Thursday, October 31, 2013

The 7th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - October 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")

Monday, October 28, 2013

Reader's Diary #1077- JustAnotherMuffledVo: Untitled

(Photo by tm_hobbs)
About three months ago, a Reddit user posed a challenge to come up with the creepiest story possible with just two sentences. Someone using the awkward handle "JustAnotherMuffledVo" did just that. His or her story was scary as all hell and went viral. I'm not sure why it works for others, but for me and my wife, it probably resonated with us as parents. The next decision the parent has to make in this story is crucial. It's also impossible. I'm getting the willies just thinking about it.

This is the best piece of flash fiction I've read in a long, long time. I hope the strange user name doesn't deter people from taking it seriously, because this deserves to be anthologized. A flash classic in the making.

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

Updated January 27, 2015: Now the author's actual name has been attached, Juan J. Ruiz

Monday, October 21, 2013

Reader's Diary #1076- Zealia Brown Bishop and H. P. Lovecraft: The Curse of Yig

Cursed with amazing savings!
When we think of Halloween animals, most people first think of bats and black cats. Maybe spiders. Snakes, while certainly fear-inducing for many (my wife included), don't seem to enjoy the same connection to Halloween.

"The Curse of Yig," by H.P. Lovecraft (whose Octopus monsters also didn't take off as a Halloween staple) and Zealia Brown Bishop at least made an admirable attempt to make snakes a Halloween tradition. (Come on, they're easier to draw than bat wings.)

In this story Yig is supposedly "the father of serpents," a figure from Native American folklore. He is based loosely on the Mesoamerican Quetzalcoatl, a feathered serpent deity, but Yig himself seems to be a Lovecraft invention and appears in many later works. Native American drums are also used to instill fear; in the characters who fear what they don't understand, and presumably in the reader by mimicking a heartbeat.

The frame of the story is an investigation into Yig by an American Indian ethnologist whose research leads her to Dr. McNeill, who works in an insane asylum and reveals a weird, hissing human-esque creature locked in the basement. He tells her the story of how it came to be, beginning with a couple named Walker (who was deathly afraid of snakes) and his wife Audrey, who may have angered the evil snake god.

It's not so much scary as it is interesting (though if you've already a phobia of snakes, the story won't help any) and it's worth it to stick it out to the end.

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

Friday, October 18, 2013

10 From 100- A Profile of Canadian Book Challenge participant PUSS REBOOTS

John's Preamble: This month I've decided to feature a Canadian Book Challenge participant hailing from south of the border, in California. It's interesting. Despite my predominately Canadian focus and the Canadian Book Challenge, the majority of my visitors are still American. We are America's ball cap after all, so I understand the fascination! Sarah has been with us for 4 years (blogging under the name Puss Reboots) and even designed last year's Jeff Lemire inspired logo. Let's get to know her a little better...

10 FROM 100

1. What is your history of pet ownership?
As a child I had a series of hamsters — all named Peaches, and a tank of guppies. There were two dogs, a terrier with an attitude, named Gus, and a Springer spaniel who was a complete sweetheart named Sonny. And there's been a lifetime of cats: Maxwell Smart, Lady, Scamp, Oreo, Marmalade and my current two: Caligula and Tortuga.

2. Are you a summer or winter person?
I'm a rain person. In California, rain means winter, but I also like summer rain. I also like fog. It's probably due to a lifetime of living near the coast.

3. After photos, what is the next material item you would try and rescue from a house fire?
When I was younger I painted. I have about three dozen acrylics and oil paintings from those years. I would like to save those.

4. Ocean or mountains? Both. I live in California. To the west, I have the Pacific Ocean. Inland, I have my choice of mountains.

5. What was your favourite book read for this or a previous Canadian Book Challenge? My most recent favourite is Zombies Calling by Faith Erin Hicks. I haven't posted a proper review but I did post some photos of my favourite pages.

6. Are your Canadian Book Challenge choices pre-picked and are you following any theme?
I read and review more than three hundred books a year. If I see a book fits the challenge, I toss it into my to be read list but that's that extent of my planning.

7. Have you finished the Canadian Book Challenge in previous years?
I've finished it every year I've participated.

8. Do you shop for books online?
 I have a local bookshop where I purchase books. Normally what happens is I decide I want to buy a book. I look it up on their website and then I email in my order. That saves me from having to use my credit card or pay for shipping.

9. What is the longest book you’ve ever read?
If a compilation counts, then it's the The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (at just shy of 1800 pages). If it's a complete novel, then it's Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1463 pages).

