Thursday, August 21, 2008

The danger of series.

I spent the past few days finishing off Kushiel's Chosen, the next book in the Kushiel's series. The problem with sci-fi/fantasy is that it's nearly always a series, which means that I'm always compelled to keep reading. And before you know it, you haven't read anything else except for every book in that series.

In any case, I just finished the second book in this trilogy (there's one more, which I started today and then the next three are a generation later). It wasn't as confusing as the first, since now I know the characters and politics and backstory, though I must confess that sometimes I still got a bit confused by the politics and had to reread. I felt the beginning was a little bit slower than the first book, but the second half was really good and satisfying.

There was also a lot less sex and violent sex at that, which I was sort of grateful for, even if it diminished who she is by nature, or rather, it wasn't as big of a plot element as it had been in the first book.

I liked it though, especially the twist and reveal of the plot.

There's not much more to say than that. I'm excited for the third book because they're FINALLY doing what I wanted them to do since the first book - go back for Hyacinthe, my very favorite character! Hooray!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A special break for the Olympics:

I am SO PROUD of the Chinese gymnastics teams - after how badly they messed up 4 years ago, it's so heartening to see them do well, competition after competition. Especially the men, how badly they wanted it and how badly they wanted to redeem themselves. Their talent and dedication is so amazing, and then the emotion that floods them when they win! Man.

Shoutout to my future boyfriend (hee hee!) Chen Yibing who won rings yesterday. I can't resist his boyish demeanor! I loved watching him drinking up his win and how overcome he was yesterday. Okay, he's a tad young for me, but whatever!

I'm not going to comment on American commentary on the Chinese athletes and gymnasts here. I just want to be content with the wins. :)

Friday, August 15, 2008

For the reluctant reader!

By the way, Mexican Whiteboy, a book by my friend and former teacher, Matt de la Pena, hit bookstores a couple of days ago. It's a YA book about two teenage boys in search of their fathers (who also happen to be great at stickball), one being, well, half-Mexican, half-white (like the author himself).

I think it's great that Matt writes books that cater to teenage boys - there's not nearly enough out there for them to read that they'd like to read, so especially if you know some reluctant teen boy readers, check it out. Even if not, check it out anyway. :)

I need to discuss the ending.

On the heels of finishing The Pact, my sister handed me Nineteen Minutes to read, which she said she liked better than The Pact. Being that I had nothing better to do, I read it.

It's fine, engaging. It's a Picoult work through and through - discussing tough issues, a trial, flashbacks, etc. Very similar to The Pact in construction, actually. It was interesting only to see how she would handle this situation of a trial for a kid who'd killed a bunch of other kids. Maybe because in the wake of Virginia Tech, I'd thought of the other side too - how his parents must feel, as well as an ounce of pity for the kid himself - what sort of life he'd led that had driven him to do something so horrific. I'd even toyed with the idea of writing something loosely based upon this, if only because part of me was drawn to the fact that he was the child of Asian immigrants.

But I digress. There were few surprises in Picoult's book - it's pretty much going in the direction you expect it to. Until the ending. (SPOILER!)

The whole thing with Josie and the huge revelation at the end that she'd been the one to shoot Matt Royston first seems to be the climax that Picoult uses to save her book from being predictable. And yet it seems almost a little too out there. Maybe she's writing to compare Peter's immediately obvious suffering to Josie's quieter, smaller one. To showcase the parallel between Peter's torment from the hands of bullies and Josie's abuse at the hand of her boyfriend. But I have to say that all the little clues that lead up to it and then the ultimate revelation, while satisfying in a strange way, also seem a bit... unrelated perhaps? It's a bit much, to have this girl be such a victim of abuse, and for it to come out to not just be Peter, but Josie too. I don't know. I can't put my exact finger on why this thread of story and the ultimate reveal didn't do it for me. Maybe because I felt that the focus of the story should have continued to be on Peter's struggle and redemption for Josie - sure, it's the predictable route, but seeing as the whole book was sort of predictable anyway, it might have been more gratifying. Or maybe I would have been okay with Josie killing Matt, if the clues dropped earlier came together better. The whole, "I hated myself for loving him" thing made it really hard to be sympathetic for her. If Picoult was going to go that route with her, maybe it should have been done more, or in a different way.

