Thus, as is my standard usage of my blog space at or near the beginning of the month, I present the listing of my January, 2021 reads.
Books Read in January, 2021
Adventure Comics Vol 1 #247, #267, #282 (Comics) (r)
Action Comics Vol 1 #267, #276 (Comics) (r)
Superboy Vol 1 #86, #89 (Comics) (r)
Superman Vol 1 #147 (Comic) (r)
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Becoming Superman by J. Michael Straczynski
Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 8 #7-9 (Comics) (r)
DC Cybernetic Summer 80-Page Giant Vol 1 #1 (Comic) (r)
Action Comics Vol 1 #1024-1026 (Comics) (r)
Action Comics Vol 1 #1027 (Comic)
Dejah Thoris Vol 3 #9 (Comic)
The Orville #4: Heroes Part 2 (Comic)
Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 8 #11 (Comic)
Amethyst Vol 4 #6 (Comic)
November, 2020 Locus
Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #274-279 (Comics) (r)
The Superman Family Vol 1 #207 (Comic) (r)
The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence
S.P.Q.R. XIII: The Year of Confusion by John Maddox Roberts
Golden Age by James Maxwell
Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman
Generations Shattered Vol 1 #1 (Comic)
And that was the start of my reading for 2021. I have to say that this was a pretty good month of reading in terms of the quantity of material read, especially given the last few months of reading, though it was not the most books I've read in a month. And I also read a good number of comics, both new reads and re-reads, so there! :) Regardless, my bookcases are stacked with a pretty large To Read Queue (TRQ) still. The books I enjoyed the most were:
S.P.Q.R. XIII: The Year of Confusion by John Maddox Roberts - This is the thirteenth, and seeming final, book in the S.P.Q.R. Roman mystery series for adults. Gaius Julius Caesar, now Dictator of Rome, has decided to revise the Roman calendar, which has become out of sync with the seasons. As if this weren't already an unpopular move, Caesar has brought in astronomers and astrologers from abroad, including Egyptians, Greeks, Indians and Persians. Decius is appointed to oversee this project, which he knows rankles the Roman public: "To be told by a pack of Chaldeans and Egyptians how to conduct their duties towards the gods was intolerable." Not long after the new calendar project begins, two of the foreigners are murdered. Decius begins his investigations and, as the body count increases, it seems that an Indian fortune-teller popular with patrician Roman ladies is also involved. One of the strengths of this series of books has been the writing, which is sharp and crisp with a superb use of the language, and this 13th book in the series delivers that in spades once more. This book is less "noir" in feel than some of the earlier S.P.Q.R. but is still an excellent read, both as a historical and mystery work. In this book, Decius Metellus is a senator, having reached the heights of his ambitions. At some point between this book and the previous, House Metellus chose poorly in the civil war when Caesar took control of Rome and lost its status and wealth. Now on his own, Decius is a friend of Caesar and reasonably safe, but no longer has the backing of a powerful and wealthy house and noble name. This is a complex story, with lots of layers of plot lines. The main story of the mystery interweaves with the political situation of Caesar's absolute power and the opposition of powerful men, and that in turn interweaves with the women of Rome, particularly the wealthy and powerful wives and deciding who may be Caesar's heir to all his wealth and power, and finally the storyline of astrology and mysticism versus astronomy and reason. There's less action and violence in this book than in previous ones, focusing more on the interaction between characters, political manuevering, and discussions as Decius attempts to unravel the murders that take place. This is only natural, since Decius is much older in this book, but regardless, the book is packed with interesting and entertaining historical details and gritty attitudes and behavior from the time and culture presented as simply common place and typical rather than commented on or explained. And there's a nice Glossary of terms at the back of the book for those interested in a few more detailed explanations about matters. I'm very sad that this appears to be the last book in the series, but highly recommend it and the previous books to potential readers.
Becoming Superman by J. Michael Straczynski - This work of non-fiction by J. Michael Straczynski, the acclaimed writer behind Babylon 5, Sense8, Clint Eastwood's Changeling and Marvel's Thor reveals how the power of creativity and imagination enabled him to overcome the horrors of his youth and a dysfunctional family haunted by madness, murder and a terrible secret. Only in this book does he reveal, after most of the participants have died, the depths of the awfulness of his childhood and family... And it's almost certainly worse than you imagined. However, the magic that is Becoming Superman is that the book is simultaneously horrifying and uplifting, and a great read. It helps that not only is Straczynski an accomplished writer, but that this is the story he's been training to tell for his entire life. This story is funny, sad, infuriating, horrifying, and inspiring - sometimes at the same time. This is also the story of how JMS built his career by ping-ponging from school plays to local newspapers to animation to live-action TV to comics to feature films. When Joe collects a million-dollar check for a spec screenplay, the reader will be cheering, as the reader will see how far he's come from his childhood in New Jersey. I will say that the subject matter of the book is difficult, but the book itself is engrossing and enjoyable. And the reader doesn't have to be a fan of Babylon 5 or Sense8 or The Real Ghostbusters or She-Ra or Murder She Wrote to enjoy this book. Just have to...be human. I highly recommend this book.
