Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The 7th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - December 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)
4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")

Also, as an added treat, tell me in the comments which Canadian book published this year was your favourite and you'll be eligible to win a copy of Genevieve Graham's Somewhere to Dream:
generously donated by the author. Contest deadline Dec. 31st at 11:59, the winner will be announced in January. Good luck!

My Year in Review 2013- Fiction

 Considering that I started my masters in September and my blogging time took a real hit, I was surprised to see that my final tally of fiction (novels, novellas, children's novels, YA novels) was actually up from last year. There's also a lot more recognizable titles this around, though popularity seems to have had no affect one way or the other on my enjoyment. Here from least to most enjoyed are the fiction books I read in 2013. Which have you read?

41. E. L. James- Fifty Shades of Grey
40. Carmel DeVine- Sedna's Passion
39. James Howe- Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow
38. Robert Arthur Alexie- The Pale Indian
37. Rick Riordan- The Lightning Thief
36. Joseph Heller- Catch-22
35. Hugh MacLennan- Two Solitudes
34. Jane Urquhart- Away
33. Andrew Pyper- The Wildfire Season
32. James Howe- Return to Howliday Inn
31. Madeleine L'Engle- A Wrinkle in Time
30. Stephenie Meyer- Twilight
29. Stephen Leacock- Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town
28. James Howe- Howliday Inn 
27. James Howe- Bunnicula Strikes Again! 
26. Rick Riordan- 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones
25. James Howe- Nighty-Nightmare
24. Jill MacLean- Nix Minus One
23. Drew Hayden Taylor- The Night Wanderer
22. Rudy Wiebe- The Mad Trapper
21. Jay McInerney- Bright Lights, Big City
20. Barbara Smucker- Underground to Canada 
19. Douglas Adams- The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy
18. Richard Wagamese- Indian Horse 
17. James Howe- The Celery Stalks at Midnight
16. Jamie Bastedo- Nighthawk! 
15 .Jeff Kinney- Diary of a Wimpy Kid
14. Richard Adams- Watership Down
13. Eric Walters- We All Fall Down
12. Gaston Leroux, translated by David Coward- The Phantom of the Opera 
11. Arthur Conan Doyle- The Hound of the Baskervilles


10. David Bergen- The Age of Hope  
9. Al Pope- Bad Latitudes
8. Emma Donoghue- Room
7. Franz Kafka- Metamorphosis
6. James and Deborah Howe- Bunnicula
5. Lisa Moore- February
4. Don Delillo- White Noise
3. Donna Morrissey- Kit's Law 
2. W. P. Kinsella- Shoeless Joe
1. Markus Zusak- The Book Thief

Reader's Diary #1076- Don Delillo: White Noise

Getting in under the wire with my last novel of 2013; Don Delillo's White Noise.

At first I wasn't sure where Delillo was going with White Noise. He seemed to write satire like Douglas Coupland, sometimes even edgy satire like Mordecai Richler. These are good things. But there also seemed to be an awful lot of observation and ennui with little point that I could see, and that reminded me of Wes Anderson movies. This is not a good thing. Fortunately, as the theme become more and more prevalent (i.e., fear of death) the more enthralled I became. I think Delillo makes a good point in pointing out how this fear has pervaded our society and psyches. Though, when I say "our," I don't really include myself. Not really a fault with the book, but Delillo really only seems to offer one alternative to being afraid of death:  not being afraid of death. However, isn't the true opposite being afraid of immortality? I'm not suicidal, nor do I think I'm the only one with this outlook, but I certainly wouldn't want to live forever. Surely there's some comfort in an ending. The only time this third view is even hinted at in White Noise is when Jack (the protagonist) and his wife argue that they want to die first, as they wouldn't want to go on without the other.

Despite that, I grew to love White Noise and its provocative messages.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The 2013 Book Mine Set Short Story Online Anthology

It's been another wonderful year of short story reading. This year's anthology is truly a mixed bag, with writers of varying degrees of popularity, many different genres, and geographical locations represented. Truly, there must be something on this list than anyone would like. The only thing they really have in common is that they were all found online, for free. Next year, why not consider joining me in Short Story Mondays and if you do, I encourage you to check some of these out. The links below take you to my thoughts on each story, but there you'll also find links to the stories themselves. 52 stories, just one a week...

From least favourite to most favourite:

52. Mohammad Aljarmoshi- "Adolescence"
51. Park Benjamin, Jr. - "The End of New York"
50. Tom Franklin- "Alaska"
49. Giovanna Rivero-"Lava"
48. Brian Bwesigye- "Everything to Hide"
47. James Fenimore Cooper- "The Eclipse"
46. Helen Simpson- "The Tipping Point"
45. Margaret Atwood- "Stone Mattress"
44. Oscar Wilde- "The Selfish Giant"
43. Pearl S. Buck- "Christmas Day in the Morning"
42. Bram Stoker- "The Dualists"
41. Elizabeth L. Seymour- "The Burglar's Christmas"
40. Sholem Aleichem- "The Clock"
39. Barbara Bruederlin- "The Dead Month"
38. Don Aker- "Everything Gets Dead"
37. Lesley McAllister- "The Return"
36. Liliana V. Blum, translated by Toshiya Kamei- "A New Faith"
35. Zealia Brown Bishop and H. P. Lovecraft- "The Curse of Yig"
34. Kate LaDew- "Carl, The Speedy Eskimo" 
33. Eliza Robertson- "We Walked on Water"
32. Damodar Mauzo, translated by Xavier Cota: "The Red Nissan"
31. Jude Ortega- "The Short Sweet Life of Nameless"
30. Robert Sharp- "Man May Love"
29. Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer- "Seal"
28. Barbara Roden- "Northwest Passage"
27. Madeline Sonik- "No Kind of Man"
26. Fredric Brown- "Knock"
25. Carol Shields and Anne Giardini- "A Wood"
24. The Brothers Grimm- "The Elves and the Shoemaker"
23. Jerome Stueart- Et Tu Bruté
22. Binnie Brennan- "Absolution"
21. Fearless Frederick Lepine- "Mabel's Story"
20. David Crouse- "Nomads"
19. John Wyndham- "The Meteor"
18. Ukamaka Oliksawe- "Running"
17. Benoit Lelievre- "Full Moon"  
16. John Updike- "Carol Sing"
15. Joseph Boyden, Anne Michaels, Stacey May Fowles, Priscila Uppal, Catherine Bush, Craig Davidson, Michael Winter, Cary Fagan, Wayne Johnston, Kelley Armstrong, Lawrence Hill : "They Arrived in the Fall'
14. Roger Ebert- "The Thinking Molecules of Titan"
13. Helena Bell- "Robot"
12. Jane Gillies- "The Bedclothes Baby"
11. Cate Zerega- "Happy New Year!"

