Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review: Chancey of the Maury River

Chancey of the Maury River
Author: Gigi Amateau
Published: Candlewick, 2010
Genre: Middle-Grade, Fantasy, Horse Narrative
Rating: 5/5

Anybody who has read my blog in the past knows I love horses. I especially love stories about horses and my favorite novels are usually aimed at middle-grade readers. There is a time in lots of young girls' lives they fall in love with horses. Some will fall out of love in a short time and others will fall in love for life. Much to my parents' dismay, I never stopped loving horses. My mother felt guilty, she could not afford riding lessons so she gave me what she could: books. My childhood days were filled with book like The Saddle Club, Pony Pals, Heartland and novels by Marguerite Henry.

Sometimes, I still go to my local bookshop where I browse the "horse section" for middle-grade readers. This is where I found Chancey of the Maury River. This novel is on the same level of craft writing and plot as War Horse.

Chancey is an albino Appaloosa. He has lived his life with the indifference of his owner while working as a school horse. When his owner faces a financial crisis, he is forced to fend for himself and then abandoned. At Maury River Stables he meets the first human to love him unconditionally. Claire has suffered a great loss, but through her relationship with Chancey she begins to recover. As Chancy ages, Claire learns to share him with other riders in a therapeutic riding program. She and Chancy touch the hearts of other humans and animals as they grow together.

Amateau had done an outstanding job writing this from Chancey's point of view. Chancey's interpretation of the world is authentic and reliable (from a horse's POV). The plot of this novel is well done and both of the main characters grow with each new challenge. Amateau presents accurate knowledge of horsemanship in this novel and has colorfully written images that will stay in her readers' heads.

I heartily recommend this novel for all young equestrians and adults who enjoy horse stories. It will be a book I share with my own children someday.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

When you Miss Your Own Heart

Today, as I was walking up my friend's endlessly steep driveway, I stopped to admire how the recent winds how drifted the snow into layers on the snowbanks. They reminded me of the layers of uneven frosting on the first birthday cake I had baked for myself. The feeling that arose in my heart as I stood breathing in the cold air can only be described as "connectedness".

The past twenty months I felt as if part of me disappeared. I have missed writing the way I used to.
I have missed my own heart.

I never thought I'd lose myself. But I did. I lost myself between looking for a "career starting position" and trying to balance a long distance intercultural relationship.

Two people in my life have constantly been telling me to write for a long time. However, my alignment with my secret heart (muse as others would call her) has been hard to bring back. I know she is in there between the horses, history and taste of Asia I keep in my soul.

Writers, you should never neglect your muse. She is like a garden of flowers. If you stop watering your flowers, they will die. Then, you will find yourself trying to save those flowers or planting new seeds. This is not a bad thing, though. Now I can add some new flowers to my field.

I hope they grow strong with brilliant colors.

Why I walk up that steep driveway.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Book Review: 1Q84

Author: Haruki Murakami (translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel)
Published: Vintage International Oct 2011 in USA
Genre: Alternate Reality, Fantasy, Parallel Worlds
Rating: 5/5

My first venture into reading Japanese literature was Haruki Murakami's novel Norwegian Wood. Since then I have the works of Natsuo Kirino, Yoko Ogawa, Koushun Takami, Yukio Mishima and parts of historical texts including, "The Hojoki" and "Essays in Idleness". Murakami's tantalizing writing style brought me into a part of Japan's creative culture beyond the manga of my childhood. My copy of 1Q84 was purchased from the Kinokuniya store in Shinjuku. Whenever I feel nostalgic, I pull out one of the books I bought in Japan and begin reading.

The year is 1984 in Tokyo. Tengo is an aspiring writer who spends his time teaching at a cram school and writing. He leads a solitary life except for a few professional contacts. When he takes on the task of rewriting a manuscript his tranquil life begins to unravel. What if what you were writing had taken place in another reality? As Tengo's world changes he constantly thinks of the young girl he loved in elementary school.

