2014: Reading Reflections

I’ve done a lot of growing up this year. I’ve had my share of tragedies, my successes and learned some hard truths. I’ve been humbled, praised, hurt and so much more. I’ve grown considerably mentally and emotionally. And I’ve realized that every time I face any kind of hardship, I turn to books to comfort me. I escape into books, into stories and worlds not my own, into heads not my own. Places where endings are always happy whether neatly or not. Where you can distance yourself from tragedy by turning the pages. Where you can be anyone you choose to: good or bad. Just. Books.

At this moment, I have read 442 books, the majority of them graphic novels and manga series. Manga is a great way to de-stress.

I’ve read translated fiction (okay, mostly Japanese authors but that counts), a considerable number of nonfiction, literary fiction, YA fiction, poetry, middle grade fiction, picturebooks, adult genre fiction including a romance novel that…ugh. I’ve read a lot of everything except classics. I avoid classics because they are Eurocentric and I’m hardpressed to find something that reflects me . I don’t know if I will make a conscious effort to change that in 2015. We’ll see.

I have noticed that I make a deliberate effort to read diverse fiction even if the content is not something that is within my purvey or if the genre is not something I am familiar and comfortable with. This will continue in 2015. I want to read stuff that pushes me out of my comfortable niche. That makes me think about people and places not my own. (Though really I cannot call the place I exist in my own.)

I will also make an effort to read more literary fiction. Though to no one’s surprise,  I will be reading fantasy the most.

On the whole, I’m quite satisfied with the diversity of my reading this year and hope that the trend continues in the coming year.

How did your reading go in 2014?

The Reading Forecast

I know I haven’t been posting as much and I do apologise for that. I do have some reviews some planned for the coming week and hopefully I’ll be in a better place of mind. I’ve been stressed out with job hunting (or the lack of it, I should say) and you know, the issues that arise with feeling completely inept and unable to handle the real world. The good stuff that every student must go through after graduating. But as is usual for me, I turn to books when I’m feeling down so I’ve been reading quite a bit. Here’s what I read last week:

  1. Wheel of the Infinite – Martha Wells
    I really enjoyed this one.
  2. Volumes 1-5 of Beauty is the Beast by Tomo Matsumoto
    This series is hilarious (and complete at 5 volumes). I loved how the heroine subverts all stereotypes. The romance isn’t over the top and is actually an interesting exploration of relationships. Plus it’s funny.
  3. Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
    I enjoyed this. The squirrel is adorable but it wasn’t as awesome as I had expected it to be.
  4. Fiendish – Brenna Yovanoff
    I expected a lot more than I got.
  5. Volumes 1-2 of Yukarism by Shiomi Chika
    The art is beautiful and the story twisted. Just how I like it.
  6. Showa 1944-1953 by Shigeru Mizuki
    I will review this one.
  7. The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
    I will review this one as well.

I’m currently reading:

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Beka Cooper: Terrier by Tamora Pierce

I’m enjoying this quite a bit. I’m only 68 pages (out of 548) in and things could change but I hope they don’t. I hope I really like this book.

I plan on reading:

Okay, for once I have a set and order in which I want to read the following books. I find myself on a fantasy kick (high fantasy actually) so after I finish this I’m reading:

  1. Diplomacy of the Wolves by Holly Lisle
  2. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
  3. The Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
  4. The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick

I probably am not going to get to all this week because Locke Lamora and Lost Cities are pretty hefty books. Actually so is Beka Cooper. But we’ll see. I’ll probably read a lot of manga on the side as I usually do. But I’m crazily excited to read the books mentioned above so yay!

High Fantasy series with Female Protagonists

I believe I have mentioned this before but I find it difficult to get into books (usually but not always) with male protagonists. I simply cannot slip into their bodies and minds though there have been notable exceptions. A conversation with a friend (hi Kathleen!) over Instagram leads me to make a list of books I have read that have female protagonists. This list is, in no way, conclusive, and if I have missed some, please do let me know as I’m always on the lookout for more titles to read. So here we go:

