My Month in Reading, October 2019

My October reading was bookended with a few really great horror stories, which is as it should be. I also read the newest standalone novel by Kate Atkinson and finally finished a disappointing sci-fi novel by Amber Royer.


The Empty Ones by Robert Brockway

The horrifying imagery in the Vicious Circuit trilogy by Robert Brockway is second-to-none. He has a way with surrealist gonzo skull-fuckery that I love without reservation.

It helps that these books are hilarious and populated with lovable assholes. I also always enjoy stories about hidden worlds that exist under the surface of the real world. Case in point – the main villain in the books so far is a hollowed-out monstrous version of Mario Lopez who no longer understands humanity.

I also loved the first book when I read it a few years go, and this volume keeps up the stream of obscenity and gruesomeness to excellent effect.



Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life is one of my all-time favorite books, and the audiobook read by Fenella Woolgar (possibly the most British name ever) is a big part of why I loved it. Transcription reunites narrator and author, and although I didn’t love this book as much, it’s still a damn good read.

Atkinson has a talent for the sort of imagery that surprises you with its incongruous perfection, and Woolgar’s delivery of Juliet’s world-weary witticisms is bar none. I just didn’t think the story resonated as much as Ursula’s adventures throughout her many, varied lives.

I’m also not sure how I felt about the end of the book. To a certain degree, it’s a spy novel, with the requisite misdirection and twists, but I felt like the ending didn’t have the punch that it should have once Atkinson laid all her cards on the table.

Still, she is an author I will follow wherever she wants to go. I’ve still got the rest of the Jackson Brodie mysteries to read, as well as her early novels.



You Have Arrived at Your Destination by Amor Towles

I’m not sure what to think of the Forward Collection so far. This is the second story I’ve read from the collection, and although it was perfectly cast with David Harbour as the audiobook narrator, there wasn’t a whole lot to the story.

The narrator goes to an advanced fertility clinic that provides extrapolated dramatized versions of his potential child’s future life (warts and all), but it doesn’t go well, as you might have guessed.

The most interesting thing about this story is the idea of extrapolated futures based on genetics, but it doesn’t come to any conclusions about this development more complex than “that would be bad”, which is a song as old as science fiction.



Self/Made Volume 1 by Mat Groom

As an IT professional with coding experience, reading this book felt like what doctors must deal with any time they watch a medical show on TV – a catalog of teeth-grinding inaccuracies clearly only added for the sake of drama.

If you can accept the basic premise that a game developer could accidentally create a self-aware, artificially intelligent NPC and then find a way to bring the NPC out of the game and into a robotic body, you’ll probably find a lot to like about this book, especially the art.

I was too distracted by the fact that the developer carries around the code for the NPC in some kind of glowing orb that projects a hologram of the character’s face. The orb (precious, breakable) is the only copy of that character (no backups or code check-ins, I guess) so when the villainous CEO of the game company breaks the orb in a fit of rage, the developer is in danger of losing all her work.

I liked the idea of this book more than the execution.



The Institute by Stephen King

This was a solid adventure story that moved along at a brisk pace. I was expecting something a bit more horror-tinged when I started reading it, but instead this was mostly a fantasy about terrible things happening to telepathic and telekinetic kids. This was also the closest King has come to a young adult novel since maybe Eyes of the Dragon, although it was fairly profane, so maybe that would disqualify it in some circles. King sticks the landing here, and I enjoyed it a lot.



Screwball by Simon Rich

This is a fun little short piece narrated by Beck Bennett playing Babe Ruth as an talented idiot, presumably based on real history. In this telling, Ruth is an oblivious nice guy who just so happens to be good at baseball. When he runs afoul of another player who is completely useless as well as being the owner’s son, he blithely accepts everything the man says and does his best to be a good friend. A lot of the humor here relies on the disconnect between what Ruth perceives about the world around him versus what we know is going on via context clues.



Free Chocolate by Amber Royer

I struggled with this book. I wanted to like it more than I did because the premise sounded clever and funny, but the execution just got on my nerves. Bo Benitez is a culinary student who gets caught up in international intrigue when she steals cacao beans – a tightly controlled commodity because chocolate is highly coveted by aliens. Bo’s alien boyfriend talks her into stealing the cacao, and somehow she manages to stumble her way through a heist with little to no preparation or planning.

After she barely escapes the cacao facility with her life, she stumbles from one catastrophe to the next. The cover sells the book as a “space opera crossed with a soap opera,” and the pacing definitely reflects that. Bo ends up in one terrible situation after another, oftentimes while pining after one of several potential romantic prospects.

The author includes Spanish phrases through, presumably to give the book a multicultural feel, and it mostly works, although it was a bit much at times. A far more annoying trope is Bo calling out her “prey instinct” every time she runs into a dangerous alien.

I spent two and a half months reading this book in fits and starts, and only finished it because I brought it with me on a flight to Minnesota.



NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

This was the horror novel I wanted for October. It was creepy, disturbing, and hair-raisingly suspenseful.

It features a villain who is disturbing because he truly believes he is helping children by sucking all the life out of them and turning them into vampires, and a henchman who does the dirty, horrifying work of torturing and murdering the people who get in their way.

I loved the characters and the setting, and I loved the idea of people who can navigate their own personal worlds with help from a talisman. I’d heard mixed things about the TV adaptation, but I enjoyed this book so much that I think I’ll give it a chance.


