Friday, December 31, 2021

The 2021 Reading Roundup

 Just a quick rundown of what I read in 2021:


Four Past Midnight, by Stephen King

Continuing re-read project.  Couple of these are a bit more taut than I remember.  Secret Window, Secret Garden feels like a flipside companion piece to The Dark Half....

The Fighting Bunch: The Battle of Athens, by Chris DeRose

Easily the best (and most and best researched) volume on the Battle of Athens I've read. 

The Searcher,  by Tana French

I liked it, but it didn't hold the same amount of water as most of her work.  Had one particular plot point that pulled the rug out from under me, and I just couldn't get into it like her best work.

Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary Wolf

Fun, if clunky.  Definitely a book improved on with its film adaptation....

We Promised You a Great Main Event: an Unauthorized WWE History, by Bill Hanstock

Meh.  Google journalism.  But maybe the best you'll find, since a good oral history would be next to impossible.


The Spy with No Pants by John Swartzwelder

I think I love these Swartzwelder books more than I love baseball, pizza or professional wrestling.

The Empire Strikes Back: From a Certain Point of View, edited by 

Meh.  There are a couple good ones, but four or five months later, I don't remember a thing I read in this.....

Dark Tower: the Waste Lands   by Stephen King

So much fun.  I mentioned when I read Drawing of the Three last year that the section where Eddie meets Roland is maybe some of the finest writing King has put to page in his career.  But as a story, the Waste Lands is where the Dark Tower finds its feet.  It starts cooking with gas, and this remains one of my favorite King books.

The History of the Ancient World   by Susan Wise Bauer

A commute that I wished I'd read instead.   I can visualize a lot, but for some reason, I don't see maps well.  I need the visual aid.   That said, this is a well put together work, and I'll be reading her follow up on Ancient Rome very soon.

Night of the Mannequins   by Stephen Graham Jones

Quick, fast paced, weird horror.  Stephen Graham Jones is moving quickly up my list of favorite writers.  I wanted this one to end a little more ambiguously, but I still enjoy this one very much.  In a quick Twitter review, I mentioned that it made me want to watch the movie Twister, for some reason.  To which SGJ responded: "I can't stop watching Twister...."


A Song with Teeth   by T Frohock

This might be my favorite new read this year.  I love a nice period piece, and Frohock's Los Nefilim covers a stretch in European history (fantastically, using an adverb that works on a couple levels) that I am just now coming to in my personal reading.  I'm picky about both fantasy and historical fiction, but Frohock zeroes in on exactly what I've been looking for with this series.....

Medallion Status     by John Hodgman

Hodgman had popped up on a couple of podcasts I'd listened to just prior to this, and in one, he was plugging this read.  I like a guy who can turn a good phrase, and for months since, I've been referring mentally to eggs as disgusting snotty chaos.

Sidelined: Sports, Culture and Being a Woman in America by Julie DiCaro

I've been reading DiCaro's work for years....since way back in the blogging days.  We've followed each other on Twitter, and sadly, I've seen a lot of the disgusting shit people say to and about her.  Posting my review brought an odd amount of heat from the same trolls.  This was a good read, and I've passed a couple copies out to friends......


T-Rex and the Crater of Doom   by Walter Alvarez

A Kindle/Lunchtime read.  As much about the scientific process as it is the end result.  Dry, but enjoyable.

American Gods  by Neil Gaiman

A commute listen.  My friend Jillian was reading this, and asked if it was worth finishing.  It's actually a better listen than a read.  Gaiman's work feels better aurally, if that makes any sense.  Also, I need to go to Rock City again...I haven't been since the second grade....

Miami Blues    by Charles Willeford

This came recommended by a Bill Ryan piece I read here.  I dug it.  It tickles the part of my brain that digs the Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty brand of Southern Gothic.  Grotesquely hilarious enough that I laughed until I cried about Hoke Mosely's dentures.

Needful Things    by Stephen King

The last Castle Rock story.  This one was a big deal to me back in the day.  Reading it now, it represents the best of King's instincts (his love of his small towns, the decency and lack thereof in everybody, King's astute memories of childhood), and also his worst (he gets maudlin, and saccharine sweet at the weirdest times...also, a couple of the threads tying to other Castle Rock works just feel forced...the whole Ace Merrill bit really, really grinds at me).  Still, this one ends in a whirlwind, and I ended up liking it very much the second time around, nearly 30 years later....


