READING ROUND-UP: MAY 2018

Being the fourth of my monthly reading summaries for 2018. Here’s what I read in May:

BOOKS

To keep my numbers consistent with what I have listed on Goodreads, I count completed magazine issues and stand-alone short stories in ebook format as “books.” I read or listened to 15 books in May: 9 in print, 2 in audio, and 4 in ebook format. They were:

1.       Lightspeed Magazine #96 (May, 2018) edited by John Joseph Adams. The usual great assortment of science fiction and fantasy short stories and non-fiction. Favorites this issue were Martin Cahill’s “Godmeat,”, Kodiak Julian’s “Our Side of the Door”, Xia Jia’s “Night Journey of the Dragon Horse,” and Tobias Buckell’s “Sunset.”

2.        E is for Evil edited by Rhonda Parrish. The latest in Poise and Pen Publishing’s “Alphabet anthologies” is another fun collection of stories of varying lengths built around the title theme, in this case “evil” in all its forms. The fun of this series is not knowing the story title (“A is for [fill in the blank]”) until after the story concludes. Some entries are easy to guess, some are nice surprises that make you look at the story differently after the fact. Two of my favorites in this volume were by Beth Cato and Jeanne Kramer-Smyth.

3.       Scourged (Iron Druid Chronicles #9) by Kevin Hearne. The concluding volume, at least for now, in Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles is, without spoilers, a very satisfactory finish: every major plot and pretty much every sub-plot introduced in the previous 8 novels and various novellas and short stories is wrapped up without sacrificing story flow, action, or urgency. It literally has all been leading to this. If I have any complaint, it’s that Owen’s subplot feels a bit too disconnected from the rest of the book.

4.       Perennial: a garden romance by Mary Anne Mohanraj. A beautiful little romantic novella featuring a cancer patient, a flower-shop owner, and poetry the author wrote during her own cancer struggle. I re-read it several times, and posted a longer review a few weeks ago.

5.       Iceman Vol 2: Absolute Zero by Sina Grace and Robert Gill. I enjoyed the second volume of Grace’s run as writer on Iceman’s solo series almost as much as I enjoyed the first volume. Grace continues to show the coming out process for the occasional mess it can be – I can’t pick out just one or two moments out of the many that felt so real. As a fan of relatively-obscure super-teams, I loved the way Grace scripted, and Robert Gill illustrated, the reunion of Marvel’s 1970’s Champions team in the first half of the book.

6.       Strange Weather by Joe Hill. This collection of four novellas felt sort of hit-or-miss to me. “Snapshot” (narrated on the audiobook by Wil Wheaton) and “Rain” (narrated by Kate Mulgrew) were my favorites: tightly-told stories in first person POV with high stakes that were believable despite the supernatural aspects. “Aloft” (narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris) felt about a third too long for the story Hill was trying to tell. “Loaded” (narrated by Stephen Lang) is a topical and politically charged story that feels like it should be an “all-star cast” ensemble movie.

7.       The Golem of Deneb Seven and Other Stories by Alex Shvartsman. A really wonderful collection of science fiction and fantasy stories, many of them humorous. Favorites included the title story and “The Race for Arcadia.” Posted a review earlier this week.

8.       The Wicked and the Divine Vol 2: The Faust Act by Keiron Gillen, Jamie McElvie, Matt Wilson. The first volume of a graphic novel series that’s been around a while but which I’m just getting around to reading. The premise (every 90 years or so, a small handful of gods are incarnated into human form to influence world culture) feels simple enough, but within the first 25 pages the story starts to take interesting turns. And of course the volume ends with a hook (but not a cliffhanger) to get you to keep reading. McElvie’s art is expressive and dynamic.

9.       Captain Marvel, Vol 1: Higher, Faster, Stronger, by Kelly Sue DeConnick and David Lopez. There’s a lot of DC and Marvel stuff I’ve been meaning to read, including DeConnick’s run as writer on Captain Marvel. I suspect I started with the wrong “volume 1,” as back-of-book ads and story subplots indicate there’s an earlier DeConnick run I probably should have read first. Nonetheless I found the story accessible for someone who hasn’t picked monthly comics up in years. The story builds and has legitimately interesting twists (rather than twists present for shock’s sake alone). Lopez’s art is clean and stream-lined.

10.   Red Sonja / Claw the Unconquered: The Devil’s Hand by John Layman, Andy Smith. I loved both of these characters back in the day. I only liked this story. It was decent, but I didn’t feel drawn in to either the story or captivated by the art.

11.   Hercules: Still Going Strong by Dan Abnett and Luke Ross. I remember ads for Marvel’s “all-new, all-different Hercules” run, but didn’t realize it was short enough to fit into one graphic novel and basically incomplete. I like what Abnett attempted to do, turning what we know about Marvel’s Hercules upside down, and was intrigued by the new gods / old gods threat (shades of Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”). I would have liked to have seen where he would have gone with the story given more than six monthly issues. And I really liked how detailed and realistic Luke Ross’s art was.

