Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The 10th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - August 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")

And in prize news, Kate has won a hardcover copy of Kelley Armstrong's Omens for taking part in last month's mini-challenge to read something by any of the most read Canadian authors (for the Canadian Book Challenge) as found in the sidebar stats. Canadian Book Challenge mini-challenges are exclusive to members via email.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Reader's Diary #1367- Sara Ryan (writer), Steve Lieber (artist): Escape from Alcatraz 13 The Dummy Head Breakout

Of all of the escape attempts from Alcatraz, the one dubbed "The Dummy Head Breakout" by Sara Ryan is perhaps the one that captured the most attention and still remembered today. And why wouldn't it? It involved the classic chiseling out through the vents, there were paper mache dummy heads, and three escapees have never been seen again. This stuff is legendary.

My son and I also found it somewhat amusing, mostly due to the hapless inmate Allen West. Claiming to be the mastermind behind the whole thing, he was the only one of the quartet not to have gotten out. First off, he hadn't chiseled his hole big enough, and secondly, when you see the four confiscated paper mache heads side by side, the quality of his bust compared to others sends me into fits of giggles every time. See if you can tell which one is his. Hint: like the hole, West didn't finish this either.

Steve Lieber's art in this one is fine, if in the style of generic pseudo- realism.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Reader's Diary #1366- Alice Munro: Amundsen

It's been so long since I've read anything by Alice Munro, I've mostly forgotten why I'm not a huge fan of her writing. Yes, as pro-Canadian lit as I am, that statement must seem rather shocking, but no, after reading several collections of Alice Munro, I knew that I did not care to read another. The only reason that I can recall now is that I found her supposedly "short" stories, too long and boring.

However, I did come across "Amundsen" a short story of hers that managed to fit into the pages of a New Yorker, and so thought I'd give that a shot.

I don't know that I'd go as far as calling "Amundsen" boring, but I'm also not sure that had it gone on for another 70 pages I would have wished to continue. There's something about it that seemed cold, calculating, and cynical. At first I thought it was Munro's delivery. The story is so tightly controlled near the beginning, especially revelations about the setting, that I felt as if Munro was dangling a carrot just out of reach. The place and time and other setting particulars were vague and more than a little confusing. Much detail came later and, I suppose, I've applauded other authors for similar tactics, slowly pulling back the curtain on the setting allows it to not stall the plot. Though in this case, I found it distracting.

This rigidity, however, is also manifested in the two main characters and the plot of their ill-fated love. Perhaps this was the point, that back in those days and circumstances, communication was stilted and many of those practical marriages of the time were disastrous; strangers marrying strangers because it was expected. Viewed in that light, I suppose "Amundsen" could be taken as a happy ending (spoiler: a wedding is called off). But it's the Munro version of a happy ending so don't expect balloons.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Reader's Diary #1365- Patti LaBoucane-Benson (writer), Kelly Mellings (artist): The Outside Circle

The Outside Circle, by Patti LaBoucane-Benson, tells a story of Pete, a young Cree man, whose life seems to be going off track. He's abandoned a girl who he's gotten pregnant, he's involved with a gang, and to top it off, he murders his heroin addicted mother's boyfriend. However, things finally start turning around when he is introduced to the In Search of Your Warrior Program. This program, which exists in real life and which author Laboucane-Benson has been instrumental in overseeing, involves historical awareness, indigenous spirituality, and other researched, successful counseling approaches.

While at times The Outside Circle could be didactic, it was largely offset with honesty and artistic flourishes. Pete's life is not pretty and LaBoucane-Benson doesn't shy away from harsh realities. Swearing is tampered down somewhat with comic cursings (i.e., F#@$), making it more likely to be used in schools, I suppose, but there's also a lot of violence depicted. Personally, I think it was important to show this.

