Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The 9th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - May 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")

Reader's Diary #1320- Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Steve Skroce (artist): We Stand on Guard

I've long been amused of how many Canadian collaborators American comics writer Brian K. Vaughan has worked with. But with the Canada-love he exhibits in We Stand on Guard, I'm thinking it's just high time he moves here.

We Stand on Guard is set about 100 years in the future when the US has taken war on Canada. In the news media it's shown to be the retaliation against Canadian terrorists, which may or may not be true, but in any case, taking over our water resources is the gravy on top. Having exhausted most of Canada's more southern lakes, the US has set its sights on Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories, the 10th largest lake in the world and deepest in North America. But a small band of resistance fighters who make Yellowknife their home won't give up easily.

The story and art is just great. Like the best futuristic sci-fi, it plays on current fears. Not that we're trembling in the fetal position or anything (okay, with Trump this close to power, maybe we are), but we definitely realize that we're living next to a country whose military makes ours look... cute. We also realize that we have have a lot of freshwater resources while many parts of the US are running short. Canadian Steve Skroce was a great choice to illustrate the tale, with his realistic but expressive characters and over-the-top military machinery with its crisp lines and Pacific Rimish aesthetics.

It was interesting to read this as a Canadian because at times it felt almost too much, Canadiana to the point of parody. But then, we see so little comics set in Canada that seeing a Tim Hortons sign in the background seems like a joke when it's just realistic. Not to say that there wasn't any outright pandering, but when the book opens in the year 2112 they're forgiven.

As a Yellowknifer I was also blown away by the detail and significance of this town to the plot. I knew ahead of time that Yellowknife was featured but I had no idea how heavily. References to very specific things like Ingraham Trail and Giant Mine (with its deadly arsenic reserves) was unexpected surprise that almost left me giddy.

Not that every detail is perfect. There appears, for instance, to be trees outside of an operating base in Baker Lake, Nunavut, which don't currently exist. This could be explained away by global warming, I suppose, except that Yellowknife doesn't seem to have been affected the same way. Also, there is a scene showing a headframe of a Giant Mine shaft (the same one that I'm reading in front of in the header bar), but that particular shaft was demolished last year.

Still, these are small potatoes and I still immensely enjoyed this book. While it pretty well wrapped up, I'd still love to see a sequel of some sort. There was a brief reference to pirates off the coast of Newfoundland. I want to read that! (And Mr. Vaughan, if you're looking for a consultant, Newfoundland was my home for the first 24 years of my life...)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Reader's Diary #1319 - Leanne Betasamosake Simpson: Treaties

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson's "Treaties" took me back to that time in university, in my undergrad days, when I'd been there a while and the sheen of all those new ideas was just starting to wear off, when I was realizing that, exciting and enlightening as all of this had been, it was largely fake. The world at large didn't feel the same way as my campus.

Such times have potential to be soul-crushing. Identity crisis combined with a sense that you may have just wasted a lot of time and money. But like most times of personal crisis, those of us with strong roots (like the narrator in Simpson's story), come to rely on those to help get us through.

Two interesting questions linger after reading this short story: the meaning of the title and the purpose of avoiding capital letters. It would take a few more readings in order to determine if my theories are plausible, but it's my early idea that the "Treaties" title comes from the fact that the narrator is of a First Nation and she is forming a sort of agreement to reconcile that supposed campus enlightenment with her culture and traditions. The lack of capitals may be a way of showing that undergrad experimentation, disregarding accepted norms.

Again though, these are just guesses and would take a few more reads to know if they even make sense or hold up under scrutiny.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Reader's Diary #1318- Mark Waid (Writer), Daniel Indro and Ronilson Freire (Artists): Green Hornet Volume One Bully Pulpit

Wanting to start exploring some non Marvel or DC superheroes, I turned to the Green Hornet, a character I knew next to nothing about except that Seth Rogen did a movie about him a few years back.