12.   You Will Meet A Stranger Far From Home: Wonder Stories by Alex Jeffers. A really solid collection of fantasy (or fantasy-tinged) stories featuring a cast of gay, mostly Arabic characters and hinging heavily on Middle Eastern legends and mythology. One or two of the stories have fantasy aspects that are barely even noticeable, and several of the stories are clearly inter-connected. Favorites included "Tattooed Love Boys," "Jannicke's Cat," "Farouz and His Brother" / "Haida and His Dog," and "Wheat, Barley, Lettuce, Fennel, Salt for Sorrow, Blood for Joy."

13.   Solacers: An Iranian Oliver Twist Story by Arion Golmakani. One of my “To Be Read” 2018 challenge titles, a more detailed review will be forthcoming on the blog. Short version is that I found this an intriguing look at Iranian culture before the Shah fell couched in a very personal, and often very painful, life story.

14.   Madman Walking (Janet Moodie #2) by L.F. Robertson I found the second entry in the Janet Moodie legal thriller series easily accessible even not having read the first entry. As I was sent an ARC of this to review, there will be a more detailed review coming up next week on the blog.

15.   The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag. A really wonderful middle-grade graphic novel about a magical family in which the boys are shapeshifters and the girls witches, and in which very strong gender roles are enforced, resulting in a dark family secret that title character Aster must deal with. The art is expressive without being over-detailed, never quite jumping into cartoony. A world I hope the author will continue to revisit.

That’s 15 books in February, to a Year-To-Date total of 68, which Goodreads says me puts me 26 books ahead of schedule for my 100 Books Challenge.  Solacers was this month’s read for the 2018 To Be Read Challenge. I read 6 graphic novels for the “one graphic novel per week” reading challenge (I’m at 23 graphic novels for the year, and as the last full week of May was week #21 of 2018 I’m now a little ahead for the year-to-date). Solacers also counted towards the Bustle Challenge. I didn’t read anything towards any of my “Complete the Series” challenges in May. All but the To Be Read Challenge were described HERE.

 

STORIES

I have a goal of reading 365 short stories (1 per day, essentially, although it doesn’t always work out that way) each year. Here’s what I did read and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too (with some short notes for stories that really stood out to me). If no source is noted, the story is from the same magazine or book as the story(ies) that precede(s) it:

1.       “Sunset” by Tobias Buckell, from Lightspeed #96, May 2018, edited by John Joseph Adams

2.       “We Will Be All Right” by Carolyn Ives Gilman

3.       “The Crystal Spheres” by David Brin

4.       “A Green Moon Problem” by Jane Lindskold

5.       “Godmeat” By Martin Cahill

6.       “Night Journey of the Dragon Horse” by Xia Jia (translated from Chinese by Ken Liu)

7.       “Our Side of the Door” by Kodiak Julian

8.        “His Artist Wifee” by John Grant

9.       “Great Work of Time” by John Crowley

10.    “Goodnight, Sleep Tight” by Seanan McGuire, from the author’s Patreon page

11.   “Snapshot” by Joe Hill, from the author’s collection Strange Weather

12.   “Loaded” by Joe Hill

13.   “Aloft” by Joe Hill

14.   “Rain” by Joe Hill

15.   “We Go Together” by Eric McMillan, from One Story #239 (March 15, 2018)

16.   “Mt. Adams at Mar Vista” by Gwen E. Kirby, from One Story #240 (April 19, 2018)

17.   “Sanguinary Scar” by E. Catherine Tobler, from Black Static #62 (March/April, 2018)

18.   “The Golem of Deneb Seven” by Alex Shvartsman, from the author’s collection The Golem of Deneb Seven and Other Stories

19.   “A Perfect Medium for Unrequited Love” by Alex Shvartsman

20.   “Burying Treasure” by Alex Shvartsman

21.   “Noun of Nouns: A Mini-Epic” by Alex Shvartsman

22.   “Whom He May Devour” by Alex Shvartsman

23.   “Letting Go” by Alex Shvartsman

24.   “The Fiddle Game” by Alex Shvartsman

25.   “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Monsters” by Alex Shvartsman

26.   “Islands in the Sargasso” by Alex Shvartsman

27.   “Catalogue of Items in the Chess Exhibit at the Humanities Museum, Pre-Enlightenment Era” by Alex Shvartsman

28.   “Fifteen Minutes” by Alex Shvartsman

29.   “Masquerade Night” by Alex Shvartsman

30.   “The Poet Kings and the Word Plague” by Alex Shvartsman

31.   “Golf to the Death” by Alex Shvartsman

32.   “Staff Meeting, As Seen By the Spam Filter” by Alex Shvartsman

33.   “Invasive Species” by Alex Shvartsman

34.   “One in a Million” by Alex Shvartsman

35.   “Grains of Wheat” by Alex Shvartsman

36.   “The Ganthu Eggs” by Alex Shvartsman

37.   “The Practical Guide to Punching Nazis” by Alex Shvartsman

38.   “Dante’s Unfinished Business” by Alex Shvartsman

39.   “Forty-Seven Dictums of Warfare” by Alex Shvartsman

40.   “How Gaia and Guardian Saved the World” by Alex Shvartsman

41.   “He Who Watches” by Alex Shvartsman

42.   “Recall Notice” by Alex Shvartsman

43.   “Dreidel of Dread: The Very Cthulhu Chanukah” by Alex Shvartsman

44.   “Die, Miles Cornbloom” by Alex Shvartsman

45.   “A Man in an Angel Costume” by Alex Shvartsman

46.   “Future Fragments, Six Seconds Long” by Alex Shvartsman

47.   “Parametrization of Complex Weather Patterns for Two Variables” by Alex Shvartsman

