Thursday, December 31, 2015

The 9th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - December Roundup (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

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")

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

10 Years, 10 Great Moments- The Book Mine Set's 10 Year Anniversary

It was 10 years ago today that the Book Mine Set started. Starting as a very low key affair, I wanted to keep the anniversary low key as well, and try to come up with ten great moments. It was harder than I thought. First off, while the Book Mine Set has always been a book blog first and foremost, it's been there for me through many ups and downs that have found their way into the various posts: moves (Newfoundland to Iqaluit to Yellowknife), deaths (two grandparents, and mother-in-law), job switch (teacher to librarian), travel (New York, Japan, France, Florida, New Orleans, Alaska, the Yukon, England, San Diego), and so on. These may not have been moments as such, but nonetheless, I was glad to have a chance to share and to be supported.

But I was still able to whittle down the past ten blog years:

10. Queen's Jubilee medal- winning this was bittersweet. It was very nice to have my blogging efforts appreciated and recognized so formally, even if it did have ties to the monarchy (which I do not support)

9. The Great Wednesday Compare- Starting this was a lot of fun, pitting books or authors against each other created more interest than I'd ever imagined as people came to vote for their favourites. The Jane Austen crowd was nuts. It eventually ran out of steam and I retired it, but it was fun while it lasted.

8. Finishing Shakespeare - On Date I finally finished the complete works of Shakespeare. I'm not sure at the end that I gained more of an appreciation of Shakespeare, but I did gain more of an understanding. I don't think everything he wrote was genius, but I appreciated finding some gems that I hadn't heard of before. Coriolanus is now a favourite.

7. Finishing the Bible- Likewise, finishing the Bible. I started out trying to read and and review it as I would a novel, trying not to read it as a religious text at all. That was very difficult and I'm not sure that I always succeeded. I grew to enjoy seeing where so many references and figures of speech came from. It made me less religious in the end, but hey, I can now back up more of my opinions that I'll never be comfortable getting into in public.

6. Short Story Monday- For the past few years I've been up to one short story per week, all found online and for free.

5. Michael Crummey Interview - Bit of a crush on this guy. Galore is a favourite of mine and getting the chance to interview him was a dream come true.

4. National Post's Canada Also Reads- Long a critic of CBC's Canada Reads reliance on celebrities (one regular Joe wouldn't kill them), I once lobbied quite hard to land a spot on the show. Failing miserably, it all could have been quite embarrassing except that I was then asked to participate in the National Post's counter program, Canada Also Reads.

3. Joining the Graphic Novel Challenge- Back when it was first hosted by Dewey (R.I.P.), the challenge came along just as I was hoping to explore this Graphic Novel thing. It was the incentive I needed and wound up sparking a love affair between me and comics. I now read more for that challenge than for the one I host (see below). It's been hosted by Nicola these past few years and she's doing a bang up job.

2. Meeting Barb- There are so many "friends" I made through blogging, but Barb is the one I don't put quotation marks around. That's because in I got to finally meet her in person and she's been a family friend ever since.

1. Canadian Book Challenge- This is my crown jewel. I love hosting this challenge and have since I started it 8 years ago. I've "met" so many wonderful people through this challenge: Teena, Chris, Swordsman, Bill, Eric, Raidergirl, Wanda, Melwyk, Melissa, Irene, Heather, Shonna, Loni, Luanne, Mary R, Corey, Steve, Barb in BC, Jules, Melissa, Kim, Bybee, Teddy Rose, Pussreboots, and more (nothing personal if I missed you this time around!). I haven't been as good at hosting it in the past few years since I've been working on my masters, but next year is the 10th anniversary and I hope to make it huge. I'll probably also pass it off to someone else after that.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The 2015 Book Mine Set Short Story Online Anthology

52 Weeks = 52 Short Stories. All free and available online. If your life is too busy for one short story a week, you need to step back. Below you'll find links to all the reviews I wrote for Short Story Monday in 2015. Within those reviews you'll find links to the stories themselves. I hope you'll find it a good mix of world literature, genre fiction, flash fiction, stories written by well-known authors, stories by little-known authors, stories by surprising authors, entertaining and provocative stories. They are ranked from my least favourite to my favourite.

