Saturday, January 31, 2015

The 8th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - January 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")

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Reader's Diary #1115- R. A. Montgomery, illustrated by Keith Newton: The Haunted House

Well, this really sucked.

Looking for a Choose Your Own Adventure title, since I was such a fan of the series as a kid, I came upon The Haunted House by R. A. Montgomery. If you're familiar with the series, you may note that this one doesn't look the way they did in the 80s. That's probably because this is from an updated Dragonlarks series, which is aimed at younger audiences. There's nothing on the book indicating that this series is aimed at a younger audience, though it says so on their website, and in any case, it becomes pretty apparent early on.

It also becomes pretty apparent that they don't think too highly of younger readers. It's awful. My son, who read it before me, was most unimpressed by the fact that every ending was happy. Hmmm, I thought, I don't recall that always being the case. Why do they all need to be happy? Young kids shouldn't learn that there may be negative consequences to their actions?

Nor did I remember all the cop-out endings where it all turned out to be a dream . The cover I show above says "12 possible endings," whereas our copy had 18, 3 of which ended with "you" (they're written in the 2nd person remember) waking up. There was also almost no attempt to stick with a theme. Besides entering the house (which you end up inside even if you choose not to), there's little in the way of scary, except for a crocodile-- not exactly a haunted house creature-- which ends up having rubber teeth and crying because he just wanted to be your friend. Gag. Then there's unicorns, a cream-puff house, a flying boat, and at one point you're walking on a sunbeam. It's more fantasy than horror. Again, I know it's aimed at younger readers, but even a friendly ghost or silly witch  would have been on topic.

I wondered if, because it was written in the 2000s and for younger readers, maybe it was just a poor attempt at rebooting the series. But then I noticed that the author was responsible for so many of the classic ones from my youth.

If you want to keep the illusion that your childhood tastes were great, leave them as memories.

If you want to destroy that illusion, reread and rewatch your old favourite books and TV shows.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Reader's Diary #1114- Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj, translated by A. Delgermaa: Dark Rock


"Dark Rock" by Mongolian writer, Dashdorjiin Natsagdori, begins with what appears to be a failed mnemonic in a diary, "Saturday, August 30. Dark Rock. Nina." He believes it may have been a reminder from a long lost love, and as it happens to be Saturday, August 30, he supposes that they were suppose to meet today, but exactly where is even more cryptic. He sets out in search for any place that might be considered Dark Rock.

I'll try not to give it away, but I'll say that it occurred to me sometime after reading it how much it reminded me of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven." Nina is Lenore, the dark rock could, perhaps, be the raven, and nevermore is Saturday, August 30. Though that last one changes the entire state of affairs, I can't decide if it's more or less hopeless than Poe's.

Mongolia by ..zuzu.., on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License
   by  ..zuzu.. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Reader's Diary #1113- Adrian Dingle: Nelvana of the Northern Lights

One of the books I was most hoping to get my hands on last year was the collected Nelvana of the Northern Lights by IDW Publishing. Still with a lot to learn about the history of comics, I was shocked that Nelvana had not crossed my radar until then. It's especially unusual that I also pride myself on Northern literature and Nelvana was largely set here. Nelvana, where have you been all my life?

Just in case you're like I was, unfamiliar with Nelvana, here's a few basic tidbits:
  • Created by Adrian Dingle for Triumph Comics in 1941, she was one of the very first female superheroes, even predating Wonder Woman
  • The daughter of Koliak, king of the Northern Lights and an unnamed mortal, and sister to Tanero, who has the ability to transform into a Great Dane
  • Super powers included flying, invisibility, and turning into dry ice
  • Name was based on an Inuit woman from the Kugluktuk, passed along to Dingle by Franz Johnston, of the Group of Seven fame
  • The series lasted for 6 years, with every issue being written and drawn by Dingle
  • Nelvana was featured on a postage stamp in 1995
First off, huge props to IDW for the packaging. The hardcover and artwork has a retro-cool, classy vibe, underscoring the importance of the character and her comics. Plus they've included a whole slew of extras that enhance the product, from historical information, to insightful commentary, to various other artist interpretations of the character (the only one I recognized was Jeff Lemire, though there are plenty of great ones).

But beyond the historical significance and well-put together product, is it any good? I wasn't holding my breath for that. Old superhero comics tend to be pretty cheesy and often offensive. To be sure, Nelvana was both of those things. (The depictions of Japanese people is downright awful.) Still, the writing and artwork wasn't as bad as Captain Canuck and indeed, there were things I liked. In particular I was surprised and intrigued by Dingle's panel work. I thought that most superhero comics traditionally stuck to rectangular frames that acted as pretty rigid containers, and horizontal layouts. In Nelvana, however, Dingle toyed with other shapes, such as circles and irregular shapes, often speech balloons and characters extended outside of the panels, and sometimes the panels were even placed at a diagonal to the page. The result is frenetic and perfectly matches the fast-paced adventure stories.

