My Giveaway + Announcements

*My first foray into an Author Interview with Andrew Xia Fukuda is up! (Should I do more?)
*My first manga review for Natsume Yuujinchou V.1 - please let me know what you think

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March's GLBT Reading Challenge: GN Impressions of Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

The Summary: In Bechdels affecting account of her relationship with her late father, personal history becomes a work of amazing subtlety and power. Bechdel grew up in a small Pennsylvania town, in a Victorian house that her father was painstakingly restoring to its period glory. Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the "Fun Home." It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve. -- from GoodReads.Com

My Impressions: I will confess that I... don't really know how to go about reviewing this. It's been a long long time since my last GN when I read Fun Home, and while I do know how to approach a manga/manhwa review, this GN... Not so much. For me, the ART is very essential to the telling of the story in comic-formatted works, but my aesthetic for art is just so very different from the way this one is done. I'm used to flowing lines and spread pages, not these blocks of squares that I think is more prevalent in the U.S. comic strip scene. (And when I say comic strip I mean those Garfield/Zits/etc four-panel types that you often find in the newspaper, and less superhero comics) And I don't want to fault the art just because I'm not accustomed to the art tradition this comic follows, since that wouldn't be fair at all. But on the flip side, the art really does influence how I read a comic, and as I couldn't get into the art, it affected the way I read this graphic novel.

Also, funny/ironic sidenote: I always felt that the term "graphic novel" was so phony. I always thought, why can't they just call a comic a comic and get it over with? But reading Fun Home is the first time I felt like the term "graphic novel" was really applicable. I'm not sure if this is because I'm just not sold on this art style, but the whole way through I thought that this could have just been rewritten into a novel or a novella very easily even without the art. In other words, the art didn't feel so integral to me, and I felt like I was reading a "novel" with pictures in it. It was like reading, say, The Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian but with more illustrations. I'm used to my comics stripping away most of the written narration and "narrating" instead through the art, but there was heavy narration in this comic which... Was a weird comic reading experience, I'll admit. BUT I'm going on this tangent for way too long.

ANYHOW, the whole read felt just very off for me, possible due to my expectations. Not just in the art style, but in the story too. As this was a memoir, I was kinda expecting this to be about the author herself. Instead, it was very much about her father, and her relationship with her father. I got the sense that in trying to understand her father she was attempting to understand herself. Which was interesting, but, just - not what I expected. And I don't know, I was just very thrown off by all this.

But I'll give it credit and say that it told the coming-out story in a very engaging way. It was almost suspenseful, the way the author told the story out of chronological order as she tried to fit the pieces of her father's AND her own identity. Did I enjoy it though? Not so much, but I'm afraid that this is a more of a it's-not-you-it's-me situation.

Ack, I feel bad because I just can't give this Graphic Novel justice. Hence why I'm wimping out of a proper review in ratings and stuff. I just don't feel like I can judge this graphic novel fairly. Please take all these ramblings with a grain of salt. This GN is very critically acclaimed and a bestseller, so I'm sure others will enjoy this far more than I did. (Incidentally, if you're a novel-type person, I think you might like this more? Because there's less of that reading art thing you'll have to adjust to if you don't really read comics and a lot of narration, so you can have your narrative while picking up ways to read the speech bubble directions and whatnot.)

But if you have a review for this GN or know a review for this GN that I should check out, please link me in the comments and I'll check it out!

(Also, on a side, would anyone like to see manga/manhwa reviews from me here? 8D Lemme know.)

Review: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Title: Purple Hibiscus
Author(s): Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Genre: YA contemporary coming-of-age
Page Count: 307
Publisher: Algonquin Books

The Summary: In the city of Enugu, Nigeria, fifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother, Jaja, lead a privileged life. Their Papa is a wealthy and respected businessman; they live in a beautiful house; and they attend an exclusive missionary school. But, as Kambili reveals in her tender-voiced account, their home life is anything but harmonious. Her father, a fanatically religious man, has impossible expectations of his children and wife, and severely punishes them if they're less than perfect. Home is silent and suffocating.
When Kambili's loving and outspoken Aunty Ifeoma persuades her brother that the children should visit her in Nsukka, Kambili and Jaja take their first trip away from home. Once inside their Aunty Ifeoma's flat, they discover a whole new world. Books cram the shelves, curry and nutmeg permeate the air, and their cousins' laughter rings throughout the house. Jaja learns to garden and work with his hands, and Kambili secretly falls in love with a young charismatic priest.

When a military coup threatens to destroy the country and Kambili and Jaja return home changed by their newfound freedom, tension within the family escalates. And Kambili must find the strength to keep her loved ones together after her mother commits a desperate act.

-- from GoodReads.Com

The Review: I was been told to read this book years ago by someone with a reading taste I trust, but for some strange reason I kept on putting it off. Then a couple months ago I was reminded to read this book by the author’s brilliant speech “The Danger of a Single Story” (watch it, especially if you have even the tiniest interest in storytelling) and I was like, how did I not get around to reading her works yet? So I finally checked the book out of the library earlier this month and damn, what a haunting read. Beautiful, intense, and I was a fool for not having read this sooner.

