2020 Reading Roundup

Well look at that, it’s June so it must mean it’s time for my annual roundup of what I read during the previous year. I know most people post these lists in early January, but I am a certified procrastinator and this is as timely as it gets. I decided to present my summary a little differently this year after a friend tipped me to using Canva (http://www.canva.com) to create the infographic below. (Thanks Nicole!)

2020 was a slow year reading wise for me. January I was recovering still from my cancer treatment and in February I was just starting to get back to “normal” returning to work etc. when the pandemic hit. Adjusting to the growing dread of COVID-19 related lockdown and watching daily news reports on case counts took its toll on my brain power and I had very little energy/focus for reading for most of the year. I did listen to a total of 11 audio books worth about 120 hrs and read 2 print books for a total of 13 books. We won’t talk about how many NEW books I bought in 2020 that I added to Mt. TBR pile. (This is something I might try to do a better job of tracking in 2021).

As usual I tried to vary my reading between genres, authors (old and new), and authors experiences. I didn’t do so well this year compared to others in terms of reading works by BIPOC authors. A number of LBGQT+ authors were represented in what I read in 2020. Six of the thirteen books I read were by female authors. 77% of the books I read were by authors that were new to me.

The 2020 Reading List (in order of appearance)

  • Armistice (The Amberlough Dossier #2) by Lara Elena Donnelly – published 2018
  • Amnesty (The Amberlough Dossier #3) by Lara Elena Donnelly – published 2019
  • Dead Astronauts – (Borne #2) by Jeff VanderMeer – published 2019
  • MoBituaries – Great Lives Worth Reliving by Mo Rocca published 2019
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow published 2019
  • The Last Emperox (The Interdependency #3) by John Scalzi published 2020
  • Gamechanger (The Bounceback #1) by L.X. Beckett published 2019
  • A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker published 2019
  • The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz published 2019
  • World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks published in 2006
  • Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt published in 2000
  • Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics in the Age of Crisis by George Monbiot published in 2017
  • A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston published in 2016

I could probably write separate full length blog posts about each of these, but we’d be here forever and no one wants to read all that. I probably left a review on Goodreads for a good majority of these if you are curious of what I thought. I will highlight a handful of books from last year’s bounty.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

This was the first of Alix E Harrow‘s books I read and immediately fell in love with both her characters and her style. It’s one of those books that pulls you in by turns through its unique story, sense of wonder and use of narrative. On the surface its a coming of age story about young orphan that is being held as a ward of wealthy businessman, but its so much more than that. January is the girl in question and soon discovers that she has powers to open doorways into other universes. This fuels her quest to find her father and discover her origin, while her guardian has other plans for her and her powers. I loved the element of storytelling and level of craft that went into this novel. The quote I put on the infographic above is from this novel. There is so much going on in this novel from different narrators/POVs to parallel story threads that all get neatly woven together. I initially listened to this on audiobook, but eventually bought a print copy so I could marvel at the story in print and try to see how the author managed something so unique on the printed page. (Plus the cover is gorgeous too).

A Song for a New Day

I am quickly becoming a huge fan of Sarah Pinsker‘s writing. I was more familiar with her short stories, but was late to the party checking out her Nebula Award winning debut novel A Song for A New Day which was released in 2019 prior to the pandemic, but is eerily prescient in some of its themes. Set in the near future the story revolves around two characters that come from different backgrounds and lifestyles, but each have a strong connection to music. Set in an America that has gone into lock down over terrorist threats and deadly viruses – large public gatherings have been banned essentially killing all live concerts. Luce Cannon and her band were on the verge of making a name for themselves when the world came to a stand still. One of the last acts to play live to a large crowd in The Before, the become a bit of a historical footnote, but in the intervening years Luce has risked it all to perform live in underground clubs and reinvent herself. Rosemary Laws was just a kid in the before times and has grown up largely online and in virtual spaces, both attending school and socializing. After quitting her day job as an online support person, she ventures into the world of virtual concerts as a talent scout looking to recruit musicians for a music conglomerate – think Amazon meets Live Nation. It through her role as talent scout that she comes in contact with Luce and their fates become intertwined.
This novel is what I love best about speculative fiction, in that it takes a unique premise and places characters and tells a story that while revolving around speculative elements (e.g. what if there was no more live music) the story itself focuses on characters and relationships and what it means to be alive. Both characters love and connection to music comes out in the prose. A Song for a New Day is one of those stories that is accessible to all and crosses over genres.

