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: 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.

March:

Imaginary Numbers by Seanan McGuire: I started this in February, had hopes about finishing it before March, but it didn’t happen. I’ve been waiting for this one for a while. Sarah Zellaby has always been one of my favourite minor characters in the InCryptid series, so it was nice to see her get her moment to shine. I also love that McGuire’s books have included bonus novellas.

Story Genius by Lisa Cron: I picked this one up on the recommendation of writer Delilah S. Dawson. I haven’t been much for reading books on writing since I started publishing, but this was a pretty strong recommendation from a writer whose work I admire. I only read it, I chose not to play along and do the exercises suggested by the author. I’ve been in the middle of revising a novel and don’t want to think too hard about the next one I want to write, but as with any writing advice, there’s some I hope to internalize, and some I doubt will work for me. Cron kept it interesting though, and I liked how she followed one author and one novel in progress throughout the exercises she suggests, showing the work in progress.

Bite Marks by Becky Annison: This was a Powered by the Apocalypse game that I backed on Kickstarter. After reading Monster of the Week last year, I’d hoped to maybe use this in conjunction with some of the lore from my old White Wolf World of Darkness Werewolf: The Apocalypse books, but I don’t think that’ll work out. I think this game is a bad fit for the groups I’m currently playing with, but not necessarily a bad game.

Dungeons & Dragons Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount: Based on the setting for the second Critical Role campaign. I really like this supplement. It does a lot of what the Eberron: Rising from the Last War does well. Lots of adventure opportunities and interesting new character options. I think I like it better than the previous Critical Role campaign book for Tal’Dorei, but that might be because I started watching the show with the second campaign and never really connected with the first after the fact. I’m still unlikely to run a game set in Matthew Mercer’s world, but there’s lots in here I’d borrow for a homebrew game.

I’d hoped to read more, what with social distancing and trying to stay inside as much as possible, but pandemic news has been having the same effect on my reading as it has on my writing–the siren call of the TV is even harder to ignore. Hopefully April will be better in all things. Stay safe and be well, friends.

Here’s what I read in January.

Here’s what I read in February.

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.