Author-in-Training- Alpha Readers v. Beta Readers v. Writing Groups

I’ve been working with a editor to bring Red and Black up to snuff for publication this summer. But before I even considered hiring a professional, I hit up my friends and colleagues for feedback. The reasons behind this were simple. For one thing, it was free. Secondly, I didn’t want my editor to spend her time fixing problems that I could have either done on my own, or with a little help from my friends.

If you’re looking to publish, I’d highly recommend seeking outside feedback first. The key is finding out which type of readers are right for you and your project. For Red and Black, I utilized three types of first readers: alpha readers, beta readers, and a writing group.

Alpha Readers
Alpha readers are the first people that you allow to see your book, as it’s being written. So as you might expect, for me, this took place waaay back during the early drafting of Red and Black. My reader, in this case, was my husband (thanks, Love!), and he didn’t do much “reading” at all, as I read the first several chapters aloud to him. Fortunately for him, it wasn’t rough draft quality. I had gone through each chapter and cleaned things up a bit, but it was certainly a long ways away from being done.

Because of the rough quality of my work during this phase, I wasn’t looking for an in depth critique. Instead, I was looking for a sympathetic ear to let me know whether or not things were working, and if there were any red flags. And sure, maybe that “sympathetic” part makes me thin skinned, but I was still in the process of writing the book, and therefore in a more vulnerable state than usual.

Other writers do alpha readers a little differently. Sci-fi/Fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal actually distributes her works in progress to readers, via patreon, which feels incredibly brave for me.

Regardless of how you do it, alpha readers are people who see your story during the early phases, and are good if you want to get a general idea on whether you missed the mark or not. Feedback received by alpha readers can be very helpful when planning out the rest of your book.

Beta Readers
Beta readers are people who read your finished manuscript, and provide more detailed feedback. By the time Red and Black got to my beta readers, it had already been through some serious editing and yours should too. Yes, your mileage may vary as far as how much work you want to put into the book before your beta readers see it, but let me tell you as someone who’s been on the other side of the fence. Reading through a draft that’s clearly had little to no editing is fucking tedious. Your beta readers are doing you a favor by reading your work, so at the very least, clean up the shit you already know how to take care of.

As for the level of feedback provided by Beta Readers, it’s going to depend the individual. Some of my Beta readers provide detailed suggestions in the text itself. Some of my Beta readers don’t write down any feedback at all, but read the entire book, and then patiently sit there while I pepper them with questions. Some Beta readers focus on things like spelling/grammar/style, while others are drawn towards larger issues such as character arcs, and the overall plot of the novel. If you are only looking for a certain type of feedback, do yourself a favor and communicate this in advance. After all, there’s no point in asking a colleague to check your grammar, if they almost flunked out of high school English.

Personally, I like getting a wide variety of feedback, so I chose to send out my books to as wide a range as beta readers as I can. If that sounds scary to you, then you might have a bigger problem then just finding a beta reader. After all, if you’re lucky, eventually your book will be devoured by a wide variety of people. Why not get practice now? If you’re still nervous about the idea, sending your work out to readers in phases, might prove to be helpful. Start with a couple people that you trust the most, and move on from there.

When it comes to choosing your beta readers, I’d recommend looking beyond other writers. Sure, having writers as beta readers is great, as they’re likely to give you more in depth responses, but seeking out people who tend to read books in, or close to, your genre, is also a good idea. After all, those are the people you’re going to want to be attracting as readers. Isn’t it a good idea to get their feedback? A lot of professional writers (Brandon Sanderson, for example) actually use some of their readers like this, which has always struck me as a great idea.

Writing Groups
Now, I know what you’re thinking. First alpha and beta readers, and now you expect me to join a whole group? What’s next, going outside!? Fear not my fellow introverts, joining a writing group doesn’t have to be intimidating, nor does it need to involve leaving the house.

While I was working on Red and Black, I was fortunate enough to be part of a writing group. Writing groups come with a great feeling of reciprocity and community. Beta and alpha readers, for all their benefits, can feel as little one sided, as their main task is helping your book get better. With writing groups, on the other hand, you’re not only having your work reviewed, but commenting on other people’s work, so everyone benefits.