The Future of Another Timeline

If you know me, you know that I am a sucker for anything time travel and alternate history related. In Future of Another Timeline, we get a complex story about two teenage friends whose fates are intertwined. The story bounces around from 1992 to 2022 Southern California with stops in 1893 Chicago World Fair and an alternate future Manitoba. Set against a background of two competing underground time travel movements each trying to influence the timeline to favour their politics. The Daughters of Harriet (as in Harriet Tubman) are in competition with the Comstockers, a patriarchal organization determined to strangle the woman’s rights movement in its infancy. I shared my initial thoughts in a GoodReads post – Really enjoyed this novel full of ideas about the inter-sectionality of feminism, punk music, race, and the patriarchy’s attempts to control women viewed through the lens of time travel and alternate history. There’s a lot to unpack here and it will probably take me a bit before I can articulate my thoughts in a larger review, but I would definitely recommend this novel for those that care about such relevant issues as abortion and what it means for people to work to make small changes that can have big affects for a lot of people. A word of caution, the novel is fairly intense at points with scenes of fairly graphic rape and murder.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

I had been meaning to read this one for years and recently had obtained a ex-library copy of this in hard cover and decided it was time to dive in. Originally published in 2006 and loosely used as the basis for the movie by the same name, the novel is a far different beast. Told as a series of short interviews with a commissioner that had been investigating the origins of the Zombie War and how different governments responded to the outbreak. Oral history is a great framing device for this book and allows for some very emotional tales that are essentially vignettes. Many of which I am still thinking about nearly a year after reading them. This would make a great TV series if they had each episode cover one of the stories.


So those were the highlights of my short reading list from last year. I’m tempted to say something about how weird Dead Astronauts was, or how eye-opening the political non-fiction book by George Monboit was, but I’ll save it for now. 2021 has been off to slow start for me as well on the reading front, but I am hopefully I can break the 13 book curse that I’ve been under for the last two years. I plan to read more physical and e-books this year (I definitely have no shortage of those!) and I hope to get back to reading more BIPOC authors. Also hope to include more graphic novels in my reading stats. I seem to have stalled on those lately too. Good luck and let me know if you have a similar list to share.

Return from Ottawa and CanCon SF 2018

Last week (October 12th to 14th, 2018) I attended my second CanCon SF in Ottawa. It was every bit as good (if not better!) than last year’s convention with great programming, wonderful conversations, and BOOKS. Oh, my goodness the books. Despite having a huge TBR (To-Be-Read) Pile lurking at home, I bought no less than 8 books, most of which were all new releases within the last year, some of which having just come out at or around the convention. I wanted to include them here in a post partly because I am excited to share and partly because I want to have somewhere to remind me to read all these wonderful books before next year’s convention.


Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Of the eight books I already owned and read Kelly Robson’s wonderful Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach in e-book format, but had to get a physical copy for Kelly to sign at the convention. I think I managed to scoop the last copy at the Perfect Books table in the dealer’s room. I had a great (but quick) chat with Kelly in the hallways between panels about time travel and environmental issues and she signed the book “Science Fiction Forever”.

Here’s the blurb from the back cover of the book.

Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted past.

In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells to reclaim humanity’s ancestral habitat. She’s spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately Minh’s kind of long -term restoration projects have been stalled by the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity to take a team to 2024 BCE to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps a the change to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.”

It’s a great story, filled with thought provoking characters and situations, but also a great action and time travel story that adds to the genre. Being a fan of time travel and also working in the environmental field, this book hit a sweet spot for me. I really need to find time to write a proper review of it. I loved discovering it at this point in my life, but wonder what it would have triggered in me had I discovered it 30 years ago as an undergrad in University studying Environmental Science. Hmm, maybe I should send it back in time and see?

Alice Unbound – Beyond Wonderland (Anthology)

At the convention I attended a reading by a group of the authors involved with the Alice Unbound – Beyond Wonderland anthology edited by Colleen Anderson and published by Exile Editions.

This collection of twenty-first century speculative fiction stories is inspired by tthe Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking Glass, The hunting of the Snark, and to some degree, aspects of the life of the author Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and the real-life Alice(Liddell).

The stories that I was privileged to hear read by the authors covered a wide variety of styles and characters plucked from the stories and I can’t wait to delve into this book further.




Armed in Her Fashion by Kate Heartfield

Kate Heartfield is a journalist and local Ottawa writer who I follow online. While she’s written and sold a couple of novels, Armed in Her Fashion is the first to come out in print and is published by Chizine Publication. In an interview with Peter Robb at Artslife.ca Kate summed up Armed in Her Fashion as “the story of a wet nurse in 14th century Flanders who raids Hell to get money back from her dead deadbeat husband. She’s a very unlikable person and I had a lot of fun writing her.”

