Saturday, June 30, 2012

5th Canadian Book Challenge- June 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)

Also, in the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. This brings me up to 1/13)

Guest Post- Ann Weir's review of Terry Fallis's The Best Laid Plans

Humour is the first thing I would hope for from a book about politics in Ottawa and that is exactly what Terry Fallis delivers in this lively story about an eventful few months in Daniel Addison’s life. Young Daniel, having earned a PHD in English and turned Liberal, despite his family’s solid blue Tory history, leaves his job as the head speech writer for the Leader of the Opposition on the eve of an election. He’s fed up with politics and hurting after catching his girlfriend cheating on him with the Opposition House Leader. Daniel accepts a job as a junior professor at the University of Ottawa, but agrees to do one last favour for the Liberals. It’s a big one as Daniel agrees to find a Liberal candidate and manage their upcoming campaign in the most solid Tory stronghold in the country, his home riding of Cumberland-Prescott. After a discouraging search, Daniel manages to strike a bargain with his landlord Angus McLintock. Angus, an engineering professor and English language buff, will put his name on the ballot if Daniel agrees to take his place teaching English for Engineering to first year engineering students. And so the campaign begins with a quickly assembled team consisting of Muriel Parkinson, resident of the Riverfront Seniors’ Residence and long-suffering Liberal candidate, her granddaughter Lindsay and the two Petes, outrageously dressed first-year engineering students recruited from Daniel’s English class.  

The Best Laid Plans has a terrific plot, full of unexpected twists and turns, it moves along briskly from one amusing episode to the next. The characters are all so inviting, like friends I couldn’t wait to spend time with. Angus is a gem, a crusty 60’ish engineer with a marshmallow centre who writes poetic letters to his recently deceased wife. In Angus, Fallis has brought to life our ideals to have politicians with character who think for themselves and aren’t afraid to follow their conscious to do the right thing. And the two Petes are hilarious, easily my favourite characters. Through them, Fallis tells fellow parents not to worry about what your kids choose to look like, it’s what they choose to do that matters. A friend of mine once complained that Canadian literature is all too serious; I can’t wait to lend her my copy of this very funny and uplifting book.

Guest Post- Ann Weir's review of Richard B. Wright's Clara Callan

Two sisters take their lives in different directions after their father dies in the award-winning novel Clara Callan. The title character Clara, a sombre thirty-something schoolteacher, attempts to stay in the life she has always had. She remains in small town Ontario, living a solitary existence in the house she grew up in and teaching at the school where her father was principal. The younger and prettier Nora, striving for more excitement, moves to New York City to pursue a career as an actress. The story, set in the 1930’s and told entirely through letters and entries in Clara’s diary, moves poignantly and effortlessly between the lives of the two sisters.

This beautifully written novel tackles some difficult subject matter, including rape, abortion, mental illness and adultery, in a subtle manner. Wright breathes life into two unique and lifelike characters who practically walk off the page. Their letters are so well written, full of intimate thoughts and emotions that provide for a real understanding of their different personalities. Delicate contrasts are woven expertly throughout the narrative. While Nora stars in a radio soap opera, it’s actually Clara who experiences the most drama in her daily life. The female characters successfully adjust to the realities of depression life, remaining strong and dignified, while the male characters largely regress and are abusive, uncaring or weak. I was left feeling sad and uplifted at the same time. For me, the ending was perfect, elegantly summing up the sister’s lives and leaving me with the satisfaction of just finishing a great book.

Guest Post- Ann Weir's review of Teresa Toten's Me and the Blondes

This tween novel humorously depicts the sometimes painful ways in which teenagers struggle to be accepted and feel good about who they really are at the same time. Sophie Kandinsky, a self described “mongrel”, originally born in Hungary to an eccentric Bulgarian mother and a kindly Polish father, is enrolling in Grade 9 in yet another new school in North Toronto. Sophie’s poet father has managed to be convicted of manslaughter, simply by being drunk in the wrong place at the wrong time, causing Sophie to be an outcast at the numerous schools she has attended over the past six years. This time, Sophie’s mother has a plan; to claim that Sophie’s father is dead, rather than in jail. Sophie has her own plan; to target the popular and successful Blondes at her newest school and make them her friends.  