48.   “The Race for Arcadia” by Alex Shvartsman

49.   “Departures” by Sara Batkie, from One Story #241 (May 17, 2018)

50.   “Wheat, Barley, Lettuce, Fennel, Salt for Sorrow, Blood for Joy” by Alex Jeffers, from the author’s collection You Will Meet A Stranger Far From Home

51.   “The Arab’s Prayer” by Alex Jeffers

52.   “Then We Went There” by Alex Jeffers

53.   “Farouz and His Brother” by Alex Jeffers

54.   “Turning” by Alex Jeffers

55.   “Haida and His Dog” by Alex Jeffers

56.   “Jannicke’s Cat” by Alex Jeffers

57.   “Liam and the Wild Fairy” by Alex Jeffers

58.   “Bann’s Dream of the Sea” by Alex Jeffers

59.   “Tattooed Love Boys” by Alex Jeffers

 

So that’s 59 short stories in May, way more than one per day, bringing me Year-To-Date to 177 stories. As May 30th was the 151th day of the year, this puts me 26 stories ahead of schedule for the year so far.

Review of Grace Zaring Stone's THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN

One of my “Complete The Series” reading challenges this year is the Vintage Movie Classics: Novels That Inspired Great Films series. I’ve decided to read each book and then watch the movie based on it, and review both in the same post (which may result in some very long posts, I admit). Here’s the first entry:

Bitter Tea Both Covers.jpg

 

BOOK REVIEW

TITLE: The Bitter Tea of General Yen

AUTHOR: Grace Zaring Stone

195 pages, Vintage Movie Classics, ISBN 9780804170864

$17.95

PREMISE: (back cover copy) The groundbreaking novel that was the basis for Frank Capra’s strange, shocking drama starring Barbara Stanwyck and Nils Asther.
 
Traveling to Shanghai to marry her medical missionary fiancé, the beautiful Megan Davis finds herself caught in the toils of civil war between Republican and Communist forces. Determined to save the inhabitants of an orphanage in a Communist-occupied city nearby, Megan joins a nighttime rescue mission that ends up under attack by a mob. She avoids death only thanks to the intervention of General Yen, who brings her to his palace, where they come to form an unlikely trust and companionship in one another. As the political climate sours and violence outside the palace walls escalates, the motives behind various associates of the General are called into suspicion, leading to an unexpected and irreparable betrayal.
 
Originally published in 1930, this absorbing novel of war-torn China was adapted into a film in 1933. 

With a new foreword by Victoria Wilson.

MY RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

MY THOUGHTS: There is no doubt Grace Zaring Stone rights with a smooth, effective economy of words and an eye towards the poetic when it comes to describing her characters’ surroundings. There are lots of beautifully written passages throughout the book and one can see why when it was published in 1930 it captivated a larger readership’s attention. Despite the beauty of the prose and depth of character for the two leads (Megan Davis and General Yen), I struggled with the book’s very obvious Colonial “Christian vs. Heathen” attitude.

Victoria Wilson’s introduction discusses Zaring Stone’s intent to take “a white woman of good standing out of her safe milieu, putting her into a wild, exotic setting … where most (white) men would dare not venture.” The author certainly accomplishes this. Megan has barely arrived in China when she narrowly avoids death (or possible kidnapping) in the midst of a mob. General Yen saves her, and for the rest of the book Megan’s assumed comfortable position as White Savior’s Wife is called into question at every turn. It’s very obvious that only the attentions of General Yen are keeping her from death (or a fate-worse-than). But Megan’s “safe” assumptions about whether the Christian way is better than, or even right for, the Chinese who surround her are never really in danger of being challenged. She rebuffs every counterpoint the well-educated, English-speaking General Yen fields. Several times he calls her on her wish to change him to be more like the men she’s grown up with and learned about. Each time, she verbally denies it but her actions speak louder. (And this “we’re better than them” mindset is not limited to Megan; all of the non-Chinese characters express it, even the supposedly most-Christian of them; people like Doctor Strike may admire much about Chinese culture in general and about General Yen in particular, but they still think Christianity is more worthy.)

Ultimately, one of my problems with the book is that I don’t feel Megan grows at all from her experience. In the final pages, she admires General Yen’s nobility and willingness to die for what he believes is right, but she remains just as convinced as she was at the beginning that the Christian way is the best (perhaps only) way. She never quite says it, but there’s an undercurrent that she still believes if the General had just listened to her, things might have turned out differently. Which just drives home the characters’ attitudes that these in-fighting locals (remember, this is the Chinese Civil War, communists versus warlords), no matter how much great art they may make, are still savages. All of the Megan/Yen one-on-one scenes are electric battles of will and culture, and they are the most interesting scenes in the book.

