Saturday, October 31, 2015

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

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, October 05, 2015

Reader's Diary #1199- Hilary Boyd: The Bed

A lot of people say they don't like short stories. They often gripe that they feel incomplete, a small part of the bigger picture that they'd rather have.

Nuts to them, I say. Well, not really, as nuts to them is not really an expression I say, but I don't think they've been exposed to good short stories. Good ones feel complete. In that respect Hilary Boyd's "The Bed" is not a good short story. As a piece of a larger novel, it would be fantastic. Nonetheless, if there's someone that you're trying to sell on short stories, steer them clear of this one.

It's about an adult daughter and her mother who is out to buy a bed. The daughter realizes, with dismay, that her mother has moved off since the death of her husband, the daughter's father, is dating, and... the horror... may even be having sexual relations.

It's a domestic sort of story, kind of slow. But that doesn't mean there couldn't be some real meat here. Why is that the mother has moved on while the daughter hasn't? Who has more to gain by moving on? Or conversely, who stands to lose more by not. As it is, none of this is really explored and the story feels underdeveloped. Too much time is spent on a big reveal that to most readers, I would assume, is pretty obvious.

That said, the characters still feel real enough that I'd read more... if more was available.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Reader's Diary #1198- Ryan North (Writer) and Erica Henderson (Illustrator)

Okay, so I'm officially demanding that Marvel starts selling Squirrel Girl merch. T-shirts. In men's sizes. (Then, they can't even seem to make a Black Widow toy, so I won't hold my breath.).

But yeah, I'd wear that shirt proudly. Squirrel Girl is fun. I mean a riot. Socially awkward, but happy anyway, quirky-as-all-hell, but owning it without faking it. Most of this credit can be given to North who squeezes as much humour out of page as possible. Even at the very bottom, in the tiniest, eye-strainingest font are self-aware jokes. His comedy ranges from the slapstick and punny to the ironic and irreverent. It's seldom mean though, and clean but without coming across as juvenile or aimed, necessarily, at children. (That said, I totally shared this one with my own kids.)

I say most of the credit is North's, because Henderson's influence is clearly there as well. She inserts her own sight gags from time to time and you can tell how much fun she's having with North's material. Her full-body armor of living squirrels is a hoot. However, it's the fan letter inserts and her replies  that really prove that, in the wit and comedy department, she can hold her own against North.

Henderson should also be given credit for the awesome job she did with the Squirrel Girl character. Finally a superheroine with a realistic body shape, with a costume that's cool and functional and fitting of the character's personality. Other Marvel characters who pop up are given just the right amount of caricature. You still recognize them, but all have a comedic bent.

My one issue, or minor concern really, is that I'm afraid the character will never be taken seriously by superhero fans. It's okay to have a humour comic. I love humour comics. But she's just such a kick-ass character, I would like to someday be able to see her in actual peril. Yes, she has the power of squirrels. I know she was never really intended to be given that much thought. But North and Henderson have made such a likable and enjoyable character, that it's impossible not to want her to have more of the limelight. I see that she's in the A-Force, the all-female Avengers team, which I haven't read, so my fingers are crossed that she'll prove more than comic relief. I think she needs a less buffoonish adversary. She is "unbeatable," I get that, but her enemies have so far been too easy to defeat. Kraven the Hunter and Whiplash are just silly mosquitoes, slapped away, and while there was a huge build up to Squirrel Girl's encounter with Galactus, it fell a little flat. Don't get me wrong. I still loved this series. I'm just saying that while North and Henderson nailed the humour and the art, they just need to tweak the action a bit.

An added bonus to this collected volume was the inclusion of Squirrel Girl's first appearance in Marvel Comics from 1991where she meets Iron Man. It's interesting from a historical standpoint. By Will Murray and Steve Ditko, I thought it looked and read like something far more dated than it really was. Like something from the 60s or 70s. I'm glad they came up with the idea, sure, but huge props to North and Henderson for taking this character and actually making her compelling.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

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

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, September 28, 2015

Reader's Diary #1197- Richard Rupnarain: Where is the Mutton?

I'll ruin the ending right off the bat for this one, provided you've read Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter." Yes, sheep-based evidence gets eaten by the police.

Unfortunately, Dahl's is a far better story. One positive about Richard Rupnarain's "Where is the Mutton?" is that it's set in Guyana. I've never read anything from Guyana before, so that angle was interesting. The dialogue is a bit difficult, but not impossible to make out. The plot, however, takes a while to come, the second half seems disjointed from the first half of the story, and it's sadly unoriginal.

