Saturday, May 31, 2014

The 7th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - May 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, May 29, 2014

Reader's Diary #1125- Kiiro Yumi, translated by Kinami Watabi: Library Wars 1/ Love and War

Though it says right there in the top left hand corner of the cover, I had forgotten what shojo manga was; a term I first heard when I read (and didn't enjoy) Natsuki Takaya's Fruits Basket. It was aimed at teenage girls. D'oh!

Not that I haven't enjoyed the occasional book aimed at this demographic before, but it may have been the problem here. I've been wanting to read it ever since a blogging friend and coordinator of the Graphic Novels and Manga Challenge, Nicola, brought the series to my attention with her positive reviews. Plus it's about libraries and supposedly about a library organization that saves books from government censorship and confiscation: things I'm passionate about. The original novel series it was based on, by Hiro Arikawa, was supposedly inspired by the Japan Library Association's Statement on Intellectual Freedom in Libraries. That's not something you typically see aimed at teens of any gender.

Unfortunately the story seemed way too preoccupied with a love story for my taste. Not that I'm opposed to love stories, but it wasn't what I was led to believe would be the focus of the book, nor is it a particularly interesting love story. The book follows Iku Kasahara, a young woman who joins the library Library Defense Force; a dream she's had since she was younger and a LDF soldier had protected  a book of hers that was about to be confiscated. However, there's a whole lot of tension between Iku and her dojo (instructor), that is so clearly and predictably romantic tension, that what could have been a book with strong philosophies about censorship and with political overtones, turns into an annoying Who's The Boss? episode. It certainly doesn't help that Iku is a bit of an airhead.

I wonder how the target demographic feels about this and if the sequels get any better.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Reader's Diary #1124- William Faulkner: A Rose for Emily

After reading William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" I found myself somewhat preoccupied with the title. Did I miss the actual rose? 

Perhaps "A Rose for Emily" is just dated, but the "twist" at the end of this tale can be seen a mile away. It's about a woman named Emily, depressed after her father dies and taking a while to accept that he is truly dead, later seems to find solace in a man named Homer who, much to the chagrin of the locals, is below her class. Some distant relatives try to get her to stop seeing the guy, but he's still seen with Emily after they leave until suddenly one day he is seen no more. The locals assume he's moved on to the next town to find work. Shortly after, there's a funky smell permeating from Emily's house and she becomes reclusive.

Gee, a recluse with a funky smell coming from her house and a man that is nowhere to be found? Whatever could that mean?

And wasn't there supposed to be a rose? The word "rose" appears in the story four times; twice as the verb (as in "they rose when she entered") and twice as the colour (as in "curtains of faded rose color"). I wanted to see something poetic in this, that Faulkner called it "A Rose for Emily" but chose different meanings of the word in the story itself, with nary a mention of an actual flower. Was it a way of hinting that there would be a twist or that there were other things happening behind the scenes that we would not be privy to? It turns out that Faulkner merely pitied his own character so much that he felt like giving her a rose.

 Predictability and my disappointment with the title aside, there were some aspects that I enjoyed. I liked that Emily is seen by the town as the one who is so resistant to the idea of change that she was deranged, but the town itself was the ones who judged her for getting involved with a man of a lower class. I like my tragedies with a dose of hypocrisy.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Reader's Diary #1123- Jillian Tamaki (Art), Mariko Tamaki (Story): This One Summer

I should first disclose that This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki was given to me as an advanced reading copy by Groundwood Books. It's since been officially published, so it no longer counts as an advance, I suppose, but just in case someone would like to accuse me of being bought for the incredibly glowing review that follows, I invite you to write your local MP with your concerns.

 Coming as it does, on the eve of summer, is perfect really, especially in Canada where summer is such a special (to the point of feeling rare) treat it that it conjures up those nostalgic feelings captured so beautifully by the Tamaki cousins. Drawn spectacularly in blueish purple inks, I was reminded of old mimeographed copies from my early school days. Mistakenly I thought the story was set in the past and I believe it was the first appearance of an Angry Bird (in one of those claw vending machines) that really threw me, though it was a pleasant surprise. Instead of ruining the nostalgic vibe, it was a warm reminder that summer's are still implanting memories in today's youth.

