Saturday, January 12, 2013

Manga Review: Library Wars: Love & War

Genre: dystopia/manga
Pages: 186
Published: 2010 by VIZ

Synopsis: In the near future, the federal government creates a committee to rid society of books it deems unsuitable. The libraries vow to protect their collections, and with the help of local governments, form a military group to defend themselves--the Library Forces!

Iku Kasahara has dreamed of joining the Library Defense Force ever since one of its soldiers stepped in to protect her favorite book from being confiscated in a bookstore when she was younger. But now that she's finally a recruit, she's finding her dream job to be a bit of a nightmare. Especially since her hard-hearted drill instructor seems to have it in for her!

For whatever reason, I haven't been reading a lot of manga lately.  That definitely changed when I discovered Library Wars, a series I was drawn to if only because of the title and the synopsis.  Libraries, or pretty much the greatest places in the wide world, + futuristic dystopia-like Japan + a guy who looks like Colonel Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist on the front cover is a recipe I could not resist.

Kasahara is our spitfire of a (very) flawed heroine.  She has wanted to be a member of the Library Defense Force for years, ever since a mysterious Defense member, her "hero", inspired her to dedicate her life to preventing the censorship of books.  At the story's start, she's made it to the lower end of the totem pole, training to be a Defense Force member under the harsh but basically well-meaning Sergeant Dojo.  Although she always falls asleep in her classes and can't seem to get her Dewey Decimal on, Kasahara manages to impress Dojo and the other higher-ups with her quick, impulsive thinking and great athletic skills.  Dojo's bipolar criticism and support of Kasahara makes her wonder how her superior really feels about her.  But meanwhile her rival student Tezuka, who by all accounts hates her guts, may also have a thing for her.

Library Wars is a very light-hearted series, so far.  Kasahara is far from the most bad-ass female heroine in manga history, though I like her alright.  Dojo is the brooding, bipolar love interest, and Tezuka is the... even more bipolar love interest??  Both of them are so hot-and-cold.  Tezuka is also terrible to Kasahara most of the time, though, and I was definitely Team Dojo from the moment he was introduced.  I really have no good reason why (*cough looks like the awesomely amazing Colonel Mustang cough*), but he is my favorite character so far (I've read two volumes).  

There is also some non-romantic and non lighthearted comedy stuff going on, though not too much.  The Library Forces, sponsored by local governments, are at war with the media censorship sponsored by the national government, and so there are some raid and battle-type scenes where Kasahara and the others must spring into action with their deadly weapons and whatnot.  This looked very cool, especially with the backdrop of a public library.  I absolutely disapprove of banning or censuring books in a big way (the only bad book is badly-written one, I think), so I loved the idea of the Library Forces protecting free speech and the freedom to read-- very cool premise!  The art of Library Wars is a very highly rated so-so.  It's by no means extremely unique or beautiful art, but the characters are easy to distinguish from one another and I generally enjoyed it.  Some of the panels are maybe a little sparse.  I would recommend this series to new manga readers or those who want to get into manga, since it is a straightforward series with good translation and a bookish theme which I think all bibliophiles would be drawn to.



Thursday, January 10, 2013

Classically Readable #2: Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen

Genre: historical romance
Pages: 400, give or take depending on the edition
Published: 1811

 Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing, but unsuitable John Willoughby, she ignores her sister Elinor's warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love - and its threatened loss - the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

I think that I'd almost like to have been a gentry lady in Ms Austen's time.  Her characters-- in Sense and Sensibility, the sisters Dashwood and their many privileged friends-- seem to spend the vast majority of their time either playing piano and chatting about the cutest boyfriends or "beauxs" in sitting rooms, visiting other country mansions, or whiling away the day reading.  Of course, the downside is that women's fortune and lifestyles depended completely on whoever they married, and wealth was everything.

What I loved so much about Pride and Prejudice is how brilliantly it depicts the romance and society of the era-- Austen is a very frank writer, especially for her time, I think, and sometimes downright hilarious.  Sense and Sensibility was her first novel, but I really could hardly tell and liked it almost as much as P & P (which I recently watched the movie version of, the one with Keira Knightley-- it was awesome).  Her style of writing is sometimes hard to decipher, but once you get 50 pages into the book, you become entirely used to the long sentences and abundance of commas and early nineteenth century prose.  Her masterful prose is one of the things which make her books so special and popular in the modern day.

