Halloween Reads 2013

This was a crazy month in terms of book reading. I had planned to read certain novels to get me in the mood for Halloween, and since I’m down to the last book with a couple of days left to go, I think I’m going to mark that goal as complete.

I’m still addicted to YA books, so there’s a couple of them in there. I also picked titles that have a movie adaptation that I could watch soon after finishing the book and see if it’s equally as creepy as the novel. One problem that I didn’t foresee in this reading challenge is to take into account how sensitive I am to descriptions of gore and sexual violence, which unfortunately, is all over horror literature. There were a couple of titles that I refused to read after dark or if I was alone because just thinking about the situations described between the pages creeped me the heck out.

Anyway, on to the books!  Continue reading

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Building the (B)romance: Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

I finished and reviewed The Raven Boys in September, and thanks to Netgalley, I was able to read its sequel, The Dream Thieves, earlier this month. Not that much has changed in my impressions of this series — I still enjoy it, if not more so.

If this series is your first experience with Maggie Stiefvater’s works, you’ll notice that not too much happens in the 400+ pages. The author herself has admitted that most people don’t read her books for the action, but for the feels. Which, from my experience, is accurate. Maybe it’s a result of her artist background, but she starts from a basic framework and then slowly builds on it, layer by layer, one small detail at a time. As the spectator/reader, you can see that she’s making something beautiful, but it’s tricky to tell what the end result will be. But that doesn’t matter to you so much since even the process itself is art; the build-up and the anticipation are worth experiencing just as much as the final product.

After his unexpected revelation at the conclusion of The Raven Boys, it’s not surprising that focus of the narrative shifts to Ronan. While the rest of the Aglionby Four have their respective charms and quirks, Ronan is best known for his darkness. He hides in his anger, deflecting concern with jokes and snark. But for his friends, most especially Gansey, the real Ronan is a hurt, young man who only wants to go home. How Stiefvater tells Ronan’s story is exquisite — there’s no big infodump of why he’s so angry with his older brother, of how his father died and how this affects him not being to return to his family, of how exactly he can take objects back from his dreams. The details are revealed when they’re needed. I like that the reader is given the same time as the rest of the characters to digest and to reflect on the situations.

While it seems that the entire Raven Cycle is as much about the relationships as it is about the magic, the romantic entanglements don’t take center stage. In other Young Adult novels, friendships are second-tier to the love affair(s). Not so with this one; what happens between Blue and Ronan is just as interesting and entertaining as what happens between Blue x Gansey, or Blue x Adam. If you’re of the shipping mentality, all the combinations and pairings have the feels built right in…I mean, you’ve also got Blue x Noah, Grey Man x Maura, Gansey x Adam, Gansey x Ronan, Ronan x Kazinsky, etc. While I don’t think all of these relationships should/could be romantic, I appreciate that the connections between the characters are filled in. The author doesn’t introduce characters unnecessarily, if they’re in the book, they’re characters, not stage dressing. They’re given color (not a pun for Blue, I swear), nuance, and depth.

The Dream Thieves is a strong follow-up to what’s shaping up to be a intense ride of a series.

Yura vs. the C³-bu

stellahtchartThis was one of the two shows which I watched this summer (the other being Free!, to no one’s surprise). The boyfriend suggested this, even knowing that I’m not a Gainax nor Airsoft fan. He thought it was cute and quirky, and possibly something that I’d enjoy. He was correct, I enjoyed it.

If you’ve been keeping up with my reading preferences lately, it should also come as no surprise to you that I felt for Yura. I didn’t think of her as a jerk or a douchebag; she made poor decisions, but is her personality overall screwed up? Nope, absolutely not. In many ways, I’d say that her bad choices were as much as fault of the C³-bu as Yura herself.

Yura enters Stella Academy with the intentions of making a fresh start. It’s hinted from the first episode that things didn’t go too well at her previous school, and Stella is her chance to have her ideal school experience. But within minutes of entering school grounds, Yura already makes her first social faux-pas, and even though most people would probably recover from this incident, for Yura, it’s almost a sign that things aren’t going to go well again.