This is a story revolving around the domestic abuse of the narrator’s father. And yet, this is not a story of melodrama angst and heartbreak. Yes, there is a lot of anguish and pain and sadness in this novel, but underneath these painful moments is a spark of joy, and laughter. The premise of the story is not that of a victim enduring abuse, but a girl who gets a chance to step away momentarily from a world in which her and the whole family is subjugated to the mood swings of the father, as Kambili forges a world for herself in which she can start laughing without having her father’s opinions pervading and influencing her every move. Her transformation from the fearful daughter desperate to please her father to a girl who can smile and laugh on her own whim was an extraordinary journey that I’m so happy to have had to pleasure of reading. Purple Hibiscus is the kind of novel that the reader won’t forget soon after reading.

The novel sticks really close to Kambili’s head, so I’m thinking that the potential reader’s enjoyment of the novel is very dependent on much you like or sympathize with Kambili. I personally thought Kambili was a lovely protagonist, and loved being inside her head. I love seeing how timid and quiet she was at first, and then how she grew from thereon out. We’re so in her head and her personal problems and concerns that the problems with the riots and censoring in contemporary Nigeria take a backseat, but I don’t think this is a detriment to the novel at all. Reading from Kambili’s perspective was like having a glimpse at her innermost thoughts, a peek at her private diary, and there’s something so honest about the narration that I just completely fell in love with. This novel does more than just capture an amazingly authentic teenage voice – it moves you with its sincerity and honesty.

I really enjoyed the character interactions in this novel as well. Kambili and Amaka’s rocky cousin relationship was interesting to watch, as they start to step away from their misunderstandings of one another. And the rest of the family interactions were great too. I really liked how family was so central to this novel. It was really interesting to see the contrast between Kambili’s family and her aunt’s family, from the obvious differences (abusive relationship vs. loving relationship etc) to much subtler ways, like how Kambili’s family household is very quiet, versus her aunt’s boisterous laughter that rings around her own household. There was also some very nice class differences explored in this novel, which is nice to see. But my absolutely favourite aspect of this novel was the achingly sweet budding romance between Kambili and Amandi, a priest. Their growing affection for each other felt so natural, and the author captures the emotions of teenage first love so well. If I must compare her portrayals of first love with another YA author, it’d be Jenny Han, but more The Summer I Turned Pretty-esque as oppose to Shug-like. We are convinced by their portrayal of first love because it’s very honest. Also, Adichie writes like a dream, and the way she selects her words to describe that feeling of first love is so perfect and beautifully original.

The afternoon played across my mind as I got out of the car in front of the flat. I had smiled, ran, laughed. My chest was filled with something like bath foam. Light. The lightness was so sweet i tasted it on my tongue, the sweetness of an overripe bright yellow cashew fruit. Pg. 180

Doesn’t that just make you want to pick up the book ASAP?! Even if my not-very-elegantly-phrased review is not convincing you, read it for the beautiful, lush prose, at the very least.

The Verdict: One of the most beautiful pieces of fictive narratives I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Painful, sweet, and a spark of hopeful joy – the reader will sink into Kambili’s mindset right away as she forges a life for herself. I’ve been told that as this was Adichie’s first novel, her later works are much better. Which makes me really excited because as her writing is already so amazing here, I can’t wait to see how she tops it in Half a Yellow Sun

Rating: 5/5
Enjoyment: 100%!

Title and Cover Discussion: One of the things I didn’t get to talk about in the review was the purple hibiscus motif, which was subtly woven into the story to lead us to some of the novel’s most memorable scenes. Anyhow, the title is brilliant and if you’re curious about how Adichie uses the purple hibiscus as a symbol, I say read it to find out. 8D As for the cover... I don’t know, I’m really sick of cut-off female faces, and on top of that, the black-and-white photograph doesn’t do it any favours. Another cover has the hibiscus in actual purple, but I don’t really want to rate a cover if I haven’t seen it with my own two eyes. (I find that seeing covers online and in real life is two very different experiences.) Soooooo I’m going to cheat on the cover ratings and drop them. I just don’t feel fair with faulting a cover when there’s another one out there that may be better. It just brings too much attention to the old cover, ya know? Feel free to share your thoughts on the cover, or anything you want.

Title: A+!

This counts for the Social Justice March Challenge and POC Challenge

Review: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

Title: The Agency: A Spy in the House
Author(s): Y.S. Lee
Genre: YA historical mystery
Page Count: 335
Publisher: Candlewick

Disclosure: Review Copy sent to me by Sarah Rettger

The Summary: Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there? Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets — including those of her own past.

The Review: Woah, where to start? I love this book, and I’m not confident that this review will do the book just. Well, first things first, as I suspected from following Y.S. Lee’s blog tour, the setting was AMAZING. I felt like I was transported in time to 19th century London. Everything felt so tangible, the grime and stink and grit of the city, and the house Mary was assigned to just felt so real, like I could imagine myself walking through its kitchen and corridors and what have you. Best of all, the setting felt like such an integral part of the story, a story that couldn’t take place anywhere but in that time period and in that city, that context. It’s not just, you know, Victorian window dressing to make everything look pretty and get an excuse for the ladies to wear pretty frocks. I wish more historical novels set in the Victorian era read like this book.