Interestingly, in Mark Waid's intro he insists that the Green Hornet is not a superhero stating that there's always been "a huge gulf between the Hornet and characters like Batman or Spider-Man." Spider-Man I'll give him, but I'm not so sure about Batman. A little less flamboyant perhaps, but I still thought Mark Waid's version of the Green Hornet had much in common with the caped crusader. What both lack in superpowers, they make up for in gadgetry and souped-up cars. They both have a sidekick (complete with subtle homoerotic undertones). They both wear a mask to conceal their identities. They both kick ass. If Batman is a superhero, then so is the Green Hornet.

That aside, it's awakened a new interest: pulp fiction heroes. Getting his start in radio dramas, I'm looking back to that time for other inspiration. Dick Tracy's next on my list, but I'm looking to read some Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, then possibly Zorro and the Lone Ranger as well. All of these characters were always sort of there in the background, but I've never paid them much attention.

But that's neither here or there where Green Hornet Volume One: Bully Pulpit is concerned. It's an entertaining story for sure, giving Green Hornet newcomers like me enough background to follow along. It's the 1940s and Britt Reid, aka the Green Hornet, has inherited his father's successful newspaper, the Sentinel. By night, however, he has earned the reputation of a crime lord, infiltrating the city's organized crime circuit in order to take them down. It's a compelling approach as occasionally he has to do things, even criminal things, in order to keep his credibility. In such cases, his sidekick Kato acts as his more assertive Jiminy Cricket, questioning and calling him on bad decisions. To be sure, the Green Hornet makes many bad decisions but the worst are made when he becomes overly confident, jumping to the wrong conclusions with disastrous consequences.

I was surprised to read such a psychological story, expecting pulp fiction to be all plot-driven, not character driven. Waid has struck a nice balance: enough dust-ups and drama to keep the energy up, but with characters who are just compelling enough to keep me intrigued.

The art is fine, if very typical of superhero comics. I especially enjoyed the brownish green, almost sepia tones, befitting of a 1940s Chicago story.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Reader's Diary #1317- Victoria Jamieson: Roller Girl

For a place the size of Yellowknife, I'm forever impressed by the opportunities that exist here. For sports, it's no exception. If it's mainstream you're after, we've got baseball, hockey, soccer, golf, and so on. But there's also more niche activities; broomball (our teams often take the world's championship), kite skiing, and in recent years, thanks to Diamond City Roller Derby, roller derby has taken off.

Not knowing much about the sport, I was surprised and intrigued to find a junior graphic novel on the subject. It involves a 12 year old named Astrid who also discovers the sport and a lot about herself in the process.

My first take on the book was that I wasn't wild about the art. The characters were drawn so simply almost to the point of uninteresting. Think For Better of For Worse only with less caricature. That said, I came to appreciate it and as the just as the game began to make life more interesting for Astrid, it also made the book come more alive. When it was time for Astrid to make her first "war face," it was more powerful because it contrasted so well.

Also, as much as this is a roller derby story, or a coming-of-age story, it's also a pleasant tale about friendship and that uncomfortable realization that ones' interests might be pulling them apart.

Roller Girl is fun, funny, educational, and powerful all at once.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Reader's Diary #1316- Neil Gaiman (Writer), Mark Buckingham (Artist): Miracleman The Golden Age

Remember that scrawl at that beginning of Star Wars: A New Hope that got into all of that history that you were expected to read in order to understand the current context. Yeah, I'm not sure many kids at the time really grasped all of that backstory, but obviously it hardly mattered.

In the Neil Gaiman run on Miracleman, unfortunately, the backstory does matter. It doesn't say anywhere on the cover that this collection begins at book four, the previous books having been written by Alan Moore. Moore's story is summed up on a single page at the front. It sounds convoluted when summarized like this and does little to aid the clarity of Gaiman's take.

