Books Read in 2010

I might as well keep track of this on my blog:

1. Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde
2. Locked Inside by Nancy Werline
3. Chew Volume 1: Taster’s Choice by John Layman and Rob Guillory
4. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale – Since I haven’t reviewed this yet, I may as well write something short about it. In the shortest kind of short, I LOVED it and must read more by Hale. This is a book with a back-seat romance (as are all of the books I’ve read so far this year, actually) and features really strong female friendships. I wish I lived in a world where strong female friendships were commonplace enough that it wouldn’t be a huge plus that this book features them, but c’est la vie. Princess Academy is a fantasy, but the magic is so laid-back that it’s almost non-existent, which is refreshing. I’ve noticed that I dislike talking about plot or many specifics, probably because I think it’s generally more fun and illuminating to read books where you don’t know much about.

But, if you’re dying to know, Miri (the protag) lives in Mount Eskel with her da and older sister. Mount Eskel is a mining town, and everybody participates in mining the precious linder stone. Everyone, that is, except Miri. Born early and always weak, her father won’t let her work in the quarry like the rest of the village. Instead she tends the house and her family’s goats, but she wants for nothing more than to be of help to the village by working in the quarry. Then, one trading day, a delegate from the capital comes. The priests, according to ancient tradition, have divined that the new princess will come from Mount Eskel. And so they gather all the girls of the appropriate age into a building a few hour’s walk from the village and start to teach them everything they need to know to become a princess, starting with how to read. In a year’s time, the prince will come and choose his bride. How will Miri cope with all of these changes? For a girl who has barely had thoughts outside of Mount Eskel and her family, the world is starting to look awfully big. Are these lowlanders telling the truth? Could she really be… a princess?

Those last few sentences point to one of my favorite parts of the book, namely Miri’s intellectual blossoming. It would be so easy to do that in a cheesy way, but Hale doesn’t fall into any cliched traps. Miri’s struggles with her newfound knowledge and her neverending love of her family and home are completely convincing and well before the book is through, you’ll be cheering for her, and the rest of the girls at the Academy, and the whole of Mount Eskel. Hale also ties up the book very satisfactorily. There was one plot thread that came together rather quickly at the end, but I am honestly so pleased with how everything turned out, I just don’t care!

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Heir Apparent and Locked Inside

Here’s one of my promised posts. Unfortunately, it’s not the one about the Buddha. Fortunately, it’s the review of two young adult books I read earlier this week!

 Both Heir Apparent, by Vivian Vande Velde, which let me just take a moment to say, is a fantastic name, and Locked Inside by Nancy Werlin are young adult books where the protags are girls who play video games. I might be biased*, but that’s awesome. Each book takes a distinctly different track.

Heir Apparent is set in a near-future world where ultra-realistic virtual reality games are The Thing. It is, in fact, a fantasy novel, as the main character, Giannine, is playing one of these virtual reality games that is set in a fantasy world. The premise is clever of the book is clever. thirty minutes of real time buys you three days of game time. Each time you die, you’re sent back to the beginning of the story. Giannine’s game goes as follows: Giannine, a lowly sheep farmer, is actually the recently dead king’s illegitimate child, and he has named HER as his heir. To win, she must survive three days of politics, intrigue, and muuurder and get to her coronation in one piece. There wouldn’t be a lot of tension there, as the reader knows that it’s just a game for Giannine. I don’t want to give anything away, but don’t fear: Vende ratchets the tension up plenty.
I enjoyed the book quite a lot. Giannine is a funny girl and reading her commentary on the various happenings is a laugh. But she’s got her own issues and preconceptions that she brings into the game, too, and I’m glad Vende didn’t ignore that because it would have made for a much poorer book. Still, as clever as the premise was, and as much as I liked Giannine, I didn’t come out of the book feeling like it was a great one. Giannine, who is only fourteen, makes some stupid choices and then she keeps making them, which can make for frustrating reading. And the plot of the game was a little on the basic side, which was necessary for the plot of the book, but still left me feeling a little unsatisfied. In spite of those two faults (there are others, but those were the ones that stuck out to me), I would recommend Heir Apparent to people looking for a fast, teen/middle grade fantasy fix.

