Brian K. Vaughan (Saga, Y: The Last Man) tells the story of a future conflict between the United States of America and Canada. Following a terrorist rBrian K. Vaughan (Saga, Y: The Last Man) tells the story of a future conflict between the United States of America and Canada. Following a terrorist raid on the White House in 2112, Canadians find themselves on the receiving end of the United States Military’s mighty muscle as Ottawa is torn to shreds by a menagerie of missiles. Following the attack, the story then shifts twelve years into the future as the new North American landscape is revealed.
This was an interesting premise that grabbed my attention right away. A Canadian/American war set approximately three hundred years after the first (and to date only) conflict between the two nations? Yes, please. My expectations then shot sky-high after I found out that Brian K. Vaughan was behind the story.
That being said, I was disappointed when I found out that We Stand On Guard was a limited series (the entire story clocks in at a dismal 160 pages); a feeling that only became amplified after I finished the book. There’s so much going on in this world that I felt Vaughn (or even another writer if he chose to hand off the series) could have gotten so much more out of it. For example; the Canadian freedom fighters we’re introduced to are pretty one-dimensional, but interesting enough that I would love to know more about their past. I’d also have loved to have known more about the political climate around the world in reaction to the initial battle of North America. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m currently head over heels regarding The Expanse – a series that deals with the socio-political climate surrounding conflict between planets and cultures.
Due to the brevity of the story, I found it hard to really get invested in any of the deaths. Most of these characters are cardboard cutouts and seeing that this is a story about war, casualties are going to be coming fast and furious, many of which just washed over me. I wasn’t all that crazy about the art either although that likely puts me in the minority as Steve Skroce (X-Men, The Matrix) is well-regarded in his field.
Despite my grievances, I still enjoyed this. It was cool to see a few Ottawa landmarks like the Byward Market, Parliament Hill and even a Beavertails stand committed to a comic book, so it was fun if even for the novelty. I just wish there was more to it....more
Nostalgia takes place in a future where mankind has seemingly discovered immortality. As humans live longer and longer, they take on more and more menNostalgia takes place in a future where mankind has seemingly discovered immortality. As humans live longer and longer, they take on more and more mental baggage. Rather than live for decades with painful memories, humans have parts of their minds erased and replaced with fictional, more pleasant histories. Doctor Frank Sina specializes in Leaked Memory Syndrome (also known as Nostalgia), an unfortunate side effect where repressed memories bleed into newly crafted ones thus confusing the subject.
When Presley Smith begins suffering from LMS, he seeks help from Frank. Shortly after his initial meetings with Frank, Presley disappears. As Frank begins to dig deeper into Presley’s past, he uncovers a link between Presley and the nuclear-ravaged world south of the equator. The seriousness of the situation increases when representatives from the Department of Internal Security take an interest in Presley’s case citing him as “one of their own”. Undeterred, Frank continues his independent investigation putting both himself, and Presley, in grave danger.
This was a hell of an interesting plot with an excellent setting. Unfortunately, I found it suffered from poor execution. The narrative jumped around more than I cared for leaving me without focus, generally apathetic and genuinely bored. Vassanji’s protagonist isn’t all that likeable either. I’m not saying that every main character needs to gel with me or my worldview, but I found him egotistical and uninteresting. Frank was a huge reason I found the novel to be a big let-down in what I felt was a very strong premise.
I think purely for its subject matter, Nostalgia belongs with the current crop of Canada Reads finalists, but I would certainly put this behind more timely reads like The Break and The Right to be Cold....more
Madeline Ashby’s Company Town takes place in New Arcadia, a city built atop an oil rig off the east coast of Canada. Populated by technologically-augmMadeline Ashby’s Company Town takes place in New Arcadia, a city built atop an oil rig off the east coast of Canada. Populated by technologically-augmented humans with Newfoundland accents, the story follows Go-Jung Hwa, a bodyguard for legalized sex workers. When the rig is purchased by the affluent Lynch family, the aging patriarch approaches Hwa with a job offer - protect his fifteen year old son from a litany of death threats. Soon after she takes the job, a number of her friends from the sex trade begin to fall to the hand of a suspected serial killer. Can Hwa balance her new responsibilities alongside her quest to find and stop the person murdering her friends?
