The 2020 Reading List: September

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 the 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 September!

to read september

I’m hoping to make it through all of these due to Halloween-related reasons. I want to curate a spoopy reading list for October.

September:

Vaesen: A Wicked Secret by Free League: A companion book of four mysteries for use with the Vaesen Nordic Horror Roleplaying Game, also from Kickstarter. I really enjoyed reading each of the four mysteries. I think they’d all bring something interesting to the table. I typically don’t run modules when I run games, and because of that I think the book’s layout might cause me some consternation when I try to run these, but with a bit of extra prep, that’ll be a small issue. The mysteries cover a number of different locales and seasons, which is great. They’re all rural though, and I kind of wish there was at least one in the city where the players are supposed to be based.

Snakes and Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara (translated by David Karashima): A short little crime adjacent book full of kind of shitty people who were very compelling to read about. Body modification is a big theme, the book’s title gets its Snakes from a character who split his tongue, and its narrator who’s obsessed with getting larger and larger plugs for her earrings, and later decides to pursue forking her own tongue. Pain and pleasure bleed together in this twisted story. If any of Kanehara’s other works are translate into English, I’d check them out.

Kraken Bake by Karen Dudley: The second book in Dudley’s Epikurean Epic novels. This one was sort of a reread, as I read the book back when it was in manuscript format. It was even funnier than I remembered! Anachronistic and punny in delicious way. While I’m sad there don’t seem to be any more books in her series, Dudley gives the beleaguered Pelops a good send off here, and it makes for a satisfying ending for the character.

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice: I first encountered Waubgeshig Rice when he read from his story collection Midnight Sweatlodge at Winnipeg’s THIN AIR festival. I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while, ever since I saw Rice on a panel about the Indigenous post-apocalypse at a convention in Ottawa. This was a tough read at times, but worth it, I think. It hit home reading about a mysterious apocalypse during the COVID-19 pandemic, and while maybe not my smartest choice of reading material for these anxious days, I also found I couldn’t put it down. Really looking forward to reading more of Rice’s work.

We Don’t Need Another Hero by Sierra Dean: I’m most familiar with Dean’s Secret McQueen series, but this was a fun little one off. I burned through this one, and sorry-not-sorry for the pun considering the protagonist Rebecca “Bex” Beckett has fire control powers. This is a superhero story, and I’d like to see Dean play in this genre playground again even if she doesn’t return to these particular characters.

Hellboy Volume 2: Wake the Devil by Mike Mignola: This was a reread. I finished We Don’t Need Another Hero but wasn’t ready to start a new book right before going to sleep, but also wasn’t ready to go to sleep, so I grabbed one of the nearest graphic novels I could reach. This has long been one of my favourite arcs in the Hellboy series, and I’m pretty stoked about the upcoming Hellboy RPG, so this whim may have spurred a full series reread.

Hellboy Volume 1: Seed of Destruction by Mike Mignola and John Byrne: Another reread. “May have” indeed. Rereading the first Hellboy collection reminds me how much I loved Guillermo del Toro’s take on the character, how badly I wanted to see a third movie starring Ron Perlman, and how disappointed I was in the most recent cinematic outing. The story and Mignola’s art is definitely holding up better than my old paperback, which is starting to show its use!

Hellboy Volume 3: The Chained Coffin and Other Stories by Mike Mignola: Another reread. I think this is one of my favourite collections in the Hellboy series. I love the anthology style for a character like Hellboy, lots of short bursts of weirdness from various points in the character’s career. I also appreciate the little asides Mignola offers before each story about its origin.

Hellboy Volume 4: The Right Hand of Doom by Mike Mignola: Continuing my Hellboy reread. I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the previous collection, but it does include what is probably my favourite three panel sequence in comics. Also, Hellboy falls through a lot more floors than I remembered.

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Hellboy Volume 5: The Conqueror Worm by Mike Mignola: Lobster Johnson! This volume was my first introduction to Mignola’s pulp-inspired hero. Characters like Lobster Johnson, the Shadow, and the Phantom are definitely my jam. One of the reasons I created my Midnight Man character for short stories was to dip my toes in that pool. A big turning point for Hellboy in this volume, which I really enjoyed revisiting.

