Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #8- Archie Andrews Versus Nancy Drew

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Marilla Cuthbert VERSUS Dracula), with a final score of 8-3 was Marilla Cuthbert.

Marilla the Vampire Slayer? Why not? If Elizabeth Bennet can take on zombies, surely Marilla can drive a stake through the heart of one measly vampire.

Still, kind of shocked by last week's outcome. Though I wasn't a huge fan of Bram Stoker's book, Dracula is such an iconic character. And he, unlike Marilla, was the title character. Does that not account for anything? Or could he be, as Raidergirl suggested, the reason why we're all getting sick of vampire fiction? No, don't blame Bram Stoker for Twilight. That just isn't fair.

But, Dracula is gone and Marilla retires as a five time champion of the Great Wednesday Compare #7. Before Dracula she took on Snoopy, Dexter, Morag Gunn, and Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy had taken on and beaten Roland Deschain, and Hermione Granger. Finally, Hermione, who started this whole round, had beaten the Little Red Riding Hood, Robert Langdon, and Ron Weasley. And that very short wrap-up concludes the shortest, and first character versus character, edition of the Great Wednesday Compare.

But never fear, I'll jump that shark yet! Here's the 8th edition, and once again we stick with literary characters. And I use the term literary loosely.

Vote in the comment section below before November 2nd: Who is the better character?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Reader's Diary #659- Kelley Armstrong: Recruit

(Photo Credit: Curtis Lantinga)

Fairly or not, but I've long considered Kelley Armstrong to be the Canadian Stephenie Meyer, or Stephenie Meyer to be the American Kelley Armstrong. I'd not read either author before but knew they wrote best-selling fantasy/ light-horror books that were mega-popular among young females in particular.

Figuring it's long past time I acquainted myself with Armstrong, I decided to check out her website and was pleased to find that she had some freebies to giveaway. "Recruit," as we're told, "was a very short story written as an extra for Frostbitten. It takes place before the book begins, and launched the investigation that eventually led Elena and Clay to Alaska." I'd not heard of Frostbitten before, let alone Elena or Clay, and I was more than skeptical that the story could hold its own.

Then came the opening paragraph which also didn't leave me with great confidence:
Have you ever been part of a very small and exclusive club that enriched your life in so many ways? That made you wish you could throw open the doors so others could benefit? Then, one day, you can . . . only to discover that no one else is really all that interested in joining?
Is this a universal experience? Starting a story in such a way would indicate it is, as if this common experience is going to bond narrator and reader, building a relationship from the get-go in order to instill what? Trust? Mutual understanding? I'm not sure, but then, I don't know really know the feeling she's trying to express. Could blogging count? Not really, as much as I love it, I know it's not for everyone. Fatherhood? It's great yes, but plenty of others know that already. These aren't exactly small, exclusive clubs. I wasn't off to a good start. I'd better join the Yellowknife Stone Cutters, I guess.

Fortunately, those hurdles were easily surmounted, and I mildly enjoyed the rest of the story. Clay and Elena are on their way into Buffalo, supposedly to meet and recruit a mutt, basically a decent werewolf (decent = not man-eating), named Paul Forbes, into their Pack. When they meet him, however, Paul has something else in mind.

"Recruit" was fast-paced, but while plot-driven, also set up Armstrong's version of the world (basically ours but with an underground werewolf pack) and it was interesting in a fantasy tale sort of way. The story works on its own, I suppose, but really feels more like a prequel to a longer novel. I didn't get the sense, however, that said novel was particularly aimed at young, female readers. However, looking at some of the cheesy cover versions, I suspect the publishers think otherwise.*Maybe someday I'll make it to Frostbitten but for now, not really a priority.

*I don't mean to suggest that young female readers are stupid and necessarily are attracted to cheesy covers-- but it's apparent that publishers do.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #7- Marilla Cuthbert VERSUS Dracula

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Marilla Cuthbert VERSUS Snoopy), with a final score of 5-1 was Marilla Cuthbert.