10. What is more important to you: discovering new authors or sticking with old favourites? It's a mixture. Mostly my goal is to read as many books off my wish list as possible. As it's currently over 1000 titles, that's enough of a goal.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Reader's Diary #1075- Barbara Roden: Northwest Passage

(Photo by Cascade Hiker)
With the exception of trying to keep my blog predominately Canadian, I try to keep my content well rounded. I like to read from all different genres and forms, classics and contemporary, well-known and up and comers. This year, since there's been a lot of news about gender bias in the book reviewing world, I've also found myself trying harder to keep a gender balance and I've been finding it surprisingly hard! If I don't consciously make the effort, I tend to slip make into reading more male authors. Am I, as a male, subconsciously more drawn to male writers? Since I tend to read classics, and traditionally more men were being published, is that what has upset the balance in my reading? Looking at my current front page (minus this entry), there are reviews of works by Robert Arthur Alexie, Bram Stoker, Jeff Kinney, Fredric Brown, and Oscar Wilde. All 5: males.

Also in October, I've focused more energy on horror writing and in all honesty, it's easier for me to find horror written by males than females. Are more men writing horror? Are they getting more and better attention? Both? That question is larger than I'm ready to tackle here this week, but I was determined to find a horror story written by a woman for today's Short Story Monday. I should also note that finding Canadians who write horror is not exactly an easy task either. Imagine my surprise then that I managed to find both: a horror story written by a Canadian woman, Barbara Roden.

And that's the last of the author's gender I'll mention in this post, because "Northwest Passage" is a damn fine story and should be looked at based on that.

"Northwest Passage" follows Peggy Malone, a woman in British Columbia who is staying in a cabin in the woods. She is soon visited by a couple of young men who are off to get away from it all. One of these men reminded me very much of Chris McCandless (Into the Wild). As we have come to learn, those that long to disappear for a while, often disappear forever. Roden has chosen to add a supernatural twist to their mystery.

There's a sense of creepy foreboding that permeates this story like a BC mist. It also helps that while I found myself questioning and judging Peggy's actions like a woman who runs upstairs in a slasher flick, she's likeable and certainly not dumb. There aren't any solid answers at the end, but it's satisfying nonetheless. It had a Twilight Zone sort of feel.

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

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Reader's Diary #1074- Robert Arthur Alexie: The Pale Indian

The Pale Indian, by Robert Arthur Alexie, starts off with such beautiful yet provocative writing. However, when the characters began to speak, I started to feel less impressed.

There was a visual artist from my hometown that I remember everyone going nuts for. He was young and the community was really supportive. Before long everyone was getting him to paint signs, even full sized murals across their businesses. Occasionally, however, this artist slipped a person into his work. No one would come right out and say it, but these characters didn't exactly match his skill with landscapes. Truth be known these people were grotesque. Disproportionate and misshapen. Painting people is clearly hard.

And such was the dialogue in The Pale Indian. Every tedious and inconsequential word spoken makes the page.

Worse, however, is the sex. Once two of the central characters have sex, Alexie becomes preoccupied with it. I'm talking Jean M. Auel book-ruining levels of preoccupation. Isn't it some sort of artistic crime to make sex boring?

When the book begins, two stories start to unfold. One is about John, an aboriginal from the fictional Northwest Territories community of Aberdeen. John and his sister Eva, children of abusive and neglectful parents, are sent to live with a white family in Alberta. As an adult John finds himself working near Aberdeen, and falls in love with a girl named Tina. There are unforeseen complications to their relationship that take forever to unfold, to the characters at least. It's pretty predictable to the reader long before that.

The other plot, which eventually links up, involves a pale Indian named Edward. This mysterious man, also from Aberdeen, is living in a mental institute in the south. He has secrets. In Laurel Smith's Quill and Quire review she refers to the passages involving Edward as being the best-written ones in the book. No wonder. They involve little dialogue and no sex.

The intro to the book led me to believe that Alexie was going to shine a light on topics that are rarely talked about, that need to be talked about, and that he was going to do so with poetic aplomb. Didn't quite turn out that way.

Still, I'd be interested in reading another, later book of Alexie's. Maybe the dialogue and sex will be measured out more carefully. Based on the introspective beginning, there's promise.

