Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The 8th 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")

My Year in Review 2014- Picture Books

I don't typically list picture books in my year end reviews, as I don't typically read enough in a year to rank them. I've made 10 my quota for such a list and oddly this year, despite my kids now of the age where they don't read a lot of picture books, I reached 10. Not that odd, I suppose, as I did take a children's lit course earlier in the year and also read any new northern books that cross my path, combined making up the bulk of the list below. As with my other year end lists, I've ranked them from least to most favourite. Unlike the other lists, I still enjoyed the one in last place:

10. Miranda Currie and Alison McCreesh- Anna and the Bear
9. Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak and Iris Churcher- T is for Territories
8. Lynn Blaikie- Beyond the Northern Lights
7. Libby Whittall Catling and Alison McCreesh- Twelve Days of Christmas in Fort Reliance
6. Larry Loyie, Constance Brissenden, and Heather D. Holmlund- As Long as the Rivers Flow
5. German Saravanja and Nick MacIntosh- The Man with the Wolf in His Belly
4. Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi- I'm Bored
3. Thompson Highway and Brian Dienes- Dragonfly Kites
2. Walter Kotzwinkle, Glen Murray, and Audrey Colman- Walter the Farting Dog
1. Stan Rogers and Matt James- Northwest Passage

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Year in Review 2014- Long Fiction

Unfortunately my long fiction and non-fiction really took a beating this year, mostly due to my courses. I only read 24 books that could be considered long fiction this year (novels, novellas, including those written for children or young adults) compared to 41 last year. Here they are in order of least to most favourite:

24. Sophie Kinsella- Confessions of a Shopaholic
23. Veronica Roth- Divergent
22. Cory Doctorow- Little Brother
21. Salman Rushdie- The Satanic Verses
20. Gertrude Chandler Warner- The Boxcar Children
19. Sheila Watson- The Double Hook
18. Keith Halliday- Yukon River Ghost
17. Nancy Wilcox Richards- How to Outplay a Bully
16. PJ Sarah Collins- What Happened to Serenity?
15. Patrick deWitt- The Sisters Brothers
14. Benedict and Nancy Freedman- Mrs. Mike 
13. Susan Haley- Petitot
12. Steigg Larsson- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 
11. Beverly Cleary- Beezus and Ramona
THE TOP 10!!!
10. Deborah Ellis- No Ordinary Day
9. Suzanne Collins- Mockingjay
8. Judy Blume- Freckle Juice  
7. Sara Gruen- Water for Elephants
6. Louisa May Alcott- Little Women  
5. Suzanne Collins- Catching Fire 
4. Margaret Laurence- The Stone Angel
3. Natalie Babbitt- Tuck Everlasting
2. Khaled Hosseini- The Kite Runner
1. Kathleen Winter- Annabel

Thought? Surprises? Mockery?

Monday, December 29, 2014

The 2014 Book Mine Set Short Story Online Anthology

Once again, the Book Mine Set is proud to present 52 short stories, one for each week of the year, available for free and online. Here are links to my thoughts on each of these stories, also where you'll find direct links to the stories themselves.

These are ranked from my least to most favourite:

52. John Hughes- "Christmas '59"
51. Laura Legge- "Tukisiviit?"
50. Susan Calder- "Last Watch"
49. Cynthia Flood- "Apology"
48. Judit Lőrinczy, Translated by Ágnes Körmendi and Judit Lőrinczy- "The Colors of Creation"
47. Minnie Douglas- "A Bachelor's Valentine"
46. Samantha Frazer Gordon- "The Path of Dead Roses"
45. Ken MacLeod- "A Tulip for Lucretius
44. W. Somerset Maugham- "Rain"
43. Akbar Raadi, translated by Roya Monajem- "The Rain"
42. Michael Graeme- "A Daffodil for Eileen"
41. Yanka Bryl, translated by Davis Skivrsky- "The Girl with Black Eyebrows"
40. Anuja Chauhan- "The Zoya Factor prequel"
39. Laura Theis- "I Dream of Sharks Again"
38. Jennifer Elle- "Orange Forest"
37. William Faulkner- "A Rose for Emily"
36. John Chu- "The Rain that Falls on You from Nowhere"
35. Stella Benson- "The Desert Islander"
34. Darynda Jones: "A Christmas Story"
33. John Collier- "Thus, I Refute Thee Beelzy"
32. Elizabeth Bowen- "The Demon Lover"
31. Joel Thomas Hynes- "Conflict of Interest"
30. Blessing Musariri- "Eloquent Notes on a Suicide"
29. Amanda Davis- "Fat Ladies Floated in the Sky Like Balloons"
28. James Folk: Untitled
27. William Lawson- "The Story Untold"
26. Yoss, translated by David Frye- "A Planet for Rent"
25. Mira Dietz Chiasson- "Something Colorful"
24. Elinor Nash- "The Ghost Boy"
23. Brynn MacNab- "Black Friday"
22. Jane Ozkowski: "The Lawn Sprinklers at the End of the Earth
21. Hassan Nasr, translated by William Hutchins: "A Feast"
20. Tobias Bucknell "System Reset"
19. Oliver Miller- "Rain"
18. Katie Bickell- "Four Blue Capsules"
17. Roxanne Felix- "The Debut"
16. Harold Rolseth, "Hey, You Down There!"
15. Rolli- "Were I the Leaves, I'd Be Dead"
14. Tom Hanks- "Alan Bean Plus Four"
13. Chuck Palahniuk- "Guts"
12. E. Pauline Johnson: "The Derelict"
11. Darlene Guetre- "Alpha and Omega"

The Top 10!!!

10. Dorianne Emmerton- "Lost in Space and Love"
9. Robert Silverberg- "Good News from the Vatican"
8. Roger Zelazny- "A Rose for Ecclesiastes"
7. Sarah Meehan Sirk- "Ozk"
6. Lori Hahnel- "Beware of God"
5. Maile Meloy- "The Proxy Marriage"
4. Jorge Luis Borges, translated by J.E.I.- "The Library of Babel"
3. Sofi Papamarko- "The Pollinators"
2. Zoran Živković, translated by Alice Copple-Tošić- "Words"
1. Jorge Luis Borges- "Funes, His Memory"

Have you read any of these? Thoughts?