My Month in Reading, September 2019

In September, I read three more InCryptid books by Seanan McGuire, and finished out the series so far. Other than that, I read a few graphic novels and listened to a short sci-fi novella.

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Cannon by Wallace Wood

This book is definitely a relic of its time. Wood liked to write sexy action comics for servicemen, so these stories originated in comics sent to soldiers. Wood had a great art style, all bullet-headed agents and voluptuous, leggy women. He had a talent for drawing both action scenes and cheesecake pinups, and he was also especially good and looks of existential horror, which pop up once or twice in this volume.

One of the tropes of this series is that all the women are beautiful and none of them keep on their clothes. A handful of the female characters (heroes and villains both) are seemingly always nude or only occasionally dressed in see-through clothing. When given the opportunity to disrobe, they do, and if they need to escape a villain’s clutches in the altogether, they make the best of it.

This would all be a bunch of absurd, sexploitational fun if not for the threats of rape and casual misogyny that crop up throughout. I liked the art and adventure enough that the occasional sour note didn’t ruin the book for me, but my rating definitely comes with a big asterisk.



Magic for Nothing by Seanan McGuire

I think one of the biggest strengths of the InCryptid series is its ability to support switching viewpoint characters from volume to volume. These books exist in a shared world, but every Price sibling has a different perspective on life and a unique tone that comes along with it.

The whole series is funny, but the humor in each book comes at you from different angles. This book is the first of three focusing on Antimony Price, the youngest Price sibling, tasked with an important undercover mission after the world-changing events of the last book. She also ends up joining the circus.

One nice thing about Antimony’s story is that she gets a bit of new romance, which was missing from the last few books because Alex and Verity have more established relationships. It’s a fun time to mix romance and danger with death-defying feats in a carnival tent. I’ve already purchased the rest of the series so far, so it won’t be long before I’ve finished reading the remaining books.


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Imaginary Fiends by Tim Seeley, Stephen Molnar and Quinton Winter

In the world of this book, imaginary friends are real but are also trans-dimensional vampires that feed on fear, among other emotions. The main character, Melba Li, is a young woman committed to an insane asylum as a teenager after stabbing her best friend a dozen times because Polly Peachpit, her imaginary friend, told her to do it. The FBI recruits the now adult Melba to help solve a case that may involve another imaginary friend.

The art in this book is pretty great, and the story goes to some bizarre, oftentimes dark, places. I like the idea of someone who can only solve crimes with the help of a manipulative invisible monster. It’s an absurd trope, but it’s fun to see it play out in this scenario.

Unfortunately, I think this book was a casualty of DC shuttering Vertigo, and it seems unlikely the story will continue. At least the book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, and this story arc can easily stand alone even if there is plenty of potential for more in this world.


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Giselle and Beatrice by Benoît Feroumont

This is an odd book. The art is exaggerated and cartoonish, but the subject matter is fairly explicit. It’s about a woman named Beatrice, mistreated by her sexist cad of a boss, George, until she gets revenge with magic that turns him into a woman named Giselle. Oh, and Beatrice has a penis because she was partially transformed by the man who gave her the gender-swapping magic.

After George becomes Giselle, Beatrice forces herself on her and then makes Giselle clean her apartment as her live-in maid. Complicating things for Giselle is the fact that she has a thick accent and speaks in broken English, so she has a hard time explaining her predicament to anyone. As time passes, their relationship changes in unexpected ways.

I liked the art, and the story kind of reminds me of Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, but this is also a book about two reprehensible people. George was a scumbag, but Beatrice isn’t particularly likable once she gets her revenge, and Giselle soon becomes sympathetic.


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Tricks For Free by Seanan McGuire

Antimony is on the run from the covenant as well as hiding from her family, so she goes to ground and goes undercover as an employee at LowryLand, a Disney-like theme park with equally soul-destroying working conditions.

It wouldn’t be an InCryptid novel if she wasn’t surrounded by cryptids and the supernatural. Her dead aunt Mary hangs around to make sure she’s safe, and her roommates are a sylph and a gorgon. She doesn’t have her mice or her boyfriend Sam, but plenty of weird stuff keeps happening around her no matter what she does and how much she tries to hide.

When Antimony runs afoul of magic users in the park, she jumps at the chance when one of them offers to teach her how to control her magic. Everything seems great until strange, unexplained accidents start happening around the park and Antimony decides to investigate even though it might blow her cover.

This was yet another highly enjoyable entry in the InCryptid series. I did get a little frustrated late in the book when it felt like the characters were constantly rushing into danger without much of a plan, but it wasn’t enough to kill my momentum. The ending sets up further complications that will surely pay off with dividends in the third Antimony book, That Ain’t Witchcraft.


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That Ain’t Witchcraft by Seanan McGuire

And now, after six InCryptid books in a row, I come to the end of the series so far. Book nine comes out in February of next year, and you can be sure that I’ll buy it day one. I enjoyed immersing myself in this world for the last two months.

I especially liked how Antimony’s books served as a trilogy within the larger series, building a story arc that resolved with a confrontation against the most significant and dangerous supernatural villain in the series so far, while also tying up one thread of the Price family’s fight against the Covenant, now personified in Leonard Cunningham.

