Thursday, June 30, 2016

The 9th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - June 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 #1331- Celina Kalluk (writer), Alexandria Neonakis: Sweetest Kulu

Recently Celina Kalluk's Sweetest Kulu, published by Inhabit Media, was nominated for a Periodical Marketers of Canada Aboriginal Literature Award. 

“Kulu” is an Inuktitut term of endearment, appropriate for this message of love from a mother to her newborn. It tells of Arctic animals and plants, sun and wind, bringing gifts for the baby on the day she is born.

Some readers might initially read Sweetest Kulu as a mystical tale; animals bringing gifts to a newborn bears a striking resemblance to many Nativity story adaptations. Though if not taken as literal, it is more of a message about appreciating and understanding the lessons and other gifts that nature has to offer, as well as the baby’s role in the ecosystem. It is truly a beautiful message, told with a soft, lyrical eloquence.

Complementing Kalluk’s words are gorgeous illustrations by Alexandria Neonakis. The flowing lines guide the organic theme along, while the baby has a retro, adorable look that both parents and children alike will appreciate. The colours are very realistic to the Arctic and as such are varied enough to keep the pages visually engaging, but tending toward pastels to keep them soothing.

This would be a perfect bedtime book and is available as both a picture book and a board book.

Reader's Diary #1330 - Nicholas Burns (editor): Arctic Comics

There's a lot to be said about packaging. Nicholas Burns' Arctic Comics is, if I'm being completely honest, wildly inconsistent. Some stories are poignant (like "On Waiting," Michael Kusugak's comic illustrated by Susan Thurston Shirley), some are funny (like Burns' own "Film Nord"), and some are both (like "Kiviuq vs Big Bee" by Jose Kusugak and drawn by Germaine Arnaktauyok). But something about the title, the bande desinee size, the cover fonts, and so on makes it feel like a magazine and so the myriad styles of both storytelling and art fit. It's like a sampler of Nunavut comics.

Slightly more problematic, in terms of inconsistency, is the fluctuation in quality. Some of Burns' stories hold their own (such as the aforementioned "Film Nord" with its zany MAD Magazine-looking art and satire), but he's included way too many of his own works here rather than present a balanced product, and comics like "Sheldon the Sled Dog" come across as amateurish in comparison. These are cute and amusing mind you, but the art and storytelling is rougher around the edges and feel a bit self-indulgent to have been included.

Nonetheless, it is a fun ride of a book and I'd love to see subsequent volumes published.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Reader's Diary #1329 - Tite Kubo, translated by Joe Yamazaki: Bleach 1

I was pleasantly entertained by Tite Kubo's Zombiepowder, so I reasoned that Bleach, his more recognized series, would be a safe bet. Unfortunately, I enjoyed it even less.

With another death theme, this time involving soul reapers and lost, troubled spirits known as hollows. On that front, the story had potential. Unfortunately, the finer points of Kubo's supernatural world are lost amid relentless and over-the-top action scenes.

Over-the-top action can be fine, of course, and I actually didn't mind it in Zombiepowder. Here, however, the story is weakened by it. The characters are all one dimensional and everyone has those knee-jerk emotional reactions typical of most lesser-quality manga.

Art-wise the book is fine if not groundbreaking. Some credit should be given to the cool looking Hollows, though.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Reader's Diary #1328- Svetlana Chmakova: Awkward

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova has two main plots that are somewhat intertwined. Peppi, a new girl in middle school, has not gotten off to a good start. After tripping and spilling her books everywhere, a sweet and quiet boy named Jaime lends her a hand. However, when the gathering crowd starts to call her the "nerder girlfriend" she saves face by pushing and yelling at Jaime to leave her alone. Almost instantly she regrets it but cannot bring herself to apologize and of course, the longer it takes her to do so, the more "awkward" it becomes. The second plot sees Peppi's art club at war with Jaime's science club.

It's a charming story, amusing and sweet. To be honest, it probably teeters on the edge of didactic but I doubt that the younger readers it's aimed at will mind terribly.

I enjoyed the very manga-influenced art though not the colouring. It appeared quite washed out and I wasn't sure what the purpose was. I suppose it could be argued that there's a sepia tone which could suggest nostalgia, except it doesn't really read like a nostalgic story. There are also a few scenes at a Discovery Center where ecosystems are coloured much more boldly, and I suppose, they wouldn't have stood out as much had the rest of the book been coloured likewise, but they hardly seem pivotal to the plot and not worth sacrificing all of that colour elsewhere.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Reader's Diary #1327- Liz Betz: Second Job

The perspective in Liz Betz's "Second Job" is an interesting one as it follows a man named Henry, but focuses on his wife, Bonny. Bonny has newly joined the retired ranks of Henry and his friends and Henry is fretting that it's not going well.