But: Sense and Sensibility.  The three Dashwood sisters live a modest (for rich English gentry) life after the death of their father and know that their well-being depends on their being able to marry well, to someone wealthy and suitable.  The eldest sister Elinor is about as sensible a young lady as you would ever meet; she's very hesitant to express great emotions and uses logic in every decision she makes.  Meanwhile her sister Marianne is much less sensible (...and you see where the titles comes in.  Actually, Marianne's downright excitable, vivacious and overly dramatic.  While walking near a country estate, Marianne chances to fall and twist her ankle, only to be rescued by a young man who happens to be hunting right by where she has her accident and who graciously carries her safely home.  Marianne proceeds to lie in bed with her ankle for several days (when people where I live sprain an ankle, they usually just keep on limping) and, upon recovering, spends all her time with her rescuer, the equally excitable and passionate Willoughby.  Willoughby and Marianne seem to be a perfect match, but Marianne's suitor has little money or prospects, and the always logical Elinor doubts his suitability.

Elinor, meanwhile, also has a suitor: a young man called Edward, who comes from a wealthy family and wants to join the clergy.  Edward, to me, was the least interesting of the gentlemen characters in S & S.  In Austen language, he "seemed to me to be rather droll".  Willoughby is like the Austen version of a literary bad boy, so he and Marianne's romance, and the knives which get thrown in it, is much more interesting than what goes on between Elinor and Edward.  It's not that I didn't like Elinor; more that I really didn't care anything about Edward.  We get no sense of his personality, except that he's much more restrained and reluctant to go against the wishes of his domineering mother.  Elinor has a romantic rival for Edward's heart in the form of Miss Lucy Steele, a slightly less well-off and "well-bred" girl who it's difficult to decide whether to love or hate.  All of the characters, with the exception of Edward, are fantastically interesting and for the most part likeable.  The outspoken and gossipy Miss Jennings takes the Dashwood girls under her matronly wing and lets them stay with her for a season at the social capital of London-- she was one of my favorite characters, and added to the comedy and confusions of the novel.  I sorta felt sorry for the third Dashwood sister, Margaret.  Just like the fourth sister in P & P (now what was her name again?), she has no adventures or romantic prospects whatsoever.  Maybe someone should write some fanfiction in which Margaret becomes the first woman Chancellor of England, travels to Narnia, or at least gets married or something.

Tangent aside, the only question which remains is which Jane novel I should read next.  I kind of like the title Northanger Abbey, but Emma also sounds interesting.  You shouldn't need my advice to read this well-loved and always acclaimed book, but I'll say it anyway: read Sense & Sensibility, because its funny and clever and beautifully written and memorable.  And just generally awesome.


Monday, January 7, 2013

Starters by Lissa Price

 Starters and Enders #1
Genre: YA dystopia
Pages: 352 (hardcover)
Published: 2012 by Delacorte Books

My Take:

Callie, once a middle-class teen before the Spore Wars which killed her parents, now squats with her brother Tyler and her semi-boyfriend friend Michael.  Starters like Callie aren't allowed to have jobs or identities, and the Marshals diligently hunt down any teens who aren't lucky enough to have grandparent Ender guardians.  Unlucky Starters are caught and taken to the dreaded institutions, where they must live until they come of age.  Desperate for money and a second chance to save her brother after she loses everything in a raid by Marshals, Callie signs up for a three rental contract at the mysterious Prime Destinations, a corporation which lets Enders re-live the days of their youth in the bodies of real youth, who are "put to sleep" with sci-fi technology while the Ender takes over control of their body to party, do extreme sports, and enjoy life in the body of a beautiful teen for a few days-- or a few months.  Little does Callie know, Prime Destinations is expanding: Enders are renting out bodies for longer periods and more and more teens are being targeted and used as 'merchandise' by the company.

During her third and last rental, Callie awakens suddenly in her own body weeks before schedule due to a malfunction, in a nightclub where moments before her renter was controlling her.  Helena Winterhill, her renter, seems at first glance to be a wealthy elderly woman grieving over the death of her own granddaughter.  But as Callie soon begins to discover, Helena has rented Callie's body with a purpose: this Ender has a gun in her sock drawer and a serious grudge against Prime Destinations.  Torn between disbelief and worry for the brother and friends she has left behind, Callie nevertheless strikes up a relationship with the dreamy and wealthy real-life teen Blake, whose family may be more involved in Helena's plot than Callie knows.  Caught up in a conspiracy of great and terrible proportions, Callie must decide whether to trust her renter and follow through with her plans to dismantle Prime Destinations.