My favorite part of this book comes during a climactic moment that I won’t spoil here, but let’s just say that it was the only moment in the series so far that made me get a little misty-eyed.


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The Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay

I’ve seen a lot of rave reviews of Tremblay’s work, but this is the first of his stories that I’ve read, and although it was decent enough, it probably wasn’t the best introduction.

In it, an amnesiac wakes up in a strange facility and an unseen woman puts him through his paces. She prompts him to remember his past via mental and physical exercises. The tone is detached and a little unsettling, and I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that there is more going on than the main character first realizes.

This novella is part of a collection of thematically related short stories made available on Audible and Kindle for Prime and Kindle Unlimited users. It’s a fancy short story collection that you can download and read in any order. Even if this story wasn’t my bag, I plan on checking out the rest of the series.


My Month in Reading, August 2019

Seanan McGuire’s Incryptid series dominated my audiobook listening in the month of August. Every time I finished one book in the series, I bought the next! I also read more Karen Russell, a few comics, and a disappointing young adult novel about witchy babysitters.


Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell

Although I didn’t love every single story in this collection, enough of them knocked it out of the park that I loved it as a whole. I’d already read the title story when it was published in the New Yorker, but it was fantastic the first time around, so I didn’t mind listening again. It’s probably my favorite story of the bunch, but most of the stories in this collection are equally fantastic, so it’s hard to rate one over the others.

One interesting thing to note about this collection is that I could really tell how Russell’s writing style has changed since St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. The stories in her first collection were oftentimes elliptical and unresolved, whereas these newer stories generally have complete arcs. I like both types of her stories, although I do tend to prefer stories that resolve. It’s rare that I enjoy elliptical storytelling in any medium.



Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire

I decided to listen to this on a whim. At the time, I was in the middle of several audiobooks that were good but weren’t quite catching my fancy, so I thought it might be time for a bit of good old-fashioned modern fantasy from one of the best. I read and enjoyed the first two books in this series all the way back in 2013, but never got around to reading more until now. This book was actually a great reintroduction to the series because it switches viewpoint characters to Alex Price, the older brother of Verity Price, who is the protagonist from the first two books. I blew through this book over the course of a week, and then I immediately bought book four and started listening. I may just keep plowing my way through the rest of the series.



When I Arrived at the Castle by Emily Carroll

I would buy full sized poster prints of pages from this book. Emily Carroll’s art is both minimalist and drop-dead gorgeous in eye-popping black, white and red. This slim volume is a dark fairy tale about a dangerous countess and the village woman who comes to her castle to stop her reign of terror. The story is mysterious, sensual, and ultimately elliptical, but I loved the overall effect. I need to finally get around to reading Through the Woods, which I’ve owned for a few years now.



Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire

This is the second InCryptid book featuring cryptozoologist Alex Price and his Australian girlfriend Shelby Tanner. This installment is sort of like Meet The Parents in Australia with the added danger of werewolves. When Shelby convinces Alex to come to Australia with her to help stop a local werewolf infestation, Alex learns that her family is not going to be easily sold on her American boyfriend. He also encounters a truly terrifying adversary in the pack of roving werewolves, simply because the nature of their disease means that their bites are infectious and any mammal can be infected, but the only treatment is highly toxic and very dangerous. The mystery in the previous volume was definitely engaging, but it didn’t have quite the same visceral edge as the threat of being ravaged by a werewolf and turned into a mindless killing machine. As soon as I finished this volume, I bought the next!


The Babysitters Coven

The Babysitters Coven by Kate Williams (Full Review)

This book took me forever to finish, and my enjoyment diminished more and more as I got closer to the end. Does not live up to the potential of its very cool cover design.



Chaos Choreography by Seanan McGuire

I’m on a roll at this point! The InCryptid books are the only thing I want to listen to during my walks, and I’m going to use up a year’s worth of Audible credits way too soon.

Chaos Choreography switches perspectives back to Verity Price, the focus of the first two books in the series. This is kind of a nice trick, because each protagonist gives the series its own flavor. You can have the shared world of cryptozoologists, but if there isn’t a story to tell about one of the Price kids, McGuire can switch to another.

This installment is particularly absurd and focuses on Verity’s time as a contestant on an all-stars version of a reality show dance competition. When eliminated contestants start getting vivisected and covered with strange runes, Verity has to try to stop the villains without losing her competitive edge. Needless to say, complications ensue.

Mere minutes after finishing this book, I bought book six. The series to date (as of this writing) totals eight published books with one more scheduled for next year. At least I still have enough credits left to catch up.



Nancy: A Comic Collection by Olivia Jaimes (Full Review)

If you’re looking for a good laugh from a strip that feels “relatable” without pandering, then you should definitely check out Olivia Jaimes’ Nancy.


My Month in Reading, July 2019

After a slow June, I got back in the swing of things for July. I finished several audiobooks and a few graphic novels along with the final book in the His Dark Materials trilogy.


The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross

Bob Howard, supernatural IT guy slash reluctant field agent, is a fun character to follow. Even still, I’ve been slow to read this series, which is now nine books long. In fact, I read book three in 2011 and originally started the series way back in 2007.

I think it helps to understand that the Laundry Files began as a parody of British spy novels, and then Stross either felt restricted by that premise or grew bored with it, so slowly but surely rejiggered it into something else, eventually turning it into a reliable yearly release.