  1. Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells
    This is a rare standalone and works perfectly as one. It has an awesome female protagonist who challenges stereotypes and is just generally awesome.
  2. The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy by Martha Wells
    This is SO AWESOME omg. I cannot gush about it enough. All the books are perfect. The writing, the story, the little bit of romance. Read it.
  3. Chronicles of Elantra by Michelle Sagara
    My love for this series is waning fast but the first few volumes were amazing. It’s at volume 10 now and hopefully wraps up soon because it’s just becoming annoying. It’s always sad when that happens.
  4. Child of a Hidden Sea by A. M. Dellamonica
    This is a portal fantasy and rather more academic in tone than anything else I’ve read so far. But if you give it a chance, it grows on you. I liked it.
  5. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic – Emily Croy Barker
    Another cerebral fantasy that I enjoyed quite a bit. Also a portal fantasy. Sort of.
  6. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
    Okay this does not have a female protagonist but it is still super awesome so I snuck it into the list. Read it. You won’t regret it.
  7. Hero series by Moira J. Moore
    This has a female/male pair as protagonists and the first few volumes are quite fun though it does get a taaad bit trying afterwards. It wraps up well though.
  8. Among Others – Jo Walton
    Not high fantasy but it’s such an awesome book that it deserves (an exception) mention.
  9. Paradox trilogy by Rachel Bach
    This is space fantasy…sorta like high fantasy but plays out in space. Anyway, this is an awesome series with a most satisfying ending.
  10. Medair (volumes 1 and 2) by Andrea K. Host
    All her books are fantastic but I really liked this one.
  11. Hunting – Andrea K Host
    Yep, this standalone is close to my heart.
  12. Champion of the Rose by Andrea K. Host
    It thrills me how she can manage to tell a complete story with such few words.
  13. The Black Jewels trilogy by Anne Bishop
    Okay, this didn’t really gel with me all that much but other people seemed to like it a  lot so I figured it deserved a mention.
  14. The Cadet of Tildor by Alex Lidell
    I thought this one did quite well with court politics and intrigue. It is a bit more dense and doesn’t really read as YA but occupies the liminal crossover space in its ability to appeal to fans of both YA and adult fantasy.
  15. The Flora trilogy by Ysabeau S. Wilce
    This is so underhyped it’s a tragedy. Though not a conventional high fantasy, it still contains enough similar elements and a very strong female protagonist to warrant a mention.
  16. The Tamir Triad by Lynn Flewelling
    This one is really amazing. Gender stereotypes, hidden identities, ghostly siblings. And an exceptional story.
  17. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
    This is very different from the usual high fantasy but quite wonderfully done. I enjoyed it.
  18. Eon/Eona duology by Alison Goodman
    YA. Well developed and seriously beautifully told.
  19. Spiritwalker trilogy by Kate Elliott
    Just read it. Honestly, I’ve spoken so much about this one, even I’m tired of myself.
  20. Dark Angel trilogy by Meredith Ann Pierce
    I’m throwing this one but with the warning that the ending will make you angst. So…um, be prepared for that.
  21. Moorehawke trilogy by Celine Kiernan
    A wonderful mix of historical fiction and diversity. This one doesn’t have magic largely featuring but the writing is wonderful. I still need to read the last one.
  22. The Books of Pellinor by Alison Croggon
    Dense, magicked, fantastic. I loved this one.
  23. Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews
    This is urban fantasy but has a wonderful female protagonist. Each book gets stronger.
  24. The Hollows series by Kim Harrison
    This one is also urban fantasy and equally well done. The latter ones do seem a bit tired the characterizations are wonderful and the pace of each book is tight and tense.
  25. Valdemar: Mage Winds by Mercedes Lackey
    I read these a very long time ago but I remember enjoying them quite a bit at the time. I don’t know if I still would but hey, can’t hurt to try it out?
  26. The Abhorsen series by Garth Nix
    I read these a long time ago as well. The prequel to the series came out not long ago and I haven’t tried it out but I hope to enjoy it as much if not more than the entire series.

What have I missed? Know any other titles that would be fitting on this list? Let me know!

 

p.s: I did intentionally overlook some of the more popular YA high fantasy because I feel that they have greater focus on character relationships and emotions than the world and story. This does not mean I like them any less, it just means that I don’t think this is the right list for them.

p.p.s: The list will be updated as I read more high fantasy novels so maybe bookmark it if you are interested.

Nodame Cantabile vs. Naeil Cantabile (Tomorrow’s Cantabile or Cantabile Tomorrow)

I like to get cerebral with my entertainment. And since I don’t feel like writing about books, I shall write about Asian dramas! Specifically, two live action adaptations of the same manga: once in Japanese (Nodame Cantabile; also the original manga is written by a Japanese mangaka in (obviously) Japanese) and then again in Korean (Naeil Cantabile). (Naeil means Tomorrow in Korean therefore the alternate title.)

