as kinetic as ever, even though I found Baldeón’s art more suited to the story than the pages done by Shelfer. I missed the tighter dynamic of Domino, Diamondback and Outlaw from the previous series, and the generally more personal stakes, but it was fun to see Domino interacting with Black Widow, and with some of the more cosmic elements of the Marvel universe.

Criminal: Bad Weekend by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips: The kickoff of the lastest run of Criminal monthly comics. Also reading these as single issues (#1-4). One sweet thing about the Criminal single issues, is each one contains a noir essay in the back. This one has some great comic convention references and a stolen original art plot. Loved it!

Criminal: Cruel Summer by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips: I read this volume as single issues (#5-12). Obsessed private detective, femme fatale, broken down gangster looking for a big job. Lots of noir tropes (tropes I love, to be honest) that Brubaker and Phillips make work and feel fresh. Phillips’ expressions are so fantastic.

Thor Vol. 1 God of Thunder Reborn by Jason Aaron, Mike Del Mundo, Christian Ward, and Tony Moore: I read this volume as single issues (#1-7). This takes place before the War of the Realms limited series that I read previously. Reading through this run on Thor might’ve helped my enjoyment of that series, but such is life. I preferred the issues with Mike Del Mundo’s art, as I loved his work on Weirdworld back in Marvel’s Secret Wars days, but I also loved Christian Ward’s art on Black Bolt. The Tony Moore issue was a fun flashback to the days of a young Thor, before he earned Mjolnir. Moore’s style felt more suited to a modern book like Walking Dead than a viking-era fantasy to me.

The Peripheral by William Gibson: It’s been a while since I’ve checked out anything by Gibson…Spook Country, I think. This was a great read. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I got, and yet, the book felt both entirely prescient and completely reflecting its time, which is typical Gibson. Every time I read one of his books there’s a bare minimum one line that makes me put down the book and go, “Hmm. Nobody else would’ve said that this way.” Apparently Gibson’s most recent novel, Agency, is both a sequel and a prequel to this one. I’ll probably check it out down the road, when I feel up to reading anything that touches on the 2016 U.S. election.

Next on deck for the reading pile: City of Broken Magic by Mariah Bolender and A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King.

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.

The 2020 Reading List: February

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.

February:

Die on Your Feet by S.G. Wong: The first book in the Lola Starke mysteries. I blurbed the third book in the series, and it was really neat coming back to the ground level of the series with this excellent opening volume. I knew the gist of how the metaphysics of Wong’s Crescent City worked, but that definitely deepened reading Die on Your Feet. This is the kind of setting I’d love to run a pulp-noir RPG in. I’m looking forward to reading more Lola Starke.

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips: A standalone graphic novella in the Criminal ‘verse. I’ll read pretty much anything Brubaker and Phillips put out. They are consistently among my top comic teams regardless of the type of stories they’re trying to tell, but I sure have a soft spot for their Criminal books.

Dreams of Shreds & Tatters by Amanda Downum: I think I held off reading this one for as long as I did because I wanted to read The King in Yellow first, as the King plays a role in this book. I’m aware of The King in Yellow largely through RPGs and stories riffing on the work, but never got around to the original Robert W. Chambers piece. I still haven’t done that, and maybe there’d have been more in this book that jumped out at me if I had, but I enjoyed the story well-enough anyway even if I wasn’t catching all the references. I really liked Downum’s prose, which felt a little like reading a dream, entirely appropriate for this book.

The New Fantasmagoriana II edited by Keith Cadieux: Stories by Adam Petrash, Jess Landry, J.H. Moncrieff, David Demchuk. All four writers stayed in Winnipeg’s supposedly haunted Dalnavert Museum and wrote the first drafts of their stories overnight. I really enjoyed each story, and I think Demchuk’s was the stand out for me. Cadieux says in the foreword that the writers had the same experience, and leads me to believe the only downside to reading all of the stories in a row is some of that sameness came into the book. There are Victorian mansions in each, and children play a role in each story. Definitely not a deal breaker though. And it’s my own fault really, all in a row is not how I typically read short story collections.

Spectaculars by Scratchpad Publishing: I backed this roleplaying game on Kickstarter and it arrived recently. It is awesome. I have a soft spot for superhero RPGs, and I cannot wait to get this to the table, although I’m not sure if I want to play it or run it more. The box set is huge, and full of game trays, tokens, and power cards in addition to the rule book and setting book. I haven’t seen a game that emulates comic books as well as this one does, I hope the first read impression holds when I actually start playing it.

Night’s Dominion Volume 3 by Ted Naifeh: The concluding volume of a high fantasy graphic novel series that I’m definitely sad to see go, but what a great ending. Now that the series is done I’m looking forward to reading it in its entirety in a short span and seeing how that changes things.

Here’s what I read in January.