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.