I may not agree with her stance and her lack of growth, but there’s no denying Megan Davis is a strong character, one who spent a short time pretending to be a retiring wall-flower back in America before becoming engaged to a missionary in China whom she’d grown up with. She bucks the expectations that she’ll be a quiet, dutiful missionary’s wife by agreeing to charge into embattled territory to rescue children and staff from an orphanage with the older Doctor Strike. She’s the most well-developed female in the book, and none of the other female cast come close. Yen’s young concubine Mah-Li comes close to being as well-developed, although it’s more subtly done. She’s a complicated character: raised in one of Doctor Strike’s orphanages, now the mistress of a famous warlord but in love with one of that warlord’s aides – and she’s possibly a spy for the opposing Chinese forces. One of the questions never quite answered about Mah-Li is whether she betrays Yen simply out of love for Captain Li or if she’d have betrayed him eventually even without Li’s love and influence. (I also have to wonder how much Li really love Mah-Li, as opposed to how much he’s leading her on to use her for revenge against the General.)  The only other notable female character is Mrs. Jackson, the British woman in whose house Megan is staying at the start of the novel. Mrs. Jackson is the very stereotype of the condescending “Great White Hope” matriarch.

General Yen is of course well-developed as the male lead: a figure the reader is immediately intrigued with thanks to Megan’s first unnamed encounter with him after a car accident she witnesses as much as thanks to the glowing description provided by Doctor Strike. Strike may no longer be on the General’s good side, but that doesn’t stop the good doctor from admiring him. Yen is cultured, European-educated, full of charisma and strong opinions about right and wrong, loyalty and tradition, East versus West. He is the perfect foil for Megan, but in the end he is just as headstrong that his way is the only right way. His hubris absolutely would have led to his downfall whether Megan had come into his life or not. Again, the other male characters don’t come close to being as well-rounded. Captain Li, suffering aide and hostage to the General’s power, barely registers as more than a plot device; Megan’s fiancée is notable only for his total absence from the action; Mr. Jackson is a sad-sack whiner; and Doctor Strike is a stock mentor-figure whose presence really only serves to set up Megan’s expectations of General Yen. The only other remotely well-developed character is Yen’s American accountant Mister Schultz. Schultz is a manipulator, greedy and selfish and prone to drunken ramblings that cause problems for the other characters. If any character in the book has a redemption arc, though, it’s Schultz. He’s the only character I think comes out having learned something and surviving to maybe implement it.

Overall, I’d say the very Colonial tone of the book and the lack of character growth for either of the two leads puts this one at a three-star rating: I liked it, but didn’t love it, and I didn’t immediately feel like I need to go out and read more of Zaring Stonee’s work (commenters are free to tell me if they think I might enjoy any of her other books and why, of course).

 

MOVIE REVIEW

TITLE: The Bitter Tea of General Yen

DIRECTOR: Frank Capra

CAST: Barbara Stanwyck (as Megan), Nils Asther (General Yen), Walter Connolly (Jones), Toshia Mori (Mah-Li)

88 minutes, black and white, Columbia Pictures

Dvd: $20.95

PREMISE: (dvd cover copy) At the height of the Chinese Civil War, American missionary Megan Davis (Barbara Stanwyck, Double Indemnity) arrives in Shanghai to marry another missionary, Robert Strike (Gavin Gordon, The Bride of Frankenstein). As soon as she arrives, however, the couple must save a group of orphans from a fire. Injured and separated from her fiancé, Megan is rescued and taken to the home of General Yen (Nils Asther, Our Dancing Daughters). While Megan and the General grow closer, one of the general’s concubines seems to be secretly working for Yen’s enemies. Directed by the legendary Frank Capra (It’s A Wonderful Life), The Bitter Tea of General Yen is a provocative romantic drama.

MY RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

MY THOUGHTS: I think the description above indicates clearly the first thing about this adaptation that Capra got wrong: the introduction of a romantic storyline between Megan and General Yen. There wasn’t even a hint of an undertone of a romantic spark between the characters in the book – grudging respect, full-on aggravation, the potential for a friendship were all there, but romance definitely wasn’t. It casts the story in a completely different light.

Barbara Stanwyck is, as usual, terrific in the lead role. Her turns from naively enthusiastic wife to staunch defender of womanhood to conflicted potential lover are all believable. The Megan of the movie grows as a person a bit more than the Megan of the book, and that’s mostly on Stanwyck’s portrayal rather than anything overtly in the script. (Although the dream she has, in which Yen rescues her from what appears to be a Chinese vampire, might be a bit too on-the-nose as a turning point in her attitude. I could be wrong, but I think Nils Asther played both the General and the vampire.)