Locked Inside isn’t a fantasy novel at all, which I probably would have realized sooner if I hadn’t read it two seconds after I set down Heir Apparent. Instead of Giannine, we have Marnie, daughter to the famous ex-gospel singer and founder of an almost-religion, Skye. Instead of virtual reality, we have what appears to be an MMORPG called Paliopolis. Instead of adventure and life or death situations, we have an all-too-real kidnapping and life or death situations. Marnie is, like Giannine, a character full of opinions, but she struggles more with her own identity and fitting in with others. Marnie uses Paliopolis as an escape and it’s only through reading the book that we truly understand why. I don’t want to give too much away, because this book is best when read without knowing too much about it.
The strongest points of the book were Marnie’s inner thoughts, her struggle to be someone she wants to be, and her (developing) relationships with other characters in the book**. I’m not describing her well, because I’m trying to avoid actually talking about her. Just rest assured that Marnie is complex and unusual in the best way. By the end of the book, she still isn’t who she wants to be, but she’s closer and, hey, who is who they want to be? 
The weakest point was, unfortunately, the strangeness bordering on complete implausibility of some of the situations. There are big implausibles that I don’t want to mention, but there are smaller, non-spoilery ones, too. Mainly, for me, the vagueness of Paliopolis. For something so important to Marnie, it isn’t described very much and, to be quite honest, it doesn’t sound like a real game.

I know I should give some leeway to Werlin, because she probably isn’t a gamer, and she was just trying to write a book about this girl, but I would like to repeat that Paliopolis is a significant part of Marnie’s life. Surely some more research or something could have been done? Heir Apparent falls into this trap, too, but I’m more willing to give Vende a bye since she’s assuming a future technology (and she defines some gameplay mechanics, such as the dying-and-sent-back-to-the-start thing, which Werlin doesn’t really do at all). I mean, I love that both of these books are about girl gamers, because most young girls nowadays do game and it’s always nice to have that represented. But if it rings false to me, I can’t help but think that it might turn off younger girls, who have a lot to potentially gain from these books.

*For I am a girl gamer.
**This is a bit of a tangent, but Marnie’s behavoir reminds me of my favorite part of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (I don’t know if it’s the first one, but it’s from one of them), when Carmen does some Very Stupid Things in rapid succession. She knows they’re stupid, destructive, and self-destructive, but she does them anyway. I totally identified with that and (I think) a lot of people do similar things. There’s some feeling of desperation or a lack of control or something that prompts us to behave in way that aren’t productive (to use my Buddhism teacher’s term for how we should always spend our time) or beneficial to anyone, least of all ourselves. We especially are prone to this behavoir when we’re adolescents. Marnie acts out in the same self-aware way as Carmen. It’s a well-known fact that teenagers act out, but I think that most adults don’t realize that most of these kids know that they’re doing stupid, self-destructive things. Teenagers are smart and adults all too often underestimate them. I really appreciate that Werlin and Brashares don’t fall into that trap.

Free Book Friday!

I know what you’re thinking. You LOVE free books.

What’s that? That’s not what you were thinking? You were thinking that it’s not Friday?

Well, that’s true, it’s Wednesday (unless you’re in most places in the world, aka not North or South America, in which case it’s Thursday). But I’M not giving away a free book just because it’s Friday, though that’s a great reason to give away a book, if you ask me. No, I wanted to take a moment to link to the site, Free Book Friday. Every Saturday, Jessica Brody hosts a new book, and every Friday she announces the winners! I can personally vouch for the authenticity of the site, as I won the very first time I entered (Jessica Lindsay, that’s me!).

I specifically wanted to link to it this week, because the book in question on the teen site is Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon, which I’ve heard only good things about and have been wanting to read for ages. And hey, the more multicultural fantasy and science fiction, the better, amiright?

Chew

A short one: Chew, written by John Layman and illustrated by Rob Guillory, is a graphic novel about a certain Mr. Tony Chu, cibopath.  That’s right, Chu gets psychic impressions from whatever he puts his mouth, whether it’s the growing and harvesting of wheat for bread or the slaughter of lambs for stew, he sees it all. And did I mention he’s a cop? His, uh, talent comes in handy as often as in comes in disgusting.

Chew is, as you might imagine, both very sick and quite hilarious. The art is beautiful, the writing top-notch, and the characters perfection, complete with an Asian main character! My one complaint? There are three female characters with lines, all of them minor (so far) and all of them sexy-bodied. If I couldn’t have more women with more importance, I would have at least liked to see some different body types, especially given the range of body types we see in the numerous male characters. *sigh*

timetimetime

Time is a strange and twisting place in blogland. Tomorrow may in fact lie a week off from when you expect and yesterday may have never been at all!