All writing groups are different. Some are online, while others met in person. My group met every two or three months, and used googlehangouts. At each session, we’d discussed a section from two writers’ work. There were four people total, meaning you didn’t have to wait to long too have your work discussed. Red and Black, due to it’s length, ended up being discussed over the course of three different sessions.

The feedback I got from my Writing Group was invaluable.They sort of served as a step in between an alpha and beta reader, as they read a draft as it was going through in depth revisions. The comments they made greatly shaped the developing draft and I’m convinced that Red and Black would have been a very different book had I not had the benefit of their feedback.

Of course, I’ve also heard my fair share of horror stories when it comes to writing groups. Stories of people who weren’t critical as much as cruel, and writers that lacked the maturity to take honest feedback. So perhaps one good thing to check for before choosing a writing group is to make sure the other people aren’t dicks. Also, your writing group is more likely to be successful if all members have similar goals, or are writing in similar genres. In my writing group, for example, we were all writing speculative fiction. I wouldn’t have been comfortable critiquing a picture book, or a memoir.

So those are the three types of first readers I encountered while writing Red and Black. I know I’m getting repetitive here, but I highly recommend seeking out feedback from others, if you’re looking to have your work published. I’m a firm believer that as writers, sometimes we’re too close to a book to notice its flaws. Sometimes we even miss out on hidden strengths. Looking outside of ourselves can help us find these hidden facets in our writing. So don’t be shy! Share your work.

This post is part of the new Author-in-Training Project, where I document my path to publishing Red and Black, and the lessons I’ve learned on the way. Please click on the Author-in-Training tag for more posts.

Advertisements

Nice Dragons, Collapsing Empires, and Musical Holograms: My Favorite Books of Winter 2018

A while back I ran a book blog called Temporaryworlds over on livejournal (which should give you an idea on what I mean by “a while back”). And although it’s been some time since I’ve felt the urge to review every single book that I read, I still come across a lot of great books that I want to talk about and recommend to others. So, I figured why not do that here on a quarterly basis? Below you’ll find my top reads for Winter of 2018- or January, February, and March. Selections include both novels and graphic novels, as I read plenty of both.

Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron (Fantasy/Science Fiction)- The fifth and final book in Rachel Aaron’s wonderful Heartstriker series combines the vastness of epic fantasy, the fast moving plotting of urban fantasy, and the worldbuilding of post apocalyptic sci-fi. Julius, once shamed for being a nice dragon, has gained plenty of allies and BIG responsibilities over the course of multiple books. And he’s going to need all the help he can get if he’s to face his biggest challenge yet: the literal embodiment of the end of the world. This is one of my favorite series, filled with lots of action, great humor and compelling relationship dynamics (both of the romantic, and platonic variety). I was so happy to see it end on a high note.

Lady Killer, vol 2 by Joelle Jones (Horror)– The second volume in this story about a housewife who moonlights as a contract killer doubles down on both the gleeful violence of the first, as well as the nail biting suspense. I don’t know what I find more impressive, the skill in which Josie’s double life is brought to page on a visual level (the colorful fashions of the 60s against all the bloody carnage is an interesting contrast), or how Jones creates sympathy for a protagonist who does such awful things. We’re going to get a volume three, right? You just can’t leave things on that cliffhanger! Artwork also by the writer, Joelle Jones.

Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy)- The third volume in the Stormlight Archives delves deep into the character of Dalinar Kholin, and brings our heroes face to face with some hard truths about themselves, and the world around them. If you’re a fan of massive fantasy tomes, no one is dong the genre better right now then the master of magic systems, Brandon Sanderson. Filled with high stakes, sympathetic characters, and worldbuilding that you can really delve into, Oathbringer earns every one of its 1200+ pages. The only bad thing about finishing this book is knowing that I will need to wait years before the fourth volume hits the shelves.