I actually enjoyed Starters much more than Legends, another (more popular) 2012 YA dystopia I recently reviewed.  The premise of old Enders renting out the bodies of desperate teenagers, or Starters, is pretty fantastic and very disturbing!  Those creepy senior citizens with all their ideas about 'youth being wasted on the young', eh?  *Shivers*.  As a lot of other reviewers on Goodreads pointed out, the actual background of the Spore Wars which killed all adults between 20 and 60 (what they are, why they happened, who the heck they were against) is left really vague in this book.  As its the first in a series, I'm hoping that will be clarified a little.  But the world-building of the dystopian aftermath feels all too real and the story that Lissa Price tells is one I didn't want to stop reading for a second.

None of the characters are sketched out too well or are very complex, with the exception of Callie, but this is absolutely a plot-driven novel-- it didn't bother me in this case.  The concept of Starters reminded me a little of the movie Surrogates, and I think this book would make a great sci-fi thriller movie.  The stakes are very high and the villain (the enigmatic head of Prime Destinations, called the Old Man) is definitely bad and creepy enough for the silver screen.  The feeling that you never knew whether somebody was really their own age, or in their own body, gave an excellent air of sci-fi-esque suspense and the twisting plot kept me guessing.  I will absolutely be anticipating the next book in the Starters and Enders series and recommend it as a fantastic, edge-of-your-seat dystopia thriller.  Starters also breaks away from the post-Hunger Games dystopia mold, and that is something I would definitely like to see more of in the genre as a dystopia reader.   

This book qualifies for: The 2013 Dystopia Reading Challenge (hosted by Blog of Erised).

My Rating:
A very solid four unicorns

Saturday, January 5, 2013

2013 Reading Challenges Part 1

I attempted one reading challenge last year and completed exactly zero.  This year I've gotten a great start reading (due to school's being out) and I'm hoping to do much better challenge-wise!

The Dystopia Reading Challenge 2013 
hosted by Blog of Erised (sign-up post here)

This challenge has a monthly review link-up and a December giveaway for participants-- yay!
Dystopia is one of my favorite genres, so it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to challenge myself to read 7 to 12 dystopian YA or adult books in 2013.  I'm going for Level 2: Rebel.  I already have a ton of dystopias on my TBR, so here are some of the books I hope to read.

--Starters by Lissa Price
--The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi (Ship Breaker #2)
--Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
--Partials by Dan Wells
--Blood Red Road by Moira Young
--Insurgent by Veronica Roth (Divergent #2)
--Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
--Light by Michael Grant (Gone series #6!!!)
--Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The 2013 Historical Fiction Challenge
Hosted by Historical Tapestry (sign-up post here)

Finally, a challenge devoted to another of my favorite genres!  I participated in the YA Historical Fiction Challenge in 2011, but have somehow missed this one until now.  Historical Tapestry will post a monthly review link-up, and there are no specific reading categories-- a good thing for me, since I tend to pick up historical books on a whim more than other genres.  

I will shoot for the fifth and highest level: Ancient History, and will attempt to read 25 or more historical novels in 2013.  Judging from the unread historical fic on my bookshelves, I can probably make it.  This collage includes some of the many, many historical fiction books which I want to read.  Bring Up The Bodies and Sense and Sensibility, which I finished today and a few days ago, are two I can already add to my book count.  Reviews up in a few days-- I hope!

--The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley
--Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
--Lady of Ashes by Christine Trent
--Nefertiti by Michelle Moran
--The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
--Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
--Before Versailles by Karleen Koen
--Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
--The Last Romanov by Dory Levy Mossanen
--Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
--Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir
--Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (I meant to have Mansfield here, but doubled Northanger instead)
--Bring Up The Bodies (Wolf Hall #2) by Hilary Mantel
--Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

The 2013 British Books Challenge
Hosted by Feeling Fictional (sign-up post here)

This challenge, nicknamed the BBC, has a monthly review link-up and monthly prize packs featuring books from British authors.  The aim is to read at least 12 books a year, or roughly one a month.  I'm not going to pick out particular books right now, mostly because so many of the books on my tbr are written by British authors (even more than I'm actually aware of, I'm sure), but I'll link them up as I go.