(Also please consider joining me in 2015 for Short Story Mondays!)

Reader's Diary #1109- Tobias Buckell: System Reset


After the Sony Pictures hack, I had the sneaking suspicion that this was just the beginning of a lot of hacking to come. It's true that sometimes I have a doomsday outlook, so I wouldn't lay a lot of stock into this, but I predicted that 2015 would be the year of the hacker, that we're going to see major inconveniences and perhaps even catastrophes due to hacking in the upcoming year. Then when we discovered that my son's new XBox was affected by hacking on Christmas Day, I nodded to myself. Yep, it's beginning.

On that happy thought, I went looking for a short story about hacking and found one on io9 (one of my favourite website discoveries this year), courtesy of Tobias Buckell called "System Reset." Referred to as a pre-apocalyptic, it tells of two bounty hunters who track down hackers. Their latest target is, as the "pre-apocalyptic" bit would indicate, planning something huge.

I was a bit hesitant at first, thinking it might be something like Cory Doctorow would write. Don't get me wrong, I've often found Doctorow intriguing, I respect his politics, and often agree with him. However, I've not greatly enjoyed his fiction, usually finding it very jargon-filled, chocked full of great ideas if you can understand them but messily crammed together in disjointed, tacked-on plots. Buckell, thankfully, pulled off "System Reset." It gets into technology and technology fears and ethics without making it inaccessible for the lay people (the people who draw the ire of the target hacker in "System Reset"). It's exciting and thought-provoking at the same time.

Anonymous Hacker by dustball, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  dustball 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

My Year in Review 2014- Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels

All the comics, graphic novels, and manga I read in 2014, ranked from my least to most favourite. How many have you read? Care to dispute my ranking?

32. Adam Blaustein and Jim Craig- The Amazing Spider-Man/ Dead Ball
31. Kiiro Yumi- Library Wars
30. Jacques Rob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette: Snowpiercer 1, 2, and 3
29. Jim Unger- Herman Classics, Vol. 3
28. James Turner- Rex Libris: I, Librarian
27. Chuck Austen and Salvador Larroca- Uncanny X-Men, She Lies with Angels
26. Albert Uderzo- Asterix and the Black Gold
25. Paul Kupperberg- Life with Archie #s 36 and 37
24. Neil Christopher and Ramon Perez- The Country of Wolves
23. Robert Crumb- The Book of Genesis
22. Mark Millar and Steve McNiven- Civil War
21. Steve Niles and Dave Wachter- Breath of Bones
20. Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell- From Hell
19. Wally Wolfe- Encounter on the Eagle
18. Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert- Flashpoint Vol. 1
17. Nick Abadzis- Laika
16. Andy Runton- Owly: The Way Home/ The Bittersweet Summer
15. Vera Brosgol- Anya's Ghost
14. Hiromu Arakawa- Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 1
13. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples- Saga, Vol. 1
12. Jeff Lemire- Trillium
11. Jeffrey Brown- Star Wars Jedi Academy

 The Top Ten!!!

10. Faith Erin Hickes- Friends with Boys 
9. Raina Telgemeier- Smile
8. Bill Willingham, Lan Medina, and Mark Buckingham- Fables Deluxe Edition Book One
7. Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault- Jane, the fox and me
6. Lynda Barry- What It Is
5. Kate Beaton- Hark! A Vagrant
4. Jeff Lemire- The Underwater Welder
3. Shaun Tan- The Arrival
2. Scott McCloud- Understanding Comics
1. Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki- This One Summer

I was largely down in my reading this year. For the first time ever, I didn't read enough nonfiction (just 6 books) to even do a year end ranking, but my comics and graphic novels are up from last year. Stay tuned for my year end rankings of long fiction, picture books, and short stories coming up in the next few days.

Reader's Diary #1108- Laura Beatrice Berton: I Married the Klondike

I picked up Laura Beatrice Berton's I Married the Klondike a couple of summers ago when I had the chance to visit Dawson City, but am only now getting around to reading it.

Dawson City is a fascinating place and I'd go back in a heartbeat. We toured all over Yukon and Alaska and Dawson was my favourite by far. I am still amazed by the impact that the gold rush of 1898 had on the town. Just 10 years later, Laura Berton, then Laura Thompson, moved to the town to teach and it's almost shocking that even after that short interval she noticed people moving away and businesses shutting down. She talks about abandoned relics and machinery as if it was half a century later. It would seem that Dawson has been in perpetual decline, yet clearly that's not entirely accurate as there's still a town there to this day and there are still very obvious signs of that one year of glory.

Berton writes an engaging, easy to read, and enlightening story of life in Dawson City. A legacy of the Klondike gold rush seems to have been to create a division of classes, where people (like Berton) in the mid to upper crusts of society would eat imported foods, dress in fineries, and observe specific customs and rituals. If it seemed out of place in the frozen Canadian north, the discord was not lost on Berton and I felt her writing was at its most poignant when she drew attention to it:
As we danced the French minuet in our Paris gowns, men were struggling and sometimes dying in the sombre hills and valleys just beyond.
I quite appreciated her non-judgmental but astute reporting on such anecdotes and people, from most all walks of life. She seems rather unapologetic about taking part in the elite parties, but on the other hand, does not seem to judge harshly those (such as prostitutes) who were not in the same circles. Then, she also reveals in a later passage, that perhaps some re-tellings had been softened by time. She does, for instance, recall a time that she was unable to bring herself to thank a prostitute for oranges which she had given to Berton's sick son. However, she concludes that she "was less broad-minded in those days and says that she had "always bitterly regretted" it. Her few mentions of Aboriginal locals however show signs of the times and her attitude toward them seems rather dismissive and condescending, even with her supposed, new broadmindedness.

When Berton finally meets her husband, her life becomes more intertwined with the North and nature, and river trips up the Yukon River, away from the rituals and expectations, help paint a more complete picture of Yukon life. Of personal interest to me was the mention of several now ghost towns that I'd not heard of before. (I have a thing for ghost towns.)

