Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The 8th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - March 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")

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Reader's Diary #1135- Andrea Leask (Writer) and Alison McCreesh (Illustrator): Ty and The Fly

Ty and the Fly by Yellowknife locals Andrea Leask and Alison McCreesh is a short but wildly energetic and funny tale perfect for young kids and dog lovers of all ages. I don't really fit either of those categories (I don't mind dogs, per se...) but nonetheless I was charmed.

Ty is a young chocolate lab who, as dogs are wont to do, chases and swallows a hapless fly. And just like that other fly-swallowing story, it wiggles and wriggles and tickles inside him, making its way down to the tip of Ty's tail. Unlike that other story, Ty doesn't swallow a spider to catch the fly but decides to take matters into his own hands paws. Thus, the tail chasing, and subsequent hilarity begins. (Rest assured, there's a happy ending for both parties.)

Leask's rhymes and rhythms come fast and furious and McCreesh is more than capable of capturing that in her art, which could be a study in dog anatomy in motion it's that good. That goofy, curious and youthful puppy energy is reflected in Ty's eyes in just about every scene. My favourite page comes after Ty is dizzy and exhausted and has flopped to the floor:
(Please note that the colours are much brighter in the original.)

I love the angle of the words and the slight curve of the floorboards; it's as if the room is still spinning.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Reader's Diary #1134- Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Writer), Francesco Francavilla (Art): Afterlife with Archie, Escape from Riverdale

For someone who still denies being an Archie fan, I sure have read a lot of Archie comics in recent years. I am, it turns out, a fan of the Archie Comics company. Man, they've made a lot of cool and interesting decisions in recent years. Some good, some not so good, but hats off to them for keeping Archie relevant.

For someone who also denies being a zombie fan, I really underestimated how much I'd wind up enjoying Afterlife with Archie. These comics are fantastic.

Here's the crazy setup: Jughead's dog Hot Dog is accidentally run over and killed by Reggie. He goes to Sabrina's (the Teenage Witch) for help, who, against her aunts' wishes, uses a forbidden spell to resurrect Jughead's beloved pet. The dog, now a zombie, attacks Jughead, who winds up attacking Mr. Weatherbee and Ms. Grundy, and before you know it, Riverdale's under a full-blown zombie apocalypse.

It's fun, but very dark. I'd not say it's overly scary exactly, but if zombie fans are worried about a childish take on the horror genre, they needn't be. Aguirre-Sacasa is both loyal to the Archie personalities, but at the same time seems to take perverse pleasure in deconstructing it. There's some pretty unwholesome stuff here. Nothing particularly shocking for zombie fare, perhaps, but even par-for-the-course zombie stuff is shocking by Archie standards.

And Francavilla's artwork is sublime. Toying with the iconic Archie looks must have been a tricky task. People have tried to revamp it before and failed miserably. On the other hand, the classic cartoony characters would have seemed too silly and taken away from the chills they were going for. Here was an alternate cover by Andrew Pepoy to prove my point:
Although "not scary" is the lesser of the two wrongs with this scene.
The balance Francavilla strikes is just about perfect. But what really pulls it off is the colouring. Colour is used very, but purposefully, sparingly. Most panels are monochromatic with either orange or purple, sometimes a combination, and a lot of black space. The result is Archie, Halloween,  shadowy, sinister, and cool:

From a historical standpoint I'm also amused that the company is producing these, considering that John L. Goldwater, who co-founded Archie Comics back in the 40s, was also largely responsible for the now infamous Comics Code Authority that sought to censor comics, including horror. William Gaines (now best known perhaps for having been the longest running publisher of MAD Magazine) initially himself suggested the code as an industry run standard to stave off outside censorship, but soon found his horror line of comics especially targeted by Goldwater and the CCA. And now, some 70 years or so later, look at that cover at the top of the post. The image looks like it could have been been right at home on Gaines' Tales from the Crypt. Now it's on Archie Comics? Goldwater must be spinning in his grave. (Mwah-haa-haa.)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Reader's Diary #1133- Kailee Carr: Qu?ušin (Raven)


A major reason why I chose this week's short story is because of its traditional spelling, with the question mark looking symbol and the diacritical mark above the s. It reminded me of a very important issue going on in the Northwest Territories at the moment which began when Shene Catholique Valpy chose to give her daughter a traditional Chipewyan name and was told that it couldn't be registered because it featured a glottal stop and could only feature Roman orthography characters. Supposedly our territory has 11 official languages, including Chipewyan. Good for Valpy for fighting this.

