Category Archives: reads

Celebrating books and the written word. Featuring book reviews and more.

5 Storytelling Secrets from the Masters of Radio

Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio by Jessica Abel

I love the art of radio. The power of this medium is absolutely incredible. I listen to all sorts of broadcasts from hip-hop mixshows to interviews to spoken word shows. That’s why this book jumped out at me when I was scanning the bookshelves at the public library. Storytelling secrets from the masters of radio. I want to know what those are.

I pride myself in creating great radio programming. I do in-depth interviews with musicians and in so doing, let the artists tell their stories through their music and the conversations we have around their discography.

Jessica Abel loves radio too and it’s obvious from this book she has created. It’s a graphic novel exploration of what goes into making narrative radio shows that use personal stories to explore greater ideas and issues. She speaks to writers and creators of some of the most popular radio shows in the genre including; This American Life, The Moth, Planet Money, Snap Judgement, Serial, and more.

I like this mix of art and information in this book. It’s an easy read that illustrates things that might have been a little difficult to describe in text alone. Here are some of pieces of the text that resonated with me. I think they will help me make better radio in the future.

1) Compose Logs of the Interview Tapes

Ira Glass says, “A log is like a transcript, but less exact. You don’t need every word. You can type ot handwrite. They key is: you want to take notes on what’s in the tape without every stopping it.”

I have tons of interviews in the can. I have transcribed some of them but have many more that I just can’t find the time to do. I can take the time to listen to them all once though and create some logs. Then I will be able to use those logs to create anthology shows of themes that keep coming up in my interviews, This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Now, I have a strategy to help make that happem.

2) Place Your Microphone Correctly

Mic Placement – “Make a recording with the mic 4”, 8”, and 12” from your mouth, Listen. When the mic’s closer, your recordings sound richer, with more frequencies present, with less hum of the room. When you ask a question, point the mic back at yourself. Otherwise, the question won’t be loud enough on tape. At the end of the interview, record a half minute of room sound, without anyone talking; you’ll need this editing.”

3) Use Music Cues Effectively 

“Sometimes there’s obvious music cues, like, somebody will introduce a new character, or they talk about some event, or some feeling, and you bring in music which speaks to that in some way . . . and sometimes you bring in music where there isn’t an obvious cue and create a beginning. We start music where a sequence of action begins or starts to build. It adds to the drama.

… and you always take out the music when there’s a big idea that you really want people to pay attention to. You lose the music so it stands out.

This! I had to learn this by trail and error, but it is so profoundly true: if there is music under a person speaking, an then it stops, whatever is said next is really powerful, it sounds more important. It’s like shining a light on it.”

4) The Importance of Signposting

“Signposting – You’re being told, ‘This is the important part. Notice this. Remember this.’

Why signpost? – The hard, hard thing about radio is that if you take a step that the listener doesn’t follow, it means they can’t concentrate on the next thing and if you can’t concentrate on the next thing the person is saying, then you get even more confused and never catch up.

So one moment like that can derail the story. You have to be entirely positive that people are following you.

Signposts are crucial. But they’re one of the hardest parts of the story to write with the help of an editor. . . . The moment when the listeners are sitting in the middle of the big landscape of information and they’ve lost their way, is the moment where you as a storyteller failed.

And sometimes it’s as simple as saying, OK, look, this is going to get a little bit tricky, but just stay with me. It’s going to take three steps, But it will be worth it.

Right before something happens, drop in a little phrase like, “and that’s the moment when everything changed…” or “”and that’s when things got interesting.”

Those phrases are like little arrows that tell the listeners: Pay attention to what’s about to happen, because it’s important.

5) Places to Find Out More About Radio Online

Transom.org – huge site full of information on how to make radio.

Freesound.org – a collaborative database of Creative Commons Licensed sounds that lets you download and share sounds.

Soundsnap – a library of sound effects and loops. Pay per use or subscribe

A Great Read!

I really enjoyed this book. I might have to look for her previous book: Radio: An Illustrated Guide by Jessican Abel and Ira Glass. And maybe even try this form of storytelling. I’t quite captivating.