I haven’t had the chance to read a lot of fiction - especially sci-fi - that’s set in Canada, so this was a relatively fresh experience for me. Being from Cape Breton, the Newfoundland accent and dialect is in many ways similar to the one I grew up with, so seeing it written out in a novel was a bit jarring at first but only enhanced my enjoyment going forward.
Hwa, the novel’s protagonist, stands out in more ways than one. Born with Sturge-Weber disease, her body is partially “stained” (her words). Seeing as no technological modification would aid in her appearance and straddled with a low income making modifications economically impossible, Hwa is one of the only pure and organic citizens in New Arcadia. This makes her nearly undetectable by those with cybernetic enhancements thus making her role as a bodyguard the perfect fit. Her disease has left her with a wealth of insecurities which brings her down to earth and makes her a more relatable character. Don’t let that fool you completely though, she’s still a certified ass-kicker and she steals every scene she’s in.
It’s not like Hwa has it easy, either. The villains that Ashby created to put in her way were real bastards. Seeing as the identity of the serial killer is in the dark well up until the end, when I arrived at the conclusion, the reveal blew my mind. As much as I love figuring out the “bad guy” ahead of the main character, there’s nothing better than being wrong.
With many threads to follow, Company Town is a fast-paced read. The world-building is top-notch and the cast of characters works well to push the novel forward. Company Town is a wildly original story and a great pick for CBC’s 2017 edition of Canada Reads. I’m hoping for a strong showing from Tamara Taylor....more
The Break begins with Stella, a woman who witnesses a violent crime from her kitchen window late at night. Through alternating narratives, the authorThe Break begins with Stella, a woman who witnesses a violent crime from her kitchen window late at night. Through alternating narratives, the author takes the reader through the lives of those connected with the victim, shining a light on both the violence and struggles within Winnipeg’s North End neighborhood.
Katherena Vermette’s novel, is in a word, bleak. In saying that, it’s not an attempt to dissuade potential readers, just know that I found it tough to get through. On a positive note, while the subject matter is trying, many of the characters act as beacons of hope for a culture and crises that are often overlooked.
As horrific as it is, the crime itself is overshadowed by the circumstances that lead to its creation. It acts as almost a kindling for what the author is conveying to the reader. From the apathetic police department to the fear of interjection on the part of witnesses, a broken system is at the core of the story. Many of the characters, even the perpetrators, exist in shades of grey, something that may not sit right with those looking for justice or simple black and white alignments. Unfortunately, that is often not the world we live in. There are no easy answers and Katherena pulls no punches with the novel’s finale.
While The Break is only the second of the five Canada Reads novels I’ve read so far, I would be shocked if this didn’t take the crown at the end of the competition....more
In The Right to be Cold, Sheila Watt-Cloutier recalls her childhood in the Canadian Arctic and her fight against the threat of climate change as an adIn The Right to be Cold, Sheila Watt-Cloutier recalls her childhood in the Canadian Arctic and her fight against the threat of climate change as an adult. The author takes us through her travels to Nova Scotia and Ontario at a young age, as well as her time in a residential vocational school in Churchill, Manitoba. During her years away from home, she had lost a great deal of her culture - it would be years before she was again fluent in her mother tongue - and when she returned home, it would be a different community than the one she had left.
Watt-Cloutier tells of her battles with the KSB ( Kuujjuaq School Board) as a member of an independent task force charged with improving the education system. As her career developed, she took a position with Inuit Circumpolar Council where she began her fight to recognize climate change as a human rights issue rather than a political or economical issue. The way she explains it is that basically the Arctic acts as a sort of giant petri dish for POPs (persistent organic pollutants). As the industrialized world to the south releases more and more pollutants into the atmosphere, as the chemicals evaporate, they settle into colder climates to the north. In turn, this contaminates the air, the animals (food source) and the water. Before this was discovered, the lack of industry in the North led to the common belief that the Arctic is a pristine and unaffected ecosystem, but all the pollution from the industrialized south - from which the Northern community receives no direct economic benefit - has turned their environment into a toxic depository.