Last week we said goodbye to Snoopy. Again. Earlier this month it was the so-called 60th anniversary of Charles Schulz's Peanuts. But didn't the strip end in 2000? Didn't Schulz die in 2000? Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about? Good grief. I was never a huge Peanuts fan, but I did have a set of Charlie Brown 'Cyclopedia's when I was a kid. Even then Snoopy was never my favourite. He always seemed a bit egotistical to me. Then, none of the Peanuts characters are all that likable. Lucy's mean. Charlie Brown needs to grow a pair. Linus needs to get rid of that blanket. Sally's too needy. Pig Pen's, well, Pig Pen. At least Snoopy has that Royal Guardsmen song. Maybe if it was Christmas he'd have fared better against Marilla. As it is it's Halloween...

Vote in the comment section below before October 26th: Who is the better character?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reader's Diary #658- David Nickel: Fly in Your Eye

I'm a sucker for stories told in the 2nd person. I'm also a fan of urban legends (well, at Halloween anyway), so this week's story is just perfect. Oh, and it's also Canadian. Sweet.

"Fly in Your Eye" by David Nickel is a take on those old classics about the ant crawling into the guy's ear as he sleeps on the beach or the lady who always wore a bun in her hair which became home to a nest of cockroaches. But Nickel adds a nice touch with the 2nd person perspective, making our inner hypochondriacs all the louder. And though it was first published in 1997, it could also be seen as a play on the current bed bug mania. I listened to a piece on CBC Radio this summer about the resurgence of the mattress-sharing parasite and one of the theories proposed was that increased global travel may have played a part. After reading Nickel's "Fly in Your Eye" you'll hope bed bugs are the worse things you'll bring back the next time you go international.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Vote for me... Sort of

Over at CBC's Canada Read website, they're highlighting nominations from Book Bloggers for the next contest. My pick? Jeff Lemire's Essex County. Want to show your support? Vote!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reader's Diary #657- Rex Murphy: Canada and Other Matters of Opinion

Have you ever watched Jeopardy when a bow-tied contestant is blowing everyone else out of the water until... groan... there's a pop-culture category. He prides himself on not having a sweet clue who the Spice Girls are without even realizing that even that bit of knowledge is outdated. In the meantime, he's losing to James from Texas, who, by the way, is not wearing a bow-tie.

Rex Murphy, as you can tell from his photo on the cover, wears a necktie. He's one of those well-rounded breeds of geniuses. He can talk all day about Ottawa, but he's also up on Hollywood.

Which is strange considering the contempt for Hollywood that shoots from the pages of Canada and Other Matters of Opinion. It could almost be called Celebrities and Other Matters of Opinion. He may be looking down his nose a lot, but it's mostly at sitcoms and tabloids from what I could tell. If he hates it so much, how come he's able to reference episodes of Friends that I've not seen?

I find myself in the unlikely position of defending celebrities. No one has been more vocal than I have about Canada Reads' insistence on using celebrities (even the rare non-famous ones) in the annual CBC radio competition. I also don't care who Brad and Angelina are adopting next or that Courtney Cox and David Arquette are splitting up. However, when it comes to celebrities, I not only think Murphy points his finger at the wrong people, I think he often does so unfairly and even hypocritically.

It seems, in Rex Murphy's eyes, celebrities aren't allowed an opinion. He rants endlessly about Sean Penn being interviewed by Larry King about Iraq. I don't know what Sean Penn knows about Iraq. I do know that Dexter Holland of punk(ish) band The Offspring has his masters in molecular biology. I know that Brian May of Queen has his doctorate in astrophysics. Being a celebrity doesn't automatically mean that's all you are or that you're necessarily an idiot in any field outside the reason you became famous in the first place. Me? I'm a teacher, a blogger, and I have my radio operator's license for aeronautical operations. It is entirely possible to have more than one skill. But even assuming Penn doesn't know Iraq from Indonesia, should Penn be the only one brought to task? Murphy does lay some sarcasm at the feet of Larry King, but how about all those that tuned in? Or is it simply more acceptable to criticize Penn than all those that bothered to watch? Calling a huge portion of the population stupid would make you an elitist. Picking on Penn, why that's just fine. He's a celebrity.

Interestingly enough, Murphy does the same thing he accuses Penn of doing. As he was coming down on the "soft science" of climate change, Al Gore (of course), and even David Suzuki, I found myself doing a tally:
Number of doctorates in science earned by David Suzuki: 1
Number of science degrees earned by Rex Murphy: 0.
So why can Rex Murphy rant against climate change science yet Sean Penn can't rant about Iraq? And while we're at it, why can't I rant about football?