Hellboy Volume 6: Strange Places by Mike Mignola: Another anthology of shorter tales, and one that also contains another of my favourite Hellboy panels. I think some of the stories in this one came out around the same time as the Hellboy movie, so Mignola wanted to get out ahead of it with some of the origin of his cosmic horror side of the ‘verse.

drinking with skeletons

Hellboy Volume 7: The Troll Witch and Other Stories by Mike Mignola, P. Craig Russell, and Richard Corben: Another anthology of shorter tales, and the last one in my personal collection. Not my favourite Hellboy volume, even if I loved the titular story. I’ve found over the years I don’t enjoy reading Hellboy when it isn’t also illustrated by Mignola. Artist Duncan Fegredo comes closest for me, but this was the point where I stopped buying the book. Might have to check out further volumes again from the library down the road and get caught up.

The Science of Monsters: The Origins of the Creatures We Love to Fear by Matt Kaplan: I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting with this one, but it somehow didn’t fulfill those nebulous expectations. Kaplan organized it in a sort of chronological run through the human-monster experience, which led to a bit of my disappointment, as I didn’t particularly enjoy ending the book with a chapter on aliens. I understand the why, it just wasn’t what I wanted. Despite that issue, The Science of Monsters was an entertaining read (I particularly enjoyed the salty footnotes) but it didn’t make me wish to rush out to try Kaplan’s follow up, Science of the Magical. Maybe someday.

Atomic Robo Volume 1: Atomic Robo and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, and Jeff Powell: Another reread started because I finished a book before I was ready to go to sleep. I can clearly see the line from my Hellboy reread to the start of my Atomic Robo reread. They share a lot of similar bones, and I think both heroes would get along, and enjoy using their violence on giant monsters, extradimensional threats, and undying Nazi scientists. Atomic Robo has a more science fiction feeling compared to the folklore and cosmic horror of Hellboy, and the humour is a little more in your face, but I love it.

Here’s what I’ve got on deck for October!

October to-read

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.

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.

The 2020 Reading List: August

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!).

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August:

A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King: I don’t often enjoy superhero novels, and yet, I almost always seek them out to read them. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of Tom King’s comic work, so I had high hopes for this one going in. A Once Crowded Sky includes comic panels featuring its heroes as well as script pages. It was a bit more meta than I typically want to see from superhero fiction, but that’s pretty common when superheroes turn up in literary fiction. My minor personal taste complaints aside, King did a good job deconstructing superheroic storytelling.

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn: I hadn’t intended to follow up one superhero novel with another, but that’s the way things worked out. This one read more as an urban fantasy style than superhero to me, but it was so much fun. Grabbed me immediately the way other UF series by Kevin Hearne, Seanan McGuire, and Patricia Briggs have in the past. So glad there’s more books available in the series.

Amuse Bouche by Anthony Bidulka: The first Russell Quant mystery. Russell’s a gay P.I. based in Saskatoon living a big life in a small city. I enjoyed Russell as a character, not the typical complete asshole PI that usually end up reading about. Somehow I’ve managed to collect the entire series except for book 2, so it might a be a while before I continue with it, but I’d happily read more.

The Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe: The first Eddie LaCrosse novel. Fun little sword and sorcery mystery with noir flavour. I got this one in my book bag when I attended World Fantasy Con, and Alex was in attendance, so I was lucky enough to get it signed. I’d read more of Eddie’s adventures!

In for a Pound by SG Wong: The Second Lola Starke novel. It’s been a while since I read the third book in the series, which was my introduction to Lola, but I think In for a Pound is my favourite. SG Wong hit my reading sweet spot with the pacing on this one, and I just burned through it. Also, when you know a character is going to die because the back cover tells you so, but you still want them to stick around and make the protagonist happy, the author has really got you with a short number of pages. I’m sad I’m done with the series, but I think there’s a few short stories set in Lola Starke’s Crescent City, which I’ll be seeking out.

Grizzlyville by Jake MacDonald: One of the reasons I wanted to read this one, other than bears are neat, is that I bought a copy for my dad years ago and he liked it. Less a book about bears as a book filled with stories about the people who live around, and seek out, the bears of North America. In three separate sections featuring grizzlies, black bears, and polar bears, MacDonald displays an impressive raconteur voice. I feel like some bits of the book might not have aged well in the years since publication, but the whole of it was still enjoyable.

I made it through the inaugural reading stack in the same month I chose it! I honestly wasn’t expecting that. I feel like this was my best reading month of the year so far in 2020.

Looking forward to building the to-read pile for September. What are you reading right now?

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.

The 2020 Reading List: July

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.

