Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Reader's Diary #1891- Takashi Hashiguchi: Yakitate!! Japan 1

Despite having the good fortune to visit Japan a few years back, I had no idea about Japanese baking. My first exposure was a mere year ago (and now, many butter rolls ago) when a Japanese bakery, Ja-Pain, opened here in Yellowknife.

Imagine my surprise then when I came across a manga series entirely devoted to Japanese bread. In Yakitate!! Japan, sixteen year old Kazuma Azuma knows that Japan isn't exactly known for its baked goods, not even among Japanese people, and he sets out to change that. It helps that he's been gifted with "hands of the sun," hands of the perfect temperature to cultivate yeast.

It may not seem like the most compelling of books, unless perhaps you're a hardcore foodie, but it's surprisingly entertaining. It helps that in this particular volume, the story revolves around a baking competition where the prize is a job at a prestigious bakery. Kazuma is immensely likeable if not a little naive and he befriends another competitor named Kawachi who is secretly trying to sabotage him. Will Kazuma catch on and feel betrayed? Will Kawachi be won over by Kazuma's charms? And are Kazuma's enthusiasm and miracle hands enough to take him all the way?

These answers don't come in the first volume but it definitely provides enough incentive to continue.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Reader's Diary #1890- Keith Harris: The Bicycle

Keith Harris's "The Bicycle" is a quirky little short story that I'm not sure fits what I usually think of when I hear the term "quirky."

It's told rather traditionally and with a pretty average sort of protagonist who happens to really love bicycles and biking, but not in a way I'd consider over-the-top obsession. Still the ending is kind of unpredictable and strange and I'm left pondering what it means. Is there a lesson here about hobbies sometimes paying off? I'm unsure.

In any case, I enjoyed the voice and the setting and even if I get nowhere with my final conclusion, I'll at least have enjoyed mulling it over.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Reader's Diary #1889- Rodney Barnes (writer), Joshua Cassara (artist): Falcon Take Flight

I have mixed feelings about Rodney Barnes' Falcon: Take Flight. I found myself enjoying it at times, not so much at others.

I was excited to read a solo Falcon story for sure and in that regard, I did get a better sense of him as a character. I don't think it would necessarily be a good jumping on point for a newbie to Marvel comics however as there are a lot of references to past story lines (the Secret Empire comics in particular). Fortunately, I was able to keep up with those and as an added bonus, I got to see a few other characters in action that I was curious about. There's Mephisto, whom I knew before but not greatly aware of, and brand new to me, his son Blackheart. There's Patriot, a teenage superhero also previously unfamiliar to me. (I enjoyed the mentor/mentee relationship between Falcon and he, though I did find Patriot himself somewhat annoying with his overuse of pop-culture references-- way too "Marvel"). I appreciated the appearance of Misty Knight and the blossoming romance. And I've long wanted to see Blade pop up in a new comic again, so that was pretty great.

The stories themselves didn't do a lot for me though. I couldn't buy into the stakes that were supposedly set-up and I couldn't get a good feel where Falcon was going as a character. I also wasn't overly appreciative of the art. I found the overly dark, smudgy colouring in particular inconsistent with the story; gritty but the story and characters did not seem necessarily committed to going in a gritty direction.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Reader's Diary #1888- Michelle Knudsen: Evil Librarian

I'll admit choosing this one simply because it had "Librarian" in the title. Unfortunately, while the titular character may have in fact been evil (he's a demon), the fact that he's a high school librarian is next to irrelevant. Simply put: not enough librarianing.

Perhaps that was the nail in the coffin because nothing else in the book worked for me after that. I know I'm not the demographic Knudsen likely intended (that being young adults), but I've enjoyed plenty of books not meant for me before.

I didn't find myself laughing at the parts meant to be funny, didn't find myself scared at parts meant to be scared. I didn't come to care or believe in the characters and the plot felt too convenient. I'll take some blame that I may have overthought things and perhaps it's a book best read as a fast diversion. I at least appreciated the pacing and the voice of the main character.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Reader's Diary #1887- Various writers and artists: Milk Wars

At first I wasn't sure what to think of Milk Wars, a recent comic arc from DC's new "out there" Young Animal line.

I couldn't get a grasp on what the hell was happening. There was some nefarious Retcon group rewriting actual lives of superheroes in order to sell their world. It involved a bunch of characters I'd never heard of before or just had a passing familiarity with. There was someone called Milkman Man. People were being forced/ brainwashed into drinking milk. The art was like more like something you'd see from Marvel's LSD-inspired past.

It was all well and good to be creative, but some accessibility would have been nice. Fortunately I did start to get a grasp on things. If anything it seemed like a warning to the main DC line of superheroes and their creators. Essentially it's a creator's manifesto to not let commercialism let things become predictable and bland, to avoid safe topics and conservative propaganda. Creators should be allowed to take risks, even with established characters like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.

All that and a quirky sense of humour, a wide swath of styles, made Milk Wars a fascinating collection.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Reader's Diary #1886- Mi-Kyung Yun, translated by Heejeong Haas: Bride of the Water God 1

Third time's a charm: finally, a manhwa that I enjoyed.

Mi-Kyung Yun's Bride of the Water God 1, a story of a human girl who was betrothed to a god in order to stop a drought, has the feel of classic mythology. I cannot find evidence that it is based on Korean mythology, but it certainly reminded me of old Greek and Roman tales. Perhaps some indigenous North American stories as well, but no-thanks to my Canadian schooling I'm less familiar with those.

An interesting twist to this story is that the water god appears as a child during the day, and adult at night. Soah, the bride, believes she is married to the child form and that the adult is an entirely different individual.

The character line work is crisp and eyes are drawn particularly clear and expressive, but I did wish there was more detail in the backgrounds.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Reader's Diary #1885- W. F. Harvey: August Heat

The premise behind W. F. Harvey's "August Heat" is interesting enough on its own: two strangers have a premonition about the other's bleak future, but there are a few other aspects that also raise the story above a mere supernatural tale.

The setting, August under a heat wave, adds a level of realism to the tale and also makes a reader question if this is but a detail or if the heat is somehow connected. At the very least, it's likely to have altered the strangers' decision making.

It's also one of the few ambiguous endings that I enjoyed. We know from earlier information what the ultimate outcome will be, but we're still left (in the final moments, I suspect) not knowing precisely how we get there, nor why.