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (Science Fiction)– The first book in The Interdependencey series has everything you could want from a John Scalzi book: humorous dialogue, eye opening sci-fi concepts, and characters you can really fall in love with. The fact that the audiobook version is narrated by Wil Wheaton makes it even more impossible to put down. As you may have guessed from the title, The Collapsing Empire tells the story of a large inter-planetary empire, and what happens when it’s discovered that the intergalactic channels that connect its many pieces are about to collapse. I am eagerly looking forward to book two, which is set to come out later this year.

Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi (Science Fiction)–  Fuzzy Nation is actually a book that I’ve owned for a while now, having purchased the audio version in a sale YEARS ago. Despite being a fan of the author’s work, I put off reading it because it was a retelling of a classic sci-fi novel-Little Fuzzy-which I had yet to read. But after enjoying the shit out of The Collapsing Empire, I decided to it was time to dive in, regardless of how familiar I was with the source material. And you know what? I really enjoyed it. Fuzzy Nation tells the story of a prospector on an alien planet who comes across adorable cat-like creatures that he dubs “Fuzzies.” Only when he introduces his latest find to a local biologist, he discovers that these creatures might be more than just animals, but sapient beings who rightfully own the planet they are currently mining the shit out of. Fuzzy Nation combines adorableness with genuinely interesting ethical dilemmas, and the suspense of a court room drama. It was a fast read (I flew threw it in just a couple of days), but a really worth while one.

Jem and the Holograms, vol 1: Showtime by Kelly Thompson (Contemporary)Showtime is the cartoon Jem rebooted in comic book format, and boy is it great. Think about everything you loved about the cartoon as a kid, only less soap opera-y, and updated for a modern audience. They even make the music performance aspect really work, despite the fact that it’s not an auditory medium. Unfortunately, my library does not have access to any of the other volumes in this series, so I’m going to have to go through other avenues if I want to continue the series. Artwork by Sophie Campbell.

Saga, vol 8: by Brian K Vaughan (Science Fiction)– Here’s a great example of a comic book series that’s still going strong, years after its debut. While previous volumes of Saga have taken things to epic sci-fi heights, volume eight takes a smaller route by examining the very real tragedy that comes with a miscarriage. We see this on a practical level, as Alanna and Marko struggle to find a place that will perform a late-term abortion on the dead fetus, as well as a more emotional one, as Hazel must come to terms with the loss of the brother she never had a chance to meet. Really strong stuff this time around. Artwork, as always by Fiona Staples.

Ms. Marvel, vol 8: Mecca by G. Willow Wilson (Superheroes)– Ms. Marvel remains one of Marvel comics most consistent offerings, and the latest volume Mecca really shows you why. Author G. Willow Wilson uses the storyline of people targeting super powered individuals in Jersey City as a metaphor for examining prejudice and radicalization. There are some pretty big twists this time around, and things end on a bit of a cliffhanger. I can’t wait to see how things are resolved in volume 9, which is supposed to come out on my birthday (!!!) July 31st.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (Historical Fiction/Romance)– This has to be the strongest stand alone graphic novel I’ve read in years. The Prince and the Dressmaker is a love story, set in France, between a poor dressmaker with big dreams, and a prince who sometimes likes to wear dresses. This book is filled with lovable characters that you can route for, and wonderful artwork (especially when it comes to the dresses!). If you have any interest in graphic novels and historical romances, I’d recommend picking this up ASAP. Artwork done by the writer, Jen Wang.

Geek Actually: Season 1 by Cathy Yardley, Melissa Blue, Cecilia Tan, and Rachel Stuhler (Contemporary/Chick Lit)– Now here’s something a little different. Geek Actually is a Serial Box Production, meaning that it’s basically a television series in fiction form. Each serial is written in “seasons”, and the story is broken down into episodes that roughly take the same amount of time to read as it does to watch an episode of television. Geek Actually is my second serial that I’ve experienced through Serial Box, and I’m really impressed with the results. It focuses on the story of five different nerd women from different walks of life, each struggling with the challenges related to their professions, love lives, sexualities and more. I think the thing I like the most about Geek Actually is the variety of perspectives presented, covering everything from the gaming industry, to publishing, to cosplay. The characters themselves are both complex and diverse, each one having a significant arc. The story starts off lighthearted and fun, but it’s not afraid to examine with some of the darker struggles that women have to deal with- including stalking and sexual assault. It’s clear from the finale that there is more story to tell, and I look forward to seeing where our five leading ladies will go in season two.

