Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Reader's Diary #2044 - Various writers and artists: DC Pride 2021

Though I'm much more a fan of Marvel than DC Comics, where it comes to LGBTQ characters, I think most people acknowledge that DC Comics has historically done a better job. They tend to have more LGBT characters and started earlier. Still, they're far from perfect either. Many previous earlier examples exist where such characters were not shown positively and/or as crude stereotypes. In the Batman comics, it seems like every female character is bisexual or lesbian, but sometimes those examples seemed to have been primarily drawn and written for heterosexual men with lesbian fetishes. Still, as the world progresses slowly, so do the comics and this collection certainly celebrates and highlights that.

Unlike the similar Pride anthology by Marvel, the stories in this one feel less didactic and I so I prefer it. The stories were more engaging and told actual stories in which the characters by and large just happened to be queer, though admittedly everything is pretty low stakes. I liked hearing of some characters I hadn't heard of before, like Lobo's daughter Crush and Jess Chambers, a female Flash (I've often wondered why all the speedsters in comics seemed to be male) but I also was glad to see more recognizable names that are out: Batwoman, Harley Quinn, and Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern. Notably though, bisexual Wonder Woman was missing for some reason.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Reader's Diary #2043 - Eric Heidle: At Jackson Creek

 I love the word choice and scene painting in Eric Heidle's "At Jackson Creek." I didn't get all of it, but it's clear it's a world the author knows well and it felt authentic.

It also oozed mood, with melancholy and eventually a hint of danger. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Reader's Diary #2042- Chris Schweizer (writer), Joe Flood (illustrator): Pirates of the Caribbean Beyond Port Royal

One of the more fun details Watchmen was that in a world of superheroes, the most popular comic books were actually about pirates. I get the appeal of pirates and so a comic based on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise seemed like a sure fire win.

I don't know that this one was groundbreaking or found a huge fan base, but it was fun enough.

I feel they captured the energy, humour, and essence of those tales and of Jack Sparrow. Sometimes that worked slightly against the comic as Sparrow can be a bit wordy and an overly talky panel throws off the balance. But only slightly.

Joe Flood's art complements the story well with loose linework and expressive characters.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Reader's Diary #2041 - Franz Kafka: Give It Up

 Franz Kafka's flash fiction "Give It Up" is an off-putting little story. It deals with a weird response to a simple question, but even more bizarre considering as it comes from someone in authority.

Still, Kafka has managed to establish a believable, otherwise mundane scene in a very short space.

Thursday, September 08, 2022

Reader's Diary #2040 - Natalie Meisner: Legislating Love The Everett Klippert Story

For those not in the know, Everett Klippert, the subject of Natalie Meisner's play Legislating Love was the last person in Canada charged for "gross indecency" after confessing to consensual homosexual relations in Pine Point, Northwest Territories. His conviction made national headlines, prompted then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to state that "there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation" and led to homosexual acts between consenting adults finally being decriminalized. Unfortunately, however, Klippert still spent another two years in prison. 

As a bit of an aside, the summary on the back of the book refers to Klippert as "the last Canadian man jailed for simply being gay." When Klippert died, it should be noted, he was married to a woman. Could it have been a marriage of convenience? Absolutely. But while Klippert tended to avoid the spotlight and causes, he was also pretty honest about his same sex attraction, so he had to realize that his marriage to a woman didn't make people forget that. As I'm rather sensitive to bi-erasure, I'd like to throw out the possibility that he wasn't gay but bisexual. 

Nevertheless, I loved Meisner's play. Despite it being largely set in Calgary, I hope to see it performed in the NWT someday, given the importance of the subject matter and the connection to the territory. If it's ever done in Yellowknife, you can bet I'd be auditioning for the character named simply Handsome. He's full of life, poignant, and to me, the heart of the story. He's also hilarious as hell.

I wasn't sure at first about the frame story. Basically a university student named Maxine is researching Klippert's life; which sounds kind of weak as a premise. However, as the play dives into her life (she is a lesbian and dating a Metis woman named Tonya), we see the impact of Klippert and Handsome on her own perspective and the play becomes so much richer. Also, and perhaps the most fascinating aspect, Klippert is on stage throughout as a bit of a flashback scene, though he sometimes may react subtly to the present day happenings, providing powerful themes about history itself and how the present day works almost retroactively to affect the past.