Another topic discussed, albeit briefly, is the residential school system. Canada’s a great country, right? We’re often portrayed as harmless, hockey fanatics who just can’t stop apologizing to everyone, even if we did nothing wrong. That’s why it is so shocking to look into our past and see a pretty brutal and often overlooked era in our nation’s history. The mistreatment of our indigenous population is something I had only recently been made vaguely aware of and I can guarantee you it is something I was not taught in school (side note: Canada did offer a formal apology in 2008). Sheila’s own experiences in the residential school system, while upsetting, were a walk in the park compared to those suffered by the students at the ones run by Christian missionaries - something she seems to feel a lot of guilt over.
Much of the information in here is unsettling to say the least and for that reason alone, I believe this to be an important book. It’s easy to stick your head in the sand and ignore the more unsavory aspects of our great country but Canadians should be made aware of their history, warts and all. Otherwise, we risk marginalizing the very real struggles of those who have had their culture and rights swept under the rug....more
On July 31st, 2015, Roddy Piper tragically passed away at the age of 61. Prior to his death, Roddy was writing a new book about his early years and suOn July 31st, 2015, Roddy Piper tragically passed away at the age of 61. Prior to his death, Roddy was writing a new book about his early years and subsequent career both in the ring and in Hollywood. As a tribute to their father, daughter, Ariel, and son Colton, picked up where he left off and finished his life’s story.
Although Piper had written a book years ago and had released several documentaries, I believe this is the first time he’s truthfully delved into his troubled childhood. Homeless at fifteen, Piper lived in youth hostels across the country before starting a career in wrestling. Most wrestlers seem to shoehorn their lives before wrestling into their books because they likely feel it’s necessary in telling their story. More often than not, it falls flat due to an unremarkable childhood but Roddy’s pre-wrestling life was absolutely brutal. I think it plays an important part in who he became and how he was able to achieve the level of success that he did.
Once he had enough money to buy a car, he started driving to shows and sleeping in his backseat. He would often change into his gear and stay in the car before he was due to perform as a response to how badly he had been hazed by the boys in the locker room. After getting a few years under his belt as a preliminary performer, Roddy moved on to the East Coast of Canada and performed for Emile Dupres’ International Wrestling promotion (later renamed Grand Prix Wrestling). It was really cool to learn that he wrestled one of his first matches in the old North Sydney Forum - a repurposed airplane hanger close to my hometown on Cape Breton Island.
Following his stint in the Maritimes, Piper’s travels within the territory system of the United States are then explored. From his battles with Chavo Guerrero Sr. in LA, “Playboy” Buddy Rose in Portland and Greg Valentine in North Carolina, there are plenty of hilarious and fascinating stories to sink your teeth into. More than any other time in wrestling, I love reading about this era specifically as the truth about the business was still heavily guarded. This led to the majority of crowds believing that they were watching legitimate contests. As a bad guy (or heel), Piper loved to get the crowd riled up. One of the best stories had me laughing out loud when in order to appease a heavily Mexican crowd in Los Angeles, Piper agreed to play the Mexican national anthem on his signature bagpipes. He then proceeded to play “La Cucaracha” as chairs came flying into the ring in anger from the insulted masses.
I was surprised that he doesn’t get to the WWF until about the halfway mark of the book as that is arguably where he made his biggest impact. All of his big moments are covered from the first Wrestlemania squaring off against Hulk Hogan and Mr. T to his first pinfall defeat at the hands of Bret Hart in 1992. In between his landmark achievements in the WWF, his career in Hollywood is discussed. I enjoyed the story behind the ridiculously long fist fight with Keith David in They Live but his struggle to find a meaningful follow-up to that film is heartbreaking. Roddy had such a huge presence and could have been a massive action star if he had had the right guidance.
