Friday, November 26, 2010

Nihon No Kinyoubi (16)

Nihon no Kinyoubi (Japanese Friday) is a weekly (or at least I try to make it weekly, though mostly I fail) feature here at Brizmus Blogs Books inspired by French Friday, which is a weekly feature hosted by Charlotte at the Book on the Hill. Charlotte features French bookish things, and I plan on featuring Japanese bookish things, though I won't limit myself if I find something non-bookish that I think will interest you guys.

So, the Japanese have a thing for watching leaves fall off of trees. Or rather, for just looking at things in trees. In the spring, you have お花見(ohanami), which is when they sit and picnic under the most beautiful cherry blossom trees. Frankly, they are AMAZING!

And in the fall, they have こうよう(kouyou) or もみじ(momiji), which is when they go and look at the changing of the colors of leaves. And frankly, it is beautiful! I went last weekend to a place that is known for its beauty this time of year, and I thought I'd share a picture or two with you guys.

It was really really amazingly beautiful, and if you're interested in seeing more pictures or hearing more about it, I'll be writing in more detail soon in my personal blog, Brizmus Around the World, so be sure to check it out!

Happy Japanese Friday!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Review: Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

Title: The Gargoyle

Author: Andrew Davidson


Who Should Read It? This book is not for the faint of heart; it's definitely got it's extremes and does occasionally suffer from over-descriptiveness of things that you don't necessarily want to hear about, but it was SO GOOD that it's hard for me not to rant and rave that everyone over the age of 16 should read it! Except that I know that there are people that would hate it; that will need more character build up and less excruciatingly detailed descriptions of random, bizarre things.

What I Have to Say:
This book was AMAZING! Think Chuck Palahniuk meets Neil Gaiman with a little less crazy and a little less fantasy, and you've got yourself "The Gargoyle" by Andrew Davidson. This book is seriously one of the most creative, beautifully well-written, masterpieces that I have ever read. It literally felt constructed, which is not normally something I think about a book. And written down it almost sounds like a bad thing, but let me assure you, it is a perfect thing. It slowly builds up on itself until you are so interested and intrigued and "into it" that you can barely contain yourself and you just HAVE to keep reading. And then you do, and when you're done, all of guts have come together and made this elaborate, elaborately interesting, beautiful. . .well, masterpiece.

The book starts off with the description of a drugged out supposedly beautiful man suffering from a severe burn. I now know more about burns and burn victims than any non-burn victim ever should, and while it was slightly disturbing, I knew from the way Davidson had me mesmerized with his story of how a burn victim must change his bandages that I was going to love this book.

Enough with all of the descriptions, though. The Gargoyle, in essence, is a love story that dates back in time thousands of years. It is a story of love that knows no reason and has no meaning and yet has managed to survive the ages. Marianne, a sculptor of gargoyles, shows up in burn victim's room one days and claims that they know each other, and through a series of beautifully written, self-contained back stories, we come to know just how they know each other and just how long they have known each other. Even though burn victim never quite grows to believe, it didn't take me long to be convinced.

I loved the back stories just as much as the regular story, and I would look forward to them probably just as much as burn victim did. The tale of Marianne and burn victim is unusual, but it's got nothing on some of the old stories she tells. I want to say more, but I don't want to give away anything of what makes this book so unique and fascinating. I will just say that I absolutely adored the way that Marianne's work sculpting gargoyles paralleled the work that she did on burn victim through her crazy presence and even crazier stories.

I also loved the way Japanese and Japanese culture found its way unexpectedly into the book. I won't say more about it, because it was such a nice surprise for me, and I would love for it to be a nice surprise for everyone else as well.

The ONLY problem I had with this book was the lack of dimension in the characters. Marianne was totally off the wall, and yet everything she did could have been predicted. Burn victim grew a lot throughout the story, but at the same time I don't feel like he became a bigger person, and I don't really think he had much depth to him. This didn't stop me from loving them both, and I actually didn't even notice this until AFTER I finished reading, but they both seemed to be severely lacking in depth and dimension. And I could see how that might bother some readers.