Me and the Blondes is an upbeat story filled with charming and likable characters. Sophie is smart, mature and imaginative. Sophie’s mother and her group of aunties stand out as funny, loving and unashamed of who they are. Although much of the novel comes across as light-hearted, the author doesn’t shy away from difficult topics such as Sophie’s anger with her father for the pain his imprisonment causes her mother, her coming of age and her guilt and shame at lying to her new friends. This girl struggles, despite being “in” with the Blondes, who have actually turned out to be good kids and great friends. But in the end, Sophie stays true to herself, successfully deals with a bunch of things and moves forward. This is a good book for tween girls, and their parents.

Guest Post- Ann Weir's review of Elizabeth Hay's Late Nights on Air

Hopes for a fresh start abound in this novel about life at a Yellowknife radio station set in 1975. The central character, Harry Boyd, is right back where his career started after an ill-advised move into television in Toronto. “You don’t look anything like you sound,” says the station’s newest employee, Gwen Symon after meeting Harry. “That” Harry replies gravely “is the tragedy of radio”. Gwen, who has driven all the way from Ontario in search of a job and some sort of sense of herself, arrives at the station “and nobody noticed.” Other characters include Dido Paris, a beautiful and self-assured woman, whose Dutch accent captivates Harry when he hears her on air; Eleanor Dew, the station’s long serving receptionist and Ralph Cody, a tweed jacket wearing freelance book reviewer. Dido is attempting to escape an ill-advised affair with her father-in-law, Eleanor left a failed marriage attempt and Ralph yearns to find respect and stature in Yellowknife. The first part of the story focuses on this growing cast of Mary-Tyler-Moore-ish radio station characters, as their work and personal lives become entangled. This all occurs against the backdrop of an inquiry into what would be the largest gas pipeline ever built in the North. In the second part of the book, Harry, Gwen, Eleanor and Ralph embark on an ambitious canoe trip in and north of Great Slave Lake, attempting to retrace part of the final journey of Artic explorer John Hornby.

Throughout the novel, Hay does a good job of capturing the romance of both radio and living in the North. Setting the story in the mid-70’s gave me the sense of reading about a different and perhaps simpler time, when it’s believable that local radio was the best way for the residents of Yellowknife to feel connected to their part of the world and each other. Weaving in the events and result of the inquiry added to this mood and supported the narrative about the canoe trip nicely. The characters make their way through the pre-global warming/natural disaster Northwest Territories at a time when I, as an optimistic reader, get the sense that the results of the inquiry would have made a real and lasting difference. I did however find the contrast between the initial character driven story and the later descriptive chapters a bit awkward. Although this author’s descriptions of the sights and sounds of the canoe trip didn’t disappoint, I found the first part of the canoe trip to be uneventful and slow. Hay also sprinkled some unfortunate foreshadowing throughout the book that took away from the flow of the story. But that aside, Late Nights on Air is essentially an imaginative and moving story about personal loss, whether it’s loss of a person, an object, an ideal or a certain time in a certain place where everything seemed just about right.

Guest Post- Ann Weir's review of Cathy Marie Buchanan: The Day the Falls Stood Still

In 1915, when this novel opens, the young heroine Bess Heath sadly leaves the Loretto Academy boarding school in Niagara Falls a year before graduation.  Her father has lost his prestigious job at the Niagara Power Company and has no other prospects, causing a sudden shift in the family’s circumstances.  Bess returns home to a depressed father who has taken up drinking and a frazzled mother attempting to keep the family afloat by resuming her seamstress business.  Bess’ older sister Isabel, normally “flirtatious and charming in the way only the prettiest girls dared to be” is a mere shadow of her former self, seemingly having lost the will to live.  Much more has changed for the Heath’s and the other residents of Niagara Falls; WWI is underway overseas and hydroelectricity is becoming a serious and lucrative business.  Against this backdrop, Bess meets Tom Cole, grandson of local hero Angus Cole who had a well-reported history of rescuing folks from the power and unpredictability of the Niagara River and the Falls.  Tom is also a river man, living almost indigently, but possessing an uncanny knowledge of the river and it’s adjacent environment.  Tom can anticipate danger based only on the slightest changes to his surroundings combined with his sixth sense of the river.  Bess and Tom are mutually smitten and their love story begins.