I loved this book.

I was angered many times. I nodded in agreement many times (quite possibly literally, but I don't often watch myself read). I laughed many times. I love a well-written thought provoking book. It was heavy on the celebrity rants, yes, but there were also essays on politics, religion, arts, and identity. Do I love the man behind the essays? No. But then, he's no celebrity. He probably wouldn't care.

Reader's Diary #656- J.K. Rowling: The Prisoner of Azkaban

With the reread (this time to my daughter) of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I've no rereads left to go in the series. The first time around I quit before beginning The Goblet of Fire. That book looked huge and while I enjoyed the first three, not enough to commit to something of that magnitude.

But The Prisoner of Azkaban was my favourite of those 3, both the first time around and with the rereads. The story telling felt tighter and the mystery component of who exactly is Sirius Black added a more complex angle.

It's still not a perfect book; the collection of magical tools (added to the Invisibility Cloak introduced from the previous volumes is the Marauder's Map and the Time Turner) is becoming a bit too convenient (though typical of fantasy books) and the Rowling-riffing-on-Murder-She-Wrote moment when one character basically explains everything in a single chapter, is getting a bit predictable and clumsy.

Despite the flaws, my daughter was once again entranced and her enthusiasm (she's going as Hermione for Halloween), might just convince me to tackle Goblet after all.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #7- Marilla Cuthbert VERSUS Snoopy

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Marilla Cuthbert VERSUS Dexter Morgan), with a final score of 6-2 was Marilla Cuthbert.

Honestly, the pairing last week was more out of personal amusement than anything else. Though it is interesting. I think Marilla would make a snide remark about anyone writing such crap as Dexter and then she'd move on, I think Lucy Maud Montgomery would be shocked and fearful about what the future literary arts hold. Serial killers? Egad! I guess I fancy Marilla as tougher than her creator. As for me, I didn't even know Dexter was a literary character until long after I'd seen the first season of the TV show. I still haven't read a Dexter book. But it looks like he'll be remembered more as a TV character than a literary character anyway. I did like the premise and how it toys with a viewer's (reader's) sense of morality. However, I thought the ending of the 1st season was pretty stupid and haven't bothered with it since.

Moving on. Vote in the comment section below before October 19th: Who is the better character?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Reader's Diary #655- Algernon Blackwood: The Willows

A bit longer than my usual short story choices, I stuck with "The Willows" by Algernon Blackwood for the promise of something scary. Found on the Ghostsandstories website and listed as a classic alongside works by Poe, Twain, Irving and Dickens, I was intrigued. The Wikipedia article on Blackwood, whom I'd not heard of before, refers to him as "one of the most prolific writers of ghost stories in the history of the genre." In Supernatural Horror in Literature, H.P Lovecraft called him a modern master.

"The Willows," one of Blackwood's best known stories, fits better under the description of supernatural horror than ghost story, but even that moniker isn't exactly perfect. What I loved about "The Willows" was its connection to the "man versus nature" story. I've read 2 other such stories in the recent past, Charles G.D. Roberts' "The Vagrants of the Barren" and Jack London's "To Build a Fire" and curiously, all 3 authors comment on imagination's role in survival.

"The Willows" begins with beautiful scenery of a canoe trip down the Danube. Some readers may find it a bit tedious. As I've been promising myself every year since I've moved to the Northwest Territories to finally get into canoeing, I enjoyed the descriptions though chastised myself to let yet another canoe-less summer pass me by. However, I couldn't for the life of me see how this was going to be scary. There's a bit of personification of nature, but many of us have done this when we've found ourselves along in the woods or on the ocean or wherever. It only becomes creepy when things start to go wrong.

And there's the hint. "The Willows" is somewhat slow paced, but wonderfully written. Best of all, Blackwood doesn't solve the mystery. When you let yourself be carried along with the narrator's imagination, you become convinced that something supernatural is going on, that some force, perhaps nature itself-- or the willows-- has evil intentions. But when it is all said and done, everything can still be explained away. Was it a "man versus nature" story or was it a "man versus the supernatural" story? You get to decide for yourself.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)

Friday, October 08, 2010

Reader's Diary #654- Margaret Atwood: Year of the Flood

I may have crossed the line from cynicism to apathy. Whatever.