I’ve seen quite a number of reviews giving attention to the banter between Mary and James, saying that this is their favourite aspect of the novel, and while I too enjoy good banter (and the ones between Mary and James were really good), those didn’t make the novel for me. I mean, I do like the Mary and James interaction because they were just really well-written and fun, but this wasn’t an aspect of this novel that made the reading experience so memorable for me. Nor was it the mystery aspect, as I confess I have absolutely no taste or sense for mystery/detective written narratives. Some of the stuff that really stuck out for me was not really mentioned in the reviews I have read, such as the basic concept of the Agency Lee brought in. I love the idea of an all-female intelligence force giving opportunities to young women in Victorian England who may not otherwise have access to. It’s such an interesting and empowering aspect into the story, and I kinda wish we got to have a story that took place IN the school, a bunch of girls gathered from all walks of life learning and dreaming for a future in a kind of Victorian boarding school way. (This is because I am partial to school setting narratives) Anyhow, what I’m trying to say is that the concept of the Agency really appealed to me, and I hope that the workings of the Agency gets fleshed out as we get more books in the series.

The other thing I really like about this novel was just Mary herself. I found her fascinating and relatable, a really interesting yet flawed character. It’s been a while since my favourite character turned out to be the narrator of the whole story, and it’s really nice to always be on the narrator’s side for once, lol. I liked her brashness, her wit, how she takes action without always thinking things through clearly. I also liked that, even though she’s not exactly the conventional leading lady for a Victorian England setting, Mary still fits into the historical setting without feeling like a “modern” day woman transported in time. Mary, despite not being conventional, is still very much shaped by the Victorian era she lived in, and I appreciate that. I enjoyed all her interactions with the rest of the cast. There’s a nice amount of character development in this book, wherein people change as they encounter and talk with others, and getting to see all of this from Mary’s perspective was lots of fun. Not only did we get to see other people change, but we can also pick up on the subtle changes in Mary that she herself may not realize as of yet. In fact, I must confess, the most memorable character interaction scene was not between James and Mary, but this one scene towards the end, with Angelica as they talked about what they want and their futures. In fact, my favourite line came out of that scene! “It’s terrifying to be on the verge of finally getting what you want.” (pg. 281) You know that moment when something you’ve hoped for seems finally possible to attain, how it’s kinda scary but amazing all at once? This moment of interaction just brought back all those emotions: of self-reflection and hope and a dash of fear for the unknown. (I do know that this comes up with Cass too, but I happen to like this moment of interaction more. I suspect because this one was more dialogue-y?) I really liked seeing how Angelica grows in Mary’s eyes, from the spoiled sullen girl she was assigned to, to the lady with a goal to fulfill.

I liked how Y.S. Lee handled the passing aspect as well. Will not go into details about this as it’s spoilery, but I enjoyed slowly finding out more about Mary’s murky, hidden past, and I hope we get to see more of this family exploration in the next few books. The writing of the novel was fluid and accessible, almost deflecting attention from itself so that the reader can concentrate on the many plot twists thrown our way, which is very helpful. The ending left me satisfied yet wanting more story, new adventures for our leading lady Mary Quinn. (WHERE IS THE CIGAR BOX?! I MUST KNOW. *whimpers*) The sequel just can’t come out fast enough.

The Verdict: Excellent book, and I think everyone should give this novel a try. It was an engrossing read, with a lead character you can root for with all your heart, an interesting premise, and a nice heavy amount of twists to keep mystery fans pondering. I, personally, am dying for the sequel. Is it August yet?!

Rating: 4.5/5
Enjoyment: 100%

Title and Cover Discussion: I know technically this book is called The Spy in the House and the seriesname is called The Agency, but I keep calling this book the Agency in my head. I suspect I’ll start properly calling it The Spy in the House once the sequel comes out though. As for the cover, I’m a bit ambivalent. Passing is a bit complicated to portray when we have face covers, but getting a white model (I think the model is ‘white’? Feel free to correct me) to portraying a passing protagonist is rather problematic. I'm informed that the model is indeed of mixed heritage. I suspect this cover would work better for me if it was an illustrated cover instead, but oh well... It’s visually appealing, I’ll admit. Skipping out on ratings because I’m ambivalent about how I’d rate them. =D

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spotlighting Y.S. Lee's epic blog tour of awesome

At first I was debating whether or not I should work on a review post for Y.S. Lee's debut book of awesome The Agency: A Spy in the House, orrrrrrr if I should talk about her amazing blog tour and interviews. I suspect it'd be more conventional for me to talk about the posts by an author AFTER having actually reviewed the book on the blog, but I just can't resist this post. Because Y.S. Lee's blog tour? Was the best blog tour I've ever seen!

But first, I suppose I should confess to the reasons why I started checking out her blog tour in the first place. I don't normally get excited about debut books, but Ari from Reading in Color directed my attention to this book and I clicked around to check out her site for some excerpts to see if this book could be my thing. Which had me stumbling upon this little 10 Things You Didn't Know About Me post on Walker Books, wherein I found out the author was grew up in Singapore and moved to Canada when she was two and a half. And I was like, hey, if we replaced Singapore with Malaysia, that could be me! And was duly impressed that she actually spoke English, Chinese *and* Malay before getting to Canada. (I am no natural linguist: only knew Mandarin pre-school years, which I lost, and gained French and English instead.) Also, I was just charmed by the 10 things list in general. She just sounded really fun and witty. But I was still wary about the book itself. The summary didn't really make it sound like my thing, since I don't normally enjoy mystery novels (TV shows is a whole different story though), and a book about spies will abound with mystery-ness. Still, I kept the author's site bookmarked, and kept the book in mind.