The Day the Falls Stood Still, this author’s debut novel, has all the elements of an epic family saga; loyalty, shame, tragedy and star-crossed love.  The setting is spectacular and I learned to appreciate the power and beauty of the river and it’s affect on the local residents.  By writing this story almost completely through the eyes of Bess, Buchanan provides great insight into her character.  Bess is a strong, independent and modern woman, someone who rejects social norms to find her own happiness while still supporting her family.  Tom is a worthy partner for Bess; brave, principled and, unlike the unscrupulous power company executives, respectful of the natural wonder that is the Niagara River.  The river is a fitting symbol in this story and it dominates Bess’ life.  With great effort, she both supports her growing family and maintains her love for the river, and by extension her love for Tom.  Buchanan’s writing flows through this book so gracefully, I became totally absorbed in the story.  This is a great first novel and it will certainly be a tough act to follow. 

Guest Post- Ann Weir's review of Kenneth J Harvey's Inside

Based on Kenneth J. Harvey’s novel Inside, freedom doesn’t come easily to the wrongfully convicted, even after being released from prison. Set in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Inside tells the story of Myrden, a man whose first name we don’t learn, and his struggles to resume his life after serving 14 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Myrden is somehow trapped in an antagonistic relationship with his wife and family who, beyond waiting to share in any financial windfall, don’t seem to care that he’s been released. His old enemies still threaten him, the media hound him and even the police treat him differently, by ignoring his transgressions and not protecting his daughter and granddaughter from an abusive man. Myrden himself doesn’t even seem sure of his own innocence. He does have two people in his corner; his stand-up-type-of-guy best friend Randy, who goes to battle to protect him in a bar fight, and his former/current girlfriend Ruth, who embodies calm, poise and a lonely middle class lifestyle.

 Inside is written in short and sometimes fragmented sentences, closely resembling a stream of consciousness style. That combined with the subject matter and Myrden’s ambiguously flawed character make this a difficult book to read. The writing style forces us to be right there with Myrden when he is drunk, angry, confused and in physical pain. The only heart of gold in this story appears to belong to Randy, with Myrden’s lawyer a distant second. Even Ruth’s motives are difficult to understand or appreciate until the end of the book. I respect Harvey for tackling this subject matter, but I was hoping for a more uplifting story, something with some joy or even relief at a wrong finally being made right. But maybe that’s not how these stories actually turn out in real life. A sliver of redemption does peek through at the end of this book, but it’s a tough road to get there.

Guest Post - Ann Weir's review of Wayne Arthurson's Fall From Grace

After losing his family and successful journalism career to gambling, Leo Desroches falls into homelessness on the streets of Edmonton, Alberta.  His shot at redemption comes when a former colleague hires him as a reporter during a newspaper strike.  Fall from Grace opens with Leo getting an exclusive when a police officer he knows allows him to view the body of Grace, a native girl found dead in a field.  Something touches Leo when he views Grace’s body, both as a reporter and as a person, and he embarks on a series of stories that revitalize his career as a journalist.  At the same time, Leo still has problems.  Not only does he still live in a basement room, which seems to be only one rung up from the streets, but he also hasn’t completely recovered from his addiction.  Although he’s not gambling, Leo is in the habit of robbing banks, albeit in a non-violent and polite manner.  Despite his issues and many other obstacles, Leo continues to try to solve the mystery of who killed Grace and why.

Leo Desroches is a great character, surprisingly likable for a gambling addict turned bank robber who crosses the picket line at a newspaper.  In Arthurson’s hands, Leo takes many giant steps towards redemption and I was firmly in his corner, rooting him on.  Having a reporter as a main character was a smart choice; it suits the author’s chatty writing style.  However, I did find the dialogue somewhat unrealistic, as all the characters were chatty, speaking in paragraphs that didn’t feel natural.  But the story itself overcomes this problem; it is a solid page-turning mystery written in short chapters that keep the plot fresh and unpredictable.  The last few chapters really stand out, bringing the threads of the story together nicely and reaching a satisfying, if not happy, ending that allows us to be content with Leo’s partial redemption.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The 6th annual Canadian Book Challenge- What is it? How do I join? And other FAQs

1. What is the Canadian Book Challenge?

The Canadian Book Challenge is an online reading challenge in which participants from Canada and around the world aim to read and review 13 or more Canadian books in a one year span: Canada Day to Canada Day. Reviews must be posted online and participants are asked to share links to their reviews with other participants. More on reviews below.