52. James Baldwin- "Sir Humphrey Gilbert"
51. Darth Marss- "The Life Tree"
50. Richard Rupnarain- "Where is the Mutton?"
49. John Scalzi - "An Election"
48. Lizzie Deas- "The Christmas Rose"
47. Hilary Boyd- "The Bed"
46. Jo Lennan- "How is Your Great Life?"
45. Aesop, translated by George Flyer Townshend- "The Fox and the Goat"
44. Charles Wilson- "Clipping Bud"
43. Jerome K. Jerome- "The Man Who Did Not Believe in Luck"
42. Kailee Carr- "Qu?ušin (Raven)"
41. Antonya Nelson- "Her Number"
40. Sophie Hannah- "The Tennis Church"
39. Jill Sexsmith- "Airplanes Couldn't be Happier in Turbulence
38. John Kendrick Bangs- "A Disputed Authorship"
37. Hans Christian Anderson- "The Brave Tin Soldier"
36. James Franco- "Just Before the Black"
35. Alec Niedenthal- "When the War was Over"
34. Jesse Eisenberg- "A Short Story Written with Thought to Text Technology"
33. Dania El-Kadi- "The Trophy Wife"
32. Sait Faik Abasiyanik- "Hisht, Hisht!"
31. Julian Gough- "The Great Hargeisa Goat Bubble"
30. Joe Stretch- "Hartshill"
29. Storm DiCastanzo- "Through-street"
28. Jaynel Attolini- "Bologna"
27. Robb Walker- "Reawakenings"
26. Michael Vocino- "Robby. A Gay Short Story"
25. Rebecca Rosenblum- "Ms. Universe"
24. M. R. James- "Lost Hearts"
23. Abdellah Taïa, translated by Daniel Simon- "Turning Thirty"
22. ZZ Packer- "Gideon"
21. Kerissa Dickie- "Wild Flowers"
20. Jim Harrington- "Just Another Day"
19. Selina Brydson- "Downriver"
18. Edmundo Paz Soldán, translated by Kirk Nesset- "The Legend of Wei Li and the Emperor's Palace"
17. S. L. Green- "Cartwheels"
16. Omar El-Kiddi, translated by Robin Moger- "The Wonderful Short Life of the Dog Ramadan"
15. Michèle Thibeau- "Metamorphosis Interrupted"
14. Magela Baudoin- "Vertical Dream"
13. Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj, translated by A. Delgermaa- "Dark Rock"
12. Zora Neale Hurston- "Sweat"
11. Albert Camus- "The Renegade"

10. Renée Knight's "Faithful"
9. Pranaya Rana- "In the Hollow of Your Hands Hides a Heartbeat"
8. Lisa Moore- "The Challenges and Rewards of Re-entering the Workforce"
7. Aimee Bender- "The Rememberer"
6. Morgan Bailey- "Albeit for Small Mercies"
5. Lee Kvern- "In Search of Lucinda"
4. Ann Petry- "Like a Winding Sheet"
3. Jo Senior- "The Green Suitcase"
2. Katharine Brush- "The Birthday Party"
1. Kim Curran- "The Kiss"

Please consider joining me for Short Story Mondays in 2016.

Reader's Diary #1235- Renée Knight- Faithful

I quite enjoyed Renée Knight's "Faithful." Perhaps it could be read as a bit of a feminist tale; a woman wanting to have some alone time and feeling guilty about it, but it's a feeling I'm sure many of us males can relate to as well.

In any case, it becomes more than this and plays to our fears of taking such moments. Set on Boxing Day, there's a lot of terrific mood-setting imagery and I was enthralled from beginning to end. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

My Year in Review 2015 - Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels

Well, this marks a new record for me: 52 graphic novels/ comics in a year. One per week. It didn't come without a sacrifice, however. My regular novels and non-fiction reading suffered horribly to the point where I don't know if there's any point of doing a year end recap. Starting a new full job and still working on that masters, my moments for leisure reading have come in unpredictable spurts. Spurts that seemed better served by comics.