I'm reminded somewhat of my disappointment reading World War Hulk: Frontline. I'd wanted the World War Hulk tale and felt like I'd been given scraps. But to be fair, Miracleman: The Golden Age wasn't that disappointing. If I've been lamenting lately that superheroes only seem to be taking on one another and us muggles seem to be forgotten, then Miracleman: The Golden Age takes us on in a most compelling way. The presence of such beings changes our entire culture. Whereas WWH Frontline seemed pointless, Gaiman's story seems like it would have been an intriguing companion piece. Alas, I didn't start with the companion.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Reader's Diary #1315 - Edward Riche: Questions Surrounding My Disappearance

Edward Riche's "Questions Surrounding My Disappearance" is an amusing look at the meaning of one's life. Not the meaning of life, you understand, but the meaning of your life. I'm sure we've all had these moments, these feelings of insignificance, but while most of bleed just to know we're alive, Riche's narrator takes a different approach. And for the time being, yes, he's gotten some acknowledgement. Such as it is.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Reader's Diary #1314- Jennifer Holm (Writer), Matthew Holm (Artist): Babymouse Queen of the World

I suppose I could complain about the lack of originality in creating yet another cartoon mouse, but I'm not sure what the point would be. Aimed at kids, I'm guessing that those mice of yore (Mickey, Mighty, and so on) aren't as relevant as they once were and kids today won't really care.

Actually, the look of the mice in Babymouse Queen of the World! (there are other animals), reminded me of those in Spielgelman's Maus so there are worse mice one might want to emulate.

Unlike Spiegelman, however, Jennifer Holm's story is much lighter. There is a message (be grateful for the friends you have because the grass is not always greener), but again mostly a quick fun story for kids.

While there's nothing groundbreaking, I do think this series could be a good gateway to graphic novels with just enough creativity behind the entertainment. In one of the better scenes, Babymouse is trying to impress Felicia the cat and rambles on and on. The speech balloon and the words don't all fit onto the page and it hardly matters that we're not getting all of the words, because the true point is, she's rambling. I also enjoyed the limited white and pink palette; not only did it fit the tone, but how Matthew Holm mixed it up so that the main story was white with just a touch of pink while daydreams were pink with just a touch of white, was also a nice touch.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Reader's Diary #1313- Amy Hempel: In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried

I was quite enjoying the pacing of Amy Hempel's "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried," the way the narrator doled out trivial facts (many clearly untrue), followed by brief glimpses of what was really going on, the bleaker tale of death.

And at the end, I fought the bleaker interpretation (i.e., that life is just a trivial distraction from death) trying to convince myself that the trivial is fun and who cares about the accuracy anyway?

It's a tale of cancer and earthquakes, lying chimps, banana shaped moons, and Tammy Wynette.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Reader's Diary #1312- J. Michael Straczynski (Writer), Andy Kubert (Art): Before Watchmen / Nite Owl

I was late getting around to Watchmen and I think this was largely the reason I was less than impressed. For one, it had been built up beyond reason and for another, I think plenty of better comics have followed. But, I've read enough history of comics to know that it was a game changer and I'm sure had I read it in its day it would have been mind blowing. What I'm trying to say is that like Rush, I respect the significance even if it's not really my thing.

Still, I was interested to learn that DC had recently produced a series of Before Watchmen comics. Not being a sacred cow for me, I was actually looking forward to it even without Alan Moore pulling writing duty. Maybe this time I'd actually like the characters. This is how I felt when I first heard that Baz Luhrmann was doing his thang with The Great Gatsby, by the way.

Alas, as with The Great Gatsby, I didn't like Before Watchmen either. Granted, I've read that Nite Owl was the worst of the series and I may have just started in the wrong place, but it was rather dull. Generic and uninteresting origin story (and I don't object to origin stories, for the record), and forced mature content to make it seem like a Watchmen story (read: a woman gets physically abused by her husband). Likewise the art was just serviceable.