But summer nostalgia and summer memories intertwined as they might be aren't the same thing. Popsicles and lawn sprinklers, but a few confusing and perhaps even painful life lessons can make their way in as well. In Helpless, Neil Young sang of a town in north Ontario, and all his changes were there. Replace town with time and you'll get a perfect sense of This One Summer. I was reluctant to call This One Summer a coming-of-age story. "Aren't all YA novels coming-of-age novels?" I chastised myself.

However, there's really no denying that that's what This One Summer is, and it's not a bad thing because it's so ridiculously well done. The story focuses mostly on Rose, a preadolescent, or tween I suppose, in modern lingo. She is spending time with her family at a summer cottage where she reunites with her summer cottage country friend Windy. Before long, there's a sense of change in the air that Mariko develops with an ingenious pace. First, the difference between Rose and Windy is very subtle (other than their body-types). Windy comes across as more carefree and Rose seems more distracted and curious about getting older, focused more on the problems of the local teenagers (especially a boy named Dunc). But Rose is a complex character, and one wonders if she isn't distracting herself on purpose from the problems that her parents are having. What problems are her parents having? While that too is complex, a large part of the mystery is revealed at the end and in its revelation, the seriousness of adulthood hits hard. I think it's risky when an author follows whom most authors would make peripheral characters the ones who have less drama affecting them directly but Rose's story was certainly the right one. It captures the helplessness many of us felt at that age, and the maturity that came from trying to unravel those mysteries we so desperately wanted unraveled.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Reader's Diary #1122- Roger Zelazny: A Rose for Ecclesiastes

Last week's short story, apparently inspired by this week's "A Rose for Ecclesiastes," was also set on Mars. It started me thinking about what a loss it was when life on Mars was disproven. Sure, sci-fi has imagined life elsewhere and it may even be possible, but that rich body of sci-fi that depicted Martians, aliens that were relatively in our backyard, now seem silly. (Oddly, this week's story was written in 1963, after life on Mars had already been disproven.) In any case, I think we're at a point when Martian stories can make a comeback. What if, in our rush to colonize Mars, another alien life form has the same idea and beats us there? Boom, we've got Martians again. Then, this idea has probably already been done, like all of my great ideas: I'm looking at you, ringtones.

Back to this week's story, it was far superior to last week's. Also talking about religion and a smattering of other potentially heavy philosophical pursuits, I thought Zelazny never let the plot get away. It was enjoyable even if one didn't feel the desire to dissect it. However, because of this subtlety, it's is more inviting to analyze. I personally enjoyed the implications that great poets offer a path to the truth.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

10 From 100- A Profile of Canadian Book Challenge participant MARY RUSSELL

John's Preamble: Sorry, last month got away from me and I wasn't able to get a Canadian Book Challenge prepared in time. In any case, Mary Russell, who contributes to the challenge as simply Mary R, was kind enough to step up to the spotlight for May. 

Mary, I was happy to learn, is a librarian. She's also one of a handful of Canadian Book Challenge participants who hails from south of the border. She co-blogs at Bibliographic Manifestations with fellow challenge participant, Lisa.

Let's see what Mary has to say about quilts, anchovies, time travel, Susan Sarandon, and Nova Scotians:

10 FROM 100

1. What are your vital statistics? (Define as you see fit!)

I grew up in Brooklyn, NY and now live in Manchester, NH with my husband (who grew up in California). I have worked as a librarian for over 20 years, but am not as old as that makes me sound.  
2.     What is the most recent prize or award you have won?

This spring I won a 3rd place ribbon at my Quilt Guild’s biannual quilt show for a miniature quilt called “Leaves at Night”. You can see a picture of the quilt where I blog about crafty stuff.

