Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Book 31: Black Bird Volume Two

Black Bird Volume 2 was another great book by Kanoko Sakurakoji. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Although it went in a slightly different direction then I was thinking it would.

This book had everything I loved about the first Black Bird book. There are layers to it. The story itself, the Japanese Culture and idea of love. It is such a good story line. I just want to find out what happens to Kyo and Misao.

I expected to see Misao fall more in love with Kyo as she got to know him more again. But I wasn’t expecting to see so many new characters in this volume. There are the eight vassals that are there to help support Kyo. This includes Kyo’s older brother who Kyo beat to become heir. Needless to say it was unsurprising to see Kyo to tell Misao to stay away from him and she was lured into a trap. Plus it was fun to see Misao’s dad. He seems like fun who cares for his daughter big time and may know that Kyo is a demon.

Plus I’m enjoying the way the book just has a nice feel to it. The graphics are beautiful and strong. It’s got that darkness I am drawn too yet it is so light and fun at the same time. It’s a tough balance to do and this book/series makes it effortless.

One of the things I didn’t like was how the previous attackers/lusters of Misao seemed to drop out of the book completely. Instead it became the threat of Sojo and Misao’s attempt to understand what it would mean to be Kyo’s bride.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Book 30: Black Bird Volume One

So today I decided to feed the kid in me. I've been craving more superhero/fantasy/comic book feeling after getting hooked onto Young Justice and watching lots of old Batman Beyond and Justice League; plus reading After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn. So it was time to go into my manga pile. I decided to pick up the Black Bird Volume 1 by Kanoko Sakurakoji. The other books in the pile, I'm saving for really special occassions since I want to savor the Matsuri Hino books and use the Alice in the Country of Hearts as a way to help with writer's block if I get stuck. But let me tell you, I'm glad I picked up Black Bird tonight. It was sooo good.

One of the things I love about manga is how they have these great plotlines that I just don't see in the normal books. There are all these curses and demons and yet everything has a realistic setting (at least the ones I'm drawn too) where the characters still have to go to school. In the case of Black Bird, Misao is a special human who can give a demong long life if they drink her blood, eternal youth if they eat her flesh, and a clan strength if they marry her. So needless to say Misao doesn't have it easy especially since she can only see most of the demons (Kyo and Shuhei are the exceptions since they take on human forms).

One of the things I really like about this book is how it made me want to dive into the Japanese folklore even more. Before tonight, I didn't know what a tengu was or that there is a shire dedicated to them in Osaka (and I'm marking that on my to do list when I go to Japan now that I know). Plus I love how I know now the Japanese equivelent for the werewolf-a Kitsune. The glossary helped me to learn the basics but then I went to the internet for some extra information.

Then there is something I really enjoy that can be hard for a writer to pull off- the juxposition of love/hate. Misao is drawn to Kyo and hates him at the same time. Well hate is a strong word, but she definately doesn't want to marry a demon but there is a part of her who loves him. Plus Kyo and Shuhei basically get turned on by her presence due to her intoxicating blood. So there are some funny scenes when all of a sudden Kyo will try to grab her breasts or feel her up after a really dramatic scene.

The major downside is that this book was a serialized manga (in my favorite but now disappeared magazine called Shojo Beat). So there is repetition at the first two panels of every section to help catch you up in case you missed a piece. But when you read all five chapters in the one sitting, it just gets repetitive where the reader goes, I know. But it's a neccessary evil due to the serialized nature of the manga.

The other downside, I want to read Volume Two as well. Thankfully I have that and volume three in my apartment, after that I have to save up for new books or hope that friends will share/gift this manga to me. So off for tonight.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Book 29: Journey from the Land of No

Journey from the Land of No by Roya Hakakian was an interesting look at what it is like to grow up during the Iranian Revolution. Plus this book has another layer to it, it’s also what it was like to be Jewish during Iran where the tolerance and acceptance of Jews changed drastically.

Lately, I’ve been intrigued by the Iranian Revolution and Iran. A lot of it comes from my education and the fact Iran is such a closed off society. So we get bits and pieces of information. Roya makes a great point in her book, “They come, I had decided, in two kinds: the misinformed, who think of Iran as a backward nation of Arabs, veiled and turbaned, living the periphery of oases and fairly represented by a government of mullahs; and the misguided, who believed the shah’s regime was a puppet government run by the CIA, and who think that Ayatollah Khomeini and his clerical cabal are an authentic, homegrown answer to unwarranted U.S. meddling.” So I try to read all these different memoirs to learn more about Iranian life even if in a single person’s experience. It at least gives me a better look at what life is like in Iran but I still have to decipher what is truth, exaggeration and if they got colored in their need/want to leave Iran. At least I’ve read so much, that I don’t believe fall into another Ms. Hakakian’s categories.