The gender divide was a bit fun to watch, especially how Henry takes on the cliched role of husband who just wants to fix things rather than just listen and give Bonny the chance to figure out this new stage of her life.

It may not be the most thrilling of tales, but it's a nice slice of domesticity.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Reader's Diary #1326- Garth Ennis (writer) and Steve Dillon (artist): Preacher Book One

When Marilyn Manson first came on the scene with that Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) video, I admit being impressed. It was wildly different and unsettling. A few years later, I was still enjoying his antics, especially with that feminine body suit he wore on the Mechanical Animals CD. He seemed to be transforming and I was curious to see where this Bowie, Madonna, chameleon would go next. Alas, where he went next was sorely disappointing. He reverted back to his anti-Christianity goth schtick and became a caricature of himself, stuck in shock rock mode. And I don't know if I outgrew it or what happened, but I started to find most shock rock ironically boring. There's often just one main audience they seem to want to offend and more problematic, it's pointless and predictable, shock for the sake of shock, and ridiculously easy. Take off your pants and walk through a grocery store easy.

Unfortunately I felt this most of the time while reading Garth Ennis' Preacher Book One. The over-the-top depravity went from entertaining and compelling for his take on Christian mythology but far too quickly to boring. By the time I was introduced to the one-eyed product of incest and the chicken bestiality scene, I could hardly muster more than a "meh."

As for the art by Steve Dillon, it's barely more interesting. Looks like the standard pseudo-realism of superhero comics (though it's not a superhero tale). But, as the comics were drawn in the 90s, I did enjoy the old styles (Tulip looks like one of Wilson Philips at one point), and I was impressed at how he drew Jesse Custer (the main character) at different stages of his life, yet still looked like the same guy.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Reader's Diary #1325- D. W. Wilson: Mountain Under Sea

I struck gold yesterday while searching for a Canadian short story for Father's Day; not only does D. W. Wilson's "Mountain Under Sea" more than aptly fit this bill (Father's Day isn't mentioned specifically but the story of a father and daughter is beautiful), but it's also an extremely well written story (it won the 2015 CBC Short Story Prize) and best of all... it's written in a 2nd person perspective. As my more long-time followers know, I have a weakness for stories written this way (vanity, perhaps?), and here its usage works great. You become father to this girl and you care and worry about her and while there was pain, and there will be more, you'd not trade them away if it meant losing the blissful times, like the current moment traveling together through Europe.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Reader's Diary #1324- Rob Williams (writer), Eddy Barrows and Diogenes Neves (artists): Martian Manhunter Volume 1 The Epiphany

It's somewhat strange that Martian Manhunter has had such a long shelf life at DC Comics. Created in the 50s when the world, at least according to much of the pop and pulp culture of the time, still seemed to be afraid of green men from Mars (though they'd been long since disproven even then). By now the world is much more knowledgeable about our neighbouring planet and yet, Martian Manhunter not only has hung on in DC storylines, seems to be undergoing a resurgence in popularity.

Much of this credit comes with a ret-conning of the character which is further explored in Rob Williams' Martian Manhunter Volume 1: The Epiphany. To an extent, it's messy and complicated and my comprehension was not helped with the break-neck pace, but in a nutshell, I believe it goes something like this: Martian Manhunter is not, as was previously stated, the last of kind. He was created (genetic engineering?) by other Martians to be used as a weapon against Earth. Now that the others have returned (from where I must have missed or else it wasn't stated), Martian Manhunter rebels against his weapon role, splitting his personality or soul or essence or whatever it is Martian's have, into 4 different individuals across the globe. Most, with the exception of the funny and loveable Mr. Biscuits, look human and have been able to fit in.

Convoluted plot as it was, it was entertaining and interesting for all of that. The sci-fi, and thanks to the art of Barrows and Neves, horror, provided unexpected, but welcomed, surprises.

Only encountering the character briefly in other works before, Martian Manhunter always sort of stuck out to me, not really fitting in with the other superheroes. Now I think he'd fit in better with the Justice League Dark stories and am not shocked to find that he has from time to time been a part of that , far more interesting sector, of the DC universe.

As a side note about Justice League Dark, recently when reviewing a John Constantine title, I embarrassingly called on the movie studios to focus more energy on the darker characters. Having immersed myself in comics so heavily these last 5 or so years, I thought I knew my fair share. But clearly I have so much to learn. Not only was I completely oblivious to Justice League Dark (a fact which will be remedied pronto), I didn't even know that Guillermo Del Toro had been fighting for years to get a Justice League Dark movie made. (I need to get out more.)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Reader's Diary #1324- Chester Gould: Dick Tracy Dailies and Sundays 1931-1933 Volume One

After reading a Green Lantern comic recently I'd become more and more interested in other pulp fiction icons and decided to get my hands on some Dick Tracy comics. The only thing I'd known about the character previously was that Warren Beatty and Madonna made a movie in the 80s. I didn't see it.

