Category Archives: 2017 Reads

5 People Write Every Pop Song Heard on the Radio

The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory by John Seabrook

Everything changed though back in 1992 when Ace of Base was unleashed on the world with their debut album, The Sign.

There wasn’t anything spectacular about this band. They might not have gone anywhere if it wasn’t for a broken car stereo.

A music producer played their demo tape in his car and wasn’t impressed with it. He probably would have ejected it and not given it a second thought but his car stereo had other ideas. It wouldn’t eject the tape. And there was no way to switch back to the radio when the cassette was engaged. As such, he was more or less forced to listen to the tape over and over again.

One day, after multiple listens, Denniz Pop heard something in it and decided that he would produce them. He majorly overhauled their songs and created something that would have lasting effects in the world of pop music.

He created Cheiron Studios with Tom Talomaa and with the success of songs like The Sign and singles like All That She Wants and Don’t Turn Around they went on to produce and create some of the biggest pop artists the world has ever seen.

Max Martin is the one of most prolific writers in pop music history. He has written a produced dozens and dozens of number one hit songs. You can probably sign along to every one of these hits even though you may have never heard his name before now. There  is only one song writing team ahead of him when it comes to hits and he will probably surpass them soon. I am talking about Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

There are several other Swedish hit factory teams that have written co-written, and even manufactured some of the biggest groups over the past thirty years. It’s no secret that Backstreet Boys were able to ride the success wave for boy bands created by New Kids on the Block. I always hated the song writing of their songs, however. The lyrics barely made sense but apparently they didn’t have to. The world ate it up and the Backstreet Boys became the biggest act in the world.

The producers knew that someone would copy their formula and offer some competition to them.  They thought, if someone is going to do it, it might as well be us. So, they created NSYNC, used the same producers, song writers, and management to create the rival group.

I found this tidbit fascinating. I assumed that NSYNC was an answer to the Backstreet Boys. Lyrically, their songs seemed to make more sense and they even appeared to be more authentic. They were on different labels and the songwriting teams and production machine were pretty invisible, so this was easy enough to assume. However, they were manufactured in the exact same way, produced, and even managed the same.

It’s unfortunate that song writing has been reduced to a formula and that only a handful of producers are responsible for almost everything that we hear these days. I guess that explains a lot. Pop music songs are rarely distinguishable from one another. And people in the background continue to get paid exorbitant amounts of money to churn out these hits.

The reach of these Swedish writers is absolutely incredible. It seems as though they have written every major pop song twenty five years. Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Maroon 5, and even Taylor Swift have had some of their biggest hits written by the song factory machine.

I have to admit, I am a little disappointed that Taylor Swift used them for her latest album. She used to be an original voice and now sounds like every other act on the dial. Of course, I still enjoyed her album. I knew she wrote her own songs and assumed nothing had changed.

Overall, this was a fascinating read. John Seabrook turns forty years of music history into a narrative that entertains and sheds light on this hidden song writing factory. I recommend checking it out, and maybe looking closer at songwriting credits. You might be surprised at what you find.

My List of 2017 Reads – 36 books and counting

Find the Spark and Write

Story Sparks: Finding Your Best Story Ideas & Turning Them into Compelling Fiction by Denise Jaden

Denise Jaden explores the concept of inspiration in her latest book, Story Sparks. She gives practical advice on finding story ideas in everyday life, how to nurture the creative power you already have, and suggests small exercises that can help spark a great story idea.

This book is for every writer who has ever struggled with the question of what to write next. Here are some of the tips she offers in the book.

Combining Two Ideas

“A fresh idea is simply thinking of something in a new way or combining two concepts in a unique way.”

I completely agree. I have found that I can’t start writing a story unless I have had a second idea mash up with the first one. It’s the combination of two ideas where the story starts to come to life. As Jaden writes, “It often not a single idea, but the connection between two or more ideas that gives us our ‘aha’ moment.”

It Can Take Time

“All you need is the question, focused energy, and time to let the question percolate.”

A lot of writing can stem from a single question. But we need to allow ourselves the time to really contemplate the question. In this book, Jaden breaks down her philosophy into the S.P.A.R.K. acronym. This part of the equation really reminds me on my personal writing philosophy of T.L.C.W.

