Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday #5

So, Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. This week's theme: "Top Ten Book Nerds."

These are not in any particular order, and I think I might do only 5. Book Nerds -- I'd kinda like to see more cross my path. And more book nerds who don't end up in some angsty relationship with the bad boy, or the popular boy, where she then moans about how unpopular/ugly she is, and why would he choose her?? That romantic plot needs to be burned at the stake, please.

(I'm in a slightly bad mood at the moment. Everything I'm picking up lately has some sort of weak romance in it. Now I don't mind romance if done right, but I'm talking about the they-wanna-get-married-after-knowing-each-other-two days sort of romance, where it is obvious that these two characters a.) have nothing in common, or b.) plan on getting into a relationship that is unequal/somewhat creepy.)


1. Hermione from Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling)

Of course. Who isn't choosing Hermione? The thing about Hermione is that she has a confidence and an intelligence that isn't mocked or made a joke of. Harry, Ron, and Hermione form a solid friendship with each other, and Hermione is an equal part of that -- the other two often rely on her intelligence and her ability to figure out what's going on.

2. Meggie from Inkheart (Cornelia Funke)

Meggie... I haven't read Inkheart in years, but Meggie was one of my favorite characters growing up. Apart from the enviable ability to read things into existence, she was a tough, resourceful young girl and adventurous to boot. Many young girls go out on journeys to find lost fathers, lost friends, or other lost loved ones, but Meggie stood out from the crowd by her character and her tenacity.

3. Annabeth from Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Rick Riordan)

I haven't read this series in a long while, either. But who doesn't love Annabeth? I like her better than Percy, in some respects. She's incredibly patient with him. And she's going on these adventures for her own sake, not because she's in love with Percy -- she wants to go out and see the world, rather than just reluctantly tag along. She's quick, clever, and courageous, and she is a real hero. There may not be a prophecy where she's the Chosen One, but I'd read a story with her as the main character any day. (Plus, she reads things in Ancient Greek because she finds it easier than English. Don't tell me that's not epic.)

4. Matilda from Matilda (Ronald Dahl) 

Okay, yes, I didn't finish reading the book. I did watch the movie all the way through. That counts for something, right? Matilda's love of books didn't consume her character; she was so much more than just the "avid reader". She used her powers to cause mischief for the bad guys and to have fun. I read way too many novels where the main character angsts about her newfound powers and what it means and how magic cannot possibly be real. Matilda acts on her own, without needing any Wise Old Mentor sit around explaining to her exactly what her powers are and what she needs to use them for.

5. Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien)

In all honesty, I didn't even like the Hobbit when I read it the first time. Surprising, I know, considering my love of fantasy. But when I read it a second time for an AP Lit project, I fell in love with it in a way I didn't the first time around. I can actually sympathize with Bilbo Baggins -- being dragged away from a comfy home and all the books for an adventure?! No thank you! And unlike an awful lot of other novels, Tolkien played this character card without dipping his novel in angst and cliches. Bilbo is remarkably adaptable, despite his yearning to go home. And he's realistic in his complaints. He doesn't whine and let everyone else do all the work; he grumbles and he saves their butts several times.

The other five nerd characters are still ideas in my head. I can't very well spoil them for you.

What about you? I'm sure you chose at least one of the above. Leave a comment about who your favorite characters are!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Note on Manga (which is totally within the scope of this blog.)

Alright. So.

I have recently become more and more interested in manga. Which is completely different from comic books/graphic novels. Let me show you.

First of all, manga and comics/graphic novels have entirely different styles of art. Comic books and graphic novels reflect Western standards of art; the people, though in a cartoon-y style, have that quality to their face and clothes. That quality I can't describe, because I don't have a degree in Art History (yet). But manga has a more angular quality to the face, with more expressive emphasis on the eyes. There are other differences, as well, in scenery and such like.

They also have different tropes. Comics, in my experience, often involve superheroes, or people with superhuman abilities who save the world (or city) from evil. I realize that is a gross simplification, and anyways, done right the superhero trope can have infinite fascinating variations, and the characterization can be quite good. I admit I am mostly familiar with Superman, Batman, and others (not through reading them, but through pop culture). Again, I am not an expert on comic books by any means, and I am sure there are plenty of exceptions to these guidelines I've set out. 

Graphic novels, from what I see, are often more typical novels in an image form; there's a graphic novel for Artemis Fowl, for some of James Patterson's works, and other such works. Again, I am not an expert on graphic novels. I don't read them as much. But I have come across original writing in graphic novel form (one such is Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi -- which is called a graphic novel in its Amazon review, and does not have that distinctive manga style to the artwork).