This collection, which goes right back to Dick Tracy's newspaper strip beginning, was surprisingly good. I had anticipated that it would take a while for Chester Gould to find his footing with the character and that it would feel dated.

Not having read later Dick Tracy comics, I cannot say whether or not they got better, but as for finding footing, the comics are entertaining enough from the get go. And while yes, the comic is very dated, it's part of what I enjoyed about it. The language and slang are adorable and I found myself affecting an ol' timey accent, reading the strips under my breath. Far less adorable, and quite atrocious to be frank, is the depiction of a black character named Della. Drawn in that bizarre and racist style with the over-sized white clown lips (did white people have trouble seeing back then, or what?), speaking about her "Massa" in broken English, it was very, very inappropriate and sad. Furthermore, she was forever referred to the "colored cook." Why the hell not just "cook"?

If one can get past the strips with that character— which don't make up a lot of the book, but nonetheless could be enough to ruin the whole collection for anyone— there are at least other, far less offensive things, to enjoy.

The action and plots are full of somewhat over the top action, with doses of humour and romance thrown in for good measure. And, as they were written daily and with stories that flowed from one strip to the next, it doesn't work half-bad as a graphic novel. Of course, there's some recapping from strip to strip that you won't find in a typical graphic novel, but there are still larger over-arching stories.

And (again with the very notable exception of the "colored cook") I enjoyed the art. Expecting a daily to be short on backgrounds and details due to the time constraints, I was very impressed with Gould's work; full of hatching and cross-hatching, patterns, and interesting things to take in.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Reader's Diary #1323- Marina Endicott: The Little Shadows

There was a recent Saturday Night Live sketch in which Kyle Mooney plays an actor portraying Clark (of Lewis and Clark). He introduces himself as "soldier, explorer, politician, and boo, slave owner" to which Cecily Strong, playing his co-actor, remarks to their audience, "but remember, guys, nobody knew it was bad back then."

I love that line for its ridiculousness and the way it calls out the way historical racism is often brushed aside. Of course there were plenty of people back then, black of course, but white too, who knew exactly how wrong it was.

One of the things I appreciated the most about Marina Endicott's The Little Shadows is how deftly she deals with issues of the past (the way women were treated, for example). They are not viewed under the values of a 21st century lens, but nor are they ignored or brushed off like Cecily Strong suggested. In some ways it reminded me of Little Women, only way more honest, as if Louisa May Alcott had been free to write about topics like sex and inequality.

Still, despite skillfully dealing with a large number of heavy issues, I cannot say I was ever really engaged with the story.

I wrestled with this a lot, at times pinning the blame on myself, at times on Endicott. I read this book very slowly, having started it a few months back. I could not really connect with any of the characters and there never seemed to be an overarching plot. But, I thought, maybe I was just reading it too slowly, forgetting in the meantime. On the other hand, had the story been more compelling, perhaps I would have read it more quickly. Surprising really that a book about vaudeville wouldn't be thoroughly fascinating. I also found it difficult to tell the three focal sisters, or even their mother, apart. Again, providing Endicott with a bit of an out, they were a family of women in vaudeville, it is not unlikely that they would share many personality traits. Indeed, when they finally got some time apart from one another, I did find them more diverse and compelling. Unfortunately this didn't happen until the final quarter of the book.

Ultimately I'm glad I stuck with it as it did get more interesting as time went on, I enjoyed the exploration of some themes, and felt I learned a bit. Still, it was a bit of a slog early on.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Reader's Diary #1322- Melanie Carstens: Let Us Pray

This weekend's tragic news out of Orlando comes as a terrible reminder that for the LGBTQ+ community there is still much, much, much more progress to be had. It also comes as a wake up call that for many, religion and LGBTQ+ rights do not mix and when they clash, it's bound to get ugly, horrifically so.

In Melanie Carstens' "Let Us Pray" there may not be the death toll of Orlando, or any death toll at all, but it's still a tragedy. Carstens ultimately does a wondrous job of doubling down on the impact as one character, who seems to initially symbolize hope, is snatched away.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Reader's Diary #1321- Rosalie Kempthorne: Scatter

My father came from a large family. His siblings in turn had kids. And now, they've mostly all had kids. When my grandmother died a few years back, grandkids and great grandkids each numbered in the 30s and there were even a few great great grandkids. Despite those large numbers, very few moved much beyond a single town in Newfoundland. The few of us that did are the oddballs.

In "Scatter" by Rosalie Kempthorne four siblings have all taken to the wind like seeds, like us oddballs. Reuniting then has a weird emotional effect. There's an almost bittersweet quality to it. There's a re-connection that everyone is grateful for, but also plenty of reminders why it's better that they have gone their separate ways.

I wonder how my family that stayed would interpret such a story. I'm sure the petty jealousies, judgments, and awkwardness is familiar to everyone but clearly we balance them differently against the value of staying.