Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The 8th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - June Roundup (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

How to add your link:
1. Click on the icon above
2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)
3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as John Mutford (Anne of Avonlea)
4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")

Monday, June 29, 2015

Reader's Diary #1171- Michael Vocino: Robby. A Gay Short Story


Partway through Michael Vocino's "Robby: A Gay Short Story" I realized that it wasn't as depressing as I'd been assuming. Set in the late 70s/ early 80s, Vocino describes how gay people often had to hide their true selves. While I know the recent SCOTUS decision to legalize gay marriage doesn't change bigotry toward gay people anymore than Obama's election ended racism, it is at least a large step forward from the time Vocino describes here.

That said, his story is surprisingly uplifting. It's more about how a strong and supportive community grew out of that prejudice and what it meant to this one narrator. It's a sweet, nostalgic coming of age story.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Reader's Diary #1170- Kerissa Dickie: Wild Flowers


Kerissa Dickie's "Wild Flowers" is about two lives connected by a brief but defining encounter between two children imprisoned at a residential school. The story flips back and forth from the perspective of Rose or Louis, but it's not a difficult story to follow, with rich, evocative imagery that transported me to their side and able to feel their distinct and likeable personalities. It was a frustrating experience in that regard, as I felt like a helpless ghost.

But despite the humiliation and tragedies of the residential school, there's a beautiful message toward the end about remembering, drawing strength, and moving forward. It's all about focusing on the right events, interpreting them the right way, and knowing how to use them positively. Putting it this way makes it sounds so easy, though in real life there are so many complicated variables that put the whole approach at risk. Fortunately, Louis seems to have managed.

Warmth from Campfire by andyarthur, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License
   by  andyarthur 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Reader's Diary #1169- John Byrne (Story), Mike Mignola (Art): Hellboy, Seed of Destruction

Hellboy, like Spawn, is one of those characters I always assumed, incorrectly, was a Marvel or DC creation. Hellboy is, in fact, owned Dark Horse Comics.

Despite my lack of publisher knowledge, I did pay attention to the critical praise of the series and that's what led me to it, finally, years after everyone else-- as is my style of course.

I'm not sure I'd say it was worth the wait, though I'd probably declare the first Hellboy volume to be a success. It was definitely interesting, in a weird way, and the art was cool, but I never felt connected to the plot. I was caught up in the weird, awesomely coloured Gothic Lovecraft inspired images (and as Lovecraft is thanked in the opening dedication, they were clearly intentional) and the sharp contrast between Hellboy and his context. He's summoned from hell by an Anton-Levay-looking Rasputin who's working alongside the Nazis, but raised up by a paranormal scientist and becoming a world-renown expert in his own right, working for the good side. Yet despite the hellish genes and paranormal expertise, Hellboy comes across as a strangely meat and potatoes grunt. He's no-nonsense and prefers to fight with his fists and a gun rather than any dark magic.

The story itself though? A bunch of occultish mumbo-jumbo disguising a classic evil wants to control the world story. If you're into that sort of thing, it would probably be cool. As for me, who's finds the concept of demons and all that jazz rather silly, I was still intrigued enough by the characterization and the cool art to consider reading another Hellboy comic at some point down the road.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Reader's Diary #1168- Masaharu Takemura: The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology

I picked up Masaharu Takemura's The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology not out of a burning desire to learn more about molecular biology but more from a curiosity about how manga would treat such an advanced topic.

Starting slow, I thought I'd be able to keep up. But things got complicated fast. This is not to suggest the book failed (in that regard anyway), for there's only so much dumbing down Takemura could have done. And, had I real interest in retaining the information, I would probably have dissected it more. I also believe that anyone truly interested in studying molecular biology would likely find the book helpful...

if they can get past the lame frame story and unexpected sexism. Those two girls on the cover are Ami and Rin. They're failing Professor Moro's (a male) molecular biology class because they keep skipping class. He invites them to his island lab to attend make up classes at his lab-- though he has to lie and pretend it's a tropical paradise before they commit. When they get there they're annoyed to discover the truth until they find out that the hunky lab assistant Marcus will be their guide. As he shows them the inside of a cell-- by using virtual reality, I might add (if Moro had such an exciting device, why didn't he use it in the first place instead of boring lectures???)-- the girls ask stupid questions and make silly comments, get grossed out, and one of them falls asleep when it gets too complicated.