Roya’s story was really quite interesting to me. I didn’t realize how high the Jewish population was once in Iran. The idea of an Islamic dress code and an Islamic nation, it’s easy to forget how other religions get lost in the shuffle. Plus I loved seeing how ready she was to embrace the Revolution since it would help to create a Utopian society. But then slowly she was realizing that the Revolution wasn’t all it was meant to be. It didn’t solve the poor economy or the censorship bans; the two things the Revolution was suppose to solve.

Plus I loved how you can get into the child’s mind and really into a teenager’s mind how to accept things. You see how she shunned away the idea of being a genius since it helped to take her brother away from her. Her family thought it would be safer for him to study in America while he grew up some without having his revolutionary views get him into trouble.

Plus one of the cool things for me. She started and ended her book with maps of Tehran. One from 1978 and one from 1984 where she marked ten buildings and the names of the street. You can see how much changed in a short period of time.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Book 28: Wolfsbane and Mistletoe

So one of the great finds of the Borders’ Going Out of Business Sale has been the collection of short stories called Wolfsbane and Mistletoe. This book has an impressive list of writers from the urban vampire/werewolf world: Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Keri Arthur and my personal favorite Carrie Vaughn.

I’ve seriously been wanting this book for a while now. Basically since it was published in 2008 although I never purchased it since it can be hard to find short story collections at a book store and I get distracted by other books that I have to have first even when I’m online . The premise alone was really fun: werewolves and Christmas stories. Then take the caliber of writers, it makes for a delicious story.

Sometimes being so excited for a book can lead to a let down. Fortunately that didn’t happen. It was a very fun anthology. Only one story I kinda liked. Nothing was bad. And several of the stories were downright delightful.

One of my favorite stories didn’t come from my usual suspects. Instead it came from “The Haire of the Beast” by Donna Andrews. This is just a great story where a brother and sister look into a grimoiry to that has a spell to transform a person into a werewolf. Then she use the spell in a set of brownies as a test since some of the ingredients could prove to be a bit toxic. Unfortunately her brother steals a bite and is well transformed into a Lhasa Apso since well wolfs hair is a little tough to find on short notice. I loved this story. It was just fun. Plus I liked how it took a different approach into how people became a werewolf.

Don’t get me wrong I still really loved the Kitty story. But it was a Kitty story. Something I just gobble up and love. But in the short story, you don’t get see one of my favorite parts of the Kitty novels, what it’s like to be a wolf. So that richness was missing for me.

But I would recommend this book to those who love the genre. There are some great additions to the genre as well as just good stories. Besides seeing the spell for werewolf transformation, I liked how there was a SA (Shapeshifters Anonymous) and the idea that werewolves came into being as a miracle of God at the birth of Jesus. It was just fun reading.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book 27: The Wilder Shores of Love.

The Wilder Shores of Love by Lesley Blanch was a look into the lives of Isabel Burton, Jane Digby, Aimee Dubucq de Rivery, and Isabelle Eberhardt. This book didn’t live up to my expectations in many ways.

I was drawn to this book for a couple reasons. First the idea of showing how four women in the turn of the century turned away from European lives to live in the Orient and trade it for something more torrid. Second, this book has been in print since the 1950s, so I figured it had to be good to maintain circulation but at the same time I thought I would be able a good way to see how another generation thought of love and exotic travels.

The first profile was just painful for me to read. I found it dry and more importantly, I just couldn’t connect to Isabel Burton in general. She just gave up everything for a man who didn’t seem to really care for her.

The other profiles got progressively better. But after reading a 100pages of trying to get through the first part of the book, I was just about ready to give up. But each profile got better and better. I could connect to the different women more and more or at least interested in them.

One of the things I wasn’t expecting was to be unfamiliar with places as well as the names. Things seemed to have changed so much that the places became more abstract then it should have. I have my guesses about places and general vicinity but I wish I still had the one Atlas book my dad gave me. Then I could really know the places that were being mentioned.

One of my favorite things was seeing a horoscope casted for Isabelle Eberhardt at the very end of the book. This was cool for a few different things. First it was a blind reading where the astrologist was given very little information about her life (date of birth, place of birth, Mrs. E). Then came out a horoscope that really seemed to line up with high points of her life.

I will have to say it was interesting how the book seemed to profile different kinds of women in general. The kind of woman who will give up everything to chase after a man, the one who tried to find love and kept trying, the one who will manipulate the situation to her advantage, and the one who doesn’t care about convention. That was interesting to see how you could seem similar ideas a hundred years later although it felt like their characters were more isolated then they are today.

Compared to what I’ve been reading, this wasn’t an easy read. I’m glad I read it but at the same time, I was glad to take a brief pause to read the new Carrie Vaughn book.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Book 26: After the Golden Age

After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn takes the impossible task of writing a novel about superheroes without making it cheesy and holds the joy of reading a comic book. It’s definitely one of the toughest tasks to take on by a writer since it’s so easy to get into the really campy.