Get Inspired By Social Media

“Skim your Twitter or Facebook feeds. Could any posts make for interesting character traits, motivations, or plot obstacles?”

What a great idea. There is already a lot of drama going on in social media. It could be a rich treasure trove of ideas, if used properly. Just make sure you don’t write about the people specifically. Take ideas and transform them into original stories with different characters and you could have a winner.

Finally Say It

“Think of all the things you wouldn’t say in real like but would like to say. These are all plot ideas you can experiment with.”

Writing can give you the power to say something you wouldn’t normally say. Take advantage of that.

There is no such thing as Writer’s Block

“Writer’s block is taking the easy way out. It treats a lack of productivity as an ailment . . . Writer’s block is not usually the inability to write, but rather just a fear of not writing well.”

I like this analogy. We should always be able to write. Fear might be an obstacle, but it is one that we can overcome. It’s like pain to a runner. You can push through it. You can write through it.

Helpful Lists

At the end of the book, Jaden provides several lists that can help you come up with character names, places to set your scenes in, motives for character behaviour, obstacles for characters to overcome, and story themes you can weave.

It’s a great book with practical exercises, advice, and tips for writers who need to find some inspiration. Also, if you liked this book, you can also look for her other book on writing, Fast Fiction, that is perfect for anyone attempting National Novel Writing Month challenge right now.

My List of 2017 Reads – with links to detailed posts on every title I read this year

The March Trilogy is Complete

March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

This is the final book of a trilogy series that focuses on the challenges and horrors faced by those in the Civil Rights Movement as they fought to be recognized as human beings and awarded the rights that go along with that. It is told by one of the movement’s most pivotal figures, John Lewis.

In March: Book One we get to see him finally see the day when a black man could become president. It’s a touching moment to see him interacting with Barack Obama and reflecting on the long journey it took to get there.

The story is horrific and I have a hard time believing that these atrocities were happening only fifty years ago. It’s amazing to see the strides that were made with the non-violent protests that were staged. The men and women who fought the injustice and poor treatment of their race didn’t take up arms. They didn’t retaliate any of the violence that they were shown. They simply stood up and demanded to be taken notice of. It truly is inspiring and I am glad this story has been told.

March (Trilogy Slipcase Set)

The entire trilogy is now available in a slipcase set that includes all three books in a beautifully illustrated case.

My List of 2017 Reads – with links to detailed posts on every title I read this year

Running Can be Terrible and Wonderful

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by The Oatmeal

When I saw this book, it called to me almost immediately. I love running and the title and art were quite compelling.

Now, first off, I have to admit that I am not a long distance runner. I run for less than 40 minutes at a time. Generally, I cover anywhere from 5 to 10 kilometers during one run. This is often referred to as “middle distance” running.

The author of this book runs much further than that. He opens the book with a story of running an ultra-marathon that took him 11 hours. I have always thought that long distance runners were slightly crazy. What would make someone push themselves to that extreme? Why not stop at a respectable distance or time-frame?

The Oatmeal, who is a person (I always thought that it was simply a satirical website), explains exactly why he runs. He does so with humour that made me laugh out loud a few times. The art and words are married together in a seamless way. Once you start reading it, you will have a hard time putting it down. I read it in two sittings but could have done it in one.

My wife saw how much I was enjoying the book and asked to read it too. That’s unusual because she has tried reading some of my graphic novels and really doesn’t like the medium. But she liked this book. I think you will too.

The author shares one of my philosophies when it comes to running – run outside and find a loop.

I regularly look for new places to run outside. I explore trails and have documented quite a few of the, here.

And I continue to write a book review for every title I read.

My List of 2017 Reads

Invincible or Infamous Iron Man?

Invincible Iron Man – Vol 1: Reboot

Tony Stark has new armor and it is truly remarkable. There is a stealth mode, it can change colour, and it is incredible easy to get in and out of. Unfortunately Pepper Potts is not at Stark Industries anymore and Tony doesn’t have anyone to rely on to run the business.