Disclaimer: I claim no mastery or expertise over dramas. The following is really self-indulgent. I have things to say.

The manga was written by Tomoko Ninomiya and is complete at 23 volumes, boasts two seasons of anime adaptation. The Japanese live action adaptation was very successful with one full season (11 episodes), 2 specials (2 hours each) and 2 movies. The Korean live action adaptation is complete at 16 one hour length episodes.

A general synopsis, in my own words, would be: Chiaki, a prodigal pianist, is stuck in Japan because of a childhood trauma involving planes and disaster that has left with an insurmountable fear of flying and water. He desires to become a conductor but battles against ennui and hopelessness with the thought of not being able to study with his desired master abroad. At the tertiary level music school he attends, he hears the sound of the piano one day and he follows the sound to see Nodame (Noda Megumi) playing haphazardly but with an undeniable brilliance. When he passes out later in front of an apartment he thinks is his, Nodame comes across him (it’s her apartment; she lives beside him) and takes him in for the night. Her quirkiness leads her to decide that she is in love with him and hijinks ensue when Chiaki finds that he may not be as averse to her (especially her piano playing) as he pretends to be.

So when I say Nodame Cantabile is popular, it just might have been a bit of an understatement. The Japanese live action adaptation was popular all over the world, massively popular I might even say. And when news came out that they were making a Korean adaptation, fans were concerned and now that the drama is over, I’d say, unwillingly, that perhaps they were to be concerned. However, let’s leave that for later and first compare posters!

Korean version
Korean version
Japanese version
Japanese version

Now a closer look at the leads.

Kversion
Kversion
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Jversion

Before I begin speaking about both dramas, let me just that the Japanese adaptation is very faithful to the manga; it changes none of the story or character . In fact, I would go so far as to say that the only that is different between the manga and the live action is the medium in which the story is told.

The Korean version, on the hand, changes a LOT of things.

Take another look at the gifs; they are actually pretty revealing of the relationships between the two leads in both versions.

The Korean version shows hesitation and caution on Naeil’s part when she approaches Yoo Jin (Kversion of Chiaki) while the Jversion reveals the degree of familiarity and confidence Nodame feels with Chiaki.

The fated meeting: Kversion
The fated meeting: Kversion
The Fated Meeting: Jversion
The Fated Meeting: Jversion

In the beginning, Naeil’s character closely resembled Nodame or the original character but audience reactions were mostly negative. Perhaps the cultural differences and audience expectations made Naeil unappealing to them. I don’t know. She was loud, silly, talked in a baby voice, single minded in her obsession with Yoo Jin and irritated everyone who watched her.

Why this should be so when everyone who watched Nodame were more accepting and tolerating of the same qualities is a question I can try to answer.

The cast of side characters Nodame is surrounded by are just as colourful, loud and silly as she is so she’s not alone in her weirdness. Naeil, however, is the only character in the Korean adaptation who hasn’t been toned down to meet the expectations of the Korean audience so she is alone in her eccentricity and unexpectedly strikes a discordant note. When everyone else around her is restrained and some level of sane, she becomes less lovably crazy and more annoying stalkerish.

The Japanese version is careful to be true to the original character and Nodame’s eccentricities are tolerated because within all the craziness is a genius. Someone who coax the most beautiful sounds out of the piano possible. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that all geniuses in Japanese dramas are eccentric so Nodame’s quirkiness is expected.

I found it curious and not a little upsetting that Naeil’s prowess as a pianist is not as eminent a theme as I had expected it to be. This brings me to my next (and most important) point.

The most striking difference in the Japanese and Korean versions is their approach to the music. The Japanese version is an ode to classical music; the pieces are exactly researched, the narrative makes mention of their composers, their feelings when the pieces were composed, the technicalities. There are long sequences where the narrative is paused or on hold while the orchestra brings to life the music the story is all about. The music is one of the main protagonists in the manga and the Japanese adaptation.