THE TOP 10!!!
10. Lydia Davis- "The Mice"
9. Hannah Garrard- "In the Hands of the Goddess"
8. Cathleen Kirkwood- "Guthrip"
7. Chuck Wendig- "This Guy"
6. Carmen Firan- "The Russian Fur Hat"
5. Becky Blake- "The Three Times Rule"
4. William Faulkner- "Dry September"
3. Saadat Hasan Manto- "The Dog of Ṭeṭvāl"
2. JustAnotherMuffledVo- Untitled
1. Ursula K Le Guin- "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"

How many of these have you read?

Reader's Diary #1075- Cate Zerega: Happy New Year!

One might suspect that Cate Zerega's "Happy New Year!" is titled somewhat ironically. In a nutshell it's about a woman getting drunk on New Year's Eve to get her mind off of her friend— a friend whom she clearly wishes was more than a friend. In the end (spoiler alert!), she winds up making out with a stranger on a bus while the new year enters in.

Sad, right? Except, I didn't necessarily feel it. Clearly the woman is a mess and clearly she's not making the wisest of decisions, but she's making somewhat average life mistakes. While such choices can lead to more dangerous episodes, there's nothing to suggest danger here except that it's a short story and they don't often deal with the typical (you'd suspect a short story to turn the stranger into some sort of rapist or serial killer). But that doesn't happen here and it ends up encapsulating what so many feel about New Year's, even the ones that handle the transition more responsibly. Regrets, mistakes, get 'em all out this year, 'cause next year's gonna be better. Happy New Year!

Tequila shots by Z_dead, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Z_dead 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

My Year in Review 2013- Nonfiction

My non-fiction reading was pretty much on par with last year (13 books in 2012) and probably would have been more if not for a certain controversial book (see #7) that was ridiculously long. It feels weird to rank my least favourite to most favourite non-fiction reads and not have Hitler's book as my least favourite. Keep in mind, this isn't a ranking of my least to most favourite people, nor do I agree with Hitler's horrific opinions. However, for its place in history and for giving me some insight into this monster, I'm still glad I read it. In any case, it doesn't top nor bottom the list, it's just the Nazi elephant in the room.

14. Neil Pasricha- The Book of Awesome
13. Ryan Silke (collected by)- High-Grade Tales
12. Dick Stevenson- The Saga of the Sourtoe
11. Patrick White- Mountie in Mukluks 
10. George Guthridge- The Kids from Nowhere
9. Mordecai Richler- On Snooker
8. John Seagrave- The Hudson's Bay Boy 
7. Adolf Hitler (translated by James Murphy)- Mein Kampf 
6. Carolyn Pogue- Rock of Ages
5. McKay Jenkins- Bloody Falls of the Copper Mine
4. Fran Hurcomb: Old Town
3. Rik Leaf- Four Homeless Millionaires
2. Jon Krakauer- Into the Wild
1. Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner: Freakonomics


Friday, December 27, 2013

Reader's Diary #1074- Al Pope: Bad Latitudes

Bad Latitudes, by Al Pope, has been on my radar for a while but it was only after a trip to the Yukon this past summer that I finally managed to get my hands on a copy. It was well worth the wait.

Bad Latitudes is basically a coming of age tale, but as the one who's coming of age is a newcomer to the Yukon, it's also a great read for the armchair traveler.

It begins with beautiful imagery and I was so initially caught up in the rich descriptions that I was somewhat losing track of the characters. (For all the similarities us two neighbouring territories have, there are also some very real differences.) Fortunately as the plot takes off (and trust me, there's more excitement than "coming-of-age" usually implies) the characters also became more streamlined and distinct.

Highly recommended.

My Year in Review 2013: Plays

This is the first time I've ranked the plays I've read in a year, but in the past most of the plays I read were Shakespeare's with just one or two others thrown in for good measure. However, this year I finally finished all of Shakespeare's plays and made a concentrated effort to read more classics that I'd missed. I'm not an avid theatre-goer (I would be if I ever lived in a place where theatre was a regular thing) and I know that reading them is an entirely different experience, but it's an experience nonetheless.

