Book Review: Female Power in The Wise Man’s Fear

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Spoilers!

It didn’t take me long to go looking again for Kvothe, the red-headed lutist of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles. I had been somewhat blinded to my fondness for this protagonist by my love of Rothfuss’ artistry, but I found myself missing them both after some time away, and Kvothe much more than I would have expected.

I had been warned that I wouldn’t enjoy the second book in the series as much as I had the first. Kvothe remains in many ways naïve throughout The Name of the Wind, an underdog fighting to play in the same field as older, richer men, ready to believe the best of others on the fringes of society and the worst of those who move at the highest tiers.

The Wise Man’s Fear sees Kvothe ousted from that field and sent to try his tongue on foreign soil. The majority of the book is spent exploring other and Other cultures within the world created by Rothfuss.

Kvothe’s first journey by sea, a journey involving “a storm, piracy, treachery, and shipwreck, although not in that order” is given one full page of text (403-404), and then we land in Vintas, where a once more penniless Kvothe is to meet with a man richer than his king. Unwilling to long support himself by the means of street living with which he is all too familiar, Kvothe bluffs his way to the Maer’s door.

Kvothe then undertakes misadventures of courtly intrigue and faux pas, learning and enlightening us to the intricacies of Vintish culture.

When Kvothe has all but outlived his usefulness to the Maer, he is sent on a fool’s errand, which though more difficult and dangerous than anyone had expected, Kvothe manages spectacularly to complete despite poor circumstances.

On this errand with him is an Adem mercenary, who begins Kvothe’s instruction in Ademic culture—which is interrupted by an encounter with a Fae known to lure men away for intercourse, during which they succumb to either death or insanity.

The second half of this book, alongside its exploration of the Other, specifically explores the ideas of female power in its many and varied forms. The Fae Felurian represents and embodies the female sexual power. She possesses a strange magic that Kvothe hopes to learn and which he temporarily bests through Naming. In besting Felurian, Kvothe earns the right to learn about her powers, both Faen and sexual. Felurian does not learn from him, and so Kvothe’s power is increased while Felurian’s remains static.

Upon returning from this tryst, Kvothe finds himself compelled to follow Tempi to Ademre, where the two are immediately parted and Kvothe made to defend himself by learning the ways of the Adem and particularly of the Adem mercenaries. Rothfuss here shows readers another form of female power. The best Adem warriors are women because women are less often led by anger or impatience and are better at “knowing when to fight” (849). Again Kvothe learns while his female instructors do not.

The power of procreation for the Adem is further purely female. The Adem do not believe that men are involved in procreation. In our culture, historically, much of a woman’s power and value have been derived from her ability to birth children but that power has been limited because of a woman’s dependence upon a man to do so. That power in Ademre is unlimited, and what’s more men depend on women not only for their own birth but also for the continuation of the culture. The Ademic culture then is similar to the early matriarchal, mother-goddess cultures that I have heard postulated, where women are believed to be the sole progenitors and derive their power from this, sort of taking the patriarchal demotion of women as sex objects and turning it into a promotion.

Much of Kvothe’s increased power during the course of The Wise Man’s Fear has, then, come from female instructors and in his acceptance of the female powers offered to him, which might be another paper in itself.

Within The Kingkiller Chronicles so far, Rothfuss has mainly presented a world in which the greatest female power is sexual. However, while almost all of his female characters have presented sexual interest in one male figure or another, few have possessed merely sexual power. There are strong and wise fighters like the Adem and clever survivors like Auri and Devi, and intelligent scholars and craftsmen like Fela and other female university students.

Denna of course embodies for Kvothe the ideal woman. She is one of only a few women who do not advance on Kvothe sexually, and Kvothe is clever enough not to ask or demand her sexual favor. She is in many ways unattainable to Kvothe because he has seen her flee from the sexual advances of other men, but Denna certainly knows how to use her sexuality, so she is powerful in that right. Perhaps she is desirable for being powerful but unattainable. In a story arc that comprises almost wholly of Kvothe’s struggles to attain knowledge and through knowledge power, that interpretation makes a lot of sense.