Anyway, this years mix is heavy on the superheroes and zombies. And while there were some great ones, my top 2 don't, incidentally, fit into either of those categories. That's neither here nor there. Just an observation. Lest I babble on, here's a recap of all the comics and graphic novels that I read in 2015, ranked from my least to most favourite:

52. Masaharu Takemura- The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology
51. Peter David, Paul Jenkins, Ramon Bachs, Shawn Martinbrough- World War Hulk Front Line
50. Paul Jenkins, Andres Guinaldo- Son of Hulk: Dark Son Rising
49. Geronimo Stilton- Who Stole the Mona Lisa?
48. George R. R. Martin, Daniel Abraham, Tommy Patterson- Game of Thrones Volume 1
47. Greg Rucka- Wonder Woman: Eyes of the Gorgon
46. Josh O'Neill, Andrew Carl, Chris Stevens- Little Nemo's Big New Dreams
46. Marguerite Abouet, Clément Oubrerie: Aya of Yop City
45. Jeff Lemire, Mike McKone- Justice League United, Volume 1
44. Yana Toboso- Black Butler, Vol. 1
43. Jim Davis, Dan Walsh- Garfield Minus Garfield
42. Darren Shaw, Takahiro Arai- Cirque du Freak, Volume 1 
41. Susan Hughes, Willow Dawson- No Girls Allowed
40. Various Writers- Guardians of the Galaxy: Best Story Ever  
39. Willow Dawson- Hyena in Petticoats
38. John Byrne, Mike Mignola- Hellboy: Seed of Destruction
37. Todd McFarlane- Spawn: Origin Collections Volume 1
36. Marika McCoola, Emily Carroll- Baba Yaga's Assistant
35. Konami Kanata- Chi's Sweet Home, Volume 1
34. Robert Kirkman, Sean Phillips- Marvel Zombies (#1-5)
33. Adam Glass- Suicide Squad, Volume 1: Kicked in the Teeth
32. Brian Bendis- Jessica Jones: The Pulse
31. David Alexander Robertson, Wei Tien- The Peacemaker, Thanadelthur
30. Michael Green, Mike Johnson, Mahmud Asrar- Supergirl, Volume 1: Last Daughter of Krypton
29. Jason Aaron, Daniel Acuna- Wolverine vs. The X-Men
28. David Alexander Robertson, Scott B. Henderson- Betty
27. Garth Ennis, Lewis Larosa- The Punisher: In The Beginning
26. Geoff Johns, Jim Lee- Justice League United, Origin Volume 1
25. Cullen Bunn, Ramon Rosanas- Night of the Living Deadpool
24. Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez- Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft 
23. Osamu Tazuka- Buddha, Volume 1
22. Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, Jorge Molina- Thor, The Goddess of Thunder
21. Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli-  Ultimate Comics Spider-Man
20. Weird Al- MAD Magazine, Issue #533
19. Adrian Dingle- Nelvana of the Northern Lights
18. Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore- The Walking Dead: Days Gone By
17. Matt Fraction, David Aja, Jarvier Pulido, Alan Davis- Hawkeye My Life as a Weapon 
16. Arthur de Pins- Zombillenium: 1. Gretchen
15. Roz Chast- Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
14. Kurt Busiek, Brent Eric Anderson- Astro City: Family Album
13. Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin- Doctor Strange, The Oath
12. Jeff Lemire, Travel Foreman- Animal Man, Volume 1
11. Kelly Sue DeConnick, David Lopez: Captain Marvel: Higher, Faster, Further, More
The Top 10!!!
10. G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona- Ms. Marvel: No Normal
9. Ryan North, Erica Henderson- Squirrel Girl, Volume 1
8. Gene Luen Yang- American Born Chinese
7. Cece Bell- El Deafo
6. Ed Piskor- Hip Hop Family Tree, Book 1
5. Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr- Batgirl of Burnside, Vol. 1
4. Takehiko Inoue-  Vagabond, Vol. 1
3. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Francesco Francavilla- Afterlife with Archie: Escape from Riverdale
2. Alison McCreesh- Ramshackle
1. Scott McCloud- The Sculptor

Update: I just discovered that I missed one in my initial count, taking me to 53.  

Reader's Diary #1234- Arthur de Pins: Zombillenium / 1. Gretchen

A problem with trends is that some real gems get dismissed the second it's lumped in with the rest. Case in point, I didn't have high expectations for Arthur de Pins' Zombillenium; yet another zombie comic. But what a pleasant surprise. Zombillenium: 1. Gretchen is great fun, a unique story, and superbly drawn.

And while there are zombies, they're not the focus. Zombillenium is a monster run theme park. Think Hotel Transylvania meets Disneyland. This particular volume involves Gretchen, a witch intern and Aurelian, a new "recruit." There's some confusion at first whether or not he'll wind up a vampire or werewolf, but he winds up something... cooler, not to mention the reluctant new mascot for Zombillenium which may— if he can be controlled— save the park from lagging sales. 