It's a lovely fatalistic tale.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Reader's Diary #1884- Caitlin Major (writer), Kelly Bastow (artist): Manfried the Man

I'm sure most of us have encountered a book that didn't live up to our expectations based on a solid or at least interesting premise.

Caitlin Major's Manfried the Man definitely intrigued me with its amusing premise: cats run society and have men as pets. And, I am happy to report, did not disappoint!

The premise remains interesting throughout with new details about the "rules" of this world slowly revealed as the context dictates. Instead of meowing, the pet men say "hey!" And when I say that the cats have men as pets, it would appear that this is meant literally. I didn't see anyone with a woman as a pet.

But it's not all premise. The characters and plot are quite good as well. Manfried's owner is a cat named Steve Catson. He's... not a happy cat. He hates his job and has quite low self esteem. As series of unfortunate mistakes, the worst of which is losing Manfried, threatens to destroy him.

There's real emotional heft to the tale, as you might gather, but the humour of the premise, Kelly Bastow's bright, simple art, and a hopeful ending that revolves around friendship, keeps everything ultimately sweet.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Reader's Diary #1883- Mariko Tamaki (writer), Joelle Jones (artist): Supergirl Being Super

Supergirl's origin story isn't the greatest. It pretty much underscores that she was basically an attempt at a female version of Superman. She's sent to Earth from Kryptonian parents when her home planet is about to be destroyed, she crash lands in rural America and is raised by a loving couple on a farm. Sound familiar?

I'm not sure why exactly DC Comics decided then to revisit her origin story if they weren't going to overhaul it completely, but all that considered Mariko Tamaki did an excellent job considering those parameters.

For one, Kara Danvers (aka Supergirl) is more grounded in her teenage years. Adolescent themes (zits!) are prevalent and her friends, especially Dolly, are more fleshed out, believable, varied, and compelling. For another, her timeline is much closer to Superman's. This was confusing to me at first because as Kara began to discover her powers and history, I was questioning why she didn't see any similarities between herself and Superman. Did he not exist in this world? Fortunately that's answered toward the end of the book. Another plus was that the origin wasn't the whole story and the overarching plot was quite interesting, complete with complex villains.

Joelle Jones' art is also pretty great. While it has the generic pseudo-realistic look of most superhero comics and there's nothing too experimental, I really enjoyed the attention to anatomy and physiology; characters posed and moved in very authentic looking ways, reminding me somewhat of critically acclaimed artist Alex Ross's attention to similar details.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Reader's Diary #1882- Jen Wang: The Prince and the Dressmaker

No amount of hyperbole could adequately capture how much I enjoyed Jen Wang's graphic novel The Prince and the Dressmaker.

It is a tale of a Belgian prince, circa the 19th century (this is never explicitly stated, but I'm assuming based on the fashion), who secretly likes to dress in drag. When he meets the seamstress/ up-and-coming designer Frances he knows that this is a rare someone who will support his unusual choices and whose dresses are kick-ass to boot, he immediately hires her. A friendship blossoms quickly.

Of course, themes of acceptance and being true to oneself run loudly, but it never seems didactic. Instead, it's a enthralling story, with authentic characters (slightly flawed but plausible and even likeable), and lots of feels (it's funny at times, sad, hopeful, and heartwarming). I also appreciated that the dialogue was kept modern— not slangy, but contemporary, making it easier to understand and yet not taking away from the setting (it simply felt transcribed for 2018). 

And the art is gorgeous. It has a style and colouring similar to Disney cartoons of the 60s and 70s which fits the story like a glove. It has a fairy tale feel (though no fairy tale elements really), with swirls and swishes that complement the fashion angle. The characters are expressive and rich in movement.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Reader's Diary #1881- JinHo Ko, translation by Arthur Dela Cruz: Jack Frost 1

My second experience with a manhwa title and my second dud.

I really didn't like JinHo Ko's Jack Frost 1, a high school afterlife horror tale and alternated between being bored and offended.

Bored because it's basically a lot of rushed, hard to decipher action shots despite what could have been a good premise. A lot of scratchy lines and sound effects.

Offended because JinHo Ko does some really out of place/ creepy sexist things like up-skirt shots of underage girls (wearing underwear at least) and exaggerated breasts, bodies on the adult women.

Truly awful.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Reader's Diary #1880- Elaine M. Will: Look Straight Ahead

I'm sure that the Canadian Mental Health Association does some wonderful things. However, I feel that their recommendation on the front of Elaine M. Will's graphic novel Look Straight Ahead works against the book.

Now that I've read it, I understand why they'd offer up the blurb. Will does a tremendous job exploring mental illness in this book. It's sensitive and informative. But none of this, nor the CMHA logo on the front, makes the book sound particularly compelling. It's sounds "important" and unfortunately such books tend to be dull and/or poorly done.

Make no mistake, Look Straight Ahead is first and foremost a wonderful story. Jeremy Knowles is a believable, complex character trying to overcome a mental health tragedy. I choked up a few times, I admit. Peripheral characters are also interesting. The art is engaging and creative and it reminded me somewhat of Charles Burns' work in Black Hole or perhaps David B's Epileptic.

So, feel free to forget the importance, just read it if you're looking for an engaging, well crafted story.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Reader's Diary #1879- Lisa Hanawalt: Hot Dog Taste Test

I think I was won over by Lisa Hanawalt's Hot Dog Taste Test.

At first I just wasn't getting it. It was clearly and intentionally quirky but I did what I always do when I'm faced with such a style and don't understand it: I blamed the writer. She was being self-indulgent. Weird for the sake of weird. Etc. As if the problem could not possibly have been me.

Hot Dog Taste Test is a collection of art, comics, observations and graphic memoir essays, many of which revolve around food.

And despite my earlier hang-ups I was enjoying it by the end. There's one image in particular that still makes me giggle just thinking about it: a cartoon showing what an intruder would actually see if they should walk in on Lisa Hanawalt in the bathroom contrasted with what Hanawalt imagines they would see.

Did the humour change becoming more accessible by the end? Possibly; it is an eclectic bag so maybe the more idiosyncratic stuff was balanced more heavily at the front end. Then, there's also just a chance that Hanawalt's unique outlook just started rubbing off.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Reader's Diary #1878- Safia Moore: Turning Point

Perhaps with shades of Stephen Spielberg's AI, Safia Moore's short story "Turning Point" nonetheless takes a less common approach to AI in science fiction with an intelligent robot who doesn't want to take over, but rather simply to exist. It is curious about love while acknowledging that what it could experience and could convincingly give to a family would be a reasonable facsimile of love at best. It has worked out that its survival depends upon finding a family that will give it a chance and this is its escape story.

