Music Rec: Yoga Lin (mandopop)

If you know me personally, or have read my about page, you know that I’ve got a thing for mandopop. There’s just something about Mandarin that I like. I mean, I like listening to Korean music (CNBlue, anyone?), but I really love the way Mandarin sounds. My friend H used the following analogy when I was trying to explain it to her; it’s like the difference between listening to German music and French music. You might like them both (and I do), but there’s just something about the French language that just sounds different/prettier. That’s how I feel about Mandarin. And while there are a lot of singers who I like, one of the guys who does it best is Yoga Lin.

He’s 24 years old and from Taiwan (which seems to be something of a theme for me). I really like his music, there’s something different about it. I recently purchased a copy of his second album, Senses Around (感官/世界) and I really like it. The above song is called 飄 (Gone With the Wind) and is my favorite off of that album. It’s slower than most of his songs, which generally sound like a mix of Sonndre Lerche, Rufus Wainwright and Wouter Hamel. The songs are a little poppy, but have this light, almost jazzy feel to them.

I really need to get actual cd copies of his other two cds, Mystery Guest (神秘嘉賓) and Perfect Life (美妙生活). But when I was driving home home from work one Thursday, I wasn’t quite in the mood for my audio book (A Wizard of Earth Sea) so I put Senses Around on and I couldn’t believe what good driving music it was (after I told H that it totally wasn’t good for that, I was so wrong).

Even though I don’t understand what he’s saying (yet), I just like the way he sings. His voice is really sweet and fun, and there’s just something comforting about the music. You can busy his music on YesAsia and listen to him sing/talk about YouTube.

Book Review: The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross

(note: I received this title via NetGalley)

I absolutely loved Kady Cross’ first book in this series, The Girl in the Steel Corset and was extremely excited to get a copy of the sequel. I read a lot of YA, I read some steampunk, but I really love it when they’re mashed up together (see: Dearly, Beloved, which also does this well). It’s been my experience that steampunk + YA can be hit and miss. But, much to my surprise when I read The Girl in the Steel Corset, it was a definite hit. I was hoping that The Girl in the Clockwork Collar would be just as good and I was thrilled to find out that it was. One of the things that I really like about Cross is that all her female characters have depth (even if they’re not that deep to begin with), but even better — all four of the “main” women in The Girl in the Clockwork Collar were strong characters. Not just psychically, but mentally as well. They all kicked ass in their own ways — which is something rare in novels of any kind. Sure, they might need rescuing, but then so do the guys in the novel — in fact, The Girl in the Clockwork Collar is all about a rescue mission — of a guy.

The story starts where the previous novel left off, with Finley and company on their way to America to rescue their cowboy friend. Even though I hadn’t picked up the previous book since I read it back in April of last year, Cross’ writing was so memorable that it only took me a few pages to remember how much I liked her characters. The story follows Finley, Griffin, Emily and Sam as they try to find Jasper and save him. But what makes this book so good is that the mission to save Jasper is only part of the story. What we also get is some really great character development. A running theme throughout both novels is that Finley isn’t quite sure of who she is and where she stands — Cross does a good job of getting Finley to a point where she’s almost comfortable in her own skin. Almost, that is, but not quite. For that, we’ll need another book (or several, I hope!).

I also liked the romantic relationship between Finley and Griffin. I know, we still probably have Jack to deal with, but he wasn’t too present (except in spirit) in the second book, and I like that. Mostly because I’m rooting for Griffin and Finley to find a way to be together.

Once again, Cross manages to weave the steampunk elements seamlessly into her story. It doesn’t feel like it’s just thrown in there for the sake of it. Instead, the steampunk elements seem vital to the story and without them, it just wouldn’t work. I can’t wait for the next book.

Recommend? Definitely — teens and adults. Fans of steampunk for sure, especially for people who like Westerfeld’s  Leviathan series and liked the romantic aspect. There’s also a dash of historical fiction, and that might appeal to people. Also, if you read The Girl in the Steel Corset you definitely want to check this.

Book Review(s): The Peculiars and The Drowned Cities

The Peculiars by Maureen McQuerry

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this book, because I’ve had some bad luck involving books with similar covers (aka, girls with wings), but the gears that are part of the title won out on my skepticism. I’m glad it did, because McQuerry’s book is a pretty fun ride. The Peculiars is the story of Lena, who has abnormally long fingers and large feet. Her mother tries to play it off as normal birth defects, but her grandmother blames Lena’s father for making her a goblin. Because Lena has no idea about her father, she finds it hard to disbelieve her grandmother. Then, on her 18th birthday, her mother gives her a note from her father and Lena decides to embark on a journey to a place called Scree, where she hopes to find her father and the truth about herself.

The story really begins as soon as Lena boards the train to Scree and meets a boy, around her age, called Jimson Quiggley. One of the things I love about McQuerry’s writing is how she creates the relationship between Jimson and Lena. While they come from different backgrounds, they’re both curious and quite smart. They end up complimenting each other in such a lovely way, despite all of the problems they must go through. There’s also some lovely discussion of libraries and librarians that warmed my heart.