So it may not have the most literary of aspirations, but it's witty and cool. Gretchen, for instance, rides a skateboard fastened to a flying broom. She likes to tell people that her father is Robert Smith (of the Cure). 

Then there's the art. Characters are highly expressive, adding to the humour, but there's hidden depth in the backgrounds, with colouring and watercolours that catch the mood, and brilliantly paced panels, slowing down to nearly identical panels for realizations and tension, but veering from that formula, picking up the pace or dropping stuff in the gutter when needed.

Best of all, this works as a single but sets up so much potential for future stories.

Reader's Diary #1233: Jason Aaron (Writer), Daniel Acuña (Artist)- Wolverine Vs. The X-Men

There something about superheroes battling each other that all fanboys and fangirls can't resist. It's why we had Celebrity Deathmatch, why a drunken argument between 2 educated 30 year olds can be reduced to who would win between a tiger and a polar bear (a tiger), and why Joss Whedon needed that Hulk-buster suit. So, Wolverine Vs. The X-Men is a no-brainer.

That's not exactly what I got, however. Collecting Wolverine #6-9, I gather that #1-5 would be more accurately titled Wolverine vs. The X-Men, but were collected as Wolverine Goes to Hell. This 2nd collection would better be titled Wolverine vs His Demons. Wolverine is possessed and if his X-Men friends can't exorcise him, Cyclops will have to kill him.

So, maybe not the fanboy experience I was after but I enjoyed it anyway. Not normally a fan of possession stories, I liked how it was explored in this tale. With several female X-Men going into Wolverine's mind to help him fight his demons, it took on an Inside Out quality as Aaron found various metaphors to represent the psychology of Logan/ Wolverine.

Not to be outdone, Daniel Acuña's art work, especially on the demons, was fantastic: dark and sketchy with nightmarish Lovecraftian imagery. I'd like to see what he'd do with a Doctor Strange title or perhaps a Lemire-penned Animal Man story.

Reader's Diary #1232: Marika McCoola (Writer), Emily Carroll (Artist): Baba Yaga's Assistant

Having heard so many glowing reviews of Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll's Baba Yaga's Assistant,  I just had to read this one.

Baba Yaga, for the uninitiated, is a character from Slavic folklore; a woods-dwelling woman who lives in a hut atop chicken legs, and seems to have been featured in many cautionary tales to children. Having not heard of this witch-like character before, I was intrigued by this angle and in that regard wasn't overly disappointed.

It did, however, feel like a mis-translation. It wasn't actually translated (McCoola lives in Massachusetts and researched Russian folklore for this book), but nonetheless felt like when I've read stories from other languages that I didn't quite get. I've been left to wonder if there's a cultural block, if it was translated poorly, or if I just read a bad example. Baba Yaga was interesting, absolutely. But I didn't ever feel like I understood what the character was all about. A bit of a trickster, scary but possibly with a good side, crazy but possibly with method to her madness. She didn't come together.

Of course, the book is not about Baba Yaga herself, but about her assistant, Masha. I'm not sure how old Masha's supposed to be, but in her late teens, I presume. She's applying for a job to become Baba Yaga's assistant based on an ad in a newspaper. She remembers Baba Yaga stories fondly, told to her mostly by her grandmother after her mother died. Plus, it's clear Masha wants to get out of the house now that her father is remarrying, and worse, she'll soon have a bratty young step-sister.

The contemporary, grounded story was compelling but I don't think it ever adequately came together, either. The job ad that Masha reads, for instance, comes across as something written by a crazy person. Masha, who seems otherwise grounded, doesn't bat an eyelash. And she remains unphased throughout. A straight man is necessary at times, but only because of his reactions which should, quite frankly, resemble what our own would be in the situation. Was Masha supposed to be imagining all of this? I wanted at least one character to hang my hat on, someone I could understand or at the very least, help me understand the story.