From least favourite to favourite (none that I really hated):

10. Tony Kushner- Angels in America
9. William Shakespeare- Henry VIII
8. Euripides- Medea
7. William Shakepeare- Pericles
6. George Ryga- The Ecstacy of Rita Joe
5. Ann-Marie MacDonald- Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet)
4. William Shakespeare- Love's Labour's Lost
3. Oscar Wilde- The Importance of Being Earnest
2. Molière- Tartuffe
1. Tennessee Williams- A Streetcar Named Desire

Reader's Diary #1073- The New King James Version Bible: Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians 1 and 2

As I just wrote about last week, I'm starting to run of things to say in my Bible reading posts. The books of the New Testament, while mercifully shorter, are just adding to that problem. Rather than write about each one every other day, I've decided to combine a few since there's so little for me to comment on.

One thing I have been enjoying in my Kobo version, published by Thomas Nelson, is the brief synopsis and historical background, added as supplementary material, that precedes each book. They've not only helped in my understanding but have also piqued my interest in the place and time settings as well as facts and theories surrounding the political realities of certain stories. In the four books mentioned in the above post title, for instance, these were not peoples I'd otherwise have had any knowledge of.

From the same sort of historical interests, I'm marveled at the idea that these speeches and letters are as old as they are.

As for the letters themselves, a few more brief notes:
1. I'm still struck by the messages about women having to be submissive. Egad.
2. Paul seems to try really hard to create symbols, arguably with varying degrees of success. The whole "shield" thing? As the Salvation Army has shown us, that one stuck. But metaphorical circumcision? Not so much.
3. Whereas the gospels came across as the basis of faith, the epistles so far seem to be the basis of the church.

By the way, if you look for Flickr photos to use for Bible related posts, be prepared for a lot of this:

Rubber ducks, less typical:

Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Year in Review 2013- Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels

Ranked from least to most favourite:

27. John Wagner et al (Writers) Carlos Ezquerra et al (artists)- Judge Dredd, The Complete Case Files 01 
26. David Boyd, illustrated by Drew Ng- Battle of Queenston Heights 
25. Shirow Masamune- Ghost in the Shell
24. John Wagner, illustrated by Vince Locke- A History of Violence
23. John L. Goldwater, Bob Montana et al- The Best of Archie 
22. Greg Rucka, illustrated by Steve Lieber- Whiteout
21. Frank Miller- 300  
20. Masashi Kishimoto (translated by Katy Bridges): Naruto, Volume 1
19. Scott Chantler- Tower of Treasure 
18. Bram Stoker, illustrated by various artists- Graphic Classics  
17. Sharon E. McKay, illustrated by Daniel Lafrance- War Brothers
16. Julie Doucet- My New York Diary
15. Julie Maroh, translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger- Blue is the Warmest Color
14. Bryan Talbot- Alice in Sunderland
13. Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Steve Rolston- Emiko Superstar
12. Alison Bechdel- Fun Home
11. Mark Millar, illustrated by John Romita, Jr.- Kick-Ass Volume 1 

THE TOP 10! 
10. Ashley Spires- Binky the Space Cat 
9. Guy Delisle- Pyongyang
8. Craig Thompson- Blankets
7. Various authors- Totally Mad: 60 Years of Humor, Satire, Stupidity and Stupidity
6. Alan Moore, illustrated by Kevin O'Neill- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
5. Michel Rabagliati- Paul Has a Summer Job
4. Grant Morrison, illustrated by Frank Quitely-  All-Star Superman Vol. 1
3. Sarah Leavitt- Tangles
2. Lynn Johnston- Something Old, Something New
1. David Small- Stitches

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Better than partridges in pear trees.

The (bookish) haul...

Jeannette C. Smith's The Laughing Librarian: A History of Librarian History (because it exists)
Certificate for Yellowknife's only (and greatest) bookstore, The Book Cellar
Stuart McLean's Revenge of the Vinyl Cafe
Stephen King's Under the Dome
Zoran Živković's The Library
and a gift from Barb Bruederlin, a 20,000 Books Under the Bow T-Shirt (20,000 thanks to Barb, an amazing friend originally met through blogging)

Reader's Diary #1072- E. T. A. Hoffmann: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you're all having a pleasant day. Don't worry, I'm not neglecting my family to blog. I wrote this post quickly last night as my kids watched the old Jack Frost animated special (the one with Kubla Kraus).

Earlier this month my daughter was part of a production of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet, put off annually by a local dance company. It's the 2nd time I've seen the show now, and I've always been a little bewildered by the whole thing (but of course, I love the parts with my daughter in it). I said this to my wife who remarked that it was all a fantasy land from a little girl's dream. Well, I got that much, I suppose but the frame story felt somewhat scattered and not important. So, I decided to go to the source material in order to better understand what the heck was going on.

Uh, yeah, I guess I better understand it now, but barely, and may I say, what a strange book! It's about a girl named Marie who fantasizes a whole world and plot involving a nutcracker, incorporating a bunch of other toys, candy, mice, and stories told to her by her godfather Drosselmeier. Without having understood the ballet a great deal, I can still conclude that Hoffmann's book is quite different. It feels very dated. The old military terms and sugared fruit, the style (e.g., the sudden addressing of "dearest reader"), and weird run-on sound effects and rhymes. You can see how books like Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz owe a debt of gratitude to the Nutcracker and the Mouse King (this book predates both), but those latter books perfected the fantastical, whereas Hoffmann's just seems bizarre and self-indulgent (and not particularly Christmasy, despite the setting). My son, whom I read it to, seemed more interested in the fact that the story was so old than with anything going on in the plot. I thought the parts with the Mouse King and Queen would hold his attention— seeing as those parts were actually more lucid and exciting— but instead he was just preoccupied with the way people used "thou" and "thee." Oh well, I guess I'm thankful that he learned something?

