Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sunday night book shopping and Love Hina

I was going to write about book shopping today, and I was really hoping I'd have more to say about the actual experience of shopping but unfortunately when I got to Borders tonight it was 20 minutes before closing and I was greeted with "You know what you're looking for, right?" as I walked in the door, which I interpreted as "get what you want and get the f**k out cause we want to go home."

Well I did know what I was looking for- the last two volumes of Love Hina- and they had them and I bought them (along with a new Kare Kano) and went home.

So instead I'm going to talk about the experience of shopping for Love Hina. Love Hina is the first Japanese manga series I've read; I picked up the second volume first, because I found it remaindered at a bookstore in my town, because I figured out right away that I didn't want to pay full price for what I knew was going to be a fluffy reading experience spanning 14 books. Cause I'm just cheap that way. So I started with #2, thought it was hilarious and picked up #1. Then I started looking around for the rest of the books as cheaply as I could. I found a few through the book swapping site I use, a few more remaindered, a few more through Bookfinder, and tonight I got the last two, which I had to buy new because they were impossible to get cheaply any other way. I know, Amazon has some used, but you can't use the free shipping on them if you buy them used and I make a point never to pay for shipping through Amazon, I don't care if Hell freezes over before I get my books I'm not going to pay shipping. Again, cause I'm cheap that way.

So I feel a little like a era is coming to an end. I don't know if I'm going to do a formal review on Love Hina- it doesn't seem worth the effort- but it's been a fun experience reading it. (If someone comments asking me to review it I will though). I know there are people who hate it with a passion and I understand that. But I really like it. Oh yeah, #10 sucked. And the T&A content is truly astounding sometimes- and I'm told it's not even that bad for shonen. And I think I like shojo manga better. But there is something about Love Hina. Sigh! Poor lovable loser Keitaro- will he ever get the girl? It's like the stupidest soap opera ever- it makes Beverly Hills 90210 look like Masterpiece Theatre. But then I've read shojo that makes Love Hina look like Masterpiece Theatre. Absolute Boyfriend, anyone? There is definitely something irresistible about Love Hina, whatever the flaws. It's good trashy fun, and it's sweet and funny and dumb-in-a-good-way.

I'm diving into the last three volumes starting tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Oh, and if any of my readers are on Bookmooch and you want to read Love Hina, as soon as I'm done with the series I'm going to be putting all of them up for trading, except #1 and #14, so keep an eye out. My Bookmooch username is mariekat FYI.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

REVIEW: Pretty Little Mistakes, by Heather McElhatton

Released: May 2007. Click on the cover to buy.

Remember Choose Your Own Adventure from when you were a kid? These were the books that gave you choices at the end of each section that let you decide where the story was going to go next. The books were all written in the second person ("you come to a castle..." etc.) and you would have to choose the next step- do you go into the castle or not? Run away or stay and fight? And so on. Pretty Little Mistakes is like a Choose Your Own Adventure for adults only the "you" of the story is an adolescent young woman and the adventure takes the reader from late high school through the end of her life. At the beginning you decide whether to go to college or travel after high school. It goes on from there and there are many, many possible outcomes. One version of events might lead you to be the owner of a bed and breakfast in Tuscany; in another version, you die in a random fast food shooting at the age of 18. Sometimes the character's life took me all of ten minutes to read through before some untimely death; other times I spent up to an hour.

So it's not the kind of book you read straight through- with all the twists and turns it wouldn't make any sense. It's a fun little (big) book to flip through and browse. It's well-written enough, not literary by any stretch but sort of like melodramatic chick lit- no literary pretensions either. I like the concept of an adult version of "choose your own adventure" though I did find some of the twists a little contrived. Cute though, and a fun light read. A great book for the beach or the hammock.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

REVIEW: My Cat Loki, by Bettina Kurkoski

Release Date: August 2007. Click on the cover to buy.

My Cat Loki Volume 2, the second in a three-part manga series by artist and writer Bettina Kurkoski, is a worthy successor to the first. The first volume of My Cat Loki was the first manga I ever read, and I thought it was absolutely delightful. I loved that book. I talked it up to all my friends, to bookstore staff, to anyone who would listen. It was such a treat, I still will take any opportunity to promote the books to anyone even the least bit interested in cats, comics or manga. So naturally I was completely psyched to get the second volume and while it didn't exactly disappoint me, it was very different in tone from the first.