I think Nelvana could make a comeback. These 6 years worth of comics present a very inconsistent and imperfect view of Nelvana. Her ethnicity seems to vary; her brother gets forgotten altogether; and her superpowers seem to come and go, often with new ones suddenly appearing just in time. And, like many old superhero comics, they're largely plot-driven, without a lot of sense of who Nelvana is as a person. But as Benjamin Woo points out in an essay at the beginning, writers of superhero comics have often played with their characters and storylines, dropped powers and plots are not uncommon, but typically a lot of these wrinkles work themselves out over time and readers eventually end up with a consistent idea of the character and what he or she is all about. 6 years was simply not long enough. However, I think there are enough seeds to bring this character back to life.

I also think some of those weaknesses can work in the book's favour if done right. An obvious hurdle a new writer would need to approach carefully and with sensitivity is her race. Nelvana is presented early in the series as one of the Inuit, yet she is drawn different from them, and later she approaches them as an outsider, as if she never had been an Inuk at all. What's interesting though is that her mother's identity is never revealed, only that she was a mortal. Perhaps it could be that Nelvana never knows her human race, switching into the guise of whatever ethnicity she currently is working around, feels a connection with, or as necessary. This could also provide the character-building that she was so sorely lacking in the old comics. It could be a source of tension between her and her father who refuses to tell her her mother's identity. It would allow brave and sensitive writers all sorts of challenging cultural/societal exploration and complex themes. Perhaps authors of all ethnic backgrounds could eventually have a shot at the character.  It couldn't just be that of course, it would still need to be primarily about superpowers, crime-fighting, and mystery-solving, but with mature, intelligent, and insightful social commentary underneath it all, I'd be in!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Reader's Diary #1112- ZZ Packer: Gideon


Before getting into today's short story, a quick explanation to my dwindling readers: I know I haven't been blogging much since the new year, but I've been really busy. I've still been finding some time to read, mind you, and I'm about 3/4 of the way through about half a dozen books. That means that soon there'll be a lot of posting, just not quite yet. On that note, I thank you for your patience.

I still, of course, make time for short stories, and this week's story, "Gideon" by ZZ Packer is quite the doozy. I really enjoyed it, but I'm still trying to decide what to make of it. If it sounds like I'm suggesting that it's a challenging story, I guess in a way it is, but not the for the wordy, magical realism, stream of consciousness offenses that usually give me trouble. On the surface, "Gideon" is a pretty straight-forward, easy to follow story. It's told by a black woman who is dating a Jewish man. The relationship seems to wearing thin, evidenced by her annoyance over his constant philosophizing. Then they have a pregnancy scare the woman makes an interesting choice. It's the choice that's left me unsettled. I feel like there's a moral here, or that we're somehow supposed to justify or at least understand her actions. There are definite themes in the story about racial differences, gender differences, and just plain personality differences, but in the end I can't tie any of it to her choice. But for all that, her choice seems plausible and in character. I'm still scratching my head over it

This is not in any way a complaint. In fact, I enjoy this kind of challenge. But I think I'll need help with this one. If you decide to give it a go, please let me know what you think.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Reader's Diary #1111- Morgen Bailey: Albeit for Small Mercies


Ah, flash fiction and 2nd person point of view. Two of my favourites come together in Morgen Bailey's "Albeit for Small Mercies." Not that I wasn't a little skeptical. In the preamble, Bailey states that wrote the story earlier that morning, finishing just 30 seconds ago. As one who blogs, and publishes, and edits after-the-fact (if at all), I know from experience how rough these rushed pieces can be and how prone to typos they are. That doesn't mean that I don't demand more of those I read!

Thankfully, Bailey's story works and appears error-free (not that I mightn't have missed something). It's about you (it's 2nd person after all), negotiating the "glass is half empty/ glass is half full" debate. Let's face it, you do this all the time. We all do. I like it better we have the chance to do this for ourselves rather than someone else waving their finger in your face and snarkily saying, "first world problems!" the second you complain that one of your apps keeps crashing. As for which glass scenario wins in Bailey's story, you'll just have to read it to find out.

It's a quick, amusing, relatable tale with everyday poignancy.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Reader's Diary #1110- Lee Kvern: In Search of Lucinda


Lee Kvern's "In Search of Lucinda"begins with an off-duty police officer coming home, somewhat intoxicated, on a July afternoon with a couple of buddies and women in tow. It's a slightly jarring scene to picture these 5 individuals come into a family's suburban household in broad daylight with the wife and children still there. It's also certainly not a scene I can relate to in anyway, but Kvern is so evocative in her imagery it's nonetheless a believable (and uncomfortable) scene.

It also takes a while to discover what the point of it all is, despite the title which in hindsight told me the plot. Still, despite the slow paced, barely there, plot there's so much to see that I hardly cared (though it's a good thing this was a short story, I suspect it would grow wearisome over a whole novel). Plus, the ending is touching in a brief way, and made the whole thing worth it.