Honorable Mentions: Desperate Hours by David Mack, Black Bolt: Vol 1: Hard Times by Saladin Ahmed, Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant, How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn, The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu.

So that’s it! What books have you fallen in love with lately?

Author-in-Training- The Self Publishing Route

Last week, I talked about why I decided to trunk my young adult fantasy trilogy. During that post, I mentioned that I had intended to publish that series through traditional means. This is not something that I will be doing with Red and Black, my forthcoming superhero novel.

This wasn’t an easy decision. As someone who grew up wanting to become a writer, I had always assumed that I would go traditional, and that’s even after self publishing became a viable option. But once Red and Black got to a point where I was ready to start submitting, I began to realize that traditionally publishing just wasn’t the right option.

And here are the reasons why:

I really hate the submission process
Writing the perfect query letter. Carefully researching agents and trying to find a good match. Going over submissions policies with a fine tooth comb. Does this agent want a synopsis that’s a page long? Two pages? More? What about a synopsis for the whole series? Should the query letter ruin the ending of the book, or keep it a secret? Should I expect a response within a month? Longer? Not at all? Is it better to try a small press? A contest?

Ugh.

Don’t get me wrong, most people who are traditionally published seem to think that every hour spent on the submission process is worth it, and I respect that. But the truth of the matter is, while I was trying to find a home for my young adult fantasy work, I was pretty miserable. So when it came time to start shopping around Red and Black, I found myself dragging my feet. And once I did start looking, I started to come up against another roadblock.

The genre problem
Trying to find agents looking for young adult fantasy books? There are plenty of them out there. Superhero books on the other hand?

Not so much.

Sure, there are successful superhero books, even if you remove those associated with Marvel or DC comics: Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart, or Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex, for example. But the impression that I’ve gotten from listening to agents is that superheroes just aren’t that successful in books. Now this may sound strange considering how well they do comics, movies and television, bit it actually makes sense. When it comes to superheroes, most people show up because they’ve fallen in love with a certain character or team, and want to follow their journey. They may not feel the same for some rando created by an author that they’ve never heard of.

This left me with a much smaller pool of agents to chose from. I tried more urban fantasy-focused folks, but that’s a genre that’s not nearly as popular as it used to be. Some people might call Red and Black new adult, but that term tends to imply… erm steamier circumstances then occur in my superhero book.

The one thing I’ve seen emphasized over and over again by blog posts and podcasts related to finding an agent is the importance of finding someone that’s going to be a good fit for you. And I wasn’t really finding that, at least not when it came to people who were currently available.

A higher degree of control
As I’ve been working on Red and Black, I’ve come up with a lot of ideas of how I’d like to release the series, as far as supplementary short fiction and such. But if I were traditionally published, a lot of those decisions wouldn’t be up to me. Many traditionally published authors say they have very limited control over how their books are released, including picking cover art, or even the titles of the books. The more I’ve looked into self publishing, the more having a higher level control over my own content has appealed to me.

High quality self published works
I’ll admit it. For a long time, I was one of those people, viewing self published works as little more than poorly written vanity projects with clunky cover art, and typos galore. And I had read one low quality indie book several years back, so that meant that they were all trash, right?

Then I read Rachel Aaron’s Nice Dragon’s Finish Last Back in 2014, and my mind was blown

Nice Dragons Finish Last (and the Heartstriker series as a whole) was like a breath of fresh air. A book that melded multiple genres (urban fantasy! science fiction! romance!) in really exciting ways. And it wasn’t published by a traditional publisher, but self published. Reading this book made me realize that I was being too judgmental when it came to indie books. In the years since, I’ve watched authors I respect (Gail Carriger, for example), happily go hybrid, causing me to more carefully examine indie publishing and the benefits that come along with it.

