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2014 Q4 Reading Report

Oh goodness, is this Reading Report overdue. I meant to post this early in January,  but here it is the end of the month and this is my first post of 2015. Ah well, better late than never, right? I read some great books during the last quarter of 2014, as you’ll see below. And I also tweeted about some of my reading as I read, so you’ll get some bonus photos, to make up for being so late.

October

My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult – I listened to the audiobook on the long drive from Philadelphia to Atlanta at the tail end of the Residency Road Trip. One of the most surprising things about this book, considering how sad the premise is, was that it was easy to get engrossed in the story behind the sadness. It was interesting on a legal, moral, emotional and very human level. I cared deeply about the characters, even when they were being totally annoying or foolish. It felt like a play that came alive in my car as I drove, which was really helpful considering I was on the road for over twelve hours.

Me Before You, Jojo Moyes – Bought this at a sale at my hometown library. I was aware of it from how well it sold at the bookstore while I was working there, but I didn’t really know what it’s about before I started reading. It’s an incredibly grim subject matter (especially considering the book I read previous to this one), but it’s not a story that’s grimly told. Somehow, the book manages to have the blithe lightness of a romantic comedy, while very intelligently and responsibly addressing a controversial, highly charged subject. I flew through the pages, and got really invested in how things turned out.

Lean Mean 13, Janet Evanovich – I listened to the audio of this one on my way back to Nola from Georgia. I think this is the perfect way to engage with the Stephanie Plum books. I’d started to get impatient with the silliness and formulaic quality of them while reading them, but those very qualities make them such perfect stories to listen to while on the road. Not too distracting, but very entertaining. They keep me great company in the car. The lady who reads the books for the audio is very good as well.

Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay – Coming back from the residency, I was such a happy dork picking up all of the books the library was holding for me, especially when it came to this one. I’d been looking forward to reading it for months and it didn’t disappoint. Roxane Gay’s novel An Untamed State is beautiful and brutal and she brings those qualities to bear on these essays, which are also funny and silly and insightful and so, so unerringly smart. She’s one of my new favorite writers.

The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith – Was very eager to read this one after reading the first Cormoran Strike novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling. I wanted to listen to the audio, like I had for the first, but it was unavailable, so I had to be content with old-fashioned reading, which was nice in its way, of course. I just soaked up this second mystery and the dynamic between Cormoran and his assistant Robin Ellacott. Once more, I was a tiny bit disappointed with the quick and tidy wrap up at the end — both endings have felt a bit easy and unfinished. But the journey to get there was delightful.

Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman – Read the ReReading post here.

House Proud, Valorie Hart – I introduced Valorie, a friend of mine from tango, during her talk at the Louisiana Book Festival last year. As preparation for that, I pored over this beautiful design book featuring Louisiana homes, including Valorie’s own home with her late husband Alberto Paz.

November

Gates of Thread and Stone, Lori M. Lee – If I remember correctly, I learned about this one on Goodreads, in a discussion about The Queen of the Tearling and Kiss of Deception Once more, a fantasy Y/A novel, really engrossing and interesting, the first of a series (why do I keep doing this to myself? At least the sequel to this one comes out relatively soon – in March). It reminded me a bit of the books by the German author Kai Meyer, which is a really good thing.

Seven Daughters and Seven Sons, Barbara Cohen & Bahija Lovejoy – Read the ReReading post here.

Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise, Wendelin van Draanen – I love these books, love Sammy Keyes and her friends and their hijinks. She’s really grown up in the last several books, finally discovering the identity of her father and having an adventure with him during the titular cruise of this book. While grabbing the link above, I realized another book in the series is already out – and it’s the last one! I’m looking forward to reading it and a bit sad I won’t be reading any more new adventures, but I have a suspicion that she’ll be in a good place by the time we say goodbye.

Yes Please, Amy Poehler – I knew I was going to love this book just from the table of contents. “Say Whatever You Like,” “Do Whatever You Want” and “Be Whoever You Are” happen to make fantastic mantras. Anyway, this book was, of course, hilarious, but also very insightful and inspiring. After writing about the day she was born, Amy Poehler recommends everyone go ask their parents about the day they were born, which made me realize I don’t think I’ve ever heard the story of the day I was born. Just one of many brainstorms and moments of inspiration.

