Monday, October 31, 2016

The 10th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - October Roundup (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

1. Click on the icon above
2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)
3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as John Mutford (Anne of Avonlea)
4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")

And in prize news, Lisa has won a signed copy of Jeff Lemire's The Underwater Welder for taking part in last month's mini-challenge to read a Canadian graphic novel. Congratulations, Lisa! (Canadian Book Challenge mini-challenges are exclusive to members via email.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Reader's Diary #1404: David Alexander Robertson (writer), Scott B. Henderson (artist): Sugar Falls

I have found myself reading many of David Alexander Robertson's comics this year, despite frequently complaining of the same issue: the unnecessary frame stories. So why keep going back? I nonetheless admire Robertson's goals of highlighting the lives and events of various Indigenous Canadians.

Sugar Falls: A Residential School Story also comes with a rather insignificant frame story (a high school teen has to do an assignment about residential schools), but fortunately that part is brief and soon the woman named Betsy who he decides to interview shares her memories and this is beautifully done.

While the hardships and ugliness are not ignored (physical and emotional abuse is shown, sexual abuse is implied), this is ultimately a story of support and resilience. In one powerful scene, Betsy is attending the funeral of a friend who drowned while trying to escape. She is not to young to miss the hypocrisy of the priest who preaches for the dead girl, even though he was the one she'd been trying to escape.

Henderson does an admirable job capturing the raw emotional scenes, especially from a young person's eyes. The priest and a nun, for example, are often seen glowering from above.

Sugar Falls is based on the true recollections of Betty Ross, an Elder from Cross Lake First Nation.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Reader's Diary #1403- Dan Slott (writer), various artists: She-Hulk The Complete Collection

I wasn't sure what to expect with a She-Hulk collection. I'd encountered the character only in ensemble comics before and to be honest, she never made much of an impression. Worse, she was sometimes there just for overly sexualized eye-candy. I knew of her origin story (created from a blood transfusion from her cousin, the Hulk, which smacks of the whole Eve/Adam's rib thing) and even the name She-Hulk makes her sound like an afterthought.

There are some traces of sexism still prevalent in Dan Slott's She-Hulk collection, don't get me wrong. In one scene she seems to imply that she misses being cat-called granted this may have been over her car, not her body. But by and large, I think Slott respected and enjoyed writing for this character. And the result? I too came to respect and enjoy reading about this character.

One of the more compelling things about She-Hulk is the way she usually actually enjoys being a Hulk. This is a great contrast to her cousin Bruce Banner who typically fears and shuns his out-of-control rage monster. Perhaps She-Hulk's (Jen Walters') healthier take is a result of her seeing a therapist on a regular basis (one Doc Samson) to take care of her mental health, or perhaps it's also a part of her age. In this collection, She-Hulk is a millennial just at the beginning of a very successful law career. As most at this stage in life, she's still finding herself, struggling to find that balance between fun and responsibility, and really her alter-ego is just an extension of that. Granted, as a superhero she also has a few more traumatic points in her past, which brings me to my next point about why this collection is so great.

If you've never read a She-Hulk comic before and may only have a loose grasp on the character, this is an excellent jumping on point. Slott not only does a remarkable job defining the character, but also effortlessly schools readers on She-Hulk's past. Organically worked into the story, memorable and important She-Hulk story-lines are all revisited while helping round out who she is now and focus where she is going.

And on top of all this, I've not yet mentioned how funny it all is and all the original creative touches. The humor is classic Marvel (a blend of self-deprecation and slapstick) and one of my favourite features of the collection was the role of Marvel comics themselves. She-Hulk's law firm uses them as legal reference guides, referring to old editions and story-lines as if the comics were but historical documents in comic form. Loved it.

The art is fine, on the generic side. The cover art (for the individual comics inside), was, however, fantastic, with a more realistic tone. It's too bad, in a way, that the entire comics couldn't be drawn like that. But, I suppose, as they came out so fast in their original single volumes that such a level of artistry couldn't be maintained. Also, to be fair, the less realistic tone might fit the humour a little better.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Reader's Diary #1402- Julius Long: The Pale Man

When it comes to delivering up real chills in horror, pacing is everything. Which is really silly when you think about it. Why do ghosts and demons and other spooks take so long getting the job done? Nonetheless, if you want your readers, viewers, listeners, filled with a sense of dread you've got to nurse that baby along.