Berton has a down-to-Earth, personable voice and natural story-telling ability. Fans of her son, Pierre Berton's work, might not only recognize some of the same characters from some of his Dawson City writing, but also the tone.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Reader's Diary #1107- Veronica Roth: Divergent

I often pointed out the lack of originality in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, but for all that, I enjoyed the books. I was not, however, able to get into Roth's Divergent at all. It never stopped feeling like a "jump on the dystopian YA bandwagon" book. Sorting the teenagers into factions based on personality traits? Hmmm, where have I seen that done before? A lead character that doesn't quite fit into any and has to decide for herself? I'd better put on my thinking HAT to see if I can SORT this all out. At least Divergent's Beatrice picks the least likeable faction of the lot: the Dauntless. Now we'd get to see what it would have been like had Harry chosen Slytherin.

The idea of sorting teens, I suppose, must speak somewhat to the intended demographic, as it plays on their fears of making the right choices for their future, picking courses that lead to particular careers, and so on. It also mimics, I guess, the cliquish atmosphere that can be high school. But that doesn't mean that hundreds haven't told such stories before and told it better. Roth's groupings, for one, were questionable. There were some I could barely tell apart (e.g. Abnegation, who are selfless, and the Amity, who are peace-loving) and others I thought were notably missing (e.g., where's the faction for those that value physical strength?). Such issues just brought more attention to the fact that Roth's overly simplified microcosm was ridiculous. I think when a dystopian book works you're supposed to sense— and fear— that this could plausibly come true. Roth's world would never happen. It's laughable.

And all of this is made even less enjoyable by a flat-toned, boring lead character who seems confused for the entire plot and speaks in short, choppy, factual sentences. Half the time it felt like it wasn't being told in the first person at all but the third; that's how detached the voice felt:
There is one mirror in my house. It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs. Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair.
It's almost impossible not to read this book in that slow, mournful tone usually reserved for bad poetry readings.

I am definitely quitting the series here.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Reader's Diary #1106- James Folk: Untitled


Today's short story comes from a writer's group out of Red Deer, Alberta who, exactly four years ago, got together to socialize and spend ten minutes on writing a flash fiction story with the opening prompt, "The noise from above was quite irritating" and the closing line, "I should've known."

I'm quite impressed that they were able to bang these out so quickly. Just because it's flash fiction, doesn't mean the writing doesn't have to take a long time. I'm deciding to share James Folk's untitled piece, as it's one of the few that used Christmas as a theme and was a story I could definitely related to. However, the others are all available at the link.

In this story, the narrator reluctantly finds himself in the middle of a Christmas mass. He's tried to convince himself that no matter how bad it gets, it's just one night. Feeling trapped, complete with bad music, the time seems to tick by at a snail's pace. Man, do I know how this guy feels. I usually find church services so painful that I actually feel less religious afterward than I had going in!

Still, it's less sacrilegious than it could have been. Perhaps it was owing to the rapid pace at which it was written or the decreased word count requirement of the flash challenge, but Folk didn't get into a laundry list of church gripes (as I would have been in danger of writing). Instead, it's more lighthearted and amusing look at a man who would simply rather be somewhere, anywhere else.

IMG_2237 by tray, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License
   by  tray 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Reader's Day #1105- Jim Unger: Herman Classics, Vol. 3

According to Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics), comics are "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer." As inclusive as that is (too inclusive according to some), it actually excludes the one panel cartoons that are often side by side with comics in the Sunday funny pages. Family Circle, the Far Side, Heathcliff, and Herman? One image can't be juxtaposed, can't be sequential, can't be a comic. Regardless, I think they're close enough to comics to be included in the Graphic and Novel Challenge (where host Nicola has promised not be the comics police), and the semantics are moot anyway, as there are a few genuine, undeniable comics here or there. Plus, as Jim Unger was a Canadian immigrant (originally from the U.K.), I'm also including it in the Canadian Book Challenge.

I remember reading and Herman cartoons as a boy and enjoying them, but little else. It's a bit of a risk trying to revisit an old interest. Sometimes they do, but often they don't hold up so well. As for Herman, I'm just lukewarm. Overall, I wasn't particularly impressed. I was mildly amused at most. The jokes typically involve someone without a lack of common sense. A "Driving School" car is in a lake, water has pooled around the driver and the passenger up to their necks, and the student turns to his teacher saying, "Shall I back up?" A prisoner, in conversation to another, says, "Let me know if you need a good defense lawyer." Smile-inducing, but not particularly my brand of humour any more. A few did manage to incite an actual chuckle.

As for the art, I suppose I can appreciate Unger's highly recognizable style, but there's not a lot of range. All the characters have large noses, tiny beady eyes or glasses, and are obese. Likewise the personalities are dry, and scenes usually involve a straight man who stares blankly at a dumb or unintentionally insensitive remark by another character. There are no recurring characters that particularly stand out (was there an actual Herman?) and the backdrops are minimalist, typical of daily strips in which there wasn't a lot of time for details. It got so I was appreciative for the occasional object— a TV set, a set of golf clubs, a bottle of wine which proved that Unger did indeed have artistic skill. Still, I could forgive all that had I found it funnier. I could make the same comments about the art of Larson's The Far Side, but I seem to recall those being much more amusing.

Reader's Diary #1104- Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses

The first time Salman Rushdie crossed my radar was way back when there was a fatwa (first time hearing of that word, as well) to kill Rushdie issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran. He, and some others, felt that Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses was being blasphemous towards Islam.

Finally, after reading it, I'm a bit envious of Khomeini for having gleaned some meaning from this book. Even if it was the wrong interpretation, at least he was able to form an interpretation. 

Rushdie may have also insulted librarians, fathers, and Newfoundlanders for all I could tell. I could make no sense of this book from beginning to end. And at 547 pages, this made for a long, painful experience. Not so painful that I'd issue a death threat, but painful nonetheless. If this is a book for intelligent folks, I'm clearly in Camp Stupid.

At first I was enjoying some of the rhythm and imagery and wordplay. So I wasn't grasping the plot, at least I could look at it and appreciate it as a long poem. Yeah, after a while that grew tedious, too. There's a plane crash, that I know. There's somebody that began to turn into a goat... I think. But it turned out to be a movie... I think. I also see, from Wikipedia (official sponsor of Camp Stupid, or so I'm told), that the Satanic Verses involves magic surrealism and many dream sequences. Oh.