The artistic approaches came courtesy of both LaBoucane-Benson and artist Kelly Mellings. One favourite and powerful scene comes early in the book when Pete's mother is signing a "Permanent Guardianship Order" for her younger son, Pete's brother Joey, to be taken into the custody of Social Services. Instead of the wording one might expect on such a document, it instead details historical legacies which have contributed to this scene: residential schools and the '60s Scoop.

Also, Mellings makes much use of masks as a symbol, a theme that carries throughout the book, until finally explained near the end. It's a powerful and compelling image.

Ultimately, The Outside Circle is a story of hope, offering an insight to a program that may help heal the lives of many in need.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Reader's Diary #1364- Jeff Parker (writer), various artists: Batman '66 Volume 1

Is there a more extreme character in comics than Batman? On the one side, you have this bright, campy 60s version, and on the other a version so dark and cynical, he's just a few syllables above grunting. That there's still an attraction to both versions is crazy (they're making a new animated version with Adam West reprising the role). Shouldn't there be a happy medium? Aren't these essentially just two different superheroes sharing the same name?

Regardless, I do have a little fondness for the old '60s Batman. Growing up in Atlantic Canada in the 80s, Sunday morning meant the Halifax version of Switchback, a talk/variety show aimed at kids. It was an hour and a half long, but two 15 minutes segments were devoted to Adam West Batman episodes (later I think it was Get Smart). It was hard not to appreciate the cheese.

Batman '66 amazingly captures it all in a series of comics set in the style of that old show but written today. This means that you get the classic versions of villains, like the Joker who is drawn to look just like Cesar Romero, but also new characters who weren't even created at the time, drawn seamlessly into that era, like Harley Quinn.

The art, drawn by various artists, is stellar, even if I felt the quality slipped ever-so-slightly after the very first issue, with its overdose of Ben-Day dots and gaudy colours. Still, even the volume as a whole, is a brilliant piece of pop art.

I'm not sure that I'm any rush to read the next volume, though. Fun as it all is, it's like candy. There's no character development or substance at all really, but for pure entertainment it's great.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Reader's Diary #1363 - Dan Archer: Escape from Alcatraz 9 The Lone Wolf Breakout

In terms of pure silliness, like something out a Scooby Doo cartoon, this was one of my favourites of the Escape from Alcatraz comics series.

The lone wolf is inmate John Giles, a robbing murderer and known escape artist. At Alcatraz, however, he's known to be quiet, he keeps to himself, doesn't cause trouble. He's rewarded for his good behaviour by getting laundry duty. At the time, laundry was delivered from the U.S. Army, washed by inmates, and then picked up again. For years, Giles bides his time, slowly smuggling enough for a full uniform.

Finally, when the uniform is complete and on a day when the Army is returning, Giles ducks out of sight to quickly don the uniform. He manages to make it on board, but of course, this plan is just ridiculous and he's noted missing onshore almost immediately. Guards call the captain, and, well, let's just say that the years of planning this escape were wasted.

Archer's art is great, with lots of hatching lines for detail and watercolours, mostly in army shades of green and brown.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Reader's Diary #1362- David Alexander Robertson (writer), Scott B. Henderson: The Ballad of Nancy April Shawnadithit

I really admire David Alexander Robertson's drive to remember the lives of particular indigenous Canadians through graphic novels and I was very happy to see that he'd taken on Shawnadithit. Anyone growing up in Newfoundland certainly knows who she was, but I'm unsure how many outside of the province do.

Still, honorable as his projects are, I've always been a little luke warm toward the execution. He tends to place the historical stories with fictional, and usually unnecessary,  frames. In this story, a girl whose necklace is broken causing her to be late for a fishing trip, falls asleep and dreams of Shawnadithit.

But again, it does the job of reminding people of who Shawnadithit and her Beothuk people. Though we learned a lot about Shawnadithit in elementary school, I don't recall hearing about how many Beothuks were taken as slaves. It was a very important reminder about the injustices they faced. Their legacy must never be forgotten and I thank Robertson for keeping it alive.