American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race  by Douglas Brinkley

A commute listen.  Digs hard into the politics of the space race.  Made me think hard about Werner von Braun.....

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory    by Caitlin Doughty

I'd had this one on my shelf for a while, and finally sat with it.  Good read on the American take on Death, as part of our culture.....

The Dark Horse    by Craig Johnson

I read this one during my May vacation.  Does it say much about me that I was more worried for Walt's dog than I was the child when both went missing?

Mongrels   by Stephen Graham Jones

This one's strong.  Legitimately creepy, with an air of melancholy that pervades, but doesn't overwhelm the thing.  

The Blizzard of '88    by  Mary Cable

A 1.99 Kindle read.  Actually kinda neat to read in a very hot grocery store backroom, and thinking that standing, trapped on a pier during a blizzard, to be rescued with your coat frozen to you doesn't really sound all that bad.....


Gerald's Game    by Stephen King

A Commute listen.  I liked it better than I remembered, but I still think the ending is a cop out.  I didn't like a couple of the revelations in those final chapters.  They felt cheap.

The Perfect Storm    by Sebastian Junger

 I didn't mean to re-read this one, but due to a remodel at work, my attention span was a little lacking.  This one, even as much as I like it, reads like a long magazine article....

Some Assembly Required    by TJ Condon

A friend of mine wrote this from her own experiences with her husband's wait for a liver transplant.  Tara's a natural storyteller, and this one reads very quickly.  She translates a hellish experience with grace and humor.  I bought a couple copies to pass out to people.....

Frankenstein    by Mary Shelley

I bought a copy with illustrations by the late Bernie Wrightson, this being a reprint of a Marvel project from way back when.  I forget who had the original Marvel copy back in high school, but I always dug it.  This is actually my first time through the book itself, though.  I made an aborted attempt in the eighth grade or so.  I dug it, though, and not just for the drawings!

The Ninth Metal   by Benjamin Percy

The commute listen.  There were seeds of good stuff in here, but none of it every really bore fruit.  I finished, but I didn't care for this one too much.

Fishing for Dinosaurs and other Stories   by Joe R. Lansdale

The kindle/lunchtime read.  I'd read a couple of these in other places and forms, but enjoyed the collection overall.  Black Hat Jack is definitely a favorite....

My Year Abroad    by Chang-Rae Lee

Shyam got me a subscription to a book club from Powell's, and this was the first of this year's editions.  I liked it...bombastic and funny.  I will say that the dialog felt wooden, from time to time, but on the whole, I enjoyed this one very much.


The Premonition: a Pandemic Story    by Michael Lewis

I'll go ahead and include this one, since I'm re-writing.  The commute listen.  Lewis delivers an interesting read....the conundrum of the last year is that if your measures work, then everybody will say it was overkill.  Of particular interest (and a subject for future reading), how a potential outbreak of Swine Flu during the Ford administration helped shape our country's disjointed responsed to Covid-19......

Apex: The World of Dinosaurs Anthology     edited by Jonathan Thompson

Meh.  A Kickstarter that just didn't bear fruit.

Dream Team   by Jack McCallum

I think I had a little Olympic fever when I read this one....that 92 Dream Team was right in my wheelhouse......good read....


Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic    by David Quammen

This one had been on my radar for a little while, and it didn't disappoint.  Manages to parse out a lot of information without wandering into textbook territory....

Dolores Claiborne     by Stephen King

Part of the project:  I'd never actually read this one.  I liked this one a lot, especially as a twin to Gerald's Game, which makes sense, since they were both originally part of the same project.  King's love of small towns and community shines through.....

Failure is an Option: an Attempted Memoir    by H. Jon Benjamin

I highly recommend this one as a listen....Benjamin's got one of those voices that's just crept into ubiquity in the past decade.  Funny read, even if it is a little fart-laden.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood      by Quentin Tarantino

Read this one on vacation....I think I appreciate the story of Once Upon a Time coming around as a story as much as I do the story itself....and I like Once Upon a Time more than much of what Quentin's done in the past decade......

Goblin: a novel in six novellas       by Josh Malerman

Heavy on atmosphere, but light on just about anything else.  Almost felt like a D&D adventure that the setup was more satisfying than the payoff....

