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Thursday, December 30, 2021

My Year in Review 2021 - Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels

Here are all the graphic novels, comics, and manga that I read in 2021, ranked from least (26) to most favourite (1). Feel free to share your thoughts on any of these, or other highlights from your own reading year!


26. Various creators - Godzilla: Unnatural Disasters

25. Ethan Sacks and Paoli Villanelli - Star Wars Bounty Hunters 1: Galaxy's Deadliest 

24. Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert, Kevin J. Anderson, Raul Allen, Patricia Martin - Dune Book 1

23. Barry Windsor-Smith - Monsters

22. Marianne Boucher - Talking to Strangers

21. Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Francis Yu - Secret Invasion

20. Steve Foxe and Shadia Amin - Spider-Ham: Great Power, No Responsibility

19. Tatsuki Fujimoto - Chainsaw Man 1

18. Elisa Macellari - Papaya Salad

17. Huda Fahmy - That Can Be Arranged

16. Adrian Tomine - Shortcomings

15. Jay Bulckaert, Erika Nyyssonen, and Lucas Green - King Warrior

14. Chris Miskiewicz and Noah Vansciver - Grateful Dead Origins

13. Nicolas Finet and Christopher - Love Me Please: The Story of Janis Joplin

12. Sina Grace and Derek Charm - Jughead's Time Police

11. Al Ewing - Loki: Agent of Asgard The Complete Series

10. Hiromi Goto and Ann Xu - Shadow Life

9. Christian Staebler and Sonia Paolini - Redbone: The True Story of a Native American Band

8. Alison McCreesh - Petrozavodsk

7. Kim Hyun Sook, Ryan Estrada, and Ko Hyung-Ju - Banned Book Club

6. Chuck Wendig and Alvaro Sarraseca - Turok: Blood Hunt

5. Ed Brisson and Jonas Scarf - Avengers of the Wastelands

4. Walter Scott - Wendy: Master of Art

3. Joe Sacco - Paying the Land

2. Trung Le Nguyen - The Magic Fish

1. Joe Ollmann - Fictional Father

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

My Year in Review 2021 - Fiction and Nonfiction

The FICTION ranked from least favourite to favouite: Novels, Novellas, Short Story Collections, Plays, Picture Books, and Poetry (Graphic Novels recorded separately): 

13. Angelique Lalonde - Glorious Frazzled Beings
12. Henry Miller - Tropic of Cancer
11. Omar El Akkad - What Strange Paradise
10. Simone de Beauvoir - The Woman Destroyed
8. Jim Shepherd - Phase Six
7. Norma Dunning -  Tainna
6. Jael Richardson - Gutter Child
5. Pik-Shueng Fung - Ghost Forest
4. Jordan Tannahill - The Listeners
3. Miriam Toews - Fight Night
2. Cheluchi Onyemelukwe Onuobia - The Son of the House
1. Carlos Ruiz Zafon - The Shadow of the Wind

 The NON-FICTION ranked from least favourite to favourite:

3. Charity Marsh and Mark V. Campbell (editors) - We Still Here: Hip Hop North of the 49th Parallel
1. Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock - Nothin' But A Good Time

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The 2021 Book Mine Set Short Story Online Anthology


Here they are! 52 free online stories that I found and read this year, one every Monday, ranked my least to most favourite:

52. "Direct Democracy" - Tobias Haglund

51. "The Hiltons' Holiday" - Sarah Orne Jewett

50. "George Walker at Suez" - Anthony Trollope

49. "Fred" - Ed Friedman

48. "Interview with Santa Claus: What Does He Do the Day After Christmas?" - Ellwyn Autumn

47. "A Christmas Tree" - Charles Dickens

46. "Ghost in the Bathroom" - Christopher Berardino

45. "Headache" - Julio Cortazar

44. "The Pike" - Conrad Williams

43. "The Interview" - Tom Farr

42. "Frito Pie" - Cene Hale

41. "Behind the Mask" - Mike Johnson

40. "A Dose of Magic" - Sam Mason

39. "The Day We Were Fish" - Stephen Koster

38. "Nothing to Declare" - John Boyne

37. "The Man in the Red Cap" - Duncan Grimes

36. "Zoe" - Ron S. Friedman

35. "My Mother Made Me" - Frances Gapper

34. "Keys" - Glafira Rocha

33. "It Had to Be Murder" - Cornell Woolrich

32. "Motorway Service Stop" - Anna Lu

31. "Shilo" - Bobbie Ann Mason

30. "Another Day" - E.R. Murray

29. "Thoughts" - Harriet

28. "The Happening" - Laura Hird

27. "Big Blonde" - Dorothy Parker

26. "Night on the Mosquito Toilet" - Ruth Guthrie

25. "Independence Day" - Michael Dickel

24. "The Curb in the Sky" - James Thurber

23. "Rules of Special Measures" - Ben Fountain

22. "It Was Better to Be Prepared" - Carmyn Effa

21. "The Widow" - Emma Shea

20. "Bubble Gum" - Jarrad Saul

19. "Woodpeckers Peck to Establish Territory in the Spring" - Sherrie Flick

18. "The Cabin" - Tom Alexander

17. "Mom to You" - Jennifer Murvin

16. "The Ideal Husband Exhibition" - Dan Powell

15. "A List of Edible Flowers for the WOman on the Other Side of the Fence" - Penny Pennell

14. "Alone, Not Lonely" - Gaius Coffey

13. "A Passing Trance" - Nick Sheri

12. "The Key to My Father" - Harlen Coben

11. "Dolly" - Elizabeth Bear

THE TOP TEN!!!

