SMZ Reads, 2019 Edition
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◄◄◄ Continuing on (more or less) from the 2015 edition
Just wasted (?) some time scanning through my old reading journals and figured I'd start this baby up again. (The timing is pretty perfect, since I haven't yet finished a read in 2019.) On the one hand, I'm surprised it's only been a little over 3 years since I stopped these entries, and on the other hand it feels like it's been an eternity. I also feel like my tastes have matured quite a lot in the intervening time. Not only that, but I also do almost of my reading exclusively on my Kindle. (Comics, I read on my Kindle Fire tablet.)
• List of books (no comics) by reading date
• List of all reads
A quick note: Back in August 2017, I decided (due to the current political climate) that I was going to try reading only female and/or minority authors for a while. With only a small handful of exceptions (as well as comic books, which have been a rather large exception), I've continued the practice up through the present, and have no real inclination to stop anytime soon; it's been an absolute gift so far.
Low Red Moon by Caitlín R. Kiernan - After reading a couple of short stories by Kiernan in the past, I "discovered" her last year when someone on the Malazan forums' "Has anyone read this?" thread asked about her book The Red Tree; I had purchased it on clearance 6 years earlier, and told them that I'd (finally!) read it and let them know how it was. I was hooked, and it topped my list of the 5 best books I read in 2018. I also read her The Drowning Girl and, at the author's recommendation, Daughter of Hounds, which was ostensibly the third book in a series but I loved it all the same. I then started the series from the beginning with Threshold, and Low Red Moon is the second book. It's clearly the connective tissues between the other entries, and is very much an improvement on the first. I've been doing a chapter a night since I started it on December 26th, but last night (nearing the halfway mark) I stayed up until 2am reading 3 chapters in a row. It's got its hooks in me real good, now, and I love it.
>1 saltmanz: I’m glad you decided to start up a thread again. I haven’t had the pleasure of following one of your threads before, so I look forward to following this year’s. :)
Happy new year! It's good to see you back here and I look forward to following your reading.
Good to see you here again! May 2019 bring you many new discoverie, and old friends.
Low Red Moon by Caitlín R. Kiernan - This was really good. The ending was a pretty big downer, but I more or less knew what was coming on account of having already ready the next book. If you do read this series (and I recommend it) you'll want to read them in order, I think; the books definitely get better as the series progresses. (On the other hand, much of this book was less mystifying than it probably would have been otherwise, because the third book goes into certain details much more.)
X-Men Red, Volume 1: The Hate Machine by Tom Taylor & Mahmud Asrar - It's funny, when I got into X-Men comics back in the day (specifically, the late 80s and most of the 90s) Jean Grey not being dead was the status quo. She'd died many years before during the Dark Phoenix Saga, and would die again a few years after I drifted away from comics, and she stayed dead until finally being resurrected this year. Meanwhile, I got back into reading X-Men comic with Brian Bendis' All-New X-Men run, where he used time travel to bring the original X-Men (Jean included) from the past into the present day, where they stuck around until just recently. So for as long as Jean's been dead in comics world, it's kind of funny that I've read very few comics without Jean Grey in them in some form or another. Anyway, now that Jean's back, she forms the X-Men Red team to combat the titular "Hate Machine", a particularly timely story about a villain intentionally planted the seeds of hatred of mutants around the world. It's good to see adult Jean again, and there's a good message here, even if the 6 issues in this collection do little more than establish the new team and threat.
All-New Wolverine, Volume 1: The Four Sisters
All-New Wolverine, Volume 2: Civil War II
All-New Wolverine, Volume 3: Enemy of the State II by Tom Taylor, et al - Reading Bendis' aforementioned All-New X-Men got me liking Laura Kinney, AKA Wolverine's girl-clone "X-23". Reading X-Men Red had me fall in love with her mini-clone, Gabby AKA Honey Badger, so I had to start reading their comic (I've owned the whole series for a while now.) It's fantastic. It's about Laura trying to escape her past as a programmed killer, out to prove that she's more than her creators made her to be. It's touching, violent (but not graphically so), and Gabby is the best ever.
>1 saltmanz: It's good to see you back here again even if it is to the detriment of my tbr pile. Like the idea of concentrating on female authors and it's something I should be more conscious of in my own reading. My stats for last year were terrible in that regard.
Threshold has got some very mixed reviews! Won't add it to the Pile yet, but will keep and eye out to brouse for it.
>13 reading_fox: Yeah, Threshold is easily the weakest of the series. You could always do as I did and start with Daughter of Hounds, if you really wanted to. (Or, if you just wanted to check out Kiernan, start with The Red Tree, easily my favorite read of 2018.)