The Storm      by Dan Jolley

Two in a row that I finished that I didn't particularly enjoy.  The Storm just misses its mark, and manages to sneer a bit at the South.  This one made me thankful for the guys like Cherie Priest, Alex Bledsoe and John Hartness who do write the South without it feeling like parody....


When the Game Was Ours....     by Earvin "Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Jackie MacMullen

This was a fun read....again, like Dream Team, talking about Magic and Bird is right in my wheelhouse, even if it wasn't my focus back in the mid and late 80's.  Remarkably well put together, given the collaborative effort.....

What Strange Paradise      by Omar el Akkad

I liked this one very much...managed to turn an aggravation into its reason for being.

Nightmares and Dreamscapes     by Stephen King

What a fun read.  I always fall back on Skeleton Crew or Night Shift as favorite collection, but there are a couple humdingers in this one.  Dolan's Cadillac is a helluva good read.  Umney's Last Case is a Twilight Zone episode waiting to be made.  But I think my favorite piece is "Head Down," a nonfiction piece about his son Owen competing in Little League, competing their way toward the Little League World Series--I call it one of the better pieces of sports journalism that I've run across.....

My Heart is a Chainsaw      by Stephen Graham Jones

In the space of 4 or 5 books, Stephen Graham Jones has vaulted his way to the upper reaches of my favorite writers list.  And this one is just hella fun....crackling with energy......


Frankenstein in Baghdad      by Ahmed Saadawi

This one had been on my radar for a bit, but I finally sat with it in October.  Glad I read it in such close temporal proximity to Shelley's Frankenstein.  The wartime displacement dysphoria is strong in this one.....

The Drive-In      by Joe R. Lansdale

Another one that crackles with pure weird energy.  I'd read a couple of Joe's before I happened upon this one, but it was reading this one that made me say, all those years ago: "this guy is my kind of weird...."

The Between      by Tananarive Due

Due is another one that's working her way up my favorite writers list.  She just does good work, and this one is a lot of definitely kept me second guessing myself.

All the Marvels       by Douglas Wolk

Not a bad read, and I appreciated his insights on the best Marvels....including calling out Dark Reign as one of the better stories of the spread of fascism.....And I appreciated his not getting involved in the Lee/Kirby debate (I'm not comfortable with the deification of either, for the record).  I wish there had been a little more look at guys like Roy Thomas and Chris Claremont, and even Bob Harras and the Lobdell/Nicieza tandem, in building their corners of the shared Universe....

Yours Cruelly, Elvira       by Cassandra Peterson

Not a bad read at all...a late night purchase, fittingly enough.  Corny humor, schlocky horror, and cleavage.  It's a natural, for yours, truly.....

The Night the Lights Went Out       by Drew Magary

Magary, in 2018, suffered a brain bleed and collapsed.  What he presents here is part memoir/part oral history, of his own recovery from a traumatic brain injury.  Magary is a gifted writer, whose fiction I enjoy but whose nonfiction reveals his heart.  This is in the running for my favorite book of the year.....


Insomnia      by Stephen King

Damn, what a long's not bad, but in my second time all the way through it, I can tell you that it still feels about 300 pages long, and possibly more.....

Fan Fiction      by Brent Spiner

Surprisingly funny.  Slapstick Noir.  Managed to keep my attention despite it being whittled to splinters for much of November.....

Rawhide Down: the Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan       by Del Quentin Wilber

Shyam got this one early in the year, and I ended up reading it.  Nicely put together bit of history that I'd read little to nothing about....


A Fatal Grace     by Louise Penny

We listened to this one on our way to Florida, and on the way back.  Penny's dialog is good, and it's hard to think of anybody who writes food better.

The Stupidest Angel     by Christopher Moore

Revisited this one.  I don't know that I've enjoyed finding a writer more than I did finding Christopher Moore all those years ago....those early books are just such goofy fun.  And this one is no different...even if male protagonists often resemble each other muchly.....

Grave Reservations    by Cherie Priest

A little bit of a Change of pace for Priest....leaning less on the supernatural and SF elements, leaning more on her talent for dialog and humor, and injecting everything into a modern setting.  I liked it.  And I hope that it's leading to more with these characters....

A Christmas Carol     by Charles Dickens

Annual re-read.  I don't know that it gets the credit it deserves for being a spooky story.....

Radiants      by David B. Coe

Quick read, intended for Young Adults.  It flows very nicely.  Vibes of X-Men and Firestarter....I liked this one.  Coe turns a good phrase.....