As far as wrestling biographies go, I thought this one was one of the better ones. Ariel and Colt put a tremendous amount of work in and it shows. My only real complaint would be that his time in WCW and his return to WWE in the early 2000s were kind of glossed over but when you compare the work he did early in his career to his later years, it’s understandable to see where the focus should lie. While it’s not as good as some of the classic wrestling books out there, it’s a worthy read that fans will enjoy....more
In 99: Stories of the Game, Wayne Gretzky celebrates the 99th anniversary of the NHL by penning short stories that help to illuminate the history of tIn 99: Stories of the Game, Wayne Gretzky celebrates the 99th anniversary of the NHL by penning short stories that help to illuminate the history of the league. Intertwining his own career with that of several legendary players like Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Mark Messier and Bobby Orr, Gretzky presents a compelling take on the often brutal history of the sport.
I wouldn’t consider myself a hockey aficionado by any means, but having read a handful of books and having watched the excellent CBC series Hockey: A People’s History (which, if you haven’t seen, you need to), I would say that I know a bit more than an average fan. With Gretzky somewhat akin to that of a folk-hero in Canada, the biggest moments of his career and those of the NHL are well known among even the most casual of hockey fans so I thought, what more could he bring to the table? Turns out, I didn’t know quite as much as I thought I did.
Did you know that early on, games were played in two thirty minute halves? This was later changed by the owners to three twenty minute periods so that fans would empty their pockets at the concessions more often. Even infamous Leafs’ owner Harold Ballard would go so far as to shut off the water fountains to force fans to buy more drinks after the first intermission. In keeping with the business side of the sport, Wayne talks about some of the failed expansion franchises (The California Golden Seals was a terrible name) and the NHL’s battle with the World Hockey Association (WHA) in the 1970s. While this isn’t mind-blowing information, it’s little trivia tidbits like this that help to fill out the book between big, historical moments in the game’s history.
As far as recollections of his own career, there’s a lot here for his fans to sink their teeth into. For example, when he had advised the New York Rangers of his intent to retire at the end of the 1998/1999 season, the then Rangers GM Glen Sather passed Wayne a cheque for one million dollars asking that he reconsider his decision for another week and if he still decided to retire, he could keep the million. He declined the cheque. Wayne’s a stronger man than me. He also covers events like his trade to Los Angeles, the controversial high-sticking call from the 1993 playoffs and his chase to surpass Gordie Howe’s 801 career goals.
Gretzky doesn’t limit himself to just his NHL career, he also discusses his own role on the world stage with his three consecutive Canada Cup appearances and the disastrous 1998 Olympics. He also reminisces about Canada’s presence in international hockey with the ‘72 Summit Series with Russia as well as the 2002 team where he served as GM winning Olympic gold.
If I had to list a negative, it would be that there is no mention of the consistently strong Canadian women’s international team throughout the years. Yes, I know this book is grounded in the all-male NHL but with Gretzky’s tangents into amateaur hockey in the Olympics, it wouldn’t have hurt to throw a little praise the way of the women. They won silver in Nagano in 1998 and have dominated every Olympic games since with gold medal wins in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014. Then again, maybe Wayne isn’t as knowledgeable in that area.
With the exception of the stories about Willie O’Ree breaking the color barrier and the first aboriginal player Fred Sasakamoose’s troubled history with Residential Schools, Wayne keeps the subject matter rather light (that’s not a knock on those stories as I feel they’re absolutely essential). What we end up with is an easy and enjoyable read that didn’t allow itself to get bogged down by massive information dumps, which tends to happen with many large nonfiction books. 99: Stories of the Game is one of the better hockey books I’ve read....more
Live By Night begins in the thick of the roaring 20s. The advent of prohibition has normalized corruption among the police and criminals with an exploLive By Night begins in the thick of the roaring 20s. The advent of prohibition has normalized corruption among the police and criminals with an explosion of illegal distilleries and speakeasies popping up all over the country. Despite the government’s best efforts to keep liquor out of the hands of the population, consumption has more than doubled. The potential to climb the ladder of organized crime has never been more attractive and Joseph Coughlin, son of prominent police officer Thomas Coughlin, sees his opportunity.
A botched bank robbery coupled with a double cross from career criminal Albert White lands Joe in jail where he promptly forms an alliance with Thomaso Pescatore, a powerful mob boss. When Joe finishes up his sentence, Thomaso sends him down south to Tampa to lock Albert out of the rum trade, crippling his presence in Boston. It isn’t long before Joe becomes an institution in South Florida with power that spreads far up the Eastern seaboard. Holding onto that power becomes a constant struggle as Joe clashes with the US army, cuban revolutionaries and the Ku Klux Klan.