Monday, September 05, 2022

Reader's Diary #2039 - Andrea Barton: His Frosty Companion

In her short story, "His Frosty Companion," Andrea Barton does an excellent job of capturing the beauty of the northern lights as well as instilling a creepy tone in a story that owes a lot of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart."

One small critique is that it's clearly set in winter and yet the birch trees are described as still having their leaves.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Reader's Diary #2038 - Robert Bowerman: Bear

 There's something kind of old-fashioned about Robert Bowerman's short story "Bear." It's not a criticism, and in fact, I found the traditionally straightforward narrative, the simple theme (more to a man than his size, or even his past deeds), to be quite cozy. 

This isn't to suggest there aren't any uncomfortable truths or dangerous images, as there surely are, but there's nothing particularly experimental in the writing and to be honest, I felt the story was stronger for it. I like creative storytelling sometimes, but I was feeling this one.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Reader's Diary #2037 - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld (writers), Joshua Cassara (artist): Mycroft Holmes and the Apocalypse Handbook

Reading a book written by a celebrity is always a bit of a crap shoot. On the one hand, you know it has to be easier for them to get published; they have name recognition, but that doesn't mean they can necessarily write well. At least those in the arts have the benefit of a doubt that the book will at least be creative, but today I'm talking about Kareen Abdul-Jabbar the freaking basketball player.

However, I know his Mycroft Holmes novels are very respected and have quite a fan following, so clearly he's a man of many talents. I'm also happy to report that these stories make for great graphic novels as well. 

Mycroft Holmes and the Apocalypse Handbook is a fun, action-filled, adventure with hints of sex, humour, and steampunk. Like his more famous brother, Mycroft is also a super detective though that part doesn't work seamlessly. I certainly enjoyed seeing how observant Mycroft is, what a great reader of character, but often the clues were ones that were never revealed to us readers in the first place and my favourite detective stories are ones where we're invited to play along. Still, I enjoyed this book a lot overall.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Reader's Diary #2036 - Kate Harrad (editor): Claiming the B in LGBT / Illuminating the Bisexual Narrative

The third nonfiction book about bisexuality I've read in the past 2 months (the others being Lois Shearing's Bi The Way: The Bisexual Guide to Life and Julia Shaw's Bi: The Hidden Culture, History, and Science of Bisexuality), it's impossible for me not to compare the three.

While I enjoyed all three, there's a lot of understandable overlap and I think I'll take a break before reading another on the topic. Of the three, I'd argue that Claiming the B in LGBT: Illuminating the Bisexual Narrative is the most thorough. It's also got the highest page count, so that's not entirely surprising. With entire chapters on some intersectionality topics (Bisexual and Disabled, Bisexuals of Color), the others devoted less time. I would like to see a bisexuality book that addresses Indigenous bisexuals, but as these 3 books all came from the UK and had primarily a UK focus, it wasn't entirely shocking to not see them included. Claiming the B in LGBT also includes chapters on bisexuality across the lifespan, faith, allies, and activism. 

While the tone was largely casual and easy to read, it was perhaps more inconsistent than the other two books, likely as it was an edited anthology from contributors rather than written by a singular voice. Still, this wasn't an issue. 

Monday, August 22, 2022

Reader's Diary #2035 - Shih-Li Kow: Fried Rice

 The sci-fi element in Shih-Li Kow's flash fiction "Fried Rice" is pretty low key, but not irrelevant. It's about a robot that preps and cooks meals but cannot get it right according to the robot's owner who is trying to fried rice like that his wife used to make. 

Thematically though it's about finding beauty and love in imperfections. It's quite a charming story.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The 16th Canadian Book Challenge

 I'm behind signing up by more than a month, but I'm in again! Check out the sign-up post here; it's not too late! 

Monday, August 15, 2022

Reader's Diary #2034 - Ann Cavlovic: Stan's House

 In Ann Cavlovic's short story "Stan's House" we see a woman named Sohki who is trying to convince the titular character to move out of his longtime home. His house is built on a floodplain, and as climate change has meant more and more flooding, the government really wants him to move.

I enjoyed the premise, but there were a few things I wasn't clear about in the story (a bit about carbon nanofibers seemed undeveloped, the ending was a bit vague). I think we're supposed to feel that Sohki and Stan wound up understanding one another a little better, but I wasn't really feeling it.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Reader's Diary #2033 - Various writers and artists: Marvel Voices Pride

There's an interview with former Marvel associate editor Chris Cooper in Marvel Voices: Pride in which he discusses when the superhero Northstar came out in 1992. While Cooper acknowledges that that DC Comics, as well as independent comics, had had openly gay characters before, it was still a huge deal. Northstar (who is Canadian) was also the first Marvel character to have a same-sex wedding. That  comic is one of many anthologized for this collection. Other stories involve other superheroes from the LGBTQIA+ spectrum that have appeared in Northstar's wake.

