Sunday, July 31, 2016

The 10th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - July 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, July 25, 2016

Reader's Diary #1345- Douglas Sovern: The Blogger Wolf

At last year's Folk on the Rocks, Yellowknife's annual music festival, I noted a lot of people taking photos of the crowd. How funny it would be, I thought, if Waldo was hiding in that crowd. Everyone could have their very own, and unexpected, game of Where's Waldo? when they got home. So this year I ordered a Waldo Halloween costume and did just that. (And hey, Waldo's a pretty good Halloween costume for a librarian, so it's money well spent.)

The festival, by the way, was fantastic. And if you ever get a chance to see the Lemon Bucket Orkestra live, spend hundreds to do so because they're worth every penny. Of course, as in any crowd situation, there was also a lot of opportunity for people watching. At one point though I got a bit disgusted at myself for being too judgmental. So what if every hipster male in his mid 20s has a beard and man-bun. They may be sheep, but who are they hurting? So what if the two bros at front seem to think that the Barr Brothers are LMFAO. They're having fun. It was an important realization to have, especially considering what happened at the end of the night. Having spent the day having strangers laugh and say "I found you!" I thought most people appreciated the Waldo joke. But then I had a rather odd reaction from a couple of acquaintances who seemed bizarrely offended or bothered by the get-up. "What's the deal?", eye-rolls, and the whole bit. No explanation seemed satisfactory. I still can't quite put my finger on why they were so annoyed. Too attention seeking, maybe? Bitterness about having never actually found Waldo? That can't be it. In any case, I was glad to have had my epiphany about hipsters and bros earlier as I'd hate to come across as that sour and judgmental. To each their own.

I bring this all up, because the tone of Douglas Sovern "The Blogger Wolf" begins with a similarly judgemental vein. A traditional journalist is put off by a new young blogger just joining his news organization, judging and jumping to all sorts of conclusions that turned out to be incorrect (and unfair). The story should be one of comeuppance, but the narrator, having done some pretty difficult ego-acrobatics, manages to (hilariously and tragically) miss the point.

(This is a pre-scheduled post to appear while I am vacationing in the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. Sovern is from San Francisco, but this story-- wonderfully told in the 2nd person, by the way-- is set in New York.)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Reader's Diary #1344- Jeff Lemire (writer), Mikel Janin (artist): Justice League Dark Vol. 2 The Books of Magic

Continuing on in the Justice League Dark series, I was thrilled to see that Jeff Lemire (a personal favourite) had taken over the writing duties with this second volume: The Books of Magic.

Lemire's take is less bizarre than Milligan's, though it doesn't feel like too much of a clash (there are flying houses, after all), but rather a natural progression. With Mikel Janin continuing on in the artist role, it might even be easy to miss that the writer had changed.

This plot revolves around the titular Books of Magic, essentially tomes containing ALL knowledge and therefore an awesome source of power, especially for a trained magician who would know how to use it. The theme, a familiar one to comics especially, is how power, or even the thirst for power, corrupts. But in such "dark" books as these, where the heroes are only marginally better than the villains, the theme takes on better shades of gray.

A few newer characters are introduced this time around, a few old ones are dropped, and familiar ones are better developed. I missed Shade, from Volume 1, and so far, the main replacement, Orchid, doesn't do much for me. This is not to say that I wish Lemire hadn't added her, just that she needs better development yet. Fortunately, with patience, I think it will come. I did, for instance, like Deadman a lot more this time around. Lemire toned down the bro-ish tones of Milligan's take on the character and I began to get a better feel for who the character is. Despite being the ghost of a past life acrobat and having the ability to possess people, he's somewhat of an every-man character and I'm beginning to enjoy that irony. Oh, and did I mention that Frankenstein makes an appearance? That's pretty cool.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Reader's Diary #1343- Peter Steele: The Man Who Mapped the Arctic

Coinciding with first moving to the Arctic 15 years ago, I went through a phase of reading about Northern explorers, the search for the Northwest Passage, and conquest of the North Pole. After a while though, you realize that the same themes prevail: it was treacherous and in hindsight, many people made a lot of mistakes, the most common of which was to ignore the wisdom of those that already lived here, the indigenous people.

To that end, The Man Who Mapped the Arctic, the story of explorer and sometimes Franklin lieutenant, George Black, doesn't add anything new. Still, if you've not read a northern explorer book before, or if it's been a while, it's as good as any. You'll still be awe of the stamina and bravery of such men, even if simultaneously throwing up your hands at their arrogance and, even fatal, racism. George Black is not particularly interesting; at least as far as any 1800s northern explorer could be boring, he doesn't really stand out. As writer Peter Steele points out, history often forgets those who didn't die in tragic or mysterious circumstance, and that's true here. The title seems to suggest Back's importance as a cartographer, but I'm now left questioning if it wasn't a publisher's decision, trying to give Back a new angle among such books. Sure his map mapping was impressive and added to the body of northern knowledge, but it's barely mentioned in the book, certainly not comprising a central thesis.

