Today I Read…Is It Canon?

Image result for is it canon book cover peter chiykowskiToday I read Is It Canon? A Rock, Paper, Cynic Collection by Peter Chiykowski and Aaron Lenk.

A follow-up to The H.M.S. Bad IdeaIs It Canon? has yet more nerdy-pop culture jokes, this time with more Deadpool, because everything need more Deadpool. Because Deadpool.

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I always enjoy Peter’s work, so I was happy to pick up his newest volume (ok, this was a while ago, I did mention that I’m behind on my reviews right?). Honestly, my review for the first book still applies to this new collection. It makes you smile. There’s something here for every type of nerd, so check out the webcomic and lose a few hours clicking on random comics. Which I definitely didn’t do while writing this…

Also, Deadpool!
In this comic, Deadpool, the Merc with the Mouth, looks clickbait straight in the eye by dressing up in every Disney Princess costume

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Today I Read…The Con Artist

Image result for the con artist fred van lenteToday I read The Con Artist by Fred Van Lente, with illustrations by Tom Fowler.

Comic book artist Mike M isn’t having the greatest Comic Con. His friend and mentor just died, after Mike flew out specifically to present him with a lifetime achievement award. But on the bright side, the jerk editor who slept with his wife is also dead, murdered on the steps of the convention center at midnight right before some cosplayers who were trying to set a world record for the most fans dressed as characters from Dante’s Fire were trying to take their picture. I mean, it’s not great that he’s dead, but he really was a jerk and there isn’t exactly, well, anyone, who’s sorry he’s dead. Including his boss.

On the less bright side, the cops think that Mike killed him. This is really putting a damper on his weekend. How’s a guy supposed to draw commissions with his hands cuffed together?

It’s up to Mike to clear his name and figure out who really killed the editor. And deal with his ex-wife. And find his friend’s missing art. And find the pedal cab driver dressed like Lara Croft. And try not to backstab once-removed the pregnant fellow artist. And watch out for the potentially unstable one-armed fangirl.

This is one exclusive experience Mike doesn’t want to stand in line for…

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This review copy was courtesy of Lahring Tribe from Penguin Random House Canada, who was kind enough to send me a copy after I told her how much I love the cover at a library conference. Which I do, it’s adorable, like someone killed a Funko Pop on a staircase full of con exclusives.

I’m a con-running fangirl, though I’ve never attended San Diego Comic Con (one day though, when I have things like vacation days and money…) This book is definitely aimed at people like me, who will recognize the people and shows and situations at least enough to understand the world that Mike is living in, because a con really is it’s own world. Mike’s situation of basically living at cons year-round sounds odd, but I can see how it would work, if you’re willing to live out of your suitcase 365. The con schedule is pretty set, especially for the big ones, it’s year-round these days, and it’s all cash. The setting and the characters are the strong points of this novel, because yes some fans really are that weird (I mean this with affection). Van Lente does a good job of describing the experience of a con from the perspective of someone who works it, as opposed to an attendee.

Unfortunately, the plot isn’t as strong. The murder mystery is missing, well, the mystery part. Mike is suspected of murder by the cops, and he’s trying to clear his name, but he’s a lousy detective. For the reader to follow along with a mystery, you need to sprinkle in your suspects and clues throughout the book, and most of them just get plopped in closer to the end. Everything gets explained without giving the character or the reader the chance to try to figure it out. You don’t suspect the bad guy because he isn’t there to suspect for most of the book.

The interior art is a nice touch, since Mike is constantly sketching out what’s happening. It’s his way of making sense of things and sorting out his thoughts, but it doesn’t add to the mystery aspect, since even on review again afterward I still don’t see any clues in the pictures.

While I enjoy the character of Violent Violet, the one-armed fangirl desperate to meet the creator of her favorite character (her one-armed post-apocalyptic female wrestler namesake), and I would really like a deeper look at fan identification with characters and the creation of diverse characters that people connect with, the one thing I didn’t like is the typical American reliance on guns to save the day. Seriously? Do you people not learn? It’s sheer laziness to just shoot the bad guy, and it’s an Only In America ending.

Nerds, take a look for the con aspects, but mystery fans take a pass.

Today I Read…Chicken Butt’s Back!

Image result for chicken butt's backToday I read Chicken Butt’s Back! by Erica S. Perl, illustrated by Henry Cole.