>12 AHS-Wolfy: My own "female authors read" stats had been pretty bad prior to my self-imposed restriction:
2016: 4 (one a reread from 2012)
2017: 1 (pre-challenge thru July)
2017: 16 (post-challenge)
The Shore of Women by Pamela Sargent - The blurbs for this "feminist classic" include rave reviews from the likes of Anne McCaffrey and Orson Scott Card. I'm not sure it's aged particularly well, but not too badly, either. I'm something like 15% of the way in, and the plot's finally starting to kick into gear (I think.) It's a story of (presumably) far-future Earth, where the women live in high-tech sci-fi cities, and boys once they reach a certain age are exiled to the outside, where they live in barbaric nomad tribes, worship "the Goddess" (more or less a stand-in for all women), and if they start to become too organized, the ladies wipe them out. The story is told in alternating POVs, one from a young woman whose mother is chafing a bit against the strictures of their society, and the other from that of her twin brother on the outside. Pretty good so far.
So glad you decided to do this again, >1 saltmanz:! And a very Happy New Year to you.
>15 saltmanz: This is on my TBR pile. I'll be interested to see what you think, as I've seen mixed reviews for it.
All-New Wolverine, Volume 4: Immune
All-New Wolverine, Volume 5: Orphans of X
All-New Wolverine, Volume 6: Old Woman Laura by Tom Taylor, et al - A fine continuation of the comic. I think the last two volumes are a little weaker, but Vol 4 is one of the strongest entries in the series: an alien virus has spread across Roosevelt Island NY, and in a nice inversion, Laura (and the other mutants with healing factors) have to use their powers to heal, not kill. It also means Gabby/Honey Badger gets to meet Deadpool, which is Just. The. Best.
It's a shame the comic had to end as soon as it did. It's really, really good.
Transformers: Historia by Chris McFeely - In December, comics company IDW ended its 13-year, critically-acclaimed run of Transformers comics. (A new reboot is coming in March.) To commemorate the longest continuous narrative in franchise history, the "IDWverse" was given this lovely retrospective look. Effectively summarizing 13 years and many hundreds of issues of comics comprising numerous disparate creators and story arcs—all in a single, 40-page cohesive chronological narrative—is a monumental task, and IDW found the perfect man for the job: Chris McFeely, who for years did summary write-ups for the individual comic issues at TFwiki.net. It's hard to say how this book reads to someone not familiar with any of the individual comics, but as someone who's read about 75-80% of them, this was absolutely engrossing. A fantastic tribute to the pinnacle of Transformers fiction.
The Shore of Women by Pamela Sargent - I ended up really liking this one. Since my first post, the actual story changed pretty drastically; the male POV remained, but the female POV switched to that of a girl exiled to the outside world of men. The two meet, and the rest of the book is mostly concerned with their travels and relationship. She was of course raised to believe all men are more or less violent savages, and he was conditioned to revere (and lust after) the Lady in all her aspects. It's predictably predictable (spoiler: they both discover that men and women are more alike than different) but it's well-written and their adventures are gripping. And it made me think quite a bit.
The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper - Having finished The Shore of Women, I figured now might be a good time to read this one, since they (superficially) seem rather similar. In this book, following a cataclysmic event ostensibly caused by the violent nature of men, males aren't banished to the wilderness, but are instead sent into the military at age 5, and then apparently around age 15 they decide whether to stay in the military with the other men, or return home as servitors. Instead of the sci-fi feel of Sargent's book, this one feels like the human race has settled in around a Greek/Roman Empire level of technology. And the play "The Trjoan Women" (which I'm not very familiar with) looks it plays a big part in the story.
Nancy Drew #1-5 by Kelly Thompson & Jenn St-Onge - This was a lot of fun! Nancy goes back to her hometown, meets up with her old girlfriends and the Hardy Boys (!) and solves a cold case. Never read any Nancy Drew books as a kid, so I dunno how well this ties into those, but I did read a lot of Hard Boys, and though I loved Joe and Frank here, I wish they had been able to do a bit more actual sleuthing. Regardless, it's a highly-entertaining story, with a nice modern-day vibe, and art that's a joy to look at. And it ends with a cliffhanger that I hope indicates another story arc forthcoming.
Conan/Red Sonja by Gail Simone & Jim Zub & Dan Panosian - No one writes Red Sonja like Gail Simone. She's tough and dangerous but still human, without descending into cheesecake like so many other writers do. This collection sees her cross paths with the famous Barbarian three times as they team up to take down (what else?) a world-ending evil. It's fun watching the two leads' personalities clash, and the art is gorgeous, too.
The Apple-Tree Throne by Premee Mohamad - I picked up this novella after a recommendation on Twitter, and I'm glad I did. It takes place in an alternate-history England, kind of a steampunk-y version, but the tech is really only mentioned in passing as flavor. It's the story of a man who comes back from war and is taken in by his dead commander's family, but also haunted by said commander's ghost. Beautifully written, and kind of sad. I'm not entirely sure I "get" it (according to the afterword it's based on a song I've never heard of) but I can easily recommend it.
Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng - I'm only a chapter into this, but its already got it's hooks in me (unlike the Sheri S. Tepper from last week's post.) We've got another alternate-history England here, but in this one, travel to the land of Faerie ("Arcadia") has been achieved. Christian missionaries have been sent, and the story so far is that our narrator has traveled there to track down her missionary brother.
>22 saltmanz: Glad to see Nancy Drew gets a face lift, so to speak. :D I read all the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys that my library had when I was young. A joyful memory, although, I don't think I want to read the old ones again. I'm afraid of the suck fairy.
Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng - This was great, even though it ended up not quite being what I expected. After the first few chapters I was anticipating a more "serious" study of the concept Christian missionaries witnessing to the Fae. My error was assuming that was the premise of the book, when it was merely the starting point. The book takes a couple of unexpected twists that still remain true to the spirit of the story, and it really goes off the rails near the end—in a good way. A nice, dark(-ish) gothic tale.
Witchmark by C. L. Polk - This was Tor.com's free ebook for February. It's set in another alternate-universe England of sorts, called Aeland, but there's enough worldbuilding done to differentiate it from the real world, with the names of the days and seasons, etc. changed. It's also a world where the ruling class are magic-wielding mages, and lower-class "witches" are ostracized. The protag is a war vet (secretly a witch with healing talents) working at a veteran's hospital. There's a murder mystery, a mysterious benefactor, some secret family history, so the story's interesting enough, but it's one of those books that just isn't grabbing me like I'd expect, even though I'm reading 3-4 chapters a night sometimes. It's also got a bit of gay romance in it, which, as progressive and open-minded as I like to think I've become in the past few years, still makes me rather uncomfortable. Lesbian romance is not a thing that bothers me, just when it's two dudes; so at this point, I feel like it's just one of those things I don't like to read in my books, like overly-detailed sex scenes, or gore, or absurdism.
Witchmark by C. L. Polk - The last 20% or so of this was absolutely riveting; it would have been nice if the rest of the book had been as exciting! And the revelations at the end were amazing and horrifying, but man it really felt like the big reveal wasn't truly earned. Like, the mystery could have been hinted at a lot better; instead, the book ends like, "Well, let's check out this last clue," and then BAM! the big reveal you never could have guessed at. To be fair, there are really two mysteries in this book: the "Why are veteran soldiers going crazy and killing people?" question threaded throughout the background of the story progresses nicely and is resolved satisfactorily, but the more prominent "Who killed Nick Elliott and why?" is the one that kinda comes out of left field at the end. Also, the romance just felt forced and unnecessary, and I hate that it sounds like I might be saying that just because it's a gay romance, but consider that
Bettie Page (2017) Volume 1: Bettie in Hollywood
Bettie Page (2017) Volume 2: Model Agent
Bettie Page: Halloween Special
Bettie Page (2018) #1 by David Avallone, et al - I picked up issue #1 of the 2018 series in a Humble Bundle, and just skimming through it I was wowed by Julius Ohta's lineart. So when I found the 2017 series volumes on sale (as well as the Halloween special that came out between the two series) I snapped them up. The story is about real-life adult model Bettie Page, and details her "secret history" as a young aspiring actress, where she runs afoul of UFOs, deranged cultists, Russian spys, etc., and is recruited by the FBI as a secret agent. It's great (suprisingly clean!) fun, and though the artwork is pretty rough and inconsistent to start out, it improves in Volume 2 before settling in on the gorgeous lines of Ohta in the Halloween special and 2018 series. (overall)
Here's my favorite page that encapsulates so much I love about this series (art by Julius Ohta): A dream sequence where Bettie faces off against Yog-Sothoth (again!) only to be rescued by an alien wearing the form of Gene Kelly--just before her alarm clock goes off.
>28 ScoLgo: Yeah, that's the same Bundle I got mine in. I'm honestly not sure how well that issue would work on its own (though I loved it) as I was actually surprised how tightly woven in to the previous series and Halloween special it was. If you're interested in the previous volumes, they're still on sale at Comixology, but the sale ends today:
Volume 1 for $5
Volume 2 for $3
Halloween Special for $1
As for Sheri S. Tepper, I only read the first chapter or two before moving on to something else. I'll probably pick it up again after my current book is done.
>28 ScoLgo: I should add that Comixology's Dynamite comics aren't downloadable, so you either have to read them through the Comixology app, or you can do like I do and track down and install the Comic Backup extension for Chrome (which will allow you to save your books from Comixology into .CBZ files.)
>27 saltmanz: Bettie Page sounds fun! I miss the affordable comics of my day. The days when a quarter would buy a comic at the grocery store. :) So do you have all these as ebooks, or paper versions. Because I have found that I prefer graphic novels as paper versions. I so frequently want to turn the pages back and forth and I've never been adept at doing that with an ebook.