Overall, this was a really fun book with an exciting adventure that fills the second half of the story with action. I loved all the characters and Lena’s character development (which was very well executed). I hope there’s a second book, because I really want to know what happens next.

Recommend? Definitely. This is a great steampunk crossed with fairy tale characters (without the fairy tale) novel. It’s got a cute potential romance, but with enough angst to keep you wanting the next book. The story is self-contained, so while you might be annoyed with the ending, it won’t leave you wanting to throw the book across the room.

The Drowned Cities by  Paolo Bacigalupi

My past attempts at reading Bacigalupi’s books results in me not getting very far in The Windup Girl  and quite liking Ship Breaker. So when I saw that there’s a companion book to Ship Breaker, I just had to read it. The Drowned Cities is, in some ways, a darker novel than much of the young adult SF/F I’m used to reading. I think, in some ways, it’s even darker than The Hunger Games. The violence in The Drowned Cities is very personal, as the story takes place during a war. There are several central characters, many of whom give up their lives for what they believe is right, but also because they have no other choice.

The central character in the story is Mahlia, a castoff. Her father was a Chinese peacekeeper who slept with her mother, and then left them when the peacekeepers left what used to be the US for China. While escaping from one of the many armies (who sent the peacekeepers running) she lost her part of her arm, including her hand. She makes rash (and sometimes poor) decisions, that results in her and her friend Mouse stumbling upon the body of a bio-engineered half-man named Tool. One of the things I loved about this book was Tool. We got his point of view (along with several other characters, including Mouse and Mahlia), which differs from the children and the adults found in the book. He’s full of instinct and conflict and so many emotions that he’s not sure what to do with them.

The Drowned Cities is as engrossing as it is harsh. There’s not happy ending, no Mahlia defeats the bad guys. The ending is heartbreaking, but beautifully written.  I don’t know why Bacigalupi’s YA books work better for me than The Windup Girl, but they do. You do not need to read Ship Breaker to read the second book, but it does give you more of feeling for the world both books take place in. I look forward to the next installment.

Recommend? To older teens, definitely — especially if they’ve read Ship Breaker. Fans of Bacigalupi’s adult books might enjoy it as well. It’s a harsh read, as I said above, the not for those with weak stomachs. At it’s core, the book is a survival during war story and the main characters are all children/young adults. It’s not an easy read, but it was good, well written and thoughtful.

Movie Review: Battleship

Friday (the 18th) night, a friend of mine and I went to see Battleship. Yes, the movie based on that game we used to play as a kid. The previews were all about things blowing up and I’m a big fan of these big disaster type movies (my favorites being The Day After Tomorrow and The Towering Inferno). On the scale of The Green Hornet to Gattaca (where GH is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen and Gattaca one of the best), Battleship falls somewhere in the middle, but toward the GH end. The main reason was because the first 10+ minutes (it felt like 20, or longer) was spent on character development for characters who I just didn’t care about. At all. I know, we need to know why Taylor Kitsch’s character behaves the way he does, we need to establish his relationship with Alexander Skarsgård (aka his brother), get him a love interest (Brooklyn Decker) and stoke up a rivalry with the Japanese captain. It just shouldn’t, you know, drag. And it did, a lot. That’s not say that it didn’t have it’s moments, but they didn’t make up for Taylor’s in ability to act, the lack of chemistry between Taylor and Brooklyn and the fact that Skarsgård was totally phoning it in (or trying way, way too hard). One or twice, I turned to my friend and asked her when things were going to start blowing up.

And then Battleship went up on the screen and we knew the action was going to begin. Sort of. It took a bit longer, but eventually things started to blow up and I totally (mostly) forgave the movie for making me sit through all that back story. Because, hot damn, those ships/aliens were awesome. The references to the game battle ship where hilarious, the movie was completely full of cliches, and the acting was, for the most part, pretty crappy. But then again, I was going to see an action movie for the sake of action and not Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or Midnight in Paris. But the best part of the movie happens when some ships get blown up and the Japanese captain suddenly becomes a central character. He is so kick ass and awesome. Up until that point, though, I was mostly interested in Rihanna’s character (strong, ass kicking woman who is totally fully clothed) and Jesse Plemons (aka Landry from FNL, who played the role of the adorable character you want to live, just because he’s so, well, adorable). And then, well, Tadanobu Asano (aka previous unnamed Japanese captain) managed to act the pants of of the rest of the cast. I don’t know if he did it on purpose or what, but damn, he was great.

In fact, I spent the rest of he movie hoping that he would survive, because it would be just my luck to like the one dude who was going to die before he movie ended. I won’t tell you what happens to him, but I loved his character a lot. I didn’t realize I actually knew him from Thor, so I really need to watch that movie again.

Was it worth the $10 I paid for the ticket? No.
Do I regret going to see it on opening night? No.
Would I recommend it? Yes, but don’t pay full price.

The aliens were awesome, the plot was lame, the things blowing up was pretty damn great and Tadanobu Asano made the whole thing worth while.

