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.

The 2020 Reading List: November

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!).

Last month was the first time I failed to clear the reading stack in a couple months, so I still had The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones and Scream by Margee Kerr to read at the top of the month.

Here’s the next to-read stack!

December’s to-read pile: The Green Room by De La Mare, The Signalman by Dickens, Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk by Cowper, Silence of the Grave by Indriðason, Revenge by Ogawa, Armed in Her Fashion by Heartfield, The Skeleton Crew by Halper, Krampus by Brom.

Invincible Ultimate Collection Volume 5 by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, Bill Crabtree, FCO Plascencia: Decided to finally expand my Invincible collection, so this volume was new to me. Invincible’s younger brother wants to join him in the hero business and his relationship with Atom Eve becomes more serious. I still love the series. This volume even managed to not make the same dialogue issue I had with past volumes, so that made me happy. Getting really excited to see the animated series, and to read Volume 6!

Terra Obscura Volume One by Alan Moore, Peter Hogan, Yanick Paquette, and Karl Story: Another reread. Terra Obscura features reimaginings of old public domain characters mixed in with elements of Moore’s Tom Strong work. I had super fond memories of this one, and it mostly held up, although I feel like Paquette’s work here is a little cheesecake-y for my tastes. I did a flip through volume 2 afterwards, but didn’t reread it, and I think I’m content to let these two books go from the collection.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser by Howard Chaykin, Mike Mignola, and Al Williamson: Another reread, a fantastic take on two of my favourite sword and sorcery characters created by Fritz Leiber, and with art by Hellboy creator, Mike Mignola! I love Mignola’s rendering of both the characters and their home of Lankhmar and Chaykin’s take on the characters’ personalities. After rereading so much Hellboy recently, it was interesting to see how Mignoal’s art has evolved, and see his strengths on display even in this earlier work. Definitely makes me want to dive back into my Fritz Leiber collection.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones: My first experience with Jones’ writing, although there’s been a few other works that I’ve meant to get around to. This was so good! I need to track down more of Graham’s work. Creepy, unsettling, and filled with so many unique turns of phrase. I also appreciated the thread of basketball throughout the novel, which I hadn’t been expecting, but as someone who used to play a lot basketball, it brought back a lot of muscle memory as I read, which only heightened some of the scares.

Arclands: The Spellforger’s Companion by Verse Studios: A Kickstarter prize that uses the Dungeon & Dragons Fifth Edition rules set to build a new world and lots of character options. I backed this campaign because of the book’s spellforge mechanic which presents a custom spell creation system that I thought might be useful for a homebrewed campaign world I wanted to use for a future D&D game. The other new options are less likely to get use at the table, and unfortunately the spellforging is more closely tied to the new Arclands character classes than I’d like, but it still looks like it could be useable with some work.

Wolverine: The Jungle Adventure by Walter Simonson, Mike Mignola, and Bob Wiacek: Another graphic novel reread. Hard to believe I’ve held onto this since 1990 when its $6.25 cover price would’ve seen a lot more dear. Walt Simonson is another one of my favourite comic creators from back in the day. Loved his work on Thor, X-Factor, and more lately, the excellent Ragnarök. This is also another pre-Hellboy Mignola work. There’s a lot to love in this short story set in the Savage Land with dinosaurs, robot dinosaurs, and some hints at Wolverine’s then still mysterious origin that I can’t remember if Marvel ever followed up on.

Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear by Margee Kerr: Tonally not what I was looking for, a little dryer than I’d hoped, but some really interesting observations. I got more into the book after the initial chapters. I’m not really interested in thrill rides, but the chapters on haunted houses, Aokigahara, and Bogotá were more to my liking. Also, fucking top kudos to the cover jacket designer for the glow in the dark elements. It was occasionally a little unsettling to wake in the night and see the word “SCREAM” glowing next to my bedside.

Raiders of the Lost Artifacts by Darren Watts, Thomas Denmark, and David Pulver: Never let it be said that Twitter doesn’t sell books, because I saw this recommended by a fellow traveler in the gaming sphere and it looked super fun, so I ordered up a copy. Raiders uses original edition Dungeons & Dragons rules to emulate Indiana Jones-style adventures. Looks like it’ll be a lot of fun if I ever get it to the table.

Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indriðason: A Nordic crime novel set in Reykjavik. I read a couple later books in the Erlendur series, and enjoyed them, I even had an opportunity to interview Indriðason years ago. This one was good. Dark, but good. Lots of domestic abuse surrounding the murder, which was tough to read. It was interesting to have a case that wasn’t a ticking clock, the murder they were trying to solve was decades old, which also led to some interesting history of Iceland. I normally read about the viking era, not World War II when I read about Iceland. I liked that element of it. Half remembered plot elements from future books in the series rattled around, but didn’t spoil the read for me. I’ll probably return to the series in the future. I like Indriðason’s writing.

The Green Room by Walter de la Mare: Part of Biblioasis’s Haunted Bookshelf series of classic Christmas ghost stories, “designed and decorated” by cartoonist Seth. A fun little novella involving a mysterious back room in a book store, and a found manuscript. A little too much poetry in it for my tastes, and at times a bit dated, which I expected. I wish it had a bit more Christmas connection, to be honest (and I never thought I’d say that), or at least more strongly set in winter, as that’s why I decided to add the Haunted Bookshelf novellas to this stack in the first place.

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.

Here’s what I read in September.

Here’s what I read in October.

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.

Half-Year Check In

So here’s what I planned to accomplish for 2020 back in January:

  • Decide what to do with Graveyard Mind and Graveyard Mind 2 and implement those plans.
  • Revise An Excuse for Whiskey.
  • Finish short stories I’ve started but not completed. As before, I would like to get at least six new stories out the door this year, but this year I’d also like to write one of those stories for submission to the online pro markets rather than for open call themed anthologies, as is my usual way.
  • Finish revising my WIP novel and get it out on submission.
  • Restart the agent hunt.
  • Read more.

Stretch goal!

  • If I get my WIP out on submission, and Sandra and I finish An Excuse for Whiskey by November, I’ll take a run at NaNoWriMo again.

Holy shit. That list seems ridiculously optimistic looking back with hindsight. I’m still hopeful that I’ll find Graveyard Mind a home with a new publisher, but there’s nothing to report yet. I have received my final royalty statement from CZP, with (hopefully) my final royalty payment arriving imminently. It’ll be nice for that chapter of the novel’s story to be finally closed. Unfortunately, until I find Graveyard Mind a new home, or choose to self publish a new edition, its sequel will remain lying fallow.

Sandra Wickham and I have agreed to put An Excuse for Whiskey on hold for the time being. She’s launching her new fitness website and doing the pandemic single-mom thing, so she’s got her hands full. (You should totally check out Sandra’s fitness programs, she really knows what she’s doing, and has offered me plenty of advice in the last year and a half as I became more serious about losing some weight and getting into better shape.) Lately, revisions haven’t been my bag, so…someday I hope we’ll get back to it. We’re both still really proud of what we’ve accomplished so far with our first attempt at co-writing. Sandra’s one hell of a writing and critique partner, so I’m looking forward to when we’re both able to get this project done and on submission.

Short stories have been going a bit better. I’ve finished one novelette of my six new story challenge and am closing in on another short story. Both stories are for general submission not a specific anthology, which I haven’t done in ages. The novelette is roughly 13000 words, and the short story is currently around 7000, so I’m tempted to count them as three (or four) of my six stories, as the novelette felt like four times the work to edit. I’ll wait and see on that. It’s not really in the spirit of the challenge, is it? In other short story news, my story “Cheating the Devil at Solitaire” was longlisted for the Sunburst Award, my story “All Cats Go to Valhalla” released in Swashbuckling Cats: Nine Lives on the Seven Seas, and my story “Golden Goose” sold to Air: Sylphs, Spirits, & Swan Maidens, due to be released in August! Golden Goose is my fifth sale to Rhonda Parrish, which is awesome, and also makes me three for three (so far) on her Elemental anthology series. If I sell a story to the eventual Water anthology it’ll be like getting a rare Enlightenment Victory in my old Legend of the Five Rings card playing days.

As I said in an interview with Derek Newman-Stille, I gave up on the revisions I’d been working on in favour of trying to draft a new book in this strange pandemic moment. This is the book that I’ve kept promising myself I would start “when I’d crossed a few more items off the old list” but I never got there. This was the book that was going to be my NaNoWriMo stretch goal for the year. I’ve been working on the worldbuilding and history of this secondary world for ages now, but wouldn’t allow myself to actually do any drafting or prose. Now seemed like the perfect time to dive in. Currently, I’m at 41000 words, which means probably about halfway to a finished discovery draft; 30000 words is when a draft usually starts to feel like a book to me, but this one isn’t quite to that feeling yet. I think I’ve figured out what I want the finale to be, but I’m uncertain of the best steps to get through the soggy middle to get there. Nevertheless, I’m hoping to have a draft done by the end of the summer. We’ll see.

