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 2021 Reading List: January

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!).

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.