Invincible Iron Man – Vol 2: The War Machines

Mary Jane tried to get away from super-heroes. She moved to a city where she thought she’d just could open up a night club and live a normal live. But fate had different plans for her.  A demon invaded her venue and it took Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and Victor Von Doom to stop it. That’s right, Doctor Doom. He seems to want to help, but Tony doesn’t trust him at all.

With Mary Jane’s club destroyed, she reluctantly starts to work for Tony, and he is very lucky to have her on the team.

Invincible Iron Man – Vol 3: Civil War II

The second super-hero Civil War is a major crossover event that spans almost all of the Marvel monthly titles. The main story was quite well done, but there are pieces of the story missing if you only read that and then jump into this series.

I wish the book editor had put a few notes in this story to fill in some of the knowledge gaps I had. This volume pretty much assumes you know what is happening in the MCU (Marvel Comics Universe) and I didn’t.

That being said, having read the Civil War trade paperback and the Miles Morales Spider-man arc, I pretty much knew what was happening (for the most part).

I was really surprised to see this series come to an end as well. It will be continued in the next volume of the title and start again with Issue #1. I don’t see why either. This could have continued in an on-going series instead of a limited run volume.

Infamous Iron Man – Vol 1: Infamous

When Tony Stark went undercover and let the world believe he was dead, Victor Von Doom decided to step up and become the new Iron Man. In the three graphic novels above, we can see that he had been trying to turn over a new leaf. But it is hard to trust that he is not up to his old Dr. Doom ways.

Ben Grim aka The Thing of the now defunct Fantastic Four certainly doesn’t trust him and will do whatever it takes to bring him to justice.

I was hoping this title might have been as good as Superior Spider-man when Peter Parker’s arch enemy, Doc Ock took the mantle and was determined to be the best Spider-man yet. It’s not quite as good, but it does have some potential. I am curious to see where this title goes next.

It’s nice to see Bendis and Maleev working together again. Their iconic run on Daredevil is still one of my favourites.

My List of 2017 Reads – my annual reading log (continually updated)

Panels in Space

I borrowed both of these graphic novels from the public library. It’s nice to be able to explore space for free (from the safety of my living room).

Captain Marvel: Volume 1 – Rise of Alpha Flight

I’m not too  familiar with the character of Captain Marvel. I know of her from Civil War II and from her brief appearance in the new series of Ms. Marvel. I also didn’t have any experience reading Alpha Flight comics so this was a new experience for me, as it probably will be for many readers.

It starts out with Captain Marvel taking command of the Alpha Flight Space Station. And it seems like she has moved from active hero to a desk job. But of course, all sorts of problems happen when an alien vessel approaches. Not only does she lose her powers but it seems like everything is connected to how she got them in the first place.

It was nice that we didn’t get a straight-up origin story, but one that helps to establish some of the backstory of the character, throw her into a new role and situation, and anchor a brand new series.

And when the universe has been saved by the end of the story, Captain Marvel’s powers have been restored, and everything looks like it will be business as usual, she sits down at her desk on the space station to relax. Just then, an alarm goes  and she springs back into action. No desk is going to keep her down.

Star Trek – Starfleet Academy

I don’t like the timeline of the cinematic reboot of Star Trek. It doesn’t feel natural for the crew to be all chummy at Starfleet Academy as presented in this graphic novel. As such, it was difficult getting into this story. It felt like the characters were in the wrong place and time. It was hard to get my head around.

The story is centered around a female Vulcan and her days at the academy. These scenes take place right after the destruction of her homeworld (as seen in the first movie).

Interspersed with that story, Uhuru uncovers a message that leads her to believe something is wrong in a quarantined area of space. Of course, these two stories are related and though the two characters don’t actually meet, they help uncover the mystery together. Kirk and Spock are also in there for good measure.

It took me a minute to get into this one because of the time difference, but overall, it was a good read.

My List of 2017 Reads – 27 titles and counting

The Beatles – All Our Yesterdays (Graphic Novel)

The Beatles – All Our Yesterdays by Jason Quinn and Lalit Kumar Sharma

I love The Beatles. What they did for music cannot be understated. They changed the game with their style, sound, and look. Their music still permeates today fifty years after their groundbreaking album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. To help celebrate that milestone, Campfire Comics has released a graphic novel that tells the story of the early days of the band.