10. "Does Your Mother Know What You're Doing?" - Gwendolyn Saltzman

9. "Her Boss" - Willa Cather

8. "Sparrow" - Yilin Wang

7. "Painting No. 91" - Thomas Hill

6. "Silver Linings" - Alex Reece Abbott

5. "The Bone-Stag" - KT Bryski

4. "What's For Sale" - Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn

3. "A Recipe for Trouble" - Aimee Ogden

2. "Candle Cove" - Kris Straub

1. "The Most Precious Substance on Earth" - Shashi Bhat

Monday, December 27, 2021

Reader's Diary #2267 - Ellwyn Autumn: Interview With Santa Claus

 Ellwyn Autumn's "Interview with Santa Claus: What Does He Do the Day After Christmas?" felt like a lost opportunity to me. She set up a wonderful frame story and for the interview, the setting was described just lovely, but the interview is just quick and not all that creative. A pleasant diversion, but little else. 

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Reader's Diary #2266 - Liniers: Wildflowers

Aimed at younger reader, Linier's Wildflowers comic is a lot like Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are in its embrace of childhood imagination. 

It begins with a bizarre, should be traumatic, scene with a visual of a plane wreck on an island. It would appear that the only survivors are three young girls. But why do they seem so nonplussed about it all? Slowly it reveals itself that the girls are just playing. It's light hearted and amusing from there on out, so more pleasant I suppose than Sendak's!

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Reader's Diary #2265 - Alison McCreesh: Petrozavodsk

In 2018's Norths by Alison McCreesh, she documented a family/work trip across the Circumpolar world as a series of hand drawn postcards sent back home to friends and family. Just two postcards, sent from Petrozavodsk, Russia, mentioned a health scare involving a lump in her breast.

In 2021's Petrozavodsk, she expands more upon that ordeal: the stress, dealing with foreign health care, not speaking the language and so on. 

By it's very nature, it's more personal than Norths, and maybe it's her eloquent way of expressing her mindset at the time, but the isolation is palpable. I think one of the moments that really hit it home for me was her lamenting that because her mind was on other, more critical things she hadn't had "real conversations about real issues with real Russians." You don't have to be having a health emergency thousands of miles away from home to relate to that aspect of stress.

Art-wise it's a bit rougher, sketchier than much I've seen by McCreesh but it adds to the personal art journal vibe. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Reader's Diary #2263- Barry Windsor-Smith: Monsters

This book came with a lot of hype, and everything about it seems to imply that it's a "serious work of art." 

Sadly, I couldn't get on board.

It deals with a clandestine mission of a branch of the American military to replicate some of the reprehensible human experiments of the Nazis. In the telling, it also delves quite heavily into post-traumatic stress disorder. 

I suppose the rejective of a straight forward narrative is one of the few positives I can take away, but otherwise it left me cold. Even the experiment itself doesn't really amount to much. It also seems dark at time for the sake of being dark.

Barry Windsor-Smith's art sure has its share of followers, and while I'm sometimes a sucker for gritty, black and white, crosshatching, I still wouldn't consider myself a fan. He can't, for instance, draw children. Knowing he came from a Marvel background, I'm not terribly surprised by that. Kids, especially in 70s era Marvel comics are drawn like miniature adults and it's freaky. Also, I found his placement of speech balloons, which often extended out of one panel into the next, sometimes difficult to follow. 

Not one of my graphic novels from the past year by any stretch.


Monday, December 20, 2021

Reader's Diary #2262 - Laura Hird: The Happening

 There's a line in Laura Hird's "The Happening" that reminds me of an infamous line given by Helena Bonham-Carter in Fight Club and it's not so much to shock (though it does), but also set up up the scenario and adult-tone of the story. 

Yes, it's a Christmas-related story (there's a drunken staff party), but overall it's just darkly comedic in an Office-uncomfortable kind of way. I quite enjoyed it!

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Reader's Diary #2261 - Charles Dickens: A Christmas Tree

Charles Dicken's short story "A Christmas Tree" begins pleasantly enough; a man is describing the many decorations on a Christmas tree. They eventually cause him to go on tangents of imagination and of memories, which again, nothing wrong with this per se. However, it soon becomes clear that there's never going to be more of a plot than this and it starts to become boring, very, very boring.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Reader's Diary #2260 - Michael Barclay: The Never Ending Present

Though it wasn't a licensed biography, Hip members didn't participate, and at least one member denounced it, Michael Barclay's The Never-Ending Present: The Story of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip is a worthwhile read for Hip fans and Hip curious.

Are all the details accurate? I'm guessing there are some minor things here or there that Barclay erred on. But at 482 pages and being very comprehensive from the band's pre-Hip days to and past Downie's death, that's inevitable. Still the amount of research Barclay did is obvious and while the band maybe didn't grant him interviews, he did reference many of the prior interviews they did with other outlets and did score interviews with a large number of folks in the Hip periphery. 

It's also all told in a very easy, engaging style. And with a band without a lot of salacious details to hook a reader, his conversational approach is needed. Did I learn more about the Hip? Absolutely. Do I understand them more. Maybe not. Yes, I came away with trivia (where albums were produced, who produced them, artists who opened for them, etc) but they also came away more complex than I even considered before. I think my ultimate impression is that Gord had a very yin-yang relationship with the rest of the band. 