So why Back? I'm left to conclude that Franklin's story has been told ad nauseam and Back kept a lot of notes.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Reader's Diary #1342- Billie Livingston: Give Yourself Nightmares

In Billie Livingston's "Give Yourself Nightmares" a story of a woman named Nora being concerned that her husband is becoming dangerously obsessed with cannibalism and violent pornography is contrasted brilliantly with a domestic tale of a mouse infestation that a landlord won't take seriously.

Grounding the sensational with such a specific and ordinary problem was a stroke of genius. Immediately the first over-the-top story seems more plausible while the second story gets lent an air of metaphor. There's also hint of a theme in the whole piece about the importance of mental health and counseling for police officers (and perhaps their families). Finally, all of this combined with the unresolved ending, and the result is a perfect short story. Loved it.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Reader's Diary #1341- Peter Milligan (writer) and Mikel Janin (artist): Justice League Dark Vol. 1 In the Dark

Recently I embarrassed myself for advising the folks at DC Comics (not that they read this blog anyway!) to embrace their darker characters, not realizing, of course, that they have done just that with the Justice League Dark series. So, it was time for a crash course that begins here with Peter Milligan's Justice League Dark Volume 1: In the Dark.

I'm generally more of a Marvel guy than DC, but I have to say, this could give them a run for their money. Easily my favourite corner of the DC universe. Characters here are generally along the occult spectrum: witches, magicians, ghosts, and that sort of thing. Most were unfamiliar to me, Madame Xanadu, Shade, Zatanna. I'd recently read a John Constantine title, Enchantress has made an appearance or two in other DC comics I've read, and then there was Deadman. I was aware of Deadman but had little knowledge of him beyond that he looked cool and sounded intriguing. So far, he's turned out to be disappointing-- a bit chauvinistic and bro-ish, which I certainly wasn't expecting. I'm also told that Swamp Thing, Martian Manhunter, and Animal Man storylines might intersect with this world, which would be great, but honestly I think the best fit, and notably missing, is Sandman. That definitely needs to happen.

In any case, the cast this time (even with my disappointment in Deadman) were interesting enough and the story was thoroughly bizarre (without being too difficult to follow) and entertaining. Enchantress, the witch, has basically gone insane and the world must suffer the consequences unless the Justice League Dark can intervene. When I say insane, this is not super-villain insane, but flying teeth insane.

Mikel Janin has a field day with it and his monsters are a delight, especially well-contrasted with the realistic backdrops. Everything gets warped from time to time; panels are askew an so on, but he shows just enough restraint to keep it balanced.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Reader's Diary #1340- Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder (writers), Natacha Bustos (artist): Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 1 BFF

As I've pointed out before Marvel has been oddly fascinated with dinosaur superhero sidekicks for some time. But it seems to be Lunella Lafayette (aka Moon Girl) and her new T. Rex companion that has finally started making people pay attention.

The reviews on this series have been great. It has been praised for its accessibility for all ages, it's fun, and falling in line with Marvel's recent (and much needed and much welcome) emphasis on diversity. Not only is Lunella black and female, she's also one of the youngest superheroes to come along in a while, clocking in at just 10 years of age.

Not that she's quite a superhero yet. In this volume all Lunella knows is that she has Inhuman DNA and subjected to the right (or wrong, if you ask her) catalyst, she'll change. As most Marvel Inhuman fans know, the change is unpredictable. Usually it comes with some sort of superhuman ability, but often deformities as well. Already a very different child (she's quite precocious), Lunella spends most of the book trying to avoid the change. (Hmm, now that I say that out loud, I wonder if there's a puberty analogy?)

Older readers like me will likely relate to the parents of Lunella more than the child herself and to some extent the story works in this regard, making one feel protective. That said, sometimes the precociousness is overdone and she becomes unbelievable. She says once or twice that she's afraid of the Devil Dinosaur but all of her actions suggest otherwise.

Another complaint I have is that while the book has a big emphasis on science (which is a good thing), beginning each comic with a quote from a famous scientist (Curie, Einstein, Degrasse Tyson), the science itself is weak. Apparently the original Devil Dinosaur series explained the co-existence of dinosaurs and cavemen as the reality in an alternate universe. Fine, except here, set in modern day New York, there's barely a breath of this despite cavemen supposedly from the T.Rex's time as the main villains. I feel with a girl as smart as Lunella, this could have been addressed better.

Still, it's entertaining and ends with a great cliff-hanger that'll definitely make me want to read more. Plus, there's a cameo from Amadeus Cho's version of the Hulk that I've been wanting to see, so that was pretty cool.

Bustos' art is just a tad more cartoony than most superhero comics, but that plays well with the light humour.