3.   Best bookstore near you and why. 

I am interpreting “near me” a bit broadly, but KramerBooks & Afterwords in Washington, D.C. ( is my favorite bookstore. It is big enough to have a lot of books but small enough not to be overwhelming. It is well organized and changes the books on display often so there is always something new to discover. It is a bit on the off-beat side, but I can always find stuff I have been hearing about there. Plus they have an excellent bar and a full restaurant (with a great brunch menu) attached to the store. Now that I don’t live a short walk away, a trip to Kramer’s is a must anytime I visit D.C .

4.   Preferred superpower: invisibility, ability to fly, or time travel? 

Definitely time travel. There is stuff that happened in the past that I want to go back and see for myself. Not so much big historical events as things I have heard about from friends and family. The ability to bring stuff (like a bike, or a camera) with me to specific places at specific times should be part of the superpower. 

5.   Who would play you in your bio-pic?

Susan Sarandon. It would be a part midway between her Bull Durham role and her Dead Man Walking role (I’m not saying which would be closer). I have been told that I look somewhat like her and when I was in college we lived in the same neighborhood (and shopped at the same market) so I feel like she is the best choice.

6.   You have five choices of pizza topping. Go:

anchovies, black olives, onions, blue cheese, and arugula on top after it comes out of the oven (not necessarily all on the same pizza) 

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

This is my second year participating in the Canadian Book Challenge. I completed it the first year (it was close, but I made it) and am on track to complete it this year. I have really enjoyed reading new-to-me authors and discovering that authors I already liked were Canadian. I have learned a lot about the country and have found it really interesting. I also recruited a friend, who is a transplanted Nova Scotian to play along and sharing book recommendations (and books) with her has been great.

8.   What advice would you give to a blogger who is feeling uninspired?
I think the key to staying inspired about blogging is to focus on what you want out of the experience and making sure that what you are doing is giving you that. I started because I love to read and I had opinions about books that I wanted to share with other readers, I also wanted to have a forum in which I could play along with reading challenges and other activities in the online world.  If these things stopped being what I wanted out of the experience I would need to reconsider how I blog to get something different out of it. Engaging with the book blogging community (join a new challenge, participate in a read-along, visit and comment on some new-to-you blogs, etc.) can be a good way to regain your enthusiasm if you start to get tired of your blog.  I also think that ‘if it’s not fun why do it?’ is important for what is (for me at least) a hobby. 

9.   Do you write negative reviews?

I don’t usually write negative reviews because I don’t usually finish books I am not liking. If after 50-100 pages I am not liking (or appreciating, or learning from, or interested in) a book I abandon it. I do not review books that I didn’t finish, though I mark them “abandoned” on GoodReads and that is a commentary on how I felt about the book. However, if I am liking a book well enough to finish it and at the end my final impression is a negative one then I will say so in my review.  I do try to keep in mind that my dislike of a particular book may be a mis-match with me as a reader and that others may be more compatible readers for that book. Addressing the s.pecific problems I had with the book will hopefully not put off other readers who will not be bothered by those things. 

10   What is your favourite source for book reviews?
GoodReads and book blogs are my favorite sources. In both cases the key is that they are reviews written by people whose literary tastes and tendencies I know either from being friends with the person or having read enough of their past reviews to know what their reading quirks are. I don’t think a review by someone I don’t know is very helpful in deciding if I want to read a particular book because I don’t know where the reviewer’s reading tastes intersect with mine.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Reader's Diary #1121- Ken MacLeod: A Tulip for Lucretius

Ken MacLeod's "A Tulip for Lucretius," if I'm understanding it correctly, is very similar in concept to Avatar, in which minds are downloaded into genetically engineered bodies. Both were published in 2009, so I'm not suggesting one copied the other, it's probably just what the sci-fi minds were preoccupied with at the time.