2. How do I join?

Send me an email (jmutford (at) hotmail [dot] com) with the subject line "Sign Me Up!" and I'll add you to the list. Consider yourself a participant even if you don't get a response from me right away. Come July 1st you can get started right away. As soon as I get your first link (see below), I'll add your name to the participant list on the sidebar of this blog.

3. Oh no, it's past July 1st, can I still join?

Of course! In the past I've had people join in the very last month. My response to latecomers is always the same: If you think you can realistically read and review 13 books in the time remaining, then why not? To join, just follow the exact same instructions as above.

4. What constitutes a Canadian book?

Canadian books can include any genre or form (picture books, poetry, novels, non-fiction, plays, anthologies, graphic novels, cookbooks, etc), can be written by Canadian authors (by birth or immigration) or about Canadians. Ultimately, participants must decide for themselves whether or not something fits the description of Canadian.

4. Do I need to know ahead of time which books I'll be reading?

No. But by all means, if you want to plan ahead, do so. Some people find it's more of a challenge to do it this way, and others prefer to find their next book as it comes. If you do make a list and decide to alter it along the way, that's fine.

5. Do I need to have a theme?

No. I personally like to read at least one book from each province and territory (it's the whole reason 13 has become the goal number). Last edition some of the themes included deceased authors, books set North of 60, crime fiction, small press publishers, and rereads. In other years we've had people choose books solely by a particular author or province. The options are yours to decide.

Certainly a theme could make the challenge more difficult, but then again, it could also make it more fun. In any case, the majority of participants opt to have no theme at all, just pushing for 13 random Canadian books. They feel they can still read what they want, when they want and aren't too confined by restrictions. The choice is up to you.

6. What if I don't reach 13 books or if I do?

If you don't, but you've had fun, it's still good. Your reviews will still be read by other participants. And you'll have a chance again when the next edition comes around. Some people ask if it's okay to fill up the remainder with children's books since they're shorter. I personally think children's books (picture books) are just as valid and need to be read and discussed as much as novels. Others think that it's a challenge, and as such, shouldn't be easy. Again, this is a participant's decision to make.

If you do reach 13, you may stop, or keep going. Remember, it's 13 or more. I love to see how many I can squeeze in. There are no prizes for reading the most. I want to stress that this is not a competition against other people. However, for all those that do meet the requirement of 13 or more, your names will be put in for a random draw for a prize.

7. Can my books count towards other challenges?

Of course! That's half the fun! I read some this past year that counted in the Graphic Novels Challenge and the Canadian Book Challenge.

8. I don't live in Canada and am finding it difficult to get my hands on Canadian books. Any recommendations or solutions?

It'll probably be easier to find some of our "big names" at your library (Margaret Atwood and Carol Shields, for example). Of course, you can always order online. And if you ask nicely enough, Canadian participants have been known to ship books far and wide to help out.

9. What if I read a book and don't have time to review it?

Sorry, that's one point I'm sticky on. I don't count it until it's reviewed. By all means, feel free to read 13 Canadian books, but the reviewing part is an equal component of the challenge. I want the books talked about even if you didn't enjoy it. While I say "review" I don't mean anything necessarily lengthy and I don't mean necessarily a review as much as I mean your thoughts on the book, questions about why an author said something, memories it stirred up. Anything, just something.

10. I don't have a blog, how do I post a review online?

Most Canadian Book Challenge participants are bloggers, but not all. Book reviews can also be posted on other sites such as GoodReads, Bookcrossing, Chapters, Amazon, and more. However, I do have a few requirements:

i. Participants wishing to read your reviews should not need a membership or sign up to do so. For instance, anyone can read a review at Chapters, so it's fine. However, a review posted on Facebook would be out since not everyone has a Facebook account and would not be able to access it.

ii. When you share a link make sure it's directly to your review and participants do not have to go searching endlessly to find it. For instance, if you blog, link to your posts, not your entire blog. (For example: Review NOT Blog) If you link from Chapters, after you write and publish your review, you will be be able to click on your review title which will provide your link in the URL bar. (For example: Review NOT Book page)

Yet another option is simply writing your review in an email to me (jmutford (at) hotmail [dot] com) and I'll happily post it on The Book Mine Set.