Hey Mom, guess what?

Is it chicken butt?

No…

Okay, what?

DEER BUTT!

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So, remember when I got Tiny Niece Chicken Butt ? I kinda accidentally got her in trouble at school. She brought it in to show her class, and her teacher read it to everyone and they all loved it. Apparently the lunch room monitor, however, did not love it, and she sent my little 5 year old niece to the principal over a picture book. That the teacher and her librarian auntie approved of. So clearly, now that she’s going in to Grade One, I had to get her the sequel because her love of reading (and her knowledge that I am the Cool Auntie) is much more important that some random woman’s censorship.

Also, it’s a fun book.

This time, the kid is at the grocery store with Mom, who is clearly wise to the ways of the Chicken Butt. But she just can’t defend against the Deer Butt, Cat Butt, Witch Butt, Bear Butt, and of course…No, I’ll let you find out for yourself.

That said, it’s also a good instructor in homonyms and homophones, using the same callback style as Chicken Butt. Be sure to point out Henry Cole’s clever illustrations, specifically the signs and products at the grocery store. Keep your eye out for “Deer-ly Beloved Maple Syrup, syrup you’ll FAWN over” and “Tail-y Ho! Cat Food.”

Now, off to give her her present!

Today I Read…The Phantom of the Opera (with special guest stars the Muppets)

Image result for the muppets phantom of the operaToday I read The Muppets Meet the Classics: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux and Erik Forrest Jackson, illustrated by Owen Richardson.

Come, my children, and listen to a tale of love. A tale of jealousy. A tale of masks. And a tale of music.

The beautiful young ingenue, Piggy Daae. The handsome viscount, Kermit de Chagny. And the brilliant and terrifying Koozebanian of Music, who had Piggy under his spell. Between meals of course, a girl’s gotta eat. Hear the story as never told before, probably because it’s ridiculous. I mean, a pig and a frog in love? What’s next, a chicken and a blue whatever?

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I picked up this ARC at the Ontario Library Association Child & Youth Conference last fall. As every other person who grew up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, I love the Muppets. Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island are gems (especially Tim Curry’s Long John Silvers), and Muppet Wizard of Oz is…there. When I saw this one I wanted to read it.
To be honest, I think the entire concept just works better visually. The time period is a strange mashup of the early twentieth century, but with cell phones and Jet Skis. While I normally love jokes on the footnotes, with the late and much-lamented Sir Terry Pratchett being the master, they just seem to fall a little flat in this case. While Deadly is a good and terrifying figure when you see him, he’s not the most easily recognized Muppet to cast as the title character. It’s almost like there is a little too much Muppet in the book, making it unbalanced. Mashups are hard, because you have to tell the original tale while making your changes make sense and keeping your characters in character. My favourite example is the novel version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, because they take the idea seriously, of how those people with their lives and their society would react if they really loved with zombies. The movie version didn’t take it so seriously, so it just felt awkward.

I will say, I do like the art that starts each chapter. I hope they leave it in black and white for the final version, it’s wonderfully evocative and dreamy, while inserting the Muppet characters into images from the class and novel.

It does say this is the first in an intended new series, and I would be interested to see what other classics they will choose and if each one will have a different author. The Muppets as a brand have a lot of goodwill built up over the decades, and even though they don’t currently have a movie or TV show running, nostalgia is big business these days. Let’s see if they can still light the lights.

Today I read…Agent of Chaos

Image result for agent of chaos kami garciaToday I read X-Files Origins #1: Agent of Chaos by Kami Garcia.

Fox Mulder’s younger sister Samantha disappeared 5 years ago. He blames himself, and he doesn’t know how to get over it. It broke his family apart. Now he’s in a new city in a new school for his senior year of high school, and something weird is happening. Children are disappearing, and turning up dead. The disappearances remind Mulder of Samantha. Could they be linked? The cops won’t listen. It’s up to Mulder and his friends to track down the clues and find the killer before he strikes again.

