Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The 7th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - April 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")

**Note: The winner of the Freedom to Read Week mini-challenge was Carolyn Riedel. Congratulations to her! She will receive a copy of Vicki Delany's Gold Web:

(Once again, a huge thanks to Dundurn Press for graciously donating the prize!)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Northwords Writers Festival - 2014 Authors

Yellowknife's prestigious Northwords Writers Festival is coming up once again, heading into its 8th year. In the past they've hosted such notable and acclaimed authors as Michael Crummey, Douglas Coupland, Charlotte Gray, Michael Kusugak, Kathy Reichs, Richard Van Camp and many more. So who's slated for this year's festival, being held from June 5th to the 8th?

It looks like the headliner (not that they call it that) is none other than Robert J. Sawyer, probably Canada's most famous current sci-fi writer (remember, Atwood calls her stuff "speculative fiction," presumably while casting the tip of her nose towards her crystal chandelier). Sawyer's won Hugo and Nebula awards and had a (albeit short-lived) series on ABC-TV.

Other authors making the voyage north of 60 this year, according to the Northwords website, include:
  • Hayden Trenholm
  • Liz Westbrook-Trenholm
  • Dave Bidini
  • Todd Babiak
  • Monique Gray Smith
  • Billeh Nickerson
  •  Tara Lee Morin
I've got mixed feelings about this year's guests. I've heard of about half and am excited to discover the others, but I'm disappointed with myself that a writers festival in Canada can have an entire roster of writers that I've barely read. I've read short stories by Sawyer and Hayden Trenholm, but that's it. Goodbye "Well Read Canadian" badge.

I jest, of course. I'm happy for the Northwords committee for this wonderful guest list and wish them the best of luck. I hope to at least take in some of the events, and if you're a Yellowknifer pay attention to their website and to local media to see more announcements on events and venues.

In the meantime, here are links to the lone stories I've read by 2 of the above authors:

Robert J. Sawyer- "Forever"
Hayden Trenholm- "Like Monsters of the Deep"

(Gulp! I just realized that neither of those reviews were exactly glowing. Maybe I'll try to steer away from those guys. Or go incognito.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Reader's Diary #1111- Akbar Raadi, translated by Roya Monajem: The Rain

"He wanted to say something, but the words were sleeping between his lips." 

There are more than a few phrases like this scattered throughout Akbar Raadi's "The Rain" and thus more than a few times that I can't decide whether or not it's poetry or a bad Google translate.

Set in Iran, I believe during a drought, "The Rain" is a miserable tale about a couple about to have a meal that seems to consist of nothing but melon. What's making them so miserable? There's the drought, of course, but there's also debts that need to be paid (related to the drought), the absence of someone named Ramezan (a son, maybe?) that was taken away by soldiers, and something about a rooster. If I seem unclear about the details, it's because I am. But in the story's defense, I am left wanting more. Perhaps the description is lacking and/or confusing, but the raw emotion is certainly present.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Reader's Diary #1110- Keith Halliday: Yukon River Ghost

I brought Keith Halliday's Yukon River Ghost back from the Yukon this past summer and just recently had the chance to read it with my daughter.

Yukon River Ghost is historical fiction, set in the Yukon, early 1900s. It is the supposed found journals of a young girl named Papillon who was living for a summer in Canyon City, a figurative, and as it turns out literal, ghost town just outside of Whitehorse. (We visited the site last summer, and with the exception of an old wooden tram car, there was little left to seeexcept for beautiful nature, of course!)

I was interested in the book at first, feeling that it had a Scooby-Doo Mystery sort of vibe, only with a lot of interesting Yukon facts and factoids thrown into the mix. Unfortunately, that Scooby-Doo comparison became a problem.

First off, in Scooby-Doo, more often than not the supernatural elements turned out to be hoaxes (with people tearing off ghost-pirate masks at the end and cursing out those meddling kids and their dog). So, I kept expecting to discover that the ghost in this book was going to turn out to be a hoax as well. He didn't. Which is just fine, I suppose, I can't blame Halliday for my assumptions. But...

Second, I remembered that Scooby-Doo wasn't all that great anyway. Sure, Halliday's book has the added bonus of educational trivia, but it also has more than a few cheesy and/or implausible moments. The ghost, for instance, visits Papillon's house every night, rattling chains and generally making all sorts of noise— or at least enough noise to wake up Papillon anway, but not her mother? Ever? That's a little convenient. 