11. How do I share links to my reviews?

Each month there will be a roundup post here at the Book Mine Set. This year I'll once again be using a link sharing tool from similar to the one they use at the Graphic Novels Challenge. Whenever you finish writing a review, just head to my blog and click on the "Share your link" icon. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book you just reviewed, then provide the link. I'll also ask that in the comment section of that post that you bring us up to speed on your progress so far (ex. 6/13 read). I'll send an email reminder once a month.

12. Will there be prizes?

Possibly. In the past I've offered monthly prizes, but I've had to spend a lot of time soliciting publishers for donations.  Canadian publishing companies and authors have been very generous in their support. However, this year in an effort to keep down on my workload, I'm leaving the ball in their court. Should publishers or authors want to donate books as prizes, they can contact me at jmutford (at) hotmail [dot] com to arrange the details. And if there are no prizes this time around, let's let finishing the challenge be its own reward. I'll see how this approach goes this year and if it it causes a lack of interest in the challenge, or if the challenge seems less fun, I'll revisit it for the 7th edition.

13. Who designed the logo?
Sarah at Pussreboots designed this logo as an homage to graphic novelist Jeff Lemire.

14. How can I help?

By joining, reading and reviewing, obviously. And sharing links to your reviews. I also need help with promotion. Please, even if you're opting not to participate this time around, help promote the challenge on your blog. Feel free to write a post that tells your readers that your joining and why, and if you've participated before, how much fun it is. Also, use the logo above, feel free to place it permanently in your sidebar.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Reader's Diary #839- The Good News Bible: The Book of Jeremiah

The Book of Jeremiah is not an easy, straightforward read for a few reasons. It's long, it's repetitive, and God comes across as quite an angry god. Much has been written about how it shows the humanity of a prophet, one filled with doubt, resistance and inner turmoil, but I found my mind wandering too much to really notice. Which, for someone simply interested in reading the Bible and not in the theology, is not necessarily a bad thing. After what seemed like the 100th time that God warned Jeremiah that he was going to make everyone suffer for praying to other gods and living sinfully, I became more interested in the history of the book and of some of the events it portrays. When I went to France, we visited a couple of old buildings and sites that dated back to a few hundred years after Jesus. We could have gone to sites to see old cave paintings, of course, but we couldn't work it into our schedule. In any case, the recorded history in France astounded me. A hundred years after Christ seemed remarkable. Yet, reading the Book of Jeremiah, and doing subsequent research about when it is believed to have been written, it was an awesome reminder that there's still a lot of history between the days of cavemen and a couple years after Jesus. The talk of armies and trumpets and weapons and ancient wars-- I found the historical questions more fascinating than any message I was probably supposed to draw. Oh well, at least there was that.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The 6th Canadian Book Challenge- Logo Reveal and Theme Info

I usually do this post on Canada Day, as it's the official beginning of the annual Canadian Book Challenge, but this July 1st I'm going to be vacationing (in Newfoundland), and so I wanted to make sure I got the word out before hand.

First off, here's the brand spankin' new logo, the official logo of the 6th Canadian Book Challenge:

A huge thanks to Sarah (Pussreboots) for designing this logo for us. A mountie, the maple leaf, the colours, an homage to one of my favourite Canadian graphic novelists-- Jeff Lemire, I was so pleased when Sarah submitted this to my logo contest. For her efforts, Sarah will receive this awesome prize pack, kindly donated by Anansi Press:

Zoe Whittall- Holding Still For As Long As Possible


Bill Gaston- The Good Body

Kathleen Winter- Annabel

Another reason, I really love the logo is the donut. It fits perfectly with my food theme I was planning on using to tally our book progress. In the past I've used various themes such as highest peaks per province, largest lakes, etc, to track how many books we've read (ex. 13 or more books took you to Mount Logan). This time, using the results from survey completed by Canadian Book Challenge participants (5th edition), the results will go as follows and will track your progress in the sidebar accordingly:

13 or more books read: Maple Syrup (the highest vote getter)
12: Poutine
11: Canada Dry Ginger Ale
10: Canadian bacon
9: Nanaimo bars
8: Bannock
7: Kraft dinner
6: Yellow pea soup
5: Double double
4: Moosehead beer
3: Donairs
2: Caesar
1: Fish and brewis

So, if you plan on signing up for the 6th Canadian Book Challenge, make sure you send me an email with the subject "Sign me up!" [jmutford (at) hotmail (dot) com]. A more detailed sign-up post will follow shortly, for those who are new to the challenge and want more details.