Setting aside the era’s penchant for casting white men as Asians, Nils Asther’s performance as General Yen is a study in predatory behavior and what we’d now call “gaslighting.” From the very start, Yen’s gaze is caught leering over Stanwyck; in a departure from the book, he never informs Megan’s fiancée and friends that she is in fact still alive (in fact, he revels in the fact that they think she’s dead), and every conversation they have is an attempt to get her into bed by making her question everything she knows. He evens admits at one point that her missionary zeal makes him both laugh and intrigues him. The strong-willed white woman is just another conquest potential conquest for him. The General Yen of the book is obnoxious but at least somewhat likeable; the General Yen of the movie is downright despicable. Asther’s accent also seems to be all over the place. Sometimes vaguely Chinese, sometimes reminiscent of Bela Lugosi in Dracula, sometimes almost British.

Gone are the electric battle-of-wills scenes of the novel. Instead, we get scenes of Megan’s clear manipulation by everyone around her: the General, the jealous-but-also-traitorous Mah-Li (whose betrayl is much more obvious from the get-go in the movie), and even fellow American Jones (Schultz in the book). Gone also is Yen’s noble sacrifice at the end of the book, replaced with a “all hope is lost” suicide-by-poison that is supposed to be nobly romantic but instead is just creepy as hell.

Walter Connelly’s Jones might be the character who, despite the name change, remains closest to the book version: Jones is manipulative, money-grubbing and a drunken lout. There’s something to be said for consistency.  Gavin Gordon’s Robert Strike (combining Megan’s fiancée with the doctor who leads her into trouble) barely affects the plot and isn’t seen again once he escapes the mob that threatens Megan. Captain Li, played by an actual Asian-American actor, has no lines (not even sub-titled).

What Capra gets right, of course, is the direction and cinematography: the fuzzy borders of Megan’s awkward dream, the dark fire-lit scenes of the destruction wrought by war, the intense close-ups during the main characters’ verbal battles and the sweeping panoramas of Yen’s country estate. I really wish he’d eschewed the romantic through-line and let Stanwyck really go to work on a true battle of the wills – although I suspect Asther would have been the clear loser in that case, Stanwyck is just that good.

APRIL 2018 READING ROUND-UP

Being the fourth of my monthly reading summaries for 2018. Here’s what I read in April:

 

BOOKS

To keep my numbers consistent with what I have listed on Goodreads, I count completed magazine issues and stand-alone short stories in ebook format as “books.” I read or listened to 8 books in April: 3 in print, 2 in audio, and 3 in ebook format. They were:

1.       Lightspeed Magazine #95 (April, 2018) edited by John Joseph Adams. The usual great assortment of science fiction and fantasy short stories and non-fiction. Favorites this issue were Will McIntosh’s “What About Eve,” Ken Liu’s “Snow Train,” Suzanne Palmer’s “Lazy Dog Out,” and Carmen Maria Machado’s “The Old Women Who Were Skinned.”

2.       Locke & Key Full Cast Audio Production based on the graphic novels by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. I have to admit, I didn’t enjoy this. I thought I would, as I loved the graphic novel series and the voice cast includes Haley Joel Osment, Kate Mulgrew and Tatiana Maslany. But I didn’t feel like the material translated well. Places where narrator exposition would have helped bridge scenes were lacking narration, and places where a narrator’s introduction were unnecessary had noir-style deep-voiced narration. The whole thing was a bit uneven to me. That said, there were some scenes that were absolutely terrifically performed by the cast. (I also could not find a full cast list anywhere on-line when I looked.)

3.       So You Want To Be A Robot and Other Stories, by A. Merc Rustad. Don’t want to say too much about this here because a full review should be forthcoming on Strange Horizons in the near future, but overall I quite enjoyed this collection.

4.       To The Stars by George Takei.  I like listening to memoirs narrated by the actual person, because you often get more insight through the way the person tells their own story. While there were parts of this I found intriguing (the details of his family’s internment and his mother’s near-loss of her American citizenship; the behind-the-scenes machinations of Leonard Nimoy that kept Takei, Nichols and Doohan involved in the Star Trek cartoon), there was also a lot of Shatner-bashing. I know there’s never been any love lost between Takei and Shatner, but there were points where it felt a little tiresome. I know when Takei originally wrote this, he wasn’t yet as publically out as he is now; I hope someday he’ll narrate the rest of his story to date.

5.       Saving The Date (1Night Stand #1) by ‘Nathan Burgoine and Angela B. Stone. Three years ago, Morgan was the victim of a brutal gay-bashing. He’s decided to “reclaim the date” of the event by creating new, happier memories – through a blind date set up for him by his therapist. Zach, a local cop, is newly divorced and trying to figure out how to tell his loved ones he’s bisexual when he’s set up on a blind date by a co-worker’s sister. They turn out to be each other’s dates. This is a cutely romantic, and very erotic, novella that links to several other of Burgoine’s short stories. A quick read but not lacking in emotional depth, with characters I’m looking forward to seeing more of (as well as wanting to see more of the 1Night Stand private dating service).