I wouldn't mind the Watchmen becoming a larger series and surprised it's taken this long for someone to attempt it, actually, but I hope at some point someone does something with them that really grabs me.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Reader's Diary #1311- John Allison (Writer), Lissa Treiman (Artist): Giant Days Volume One

I hadn't known that Giant Days was a British import ahead of time, but on discovering that, it became one of the things that I enjoyed the most about it; calling people sods and talking prices in pounds. It was a nice break from North American books.

Still, I'm kind of surprised that someone felt the need to bring the book across the pond. It's got a pleasant humorous touch, lightly satirical, but it's not the kind of book that I would have imagined being a great seller. Then again, the fact that I heard of it and got my hands on it up here in Yellowknife means it's doing well enough I suppose.

In any case, for a book about 18 year old women in their first year of university, I was equally intrigued by things that I could relate to and those I couldn't. In that regard it's a great book for Gen X'ers to understand Millennials. On the one hand, their lives were so relatable and I was transported back to my own undergrad days— the freedom, the fun, the experimentation. On the other hand, they're living in the social media age and that throws a wrench  spanner into the works.

The art is simple, colourful and fun; befitting of the story.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Reader's Diary #1310- Jamie Delano (Writer), John Ridgway (Artist): John Constantine Hellblazer / Original Sins

John Constantine's one of those characters who's been in my periphery for some time but I was never inspired to dig further. I came across him first in Neil Gaiman's Sandman stories, but though he's gotten a TV show, a movie, guest appearances in Green Arrow, and all that, I wasn't sure what he was all about nor if I cared to find out. Maybe it's the Marvel Doctor Strange adaptation that led me to finally look into DC's own magic man.

To be sure, this is one of those cases where Marvel and DC should have credit for keeping these two characters about as far apart as they can, except for the whole magic thing of course. If Doctor Strange is Bjork, John Constantine is Springsteen.

Now that I know more about the character, I do like him and his schtick, even if I was less than impressed by Original Sins. The comics did have a cool 50s horror comic vibe and that played well against John Constantine's working man routine. I also appreciated the satire of late 80s Britain (very interesting that the fear of yuppies was almost exactly the same as the fear of gentrification today). However, the stories themselves all seemed to meander and fizzle. Worse than that were Delano's attempts at dark figurative language which merely came across as nonsensical cheese akin to the Simpsons' woodpeckers of mistrust, replacing the woodpeckers with demons.

The art, too, wasn't great. Again, it looked at times like vintage horror comics, which was good, but there was a great inconsistency in characters' looks and the colours were the garish palettes of the 80s.

Still, I do enjoy the Vertigo/DC darker characters. And I know I'm the first nerd to offer DC advice on how to fix their movies, but I think if DC wishes to corner the market on dark movies as a counterpoint to Marvel's fun, than they should embrace characters like John Constantine, the Swamp Thing, Animal Man (at least Jeff Lemire's take on him), and Sandman, rather than try to reinvent Superman (who, quite frankly, seems to be an albatross around their necks).

Monday, May 09, 2016

The 10th Canadian Book Challenge: Never Too Late to Join!

What is it? How do I join? And Other FAQs

1. What is the Canadian Book Challenge?

The Canadian Book Challenge is an annual online reading challenge in which participants from Canada and around the world aim to read and review 13 or more Canadian books in a one year span: Canada Day to Canada Day. Reviews must be posted online and participants are asked to share links to their reviews with other participants. More on reviews below.(It's also a lot of fun and collectively we've read and reviewed thousands of Canadian titles! Actually, the whole books, not just the titles.)

2. How do I join?

Send me an email (jmutford (at) hotmail [dot] com) with the subject line "Sign Me Up!" and I'll add you to the list. Consider yourself a participant even if you don't get a response from me right away. Come July 1st you can get started right away. As soon as I get your first link (see below), I'll add your name to the participant list on the sidebar of this blog.