All in all, though, a fabulous 5-star read, and if you're looking for something different with a twist, this just might be the book for you. I know as soon as I get back to a place where I can have bookshelves, it will make its way immediately to my shelf of favorites.

Summary: "The narrator of The Gargoyle is a very contemporary cynic, physically beautiful and sexually adept, who dwells in the moral vacuum that is modern life. As the book opens, he is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and suffers horrible burns over much of his body. As he recovers in a burn ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned, he awaits the day when he can leave the hospital and commit carefully planned suicide - for he is now a monster in appearance as well as in soul." A beautiful and compelling, put clearly unhinged, sculptress of gargoyles by the name of Marianne Engel appears at the foot of his bed and insists that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. In her telling, he was a badly injured mercenary and she was a nun and scribe in the famed monastery of Engelthal who nursed him back to health. As she spins their tale in Scheherazade fashion and relates equally mesmerizing stories of deathless love in Japan, Iceland, Italy, and England, he finds himself drawn back to life - and, finally, in love. He is released into Marianne's care and takes up residence in her huge stone house. But all is not well. For one thing, the pull of his past sins becomes ever more powerful as the morphine he is prescribed becomes ever more addictive. For another, Marianne receives word from God that she has only twenty-seven sculptures left to complete - and her time on earth will be finished

Cover Story: This book has several covers, and to be honest, I love them all and feel like they all fit the book perfectly. My absolute favorite, though, is the cover of the one that I actually read. The burning heart with gargoyle is perfect, the pages are lined with black, which is more than suitable, and the way all of the arrows manage to miss the heart - superb!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Things I Love As Much as Books (14)

So, I think it's a given that I love to read. Don't we all?
The thing is, though, there are a TON of other things in my life that I love just as much as reading. Sure, most of these things aren't as constant as reading, but they count just as much in my life when I'm loving them.
SO, I decided to start this weekly feature in which I write a short post about something in my life that I am loving just as much as reading!

Simcha from SFF Chat has also started participating in this weekly feature, so be sure to check out what SFF Chat loves as much as books!

Before anything else, let me just apologize for being so absent from the blogging world lately. I have been so lately that I've barely even had time to breathe. I was also sick and being forced to keep moving despite that. Literally every second I have spent in my apartment over the past week or two has been either bathing, sleeping, or preparing to sleep. I have even been reading the same book for the past two weeks. Crazy.

Anyhow, on to the good stuff.
This week, what I love as much as books is

It makes me sad that, from what I can tell, it really does seem to just be an American phenomenon. I mean, after all, the stuff is DELICIOUS! I have been out of cereal and grits and oatmeal and any other appropriate breakfast food lately,
and I find that I have just been eating spoonfuls of peanut butter (that my sister sent me in a care package!) for breakfast.
And it is DELICIOUS!

I wish that peanut butter were less expensive here, because I have been hardcore craving some African Ground Nut Soup, also known as peanut soup. This stuff is delicious, and if you've never had it before, it's absolutely worth trying! I cook it without sugar and chives and with a ground up real tomatoes instead of tomato sauce, and it is PERFECT!

So yeah, peanut butter! Rock!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Review: Immortal by Gillian Shields

Title: Immortal

Author: Gillian Shields

Rating: 1/2

Who Should Read It? This is a great book for people who really appreciate paranormal YA. While it's lacking in anything spectacular, it's still a fun read, and I think un-biased, non-critical lovers of the genre could love it.

What I Have to Say:
For all practical purposes, this SHOULD have been a book I loved. It involved boarding school and magic, a combination which can almost never go wrong with me. And so it's not surprising that I really did enjoy reading this book.
What is surprising, though, is that, despite having enjoyed reading it, I have nothing really GOOD to say about it. All in all, this book left me utterly unimpressed.
To the point in which I had actually forgotten that I read it (less than a month after reading it) and started reading it again only to realize that yes, I had already read it.

