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: February

Since one of my writing goals for 2020 was also to read more, and I’ve carried it through for 2021, 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.

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 January!

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.

Savage Legion by Matt Wallace: I’ve been looking forward to this one since I first saw it in a catalogue. I was worried when I noticed points of view in present tense, typically I bounce off of books written in present rather than past tense. It worked for me with Savage Legion though. I loved every POV character, but especially Evie and Taru. Savage Legion felt so fresh and timely, and I think it’s destined to become a classic. I’ll definitely be checking out more of Wallace’s work!

The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler: This is a book I never thought I’d read, as I’m typically not one for self-help style books. The Dalai Lama’s big takeaway of compassion being important for happiness was interesting. I often didn’t care for Cutler’s framing of the Dalai Lama’s stories. I feel like my dual nature as someone who’s worked in customer service for years and been ground down by being mistreated by strangers and as an author who seeks to empathize with, and understand, people and why they do what they do led to a bit of whiplash reading the book. I’m certinly not going to become a Buddhist, and probably won’t read more of the Dalai Lama’s books, but I’m glad I read this, if only because it was a type of book I’ve never read before. Maybe The Art of Happiness is not what I should’ve been reading during the pandemic, or maybe exactly what I should be reading. Time will tell.

After finishing the January stack, here’s the pile I assembled for February:

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.

Mage: The Hero Discovered by Matt Wagner: A graphic novel reread, and I’m looking forward to finishing the rest of the series for the first time since Wagner completed it recently. I love the rawness of Wagner’s early art here. It largely held up for me other than a couple cringey moments due to the age of the material, and those were fewer than usual. I’m still upset about the death of Edsel and Sean after all these years. The collected edition I read is packed with extras, including an “interlude” story that bridges the time between The Hero Discovered and The Hero Defined. I love the old wraparound Comico covers, and somehow the more modern reissue covers Wagner did for the series don’t work as well for me, but I’m glad they were all included. It’s weird reading this years after I became a writer and seeing how influential Wagner’s work has been on mine. I typically cite Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men run when I’m talking about comic influences on my prose, but I think I’ll have to start including Wagner’s Mage in my direct influences.

Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite: I first read Brite ages ago (don’t ask how long) in my first year of university when I picked up Lost Souls, which hit pretty hard back then in my early years of listening to industrial music and starting to explore some of goth culture. I’ve only spent a little bit of time working in restaurants (delivering pizza for my least favourite pizza place in my old home town, and bussing tables at a supposedly fine dining place) but there’s something about Brite’s culinary fiction that hits so true. I also love watching food shows. Love cooking. Love eating out (or did, pre-pandemic). I absolutely devoured this one, pun intended. I’m sure I’ll be adding the other volumes to my to-read stack soon.

Mage: The Hero Defined by Matt Wagner: I think this is my favourite era of Wagner’s art. And my favourite volume of the series from a story perspective. I love how he expanded his concepts from The Hero Discovered. I think this has the basis for being an excellent RPG. I’d probably use City of Mist to run the game if I ever got around to it. I do wish we saw more women among the avatars of power characters, but the witch sisters are pretty cool. The wait for The Hero Denied seemed interminable, but the final volume finally arrived, and I can’t wait to reread it with the series fresh in my brain.

One in the Hand by Rhonda Parrish: Not initially on my to-read pile, but I was lucky enough to receive an advanced digital copy of this one. I’m mostly used to Rhonda reading my work, as she’s edited several of my short stories over the years. This was a Norse myth influenced book set in Edmonton, so of course I loved it. Rhonda played with one of my favourite, usually unsung relationships in the myths. I really hope this will be a series.

City of Ghosts by J.H. Moncrieff: First book in the Ghost Writers series. I met Moncrieff and got to know her at a variety of conventions. This is my first run at one of her novel-length stories. I really enjoyed the relationship between Jackson and Kate, as well as Moncrieff’s take on how ghosts and mediums work. I see that book two features Kate as the protagonist, which I’m looking forward to.

The Break by Katherena Vermette: I know Katherena first as a poet, and I loved her debut, North End Love Songs. Her graphic novel collaboration with Scott Henderson, A Girl Called Echo, was also a fun read. I’ve hesitated reading this one, because I knew it would be heavy, but I never doubted it would be good. The Break was both heavier, and better than expected; an intergeneration family story of trauma and healing, every character was so well realized. I also appreciated that a family tree was included to be able to see the connections at a glance. The book has its trigger warnings displayed on the title page, if you’re concerned, but I highly recommend giving it a chance.

Rings of Anubis by E. Catherine Tobler: Steampunk is typically not my jam but I really enjoyed this late 1880s tale. A nice slow burn romance between Folley and Mallory, lots of mystery in what agents of Mistral do, and what is going on with the supernatural forces in the world. I’d definitely read more of these characters, and in this world.

Mage: The Hero Denied by Matt Wagner: My first reread of the final volume in the Mage trilogy. I originally read this in single issues as they released. Wagner collaborated with his son Brennan, who did the colours for this volume. Endings are hard. I know this well as someone who has had to find the right ending for a few books of his own (and had to end a trilogy). I think it was a fine ending for hero Kevin Matchstick, maybe one that didn’t particularly resonate with me, but worked for the character. Unfortunately, this was my least favourite iteration of Wagner’s art in the series, and I missed some of the larger worldbuilding that was introduced in The Hero Defined, but it made sense that Wagner tightened the focus back to Matchstick and his new family. I do hope Wagner returns to the world now that Kevin Matchstick has had his happy ending, even though I doubt that’ll happen.