The art, from Canada's Emily Carroll, fared better for me. A cross between Pen Ward (Adventure Time) and Vera Brosgol (Anya's Ghost), the end result has a perfect balance of zaniness and normalcy. A deliciously sinister witch with a average, everyday assistant. In other words, Carroll largely achieved what I'd hoped the writing would have.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Reader's Diary #1231- Garth Ennis (Writer), Lewis Larosa (Artist): The Punisher / In The Beginning

I've signed up for another year of the Graphic Novels and Manga Challenge. Hosted by Nicola, it's one of the challenges I look forward to the most. This past year I read more for this challenge than even from the one I host (i.e., The Canadian Book Challenge). In fact, I had only signed up for the 2nd level of the challenge (i.e., 24) but I'm closing in on the top level (i.e., 52). The Punisher: In The Beginning marks my 49th of the year. So close!

I've wanted to read something about the Punisher ever since I heard that he was going to be included in Marvel Cinematic Universe, making his appearance in season 2 of The Daredevil next year. He's not a character I'd known much about other than his logo, but I was intrigued to know that he's likely to play a villainous role. I've quickly gathered that while he targets bad guys, it's his means of doing so that make his superhero status so dubious. Knowing the upcoming theme of the next MCU movie, Captain America: Civil War, with it's anti-vigilante stance it's a perfect time to bring The Punisher into the mix. Given how Netflix is the only corner of the MCU that seems willing to go dark, it's also the perfect place for him.

But if I wasn't overly familiar with the Punisher, I was completely clueless about Marvel's MAX comics line. Basically it's their R rated imprint. Yeah, the name is a bit much. And on that note, my fears that it would try too hard to be shocking and edgy did not turn out to be unwarranted. There are definite moments in here that made me say, "oh, brother." The only female character getting turned on by violence was, quite frankly, pathetic and a major drawback.

That said, not everything was gratuitous and I think the character demands an uncomfortable story. When you strip away the cartoonishness of other superheroes, he's not doing anything really different. For that matter, he also forces us to look at the context of violence. Is it ever the answer? Most of us aren't Gandhi and would feel a little naive to say no outright. There are certain violent crimes that all but the sickest of us would decry as wrong. Deciding when violence is right, however, is less clear and when someone says it is, it should be uncomfortable. Therefore The Punisher, Civil War plot lines, and so on, are needed to balance out the clear and typically unchallenged and black and white morality of superhero tales.

This is Frank Castle's, aka The Punisher's, origin story. It's dark and full of revenge. Despite it all, I didn't dislike him. Maybe I should have? Maybe that story-line will come?

The art is not bad. It's gritty and dark, and therefore fitting. I do wish, however, that Castle himself wasn't drawn as an over-sized grotesque freak. A part of his appeal is that he's not an actual superhero. He doesn't have any superpowers. Drawing him like a non-green Hulk kind of strips that away. Tim Bradstreet's cover version would have been much better. Likewise, Jon Bernthal is a great choice. I think Larosa would have gone with The Great Khali.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Reader's Diary #1230- David Alexander Robertson (Writer), Scott B. Henderson: Betty / The Helen Betty Osborne Story

Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story was not the first time that David Alexander Robertson tackled the story of Helen Betty Osborne with a comic book. In 2009 he had also collaborated with Madison Blackstone on The Life of Helen Betty Osborne: A Graphic Novel.

Disappointingly, however, I'm not entirely sure he much improved upon the first attempt as largely my issues with this book are the same as those written by reviewers Peters and Joyal regarding the 2009 book. There's no denying that this is an important story, with themes of violence and racism running deep. Helen Betty Osborne's life was ended tragically and an even larger tragedy would be forgetting her. For that Robertson should be commended.

However, I do hope that there will be a telling that better captures who she was. Initially in Betty, we get some of that as we hear her and her friend Eva discussing her fears about leaving for residential school and her dreams of becoming a teacher. Quickly, however, it starts to feel too much like a news report. There are details, but no depth. Murdered at such a young age, who Betty would have become we'll sadly never know. But I also wanted to know who she was before that. Perhaps that is, to a small degree, a success of the book: having created a longing for better understanding of her humanity, as well as the humanity of victims like her, rather than statistics.

Still, I'll reiterate that I don't think short comics are the best venue for a biography. I think that a real life needs more time and space to explore the complexities of who they are. She deserves more than 30 pages.

Earlier this year I also reviewed David Alexander Robertson's The Peacemaker Thenadelthur. In some regards, Betty is an improvement over that one. The frame story of Betty, involving a Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women protest, is far more successful than the class presentation frame of The Peacemaker, as the protest is far more immediately relevant and important.