6.       A Wind in the Door (Time Quintet #2) by Madeleine L’Engle. Charles Wallace Murry is sick, and it might have something to do with the farandolae in his mitochondria, which seem to be linked to creatures destroying the galactic fabric of reality. In childhood, and even the last time I reread this series over a decade ago, this was my least-favorite installment in the Time Quintet. This time through, I got a lot more out of it, perhaps because of my own cancer diagnosis mapping so well onto the way Charles Wallace Murry falls ill.

7.       The Glass Falcon (Folley & Mallory #2) by E. Catherine Tobler.  This second, novella-length installment in Tobler’s steampunk-Egyptiana-shapeshifters series is no less fun that the first installment was. Damaged artifacts at the Louvre and vandalism in the Paris Catacombs are connected, and it’s up to Folley and Mallory to figure out how.

8.       The Scarlet Plague (Radium Age of Science Fiction #1), by Jack London. A grandfather tells his young grandsons the story of the Plague that virtually destroyed humanity and crippled civilization. It’s more of a novella, by the author of Call of the Wind. There’s some great descriptions of nature, and of how the plague spread, but it’s a bit heavy-handed on the “civilized elite” versus “uncouth servant class” divide.

 

That’s 8 books in February, to a Year-To-Date total of 53, which Goodreads says me puts me 18 books ahead of schedule for my 100 Books Challenge.  I didn’t read anything this month for the 2018 To Be Read Challenge or the “one graphic novel per week” reading challenge (I’m at 17 graphic novels for the year, and as the last full week of April was week #17 of 2018 I’m still at least on-track for the year-to-date). To The Stars (the George Takei memoir) counted towards the Bustle Challenge. The Glass Falcon and The Scarlet Plague continued two of my “Complete the Series” challenges. All but the To Be Read Challenge were described HERE.

 

 

STORIES

I have a goal of reading 365 short stories (1 per day, essentially, although it doesn’t always work out that way) each year. Here’s what I did read and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too (with some short notes for stories that really stood out to me). If no source is noted, the story is from the same magazine or book as the story(ies) that precede(s) it:

1.       “What Is Eve?” by Will McIntosh, from Lightspeed #95, April 2018, edited by John Joseph Adams

2.       “Webs” by Mary Ann Mohanraj

3.       “The Elephant’s Crematorium” by Timothy Mudie

4.       “Mozart on the Kalahari” by Steven Barnes

5.       “The Old Women Who Were Skinned” By Carmen Maria Machado

6.       “A Place Without Portals” by Adam-Troy Castro

7.       “The Snow Train” by Ken Liu

8.        “Nitrate Nocturnes” by Ruth Joffre

9.       “Lazy Dog Out” by Suzanne Palmer

10.    “These Antique Fables” by Seanan McGuire, from the author’s Patreon page

11.   “This Is A Wardrobe Not A Door” by A. Merc Rustad, from the author’s collection So You Want To Be A Robot

12.   “Tomorrow When We See The Sun” by A. Merc Rustad

13.   “The Sorcerer’s Unattainable Gardens” by A. Merc Rustad

14.   “The Android’s Prehistoric Menagerie” by A. Merc Rustad

15.   “For Want of A Heart” by A. Merc Rustad

16.   “Once I. Rose” by A. Merc Rustad

17.   “Where Monsters Dance” by A. Merc Rustad

18.   “A Survival Guide For When You’re Trapped In A Black Hole” by A. Merc Rustad

19.   “Thread” by A. Merc Rustad

20.   “Under Wine-Bright Seas” by A. Merc Rustad

21.   “Of Blessed Servitude” by A. Merc Rustad

22.   “To The Knife-Cold Stars” by A. Merc Rustad

23.   “Finding Home” by A. Merc Rustad

24.   “Winter Bride” by A. Merc Rustad

25.   “To The Monsters, With Love” by A. Merc Rustad

26.   “Batteries For Your Doombot 5000 Are Not Included” by A. Merc Rustad

27.   “…Or Be Forever Fallen” by A. Merc Rustad

28.   “Iron Aria” by A. Merc Rustad

29.   “What Becomes of the Third-Hearted” by A. Merc Rustad

30.   “The Gentleman of Chaos” by A. Merc Rustad

31.   “How To Become A Robot in 12 Easy Steps” by A. Merc Rustad

 

So that’s 31 short stories in April, one per day (and one for luck, so to speak) bringing me Year-To-Date to 118 stories. As April 30th was the 120th day of the year, this puts me only 2 stories behind of schedule for the year so far.

March 2018 Reading Round-Up

Being the third of my monthly reading summaries for 2018. Here’s what I read in March:

 

BOOKS

To keep my numbers consistent with what I have listed on Goodreads, I count completed magazine issues and stand-alone short stories in ebook format as “books.” I read or listened to 22 books in February: 18 in print, 2 in audio, and 2 in ebook format. They were:

1.       DC Archives Editions: The Golden Age Green Lantern Volume 2 by Bill Finger, Martin Nodell and Irwin Hasen. A hardcover collection of long-out-of-print Green Lantern (Alan Scott) stories from the early days of the Golden Age, with his sidekick Doiby Dickles. What struck me was the absence of costumed and powered villains (he fights mostly mobsters) and the fact that the love interest he had in these early stories has been completely forgotten since the character was revived in the Silver Age.

