The 2021 Reading List: April

Since one of my writing goals 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 to keep me honest, and what I thought of each book immediately after finishing.

Back 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.

The 2021 Reading List: January

Since one of my writing goals 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 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!).

Thornhold by Elaine Cunningham: A nostagia reread to reward myself after a long year, and clearing my December to-read stack. Started on the 31st of 2020, but not quite finished until after 2021 rang in. Largely still enjoyable, although I preferred Cunningham’s Arilyn Moonblade character a tad more than Thornhold’s Bronwyn, even though the they’re ostensibly part of the same series.

Hungover by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: “The Morning After and One Man’s Quest for the Cure” is the subtitle. A hell of a fine choice for my first new read of the new year, although I chose not to imbibe this time around, nor to stay awake to watch 2021 roll in. This was a very fun read in the beginning, but became a bit of a slog nearing the end. Maybe because I don’t mind reminiscing about the drinks and binges of my youth, but certainly don’t have the energy or inclination to partake that way anymore. Still, some interesting history presented, and in an engaging writing style.

Troika! by Daniel Sell: A science-fantasy roleplaying game. Fair admission, I didn’t read the last 15 pages or so, as that was an introductory adventure for the game, and a friend may be running Troika! for me at some point. This shit is bananas, and I mean that as the highest possible compliment. I love the way the rules are presented, and the implied setting of Troika! I really hope I get a chance to play it.

Mahu Surfer by Neil S. Plakcy: A Hawaiian-themed mystery with a gay detective going undercover to solve the murder of some local surfers. I enjoyed it. Kimo was a fun protagonist, one who spent the book coming to terms with his outing by the media and having to lie to his family about his current assignment while finally embracing who he is. Looks like this was the second book in the series, which explains why so much of what I thought was important to Kimo’s development happened off page and was told in backfill. Still, Plakcy was pretty successful in getting all of that across, and the book read well even for someone who hadn’t read the first book. I’m not sure I’ll track down the rest of the series, but Mahu Surfer does make me want to read some Hawaiian mysteries by a local of the islands, especially a writer who is a Native Hawaiian.

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 1: The Tarantula by Matt Wagner and Guy Davis:

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 3: The Vamp by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, and Guy Davis:

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 2: The Face and The Brute by Matt Wagner, John Watkiss, and R.G. Taylor:

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 4: The Scorpion by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, and Guy Davis:

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 5: Dr. Death and The Night of the Butcher by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, Guy Davis, and Vince Locke:

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 6: The Hourman and The Python by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, Guy Davis, and Warren Pleece:

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 7: The Mist and The Phantom of the Fair by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, and Guy Davis:

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 8: The Blackhawk and The Return of the Scarlet Ghost by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, Guy Davis, Matthew Smith, Richard Case, and Daniel Torres:

I thought I’d talk about all of these together, as I read them in one big rush. It got a little busy here round Thunder Road way, and I didn’t have the energy to start something new, and a non-fiction book about the death industry at that. Also, accidentally read volumes 2 and 3 out of order (what? I said I was tired.). Rereading Sandman Mystery Theatre makes me want to reread Matt Wagner’s Mage series, especially now that the final volume is done and the series is complete.

I love pulp heroes, and I still love this series, but it’s a difficult recommend for me now, and would be couched in content warnings depending on who I was speaking with. After the last five years, reading about the racism, homophobia, and sexism of the 30s doesn’t feel nearly so far off, and while these books were written over twenty years ago, and I feel were giving a progressive treatment to the setting, still at times fall into some tropes that are now pretty problematic. It’d been so long since my last reread, that I forgot that artists other than Guy Davis worked on the book with Wagner and Seagle, I so associate Davis’s art with the book. Guy Davis’s models for the characters remain my favourites, everyone else’s just looked slightly wrong. I especially enjoyed the growth of Wesley and Dian’s relationship this time around. and all the various connections to the rest of the DC universe and history, like early days of Hourman, Ted Knight pre-Starman, among them, and the hints at Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.

Top 10 Book 1 by Alan Moore, Gene Ha, and Zander Cannon:

Top 10 Book 2 by Alan Moore, Gene Ha, and Zander Cannon:

Smax by Alan Moore and Zander Cannon:

Top 10: The Forty-Niners by Alan Moore and Gene Ha:

Following my Sandman Mystery Theatre reread, I took another look at my Top 10 graphic novel collection, which is probably my favourite work by Alan Moore. The first two volumes of the main series are police procedural in a city where everyone has superpowers but only the police are allowed to solve crimes and deal with the power-related issues that come up. It’s alternately an homage and deconstruction of superheroic tropes. It’s been a while, but I still love it, despite souring somewhat on cops as protagonists in fiction. Smax is a marked departure in tone from the regular Top 10 series, basically a zany fantasy quest on Jeff Smax’s home world, but still fun, and Smax and Robyn were two of my favourite characters in the main series, so it was nice to see them get more time. The Forty-Niners is probably the volume I read the least, even if it feels like one of the best individual pieces in the series. It’s set after World War 2 when the city of Neopolis is brand new and still under construction. Having been introduced to the present day cops first may influence my opinion there, as I wanted many of them to get their own feature story the way Smax and Robyn did. I’d definitely read more about Leni Mueller the Sky Witch though. As with most of things Moore writes, there’s tons of layers, and the amount of in panel gags, homages, and references that Gene Ha and Zander Cannon slip into the series is immense. I’m not sure if there’s an annotated version of the series out there, but if so, I’d love to see it. Cannon’s art, which is more cartoony, suits Smax volume perfectly, but I prefer Ha’s takes on the classic Top 10 characters, and his art in The Forty-Niners, with its bled out colours, is nothing short of breathtaking. As with Sandman Mystery Theatre, because of some content and the time passed since the books were written, I’d hesitate to recommend to everyone.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty: A memoir of a young woman’s entry into the funeral industry and her evolving feelings about what a “good death” means. I follow her on Twitter and check out some of the videos she posts on Order of the Good Death. A really fun (seriously) read, while remaining earnest about the subject matter. It does occasionally go into some dark places, some I expected, others I didn’t (Content warning for discussion of suicide), despite the lighter tone of the writing. It’s kind of trippy to be reading about what happens to your body after you die while in the middle of a pandemic, but I find it a bit comforting that there are folks like Doughty out there, willing to help grieving families. I can’t wait to read her follow up, From Here to Eternity.

The Prairie Bridesmaid by Daria Salamon: Definitely not by usual fare, but a really enjoyable read. Salamon’s characters jump off the page and it was a nice palette cleanser after my heavier non-fiction reads this month. I’ve mostly read some of her non-fiction articles and blogs about her family’s travel adventures during a gap year, so I knew I’d enjoy her writing. I hope to see some more fiction from her soon.

Check out my roundup of my 2020 reading here.