Fast forward to this month of March, wherein bits of Y.S. Lee's blog tour posts were cropping up in my google reader, coupled with usually glowing reviews next to them. I was once again charmed by her posts. I'll confess that since being introduced to the concept of blog tours after having made this book blog, I was not converted to its appeal. I usually find the endless string of interviews dull (there's only so many times I can read the same answers for the similar type questions of Where Do You Get Your Ideas? and What's Your Inspiration or something), and a too large onslaught of reviews for the same book usually creates apathy on my part. However, if everyone had blog tours like Y.S. Lee's I'd never complain again. She totally set a new bar for the quality I expect out of a blog tour. Her guest posts are AMAZING. Seriously, they make the history factoid nerd in me all floaty in happiness. It's amazing how much she knows about Victorian England, and I love how accessible her posts are, this wry touch to her posts that I really enjoy. It also made me confident that Y.S. Lee's version of Victorian London will come to life with her impeccable amount of research. And it may also have ruined me for other blog tours forever - for historical novels anyhow. I'll probably be thinking inside, But why don't you have awesome geeky guest posts on history factoids of awesome?! Why aren't your guest posts like Y.S. Lee's??!?! Which I suppose is unfair to these future historical authors pursuing their blog tours, but new standards must be met! 8D

Heck, I even enjoyed the interviews, and I usually ignore Author interview posts. Her answers were very conversational and I approve her thoughts on Jane Eyre ending (one word for y'all on that subject: disappointing). Also, her answer to Steph Su's interview on her possible next novel was the best answer EVER (for me, anyhow. I acknowledge my South-East Asia-centric bias here.) I liked seeing everyone's opinion on the novel in their reviews, and they didn't start going dull on me mostly because of how the reviews were carefully worded so as to not give away the mystery stuff, and by consequence fuelled my imagination. I was all, What is this big secret no one wants to spill?! and combed through every word of the review trying to gather hints... Which is totally ironic since my initial reservations revolved around the whole mystery factor, lol.

*coughs* So anyhow: Y.S. Lee's blog tour posts are the best things ever and everyone should read them. And as I'm the most amazing and generous person alive, I decided that I'm going to LINK all 8 of the posts right here! 8D

Sexy Victorians
Myth 1: “Lie back and think of England”. There is absolutely no evidence that Queen Victoria (or any other woman of the 1800s) ever advised anyone to “lie back and think of England” during sex. In fact, Queen Victoria thought her husband, Prince Albert, was gorgeous and confided to a friend that “Greek statues are nothing compared to Albert in his bath”.


Victorian Child Labour
In a different district, work might involve crawling through a coal mine, because skinny bodies and tiny fingers were good at collecting little bits of coal. Urban children went to work in factories, where their small fingers were useful once again – until they lost them in industrial accidents, and were thus unemployable.


Victorians of Colour
So when I started to imagine my novel, The Agency: A Spy in the House, I included a population I’d stumbled across in my PhD research: Lascars, aka sailors from the Asian subcontinent. Some were simply passing through London between ocean voyages; others chose to settle down, marrying English women and having families; others still were stuck in England, unable to find passage back to their home countries. For this last group, there were actually specific charities that aimed to help them (and convert them to Christianity at the same time). The “Imperial Baptist East London Refuge for Destitute Asiatic Sailors” mentioned in Spy is parody of their usual tone.

There are ASIANS, in a Victorian England setting!!! This post alone would have gotten me to fork out my money for the first available copy in my bookstore.

5 Reasons Why Historical Fiction > Time Travel
The family toothbrush. According to John Sutherland, whom I never doubt, dental hygiene is a relative latecomer to Western culture. In his terrific essay, “Heathcliff’s toothbrush”, Sutherland contemplates the state of our favourite Brontë psychopath’s teeth. Apparently, Heathcliff is unlikely to be able to gnash his gleaming white teeth in fury, because it would be rare for men of his age to have gnashable teeth. Indeed, while Victorians bathed regularly and believed in fresh air, they generally had only one toothbrush per household; the family toothbrush, if you will, in much the same way that families now have one nailbrush, or one shoe-polishing kit. A fortnight’s stay in 1840, anyone? I thought not.

Ewwwwwwwwwwww. Also a very convincing argument. 8D

Cadavers and Childbirth
Semmelweis noticed that at the doctor-staffed clinic, about 10% of the women died of something called childbed fever. In contrast, at the midwife-staffed clinic, about 4% of the women died of childbed fever (also called puerperal fever).

This didn’t make sense to Semmelweis. The higher death rate at the doctors’ clinic troubled him for years – until he realized that the doctors moved freely between the autopsy room and the delivery ward. (Yes, you read that correctly: they sliced open corpses, then went straight on to deliver babies without washing their hands in between!)

... And you thought the family toothbrush was bad. *grins*

The Great Stink
All through the history of the River Thames, Londoners dumped their garbage into it: food scraps, human waste, anything they didn’t want to deal with… it all went into the river. It’s a big river, though, and this was basically okay. They also used it as a source of water for cooking and bathing. Again, it was mostly tolerable. And then came the 1840s, and the invention of the flush toilet. Guess where they all flushed into? That’s right. Straight. Into. The Thames.

This is all horrifying in a fascinating way, y/y???!! *inner history geek is happy*

Victorians and Opium
Laudanum, however, was a liquid tincture of opium widely prescribed by doctors for pains, for anxiety, as a sleeping aid, and other general ailments for which a little light sedative might be helpful. It was unregulated in Victorian England. It was a major ingredient in lots of over-the-counter medicines, and few households were without their little bottle of laudanum.

I really liked how she debunked the whole opium dens and the exotic east connotations opium has here. =D

Victorians and the Corset
Little-known truth: men sometimes wore corsets, too. It’s true, it’s true! Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, was admired for his great posture and splendid tailoring. Turns out that he had help with his posture. And he certainly wasn’t alone.