Henderson's art is serviceable if not a tad underwhelming.

Reader's Diary #1229- Cullen Bunn (Writer), Ramon Rosanas (Artist): Night of the Living Deadpool

Deadpool is not a character I knew much about and the little I'd picked up hadn't particularly interested me. I thought his suit was too much of a rip off of Spider-Man and his reputation as the "Merc with a Mouth" made me feel it would be a lot of trying too hard to be edgy. The upcoming Ryan Reynolds movie has done nothing to assuage my fears. If anything they've added a new one: Deadpool is going to be a bro.

It doesn't help that my 10 year old has a fascination with the character and it doesn't look like I'll be taking him to see the film. I've lightened up a lot. I've even watched Daredevil and Jessica Jones with him on Netflix. Still that Deadpool movie? If the trailer is any indication, the questionable stuff is going to be relentless.

Still, he's a Marvel character and Night of the Living Deadpool involves zombies, so I figured it might be tolerable.

I ended up not only really enjoying the book, but even liking the Deadpool character.

Bunn has fun with zombie story tropes (Deadpool wakes up from a food coma, rather than a regular coma to find the world has gone full blown zombie-assault) but also adds enough unique elements to keep the story... er... fresh. These zombies talk. And not the "braaaaaiiiins" grunts either. Instead they yell things like, "God no, what am I doing?!" as they bite into a man's face. It adds a nice, if slightly horrific touch, to think they're helpless to control what their bodies are doing.

Deadpool, while he does come across as hilariously insane, also comes across as caring— more a hero than a anti-hero and because I'd been led to believe that he'd be more of a self-centered type (look at how twisted and funny I am!), this was a welcome surprise. I don't mean to suggest that it's a sentimental cheese-fest either. When he gets gets taken in with a group comprised in part by an old lady and a couple of kids, he tries to save them, seems to genuinely care about their well-being. They die of course, and Deadpool copes and moves on rather quickly, but still, for a moment there, he showed some humanity behind the punchlines.

Thankfully the punchlines were still there. I laughed out loud for a couple of scenes at least. At one point a character is whisper-shouting for the lost kids (he doesn't want to attract the zombies). Deadpool quips, "Yes! Great plan! Let's call for them in a whisper! That way, if they're just a couple of feet away, they'll come running!" Hilarious, and it doesn't make Deadpool himself necessary for the joke. 

The art too is great. Mostly in black and white, Deadpool himself is still red. For all of the above whining about Deadpool being an attention-whore, I actually liked this element. If nothing else, it set the book apart from generic superhero art and I've been whining about that for even longer.  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Reader's Diary #1228- Sophie Hannah: The Tennis Church

Sophie Hannah's "The Tennis Church" is about two women at their breaking points. It revolves around Charlie, a police officer begrudgingly spending Christmas with her in-laws. Perhaps not the distraction she would like, Charlie nonetheless gets a mysterious call from an old friend, Tasha. Tasha, as it turns out, has gone missing.

Trying not to give away the ending, it didn't go exactly where I thought it was going. I expected Tasha's issues would help put Sophie's into perspective, looking not as serious in comparison. Instead, Tasha's escape gives Sophie motivation. It's an interesting, tiny twist that speaks of individual levels of tolerance and inspiration.

Set up with tones of a mystery, I'm not sure that the story works entirely in that vein. It's resolved too fast and too tied too much to Charlie's inside knowledge to give this reader any sense of co-solving the crime as I've come to expect from such stories, but it's an entertaining Christmas story and the more I think about it, the more provocative I think it is.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Reader's Diary #1227- Alison McCreesh: Ramshackle / A Yellowknife Story

After seeing several of Alison McCreesh's collaborations on other people's books, I've been practically salivating for McCreesh (a former art teacher of mine) to publish something completely on her own. Finally, my wish has come true and it was everything I'd hoped it would be and more.

First off, the art is amazing. With pen and watercolours, McCreesh has depicted Yellowknife better than a photo album. She manages to capture the mood of the characters (though a simple cartoon version, it's amazing how well she even captures her own appearance!) and of the town itself through the use of colours (or not), the arrangement of panels, and  splash pages.

She does warn in her foreword, however, that it's not meant to be a portrait of the town but rather a glimpse through her (and her partner's) eyes; their impressions and new understandings as they first moved to Yellowknife back in 2009.