But manga is both original art/writing, and is not focused on black and white/good and evil. I've come across many on supernatural themes (Soul Eater, Black Butler, etc), but also on fantasy/sci-fi themes (Full Metal Alchemist, etc), and the characters are generally more... nuanced. There's a fascination on the shades of gray. In Black Butler, for example, Ciel Phantomhive saves Victorian London from evil... but he is cold-hearted himself, and of course his butler is a demon he summoned to help avenge the Phantomhive name. In Full Metal Alchemist, brothers Ed and Alphonse Elric travel the world looking for the sorcerer's stone... but not for idealist standards. They are looking to get their bodies back, after a horrifying and forbidden alchemical ritual to raise their mother from the dead went wrong.

(Let me state again: THESE ARE TROPES. AND I AM NOT AN EXPERT ON SAID TROPES. If you are fascinated by the intricate differences between comic books, graphic novels, and manga, then do some research yourself.)

All of that being said, I do believe manga novels are a legitimate form of media, not inferior to Western artwork, and most definitely can be a books-and-writing sort of topic. A fiction novel sort of topic. Because they are like regular novels, in the sense that they convey a story (in print) through the use of characters, dialogue, backstory, plot, and narrative. And in the same way, anime (the video form of manga novels) are definitely a sort of movie/cinematic form of media, as they do the same as books except in video, moving-picture form. The same as regular movies, only anime. 

Why am I going on about this topic, you may ask? Because I keep meeting people who think anime/manga are inferior/not as good as Western "literature"/find it lowbrow entertainment/ think it's for children. And I've been watching anime, reading manga novels, and I have to say, I don't find these arguments to be true at all.

First of all, why would you compare manga and Western literature? Western literature has survived the ages, yes, but they aren't some objective marker for what is good and pure in the writing world. Western literature has generally survived by fate, luck, what-have-you. For every literary work of literature, there's a hundred good literary works that didn't survive, due to a fluke of time. And manga/anime aren't even Western; why measure them against it? What does that prove? Nothing. They stand on their own feet, and there are just as many good stories in manga/anime as you'll find in any other form of media. 

Second of all, I hate the "lowbrow/inferior entertainment for the masses" argument. That is what sci-fi/fantasy is, as well -- "lowbrow." "Inferior." There are many, many good stories, with intricacies and nuances you miss because you think the work is a fluffy nothing. I hate that argument when I come across it in my favorite genre, fantasy; and I most certainly hate it in anime/manga. It's not even about you insulting my taste in bookish things. It's about your stubborn and worrying hatred of something so... random. They're books, stories -- they won't melt your brain if they aren't considered the Western-literature standard by society. Open your mind a little, and you might find something amazing waiting beneath your nose. 

And third of all -- children? Really? I realize they look a little like cartoons, and cartoons are usually associated with children. But anime/manga is enjoyed by all ages. As are cartoons, and children's books, and other things associated with children (like Froot Loops). And I don't really think anime/manga is geared towards children. Take a look at Attack on Titan, if you hold the opinion manga is for children. I guarantee you won't be thinking that afterwards. Also, that argument ties back in with the other two -- a work isn't childish because it doesn't "compare" with "Western" standards. Because it's mainly composed of pictures, and not even pictures based off of Western ideals of art. They are legitimate stories, and have adult themes in them as often as YA and Adult novels do.

So. Consider some anime/manga, will you? It's a cool section of the bookstore. There are many wonderful, nuanced stories to be found.  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle

How far is too far?

At one of Manhattan's most elite ballet schools, wafer-thin ballerinas pull their hair into sleek buns and lace their pointe shoes high, waiting for their chance to shine. But beneath the pretty, polished surface, these girls are hiding some terrible secrets and telling some twisted lies.

Prvileged Bette is tiny and beautiful -- like a ballerina in a music box. But living forever in the shadow of her ballet-star sister and under the weight of family expectations brings out a dangerous edge in her. 

Perfectionist June can turn a flawless plie and diligently keeps her weight below 100 pounds. But she's never landed a lead role. Tired of always being the understudy, this year she'll settle for nothing but the best -- even if she must resort to some less-than-perfect means to get there. 

And new girl Gigi isn't your traditional ballerina. A free-spirited California girl, she's not used to the fierce competition. Still, that doesn't stop her from outperforming every dancer in the school. But even she's hiding a ticking time bomb, and the very act of dancing just might expose her secrets to everyone. 

Being a prima isn't all satin and lace; sometimes you have to play dirty. With the competition growing fiercer with every performance, and harmless pranks growing ever darker, it's only a matter of time before one spark ignites... and even the best get burned.

~Print copy, 438 pages
Published by HarperTeen

So, my first review in awhile. Here goes.