Being able to start small
As much as people like to complain about gatekeepers, there’s a good reason why getting traditionally published involves jumping through a lot of hoops. After all, they’re going to invest a lot of time and money into your work, and want to make sure that it’s worth it. And authors who don’t make a significant return on that investment are going to be penalized for it. Maybe that publisher won’t want to sign a new contract with them. Or maybe they’ll do it, but for a much smaller paycheck. This is something that Mur Lafferty has talked about recently on the Ditch Diggers Podcast in regards to selling her sci-fi murder mystery Six Wakes. Given that the book has since been nominated for a Philip K. Dick award and a Nebula, it’s clear that smaller advance had nothing to do with the quality of the book.

But when it comes to self publishing, the higher degree of control you have means that you can decide how much of an investment you want to make into that final product, and what you consider a financial success to be. In self publishing, the game is all about building an audience over time, rather then making a big splash with a debut, which I find very appealing.

Which brings us to our last point.

Money
This is going to sound awful, but do you want to know the real reason I decided to go head with self publishing Red and Black? I finally had the money to do so.

At the end of 2017, I ended up switching jobs. Previously, I had been working two part time jobs. This added up to full time work, but from multiple locations. When I quit these positions for a more traditional 9-5 job, each place paid me out for my unused vacation time, and a portion of my sick time.

And let me tell you, I do NOT take a lot of sick days so those fuckers had built up.

This allowed me a small cushion that I used to pay off a few hundred dollars in medical debt, and invest in a professional editor. Self publication, for all of it’s benefits, is incredibly difficult to do when you don’t have a lot of wiggle room in your budget, but still want to put out a high quality product.

The decision on whether to self-publish or traditionally publish can be really tricky. Hopefully, in explaining why I decided to self-publish Red and Black can help someone who’s currently waffling back and for between the two options. Because there really are benefits to each. Despite my decision to go indie, I still strongly believe that traditional publishing is the best way to reach a larger audience, faster, if just based on the fact that people are more likely to trust a work that has already been vetted by a team of professionals. Regardless, I think that self publishing is the best decision to make with my little superhero book Red and Black, and I’m really excited to see what the results will be.

 

This post is part of the new Author-in-Training Project, where I document my path to publishing Red and Black, and the lessons I’ve learned on the way. Please click on the Author-in-Training tag for more posts. There’s not much yet, but more will be arriving in the future.

Author-in-Training- 4 Reasons Why You May Want to Trunk Your First Novel

First off, thank you to everyone that has checked out my recent post announcing the upcoming publication of Red and Black, as well as The Author-In-Training Project. I really appreciate the support and encouragement that has been thrown my way so far. It has put me in a really positive state of mine.

So let me take that opportunity to talk about failure.

Although I have published a few short stories, Red and Black will be my first published novel. Now a few of you may be scratching your heads and thinking “wait a minute, didn’t this crazy chick talk about a young adult fantasy book a while back?” To those I’d say “Why yes! And that’s a damn good memory you have!”

Because a while ago I wrote not one book, but a complete series (called The Darkwood Trilogy) that went through beta readers, and various edits. I even published a short story in that universe (“The Paper Doll”) in the sadly defunct YA literary magazine, Inaccurate Realities.

These books will never see the light of day, and for good reason. Sure, there’s a lot about that trilogy that I am proud of (especially the third book!) but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I needed to move on if I wanted to continue to grow as a writer. And I’m not alone here. A lot of authors I admire have admitting to “trunking” (or choosing not to release) novels written before publishing their debut, meaning that a writer’s “first novel” is often far from that. Fantasy author, Brandon Sanderson, for example, wrote six books before his debut, Elantris was published. Nowadays, we live in a world where anyone can self publish, without the permission of a publisher, so how do you know when not to? When is it the right decision to put that book away and start something new? It’s true that I don’t have the answer for everyone, but here are some of the questions I asked myself when making the decision to trunk Lady of Darkwood and the Darkwood Trilogy as a whole.