I should also note that the translator is not credited in my version, and perhaps a better translation would have given the book a better flow or made the characters more engaging.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Reader's Diary #1071- Mariko Tamaki (writer) and Steve Rolston (Art): Emiko Superstar

Back in September when I compiled my list of 13 essential Canadian graphic novels, Perogyo commented that she'd add Mariko Tamaki's Emiko Superstar to the list. I wasn't able to respond with agreement or disagreement at the time, as I hadn't read it, however now I've remedied that. I can definitely see why Perogyo made this suggestion (spoiler: I loved it!), but I don't think I'll be updating the list. I actually liked Emiko Superstar more than Julie Doucet's My New York Diary (i.e., number 13 on the list) but I was trying to spread the love around as much as possible and I'd already included Tamaki's Skim (which I'd still put above Emiko Superstar). (Likewise, I'd probably have put Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth series above My New York Diaries, too, except I'd already put Essex County on the list.)

In any case, all the above books are damn fine books, subjective rankings or not. Emiko Superstar is a coming of age story, in which the teenaged Emiko starts to discover herself through artistic expression. It's not a heavy-handed tale, it doesn't try too hard to be hip or cool (though it is), and at the end, Emiko is still coming of age, i.e., some conclusions are still left to be made. She also makes some mistakes. I was reminded a little of Paul Zindel's The Pigman (which was a shock to recall a book from my junior high years— more than 20 years ago). In both books, likeable characters make a really shitty decision at someone else's expense. And it's so cringe-inducing because the authors have made the central characters so insanely likeable. More problematic with Emiko Superstar is that she actually benefits from her poor choice (spoiler #2: she publicly reads someone else's diary) and the person whom she's betrayed (i.e., the woman who wrote the journal) is none the wiser, nor adversely affected by it. Emiko still learns a lesson at the end but I still felt like she got off lucky. (If I seem as if I'm talking about a real person, that's just how well written she is.)

Rolston's artwork, while somewhat simple, still manages to convey the subtleties of each character's emotions and complements Tamaki's story quite well.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Reader's Diary #1096- John Updike: The Carol Sing

Earlier this week I attended an annual community event (it'll have to remain nameless— it's a small town!) that I normally enjoy. This year, most likely due to a recent death in the family (despite it being expected), I couldn't get into said event. I just wasn't wasn't feeling it. The interesting part, however, is that it felt like no one else was either. Was this a case similar to those stereotypical stoners who, once stoned, think everyone else is too? "Look at Alf chasing that cat! He's so got the munchies!" Only in my case, instead of feeling high, I was feeling low and the energy in the room also felt subdued. (And no, I wasn't being a wet-blanket bringing everyone down.) Maybe it wasn't actually that way, maybe it's a survival mechanism; cheery Christmas people can potentially get under the skin of a depressed person— it's easier to pretend they're not cheery.

In John Updike's "The Carol Sing" it's not quite the situation I described above. A group of people are out to carol once again, but despite singing the same songs as previous years, the narrator suspects that no one's heart is really in it. One of them passed away recently and clearly they are all missing him. Still, they've decided to continue on. Different than my situation, as where I was no one knew of my deceased family member who had never been part of their group, but the idea of tradition and resiliency was not lost on me.

Well, why anything? Why do we? Come every year sure as the solstice to carol these antiquities that if you listened to the words would break your heart. Silence, darkness, Jesus, angels. Better, I suppose, to sing than to listen.

caroling 12.jpg by riekhavoc, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  riekhavoc 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Reader's Diary #1095- The New King James Version Bible: Ephesians

On Mondays, when I write about short stories, I try my best not to write a post longer than the story itself (easier said than done when it's flash fiction). Likewise, when I write about the books of the Bible, I try not to read more about the book than the book itself. Again, it was somewhat difficult with Ephesians. At only 6 chapters, I found it difficult to find anything new to focus on. There was a piece about women having to be submissive to men, but I pretty much knew how that research was going to go: apologists would say this interpretation is wrong. I read article after article defending this supposedly controversial text yet barely came across any that actually criticized it. That's when I realized that I was just looking for something juicy in an otherwise unremarkable book.

I like what this guy has to say.

ephesians halloween set up in ringwood by ccontill, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  ccontill 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Reader's Diary #1094- Brian Nagel: Let's Forefoot da Sonovabitch

I was excited to first hear about this book. In the Canadian Book Challenge I try to read 13 books, each from a different province and territory, as well 13 additional books from North of 60. Saskatchewan typically winds up being difficult to find a book for, so Brian Nagel's Let's Forefoot da Sonovabitch covers that angle, and seeing as Brian Nagel has been a Yellowknifer for a good many years now, I could also add it to the North of 60 category as well. Not often does one find a book with a Saskatchewan- Northwest Territories connection!

For the most part these are pleasantly told, mildly amusing anecdotes from Nagel's childhood growing up in rural Saskatchewan. Readers like myself, from other parts of Canada and from a different generation, will find themselves almost unwittingly drawing comparisons between their own childhoods and Nagel's. From a small outport Newfoundland community, I was surprised to find as many similarities as I did. Those were mostly based on the rural nature of Nagel's tales as well as the close familial bonds. Of course, the differences were much more obvious. (I honestly can't say that horses, for instance, were relevant to my upbringing-- but then, my father has a few horse stories and he grew up in the same town, so this may be more of a generational difference than a geographical one.)