The creators of this book recreated images from videos and photos to tell the origin story of the band we all know and love. For people who are not Beatles scholars, this book is illuminating. I did not know that they had a few names before their iconic music pun. I also didn’t know that there were five of them. Both John and Paul played guitar. There was a bass player in their ranks for quite some time before Paul McCartney decided to fill that part of the band himself.  These boys also got up to some shenanigans and trouble in their early days.

The story starts very early on with each of the main members of the band falling in love with rock music as children. It then goes on to show how the band went through different configurations, styles, and outfits before they figured out who they really were as a band.

The art is very well done and captures the youth, imagination, and recklessness that teenage musicians go through. Not much is different today. The graphic novels ends with the release of their first single that was released on Friday October 5, 1962. As as the narration box indicates

“And the hits soon kept coming. The Beatles had arrived., Beatlemania was about to sweep the world and music would never be the same again.”

It would be interesting to read their continuing adventure. I know there are more stories that could be told. Comics are a great medium for this kind of storytelling. It’s the first music origin story I have read in this format, but something tells me it won’t be the last.

This book also comes with a great bookmark in the shape of a guitar. It makes me wish I hadn’t borrowed this one from the library so I could keep it.

My List of 2017 Reads – my continually updated reading log.

Digital Daredevil

Let’s get caught up on some Daredevil reading, shall we?

Daredevil / Punisher – Seventh Circle

The Punisher is trying to exact his own form of justice on a criminal who is set to stand trial in Texas. Daredevil would rather let the legal system decide his fate, however. So, he tries his best to get the mob boss there and prevent Frank Castle from murdering him on route. Of course, if the mob boss really is guilty, then he would likely be subject to capital punishment. Either way, this man is as good as dead and the Punisher would rather make sure it happens than wait for the court.

Daredevil – Road Warrior

This digital comic brings Daredevil to life in a way that a regular comic cannot. I read it on the Marvel Unlimited app which allows you to tap the screen to advance to the next panel. The artists made great use of this feature by overlapping elements, showing motion between frames, and illustrating what Daredevil sees through his enhanced senses. The story involves his beating a Man Bull and then pursuing a man who has no heartbeat. It’s a four issue series that was very well done and a great read.

Daredevil – Dark Nights

Matt Murdock battles an intense snowstorm that plays havoc with his senses. Petty criminals take advantage of the blind man in a storm and rob him. Injured, he ends up in the hospital and learns about a little girl who needs a heart transplant. When the helicopter crashes, he takes it upon himself to go back out into the cold to retrieve it and save her life.

The second story features Misty Knight, who you might be familiar with from the Luke Cage television show. She has a bionic arm for some reason in this one. But her and Daredevil make a great team.

Daredevil / Deadpool – Annual Vol 1

This story wasn’t really anything special. I’m not a big fan of Deadpool in the comics. I enjoyed the film version, but very comic I’ve read by him so far has fallen kind of flat. This one is no exception. Typhoid Mary is the villain in this one. If you enjoyed her in the regular series, you might like this follow up.

My List of 2017 Reads – comics, novels, and more

Hip-Hop Formed in Clay in an Amazing Way

What is Hip-Hop? by Eric Morse and Anny Yi

This book is incredible for so many reasons. It celebrates hip-hop in a way that shows respect for the art and culture. It not only pays tribute to some of the pioneers of the art form, but it does so in a way that is quite entertaining to both young and old.

Eric Morse breaks down the history of hip-hop by recapping some of the artists and innovations we have seen over the past forty years.

In the beginning,
there was a beat
Two records spinning,
and the crowd got on its feet.

It might be hard to believe but that is the essence of hip-hop right there. It started with the DJ and the goal was to simply get people to dance. It moved to huge heights after that simple start and it’s nice to see that we are at a point in time where we can look back and celebrate those humble beginnings and see where we’ve come.

Anny Yi’s art really put a smile on my face. She beautifully captures the essence of hip-hop in her sculpted clay-art dioramas.