Dark Places, Gillian Flynn – Whew, boy, this book in INtense, just like Flynn’s other books. Unlikeable women who are utterly human (and sometimes monstrous in such human ways) are Flynn’s specialty. It’s a lot to ingest and I usually need a break between books, but I stand in awe of this women’s storytelling ability. I always feel a little creeped out looking at her author photo – she looks so sweet and normal, to write such breathtakingly dark and weighty books. Of all writers, she’s probably the one I’d both want to have coffee with *and* avoid in dark alleys. Just goes to show you can’t judge a book by its cover or an author by her photo. 🙂

Worn Stories, Emily Spivak – This was a pretty cool book. Dozens of essays about articles of clothing and what they represent to the writers/wearers of the clothing. With pictures! It was an accidental find and I was curious. I thought I’d flip through, read a handful and then move on, but I ended up reading every last word. Some were twee and light, but most were (surprisingly, to me) interesting and impactful. It started out as a blog, before it was a book, and the blog continues.

December

Prelude to Bruise, Saeed Jones – I used to be a poet, once upon a time. Sometimes, I still find myself moved by poetry more than almost anything else. These days, while I may read a handful of poems occasionally, I almost never finish an entire book of poetry. I forget, each time, how emotionally weighty poetry tends to be. So I look at a slim volume and I’m like, “Oh, I’ll zip right through this!” But I don’t. I linger and dwell, sometimes for years and never finish a book. So, this is probably the first book of poetry I’ve finished in a long time. I “zipped through,” even though I felt like his poems were eviscerating me with razor wire. But I couldn’t stop. True to form, I obsessed over the lines and words, sometimes getting hung up for a few days before going back and moving on. [You’ll note I tweeted about picking this book up at the end of October, but I didn’t finish it till December.] I had a deadline to finish – this book was requested by multiple people at the library – and I couldn’t bear to return the book without reading it all.

Rooms, Lauren Oliver – Another of my favorite writers, though she’s so fast that I can’t really keep up. This is an adult novel from her, a gothic family story that reminded me of both The Family Fang and Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia, my favorite play. The way Arcadia uses various portions of the house and estate, as well as time, really echoed here, in Rooms.

The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer – Oooh, this book was really important for me to read. I found myself sweating and trembling occasionally as I read it. Why is asking so freaking difficult? Why is owning your right to be and ask for what you want and need so hard? I am so very different from Amanda Palmer – in personality and demeanor and comfort zones, but I admire her so much and it turns out that she has been battling a fight that I’ve struggled with a long time. Need to re-read this every year, or maybe every six months.

Doing the Devil’s Work, Bill Loehfelm – Review forthcoming in 225 Magazine.

Fearless Fourteen, Janet Evanovich – Listened to the audio on my trip to Atlanta to visit my parents for Christmas. It was perfect company, made the trip go smoothly (it’s always rough counting on the radio between Mobile and Montgomery).

My Sunshine Away, MO Walsh – Review forthcoming in 225 Magazine.

So that wraps up 2014. I read some really awesome books in 2014 (A little over a hundred! Roughly, 22 nonfiction books and 74 fiction, plus some other stuff.) In this first month of 2015, I’ve already read a six-book series, a screenplay and two books of essays, all really good stuff, so stay tuned for 2015’s Q1 Reading Report in early April.

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The Re-Reading Project: Dragon Sword and Wind Child

In her dream, Saya was always six years old. Long fingers of flame rose up against the darkness, lighting the sky above. Fire blazed spiteful and triumphant above what she had once thought most secure–her home, that safe, warm refuge that she was so sure would always be there. The glowing hearth; the single room in which her family lived permeated with the smells of cooking and familiar people; her own wooden bowl; her mother’s soft, plump lap covered in rough-woven cloth–all were consumed by the flames. The child Saya had somehow managed to find her way to the marsh at the edge of the village, but with no one there to lead her by the hand, she could go no farther. Crouched in a clump of dying reeds, she trembled with terror, choking down the hard lump of fear in her throat, unable even to cry.