2.       Lightspeed Magazine #94 (March 2018 issue), edited by John Joseph Adams. The usual great assortment of science fiction and fantasy short stories and non-fiction. Favorites this issue were Seanan McGuire’s “And Men Will Mine the Mountains for Our Souls,” Ken Liu’s “Cosmic Spring,” Beesan Odeh’s “Al-Kahf,” and A. Merc Rustad’s “Brightened Star, Ascending Dawn.”

3.       Rings of Anubis (Folley & Mallory Book 1), by E. Catherine Tobler. The first of Tobler’s alt-history/steampunk/Egyptian legends series introduces us to former archeologist Folley, searching for the rings of the mummy that stole her mother from her, and Mallory, intrepid government agent and reluctant werewolf. Exciting, fast-paced and just fun. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

4.       Lumberjanes Vol 8: Stone Cold by Watters, Leyh, Pietsch and others.  The Roanoke cabin is excited for Barney’s first day as a Lumberjane, only to discover Barney’s whole cabin group has been turned to stone. Was it a gorgon or something more horrific? And how does a fomer camper-adversary fit into the mix?

5.       Tricks For Free (InCryptid #7) by Seanan McGuire. Antimony Price is on the run from the Covenant, estranged from her family, and working at LowryLand amusement park when she comes to the attention of the park’s secret board of magic-users. With help from new and old friends and her dead aunts Mary and Rose, can she remain off the radar but still save the day? This was a fun one, and I find the more I read of Antimony the more I like her (although Verity is still my favorite Price sibling of the current generation). And I really, really like Antimony’s boyfriend Sam.

6.       A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet #1) by Madeleine L’Engle. One of my childhood favorites, re-read countless times over the years, and it never disappoints. With a brevity of language that somehow is still descriptive and poetic, L’Engle sweeps us along on a journey across the galaxy with characters we come to love very much, faults and all.

7.       Changing The Grade by Jonathan Cornue.  Educator Cornue describes the need for a new, less “open to interpretation” method of grading student work, and discusses how hard the process of change will be for districts set in their ways. This is a book every educator, administrator, parent, and college admissions director should read and discuss.

8.       Coming To You Live: A Newsflesh Novella, by Mira Grant. As I haven’t gotten around to reading all of Grant’s collection of Newflesh novellas, I was really glad Orbit Books decided to release this one as a stand-alone ebook. It was great, after years of reading novellas focusing on various series secondary characters, to return to the point of views of the series’ original main characters, Shaun and Georgia Mason. This one opens up a new level of future possibilities for the series, and really packs an emotional punch for long-time readers.

9.       Widow’s Point by Richard Chizmar and Billy Chizmar. The story of a haunted lighthouse told in the style of a “found footage” horror film: the main character is a paranormal investigator who narrates his experiences in the lighthouse, interspersed with his description of its bloody history. Very effective with the sense of unease, the chills, etc. Reminded me of the much longer House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.

10.   Binti: Home (Binti #2) by Nnedi Okorafor.  This was a re-read. Well, a re-listen. I’d read the second novella in Okorafor’s series last year, but it finally came out in audio once again with the amazing Robin Mills narrating, and I had to listen to it. It’s just as good in audio as it was in print, and I still felt all the emotions I felt on the first read.

11.   Legion of Super-Heroes: Enemy Rising by Jim Shooter, Frances Manapul and others. A collection from the Legion’s “ThreeBoot” period (which will mean nothing to you if you’re not a Legion of Super-Heroes fan). The art is great in places, not so great in others. The story itself is a bridge between earlier volumes and the next big battle for the team, so there’s lots of character building interspersed, but it all felt a bit hectic and disorganized. Not my favorite LSH story.

12.   Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil by Jeff Smith. I’d forgotten just how adorable and breezy this story (which I first read in monthly issue format) was. Smith captures the whimsy of original Golden Age Captain Marvel stories by Otto Binder and CC Beck, but adds his own story-telling voice and twists to the mix. I had a smile on my face the whole time I was reading it.

13.   Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come Volume 3 by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham and others. The end of a popular JSA arch that brought the Superrman from the Kingdom Come miniseries into the then-current DC Universe main Earth, and also addressed (in sections with art by Jerry Ordway) whether Power Girl could ever find her way back to the original Earth-2. This arch overall felt drawn out, especially here in the final section. Great art, some great character work, but it probably could have been a few issues shorter overall.

14.   Black Bolt: Hard Time (Black Bolt #1) by Saladin Ahmed, Christian Ward and others. I have to give Saladin Ahmed credit: he made a character I’ve always found boring (Black Bolt, king of the Inhumans) interesting. He did it by removing the character from all of his traditional trappings and putting him in the middle of a “fight your way free with unlikely allies you’re not sure you can trust” situation. I’m interested to see where Ahmed took the story in volume 2 later this year.