Julius Long's "The Pale Man" is a great example of this. Set in a quiet, nearly vacant hotel, the narrator, who is staying at one end of a long floor, becomes obsessed with the strange and off-putting pale man staying in a room at the opposite end. It doesn't help (but it does, of course), that the pale man switches rooms every day, inching slower and slower to the narrator's own.

As with most horror, the fear goes away once you analyze it, but it was certainly fun to let myself play along while reading "The Pale Man."

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Reader's Diary #1401- Teva Harrison: In-Between Days

I complain a lot about the art in superhero comics and usually it's because it's too generic. One superhero comic tends to look like the rest. I will add, however, that most of this art is technically fine. A million times better than I could do. Interestingly, memoir comics often are not technically fine. Sometimes it's rough as all hell. Still, it makes artistic sense. A lot of these (Tangles, Rosalie Lightning, and Teva Harrison's In-Between Days) have cathartic intentions and that doesn't typically allow a lot of time for intricacies and edits. More curious is the fact that some of these artists have created something beautiful and poignant when it is looked at as a whole.

In-Between Days is a graphic memoir about living with metastatic breast cancer. If you are unclear about what that is, as I was, it's an incurable breast cancer; it will spread and kill you. Treatment is about prolonging a life as much as possible in as much comfort as possible. As one might imagine, the emotional toll this must take can be as rough as the physical.

There are, as you would expect, tremendously sad moments. I found a scene with Harrison going into an MRI incredibly lonely. There were doctors on the other side, but they were on the other side. There's another scene when she's lying awake beside her sleeping husband trying in vain to keep the negative thoughts away. But Harrison ultimately is upbeat, loving and appreciating life. That sleeping husband? Supportive, loving, and loved in return, beyond any doubt. There are even traces of humour in the unlikeliest of places.

One scene that stood out to me finds Harrison in a support group. "There are no atheists among the stage 4 cancer patients," she observes, then adding, "except for me." With an accompanying essay she elaborates by stating how she would like to believe in an afterlife, but just can't. I suppose I could chalk it up as another way cancer can make you lonely-- what if you can't even relate to your support group? But it actually made me admire her more and not out of some kinship to atheism, but because I appreciated how resilient she was, not allowing cancer to change her completely.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Reader's Diary #1400- Tom Stoppard: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

We live so much in our own heads that it's reasonable we'd consider ourselves the protagonists of our own stories. But what if we are minor, supporting characters in someone else's story?

Though Tom Stoppard's  Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead presents itself as an absurdist comedy, I have to say, when the fatalistic thought above occurred to me while reading the play, it clanged about in my head and bothered me more than it had any right.

Still, now that I'm done, I suppose it doesn't matter a hill of beans, so comedy was the way to go after all. Else it's all a little depressing, isn't it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Reader's Diary #1399- Devon Code: In a Mist

I don't read a lot of short story collections, but for the past many years I've been reading and reflecting upon a short story per week as part of Short Story Mondays and I consider myself a fan of the form. Perhaps that's why I bristle somewhat when someone, someone who has not adequately given the short story a chance, declares themselves uninterested with a nonsense excuse like short stories being incomplete or unrealized, not having enough space to fully develop both character and plot. And perhaps those people are why, when I come across a short story that doesn't make the best use of its condensed space, I am almost resentful.

That opening paragraph doesn't bode well for Devon Code's short story collection In a Mist.

However, I will say, on a positive note, that Code has a real knack for description. The places, each unique from story to story, felt authentic. The characters had depth and complex motivation. Still, I couldn't shake the feeling that the plots themselves were vague. And worse, vague masquerading as profound.

Tellingly, the one I remember and enjoyed the most from this collection, "Edgar and Morty," did seem to follow the more traditional conflict and resolution format.

But I'll also give the benefit of a doubt that as I'm not much of a re-reader (a downside to my one short story a week practice), maybe the plots in the rest of the stories were just buried a little bit deeper and required either a second read or at the very least, a slower, more considerate read. Still, I think it's fair to say that if you were not a fan of short stories before, In a Mist would not convert you.