It's engaging with some thoughtful looks at what it means to love, to be family, and so on, though the ending is one of those up in the air deals and I'm as of yet undecided if it works as a single piece or if it feels more like the first chapter in an unprovided book.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Reader's Diary #1877- Kazuki Ebine: Gandhi

Kazuki Ebine's manga biography of Gandhi wasn't the first biography of Gandhi that I've read and I can't really say that I learned anything new this time around. If anything, the last one offered up a more balanced picture, touching upon Gandhi's treatment of women.

This one at least has visuals to make the telling at least interesting and the artwork is good. The characters are suitably expressive and Ebine's approach to panels, breaking them to make subtle points and so on, had artistic merit.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Reader's Diary #1876- Scott Adams: I Can't Remember If We're Cheap or Smart

Scott Adams is one of those who like to whine that their career took a downturn when they started supporting Trump. (Easy solution to that, I would think.) Still, not having paid any attention to Dilbert comic strips over the years, I wondered if his earlier work was any good. I like Kanye's earlier music, after all.

So, no.

There are about four basic punchlines possible for every Dilbert strip:
1. Businesses are crippled by bureaucracy
2. Upper management is greedy
3. Upper management is corrupt
4. Upper management is inept

While none of these are original ideas, a truly funny person could still manage to state them in clever or amusing ways. At best, one or two Dilbert strips in this collection made me smirk.

And when these are the only 4 Adams makes, it's even more perplexing that he's a Trump supporter. At best you might give Trump credit for cutting down on bureaucracy, but the rest?

The art is overly simple. I get that as they were originally found in newspapers, the quality would have to be less than a graphic novel where the artist is afforded more time. Plus, simplicity isn't always dumb or lazy (read How to Read Nancy). But when many of these feature a 2nd panel (of three) where the box outline of an office building is shown with a speech balloon emanating from it, I think it's safe to say Adams' lack of an Eisner Award has nothing to do with Trump.

Why did Dilbert ever bring Adams success then? Perhaps there was a lack of office-based comic strips. Perhaps some of y'all find this crap funny. Who am I to judge?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Reader's Diary #1875- Sabrina Symington: First Year Out

Very early into Sabrina Symington's graphic novel First Year Out: A Transition Story I chastised myself for dwelling too much on the didactic nature of the book. First off, some topics need to be forthright and obvious; the level of ignorance in society practically demands it. Second, and most importantly, the story is about the transitioning of a transgender woman. My real issue with didactic stories is when they're not upfront about it. You know, those authors that pretend to be writing a ghost story or mystery or something and not-so-casually drop in other educational themes.

So, if First Year Out: A Transition Story is educational (and it is), it was intentionally so. Everything is explored here, from gender theory and feminism, family and society acceptance, mental health, the range of different experiences by transgendered folks, physical and scientific explanations, and so on. Some of these topics I was already familiar with, some I was not (I hadn't, for instance, ever heard of TERF politics). The book could be dialogue heavy at times, but necessarily so and still not at the expense of the central character Lily who was easy to want to see succeed, to find happiness.

The art work was not really my cup of tea, finding it amateurish-looking, but not so much that it took away from my enjoyment. Besides, its simple nature helped balance out some of the complex themes.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Reader's Diary #1874- Chief R. Stacey Laforme: Living in the Tall Grass

The poems in Chief R. Stacey Laforme's Living in the Tall Grass: Poems of Reconciliation are more traditional than the ones I've been reading lately but that didn't bother me in the least. The rhyming poems I wasn't always able to get to scan well for me, unable to grasp onto the intended rhythm, but I enjoyed the others.

I think what I appreciated the most was the range of emotions and perspectives in this collection. Many are upbeat and positive while others take dark turns. Some have humour, some have sadness. Some raise some very important and topical political opinions. Largely, as the subtitle would suggest, these deal with the mistreatment of indigenous people in Canada, especially exploring some of the ramifications of residential schooling, but the topics are not exclusive to this.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Reader's Diary #1873- Ivan Bunin: The Gentleman from San Francisco

The central theme of Ivan Bunin's short story "The Gentleman from San Francisco" seems to be that death is the great equalizer. Hard to argue with that or even to suggest that it's not worthy of a piece of literature.

Still, I found Bunin's getting there a bit tedious. A story of a wealthy man taking a cruise to Italy, it does have moments of brilliance (I especially enjoyed the contrast of the naive and ignorance rich folk playing about on deck against the hard working folks below and the peril they were all actually surviving), but otherwise I found it wordy and stuffy.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Reader's Diary #1872- Jeff Lemire (writer), Lewis Larosa and Mico Suayan (artists): Bloodshot Salvation The Book of Revenge Vol. 1

To state that no one writes dysfunctional families as well as Jeff Lemire is to not entirely capture what he does so well with said families. In Bloodshot Salvation: The Book of Revenge Vol. 1, and in loads of his other books, Lemire depicts a troubled family but one that at its core is strong. At least some family members love one another, they just tend to make bad mistakes, have to overcome extreme obstacles, and so forth. This is not the cynical look at dysfunction that most writers choose. Granted, there are some genuine villains.

Not having read any Bloodshot books before, I wasn't sure how accessible this would be. The nanite-enhanced ex-soldier has apparently been around since 1992. To be completely ignorant of such a long history, I was afraid I'd be confused. Again, Lemire also gets credit here. I got enough of the mythology and backstory to follow along easily and best of all, it was seamlessly worked in so that it didn't take away from an engaging and exciting  plot nor the complex characters.

Also great was the art by Lewis Larosa and Mico Suayan with colouring by Brian Reber.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Reader's Diary #1871- Rosemary Clewes: The Woman Who Went to the Moon

The subtitle of Rosemary Clewes' The Woman Who Went to the Moon is Poems of Igloolik which is what drew me to the book but is also what made me skeptical. Clewes is not from Nunavut and this collection of poetry is based upon a mere week-long visit. I've read far too many books by brief visitors to places (Newfoundland and Nunavut, especially) where suddenly the writers deem themselves experts, spouting off local cultural beliefs and customs (often incorrectly, often insensitively), offering solutions to local complex dilemmas, and all that jazz. My reservations were not in the least assuaged by a blurb from poet John Reibetanz on the back cover in which he refers to the "woman shaman" supposedly invoked by Clewes and referring to the locals of Igloolik as Innu when they are in fact Inuit.