In the Korean version, however, the music functions as an afterthought. The scenes in which the orchestra or the pianos are played are abridged and often interrupted by flashbacks where the music stops or is replaced by other music which was not a little annoying. The pieces chosen for the drama are different from the original and are more obscure compositions that the general public will not recognize. Naeil spends more time at her sewing machine sewing than at her piano playing. She does not evince the same joy and passion when playing the piano or listening to music as Nodame does. In other words, she is unable to convince the viewer of her love for music. My favourite piece from the Korean version is this one:

However, the Korean version is not without its strengths. It does a much better job at explaining and bringing to life Naeil’s trauma where music is concerned. Naeil’s scenes with her younger self in moments of clarity and introspection were beautifully done. Naeil also does a wonderful job of coming to terms with her own musical ambitions.

I was also more convinced by Naeil’s actions where curing Yoo Jin of his trauma is concerned. The Japanese manga and drama ask the reader/viewer to suspend her disbelief but the Korean version adds some logic and a skein of believability to her actions that serves the drama well.

Korean dramas are usually more interested in exploring relationships between people. They love their love triangles and love rivals, and their poor but well meaning heroines. The love triangle in this one is resolved pretty nicely though sadly and it is a new addition to the story though not one I’m protesting with much heat as it did give us this dude:

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Again? Oh well, okay.

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(All three leads in the Korean version have dimples. Huhhhh.)

The differences between the Jversion and the Kversion are large enough that they often do not seem like the same drama. I would have said to watch both and be amused by both as the Korean version is rather more realistic (if you ignore or skip over the long scenes concerned with the mating habits of the school principal and the runaway conductor). Those who do not like the over-the-top physical manga-esque comedy of the Japanese version will enjoy the more restrained atmosphere of the Korean version–I would have said that but then I watched the finale and well, it was disappointing. So maybe don’t watch the finale. Just watch the second-last episode and pretend the drama ends over there.

I’ve probably not said all I wanted to say but at this point, I can’t think of anything else so we’re done. I hope you enjoyed my thoughts and well… There will probably be more posts like this one in the future. I will be reviewing books here but most of my reviews will be on The Book Wars.

If you want drama recs from me, let me know.

Until then.

(once more)

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The Reading Forecast

I’m late today. Blame it on the internet and stuff. Stuff is the worst. Time consumer du jour. I have no idea what I’m saying. So last week was extremely topsy turvy for me. Things happened. Not good things but things that played a part in my growth as a person and an adult. I am not making much sense. Let’s talk about writing. Er, reading. I haven’t done any writing to speak of. But reading I have done.

Last week, I read:

  1. House Immortal by Devon Monk
  2. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy – Karen Foxlee
  3. Texts from Jane Eyre – Mallory Ortberg
  4. Love is the Drug – Alaya Dawn Johnson

I’m currently reading:

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Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells.

I’m enjoying this and there’s no reason I shouldn’t finish this by tonight. We’ll see!

To read in the coming week:

Showa 1944-1953 by Shigeru Mizuki. This is a graphic novel though immense and a bit dry. But I hope to be done with it by the end of this week. I’d also like to read Flora and Ulysses by Kate di Camillo. It’s not a huge book, maybe 250 pages at the most so it’s quite doable. I’d also like to read Jewel of the Thames by Angela Misri and Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff. Quite ambitious of me with everything that’s going on but fingers crossed I’ll be able to get it done.

The Reading Forecast

Hello, it’s Monday and therefore time for a reading forecast. I don’t know why I always do this when I’m really tired and not thinking straight but here I am. Doing this when I’m tired and not thinking straight. Last week, I read:

  1. Earthling – Aisha Franz
  2. The Girl from the Well – Rin Chupeco
  3. iCover – Sadaf Syed
  4. Gakuen Babysitters vol 1-4 by Hari Tokeino
  5. Ms. Marvel – G. Willow Wilson
  6. The Darkest Part of the Forest – Holly Black
  7. Merrow – Ananda Braxton-Smith
  8. Max’s Math – Kate Banks
  9. Flutter & Hum – Julie Paschkis
  10. The ABC Animal Orchestra – Donald Saaf

I’m currently reading:

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House Immortal by Devon Monk

I’m enjoying this so far. The pace is brisk and I really like the protagonist. We’ll see how it ends and if I decide to continue with the series.

I plan to read:

I’ve been hankering for something that is more of a cerebral read so I’m going to read a few chapters of The Summer of Ubume by Natsuhiko Kyogoku. Probably not complete it. I think it’s a book one takes a long time to read. I will also probably read The Night Gardener and Showa 1944-1953 by Shigeru Mizuki. Maybe I’ll start The Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells. Or maybe I’ll just read something different altogether. Heh. Depends on my mood.