Please, steal the above logo, stick in your sidebar, and spread the word!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Reader's Diary #838- Fernando Iwasaki, translated by Jeremy Osner: To Troy, Helen

"To Troy, Helen" begins with a man returning home unexpected, expecting to catch his wife in the act. It's clear this man is not overly impressed with the way his life has turned out. Following last week's short story which dealt with daddy issues, a midlife crisis story could have proven to be too much for me. I'm not intentionally trying to delve this deeply into the male psyche at this point. Fortunately, the flip side of "To Troy, Helen" deals with the wife's state of unhappiness. If it's a midlife crisis story, at least both sexes are represented.

 It's also quite a sexual story. While Iwasaki is originally from Peru, and I know there's a stereotype of overt sexuality in South American culture, I'm not sure if that helps put this story into any context that matters. It might help rationalize the ending, but it's hard to say if the ending is not simply a character's individual decision. It's a somewhat odd ending-- believable, but odd.

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

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Guest Post: Ann Weir's review of Wayne Johnston's Colony of Unrequited Dreams)

(Guest post for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge)

More than 550 pages long, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams is the fictional story of Joe Smallwood’s life in Newfoundland and his rise to become the province’s first Premier. Wayne Johnston has created an epic novel full of detail about Smallwood’s early life and his tireless efforts to break into the power structure, which in Newfoundland was historically occupied by transplanted Brits and a few wealthy Newfoundlanders. Growing up in poverty due to his father’s unwillingness to participate in the family’s successful boot making business, Smallwood is given the opportunity to attend the prestigious Bishop Feild College at the age of 12. Here he encounters the other central character in the book, Sheilagh Fielding, a student of the neighbouring girls’ school. When they are both expelled, their lives become intertwined and remain so for the rest of the story.

Johnston has cleverly structured the narrative around real events in Smallwood’s life to the point where fact and fiction blend together seamlessly. The early chapters covering his childhood stand out, as Smallwood’s parents are two of the book’s most entertaining characters. Descriptions of his later travels across Newfoundland are very insightful, revealing the source of Smallwood’s undying affection for the place and it’s people. Johnston’s use of the iconic book, D.W. Prowse’s History of Newfoundland as a reoccurring symbol worked well, as it reinforced Smallwood’s strong ties to his homeland. The weakest part of the book in my view was the fictional character of Fielding, who I found to be unnecessary and not very likable. Fielding’s writings appear frequently in the form of journals, letters, her own History of Newfoundland and newspaper articles from her career as a political columnist. I found her writing to be nasty, rather than ironic, and her character to be self-centered, rather than being sympathetic. She seemed to be this unfortunate burden that Smallwood couldn’t shake. However, I chose to read The Colony of Unrequited Dreams in the hope of learning more about Smallwood and Newfoundland and the book certainly delivered on both those counts.

Guest Post- Ann Weir's Review of Gil Adamson's Outlander

(Guest post for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge)

Set in 1903 in and around the mining town of Frank, Alberta, Gil Adamson’s debut novel The Outlander is the story of a woman named Mary and her dramatic escape through the wilderness. Mary is a 19 year old widow fleeing from her twin brother-in-laws after murdering her own husband. Her young life is best described as deprived, moving from a neglected childhood to a loveless marriage spent in a remote and isolated shack. The book opens with Mary desperately running from the twins and their bloodhounds as her journey begins.

The Outlander is beautifully written creating a story that is full of suspense and emotion. Even descriptions of the most derelict scenes, such as a group of miners trudging along to work in the pre-dawn darkness, are lovely and poignant. Looking back at the storyline, Mary’s journey is actually relatively short. But the vivid portrayals of her battle to survive facing starvation, isolation and the elements are so compelling, I couldn’t wait to find out what happened from one chapter to the next. Mary, or the widow as she is referred to, manages to survive her journey through a combination of resilience, determination and at times, sheer good luck. I grew to really care for this character as she achieves an admirable measure of contentment by earning and valuing the respect and affection of those she encounters. The Outlander is a touching story of personal triumph combined with a great Canadian outdoor adventure.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Reader's Diary #837- Hugh Garner: The Father

This morning my son gave me a Father's Day book he made at school. It followed a pattern that went "Mon papa aime..." and he filled it in with things I love:

"Mon papa aime la télévision."
 Okay, I thought, didn't think I was that big of a couch potato, but the accompanying drawing of me lying on the couch with a remote control is a bit of a wake up call.