>31 MrsLee: I switched to e-comics almost exclusively a little over 2 years ago. I got a Kindle Fire HD-8 as a Christmas gift that I use exclusively for e-comics, and I bought a 256 GB microSD card to fill up with comics (that I just recently filled up.) I use the Perfect Viewer app to read, and have gotten decent at using the slider to "flip" back and forth (especially now that I just discovered how to turn on navigational thumbnails.)
I don't subscribe to any e-comics currently, but I watch for interesting-looking Humble Bundles and I watch Comixology for sales on stuff I'm interested in. There are a few series I'd like to keep up with better, but $4 an issue is pretty steep; I end up just throwing the collected edition in my wishlist and waiting for it show up on sale.
I will still pick up the occasional paperback if I come across it at Half Price Books, usually on the clearance rack for $2-3.
Speaking of comic books, I've been reading a lot of them recently. I'll try to do some bite-sized reviews here in the upcoming days, though they won't be in any particular order. Let's start with the cream of the crop:
Mr. and Mrs. X, Volume 1: Love and Marriage by Kelly Thompson, et al - Nothing is more apparent, and more enjoyable, than when a comic book author truly loves the characters she's writing. Kelly Thompson clearly loves Rogue and Gambit. This was evident in her previous miniseries (Rogue & Gambit: Ring of Fire) and now she chronicles their adventures as a newlywed couple, after their surprise wedding in X-Men Gold #30. The art is fantastic, and Thompson absolutely nails both characters and revels in the deep history between the pair (shoutout to the reference to Gambit hitting Rogue in the face with a pie waaaay back in X-Men (1991) #8!) I am sorely tempted to subscribe to this series on Comixology, which would be the first time in probably 20 years I've picked up two comic series on a monthly basis (the other being the new Transformers comic.) More sweater-wearing, cat-lover Gambit, please!
Welp, I guess I lied about doing comic reviews (he says, a month and a half of no posts later)! Instead, what you're going to get is a wall of covers for every comic collection I've read since the end of February (minus Mr. and Mrs. X, from the post above.) I have literally not picked up a book (Kindle included) since then, a streak I broke two nights ago (to be expounded upon in the next post.)
This comic binge was initially kicked off by a Humble Bundle of Star Trek comics, many of which featured the cast of the JJ Abrams films, so I read those first (and they were a lot of fun!) But then there were Comixology sales, first on Star-Lord/GotG, then on Captain Marvel stuff (not only slashed prices, but also buy-one-get-one, allowing me to basically grab all the modern-day Carol Danvers stuff.) Star-Lord I was only interested in because of the time he and Kitty Pryde (of the X-Men) were dating. As for Carol, I discovered that while I enjoy her Captain Marvel stuff, I preferred her as Ms. Marvel for whatever reason.
Paper Girls is frigging amazing, and the new Volume 5 had dropped in price, so I had to check that out, but first I reread the previous four volumes. (So good!)
Then Comixology had a giant Avengers sale leading up to the new movie, so I used that to pick up team books featuring Captain Marvel, and also filled in some of the gaps around the Avengers-Vs-X-Men era (the fallout of which is when I got back into reading X-Men books.) The last of those I nabbed were the Uncanny Avengers series(es), which follow a joint Avengers/X-Men "unity" team following the events of AVX. And I also had to read the Uncanny X-Force books, since the first Uncanny Avengers series is in many ways its sequel. (Though I learned that after the fact.)
Apologies for all the images, but I like to look at covers like this. (I would have put it all in spoiler tags, but apparently LT spoiler tags won't hold images, only text.) In fact, as a kid, I used to take all the Transformers comics I was collecting, and lay them out in order carpeting my floor, and then stand on my bed to take them all in. :) (I also wanted to include links, but holy crap this took long enough to assemble as is!)
>35 MrsLee: Thanks! (I decided I really liked the fully-tiled look better, so I got rid of the breaks and stuck some spacer images in instead.)
As for the book I mentioned finally picked up...
The Dinosaur Tourist by Caitlín R. Kiernan - I fell in love with Kiernan's stuff last year, when I picked up The Red Tree after it sat on my shelves for 6 years, and it became my favorite read of 2018. I then read four more of her novels, and just now I realize I'm starting to repeat what I wrote in the very first post of this thread! Anyway, I fell in love, and bought a bunch of her short story collections at the time as well. I think seeing Sub Press advertising her new anthology on Twitter gave me an itch, and so I picked this one to read, probably because it was also published by Sub Press, maybe? I dunno. Anyway, I love it. Dark, with that sense dread with a twinge of horror that she does so well. The first few stories are downright Lovecraftian, but I was surprised to read a couple of sci-fi stories as well. It's like, what can't this lady write? Great stuff so far.
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