3. Oh no, it's past July 1st, can I still join?

Of course! In the past I've had people join in the very last month. My response to latecomers is always the same: If you think you can realistically read and review 13 books in the time remaining, then why not? To join, just follow the exact same instructions as above.

4. What constitutes a Canadian book?

Canadian books can include any genre or form (picture books, poetry, novels, non-fiction, plays, anthologies, graphic novels, cookbooks, etc), can be written by Canadian authors (by birth or immigration) or about Canadians. Ultimately, participants must decide for themselves whether or not something fits the description of Canadian.

4. Do I need to know ahead of time which books I'll be reading?

No. But by all means, if you want to plan ahead, do so. Some people find it's more of a challenge to do it this way, and others prefer to find their next book as it comes. If you do make a list and decide to alter it along the way, that's fine.

5. Do I need to have a theme?

No. I personally like to read at least one book from each province and territory (it's the whole reason 13 has become the goal number). In the past, some of the themes included deceased authors, mysteries, aboriginal books, poetry, and rereads. In other years we've had people choose books solely by a particular author or province. The options are yours to decide.

Certainly a theme could make the challenge more difficult, but then again, it could also make it more fun. In any case, the majority of participants opt to have no theme at all, just pushing for 13 random Canadian books. They feel they can still read what they want, when they want and aren't too confined by restrictions. The choice is up to you.

6. What if I don't reach 13 books or if I do?

If you don't, but you've had fun, it's still good. Your reviews will still be read by other participants. And you'll have a chance again when the next edition comes around. Some people ask if it's okay to fill up the remainder with children's books since they're shorter. I personally think children's books (picture books) are just as valid and need to be read and discussed as much as novels. Others think that it's a challenge, and as such, shouldn't be easy. Again, this is a participant's decision to make.

If you do reach 13, you may stop, or keep going. Remember, it's 13 or more. I love to see how many I can squeeze in. There are no prizes for reading the most. I want to stress that this is not a competition against other people. However, for all those that do meet the requirement of 13 or more, your names will be put in for a random draw for a prize.

7. Can my books count towards other challenges?

Of course! That's half the fun! I read some this past year that counted in the Graphic Novels Challenge and the Canadian Book Challenge.

8. I don't live in Canada and am finding it difficult to get my hands on Canadian books. Any recommendations or solutions?

It'll probably be easier to find some of our "big names" at your library (Margaret Atwood and Carol Shields, for example). Of course, you can always order online and check out the digital book market. And if you ask nicely enough, Canadian participants have been known to ship books far and wide to help out.

9. What if I read a book and don't have time to review it?

Sorry, that's one point I'm sticky on. I don't count it until it's reviewed. By all means, feel free to read 13 Canadian books, but the reviewing part is an equal component of the challenge. I want the books talked about even if you didn't enjoy it. While I say "review" I don't mean anything necessarily lengthy and I don't mean necessarily a review as much as I mean your thoughts on the book, questions about why an author said something, memories it stirred up. Anything, just something.

10. What if I don't finish a book, can I still review and count it?
Personally, I wouldn't but it's entirely your choice. If you feel that it's the book's fault that you didn't finish it, I suppose that's worthy of noting. If you left the book at the beach and haven't found another copy, probably not.

11. I don't have a blog, how do I post a review online?

Most Canadian Book Challenge participants are bloggers, but not all. Book reviews can also be posted on other sites such as GoodReads, Bookcrossing, Chapters, Amazon, and more. However, I do have a few requirements:

i. Participants wishing to read your reviews should not need a membership or sign up to do so. For instance, anyone can read a review at Chapters, so it's fine. However, a review posted on Facebook would be out since not everyone has a Facebook account and would not be able to access it.

ii. When you share a link make sure it's directly to your review and participants do not have to go searching endlessly to find it. For instance, if you blog, link to your posts, not your entire blog. (For example: Review NOT Blog) If you link from Chapters, after you write and publish your review, you will be be able to click on your review title which will provide your link in the URL bar. (For example: Review NOT Book page)

Yet another option is simply writing your review in an email to me (jmutford (at) hotmail [dot] com) and I'll happily post it on The Book Mine Set.