It's checked off my list, for what that's worth.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reader's Diary #1103- Andy Runton: Owly, The Way Home/ The Bittersweet Summer

The second wordless (actually, there are a few words here and there, often of the onomatopoeia variety) graphic novel in about a week, Owly is not as profound as Shaun Tan's The Arrival, but certainly the sweeter of the two, involving the improbable friendship between an owl, a worm, and in the 2nd novella, a couple of hummingbirds.

Runton's characters are simply drawn but very expressive (they reminded be of Ashley Spires Binky characters to some extent). The more realistic and beautifully coloured backdrops you see on the cover aren't representative of the book inside, where it's all black and white and the backdrops are as cartoony as the characters, but I still walked away with an appreciation for Runton's artistry. I especially enjoyed how he controlled the pacing (an important skill for a 160 book in which readers could devour in less than hour). One particularly well done moment, comes after Owly's friend-to-be Wormy nearly drowns after a rainstorm. To slow down the pace while Owly is shown waiting for Wormy to pull through, Owly is shown sitting by a candle. From panel to panel, the candle slowly gets smaller and the shadows getting bigger, Owly’s eyelids slowly close. Perhaps more importantly, each panel gets its own page, contrasted with most of the pages which typically follow a six-panel structure, really slowing a reader down. Next day, Wormy recovers.

Though adults could enjoy Owly as well (I did!), I think Owly would be a good book to introduce graphic novel literacy to younger children. Besides the aforementioned highly expressive characters and skilled pacing, Runton also does a lot with basic and familiar symbols (e.g., a horseshoe for good luck), which will come in handy for kids who wish to go further into the world of comics. The wordlessness will focus readers on the flow and story of the sequential images, without getting tangled in complicated vocab which might come later.

Reader's Diary #1102- Lynn Blaikie: Beyond the Northern Lights

Remember when Jenny asks Forrest Gump to pray with her? "Dear God, make me a bird. So I can fly far. Far, far away from here." Maybe it was the simplicity of Blaikie's poem in Beyond the Northern Lights, maybe it was the calls to a raven to "fly me into the northern lights," but it was hard to stop imaging Jenny as the voice behind this picture book.

Once I got the abused and troubled Jenny in my head, it was also hard not to feel that the book is melancholy at times. Asking a raven to dance with her is one thing, but asking it to take her to "where sorrow is forgotten" is quite another.

But the poem also shares a sentiment with "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and there's hope as well, whether it's through the appreciation that imagination can always take us away (e.g., to the "cold and dark and magical" world beneath the sea) or of the moments when nature provides solace, or elders provide wisdom.

However, what I really appreciated about Blaikie's book was the artwork. Done in batik (not an art I was familiar with before) I thought it looked like cracked porcelain which lent a dated quality, working in the book's favour. The accompanying poem now felt timeless, like something that had been passed down. The colours, especially the outlining gold lines, reminded me of former Yellowknife artist Dawn Oman's work. You can check out some of Blaikie's art here, including some scenes taken directly from Beyond the Northern Lights.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Reader's Diary #1101- Darynda Jones: A Christmas Story


A few years ago I was greatly disappointed by Alan Bradley's I Am Half Sick of Shadows, a Christmas themed mystery. However, despite Jones' Callie Dunn, the protagonist of "A Christmas Story" (not related to the movie at all), bearing a striking resemblance to Bradley's Flavia de Luce, I actually enjoyed this one. Maybe I can only handle precociousness in small doses.

Jones, at 6, is younger than de Luce, and she has already ruled out the existence of Santa. Spotting a man in a red suit atop her roof, she shrugs it off as her father. That is, until she notices her father standing beside her in her room. Hang in there for the twist ending. Or is it a twist?

Brief as it is, "A Christmas Story" is engaging and amusing. 

R de décembre : l’échappée noëlle by dagring, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License
   by  dagring 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Reader's Diary #1100- Jacques Rob and Benjamin Legrand (writers), Jean-Marc Rochette (Art): Snowpiercer 1, 2, and 3

There are a lot of clarifications to be made before I get to my thoughts about Snowpiercer. First off, despite the covers shown here, there are 3 parts to this story (as I've indicated in the post title). The 2nd book is actually divided into part 2, The Explorers, and part 3, The Crossing. I think Titan (the publishers) made a mistake not letting readers know they'd be getting both sequels. Also, despite the post title, Jacques Rob didn't work with Benjamin Legrand on these books. Rob worked on part 1, first published in French in 1982 and died in 1990. Parts 2 and 3, written by Legrand, were not published until 1999 and 2000 respectively. Perhaps somewhat unusual, the artist was the constant across all 3, not the writers. (Though I suppose English translator Virginie Selavy was also consistent.)

Also, if you were thinking, as I was that the comics were Korean, since the movie that came out earlier this year was directed by a South Korean, they're actually French works. (But I suppose you've already figured out that Jacques, Legrand, and Jean-Marc aren't exactly Korean sounding names.)

Finally, and perhaps most important of all, it only bears the slightest resemblance to the movie. Some characters names are kept the same and it involves the last of the human race aboard an ever-moving train, but that's about it. The movie, starring Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, and Ed Harris was excellent. The books? Not so much. First off, they're way more confusing; especially Legrand's convoluted sequels. There are interesting ideas, for sure (the engine-as-god religion was intriguing), but the plot had lulls and nothing really clicked together. Characters who started to be developed were inexplicably pushed to the background.

As for Rochette's art, it is very inconsistent. I'm not just talking about between the 1st and 2nd volumes either, in which you'd expect an artist to change his style and improve after a 17 year gap, but even within volumes. In the first, Rochette's drawings are most sketchy but realistic looking characters. Most often these are done well, but when they're bad, they're very bad. Characters who are smaller and in the background are sometimes left with very cartoony faces that leap out, unintentionally hilarious. Body shapes and sizes are usually believable but sometimes weirdly proportioned. Nothing is as bad as whatever the hell happened in these panels of the 3rd book:

What's up with these hands?! Did Rochette hold a contest where he let French school children design a couple of panels?

Thankfully, it wasn't always that bad. In the first book, the hatched and cross-hatched style lends the scenes a gritty quality that is appropriate for a post-apocalyptic story, and in the 2nd and 3rd books, additional gray scale inks give a bit more depth. I do wish though that the blueish tints of the covers had been incorporated inside as well. Those would have been perfect to capture the frozen landscape.