Friday Links (on Saturday)

I know, I haven’t updated it over a week. Things got a bit busy (at life/work/etc), but I’m updating again and will try to do better. So, have your Friday links, but on Saturday, because I can.

  • China dissident Chen Guangcheng heads for US  (BBC) Ever since Chen escaped from house arrest and showed up  at the US Embassy, I’ve been following this story pretty closely. I’m relieved that he and his family finally were able to get out of China, but it’s clear that there are a lot of forces at work and not all of them good. Especially because Chen’s family and friends have been beaten/attacked by Chinese government officials. While I’m interested in Chinese culture (both history and popular), there are still plenty of things wrong over there.
  • May 16th’s Astronomy Picture of the Day is absoutely stunning: Star Formation in the Tarantula Nebula (APOD/NASA)
  • Two articles (relevant to me) about Comcast and their datacap of 250Gb. I download/stream a lot of stuff, but I’ve never come close to 200GB, much like 250GB. I find it interesting that Comcast is getting rid of the 250GB  limit and possibly making it 300GB, with the option to buy more. I don’t think it’ll have any impact on me, but it’s interesting, none the less. Comcast suspends 250GB data cap—for now and Comcast answers data cap questions (Ars Technica)
  • File-Sharing Is Linked to Depression, Researchers Find (TorrentFreak) I’m just sharing this post because it’s hilarious, placed in the context of the fact that when I was in college, a friend of mine and I were in a course called Religion in Popular Culture. For our final project, we managed to do a presentation/report about how downloading music could be a religious experience. We totally got an A, too.
  • I’ve always been a big fan of renewable energy and wind farms are completely awesome and fascinating to me. So I totally hope this ends up working: East coast wind grid gets a go ahead (Ars Technica)
  • Flight of the rays (KQED) I’m not sure how to describe this, except that that’s a lot of manta rays, amazing, and it reminds me of scenes from Jurassic Park and a children’s book of my sisters, about a dinosaur (but I can’t remember the name of it*).
  • And now for the fun stuff: Vampire Prosecutor vs. Vampire Idol (Dramabeans): I adore VP and desperately want to watch VI, and this Thing vs. Thing just makes me want to watch it more; some adorable pictures of my favorite mandopop singer JJ Lin (fyjjlin) at the Singapore e-awards (that vest is totally doing it for me); and, lastly, my favorite kpop band, CNBlue, posing like the Beatles (cnbjonghyun).

*My sister suggested that the book I’m thinking of is Maia: A Dinosaur Grows Up  by John R. Horner

Friday Links (are relevant to my interests)

I kind of hope this’ll become a weekly feature, but I’m just testing it out at the moment. The topics will change, from week to week, and so will the format, maybe (at first). But anyway, here goes.

Book Review: Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Inkheart by Cornelia FunkeAs a librarian who works on both youth/teen and adult reference desks, I walk past this book at least once a week, if not longer. I didn’t really know what it was about, except that there was a movie (which I knew even less about). But I was waiting for something new to listen to (in between listening too Cooper’s Dark is Rising series and L’Engle’s Time Quintet) and there it was, on Overdrive, just asking for me to download it — and so I did. Let me just say, it’s a long book. It’s 14 parts, which is about 15 hours and sometimes those parts seem to go on forever. I’ll give the reader, Lynn Redgrave, her due, because she’s fantastic (almost as much as my favorite audio book — Fire by Kristin Cashore, read by Xanthe Elbrick). She, as cliche as it sounds, really made the characters come to life. I’m not sure I would’ve enjoyed the book as much without her reading. That being said, it took me a very, very long time to listen to the whole thing.

Let me begin my actual review by saying that I had just listened to A Wrinkle in Time, where the main character’s name is Meg, when I started listening to Inkheart. So, having a main character with a similar name, that of Meggie, in Inkheart was kind of confusing.  I soon got over that. My initial impressions of the book were that it was probably set in England — boy was I wrong. Instead, the book (written by a German author) is actually set in Italy. The second was that I honestly had no idea what the story was about, so discovering that Mo could read people/things out of books was just as much a discovery to me as it was to Meggie. I actually quite enjoyed all the little discoveries (from what happened to Meggie’s mother to the secrets of the rest of the characters) and found the dept of all the secondary characters to be quite fascinating.

But, and this isn’t really a bad thing, there’s quite a lot of book. I didn’t find the story boring, but by the last couple of parts, I was really itching for things to be over. Not because I was tired of the story, but because I got tired of people not telling each other the truth. This is something that’s been bugging me* much more since I started watching kdramas. But eventually, as things are wont to do in J/YA novels, they worked out.

Recommend? Definitely. Especially to tweens/teens who like fantasy, perhaps even epic fantasy. There are plenty of subtle and overt references to popular/famous fantasy novels (including Lord of the Rings and Peter Pan). Harry Potter fans might find it a bit boring, unless they’re also fans of Narnia. If you have the time, I highly recommend the audio book version (Inkspell is read by Brendan Fraser and Inkdeath is read by Allan Corduner).

*I promise to talk about this later when I talk about my love of kdramas. I promise!