Anyway, I don't think my age group was the intended audience. I think most kids (like my own) will be interested enough, and maybe learn a thing or two, even if it's not destined to be the next greatest children's novel.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Reader's Diary #1109- Eugene O'Neill: The Iceman Cometh

It was over a week and a half ago that I read Eugene O'Neill's play The Iceman Cometh and nearly, even in such a short time, forgot that I'd even read it. Not that I'd fault the play for being forgettable, but I was somewhat unsure what I thought of it. I enjoyed it, certainly, but unclear what I thought the message was. I ended up in a bit of a philosophical corner and I think my defense was to simply put it out of my head altogether.

A very brief synopsis: a bunch of rather miserable people, pining over "pipe-dreams," drink away their regrets at a bar. One of their own, Hickey, comes back into the bar, advising them to accept their failures, to give up hope, and they'll finally be happy. This new outlook wreaks havoc on everyone and threatens to upset their status quo. Hickey, however, turns out to have murdered his wife and the rest of the barflies pounce on this: if they can brush Hickey off as crazy, they can also write off his advice as the musings of a madman, and return to their happily miserable existence.

And it's that oxymoron that sends my mind veering. If hope is what truly has made these characters unhappy, believing that shedding oneself of hope will make them happy is a form of hope in itself, is it not? Now we're out of oxymoron territory and into paradox country. Fun.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Reader's Diary #1108- John Chu: The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere

I don't remember if it was Rod or Todd Flanders that said, "lies make baby Jesus cry," but whoever it was came close to explaining the premise behind John Chu's "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere:" whenever someone lies, they get unexpectedly rained upon (even indoors, it seems). The bigger the lie, the more it rains.

It's an interesting premise, to say the least. How would we live in such a world? How would we curb our behaviour and our speech? And is it a metaphor for guilt or something?

Unfortunately, I don't think Chu adequately explores his own premise. Instead it becomes a tale about a man named Matt who is coming out to his parents. It's not entirely removed from the premise, I suppose, as Matt hasn't exactly lied to them about his sexual orientation, but has not been forthcoming with the truth either. Perhaps his realistic adaptation is the way we'd all adapt in Chu's unrealistic world. Still, the premise seems unnecessary (was it merely a way to get it published by who typically only publish sci-fi and fantasy?) when the coming out story, complicated by intercultural and inter-generational gaps, is compelling and well-written enough without it. The premise becomes more of a distraction as the story goes on.

MAY 12 by lmark, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  lmark 

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Reader's Diary #1107- William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray, illustrated by Audrey Colman: Walter the Farting Dog

When I was a boy, we said "fart" in the house all the time. (Sad that we had reason to, but that was my dad.) It never occurred to me that someone might consider it a bad word until visiting at a cousin's house one day, when a foul stench was followed by the question, "Ew, who poppled?"

popples-no-1-back by excitingsounds, on Flickr
(Dear god! They can "pop in"?!)
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  excitingsounds

Poppled? What's with the cute name? That sh*t reeks!

Anyway, I thought of that story again this week when I read the epigraph to William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray's Walter the Farting Dog; "For everyone who is misjudged or misunderstood."

Uh, yeah. It's a farting dog. Don't get me wrong, that message is there, that everyone has something of value, and sometimes that thing of value is late to be appreciated, but it's a farting dog.

Fortunately, most reviews I read didn't belabour the "feel good message" but instead praise the humour. In other words, it's a fart, not a dang popple.

Walter, the farting dog, is adopted by a family who quickly realize that their dog has a flatulence problem. They try everything to stop it (except for one clever uncle who uses the dog to mask his own farts), to no avail. Resigning themselves to the fact that they can't take it anymore and that they'll have to get rid of him, they change their minds after Walter's farts manage to foil a burglary. (It's a bit of a happy ever after ending, when seriously, they still can't live like that. I give them 2 months before the dog's back at the SPCA and they've invested in an ADT Home Security System.)

I don't usually go in for fart jokes. They're usually juvenile and too easy. But it's a kids' book. And when there seems to be a goal to turn such books into overly-sentimental and/or melancholy pieces with "serious" artwork that no real kid enjoys, they're entitled to a few innocent fart jokes, done in silly, but creative pictures.

Not sure, however, that it needs sequels, but hey, the first one was a success, and I guess there's money to be made in natural gas. (Actually, that's not entirely fair. I have enjoyed some sequels and as, I've not read the Farting Dog sequels, I shouldn't assume the worst. Still, I've kind of not gotten over those If You Give Laura Numeroff a Paycheck books.)