This book felt a bit transitional, possibly because of that shift. From what I remember of the earlier books, Bob was generally at the forefront of the story, driving events and saving the day. In this volume, Stross introduces a few new viewpoint characters and Bob is in a more reactive role. He’s still the one narrating events or recording them for posterity, but he’s in over his head and oftentimes sidelined during action scenes.

From reading the summaries of the later books, it sounds like Bob isn’t always the primary viewpoint character, which makes sense if Stross wanted to open up the premise a bit. I’m still enjoying the series, but I’ll probably have to read another book or two to get an idea of where he’s taking it.



The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

It’s kind of amazing how out there this trilogy gets. I wish I’d known back in the day when I first started reading it, because I might have made the effort to finish what I’d started instead of stopping after book one. These books were easily some of the best I’ve read in a good long while, and each book in the trilogy only improved on the one before it.

This one includes a harrowing trip into the afterlife for Lyra and Will and ends with some hard choices for both characters. There is an epic battle scene between humans, angels, witches and just about everything under the sun.

I’m hugely excited about the HBO adaptation, which will hopefully do it justice, even though they are condensing the books into two seasons instead of doing a book per season. Still, the bizarre visuals in the second and third books should more than make up for anything condensed for television.



The Pin-Up Art of Bill Ward

Bill Ward is a famous pin-up artist who drew the kinds of comics you might find in Playboy or its forgotten men’s magazine predecessors. The most interesting thing I learned from this collection is that he drew with a conté crayon and his originals were huge as a result.

He definitely had a knack for drawing glossy black leggings on absurdly exaggerated statuesque women. Less successful were the gag captions, which I only rarely found funny, probably because they’re from a different era but also because the jokes were clearly not the point.

This volume also makes it clear that Ward had a few go-to poses and settings, and most of his comics were variations on a handful of themes. His work probably stands up slightly better in an uncollected form, which essentially means that this collection only diminishes it.



Act of God by Jill Ciment

I got bored with this book halfway through and almost didn’t finish reading. Instead, I listened to The Apocalypse Codex and then decided to give this another shot since it is relatively short.

My main problem with Act of God is that it isn’t nearly as interesting as the cover or the summary implies. It’s a story about four women catastrophically affected by fast-growing mutant mushrooms that infest their homes, which makes it sound like the book is going to be weirder than it is.

You could replace the mushrooms with any natural disaster and tell about the same story. Aside from that hook, the book isn’t all that compelling.



Cash Boy, Volume 1 by Mio Murao

Sometimes I read comics just because they are available on ComiXology Unlimited or Hoopla or Overdrive and the bar for entry is low. I’ve read more manga in the last year or so, mostly thanks to those resources, and sometimes I’ve found some pretty decent reads. This was not one of those times.

The basic premise is that a college boy and a high school girl become step-siblings when their parents marry, but then they are soon orphaned when their parents die on the way to their honeymoon. Lucky for them, their parents left them a huge amount of money that they then spend irresponsibly, oftentimes resulting in sexy hi-jinks. Oh, and there is a bit of sexual tension between them because they were strangers and now they’re only siblings in the legal sense.

The worst part of this book was the translation, which is clunky and rife with typos, but the views on women were also questionable. First, the boy obsesses over a materialistic woman who turns him down because he doesn’t spend enough money on her. Then, he starts going to a fashion hotel, (aka love hotel aka brothel), where he becomes infatuated with a sex worker. This does not end well for him.



Ice Cream Man, Volume 1: Rainbow Sprinkles by W. Maxwell Prince and Martin Morazzo

This book is sort of like what you might get if the Sandman comics were about some kind of demonic entity pretending to be a friendly neighborhood ice cream man who just so happens to cause mayhem wherever he goes.

Each issue is an episodic story about something terrible or weird (or both) that happens either adjacent to or because of the Ice Cream Man’s influence. I liked the art and I generally enjoyed the book, but the stories felt slight and kind of forgettable.

The series is clearly going for a classic horror anthology vibe, but none of the horror twists had the gut punch you get from a Twilight Zone episode. Instead, they were just a series of gross or horrible happenings.



Cryptofauna by Patrick Canning (Full Review)

This was an entertaining book that was almost too silly for its own good. I enjoyed it, but found myself wishing that there was a little bit more substance behind all the absurdity. Still, I would happily pick up another book by this author.



Die, Volume 1 by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans

Gillen describes Die as goth Jumanji, which is a pretty fair summary. The art, by Stephanie Hans, is painterly and gorgeous and is by far my favorite part of the book.

Imagine, if you will, a group of friends who shared a horrifying trauma many years ago. They’ve drifted apart in the intervening years, but something draws them back together and throws them into the mix of a new and developing trauma. Needless to say, they are cranky about it.

In the first volume of Die, we meet that group of former friends, now splintered apart and living emotionally damaged existences. Once, when they were young, they played an intense and dangerous game that pulled them into another universe with real and lasting consequences, including the disappearance and presumed death of one of their number.

Many years later, they reluctantly decide to get the gang back together after the delivery of a die belonging to their lost friend. This artifact transports them back into the game that changed their lives and forces them to reckon with the many ways this alternate universe has changed and moved on since they went home and tried to resume their former lives.