"Mon papa aime travailler."
Really? I mean I like my job, but did I give that strong of an impression? Starting to get into "Cat's in the Cradle" territory here.

"Mom papa aime Tim Hortons."
That's about right.

"Mon papa aime pêcher."
Umm. Fishing? I'm not sure who he's thinking about here. We maybe went fishing together twice, as we were invited along by other people. Nor do I ever mention fishing. Not a fisherman. At all.

"Mon papa aime patiner."
Now it's getting strange. At 6, he's already a better skater than I am. I was 30 before I even learned how to stop. Is this the father he imagines me to be? The one he secretly wants? Who is this fishing, skating dad?

Hugh Garner's "The Father" is about that very common theme found in masculine lit: daddy issues. In this case it's about a father who realizes that he has drifted apart from his son, hardly knowing who he is anymore. Alcohol seems to have played at least some part in this divide. He tries to make amends for it by attending a father-son banquet the Boy Scouts are putting off. However, the man's efforts are rather pathetic, and it's certainly a case a "too little, too late."

It's well written but yeah, it's a bit of a bummer. As for me, my son's book ends by breaking the "My papa aime..." pattern and switches it to "J'aime papa."

While he may not know who exactly who I am, there ain't no daddy issues there. We had a fabulous Father's Day together. Breakfast in bed, a bike ride, a picnic, a game of cards, dinner, and a movie (in front of the TV).

J'aime mes enfants.

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Reader's Diary #836- Michael Brennan: Electric Girl Volume 1

Electric Girl, by Michael Brennan, has a good premise behind it. Virginia, the protagonist, is born with electrical powers. Which is fine in and of itself, but Brennan keeps them relatively subdued, and it becomes like a mild version of Stephen King's Firestarter. The inclusion of an invisible trouble making gremlin named Ooogleeoog, who gave Virginia her powers in the first place, has the potential to give the book enough originality to keep it afloat.

Unfortunately, Brennan seems bored with the premise before it even begins. The result is a bunch of comic short stories in which Virginia's powers and the presence of Oogleeoog hardly even come into play. Stories about zombies and lovesick robots could be interesting enough in their own right, but I doubt it's what new readers of Electric Girl would be signing up for. It's not what I signed up for. While the artwork is fine, I was hoping for better writing.

There was one story which gave me some hope. In a flashback to her childhood there's a scene in which a predator tries to abduct a naive Virginia into his van. Oogleeook watches on and wants to intervene when he is reminded that it would be against the gremlin code (which states they can only cause trouble, not prevent it). He finds a loophole. What makes this story more poignant is the character building that is lacking from the other stories.

For now however, I think I'm done with the series, but should someone tell me that in subsequent volumes there's a more consistent arc, I'd be willing to give it another shot.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Reader's Diary #835- Togueyadji Mindengar and Maurice Fournier: The Sheep, The Dog and The Goat

Today's a short, short one. But I took way more time than I'd intended just to find a short story set in Chad or by a Chadian author. So, when I came across this collection of Chadian folktales, I picked the first and shortest one to highlight.

In some respects it reminded me of some of the aboriginal folktales I've read in Canada. Animals are given anthropomorphic qualities in order to explain some great mystery of life. In "The Sheep, The Dog and The Goat" however, the animals are different (with the exception of the dog, which does pop up from time to time in Canadian aboriginal tales), and the mystery is not all that great. However, it's amusing and as short is it, it did briefly transport me to life in a Chadian city.

Plus, I love saying Chadian.

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

Thursday, June 07, 2012

The 6th annual Canadian Book Challenge?

Two things important things!

1. If you're interested in signing up for the 6th annual Canadian Book challenge, please email me with the subject line: Sign Me Up!"

More details and a more official announcement for the 6th edition of the challenge will come as soon as I have...

2. An official logo! But I still need one and after five years of running this challenge I'm growing shorter and shorter on ideas. So, I need all you creative and/or artistic types to design a logo. Here are the logos from past challenges:

So, a few things to note: Designs do not need to be fancy. Also, I have a thing for maple leaves, but it's not a prerequisite. I'm looking for something obviously Canadian and stereotypes are not discouraged. Something that involves books would be nice. Something catchy and original. I like a lot of Canadian graphic novelists-- Seth, Chester Brown, Jeff Lemire, Jillian Tamaki. Something in a similar style might be cool. Or in the style of a well-known Canadian illustrator might be neat-- say Michael Martchenko. But those are just my ideas and I'm interested to know what you will come up with. Entries can be emailed to jmutford (at) hotmail (dot) com.