That, it turned out, was important for me to keep in mind. At one point, I felt a little offended. Trying to find a social circle, as well as housesitting their way around the City, she sometimes came across a just a tad snobbish. Or maybe more accurately, reverse-snobbish. Anyone not living in Old Town, especially the shack filled Woodyard, came across as hopelessly uncool. Concerned with mundane, square, and materialistic things.

However, I've quickly come to terms with it. First off, the sting was no doubt in part due to the fact that I don't live in Old Town. But I'll admit it-- Old Town is what gives this place character. Secondly, I suppose we all have some of that judgemental attitude. If I'm being honest, there's a certain section of town (that will remain nameless) that I, too, have judged for their ostentatious houses. But this is also why Ramshackle is so good; it's completely open and honest. More importantly, she's allowed to have a preference in houses and the people she associates with. In fact, it's the ability for her, or me, or others that have come to call this place home, to find kindred spirits from all walks of life in such a small town that makes this place so special.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Reader's Diary #1226- Various Writers & Artists: Guardians of the Galaxy, Best Story Ever

The subtitle of this Guardians of the Galaxy title is misleading for a couple of reasons:

1. It's not a single story
2. Therefore, it also cannot be the best

Had I known this was a random collection, I'd have been less eager to read it. It is made up of single, and except for featuring at least one of the Guardian characters, unconnected tales. These are written by a variety of people (Tim Seeley, Will Corona Pilgrim, Brian Michael Bendis, Mike Doyle, Joe Caramagna, Doug Moench, Scott Edelman, and Jim Starlin) with even more artists than I care to share here. So not surprisingly the quality is all over the place. I enjoyed the stories by Seeley and by Bendis the most and my least favourite was the Joe Caramagna/ Adam Archer "Free Comic Day" story featuring Rocket Raccoon. Those of us who were skeptical about the idea of a talking raccoon but nonetheless pleasantly surprised by the movie have our fears realized instead in this comic, coming across as overly cute and silly.

Still, having not read any Guardians of the Galaxy comics before I enjoyed the collection in getting a sense of who they are (outside the movie) and how they evolved as characters. Perhaps the most drastic change was with Drax the Destroyer.

Best treated as a sampler.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Reader's Diary #1225- Lizzie Deas: The Christmas Rose

While Lizzie Deas is credited here, I'm not sure how much she actually contributed beyond the opening paragraph explaining the message of the legend "The Christmas Rose." The legend itself seems to be quite old. While it does involve the nativity scene, however, it does not appear in the Bible. Essentially, it's a Little Drummer Buy sort of message: it's the thought behind the gift that's really important. But rather than a kick-ass drum solo, in this tale the present is a Christmas Rose that sprouts from the tears of a maiden who is upset that she had no gift to give the baby Jesus. Cry and you'll be rewarded, I guess.

It's an fine story, though surprisingly has little connection to "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" which is why I decided to read it in the first place. (Feist's rendition is one of my favourites.)

My favourite rose by SilverStack, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License
   by  SilverStack 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Reader's Diary #1224- Ed Piskor: Hip Hop Family Tree 1981-1983

Way back in my impressionable youth, my older teenage sister and a couple of her friends did one of the coolest things I'd ever seen. In leather jackets and sunglasses they lip-synced Run DMC's "It's Tricky" at a community variety show.

What was that music??? In Twillingate, Newfoundland, I'd never heard the likes. So completely different and so cool. My first exposure to rap. Or was that hip hop? Didn't matter.

In any case, it made the new focus on Run DMC in Ed. Piskor's volume 2 of his brilliant Hip Hop Family Tree series an especial delight. Of course, I enjoyed reading about the lesser known names last time around, but seeing the birth of groups like RUN DMC and the Beastie Boys was pretty cool, too.

I didn't like the volume as much as the first one though. The late 70s New York setting in volume 1 was almost a character in itself, which I had really enjoyed. This time, early 80s New York seemed less prominent. However, I did enjoy the brief scenes in L.A.

I was also concerned at first that the oversized, newsprint classic comics look of the first volume had worn out its welcome. While it was perfect to capture comics of the 70s, wouldn't they have started to look different by 83? Fortunately, my doubts on that front were eased when Piskor fast-fowarded a panel here or there to the 1990s. Suddenly the colouring changed from faded halftone colours to more garish neon. Yep, this series is in good hands.