The second book in Lehane’s acclaimed Coughlin trilogy, Live By Night more than lives up to its predecessor, despite being two very different books. Where The Given Day is a sprawling epic about the struggle for the average worker’s rights, Live By Night is a tightly focused study on the unstable power structure of the criminal underground. Although it can be argued that the “gangster novel” is a tired genre, it’s Lehane’s ability to craft an edge-of-your-seat thriller as well as a rich cast of characters sets that one apart from others.
In an interview with Craig Ferguson a few years back, Lehane had known that he wanted to pick up where he left off with The Given Day but knew that whiskey was the vice of choice in prohibition-era Boston. To him, that had already been done to death. After some thought, he realized that no one had really looked at the rum trade and with an old city like Tampa at the heart of the action, he felt right at home moving the setting down south. Rather than the deeply ingrained racism between the Italians and the Irish in Boston, Lehane gets to explore the institutionalised racism between the KKK and basically everyone who isn’t a native born American. This leads to some uncomfortable scenes but one specific moment where I audibly cheered at the demise of a despicable character at the hands of Joe.
Dennis Lehane is fast becoming one of my favourite living authors and Live By Night further cements him. I look forward to anything he puts out. I have high hopes for the third book in this series, “World Gone By” and have it on deck to read shortly....more
Sinner Man tells the story of small town insurance-peddler Don Barshter, and how after a few too many drinks, inadvertently murders his wife followingSinner Man tells the story of small town insurance-peddler Don Barshter, and how after a few too many drinks, inadvertently murders his wife following an errant strike. Rather than call the police and turn himself in, Don decides to cram his wife’s body into a closet and flee town. It’s during his aimless travels that Don forms a plan - get to Buffalo and join the mob under a new identity. Now known as Nat Crowley, he quickly begins a career in organized crime and subsequently hooks up with a woman who may be more dangerous than she first lets on.
Nat Crowley, while trying his best to frame himself in a positive light, is a despicable, layered character - as all great noir protagonists are. Barshter suffers from the “smartest man in the room” syndrome where his own arrogance and self-perceived intelligence blinds him. How can you blame him? His ramshackle, cartoonish plan actually unfolds as he envisioned but when ripples begin to show, he ignores them thinking he’s infallible. So while it appears at the beginning he’s done a serviceable job replacing the spineless Don Barshter with the cold, callous Nat Crowley, he realizes too late that like leopards, you can’t change your spots (sorry for the overdone expression) and despite his best efforts, history threatens to repeat itself before all is said and done.
Identified as Block’s first ever crime novel, Sinner Man is ripe with noir excellence. You’ve got all the hallmarks of the genre; tough-talking baddies, femme fatales, a plethora of murders and steamy sex scenes. For fans of Hard Case Crime, this is an easy sell - Sinner Man lives up to their publishing standards revealing itself as a hidden gem from Lawrence Block’s vast catalogue of work....more
Based On A True Story is the autobiography of famed stand-up comedian Norm MacDonald - or so he would have you believe. Rather than tell you his realBased On A True Story is the autobiography of famed stand-up comedian Norm MacDonald - or so he would have you believe. Rather than tell you his real life story, Norm decided to write of his one-time plan to borrow millions of dollars from various casinos in Las Vegas, turn that money into millions for himself, then retire to a ranch in Montana. As the story moves along, Norm, strung out on morphine, tells a completely skewed, often fictionalized version of his life to his pal and real-life podcast co-host Adam Eget as he drives them from LA to Vegas.
While the majority of the memoir is totally off-base, its core is still tied to some of Norm’s real life history. His time on Saturday Night Live is discussed with his arrival at the show depicting Lorne Michaels as an unhinged drug addict whom Norm bribes with government-grade morphine to secure his spot. His obsession with fellow cast member Sarah Silverman was a definite high point of the book - it had me laughing hysterically as he cluelessly pursued her, leading him to plot to assassinate her then-boyfriend Dave Attell. His move to the Update Desk is mentioned where he spent 3 years reading “the fake news” - he even includes a chapter of the Top 25 Update Jokes of All-Time (#1 belongs to Chevy Chase, 2-25 are all Norm’s, of course)!