 And while I know most would be happy just to have all the acclaim that a logo designer typically accrues, I'm also going to throw in this handy dandy prize donated by the good people at Anansi Press:

Zoe Whittall- Holding Still For As Long As Possible


Bill Gaston- The Good Body

Kathleen Winter- Annabel

A few more ground rules: 
1. Since I'm hoping to have a lot of entries to choose from, I'm not limiting this one to current Canadian Book Challenge participants.
2. Could be a photo, could be a drawing, as long as it's in a digital format and the name (The Canadian Book Challenge 6) is readable in a small size, it's a contender. Again, all work MUST be original.
3. I reserve the right not to choose any submitted entry without having to explain all my reasons and without hurting anyone's feelings (got that?). However, in the event that I choose none of the entries, I'll choose a random prize winner from all those who entered.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Reader's Diary #834- Charles Morris: Vineland and the Vikings

Looking at my "Around the World reading map" a few weeks ago, that large chunk of land between Canada and Europe was bothering me. I needed to read a story from Greenland to get it coloured in. I couldn't find any stories by Greenlandic authors online-- not in English anyway-- but I was able to find Charles Morris' retelling of some viking sagas set largely in Greenland and Iceland, and possibly Newfoundland, if you believe that's where Vineland (or Vinland) was. Morris didn't believe that it was, based on his final paragraph that asserts it was in New England. However, Morris was a late 19th century writer from the U.S. and archaeologist Helge Instad until 1960. It would be interesting to know what Morris would have made of this discovery.

It would also be somewhat irrelevant. From what I've read about Morris' writings, he seemed more interested in entertaining than educating. It's why I've labeled this one as "historical fiction." And "Vineland and the Vikings" is certainly entertaining-- full of adventure and danger. The story wouldn't be new to anyone familiar with the viking sagas, but if you're like me and haven't heard them for many, many years, it's a nice easy way to refresh your memory.

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

Friday, June 01, 2012

Forgive me for the Nickelback...

My latest Sporcle quiz.

5th Canadian Book Challenge- 11th Update

With only a month to go, I'm amazed at the number of reviews that continue to pour in. With the majority of participants having reached the 13 quota already, it seems hardly anyone is willing to call it a day just yet. Here are some of May's highlights, imho:
1. We have 2 reviews of Robert Rotenberg's Stray Bullets, by Bill and Kathy.
2. Just in time for summer, Irene reviews a gardening book
3. Carol Shields books in May (Larry's Party reviewed by Anita, and one I'd not heard of before, Swann, reviewed by Raidergirl). Which is a good way to introduce 1morechapter's Carol Shield's Month, starting today. Selections could also count for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge, so why not consider squeezing one in?
4. Speaking of Canadian author challenges, another you could try and double up with your Canadian Book Challenge selections is Darlene's Kelley Armstrong YA Challenge. Armstrong is supposedly visiting Yellowknife in the fall, so I might join this challenge myself.

Of course, I enjoyed reading all your reviews last month, as I hope you all did as well. What reviews stood out for you?

Which brings us to the prize winners of last month's contest. The winner of Jocelyne Allen's You and the Pirates, donated by the Workhorsery, chosen randomly from all those who shared their small press wishlist, is...Pooker! Congratulations!

For May's mini-challenge, I want you to reflect on the books you've read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge and in the comments to this post, tell us which of those you'd most recommend the most. From all those entries I receive, I'll choose a random winner. The prize? Generously donated by Red Clover, it's Monoculture by F.S. Michaels:

"As human beings, we’ve always told stories: stories about who we are, where we come from, and where we’re going. Now imagine that one of those stories is taking over the others, narrowing our diversity and creating a monoculture. Because of the rise of the economic story, six areas of your world — your work, your relationships with others and the environment, your community, your physical and spiritual health, your education, and your creativity — are changing, or have already changed, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. And because how you think shapes how you act, the monoculture isn’t just changing your mind — it’s changing your life."

BUT! If you don't win that prize, stay tuned for another contest in upcoming weeks...

Don't forget to add your June review links at the roundup post!