Plot: 3/5

The plot was alright. The pacing was pretty well off; the pranks grew steadily more menacing, while Gigi (the butt of most of the pranks) grew more and more tense and on edge. There were places it dragged a little, and there were places that didn't seem to fit with the rest of the plot, things that were brought up and never went anywhere or were mentioned again. One of these things was the (creepy) way Mr. K, the ballet instructor, took sexual favors from girls. But that wasn't even a minor part of the plot, just the basis for a nasty rumor about Gigi that wasn't even one of the worse pranks. And it was just casually tossed in there, and nothing happened with it.

Overall, plot was fine. Not the most engaging plot I've ever encountered, but definitely not the worst. A bit clumsy in places, but tension/pacing were good.

Worldbuilding: 4/5

I didn't have any problem with the worldbuilding, really. It was done well. The book is set in Manhattan, in New York City. But most of the novel doesn't take place outside the walls of the Conservatory. There are several key points when the characters go outside -- most notably at the end -- but the intensity of the girls' ballet practice makes their choice to stay inside completely believable and necessary. I know little about ballet, I confess -- I did take a beginner's class this past spring, but that's about it -- but in my limited experience, the ballet part seemed believable. The technical part of the dancing, I mean, not just the world it's taking place in. But I like the sparse detail and the intense characterization; every detail helps convey that particular viewpoint character's mind. And they all view the details differently.

Characters: 4/5

The thing about the characters isn't really an issue I see other people having with this novel. My main problem is the boy-centered obsessions between the girls, and that sort of thing isn't really my style. (You can find my opinions on romance here.) Gigi and Bette are almost exclusively fighting over priviliged ballet man, Alec. And even my favorite viewpoint character, June, is fighting to steal the boyfriend of her ex-friend, Sei-Jin. The jealousy plays a major role in the bitterness towards Gigi, of course, but more of the drama in this novel seems to come from Alec's attentions and the creepy French boy Henri's attentions towards Bette.

But June is also very centered on her family and her own eating disorder, which makes her my favorite. Suddenly, she isn't trying to be the girlfriend; she's fighting with herself, and her family, as she struggles to find out who she is. Gigi gets everything in this novel, even as she's harassed mercilessly for it; I don't mind her, in a way, because while she gets the man almost right off the bat, you can see the effect the harassment has on her. And Bette -- what I love about Bette is how much mystery there is surrounding her, even as her point of view is being told in first person. The clues are there; the interpretations are several, none confirmed. Bette was handled masterfully by the authors. She is the ultimate mean girl, but she is also crushed by her family, which makes her only slightly sympathetic; and the authors aren't afraid to rip everything away from her. But did she pull the pranks? Did she pull all of them? She is as mysterious as she is mean, desperate, and lonely.

Writing/Theme: 4/5

The writing is pretty well-off in this novel. The tension and pacing, as I mentioned above, were good. I didn't notice any typos at all. And the handling of character and plot arcs are wonderfully done. I don't know what quality is missing, that makes the writing go from "good" to "superior", but I don't sense it. I don't know. Perhaps it is all of the romance, and all of the troubling boy-centered drama that I don't like. I don't like what that says about the characters, and what theme is coming across with it: that girls are only obsessed with boys? That boys are the center of a woman's world, even in a world where there are few boys at all to be worrying about?

And the relationship between Henri and Bette (I'm not confirming an actual relationship, I mean in general terms) is too... weird. Creepy. Henri was the boyfriend of a girl Bette played cruel pranks on, and he becomes really creepy in his attentions -- several times, he's described as pushy, aggressive, too eager, and manipulative. He's constantly threatening to expose her secrets, and yet she continually is described to be somewhat attracted to him. And at one point, Gigi encounters his sexual creepiness, too, which is waved off. Perhaps this rant should be under character, but I don't like the implications of this particular character. It's like nobody sees him for the creep he is, except for (sometimes) Bette.

Ending: 5/5

What I love most about this novel, actually, is the ending. Not in an "I'm glad it's over" sense, but in the sense that it was masterfully executed. I won't spoil it... but it isn't happy, and it isn't tied up all neatly with a bow. There are loose ends and mysteries never solved, and it isn't happy at all. Because this novel isn't a fairy tale, and neither is the dance world it's set in. The ending perfectly conveys the atmosphere of competition that's promised in the summary.

Overall: 4/5 

I do like this novel, despite my dislike of romance. I knew when I picked it up that there would be drama of the boy kind. It seems like all novels inevitably have such drama in it, and I was just sick of trying to find otherwise. But I am glad I picked this novel up, even if I never read it again. I would recommend it to you, if you like contemporary fiction and jealousy and melodrama between girls.