Is it perfect? No. When Barclay gets subjective, I don't always agree with him (I happen to like "Butts Wigglin'"!) and some diversions are unnecessary. Case in point? Asking various other musicians their thoughts on the final concert? Fine. But was it necessary to include all those that said they didn't watch? Those sections dragged. 

Nonetheless, I quite enjoyed the book, and took the time to re-listen to their catalogue and Gord's solo stuff as I read it. I'd say I'm an even bigger fan now than when I started. 

Monday, December 06, 2021

Reader's Diary #2259 - John Boyne: Nothing to Declare

 "Nothing to Declare" is a whimsical short story by John Boyne about two sibling dogs that have a chance reunion outside of a store while their handlers are inside. What makes it especially amusing is that the dogs talk very much like humans to one another, except of course, they're still very much dogs so what they talk ABOUT is different.

One of the dogs has gone on to have a successful career as a drug sniffing airport dog on some sort of Border Security show (it's set in Australia) while the other dog, who failed the training, is now living with a porn-watching pothead. There may be some resent brewing...


Monday, November 29, 2021

Reader's Diary #2258 - Penny Pennell: A List of Edible Flowers for the Woman on the Other Side of the Fence

 I loved the layout of this story, told, as the title would suggest in a list. Like a flower petal, there's a delicate touch to the story, and as it's about eating them, also offers something unexpected. Underneath the botany, culinary, and even witchcraft, there's a story being hinted at about an illicit affair. Very cool voice.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Reader's Diary #2257- Nicolas Finet (writer), Christopher (artist), Montana Kay (translator): Love Me Please/ The Story of Janis Joplin (1943-1970)

The preface of Love Me Please: The Story of Janis Joplin (1943-1970) is a mere 3 short paragraphs, written by Gilbert Shelton, an old university friend of Joplin's. About the book itself, he writes, "Christopher's biography of Janis doesn't deal with her legend, only the facts." It's not exactly the most glowing, nor insightful, of prefaces and I wondered why they'd even include it. 

While it's not the most detailed of biographies, I actually think it was more artistic than Mr. Shelton made it sound. It's narrated, for instance, by the spirits of Joplin's idols: Bessie Smith, Odetta, and Ma Rainey. And the art is great, especially the depiction of Joplin's addictions as growing tentacles. 

It wasn't perfect though, and definitely could have use some editing. The most egregious mistake was a page where a text block was repeated twice on the page, and you can tell it was someone trying to figure out where the best placement was and two choices slipped through. 

Shoddy quality control and a weak preface aside, I still enjoyed learning more about Joplin and her tragically short life. You can tell the creators respected her, but they still didn't attempt to hide any flaws.


Monday, November 22, 2021

Reader's Diary #2256 - Ron S. Friedman: Zoe

 It's not often you find a story that combines robotic space zombies and romance, but Ron S. Friedman's "Zoe" does just that. So, even when the ending leaves on an ominous note, it was fun enough getting there that I was hardly disappointed. 

It's a quick read, but Friedman makes the most of the space with world, plot, and character building.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Reader's Diary #2255- Joe Ollmann: Fictional Father

The cover of Joe Ollman's graphic novel Fictional Father is a great indicator of what readers can expect. The thick ink dripping from a finger, having smeared a fake smile on a frowning character is perfect. The art itself is somewhat messy (a stylistic choice though- it's certainly above merely capable!) as are the lives of those involved, especially the central character who's flawed but still (at least to me) endearing. It's also funny but with a depressing underbelly.

It revolves around Caleb, an artist who happens also to be the son of world renown comic strip artist, beloved ironically for his schmaltzy depiction a father who loves his son unabashedly. Only Caleb was, by and large, neglected by his father as he grew up and makes no effort to conceal this lie, offers no apologies for his father's actions. But he still wrestles, as many do, with feelings of guilt over these issues. How can I whine, he wonders, when so many others have it so much worse? Which only spirals him further into self-loathing causing him to make mistakes, questionable life choices, and perhaps worst of all, even inherit some of his father's negative traits.

I quite enjoyed the book, it's humor and provocative themes (especially on the idea of identity- who's version is true?). For avid comics readers too, there are a lot of real name drops which felt like fun Easter eggs.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Reader's Diary #2254- Simone de Beauvoir, translated by Patrick O'Brian : The Woman Destroyed

Actually a collection of three novellas, the title comes from one of the novellas, the others being The Age of Discretion and The Monologue. They all focus on women who have just retired and they're all miserable. They're also, largely unlikeable.

I'd probably pick The Age of Discretion as my favourite of the three. She's the less unlikeable of the three, though she's certainly flawed. I was sympathetic towards her wrestling with love for her child who's taken a political job in an office where they're far on the opposite political spectrum as herself. I mean, yes, love for a child should be unconditional, but de Beauvoir brings up a provocative question about how to love without respect. 

The second novella I struggled with. Largely this was due to it being written in a stream of consciousness style and while I respect that from a technical standpoint, I've always personally found it hard to understand what's going on. I understood at least enough to know that it was the ramblings of one of the most bitter characters I've ever encountered. 

The third was in an epistolary style (diary entries) and much easier to read. It was as frustrating beyond belief. I woman agrees to a let her husband have an affair and then winds up regretting. It's fine as the beginning to a plot, but it never really progresses past that, just wallows deeper and deeper in misery. The husband's an entitled dick and the wife needs some self-respect.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Reader's Diary #2253 - Harriet: Thoughts

Harriet's "Thoughts" is a humorous, but somewhat thought-provoking, flash fiction story about a school girl who's convinced she's a queen and who may or may not have difficulty making friends because of this. Is she deluded? Is this about self-confidence and a reluctance to settle? Or has she alienated people who she thinks she's above. 