Luckily, I think Clewes by and large takes a healthier approach in which the book comes across as a travelogue. Her outsider ignorance and inexperience is acknowledged up front and she shares her enthrallment and questions about the place, coming across more as gracious to the people and the nature she encountered, the hospitality, the teachings; never pretending to be superior or even now, one of them.

 My personal favourite poems in the book are those where she is less stretching to compare her experiences to something else (not that there is anything wrong with this-- we all do it in order to make sense of our surroundings) or those where she ponders on what it all means in an existential sense, but rather the simpler, literal poems. In these I thought Clewes skill with imagery rang true
while her focal points provided more than emotional enough resonance.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Reader's Diary #1870- James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales (editors): Live from New York

I've been a fan of Saturday Night Live since the days of Mike Myers, Phil Hartman, and Dana Carvey. I was way too young to watch it at the time. I recorded the shows and watched them on Sunday morning while my parents complained that it wasn't fit for me to be watching but laughing through the occasional sketch anyway. (My mother in particular loved Dana Carvey's "choppin' broccoli" bit.)

Live from New York is basically a collection of anecdotes, observations, and opinions from past and present cast members, hosts, writers, and others who have had some sort of involvement.

The brief chunks and organization into chronologically important eras of the show make the 700+ page book go down easy. No doubt readers, just like fans of the show, will have their own favourite sections. I was interested in particular in the Dick Ebersol years as these are mostly ignored in compilation shows and other retrospectives. And of course, I was also on a nostalgic kick later in the book, starting to read about sketches and cast members I have loved over the years.

Is it enlightening? Somewhat, yes. With so many having gone on that stage or having worked back stage, there was bound to be a large variety of opinions, even some discrepancies in memory. To James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales' credit, they left in the words of those who were not necessarily happy with their time at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Still when so many people contribute, a clearer picture started to emerge. Harry Shearer, for instance, seems like a very difficult man. Cecily Strong is not as confident as she appears. Those whom you thought got along, didn't necessarily (Jan Hooks and Nora Dunn, for example), while others whom you'd not think all that alike turned out to be best friends (Seth Myers and Andy Samberg, for example). Also, Penny Marshall throws her family out of Lorne Michael's office window.

I also feel that Saturday Night Live has settled into a functioning groove. Like Letterman, it was more experimental in its earlier days, more subversive. This is a bit of a for better or worse scenario as those earlier sort of pieces were not always necessarily funny and so it depends on what folks really want from the show.

Interestingly enough, the one person who captured most of the book's attention was also the one person who did not really come into focus: Lorne Michaels, the originator and long time producer. He really comes across as a difficult man to know. Some in the book argue otherwise, but most seem to agree. It also seems to depend on when one first got to know him. Clearly those closer to his age and whom helped him start the show in the first place fill less intimidated than the majority of the newer casts. I also found it very amusing how so many seemed to attribute his quirkiness as part of his Canadian upbringing; a theory that at least one Canadian writer on the show calls out as BS.

It feels odd to note something missing from the book considering it's heft, but I did wish there was more about the musical acts over the years. There is some mention, of course. It would be hard, for example, not to mention the contributions of folks like Paul Simon or Justin Timberlake to the show or to ignore the infamous Sinead O'Connor moment, but there still could have been more.

Finally, I look forward to another updated edition to get the scoop from folks like Leslie Jones, Michael Che, and Pete Davidson who had not joined the cast when this book came out.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Reader's Diary #1869- Tom Neely: Henry and Glenn Forever and Ever

Oh my God did I enjoy this comic.

The premise alone is worth the price of admission; punk gods Henry Rollins (Black Flag) and Glenn Danzig (Misfits) are a married couple. I think what makes this so funny is that it subverts their tough guy personas (they enjoy watching the Golden Girls together) and the idea of either one having mundane domestic concerns is amusing. I think it would be a knee-jerk reaction to suggest that the comic is homophobic (the argument being that their being gay is the joke) when really, you kind of root for them as a couple. Plus, Rob Halford (Judas Priest), who is openly gay, does the foreword for the book, so he clearly doesn't take issue with it-- not, of course, that he speaks on behalf on all gay men, but it's something.

There's a lot of awesome satire and absurdity (Henry and Glenn's neighbours, for instance, are Satan-worshipping Hall and Oates) and, Hall and Oates notwithstanding, a lot of great punk and heavy metal cameos for fans of those genres (like myself). And the titular characters are surprisingly well developed, with Henry getting to be the more grounded half while Glenn is the more emotional.

The art is a bit mixed in this "Completely Ridiculous Edition" as it opens with the original Henry and Glenn comics which are drawn great in classic comic styles (Glenn looks like a Nancy character, his mother bares a striking resemblance to Archies' Miss Grundy) by Tom Neely, but then a lot of other underground and indie comics artists do their own art and story tributes to the characters. These are a real mixed bag with some so sketchy and rushed I could barely read them to some pretty cool parodies to some very interesting and wholly original looking pieces. In all cases, I appreciated the creativity, the experimentation, and humour.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Reader's Diary #1868- Naoko Takeuchi: Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon

I'm not sure how I've made it this far without ever having seen Sailor Moon anime or having read any Sailor Moon manga, but she's certainly popular enough of a character that it was high time I remedied that.

I suppose in the end I can understand why she's enjoyed such a following though I'm likely not the demographic Naoko Takeuchi was aiming for. Sailor Moon and her gang have well-defined personalities and she doesn't hide stereotypical feminine attributes while making the girls appear heroic.

I wasn't, however, wild about the cliched plot (the villain tries to find crystals that will enable her to take over the world) and even less impressed with the art. The majority of panels seemed to be characters with next to no setting but with really busy and distracting patterns that had no apparent connection to the characters or plot.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Reader's Diary #1867- Camy Tang: Idiot

Camy Tang's "Idiot," is a cliched tale of love at first sight, beginning with the cliched line, "Their eyes met across the room."

Clearly this is all intentional and it's still entertaining in any case.

It also rings true. Told through a man's inner voice, he believes he's picked up on a vibe, an attraction with a woman across the room (not "love" really, but we all know that) but not being 100% sure it's mutual must make a decision whether or not to pursue it, explore further.

