Friday, July 31, 2015

The 9th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - July Roundup (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

How to add your link:
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")

Monday, July 27, 2015

Reader's Diary #1179- John Kendrick Bangs: A Disputed Authorship

New term, to me anyway: Bangsian Fantasy, a genre of fiction that sees famous literary or historical figures interacting in the afterlife. I've seen the premise plenty of times, but didn't know there was a label (not that I'm shocked by that, of course!). The term originates from John Kendrick Bangs who first employed the device in A House-Boat on the River Styx.

"A Disputed Authorship" comes from that book, but most of the stories that comprise the book can stand on their own as long as you know the premise (i.e., that everyone who has ever died up to the publication is floating around the river Styx on a house-boat. This particular story sees Shakespeare, Nero, Charon, Lord Bacon, Emerson, Walter Raleigh, and Doctor Johnson gathering over a game of pool. The plot's not particularly heavy. Shakespeare is feigning offense after being accused of not writing his own material, but before the story is out, it's pretty clear he's a but of a conman, who most likely did not write his own material.

It's humorous and the distinct characterizations are done really well considering the sheer number of characters in the confines of a short story. The story itself isn't the most interesting thing in the world, but at the time, when the device was new, it must have seemed wildly entertaining.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Reader's Diary #1178- Gil Adamson: The Outlander

I'd heard enough praise of Gil Adamson's "gripping" Outlander to be quite excited to finally read this book. And at the beginning, I really was enjoying it. The premise was good; it's the wild West of Canada circa early 1900s and Mary Boulton is on the run. She's just killed her husband and her twin brothers-in-law are hunting her down. Certainly it had potential to be as gripping as everyone claimed and Mary was surely going to be the compelling character everyone made her out to be.

But, as you've already guessed based on my tone, I was let down. Bored, even. There are so many good starts to stories but they just drop, sometimes being picked up again later, sometimes not, and I thought it all resulted in a rather tedious mess.

Mary Boulton, the Widow, is shown early on to have hallucinations. This could complicate matters! Not really. Then there's a love affair with a wild mountaineer, a short time with a Native hunter, then she winds up in the ill-fated mining town of Frank, Alberta. Occasionally the twins pop up but not nearly often enough to remind this bored reader that Mary was actually on the run. I get that it was Mary's story, not the twins', but the book needed more streamlined peril to keep me awake. Otherwise the book felt like just a bunch of stuff that happened.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Reader's Diary #1177- Paul Jenkins (Writer) and Andres Guinaldo (Art): Son of Hulk, Dark Son Rising

(Collects Son of Hulk #s 13-17)

Earlier this year my daughter noticed me reading World War Hulk: Frontline and, knowing that I was interested in the Hulk character but finding it hard to get into that particular book, went looking for another one for me for Father's Day. The result of that search was Son of Hulk, Dark Son Rising.

She didn't know, of course, that Hulk himself would not appear in these pages, but that was okay. I was more hesitant for the fact that it began with #13 in the Son of Hulk series. If I complained that Frontline was difficult to get into as a casual fan, surely staring at #13 wasn't going to me much easier.

That turns out not to have been much of a problem. Apparently issues #1-12 focused on one of Hulk's son's, Skaar, while the 13th marked the beginning focus on Skaar's twin brother, Hiro-Kala, so I didn't feel that I missed too much back story to understand this one on its own.

But it did have other problems for me. Hiro-Kala is a violent young man. Perhaps even crazy violent. He's hellbent on killing Galactus for having destroyed his home planet, and part of his mysterious plan for revenge involves destroying another planet, poisoning it, before Galactus consumes it. That planet's inhabitants be damned.

No, Hiro-Kala isn't a likeable character. He may also be a bit on the crazy side, thinking he's a godthough he does get godlike powers, so maybe not completely crazy. I'm a little unclear about that stuff. He seems to have mastered control over something called the Old Power, which sounds a bit like the Force from Star Wars, and... well, anyway, it's strange and as I say, I didn't really understand it all.

I was also put off by all the angry violence. He's the son of Hulk, so you might wonder what I expected. Hulk's the big green rage monster, after all. But I'm starting to realize that what I've liked about the Hulk is the play with Bruce Banner, Hulk's calmer alter-ego. Banner provides balance. Hulk's Earth pals provide balance. But when there is no Banner and when every alien character seems to have been lifted from Frank Miller's 300, only interested in fighting and killing, it gets tiresome fast.