Let’s be real here: Yura is socially awkward. She doesn’t seem to know how real people, real friends work — hence explaining all her made-up fantasy situations each time she finds herself caught up in a high-stress or high-pleasure situation. It’s easier to dream up of a scenario where’s she’s the heroine of her own life movie rather than face the sad, brutal reality where she’s a nobody, where she’s the girl who isn’t noticed.

Big fat deal, right? Every other lead character in manga or anime is socially awkward. Most of them are friendless and lonely until, one day, they discover that special something in them that makes them the hero. Yes, and for Yura, that special something was Airsoft. It was something brand new for her, and I liked that she wasn’t good at it from the beginning. I liked that Yura had to practice and work hard (mostly) and keep on practicing even after she mastered the basics. Yura may have been an above-average Airsoft player, but she’s no genius, and I like that.

The anime could’ve ended there, but that wouldn’t have been any fun. So, even though we see Yura gain friends and skill through the C³-bu, we also see a darker aspect of what happens to her because of her obsession with the game. Instead of becoming more empathetic to her teammates, the same group of girls who’ve taken her into the fold, Yura fixates on the “me” part of “game.” Yura thinks that if she levels up even higher in their survival games, her status in the group hierarchy would improve; she doesn’t realize, until too late, that the other girls aren’t as focused on the game inasmuch as they are about each other. She’s branded as an asshole because she cares more about winning instead of her friends, and doubly so when she doesn’t think it was such a big deal to worry about her friends since the others would take care of it.

Is her behavior a criticism of the otaku mentality? I’m not referring to anime/manga otaku specifically, but otaku as a catch-all for the fanatical, highly-competitive person in every known hobby or sphere. This is the person who doesn’t care about sniping you in auctions, cutting in front of you in convention lines, yelling out spoilers to a popular tv show/movie in a crowded room,  taunting you for not having the latest gadget, etc. This otaku is the person who’s more obsessed about the things instead of the community that love the things. (Though if I wanted to be accurate and technical about it, a true otaku wouldn’t care about the community anyway.)

Was Yura just a latent otaku and all she needed was the spark of Airsoft survival games to get her going? Maybe. But, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Yura’s anti-social behavior (the psychiatric definition; as opposed to prosocial) wasn’t helped by the rest of the club either.

Understandably the C³-bu needed just one more member to remain intact as a club; none of them would’ve realized that their newest member would become such a fanatic when she could barely hold a gun in their first game. The rest of the club sees Yura spiraling into an Airsoft fanatic, but they didn’t call her out until it was too late. They all wanted to play “nice,” but weren’t so nice themselves when it came to ganging up on Yura. They pressured her for days to join the club, and probably so excited to see how fast she excelled in their game, but nobody wanted to take responsibility to tell her when she was starting to get out of line. Isn’t that what true friends would do, isn’t that what we would expect? If you’re my friend, I expect you to call me out on my bullshit and I wouldn’t get upset by it, because I know that you’re doing it for my own good and because what I’m doing is hurting myself and/or other people.

That’s why, out of all of the C³-bu, I like that Rento took the time to go see Yura and talk to her. Rento played a big role in getting Yura into the club, as well as taking the time to making Yura feel like a friend, not just another cog in the survival game machine. As much as Sonora and Yura had a special bond, I think that, without Rento, Yura wouldn’t have wanted to return anymore.

Another Gainax anime completed, and this one wasn’t so bad.

Red Glove by Holly Black: Audio vs Print book

I was introduced to Holly Black through the Spiderwick series. Though meant for younger children, I adored the creepy but magical world that Holly co-created with illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi. I read Holly’s first book in the Curse Worker series, White Cat, back in 2010 — didn’t like it too much — so that probably explains why I only picked up its sequel Red Glove last month.

To be truthful, I only picked up Red Glove (Margaret K. McElderberry Books, 2011) because I was interested in trying out an audiobook and upon seeing that actor Jesse Eisenberg was narrating the novel, I figured it was worth taking the chance.  Continue reading