12. How do I share links to my reviews?

Each month there will be a roundup post here at the Book Mine Set. This year I'll once again be using a link sharing tool from similar to the one they use at the Graphic Novels Challenge. Whenever you finish writing a review, just head to my blog and click on the "Share your link" icon. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book you just reviewed, then provide the link. I'll also ask that in the comment section of that post that you bring us up to speed on your progress so far (ex. 6/13 read). I'll send an email reminder once a month.

13. Will there be prizes?

Absolutely! Monthly giveaways this time around will take the form of autographed books and there will be a grand prize of a book set featuring books from all provinces and territories. To win autographed books there will be mini-challenges and for the grand prize, anyone who has finished the challenge with 13 or more books read and reviewed will have their names entered into a draw. More details will come throughout the year.

Should publishers or authors want to donate books as prizes, they can contact me at jmutford (at) hotmail [dot] com to arrange the details. And if there are no prizes this time around, let's let finishing the challenge be its own reward.

14. What's up with the logo?
This year marks the 10th year of the challenge, what I consider to be a milestone. Within the digits of the logo are logos from the past 9 editions. 

15. Besides the logo, anything new with the 10th edition?
I like to also theme participant progress in the sidebar of my blog. In the past for instance, if you've read 1 book or 7 books so far, you may have been charted as having reached certain Canadian mountain peaks or popular Canadian food. This year's progress labels will be announced on Canada Day.

Like Canadian Book Challenges of years gone by, this one, too, shall be a work in progress. Stay tuned throughout the year to see new features...

14. How can I help?

By joining, reading and reviewing, obviously. And sharing links to your reviews. I also need help with promotion. Please, even if you're opting not to participate this time around, help promote the challenge on your blog. Feel free to write a post that tells your readers that you're joining and why, and if you've participated before, how much fun it is. Also, use the logo above, feel free to place it permanently in your sidebar.

If you're on Twitter, please post about the challenge throughout the year using the hashtag #CanBookChallenge

As it's the 10th edition, I'm also hoping to make this the biggest and best yet. I'm hoping that library staffs and bookstores across the country will consider doing a display (and I'd be glad to help!), I hope to do publicity, and get more people than ever excited about joining this year.

15. Ten years? Aren't you tired?

While I do plan to hand over the reins at the end of this edition, in the past couple or so years the Challenge has gotten a bit lower key. But now I feel rejuvenated and rearing to go!

Reader's Diary #1309- Sarah Crysl Akhtar: Star Maven

For the most part, Sarah Crysl Akhtar's "Star Maven" is fun, sci-fi story for Mother's Day, one that exaggerates the idea of the super-mom. At times, however, the mother in question comes across as just a tad overbearing and creepy, aka the mother in Robert Munsch's Love You Forever, but I suppose fine if we don't take it too seriously.

Told from the point of view of an adult son or daughter, the mother is presented as a genius who uses her gifts primarily to keep tabs on her child. You can sense that the child is proud but perhaps vaguely overwhelmed by this, except that the mother's meddling and smarts winds up saving the day.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Reader's Diary #1308- James Francis Dwyer: A Jungle Graduate

James Francis Dwyer's "A Jungle Graduate"could be a lesson on how to create an atmosphere of unease in a story, brilliantly appealing to our more base animal instincts. It's an especially interesting angle considering that a major theme of the story is showing respect for differences between animals and humans.

Essentially, it's a story within a story, as a man named Schreiber recounts an illustrative example, a warning tale, of a man who had little respect for the animal kingdom and the price he paid.

It's a pulpy little tale and as such you'll likely see the ending coming before it happens, but again, a great atmospheric story.