This first volume is bleak and cynical and sets up the horrifying consequences of something that should have been nothing more than a game. The characters are all flawed and searching for something they lost or never had. It’s a fascinating world, and I can’t wait to read more.


My Month in Reading, June 2019

Girl Reading

For whatever reason, I had a bit of a slow month in June. I was still working on the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, and although I loved every minute of it, it still took me a while to read. I also listened to two fairly long audiobooks this month. The Nix clocked in at almost 22 hours, and Foundryside was nearly 20 hours. Both were excellent in different ways.

The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

This was not at all what I was expecting from a sequel to The Golden Compass. The end of the first book in the trilogy pulls the rug out from under the reader, revealing that Lyra’s father is just as dangerous as her mother, if only with different methods and conflicting alliances.

The second book resets the playing field when we meet Will Parry, who comes from a world much like our own and who lives in modern times, not the early part of the Twentieth Century like you might imagine from Lyra’s version of Oxford.

The Subtle Knife is deeper and weirder, and much more disturbing than the first book. Lyra and Will discover a third world that serves as a way station between their respective worlds, but it has fallen into disrepair and been overrun with invisible specters who can suck the life out of an adult in seconds.

Will has to make some hard choices, and they encounter new and more terrifying dangers. We also start to get glimpses of Lord Asriel’s grand plan, and it is unclear what to root for other than Lyra and Will living to fight another day.

The book ends on a cliffhanger that must have been maddening back when it was first published. On to the final book in the trilogy!


The Nix
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The Nix by Nathan Hill

This is a sprawling coming-of-age novel about a boy abandoned by his mother, and the man he becomes when he seeks her out years later to try and write a book about her life and history. It’s also about the girl she was before she gave up and married his father.

It jumps back and forth between 2011 and Chicago in the late 1960s, when the city was on the verge of erupting into riots at the Democratic National Convention.

The Nix reminded me a bit of The Goldfinch at points, but the end result wasn’t nearly as masterfully done. I enjoyed the book, but there were several points where Hill spends long chapters on characters completely secondary to the main plot, and I found myself asking why those scenes were relevant.

The only real justification is that they cross paths with the main character, and Hill wanted to paint a bigger picture of their lives. It didn’t help that the audiobook narrator chose to narrate those chapters in the voice of the characters, which made the time spent with them even more annoying.

I also felt like the ending wrapped things up just a little bit too smoothly, especially after so much strife and struggle.


Miss October 1

Miss October #1: Playmates, 1961

This book, translated from the French, follows two parallel storylines in Los Angeles, 1961. One thread follows competing detectives as they try to catch a serial killer known for murdering beautiful women and then posing them like centerfolds. The other thread is about a young woman who went deaf after an assault and decided to take up cat burglary.

The possible connections between the two storylines are intriguing, and the premise has a built-in ticking clock as the murderer kills a new “centerfold” every month, presumably leading up to the cat burglar in October.

The art is gorgeous, perfect for the fashion and the period, and the story is compelling enough that I came close to buying the rest of the series as soon as I finished this first volume.



Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett (Full Review)

This book is a great combination of epic fantasy world-building structured around a series of heists with escalating stakes and a dark heart of atrocity that permeates the engine of its dystopian society. Highly recommended.


My Month in Reading, May 2019

I thoroughly enjoy reading Jason Kottke’s monthly media diet posts, so I decided to try something similar with my monthly reading for this year. I thought it would be a good writing challenge and help keep me fresh between longer reviews.


The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

I originally read this back in the 90s, sometime after the second book came out but before the third. I remember enjoying it at the time, but for whatever reason I never got around to reading the rest of the trilogy. As part of my goal to finish more series that I started but never finished, I decided this would be the next trilogy/series I tackled.

The Golden Compass definitely holds up. I didn’t remember too much – just the broad strokes of the plot and characters – but what I found welcome about it is that it’s the rare young adult book where the main character behaves like a kid, but she’s also smart and capable in a way specific to children. Lyra Belacqua never feels like a little adult trapped in a child’s body, and the book is all the better for it.

Pullman also has a way with words and a fascination with headier philosophical matters that weave throughout the story without ever overwhelming the plot. This is a book for kids with stakes that feel real and dangerous and occasionally horrifying. The villains are truly villainous, and the book doesn’t pull any punches.

I started reading the second book the day after I finished the first, so I’m already doing better than I did oh those many years ago.


The Blood of Elves

Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski

This is the first book in the “Witcher Saga” proper. The books leading up to this one are short story collections that set up the characters and relationships while also building out the world.

The funny thing is, this book still felt a bit like several novellas stitched together, like the old-fashioned fix-up novels from the golden age of sci-fi. The end result is a novel that still feels fairly episodic. It works, but it doesn’t build to much of a climax.

Instead, it’s a series of stories about Geralt’s ward, Ciri, her early training, and the dangers she faces from the outside world. Geralt isn’t even the viewpoint character for most of the book, with Dandelion, Triss, Ciri and Yennifer all getting their turns at the helm. I like that this book kept things fairly small-scale. I’m assuming the series only builds in scope from here.


Unnatural Volume 2 cover

Unnatural, Volume 2 by Mirka Andolfo

The further adventures of a sexy pig-girl living in a dystopian society who gets caught up in a supernatural conspiracy because of her status as the chosen one in a former life. Yes, you read that right.