The better stories in the anthology are the ones that were taken from previously published comics of the 80's, 90's and onward. Even though they often hint at larger story arcs that were fleshed out over a few issues that obviously couldn't be included, these stories felt more organic. However, there are also a few shorts at the beginning of the collection written just for this project and while some are fine, letting the characters be gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and still telling a story, a few too many felt overly didactic. I agreed with the messages, but those were heavy handed. Fortunately, there were enough good ones as well as great essays from past LGBTQIA+ Marvel creators that made it worthwhile. I especially like the ones that discussed the subtexts in older Marvel comics, some intentional, some not, that hinted at characters being queer or promoted messages about love and acceptance.

Monday, August 08, 2022

Reader's Diary #2032- Mansi Shanburg: The Colourful Break-Up

 I loved the voice and dialogue (or rather withheld dialogue) in Mansi Shanburg's flash fiction "The Colourful Break-Up." 

It deals with a woman waiting for her girlfriend to show up, who she suspects (correctly) is planning to break up with her.

However, the narrator finds a way to keep her dignity in this moment, even managing to convince herself somewhat, that this is all ideal.

It's amusing and empowering, even if there's pain below the surface.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Reader's Diary #2031 - Lois Shearing: Bi The Way

I suppose reading two books about bisexuality right after one another, it's only natural to compare them. And to be sure, Lois Shearing's Bi the Way: The Bisexual Guide to Life does have a lot in common with Julia Shaw's Bi: The Hidden Culture, History, and Science of Bisexuality. But just like no two bisexuals are exactly alike, nor are these.

Oddly, it's not that one is a guidebook and the other isn't. In fact, despite the subtitle, I'd hardly classify Lois Shearing's a guidebook at all. I suppose I was disappointed a little in that, but to be fair, it's not like there even could be any firm rules or prescriptions for being bi. Really, there's just a lot of background and context for bi's to consider, much of which is also covered in the aforementioned Shaw book. For instance, I've yet to encounter any unacceptance because I'm very new on the scene, but it was somewhat alarming to hear how many supposed LGBTQ groups aren't actually that accepting of bi people. I will approach cautiously!

My only other issue with Shearing's book is the constant references to what will come in later chapters (ex. "we'll discuss this in more depth in the next chapter"), or once you pass the halfway mark, references to what was already discussed (ex. "as we saw in chapter six). They just became tedious and distracting and I wished an editor had advised just to leave them out altogether. Otherwise, the writing is very accessible, friendly, and well-researched.

Like Shaw's book, it's pretty comprehensive, though I do look forward to reading a bisexuality book written specifically for men. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Reader's Diary #2030 - Souvankham Thammavongsa: How to Pronounce Knife

Winner of, and nominated for, a bunch of literary awards, Souvankham Thammavongsa's short story collection How to Pronounce Knife was nowhere near as pretentious as I thought it might be.

It's downright funny at times and always entertaining, even though thematically there's a lot of darkness and pain. There are also these brief, beautifully poignant insights that snuck up on me.

It's mostly about immigrants, or 2nd generation Canadians, from Laos. Those cultural tidbits were fascinating and educational, but I was able to relate to the lower/middle class, blue-collar world. Some of the specifics were different, yet I grew up in that world of hard labour.

My favourite in the collection was "Randy Travis." Trying not to give anything away, never would I have predicted that someone becoming a great singer could be perceived as a tragedy.

Monday, August 01, 2022

Reader's Diary #2029 - Carrie Mackillop: Rainy Wedding

 "Rainy Wedding," by Carrie Mackillop, is a tragic tale, but not as you might expect due to a rained out wedding.

It's about a young dying boy whose mother visits him daily and tells him about a new year in the life he would have led. It's very creative, as is the level of detail the mother puts into her stories. Despite the obviously sad overtones, there's also a certain beauty.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Reader's Diary #2028- Matt Owens (writer) and Juann Cabal (artist): Elektra Always Bet on Red

I like Marvel's Elektra character. Still, I realize she's never exactly been a top-tier character. Getting her own limited series maybe was an attempt to push her more to the spotlight, or perhaps to test the waters if there was a demand. 