Here’s the full blurb from the book cover:

In 1328, Burges is under siege by Chatelaine of Hell and her army of chimeras – humans mixed with animals or armour, forged in the deep fires of the Hellbeast. At night, revenants crawl over the walls and bring plague and grief to this city of widows.

Margriet de Vos learns she’s a widow herself when her good-for-nothing husband comes home dead from the war. He didn’t come back for her. The revenant pulls a secret treasure of coins and weapons from under his floorboards and goes back through the mouth of the beast called Hell.

Margriet killed her first soldier when she was eleven. She’s buried six of her seven children. She’ll do anything for her daughter, Beatrix, even if it means raiding Hell itself to ger her inheritance back.

But Beatrix is haunted by a dead husband of her own, and blessed, or cursed, with an enchanted distaff that allows her to control the revenants and see the future. Together with a transgender man-at-arms who as unfinished business with the Chatelaine, a traumatized widow with a giant waterpowered forgehammer at her disposal, and a wealthy alderman’s wife who escapes Burges with her children, Margriet and Betrix forge a raiding party like Hell has never seen.

What’s not to like in that description! I have never read anything like it based on that blurb and am looking forward to reading it in the near future.

Graveyard Mind by Chadwick Ginther

Still with me? Good. Just a few more books to go! Next up is Chadwick Ginther’s book Graveyard Mind also published by Chizine Publications. I had the opportunity to hear Chadwick read from this book last year at CanCon and was excitedly waiting to pick it up now that it had been released.  The premise of this book and the setting was unique and I am eagerly waiting to read this one. Ugh, so many good books, why can’t I stuff them all in my eye-holes at once and feed my brain.

Here’s the blurb for Graveyard Mind.

In Winnipeg’s underworld, every mortician is on the take and every revenant of myth waits to claw their way out of their tombs. The dead stay in the ground because of Winter Murray, a necromancer of the Compact. A victim of abduction and a criminal herself, Winter stalks Winnipeg’s Graveside, preventing larger, more heinous crimes from spilling over into the lives of the Sunsiders, no matter what laws of gods and men she must break to do so. Winter is a chimera, sharing the genetic material of her own never-born fraternal twin sister. Her dead twin’s essence provides her a link to the Kingdom—the land of the dead—and a tie to a past she’s run from for thirteen years. Winter struggles to find a redemption she doesn’t believe she deserves. The temptation of dirty deeds is everywhere: An animated skeleton with a penchant for wearing dead men’s clothes wants her on his payroll. Her deceased, but not gone mentor, still pushes her to take the easy way by being hard. A composite man assembled from soldiers who still puts boot to ass when Winter demands. A vampire that wants just a taste. Each pulls at Winter ensuring a normal life remains eternally out of reach, and the easy way is anything but.”

I mean, zombies, vampires, and skeletons and necromancers set in Winnipeg. What’s not to love?

Moonshot – Volume 1 – Graphic Novel

Okay next up are two graphic novels that caught my eye at the Myth Hawker’s Travelling Bookstore in the dealer’s room. The graphic novels are both from AH Comics a small independent publisher based out of Toronto. The first is Moonshot – The Indigenous Comics Collection – Volume 1 which was released in 2015 and contains 14 indigenous stories written by indigenous artists and illustrated by a number indigenous and non-native artists in the comics industry.

The artwork and production values in this collection are amazing and there’s even a Volume 2 out already and while it sorely tempted me in the dealer’s room, I resisted (for now!) until I have had a chance to read this one. Plus I wanted to throw some cash at this next  graphic novel.


Mark Twain’s Niagara – Graphic Novel

Mark Twain’s Niagara – The Graphic Novel

“…is an adventurous graphic novel based on the short story “Niagara”, written by Mark Twain in the 1860’s, published in 1875. This graphic novel adaptation follows a young Twain as he travels by steam train to the Niagara region for the first time, in his lifetime. There, he embarks on an incredible journey through legend and history, encountering familiar figures – some living, some long since passed.”

Each of the stories is done in a different style and really brings history of the Niagara region to life. I love local history and Mark Twain as storyteller so this seems right up my alley. The website for AH Comics note that this launched this past year at the Niagara Falls Comic-Con in June and that there is a Book 2 planned. I am sure I will be buying that next year along with Moonshot 2.