The story is about Ameya, an artist who is recovering from the loss of his beloved cat Luka when he meets scrappy stray Loki and takes him in. The first volume, emotional rather than plot-driven, covers the beginning of their friendship and the obstacles they face as they try to open up to each other. It also covers Ameya's efforts to recover his career in the midst of his personal struggles. In this task he is assisted by his smokin' hot agent, Ms. Chacha, who happens to be secretly in love with Ameya. Naturally he is clueless and Volume 2, by far more focused on plot, finds him chasing the attractive and talented Luci, an up- and- coming photographer, and missing the signals sent out by his shapely agent.

Volume 2 is also more about moving the story forward and it does so well. As such it sort of lacks the drop-dead charm of the first but it is still fun and sweet and engaging. The artwork is completely adorable throughout and I can't wait for Volume 3 and the conclusion to the saga of a man, his cat and his agent.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

REVIEW: Swim to Me, by Betsy Carter

Swim to Me, by Betsy Carter. Published 2007. Click on the cover to buy. I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on sales.

Swim to Me is a light-as-air story about a troubled family whose members have to find their way as the family unit dissolves. Fifteen year old Delores Walker's father walks out one night, and two years later she leaves home to become a mermaid at a tourist trap in Weekee Wachee, Florida; the book follows her adventures and those of her bitter mother Gail, her withdrawn, taciturn father Roy and her bouncy baby brother Westie. The story is colorful and dramatic at times and Carter does a good job of showing the delicate family dynamic that Delores has to navigate once her family has disintegrated. She is particularly effective at illustrating a very tense mother-daughter relationship fraught with resentment and a stifling sense of claustrophobia. I've seen mother-daughter relationships like theirs play out in real life and it's not pretty- and Carter captures that push and pull pretty well, within the limits of her writing ability. I thought that while Delores was likeable enough and someone I wanted to root for, her parents came off poorly. They're portrayed as ignorant oafs and Carter's writing doesn't do much to help. Gail was all insecurity and envy and Roy barely registered a personality at all. Toddler Westie was just a cute cypher- he seemed to function more as a symbol of the family or of Dolores's own innocence and idealism, and a heavy-handed one at that. To Carter's credit there is no sugary reunion to be had for the Walker clan but they do all learn to carve out space for themselves and each other.

If the writing had been better and the characters a little more fleshed out the book would have been a much better experience for me. For me the writing was characterized by the sort of aggressive mediocrity you find in certain kinds of light-reading magazines and I can't say I was surprised to learn from the back cover that Carter is a contributor to O : The Oprah Magazine. So I guess if you like Oprah you will probably like this book. Neither is exactly awful but if you're looking for a solid, literary good read, Swim to Me isn't it.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Comics class

So tonight was the last night of a seven-week class that my husband and I took called "Comics for Adults"; we've been thinking for awhile about working together on some kind of graphic novel and we thought that taking this class would help familiarize us with the process and gain a better understanding of comics and comic writing and drawing. I have to say that the course definitely met my expectations and I learned a lot. I learned I can't draw! No, I already knew that! Seriously, it was a great experience. Not like I'm ready to do my own graphic novel or comic zine but it gave me more of an appreciation of what goes into producing one, from the planning to the final inking. Tonight we inked the first page of our little comic on Bristol board, just like professionals; it was kind of neat.

The reason I'm talking about this in the context of a blog about books and reading is that I've already started to notice how taking this class is changing the way I look at graphic novels and manga. I learned to pay a little more attention to the artwork and especially the inkwork; I learned to notice how things are arranged on the page and the effect that that arrangement has on the reading experience. I think I believe that the story should come first and the artwork should serve the story and it's interesting to me to look a little more closely at the interplay between them.