I’m not sure how old I was when I first read Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara. I know it was before I started keeping my reading record at age 13, because the first time this book appears on the record is in 2004 when I re-read it while staying with my parents, at age 22. While I don’t know how old I was when I first read it, I do know that I discovered this book at the Cobb County Public Library, at what is now the main branch, what was at the time the massive new building that replaced my beloved little library in the town square where the children’s books were housed in an attic alcove you had to climb several staircases to get to. Judging by the comments on Goodreads and also on Tales of Magatama, a fan blog, my experience with Dragon Sword and Wind Child is not unique. Many of the comments reference chancing upon the book at the library as a child, as I did.

The original cover is striking and I imagine that it’s what first drew my attention, all those years ago. Translated into English by Cathy Hirano, the book is a retelling of a Japanese creation myth, a story that centers around fifteen year old Saya. While it contains a lot of the familiar tropes and imagery common to mythic tales, it was a mythology completely foreign to me. Though it’s told in the relatively flat tone also common to mythology, it resonated personally with me. The familiar comforted me and the foreign thrilled me. A lot of it would’ve sailed over my head on my first reading, but I always remembered it as a favorite book.

dragon sword and wind childFor many years, copies of the English translation were almost impossible to find, selling for over $100 online. When I wanted to re-read it ten years ago, I discovered that the Cobb County library still had the same copy I read as a child. In 2007, it was released in a new paperback edition with new cover art. While I think the new cover is beautiful, it doesn’t really strike me as relevant to the story as the original.

new dragon sword and wind childThe book never felt open-ended to me, so I was surprised to learn that it was the first in a trilogy, Tales of the Magatama or The Jade Trilogy. The English version of the second book was released in 2011 as Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince, but I haven’t read it yet. I’m curious, but reluctant, too. So far, the third book hasn’t been published in English and I think this is part of what makes me hesitate to read the second book.

By chance, I was visiting my parents at the beginning of February, when I planned to re-read Dragon Sword and Wind Child, so even though I own a copy of the reprint, I decided to check out the original from the Cobb County library and compare them side by side. Unfortunately, I learned that the book had been officially discarded from the library system. Because I’ve been volunteering with my local library, dealing with discards for the book sales, I can understand why this happened, why it was probably necessary, and yet I have to say I was emotional about it regardless. It probably happened shortly after the 2007 reprint. The original hardcover was no longer as valuable and probably had suffered a significant amount of wear over the years. Probably the new cover appeals to today’s children and teenagers more because it looks very manga-like.

Unable to compare the two copies, I dove into my copy of the reprint, which nicely contains an Afterward written by Ogiwara in 2005. It was a weird experience, something like recovering memories after amnesia, I imagine. As I read, I would remember characters and elements of the story right as or right before they were revealed. As an adult, I felt impatience with Saya that I probably didn’t feel as a child. She’s very passive, in fact it’s an integral part of her character: it’s her job to “still” the dragon sword. She’s surrounded by people who know more about the eternal battle between the Light and the Darkness than she does and she constantly looks to them for answers and protection. I had to remind myself that this is true of most children—they have less information than the others around them, they look to others for guidance and they have to make mistakes in order to learn.

One thing that I very much enjoyed about the story, and I’m sure this drew me as a child too, is that the standard Western tropes are often reversed. If there is a “bad guy,” it’s the side of Light, not Darkness (though the Western standard of male = sun and female = moon analogy is present here). Princess Teruhi is the more fierce of the two twin children of the God of Light. Her brother, Prince Tsukishiro, is the more conciliatory of them. There is a hint of the maiden-mother-crone triumvirate at work in the story and (SPOILER!) they all die.

Someone with an expertise in Japanese mythology and literature, as well as world mythology, could probably write a book about Dragon Sword and Wind Child’s place within Japanese literature and the larger mythological canon. I’d love for there to be an annotated edition of the trilogy for Western readers one day – that would be simply incredible. In the meantime, what I know is that Dragon Sword and Wind Child, being the complex and beautiful book that it is, finding me when it did, helped influence my love of fantasy and myth. It’s a big reason why I love books that unite fantasy and mythology, books like George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, The Neverending Story, Kai Meyer’s books, Ronlyn Domingue’s Keeper of Tales trilogy and at least one book I’ll re-read later this year. Dragon Sword and Wind Child remains a beloved book from my childhood.