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I tend to go to through phases where I get obsessed with a particular show, and through high school it was the X-Files. I loved it, even the bad episodes. I even watched the spinoff, The Lone Gunmen. Though if you want to talk real-life conspiracy theories, it premiered the spring of 2001, and the first episode was about a conspiracy by the government to hijack a plane and crash it in to the World Trade Center to start a war…

When I found out there were new X-Files books, I really wanted to read them, especially because season 11 premiered last week. I’ll save the rant about how it’s really season 10.5 and how they mistreated Scully. I enjoyed this one, and the look we got at Mulder as a teenager. We only got bits and pieces during the series. While now Mulder and Scully seem so young at the start of the show, they were both adults in the middle of their careers, had completed their educations, and had their basic personalities already established. In this book, Mulder is still in high school, still actively grieving his sister, and trying to figure out not only what happened to her, but how to forgive himself for not saving her. The fan of the show knows that he never really does, and that it becomes one of the defining moment of his life. But this book shows where he found his coping mechanism-psychology, and using his intelligence to profile serial killers and psychopaths and to stop them from hurting people, especially children like Samantha. In season 1 of the show, we see Mulder as the former golden child of the profiling department. He was considered to be one of the most gifted profilers they had, until he became obsessed with the X-Files and became damaged, as so many of his colleagues saw it. Here he learns about profiling, which was still in its infancy in 1979 where the book takes place. It is a little pat that Mulder is so naturally talented at it, but it fits with his characterization in the show.

Writing a media tie-in novel takes a particular skill, since you have to take established characters and put them in a situation you make up, and make the fans believe they would act this way and say these things. Garcia does a good job with this. This book feels like a young Fox Mulder. We also see the beginning of how his life interacts with the Syndicate, since we know they have been around for a long time, and they had something to do with Samantha’s disappearance as a way to control their father. Mulder’s friend Gimble and his paranoid father Major Winchester also introduce Mulder to conspiracy theories that may sound crazy, but may also be true. The worst character is his other friend, Phoebe Larsen, whose name recalls his dislikeable lover Phoebe Green from Oxford who we meet in season 1. They also share quite a few traits, to the point that I thought they were supposed to be the same character until I went hunting for the book character’s last name to confirm it. Phoebe is there to be the girl, and she never quite escapes that role. Then again, this is a book about Mulder, and his relationships with women can be… problematic. Again, that’s another rant.
All in all, the characters worked, the conspiracy worked, and the mystery worked. I’m not sure how many teenagers watch the X-Files these days, though it is on Netflix, and the new season is airing. This book would likely be more popular with people like me, who watched the show, as a non-fan would not get many of the references.

Today I Read… Devil’s Advocate

Image result for devil's advocate jonathan maberryToday I read X-Files Origins #2: Devil’s Advocate by Jonathan Maberry.

Dana Scully’s family had just moved to a new town, and she’s having enough trouble being the new girl again without the disturbing dreams she’s been having. Devils and angels and shadows and blood… Now she’s seeing visions even when she’s awake, of teenagers who recently died in car crashes. There have been quite a few teenage deaths lately in this small town. Must be kids doing drugs. Or is it? And why are they appearing to Dana?

There’s something going on, and it’s up to Dana, her sister Melissa, and her new friends in the science club to figure it out, since it looks like the cops some believe them.

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So, everything I just said about Mulder in Agent of Chaos? Does not apply in this book. Rather than showing us the start of Special Agent Doctor Dana Scully, Catholic, skeptic, and firm believer in science, Maberry makes her a pale shadow of her older sister Melissa, the believer. This Dana does yoga, has psychic dreams and visions, and hangs out in a New Age store. Her father is downright cold to the point of being vicious, instead of the stem but loving military father from the show, and her mother is so repressed you forget she’s there half the time, instead of being the one who helps her family together through her husband’s deployments. The only connection this Dana has to my Scully is the red hair.

Oddly enough, Maberry has actually edited at least 2 anthologies of X-Files short stories, which one would assume would give him at least a passing familiarity with the characters. The two anthologies are sitting on my to be read bookcase, so I can’t comment yet on their quality. Still, Agent of Chaos is by far the better book of the two. The Syndicate in this one is badly shoehorned in and the villain’s identity is obvious.

The two books aren’t really connected. They take place over the same few days, and they share a few locations, but they are careful never to let Mulder and Scully meet, or to have their separate stories connect. It would actually have been more interesting if they had connected in some way-why else put them both in the same small town? How many killers are there in small town Maryland are there anyway? Do the branches of the Syndicate never talk to each other?

