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.)

Friday, November 15, 2013

7 From 100- A Profile of Canadian Book Challenge participant CAROLYN RIEDEL

John's Preamble: Thanks to Carolyn Riedel, who blogs at RIEDEL FASCINATION, for stepping up to be this month's Canadian Book Challenge participant profile. Carolyn wrote her own intro, so I don't have much to add in the preamble, except that it took me— much to Carolyn's chagrin, I'm sure— months to finally spell her last name right. (I can't promise I won't mix up the I and E ever again, but I can be forgiven for a tpyo here and there, right?) Carolyn, for the sake of brevity, also opted to edit her response down to 7 answers instead of 10.

Also, a happy birthday in advance (the 18th, I believe?)

10 7 FROM 100

Carolyn's family consists of her fiancé and 7 loving cats in southern Manitoba.  Amid researching her first novel:  they grow as many flowers and food as a 'zone 3' climate accommodates!  They're learning about the night sky and soon welcome deer and winter birds:  Pine Grosbeaks, Pine Siskin, Redpolls, and year-round Nuthatches, Chickadees, Blue Jays, and Grey Jays.

1. Why isn’t your residence where you grew up?
“Fluffy’s Law”, preventing apartments from excluding pets, didn’t pass in Manitoba. My fiancé, two cats, and I suddenly needed our first house. Where better than a forest? It is more populated than I care for but for a first property, what a blessing. We are vegetarians thrilled to be among critters, flowers, and trees.

2. “Reviews should be left to professionals.” Agree or disagree?
I disagree, with a twist. The legendary Chris DeBurgh said: “Never met a critic who bought his own concert ticket. When I bought somebody’s album out of pocket, it meant something”. Feedback from fans carries weight. The flipside is, I’m uncomfortable with how reviews are approached. Stephen King and Joanne Rowling can afford a rant from ‘Crazy Cozy Corner’. A new or independent artist is vulnerable.

#1 Be kind. There is no credibility in the assertion that “something sucks”. Identify likes and dislikes. If preference is a factor, explain.

#2: Tell what a book is. Never how it goes! Withholding the ending doesn’t mean we haven’t spoiled. I like to be oblivious to plots. A review should merely describe enjoyment and age / tone / subject. Just to gauge whether this book is for us.

#3: “Sounding outdated” isn’t on an author’s head. A novel is current when it is written. If there are horses and buggies instead of laptops, what of it? Don’t dock a star. Say so if a cover was misleading but evaluate a book on what it IS. Not whether it matches society today.

#4: “Figured out the culprit” is usually docked as a bad thing. I applaud a decipherable mystery. Honestly, predicting ‘A’ or ‘B’ is a guess. If we can’t expound on motive or method, guessing doesn’t amount to a weak novel.

3. What is more important to you: discovering authors or sticking with favourites?
Phyllis A. Whitney, Robert A. Arthur Junior... the favourites with whom I grew up were once new to me. Adoring gothic mysteries, I was a child gobbling authors I could only presume dead based on publication dates! Many lived until recently. It feels wonderful that I continue to find voices that enthral me, older or current. I now cherish Lyn Hamilton, Charlotte MacLeod, Nancy Atherton, Juliet Blackwell, Kate Carlisle, and Kate Kingsbury. There’s no storage limit in our heart. Succeeding discoveries don’t replace what already stirs our soul. We add enrichment all of our life.

4. What is your unusual talent? 
I have an uncanny memory. After years, I recall who wrote last, with what news we left off. My trivia knows no bounds. I’ll satiate it for my birthday on the 18th! By car, other children spotted Volkswagens or cows. My brothers and I invented games to squeeze the mind as far as it will go. “Name 30 songs by David Bowie. They don’t need to be hits”. “Try 20 by A-ha”. “Do 4 by Platinum Blonde. You can do it”! My fiancé and I do likewise with “birds that start with E”.... I remember lines from films, television shows. I’m not referring to a “Jeopardy” expanse of knowledge already absorbed. But if I myself have been exposed to it, I can answer it for a board game.

5. Do you read on an electronic device? Why not?

I’ll dig deeper than “I like the feel of a book”! Determination to “clean up” is popular, if people have other priorities for their living space. Books set the ambiance of our home. Consider, mine aren’t an obstruction to “get rid of”. I expunge what I disliked. What I keep signifies more than the material within. Think of e-books as a poster. You do see what the art looks like but some desire the dynamics of original paintings. There’s a broader purpose than viewing the image. Finding books is a quest! Encountering my wish list in person, or a low price on-line at high quality, is exhilarating. Some quests took years: “The Maze In The Heart Of The Castle” by Dorothy Gilman and even more so her autobiography, “A New Kind Of Country”. Next, is a childlike excitement to make room for them! I stand back and gaze at what I collected, like admiring my life’s work. I feel satisfaction and peace. I derive enjoyment well ahead of the act of reading. Why do I treasure the tangible? Psychometry pertains to the energy we leave on objects. A digital file is a world away from a letter or book your Great-Grandmother touched personally. Museums are valued because artifacts, like us, are affected by time. Their survival awes us. By the presence of an object older than me, I touch a past era. If my book is new, then I am the beginning of its lifetime. We are the ones with a shelf life. It’s comforting that our touch impacts what we love and use. A separate explanation is that we do so much with computers; I like some pastimes independent of them. I don’t want to involve software in everything I do. All eggs ought not rely on the same basket. When photography turned digital, after music, movie-watching, and Christmas ‘cards’ (yuck); I wondered how many self-powered hobbies we had left. Lastly, tangible items contain an opportunity for tangible surprises! Thrice in a used book, I’ve discovered the author’s autograph. Once there was a viable tomato seed. In an eerie moment at night, a child’s school photograph fell out of an old mystery. Lovers of stories suit ‘kindles’. It is my pleasure to share why books suit me. I pray they are always available in print.