However, Nagel's anecdotes are hit or miss, and when he misses, he misses big. Ever been around someone when they're trying to recount a personal experience but find themselves in hysterics? You're sitting there failing to understand why he finds this so funny and hoping that you can fake an enthusiastic enough response to not appear insulting? The old "I guess you had to be there" scenario. Worse with Nagel's misses? Not only did I fail to see the humour in some, I actually find some of the people he so obviously remembers fondly to be... not so great people. Animal abuse? (I'm not talking about the typical livestock stories, either.) Drinking and driving? Maybe something gets lost in the telling, but I doubt I'd be able to muster up a smile for those particular stories even if I was to hear them in person.

If any case, one would still get a sense of life in rural Saskatchewan, even if it's not always pretty.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Reader's Diary #1093- David Boyd (writer) and Drew Ng (illustrations): Battle of Queenston Heights

When I was a wee lass growing up in Newfoundland, I remember my history classes as either being Newfoundland-history or world-history. Since leaving Newfoundland and living in the north for the past 12 years, I've also picked up a lot of northern-specific history. I'm not diminishing all of that, I think more Canadians should learn the country's history beyond Ontario, Quebec, and the early days of colonialism. That said, I also think the Ontario/Quebec/Early Colonialism stuff's important and it's certainly an area of knowledge I'm weak in. When Canada marked the 250th anniversary of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham a few years back I was completely in the dark. Plains of Abraham? The Biblical Abraham? Was that in Israel or something?

So, when I saw the Timeline series of historical  fiction at the library recently, I thought it could be a good way to take a crash course in Canadian history while supporting my love of graphic novels. It's aimed at young kids, the books are short, so it shouldn't have proved onerous.

If Battle of Queenston Heights is any indication, it also doesn't prove very good. This seems to be a case of educators hoping to jump on the graphic novel bandwagon, without any real respect for the art form. Want kids to learn history? Stick it in a comic. They'll read that.

Ultimately, I think this cheapens the medium and I think kids see through it. Battle of Queenston Heights feels slapped together. Problem #1: a couple of young twins thrown into a story about Americans invading British North America (Canada)— presumably because the writer thinks kids won't be interested unless there are children involved. Possibly he's right. Except the kids are cardboard cliches, especially the "girl out to prove she's as tough as any boy" and they wind up being more of a distraction to the historical story than anything else. Problem #2: the cartoonishly villainous Americans who plan on hanging one of the kids. Even if we falsely presume that the intended readers don't have the maturity to understand the gray areas— that war isn't always as simple as good guys vs. the bad guys— then do they need to hear this story now? Do we need to start sowing the seeds for offensive generalizations and stereotypes? Problem #3: the artwork. It's not terrible, but it's terribly generic.

I know it's difficult* to find appropriate and/or educational comics for an elementary classroom, but if you can't do it right, don't do it at all.

(*Difficult, not impossible.)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

10 From 100- A Profile of Canadian Book Challenge participant JULES

John's Preamble: In the 10 From 100 profiles so far, I've included some background info about the participant in addition to their interview questions. With Jules I think I'll let her brief online profiles do the talking. From Library Thing:
26 year old Library Technician. Who is a huge book geek and loves to share what I read with others. I always have a few books on the go, and own more books than my poor bookshelves can hold. Also an avid coffee drinker and sci-fi geek.
From her blog:
Late-twenty something Law Library Technician by day. Book Fanatic always. I read from all sorts of genres, with focus on Canadian literature and authors. I'm constantly reading, either by book, Kobo or Ipad (mostly book) usually with a cup of coffee near by and my cat in my lap. Life is good.
From Twitter:
Bookworm, Avid Reader, Cat lover, Drinker of Wine and Coffee, Ontario, Canada
So what have we learned? She's a book lover from Ontario and seems to drink a lot of coffee.

Let's see what else we can find out:

10 FROM 100

1.      What is your history of pet ownership?

I grew up with dogs, Coco, Heidi, Chopper and TJ, although my family got TJ after I'd moved out. Coco and Heidi who were both girls. They were mutts, but they did have some Scotch Collie in them. Chopper  was a black lab Sheppard cross, we got him when in my first year of high school. TJ was a chocolate lab cross, he came some time during university, or maybe it was later when I was in college. All four dogs have left the family, and now they now have Maggie and Rosie.

After I moved out and finally had my own permanent place I got a cat. I've wanted a cat since I could say I wanted a cat. My first cat was Tonks, a small, short haired calico girl. (Named after the Harry Potter character.) She has a interesting personality, and I think has inherited some of my personality, both good and bad traits - I swear she learned that glare from me. Two years later I moved in with my partner, he had a Carmel Tipped Himalayan - a beautiful, but older cat, named Mouse. Since Tonks was two at the time, we got our third cat so she'd have someone to bug who wasn't older, and wanting to enjoy a quiet peaceful house, which is how Lupin, a grey, giant, medium haired boy came to live with us. He's a sweetheart, loves to chat with you in the morning, and chases Tonks around the house. Mouse passed on at the beginning of last year, but the other two cats are happy and  healthy.

2.   What is a charity you support?

I support a few charities, but the ones I've supported the most in the past few years are both The Canadian and Ontario Schizophrenia Associations, both are an important charities to me, as is advocating for mental health awareness in general. I also support the Love of Reading Charity.

3.   Are you a summer or winter person?

Summer or Winter? Neither, I'm a fall person. I love the colours, the smell, the cool crisp air, the lack of (sometimes) snow.....

4.   You have five choices of pizza topping. Go:
Chicken, Basil, Red Peppers, Goat Cheese, Mozzarella Cheese.  Unless Mozzarella doesn't count, like sauce, then Spinach would be number five.