Sadly, it looks like the the others in the Manga Guide series are also tainted by sexism.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Reader's Diary #1167- Mélanie Watt: Have I Got a Book for You!

I've only been out of full time teaching for about a year. Kept busy with other things, I haven't really had the time consider if I'd missed it or not. But man, did

Monday, June 15, 2015

Reader's Diary #1166- Julian Gough: The Great Hargeisa Goat Bubble


In "The Great Hargesia Goat Bubble," Julian Gough uses the beheading of goats in Somalia to explain some theories and principles of economics. As an analogy, I'm not sure it totally works in clarifying some of the more complicated nuances for us laypeople, but as a story it's fine. It's humorous in a ridiculous Catch-22 sort of way and the voice is uniquely eccentric. Word of warning, however, don't get too attached to Emily.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Reader's Diary #1165- Douglas Glover: Woman Gored by Bison Lives

I'm counting this book for the 8th Canadian Book Challenge, which ends at the end of June (have you signed up the 9th yet?) though it's a bit of a stretch. First of all, I don't typically count single short stories for the challenge, but since Goose Lane published it as a single book, it's now fair game. Secondly, I'm counting it for my New Brunswick read, but it's not a great fit. It's just that I'm running out of time and it's hard to find a New Brunswick author other than David Adams Richards. Glover did live and work in New Brunswick for a while, was a writer-in-resident at University of New Brunswick just a few years back, and Goose Lane is based out of New Brunswick so it'll have to do. Though the story is set in Saskatchewan. The Challenge requirements are only to read 13 (or more) Canadian books, I give myself an additional challenge to read at least one from each province and territory. But when I checked a few days ago, I still had New Brunswick and Quebec remaining.

Regardless, all that is neither her nor there. "Woman Gored by Bison Lives" is about a woman who, though married to a man, falls in love with another woman. That other woman (neither of these are gored by bison, by the way) gets cancer. You might expect there to be a lot of heartbreak. The husband's. The women's. And, sure enough, there is, but despite all the tragedy, I found there to be a lot of hope. She found love after all. And people who get gored by bison sometimes live. There are scars likely, but they live.

Now, onto Quebec!

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Reader's Diary #1164- Nick Cutter: The Troop

First off, I'll say up front that I devoured Nick Cutter's The Troop, reading the bulk of it over just a couple of days. And for me lately, that's quite an accomplishment. In comparison, I've been working another book for over half a year now. I was entertained the entire way through. So, with that in mind, any issues which I get into below should probably be considered minor.

The Troop is a horror novel set off the coast of Prince Edward Island. That alone was enough to pique my interest. That's not something you read everyday. Initially it even scared me. Keep in mind, I cut my reading teeth on Stephen King books and though I thoroughly enjoyed them, prided myself on never really being scared (okay, so maybe the Shining... a little). But with The Troop, I found myself skittish. On edge. Partially, maybe, it's because I'm older, a little out of practice in the horror department, but I think Cutter's got the goods.

It begins with a strange, ravenous man appearing in rural PEI. He eats like mad in unbelievable quantities, and yet he looks to be starving, skin stretched over bone. But things don't get really bad until he visits an island, just off the coast, where a boy scout troop is camping. They're all alone except for their leader. It's got some epistolary elements; newspaper clippings, trial testimony, that sort of stuff, but the story itself is told on straightforward.

I thought, at first, it was going to be a zombie tale. It's not. What it is, I won't say, except that it's far more original than that. Unfortunately, when the truth is revealed, it's also a little less scary (more weird, mind you). The mystery of just what the heck was going on had added to the early suspense.

There's also a bit of overkill.

We went to see San Andreas last week. I wasn't, of course, expecting a lot beyond summer blockbuster special effects, and that's exactly what we got. But still, it sort of annoyed me afterwards. A giant earthquake hitting California is not implausible. And such a story could have been exciting, could have had a human interest angle, without being so stupid. They went over the top with it, when it really wasn't necessary. Likewise with The Troop. The biggest issue I had with the entire book was the revelation that one of the boys on the island happens to be psychotic. It was entirely pointless and though I already had to suspend my belief a lot by that point already, that was the piece I just couldn't get behind. First off, the man responsible for the whole ordeal, it turns out is also psychotic, making that two crazies in one story. A bit much. It felt like an annoying distraction more than anything else. Do the far-fetched scary science bit, but balance it out with mostly plausible characters. That should be a rule.