It was my past cynical side that ranked The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake as my two favourite Margaret Atwood books of all time. "I like all Atwood novels," I used to say, "but dystopian lit is her real strength."

With Year of the Flood I may have to change that opinion. It's easily my least favourite of all the Atwood I've read. Unfocused and self-indulgent, I felt as if Atwood spent the first 200 pages simply surfing through some news channels and satirizing every waking second. Silly jargon and pointless "hymns," and the constant flipping back and forth through 25 years, made it near impossible for me to care about the characters once she finally settled into a story. I was too disoriented and annoyed to care.

Wait a second. I'm showing way too much emotion for an apathetic person. This is going to take some getting used to. What I meant to say was, meh.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #7- Marilla Cuthbert VERSUS Dexter Morgan

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy VERSUS Marilla Cuthbert), with a final score of 6-5 was Marilla Cuthbert.

Morag, while she put up a good fight, couldn't take down the no-nonsense Marilla. I'm a fan of Morag, but like a few of you said in the comments last week, I had her mixed up with another Laurence character. No, not Hagar from the Stone Angel (as I'm the last Canadian left to read that one), but Vanessa from A Bird in the House! I wonder if the confusion about her characters says anything about her writing? Regardless, I still would have voted for Morag last week.

Moving on. Vote in the comment section below before October 12th: Who is the better character?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Reader's Diary #653- Heinrich von Kleist: the Beggar Woman of Locarno

(Looks a bit like Clay Aiken doesn't he?)

Back in May Loni reviewed Heinrich von Kleist's "The Beggar Woman of Locarno" as part of Short Story Monday. Not having read many German authors, I was interested in reading it for myself. However, upon hearing that it was a ghost story, I bookmarked it instead for October.

And here we are. Loni, who didn't know it was going to be a ghost story, ended up enjoying it anyway. I, on the other hand, was aware and was disappointed.

A rich marquis' wife in the Italian Alps takes in a sick beggar lady, but the husband treats the lady with anything less than respect. She dies and haunts the castle. Pretty simple premise, but perhaps more original back in the late 1700s or early 1800s when it was written.

While I did find it rushed and void of emotion, my major issue was that it simply wasn't scary. Again, had I not known it was intended to be, a ghost might be a pleasant surprise. There's some enjoyment in the husband getting his just desserts, I guess, but that's about it.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Canadian Book Challenge 4- 3rd Roundup!

Three months down!

Welcome to the 3rd round-up for the Canadian Book Challenge 4, where we get to check out all those Canadian books you read and reviewed in September.

It's award season once again. Did you check out the longlist for the Giller announced on the 20th?

* David Bergen for his novel THE MATTER WITH MORRIS, Phyllis Bruce Books/Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.
* Douglas Coupland for his novel PLAYER ONE, House of Anansi Press
* Michael Helm for his novel CITIES OF REFUGE, McClelland & Stewart
* Alexander MacLeod for his short story collection LIGHT LIFTING, Biblioasis
* Avner Mandelman for his novel THE DEBBA, Other Press/Random House of Canada
* Tom Rachman for his novel THE IMPERFECTIONISTS, The Dial Press/Random House of Canada
* Sarah Selecky for her short story collection THIS CAKE IS FOR THE PARTY, Thomas Allen Publishers
* Johanna Skibsrud for her novel THE SENTIMENTALISTS, Gaspereau Press
* Cordelia Strube for her novel LEMON, Coach House Books
* Joan Thomas for her novel CURIOSITY, McClelland & Stewart
* Jane Urquhart for her novel SANCTUARY LINE, McClelland & Stewart
* Dianne Warren for her novel COOL WATER, Phyllis Bruce Books/Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.
* Kathleen Winter for her novel ANNABEL, House of Anansi Press

Alas, I've read none of these books. I'm sure they might be fine picks, but I'm quite disgusted with the jury choice again. It features not one, but two non-Canadian jurors. We can't judge our own books now? A population of over 33 million and we can't find a juror that wouldn't be biased? Do we need outside validation? Worse, over at the Giller website, it states, "This is the 17th year of the prize and the second year that the prize has featured two non-Canadians as jurors." They're even bragging about it! As if this is a point of pride! Look how special our award is; non-Canadians are judging it!!! Grrr. But, I'm happy for the authors and wish them luck. The shortlist is announced on the 5th of this month.