A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

The Guest of Honor (GoH) at this year’s CanCon SF was author Kevin Hearne who’s probably best known for his urban fantasy series Iron Druid Chronicles which spans an 9 books. I had followed Kevin on Twitter for a number of years, but hadn’t actually read any of his fiction (There’s never enough time!). This year I remedied that buy downloading Audible versions of both the first Iron Druid Chronicle – Hounded and his co-authored book Kill the Farm Boy which is a send up of D&D parties and Fantasy Tropes with Deliah S Dawson. By the end of both books, I was kicking myself for not having read/listened to his work before now. At the Convention I sat in on a couple of Kevin’s panels and met with him during his Kaffeklatch round table on the final day of the convention. He’s a geuninely nice guy and writer and I couldn’t have been more pleased having met him. I got him to sign a hardcover copy of Kill the Farm Boy  for a friend as a present, and for myself I picked up a copy of his epic fantasy novel – A Plague of Giants in paperback. It’s the first book in a new series and I am looking forward to reading it. Its been a while since I read any epic fantasy and I can’t wait.

The Quantum Magician by Derek Kunsken

Okay and my final CanCon SF book purchase this year was not in the dealer’s room, but at a book launch. CanCon co-chair Derek Kunsken was launching his first novel – The Quantum Magician published by Solaris at the con. Derek reads from the book and described it as epic heist novel in space. Here’s the blurb for it from the publisher.

“Belisarius is a Homo quantus, engineered with impossible insight. But his gift is also a curse—an uncontrollable, even suicidal drive to know, to understand. Genetically flawed, he leaves his people to find a different life, and ends up becoming the galaxy’s greatest con man and thief.

But the jobs are getting too easy and his extraordinary brain is chafing at the neglect. When a client offers him untold wealth to move a squadron of secret warships across an enemy wormhole, Belisarius jumps at it. Now he must embrace his true nature to pull off the job, alongside a crew of extraordinary men and women.

If he succeeds, he could trigger an interstellar war… or the next step in human evolution.”

So it looks like I have my reading cut out for me between now and next year’s CanCon. Oh, and I might have forgot to mention that I WON a basket of books from ECW Press as part of a door prize, but that’s for a different post.

It’s Not the End – by Matt Moore

Actually I bought one more book that was featured at the convention, but technically I bought it after I got home on ebook and that was Matt Moore’s short story collection – It’s Not the End.

“Only able to recall the memories of others, a ghost must solve the mystery of his own death. The zombie apocalypse is the gateway to a higher human consciousness. An amusement park of the future might turn you into the attraction. An engineer-turned-mercenary races to kill the saviour of mankind. After the sky falls, can anyone still hope?

Twenty-one horror and science fiction tales of the bizarre, the terrifying, the all-too-near future.”

So what looks good to you out of that pile? Where should I start?


Discovering New Authors

Book swapping

(Photo by Seika Natsuki a.k.a. nSeika)

In this day and age of readily available ebooks and online shopping, there has been a lot written about the demise of “bricks and mortar” stores, both large chains and independents. Sure there are economic factors at play in both retail and in publishing industries driving this decline, but the deeper issue for me is that its becoming more and more challenging for readers and authors to find each other.

Ever since dime store paperbacks were introduced to the North American public in 1939, part of the key to their success was their distribution. Instead of relying solely on book stores, the publishers of Pocket Books teamed with magazine distributors and got their product into places where the average public were more likely to encounter and buy them – drugstores, train stations, and newsstands. There’s a really great article at Mental Floss –  How Paperbacks Transformed the Way America Reads – by Andrew Shaffer. Many people took chances on new authors and titles simply because it was affordable and available.

Paperbacks and ebooks have largely remained “affordable”, but its become increasing difficult to encounter these books in the flesh. Growing up a lot of authors I discovered was by taking a chance on a questionable looking SF title on the wire rack at the convenience store simply because it was in front of me. Those markets are fast dwindling and discovering authors has largely gone electronic via social media and websites like Goodreads. I follow a lot of up-and-coming authors and their publishers on Twitter, but the problem is laying my hands on their books aren’t as easy. Sure I could order them online and have them shipped or in many cases instantly download the ebook version, but a lot of the time I just want to hold the physical manifestation of the authors hard work in my hands and admire its beautiful cover and I want to do it NOW.

It’s then that I realize how small the selection has become at the local bricks and mortar stores. My town of 150,000 has just two book stores both run by the same chain, one is small store in a shopping centre while the other is a “box” store type outlet. The SF&F section at the larger store is perhaps two twelve foot long books shelves that run about chest height. While it might sound like a lot of shelf space its surprisingly not the variety and the depth of titles is limited. The store might carry ONE copy of a book by a specific author. The problem is the average person that didn’t grow up in a world with more selection and opportunity to discover new authors isn’t going to realize how narrow the choices have become.