I promise, though, that I do have two posts coming up, the one I said I would write about the Buddha and a review of two YA books I read yesterday.

But for now, it is enough to say that the ALA has announced their various awards and Going Bovine by Libba Bray has won the Printz! I haven’t read it, but I’m dying to.

Too Much Reading (also the Buddha)

I am taking two reading heavy classes this quarter (my college has 3 ten week quarters instead of 2 whatever week semesters), so I don’t think I’m going to be getting much pleasure reading done in the next ten weeks. The focus of the blog might be a little different, as I ruminate about Russian soul, African American soul, and Buddhism, though I’ll still post links and things from around the internet.

Let me tell you a story that I heard^ (most suttas, which are kind of but not really like Bible verses, begin, “This is what I have heard.”). There was once a great king of a small kingdom. Being a king, he was of the Kshatriya class^^. His wife, Queen Maya*, was pregnant with his first son. She had a strange dream during her pregnancy of a large white tusked elephant entering her side. On the day she was to give birth the Queen went to the garden. Her water broke and she lifted her right arm and gripped a tree branch tightly. Shakyamuni, which means “Sage of the Shakyas,” Buddha or Gotama, the family name, Buddha then did a very strange thing. He stood up and said, “In this life I will attain Awakening.” After this, he became a normal baby and cried and stuff. That is how the Buddha was born.

This is what I have heard. Shakyamuni Buddha’s father sent for a sage to tell his son’s fortune, and because of his strange birth, he told the sage to hurry. Alas, the Queen died before he arrived, exactly seven days after her son’s birth. His mother’s younger sister, his aunt, raised him ever after. When the sage arrived, he examined the young Buddha’s body. He found 32 major marks and 80 minor marks. “This is very auspicious!” he told the king. “Your son has two possible outcomes. He may become a king of the known world, rule with fairness, and be loved by his subjects. Or he may become a king of himself, a buddha.” The king wanted for his son all that he wanted for himself and more and asked the sage, “That first one sounds good! How can I insure that outcome?” The sage nodded, “Easy peasy: let him see no suffering. Let him not know what suffering is.” The king took the sage’s advice to heart. His son was not allowed outside the palace grounds and was given everything a child and then a young man could desire. He ate sumptuously, slept in a great bed with many women, and did not want for a thing. That is how the Buddha spent his youth.

This is what I have heard. When Shakymuni Buddha was 14, he was wandering his father’s land. He stopped underneath a tree on a hill and watched farmers working in a field some distance away. The breeze was light and he could not remember feeling more relaxed or pleasant than he did in that moment. He let all his worries and all his thoughts drift from him. After some time, he got up and walked back to the palace and soon forgot the peace and freedom he felt in that meditative state. Two years after that he got married. One night, ten years later, he woke up in the middle of the night. He was in his great bed with many women, but he felt nothing but discontentment. Perhaps the bed was too soft or one of the women was snoring or another was drooling. Perhaps he found drool on his own chin. Whatever the reason, he resolved that he was not satisfied with his current life and that the next day, he and his loyal royal charioteer would leave the palace grounds and he would see the world. And so, the next day, he and his loyal royal charioteer left the palace grounds. They went to a nearby village and on the outskirts of town they passed by an old man.
“What is that?” the Buddha asked.
The charioteer looked at the Buddha curiously. “That is an old man. This happens to everybody. Every person gets old,” replied the charioteer.
“Huh,” the Buddha said. “That is enough for today. I have much to ponder.” And so Shakyamuni Buddha and the loyal royal charioteer went back to the palace. The Buddha stayed up very late thinking about this. Have you really thought about getting old? Every person ages, it is unavoidable. Especially those of you who are young, have you really thought about what that means? I doubt it.** The next day, the Buddha asked to ride out again. This time they made it to the village gate and then, there, Buddha saw a sick person.
“What is that?” the Buddha asked.
The charioteer almost laughed. “That is a sick person. This happens to everybody. Every person gets sick,” replied the charioteer.
“Huh,” the Buddha said. “That is enough for today. I have much to think about.” And so Gotama Buddha and the loyal royal charioteer returned to the palace. The Buddha, again, stayed up much of the night thinking deeply about sickness. Have you thought deeply about sickness? Truly, every person gets sick, it is unavoidable. Have you really thought about what that means? I doubt it. The next day, the Buddha asked to go again to the village. On this third trip, they made it inside the village gate and then, there, the Buddha saw a corpse.
“What is that?” the Buddha asked.
This time the charioteer could not hide his surprise. “Gotama, that is a dead person. This happens to everybody. Every person dies,” replied the charioteer.
“Huh,” the Buddha said. “That is enough for today. I have much to contemplate.” And so Shakyamuni Buddha and the loyal royal charioteer turned back towards the palace. Late into the night, the Buddha thought and thought about death. Have you thought and thought about death? Every person dies, it is unavoidable. Have you really thought about that, and what it means? I doubt it. The next day, the Buddha and the charioteer went back to the village, this time going all the way into its heart. Then, there, the Buddha saw a man with a shaved head and rags for clothes.
“What is that?” the Buddha asked.
“That is an ascetic, a man who has renounced the world and chosen his own path,” replied the charioteer.
The Buddha did not respond to this. He was caught by the expression of purity and peace on the ascetic’s face. Without uttering a word, the two returned, once more, to the palace. On this day, Gotama Buddha resolved to seek Awakening, to end suffering for himself and all mankind, and become an ascetic. That is how the Buddha first experienced suffering.