But all in all, it's an entertaining read. And a better rendition of the school shooting thing than Lionel Shriver's (which I really didn't like all that much).

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

On a completely unrelated note

I am boycotting BBC.

This is why:

I am in Beijing for the Olympics. My family lives here right now, so we're all going to the Olympics. I am of Chinese descent, 3 of my grandparents were from the Shanghai area. One was from Taiwan. My parents were both born in Taiwan.

By no means am I pro-China, nor am I anti-China. To be honest, I tend to take a diplomatic view on things, and I feel that the things I don't understand, I can't make a judgement on.

What I do know is this-

The Olympics are a games of goodwill and peace. And as a Chinese person, I'm really proud of my people. Politics are one thing, but there's something to be said about wanting your culture and heritage to be shared with the world. I'm also really proud of how not only the Chinese government, but Chinese people across the world banded together in the wake of the Earthquake.

What pisses me off is how strongly scrutinized China is in preparation for the Olympics. And fine, I suppose that's to be expected, but the Western media is unforgivably biased. The other day, I literally heard this from the mouth of some dowdy BBC reporter: "So far, the athletes report that things seem to be organized and that nobody is experiencing severe discomfort yet." What?? Do they expect to be thrown in cages and flogged first? Then, "Well, I guess we'll see if Beijing can keep all of its promises." BBC is just waiting for the Chinese to f* up is it? I'm not like rah rah China or anything (and if I haven't said so before, I'm a total American patriot), but come on. I feel offended by the suggestion that everyone is just sitting around waiting for my people to f* up and/or act like total barbarians. It's POSSIBLE that Chinese people in China are NORMAL people who are proud of their country and excited about the Olympics. It's POSSIBLE that all they want to do is show the rest of the world what an amazing culture we have. It's POSSIBLE that they are doing what they can to try to make this an enjoyable experience for everyone.

Why can't we all just bask in what the Olympics are supposed to be? Why does it ALWAYS have to be political, and why can't we just get along? Yeah, I get it, people have their opinions on the politics of China - so do I - but can't we just put that aside for the sake of the Olympic spirit?

I'm fully Westernized (though with globalization, you could argue that everyone these days is - to be "modern" pretty much means to be Western); I was born and raised in America. I love my country - I probably know more "American" songs than most people. I sing our anthem with gusto, I love my passport, I love going through customs and being told "Welcome home". I can't imagine making my life anywhere else. But I'm also Chinese. And when I watch Western media, I can't help but feel that this tremendous bias has part to do with "rights", but a lot also to do with a feeling of threat. That Chinese people are "other" - we're not white or European but something else. And China is getting too strong. And therefore, a carefully laid media plan of sensationalism is in place. I've worked with media for 4 years. I know how influential and targeted it is. It's not objective reporting, it rarely is.

I get upset because I believe there's two sides to every story. I believe that we in the West, especially in far removed America, only get to see what the media wants us to see. And that one side of the story is usually all anybody knows. I don't just mean this for China, but for many issues. We have a free media, sure, but is it really free? Doesn't it just mean somebody else is pulling the strings? Purse strings? What makes me upset are the people who venture forward to say that they have an opinion on Tibet or a free China, and I want to ask them how much they know about either issue. What have they read or heard? Where is it from? Tibet is poorly understood, as is the Chinese government. I have no solid opinion on either issue because I know I don't know enough about it. And I find it absolutely condescending when somebody who is NOT Chinese insists on a "free China" with a manic fervor - having never stepped into the Chinese borders, having known no Chinese people save for the ABCs in America. You are not them. You don't understand. You don't know. I don't either, but I don't presume to. It's condescending to assume that these people need YOUR freedom. How do you know that they feel and think the same way you do? How do you know they're not looking at YOU with pity?

Sorry. End rant. I have to go now for an appointment, but I'm getting angry because I feel a fierce protectiveness over my people and their pride.


The Picoult of yesteryear.

I sat down and read Jodi Picoult's The Pact in one sitting yesterday.

