I’ve had a version of this post sitting in my drafts for months as I write this intro in August. Originally I was just being lazy, but come March, we all know what happened. After the LA stay-at-home order on March 13th, my reading slowed to a crawl for a number of reasons. I couldn’t focus on books, I wasn’t listening to audiobooks during my commute, and I was spending way too much time doom-scrolling on Twitter.
I did eventually get some of my mojo back as far as my reading goes, but I still don’t have as much time to listen to audiobooks as I’d like, and I can always find time to waste on the internet. Writing, including blog posts, is still something that I’m having trouble with at this point, although it’s getting better.
So, without further ado, this is the first in the series of my posts about 2020 reading. Some of these books I can barely remember at this point!
The Survivors, Episode 4 by LEO
More time travel and strife for the space adventuring teens!
I liked this book well enough when I read it, but I’ve forgotten everything about it as I write this capsule review months later.
Also, the final volume kind of undermines the entire series. The author doesn’t stick the landing, so this fairly serialized story doesn’t hold up in my mind after the fact.
Wake of the Bloody Angel by Alex Bledsoe
I really enjoyed the idea of noir crossed with fantasy adventures when I first started reading this series. Eddie LaCrosse is a compelling gumshoe, and Stefan Rudnicki is the perfect narrator for the world-weary, grizzled main character.
This book has all of those things that I love and throws in pirate adventure to boot. You might assume that it would be my favorite of the series so far. For whatever reason, though, Wake of the Bloody Angel left me cold. I think part of the problem is the fact that this series is very low fantasy. The strangest thing that happens in this book is an encounter with a giant sea creature.
I didn’t care that much about the mystery after a certain point. I also ended up just being a bit bored with the whole story. That said, I’d be willing to give the next book a shot, because I do really love Bledsoe’s Tufa books. This one might have just been a fluke.
The Survivors, Episode 5 by LEO
After all of that strife in the first four volumes, a helpful alien intervenes and saves the remaining teenagers. He takes care of the hostile aliens and thoughtfully explains everything before spiriting the survivors away to their original destination.
It’s all a bit of a letdown. Of course, I’m not sure how else the author could resolve this story. After all, it’s about a bunch of scared kids who stumbled from disaster to disaster. I think this volume’s biggest sin is removing all of the stakes early on. The survivors spend most of the remaining pages exclaiming about their sudden luck.
I still liked it enough that I would read more by the author, but this finale felt rushed and undercooked.
The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman
I switched from paperback to audiobook for the second installment of the Invisible Library series. I haven’t decided which medium I’ll use for the rest of the series. I’m not 100% sold on the narrator, but she wasn’t so annoying that I wouldn’t listen more in audio.
The book itself was great, very entertaining and exciting. In it, Irene races to save Kai from kidnappers in an alternate Venice fraught with danger. I did miss the twisted edge and body horror that Alberich brought to the first book, but I guess you can’t play in the same sandbox every time.
I am hooked on this series, however. If I liked the narrator more, I’d probably marathon the rest of the series like I did the InCryptid books.
REALLY LIKED IT
Prison School, Volume 1 by Akira Hiramoto
This is a weird, horny series about a group of teenage boys sent to a formerly all-girls school. It isn’t long before the hormone-addled boys get caught spying on the girl’s locker room.
Their punishment? In-school prison, with the other (female) students as their wardens. Hijinks ensue, and the absurdity of the premise alone is enough to make it compelling in a bizarre way.
As I write this, I’ve read two volumes of this series. I feel like what makes it work is walking a fine line between absurdity and flat-out horny fan service. The series doesn’t wear out its welcome as long as the Kafkaesque incarceration balances out the creep-shots. We’ll see how many volumes I end up reading.
It is also interesting how insufferable the series makes all of the boys except the main character. All of the boys are creeps and weirdos who deserve punishment until they take it down a notch. The main character is only “better” because he has a schoolboy crush on a nice girl. In comparison, his classmates’ lust is universal. That said, when I watched an episode of the anime adaptation, he didn’t come off nearly as well.
REALLY LIKED IT
Doll by Guy Colwell
This is a massive volume of connected stories by Colwell, a notable alternative comics author who also works as a fine-art painter. The premise of this series is simple enough: Evergood Crepspok, a sweet, shy man with horrible deformities, hires an artist named Wiley Waxman to create a “perfect woman” for him so that he can finally have some semblance of love and affection.
Waxman goes into this project with nothing but the most lofty of motives, but it isn’t long before opportunists drag the whole thing down. Everybody who sees Doll wants to fuck her, and most of them want to turn a profit. A porn mogul steals Doll, and a series of tragedies and atrocities pile on one another until Crepspok loses Doll forever and Waxman ends up broken-hearted and cynical.
The basic thesis of this book is that people are at their worst when they have someone powerless in their control, and Colwell’s final verdict on humanity is pretty grim. Still, it’s a fascinating read, and a heady exploration of sexual politics and humanity from the perspective of the 70s and 80s.
REALLY LIKED IT
Prison School, Volume 2 by Akira Hiramoto
I did like this volume of Prison School, but some of the absurdity wore off after the first volume. Also, I wish that the other male characters had any redeeming qualities, or at least something that made it possible to stand spending any time with them. I’m sure the intent is satirical, but it doesn’t make it any less tiresome.
It’s been a while since I read this book, so I don’t remember exactly what turned me off about it as compared with the first volume, but I do know that I liked it well enough that I’ll keep reading and hope that some of the characters get more interesting or less annoying.
Yamada-Kun and the Seven Witches, Volume 12 by Miki Yoshikawa
I wasn’t really sure where this series was going after the main cast did a ritual to get rid of their witch powers, but it turns out that there are still mysteries to solve, and weird magical happenings to keep life interesting.
Essentially the series starts another cycle of witch-finding, but this time around, Yamada and his friends are in positions of power in the student council.
One of the things I love about this series is that there aren’t really any adults, especially not teachers, and the student council seems to run the school with an iron fist. It made me wonder how true some of that might be from a Japanese perspective – do the Japanese take student council duties way more seriously than they do in the US? Maybe it’s all lost in translation…
REALLY LIKED IT
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