That said, there were some aspects I liked. I especially enjoyed the pseudo-Biblical tone of the book. As well, Guinaldo's art, while not particularly inventive, had a scratchy, classic semi-realistic style that lent to the air of mythical importance I think Jenkins was going for. That said, there's a bizarre amount of phallic imagery sprinkled throughout and I'm not sure what that was all about...

Monday, July 20, 2015

Reader's Diary #1176- Joe Stretch: Hartshill

Too often when people use the word "interesting" it's really a passive-aggressive way of saying "I don't get it and I think it's stupid." But I'm going to use it to describe Joe Stretch's "Hartshill" nonetheless.

 I don't quite get it, that's true. But there are things I liked. Told by a man waiting for a train and partaking in that most popular of pastimes, people-watching, I enjoyed this part. He captures the details of other peoples' lives like only the truly bored manage. But it was also intriguing. He's interested in a footballer's girlfriend and then starts to look her up on the internet. There's something off about it at first, but it's hard to put your finger on, because hey, everybody's Googled someone without them knowing. So, is it just putting such an action in print Stretch's way of editorializing society: look at how creepy we've become? Maybe, but then the narrator drops some minor details here or there that suggest, no, this guy's actually a bit more creepy than the norm. All of those important details disguised as throwaway details kind of bug me, like I'm not sure if they're intentionally vague or not, or if they are, if that's a good thing. As I say, interesting.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Reader's Diary #1175- Lisa Moore: The Challenges and Rewards of Re-entering the Workforce


Pedant: a person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules or with displaying academic learning.

If the name of Moore's "The Challenges and Rewards of Re-entering the Workforce" sounds too pedantic, more like an essay than the short story it is, I have to guess that it was intentional. What's interesting is that Moore does comes across as concerned with minor details in this story, but they work against the dry, business-like tone of the title. More about a group of women being cut from the workforce than entering it, the impact of their jobs on their lives, and their jobs on the lives of others, is reinforced right down to the very specific minutiae, the trivial taking on a higher, connected purpose.

It's a very compelling story and the switch between characters is almost hypnotic. It reminded me of the Birdman, the most recent Michael Keaton flick, where it came across like one, long continuous take, flowing from one life to another emphasizing how everyone and everything was intertwined.
Tree Planter Girl by Luc Forsyth, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License
   by  Luc Forsyth 

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Reader's Diary #1174- Jeff Lemire (writer), Mike McKone (art): Justice League United, Vol. 1

Justice League United made Canadian headlines last year when Jeff Lemire announced he would be using the series to introduce the first Cree superhero to the DC roster, Equinox. Given that importance, and coming from Jeff Lemire, of whom I'm clearly a fan, I was very much looking forward to this one. Sadly, I have to say that for the first time ever, a Lemire book has left be disappointed. It had to happen sometime, I suppose.

Starting with Equinox, she's an okay character I suppose, but her story (involving being chased by a monster in the woods near Moosonee) seems almost insignificant to the story involving the newly forming Justice League United: Animal Man, Hawkman, Supergirl, Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter, Adam and Alanna Strange, and Stargirl.

That said, if Equinox is underdeveloped the rest are but cardboard caricatures. Most of them I hadn't even heard of before, but was hoping to learn something, maybe even connect enough to explore them more fully. That didn't happen. But perhaps saddest of all was Animal Man, who Lemire had previously developed with so much depth in his own titular series. Here he's reduced to trading snide quips with Green Arrow.

The plot itself? Seems like a cross between Brian K. Vaughan's Saga series and Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira. A multi-race baby has been bred, with genes that including the fighting factions amongst many more, in the hopes that it will unite the opposing sides. But the baby has potential superpowers, dangerous powers if it should fall into the wrong hands. Of course the wrong hands appear and there are also those that want the baby destroyed. Justice League United, mostly under the leadership of Martian Manhunter who has bonded with the child, wants to protect it.

McKone's art is non-threatening, not innovative. But if I was complaining that it was too generic, I perhaps shouldn't have complained too loudly. There's a final story in this collected volume that is not drawn by McKone, but by Timothy Green. His certainly has a more distinct style, but I can't say it's one I appreciate. The females in particular have long, stretched out legs and tiny feet, and would look like Barbies except for hair that seems to float around them as if they're submerged underwater. All of which do nothing for the story. Style for the sake of style.

Would have I have felt as harsh had this not been Lemire and I didn't have such high expectations? Probably not, but then I'd probably not have read it either.