This is one of those cases where the flash format's limitations work in favour of the story. It's richer without having these questions answered.

Monday, November 08, 2021

Reader's Diary #2252- Anna Lu: Motorway Service Stop

 The danger and specifics aren't exactly laid out in Anna Lu's flash fiction story "Motorway Service Stop" and that's no doubt intentional as it's from the perspective of a child, who may or may not know exactly what is happening beyond something wrong and scary. 

However, it's also told in a 2nd person voice and adult readers would know exactly what is happening. I think that tension between ourselves and the character we're meant to assume adds brilliantly to the story.

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Reader's Diary #2251- Miriam Toews: Fight Night

I typically have a hard time with Miriam Toews' characters. As a rule, they're quirky. Sometimes this is too much of a distraction for me; I find the quirk forced, too much, too unbelievable. To some extent this held true for Fight Night as well. The grandmother character in particular was over the top.

I should note that this isn't just a case of me not relating to a character. It's acknowledged in the book that the central family is strange by society standards. 

Still, I liked the characters even with their quirks. Maybe not believable, but they were fun and loveable. As was the book itself. Told from the perspective of a precocious nine year old girl, Toews captured this voice superbly. (Fight Night is up against Omar El Akkad's What Strange Paradise for a Giller prize this year which also follows a child protagonist and doesn't capture a child's voice anywhere near as well.) Her interpretations of, and confusion with, the adult world are often hysterical.

If it was just a funny book, that would be great. But it's also full of heart. Similar to her All My Puny Sorrows, it deals with suicide, depression, and familial bonds. It's also heavy on themes of aging. The humour helps cut it of course, but it's also I would say a hopeful book. 

Besides overdone quirk, another issue I had was with one particular chapter which took the voice of the grandmother instead of the granddaughter. That in itself wasn't the issue, but it was used to plug some gaps in the history of the characters and plot and felt like those scenes in movies when a villain gives a long winded explanation of their plan, providing (albeit important) details that the writers couldn't work in otherwise but now feels awkward.

Overall though, I enjoyed the book and would not be disappointed if it took home the Giller prize. 


Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Reader's Diary #2250 - Batman/Fortnite: Zero Point

Not a Batman fan and haven't ever played Fortnite, I do have a soft spot for crossovers, and so I gave Batman/Fortnite: Zeropoint a shot anyway. All things considered, I enjoyed it. It was definitely entertaining.

Not surprisingly, the crossover happens with a alternate universe sort of scenario. Batman, Cat Woman, Deathstroke, Harley Quinn are sucked into a bizarre violent world where their memories are wiped. All they know is that they have to survive endless battles with strange characters. No one can speak. Worst of all? (But actually, best of all from an entertainment point of view) their memories are wiped again after 22 minutes. This adds a really fun video game element.

I also enjoyed Batman for a change. He actually does some detective work, which I've often mocked him for not doing considering he's supposedly the "world's greatest detective". And he finds ways to retain information from one reset to the next which eventually helps him and the others escape. 

Also, at one Snake Eyes (from G.I. Joe) also appears, so a 3rd surprise crossover was an added bonus. 

Finally the art is pretty good and considering that the creative teams were mixed it from one story to the next, it feels surprisingly consistent. 

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Reader's Diary #2249 - Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia: The Son of the House

One of the five shortlisted books for this year's Giller prize, The Son of the House by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia is likely to be my top pick (though I still need to finish Miriam Toews' Fight Night). 

Truly I loved every minute of it. Besides the Nigerian setting, which held my attention for being so unfamiliar to me in terms of culture, I was also brought in by the strong characters and a plot that was almost Shakespearean at times. 

It begins with a couple of women being held captive together, though we're not yet told why, who pass the time by sharing their life stories. While both from Nigeria, they've had very different paths that ultimately led to this moment but not after an fateful, almost miraculous, reveal. 

There is so much to digest here that it would also be a perfect book club read: feminism, gender roles, motherhood, class, generational gaps, familial love. And yet, even without digging into these themes, the plot is wholly engaging. It's everything I want from a novel.

Monday, November 01, 2021

Reader's Diary #2248 - Aimee Ogden: A Recipe for Trouble

 I loved Aimee Ogden's short story "A Recipe for Trouble" and it's been a while since I rooted for a central character as much as I did teenaged Leah in this story. 

The daughter of a religious, old-fashioned, and overbearing mother, Leah finds ways to rebel in the unlikeliest of places. And she's proud of it. As she should be. 

Excellent voice in a very creative story with a perfect ending.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Reader's Diary #2247 - Angélique Lalonde: Glorious Frazzled Beings

I don't know if any story from my youth has had as much impact on me as "The Emperor's New Clothes." At least when it comes to judging art in any case. I really struggle with the balance between "just because I don't get it, doesn't mean it's not great" and "really? am I the only one going to point out that the emperor is naked?"

Many of the stories in Angélique Lalonde's Glorious Frazzled Beings fall into the surreal category (especially the ones at the beginning) and that's an area, I'll admit, I struggle with. Are people really getting this? I wondered. Clearly these stories resonated with enough people that the collection is a finalist for a Giller Prize. 

Fortunately, I did enjoy the more lucid stories, and even the more more lucid moments in the surreal stories. In these I thought there was a lot of great exploration on some pretty important topics such as motherhood, race, homelessness, and so on. 