6. Books you can’t get into. 

Here is a long-standing plea for elements I favour! I have a passion for the realistic paranormal (no zombies / vampires / werewolves). I seek good ghost fiction, that isn’t for youths or children. I like E.J. Copperman but jocularity and blatant ghost interaction remove the sense of wonder. A calm, informative encounter is fine but not nonchalance. Etherealness should exude clearly. I accept secret rooms and puzzles as a replacement for enchantment. I put my foot down at using a paranormal title, if “a reasonable explanation” occurs! Secondly: we need protagonists over 30, who aren’t bitterly divorced, or nuns. They can be paranormal or good old mysteries, as long as we aren’t dealing with a 20 year-old governess or heiress! Fully adult heroines reflect genuine beauty. I don’t mind married, single, or widowed as long as the focus is a striking individual. Juliet Blackwell’s two series accomplish this, as does Kate Kingsbury’s ‘Pennyfoot Hotel’, and Nancy Atherton’s ‘Lori and Bill’. Kate Carlisle’s ‘Brooklyn’ is the right age. An adult heroine -with- an excellent paranormal story, is the ultimate find!

7 . Tell us a local ghost story.

In Winnipeg, you feel the Walker Theatre’s vibes when you sit in the once-classy hall! “Ghost Stories Of Manitoba” describes a reporter who arranged a late visit decades ago. She and a worker set a tape-recorder on the topmost floor. Not so much as a dust mite whirled by and they packed up. When she played the tape, there was the loudest stomping imaginable! It sounded like a one-hundred person parade, banging and shuffling as if the place were busy to the rafters. It was renamed “Burton Cummings Theatre”. We prefer Walker Theatre. It’s no coincidence the most enchanting evenings were performed there: Garbage, Corey Hart, Chris DeBurgh, Olivia Newton John.

Help suggest a book!

For a readers advisory assignment, I'm hoping that you all can help me out. I'm looking for a read alike for A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer. Preferably it would be an autobiography, preferably about someone who's had a lot to overcome. Not too preachy, opinionated, or pretentious, but well written . If you have something in mind, but it doesn't match perfectly with this that'd be okay as well.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Reader's Diary #1082- Helen Simpson: The Tipping Point

Looking out while over the George VI ice by NASA ICE, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  NASA ICE 
Last year I read David Helwig's Close to the Fire and it helped solidify the fact that "pompous windbag" is not my favourite literary character. Not my favourite character in real life either. The funny thing is, while I have met such people in real life, they seem cliched and fake in print. They're also distracting as hell.

It took me a couple of times to figure out what the guy in Helen Simpson's "The Tipping Point" what babbling on about. However, such people have a tendency to make me second guess myself. Was he babbling or was he simply too difficult for an unrefined mind like mine (that'll be my next album title) to understand?

Really, when you strip away all of the pretentiousness, this is a tale of a relationship killed by distance. Not the loftiest of themes after all.

Perhaps the narrator has secretly come to realize he had made a mistake but he's too arrogant to admit it. Unfortunately, he gains no sympathy from a reader who, if they're like me, thinks his ex dodged a bullet.

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

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Reader's Diary #1081- Carolyn Pogue: Rock of Ages

I'm skeptical by nature. I'm not completely closed to the idea of a supernatural, but little has really resonated with me that I haven't wanted to debunk. As someone who feels a kinship with the arts, this troubles me. I have tended to link faith with the arts, not with science, and my inner scientist usually wins out.

Carolyn Pogue's Rock of Ages is about the oldest exposed rock on the planet, the Acasta River Gneiss, found right here in the Northwest Territories. I expected it to be about geology, and it is. But it's also about mythology, humanity, ecology, and faith in some greater significance. When I first realized this, I was worried that this book about an old rock might be too new agey. (In hindsight, I should have caught the clue in the title.)

Then I told myself to shut up and go with it.

I'm glad I did. Rock of Ages was quite an interesting tale. Looking not only at the Acasta River gneiss, but in the role rocks have played in religions, folklore, and cultural traditions around the world, I came to believe as well that there's something special about that old rock. The opposite of sending our minds and hearts into the cosmos, rocks have kept us grounded. Not a pun, after all. (And new-age is a funny term for ideas that have been around longer than some religions.)