For a book marketed on its sex appeal, this volume sure does focus on the main character running and hiding from the villains who want to control her life, all while fighting the spirit of an evil wolf-man that only she can see. Yes, again, I know. I like this series more than that ridiculous premise might warrant, mostly because the art is so wonderful.


Reincarnation Blues cover

Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore (Full Review)

An alternately bleak and drily funny book about a man who keeps getting reincarnated but would rather spend all his time in the afterlife with his girlfriend Susie, who happens to be an incarnation of death.



Exorsisters, Volume 1 by Ian Boothby and Gisele Lagace

I do like Lagace’s art, which is probably why I keep reading Menage a 3, but where that series has sexy hijinks to keep things interesting, this book includes more than one scene where a character explains backstory to another character who already knows it in an awkward info-dump. The most interesting thing in this series is the revelation that the main character’s mother sold her daughter’s soul to save herself, but the story around it is limp and graceless.


My Month in Reading, April 2019

I thoroughly enjoy reading Jason Kottke’s monthly media diet posts, so I decided to try something similar with my monthly reading for this year. I thought it would be a good writing challenge and help keep me fresh between longer reviews.

Spellbound, Volume 3 by Jean Dufaux – Despite the faux-Disney character designs, this is a pitch-black story about a young woman who murders her mother in self defense only to realize that she enjoys the power that comes with royalty. REALLY LIKED IT

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin – This was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. I have very strong memories of reading and re-reading it, even if the details of the book slipped my memory after more than two decades. The only thing that stuck with me was the reveal at the end of the book, so re-reading it this time was like uncovering buried memories. The audiobook version also gave it a new dimension that I never experienced as a kid. One thing that surprised me about this book is that the adult characters get as much stage time as the teenage girl who would be the more traditional YA heroine these days. This book doesn’t talk down to kids, if only because there’s so much going on thematically that the story works on multiple levels. It’s also held up very well despite being published in 1978. LOVED IT

Loverboys by Gilbert Hernández – I keep reading these standalone stories that exist tangentially in the Love & Rockets universe because I’m in the mood for a quick read, but I’ve only really liked one or two of them, and one I flat-out hated. This one fell somewhere in the middle. It was elliptical and weird and not much happened. One of these days I’m going to give the series proper another go – I do like the art style, after all. LIKED IT

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde – I think it’s fair to say the Fforde is one of my favorite authors. He’s got such a bizarre sensibility and manages to keep things fresh and weird with every new book. The Thursday Next books are probably my favorites of his work, but this standalone story was just as good as the best of those, and didn’t end with the promise of future installments like Shades of Grey, which is feeling more and more like an unintentional standalone with every passing year. Early Riser takes a basic premise – that humans have always hibernated – and runs with it, building whole new societal structures around this biological necessity. Much like most of his other works, this results in a dystopian society. Early Riser is a very funny book, but it’s also one of his darker dystopias, with hibernation resulting in potential zombification, cannibalism, “farming” for repopulation or being “parted out” for transplants. I really enjoyed the ride, with all of its weird little details and digressions, although the climax did feel like it wrapped things up very quickly. I’m always glad to read new Fforde, and look forward to the next of his books, whatever and whenever that might be. LOVED IT

The Boys, Omnibus Volume 1 by Garth Ennis – Watching the trailer for the upcoming Amazon series made me decide to finally pick up and read this series, which I’ve heard about here and there over the years. I ended up really liking this volume, although I wasn’t entirely sure what to think at points. It feels like a book from the 80s or 90s, but it was first published in the early 2000s and is set around the same time. Parts of the book are pretty gruesome, and it seems like series isn’t going to shy away from depicting the gore and perversion. I’m not sure how well that will work in a live-action setting, but I’ll give it a chance if I can find time to watch it without my girlfriend. Worth checking out for its combination of misanthropy crossed with inverted tropes. REALLY LIKED IT

Vacationland by John Hodgman – I really love Hodgman’s work. He’s got a great comedic sensibility, and he’s the perfect narrator for his own stories. This is his first book without made-up facts, focusing instead on short memoirs of his life on vacation and how things changed for him after his sudden fame. These aren’t particularly eventful stories, and they probably won’t blow your mind with their unique insights, but they’re well-told and entertaining, and I loved every minute of the audio version. I just hope he decides to write a novel some day, if only because I love him best when he takes flights of fancy. LOVED IT

My Month in Reading, March 2019

I thoroughly enjoy reading Jason Kottke’s monthly media diet posts, so I decided to try something similar with my monthly reading for this year. I thought it would be a good writing challenge and help keep me fresh between longer reviews.

I’m going to start by catching up on the months I missed, so this is the third installment of 2019.