I don't know though that Matt Owens' Always Bet on Red made a convincing case. But I'll defend on that front by saying it was a fun series, but I don't think he was given enough access to better characters. 

If Elektra's not top-tier, her adversaries in Always Bet on Red are even less notable: Arcade, with an assist from Screwball. Just the mere mention of these and we know there aren't going to any real stakes. Elektra will escape unscathed and larger ramifications in the Marvel universe will be minimal. (There are suggestions at the end that Arcade was just creating a diversion for Kingpin, a much more impressive villain, and suggesting at least some larger picture, but I wonder if that was enough to make any readers care, coming as it did late into the run and thrown out as too much of an aside.)

Juann Cabal's art is pretty good. I especially liked his play with action across multiple panels.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Reader's Diary #2027 - Julia Shaw: Bi / The Hidden Culture, History, and Science of Bisexuality

I cannot praise Julia Shaw's Bi: The Hidden Culture, History, and Science of Bisexuality enough. It's well-researched, comprehensive, and yet told in a friendly, accessible way. I learned a great deal.

Covering a swath of bi topics from history, being closeted, bi erasure, political considerations, various forms of bisexual love, and more, it's a proud, inspiring, and thorough read. 

Her writing takes the stance that bi, is attraction (which has forms in and of itself) to the same and other genders (sort of how I view pansexuality and would probably use interchangeably, unless corrected otherwise). 

Perhaps more importantly, she dispels various myths about bisexuality by acknowledging there are many differences even within that community, but accepts and welcomes them all in a spirit of strength in numbers and ally-ship. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Reader's Diary #2026 - Mike Johnson (writer), Angel Hernandez (artist): Star Trek Green Lantern / The Spectrum War

While I'm a bit of a sucker for crossover comics, alas the silliness of the whole Green Lantern premise sabotaged my ability to enjoy the Star Trek/ Green Lantern crossover, The Spectrum War

It also didn't help that it was WAY too busy. All the Star Trek characters (from the Chris Pine as Captain Kirk era), including their rogues gallery, and all the Green Lantern characters, including their rogues gallery, was just simply too much. The story quickly became a convoluted mess.

Angel Hernandez's art is serviceable (I mean it looked like Chris Pine), but unfortunately he wasn't able to reign in any of the madness that was the story and the panels too became busy and overwhelming.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Reader's Diary #2035 - Stephen Crane: A Tent in Agony

 Plot-wise, I appreciate Stephen Crane's short story "A Tent in Agony." It's a surprisingly humorous tale about a bear attack on a campsite. 

However, some of the word choices are just bizarre, almost to the point where they don't make sense. At one point I stopped reading to see if it was just a bad translation. Nope, it was written in English. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Reader's Diary #2034 - John Einarson: Four Strong Winds

Ian and Sylvia Tyson's folk song "Four Strong Winds" is an undeniable Canadian classic. But I didn't know a lot more about them or their music before this book. Still, I've read many books about topics I didn't have great interest in before and often I've been surprisingly drawn in.

Not so much with Four Strong Winds, the biography of Ian and Sylvia Tyson. I learned a bit (their American success was news to me), even came to appreciate their musicianship. I listened to their albums as I read the book. Ultimately though, I found it to be a bit of a dull affair and it became a struggle to finish after a while. 

One odd annoyance? The constant references to their attractiveness. Good lord that was weird and grew old fast.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Reader's Diary #2033 - Drew Payne: Late One Night in September

In Drew Payne's flash fiction "Late One Night in September" we're introduced to a young man who's steeled himself to finally come out to his mother. The tension, the stress is palpable, and we root for him. There are hints at the struggle that's gotten him here, and we know his mother is religious. 

I wish I could say it had a happy ending, but the phone call to his mom goes even worse than he anticipated. It's crushing.

But as a story, it's very evocative with rich characterization. 

Monday, July 11, 2022

Reader's Diary #3022- Naomi Kanakia: Goodwill

 Naomi Kanakia's short story "Goodwill" is full of hilarious cynicism and is also written in the 2nd person, so needless to say, I enjoyed it immensely. 

In a nutshell, it's the life of a person who tries to pick a responsible, ethical career but always seems to wind up contributing to the very ideals they rally against. But I suppose, the point is that they never stop trying. Maybe it just takes everyone else to join in to make a difference.

It reads a bit more like a parable than a typical short story, but it's too amusing to fault for being didactic. 