I love this spread. LL Cool J is dressed in his old school gear with the iconic radio from his album of the same name on the ground beside him. The background brings to life the visuals we saw from one of his biggest hits, “Mama Said Knock You Out.” The mama is question, his grandma, is even in the scene.

Of course, we have over forty years of history to cover and a typical picture book can only begin to scratch the surface. But some of the stories and legends that don’t get told are represented in the inside cover.

If I was reading this to children, I would tell them stories about Rick Rubin’s brilliant production and how it captured the true sound of hip-hop as heard on the stage. I would tell them about the business savvy of Russell Simmons, and how MC Lyte and Lauryn Hill can rock the mic like no one else.

My only criticism of the book has to do the rhyme scheme. I mentioned this in the last picture book I reviewed. It’s okay for a picture book to not rhyme every single line. Also, this is a book about hip-hop, so I think the rhymes should reflect what is heard on stage and in the records. So the A-B-A-B rhyme scheme that starts off the book seems wrong. Thankfully, it did move into the more familiar A-A-B-B rhyme scheme quickly.

There is one small error in the book, the author seemed to attribute a Queen Latifah song to Krs-One. I understand the sentiment. They both preached unity, but only one of them spelled it U.N.I.T.Y.

It ends with a prediction of the future that remains true to the past.

By now the culture’s spread
to every corner of the globe
. . .
But hip-hop remains, deep down at its heart
a unique expression, and urban form of art.

Make sure you pick up a copy of What is Hip-Hop?

when it drops on September 5th

It will be available wherever you buy books.

My List of 2017 Reads – novels, comics, memoirs, and more.

Sonya Sahni and the First Grade

Sonya Sahni and the First Grade: Its International Day! by Soma Mandal and Tim Williams

Having a foot in two different worlds can be difficult for anyone. Even more so for a kid trying to figure out how to fit in with her friends at school and please her parents at home. Sonya tries her best  to do just that in this bright, colourful picture book.

Sonya doesn’t like that her parents push her Indian culture on her. She wants to assimilate into American life and not have to worry about traditional clothes and food that looks and smells different from her peers.

She doesn’t understand that it’s important to acknowledge who she is. She doesn’t have to give up her heritage to fit in at all. To help her see this, her teacher decides to celebrate all of the cultures in the class on International Day. The students fly two flags that day. Sonya sports an Indian flag in one hand and an American one in the other. Her fellow students do the same thing with flags of their ancestry.

The teacher worked with parents to make sure different foods were available for everyone to try. Sonya saw all sorts of different foods that didn’t look like the regular lunches her fellow classmates bought or brought. She started to appreciate the differences and embrace her own heritage.

It is very important for children in our classes to see themselves reflected in the texts we have available. That is why I will be proud to add this to my classroom library.

One criticism I have of this book is that the entire story is written in rhyme. There are times where this seems forced. This story could have been told without the consistent end rhyme. It might have even been more powerful that way.

My List of 2017 Reads – continually updated with every new book I read this year

Teaching Tip Archive – over 200 great tips, tricks, lessons, and inspiration from my classroom to yours.

Superhero Novels (For Eyes and Ears)

Wonder Woman: Mythos by Carol Lay

A couple go scuba diving on their honeymoon in the Bermuda triangle and the man disappears. Wonder Woman investigates and finds that there is a mysterious island that mirrors the one she is from. This one is entirely populated by men and they seem to be under some form of control. Could the God of War, Ares, be behind it? Is the prophecy Diana heard about as a kid coming true?

I am a big fan of audio books. It is a great way to experience a story when you are on the go. This one even has full cast narration. And even better it has the same voice actors from the last Justice League title I borrowed from the library.

Iron Man: The Gauntlet by Eoin Colfer

Eoin Colfer is a great writer. I absolutely loved the Artemis Fowl series. He also did a great job writing in Douglas Adams’ voice for a bonus sixth installment of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. That is why I knew his take on this superhero would be worth the read.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot here. I knew nothing about the story going into it and that was a good thing. All I will say is that a teenage girl gives Tony Stark a run for his money in this one. If you are familiar with what is happening in the Marvel comics stories now, don’t worry, this is a completely fresh take on the hero, not related to that continuity, and a completely different girl. Yet it is equally entertaining.