Henry Cavill should take note.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Reader's Diary #1866- Lorina Mapa: Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and Me

Lorina Mapa, a long time Canadian citizen who immigrated here from the Philippines years ago, has just been called back for the unexpected death of her father.

As we all know, and as such is the often the case during these emotional shocks, it leads to a flood of memories, depression, and introspection.

Recounting her life in the Philippines, Mapa begins by sharing a succinct history of president Ferdinand Marco's corruption and ultimate downfall in the 70s and early 80s. (For what it's worth, Imelda's depiction doesn't seem like a far stretch to find similarities between her and Ivanka or Melania.) She also presents a fascinating look at class, gender, and religion in the Philippines.

Largely though, this is socio-political background and it never fails to amaze me when writers from countries which have gone through such upheaval nevertheless capture the contrasting mundanities of everyday life, the stuff that's familiar to even a white guy from outport Newfoundland. In this case, it's largely her preoccupation with 80s pop music. (Eventually this will help pull her through her troubled emotional state.)

Mapa's art is pretty simple and I wasn't surprised to see a reference to Tintin in the background of one panel, but this makes, I think, a reader such as myself better able to empathize. Mostly in black in white, the use of yellow for one particular sequence is purposeful and more engaging.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Reader's Diary #1865- Jillian Tamaki: Boundless

I was a big fan of Jillian Tamaki's art when she collaborated with her cousin Mariko Tamaki on both Skim and This One Summer, so I was very curious to know how I'd take to her work when she was solely responsible for both art and writing.

At first I wasn't sure and was even surprised that I wasn't even enjoying the art aspect. The first few stories felt rushed and experimental. However, I started to get into them and in the end I'd say I'm still a fan.

Essentially these were short stories, many of which have a weird twist (a woman keeps shrinking away into nothing, teens are getting "high" from a sound-file downloaded from the internet) and there's equal doses of subtle wit and ennui.

The art is varied enough so that in addition to complementing the varied plots, also kept things visually interesting.

And sure, I didn't enjoy the first couple or so stories, but like with any short story collection, we pick and choose our favourites.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Reader's Diary #1864- Kalman Andrasofszky (writer), Leonard Kirk (artist): Captain Canuck Aleph

I really want to like Captain Canuck but cannot get behind the character at all. I found the original by Richard Comely to be really really cheesy and poorly done, even compared to other superhero comics of the time which were themselves cheesy.

Still, I've seen loads of those other creations salvaged by newer writers and artists, so I held out hope that Kalman Andrasofsky and Leonard Kirk could revamp Comely's old work into something finally cool.

Alas, it's all just marginally better. It's less cheesy (though the villain is a bit of an unbelievable moustache twirler) and the Canadian settings are cool, but the story is convoluted and disjointed. Plus, Andrasofkszky focuses too much on peripheral characters for a reboot such as this and I thought the Captain himself got lost in mix.

Leonard Kirk's artwork is definitely 1000x better than Comely's but even then it's standard superhero fare, nothing overly inventive or exciting.

I think I'm giving up on this guy.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Reader's Diary #1863- Sinead Moriarty: Lost and Found

Sinead Moriarty's "Lost and Found" is an all too common tale of a deadbeat father and the emotional stress that puts on the mother.

The story zips along, not so much domestic imagery as one might expect, but more dialogue and insight into the mother's doubts and anger. Still, there's a hint of a humorous tone that (without trying to give too much away) gives way to some righteous wish fulfillment at the end.

Totally engaging.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Reader's Diary #1862- Thornton Wilder: Our Town

Though Thornton Wilder's Our Town seems on the surface like a rather simple, rather uneventful little play, I suspect there's more going on.

I was quite taken with the idea of the stage manager as narrator and with the almost complete lack of props. In this regard it's like Wilder didn't want us to ever forget it was just a play. On the other hand, it's "our" town, not "your" or "their" town and he also seems to suggest that this could be anywhere, reclaiming some of the realism after all.

And that push and pull, I think, comes together in the end when a deceased character, despite warnings, tries living a day over again realizing that she cannot.

I found myself wondering: which is the facade, our memories or our day to day lives?

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Reader's Diary #1861- Joshua Corin (writer), Todd Nauck (artist): Deadpool Too Soon?

I'm not always a fan of Deadpool. What some view as freeing (that he can be R rated or higher) I think has actually worked against the character at times (mostly because sometimes the edgy humour feels forced, but to a lesser extent, sometimes he's just hard to root for).

In Deadpool Too Soon? though I feel that Joshua Corin struck the right balance. The story involves Deadpool inviting those Marvel characters he considers friends (incidentally, the more humorous ones: Forbush Man, Squirrel Girl, Groot, Rocket, Ant-Man, Spider-Ham, Howard the Duck and... er, the Punisher) over to his house to pose for a Christmas card (see, likeable!). Unfortunately, one by one the characters keep getting mysteriously murdered, decapitated to be precise. Deadpool sets out to solve the case, hoping to rescue whomever remains. And, while there's obviously dark humour, it doesn't get in the way of what is a surprisingly engaging murder mystery.

As an added bonus, Corin creates the unholy Squirrel Girl / Deadpool union: Squirrel Pool. Having the two of them together in the first place is always good for a chuckle (the two brands of comedy -- one being squeaky clean, the other... not so much) so the hybrid just ups the ante in a weird, should-be-more-unsettling-than-it was way.

Todd Nauck does an admirable job capturing the likenesses of each character in their more well-known appearances but blending them just enough so that the book feels like they belong together.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Reader's Diary #1860- Gail Simone (writer), Aaron Lopresti (artist): Wonder Woman / Conan

I've never seemed to have gotten a good sense of Wonder Woman, at least in comparison to some of the other DC Comics superheroes (Superman's the over-powered goody two shoes, Batman's the under-powered grumpy one), but I felt that I knew enough that I didn't think a Wonder Woman / Conan the Barbarian crossover would be a poor fit. He's usually presented as a violent, sometimes misogynistic meathead, while Wonder Woman is usually a balanced, intelligent, icon of feminism.

But the crossover was in great, capable hands with Gail Simone. It seems more like a Conan story in many regards (it's mostly set in his universe and Wonder Woman's memory has been mysteriously wiped so we have no idea for the longest time how she's gotten there). However, Conan is thankfully given a bit more emotional depth than usual as it's revealed that he had his heartbroken as a young boy and he's convinced that Wonder Woman is his long lost love finally returned. This angle is interesting in its own right but Simone has also developed a couple of awesome villains, the shape-shifting crow sisters, the Corvidae.