The story of hip hop at that time I found to be simultaneously frustrating and compelling. On the one hand, it started to get more of a business sense which seemed to take away some of the magic and cultural phenomenon of the first, but on the other hand, there also seemed to be more experimentation with sounds. Suddenly the difference between rap and hip hop became a thing. Artists played with electronic effects and debated if it should go with more disco or slower, more street sounds. Punk angst and themes attracted some while others wanted party music. It's not difficult to see the seeds of various subgenres forming even at this early stage.

I can't wait for Volume 3!

Monday, December 07, 2015

Reader's Diary #1223- Darth Marss: The Life Tree

A few years back, we gave our son the Star Wars boxed set and for six days following, him and I bonded over the films. He became a instant fan, and I became a bigger fan. But then, the movies were over. Not wanting to give up so soon, and not having yet discovered the glory that was Clone Wars, we turned to the internet and the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special.

I knew it was infamous. I knew it was supposedly awful. But we went for it anyway. Somethings are just so bad, they're good. Right? Right?

Ummm. Yes, it was so bad, but the novelty of that wore off. Fast.

Nonetheless, with The Force Awakens set to arrive a week before Christmas, I decided to once again go in search of more horrible Christmas-Star Wars fusion, landing (of course) on a fan fiction story called "The Life Tree."

Of course, the preposterous idea of aliens from a galaxy long ago and far away celebrating Christmas does not go unnoticed by the creators of such product, and therefore the aforementioned special is a "Holiday" special and Christmas Day is Life Day. Yeah. There's even a decorated tree for cripes' sakes.

Enter Darth Marss (sigh) with a story about such a tree. It revolves around a young Luke who insists on decorating a weather vane to resemble a Life Tree, despite a ban on the holiday. At the end there's a Life Day miracle.

It's bad, sure, but I wanted it to be worse. At least that would have been entertaining. Come on, Life Day's been banned? Where's the intergalactic equivalent of Fox News feigning outrage? So many lost opportunities. At least the Holiday Special got the craziness right. They milked it for about an hour and 15 minutes longer than necessary, but yeah it was crazy. A short fan fiction would have been the perfect opportunity, but alas Darth Marss (sigh) has squandered it by taking the story waaaaaaay too seriously.

This was not the fan fiction I was looking for.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Reader's Diary #1222- Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher (Writers), Babs Tarr (Artist): Batgirl of Burnside, Vol. 1

Well this was a pleasant surprise. I'm starting to think about by end of year rankings and Batgirl of Burnside easily just found its way into my top 10 comics and graphic novels.

I wasn't, of course, dreading reading it but I also wasn't holding out for anything that hit on all the right levels for me as much as this. I'm not much of a Batman fan, nor DC at all really, and the only thing I'd heard about Batgirl of Burnside beforehand, while positive, focused primarily on Batgirl's new outfit. (The outfit does merit mention: it's cool and functional at the same time, which is a rare combination for female superheroes in particular.)

The action's fast-paced, featuring an assortment of new villains, and while there are occasional dark moments it's nowhere as heavy-handed about it like Batman comics, and even balances it out with humour (do they think this is Marvel???). Further setting Batgirl apart from Batman, she's got some money issues, she's young, and just all around awesome; flawed at times but still immensely likable. Even greater, the way the writers tackle previous incarnations of Batgirl is nothing short of brilliant, even taking on the infamous paralyzation of Batgirl at the hands of the Joker back in 1988's The Killing Joke by Alan Moore. This is how a reboot should be done.

Batgirl also feels so wonderfully progressive. There's diversity everywhere (as in real life), but it's never a big deal. Just accepted— as it should be. Plus, Batgirl is smart and kicks ass, but she's not afraid to have fun.

But my absolute favourite thing about the book is the world creation. It's a place and generation heavily involved in social media and the writers and Tarr intertwine text, fictional (but totally believable) logos, (fake) music references, and the end result is a world that is not only fascinating but feels simultaneously real and like a satirical take on our own.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't call attention to the variant covers at the end. I'm normally not a fan. I've too often seen them used as an excuse to publish more offensive versions of characters and then the publishers absolve themselves of responsibility because they're somehow not "official" but after seeing the Batgirl/ Purple Rain variant, it makes it all worth it.