This is what I have heard. When the Buddha came home on the fourth and final day of his explorations, he found that his wife had given birth to a son. He named his son Rahula. Let me tell you the meaning of that name. The first meaning is a fetter which, as you know, is a chain or rope tied around one’s ankle to keep one from escaping. The purpose of a fetter is restraint. The second meaning comes from Rahu, who is the astronomical snake who swallows the sun and moon, causing them to disappear. This is obviously inauspicious, and so the second meaning is a sign of trouble. You may take from these meanings that Shakyamuni Buddha had conflicted feelings surrounding the birth of his son. Still, soon after his son’s birth, the Buddha left the palace and went into the forest. He studied under a renowned religious teacher. Shakyamuni Buddha mastered his teacher’s technique, and the teacher was thrilled. “Come, you may now teach with me!” But the Buddha was not satisfied. He had not attained freedom. He went to five other teachers and repeated the process. Still he had not reached Awakening. He decided to find his own path. He did, and it involved remembering the day he reached a meditative state under the tree. After some time, at long last, underneath a bodhi tree, he achieved true Awakening. After coming down from this bliss, he thought, I cannot teach this to anyone! And if I cannot become a teacher, the only thing left for me is death. And so he chose to die.

THE END.

Just kidding. A spirit came to him and begged him not to die. The spirit told him that he could teach his technique and that many people would follow and understand him. The spirit told him that, with his help, other people could attain liberation. The Buddha thought about this. Though he had his doubts that any of mankind could overcome delusion and cravings, the spirit convinced him.*** That is how the Buddha became a buddha, which literally means an awakened one.

And so the Buddha immediately started getting followers, the whole known world fell under his sway, until Indians decided they didn’t care for Enlightenment anymore. Most of the rest of Asia does, though! Whooooo.

Anyway, that is the end of my story. I’m sorry it was so long. Tomorrow I will tell you why I told it.

^I don’t want to hear that my story isn’t correct. This is how it was told to me (except for my embellishments, like giving the loyal royal charioteer some character). Besides, obsession about how the Buddha really lived isn’t productive. His importance lies in the teachings ascribed to him, not the man himself. Also, no complaining about how I’ve spelled things. I’ve seen all of these spelled differently (oftentimes it’s the difference between a Pali vs. Sanskrit translation)!
^^The second highest class/caste, after brahmins. Kshatriyas were the warriors and rulers.
*Sidenote: There is a professor at my school who named her daughter Maia. Not after this queen, mind you, but after Maiasaura. “Mommy, why did you name me Maia?” “Well, honey, I love dinosaurs, plus you have that great big duck jaw!”
**Yes, my professor really said this. Yes, I wanted to bite his head off.
***Also some crap about how the Buddha with his infinite empathy wanted to ease mankind of suffering and it was what he wanted from the beginning and “Well, if you say so, Mr. Spirit.”

Literary Scandal

This is a totally interesting literary scandal. There is no better kind, in my opinion.

Quick recap: A novel supposedly written by a Vietnamese immigrant won an award in the Czech Republic, where the book was published. Suspicions were raised and eventually it came out that it was written by a Czech native, and a fairly well-known author to boot.

Issues raised: Why did Cempirek feel the need to lie about who wrote the book? Authenticity vs. imitation. Would the Vietnamese community still embrace the book if Cempirek had claimed to be the author in the first place? Very interesting stuff!