The art is decent with typical realistic looking comic book fare and the settings and colourings again mostly fit the Conan side of the story; slightly gritty and beige, looking like a Biblical / middle-Eastern fantasy sequence.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Reader's Diary #1859- Kate Harty: A Canadian Summer

Whenever we leave the country and chat with the locals, they most often follow the revelation that we're from Canada with the question, "Toronto?" When roughly a sixth of the population lives in the GTA, I suppose it's not a totally asinine question. And considering that the vast majority of Canadians live in urban centers, within spitting distance of the U.S., no less, I have to acknowledge that me and my family aren't exactly representative Canadians anyway, myself having lived my entire life on Canada's peripheries.

So when I see a story like Kate Harty's "A Canadian Summer" about an Irish family vacationing in the Canadian wilderness, it makes me a little happy that many realize that it's the nature and space here that makes the place special.

Harty's story is rife with adjectives like a high school writing assignment, but as it's predominately a setting piece, imagery without much plot, it's fitting. Plus, it's a high school writing assignment.

"A Canadian Summer" is a peaceful, introspective and Zen story.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Reader's Diary #1858 - Marc Andreyko and Jeff Parker (writers); David Hahn (art): Batman '66 Meets Wonder Woman '77

Batman '66 Meets Wonder Woman is a superbly entertaining crossover by Marc Andreyko and Jeff Parker.

Of course, intra-company crossovers are a little easier and there doesn't need to be convoluted stories about universes colliding for the characters to meet, but the writers did have the challenge of meshing two periods.

Craftily (or obviously, the cynics might say, but I'd been expecting the more obvious time travel route), they took advantage of Wonder Woman's super-slow aging mythology to seamlessly create scenarios in which the two heroes would meet and have to work together: they meet at first when Bruce Wayne is a young boy, then again in '66, and again in '77. At each interval the father-daughter Ra's al Ghul and Talia al Ghul play the villains.

The '66s scenes were very true to the vibe of the old TV show and while I still haven't seen the actual '77 series of Wonder Woman, this is my third time reading comics based on the show and they've been wonderfully consistent with her character. I also wasn't overly familiar with the al Ghul's but they were certainly written and drawn to be believable characters on these respective shows. But the coolest must have been the '77 version of Nightwing with his giant lapel bell-bottom jumpsuit.

Finally, the ending has me hooked as Wonder Women casually suggests that they should form a League. I so hope this means will see a Christopher Reeves Superman '78 comic soon!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Reader's Diary #1857- Chynna Clugston Flores (writer), Rosemary Valero-O'Connell, Kelly and Nichole Matthews (artists): Lumberjanes Gotham Academy

I've read, and enjoyed, one volume of Lumberjanes and quite enjoyed it, but nothing of Gotham Academy, but this crossover was not the place to effectively learn about the latter nor refresh on the former.

The two combined groups of teens does make for a rather large cast and so character building would have been challenging. Perhaps this is why no attempts seem to have been made, perhaps Chybba Clugston Flores assumed only pre-existing fans would even bother. Instead she's created an almost entirely plot-oriented book.

It deals with a woman who was so devastated by the rejection of a party she'd been throwing in the 80s that she's now used magic forces to stop her own aging while kidnapping the two titular groups (who were in the wrong place at the wrong time) and recreating the party all over. If they don't succeed in making her happy, they may be trapped forever.

It has a certain Scooby-Doo quality about it, with a theme of supporting those who need help moving past emotional trauma/mistakes. In other words, it's mildly entertaining and sweet. It has an added appeal of 80s references for those of us who were alive at the time.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Reader's Diary #1856- Sean Howe: Marvel Comics the Untold Story

Despite raking in billions for every movie they produce, Marvel Studios has its share of critics as well as a few problems on the horizon:
  • As many of the actors are aging, retiring, what should be done with their characters- retired/killed off? Replaced with new actors? Replaced with new characters?
  • They've been predominately led by straight, white males
  • The expanded (and expanding) universe creates a logistical nightmare for producers and directors who need to balance universe story arcs and canon with creating standalone films
  • Deaths are meaningless

While Sean Howe's Marvel Comics The Untold Story was published in 2012, just 6 films in and with 13 (to date) that would follow, it's fascinating to see how nearly identical issues have plagued the comic publisher for most of its existence. And, noting how circular the issues seem to be, it's arguable that they've never struck upon a solution that have pleased everyone, inside nor outside.

The similarities between the studio and the publisher issues, it could be argued, could even be transferred to the life of any branded, long lasted company. There are always ebbs and flows and those in charge will react appropriately or not depending on one's point of view. Indeed, Howe's book wouldn't be a bad read for those without any real in interest in comics as long as they had some interest in business. Of course, if you're a comics fan like me, you'll like that angle more and I took particular delight whenever there was mention of a new character being created.

For the most part I'd say that Howe's treatment of the publisher and the creators involved was pretty objective. While many Marvel fans, perhaps owing to the comics' good vs. evil dichotomy, have chosen sides in particular between Stan Lee vs. Steve Ditko/ Jack Kirby, Howe supplies enough quotes and history to treat all those involved fairly. Their relationships were, like any relationships, complicated; by time, egos, memory, outside influences, communication failures, and so on. Neither party could be fairly depicted as the villain nor the hero. That said, I think Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane come across less likeable or balanced. I don't know if it was some of Howe's bias coming through (to be fair, I wasn't a fan of either before starting the book either), if they are genuinely not nice people, or if there just wasn't time, nor space to get into their motivations as thoroughly as the aforementioned creators (Lee, Ditko, and Kirby had been there from the beginning while Liefeld's and McFarlane's tenures were mere blips in comparison-- important blips, but blips in any case).

I would still like another edition to get Howe's insight on how the last six years have shaken things up. What, if any, impact have the movies made on the comics? How has social media and the toxic fandom vs. social justice warrior debates been felt? What about digital comics and their effect on print sales, stores?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Reader's Diary #1855- Augusto Monterroso: The Dinosaur

In this link, NPR host Lynn Neary talks to Edgar O'Hara, a professor, about why Augusto Monterroso's single sentence "The Dinosaur" is in fact, a short story.

