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.

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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… 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…The Frog Who Croaked

The Frog Who CroakedToday I read Platypus Police Squad #1: The Frog Who Croaked by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, creator of the popular Lunch Lady graphic novels.

It’s a new day in Kalamazoo City, and hotshot rookie detective Rick Zengo is eager to strut his stuff on his first day with the Platypus Police Squad. He’s got a lot to live up to, as the grandson of the heroic Lieutenant Dailey who cleaned up the streets by putting away the notorious crime boss Frank Pandini many years ago. Too bad his first act as a police officer is to spill hot chocolate on his new partner, hard-nosed old-timer Corey O’Malley.

The new partners are assigned to a messy case down at the docks, involving a missing high school teacher and a duffel bag full of illegal fish. Zengo’s chief suspect? The city’s most beloved philanthropist, Frank Pandini Jr. Never mind that he has no proof, he knows that panda’s dirtier than the fish in the bag. He just needs to convince O’Malley, their sergeant, the mayor, and a town full of grateful residents that the panda giving them a free brand-new football stadium is a crook. Piece of cake, for a member of the Platypus Police Squad.

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This was actually an ARC I got from the 2013 OLA Super Conference, so I’ve had it waiting on my shelves for a while (yes, my to-read list really is that big). The book was published last year, and a sequel, Platypus Police Squad 2: The Ostrich Conspiracy, has since been published as well.

The interior art isn’t final, and there are several places where it’s marked Interior Art To Come. What art is included is obviously rough drafts just sketched in, but even from that I get the sense that the final art will be interesting and really add to the book.

One thing that I would have liked to have explained a little more in the text is the nature of the animals of Kalamazoo City. The world-building feels a little weak in this respect–there was one character, the police secretary Peggy, where I didn’t understand that she’s a turtle until Zengo mentions it after her second appearance, but the joke before that about her slow movements and speech isn’t funny until you know what she is. There are all sorts of animals living in the city, from anthropomorphic platypuses, frogs, lobsters, foxes, turtles, and pandas, but it almost seems irrelevant–the story mentions it so infrequently, and the different species aren’t confined to any one profession or behaviour (other than Peggy the slow turtle, who is also presented as being very old), that the characters could just as easily be human. The only world-building is directly concerned with the plot, so it seems generic. The characters mostly seem to be animals for the sake of the art and the pun in the title. And why is it the Platypus Police Squad? The only police officers we meet are platypuses, but there’s no real reason for that presented. Why can’t a fox be a police officer, or a raccoon, or a snake? Platypuses are allowed to be things other than police officers, because Zengo’s mother and father aren’t cops, so can other animals be cops even though the name of the department is the Platypus Police Squad? Yes, maybe I’m over thinking, but still.

The book is basically trying to be middle-grade hardboiled police procedural. Illegal fish are a barely veiled substitute for drugs, especially since there’s little explanation given to how illegal fish are ‘bad’ and different from legal fish. Apparently they both make people sick, and drive honest fishermen out of business, but everybody’s doing it because eating fish is a status symbol of your wealth, but the cops don’t really care? You’ve got the mismatched partners, the incompetent braggart cops, the jovial and well-respected secret crime boss, the well-meaning teacher who gets in over his head, the older partner’s daughter dating a suspect… Suddenly I’m thinking of the Lethal Weapon series crossed with 22 Jump Street with all the swearing taken out, and let me tell you, the Lethal Weapon movies without swearing just don’t work.

Honestly, I think this book would have made a better graphic novel than a novel–I get more depth and sense of the world from the loosely sketched art than from the text. I know that this is an ARC, and not a final product, and it’s an interesting idea to do such a hardboiled mystery–there are a lot of classic mystery elements that the young reader is introduced to. But the there’s no real twists to the plot, it feels a little stale and the world-building just isn’t there. It’s a decent draft–I hope the final product was more polished.