Monday, July 04, 2022

Reader's Diary #3021 - Clifford Beal: Shooting the Breeze

 I'm not sure if Clifford Beal's "Shooting the Breeze" owes anything to Rear Window, but plot-wise it shares enough of a similarity that I saw the ending a mile away.

That said, it was still engaging and Beal's knack for voice and setting helped sell the piece. 

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Reader's Diary #3020 - Garth Ennis (writer), Darick Robertson and Peter Snejberg (artists): The Boys Omnibus Volume One

A huge fan of the tv series The Boys, I thought it was high time I checked out the source material. Usually I like to that in the opposite order. 

This time around, however, it's probably a blessing that I hadn't. Everything about the comic seems solely about shock. And to be sure, the tv show is shocking too. But wow, the show far surpasses it by giving the characters fully developed complex personalities. Plus the show explores themes of uncontrolled power, the corruption of power, and so on. The comic is a juvenile mess. Had I read it first, I'd not have bothered with the show.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Reader's Diary #3019 - Susan J. Liddle: Canada Day Confusion

Susan J. Liddle's short story "Canada Day Confusion" is wayyyy too didactic. It serves to highlight, in a style that seems aimed at younger readers, why most Canadians these days have complex and torn feelings about celebrating Canada Day. She covers the topic well, for sure, but it doesn't come across as an authentic story.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Reader's Diary #3018 - Zachary Phillips: Confess

 Zachary Phillips' short story "Confess" comes with a trigger warning. I get why it was necessary, but I can't help but wonder what the impact of the story would have been without it.

There's a Black Mirror episode where there's a young man who's being blackmailed and for most of the episode you feel sorry for him. Then a reveal at the end indicates that he's not as innocent as we first thought and the viewers must reconcile there previous sympathy against this new information. The result is a great philosophical struggle about justice. 

With "Confess" however, and pretty much knowing where it's going because of the trigger warning, it was hard to feel sympathy from the get-go. Super well-written though!

Monday, June 13, 2022

Reader's Diary #3017 - Genia Blum: Stench of the Reptile

Genia Blum's short story "Stench of the Reptile" is a fascinating story in it's use of lizard people as a metaphor. For what? I'm not entirely sure yet, but early indications suggest it's for "the other woman," a dehumanizing of women who sleep with other women's men, directing anger upon them rather than the men themselves. But it would take a few more reads to confirm and to decide whether or not the metaphor holds up under scrutiny. In the meantime, it's certainly an entertaining story.

Monday, June 06, 2022

Reader's Diary #3016 - Cora Sire: When Welcomed, I Bring Music

Taking the voice of a violin, Cora Sire's flash fiction "When Welcomed, I Bring Music" traces its journey through time and history, a lot of which was unpleasant.

It works as a lovely metaphor of the great cultures that immigrants bring to welcoming countries.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Reader's Diary #3015 - James Clark - Waterloo Sunrise

 With a vividly described setting, it hardly feels like the narrator in James Clark's "Waterloo Sunrise" is walking home alone but rather we're walking with her. After a night out on the town, Fay regrettably faces a long, damp walk home alone.

A chance encounter makes her understandably nervous, but fortunately it turns out okay. Then a very improbably things happens that makes her question whether or not fate or karma came into play. 

Friday, May 27, 2022

Reader's Diary #3014 - Annharte: Miskwagoode

It's been a while since I read poetry and I'm not going to lie, I struggled somewhat with Annharte's Miskwagoode

Largely it was the unusual syntax that I stumbled over. Rather than sentences, the poems came across as lists of phrases or thoughts, sometimes with obvious connections to one another, some without. Still, themes and emotions seeped through and at these times I enjoyed the creativity. Otherwise, I'll take responsibility and say that perhaps I should have spent more time with each poem in order to truly appreciate what she was trying to communicate.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Reader's Diary #314- Jeff Lemire (writer), Eduardo Risso (artist): Hit-Girl in Canada Vol. 2

Having been a few years since I read Kick-Ass, and not a particularly huge fan of the series, I had forgotten who Hit Girl was and instead wanted to read Hit Girl in Canada as Jeff Lemire's name was attached. 