I love how Colfer flips some common conventions of comics and storytelling. You can see he had fun penning this one.

My List of 2017 Reads – an annual reading log, continually updated

The Second Super-Hero Civil War

Civil War II

In the first super-hero civil war, Iron-Man and Captain America couldn’t see eye to eye. The stakes were high and there was no way around it. A clear line was drawn and it left people on opposing sides with no other choice but to fight.

Tony Stark, aka  Iron Man, was hoping that nothing would divide the super-hero community like that again. But a new inhuman with the power to see the future now upsets the balance. Captain Marvel wants to use him to prevent disasters from happening. Stark sees it as profiling and believes it is a wrong. Plus, can the visions even be trusted.

This was a good read that had tie-ins to almost all of the current Marvel titles. The new Spider-Man has a pivot role in this conflict as well. Also, Ms Marvel (one of my new-favourite heroes) and Old-Man Logan make appearances.

My List of 2017 Reads – an on-going and continually updated reading log

This Spider-Man Series is Miles Above Other Titles

Spider-Man: Volume 1 – Miles Morales 

Miles Morales is a great character and it’s nice to see that he now has an on-going series in the MCU (Marvel Comics Universe). It’s not simply a stand-alone title. This new Spider-Man is a member of the Avengers and has a pivotal role in the crossover event, Civil War II.

If you are new to Miles Morales, you might want to check out Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man for his introduction story arc and the second series that followed it. They were brilliant titles that lead into what happens in this arc.

Spider-Man: Volume 2 – Miles Morales 

Miles Morales struggles to be the good student that he used to be while being the superhero he has to be. His parents start to worry about him when they see his report card. They call in his grandmother to help set him straight and she goes as far as hiring a private investigator to figure out why his grades are slipping. She’s convinced that he is on drugs.

In one battle, Spider-Man’s costume gets ripped and a video blogger notices that the hero has brown skin. Miles can’t even figure out why that would be news. He just wants to be Spider-Man, not the black Spider-Man.

I’ve really enjoyed every Miles Morales Spider-Man story that I’ve ever read. I really wished that the new film coming out this week had used him instead of Peter Parker. That would have been brilliant.

My List of 2017 Reads – my annual reading log

Old Man Logan (Superheroes Can’t Retire)

Wolverine: Old Man Logan

Old Man Logan is a new on-going series that focuses on our favourite hero in an apocalyptic future where super-heroes are conspicuously absent and super-villains rule. I read the first volume of this series last year. At the time, I didn’t realize that this story got its start in the regular Wolverine title years earlier.

This trade paperback collects Wolverine: Volume 3, Issues 66-72 plus a giant sized conclusion. And it makes sense to read this one first.

The title sums up where the character actually is in life. He is an old man with a family and has no interest in being a hero anymore. In fact, he hasn’t even popped his claws in years. So when his old Avenger friend shows up, asking for help, he is very reluctant.

Nevertheless, he accompanies Hawkeye on a cross country trip that is sure to be dangerous. He continually tells Hawkeye that he is not a hero anymore and that we won’t fight. Of course, Hawkeye thought this was just lip service and if the situation called for it, the beast would emerge. He had no idea how steadfast Logan could be.

This was a really good read and I think it was even better than the Death of Wolverine series.

My List of 2017 Reads – my annual reading log

Why You Should Tell Your Story

The Story You Need to Tell by Sandra Marinella, MA, MEd

“Our words create us. Our stories create us. And our writing can re-create us.”

Wise words from Sandra Marinella, a writer who has taught several people how to use personal writing to come to terms with, overcome, and learn from past traumas. And now through the power of this book, she can teach all of us. Every chapter ends with a few writing prompts and exercises that can help us to use personal writing to heal.

She reveals the five stages of writing . . .

  1. Experience your pain and grief
  2. Break your silence and find your voice.
  3. Accept and piece together a difficult or broken story.
  4. Find meaning and make sense of this event or story.
  5. Rewrite your story and find ways to reconnect with your well-being.

and hopes that the “book will give you the following gifts – the power to find your voice, the ability to transform your story when needed, and the well-being that comes from renewed meaning, resilience, and creative living.”