First off, in the text of the article it refers to "The Dinosaur" as the shortest story in the history of literature. I've always heard that Hemingway's "Baby Shoes" took that title, but regardless I was curious to hear O'Hara's case.

I don't know that I'm entirely convinced at the end, but I also don't care that much. It is, in any case, a compelling sentence that may make a provocative point about the life of literary characters.

Finally, I gather from O'Hara's explanation that something may have been lost in the translation as he talks about "dreams" but the English version of the sentence simply implies sleeping.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Reader's Diary #1854- Mana Neyestani: An Iranian Metamorphosis

More than once I've expressed my shock and admiration for those cartoonists who tackle their home country's tyrannical regimes. The bravery that this must take!

Mana Neyestani's story is likewise brave but one feels the Iranian government inadvertently pushed him in that direction. According to Neyestani, he never set out to be controversial at all. Writing for the children's section of a newspaper, he accidentally insults a cultural group (who believed they were being called cockroaches, hence the connection to Kafka alluded to in the title). This group gets angrier and angrier and the Iranian government imprisons Neyestani believing him to have orchestrated a violent upheaval on purpose. He is denied a fair trial and interrogated mercilessly.

While he has since escaped Iran I nonetheless view his portrayal of his ordeal as brave; he must know that his likelihood of returning safely to his birth country has been vastly decreased.

I also found the inadvertent racial slur angle to be quite fascinating from a 2018 perspective. No one is denying that they shouldn't have been offended, but the reaction by the Iranian government is so over the top. It might cause some pause for thought for those who are so quick to condemn mistakes on social media; how far should their wrath go? Where is the line between taking victims seriously and due process? How drastic should a culprits sentence be?

One minor issue is the abrupt ending. There is a conclusion but it wraps up in a single page text-only epilogue.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Reader's Diary #1853- Raymond Briggs: Gentleman Jim

At only 32 pages, I still managed to go through some ups and downs reading Raymond Briggs' Gentleman Jim.

Right away I wasn't sure the brand of humour was going to be up my alley. Essentially the titular Jim is too stupid almost to exist. He decides one day that he's had enough of cleaning toilets for a living and instead wishes to become a cowboy. He's knowledge of the job, and indeed of anything a fully functioning adult should know, is sorely lacking.

Should I be laughing or should I be concerned that he doesn't have assisted living?

Fortunately, it becomes more and more absurd, to the point of funny, and at the end I even considered that Briggs had made a rather pithy statement on adulthood vs. dreams.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Reader's Diary #1852- Zac Gorman (writer), CJ Cannon (illustrator): Rick and Morty Volume 1

I don't watch as much TV as I used to. This is not some intellectual brag as there is not some "bettering myself" agenda, it's simply that I don't seem to have the time anymore. In saying that there are a few shows I'd like to be better up on. I'm way behind in my Marvel TV shows and I've been curious about Rick and Morty.

One thing I do seem to have time for, fortunately, is comics and so I thought I'd read a Rick and Morty comic to see what they're all about. Of course, I realize that the comics may not totally be an accurate representation of the writing on the TV show. I've read a few Simpsons comics and find them to be a mildly entertaining but no where near as great as the Simpsons TV show in its heyday, but at least readers would get a reasonable idea of what the characters are about (Homer's dumb, Bart's a troublemaker, and Lisa's smart and moral) plus the kind of humour (softly edgy, satirical). Any Rick and Morty watchers out there would be a better a better judge than I whether or not the comic captures the essence of the show.

From what I can tell, the humour is somewhere in between the Simpsons and Family Guy. It doesn't try to beat you over the head with satire and pop culture references like Family Guy but it's slightly edgier than the Simpsons. There's also a mix of Futurama in there with sci-fi based stories. Likewise the illustration is similar to the above three, perhaps with a touch of Adventure Time.

Which is all to say I was entertained and amused. I don't feel particularly enlightened, but it's the summer and there'll be other comics to scratch that itch.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Reader's Diary #1851- Warren Ellis (writer), Stuart Immonen (artist): Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E. Complete Collection

As it was slowly dawning on me that I wasn't particularly enjoying Warren Ellis's Newxtwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., the phrase "trying too hard" came to mind. Trying too hard to be funny, trying too be edgy, to be cynical, different, etc.

I knew I'd only recently read a Warren Ellis comic so I went back to review what I had thought of that one (Karnak), and lo and behold, that was my exact same criticism: trying too hard.

I then spent a lot of time considering that phrase. Can I really criticize a guy for trying? Well yes and no. If he is really trying, I think he's trying the wrong things; focusing on quick, irreverent wit rather than on compelling characters and story. But maybe he's not trying at all and just knows that this stuff sells. I'll acknowledge that I'm largely alone in my assessment of Ellis's work; the whole reason I read it in the first place was because it was on a list of "10 Marvel Graphic Novels You Need to Read Before You Die." Nonetheless, I didn't connect with it at all.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Reader's Diary #1850- Alexander Jablokov: Living Will

Alexander Jablokov's short story "Living Will" struck a particular nerve for me as it's about a married couple and Alzheimer's which runs in my wife's family.

It is the husband in this case who discovers that he's developed the dreaded disease and he's trying to upload his memories and personality into a computer before he gets too far gone.

Depending on who you ask, the sci-fi angle may not be as far out as it first seems. Jablokov's take here is particularly interesting as he suggests that it can never be the real thing. Indeed, the point here isn't to exist after death, or after his memories are gone. Through this emotional story, many philosophical questions about memory and humanity could be posed.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Reader's Diary #1849- Leanne Shirtliffe, illustrated by Georgia Graham: Saving Thunder the Great

It's been a while since I've read a picture book, let alone written about one on my blog, but I've finally read Leanne Shirtliffe's Saving Thunder the Great: the true story of a gerbil's rescue from the Fort McMurray wildfire and I'm counting it as my Alberta pick for the 11th Canadian Book Challenge*.

I've read a few picture books based on real life tragedies and haven't always enjoyed them. Sometimes the situations have been too specific and isolated to really need or appeal to an international audience, sometimes I've found them questionably too graphic and insensitive for younger readers.

Forest fires are a very real part of life in Yellowknife (hopefully not this summer as we've had a wetter than usual spring) and so I could relate to that aspect of Shirtliffe's book, but even if they were not, I think it would still be appealing. Kids of course will like the gerbil, but they'd also likely be drawn to the danger of the story which Shirtliffe wastes no time getting to. Parents, like myself, will be more likely drawn to the mom in the story who is determined to take her son's gerbil with her. Her son is off, safely, visiting his grandparents in Newfoundland and she misses him terribly.