In one regard, it's more a Kick-Ass sort of story. It's action-oriented and a lot of a kid being violent and swearing a lot for shock value. Not to say it's not fun, but it's not typical of Lemire. But his influence is there; there are moments when he tries to develop the characters a little and the Canadiana is over the top. All in all, a fun, but albeit a bit forgettable diversion.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Reader's Diary #3013 - Kim Newman (writer), Paul McCaffrey (artist): Anno Dracula 1895 Seven Days in Mayhem

Alternate histories, fan fiction, and steampunk are all things I feel I'd be into if I explored them more. And Kim Newman and Paul McCaffrey's Anno Dracula 1895: Seven Days in Mayhem promises hints of all those. Unfortunately, it left me a little flat.

Set in a world and time when Dracula had taken over Britain, the story sees two underground groups who are set on taking the evil vampire dictator down. Both groups, and even members, have their own reasons for wishing to do so, some of which aren't as noble as one might expect. Solid premise.

Alas, the story doesn't get resolved and the over-abundance of characters makes it confusing and hard to root for anyone in particular. Apparently the comic is an off-shoot of a much more successful series of novels by Kim Newman, and the comic at least stirred my interest enough to consider reading those sometime down the road.

Paul McCaffrey's art is serviceable with a style similar to a lot of superhero comics and beautifully coloured by Kevin Enhart. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Reader's Diary #3012- Cole Pauls: Pizza Punks Collection


After Macauly Culkin disappeared from the public eye for a while, naturally people began to wonder what he'd been up to. I don't think anyone predicted that he'd be in a punk band doing pizza-based parodies of the Velvet Underground. As amusing as that sounds, you know the novelty would quickly wear off.

Unless you're Cole Pauls who seems think the mere idea of pizza is sufficiently entertaining for a comic strip. Or several hundred comic strips.

Yeah, I didn't get this one. I'm all for weird. But man, the Pizza Punks Collection is simultaneously too much and too little.

It's a real shame as I loved his Dakwakada Warriors. Culled from zines, the best I can say about this collection is that it has a style and the energy of underground comics. But the pizza fixation grows old fast, not funny, not poignant, not anything.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Reader's Diary #3011- A.M. Howcroft: All This Could Be Yours

 The voice in A.M. Howcroft's short story "All This Could Be Yours" is very scientific. It's an interesting choice, and I'm not sure that it serves the story, but I at least like a strongly define voice. 

The story otherwise has a parable/fantasy vibe, with a message about (I think!) getting lost in an obsession or project and then moving on. I'd probably need to read it a few times, but points for being different for sure.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Reader's Diary #3010- Neil Gaiman (writer), Colleen Doran (artist): Chivalry

While Neil Gaiman can often bring the dark, Chivalry brings the charm. 

A short story adapted into a comic by Colleen Doran, Chivalry follows an elderly British widow who buys the Holy Grail at a second hand store because she thinks it'll look nice on her mantle. 

Before long, however, a knight, straight from the days and legends of King Arthur, visits and hopes to convince the woman to give it to him. The relationship they build is sweet and gentle, like a grandmother and adult grandson, and the absurdity of the situation is never treated as such. 

Managing to embrace both the warmth of the story as well as the British fantasy/folklore vibe, Colleen Doran's detailed watercolours are stellar.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Reader's Diary #3009 - Nellie P. Strowbridge: Catherine Snow

It took me a very long time to adjust to Nellie P. Strowbridge's historical novel Catherine Snow: A Novel of the Last Woman Hanged in Newfoundland

Definitely having done her research, she uses a lot of the terminology and vocabulary that would have been used in early 1800's Newfoundland. On top of that, Strowbridge writes very descriptively. The combination therefore prevents it from being a quick read. Not that a novel should be a quick read, of course, but as I said, I had to get used to it.

Given the subtitle, one would be wise not to expect the happiest of novels. And full of misery it is. With the exception of loving her children, Catherine wasn't shown to have the greatest of lives. It's doubtful many women in Newfoundland at that time lived the most privileged of lives. It was a lot of hard labour in a very sexist, misogynistic society. Still Catherine's lot takes an even more unfortunate turn than most.

Trying not to give too much away, Strowbridge takes that angle that Catherine was hanged as an innocent. Possibly. It is very evident that she wasn't represented well in court and wasn't given a fair trial. Does that mean she was actually innocent? Maybe, maybe not. Undoubtedly it was a tragedy. 

Monday, May 16, 2022

Reader's Diary #3008 - Kathy Fish: Today When I Asked You About a Couple We Knew in Canberra

 Sometimes when I can't get to sleep I'll try to remember the names of everyone I've ever met. A quick Google search tells me that estimates of the number of people the average person meets in life is anywhere between 10,000 to 80,000. It's shocking how many people we forget.