5.   Are your Canadian Book Challenge choices pre-picked and are you following any theme?

I sometimes follow a mini-theme, last year I tried to read at least thirteen new-to-me Canadian authors and this year, I'm trying to read one book from each Canadian Province/Territory.  I do have a list of books from each province that are potential books to be read, and in some cases my choices are limited, so that list, is my list to read. But in most cases, I just pick books that interest me.

6.   Quantity or quality?

In what books? Chocolate? Hmm, the answer to both is quality. I rather read less books that are good reads, than read a whole bunch that, well suck or don't appeal to me. As for chocolate, well there isn't a lot of bad chocolate out there, but why eat a lot of good chocolate, when you can eat, a lot of top quality chocolate? I think the chocolate is a tie for both.

7.   Do you read on an electronic device and if so, which one? If not, why?

I read on my Kobo, it's always with me. I never thought I'd warm up to the idea of en EReader, but I love it, it's handy, you don't lose your page when you shove the book back into your bag, and the next book is there when you finish one. I still prefer physical books over electronic ones, but it has its uses. It's also good to help save space, since my bookshelves are near to collapsing. And, you don't have to worry about losing your spot if you fall asleep while reading, or if you have a bookmark stealing cat.

8.   Which Canadian author have you read the most?

I think that one is a tie between Margaret Atwood and Kelley Armstrong, both are around the 13 - 14 books read a piece.

9.   How long have you been participating in the Canadian Book Challenge?

I started out during the 2nd Canadian Book Challenge, so that was 2008-2009. For me it would have been very late 2008 or early 2009, since I didn't start blogging until August 2008, I've been joining in ever since

10.   Where is your favourite reading place?
In a big arm chair, preferably in front of a fireplace. But, I don't have that set up yet. I do have an arm chair in my office, which I call the library, as it's where all the books live. The chair is conveniently placed beside the book shelves. Usually there's a cup of coffee and a bookmark stealing cat nearby too.  

Black Coffee for Breakfast in White Porc by, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Reader's Diary #1092- Elizabeth L. Seymour: The Burglar's Christmas

Despite the title, Seymour's (Willa Cather, writing under a pseudonym) "The Burglar's Christmas" owes more to the prodigal son story than to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It is about a (presumably) homeless man on the streets of Chicago who feels apart from society, even more now than usual given the Christmas feeling in the air ("shut off as completely as though he were a creature of another species"). I couldn't help but be reminded of a homeless man I met a few days ago when I was out Christmas shopping. It was minus 40 and he didn't have a meal or a home and I was buying stocking stuffers. What a gross feeling.

But I've always liked the Christmas story for the message of hope, and so if Seymour is up to the task of creating a happy ending or at least the hope of one, I was okay with a Christmas story that began depressingly. There's also, however, the risk of getting too carried away with it and winding up schmaltzy. Some might argue that it was a risk that Seymour lost with her ending (the homeless burglar winds up reuniting with his mother while accidentally and coincidentally attempting to rob her home). True, it's a bit out there in terms of plausibility, but real-life coincidences can happen— and can make for interesting stories that people struggle to believe. I also think Seymour did consider that readers might think it all a bit much, and tried to tamper it a bit with the burglar's father not being as warm as the mother. I'm inclined to say that it wasn't too schmaltzy, but I'm not sure everyone would agree.

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

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Rest in Peace, Una Snow

Those that make all those horrible mother-in-law jokes, clearly did not have Una Snow as a mother-in-law. She was a warm, wonderful human being and I'm privileged to have known her.

You will be missed, Una.

(For more on Alzheimer's Disease, I suggest reading Sarah Leavitt's Tangles.)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Reader's Diary #1091- The New King James Version Bible: Galatians

Earlier this year I finished reading the complete works of Shakespeare. Finishing that and the Bible were two long term goals of mine— goals that could have taken me much sooner than the 5 or 6 years it's taken so far, but I've been enjoying doing it more leisurely, reading other stuff all the while. Still, finishing Shakespeare felt a bit like a burden lifted and I did so hope to have the Bible finished by the end of the year as well.

Well, since starting my masters, my reading's been down in general and way down for the Bible reading. I'm definitely not finishing this year, and with about 18 books left after Galatians, I'll be lucky to get it done by this time next year. Hopefully there'll be some short ones in there.

I'm really starting to lose my focus. I finished Galatians about a week or two ago, and sitting down to write this today I had totally forgotten what it was all about. Granted, there weren't any greatest hits moments— no floods, man-eating whales, or miracle feasts— so it was a bit drier than a lot of other books of the Bible. Essentially it's Paul telling the Galatian people that the law (specifically Judaic law) is not as important as faith. Yet later he tells them things they should stop doing, which to me is rather law-like (just sayin'). Paul continues to come across (and maybe it's the translation) as a bit of a politician.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Reader's Diary #1090- Bryan Talbot: Alice in Sunderland

A couple of years back I wrote about Ann Marie Fleming's The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, saying that while I liked the book as a scrapbook, I found her illustrations (not the few by Julian Lawrence) to be poorly drawn and I questioned why it won a Doug Wright Award in 2008.

Had Talbot been Canadian and won this award, I'd not have questioned it. It takes the scrap book idea and explodes it, with pages that are a comic-collage hybrid.  Photos, drawings, it's all in there. And Talbot, at least, can draw.

Alice in Sunderland is about a city in Northeastern England and how it, and the surrounding areas, inspired Lewis Carroll to write his Wonderland novels. There's also a sense of Sunderland momentum that Talbot explores, in a Forrest Gumpian sort of way, with those inspired by Sunderland feeding back into the inspiration machine. Talbot himself seems himself caught up in it all, with Carroll (and to some extent, Carroll's illustrator, John Tenniel) being one of his greatest muses. Talbot also explores the idea of myth and legend, as products and producers of a culture.