Do go check out these epic guest posts. 8D Also, I promise a review for The Agency: A Spy in the House sometime this week. 8D

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Review: A Million Shades of Grey by Cynthia Kadohata

Title: A Million Shades of Grey
Author(s): Cynthia Kadohata
Genre: MG Historical, War
Page Count: 216
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Disclosure: I received this review copy from Book Chick City

The Summary: Y'Tin wants nothing more than to spend the rest of his life with Lady, his elephant, and become a elephant handler. But the Vietnam War looms closer and closer into his tribe's every day life. As the Americans leave and the North Vietnamese army marches closer and closer, Y'Tin seeks a way to live and stay with Lady - no matter what it takes.

The Review: Some confessions I must make before I proceed with the review: I love Cynthia Kadohata's works. From the momemt I read the first page of Weedflower back in the cold wintery day of January last year, I fell in love. Kadohata has this wonderful way of capturing her protagonists' voice, and her stories are so intimate, so personal, like the protagonist is speaking to me, and her stories break my heart in all the right places.

Now, despite this love, I was also somewhat apprehensive about this novel. For one thing, as much as I love Weedflower, Kira-Kira, and Cracker: The Best Dog in Vietnam, I did not care for Outside Beauty at all, which was her latest work just before A Million Shades of Grey came out. It utterly failed to impress me. That was the first time I felt that the voice of the protagonist was unconvincing, and voice is the best aspect of Kadohata's writing. I, well, I admit to wondering if maybe Kadohata might be losing her touch. That coupled with the fact that this will be the first novel I read by her with a male protagonist, and I was weary in wondering whether she could pull off a male's voice.

Well, this book just blew all my apprehensions out of the water, and taught me that I should just never doubt Cynthia Kadohata's mastery in writing ever again (I'll just chalk Outside Beauty as an anomaly). It was amazing. Brilliant! It is actually the saddest Kadohata story I've read, and if anyone's familiar with any of her other titles, you know I'm really saying something here.

Y'Tin was a brilliant protagonist. Kadohata proved to me that not only can she completely charm me with her portrayal of a young boy's voice, but capture the child perspective of the war around him in the most convincing fashion. I was in Y'Tin's head the whole way through, and every laugh, every heartbreak Y'Tin went through, I not only sympathized, I felt it inside with him. His heartrendering relationship with Lady, the elephant he trained, was one of the most beautiful animal companion relationships I've ever seen, and I'm saying this as a person who is normally skeptical of animal companionship tales. Y'Tin tells us he cares about Lady more than anything in the world, and you just - you really believe it, and that's why when the events of the novel unravel, it just breaks you - there.

And the story! Wow, what a story. Like all of Kadohata's work, the ride is slow but sure, as she draws you into the lives of her characters then slowly builds up the events, one at a time to a breathtaking climax, and an ending that will tear your heart out. If anyone was worried about this book not being able to pull off the grittiness and ravages of a war setting - since, well, as much as I loved Cracker, Kadohata gave us a very sanitized version of the Vietnam War in that particular book - no need to worry about that here, the horrors of war are shown in all its traumatizing glory! I may or may not have completely embarrassed myself at a dinner party as people saw me bawling in public, book in hand. I like how Kadohata decided to show the war from the Montagnards' perspective, an indigenous tribe living out in the jungle of Vietnam. It offers us a perspective that's outside of the usual Vietcong or American GI perspective, yet still very much a part of the war. Y'Tin's family helped out the Americans, and it was fascinating to see the effects towards the end of the war for this decision, as the Americans left them to their fate and the Vietcongs come closing in. I was reading a review of this book by The Bookbag which argued that it idealized the American GIs way too much and vilified the Vietcongs. Which is a valid interpretation, and I do see shades of that in the story, but I think the reason why it worked for me, this portrayal of the Montagnards helping the GIs is that the Montagnards do not benefit from this aid. The Americans were not at all their knights in shining armour coming to their rescue - it was quite the opposite. The whole story is set around the time when the Montagnards were to fend for themselves, and explores the broken promises of protection made by the Americans, and it was very sad, and very painful to see. We see the slow change in which Y'Tin's peers reacted around him, as the people within his tribe blamed his family for helping the Americans and it's a credit to Kadohata's fantastic writing abilities that she is able to render these moments heartwrenching without overwrought writing.

It's worth noting however that while there were some positive portrayals of the Americans, by contrast there were absolutely none of that when we see portrayals of the Vietnamese people. If they weren't calling the Montagnard savages, they were attacking their villages. I am not too 100% sure of Thorat's ethnicity, who was character portrayed sympathetically, but even so, he was a sympathetic teacher teaching French, a colonial language. (Oh! Sidenote: the French here is all grammatically correct! I say this because I often get annoyed when I find books that don't bother checking their grammar when they decide to have the characters spreaking French in the story.) Hopefully Cynthia Kadohata would consider writing another novel set in Vietnam that gives the side of the Vietnamese more justice.

The Verdict: This is decidedly the best work by Cynthia Kadohata so far, and most definitely my favourite. Clear, crisp writing, a charming protagonist, a sweet animal companion tale, and a war-ridden setting that shatters your heart. After reading this novel, I couldn't get the story out of my head for weeks. This book will make you smile, laugh, cry, and leaves you with a sad, yet hopeful at the end. What more can we want out of a novel, really? This book deserves to be up there and known with the other amazingly wrought war stories such as Markus Zusak's The Book Thief and the like. Run, don't walk, to get a copy of this novel. You won't regret it.

