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!

The Avengers (assemble in my movie theater)

On this past Friday night, a friend of mine and I went to see The Avengers, which was an extremely good decision. Now, I have a few confessions to make, so let’s start at the very beginning (yes, this is going to be a post of lists … I’m not sorry).

  1. Comics: I don’t really read them. Yes, I do enjoy the occasional graphic novel (thanks to my parents introducing my sister and I to Maus) and there have been several that I’ve really liked (Watchmen is definitely not one of them, before you ask). But I’m usually pretty picky. Either the story has to be super good (see: Persepolis and Kim Dong Hwa’s Color of Earth series, along with a few others) or it has to be, um, shiny (aka Sandman (sort of) and Marvel 1602) — and sometimes even the combination of both (Joe Hill’s Locke & Key series, which is truly perfection in graphic novel format). I’ve also been known to dabble in manga (I enjoy Prince of Tennis and I’m attempting to get into Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi, which you may or may not want to google). But, honestly, the only comic-comics I read regularly were a brief phase of reading Robin (as in Batman’s sidekick) comics. Marvel’s Avengers series wasn’t even on my radar, much less something I was interested in. I’m not really one for lots of super heroes (I’m picky, sadly or something) and, honestly, trying to play catch up with all of these different characters isn’t something I’m interested in. So, you know, that’s one strike against me.
  2. I used to hate RDJ. Seriously. In fact, when he made his “comeback” with Iron Man, I totally refused to see it in the theater. I made fun of anyone who went to see it and loved it … um, and then someone convinced me to watch it on dvd and I did and … well, two strikes against me became one because I totally fell in love (and, uh, I own it. Seriously). I still regret not seeing it in the theater and yes, I saw Iron Man 2 and yes I loved it and yes, I will watch the shit out of Iron Man 3 (and if I hadn’t watched Iron Man, I’m sure I wouldn’t have wanted to see Sherlock Holmes, so there’s that — but that’s neither here nor there). So, no to comics, but yes to RDJ.
  3. Thor. I love Thor (I even have a copy, though it was given to me, so I didn’t actually have to pay for it). I saw Thor with my father (last May, actually). Now, there are two important things about Thor: the first is that every time I see Thor, the man, all I can think of is George Kirk (I love the ’09 Star Trek movie). I know, they look totally different, because Thor is scruffy with long hair and, you know, a god. And George Kirk is, well, not any of those things. The second thing is that the week before my dad and I went to the movies, we watched a bunch of Wallander on dvd. Not the Swedish version, but the Kenneth Branagh version. This is important because the character of Magnus is played by Tom Hiddleston, who I promptly fell in love with. And then we went to see Thor. Where I promptly did the fangirl flip out because OH MY GOD, THAT’S HIDDLESTON. And, well, I’m totally a Loki fangirl (seriously, even though I like it when the good guys win). So, you know. George Kirk and Hiddleston really made that movie great (and Clark Gregg, but I love him because of his character on TWW).
  4. And then, because I had to, my friend (same one who went to The Avengers with me) and I watched Captain America and … honestly? The movie wasn’t that good. And, besides, Chris Evans just doesn’t do it for me. He’s cute, but no. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy Captian America, because I did. It just wasn’t that good (but better than The Green Hornet, which is one of the worst movies I’ve seen in the past 10 years or so, and so if it’s better than GH, then that’s something). But, hey, it was okay and the action was kind of fun.
  5. Before The Avengers came out, I noticed that a lot of people really liked Jeremy Renner. I didn’t understand this, at all. He was just a dude who was in movies I wasn’t going to see (The Hurt Locker and The Town) and then a coworker of mine and I went to see the new MI movie (Ghost Protocol) and I totally got it. You see, it’s really all about Jeremy Renner’s ass. Honestly. You think I’m joking, but I’m not (mostly). I mean, I enjoyed the movie as a whole (shut up, I like Tom Cruise in the MI movies and also, Simon Pegg), but seriously. Have you seen Renner’s ass? Because, damn.

Which brings us to Friday night. I was going to The Avengers for two main reasons: Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Renner’s ass. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough of Renner’s ass, but that’s okay because I watched Ghost Protocol on Saturday night. But there was a lot of Hiddleston and he totally didn’t disappoint. But even more awesome was the actual movie itself. Now, I don’t like Joss Wheadon or his shows (I have liked them, in the past, but they are far too problematic for me), so I wasn’t really sure what to think, because you know, Joss. BUT. Oh my god, y’all. It was so great! It was hilarious and kind of sad at one point, but it was also super well filmed and kind of surprisingly well acted. And also, I totally liked the cast. I mean, they had chemistry — we’re talking Ocean’s 11White Collar, early season AliasLeverage, and so on chemistry. Even when they weren’t supposed to be “getting along” they worked so well together.

Which is all to say, you should see all those other movies first, but you don’t have to because the movie does a good job standing on it’s own. My two complaints are the fact that there are only two women who are main(ish) characters (they both kick ass, but still, only two) and the fact that there was so much laughter that I couldn’t hear a lot of the dialogue after funny lines. Otherwise, it was pretty much the best (proper) super hero movie I’ve see recently — and certainly the best one with a group.