All of it does kind of make me want to work on that graphic-novel interpretation of my trip to Ireland after college or something like that. I love comics and I've always wanted to draw one but I think I have to admit that the drawing side of the equation is not my strong point. Maybe I could be a redheaded Harvey Pekar and have someone else draw for me. My final project was a short story about a flat tire; I ended up doing the script and rough sketches with stick figures, and my husband did the final drawings, which I inked. A model for future collaboration perhaps?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

REVIEW: The Septembers of Shiraz, by Dalia Sofer

Release date: August 2007. Click on the cover to buy.

The Septembers of Shiraz
is a good first novel about a family dealing with their status as outsiders in revolution-era Iran. It tells the story of a Sephardic Jewish family in Iran and their son living in New York. In Iran, the father of the family has been imprisoned; his wife and daughter are living through the anxiety of his absence and the shifting social pressures they find themselves under; in New York, their son is adjusting to life not only as an immigrant but as a secular Jew living in a Hasidic community. It was a satisfying read and very well-written. Sometimes it seemed a little ponderous but it had some moving and touching moments and a little bit of suspense. I like the way the author started by throwing the reader right in the middle of the action and let the story and the characters blossom out from the center. The daughter of the family, Shirin, was a wonderful character and I thought the author made good use of her in the plot and as an emotional center. I found the portrayals more or less balanced and the main characters likeable enough. A good read.

REVIEW: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Published 2003 by Harvest Books.

Click on the cover to buy. I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on sales.

Published in 2001 and winner of the Booker Prize, Life of Pi is a great book- a story within a story, a story about stories, the stories we tell others and the stories we tell ourselves. I picked this book up and put it down more times than I can count before I finally decided to read it, and I am so glad I did. It's about a young Indian teenager who is lost at sea, ostensibly accompanied by an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena and a Bengal tiger. The story of Pi's journey through the Pacific is told twice and the reader is left to wonder which is more accurate- but as with many "unreliable narrator" stories emotional truth trumps literal truth and the tiger may just be a metaphor for something else. Pi's final words about the tiger are haunting and the whole book is a fascinating meditation on the ever-stretching limits of human endurance.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

REVIEW: The Guardians by Ana Castillo

Release Date: August 2007. Click on the cover to buy.

The Guardians
is a moving, suspenseful and engaging novel about family, justice and injustice. It's the story of Regina, a widow and de facto parent of Gabo, a spiritual but troubled teen aged boy whose father, Regina's brother, has disappeared crossing the border from Mexico to America. Regina determines to help Gabo learn what happened to his father and into the mix falls Miguel, a divorced activist attracted to Regina and his tart-tongued grandfather Milton. The characters come from varied circumstances and have different agendas but they all believe in family and in helping each other, and they all want what's best for Gabo, something that he himself does not understand. In the end lies tragedy with a glimmer of hope for the future. The narrative mixes varied perspectives and shows how individuals' lives are affected by the larger sweep of history, the desperate things they will do to survive and how little things change for an underclass pushed past the margins.

I got this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Love Hina and today's reading

Okay, so I'm working my way through the 14 volumes of Ken Akamatsu's shonen manga Love Hina. And it's been pretty easy sailing. The series is a light piece of fluff (14 pieces of fluff really)- a sweet little romance tucked into a lot of silliness and typical shonen T&A. I know a lot of manga fans who really hate Love Hina but I've been enjoying just taking it at face value. Until Volume 10. I just finished Volume 10 a couple of days ago. Volume 10 has been, for me, the low point of the series. That thing with Mutsumi losing her memory and attempting to breastfeed Naru, who's 20? Just plain ticky-tacky-icky. It took me forever to finish Volume 10 cause it was just torture. Like, please let it end! Well it ended and I flew through Volume 11 in about two days- breakneck speed for me for Love Hina. And I think (hope!) we're back to normal now, whatever "normal" means for a story about a lovable loser like Keitaro and his loony bin girls' dorm. I think I may take a break from Hinata House and get back to Kare Kano for a while.

I also started Swim to Me by Betsy Carter, an advance readers copy I picked up at ALA. It's pretty good so far- seems reasonably well-written. Not War & Peace but not bad. More on that once I've read more.

Welcome to my blog

Yes, I'm yet another librarian starting a book blog. And why not?

Watch this space for reviews of whatever I feel like reading-fiction, nonfiction, manga, graphic novels- plus tales of my adventures in the world of books.