Rating: 4/5
Enjoyment: 100%

Title and Cover Discussion: The title is passable, I suppose. However, the title doesn't give me an immediate connection to what I've read in the story. Which is too bad, since all her other titles (Kira-Kira, Outside Beauty, Cracker, Weedflower) did this so well. But I think it hints at the layers of war being explored, that the side to the story isn't all just black and white, that there's the people not on either sides. Of course, I could be wrong, and those who've read the novel can feel free to share the title thoughts they have about this with me here. I'm all ears! I do love the cover. It's not exactly shiny or anything but it has Y'Tin AND Lady being all BFF there! How can I not love it? ♥ And I passed by the hardcover of this book a while back in the bookstore and the inside of the cover is beautifullll. It is the pattern of the jungle leaves we see on the top of the cover. But I'm not really a fan of the cover for the hardback... What's the difference, you ask? Well, they photoshopped in the 'Asian' hat. Not only does Y'Tin never actually wear that hat in the story, but I get the sense that the hat was pasted on to hint and the ~*exotic*~ Asian-ness. This is not the first time this happened with Kadohata's covers, but they make me sigh. lol, but w/e my version doesn't have the hat on it so YAY HAPPINESS. ♥

Title: B
Cover: A

This counts for the POC reading challenge.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Discussion Post: Reading in a Second Language

Ughhhhhh I'm supposed to be doing school stuff like studying for finals omfg but this post won't go out of my head, and I've been wanting to hold a discussion-type post here for a long time, wherein I get feedback from my readers! (Okay not true, the long time thing. I did have a sort of last minute discussion thing towards my winner of contest post, wherein after I gave answers to the Chinese Actress questions, I further asked about the Chinese movies/shows ppl like to watch, or would like to start watching, buuuuuuut that isn't quite a READING related discussion, which I plan on having here.*)

The topic in which I'd like to discussion: Reading in a Second Language

As a few of you may already know, besides English I do happen to be able to speak/read/write in another language with passable fluency: French. I'm currently at the stage wherein I can hold my own in conversations, but do not quite have the expanded vocabulary nor slangy ease to be considered fully fluent. In the past few weeks, as I tried rushing my French readings to write my paper for one of my classes, I decided to time how long it took me to read my assigned books. Result?

For french works, I was reading at 50 pages an hour.

I was quite horrified, to say the least. Why is this, you say? Because normally, in English, I read at least twice that pace. Reading 100+ pages an hour is no big deal for me. In fact, I suspect that would be me going quite slow. I easily devour 400-500 page books in about three or four hours, provided I'm not distracted by anything. Just, reading at half-speed makes me feel so bogged down, because I know in another language that I'm fluent at, I can do so much better. And I really want to be fluent in French. I do, I do.**

I've made an oath to try at speed up my French reading by taking the time to read French books leisurely (and not just once a week my textbook for one course) on a daily basis. For now, I'm holding off reading the what I'd call 'difficult' books and reading the ones with simple enough prose that, even if I didn't understand all the words, I can at least guess by context. (I'm the type of reader that hates referring to the dictionary for every word I don't understand. If I don't know it but can guess it's meaning I'd just speed on forward.) Hopefully when I have more time during the summary I'll go through and read Alexandre Dumas' works in French, particularly Le comte de Monte-Cristo, because while I really want to read it, reading it in French without a dictionary is quite beyond me. Believe me, I tried. *sighs*

But! Back to bring about a discussion focus on this: as I was thinking about how I could increase my french-reading capacities, I also started thinking about the ties between the degree of fluency in the language and reading choices. I was not too young that I don't remember my struggles with my English reading abilities as a child. English was not a language taught explicitly to me in school until Grade 3, when the French Immersions*** finally have a single class in English. I could speak fluently in English of course, due to growing up in the Anglo-speaking part of Canada, but my reading abilities were not quite on par. I still remember how I slowly progressed in my English readings, starting off with the early chapter books and by the sheer force of trying to read every single day, I read faster and faster to the point wherein I can read at the pace I am at now. I reminded myself that gaining the skills to read was not easy. How I couldn't read certain books if they were too long, or had too many unrecognizable words that I couldn't figure out by sounding out. I wouldn't say this inability to read the 'harder' books ruined my early reading experience, since I deeply enjoyed the books I read, but it did stop me from reading a type of book, or at the very least I couldn't read all the books I would have found interesting from hearing the summary only, because I didn't have the words to read them. Your vocabulary can certainly be enriched by the books you read, but it can also stop you from reading books with outlandish vocabulary until you have access to a bigger vocabulary in order to read them. And getting a bigger, stronger vocabulary takes time.

And then I go even further back and think about how you need a certain kind fluency with a language to even begin enjoying the stories you read. I think, there are two ends of learning how to read in a language. There's the first part, wherein you're still trying to memorize the basics, ie.e the letters for phonetic script, and then this basics have to start coming together to make words, then words with other words to create phrases, then eventually a sentence that has meaning. And I think, until you get to the point wherein you can see that sentence and that sentence has meaning for you, can your reading abilities or speed start taking flight towards the path of claiming reading language fluency. Perhaps this is just a roundabout way of consoling myself over my French reading speed, by telling myself I can only go up from here if I just put effort, that I'm over the big hurdle already and have only up to go, but it *is* a comforting thought for me. It keeps me optimistic, and I think you need that, when trying to acquire fluency in another language. =D

I do have more thoughts on language fluency and transitioning between different languages and whatnot, but I think I'll stop here.