15.   The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman. My second audiobook for the month. A lovely modern YA fairy tale about a runaway teen boy who finds refuge with a supposedly evil wizard in a magic bookshop hidden on the seacoast of Maine, who then gets involved in saving the local town and his mentor from another evil wizard. I loved every word of this, and all of the character development.

16.   The Bitter Tea of General Yen by Grace Zaring Stone. This was my March read for my 2018 To Be Read Challenge. A longer review will be coming in a separate post. Short version: it was okay, but didn’t blow me away the way the introduction thought it would. Part of Vintage Books’ Vintage Movie Classics series, which I’m also trying to work my way through this year (with the intent to see the movies based on the books as well, where possible).

17.   Dog Men: A Dresden Files Graphic Novel by Jim Butcher, Mark Powers, Diego Galindo and others. Another original graphic novel filling in the space between the novels Small Favor and Turn Coat in Butcher’s urban fantasy series. This one finds Harry Dresden, with a huge chip on his shoulder comprised of anger and guilt, and Mouse on an impromptu road trip with elder wizard Listens To Wind, investigating a bloody family slaughter that is not what it seems. There are ties to the previous OGN “Goblin, Ghoul,” and to the novels preceding this in the timeline. Diego Galindo’s art is among the best in the series.

18.   Astro City Volume 9: Through Open Doors, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, Alex Ross and others.

19.   Astro City Volume 10: Victory, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, Alex Ross and others.

20.   Astro City Volume 11: Private Lives by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, Alex Ross and others.

21.   Astro City Volume 12: Lovers Quarrel by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, Alex Ross and others.

22.   Astro City Volume 13: Honor Guard by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, Alex Ross and others. I got sick over Easter weekend and went on a bit of a graphic novel reading binge, deciding to finally catch up on one of my favorite, but long-neglected, series. Astro City is a complex and wonderful creation, Busiek’s love-letter to and sometimes criticism of the super-hero comics industry, and I hope he never stops telling stories set here, especially working with co-creator Anderson on art and Ross on covers. Some of these volumes are novel-length (“Victory” and “Lovers Quarrel”) and some are collections of one- or two-issue shorter stories (“Through Open Doors,” “Private Lives,” and “Honor Guard”), but they all show off Busiek’s world-building and his and his co-creators creativity. In the shorter-story volumes, various artists give Anderson a break, and it’s clear Busiek’s scripts were written to the skill sets of the individual artists. And while all of the Astro City volumes can be read in any order because of the way the tales jump around in the city’s history, it’s very clear this run from Vertigo is building towards something big a few more volumes down the road.

That’s 22 books in February, to a Year-To-Date total of 45, which Goodreads says me puts me 20 books ahead of schedule for my 100 Books Challenge.  The Bitter Tea of General Yen is the only book read this month for the 2018 To Be Read Challenge. A Wrinkle in Time counts towards the “Bustle Reading Challenge.” Twelve graphic novels exceeds my “one graphic novel per week” reading challenge and puts me ahead for the year-to-date there. Rings of Anubis and The Bitter Tea of General Yen helped me start a couple of the “Complete the Series” challenges. All but the To Be Read Challenge were described HERE.

 

 

STORIES

I have a goal of reading 365 short stories (1 per day, essentially, although it doesn’t always work out that way) each year. Here’s what I did read and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too (with some short notes for stories that really stood out to me). If no source is noted, the story is from the same magazine or book as the story(ies) that precede(s) it:

1.       “The Independence Patch” by Bryan Camp, from Lightspeed #94, March 2018, edited by John Joseph Adams

2.       “Brightened Star, Ascending Dawn” by A. Merc Rustad

3.       “Cosmic Spring” by Ken Liu

4.       “The Effluent Engine” by N.K. Jemisin

5.       “The Dreamers of Alamoi” By Jeremiah Tolbert

6.       “Al-Kahf” by Beesan Odeh

7.       “And Men Will Mine the Mountains For Our Souls ” by Seanan McGuire

8.        “You Do Nothing But Freefall” by Cassandra Khaw and A. Maus

9.       “The Proving Ground” by Alec Nevala-Lee

10.   “The Haunted Ceiling” by H.G. Wells, from The Strand Oct 2016, edited by Lamia Gulli

11.   “The Adventure of the American Drifter” by Larry Millett

12.   “The Recitation of the Most Holy and Harrowing Pilgrimage of Mindy and Also of Mork” by Seanan McGuire, from Tricks For Free (additional novella in the hardcover release)

13.   “Now Rest, My Dear” by Seanan McGuire, from the author’s Patreon page

14.   “Last Call at the Last Chance” by Seanan McGuire

15.   “Cabbages and Kings” by Seanan McGuire

16.   “From A to Z in the Book of Changes” by Seanan McGuire

17.   “Pop-Pop” by Brian James Freeman, from the author’s Patreon page

18.   “The King of the Animals” by Josh Russell, from One Story #238, February 15 2018, edited by Patrick Ryan

So that’s only 18 short stories in February, far less than one per day, bringing me Year-To-Date to 87 stories. As March 31th was the 90th day of the year, this puts me 3 stories behind of schedule for the year so far.