Sunday, August 31, 2014

The 8th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - August 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, July 31, 2014

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reader's Diary #1146- Margaret Laurence: The Stone Angel

I'm finally on the board for the 8th Canadian Book Challenge. What kind of host am I, taking this long? You'd think I'd set a better example.

Anyway, at least I'm in with a good one: Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel. A classic. As a fan of A Bird in the House and the Diviners, I don't really know why it's taken me until now to get around what it is arguably Laurence's best known work. For that matter, I'm not entirely sure why I'm such a fan. When I hear people complain about CanLit, with its slow-paced, character-driven, landscapey dreariness, I've usually offered them Alice Munro, begged them, to please use her as an example. Name names! I cried. But then, if I'm being fair, Laurence's work also matches those unfortunate labels. There's only one reason I forgive Laurence for it: she does it freakishly well.

The Stone Angel is once again insightful, beautifully written, and Hagar belongs is a top 10 list of best-developed Canadian literary characters of all time (the others being Anne Shirley of course, Barney Panofsky, Sheilagh Fielding, and... I don't know? The Paperbag Princess? Let's just say top 5 list for now until I think more on this). Noticed I said best-developed, not likeable. She's enjoyable to read, not entirely detestable, but certainly annoying in her prideful, demanding, and snobbish ways. She's also funny, but in a CanLit sort of way, so if you haven't read the book already, I hope you're not expecting Marg, Princess Warrior or anything that outlandish. (Saying that, I think Mary Walsh could do a marvelous job portraying her in a movieno I didn't see Ellen Burstyn's 2007 take on the character). Because Hagar is so old, I started to think the book actually might have more appeal today than when it was written in 1964. With our great number of baby boomers slowly moving into the oldest demographic, and the societal costs of this move, I figure it must be about time the world focuses on them again instead of being so obsessed with youth. Alas, this, this, this, and this. So, if Hagar has anything to say about feeling ostracized in your last years on Earth, shut up. Millennials!

The theme of pride runs through the book and treated with due respect. More often, Laurence seems to making a point about the folly of pride, but not simplifying the issue, there are times when I think I understood at least where the pride came from and even the occasional time that I thought it was necessary. Hagar, despite her increasing senility or maybe sometimes even because of it, is not a static character and, though it isn't handed to a reader in certain terms, learns something about herself and others over the course of the book.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Reader's Diary #1145- Jennifer Elle: Orange Forest


I'm back from a great vacation in Ontario and Newfoundland. In Ontario, I finally got to see Niagara Falls (and the awesomely quirky town around it), and in my hometown in Newfoundland, the insane amount of icebergs and whales in the area were like something from a tourism commercial. Still, after three and a half weeks living out of a suitcase, we were all looking forward to coming home to Yellowknife.

Niagara Falls
Humback Whale TailIceberg

The forest fires had started before we left, we heard about them on the National news while we were gone, but still we hoped they'd be under control by the time we returned. Alas, when we stepped off the plane it smelled like a campfire. Driving past Frame Lake, we couldn't see the cityscape on the other side, as we normally can. Our windows have to be closed. Just walking to the mailbox my eyes sting. It's costing about a million dollars a day to fight them and forests here take forever to regrow.

Summers in Yellowknife are normally beautiful and can almost make up for the ridiculously long and cold winters. Not this year.

On that note, I figured I might as well embrace it and look for a short story about forest fires. I found Jennifer Elle's "Orange Forest," a flash fiction story about a forest fire which manages to work in a love story, or a love story that manages to work in a forest fire.

I wasn't wild about the way it started. There's such an abundance of adjectives and figurative language in the second paragraph that I almost lost track of reality. What's describing what?

However, the story goes in an unexpected direction and there's such a strong taste of regret in the wrap-up that I could almost forgive the first half.

Northwest Territories Forest Fire by KyleWiTh, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License
   by  KyleWiTh 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Reader's Diary #1144- Joel Thomas Hynes: Conflict of Interest

(This is a pre-written post scheduled to appear while I'm on vacation in Newfoundland.)

Many moons ago I read and discussed Joel Hynes's novel Down to the Dirt with a friend of mine. If memory serves, we had very differing opinions. While I somewhat enjoyed the hard-living, wild voice of the narrator, my friend thought it forced (and he also suspected that it wasn't too far off the image that Hynes likes to project of himself; so forced and lazy at the same time).

Hynes' short story "Conflict of Interest," unfortunately won't settle any arguments. The story of a guy who winds up in a drunk tank, one normally guarded by his grandfather, is, I'll concede, written with more of the same cocky, look-how-cool-and-rebellious-I-am voice. So perhaps Hynes is a lazy writer. I'm certainly not seeing a range yet.

That said, I still enjoyed it. Sure, I didn't like the narrator, but there's some great description in there, with the occasional insightful or amusing thought and rich imagery, plus enough action to keep me interested. Shades of Bukowski? I can't knock that.

The Black Series II - Smirnoff by DOS82, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License
   by  DOS82 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reader's Diary #1143- William Lawson: The Story Untold

(This is a pre-written post scheduled to appear while I am on vacation in Newfoundland.)

Stories with a twist are hard to discuss without providing spoilers. Heck, by merely saying there's a twist, I've done spoiled it.

It's still worth a look though. For me, I was kind of surprised to see a Newfoundland story that reminded me so much of the Northwest Territories. Talking of a man setting off to live by himself in an isolated cabin in Newfoundland and then finding out that he's in over his head, is the biography of about a dozen or so early explores in the Northwest Territories as well. It's funny though; I realize that Newfoundland can provide a harsh and dangerous environment as well, growing up there I never found its nature as intimidating as I do here. It's not that I was super explorer there either, but overall the province felt comfortable.

For such a short story, Lawson still does a fine job describing the setting and people. It also helps that the story keeps you guessing.

Cabin In The Woods

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Monday, July 07, 2014

Reader's Diary #1142- Darlene Guetre: Alpha and Omega

(This is a pre-written post, scheduled to appear while I am in Newfoundland.)

Years back I complained a little when Newfoundland poet Ken Babstock wrote about crowberries. Newfoundlanders usually refer to them as blackberries and I felt he was pandering to a mainland audience, destroying authenticity in the process. In Darlene Guetre's "Alpha and Omega" I suspected a similar thing happening as she spoke of "murres." Murres, for those who may not have heard of them before, are black and white seabirds about the size of a duck. They're quite common in Newfoundland, where they are hunted (my dad thinks they're delicious, me not so much), but go by the slightly different name: turrs. Don't ask me why the m got changed to a t, as I don't have the foggiest idea, but it was enough to distract me while reading Guetre's story.

"Alpha and Omega" is a flash fiction story about a man on a cliff contemplating suicide. However, he is not alone, sharing the cliff with a colony of murres. Their presence and his respect for their history is enough to set things right. His death would upset the balance.

But who is this guy? Is he a tourist? Why does he refer to them as murres? Maybe Guetre herself is not from Newfoundland? 

In the end, that one word choice is hardly problematic; a small distraction to an otherwise interesting story that is more hopeful than it appears at first glance.

Murres by steena, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License
  by  steena