Mutton curry by jetalone, on Flickr

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   by  jetalone 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Reader's Diary #1196- Adam Glass (Writer), Various Artists: Suicide Squad, Volume 1 Kicked in the Teeth

I admit only reading this because of the upcoming movie. I'm not, never really have been, a fan of Batman or the associated villains. I've enjoyed a title or two, a movie here or there, but nothing about him or his world has ever really excited me. (Okay, so I liked the campy TV series when I was kid, but who didn't?)

I can't say this one has increased my interest any. With an ensemble called Suicide Squad, with a collection called Kicked in the Teeth, it's as over-the-top violent as you'd expect. And therein lies some of the problem. It's predictable.

However, I do like learning about new characters and most of these were new to me. Some wound up more compelling than others, but my personal favourite wound up being El Diablo. He's cool looking, has pretty neat powers, and most importantly he's a bit more complex than the others. As the head of the gang, Deadshot is just flat and his get-up looks like another dull character, Black Spider. King Shark is just ridiculous (though he would have made a kickass He-Man character back in the day). There's a bunch of others who are either boring, not featured enough, or both. And of course there's Harley Quinn.

Harley Quinn, unless you've been living in a comics-free void for the past two years, you'll recognize as one of DC's more recent and hottest commodities. In Calgary a couple of week's ago, I hit up every comic book store I could find, trying to find a Squirrel Girl or Ms. Marvel t-shirt to no avail. In fact Marvel sold no merchandise featuring women at all, whereas DC had a few Wonder Woman things here or there, and holy two-toned hair Batman, was there a lot of Harley Quinn stuff. (Note to Marvel, I just wanted to give you my money. You suck.)

Suicide Squad, Kicked in the Teeth was my first real exposure to her as a character and I'm still undecided. She's rather insane, so that makes her compelling and fun to watch, much like the Joker. But her whole origin story (basically manipulated by the Joker and then forever and crazily hung up on the guy) makes her seem weak and none too bright. Plus, while I'll admit she looks cool (even if she was more sexualized in this collection than in some other incarnations I've seen), I don't know if it's a case of style over substance. Maybe she's like the Darth Maul of the Suicide Squad. I haven't written her off yet. I have a solo title that I'll be trying in the near future, but for now I'm still on the fence.

The story itself is decent. Incarcerated criminals striking a deal with a shady government agent to take on covert missions in exchange for lessened sentences is not a bad premise. Glass didn't create that premise, the Squad was around before him, but those covert missions allowed him as an author to have fun and plenty of leeway. After a while though, for better or worse, one mission after another and no end insight it took on a Catch-22 sort of vibe where there was just no getting out.

The art across the collection is surprisingly consistent for stories with different artists at the helm. My favourite, however, was Dallacchio's for a story called "Bad Company" where he makes a few more experimental choices. There's a cool shot, for instance, of El Diablo in a fish eye lens shot, to mimic King Shark's point of view. There's also a neat few frames when Harley hears the truth about what's happened to the Joker. She pauses in shock and the rest of the characters walk past her. It's a perfectly executed set, capturing the effect on her beautifully.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Reader's Diary #1195- Jesse Eisenberg: A Short Story Written with Thought to Text Technology

I have mixed feelings about celebrity-written books and short stories. (And by that I mean the normally non-writing celebrities, so settle down Margaret.) On the one hand, I have no doubt that they have an easier time getting published. That means there's a lot of crap out there. (If this blog wasn't as family-wholesome, I'd cue up video of Bea Arthur reading from Pamela Anderson's "novel" to prove my point.) On the other hand, I'm not Rex Murphy and I can acknowledge that in rare cases celebrities have knowledge or skills outside of those which they are better known for.

That's a big buildup to not deliver a verdict on Jesse Eisenberg, and yet here I am. I liked the concept of "A Short Story Written with Thought to Text Technology" and it allowed Eisenberg to explore the creative process of writing, the balancing act fiction authors must face when they pull from personal experience yet must resist the urge to make it too autobiographical. It's a humorous piece, but I also think the humor dragged it down. One joke in particular (I won't share it here, you'll easily spot it) was repeated so often that it ended up getting on my nerves and nearly ruined the whole thing. Nearly.

The best I can say is that I am intrigued enough by this one particular story that I would definitely read another by Eisenberg. I owe him that much. He's a celebrity, after all.

Still from ”I Write Erotic Short Stories by marchorowitz, on Flickr

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