Luckily, by that point, I was already long on board and had to follow it through. 

Of a less concern was the authenticity of the setting. I am not from Prince Edward Island, but I am from rural Newfoundland (outport Newfoundland, to be more accurate), and expected it to feel more similar than it did. Maybe it's not really that similar, or maybe Cutter didn't get it right. That would take an PEIslander  to evaluate, I suppose.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Reader's Diary #1163- Michèle Thibeau: Metamorphosis Interrupted


I don't think I'm the meditation type. I can relax, and I'm not an uptight person usually, but my brain runs. When I relax it's still running, just on more trivial things. I also feel a little silly when I try meditation, like it's a poor fit.

Thankfully, I and my wife accept this.

In Michèle Thibeau's "Metamorphosis Interrupted" however, Craig comes to the realization that he is not cut out for meditation either and suspects that his girlfriend is not ready to accept this. He leaves.

Granted there's still so much to discuss. Whether or not her true motive was to change him is unclear (even doubtful) and there's something to be said for a meditation that brings one to a realization anyway (meaning, his experience wasn't the complete bust he thought it was). One might say there wasn't an interruption at all. Cue enlightenment gong.

Meditation by HckySo, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License
   by  HckySo 

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Reader's Diary #1162- Peter David, Paul Jenkins (Writers) and Ramon Bachs, Shawn Martinbrough (Artists): World War Hulk Frontline

Hulk was never a personal favourite comic book hero, but even as a kid I was intrigued by the character. He's certainly one of the more unique creations. Still intrigued by him, I decided to search out titles related to Planet Hulk, the series that seems to have gotten most people talking in recent years and what many hope will be the springboard for a standalone Hulk movie, should Marvel Studios ever be able/ willing to do so.

But I can't stress enough how wrong of an entry point WWH Front Line was for a casual fan like myself. First off, the World War Hulk series is a sequel to the Planet Hulk series, and second, Front Line is like watching a DVD's extras without having watched the movie.

It began fine by filling me in on some of the back story. The Hulk had been banished to space by Tony Stark (Iron Man), Mister Fantastic, and a few others but managed to carve out a new, successful life on another planet. Until, that is, his old spaceship exploded killing his pregnant wife. Hulk and his new alien buddies head back to Earth for revenge. I still had a few questions at this point (where was Hulk's milder mannered Bruce Banner form during all of this?) but I assumed that such questions would be answered and looked forward to an exciting showdown or two. When Hulk arrived on Earth, things looked promising. There was an almost immediate run-in with the Fantastic Four but then...

That fight is just sort of rushed through and the rest of the book focuses on smaller, tangential players in their own side stories. Set in New York, the "major" plot lines revolve around J. Jonah Jameson trying to takeover his competitor, the Front Line newspaper, a couple of Front Line reporters, and a murder mystery involving one of Hulk's alien buddies. These stories weren't without any appeal. Ben Ulrich is a pivotal character, whom I just come to learn about through Netflix's amazing Daredevil series (Daredevil also makes a brief appearance, by the way), so it was good to see more of him. Sally Forth, a character who was previously unknown to me, is another reporter but she's also a struggling alcoholic and I like when comics take on heavier themes such as that; when they're giving characters complexity without just making them old school villains. The murder mystery didn't do anything for me, but that wasn't the real problem. The real problem was that none of this is what I signed on for. I wanted the Hulk story. You know, the guy on the front of the book. This was a bunch of extras for hardcore fans.

The art was okay. Nothing terribly innovative, but the dark colours fit the tone well and while Bach's characters reminded me of caricatures of MAD Magazine (like say, those of Jack Davis or Mort Drucker) and therefore did not fit the serious tone as well, I'll give him credit for reminding me of MAD Magazine anyway.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Reader's Diary #1161- Jaynel Attolini: Bologna


The wisdom shared in Jaynel Attolini's "Bologna" seems to be yes, sometimes life is crappy, so make the most of it for the time being and just wait it out. That's fine. And though I'm not surprised to see bologna take on the unglamorous symbolic role, I like bologna. Grew up on bologna. Oh well.

Still, a fine story. Flash, but still room for a lot of evocative imagery. The reference to the musty smelling upholstery of crappy campers took me back instantly.

It's funny how sometimes you think you've progressed, moved up in the world, but maybe there's something to be said for having the ability to appreciate cheap luncheon meat and poor quality camping gear.