Reader's Diary #1073- Bram Stoker: Graphic Classics

At the beginning of this year I once again signed up for the Graphic Novels Challenge, hosted by Nicola (and I look forward to joining again next year.) Not one who likes to bite off more than he can chew (okay, that's not entirely true), I decided to go the basic route, level one, which meant 12 graphic novels read and reviewed in a year. Well, that came and went, but I wasn't quite done. I had two choices (besides quitting), push for 24 books (this marks my 21st) which is Basic, Level 2, or try for the Advanced Play. That one's too difficult to explain, so I'll just cut and paste it here:

Advanced:  For advanced play we are going to play categories.  Players will pick 1 book from each of the 12 categories below.  If you are playing at Level 2 you could double up, choosing two from each category, or use the remainder as free picks.  You only have to read one book from each of the 12 categories.

1. manga
2. superhero
3. classic adaptation (a classic work adapted into the graphic format)
4. memoir
5. fantasy
6. translated from a foreign language
7. a single-issue comic book
8. science-fiction
9. crime or mystery
10. fairytale or mythology (true to the original or fractured, such as Fables series)
11. children's book (specifically written for children)
12. anthology (a collection of short stories by different authors/artists)

The thing is, most of my picks in the basic level just happened to fill up these categories. So, I've decided to knock off the categories I still needed to fill. The Graphic Classics of Bram Stoker fulfills the requirement of #3: Classic Adaptation.

I'm not a huge fan of Stoker, though this is the 2nd review of his works this week. Halloween is coming up, so it just seemed appropriate. And despite my lack of admiration for Stoker's writing, I did quite enjoy this book. More than anticipated, actually. Each story or comic is illustrated by a different artist, 26 in all (this includes the covers and a gallery of one-off illustrations of quotes from Dracula). The only one other than Stoker that I recognized in the whole lot wasn't an illustrator at all, but Mort Castle who wrote the intro.

Still the artwork is impressive and quite eclectic in style. It's not all strictly comic adaptations, some are merely illustrated short stories. However, the variety simply adds to the charm. I wish I liked Stoker's material better, but at least I was introduced to the shockingly violent "The Dualists" and the Poe-esque "The Judge's House." Even those won't go down as favourite pieces of writing, but I think that in the end I had more of a sense of what Stoker was all about beyond Dracula and exposure to a lot of other fabulous talent.

(A complete listing of all the involved artists and writers:
 Mort Castle
Rico Schacherl
Onsmith Jeremi
Evert Geradts
Richard Sala
John W. Pierard
Brandon Ragnar Johnson
Kostas Aronis
Neale Blanden
Skot Olsen
Michael Manning
Jeff Gaither
Maxon Crumb
Lisa K. Weber
Spain Rodriguez
Todd Schorr
Anton Emdin
Todd Lovering
Hunt Emerson
Lesley Reppeteaux
Gerry Alanguilan
J. B. Bonivert
Glenn Barr
Christopher Miscik
Kristen Ulve
Allen Koszowski
Mitch O'Connell

 Note that this only refers to the 1st edition, but a 2nd edition with more material is available.)

Monday, October 07, 2013

Reader's Diary #1072- Bram Stoker: The Dualists

I know horror has many different shades. There are supernatural thrillers. There's gore. There's subtlety, there's intentionally shocking. Only having known Bram Stoker for Dracula, I'd have classified him as being a writer of supernatural thriller. I would not have surprised to hear that Dracula was shocking in its day, but I was surprised at how shocking "The Dualists" is even by today's standards.

There's a couple of young boys that have a penchant for torture. It does not have a happy ending. In fact, it's almost as if Stoker goes out of his way to make the most outlandish and gratuitously violent story he could.

It's not, however, scary.

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

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Reader's Diary #1071- Jeff Kinney: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

There are movies and books I love to experience with my kids, but there are others I'm quite content to let them have to themselves. The Harry Potter series is one we do together, while the Diary of a Wimpy Kid  I assumed would be something they'd find and enjoy for themselves. I misjudged them as quickly and mass-produced books. Probably slightly entertaining and harmless but nothing I thought I'd be missing out on.

Debbie and I alternate which child we read to each night and it rarely lines up perfectly. I had finished reading James Howe's Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow to my son, but my wife and daughter were only about half way through Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay. So I grabbed up Diary of a Wimpy Kid from my son's shelf, figuring I could easily get through this one as well, but I ended up enjoying it a lot. Yes, low expectations have saved yet another book.

It was hilarious. I honestly don't remember the last time a book made me laugh so hard that I had to stop and recover. There's a scene involving a grape and an orange. Hysterical. Another with a form Christmas thank-you letter. I was made to read that one about three times.

Greg Heffley, a middle school kid (older than my own son), is an average kid. He's not perfect (he can be quite mean to his best friend), but that's okay— he provides a lot of talking points and he's certainly easy to relate to.

Who knew?