In Kathy Fish's "Today When I Asked You About a Couple We Knew in Canberra" the narrator is struggling to recall the names of the titular characters. Directed at me the reader, taking on the role of her husband, I'm of no help.

Finally it clicks into place and their names unlock even more memories of them. It ends on a lovely image that I wonder if we're suppose to compare to ourselves as a couple. In any case, it's a nice domestic story.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Reader's Diary #3007 - Jeff Lemire (writer), Greg Smallwood (artist): Moon Knight

Of all the new Marvel shows on Disney+, I feel Moon Knight garnered the most mixed reviews. Despite having some of the best acting the MCU has seen courtesy of Oscar Isaac, it seems that a lot of people just didn't get it. It was a lot to take in, I admit, but I loved it.

I'd read a collection of Moon Knight comics before but wasn't wild about it. Not surprisingly, given I'm a huge fan of Jeff Lemire, I loved this one. It's also, for what it's worth, much more aligned with what Marvel Studios did with the TV show. 

There's always a mystery about Moon Knight: who is he and what the hell is going on? But more confusingly (and more interestingly in my opinion), just as you start to put the puzzle pieces together, you start to realize that some of the pieces belong to another puzzle. And another puzzle. And another?!

Still, even if you don't figure it all out, it's fun. More importantly, and here's where Lemire's character building skills come in, we need to sense that however much fun it is for us, it's equally if not more frustrating for the character. You need to feel for him.

Complementing Lemire's emotional and action-packed story is beautiful art by Greg Smallwood and others who totally capture the madness and varying characters.

Monday, May 09, 2022

Reader's Diary #3006 - Eli Hastings: The Cell I'm In

 There's a lot of punch in the very brief story "The Cell I'm In" by Eli Hastings. It's from the perspective of a high school kid who's in a jail cell, detailing how he got there. It involves his close friend, who was a victim of bullying for being gay.

The voice is raw and emotional and it would be a great story to discuss with a group. Especially the ending. Among the many themes, I would say the idea that people fight back against their bullies, and the front the bullied are expected to put up, will be the ones that resonate with me.

Monday, May 02, 2022

Reader's Diary #3005 - Tananarive Due: Like Daughter

 I'm sure we've all that those childhood friends whose lots in life were shittier than our own (perhaps some were blessed were better ones as well, but those are the focus here). There's a lot to be explored here from a thematic point of view and in Tananarive Due's short story "Like Daughter" she does just that. 

Having been made godmother of her friend's child, she's now been asked to take over guardianship as her friend isn't doing particularly well. There's a lot of responsibility and guilt that come into play. There's also a lot of heavy themes of the cyclical nature of parenting. All of this is great.

My one quibble is with the sci-fi element. Her friend's daughter is a clone, so she sort of feels like she's about to start raising her friend. It just didn't feel necessary except that the story was rewritten to get published on a sci-fi site.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Reader's Diary #3004 - Gustavo Bondoni: Class Warfare

 "Class Warfare" by Gustavo Bondoni is a fun story about a wealthy man named Jean-Pierre Dimarche who's in an island home invaded by kidnappers.

For someone in what most of us would consider an insanely stressful situation, he seems remarkably chill. Yet, Bondoni's approach is balanced so that we're not entirely rooting for this guy either. He has about as much a reaction to his security guards being shot as he does as an expensive door being axed down.

Still it's delightfully dark and twisty.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Reader's Diary #3003 - Edward Ross: Gamish/ A Graphic History of Gaming

Not much of a gamer myself (like most kids from my generation I was into Super Mario Brothers, my wife and I still play Dr. Mario after suppers as a sort of routine, and I dabble with simple game apps now and then, but that's it), I wasn't sure how into Edward Ross's Gamish: A Graphic History of Gaming I'd be. However, I've read nonfiction books on other topics I'd only had a passing interest in before, and like the better ones (Salt by Mark Kurlansky, for example), Ross's book also won me over.

Gamish is very well researched and it's amazing how much he fits into a mere 200 pages, most of which are drawn. All without making the book come across as a simple listing of facts. He traces the history of gaming, from the very idea of play, board games, to the present day of video games. He gets into the psychology, art, and science of it all. All while he's clearly a gamer himself and enthusiastic about the medium, he doesn't shy away from controversial topics like addiction, violence, racism, and misogyny, offering a very fair balance and perspective. I was never bored for a minute.