TheLivesofTao_CoverEven I had forgotten how small my world had shrunk until I revisited one of my favourite Toronto book stores last month – The World’s Biggest Bookstore. Housed in a former bowling alley in downtown Toronto near the Eaton Centre it’s SF&F section is about five 20 foot long double sided shelves of SF&F books with a wide array of authors and sub-genres. I even saw a large display of a new and upcoming author by the name of Wesley Chu (http://www.chuforthought.com) that I had not heard of before and his first novel “The Lives of Tao“. The novel is about a entity – Tao, from another planet that has survived hundreds of years on earth by occupying other people’s bodies and turning them into skilled assassins and hunters in order to fight an ongoing battle with another faction of his race bent on destroying earth. Tao is forced to occupy the body of an out-of-shape computer nerd – Roen Tan. Now I could have snagged one of the twenty or so copies at the store and went merrily on my way, leaving the other 19 copies for others to discover Wesley and his book, but I hesitated. You see I had three titles in my hand already and I thought to myself, I am going to a speciality store later today that sells ONLY SF&F titles called Bakka-Phoenix Books I’ll buy a copy there and support my “local” independent book store.

The cruel irony was Bakka-Phoenix did not have any copies of “The Lives of Tao”  in stock. I asked and the clerk to check and he said that they did not order any copies, but could order one in for me. Being from out of town, I declined but thanked him for his effort and bought another book by another author that they did carry.

Back home in my town of 150,000 I was preparing to order Wesley’s book online when I ventured into the big box store and what should I find – ONE bright and shiny copy of “The Lives of Tao” starring out at me from the book shelf. Of course I bought it, but in doing so I realized I was potentially depriving others from discovering while browsing the aisle.

I’m thankful for The World’s Biggest Bookstore for turning me onto him but I have to wonder in this shrinking world of retail book stores and opportunities for new discoveries where will people go to find new authors?

Post Script

I tweeted about my dilemma about not being able to pick up a copy of Wesley’s book at Bakka-Phoenix and Wesley immediately contacted the bookstore via twitter. Whatever he said he persuaded them to start carrying the book. In a round about way I may have inadvertently helped other Bakka-Phoenix patrons discover Wesley’s writing.

For the Love of Books

B is for Books

B is for Books

I attribute my love of books to my parents, who while they weren’t big readers themselves, always took the time to expose my sisters and me to the written word. It probably started with the Dr. Seuss & Friends book-of-the-month subscriptions back in the 70s before I was even school age. I was weaned on a steady diet of fantastical Dr. Seuss, P.D. Eastman, Stan and Jan Berenstein at bed time. I remember when we moved when I was about 5, one of my aunts was helping us unpack in the new house and the first thing I did when she cracked the box with the Dr. Seuss books in it was make her sit down and read to me.  

Don't Forget the Bacon by Pat Hutchins
Don’t Forget the Bacon by Pat Hutchins

My mother started taking us to the public library at a very early age too. It was within walking distance of the neighbourhood we lived in and it actually had different rooms for the Children’s and Adult section. As an adult it’s easy to understand why you might want to have a bunch of loud, rambunctious kid’s on the opposite side of a wall from where you are trying to study or read the Sunday paper, but as kid I thought it was special that we had our own section. It was like our own kingdom where the adults were visitors in a pint-sized land. My sisters and I would regularly take out our allotment of 5 or 7 books and swap them amongst ourselves only to return and do it all over again a week or so later. One of my favourite stories I discovered in that kid’s section was a book by Pat Hutchins called Don’t Forget the Bacon. It’s a fun story about a boy who gets sent to the local market to pick up some items for his mother. Along the way as he recites the shopping list in attempt to remember everything, but accidently swaps out items for things that catch his eye along his trip. When he shows up at home with a random assortment of items that were most definitely not on his list he is forced to retrace his steps, returning everything and trying to remember the original list.

Robert Heinlein's Door Into Summer

Robert Heinlein’s Door Into Summer

 Books have always been a part of my life, and I have never been able to pass up browsing in a book store, especially a good used book store. I love finding old SF titles, especially ones with lurid covers like this example from Heinlein for “The Door into Summer”. Old anthologies of hard to find or out of print short stories are also a favourite of mine. Probably the most shelf space in my collection is devoted to stories about time travel. According to my good-reads profile I have at least 180 titles related to Time Travel in my collection. My love of time travel fiction is well documented on my other site – Andy’s Anachronisms, so I won’t waste a lot of space discussing that here.

My love of books knows no bounds (or at least no shelf space limitations) and I have a serious problem that I buy books far faster than I read them. I think I could stop buying books today I’d still have enough unread books to last me a good decade or two.

One of the reasons I continually buy books is that I am always looking for good stories and new authors to open my mind to new horizons.