Despite it all, I'm glad they existed and that Joon-ho Bong found some seed of a good idea here to write a screenplay and direct an awesome movie. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it (though be prepared for high doses of violence). When you're finished, if you're, as I was, compelled to read the source material, be fair warned.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Reader's Diary #1099- Libby Whittall Catling (Writer) and Alison McCreesh (Illustrator): Twelve Days of Christmas in Fort Reliance

There were a more than a few precedents causing me some hesitation with this book. First off, I should say upfront that I am a big fan of Alison McCreesh's artwork. However, I wasn't sure we needed another parody self-published at that of the Twelve Days of Christmas. I had flashbacks to the poorly scanning, generally terrible A Moose in a Maple Tree from a few years back.

And while I still wish Catling wrote something wholly original, I'll concede that the two collaborators have done a wonderful job with Twelve Days of Christmas in Fort Reliance.

Fort Reliance, to my southern readers, is a Natural Historical Site at the Eastern end of Great Slave Lake. Catling and her husband live there in a cabin, 270km from the nearest road and off the grid. Catling and McCreesh use this fascinating and remote location to the book's advantage and so there's value beyond the parody as an educational resource. Wisely, they've also modeled it after the better educational picture books in which the teaching is not invasive. On the first page, for instance, we get the first verse of the song; "On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a bucketful of snow ice cream," and an inset at the bottom of the page provides a handy recipe for snow ice cream. Subsequent days bring gifts and information about snowmobiles, chickadees, racks of dry-meat and more. For the most part, the rhymes work and scan well, and I'm relieved to find a self-published book not ruined by typos. McCreesh's paper collages are absolutely beautiful and fascinating— bound to get anyone's creative juices flowing.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Reader's Diary #1098- German Saravanja (writer), Nick MacIntosh (illustrator): The Man with the Wolf in His Belly

Many residents of the Northwest Territories are familiar with the high quality picture books based on Dene legends published by Theytus Books. The Man with the Wolf in His Belly by German Saravanja reminds me somewhat of those in that it has a mysterious story with fantastical elements presented in a matter-of-fact tone and that legend-like feel is a good thing. As far as I know though The Man with the Wolf in His Belly is not based on an existing legend but created out of Saravanja's head.

Nonetheless it is a very true-to-the-North tale of a man from elsewhere who comes to find himself. Of course, the way that tale usually ends is one of two ways: 1. successfully 2. tragically. The interesting thing about Saravanja's telling is that he's given us details of a man's life that change the valuation. There have been similar men with hermit-tendencies move to the north, live for a while on the land, then either die via starvation or other means, often never to be heard from again. The lesson in most of these (very real) accounts is usually one of respecting the land, of not taking it or one's survival abilities for granted. Saravanja flips this somewhat but putting us, the readers, at a man's side when he "disappears," and his life is about finding peace and understanding of his role in nature and the world at large. Suddenly, and for this individual, it has become a success story.

At first I wasn't sure if this was a children's story, despite the picture book format that most associate with that age demographic. It's not fast paced and the central character is an adult man.  In contrast the Theytus books often had animals as central characters which often hold more appeal to kids, and despite the title, animals, though present, are not the focus of The Man with the Wolf in His Belly. Animals are important here, but not any more than say the trees, the rocks, the water, or the sky, and this is still the man's story; how he found his place in all of that. But while it's not a book I'd expect every child to connect to, it is one that I think I would have. I recognized a bit of myself in this man one of the few bits of myself that's been there forever, unchanged— and I think I would have related to him even as a young boy.

As for MacIntosh's illustrations, they are stylistic and lend the natural an air of the surreal. I wish I had more of an art background to discuss them, but from my limited knowledge they appear to be oil pastels in their thick application. They're colourful, though perhaps a bit too dark (physically, not in subject), but otherwise help accentuate Saranvanja's text.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Reader's Diary #1097- Shaun Tan: The Arrival

Shaun Tan's The Arrival was first recommended to me five years ago when I first started getting into graphic novels and I'm only just now getting into writing about it. Well worth the wait!

The Arrival is, for some reason, usually marketed as and shelved as a children's book. Could a child read it? Sure. There aren't any words (any!) and a child could probably be able to follow the pictures and understand the general plot. However, I think older audiences will appreciate the book more, especially the subtleties and symbolism and the theme of the immigrant experience. And while I don't believe a child always needs bright colours, the intentionally dated look of the book and grayscale, hyper-realistic artwork will likely not appeal to many children. There are dragons, killer robots, and cartoonish looking imaginary animals that may hold keep some kids interested, but they serve a more important role than mere eye-candy. It also revolves primarily around an adult male.

This is a beautifully rendered tale of an immigrant in a foreign land, learning to cope with the strangeness, bring his own strangeness, and eventually setting down roots. Readers are kept empathetic by the use of familiar but indecipherable signs and objects and customs. There are words that look vaguely like Russian, Hebrew, or maybe Tamil? There's an instrument that looks like a cross between an accordion and a tuba. If the man is bewildered and slightly overwhelmed by it all, so was I!

Plus the artwork is stellar. It's so richly detailed that I was forced to slow down and take it all in, but not to the point where the book still didn't have a flow. Everything is so meticulously and purposefully angled. Check out this page, one of my favourites in the whole book:
As much as I am in awe of the way comics are able to switch into 1st person perspective so seamlessly, I'm not always wild about it when a character suddenly stares directly at you, often finding it awkward. However, when Tan does it on this page it's brilliant. In this scene the man is going through customs and clearly very confused and frustrated with the communication barrier. But now, we're placed into the role of the customs officer and I almost felt like an interrogator, only frustrated myself by my inability to communicate back!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Reader's Diary #1096- John Hughes: Christmas '59

Earlier this week I discovered that National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (one of four Mutford family must-sees during the holidays) was based on John Hughes' very own short story, "Christmas '59." I just had to read it.