Interesting circumstances land Evie in Wildclyffe Academy for girls, and we know immediately upon her arrival, via the boy on horseback she meets in the rain, that things are going to remain interesting. For Evie. Because, for the reader, they've probably figured out all of the important elements of the plot by the end of the second chapter and will be less than interested. And the writing, as well as the characters were, unfortunately unable to redeem. The romance also seemed unreal and even slightly ridiculous to me, which is never a good sign.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't BAD. . . and some of the descriptions were even downright creepy. It was just lacking in that enticing, suspenseful plotline without which books of this genre absolutely cannot survive.

My favorite thing about the book happened towards the end, when we started getting to read every other chapter diary entries from an old, dead relative of Evie. I really enjoyed the way the diary was written and the way it paralleled what was going on in the other story, and I think the author did a great job of simultaneously writing from the two perspectives.

So, what it comes down to is that this is a book that you might enjoy reading but that is seriously lacking in intrigue and will leave you completely unmarked and unimpressed. If you've got some free time and nothing else to read, this book could be good filler.

Summary: Wyldcliffe Abbey School for Young Ladies, housed in a Gothic mansion on the bleak northern moors, is elite, expensive, and unwelcoming. When Evie Johnson is torn away from her home by the sea to become the newest scholarship student, she is more isolated than she could have dreamed. Strict teachers, snobbish students, and the oppressive atmosphere of Wyldcliffe leave Evie drowning in loneliness.

Evie's only lifeline is Sebastian, a rebellious, mocking, dangerously attractive young man she meets by chance. As Evie's feelings for Sebastian grow with each secret meeting, she starts to fear that he is hiding something about his past. And she is haunted by glimpses of a strange, ghostly girl—a girl who is so eerily like Evie, she could be a sister. Evie is slowly drawn into a tangled web of past and present that she cannot control. And as the extraordinary, elemental forces of Wyldcliffe rise up like the mighty sea, Evie is faced with an astounding truth about Sebastian, and her own incredible fate.

Gillian Shields's electrifying tale will dazzle readers with suspense, mysticism, and romance.

Cover Story: I actually really love this cover. I think it is absolutely BEAUTIFUL! The water and the pendant and that beautiful blue color. . .

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Review: I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert

Title: I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone

Author: Stephanie Kuehnert


Who Should Read It? Great book for those who like real books about real teens (with an odd little step up), or especially those who went through a punk rock or rebellious stage in their teenage years. I would say that it's not for the younger teen reader, because of how much it deals with sex and drugs, but really I think that's for the younger reader (and their parents) to decide - as I think that's part of the point of the book: it's never too early to start being screwed up.

What I Have to Say: Gritty. Raw. Real. This book, just like it's theme, is punk rock. As a lover of punk rock for as long as I can remember, I have very structured opinions about the music and the scene, and there are things I hate about it and things I love about it. In "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone," Kuehnert doesn't gloss over the bad to focus on the good. She gets right down to the meaty heart of the matter and spits it in your face like a true punk rocker. This book may be YA, but make no mistake, it is NOT light reading.

There is no sugar coating and no trying to make life easy, and it makes it very clear that, even for those people who might have a foot already in the door (like, say, because they are awesome at guitar and capable of writing amazing songs), this in no way means that things will always be easy for them. Life is hard, and some people deal with it well, and some people don't, and Emily Black is one of those special people that does both simultaneously. She is a believable and crazy and sane and everything that I don't like about punk rock while at the same time being completely lovable.

And I did love her, for the most part, even though I sometimes wanted to shake her and force her to make what I thought were the right choices. But then, that's one of the major things that this book is about - making the wrong choices and still managing to end up in almost the right place. I don't know a single person that has consistently, throughout life, only made the "right" choices, and yet if we persevere, most of us end up okay. That's what's important - that we keep on going and making an effort, and, most importantly, that through it all, we stay true to ourselves. It's harder than one might think, as Emily Black's story proves.

This book was fast-paced, exciting, and scary, and I highly recommend it to anyone. Kuehnert should be commended for the honesty with which she broaches such a screwed up normal world. I loved this book!