I love Carrie Vaughn. For the past couple years, she’s my favorite author that still currently writes. I get more joy out of her Kitty the Werewolf Series. Everything I’ve read from her was just a joy. So when I learned about After the Golden Age, I was excited especially when I read the preview chapter, I realized she was doing what I so seldomly see-a well written book that takes on the essence of a comic book without using any graphic arts. And it never disappointed.

The book immediately captures you and takes you into a rare view at a superhero-being an adult child to the city’s favorite superheros. Celia West is the daughter of Warren and Suzanne West or better known as Captain Olympus and Spark (two of the founding members of the Olympiad). Celia knows all about her parent’s vocation and the other members of the Olympiad (Dr. Mentis and Bullet). In many ways, it was like what if Batman and Wonder Woman had a child and she grew up in the Justice League headquarters. I loved it.

Plus I really enjoyed how hard it was for Celia to pull her life together. She didn’t have the super powers like her parents. She was just an accountant although a good one. At one point, she let her teenage angst and need to fight her parents to join up with the Destructor (the supervillian). Celia was never at ease around her parents especially her dad. They had this monumental following since they were saving the city on a regular basis but they had flaws like any other human being. You could tell she was at the age where she wasn’t hurt or really that mad at her parents for being them, but at the same time, there was that residual feelings that last a lot longer and takes longer to reconcile fully.

There was one complaint I had with the book, there was occasional point of view shifts that were kind of weird. The narrative voice would get muddled or seem to switch. It wasn’t a big problem. But at times, I would have to reread what was going on. Because of those occasional point of view shifts, a busy schedule and trying to savor the book; this was the first Carrie Vaughn book I didn't read in a day.

Product 21: Habersham Naturals Solid Solution

This is one of the coolest new products we got in at Schillers. It’s a solid moisturizer for the skin. It’s so cool. It just melts into your skin just by having contact.

It also is one of the hardest products to sell. It’s not a product people readily see. They see the little sample rosettes, they think it’s soap that they can sniff. But as soon as they rub it on their skin, then the product sells itself.

There are four different solid solutions options: pink grapefruit patchouli, sage, lavendar chamomile, and unscented. I like all the scents to be honest. Although my favorite is either the pink grapefruit (the patchouli scent is very very subtle) or the sage one. Both are so nice yet very different scent profiles.

The feel of the moisturizer is so nice. It's something that just went into the skin well but it never feels too heavy. It was simply feels good and it will just stay on the skin for a bit.

Plus one of the things I love (which I seldomly comment on), the packaging. It's simplistic but pretty. There's nothing to it but yet I love the streamline way it holds the lotion block. I don't have to gift wrap it really, I can just leave it as it is and put it into a package.

Product 21: Swan Creek Candle Co in the vanilla pound cake scent

If you like aromatic candles, this is the candle company for you. The aroma is intense. I loved the vanilla smell that came off the candle both while it was it burning and just sitting out in the room.

But if you like long burning candles, this is not the candle company for you. I burnt through the candle pretty quickly especially compared to another candle that I started to burn at the same time. The Swan Creek Candle burnt out in half the time while my Kmart value candle is still going.

Like most soy lotion candles, this candle burns cleanly. You don’t get smoke. It’s just that nice clean burn to the candle. It’s good thus far.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book 25: Dancing to the Precipice

Dancing to the Precipice is one of my favorite biographies in a long time (I exclude the memoirs since well they read so completely different from a true biography). It's immensely rich in content and descriptions but it didn't read like a text book.

I love the French Revolution/Revolutionary War/Napoleonic era. So much so when my mom heard I got a biography on Lucie de la Tour du Pin, I wasn’t surprised to hear her say “So you are reading that stuff again?” What can I say I’m drawn to that stuff especially court life by Marie Antoinette and salon life.

Lucie de la Tour du Pin is a fascinating woman who lived through so much drama. She was a lady in waiting for Marie Antoinette, lived briefly in America, was asked to be a lady in waiting for Napoleon’s court, was an ambassador’s wife and lost nearly everything. As a gift to her family, she penned her memoir in order to give them her account of what it was like to be in such a turbulent age which was published by her great grandson for the world to enjoy. So it made perfect sense to read a biography about Lucie de la Tour du Pin.

One of the things I loved in this book were the descriptions. They were so fanciful and yet crystal clear. Most of them came from writings of the time. One of the descriptions I loved most was “Republicans and royalists, attempting to reinvent themselves in this Consular Paris, where everything changed every day and no one knew what would happened next, ‘played together without liking each other, but without fearing each other either, rather as poor toothless dogs might play with cats which had had their claws removed.’” Only one time I was questioning Caroline Moorehead’s disgression for including a little TMI about a noble who had a disease causing problems with his penis. Interesting fact in a way but really just too much information on that one.