Look, I know Christmas Vacation isn't a perfect movie. Roger Ebert only gave it 2 out of 4 stars. But amongst its issues, I didn't recall racism being one of them. Fortunately they had the good sense to lose the Xgung Wo character. Remember Mickey Rooney's horribly racist Mr. Yunioshi character in Breakfast at Tiffany's? Even he'd say Wo was crossing a line. He'd probably say it in an over-the-top bad accent, but I'm not about to try and type that out. I will, however, share this gem from "Christmas '59" when Wo, a young man from Thailand, makes his first appearance:
"I'll sreep in your base-ments," Xgung Wo said, bowing to Mom
"Don't be silly," Mom said. "You can sleep in Johnny's room.
That was bad news for me. Not only was he all grown up, but he had huge beaver teeth, glasses like my Grandpa's, and he buttoned his shirt all the way up to the top. He also had his sweater on backward and he wore red socks with sandals.
Oh, and if it only stopped there. Perhaps we might still consider forgiving it, chalking it up to an unfortunate scene in an otherwise funny story, like the Chinese restaurant in A Christmas Story (another of the 4 must-sees). Sadly, it only gets worse.

If you're a fan of the movie, perhaps you'll enjoy comparing minor details. Instead of a squirrel leaping out of a tree, for instance, it's a bird. However, I found it almost impossible to focus on anything except Wo, mostly because Hughes kept coming back to him, and every time was more offensive than the last. It was to the point where it didn't come across as much as a sorry product of the times, like when older relatives throw out casual racist jokes or remarks not even realizing or considering the hurt such words have caused in the world, but more like a deep-seated, almost bizarre hatred.

Here's another one,
It's weird how a normal house can get very scary when there's an Oriental guy in the basement.
"Shh!" I whispered as we tiptoed down the stairs, trying not to make the old wooden steps creak.
"What if he's really a jap?" Dale said.
To top it off, Wo is a thief. He's also a bad driver (of course) and winds up crashing his getaway car into an ambulance.

I'm just glad someone was able to see through this horribly racist shit to discover something worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Reader's Diary #1095- Lorraine Hansberry: A Raisin in the Sun

I've read a lot of books and stories where the theme seems to stress the dangers of pride (one of the more recent was Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel), so it was nice to read something to explore pride from the other direction; the importance of pride.

I think this is one of those plays where audience members (or readers, in this case) will gravitate toward different characters. Perhaps it's the male thing, but I was most intrigued by and interested in Walter, though the rest were certainly interesting and well-developed as well.

For those not familiar with the play (or movie adaptation), it revolves around a black family from 1950s Chicago, living in a tight-spaced, rundown apartment. Walter is the father in the household, living with his mother, wife, sister, and son. His mother is getting some insurance money, for which Walter has big plans. Tired of his low-paying, dead-end limo-driver job, he wants to invest the money in a liquor store, much to the reluctance of his mother. His mother relents and gives him some money (which Walter's so-called business partner runs off with), but also uses some of it to buy a house, for purely financial reasons, in an all-white neighbourhood. A representative from that neighbourhood appears stating how the locals there have concerns and offers to buy them out. A subplot involves Beneatha, Walter's sister, who is discovering her African heritage.

I suspect many would feel frustrated with Walter. However, I couldn't help but sympathize with him somewhat. While there's the more obvious discussion of racial pride throughout the play, I thought Hansberry expertly depicted masculine pride through Walter's character as well; the version where the man feels the need to be the provider. Walter was a risk-taker, which is sometimes an admirable quality, but then selfish at times, putting his own desires to get ahead above his family's wishes. He also put his desires ahead of sound decision making, and so it's easy to judge him, but I felt for him despite it all.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Reader's Diary #1094- Brynn MacNab: Black Friday

I enjoy when speculative fiction makes you wonder if it needed to be speculative at all, when you wonder if it's just an allegory for something that's actually plausible. Brynn MacNab's "Black Friday" begins, "My Uncle Joe spent five years in one of those 're-acculturation' centers. He was one of the lucky ones — locked up, not put down" and my first thought re-acculturation was another word for rehabilitation, and I thought this was some sort of treatment center for criminals. It's not. I won't say what the supernatural twist is, as I don't want to spoil too much, but I will say that my next suspicion that Uncle Joe is a zombie doesn't pan out.

It's fun anyway, but also thought provoking because I keep going over it again wondering if it could still be an allegory for a rehabilitated man turning home. 

Oh, and it has nothing to do with that stupid new shopping "celebration" last Friday.

Snowy Winter Woods Full Moon at Night by sonstroem, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License
   by  sonstroem 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The 8th 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")

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Reader's Diary #1093- Hiromu Arakawa, translated by Akira Watanabe: Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 1

I've been chatting with a lot of other Western manga readers lately, at it would seem that those of us who find it difficult adjusting our reading to right-to-left and "back-to-front" are in the minority. Most seem to consider the transition an easy process. Others have suggested that all it takes it a little practice. I'm not sure how many books most would consider sufficient practice, but for me the magic number seems to be 4. Having struggled through 4 other manga titles that read in the opposite way that I'm used to (I don't include Akira in this tally, as the copies I read were Westernized to read left to right), I found myself reading Hiromu Akawara's Fullmetal Alchemist with ease. Was it the practice? Was it Arakawa's easy to follow arrangements? Maybe it was both? In any case, it made a LOT of difference to my enjoyment.

I was finally, actually entertained and caught up in the story. And what a bizarre, fun story it is: Fullmetal Alchemist tells of two teenage brothers named Edward and Alphonse who are both alchemists. In this reality, however, alchemy isn't just turning another metal into gold, it's turning anything else into anything else. There are certain rules though. One "scientific" rule is that to obtain something, something of equal value needs to be surrendered. There is also a moral rule against human transmutation (modifying or creating a human being), which Edward and Alphonse soon discover must also have a scientific basis. Trying to bring their deceased mother back to life, their plan backfires: not only does the mother not return, but Edward loses a leg, and Alphonse his entire body. Edward then sacrifices an arm as well, in exchange for Alphonse's soul, which winds up in a rather odd suit of armor. I'm not sure how that math works out, but I guess it's like those insurance policies that offer you prices that vary based on the limb or digit lost. Still, an arm for a soul seems like a bargain. Then the story is a bit muddled. Edward attains prosthetic limbs, the brothers join the military while looking for the mystical Philosopher's Stone that they hope can be used to get them their originals body back. But some in the military are also looking for the stone for themselves.

It becomes a bit of a whirlwind, and there were a few things that I didn't fully grasp, but there are 26 more volumes to go, so I suspect more will become clear. I'm not sure if or when I'll continue with the series, but I did enjoy the 1st one enough.