But when I say "if I'm understanding it correctly" that shouldn't bode well. There's a lot of heavy talk about religious philosophy, not to mention a few tangents about Lovecraft and other topics. A story about humans using those genetically engineered mind-transporters (MacLeod more eloquently refers to them as "synths") for slaves should certainly pose a lot of serious ethical, religious, and philosophical debate, but that's a lot to take on in a short story, especially as such stories also tend to throw out a lot of real and pseudo-technical talk in order to set up the universe. It ends with a revolution, but there was not enough build up of tension to make this even remotely exciting. A boring revolution? That ain't right.

Despite my love of short stories, I think this one would have been better suited as a novel.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Reader's Diary #1120- James Turner: Rex Libris/ I, Librarian

I, Librarian is the first in James Turner's Rex Libris graphic novel series. Though set in modern times, Rex has been a librarian since the days of ancient Egypt. As were many of the other immortal characters in the book.

It's eccentric as hell, though the main plot really isn't more complicated than Rex tracking down an overdue book. It's on the other side of the galaxy sure, but that doesn't pose much of a problem for Rex. Nor do the weird robot/alien/snowmen he encounters. In all honesty, I kind of wish there had been more difficult-to-overcome obstacles in the book. There was a lot of build up for some pretty mild action.

That being said, I did appreciate Turner's brand of quirk. A talking, sarcastic, trouble-making songbird as a mascot is always a nice touch. As are frequent breaks of the fourth wall courtesy of Rex's editor, Barry, who Rex debates with about certain unreliable and questionable details.

The toying with librarian stereotypes (they all wear thick-rimmed glasses, of course) may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I think it's all harmless and clearly in jest. Plus, the real library trivia (Ranganathan's 5 Laws of Library Science, anyone?) should be enough to satisfy at least some in the profession.

The artwork is also not run of the mill. The pictures are blocky, highly stylized, thickly inked, and it reminded me of 1940s propaganda art. I don't have any art background, so I'm sure I'm doing a poor job of explaining it, but you might get a sense of what I mean by checking out Turner's website.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Reader's Diary #1119: Michael Graeme: A Daffodil for Eileen

In the notes at the end of "A Daffodil for Eileen," Michael Graeme writes that "tales of travellers finding a welcome in places which later turn out to have been long derelict are the subject of folklore and many a corny ghost story." True. Back in 2012, I wrote about Alison Weir's "Anniversary" which had a similar premise.

Despite this acknowledgement, Graeme doesn't shake it up at all. There's a love story add-on, but otherwise the cliche stands as it always has. It's fine if you haven't read such a story in a while (it's still a fun premise, even if it has been overdone) and an additional selling point is the dialogue. Before reading in the notes at the end that it was probably set in Scotland, I'd been guessing Ireland. In any case, Graeme captures a lilt that feels genuine and was a real pleasure to read. And hey, I wasn't far off.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Reader's Diary #1118- Suzanne Collins: Catching Fire

Two years ago, after reading Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, I remarked that, while I enjoyed the book a great deal, I was in no rush to read the sequels. Having taken two years to make it to the second in the series, it might seem that I've proven how patient I actually was. However, for me, given my abysmal track record of finishing series, two years isn't actually that bad.

Some of my reluctance, I suppose, was due to the very fact that I enjoyed The Hunger Games so much. Not that there haven't been exceptions to the rule, but sequels tend to suck. Some suck so bad they taint the original. I didn't know where Collins could take it.

The Hunger Games, while not exactly having a happy ever after ending, had a happyish ending nonetheless. The dystopian world of Katniss Everdeen was still standing afterall, but so was she, and that's probably the best a reader could hope for. If the second book aimed to resolve the whole world's problems, then it wouldn't have the whole game element, and what would be the point? Other dystopian books have been there, done that.

At least that's the way I felt going in. However, I quite enjoyed Collins' uprising angle, especially with the districts' usurping of Katniss and the mockingjay as a symbol of rebellion. With Katniss herself having no control over this turn of events, the rebellion began to take on a life of its own. With the uprisings across our world in recent years, it was fascinating to compare such real life events to Collins' fictional world. Katniss, the Girl on Fire, actually came before Tunisia's man on fire, but in both cases we're left to wonder whether they were the catalysts or the unfortunate products of conditions that were just ripe enough to explode.