Have I moved on as a person?
This was a big one for me. There are some things in Lady of Darkwood that may have reflected the books I was reading as a teenager, but feel more troubling from an adult perspective (a disturbingly large age gap in-between the teenaged female protagonists and one of the love interests, for example). I think it’s safe to say that if the book you’ve written no longer reflects your values, or outright contradicts them, it might be time to move on to something that represents you better.

Have I moved on as a writer?
This one is a little trickier, because you should always be growing as a writer. But if that growth is pretty fricken obvious, then you might want to sit down and think about the time you would need to invest into tearing the book apart and Frankensteining it into something else, versus the time you could be spending on a new and exciting project. The villain in Lady of Darkwood, for example, was incredibly ill defined. I remember asking a couple of my beta readers about what they thought their motivations were, and getting completely different answers (and both or them were dead wrong). This was a sign that I had been so focused on “shocking” the reader, that I hadn’t put enough thought into more important things, like character development. This was an incredibly rookie mistake. Your debut novel should represent the strongest work you have produced up until that date (or at least something close). If it doesn’t, then you have a problem.

Have I moved on as a reader?
I’m a big believer that you should write the type of book that you want to see more of in the world. Tamora Pierce, for example, wrote the Song of the Lioness Quartet because she wanted to read more books about girls being heroic, and was finding a serious lack of that published. Lady of Darkwood was conceived  when I was sixteen and reading a lot of young adult fantasy. And while I still enjoy books like that (speaking of Tamora Pierce, I’m really looking forward to checking out Tempests and Slaughter!), I, and the market at large has mostly moved on from the types of works that were popular in the late 90s/early 2000s. Red and Black, born out of my love for superhero comics, fast paced urban fantasy novels, and strong secondary romances, better reflects the stories that I am excited about reading today, which means I am more excited about writing them. And that’s important!

Is this book pushing me forward, or is it holding me back?
Have you spent years (maybe even a decade) working on a project that’s ultimately going nowhere? You might be. It’s a common problem with newbie writers. It was certainly was one for me. It’s hard not to look back on all of the time I spent re-writing those books, or querying agents and think about all of the hours I could have been pouring into another project. Could Red and Black have been finished earlier if I had only started it sooner?

Probably.

Which, if you too have spent years working on a novel that you realize needs to be trunked, sounds pretty depressing. But to that I’d say that failed projects don’t have to be viewed as wasted words. When it comes to writing, we seem to be under the impression that if it doesn’t get published, then the time you spent on it was pointless. And that’s bullshit. Through writing the Darkwood Trilogy (and other, less complete novels I wrote through my teens and twenties) I learned so much, Especially when it comes to structuring a series, developing characters, and working with beta readers. Had I not written the Darkwood trilogy, Red and Black would be a much, much weaker novel.

Just because a novel never sees the light of day, or is only read by those nearest and dearest to you, doesn’t mean that the time you spent on it is wasted.

So, if you have a Darkwood Trilogy in your life, you may want to sit down and take a serious look at it. Because sometimes trunking a novel is the best first step you can make towards starting your writing career.

At least it was for me.

This post is part of the brand new Author-in-Training Project, where I document my path to publishing Red and Black, and the lessons I’ve learned on the way. Please click on the Author-in-Training tag for more posts. There’s not much yet, but more will be arriving in the future.

Awesome Epic Fantasy- Check out my Review of Oathbringer

Attention Stormlight Archive fans! My review of Oathbringer is now up on Speculative Chic.