It's a huge and noble task and the results are simultaneously breathtaking and flawed. The artwork is very eye-catching and eclectic. It's impossible that I noticed everything. The idea in itself is inspiring (I felt like I needed to start a scrapbook on my home town). But it's also tedious at times and the history lesson just seems to go on and on. At some points it was too easy to forget the book had anything to do Alice or Lewis Carroll. To his credit, Talbot does attempt some creative devices to shake up an often-times boring cataloguing of the important people that ever passed through Sunderland (no matter how briefly). Unfortunately, a narrator that kept switching identities and characters was ultimately confusing. And some of the best moments in creativity were in the last quarter of the book, so at over 300 pages, the pay-off is far too long in coming. Nonetheless, I admire Talbot's audacity to even take on such a project.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Reader's Diary #1089- Pearl S. Buck: Christmas Day in the Morning

Alas, there's nothing in this story about seeing three ships come sailing in. I so hoped to have that song explained. (Not really, I just looked it up.)

"Christmas Day in the Morning" by Pearl S. Buck is a bit on the saccharine side. Not Christmas Shoes saccharine (oh my, I just listened to Patton Oswalt's take-down), but certainly a baby in a manger away from the Kinks' Father Christmas.

It's interesting, this whole "fathers expressing love" thing. When I tell my kids that I love them, I might get a "I love you, too," or I might get a, "yeah, I know, you tell me that everyday" and in all honesty, both replies make me smile. Is it excessive? Will they someday need to hear it more and doubt my sincerity? Nah, I doubt that. Do I judge fathers of a certain my father's generation for being skimpy on the old love talk? Not really, I suppose (though it's taken 14 years of hard counseling and one screenplay that no one wants to read). People express themselves differently and that's what this story is about.

And it's on Christmas, too, which makes sense. Speaking of expressing things differently, this Christmas I'm sure to get a Christmas card from some aunt or some friend of my parents that I've barely spoken to in 15 years, simply because it's Christmas and because of some weird tradition that sees them picking up a crate of bulk cards with generic Christmas greetings on them. They'll sign their names, and like a mini-Christmas miracle, I'll cross their thoughts again. They'll search for my address, say "I wonder how he's doing," lick the envelope, and I'll be forgotten about until next year this time. Later, I'll get it in the mail, say "I wonder how they're doing" and "I hope they're not too offended that I don't do the Christmas card thing." I'll think it's lovely, chuck it in the garbage, and think of them again next year this time.

Where was I? Oh yeah, "Christmas Day in the Morning." It's about expressions of love. And cows.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

7th Annual Graphic Novels and Manga Challenge 2014

Besides the Canadian Book Challenge that I run, I also look forward each year in participating in the Graphic Novel Challenge, hosted these past 2 years by Nicola. This year she's tweaked the name somewhat to include Manga, but otherwise the challenge is pretty much the same (i.e., awesome). Go here for more details and to sign up.

She also has put a call out for the creation of a challenge button. The one above, rest assured, is not it. I did it as a larf, borrowing a creative commons* picture from Flickr and slapping some text over it. Surely you can do better than this. (No offense to the man in the photo.)

And if you want to combine your love of Canadian literature and for graphic novels, why not considering joining both challenges? Here are some suggestions to get you started.

(*original photo by Tojosan, more info on the CC license here.)

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Reader's Post #1088- The New King James Version Bible: Corinthians I and II

I'm finding it difficult to talk about these books. I've made it this far into the Bible and avoided (I think) stepping on any toes, but I've been finding Paul, the narrator, really off-putting. I really don't want to offend, but let's just say, he's quite an opinionated fellow. And the thing about opinions is, if you spout enough some things will make sense and appeal to people, and then there'll be stuff that sort of make them want to slam on the brakes.

Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.

This site talks about the passage, defending it by saying it's not to be taken literally and it's to be taken in context, and to be honest it all seems rather convenient. The problem is, when Paul goes and says something we do agree with, do we say it wasn't meant to be taken literally and that we have to remember the context? 

Paul writes 13 of the books of the New Testament... this might prove difficult.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Reader's Post #1087- Brothers Grimm: The Elves and the Shoemaker

As many of my frequent readers can attest, I've been a long time fan of Sporcle, the online trivia site. However, their app has always been terrible and so my trivia fix has always been limited to when I'm at my computer. Then last week I discovered the QuizUp app and I've on a binge. In fact, I'm now the Canadian leader in Children's Literature. The Children's Literature could stand more variety and to do well in the  certainly it wouldn't hurt to brush up on one's Grimm's fairy tales. I was surprised to find that I've not yet read any of their works for this blog since I began 8 years ago. But it's December, there are elves in the story and a brief mention of Christmas so it seemed like a good a time as any.

"The Elves and the Shoemaker" was not an unfamiliar story to me, but there were parts I definitely didn't remember. (The elves were naked???) It's the story of elves helping out a poor, hardworking shoemaker during the night and pleasantly surprising to this modern reader, the shoemaker and his wife don't take advantage. Instead they are grateful and make clothes (not replacement clothes, as I'd remembered, just clothes) for the elves who are delighted but then leave forever. It's hard to comment on the Grimms' writing as these were folktales collected by the brothers and since translated into English so many times that it's kind of silly for me to even be suggesting they're the authors, but in any case, it's a charming story and I'm glad they were involved in its preservation.

Also, I never drew the connection to Dobby in Harry Potter books before now. Elves are apparently relieved of their duties when you give them clothes. I'm guessing there are some pretty cold elves in the North Pole.