Oddly, and unpredictably, when Collins takes Catching Fire back into the arena, I no longer welcomed it. It felt like a contractual obligation. Presumably, fans of the games in the first book would want more games. Heck, as a publisher I would have made the same call... but I'd have been wrong. When Catching Fire is focused on the revolution it's way more interesting.

Unlike, the Hunger Games, Catching Fire also doesn't stand on its own. For that reason, and the repetition of the games, I'm less impressed this time around. However, I am more inclined to finish the series now, so I'm clearly still a fan.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Reader's Diary #1117- Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak, illustrated by Iris Churcher: T is for Territories

A lot of people get uptight when celebrities get book deals. While most would agree that actors and musicians are artists in their own right, it does not mean that they are skilled in the writing arts. So why is it that we so often assume that those skilled in one written form must be skilled in another written form? I'd consider myself a fan of Margaret Atwood's novels, but I don't think she's much of a children's author. Likewise, I'm a fan of Michael Kusugak's picture books and even his YA novel, but I'm sorry to say, I don't think he's much of a poet.

T is for Territories is one of about a gazillion alphabet books published by Sleeping Bear Press. Other such titles as Z is for Zamboni, D is for Democracy, and P is for Pilgrim. They have so many, in fact, that they could do an A is for Alphabet Book and it could serve as their catalogue. (Though if you should use this idea, Sleeping Bear Press, you'll still need an X book. X is for X-rated Movies? Probably not. How about X is for X-Ray Machine: A Hospital Alphabet Book? No chance you'd go for a X is for X-Men: A Superhero Alphabet Book is there?) In any case, T is for Territories is certainly not the first time they've gone for a non-poet. Often they decide to go with experts on the topic rather than poets, or even writers in some cases (Kurt Browning wrote their A is for Axel book, which, sadly, wasn't about Guns N' Roses).

If you're wondering why they'd need an expert for an alphabet book, that's a perfect segue into the part where I come around on T is for Territories and declare it, and their choice of Michael Kusugak, fine after all. When most people think of alphabet books, they think of early literacy books, wherein these books can help someone learn their alphabet. Sleeping Bear Press alphabet books aren't really that sort of thing. While the books can be enjoyed across age and skill levels, even the small poems are probably too advanced for emergent readers. In Kusugak's poems for example, there's a reference to "ancient inuksuit" and neither of those words are exactly "See Spot run." In the sidebars of each page things get even more complex, with smaller text and more factual information to back up the topic introduced by that page's letter. The I page in Kusugak's book talks about the Inuit and igloos. Words like "circumpolar" and "superinsulated" certainly don't simplify matters, but again, I don't think they were meant to. In these books, the alphabet is more about a simple and fun way to organize information on a topic. I can see teachers in higher grades using the format to help students organize any number of research projects. It's also because of these sidebars that I feel Kusugak was a justifiable choice. He's well-known enough to help the book's sales, and as a writer who's visited and even lived in many communities around the three territories, he's very knowledgeable. Granted there are still poets that may have been given a shot (PJ Johnson in the Yukon and Renaltta Arluk in the Norrthwest Territories are just two that come quickly to mind). They're perhaps not as bankable as Kusugak, but if that's the route Sleeping Bear Press wants to take, they'll never have actual poets! All that aside, Kusugak did do a great job on the sidebar information, presenting a very diverse, balanced view of the 3 Canadian territories.

Iris Churcher's artwork brings along other potential complaints. Unlike Kusugak, nothing in her biography suggests that she has ever lived in the north, which could lead to questions about why they had not gone with a northern illustrator as well. However, there's a certain style to the Sleeping Bear alphabet books and I'm not sure they would have kept that consistent with a northern artist. Also, Churcher's artwork is fantastic regardless of her origins and it is not difficult to see the enormous amount of research that she must have put into the project.