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Reading in Q1

Lately, reading has felt like my full-time job, so I’m going to make a quarterly report of the books I’ve read. I was so ashamed of the low number of books I read last year (59, my lowest in a decade) that I vowed to step it up this year. So far, I have.

Keep in mind that these are not ALL the books I’ve read, but most of them. As I continue to do this, I may sometimes leave off books I’ve reviewed for 225 or elsewhere, unless those reviews have already printed. Them’s the rules of this new game, but I think it will be fun.

January

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Steig Larsson – I feel satisfied to have concluded the series. I’m glad I read them, but I probably won’t feel the need to re-read. We’ll see. Only time will tell.

February

Dirty Little Angels, Chris Tusa – Read the 225 review here.

The Wavewalkers: Pirate Wars, Kai Meyer – This book was also the conclusion of a series, the second I’ve read by this German writer. They’re a lot of fun, full of remixed world mythology and fables, which I love and I was really happy with how this series ended.

12 Reasons Why I Love Her, Jamie S. Rich + Joelle Jones – This is a graphic novel that Maurice recommended and loaned me. I felt like it could’ve been meatier story wise, but there were a few glorious moments and I continue to be interested in how image and text work together.

March

House of Prayer No. 2, Mark Richard – Read the 225 review here.

Only the Good Spy Young and Heist Society, Ally Carter – I’ve loved Ally Carter’s girl spy series for a while, so it was really good to catch up and read the latest book. But I am OBSESSED with her new series that begins with Heist Society. I want another Heist Society book like NOW. It was soo clever and fun. If you’re reading this Ally Carter, feel free to send me an ARC of the next book anytime.

The Red Garden, Alice Hoffman – For some reason, I keep thinking I’ve grown out of my Alice Hoffman phase. But, it’s habit to pick up her latest book each time and she never disappoints me. I don’t know why I keep thinking that. I was disappointed in Hoffman’s Twitter fracas last year, since she’s been one of my absolute top favorite writers for years, but her books continue to be lovely and chilling and inspiring. Every time.

Across the Universe, Beth Revis – The morning after I finished this book, I woke up from a dream about it and reached for the book to continue reading, only to remember I’d finished reading it a few hours before. I was so disappointed not have more of the book to read for the first time. I really loved the new world created here. It was absolutely tragic and interesting and cool.

Whip It, Shauna Cross – I really loved Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It, with Ellen Page, so I’ve been wanting to read the book that inspired it, formerly titled Derby Girl. I can totally see why Drew was inspired to make a movie because the character of Bliss just SCREAMS out from these pages, so funny and funky. It was a fun book and inspired a really good movie version.

Like Pickle Juice on a  Cookie, Julie Sternberg – Read the 225 review here.

Peter and the Sword of Mercy, Dave Barry + Ridley Pearson – I love this series a lot. It started off as an origin series about how Peter became the Peter Pan we know and love. They finished the series and I love that they listened to their readers and wrote this book for us, continuing the story. The last line made me cry big time. So perfect.

Dinner with Tennessee Williams, Troy Gilbert, Chef Greg Picolo and Dr. W. Kenneth Holditch – Read the 225 review here.

Shiver, Maggie Stiefvater – Another book that I got absolutely obsessed with. I ordered the sequel online before I’d finished it because I was consuming this book at such a rapid pace and the Borders by my house was closing and no longer had a copy. I’m not as engrossed by the sequel so far, but I love how innovative this first book is.

How the Hangman Lost His Heart, K.M. Grant – This is one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read. That should tell you something. I loved, loved, loved K.M. Grant’s de Granville trilogy so passionately that I immediately bought an entire set for my sister, who is the mother of a toddler, and bugged her till she read them. So I’ve been searching for this stand-alone book ever since I heard about it. My library finally got a copy and it was not what I was expecting. Well, honestly, I don’t know that I could’ve expected this book. Who could? It’s a really surprising and clever adventure story about a stubborn girl who convinces people to risk their lives and their families to help her. And what mission are they helping her fulfill? She’s determined to rescue her uncle’s severed head from where it has been displayed after he was executed for treason. The story is based on K.M. Grant’s ancestor, who was the last man in England hanged, drawn and quartered. Did I mention it’s a book for young readers? I really love the renaissance literature for young people is undergoing.