Marinella explains the deep power of story and how the act of reading can help us live our day to day lives. She mentions Keith Oatley’s brilliant metaphor comparing stories to flight simulators. Just as pilots can use flight simulators to train for all sorts of scenarios , we can use stories to help us get through life experiences. We learn from a character’s response to a situation and can then use that knowledge to help us get through a similar time.

Creating our own self-stories is a powerful experience. The writing process allows us to make sense of what has happened to us and to move forward. Marinella puts it this way, “Our brains allow us not only to create our personal story of self, but to edit, interpret, and find meaning in what we are creating.”

So, pick up a pen or open up your word processor and start writing about your life. You have a story you need to tell.

My List of 2017 Reads – updated regularly with every new title I read this year

Darth Vader Ends It

Darth Vader – The Shu-Torun War

These comic stories take place after the events depicted in Episode IV: A New Hope, but before any of the sequel films. It’s really nice to see Darth Vader trying to figure out who he is and how he fits into the Galactic Empire. He needs to redeem himself in the eyes of the Emperor after the destruction of the Death Star.

In this story, Darth Vader goes to a planet to squash a revolt against the empire. And things get messy.

Darth Vader – End of Games

The cover art for the fourth volume of the on-going Darth Vader series is simply brilliant. I love how the Death Star morphs into his helmet. It shows that he, himself, is a powerful weapon and is still under construction.

I can’t get into the story of this one much without giving away any spoilers. I will say that the title has a ring of finality to it. Perhaps Vader is through playing games. Maybe he is coming into his own and figuring out his destiny as the apprentice of the Dark Side of The Force.

This series is very well done and much better than any of the recent films. I wish comic writers would work on the films. This is a story that would work well. Forget Rogue One, or the new trilogy. This is the story die-hard fans can get behind.

My List of 2017 Reads – my continually updated reading log

Max & Charlie Figuring It All Out

Max & Charlie book

Max & Charlie by Zack Lieberman and Louis Neubert

This was a great read. From the very first page, the artwork captures the imagination of the main characters. It is bright and colourful and stylistically stunning.

The opening daydream shows a young boy pretending to be a space-warrior. His dog, a trusty companion in a mission to save the universe. They make a good team, but you can see that the dog isn’t impressed with all of the imaginary play. He just wants to get outside.

When they do go outside, Max pulls on the leash and basically drags Charlie through the streets and parks on New York City. Charlie, seeing that other dogs are fine off of the leash, decides that Max might be as well. But the second he unclicks the lead, Max takes off. Charlie spends the rest of the book chasing him.

The two main characters discover all sorts of interesting things about the city. Charlie meets a variety of characters who all share their philosophy of life and the universe with him. Themes of cooperation, the beauty that surrounds us, and finding your purpose abound in the work.

It’s one of the stories that when you finally get to the last page and close the book, you have a smile on your face.

For Charlie, the journey might have been long and annoying. It started with a simple mistake that had unforeseen consequences. It wore him down and tired him out. But, in the end, he learned something. It was worth it. The journey showed him something he needed to see and he is now richer for it.

Perhaps that is what life is like for us all. It’s about the journey and what we learn along the way.

My List of 2017 Reads – my detailed annual reading log

 

The Flash – Stop Motion

The Flash – Stop Motion (Justice League)

Wally West is the fastest man alive.  If you are a fan of the television show, this version of The Flash is a little bit different. In this incarnation, West, is the only Flash. His uncle, Barry Allen, passed away a few years back.

I was really surprised at all of the violence in this story. The villain kills several people but the descriptions of the killings and the sound effects in this audio book make it all the more creepy.

It turns out that the villain is a speedster who can travel faster than the speed of light. Even worse, this monstrosity was created in a lab and he simple cannot be controlled or stopped. It’s up to West to save the day, with a little help from the Martian Manhunter, Super-man, Green Lantern, and Plastic Man, and Wonder-Woman.

This Graphic Audio presentation features full cast narration and sound effects. The series describes itself as a “movie in your mind.” I think all books have that power. I am a big fan of audio books and find that they don’t really need to be dressed up so much. It’s almost as if they were trying too hard to make this different and, pardon the pun, flashy.