At the end of each chapter, Pogue presents some activities and questions to try which felt out of place to me. I understand that she offers workshops, but I felt these questions would be more appropriate at that setting than in the book where they interrupted the flow somewhat. Granted, one question about rocks that have been important to me did send me back to a certain beach from my childhood where I still visit in my mind if I need a diversion. The beach we called Gallis Cove, but I believe it might have been a bastardized pronunciation of Gallow's Cove. There was a high cliff, with a long 2 foot wide dark red lava strip that used to run from the top down to the beach where it ran along briefly then into the ocean. It was always fascinating to think such a peaceful place ever had something so exotic and dangerous as lava. I just found out that the feature is also known as a Devil's Track. Devil's Track? Gallows? No wonder it was so relaxing, eh? But truly it was, and I appreciated that Rock of Ages took me back there.

It's funny; at first I resisted Pogue's attempts to tie the rock to a higher significance, but after I got into it, I ended up bored somewhat when she steered into more practical topics such as money (the chapter on one man's attempt to sell rocks from the Acasta River gneiss, while interesting at first, went on too long).

Still, for such a short book, Pogue packed a lot in and it brought me peace. A moment's peace, to be sure, but such is life. And as for science and faith? She makes a strong case that it's compatible after all. Art can come along, too.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Reader's Diary #1080- Rik Leaf: Four Homeless Millionaires

I had the please of meeting the multi-talented Rik Leaf earlier this year. Rik is a truly artistic and gifted individual. He founded Tribe of One, a collective of artists that travel the country performing and inspiring people with their fusion of indigenous and modern expression. Painting, singing, dancing, poetry, and in several languages. He's also quite adept with a flip cam and video editing software. After noting this, Debbie and I recruited him to record our Amazing Race Canada audition video.

Needless to say, despite Rik's genius, the video didn't get us on the show. However, spending the day with him, we all became fast friends. Which is why I vowed not to read his book, Four Homeless Millionaires. I told him that it would just be too awkward. What if I didn't like it? It'd be safer to just ignore it altogether. At best I told him that if I did read it, he'd never know. Really though, I'd been in this situation before and it's almost always worked out. As did Four Homeless Millionaires. I loved it. But you at least need the disclaimer that I happen to be friends with Rik.

A few years back Rik and his wife Zara decided to sell their house in Winnipeg and travel the world with their kids. Sounds crazy, right? But what a payoff. Australia, Asia, Europe. And so many wild adventures all told with Rik's infectious brand of friendly sarcasm. I've only yet met Rik, but it's impossible not to take a shine to the whole family. With their slightly inappropriate but never rude brand of humour, I personally found kindred spirits amongst the Leaf clan. Of course, sense of humour is very divisive and so I cannot say for sure everyone will like it, but I definitely dug it.

"One's Man's Coffee Break is Another Woman's Vagina" - the title of a chapter about a (un?)fortunate translation

Another favourite anecdote is about riding his bike through Kelowna (before leaving Canada). (Trust me on this.)

Still, it's not all punchlines. There's also a lot of beautiful turns of phrase and insights, tender father moments, not so tender lessons learned, and the over arching message that life's too short to waste. And they are real people. What more does one want in a travelogue?

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Reader's Diary #1079- Kelly Bingham and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky: Z is for Moose

I don't remember the last time that I wrote about a picture book. Fortunately, thanks to the internet, I don't need to remember anything. It was December 23rd last year. Anyway, now that my own kids have moved on to comics and chapter books, it's rare that we revisit picture books, rarer still that I feel compelled to write about one.

But Z is for Moose, by Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky is just that good. My entire family laughed hysterically. Alphabets are a strange breed of books lately, seemingly as popular as they ever were, but on a whole slew of topics and at reading levels well beyond those learning the alphabet. I'm not judging those but none have really captured my attention like this one.

In Z is for Moose, a Zebra is writing an alphabet book and his impatient, overly enthusiastic friend Moose cannot wait for his turn, interrupting Zebra over and over again. But when Zebra finally makes it to M and chooses Mouse instead, the moose droppings hit the proverbial fan. Despite it all, it has a happy ending.

Quirky characters, fun text and word play, clever and silly drawings— this is what a children's book should be.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Reader's Diary #1078- Sholem Aleichem: The Clock

PPL Architecture -Grandfather Clock With the clocks going back this weekend, I searched for a short story about clocks and came up with "The Clock" (also known as "The Clock That Struck Thirteen") by Sholem Aleichem. It's an interesting tale with a strong parable feel to it. Perhaps clocks are just so rich a symbol that we just know it's probably meant to mean something else. In this story, Reb Nochem is known to have the most respected and accurate clock in town. Others set their watches by it. However, it soon becomes apparent that the clock is slightly fast. Later it begins to chime 13 times instead of twelve. Despite all his efforts, the clock can only be fixed for a short while before it acts up again. Eventually it crashes.

At first I was taking this to be about the inevitability of death. But then I read this interpretation, which takes the story to be about tradition no longer working in a modern environment (more specifically, it looked at Jewish traditions). I quite liked this interpretation when I reconsidered how the clock was behaving. It wasn't losing time, it was gaining it. It wasn't coming up short on its chimes, it was adding them on. I think that's a telling clue as to what Aleichem was getting it. Clever, in any case.

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