An Invisible Sign of My Own by Aimee Bender – I read this at the same time I listened to The Bell Jar, and they felt cut from similar thematic cloth, even though this wasn’t nearly as harrowing as The Bell Jar and was also surreal and magically realist instead of a lightly fictionalized memoir. It’s mostly just that both books are about young women struggling with depression and having a hard time dealing with adulthood and modern life. This one had a happy ending if only because the author is still alive. REALLY LIKED IT

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders – Man, this was a tough one for me. I LOVED Anders’ debut, All the Birds in the Sky, and bought this, her follow-up, on that reputation alone. Anders is a master of world building, and that is by far the strongest aspect of this book, but I wasn’t as much a fan of the narrative here. When you boil it down, this book is about toxic relationships, but it’s also about people making stupid, frustrating decisions because they can’t get out of their own heads. For whatever reason, reading this felt like a bit of a slog, and I think it’s because I couldn’t stand the object of the main character’s affection, who was a terrible person that she pined after long past when it was reasonable. I’m still all-in on future Anders books, but this one wasn’t my jam. LIKED IT

Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski – I read this back in 2011 and loved it, but I never read the rest of the trilogy for whatever reason. I decided it was time to make up for that, so I started by re-reading this book, which I loved just as much the second time around. All three books were quick reads, so it wasn’t hard for me to plow through the series in no time flat. LOVED IT

Damned by Steven Grant – This was another Kindle Unlimited borrow. It’s a crime novel with your standard archetypes – man fallen on hard times, femme fatale, etc., and it was so archetypical that I don’t remember a damn thing about it. I think the art was decent enough, but mostly it was forgettable. DISLIKED IT

Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher – Continuing my slow but steady progress on the Dresden Files books, which are always a good time and always marvelously narrated by James Marsters (except for the one temporarily released with another narrator until the fan outcry). This one introduces Molly Carpenter, Dresden’s apprentice, as a major character. I felt like Butcher engaged in a bit of unnecessary leering in Molly’s first character descriptions, but you could argue that they set up a plot development at the end of the book that defines clear boundaries and a line that Dresden will not cross with his new apprentice. That said, I wonder if he’d make the same creative choice today. REALLY LIKED IT

Hell & Gone by Duane Swierczynski – Finally on to new ground with the Charlie Hardie trilogy. This one wasn’t as slam-bang awesome as the first book, but it had some great characters, cool twists, and a bizarre setting in an underground prison where it isn’t clear who is an inmate and who is a guard. As these books continued, they just got weirder and weirder… REALLY LIKED IT

Point & Shoot by Duane Swierczynski – … which brings me to the last book in the trilogy, which starts with Hardie in space (because how else do you top a mysterious underground prison?) I had mixed feelings about this book. The more this trilogy continued, the more I grew frustrated by Hardie’s passivity and his constant idiotic decisions. I wanted him to take charge and finally do something right for a change, but this book sidelines him for a long time (most of the last third, in fact) and has someone else save the day in his place. This was a disappointing end to the trilogy. Fun & Games is by far the best of the three and I didn’t miss a lot by not reading the rest until now. LIKED IT

Isabellae Volume 3: Daughters of Eriu by Raule – I continue to enjoy this series. This volume had a nicely choreographed fight scene with a golem. REALLY LIKED IT

Fata Morgana by Steven R. Boyett – A WW2 sci-fi adventure slightly too much in love with its own attention to detail, but still a rollicking good time. REALLY LIKED IT

My Month in Reading, February 2019

I thoroughly enjoy reading Jason Kottke’s monthly media diet posts, so I decided to try something similar with my monthly reading for this year. I thought it would be a good writing challenge and help keep me fresh between longer reviews.

I’m going to start by catching up on the months I missed, so this is the second installment of 2019.

The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird – On one hand, listening to this book was a good way to immerse myself in the craft of writing so that I could brainstorm and problem-solve, but on the other hand, this is mostly just clichés in listicle form. The author has no other credits to his name (as far as I can tell) and uses negative examples of movies he didn’t like to prove his points, which I found tacky. DISLIKED IT

Breakneck #1 by Duane Swierczynski – This is just the first issue of four in this series, but it’s a double-length setup for a doomed crime story. Honestly, it wasn’t memorable, and I probably won’t read the rest. I do like Swierczynski a lot, but none of his comics work has grabbed me as much as his novels. LIKED IT

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – The first thing that surprised me about this book was that it was so funny, at least for a little while. It’s beautifully written, sharply observed, incredibly harrowing, and deeply tragic. It’s such a goddamn shame that Plath didn’t stick around to tell more stories. This one is a masterpiece, and I’m glad I finally read it. I listened to an audiobook narrated by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who was a perfect fit. LOVED IT

Mystery Society by Steve Niles – I read this because it was available on Kindle Unlimited. It’s a story about a team of misfit heroes who get vilified as criminals. I liked the art, but I’ve always been a fan of Fiona Staples, and some of the character concepts are weird in a fun way. Unfortunately, this felt like the first volume in an apparently canceled series that never got past the setup. LIKED IT

Black Charity by Bal Speer – This was another Kindle Unlimited borrow. It’s British crime caper that felt like it had a bit of Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore’s stylings although the story was fairly grounded. The art was a decent change of pace but the book wasn’t memorable. LIKED IT

Murena Volume #2: Of Sand and Blood by Jean Dufaux – I read the first volume in January, and the second volume continues in the same vein. I like it well enough that I’ll probably keep reading it (especially since it’s free), but it’s nothing to phone home about. LIKED IT

Spellbound Volume #2 by Jean Dufaux – The continuing adventures of Princess Blanche, betrayed by her own mother and in love with the exiled lord of hell. REALLY LIKED IT