Oathbringer (2017) Author: Brandon Sanderson Narrated by: Kate Reading, Michael Kramer Genre: Epic Fantasy Series: The Stormlight Archive (Book 3) Length: 1,248 pages (Kindle); 55 h and 4 m (Audiobook)* Publisher: Tor Books Why I Chose It: I read Oathbringer as part of 2018’s Resolution Project. Also, I’m a big fan of both the series and the…

via Epic Characters, Epic Page Count: A Review of Oathbringer — Speculative Chic

Everything I Read in January, 2017

January was a really good month for reading, so I thought I’d chat about it for a bit. I’ve broken down what I’ve read into three categories: books and audioboks. graphic novels, and single issue comics. First off, books~

Books/Audiobooks
1. Calamity by Brandon Sanderson
2. The Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur Lafferty
3. The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron
4. The Obelisk Gate by NK Jemisin
5. Batgirl at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee

Clearly, my book reading in January was all about knocking a few books off of my 2017 TBR, and that seemed to work out well. Calamity was the third and final book in Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series. I liked it quite a bit, even if I feel like the book didn’t quite live up to the (admitted sky high) level of quality I came to expect from the first two books- Steelheart, and Firefight. Ghost Train to New Orleans is the second (and so far, last) urban fantasy novel in Laffery’s Shambling Guide series. I felt like the book did a nice job expanding the mythology of the series, even if the overall plot line wasn’t quite as interesting as the first book’s- which focused on Zoe becoming an editor for travel guides for the supernatural community. The Spirit Thief was the first book in Rachel Aaron’e Eli Monpress series, and it was a really fun read, albeit not as strongly written as some of Aaron’s later works. I’ve heard the author describe the series as a fighting anime in book form, and The Spirit Thief totally nails that motif. So if you’re a fan or Naruto or Bleach, make sure you check this one out.

The Obelisk Gate is the second book in The Broken Earth Trilogy, and delivered the same high quality writing and characterization that I’ve come to expect from NK Jemisin after seven novels. It was a pretty dark book though, so I took a mental break by delving into the latest book in the DC Superhero Girls series (Batgirl at Superhero High). This was another charming installment to this fun middle grade series, although I didn’t like it nearly as much as I did the first two. I’m somewhat concerned that the books (all which have focused on a new student finding their place at Superhero High) are becoming a little formulaic.

Graphic Novels
1. Wonder Woman: Land of the Dead by Greg Rucka
2. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and the Great Lakes Avengers by Various
3. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, vol 4: I Kissed a Squirrel and I Liked It by Ryan North/Erica Henderson
4. Wonder Woman, vol 9: Resurrection by Meredith Finch/David Finch
5. Wonder Woman: Missions End by Greg Rucka

For graphic novels this month, it was all about Wonder Woman and Squirrel Girl. The two works by Greg Rucka (Land of the Dad and Mission’s End) finished off Rucka’s fabulous run on Wonder Woman from about 10 years back. Mission’s End was a bit of a step down, as Rucka needed to weave in larger crossover elements into his own storylines, but, all things considered, I thought he handled that challenge better than most. I also read the final volume in Meredith Finch’s run (Resurrection), and through it was the strongest volume of her run yet. Unfortunately, the Finch run on Wonder Woman was plagued by problems from the beginning to the end, and I can’t honestly say how many of these issues were due to decisions by the creative team, and how many were due to those by DC at large. As a result, I’m quite glad to see them pass the torch to another team (which includes Greg Rucka again, ironically).

The Squirrel Girl graphic novels, on the other hand, were like friggen night and day. Volume 4 of the Ryan North/Erica Henerson run (I Kissed a Squirrel and I Liked It) was just as clever and enjoyable as I’ve come to expect from this creative team. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and the Great Lakes Avengers collection on the other hand was um… not. Don’t get me wrong, this volume, which collects Doreen’s pre-North/Henderson adventures has some good stuff, but those good comics have already been collected in OTHER Squirrel Girl trade paperbacks, as bonus comics. The remaining comics would have been better left forgotten. It’s also contains content that’s pretty adult (lots of violence, gore, and humor with a real cruel streak) which made me wonder why the hell they gave the collection such a kid-friendly cover. Very glad I went the library route with this one.

Comic Books
Black Widow #7
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 10 #30
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 11 #1
Lazarus #24
Lazarus #25
Paper Girls #8
Paper Girls #9
Paper Girls #10
Saga #37
Saga #38
Saga #39
Serenity: No Power in the Verse #1

January comic book reading was all about catching up on my single issues. And well… we’re not there yet. Maybe someday!