As for the art, it was good. I've seen better manga, but I've also seen a lot worse, and there were somethings that impressed me. Edward's prosthetics are detailed and interesting, and there were a few instances of techniques I'd not seen before that really got my attention.
Note the bottom panel, where the man's head acts as a panel divider. He's saying, "It shall me God's will," (smirk) and then it bleeds into the next scene where he's leading Edward and Alphonse to a door, as if his plan (the "God's will" statement was ironic) flowed flawlessly.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Reader's Diary #1092: John Collier: Thus, I Refute Thee Beelzy

A couple of nights ago I went to see a wonderful production of Harvey, by Mary Chase, performed by Yellowknife's Lunchbox Theatre. Though it won a Pulitzer back in the 40s and has been adapted for film, it somehow escaped my radar. Anyway I quite enjoyed it, but oddly it had nothing to do with my choice of John Collier's "Thus, I Refute Thee Beelzy" for today's short story. The fact that both deal with characters who have imaginary friends, both to the frustration of those around them, is but a coincidence.

In Collier's story, the imaginary friend belongs to a young boy rather than a grown man. But the major difference between the two is that Chase's play is a comedy, while Collier's is definitely not.

While I was once again engaged with this story, I did find the dialogue odd. Granted some may have been intentional (there's a windbag of a father who likes to spout his superior knowledge of child-rearing), others may have been due to the time and place the story was written (England, 1940s). (Though I have to admit, it made me envision Jeff Goldblum in the role.)

Despite that, I liked the pacing of the story and buildup of danger. What begins as a generic childhood scene of a boy playing with an imaginary friend, escalates into a power-struggle between the boy and his dad-- but still, at this point, not an uncommon scene. Then it gets ugly.

Leafar is my imaginary friend par raphaë by leafar., on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License
   by  leafar. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Reader's Diary #1091: Mark Millar (writer), Steve McNiven (penciler): Civil War

I keep stumbling upon comics artists that I had no idea were Canadian. Recently I discovered that Fiona Staples, the illustrator behind Saga is from Alberta. Now I find that Steve McNiven, the illustrator behind Marvel's 2006-2007 Civil War series is from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Great!... If only I liked his work more.

I had two main issues with his art, both of which either got better over the series or else I got used to them. The first was with characters who were left speaking (or yelling) with their mouths agape. It's a pet peeve of mine and I think it makes characters look slightly ridiculous, like when you pause someone mid-blink on TV. Why do this? The entire sentence can't be captured by one expression, so why settle on a moment when the mouth is open? Just look at this one:
(And if you look at the panel just below, she's still catching flies.)

In the large panel, she's yelling, "you filthy piece of crap!" Try saying that aloud (make sure there are no loved ones around) and I guarantee your mouth won't look like this for any syllable.

Secondly was the sexist portrayals of the female superheroes. I get that they're scantily clad and that's an issue above McNiven. But look at this scene:

Here's the dialogue Millar has written for these two panels:

Iron Man: No, we're super heroes, Jennifer. We tackle super-crime and we save people's lives. The only thing changing is that the kids, the amateurs, and the sociopaths are getting weeded out. 

Tigris: What category does Captain America fall into, Iron Man?

Can someone please tell me how that conversation warranted an ass shot of She-Hulk?

Illustrations aside, I felt a little better about the writing itself. Millar, who some might remember for Kick-Ass, once again ponders the ethics of vigilantism. Only this time he has the entire world pondering the same thing and it's tearing the Marvel superheroes apart. On one end of the spectrum is Tony Stark (i.e., Iron Man) who wants the superheroes to register and basically make superheroism a legitimate job. On the other end is Captain America who opposes registration as an attack on their personal freedoms. (Captain America is an interesting choice to represent that side. On the one hand it opposes government intervention, which sounds like a republican sort of idea. On the other, it approaches anarchism.) The other Marvels must choose sides. It certainly had potential for some higher level thought than stereotypical superhero fare.

That said, it didn't work as well as all that. The aforementioned problem with McNiven's illustrations not withstanding, the story also suffered under the weight of too many characters. Nobody's story was told in sufficient depth, though there was an attempt at Spider-Man's. Tony Stark, I gathered, was supposed to be a more dynamic character, but in the end just came across as a jerk rather than fraught with conflict. I know the collected 7 volumes of this edition had ramifications that spilled into other comics and books, where individual characters possibly got more attention, but it's a bit of mess at the end of issue #7.

Apparently the Avengers movies will eventually adapt the Civil War story line, and I'm optimistic they'll make it work despite my lack of enthusiasm for the source material. Even if they bring in the Guardians of the Galaxy guys (who are not in the book, by the way) and should they get Sony Pictures to allow a Spider-Man crossover (yes, please!), I still think they'll have less characters to deal with than the comic tried. Maybe we'll finally and adequately be dealing with those philosophical issues after all... with ample doses of explosions and wisecracking wit, of course.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reader's Diary #1090- Nick Abadzis: Laika

I'm not a dog person. But what I mean by that is I don't want one for a pet. Still, I've read what some might feel is an unusual amount of books about dogs for someone who doesn't claim to be a dog person. I even went through a dog book phase there for a while. That's okay, I've also read an odd amount of hockey books for someone not into hockey. I guess it's my roundabout way of saying that my reading choices don't define who I am. But enough about me...

Laika, is historical fiction based on the first dog in outer space. Actually though it's more about the people who's lives are touched by Laika than the dog herself. But Russia, early space exploration, and the Cold War, are also worked in so seamlessly, that I can hardly think of a better way to learn about those topics. Certainly the potential was there for this to be a dry history lesson, but I was so caught up in it that I barely realized I had learned anything, though I learned a great deal.

The potential was also there to be overly sentimental and judgmental. Laika is a street dog at first, living a tough life. Suddenly captured and made part of the Russian space program, she seems destined for greatness. Plus, the animal technician in charge of Laika's care has taken a liking to her. Alas (and spoiler alert for those who don't already know the history), Laika died within hours of the launch. Sad, clearly, but Abadzis never really rested his story on that. Instead, he's used the opportunity to describe these wonderfully complex individuals, all of whom are touched affected in profound ways by the very simple-yet-good dog. As for the death at the end, there's a sense of outrage, sure, but one suspects the cries of cruelty from the Western world were disingenuous, more about Cold War technological jealousies than anything else. It was those closest to Laika that really felt the injustice of it all.