I also don't think most readers would find it too traumatic. It helps, I suppose, that most of the damage was property damage and that it could have been much worse. That said, I will correct one detail in the author's note at the end. She writes that "the fire claimed no one." Maybe not directly, but two were killed as they tried to escape the town.

Georgia Graham's illustrations are big, colourful, and realistic; highly appropriate for this true story.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Reader's Diary #1848- Thomas Mann: Death in Venice

So Thomas Mann's Death in Venice is a rather piece of shit.

It involves a vacationer in Venice who becomes attracted to and obsessed with a young boy. He's a pretentious windbag from the get-go and he manages to get infinitely worse by trying to rationalize his sexual perversion as an intellectual, artistic idea.

He's better than Lolita's Humbert Humbert in that he doesn't act on his attraction (the boy remains unaware) but worse when you learn that he's actually based on a real-life experience of Mann's.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Reader's Diary #1847- Nick Drnaso: Sabrina

Nick Drnaso's style isn't one of which I'm typically appreciative. Sabrina, a graphic novel, has the flat kind of colouring of old Tintin comics and overly simple lines and lack of details that reminded me of Rutu Modan's Exit Wounds or airplane safety brochures.

Still, it fits this odd little gem of a story. Sabrina, it turns out, is a missing woman, and the story primarily revolves around her grieving boyfriend and his friend. While that premise isn't particularly odd, it soon delves into a critique of our conspiracy-minded society (with tones of InfoWars and their insanely awful Sandy Hook take).

What's lacking in the visual details is made up for in the minutiae in the dialogue and mundane moments that are intertwined with the potentially sensational missing-person story. The effect, for me anyway, was a pretty intelligent, albeit cynical, look at the way we process news nowadays. It's like we've become so accustomed to horrible news that it's become boring and so we've upped the ante with conspiracy theories.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Reader's Diary #1846- Dante Alighieri, translated by Henry Francis Cary: The Divine Comedy

Entire courses have been taught on Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy so I will not attempt to even approach such a lengthy intelligent discourse here. 

Instead, I'll simply recount my own feelings reading through a man's journey into hell, purgatory, and heaven. 

I started off quite enjoying it. The imagery was dark and psychedelic, reminding somewhat of the Book of Revelations. I also began to see it as a metaphor for a man weighing his options regarding a difficult decision. 

Unfortunately, it went on for a long time and I began to grow bored. I suppose a course might help draw out some of the scientific themes or historical references and therefore maintain my interest, but as a pleasure-read not so much.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Reader's Diary #1845- Lucy Maud Montgomery, adapted by Mariah Marsden, illustrated by Brenna Thummler: Anne of Green Gables

I'm wrapping up another year of participation in the Canadian Book Challenge and once again I was scrambling to find a book from PEI to read. I wasn't terribly excited to read Mariah Marsden's graphic novel adaptation, feeling I was already familiar enough with Anne of Green Gables, but I'd heard good things and in any case, wouldn't take a lot of time.

I'm certainly glad I did though. Marsden has done a wonderful job with this adaptation, choosing many wordless scenes to help set the tone and pace of the story and zeroing in on those quintessential moments (the "carrots" episode with Gilbert, the inadvertent intoxication of Diana, and so on). Nothing is lost and most importantly Anne's strong, loveable, curious, and melodramatic personality shines through, as infectious as ever.

Illustrator Brenna Thummler's work here is amazing. Charming and rich, highly stylized, with a flow that of a old China tea cup design. The characters' faces may not be to everyone's fancy, with eyes simplified to simple circles (a la Little Orphan Annie) and noses that are coloured a darker pink to form almost perfect triangles. Nevertheless, they are consistent and still manage (sometimes with a mere eyebrow lift) to convey a wealth of emotion.

A few stray thoughts:

  • Though the book was dedicated to Lucy Maud Montgomery, I thought it off that her name did not appear anywhere on the cover
  •  I've only been to PEI once but I don't recall trees quite as large as depicted here
  • I found myself wondering if Marilla isn't a good metaphor for PEI itself. PEI has a reputation for not exactly welcoming newcomers to the island but must, I would imagine, be won over by some folks.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Reader's Diary #1844- Tess Gerritsen: Playing with Fire

I read a lot of books traveling to and from Italy recently and am not yet caught up on my blog posts about them. I'm having a little difficulty remembering much and while ordinarily I'd write that off by saying that I'll remember the really good and the really bad and the rest probably didn't deserve much commentary anyway.

However, I do recall that I really enjoyed Tess Gerritsen's Playing with Fire but it took me going to Goodreads to remember almost any details. Though once I got brought up to speed with the plot, it all started to come back to me.

There are essentially two stories going on. In the first (and the frame) story, Julia Andsell finds some handwritten Gypsy music in a store while visiting Italy. When she gets it home and plays it on her violin, it seems to provoke a violent reaction in her young daughter. The second story tells the origin of the sheet music.

Playing with Fire was marvelously entertaining. It was an entrancing mystery, possibly with supernatural elements, and with important historical reminders regarding Italy's dark Nazi past. The ending was surprising but plausible. Julia's character was especially well done. (She felt authentic as she sometimes reminded me of my wife!) The love-torn musicians felt at times a bit too over-the-top to be real, but there are eccentric and obsessed people in real life, so maybe not.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Reader's Diary #1843- Katherine Mansfield: A Cup of Tea

While some of the themes in Katherine Mansfield's "A Cup of Tea," a short story about a wealthy woman deciding to take a street beggar home for tea, are worn on its sleeve (materialism, classism, feminism), I rather liked the cynical subtext regarding the idea of a selfless act.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Reader's Diary #1842- Tetsu Saiwai: The 14th Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama is one of those noteworthy figures of whom I'd normally have avoided conversations. Not because I had particularly controversial opinions on him but rather no opinion, no real knowledge about. Something about China, about Tibet. Embarrassingly, it's a historical/news story I'd not kept up on.

Tetsu Saiwai's The 14th Dalai Lama provided me a pretty good primer. Told in manga style (through westernized to read right to left), Saiwai's breakdown is pretty clearly told. (It's largely told from the Tibetan perspective though.)

I learned about his connection to Buddhism, how young he was when 1st chosen, his exile in India; all things I'd not known before. It all made for a fascinating story.