Then there's the other giant of Canadian book awards: the Governor General's Literary Awards, with the finalists being announced on the 13th of this month.

Last month, as you'll recall, I asked people to read books that had won a Canadian Book Award this year, which means, with the two biggies above not yet awarded, we'd be able to highlight some of the other, perhaps smaller, perhaps lesser known awards. People who did so, and let me know that they were interested, qualified for an awesome prize pack from Random House, Canada:

Fauna by Alissa York

The Beauty of the Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb

Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart

Ape House by Sara Gruen

And picking randomly from those that qualified, the winner is... BuriedInPrint. BuriedInPrint read Michael Crummey's Galore, which won the Canadian Author's Association Literary Award this year. Congratulations all around!

For next month's giveaway, I have 2 novels from Goose Lane Editions up for grabs (special thanks to author and Canadian Book Challenge participant Corey Redekop!):

1. Elaine McCluskey: Going Fast
"For this punchy, uproarious debut novel, Elaine McCluskey has created a world in which each character is in search of something — success, legitimacy, a way to deal with demons from the past — while the worlds they know — boxing, newspapers, athletic glory — are disappearing all around them.

Ownie Flanagan, a boxing trainer from the old days, is looking for “one real fighter” before he retires. He is not ready to give up or give in, to spend his days at home where his wife runs a cake-decorating business. He works at Tootsy’s, a Dartmouth gym that supports itself by training men with big ambition and vanity but little talent.

Scott MacDonald is a sports reporter with the local paper, assigned to the boxing beat and looking for a story when he meets Ownie. A former competitive kayaker, Scott knows what it is to win and what it is to push oneself to the limits of physical endurance. Yet, he’s stuck, unable to get over his glory days as a paddler, unsure what to do with his future. And he thinks he has found something in the boxing gym where Ownie trains. As he spends more and more time around Ownie and the fighters he trains, he spends less and less at the paper. Like the gym, the newsroom seems like something from a bygone era, whose inhabitants must adapt or be forced out.

Both Ownie and Scott are forced to re-examine themselves and their desires when Turmoil Davies arrives on the scene. A charismatic heavyweight from Trinidad with huge potential, Turmoil is larger-than-life, excessive, and enigmatic. With Ownie’s help, Turmoil moves up through the rankings and seems to single-handedly revive the sport of boxing in the region, until be begins to display some odd behaviour. Peopled with characters from the margins of society, Going Fast rings with devastating insight and wicked humour that displays all of the toughness of the sport. Employing a full measure of linguistic dexterity, McCluskey has created a larger-than-life world where illusions are as real and as unpredictable as the next ten-count


2. Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: Perfecting
"With blood on his hands, Curtis Woolf flees his home in New Mexico for Canada, where he starts a religious commune, the Family. There he heals others and preaches pacifism while enduring the torment of his own damaged soul.

Then his lover, Martha, finds his gun and goes south to discover the truth, whatever that might be. Curtis sets out to bring her back, lest the Family fall apart.

In the half-light of a nursing home sits Hollis, dragon lord of a lost Mormon line, who has anointed Curtis, damned him, and now awaits his return.

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer's writing is full of dark humour and razor-sharp insight. Catching human fallibility head-on, she demands examination, confrontation, and a reckoning of pain with beauty.

In an effort to prove that I'm not xenophobic, despite my earlier rant against the choices for this year's Giller Jury, I want to offer one of these two books, which feature characters from Trinidad and New Mexico respectively, to someone who reaches out to those few non-Canadian participants in the 4th Canadian Book Challenge. Here's how it works: Find out who amongst us in a non-Canadian and visit their blog to leave a friendly comment. Come back here and let me know you've done so. I'll pick a random winner from those who qualify. If you win, you and your non-Canadian partner will each get one of the books above. The catch? You have to work together to decide who gets which. Good luck!

And now, the real reason why we're here: The Round-up. What Canadian books did you read and review for the Canadian Book Challenge 4 in September? Let everyone know in the comments below.

- Make sure you tell me how many you've completed so far so that I can record it in the sidebar progress report
- It doesn't count as complete until the review is done!
- When people leave links, try to visit one another's blogs and read what they had to say. Comment. Encourage. The discussion of Canadian books is what this challenge is all about.