The drawings are okay, though nothing great. I did, however, enjoy the colouring. The pastels suited the era, and the lighting in various scenes brilliantly capture the figurative and literal temperature of the scenes.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Reader's Diary #1089- Laura Legge: Tukisiviit?

I have to admit, I got preoccupied with politics and ethics while reading Laura Legge's "Tukisiviit?"
Written by a white woman but told from the point of view of an Inuk teenager, I'm not the first to question if this was appropriate. (Unlike the commenters on the story on the CBC page on which the story appears, however, I haven't made up my mind about it one way or the other yet.) My reluctancy with accepting Legge's story probably had something to do with reading (coincidentally) this story about indigenous appropriation just beforehand. However, I also reminded myself that when you tell fiction, you automatically assume the perspective of someone else. But does that mean anything goes? Can a white woman tell the story of a Inuk? Can a woman tell the story of a child? Can a man tell a woman's story? An American tell a Canadian's? An Anglophone a Francophone's? A person without disabilities tell the story of a person with disabilities? Lots of gray areas here and I'm sure to some extent it depends on the sensitivity and believability of how it's told.

I didn't buy Legge's perspective, offensive or not. The story of an Inuk who watches his geography teacher get humiliated in a professional wrestling ring, it begins, "We hated him for three reasons. His chained dog. His refusal to learn Inuktitut. And his noisy and conceited notion that he was helping us."

First off, there are enough Inuit who chain up their dogs that hating their geography teacher for doing so is very unlikely. As for the refusing to learn Inuktitut and the rest, Legge has reduced both northern student and teacher to complete cliches.

The introduction of pro-wrestling in the story was a welcome and unexpected detail, but not, unfortunately enough to rescue the story from its lack of authenticity.

Lack of authenticity? Now that I think of it, pro-wrestling fits the story perfectly.

End of the Chain by Sans Peur, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License
   by  Sans Peur 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Reader's Diary #1088- Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge: Asterix and the Black Gold

I'm not sure how I managed to avoid European comics as a kid when so many others North Americans seemed to have grown up on Tintin and/or Asterix. Too busy reading MAD Magazine, I guess.

Still, it's never too late to join the crowd, I suppose. I managed to fill my Tintin void a few years back and am finally managing to get an Asterix title under my belt.

In Asterix and the Black Gold, Asterix and his friend Obelix head off to the middle East to bring back some oil. Oil, it seems, while undervalued by most at the time, is that essential ingredient in a magic potion that gives Asterix and his fellow Gauls the strength they need to keep the Roman army at bay.

Not having any experience with Asterix before, most of this stuff was new to me. I did not know Asterix was a Gaul, nor that the Gauls in this series had superhuman strength. I quite enjoyed the historical settings and characters. They're a bit slow in getting to the Middle East, so perhaps some more familiar readers might grow impatient waiting for that particular setting to appear, but for me the various settings along the way were all interesting.

The story itself was a bit boring. There's a Roman spy tagging along with Asterix and Obelix, but the  peril-overcome peril-peril-overcome peril pattern grew tiresome when really, nothing amounted to much of a challenge. There's also a LOT of puns. I never thought I'd say it, but too many puns! After a while they stopped being amusing and just became distracting. As for the characters, I found them sort of flat. Asterix, who I'd assumed would be the main character didn't stand out at all. In fact, there didn't seem to be any protagonist. The spy, perhaps?

I did, however, enjoy the artwork. The colours were bright and cheerful, reminding me of old Smurfs episodes. The characters themselves are drawn in a humorous, classic Looney Tunes style, especially when occasional characters had far more realistic faces, like when celebrities appeared on Merrie Melodies.

I'm unlikely to read another Asterix comic any time soon, but I can at least appreciate the appeal, especially if someone grew up reading them.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Reader's Diary #1087: Steve Niles (writer), Dave Wachter (illustrator): Breath of Bones

Breath of Bones was quite difficult for me to get my hands on a physical copy. I ended up buying it from the Kobo store, which gave me a lot of reservations. My only prior experience with trying to read a comic on my eReader before was with Sharon McKay's War Brothers, and it did not go well. Losing all the colour and unable to zoom or scroll almost ruined the book  (fortunately the story salvaged it). This time, however, I decided to read it right on my laptop and it worked out better. For one, most is in black and white anyway (and the cover, which technically is coloured, does not exactly take advantage of the full rainbow), and for another it was larger and not as difficult to see.

Breath of Bones is set in World War II and tells the story of a small European village, as of yet unscathed by the war. That changes, however, when an Allied plane crashes nearby. The Nazis will now come to investigate. Much to the disbelief of most townsfolk, an old man decides to create a golem, a mud monster, to protect them. The story most revolves around Noah, the old man's grandson.

When I found out it was about a golem, I was very interested in reading further. I didn't know a lot about golems of Jewish mythology (the first time I heard about them was through a Simpsons Halloween episode) and so I was curious. I also enjoyed the artwork, which reminded me at time of Will Eisner's work, especially in the characters and the tendency to drop the panel boxes from time to time (though the golem itself reminded me a little of The Thing, from the Fantastic Four).

With the lack of colour I found myself at times wondering about the violence and if it was made less alarming, therefore more child-friendly, with the grayscale approach. There was one scene in particular where the golem takes a Nazi and crushes him in its hand. "Skronch" it says, which was a surprisingly evocative word to describe a wet, popping say of a skull. Violent in itself, but imagine if there was red squirting out at the same time. Would that have been too intense? Likewise had all of the shooting and fires been colourized. Black and white tends to compliment historic settings, but I'm not always sure that the death and violence of war should be downplayed.

And then it just seemed to end. I wasn't sure why the golem disappeared ("he was gone in an instant—void of life, drained as mysteriously as it had come. He had done what he was created for"). The war wasn't over, couldn't he help others? Plus, I felt the moralistic message at the end about finding good within ourselves was tacked on and disingenuous considering that earlier in the story the grandfather says, "sometimes it takes monsters to stop monsters."

I had been enjoying the book until the end. I wished it felt longer than a single breath.