Questions for my readers: Do you read in two or more languages? If so, how does your reading speed between the two compare? Is your reading material affected by your acquired vocab on what you can read? Any perks in a potentially expanded reading choice of material by knowing two or more languages? Or, if you don't know more than one language, do you think you'll ever try picking up another language? I always think that learning languages is tough, damn hard work, and if I were to ever pick up another language (or make another excruciatingly painful attempt at improving my Chinese, which has yet to go anywhere), I always like to imagine what I *could* use so-or-so language for, so that all that work and sweat will pay off, lol. Anything at all you'd like to talk about that's relevant to this post, I'd love to hear. =D

*Do feel free to go back and answer, if you want to participate in that discussion! I will see the comments and will most likely reply, lol.

**Why else would I suffer through signing up for french courses and having to write my papers in french for?

***French Immersion is a program wherein parents of non-french speaking backgrounds can enroll their kids into elementary school to learn the french language.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Linky linky links! Or, In Which Other Bloggers Write Very Epic Posts

Helloooooooo book blog. Which I have sadly neglected in the past few days. Unfortunately, this post isn't a post declaring my return, as I'm still swamped by a million research papers coming up and finals looming overhead, but I thought I'd take the time to point out some posts because, woahhhhh so many thoughtfully written posts this week. Also, an excuse to procrastinate.

In the world of US Sci-Fi blogsphere, we got this really ridiculously ethnocentric "World SF" post by Spinrad (Third World Worlds, APPROACH WITH CAUTION, THE FAIL IS HEADDESK-INDUCING) this week. Fortunately, there are awesome rebuttals by others about how wrong this is, and one of my favourites is the rebuttal by Haikasoru: World SF, Worth Reading BEFORE developing an opinion. Damn, I love this imprint. ♥ (Loups-Garous should come out, like, NOW.)

The problem is that Spinrad is just making an appeal to ignorance. He’s not familiar with the many writers of world SF, so he assumes they do not exist. For whatever reason, though he could be familiar with Japanese SF as some of it has been translated into English, he decided to ignore actually existing Japanese SF. He also utterly ignores Chinese SF, which has been a going concern since 1904 at least. China is also the home of Science Fiction World, the most widely read SF magazine on the planet.

Also more ridiculous fail over this orientalizing term for Asian steampunk, which, imo, should just be called Asian steampunk, and not that new term Gatehouse is trying to promote. Jha explains why this term is so wrong in the most eloquent fashion: Countering Victorientalism. Seriously, read it slowly, take it in before jumping into conclusions. And I swear to the heavens there won't be any use of this Victor******ism here on this blog. Everyone can just damn well call it Asian steampunk and get over themselves.

Due to the power invested in Westerners today, borne from the history of colonization, there is no way to safely recreate the Orient, without yet creating more assumptions of stereotypes, without imposition of these stereotypes on actual people. This practice has precedent in the term “The Orient” alone: once a simple term to describe “the East”, it has over time become loaded with immediate association to the exotic, the opposite, the Other.
Today, Westerners continue to consume cultural artifacts from other cultures, many of whom unaware, or unwilling to acknowledge, that cultures are not meant for decoration, nor do they exist for the entertainment of the current hegemony, much like Europeans from the 19th century buying porcelain and silk.

Justine Larbalestier has a continuation of amazing guest posts on her blog, and Alaya Johnson's "What My Dad Said" broke my heart. Please, do read the whole thing.

“Alaya,” my Dad said, later that day, over dinner, “you have to understand that you live in the world. You can’t mess around with the way you wish things would be. You have to deal with the way that they are. A black woman writing a book with a cover like that is going to get shoved in a category you might not want to be in.”

ninefly has been posting every friday about covers in her cover cravings meme, and this week's theme is one of my favourites: Title Fonts *grins*

I love it when cover artists take the time to really fancify the titles rather than just slap them on half-assed in the default Times New Roman font (though that works for some designs).

choco wrote a hilarious post called YA fiction of the future on YA titles that landed a 7-figure deal this week. (Yes you read that correctly: S-E-V-E-N.) All debut too. Colour me jealous. The best part about this post though? Is how amazingly funny choco is. (You don't follow her yet? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? Go and follow her now.)

But what will the next big advance go to?

I'm betting on mermen. Their skin scales sparkle in the water! What danger their hunger for blood fish poses! They could carry Bella the main character on their backs and race swim off into the deep green blue meadows waters of the forest sea! And play baseball water polo in truly EPIC proportions!

Justin Allen wrote a mega, megaaaaaaaa long humourous post with a title to match it called For the Love of Pete, Don't Mix Your Genres; Or... The New York Times Book Review Hates YOU, but I Don't; Or... Why Where Your Book Gets Shelved Determines Your Intelligence, Work-Ethic and Value to Society. It's pretty classic genre vs. "literary" and my favourite aspect was the mixing of genres part. Quoting his intro to the 3-way essay:

That's a longish title I'll admit, and while I generally don't go in for such larded vessels, in this case I'm willing to make an exception. Monstrous though it may seem (and most assuredly is), the above title sums up pretty much everything I have to say on the subjects of writing and publishing. The first line ought to be read as a word of warning to struggling writers. The second explains - in as much as an explanation of the unintelligible is even possible - why the publishing industry behaves as it does. And the third highlights our common enemy, which turns out to be ourselves.
Really - if I must say so myself - that title is a wonder of economy, precision and restraint. But maybe you'd like me to elaborate? Normally I'd refuse - principally on the grounds that my arguments tend to be weakened by exploration - but as I have been contracted to provide a minimum of fifteen minutes of reading diversion, I will betray myself and attempt to explain...