Summary: The Clash. Social Distortion. Dead Kennedys. Patti Smith. The Ramones.

Punk rock is in Emily Black's blood. Her mother, Louisa, hit the road to follow the incendiary music scene when Emily was four months old and never came back. Now Emily's all grown up with a punk band of her own, determined to find the tune that will bring her mother home. Because if Louisa really is following the music, shouldn't it lead her right back to Emily?

Cover Story: I can't even express how much I love it! It's perfect!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Things I Love As Much as Books (13)

So, I think it's a given that I love to read. Don't we all?
The thing is, though, there are a TON of other things in my life that I love just as much as reading. Sure, most of these things aren't as constant as reading, but they count just as much in my life when I'm loving them.
SO, I decided to start this weekly feature in which I write a short post about something in my life that I am loving just as much as reading!

Simcha from SFF Chat has also started participating in this weekly feature, so be sure to check out what SFF Chat loves as much as books!

So I don't know if these week's thing I love can actually count, as it's sort-of, well, a series of books.
Schaum's Outlines, to be specific.
Have you guys heard of them? The Wikipedia site says that they are supplemental texts for high school, but I assure you, some of these are actually super advanced. I actually used the Linear Algebra and Complex Variables ones as supplements to advanced math classes in college, and they were super helpful. If I'm not mistaken, there's even a Schaum's outline for Algebraic Topology to be used in graduate classes.

I love these things - the explanations are fun and easy, the problems are doable and well-explained, and where other math books go all crazy trying to confuse you, Schaum's Outlines mostly straightforwardly tell you what's what.
Don't be afraid by all those mathy titles, though, as there are really Schaum's Outlines for everything! The one I'm thinking of buying the one for Japanese grammar, for if the grammar ones are anywhere near as awesome as the math ones, it's going to be totally helpful! Maybe the one for Japanese vocabulary, too.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Review: Shadowmarch by Tad Williams

Title: Shadowmarch

Author: Tad Williams


Who Should Read It? This is epic fantasy at it's absolute best, but I should also warn you: it is DARK. So if you're not a huge fan of dark epic fantasy, this might not be for you. If you don't mind a little dark, though, I really can't see how you will be disappointed.

What I Have to Say:
Lately, I have been rediscovering epic fantasy, and I don't know how, but I seem to pick only the most amazing books with which to rediscover it. Because that is exactly what Shadowmarch is. Amazing. Tad Williams has constructed a creative, intelligent, solid piece of dark epic fantasy, and I'm a fan

What I most liked about Shadowmarch is that it is far more than just an epic fantasy. It is full of complexities. He takes familiar ideas and familiar things and turns them into SO much more - making you wonder why any other author would ever even try with similar ideas. Tad Williams has already done it and done it so well that it seems there's no point. (though I will admit: there were some things reminiscent of the Fraggles and the Borrowers, and I would be dreadfully sad if those didn't exist). It starts off so easily that, despite the length, you'll be halfway through before you know it and wondering where all the time went. I recently reviewed Acacia by David Anthony Durham, and in that book I was impressed with the parallels to the different countries we find in our world today; they were obivous without seeming forced or lacking in creativity. While, in Shadowmarch, the parallels to our world seemed to focus more on already dead civilizations, I was even more impressed with Tad William's way of making his story seem relevant while still allowing it to remain 100% fantasy.

I feel like I could turn this review into something almost as long as the book itself, but it seems kind of pointless as I gather it has already been done a thousand times before, and it would just give away too much. I almost think it is best to go into this book blind for ultimate enjoyment. So, to finish, there was just one small thing that I didn't love about the book, and that was that, with one minor exception, I didn't actually connect to any of the characters. They all seemed like they were only STARTING to be developed, and, since the book was so long, it seems like it could have taken a bit more time to help us empathize with the characters. But then, there are more books to the series, and I'm figuring by the end, I will either love or hate all of them. BEcause of this, though, it does occasionally feel SLIGHTLY slow moving towards the middle.