My List of 2017 Reads – my annual reading log with links to every title I read

Doctor Who Comes to Life on the Page

Doctor Who - Weapons of Past Destruction

Doctor Who – Weapons of Past Destruction

I miss the 9th Doctor. This book reminded me of why I used to love seeing Chris Eccleston in the role of the title character. The artwork is amazing and Cavan Scott has penned a tale that feels like a Series One episode. I could hear Chris’s voice coming off of the page. I laughed out loud at few times and reveled in the total experience.

I like that the book tells a story that we wouldn’t have seen in the television show. The special effects are larger than life and would have been quite expensive to produce on film. This is where graphic novels have immense power. The universe is wide-open, as it were. It’s a huge canvas that the creative team of Scott, Blair Shedd, Rachael Stott, and Anang Setyawan utilize brilliantly. I highly recommend reading this. I want to find more of this series and keep experiencing more adventures with the Ninth Doctor.

Doctor Who - Four Doctors

Doctor Who – Four Doctors

Four Doctors, and one of them isn’t the 9th Doctor. We don’t actually find out who this surprise Doctor actually is until late in the book, so I won’t spoil it for you here.

It was nice that the 50th Anniversary television special featured the current Doctor, Peter Capaldi in the final scenes (even if only for a moment). Here, we get to see him interact with the 10th Doctor, David Tennant, and the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith.

This book doesn’t evoke the same feelings I had when watching that television event, however. The story seems a little bit forced and it doesn’t come to life in the same way the book above does.

IMG_7010 (2)

Free Comic Book Day – Four Doctors 

Many of the free comics you are able to get on Free Comic Book Day are simply teasers for books yet to be released. Either that, or they give you a snippet of a story so you will have to buy an additional book to continue reading it. This book has a complete story and it features four incarnations of the Doctor. It’s an even better story than the one above. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The only problem with it is that the Doctors don’t interact with each other. It’s one story that takes place over four lifetimes, as it were.

Doctor Who - The Eye of Ashaya

Doctor Who – The Eye of Ashaya

This was a fun book that brings back a few characters from the 10th Doctor’s era. It was really nice to see Christina De Souza again.

IMG_7011

And this book reminded me how much I miss Amy and Rory too.

It was also cool to see a character who was introduced during David Tennant’s run as the Doctor getting the chance to meet Matt Smith’s incarnation.

All in all, it was a nice trip through Space and Time this week as I read brand new Doctor Who adventures.

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

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

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)

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

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

Moving Beyond Traditional Relationship Roles

Beyond Mars and Venus by John Gray

Beyond Mars and Venus by John Gray

John Gray has written some amazing books to help people understand and navigate their relationships better. Many of these books are based around the concept of differences. His brilliant metaphor, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, was meant to show that we have much to learn about the other gender.

I enjoyed his last book, Conscious Men. He, along with Arjuna Ardagh, gave us some words to live by. I think it is important to be conscious of our gender identity and how it does not have to be a static thing. We can grow and develop. We can be in touch with our feminine side, and we can strive to understand our partners better.

In this book, Gray talks about how the traditional roles have changed and how we need to be able to adapt to this change to have healthy and happy relationships. He talks of how marriage used to have us fulfilling roles. The men were traditionally the providers and the women the nurturers. This division hasn’t been as black and white for years, however.

Gray argues that we have moved away from Role Mates to Soul Mates. He writes about how women can support men, how men can support women, how we often have different approaches to situations, and how we can work together to build a great marriage.

His thoughts are as relevant as ever and provide us with the wisdom we need to carry on productive relationships. However, this book seemed to be a little repetitive for me. Maybe, it is because he is preaching to the choir. I have been aware of my gender identity for some time now and am working to combat some of the misogyny I see in everyday life.

I also did not like the way this book is formatted. It is off-putting to see the text broken up with large quotations in the middle of the pages. If you flip through the book, you can quickly pick up some tidbits of wisdom, but it is ultimately distracting when reading it. I did not like seeing the sentence I just read in larger type on the same page. It threw off the flow of the text and made it hard for me to continue reading.

I don’t often abandon a book, but I stopped reading this one. I might get back to it in the future. Gray still has good things to say and his message is important. I’m just not impressed with how it is presented or written this time around.