As for the surreal moments? I suppose I enjoyed them a little from a poetic standpoint, but I was hoping for more narrative prose. Lalonde can't really be faulted for that.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Reader's Diary #2246- Jennifer Murvin: Mom to You

In Jennifer Murvin's short story "Mom to You," a young son returns from a birthday party wearing a mask and claiming a new identity. It's an old man mask, not a Halloween mask, she wants us to know and yet there something surreal and off-putting about the rest of the story that I would still classify as horror. 

I'm dwelling on whether or not there was some message in the story about letting kids be themselves (which seems counter to wearing a mask), but even if I can't pin it down to a moral or crack some symbolism that I've yet missed, it's still an entertaining story even on the surface.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Reader's Diary #2245 - Cornell Woolrich: It Had to Be Murder

 I only recently saw the Hitchcock classic Rear Window for the first time and was surprised to see that it had been adapted from Cornell Woolrich's short story "It Had to Be Murder."

Of course, it's next to impossible not to compare so I won't bother trying. I'll also say that it's one of the few cases where I think the film is better than the book (or story in this case). I didn't dislike the story but Hitchcock played up the paranoia angle better. In Woolrich's story, the narrator is always convinced he's right and his bored isolation isn't played up. 

Still, it's got a good voice and a bit of a noir detective vibe working for it. 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Reader's Diary #2244 - Jordan Tannahill: The Listeners

This year I was asked to be on a Shadow Giller Jury with Lindy and Penny and happily joined the team, knowing full well I'm amateur-hour compared to those two! (Seriously, check out their blogs!)

Anyway, the short list came out just recently so I've had to jump in fast. The first I read was Omar El Akkad's What Strange Paradise and the second was Jordan Tannahill's The Listeners. Already I'm excited for the debate as these are so different from one another.

The Listeners is about a woman whose life is turned upside down when she inexplicably starts to hear a hum. It's distracting, sometimes gives her nosebleeds, and worst of all her family thinks it's all in her head. Finally, she meets a group of others who can hear it and they lean on one another for support as they lose their once normal lives.

But more than the obvious plot differences, the two books are written so stylistically different. If Akkad is Margaret Atwood, Tannahill is Stephen King. That's not the insult some will make it out to be. It's just that Some Strange Paradise seems to wear its literary aspirations on its sleeve, whereas The Listeners is more grounded. Some like to refer to this a Literature (with capital L) versus literature (with a lowercase L) but I feel this is too elitist. To me it's more like the difference between impressionist art versus realistic art, there's value in both. 

There's a scene in The Listeners for example when the narrator goes into detail about a Mexican dish brought by one of the support group. It doesn't further the plot and there's nothing particularly remarkable about the description, but it does help set the scene and make the reader feel more a part of the story. Such a scene is common place in this novel, but rare in Some Strange Paradise; the latter is more concise and poetic. 

I would say The Listeners is more accessible and entertaining of the two, but still offers poignant thoughts on contemporary themes (alienation, conspiracy theories, complex love). Choosing one book over another though? I think it would come down to the style of writing you enjoy. 

Monday, October 11, 2021

Reader's Diary #2243 - Shashi Bhat: The Most Precious Substance on Earth

 I truly loved Sashi Bhat's short story, "The Most Precious Substance on Earth" and those are often the ones I find hardest to discuss.

Honestly there's not a misstep. The voice, the setting, the characterization, imagery, themes. It's all perfect.

But a story can be technically perfect and still not resonate. Fortunately that's not the case here. 

Told from the perspective of a high school band student on an important band trip away from home. She's caught somewhat between a bully and victim who she's been roomed with. It's a particularly heavy topic considering it's set not long after the Columbine shooting. Towards the end, there's a bit of an awakening about the importance of belonging (not just "fitting in") but it isn't heavy handed. 

Wonderful, wonderful story.

Friday, October 08, 2021

Reader's Diary #2241 - Steve Foxe (writer), Shadia Amin (artist): Spider-Ham Great Power, No Responsibility

 


As a lifetime fan of MAD Magazine, it's no wonder I have a thing for parodies. And in the Marvel world, Spider-Ham comics certainly scratch that itch. 

In these comics, really it's the Marvel Universe that is parodied more than just Spider-Man and the obvious approach is changing all the heroes and villains into animals with puns or similar sounding names. There's also Scarlet Pooch, Squawkeye and so on. (We're talking parody, not political satire here!)

But Spider-Ham is given just enough of his own personality and backstory to make him a character in his own right, not just a Peter Parker riff. In his case, he's an overly confident bumbling but still likeable sort. 

He's also in good hands with Steve Foxe and Shadia Amin who have written a very silly kid-friendly escapade in Great Power, No Responsibility. Spider-Ham has lost the key to the City and must find it before it falls into the wrong hands...

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Reader's Diary #2240 - Norma Dunning: Tainna

There isn't a lot of fiction with Inuit characters, and certainly much less with Inuit characters who don't live in northern Canada. More important than filling a niche, however, Norma Dunning's stories in Tainna are really good.

They're also by and large depressing. Touching upon themes of colonialism, residential schools, sexual assault, alcoholism, and racism, this isn't unexpected. But there's some dark humour in the mix (which I'm always up for) and though my guard was up toward the end to not be optimistic for a happy ending, there are some that end on more positive, hopeful notes.


Monday, October 04, 2021

Reader's Diary #2239 - E.R. Murray: Another Day

I wonder if E.R. Murray worried about making her short story "Another Day," about a terminally (I think) ill woman and a homeless man finding comfort in one another one Christmas season night.