I've owned that book for awhile, but hadn't felt compelled to read it. Why? I loved My Sister's Keeper, enough to put it on my top 10 when I finished. And I went ahead and read Mercy, Vanishing Acts and one of her others which is escaping me right now. Then I read Tenth Circle. And absolutely, completely loathed it. I felt it was poorly written, and simply a bad plot. It was god-awful, and I thought, well here it is. The evidence that she's sold out. She's churning out a book a year and she's starting to falter. And with distaste in my mouth, I stopped reading any of her books.

The Pact I bought because of a BN special deal. And then it sat on my bookshelf.

In any case, yesterday, I figured I'd give it a go. And I liked it.

It was the first book that put her on the scene, and reminded me of why I liked Picoult. Her ability to examine family and morality of difficult, contemporary issues. The faces of love. It was The Pact that seems to have set the stage for what she'd continue to do from thereon. In here, she takes a look at teen suicide and what happens when you love someone too much, are too dependent upon someone else.

All the different characters in the book are rendered convincingly, each of their perspectives unique, heartbreaking. A story that has no right answer, or happy ending. The book leaves you frightened for your children (or the children you may have one day, as in my case), and reminds you of your own confusing days as a teenager.

An easy read, in that it was easy to get through. A difficult read, if only because it's hard to imagine that this could really happen in real life, yet at the same time, so plausible, it's frightening.


Monday, August 4, 2008

More than whips and shackles.

Just finished Kushiel's Dart. I have to say, I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to. Granted, the writing is, you know, nothing to win a Pulitzer, a fair number of adverbs - "I said softly" "She answered coolly" "He laughed harshly" - but to be honest, I didn't even notice that until the end of the book. Throw enough plot at me, and I cease to care, apparently.

So entering the book, I seriously thought it was going to be some erotica fest, some excuse to whip some servants in a fantasy world. But it actually turned out to be a story of political intrigue with some epic battle scenes that recall LoTR Two Towers in my head (okay not nearly as awesome, but you know what I mean). If the whoring S&M twist disturbed me at first, it actually struck me as clever in the end, that the protagonist ultimately used her threshold for pain to save the kingdom. I found myself really drawn in by the time I got to the last third of the book, racing towards the climax of the book.

I did face some issues of discomfort - not in just the extreme examples of torture/S&M, but also in being able to accept a world and character in which a woman is so afflicted with the comingling of desire and pain that even while she is emotionally revolted by forced bedding, she still manages to physically be aroused by it. Partly I was offended as a woman. I tried to accept it as part of the fantasy world, but it was difficult at times.

Other issues I had with the book - for the first third to half of the book I was really confused by the many names and lineages of people in the book. I often found myself flipping to the cover to read who was who and who was related to whom how. Annoying thing is the characters aren't even grouped together as a family tree, but listed alphabetically under some loose groupings. Family tree would have made the process easier.

Also, by the end, after the climax (which I enjoyed), the denoument was one of those LoTR3 situations -- took freaking FOREVER. Yes, it was setting up for the sequel, but seriously, I get really impatient when I know I'm nearing the end of the book. I just want to GET TO IT, and it's annoying when you've reached the climax, and you still have 50 pages left to read. At that point I barely care. Just get me to the final resolution already!

Beyond all that though, I'd have to say I'm pleasantly surprised. I was fairly drawn in to the world and unraveling the political mystery and following the battles that ensued. It's impressive to me when someone can create a completely original world - complete with allegiances, people, customs, language, etc etc - because it's something I don't think I could do well and with authenticity.

Also, I got attached enough to the characters to actually shed tears when my favorite character had to sacrifice himself for the greater cause. I was fairly heartbroken about it, and had to write the friend who lent the book to me, to rant and weep and mourn.

So, that being said, my friend is bringing me the sequels when he comes to visit me. He says they're better. I hope so! Question now is, what should I read next? I have a couple of other books with me I could start on... or I could pick up Time Traveler's Wife to reread - read it 5 years ago, and picked it up again today out of idleness. It was one of my faves. Hmm, what to do?

BTW, I had a couple of ranty words about BBC that are completely unrelated to books, but I think I'll save it for another day.