I would recommend this book to anyone who was a good look into the time frame in addition to a well written biography. It was a fantastic read. It wasn’t dry like some books. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser (which was a source for the book) wrote a wonderful book that was well researched but it was a dry read. I was so glad that Dancing to the Precipice was able to balance the wonderful research with the narrative to a life.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Book 24: The Reckoning

The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong was the last piece in the Darkest Power Series. Well by the looks out of the Kelley Armstrong site there is another piece to the series even though the saga I just read is over. I really enjoyed this book. I read it in about a 24 hour span thanks to some insombia and just a great read all in all.

I loved the continuation of the saga from the Awakening. It just grabs you. So much action that grips you. But it’s not soap operaish- it has some self-deprecation to Chloe’s narrative and the fact they were in this Victorian for the better part of the book. It’s not so over the top in drama.

I loved how almost all the loose ends are tied up from the Awakening. The developing love triangle is squashed and you see the start of a deep relationship. You see character growth from Tori who was one of the weaker characters from the first book (at least of the ones I read).

So now I’m glad that I finished up a nice little dip into the occult section. I still love the balance of different magics: necromancer (or how the ghost said in her day they were mediums which is a much kinder way to say it), witches/sorcerers, and of course one of my favorite’s werewolves.

The only thing I'm still wanting to learn more is about Chloe's necklace. You see it's the importance of this necklace even more then in the first book. Then Margaret gives you a teaser about the necklace that it could mean something but she dismissed it as crazy talk and only a superstitious trinket. Yet you see it's more then a trinket. I want to know the mysterious idea about what happens when it changes color like Chloe's did.

I’m glad I’m reading some Kelley Armstrong again. It makes my desire to read my other favorite occult author even stronger.

Book 23: Eleven Seconds

Eleven Seconds: A Story of Tragedy, Courage, and Triump by Travis Roy with E.M. Swift lives up to the name. It’s about how the tragic events completely changed the life of a promising hockey player.

So I chose this book not for the autobiographer per say. I actually thought he might have been related to Patrick Roy. Which that would have been cool. I have to admit that there are parts of hockey history I’m painfully unaware of since I wasn’t suppose to like hockey. I’m a figure skater first and it wasn’t a popular sport in my house. But in college, I got into hockey especially Flyers hockey. So I was using this book to find out about hockey history. Plus I love E.M. Swift. Swift helped to write two of my favorite memoirs of all time (My Sergei by Ekaterina Gordeeva and Only With Passion by Katerina Witt).

Travis Roy was a hockey player from Maine. He was able to secure a full scholarship to the hockey powerhouse Boston University. If he played well, he had a good chance to make it to the NHL. But he only got to play eleven seconds. Then he took a very unfortunate hit which shattered his vertebrae. From that moment on, he became a quadriplegic and everything changed in that instant.

It’s an amazing story. He speaks honestly and it gives you a really good picture at how hard life is now. There are things you just forget about and he helps to show how hard things can be. But he’s not bitter. You still get to see his humor but you can see the lost too. It’s real and complete. I like that.

One of the things that struck me was how much hope he had in the research and reminded me how much hope existed for fixing spinal cord injuries in late 90s. This is when Christopher Reeves raised so much money and awareness about spinal cord injuries. You really thought it could happen. But 13 years later, we really haven’t made the strides you would think. That hope seems to have flatlined a bit which is a shame. I feel like we should be further along with the research and changes.

But I enjoy this book. It’s not a hard read. It’s easy and straight forward. It’s a look into a life that is difficult yet he hasn’t given up into the sadness that could take over.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Book 22: Honeymoon in Tehran

I recently red Honeymoon in Tehran by Azadeh Moaveni. This book is an amazing memoir in the sense it’s so rich with data about a way of life that the Western world seldom gets to see.

Azadeh’s profession is clear from the start. She’s a reporter for Time Magazine. Because she’s a reporter, she takes the time to write clearly and really gives an on the ground approach. Plus one of the things I really like, she takes the time to talk about her approach to work.

So I will admit I picked up this book specifically to learn more about life in Iran. I actually had her first memoir in my hand and I was going to buy that one. But in the end, I put down Lipstick Jihad in favor to see what marriage is like since that’s one aspect I never got to see from my previous dips into Iranian culture (mainly graphic books by Marjane Satrapi).

This book is so complete in the things I was looking for: the politics especially how they changed with the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, marriage and courting a husband, and women’s views about having to wear the scarves and the conservative dress. Plus it included so many facts I didn’t really realize: the economic hardship despite having so many educated people especially women, the fact dogs are shunned as a pet and how the overinflated prices for weddings happen there as well. Although I wasn’t surprised that this book ended up with some heartache and leaving the country when things changed.