The filming of Dirty Work is also covered, although there’s a story about a Canadian serial killer whose actions threatened the success of the movie (although if you believe Norm’s word, Dirty Work was massively successful earning $250 million its opening weekend). Like his earlier discussion of meeting Rodney Dangerfield, Norm’s telling of hiring Don Rickles for the film stays within the scope of each of the aforementioned comedian's style. Norm became upset over constant insults from Don Rickles when trying to offer him a role in the movie, just like he couldn’t understand why Rodney Dangerfield couldn’t get any respect. Despite Norm admitting his admiration for the Rickles, his character was completely oblivious to the comedian’s humour. This had me cry-laughing.
There’s so much more that I could get into here, but I don’t want to spoil everything. Based On A True Story was wildly original, completely over-the-top, and I absolutely loved it. There were points where I found myself laughing so hard my sides would hurt and if that isn’t a proper endorsement, I don’t know what is. The idea that Norm would portray himself as a narcissistic, delusional monster was completely unexpected and easily puts this in a category of its own....more
With his new book Canada, comedian/actor Mike Myers sets out to unload as much information about the country he grew up in while also detailing an abrWith his new book Canada, comedian/actor Mike Myers sets out to unload as much information about the country he grew up in while also detailing an abridged version of his life story. The result is an often entertaining yet interesting experiment.
At the outset, Myers is quick to explain that his book is not meant to be a definitive text on the country, but rather his own experiences coming of age in Canada. So don’t expect him to go into detail surrounding Canada’s role in residential schools and the mistreatment of its indigenous population or any other controversial subject; he’ll let other more qualified writers speak on that.
Instead, he speaks at length about the different accents, odd quirks and cultural milestones that form regional identities throughout the land. I found myself laughing out loud when he described the East Coast way of ingressive speaking, something my girlfriend pointed out when she moved to Halifax from Ontario a few years back.It also certainly doesn’t hurt that he is a die-hard Toronto Maple Leafs fan! Myers discusses the importance of hockey as a national pastime woven into the fabric of the country’s popular culture. It brings people together even if most of the time is spent chirping one another over their respective teams.
My biggest criticism involves the final chapters wherein he discussed the 2015 election and the arrival of Justin Trudeau as the country’s apparent saviour. I’m not one to really get into politics and while I can get behind Trudeau being a more socially progressive choice for our country, I feel it’s a little too early to heap the amount of praise on him that Myers did. It seemingly came across as a weird and strange end to a book about the nostalgic views of a transplanted Canadian.
That being said, Canada was an enjoyable read for the most part. It did its job in making me laugh in all the right spots and I learned quite a bit about Myers’ upbringing and some interesting trivia behind a few of his movies/SNL characters....more
After discovering her employer only hired her as a publicity stunt, Jennifer Walters (a.k.a. She-Hulk) leaves to open her own practice. Unfortunately,After discovering her employer only hired her as a publicity stunt, Jennifer Walters (a.k.a. She-Hulk) leaves to open her own practice. Unfortunately, her green skin kind of makes it impossible to hide that she’s a superhero and because of this, she begins racking up enemies quicker than a hiccup.
As with most collections, this volume deals with a few different stories. First up, we have She-Hulk taking a case for the immigration of Kristoff Vernard, the now estranged son of notorious bad guy and nefarious dictator Dr. Doom. Following that, She-Hulk teams up with Hell-Cat in an attempt to track down and discover the contents of a mysterious file that potentially holds damaging information to the Marvel universe.
The first story was the better of the two as it led to some pretty hilarious moments including a showdown with a giant mechanical Doom-Bot. The second was unfortunately saddled with some pretty atrocious artwork from Ron Wimberly that sort of killed the momentum of the book. It’s a real pity because I felt the story itself was decent. I mean, the writer of the series is an actual lawyer! You can’t get any more qualified than that.
Despite being a comic about immigration law, it was pretty fun! Looking forward to book two....more