She needed of been, at least in my estimation. Yes, there's a glimpse of home and in that it's touching, but I don't think she abandons reality altogether. Just offers a break from from it. 

It's quite lovely.

Friday, October 01, 2021

Reader's Diary #2238 - Omar El Akkad: What Strange Paradise


Omar El Akkad's novel What Strange Paradise is getting a lot of praise. And no wonder, it's very topical and has a lot of heart. 

It follows a young Syrian immigrant named who was lucky enough to have survived a harrowing illegal sea crossing, washing up on the shore in Greece, only be hunted by the army. Luckily, a local teenage girl named Vänna decides to help him out.

There are so many well developed themes in the book, it would make for an excellent book club pick: escape (Vänna herself wants to escape her own troubled life), compassion, hope, cynicism, and so on. It's also laid out wonderfully, fluctuating between before (dealing with Amir's boat voyage and the strangers he'd met) and after (being chased across the Greek island). Besides keeping the book from ever growing monotonous, it also makes you never able to forget Amir's backstory and the lives of the other refugees. 

My sole issue was the authenticity of Amil and Vänna. Told in the 3rd person, El Akkad nonetheless attempts at times to describe their thoughts. However they seemed too mature and too literary and too similar to one another to convince me they were thoughts of an 8 year old boy and a teenage girl. 

Nonetheless, I still liked the book overall. 


Monday, September 27, 2021

Reader's Diary #2237 - Christopher Berardino: Ghost in the Bathroom

 Because it sometimes takes me a very long time to adjust to an author's style, I never give up on a book. I thought this might be the case with Christopher Berardino's short story "Ghost in the Bathroom." 

I was put off initially by the sheer amount of adjectives. There's a lot to be said for a richly described scene, but there's also a line where it becomes distracting. For me, this story crossed that line. Still the promise of a horror story kept me going.

Around the middle, I actually got into it more. The story was hooking me in and the historical setting was interesting. 

Alas, the adjectives started to ramp up again and the story's conclusion didn't provide enough payoff. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Reader's Diary #2236 - KT Bryski: The Bone-Stag Walks

 Maybe I should have saved KY Bryski's "The Bone-Stag Walks" for an October Short Story Monday as it's deliciously creepy. It has a kind of Poe/Krampus/fairy tale vibe and set in the colder months. 

Plus, the way the story is revealed through a child's eyes and through a grandmother telling a story, it unfolds quite unexpectedly. Loved it.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Reader's Diary #2235 - Cené Hale: Frito Pie

There's a bit in Cené Hale's flash fiction "Frito Pie" when a guy orders a coke and when asked what kind, he responds Dr. Pepper. It threw me off for a second until I remember that in some parts of the U.S. they used "coke" as a generic term for what is more commonly referred to as "pop" in Canada or "soda" in the rest of the U.S.. I don't think Hale should of avoided such regionalism, it made the story more authentic.

Unfortunately, the story went no where and ended abruptly. It's a shame given the strong setting and defined characters.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Reader's Diary #2234- Jael Richardson: Gutter Child

For the first half of Jael Richardson's Gutter Child, I couldn't help but think of it as a young adult novel. I suppose some of this could be attributed to it being a coming of age story; not that all coming-of-age stories are necessary aimed at teen readers but when the protagonist (Elimina) is of that age group herself, it lends itself easily to such classification. More than that, it wasn't exactly subtle in its messages. Set in a fictional world where darker skinned individuals are from the Gutter and are forced into schools on the Mainland to pay off historical "debts," the parallels to real life residential schools and to the mistreatment of Black people in North America are pretty on the nose. 

This isn't a criticism per se. There's a case to be made that subtlety is overrated. However, it felt more like an adult novel in the latter half of the book when Elimina has had her baby. The book is focused more on the complexities of interpersonal relationships, while still not losing sight of the societal critique at the heart of the novel. In a way, the novel itself comes of age at this point.


Monday, September 06, 2021

Reader's Diary #2233- Thomas Hill: Painting No. 91

In Thomas Hill's flash fiction "Painting No. 1" a man who has become financially wealthy in adulthood has finally realized his dream of owning 100 paintings. He tells the story of how one in particular, the one that stands out from the others as the work of an amateur, means the most to him. More than the work itself, it's a connection he felt to the artist.

I quite enjoyed it and though he doesn't quite, can't quite, articulate exactly why the artist's story resonates so much with him, it's nonetheless relatable. We all like a piece of art (a poem, a song, a movie, etc) that we know is objectively bad, those supposed "guilty pleasures," that for whatever reasons hit us personally. 

Friday, September 03, 2021

Reader's Diary #2232- Sina Grace (writer), Derek Charm (artist): Jughead's Time Police

I'm not familiar with all of the comics that the recent Loki TV series pulled from, but after reading Sina Grace's first volume of Jughead's Time Police, I'd not be surprised if those comics were also an inspiration. Despite a more lighthearted Archie Comics approach (it begins with Jughead upset that he lost a pie baking competition after all), the story is shockingly similar to Loki

Confronted with alternate timelines that need to be erased according to the Time Police, Jughead encounters variants, awesomely drawn like past versions of himself- including Werewolf Jughead and even the Riverdale TV series character. 

It's fun, heartfelt, and full of wild sci-fi adventure.


Monday, August 30, 2021

Reader's Diary #2231 - Bobbie Ann Mason: Shiloh

 Poor Leroy. 