I like how the story dealt with the speed force. It was a different take on it from what we have seen in the television series. I also like how they tried to tackle the science behind it. It might not always work, but I was able to get lost in the story and enjoy a good super hero tale. This book is also available as a prose novel if you would rather read than listen.

My List of 2017 Reads – my ongoing reading log for the year

Stay Driven (Motivation and Inspiration from a Rapper)

Stay Driven by D-O

Stay Driven by Duane D.O. Gibson

D.O. aka Defy the Odds is a rap artist who set a Guinness World Record for the longest freestyle ever, 8 hours and 45 seconds. He has released countless albums and dropped several music videos.

When I saw this book at the library, I thought it was worth the read. As I worked my way through it, it was obvious that it was written for teenagers who are looking for some motivation and inspiration. That makes sense since I found it in the teen section.

Here are a few of the takeaways I took from reading it.

Visualize 

D.O. tells the story of Biggie’s first album for Bad Boy. Apparently, Puff Daddy thought the album needed something else before he released it. It needed a single. So, he masterminded the idea of “Juicy” and asked Biggie to talk about making it big in rap. At the time. Biggie didn’t have all the riches he mentioned in this song. “It was all a dream” as he says in the lyrics. But it was a dream that came true. Puffy knew they needed a single. Biggie went along with it. And it was almost as if they visualized it into existence.

Play with Words

“Over the year I’ve created a rhyming database in my mind. It started when I created my own rhyming dictionary – this was before I found out there were actual rhyming dictionaries. The process of writing my own dictionary helped build my rhyming database.”

What a cool idea! D.O. also talks about how he would read the dictionary to help improve his vocabulary.

Don’t Coast

“I’ve learned that it’s not the talented people who success. Ironically, a lot of talented people don’t success. I’ve seen it time and time again.

These people think they can coast on their talent and not try as hard as everyone else. The problem is, hard workers pass them by.”

D.O. admits that when he started rapping, he wasn’t very good. But he worked at it. There were rappers out at the time that were better than him, but very few of them achieved the success he did. It all came down to work ethic. And D.O. had that in droves.

Be Respectful of Women

D.O. tells a story in the book about losing a rap battle to a female MC. The match was very close and the judges wanted to hear two extra rounds to determine the winner. He could have torn her apart by saying some sexual rhymes, making fun of her weight, or he clothes. These are all fair when it comes to rap battles. However, he said, “It just didn’t feel right to insult her. It just wasn’t my style. I decided that when I wrote songs about women, I’d tell stories from my perspective.”

D.O. lost that battle, but he got invited to an after-party where he made a very important business contact. When he looked around the party, he noticed that the person who did go on to beat that female rapper, wasn’t in attendance. It turns out that he wasn’t invited, because the female host didn’t like this style. She liked D.O.’s though.

Stay Positive

D.O. stayed positive and it opened all sorts of doors for him. He worked hard and achieved his dreams. That is something we can all learn from.

My List of 2017 Reads – a detailed reading log (continually updated all year)

Moo, a Flute, and a Moo-ve to Maine

Sharon Creech - Moo

Moo by Sharon Creech

I absolutely love the way Sharon Creech writes verse novels. The sound and rhythm of her words, jumps right off the page. This particular novel is filled with all sorts of sounds such as a flute melody travelling through the air from an upstairs window, to the sounds of rain and water dripping, to a grizzly, misunderstood neighbour, and of course, to a stuborn cow named Zora.

The story revolves around a family who uproot for no other reason than to find what’s next. The idea comes out of the blue one day as they are all in the car. The twelve year-old daughter of the family suggests that they go to Maine when the topic comes up. She’s not even sure why she suggests it. It just popped into her head at that moment. Of course, she starts to regret it almost immediately when she finds Maine isn’t exactly how she had pictured it to be.

Both her and her brother are a little scared of their neighbour. But they end up working at her farm and taking care of a stubborn cow. That cow ends up changing everything. Just like their move did.

This is a fun read and it was nice to see at the library last week. I have read close to half of her books now. And my all-time favourite book is Heartbeat by her as well.

My List of 2017 Reads – with links to each title I read over the course of the year