Not that that case has any bearing on Carr's "Qu?ušin" (though I'll also note that the em-dashes in the story also show up, for some reason, as different characters, so be forewarned those are not intentional!)

Qu?ušin is about an angry youth who has moved back to his mother's childhood community. Here he meets an Elder who has the patience of a saint, and perhaps not surprisingly, breaks through the boy's defenses. It's simply told, but told in the first person, so simple is fitting (considering the age of the main character). It's got a predictable plot, as I've already suggested, except for the raven character who thankfully adds more emotional depth.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Reader's Diary #1132: Susan Hughes (writer), Willow Dawson (illustrations): No Girls Allowed

I had high hopes for No Girls Allowed, mostly because of its subtitle: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure. Important message + love + adventure? I'm in!

Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed. Susan Hughes' stories of seven historical females from all over the world who, for various reasons, chose to dress as men fell oddly flat. At 77 pages, none of these women's lives or exploits were treated with a lot of depth. Facts were basic and time just clipped along methodically to the next fact, interspersed with the occasional snippets of stiff ex- or in- ternal dialogue.

Dawson's artwork was slightly better. It was certainly a unique style, but not a lot of range. Heavy in black and white inks, colour may have added much needed variety. Plus a bit more detail in the backgrounds could have kept things a bit more interesting.

In all the package felt rushed and overly simple, even for the younger audience it was aimed at. I think I would have enjoyed it more had Hughes and Dawson spent the time to turn this into a series. Instead of a chapter each, an entire book each.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Reader's Diary #1131- Kyle Thomas: Yellowknife Street Stories

At the end of Yellowknife Street Stories, author and photographer Kyle Thomas thanks the individuals he has profiled in his book while saying, "It is your stories that make up this book; I am simply the storyteller."

"Simply the storyteller" is Kyle being as he always is humble. Talking with people, mostly homeless, on the streets of Yellowknife, recording snippets from their complex stories and photographing their deceivingly simple smiles, would not have been possible, or at least not have been as honest, without Kyle's humility. You can tell how Kyle has gently guided their conversations to find out where this small fragment of our Yellowknife population has hailed from and clues as to why they came to be here and on the streets and how they are currently surviving. You can tell they trusted Kyle and though I don't know Kyle well I met him only a couple of times on the small and inconsistent Yellowknife blogging circuit it does not surprise me.

Besides Kyle's natural charm I am also sure that there must have been a lot of hard work. The people in this book cannot, of course, be condensed to a mere page or 2, and I am sure Kyle collected many more details and anecdotes than presented here. However, he has thoughtfully and skillfully chosen just the right stuff to differentiate between each of these people, destroy the illusion that "street people" must all be cut from the same cloth. Accentuating that theme are his stunning photos. It's remarkable that in almost all of them his subjects are smiling. Most of us with homes have trouble even fathoming finding happiness without one, yet for this moment they are smiling. And even then, Kyle has managed to so honestly depict these people that their differences are obvious. Some seem to smile merely because there's a camera present, some seem to smile to convince themselves that they are happy, and more, thankfully, seem genuinely happy.

There's little editorializing here and Kyle has also not put anyone on a pedestal. He acknowledges in his introduction that he makes no guarantees about the truth of the stories within or of the characterizations people present of themselves. Still, one message is loud and clear, everyone is individual and everyone is human. It's a simply beautiful message, but one we often forget.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Reader's Diary #1130- Jerome K. Jerome: The Man Who Did Not Believe in Luck


There's a pleasant, old-fashioned charm to Jerome K. Jerome's "The Man Who Did Not Believe in Luck." It's amusing, not hilarious, but it has that Stephen Leacock sort of tone, where you feel invited to his park bench to smile at the locals; the locals who are in all honesty, just a little more quirky than either of you.

The joke of "The Man Who Did Not Believe in Luck" is that the man clearly does believe in luck— just not good luck.

There are a few details lacking that once or twice made the story a bit difficult to follow and I wondered if there hadn't been a paragraph missing somewhere. Still, it's the kind of story where the inclusion of such details would still have only improved it to a degree. It was pleasant as it was, and that's all it would ever be.

Horseshoe by taberandrew, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License
   by  taberandrew