Aomame has outcasted herself from her strict religious family. She spends her days working as a personal fitness trainer and completing tasks for one of her clients. Her world converges into another realm when she steps down the emergency ladder to the street below. She is no longer in 1984.

As their narratives intertwine between the parallel worlds, Murakami created an elegant portrayal of a romance connected through time, space and human emotions. Simply by taking the human feeling of "connectedness" and molding it Murakami has created an ambitious work of literature. His narrative and character development is exquisite and readers will become more invested with each page.

This novel is a must read for those who enjoy books with a mystical element. For those who enjoy the reading realms of both high fantasy and realistic fiction, this book maintains a balance you will surely enjoy.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Book Review: China Dolls

China Dolls
Author: Lisa See
Published: Random House, June 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5

Lisa See happens to be one of my favorite Asian historical fiction writers. Her works have focused on China and the trials and tribulations Chinese women have faced in different time periods. I was excited to read her latest novel China Dolls and was pleased with the storyline, setting and the initial introduction of her characters. However, this novel didn't deliver strong character development as her other novels have.

In 1938, Grace finds herself in San Francisco's Chinatown after leaving behind her abusive father. Her desire is to find work at a nightclub where she can make a living dancing. She meets Helen and Ruby and three soon become fast friends. Helen has a dark past and lives with her traditional Chinese family and her  desire is to escape the cage and her pain. Ruby is Japanese and passing herself as Chinese in order to find gainful employment in Chinatown. The course of their lives and friendships is altered the day Japan attacks Pearl Harbor. Ruby is sent to a concentration camp while her two friends continue on with their life and wonders which one betrayed her.

What I enjoyed about this novel was the premise of the story: three young oriental American determined to make their own way in the world. Lisa See's ability to bring her readers' to the historical setting is one of her strengths. In my mind, I could envision the 1930-40's streets of Chinatown and San Francisco. Her characters each have a solid, believable background which sets the tone of voice for each girl.

The reason this novel seems to fall short in my eyes is the lack of character development throughout the story. The initial friendship of the girls' seems to be motivated by the face they are all pretty and like being seen together. Even as the novel progresses, they tend to act like preteens jealous of each other's friendships like a love triangle.

What began as a possibly well-written alternating narration quickly becomes a weakness in this book. While the character's each have a developed voice the alternating chapters began to feel a bit choppy. Towards the end of the novel I felt as if I was being pushed from one character's brain to the other without much notice. Even the thought process of the characters' and their voices began to feel the same. Considering each girls' dramatic past, their voices could have been individually stronger with their psychological and physical experiences.

I would recommend this novel to those curious about the life of the Chinese in American history. Overall, this novel can be an enjoyable read, but it will not be making the reread list.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Book Review: Gaudenzia, Pride of the Palio

Gaudenzia, Pride of Palio
Author: Marguerite Henry
Published: 1960, republished 2014 by Aladdin Press
Genre: Middle grade, historical fiction
Rating: 5/5

The first book I received from the Scholastic book club in first grade was Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. This book was a little beyond my reading abilities, but I tackled it anyways. I became a Marguerite Henry fanatic and started requesting all her novels for birthday or Christmas presents.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to my local bookstore and was browsing through the middle-grade readers, horse stories section. Amongst the classics I read as child, I found Gaudenzia, Pride of Palio. I was shocked as I realized I had never seen this novel all the years I spent reading nothing but horse books. Needless to say, I still enjoy reading middle-grade novels, even as an adult, and bought the one copy on the shelf.

Giorgio Terni is an idealistic young Italian boy who loves horses more than anything. His goal is to ride in the Palio horse race, which dates back to the Medieval ages. As he grows older, his reputation as a rider and trainer grows until he is invited to help train potential mounts for the Palio. He never forgets the filly he saw as a boy and hopes one day to find her again. Through fate, he and Gaudenzia find each other and he knows the skittish mare is destined to win the Palio.