I can’t really start the agent hunt until I have a finished book, so that item is on hold for now, but I am updating my wish list of agents to submit to a bit at a time, so that when I’m ready, I am ready. I’ve also been working on a grant proposal project for Manitoba Arts Council and possibly the Canada Arts Council. My sample materials are done, and I have an idea of what I’m going to say, I just have to finish the actual application parts. MAC’s applications changed in recent years, so I’m building a new template from scratch.

As for my reading goals, I must say I’m enjoying tracking this a little bit more. So far I’ve read twenty-seven books, a combination of novels, non-fiction, graphic novels, and roleplaying games (check out my reading list so far here). When I started writing these mini reviews, I first just grabbed whatever was handy and seemed shiny. Since then, 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!). For now, especially due to COVID-19, and having hoarded some of these books for so long, I’m still trying to pull most of these titles from my existing shelves, rather than going out an buying more. I’ve been trying to stick to a finish two books I’ve already purchased before buying any new books plan since I moved last summer anyway.

Regardless of how my other 2020 goals shake down, I’m going to pass on NaNoWriMo this year, and I think, every year going forward. Starting a new book and just writing at my own pace has been really enjoyable, and since my last few NaNo attempts have led to one book that took me forever to revise to my satisfaction, another that I still haven’t revised to my satisfaction, and a third that’s on hold until I find a home for Graveyard Mind, it’s just creatively not for me. Also, the last couple times I’ve participated it’s been more of a “holy shit, I haven’t written as many words as I’d hoped for this year, quick, lets get some points on the board before the year’s over” and those words haven’t proven to be terribly productive, let alone any fun.

A few things have changed since I spoke to Derek, but I’m still trying to write, and take care of myself, and stay in touch with my friends as I can. I was also recently a guest on the Seangeek Podcast, where we talked about writing, tabletop gaming, and comics. Sean was also kind enough to review Graveyard Mind previously on the podcast.

That’s it for the first half of my 2020. I hope you’re all staying as well as can be.

 

The 2020 Reading List: May

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.

May:

Tiny Gunslingers by Gallant Knight Games: A minimalist western game. I’ve loved all the Tiny D6 games I’ve picked up so far, even if I haven’t played them as much as I’d like. I have a plan for this one though (Sigh. I have a plan for all of them). I especially like the shootout mechanic which uses playing cards and Blackjack rules to resolve, which feels like the iaijutsu duel mechanic from early editions of Legend of the Five Rings.

Beak, Feather, & Bone by Tyler Crumrine, Austin Breed, and Jonathan Yee: This is another Kickstarter game, a ‘zine-length competitive map labeling RPG and worldbuilding tool. I’ll probably be using it more for the later than the former, but it looks great, the rules read well, and it should be a fun way to spend an evening regardless of motive for playing. Also, loved the ravenfolk art by Austin Breed.

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin: I started this one back in March and was loving it up until about a quarter of the way through, and then the everything happened with the real world and wouldn’t let up. I set it down meaning to get back to it, and it took me a while to regain my focus–my issue, no fault with Jemisin’s writing, which was superb–but once I did pick it up again, it was a race to the finish. What a goddamned great book. I’ve never been to New York but The City We Became felt both true to the New York that I’ve seen dramatized and at the same time so much deeper. I hope I get to see the real place some day.

War of the Realms by Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, Matthew Wilson: I loved most of Jason Aaron’s run on Marvel’s Thor comics, but this book wasn’t to my taste. Dauterman’s art is as gorgeous as it ever was. Maybe if I’d read more of the ancillary issues tie-in issues my opinion might’ve changed, but I’m never a fan of Marvel’s big crossover events, and a book needs to stand on its own.

Forbidden Lands Player’s Guide by Free League: This was a reread. I’d missed a bunch of game sessions in a friend’s ongoing campaign, and now that I’ve been back a bit more regularly, I decided to refresh myself on the rules. Found a bunch of stuff I’d forgotten. Still love this game. A great, but deadly, hex-crawler with swift and deadly combat.

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.