I know I used the word “love” a lot in this post. I’ve decided you’ll forgive me because there are some really awesome books in my quarterly reading report. Check them out!

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Emilie’s 2010 Best List

I’ve been thinking about this post in the back of my head for the last few weeks. And now it’s come time to look back at my favorites of the year…

Books are pretty easy because I read fewer books this year than…ever. At least, any year since I’ve been keeping track and that’s a decade’s worth of reading. The last time I read fewer than 100 books in a year was my second year of grad school and I read considerably fewer than 100 books this year. So my quantity was down, but not the quality – a read quite a few books this year that I’d had on my to-read list a while.

1. Kai Meyer‘s The Dark Reflections Trilogy and most of The Wave Walkers Trilogy
2. Rebecca Cantrell‘s A Trace of Smoke
3. Audrey Niffennegger‘s The Time Traveler’s Wife
4. John Kennedy Toole‘s A Confederacy of Dunces
5. Alice Sebold‘s The Lovely Bones
6. David Madden‘s Abducted by Circumstance
7. Mary McMyne‘s Wait. (manuscript)
8. Suzanne Collins‘s last Hunger Games book Mockingjay
9. M.O. Walsh‘s The Prospect of Magic
10. Stieg Larsson‘s Millennium Trilogy (still working on the last, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest)

In the interests of full disclosure, I have some reservations about labeling some of these “best,” as I had some issues with a few of these books – notably Stieg Larsson’s books and The Lovely Bones – but they are unconditionally the ones that I invested the most time in, spent time thinking about. And there are some absolutely stellar BEST books on this list. And, of course, I read dozens of short stories through my work with Narrative, several of which I’d love to put on a best list, but can’t disclose. Interestingly, there’s no non-fiction on my list this year.

I actually saw quite a few movies in the theater this year, or maybe they stand out because I quite liked so many that I saw there. Rentals were often disappointing – slightly better than I’d expected or boring or not as good as I’d heard. So this is tough, but the movies I enjoyed the most this year:

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (I have to do it, it was so good…)
2. Inception (I saw it 3.5 times in the theater)
3. Toy Story 3 (Pixar has always been really smart with these sequels)
4. Easy A (it was as funny and good as my favorite 80s comedies)
5. Red (it was like Sneakers jacked up, so of course I loved it)
6. Exit Through the Gift Shop (of course, it’s about Banksy)
7. Going the Distance, Get Him to the Greek (a tie)
8. Twilight: Eclipse and How to Train Your Dragon (a tie)
9. Nine (I love musicals)
10. The Kids are Alright

Honorable mentions: Last Station, Hereafter, Black Swan, True Grit, Despicable Me, The Ramen Girl, St. Trinian’s, Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, The Young Victoria and Coco Before Chanel.

TV had to take a serious back burner this year because I never knew when I’d get home from work and had so much going on. This list is basically comprised of the shows that I kept up with in the chaos. Also, it should be said that I watched every episode of Law & Order SVU through Season 10 this year.

1. So You Think You Can Dance
2. Survivor
3. Castle
4. Glee
5. Raising Hope
6. Dancing with the Stars
7. United States of Tara
8. How I Met Your Mother
9. Bones
10. Fringe

My super notables:  The Tudors, In Plain Sight and 30 Rock.

I might go so far as to say that music was one of my biggest influences this year. I probably went to more concerts this year than I have every other year combined. Because my favorite songs are generally still my favorite songs from last year and the year before (with a few new exceptions), I’d much rather outline the best concerts of the year and the cds that I’ve been listening to obsessively.

CDs:

1. Lissie‘s Catching a Tiger, as well as her EP Why You Runnin’
2. Roisin Murphy‘s Ruby Blue
3. Mark Growden‘s Saint Judas
4. The Dresden Dolls‘s Yes, Virginia…
5. Black Gold‘s Rush

Shows:

1. Dresden Dolls at Tipitina’s in New Orleans
2. Black Gold at Howlin’ Wolf in New Orleans
3. Citizen Cope at Howlin’ Wolf in New Orleans
4. Simon Lott at Hi Ho Lounge in New Orleans
5. Mark Growden at Circle Bar in New Orleans

I think that just about covers the highlights of 2010, so all that’s left to say is Happy 2011!

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