Isabellae Volume 2: A Sea of Corpses by Raule – I read the first volume of this series late in 2018. It’s a samurai adventure about a woman who is half-Irish and half-Japanese, so the story and its mythology pull from her ancestry on both sides. Also, this volume features pirates AND zombies. REALLY LIKED IT

Madness is Better than Defeat by Ned Beauman – Ned Beauman is a fascinating author. I love his books, but I just couldn’t get into Boxer, Beetle for some reason, even though it has a similar feel to both this and The Teleportation Accident. Beauman seems to alternate between madcap ensemble pieces and solo adventures, all populated with weirdos and scumbags. Madness is Better than Defeat is an ensemble piece with a generous helping of metafiction thrown into the mix to keep things interesting. It’s a novel about an investigation into a failed expedition to make a movie about a failed expedition, and the layers of self-reference only increase from there. Considering Beauman’s batting average so far, I’ll probably give Boxer, Beetle another chance some day. LOVED IT

My Month in Reading, January 2019

I thoroughly enjoy reading Jason Kottke’s monthly media diet posts, so I decided to try something similar with my monthly reading for this year. I thought it would be a good writing challenge and help keep me fresh between longer reviews.

I’m going to start by catching up on the months I missed, so this is the first installment of 2019.

LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff – A bit too much muchness, and I wasn’t a fan of the ending. DISLIKED IT

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak – A wonderful nostalgia trip through hobbyist computer programming in the eighties. LOVED IT

Murena Volume #1: Purple and Gold by Jean Dufaux – This is one of many graphic novels that I’ve checked out from Hoopla because they’re free and available. Hoopla seems to have a lot of French or Belgian comics, so I’m reading a lot of those, especially when I can work my way through an entire series. This one is about political machinations in Roman times. It’s a fictionalized retelling of actual events, with real historical figures in the cast. This series is interesting enough that I’ve read a few volumes, but I definitely had trouble keeping track of all the characters, several of whom look almost identical. I could never remember who was the son of the emperor and who was the son of his mistress and why some poor bastard was just murdered. LIKED IT

Spellbound Volume #1 by Jean Dufaux – Also checked out from Hoopla. About a fight for succession in a medieval fantasy world. Some shades of Game of Thrones, perhaps, but the character designs look like they’re from a 90s Disney cartoon, with outsized eyes and exaggerated chins, and the story is full of witchcraft and underworld creatures. The art style was an interesting juxtaposition with all the dark deeds and skullduggery, so it definitely kept my interest. REALLY LIKED IT

Dead Beat by Jim Butcher – I always enjoy the Dresden Files books, and the series only gets better with each installment. These are like comfort food for me, so it’s nice to have another one to read now and then. I’ve definitely been taking my sweet time reading them, but they’re also fairly self-contained, so it’s not like I’m getting only part of a story. This installment introduces some new characters and puts Harry on a collision course with the wardens. He also rides a resurrected dinosaur to fight evil wizards, so it’s got a lot going for it. REALLY LIKED IT

Ménage à 3, Volume 6 by Gisèle Lagacé – I’ve never watched Three’s Company, but I’m assuming it was a fairly horny show for its time. This webcomic is like an even hornier version of my mental image of that show, full of nudity, bisexuality and Canadians. It isn’t particularly funny, but it’s an easy, entertaining read, and I’ve read enough volumes at this point that I’m invested in whatever shenanigans happen next. REALLY LIKED IT

The House With a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs – I read this thanks to the movie adaptation with Jack Black and a convenient daily deal at Audible. It was an interesting change of pace because it doesn’t fit the norms and tropes of modern young adult books. The main character isn’t super-capable or the chosen one – he’s just a normal kid caught up in supernatural weirdness who makes the occasional disastrous mistake. Apparently it’s the first in a series of a dozen or so books, so I might have to pick up the next volume sometime soon. REALLY LIKED IT

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie – This was also an Audible daily deal. I already owned a used paperback copy, but someone thoroughly marked it up, which I hate (and did not notice before buying.) I thought the audiobook version would be a good alternative, especially since it’s a fairly short book. Rushdie pitched the book a little younger than I was expecting, but I didn’t mind that so much. It was a fun adventure that reminded me a bit of Catherine Valente’s Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own (presumably the influence flowed the other way, but still.) REALLY LIKED IT

Man-Eaters, Volume 1 by Chelsea Cain – Saw this in a comic shop and thought the premise sounded intriguing, so I picked up single issues of the first story arc. Mostly it just felt abbreviated. The story stops after three issues and the fourth issue is an only mildly successful satirical magazine for boys with helpful tips on defending yourself from murderous women. Apparently the satirical one-offs are a recurring gag, so this might be a bumpy series to follow. I don’t have much confidence in this as an ongoing series after a first arc that was all setup for a last-minute reveal. This felt like one issue of story padded for length, not a full volume. LIKED IT

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames – I picked this up at Vroman’s, my favorite local bookstore, because I liked the cover and the story sounded like fun. The basic premise is that mercenary bands are like rock stars and the main character has to “get the band back together” to save his friend’s daughter from a siege. The book is funny but not silly; one pull-quote on the cover compared it to Terry Pratchett’s work, which is a gross exaggeration, but did convince me to pick it up, so I suppose I can forgive the inaccuracy. Ultimately this is just a fun adventure. It takes the edge off of grimdark without feeling free of consequences. LOVED IT