My List of 2017 Reads – an organic reading log (continually updated)

Bif Naked Bears All

Bif Naked - I Bificus

I, Bificus – A Memoir by Bif Naked

I am a huge Bif Naked fan. I have been for a while. She is an amazing performer and a great songwriter, so when I heard she had written a memoir, I knew that I had to read it.

I was hoping I could find out how she got her name. A few chapters in, I thought it had it figured out.

I felt it was my duty to torture Kenny, and it was never long before I took all my clothes off and ran naked, yelling “Chase me!” and waving my arms madly.

She was a young child at the time of that incident and apparently, it wasn’t the impetus for the name. She earned that because of a flyer promotion. At the time, she had already had the nickname of “Bif.”

Few punk bands had female vocalists then. The concern was that switching to a female vocalist would be looked down upon by the male punk rockers, especially in Winnipeg. The guys in Gorilla Gorilla decided to go out large, making gig posters to advertise the upcoming show that read”Come see Bif Naked.” It was a double entendre that basically  baited the naysayers-peers, friends, and fans still disappointed about the previous singer’s departure – to come to the show, even if only out of curiosity to see if I really would be naked. The band plastered the posters all over the city, putting them on practically every street lamp post and mailbox, even gluing them on store windows. It was a massive street-level postering campaign, and it worked. 

I mentioned Bif Naked in my Grade 3 classroom a few years back and my students laughed. I told Bif about this via Twitter.

Bif Naked tweet

I saved that tweet notice in my email for the past four years because it was a memorable exchange from one of my favourite musicians. We tweeted a few more times since then too. (I just wish the logos still loaded properly in my email for this first message)

Part of me didn’t want to know all of the things I learned about Bif Naked in this book. I had to cringe a few times. I didn’t want to see her go through some of what she had to do. I didn’t like to see that she made some stupid choices when she was young. I wanted her to just be a sweet girl who grew into a great poet, musician, and songwriter. I guess she had to go through all of that stuff to become who she was.

I maintain that everything happens for a reason. This theory drove my dad crazy-he believed it was just a way to frame stuff and justify it. He said I am a “great justifier” and a “shamelss predestinist,” and that holding this theory enable me to find a reason for anything.

Maybe it’s best not to meet your heroes. Maybe just listening to the music and tweeting is enough.

If you are a super-fan, and want to learn more, check it out. Or buy a copy to support her if you have never seen her live or own all her albums. And then keep it on the shelf. Either way, let’s celebrate Bif Naked.

My List of 2017 Reads – continually updated all year long

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands (Book Review)

Close-Your-Eyes-Hold-Hands-novel

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

Emily Shepard used to be a regular teenage girl. She had to deal with her parents who often drank too much, but her life was fairly average. At least, I gather it was from reading this story written in her own words. The problem is that she isn’t the most reliable of a narrator, and she isn’t even that great of a storyteller. In fact, she is rather troubled.

When we first meet Emily, she is homeless and living in an igloo made of trash bags. We soon find out that she has recently become an orphan due to a disaster at the nuclear power-plant. The tragedy has forced the whole town to evacuate and so, not only has she lost her parents, but she has also lost her home.

Even worse than that, her parents served as the scapegoats for the entire tragedy. The news blamed the meltdown on operator error and made reference to the fact that they were both alcoholics and had been drunk that day.

Emily learns that her name isn’t an asset. People angrily lash out and accuse her parents of ruining their lives. So, she adopts the pseudonym of Abby Bliss, after a friend of her favourite poet, Emily Dickinson, and tries to survive on her own.

She is a likable character so it is a little hard to see her go through all of the hardships she does. She is a troubled teenager, and might very well have been one had this tragedy never occurred. But she would, most definitely, had more ssupport and probably not had such a terrible year.

I haven’t read a book like this one in a while. It is told completely from Emily’s point of view and bounces around a lot. It feels like it was written by a teenage girl and is a first hand account of her troubled life.

Here’s an interesting fact about this book. The audio book is read and performed by the author’s daughter. In the afterword of the CD, we hear an interview with Chris Bohjalian and Grace Blewer. It was a really great way to end the story and learn more about how both the text and audio were created.

My List of 2017 Reads – a detailed reading log (made to share)