Tl;dr version: Go see The Avengers, it’s awesome. And also, Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Renner’s ass.

PS: I plan to see this movie at least once more. In the theater. At least once more. #justsaying

goodreads strikes back or sarah’s return to goodreads

I maintain a couple of accounts on LibraryThing (which is the platform I actually prefer) and you can find an outdated (and sorely in need of updating) list of books which I own (this is also where the idea for A Clockwork Sub came from). I use LT for my personal list of every book I’ve read since 2006, along with reviews, starting in 2007. I will not be sharing that information, sorry people (not that I’m really sorry), but what I am doing is updating my (brand spanking new) Goodreads account (and you can see a list of the books I’m currently reading in the sidebar to your left). I left Goodreads when I decided that my previous internet ID that was related to my profession was kind of lame (I deleted almost everything, there’s still an LJ hanging around which I might change the username one day.

Anyway, back to the point. This whole transferring books from LT to Goodreads is a pain. Seriously. I have 800+ books over there and I refuse to use their export thing, because that ends up creating more work than I care to think about it (I’ve done it several times in the past and it’s nothing but a mess. Sorry, Goodreads, you’ll never be my number one choice). So I’m having to go year by year and title by title. I finished ’06 and ’07, but I’m going to probably need a month to recover before I start on the rest of them. After all, starting it ’08, I read 140+ books each year (and I’m heading that direction in 2012, too, as I’ve already read 50 books and it’s only May). Unlike over on LT, I don’t plan on reviewing the books I’ve already read, just the ones I’m going to be finishing for the rest of the year.

I guess this plays into the fact that I love making/maintaining/using lists. Goodreads isn’t my preferred format, but I know plenty of people (including a few of the people I’m closest to) who use Goodreads religiously (my sister, on the other hand, uses LT and she’s the reason I’m a loyal LT user). It’s just shame that there isn’t something like this for movies/tv shows.

Which is why, next up, I’ll probably talk about some of the movies I’ve watched recently (aka in the past and coming few days). Or I’ll talk about all those kdramas I love so much.

does this make me a bad person or a good librarian?

While on lunch break at work (in our muggy and hot library, damn you, a/c), I was checking greader and discovered that Adam Yauch (of the Beastie Boys) had died. My first thought was about how shitty it is to die of cancer and how young he was (47). But my second thought, and the reason behind this post, was something along the lines of ‘oh, man, I get to do a display!’ Which makes me feel kind of gross, in a way, but it’s something I do often (displays when famous or relatively famous people die). For example, in the past month I did displays for Mike Wallace and Dick Clark.

What I can’t decide is if this is a kind of morbid thing to do (and if so, I’m totally blaming my undergrad Religious Studies professor who had a morbid sense of humor and taught our class about the end of the world — seriously) or if I just love putting up displays. I know what you’re thinking and I know this whole debate is ridiculous. But I have to confess to being a tiny bit excited when someone famous dies — because I can do a display. It’s not like I want them to die — but I sort of take advantage of it — though granted I’m doing it to get people to check out books/music/movies/etc.

And that brings me to the topic of displays. I don’t have any pictures handy, but usually my displays consist of a plastic stand with a flyer (8.5×11) that I made (usually color, but not always) and, in the case of a person’s death, biographical information from Biography In Context (which one of my libraries* subscribes to) as well as any obituary information I can print off the internet (usually from the New York Times and the Guardian). Alongside the papers and sign, there are books and media (in the case of Adam Yauch, our collection of Beastie Boy** cds is included, as well as a book on the Beastie Boys). For both Dick Clark and Mike Wallace, it was just books, biographical information and obits.

One of the reasons I love doing this is because I really love doing displays. I know a lot of people don’t understand what’s so great about them, but there’s something weirdly pleasing about researching a topic or a person and gathering a bunch of info. Maybe, at heart, I’m more of a research librarian, but working in a public library sometimes lets me do a little of both. Displays are satisfying to create, to see and curate. But what makes them even better is when the books get checked out (our Titanic display, complete with a poster of Leo & Kate and free gold 3D glasses (courtesy of the studio re-releasing of the film) was a huge hit). Of course, it’s even better when a staff member or a patron tells me how much they like my displays.

I guess what I’ve come to realize, while writing this entry (and thanks to an email from a good friend/librarian) is that it’s probably pretty normal and thoughtful. It’s less morbid than celebratory and in the end, isn’t that what this displays are about? And, hey, if it gets people to check shit out from the library, then that’s all the better.

As an aside, my other displays this month (so far!) are for the Kentucky Derby/Horse racing and National Bike Month. See what I mean? I’ll look for any reason to make a display. The more, the better and it seems to be a hit, too.

*I plan to refer to them as library #1 and library #2. Library #1 is located in an urbanish downtown location, along a bus route and within walking distance for many patrons. Library #2 is more rural, though in the same county, and almost all patrons drive to the library. #1 is much more liberal than #2 — but both libraries (as libraries are wont to do) have their own share of drama.

**I was really happy to see that library #1 had four Beastie Boys cds.