If they publish more books, it might be interesting to keep doing them in pairs, and to show where they could have met, before they finally do meet in the basement of the FBI building. The best part of the X-Files had always been Mulder and Scully and their relationship, and it would suit their story to have their lives be a series of unknowing near-misses of meeting. Destiny or the Syndicate, you know they will meet, but what if they met before and didn’t remember-would they still grow to be the Mulder and Scully that we know and love?

Just please, learn who Scully is before writing her again. Please.

Today I read… The Slip

Image result for the slip mark sampsonToday I read The Slip by Mark Sampson.

It wasn’t that bad, was it? What I said. I mean, I got a little carried away, but everyone is making such a big deal out of it. My wife and my students and the university and the media, they’re all blowing things way out of proportion. I mean, it’s an extreme view, and I realize I was wrong to say it, but if you put it in the proper context of Western philosophical thought…wait, that’s what everyone is angry about? Shit, did I really say that?

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This was another ARC I got at the last OLA Super Conference. My backlog of both to-read and to-review is, well, let’s say those categories are separate bookcases. Not shelves. This was definitely an interesting read, especially in light of our current culture of public apologies and shaming for misbehaviour. The protagonist, Dr. Philip Sharpe, is a politically centrist philosophy professor with a specialty in ethics. While appearing on a tv spot, he says something in a heated moment about a company that recently crumbled, that he thinks everyone is angry with him about. He genuinely thinks that everyone is badly overreacting, and he ignores all online comments and attempts by the people in his life to discuss what he said. It’s not until over 200 pages and six days later when his teenage stepdaughter sits him down, plays him the video, and forces him to face what he actually said. People are not angry with him because of an abstract legal and ethical point. They are angry because what he said sounded like a rape threat against the woman he was arguing with. He didn’t mean it that way, his opponent didn’t interpret it that way, but a lot of the public did hear it that way. Philip is a very defined character- 50’s, highly educated, white, technophobic, high-functioning alcoholic, and liberal but not at all woke. He’s a little racist and a lot sexist. His 14 years younger wife is a stay-at-home mom and a writer, with a monthly column and a few failed children’s books. He is very resentful of her not working and contributing financially to the household, while he doesn’t recognize or value the work she does do in the home. Everything she does to take care of their two daughters he refers to as “motherwork,” which is a particularly irritating term, especially when she’s doing something like tending to their 3 year old who just scalded herself on a broken faucet she has asked Philip to have fixed.

This isn’t my usual style, but I did enjoy it. Well, perhaps not enjoy, but I found it very interesting. I found Philip to be dislikeable on a personal level but understandable. He has basically never had a functioning relationship of any kind with a woman in his entire life- even his mother left when he was very small- and while he’s a sexist jerk, to a degree he really doesn’t know any better. Of course, I’m also reading this from a perspective of a woman several years his junior, which is definitely not a perspective he would have ever considered. Philip is a representation of a lot of middle-aged white men who say something horrific in public who need to have it explained to them exactly what they said and why it was wrong before they understand. It depends on your own perspective if he is just stupid for not knowing, or ignorant and in need of education. One is willful, and the other is something that can be corrected with effort. Philip, being conveniently fictional, is properly aghast and genuinely remorseful when he finally understands what he said, and the reader can hope that he will be a little more aware of his words and actions and his relationships with his family and friends in the future. Shame real life isn’t always so tidy.

It is a thoughtful book that could encourage a lot of discussion. This could be a great choice for a book club that enjoys debate.

And the thing that every Canadian will be able to relate to, no matter your age, gender, or political viewpoint, is Philip’s vain attempts to keep his poppy from getting lost multiple times. The struggle is real.

Today I Read… Die Kitty Die

Today I read Die Kitty Die written by Fernando Ruiz and illustrated by Dan Parent.Image result for die kitty die

Kitty used to be the teen witch with the hottest comic around, but sales haven’t been so great lately. So the CEO of Kitty Comics has come up with a brilliant idea to generate interest and sell more Kitty comics. Kill Kitty- for real! Can Kitty survive old friends, old relatives, and worst of all old husbands? Or will Kitty die, Kitty, die?

