Saturday, April 10, 2010


By Holly Bennett
ISBN No. 978-1-55469-158-6

These days, it seems everyone is re-writing the “Twilight” phenomenon (vampire as metaphor for alienated teen) to fit either their own writing style or to take advantage of some freakish entity (werewolf, spirit, witch) that another writer re-writing the “Twilight” phenomenon hasn’t written about yet. But even with that furious flurry of opportunistic publishing “ShapeShifter” is a standout. For starters, the book announces immediately that it intends to be different than the usual Sorcerer fare by declaring its love of Irish mythology in the Preface (nicely augmented by an old map of Ireland on the opposite page). This gives the goings-on (mythology purist alert: Bennett also includes a “version of the ancient legend” upon which she bases her story) a kind of Book of Kells curiosity and credibility. (It also gives the book an academic pedigree that parents will appreciate.) The “ShapeShifter” of the title is a Sive, a young woman discovering her powers of transformation in The Otherworld. But when she becomes a deer she becomes prey to all of the figurative and metaphoric evil around her. As for what happens next, it involves the struggle for Sive’s soul between a strong, strapping hero of Irish legend and an evil entity known only as [shudder] the Dark Man. As far as books about tween mythology go (the book is recommended for readers aged 12 years and up) “ShapeShifter” has an awful lot going for it. The story is compelling, the characters involving, the plot twists make sense, and the suspense is really, really suspenseful.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

“Walt and Skeezix 1927 & 1928”

By Frank O. King
ISBN No. 978-1-897299-39-5

Pity the comic strip. They’re rarely taken seriously, relegated to the crosswords page, and in colour only once a week. Even worse for the cartoonist, there’s no way to tell if your strip is a keeper, one that people will remember long after the newspaper’s gone into the recycle box. Is it any wonder that Gary Larson and Bill Watterson stopped writing, respectively, “The Far Side” and “Calvin and Hobbes” at the height of their success? Smart guys: they wanted to know how much their work was appreciated while they were alive and bask in the glow of adulation. Put another way, not every cartoonist has a strip as epic, far-reaching, as definitive, as “Gasoline Alley” in him.
Whereas the stories in the previous three volumes of that comic strip were mostly about the daily life in a Mayberry Farm-ish community (who got a flat tire? who needs a cup of sugar?) the main plotline driving this fourth volume of strips, reflecting the political climate of the day, has new father Walt wondering if his adopted son, Skeezix, is a descendent of Europeans. Yes, Europeans.
Now obviously the main appeal of “Walt and Skeezix 1927 & 1928” is its historical value. That’s why there’s a “1927 & 1928” right there in the title. I mean, we’re talking about a comic strip that’s as old as five Jonas Brothers or two Osmonds. Remember when Bill Paxton tells us we’re looking at a piece of paper that’s been underwater for 80 years? It’s pretty much the same thing. And like “Titanic” the story telling in these strips is as engrossing as it is revealing. The problem with reviewing a book like this is that no single synopsis can convey the depth and affection that King invests in his characters. (Even better is the inclusion of a Frank King family album, full of drawings, picnics, old houses; the worthwhile morality stuff. Sigh… “epic” – so overused in computer-generated movies these days - is the only word for it.) The Gasoline Alley strips have the socio-political weight to tell us about the kind of people we were back then – and where we’re headed.
In “Fahrenheit 451” Ray Bradbury imagined a futuristic society that burned books and banned reading. The idea seems as preposterous now as it did when the book was first published in 1953. But the truth is today’s texters have had books on a simmer for years; slowly euthanizing one consonant after another (hey, when your tweets are limited to 140 characters something has to go). In such an environment is it possible that these exhaustively detailed volumes of Gasoline Alley comic strips might someday take the place of “Little Women” and “Jude the Obscure” in high school classrooms? Are these comic strips the new “fiction” – plot-driven, metaphor-heavy, and above all, accessible?


By Christine Wunnicke (Translated by David Miller)
ISBN No. 978-1-55152-344-6

First things first, this is not a sequel to “Brokeback Mountain.” An homage maybe, but not a sequel. There are similarities, of course. Both books are slender, written by women, take the name of a place for their title, and are about gay cowboys in the American Midwest. After that, they’re completely and totally different books. Sort of.
Whereas “Brokeback Mountain” was set in the 1960s, “Missouri” takes place in the wild west of the 19th century. And whereas ‘Brokeback’ began with a sad memory, “Missouri” begins with a makeover. Yes, a makeover. Here, Douglas, a poet and intellectual sodomite of Oscar Wilde dimensions has come to cool his heels and change his hair colour after a nasty bit of scandal has driven him from England. Things look bleak in this drab little town of landmarks with hee-hee names like Bone Bank and Wabash River and New Harmony. That is, until Douglas fulfills every sex tourist’s dream by being both robbed and taken hostage by a scruffy, young outlaw by the name of Joshua. I’m not giving anything away when I say that the two men click because that’s what it says they do on the book’s back jacket (well, actually a bit more poetically: “a remarkable secret is revealed, these two very different men grow closer”) or that their relationship is threatened when Douglas’s brother tries to save him from his uncivilized surroundings (or as the book jacket says: ”Douglas’s brother tries to ‘save’ him from his uncivilized surroundings”). In-between all that is a love story of surprising delicacy. Still, I guess the biggest curiosity of “Missouri” is just how far the sex scenes go (one thing I won’t be giving away) which is a pity because while “Brokeback Mountain” re-wrote the Marlboro Man mythology of the old west, “Missouri” means to re-write the pop cultural mythology of “Brokeback Mountain.” Sad ending or not (and I’m not saying it is or isn’t) the characters in “Missouri” learned a lesson from ‘Brokeback.’ The result is that they all seem to know how short a life can be and that every second – especially in a book this thin – counts.