The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence - This novel is the first book in the Young Adult Roman Mysteries series by the author. The dogs on Flavia's street have started dying mysteriously, and she is determined to find out why. Her investigation leads her to three extraordinary people: Jonathan, her new neighbour; Nubia, an African slave; and Lupus, a mute beggar boy. The four embark on a search for the killer... and that's when the excitement begins. This series of books is aimed at 10-13 year olds, but even adults can enjoy this series. The books recount the adventures of four children in 79 AD, running around helping each other solve mysteries. There is a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter (the author calls the "scrolls"), and author Lawrence manages to sneak in quite a lot of lore about Roman life in general and the Latin language in particular. The four kids, Flavia, Jonathan, Nubia and Lupus, are each quite appealing in their own way and there's just enough real violence to keep the stakes high. This first book, The Thieves of Ostia is a delightful, well-written read, full of accurate yet lightly woven-in descriptions of 1st century AD Roman Italy. The heroine, the courageous Flavia, is a curious girl with more than a touch of the detective's skill. The book is short, fast-paced and full of wry humour. The descriptions of life in Ostia, from its temples, houses, forum and harbour, to the people who lived, worked and died in it, are richly detailed. The author does not shy away from the grim realities of life in Ancient Rome. Thus, we read about the deaths of people though rabies, see a suicide, and watch as wild dogs are shot down with arrows. These topics are dealt with with a delicate yet straightforward touch, in a manner that is entirely suitable for younger readers, but which also presents the brutal reality of life 2,000 years ago. A highly entertaining read, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series.
Golden Age by James Maxwell - The first book in the Shifting Tides series. The discovery of a strange and superior warship sends Dion, youngest son of the king of Xanthos, and Chloe, a Phalesian princess, on a journey across the sea, where they are confronted by a kingdom far more powerful than they could ever have imagined. But they also find a place in turmoil, for the ruthless sun king, Solon, is dying. In order to gain entrance to heaven, Solon is building a tomb - a pyramid clad in gold - and has scoured his own empire for gold until there's no more to be found. Now Solon's gaze turns to Chloe's homeland, Phalesia, and its famous sacred ark, made of solid gold. The legends say it must never be opened, but Solon has no fear of foreigners' legends or even their armies. And he isn't afraid of the Eldren, an ancient race of shape-shifters, long ago driven into the Wilds. For when he gets the gold, Solon knows he will live forever. This book begins by following a fairly typical "rescue the princess" storyline, that faces a number of predictable challenges and near misses. There's a lot of plot foreshadowing that is too blunt for my taste, and gives away a number of the plot twists. The reveal(s) at the end leading into the second book may not be predictable, but they're not the surprise they could have been. I was pleased with the really diverse, entertaining cast of characters in the novel. The main characters of the story are constantly growing and evolving through the tale, but while their interactions and reactions to situations that occur are interesting, they certainly can't be said to be predictable. On the other hand, the more indirect characters, such as King Solon, Dion and Chloe's family, for example, are more static representations of singular personality traits (power, greed, selflessness, mediation, arrogance, etc. to cite a few). The real strength of this book is the world building employed by the author. Maxwell's world is a direct parallel to Ancient Greece. It's easy to draw direct comparisons in the way that the politics, religion, and innovations are described. The backdrop of ancient wars and catastrophes is woven into the story as well, and there is also a strong Roman influence at times. I'm not sure about the Eldran, but their abilities are well conceived and balanced between power and risk. I enjoyed this book well enough to check out the second book when I get a chance and in the meantime, recommend this book for those interested in such stories.
Overall, I managed to read 6 novels, 0 RPGs and RPG products, 1 magazine, 28 comics, and 0 graphic novels in January. Since this is the start of the year, it brings the year total in 2021 to a set of numbers that look like this: 6 books, 0 RPGs and RPG products, 1 magazine, 28 comics, and 0 graphic novels.
Anyway, thoughts and comments are always welcome. :)