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The cover caught my eye at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this year, and I’m glad I picked it up. This is a satire of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, drawn of course by Dan Parent who drew the Archie comics. The entire book is set up like an Archie comic, with the one page shorts, fashion pages, and silly ads of the classic series, but with a more adult, sexual, satirical bent. The most obvious example is the recurring joke of Kitty’s enormous boobs. This is a book meant for adults who grew up on Archie comics, and definitely not a book for kids. You really need to have read Archie comics comics to get the jokes, as this book is very meta. This was a Kickstarter project, but I asked them and they are planning volume 2, which I for one am planning on keeping my eye out for. This is a hilarious look at what might happen if Sabrina was real and really pissed off about how she’s been treated in her own comics. Characters can get as sick of reboots as readers, you know. Maybe comic companies need to try being a little bit nicer to their characters. After all, you might not know who you’re dealing with…

Image result for die kitty die

Today I Read… Vigilante

Image result for vigilante kady crossToday I read Vigilante by Kady Cross.

Magda is dead. She was my best friend. She was drugged and gang-raped by four of the most popular boys in school, and they filmed it, and they got away with it. She’s the one who was violated. She’s the one who was humiliated. She’s the one who got slut-shamed by everyone in town and everyone on the internet. And she’s the one who swallowed pills and died.

And me? I’m angry. I want justice. I want revenge.

Same thing, right?

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I only meant to read a couple of chapters before bed. Instead, I finished the book and started my review immediately. I picked this ARC up at the OLASC17 conference this year. As I recall, the author was supposed to be there but I think she was ill. Any way, it seemed interesting, and to be honest I’ll take just about any ARC I’m given and I’ll give it a read.

And then 2017 happened.

Pink Pussy Hat marches against the fact that a rapist was elected as the President of the United States started the year, and it ends with #metoo and the house cleaning that so many companies are finally starting to do. This book is aimed at teens, and I’m older, but I’ve heard the things that Hadley, the main character, hears. I’ve felt her rage, and her sorrow, and her sense of helplessness. Cross does a fantastic job of articulating the experience of so many- too many-#yesallwomen. It’s just that Hadley gets the satisfaction of doing something about the rapists that hurt her friend. Yes, I suppose I should be all Responsible Adult and say something about how violence is never justified, but hell you probably know that. The ending is a little bit pat- I won’t spoil it, but it is more satisfying than realistic- but all in all this is a fast, compelling read, that women from around ages 14 and up (and sadly probably under) will be able to relate to. I won’t say it’s enjoyable- did you read the summary above?!? But I will say that this is the perfect book to have come out this year.

Today I Read…Ella: a Stepmum’s Tale

Today I read Ella: a Stepmum’s Tale by J.L. Higgs. Image result for ella a stepmum's tale

Ah, the story of Cinderella. Every one knows it, right? The beautiful girl, the handsome prince, and the Wicked Stepmother who tried to keep them apart. Well, gentle viewers, this is celebrity reporter Sylvia Stark here with an exclusive interview with Charlotte Johannson Baker, the Wicked Stepmother herself, with her side of the story. You decide who is the innocent one and who is the villain.

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I was excited when I won this book from a Goodreads First Reads contest, because I love rewritten fairy tales, and I have a soft spot for the villains. I wrote a short piece defending Cinderella’s stepmother myself for a high school assignment. Unfortunately, this one just wasn’t that great, due in large part to a main character who is a complete twit. Reporter Sylvia Stark keeps claiming she is very bright and deserves to be an investigative reporter instead of a celebrity news reporter, but she misses every clue and sounds inane both on camera and off. Her asides to cameraman Stuart (who is as smart as Sylvia thinks she is) are unprofessional and annoying. Sylvia claims it is all an act, but when she’s not “acting” for the cameras she behaves exactly the same. At one point, she thinks “I try to sound as intelligent as possible.” But the next sentence is “Hey, I am blonde and beautiful so why do I need to be brainy as well?”

And as an aside, she wants us to believe that photography didn’t exist just a few years ago when she was in school, but now she can do on-location camera spots for television as a young reporter? Either understand how technology develops, or say it’s magic. As it is, the world-building is a mash-up of fairy tale and real world that just doesn’t work.

And the scene with Cinderella and the stepmother playing naked Twister is just plain weird. And that is not a euphemism or a joke.

I wish this book was better than it is, and it has an interesting premise, but it desperately needs a good editor.