The art is easily accessible and uses fantasy to compliment the theme and drive certain points home. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Reader's Diary #3002 - Ruth Rendell: Never Sleep in a Bed Facing a Mirror

I've read similar flash fiction to Ruth Rendell's flash fiction "Never Sleep in a Bed Facing a Mirror" but that doesn't mean I like it any less.

The dark, about to fall asleep and put yourself in such a vulnerable state, it's the perfect setting for a horror story. All the better if you can get to the good scares efficiently. 

Monday, April 11, 2022

Reader's Diary #3001 - Elliott Holt: Picnic, Lightning

 Haven't read a good Oulipo story in a while, but I'm a firm believer that creativity thrives where there's oppression, even if the rules are arbitrary. I won't say the rule is is Elliott Holt's "Picnic, Lightning" as it's more fun to figure it out on your own.

The story isn't so much set at a picnic, but rather an outdoor venue following a concert. An unexpected rainstorm has rolled in and people rush to clear out much faster than perhaps they would have otherwise. "Picnic, Lightning" is superbly paced mirroring the sense of urgency.

Friday, April 08, 2022

Reader's Diary #3000 - Mark Verheiden (writer), John Bolton (artist): The Evil Dead

It wasn't actually that long ago that I saw The Evil Dead for the first time. I liked it enough, as well as the remake, so a comic based on the movie seemed like a easy win. 

But it was basically the exact same story. Supposedly there are a few scenes added in here or there, but I hardly noticed. They certainly don't add anything. 

As for the art? According to Mark Verheiden he was super pleased with John Bolton's art because he wanted something that looked like the movie. I guess that's true, but it's painted like it was run through one of those apps that "make your portrait look like a work of art." And if I just wanted a rehash of the movie, I'd re-watch the movie. 

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Reader's Diary #2299- Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray (writers), Eduardo Pansica and Julio Ferreira (artists): Luke Fox Batwing

Always interested in reading about a new superhero, Luke Fox's Batwing character has underwhelmed me as of yet. I haven't completely written him off, but it'll probably take a different writing team to convince me to try his comics again.

For the unfamiliar, Batman has essentially franchised out his image and technology, and entrusted a young black man named Luke Fox (who's also the son of Wayne Enterprise manager, Lucius Fox- though he's unaware of his son's new role). Batwing's suit, I'll give him, is actually cooler than Batman's and it puts him more in the league of say Iron Man or Black Panther. 

So there's some family drama which should make it interesting, but it doesn't pay off much in this collection. As for the superheroics, it's all pretty much a by the numbers bunch of stories, complete with average art and a smattering of jokes that don't land.

I also can't help but wonder if the character wouldn't be more interesting if he broke off from Batman and Gotham altogether, reworked the suit into a whole new bat-less identity. Then, I've never been much of a Batman fan.

Monday, April 04, 2022

Reader's Diary #2298 - Kelly Pells: A Short Story for Spring

 We finally hit positive temperatures again today. And while there's still a ton of snow around, a far cry from the spring described in Kelly Pells' "A Short Story for Spring," the happy, optimistic mood she captures is just the same.

In this story a woman has returned home and awakes, momentarily forgetting where she is, but upon realizing it, takes the pleasant spring weather to revisit a place outside that was her childhood refuge. I have such a place and can relate entirely. For now, the chaotic world is on pause.

Friday, April 01, 2022

Reader's Diary #2297 - Joe Hill: The Black Phone Stories

Originally published as 20th Century Ghosts, this collection of mostly horror stories from Joe Hill was renamed The Black Phone Stories to promote the upcoming movie starring Ethan Hawke. The marketing must have worked as that's totally why I picked it up. 

I'm left a little anxious about the film though. The story is super short, and while I quite enjoyed it, there's definitely not enough there for a whole movie. And if cinematic adaptations of Stephen King's (Joe Hill's father) short stories has taught us anything, it's that the likelihood of pulling it off is at best a crap shoot.

Anyway, speaking of King, I'm sure Joe Hill must hate comparisons to his father but honestly I think I'd be making them for this book even if the two authors were completely unrelated. Hill captures the same great qualities that I love about King's better books and short stories: grounded, realistic characters, great atmosphere and build-up, slight doses of nostalgia, and of course a whole lot of dark imagination. As in most collections, some stories are better than others. Some feel undercooked, etc. However, the majority here are gems.

So, even if the movie doesn't wind up working, the book is worth it.