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

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The 7th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - November 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)
4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Reader's Diary #1086- Rick Riordan: The Lightning Thief

A few months back I wrote about Rick Riordan's first book in the 39 Clues series. I referred to it as "a little far fetched at times" and "like a Dan Brown novel for kids." Still, I was at least lukewarm towards it, enough so that I decided to give The Lightning Thief a go as my most recent read aloud with my daughter. Sadly, the issues I had with 39 Clues were pretty much the same this time around, only I'd also charge it with ripping off J. K. Rowling. Granted, that one may be a little unfair; according to at least this person, Riordan's book was actually written before Rowling's, though hers was published first and it's not like Rowling herself didn't lift the majority of her ideas from other sources. Still, the camp in The Lightning Thief felt like a lame take on Hogwarts, while the "Capture The Flag" game was like a lame take on Quidditch (this coming from a guy who thought Quidditch itself was pretty stupid).

Furthermore, I didn't really buy Percy Jackson. There were too many times it felt like an adult trying to pretend to be a teenager. Percy, for instance, mentions Muzak on at least a couple of occasions. While no doubt plenty of teens have heard it playing, I've never met one that uses that term, or that would even know it. It's possible, I suppose, but there were a few more such references that didn't register as authentic to me.

Then there's the whole Euro/American thing. While Riordan makes some quick lip service to Christians who might balk at the idea of Greek gods and therefore risk it being banned, I suppose, in the Bible belt, he's less apologetic to anyone not from western society, pretty much ignoring them, their folklore, and their religions. Perhaps, gods from Chinese mythology make an appearance in later books, but I think I'm already done.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Reader's Diary #1085- Barbara Bruederlin: The Dead Month

It's not the whole "A Picture is Worth 1000 Words" mentality as if words and images are competing for value, but new online magazine Latent Image seems to share the philosophy of graphic novelists everywhere: that together words and images can complement each other instead.

It was with this in mind that they linked a photo by Mark Walton (not the image shown above), with a short story by my good friend, Barbara Breuderlin, called "The Dead Month." Barbara, if you've ever checked out her blog, is known for her wit, but this story is not humorous, not even darkly so, though it is dark. She's taken a character who's had those morbid fantasies we've all had on occasion, and given him what he wanted: a world to himself. It's post-apocalyptic though the details are vague, merely dropped as a matter of fact. We also gather that this is somewhat new as there's an inner tension, with the main character clearly still coming to terms with his new existence, almost as if, in a superstitious way, he's blaming himself for bringing it on— yet despite this, he has not entirely let go of the idea that this eventually could be a blessing.

It's short, and short on plot, but intriguing enough to warrant a couple of read-throughs.

UPDATE: Well, this is embarrassing. Sort of. It turns out that the link I provided above was not the whole story. It turns out that to access the whole thing, I would have needed to have subscribed to the magazine. The thing is, it didn't say that anywhere on the page I'd linked to, nor did it say Barbara's story was excerpted. And funnily enough, I still think the excerpt can stand on its own! However, if you're interested in reading the whole thing, Barbara has graciously left a link to the entire piece in the comments. I've left my link as is, to compare. The only changes I would make to the above comments is that it is not as short on plot as I'd first suggested and there is more of a resolution to the tension.

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

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Reader's Diary #1084- W. P. Kinsella: Shoeless Joe

When I bought this book on my Kobo, suddenly Recommended for Me were such books as Moneyball and Eight Men Out. The assumption being, clearly, that I must be a baseball fan. Sorry to say, I read W. P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe mostly due to Kinsella being a Canadian and I found it interesting that this novel of his, which often appears in "best sports novels," never seems to be considered Canadian. It's about baseball, for one. Sure we have a team in the major leagues, sure there are clubs across the country (my nephew is one hell of a pitcher, actually), but come on, it's hockey country. Or lacrosse. Heck, football, curling, figure skating... Baseball is an American game. Sure more of them watch football, probably basketball, too, but baseball is a quintessentially American symbol. Like apple pie, bald eagles, Smith & Wessons, and Budweiser.

Not far into it, I started to think of how American the book actually is. It's literally the American Dream. (Or technically, I suppose, "an" American Dream, if I insist on using "literally.") But then I realized that I was really in no position to make that call. Maybe it's an outsiders view of the American Dream, a stereotype. And maybe I was just hung up on that because of baseball. By the time J. D. Salinger showed up (how cool and unexpected was that?!) I started to realize how easily adapted one could make this story. Salinger's there, maybe it's an analogy of someone writing a novel. But really it could be any dream that one pursues beyond all reason.

It's a beautiful book. Poetic, profound. It may just be the best novel I've read all year. I'll knock off a few points for having two dimensional female characters, but otherwise I was marveled.

(I haven't seen Field of Dreams, based on the book, however, so I have no idea how it would compare. Anyone want to weigh in?)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Reader's Diary #1083- Eliza Robertson: We Walked on Water

I'm a cyclist, but the world of competitive cycling is foreign to me. Actually, the world of competitive sports in general has never been something I've been able to win orange pie over. But, that doesn't mean I don't like reading about. Angie Abdou's Bone Cage, about wrestling and swimming, came to mind while reading Eliza Robertson's "We Walked on Water." As a story about a couple of triathlon athletes, I had three sports to keep track of.

But I enjoy stories that initially appear out of my wheelhouse, so to speak. I get to learn about something and invariably they turn out to be not so much about the sports themselves, but the humanity. "We Walked on Water" is a beautiful, albeit tragic, story about a brother and a sister. As the story goes on, we get to witness how a sport can become so much more.

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