Sonya Chung has a very interesting post on covers called A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Designing a Book Jacket, specifically her cover of her new book Long for This World by Sonya Chung. It's pretty amusing, but I'm also, I'll admit, somewhat miffed. Why yes Asians CAN have wavy/curly/thick hair too! AND go from dark brown to reddish brown too without the use of perm/dye/having white ancestry. It's not always all straight jet black! Dun, dun, dun. Next thing you know I'll be claiming we don't all have "single" eyelids. WHEN WILL THE WONDERS CEASE. [/sarcasm] *coughs* But it's an interesting post when we contrast it with the stereotyped Asian covers.

I mentioned these responses to my editor. She was shocked; it never occurred to her that the figure would be perceived as non-Asian, nor did it to me. As I looked more closely, brightening my screen settings, I saw that the woman’s hair had brownish highlights, accentuated by the light emanating from the horizon; it also had a slight wave to it. I thought, this must be what my friends are reacting to.

Well, that's all for now. Again, sorry for not being around. I probably won't be active here until like, April (school's kicking my ass to the curb, bleh) but do know that I do check my google reader and try to keep somewhat in the loop, even though I'm rarely dropping by with comments now. I'll be backkkkkkk *slinks back into study/essay-ing land*

P.S. incidentally, you may potentially find me more active on my twitter. Or even my other general blog. You know, in case you guys miss my voice or something. =D

Friday, March 5, 2010

Signal Alert: Cover Whitewashing of White Cat ETA w/ new cover photo & link

I've been linked by Meaghan on her own blog and Claire's goodreads review about the whitewashing of Holly Black's upcoming White Cat novel. As far as I understand, WC is about a boy named Cassel who lives in an alternate world that's similar to our own, wherein there's cursework.

Here's an except of Meaghan's post, wherein she shows us quotes that hint at Cassel's ethnicity:

(Quotes taken from the ARC, and thus may not be exactly matched the final, published edition. I've removed character names to avoid spoilers.)
[My brother's] dark skin makes his teeth look whiter when he smiles. pg. 30

I shake my head. "...Gramps says that his father--her grandfather--was a maharaja of India. He sold tonics from Calcutta to the Midwest. Makes some sense that he could be Indian. His last name, Singer, could be derived from Singh."
"Your grandfather told me that your family was descended from runaway slaves," she says. [...]
"Yeah," I say. "I like the maharaja story better. And don't even get me started on the one where we're Iroquois." pg. 43

______'s hands go to her hips. "She's your [Cassel's] cousin?"
______ scrunches her eyes for a moment, then a wide grin splits her face. "Oh! Because I'm so pale, right?" pg. 226

Aaaaaaaaand here's the cover:

I'm doubly sad about this because the publisher of White Cat is Simon and Schuster, who did the cover for Bleeding Violet. Two steps forward, ten steps back?

Incidentally, the UK cover is simply of the cat, by a different company. If this unfortunate whitewashed cover won't get changed before publication, I'll be getting the UK one. On its own, a cat cover isn't problematic in the slightest, but I think we'll find that with covers of novels with a POC characters, if the cover ain't whitewashed then it is probably an object/design-heavy/silhouette cover. The Faces of POC are rarely featured on covers themselves. Note: am speaking specifically on the US YA market, other markets and genres may have different-but-similar situations. It's never about just the whitewashing of one singular cover, it's about how the whitewashing of covers is still prevalent in the publishing industry to this day. And you know what? That's racist. Period, full stop.

Re:White Cat cover, I'll be filing a complaint on S&S's contact form. I won't be allowing comments on this post because I currently have two research papers due one after another in a couple days and I don't think I can give any full attention to either moderating or responding to this topic at hand. I hope that those who feel strongly that whitewashing is wrong will considering speaking out. Sometimes if we generate enough noise change can happen, re:Liar and re:Magic Under Glass. One can hope that something similar can happen for this cover.

In the meantime, for those who want to consider taking pro-actions against whitewashing covers, consider joining Readers Against WhiteWashing, if you have facebook. Or consider supporting books that do feature POC characters on the cover.

Ta, folks.

ETA with New Cover of White Cat:

As we can see, this photo is the less-photoshopped-to-make-cover-model-paler-than-he-actually-is cover. Book Smugglers did an intensive writeup on this issue: Whitewashing Strikes Again? The Case of White Cat by Holly Black

Still bogged down by papers, so no thinky-thoughts from me on this for a while. But if you want to have discussion do go to the Book Smuggler's post and comment there if you wanna talk it out, etc.

(Should I do IMM? *sighs* I only got one book, maybe I'll just clump it together with next week... though it'd be good procrastination NO NO NO MUST WRITE PAPERS.)

Winner for My 50 Followers Giveaway Contest!!

Disclosure: I drew out the number based on Random.Org. =D

And the winner issssssss


*throws confetti*

I have sent you an email. Please respond within 48 hours. If I don't get a response I'll have to choose another winner.

ANYHOW, some interesting stats and, of course, the answers to Recognize Your Chinese Actresses? under cut.