Shadowmarch is one powerful bang of a book, and fans of dark epic fantasy will absolutely NOT be disappointed. This book is definitely worth the time it takes to read it and more! If you know my reviews, you know that I don't give 5 stars lightly, and this book is definitely worth all 5 of them!

Summary: Shadowmarch has lately fallen on hard times. Its king has been captured by a rival kingdom, the regent has been mysteriously slain, and the new regents are callow fifteen-year-olds. Moody, crippled Prince Barrick is uninterested in their responsibilities and haunted by eerie dreams. His twin, Princess Briony, takes their new duties seriously, but is hot-tempered and headstrong. How can they defeat the greatest threats in Shadowmarch history? Their nobles plot to overthrow them--and the plotters may include their pregnant stepmother, seeking the throne for her own child. The expanding empire of Xis has sent its agents into Shadowmarch. And, for the first time since it appeared centuries ago, the Shadowline has starting moving. As the maddening mist spreads south over Shadowmarch, it does not quite hide the powerful, uncanny, and vengeful Qar army of invasion

Cover Story: This is another case of me not having seen the cover before reading the book. I do love it, though. It goes nicely with the feel of the book, and I find it appealing enough that it would have made me want to read it beforehand. The only problem is the slight cartoony feel which doesn't mesh at all.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Review: Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Title: Nightshade

Author: Andrea Cremer

Rating: 1/2

Who Should Read It? A great read for lovers of YA and lovers of dystopian fiction with big imaginations and an enjoyment of the paranormal.

What I Have to Say:
Nightshade was one whopping surprise of a book for me! I expected to like it, sure, but I never expected to LOVE it, and I certainly never expected it to make me think (even if only a little bit).

It started off slowly, which, as those that know my reading tastes will know, means that this book was right up my alley. I love books that start off lacking in action, instead full of explanations, story set-up, and character build-up. And that's exactly what this book had. Cremer didn't feel like she needed to pull her reader in with non-stop action, because the story and background was enticing enough in and of itself.

And thus, far before the intrigue started happening, I was intrigued. Because I wanted to know more about the background story, and I had come to love Cally's fierce alpha personality, Ren's over-arrogant, cocky self-assurance to cover up his lack of surety, and Shay's sexy, perfect-guy book lover persona. The rest of both of the packs, while being more background, had also come to be people I cared about. So, when action finally did start to happen, I was interested, and I cared about the outcome, because I cared about the people involved. I find that this is often not the case in books that start out action-packed.

The main thing made Nighshade so special, though, in my opinion, is that, though it is paranormal YA, it didn't have to be. There is SO much more to this book than meets the eye. The "werewolf" aspect definitely added some suspense and excitement to the book, but if werewolves would have been replaced with normal humans, it would have been just as amazing. I envisioned a world in which slaves exist and are brought up to believe that they are not slaves; a sort-of fantastic and fantastically horrifying dystopic future. While that's not what this book was, it easily could have been without changing anything else - same story, same plot, same characters, same intrigue. Just a different species. I feel like so many paranormal books rely far too much on the paranormal aspect to make things happen. This book doesn't, at all, and that just makes the paranormal seem like an added bonus, which is even better.

Overall, Nightshade was one well-written tight little story of, love, revenge, sacrifice, and betrayal; and while it could be read as your typical paranormal YA, if you let it take you deeper, and allow yourself to think about the ways a story like this could play out in the human world, it will leave you chilled to the bone. The ending is something to be commended, and I know I will be thrilled beyond belief when it finally comes time for the release of part two.

Summary: Calla Tor has always known her destiny: After graduating from the Mountain School, she'll be the mate of sexy alpha wolf Ren Laroche and fight with him, side by side, ruling their pack and guarding sacred sites for the Keepers. But when she violates her masters' laws by saving a beautiful human boy out for a hike, Calla begins to question her fate, her existence, and the very essence of the world she has known. By following her heart, she might lose everything--including her own life. Is forbidden love worth the ultimate sacrifice?