This novel is an amazingly balanced story about both horse and human. The historical details are accurate and delivered through fantastic scenes that help shape the story's main character. Marguerite Henry's prose is nearly poetic as she brings horses to life in the pages of her story. I would recommend this novel be read by both children and adults who love to learn about horses in history.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Book Review-Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine

Tittle: Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine
Author: Alison Weir
Published: July 2010, Ballantine Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5

Alison Weir was my favorite biographer to ready for many years as I devoured her books on the Tudors and other royals. When she broke out into the historical fiction genre with Innocent Traitor, I was pleased to discover she had written a thorough, imaginative story about Lady Jane Grey. My expectations for Captive Queen were high, but fell short for many reasons.

Eleanor of Aquitaine is nearly 30 and unsatisfied with her monk like husband, Louis VII of France. She wishes to be free of her marriage and of France. When she sees the young Henry, Duke of Normandy, she becomes inflamed with desire and ambition.They can build an empire between their countries and his future claim on England. Throughout their marriage, she gives him eight children, but her life is marred by tragedy. Henry takes mistresses and heeds the advice of his chancellor, Thomas Becket, over her counsel. The most unforgivable thing he does is he stops loving her and seeks to keep the power away from his heirs. She adores her son, Richard, and she will not allow him to be shafted of his inheritance.

This novel is a decent read,  well researched and full of emotion. However, the execution of a few craft elements left me feeling unsatisfied as a reader.

This first few chapters read more like a Harlequin romance novel. Eleanor is portrayed as a woman driven mad for sex and love instead of a strong, independent individual. Sex scenes litter the pages at every meeting, she and Henry have throughout the first quarter of the novel. Several times the narrator's POV changes in scenes which breaks up the flow of writing and the characters' thoughts. This novel should have been written in 3rd person omniscient narration. Also, the use of modern phrases and expressions is unauthentic and shows a lack of imagination during the creation of dialogue.

I would recommend this novel to people who are interested in historical fiction about Eleanor of Aquitaine. Personally, I will not be picking it up for a second read.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Getting Back with Your Muse

Two years ago, my muse and I decided to break up. I'm still not sure whose fault it was. We still got together sometimes and reminisced over a poem or an article in the Starbucks by the JRA Shinjuku station. Maybe, he felt deserted as I wrote letters to my fiance in India and produced numerous cover letters for job applications. I felt like part of me was missing. So, I asked him if we could try to write together again.
There was something I found daunting about starting to write creatively again. My muse and I were out of sync. I had to reflect and realize that I had not been giving my muse the time it needed. I no longer went to the movies alone or read poetry. Writing had become a chore associated with cover letters and resumes. I had stopped nourishing my writer's soul.
I started taking time for myself and my muse. I read books that made me want to write. I watched foreign films on Netflix that made me ponder humanity and cultural norms of other societies. I took my horse out for long rides in the forest alone. I started to claim back the part of myself that had been lost somehow along the way between family deaths, traveling and job hunting.
There are not many regrets in my life, but I do regret not writing the past two years at the volume I used to. There is nothing I can do to get that time back. However, I can share what I did with other writers to find my writing voice again.
1. Read anything that inspires you to write: books, poetry, comics, articles, reviews, music lyrics or even Facebook statuses.
2. Pull out that unfinished novel or poem and start editing it on any page. You might reconnect with the emotion that sparked the words you wrote down sometime in the past.
3. Watch movies that have depth and meaning that makes you think about the human condition and human truths.
4. Commit to a writing project with a friend as you are held accountable for your part. One of my best friends and I started a round-robin novel and use Google Docs to share and update our story file.
5. Travel to places that make your heart soar. The mountains of Vermont always make me want to sit down with pen and paper and write a poem.
6. Spend more time doing activities that move your soul and make you feel blessed to be alive.
7. Talk to other writers about what they are working on. Their enthusiasm can be a reminder of why you used to write.
8. Make a writing goal no matter how small to start off. Have one for everyday so you can get back into the habit of writing everyday.
9. Use your writer's block as a source of inspiration.
10. Take the time every day to write something everyday, no matter how short it might be.
What is something that you did to get back your writing muse when it disappeared? Did you do something to claim back your writing life that took you on a journey?