I'm sure Part 2 will be coming soon, since I already have my eye on a couple more challenges that I want to join.  In the meantime, I'm already getting a good start on several of these.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Classically Readable #1: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

The new Classically Readable meme was devised by me so that I could force myself to read more classics and occasionally fill my little brain with something besides magic swords, steampunk cats, spaceships, and general fluff.  (Not that there's anything wrong with fluff-- fluff is what I live for.)  Since the blogging world is typically obsessed with the new and the soon to-be-released, I also thought it might be fun to look back (sometimes way, way back) at the classics.  Because there must be a reason people still read (or claim to have read)  these books after all these years, right? 

Now, without further ado: Alice.  So picked because it's a fun classic to start with, short and easy to read.  I read and re-read an Alice picture book when I was younger, saw the Disney movie along with a million other kids, love the quirky 2010 Tim Burton movie, and have a poster of the Cheshire Cat up in my room.  But I was always curious to read the original stuff-- the literary madness which started it all...

Genre: children's fantasy
Pages: varies a lot depending on the edition-- usually more than 100, but less than 150 pages
Published: 1865 by Lewis Carroll (a pseudonym for Charles Lutwidge)
Selected Theme Song:

Seven-and-a-half year old Alice is sitting outside with her sister one lazy afternoon when she chances to see an unpunctual, talking rabbit with a pocket watch run past.  Adventuresome Alice is quick to pursue and so tumbles a long way down a rabbit hole.  At the bottom she finds an enchanted, unfamiliar, and incredibly random world.  In Wonderland, the Mad Hatter and March Hare have an endless tea party with their dozy friend the Dormouse and the fearsome Queen of Hearts holds court among her playing card subjects.  Also present (and less well-represented in the movie versions) is a wailing baby who sometimes turns into a pig, a very rude Duchess, an unfortunate lizard, and a very unfair criminal trial preceded over by the King and Queen of Hearts.  Young and very British Alice causes quite a stir in this bizarre world, for her 'perfectly sensible' ways of doing things seem as alien to the inhabitants of Wonderland as they are to her.  Alice quickly finds that, in the kingdom at the bottom of the rabbit hole, one must struggle to keep one's proper size, talking mice can be surprisingly touchy on the subject of cats, and keeping one's head on one's shoulders is a much greater challenge than she would have hoped.

Alice is a perfectly mesmerizing tale: completely unpredictable and engrossing, not least due to the fact that it seems to be complete nonsense, interspersed with parody poems and filled with purposeful paradoxes.  This nonsensical quality is what has kept it a classic over the century and a half since it was first penned and inspired so many film adaptations and art.  As I read it, I wondered: was there a method to the madness of Alice?  Author Lewis Carroll-- actually Charles Lutwidge, an English writer and deacon-- is usually considered to have loosely based his heroine Alice on a real-life girl called Alice Liddell.  Carroll invented the story to entertain Alice and her two sisters during an afternoon rowing and later wrote the story down, with some additions.  Alice became a children's classic almost immediately after it was published, though in the modern day it seems like adults read it more often than children (?-- most of the children I know read If You Give A Mouse A Cookie more than Alice)  The sequel, Alice Through The Looking Glass, was published afterwards but tends to be lumped in with the events of the original Alice (for example, the walrus and the carpenter poem actually appears only in Looking Glass).

More analytical, sinister, and maybe unlikely interpretations of Alice are everywhere-- many people like to believe that Carroll's characters represent real-life figures, or that his stories are symbolic, with important themes or political commentary.  There are also some long-running rumors still going around about how Carroll was an opium addict or liked little girls a little more than he should have (ugh), but I really don't know how much credibility those have.  I "get" some of these allegorical claims for Alice: like the Queen of Hearts is supposed to be a caricature of Queen Elizabeth I, who the author didn't much like and the crazy Wonderland system of justice a parody of the British court system.  Another theory I found is that Alice's sometimes scary, sometimes whimsical adventures represent her coming-of-age in an era when-- just like today, I guess-- growing up had extreme ups and downs.  