July: 

Eberron: Five Nations by Bill Slavicsek, David Noonan, Christopher Perkins: This was a reread. One of my favourite supplements for the 3/3.5 era of D&D, even though I’ve never actually played or ran a game set in Eberron. I’ve been revisiting some of the old Eberron material, as I think the next time I run D&D 5e, I’ll be using this setting instead of my usual go-to of Mystara. I’m still really happy with this book, it has lots of system-agnostic information that can be uses regardless of which version of D&D you prefer.

Vaesen: Nordic Horror Roleplaying by Free League: Another Kickstarter prize! I knew I was going to enjoy this book. Like Forbidden Lands, it uses the Mutant Year Zero rules engine, and I’m quite fond of the system. The art is amazing and evocative, and as the person who will likely need to run the game for my group, I particularly liked how the designers spelled out how to run a mystery adventure in the context of the Mythic North. Really can’t wait to get this  one to the table!

Grim Hollow: The Campaign Guide by Ghostfire Gaming: Another Kickstarter prize! This campaign setting is for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, and has some interesting variant rules for a more grim and gritty style of play and mechanics I haven’t seen before. I especially liked the Advanced Background System which could have interesting ramifications for a city based game and Character Transformations which allow players to become a Lich, Fiend, Lycanthrope, or other powerful creatures. I doubt I’ll actually use the world of Etharis, as I usually go with a game world I’m already familiar with, or just homebrew my own, but if I do, my order came with a sweet fabric map that I’ll enjoy laying out on the table.

City of Broken Magic by Mariah Bolender: This was my first Did Not Finish of the year. I really liked a lot of the worldbuilding, the narrator’s voice was interesting, but ultimately, the plot didn’t hold me and I gave up about half way through. I took a bit of a break when two of my Kickstarter games arrived, to jump on those, so maybe that was the cause.

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.

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.

The 2020 Reading List: January

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

January:

Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski: The first novel in the Witcher series. Full confession, I started this one over Christmas but wasn’t done until the new year. The main reason I checked this out was because I loved the show. I’d read The Last Wish years ago, and never felt compelled to read more in the series. Sadly, I think that instinct was the correct one. While reading Blood of Elves definitely helped me keep track of some of the characters on the Netflix series, Sapkowski’s writing just isn’t for me. I’ll happily keep watching the show though.

Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire: The twelfth October Daye novel. Now I’m mostly caught up on the novels, just waiting for the latest hardcover to hit paperback. May check it out at the library if I get a hankering, but with a new book dropping in February from McGuire’s InCryptid series, I might be good for a while. This wasn’t my favourite book in the series, which remains Book 3, An Artificial Night (the book that really made me all in for this series), but it was fun. McGuire’s got a knack for keeping the reader intrigued even this deep into a series. Every time I finish an October Daye novel I want to play a game of Changeling: The Dreaming.

Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw: The first Persons Non Grata novella. This is the first bit of Khaw’s work that I’ve read, but I’ll definitely be seeking out more. I’m thrilled to see there’s another book in this series. Hammers on Bone had an amazing voice and a great noir feel. Oddly enough it was recommended to me by Michael at Whodunnit when I was on the hunt for Once Broken Faith (another October Daye book) and no one had it in stock at the time. Thanks, Michael!

All Systems Red by Martha Wells: Book One in the Murderbot Diaries. I’ve been aware of Martha Wells’ work for a while, but never cracked a book. All Systems Red was recommended and loaned to me by my pal Karen Dudley, but I’ve seen so many great things about the series from folks on my Twitter feed. I’d mostly given up on reading science fiction until I’d finished this. Wells writes fantasy too, so I  should check out some of that eventually too.

Fury From the Tomb by S.A. Sidor: Book One in the Institute for Singular Antiquities series. I picked this one up on a whim because it looked like it would hit me in the Indiana Jones/Brendan Fraser Mummy feels. It was a little bit that, and a little bit not. Fury From the Tomb was a fun, fast-paced read. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure that the narrator was enough to my taste to rush into book two.

Heathen: Volume 1 by Natasha Alterici: A fun viking fantasy series. I stumbled onto the artist’s work on Twitter a while ago, and finally got around to reading it. Heathen has almost everything I like in Norse myth: valkyries, Odin being a dick, shapeshifters, Sigurd and Brynhild! Alterici’s art sold me on the series but her writing is clever, honest and heartfelt. Can’t wait to read Volume 2!

What have you been reading, folks?