The protagonist of Bobbie Ann Mason's short story "Shilo" finds himself at home, permanently, after a work injury cut short his truck driving career. He's trying to refocus, discovering new interests and hobbies, and for the most part, I would say, making the best of a bad situation.

That said, it's also an adjustment for his wife who isn't as used to having him around. 

It's one of those depressing, realistic slice of life stories. Yet, for all that, I see it as having a hint of hope. Finding oneself isn't necessarily bad on its own, it's just unfortunate when others get caught in the wake. 

Friday, August 27, 2021

Reader's Diary #2230 - Ed Brisson (writer), Jonas Scharf (artist): Avengers of the Wasteland

 

I've often complained that Marvel (and DC) don't let superheroes die and yet continually add new characters, leaving the world completely overstuffed and overpowered. So, the Wastelands world (which you may be familiar with through the Old Man Logan comics or Logan movie) is right up my alley. 

Set in a post-apocalyptic world where the Red Skull had won and most superheroes were killed off, there are only a few stragglers left and they're mostly amateurs, descendants of the old guard, folks who found and made use of old superhero tech, and the like. 

But setting and premise are just two (albeit important) components. Fortunately, this particular story also has a great, action filled plot (they have to take on Dr. Doom, who unfortunately was a survivor) and that perfect Marvel blend of humor, flawed heroes, and hints of higher ideals. 


Monday, August 23, 2021

Reader's Diary #2229- Jarrad Saul: Bubble Gum

 Jarrad Saul's flash fiction "Bubble Gum" could just as easily be called a prose poem if we're in need of labels, as it takes a surreal look at a person falling for someone, described as being happily consumed by them. It's funny that the narrator states that he knows nothing of poetry when clearly this is not true for the author himself. 

It's quite an artistic, fun story. 


Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Reader's Diary #2228 - Al Ewing and various artists: Loki Agent of Asgard The Complete Collection

 

After finishing the new Disney+ Loki show, I'd decided I haven't yet had enough of the character and luckily found this collection. 

From characters and plot lines, it's easy to see how true to the comics the series was. There wasn't any particularly long arc ripped off from these particular stories, but the idea of multiple versions of Loki (sadly, no crocodile Loki) was especially prevalent. 

Themes of fate vs free will ring loud here as Loki tries to redeem his past sins despite a future evil version of himself pointing out how pointless are his efforts. As in the series, he's gender-bending, mischievous, and loveable (especially in his new friendship with Verity, a character who can see through any lie). 

So it's a lot of fun with plenty of adventure, decent art, and a lot of heart. Small personal issue, and one I have more with Marvel at large, is that deaths are meaningless. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

Reader's Diary #2227- Gaius Coffey: Alone, Not Lonely

 I seem to be stumbling upon more stories written in the 2nd person lately, which is great!

In Gaius Coffey's flash fiction "Alone, Not Lonely" I'm quite enjoying some solitude. As an introvert, I can 100% feel this and it's more about appreciating a time of no pressures or distractions.

Until...


Friday, August 13, 2021

Reader's Diary #2226- Sheung-King: You Are Eating An Orange. You Are Naked.

Sheung-King's You Are Eating An Orange. You Are Naked. is the 2nd novel I've read lately in which I dislike a character more than the protagonist does. As this one's told in the 2nd person, I guess that means I dislike myself.

It's light on plot, but essentially it's an interracial love story between a Chinese man (the narrator) and a Japanese woman (the reader). I found her to be disrespectful of him, sometimes disappearing without an explanation and being vaguely insulting ("you talk weird"). She eventually seemed to lighten up, but I'm not exactly clear why. Nor am I completely understanding of why he put up with it all except for love. 

This all makes it sound like I didn't enjoy it, which isn't true. In many ways, it's beautifully written. As I've said numerous times, I quite love the 2nd person perspective. Plus, Sheung-King's sentences, like that quirky, but beautiful title, are typically brief but suffice. There's a lot of philosophizing, story-telling, and conversation here, and it reminded me a little of Before Sunrise, which came as no surprise then when that movie was referenced. I'm not sure I'd have had the patience for a longer version of the book, but at slightly over 180 pages it didn't wear out its welcome. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Reader's Diary #2225- Chuck Wendig (writer), Álvaro Sarraseca (artist): Turok Blood Hunt

Recently when I was wearing my Alpha Flight t-shirt a guy came up to me and mistook Shaman for Turok. I pride myself of knowing a lot of comics, but that one was new to me. He explained about how the character began in comics and then took on an resurgence in video games and he was problematic in both cultural appropriation and historical accuracy senses.

I went looking to see what I could find and came across the newer Dynamite series by Chuck Wendig and Álvaro Sarraseca. It was kind of smart how they dealt with the above issues. Humans living with dinosaurs is explained away as a mixup in realities and instead of being Native American, Turok is now black. He's (spoiler) merely taken the name Turok from the old character from comics that his daughter used to read.

I quite enjoyed this. Excellent world building, fast-paced action-filled story, with compelling characters and flashes of humour here and there. Plus, Álvaro Sarraseca's art is great, with a superhero comics style fitting of this universe.

Reader's Diary #2224 - Pik-Shuen Fung: Ghost Forest

Lately I've found myself lacking the interest and stamina for novels. As I always preferred them to nonfiction, this comes as a bit of a surprise. Maybe it's an age thing, but my attention wanders too much or else I fall asleep. 