Most people in the know do agree that Carroll wrote the books (Adventures and the later Looking Glass) with his friend Alice Liddell in mind, and as a dedication to her even after she grew up and moved away, which she did shortly after he published his book.  Thinking of Alice in this way puts a melancholy spin on the story, but Alice as a book couldn't be more light-hearted and even funny in its weird, whimsical way.  I was totally thrilled to discover  that the original Alice is definitely worthy of having inspired so many other stories, art, and films.  I adored this classic children's book, but the jury is still out on whether all children enjoy Alice's nonsensical adventures, or if some would find them simply confusing.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Cover VS Cover: The Jane Eyre Edition

Wow, has it been a long time since I posted a Cover VS Cover feature!  It's always difficult to find a book or series which is ideal for the meme: there have to be a ton of different covers, so usually a very popular or older book, and the covers have to be interesting and diverse enough to compare against each other.  In this case I knew exactly which book I wanted to feature, after receiving this gorgeous edition of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre for Christmas. 

This is the Penguin Classics Illustrated edition, beautifully illustrated by Ruben Toledo and published in 2010.  I love it, and all the new illustrated covers for other classics.  Receiving this edition made me curious about other and foreign editions of Jane Eyre...

Like these two, probably the most familiar to those who first read the classic novel in school (though I was never lucky enough to read Jane in English class).  The one on the left is the earlier and more common Penguin Classics edition; the right is a Bantam Mass Market edition.  Both resemble Romantic portraits and paintings, which fits the book's era.  I really don't care for the Bantam one.

And here we have some (much) more modern editions of Jane: the first being one of a group of romantic classics re-released by Harper Teen in 2011.  It appears to be Jane Eyre meets Twilight-- a smart marketing move, maybe, though in truth even the romances of the novels have little in common.  The cover on the right is a Portuguese edition, also from 2011.  It seems to be following current YA cover trends.  The model is incredibly pretty, but doesn't resemble my mental image of Jane in the least-- she looks so modern!

With the release of a multitude of movie adaptations, the mental image many readers have of Jane has changed forever.  Both of these two are movie tie-in editions, tying in with the 2011 movie.  The one on the left is the one I first read from the library, but the one on the left is maybe most striking.  It has a Red Riding Hood feel-- very beautiful. 

Moving on to a Dutch edition, which highlights the book's creepy, Gothic feel.  Jane looks like she may be a vampire, but overall I like this one.  This delightful purple cover creation is a very recent (2012) edition released by Splinter.  Haven't heard of them, but I love the illustration-- it's reminiscent of the newest Jane Austen editions' covers.  Maybe Jane's books (ahem, Jane *Austen*) will soon be the subject of a future Cover VS Cover feature.

I'd love to hear which of these editions is your favorite, or your least favorite.  Do you approve of movie tie-in editions, or are you a Mass Market kind of reader?  Which edition do you own, and which book or series would be perfect to feature in Cover VS Cover?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Top Ten Books I Resolve to Read in 2013

This week's Top Ten Tuesday theme (meme hosted by the bloggers of The Broke and Bookish): books which we're determined to read in 2013.  My New Year's reading resolution: I'm hellbent on reading some classics.  For all the many, many books I read, very few are considered classics and I definitely want to change that, being a freshman English major and all.  So much that I'm devising a new weekly (or bi-weekly) blog feature with reviews of the classics I read.  Anyway, here are some of the classics at the top of my list:

I most likely won't get to the very thick Anna Karenina before the movie leaves theaters, but maybe in time for its Red Box release.

This is another thick one, but I generally love Arthurian books, so hopefully it will be enjoyable.

I want to read a few more Jane Austen books this year-- Sense and Sensibility is one I started, but never finished yet.

1984 is like the dystopia classic.

Then Brave New World is a close second-- another famous dystopia.

It's going to be a modern translation of The Canterbury Tales for me, yep.  My Middle English is a bit rough. 

Othello and other works by the Bard.  The only Shakespeare I've read are Hamlet, The Tempest, and Twelfth Night.

I've still never read the original Alice!

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Rebecca is said to be excellent and suspenseful, yet slow-paced.

So what books have you resolved to read in 2013?  And what's your favorite classic-- any I should add to my list??  Leave the links to your Top Tens and I'll visit back.

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