Cover Story: I actually really like this cover, despite the firl being nothing at all like I would imagine. And the flower feeling wrong. It's quite lovely, though, and the purple is so appealing that, even though I think it's wrong for the book, I love it!

Disclosure: This book was sent to me via Shelf Awareness.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Things I Love As Much as Books (13)

So, I think it's a given that I love to read. Don't we all?
The thing is, though, there are a TON of other things in my life that I love just as much as reading. Sure, most of these things aren't as constant as reading, but they count just as much in my life when I'm loving them.
SO, I decided to start this weekly feature in which I write a short post about something in my life that I am loving just as much as reading!

One of those things that I love is writing. I've never been a real writer, and writing classes have always been the bane of my existence. I am a TERRIBLE essay writer, and I would totally have had a 4.0 in college if it hadn't been for those pesky little essay writing classes (oh, and that one Complex Variables class).
And yet, I have a journal that I have always kept regularly (though I will admit that I have been super slacking over the last two years), and for the past two years in a row, I have participated in, and won, NaNoWriMo.

The first year was an actual book that I actually finished and that I will probably never let anybody read. The second year was more a series of short stories about my life. There is no real start and no real end, and I am sure I will also never let anyone read that.

This year, I wasn't planning on participating, as I am living in Japan to learn Japanese, and I really should be focusing on that. Not to mention the fact that I have to work as well. A lot. Today, though, when I got home at around 10 PM, I was overwhelmed with the desire to participate. And so I started, and I am now at 2,284 words. A little behind where I should be, I think, but progress nonetheless.

So I will be participating. I'll still be posting regularly in the blog, but I'm sorry if I'm around a little bit less in the blogosphere than usual.

What about you guys? Will you be NaNoWriMo participating this year?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Review: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Title: A Wrinkle in Time

Author: Madeleine L'Engle


Who Should Read It? I think this will mostly appeal to 11-12 year old girls, but there's really something in it for everyone, so I think that boys and adults have the potential to enjoy it as well!

What I Have to Say: I read this book when I was about 12 years old, and I remember absolutely ADORING it! Recently, though, I have been reading reviews of it by people that reread it as adults and didn't love it nearly as much. I was horrified! These people must have grown up too much, I thought. And so I of course decided that I had to reread it to see for myself.

And I feel justified in my thought that these people must have grown up too much. Reading this book over again, I was once again filled with my initial sense of childish wonder. I was once again awed and inspired, and I once again fell in love the characters and places that L'Engle brings to life in this enchanting story. Meg's intelligence combined with her feelings of awkwardness and separateness resonated just as true with me now as it did then. Her desire to overcome this awkwardness without losing herself, and her ability to be strong through all of her travails, were even more inspiring to me now, as an adult (agh! Do I really have to call myself that?), I think, than they were when I was 11 or 12 years old and reading this.

Rereading it, I realized that there were so many things and ideas involved that I without a doubt missed the first time around. It appealed to my older person sensibilities as well as appealing to the child in me, as there is something for everyone contained in this little work. It combines fantasy with action with physics (or rather, time travel) with mystery with youth, and what comes out is just amazing and wonderful! I almost felt like it was a mixture of Flatland with the Borrowers and maybe throw in a little Harry Potter.

To be honest, I'm truly shocked to think that there are people that enjoyed this as a child that didn't enjoy it the second time around. There's a little something for everyone, and despite the intrigue being resolved in the end, it's got great re-readability potential! And now I'm excited to read the rest of this series, which I for some reason did not read when I was younger.

Summary: Meg's father mysteriously disappears after experimenting with the fifth dimension of time travel. Determined to rescue him, Meg and her friends must outwit the forces of evil on a heart-stopping journey through space and time. A Newbery Medal winner.

Cover Story: There are so many different covers of this book that it's hard to really make a comment. The cover of the version I read, though, is absolutely amazing, with a beautiful centaur in front of a gorgeous purple sky, flying over amazing mountains. And then, of course, interesting geometrical shapes at the bottom. It encompasses everything that is good about this book.

My Contests

None for now!