Fortunately, the format of Pik-Shuen Fung's Ghost Forest made it easier for readers like me. The book is short, the chapters are short, and even the text on individual pages is broken down, arranged almost like poems at times. There wasn't enough time for my wind to grow bored. Of course, it also helped that I enjoyed the characters and plot.

The plot isn't exactly intricate (it's largely about a daughter's relationship with her father) but the circumstances were very unique and compelling to me. They're a modern family of Hong Kong immigrants to Canada, except the father stays behind to work. The family visits one another periodically and it's sometimes strained between father and daughter. At these times, the father attributes it largely due to the Canadian influence on his daughter's personality and values, but perhaps some is just a universal reality between generations, opposite gender parents, etc. I didn't particularly like the father and indeed she forgives him more readily than I probably would, but it nonetheless rings authentic. 

I quite enjoyed this book. 

Monday, August 09, 2021

Reader's Diary #2223 - Gwendolyn Saltzman: Does Your Mother Know What You're Doing?

 Gwendolyn Saltzman's flash fiction "Does Your Mother Know What You're Doing?" is a perfect blend of plot and character building, working simultaneously and in such a short space. It involves two women driving through the mountains who have just noticed that they seem to be being followed. 

As that tension builds, however, we also get glimpses into the women's backgrounds and there's more to them than you first suspect. While this story is wrapped up, their personal stories are not and they leave the imagination, delightfully, running wild. 

Monday, August 02, 2021

Reader's Diary #2222- Carmyn Effa: It Was Better to Be Prepared

Carmyn Effa's "It Was Better to Be Prepared" is wonderfully set around the turn to the 21st Century. The main character (me, I guess, as it's told from the 2nd person perspective) is especially preoccupied with Y2K's potential apocalyptic trigger. But she's also a religious fanatic, or rather from a very evangelic community. I loved this contrast, especially from an outsider mindset, it's a relatively easy culture to mock, and yet, a lot of us nonetheless also got caught up in Y2K mania. We didn't really believe it, but were also vaguely excited in a perverse way for the possibility of something major and bad to happen, to shake things up. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Reader's Diary #2221 - Dorothy Parker: Big Blonde

 Dorothy Parker's short story "Big Blonde" is depressing as hell. Then, how can a story about depression, alcoholism, and suicide be anything but?

Still, it speaks a lot about identity (the problem of defining ourselves only in relation to others) and the counterproductive way depression has historically been dealt with (cheer up!). 

It's frustrating and heartbreaking. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Reader's Diary #2220 - Hiromi Goto (writer), Ann Xu (artist): Shadow Life


Shadow Life
, by Hiromi Goto and Ann Xu, was a highly unusual graphic novel. I'd be lying if I said I understood it completely, but I'd also be lying if I said I wasn't entirely enthralled. 

It revolves Kumiko, an elderly woman who seems to be pursued by death, or at least these weird creates of death. Are they real or is the woman going senile? In any case, for most of the story no one quite knows what to believe. Also, Kumiko is determined not to let them take her away. In the end, I suppose, there's a case to be made that whether they are real in the physical sense is hardly relevant.

Kumiko is a richly developed character, and of a sort you don't often see represented in the media (older Japanese bisexual woman) with a cast of supporting characters who are unique in their own right. 

Not that it all works. The art didn't do a lot for me and occasionally I couldn't tell what a particular panel was depicting. Plus, the supernatural elements felt too weakly defined at times. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Reader's diary #2219- Conrad Williams: The Pike

 The Britishisms of Conrad Williams' short story "The Pike" were for me both its strength and downfall. I loved the vernacular in that it felt authentic, I didn't as I think it's also why I didn't quite understand the story.

It's about a man polluted in a very polluted area for a pike. He seems to have some traumatic memories involving pike and this area. And he's dying of skin cancer. But how it all ties together, the bigger meaning, the reason why the story appears in Nightmare Magazine is lost on me. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Reader's Diary #2218 - Jim Shepard: Phase Six

I don't often feel like I read to escape, but I'm not sure that Jim Shepard's Phase Six provided enough of one.

About a pandemic that begins in Greenland, it's very, very plausible. It turns out that this one is much worse, but the masks, the conspiracy theories, the politicizing, etc are all still there. I have to think Shepard had started to write this before Covid was on the scene, but still there are occasional references to the "recent" Covid disaster and these felt like late-game publishing choices, which is fine and understandable considering.

But if you're not exhausted of the pandemic and want to read about another, you could do worse than Phase Six. In addition to plausible science and society, the Greenland setting was well done as well. I mean, not having been there but having lived across Northern Canada, it comes across as accurate in any case.

Sometimes I felt the balance of character building and plot was off and by the time Shepard got back from the global scene or science and into the characters again, I was forgetting who was who. That wasn't true, however, for an eleven year old survivor named Aleq who I found endearing and tragic. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Reader's Diary #2216 - Various artists, writers: Godzilla Unnatural Disasters

Ouch, not sure where to begin with this train wreck. 

I'm intrigued by the idea of Godzilla and the other kaiju, so I thought this collection of Godzilla comics would be a good education. Honestly, besides learning of a few new names like Hedorah and Kumonga, which I could have Googled, the book was a slog.

Most stories were incomplete or barely developed at all shy of fighting scenes. The art, while inconsistent (it's a compilation from a range of writers and artists) was predominately bad. A few good premises (Godzilla goes to Dante's version of hell, Godzilla through the ages) fall very far of their intentions. You get no sense, ever, of Godzilla as a character except he's and overpowered, mindless monster. 

Obviously some were better than others but did not make the collection worth it by any means.