On the whole, I’m not sure that I can call Rothfuss’ presentation of the female “feminist” in the same way that I can some of George R. R. Martin’s characters or Patricia C. Wrede’s Cimorene, and I wish that I could, because Rothfuss treads near a feminist perspective in this book especially.

****1/2

Rothfuss, Patrick. The Kingkiller Chronicles, Day Two: The Wise Man’s Fear. New York: DAW-Penguin, 2013.  First published 2011.

This review is not endorsed by Patrick Rothfuss, DAW Books, or Penguin Group, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: September 2014 Picture Book Roundup: I’m Feeling Generous–Or These Are Good Books

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I Spy With My Little Eye by Edward Gibbs. Templar-Random, 2014. First published 2011.

The illustrations in this board book are wonderful: brightly colored, realistic, and whimsical at once. The story that this primer tells is loose and little, but to be a primer that has any plot is to be of a higher quality than the majority of the genre. The text mimics the game’s pattern—“I spy with my little eye something [of a particular color]”—and a circular hole in the page allows readers to glimpse the color on the next page. The text also includes a hint about what is on the following page. “It has a long trunk” hints that an elephant is the gray something to be found. The page is turned to reveal an animal associated with that particular color: a yellow lion, a red fox, a green frog, making this an animal as well as a color primer. The frog is the one to turn the book around, break the fourth wall, and end with “I spy you!” As a read-aloud it would be easily interactive.

****1/2

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Mini Myths: Play Nice, Hercules! by Joan Holub and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli. Appleseed-Abrams, 2014.

This board book tells the Hercules myth with pictures and text that feature a toddler Hercules stomping about the house smashing “monsters” and then his sister’s block tower instead of killing his family. Upon her tears, he stoops to help rebuild it, rebuilding his relationship with his sister as well, instead of completing his twelve labors. Then the end summarizes in a paragraph with much exclusion and downplaying for the toddler audience the myth of Hercules. This is a book that children could grow with, reading the myth paragraph as a separate story when they’re older, though whether a beginning reader would want to read a paragraph at the end of a board book is another question.

In the paragraph “he accidentally hurt his family.” That understates the damage done by Hercules in the myth just a bit, but I suppose without going into an explanation of the horrible marriage of Hera and Zeus and the birth of Hercules, that’s not an unfair statement, and honestly, I think Holub did a pretty stellar job of translating the myth for a modern, toddler audience. Hopefully no toddler is spurred by a jealous goddess into a rage and kills his family, but sure, a toddler could for no reason other than for sport, destroy his younger sister’s block tower. That’s entirely relatable and still gets at the wanton, accidental destruction in the Hercules myth. I would waffle on whether Hercules was forgiven by everyone when he completed the twelve labors, but the young Hercules character within this board book, who destroys a block tower, might plausibly be forgiven entirely by everyone, and the concept of the omnipotence of the Greek gods and the promise of immortality are ones probably beyond the curriculum of the average toddler.

Holub already has a reputation as a reteller of myths with her middle grade series, Goddess Girls, which places the young goddesses and gods of Greek myths within a middle school setting; Grimmtastic Girls, in which heroines from Grimms’ fairy tales attend prep school and fight against the E.V.I.L. Society; Heroes in Training, which features young heroes of Greek myth on adventures; and picture books like Little Red Writing, which is a parody of “Little Red Riding Hood.” There are others, but this list gives you some idea of the time and energy that she has put into retelling stories for a young, modern audience.

Leslie Patricelli is an equally prolific and prominent board book illustrator, with such titles as Potty, Huggy Kissy, and Tickle.

I suspect this team to sell well. I hope that they do, but so far at my store the title isn’t flying off the shelves like it should.

*****

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Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? Sound Book by Bill Martin, Jr and illustrated by Eric Carle. Priddy-St. Martin’s, 2011. First published 1982. Intended audience: Ages 1-5, Grades PreK-K.

Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle have been a bestselling team for quite some time now with Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and all of its sequels and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and all of its. This is a spinoff of a spinoff of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, a sound book version of Polar Bear, Polar Bear. Because this is a sound as well as an animal primer, the sound book is a logical and I think good choice. There’s something satisfying—there always is—about pushing buttons to make noise—even at my age, but as a toddler certainly.  The soundbites used for this book are of the actual animals too, as far as I can figure; certainly the peacock’s “yelp” is the wail of a peacock; that’s a very distinctive sound.  Carle was less creative with colors here—animals are more their natural color than say a blue horse (though the walrus is purple)—and in a way I appreciate that; it helps with the animal primer aspect of the book. There’s pleasantly and unobtrusively more diversity within the human characters here. There’s a suggestion at the end, as the zookeeper repeats the noises imitated by the children that he hears, for children being read the book to imitate the noises, making it a possibly interactive read.

****

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The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko. Annick Press Ltd, 1993. First published 1980.  Intended audience: Ages 4-7, Grades PreK-2.

This book. If you haven’t read, find it. A princess’ castle and wardrobe are destroyed and her prince carried off by a dragon. Instead of crying, she clothes herself in the one thing untouched by the dragon’s fire—a paper bag—and sets off to rescue her prince, outsmarting the dragon by using its own hubris against it. Her prince is upset about being rescued by a princess who doesn’t look like a princess with her singed and mussed hair and cleverly crafted paper bag dress and tells Elizabeth to come back when she looks like a real princess. Elizabeth recognizes that Rupert is in fact a “bum” and she leaves him, skipping happily into the sunset in her paper bag. Elizabeth is a princess who shows her emotions, most importantly anger. Few Disney princes get angry: Jasmine, Pocahontas, Tiana, Merida, Nala…. Well, the list is longer than I thought it would be, but noticeably absent are the original, the classic princesses: Cinderella, Aurora, Snow White—the Disney princesses pre-1980 when this book was first released. Little girls are often taught that anger is not a feminine emotion, and so it is repressed rather than felt or expressed—not a healthy thing. Boys and girls should be taught how to deal with anger rather than not to feel it or that to feel it is somehow wrong—I think. Elizabeth outsmarts the dragon by paying him compliments, not a weapon I particularly think of as masculine—though recent experiences make me question whether this is perhaps a weapon wielded too often by men. I was going to label the weapon of manipulation via compliment as feminine, but now I’m thinking that this weapon is not particularly feminine so much as it does not require the physical strength, the dragon-slaying that is stereotypically associated almost wholly with men and masculinity.

The feminist message remains, however. Elizabeth is a clever girl, who learns to see past appearances, who runs in contrast to the clothes make the princess lesson of Cinderella—and that is a lesson that bears learning.

***** 

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Kitten and Friends by Priddy Books. Sterling, 2009.  First published by St. Martin’s, 2001.

I reviewed this book’s sister book, Puppies and Friends in April, so I suspected when I picked it up that I would enjoy it, and I wasn’t disappointed. Like Puppies and Friends, this is a touch-and-feel book. It has rather unique feel elements, like strings of yarn, fibers meant to imitate a kitten’s stiff whiskers. Kitten and Friends poses questions to readers, like “can you feel my soft fur?”—not a very exciting question— and “Is the wool softer than my fur?”—a much better question that encourages comparative reasoning, which is what particularly loved about Puppies and Friends. This book I feel has more exciting feel elements than did Puppies and Friends, and I was distracted from the cleverness of the text by them—not a point of detraction, merely a score for the feel elements; it is still important that these are smart questions.

**** 

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You Are My Little Pumpkin Pie by Amy E. Sklansky and illustrated by Talitha Shipman. LB Kids-Hachette, 2013.

I did much like this book. Unless you already call your child “pumpkin pie” then the reasoning behind the pet name seems an odd choice for a story. As a book to encourage parent-child interaction it might have some merit, with lines like “Each time I kiss your yummy cheek, I have to kiss it twice”—but “yummy cheek”? Are you going to eat your baby? The text honestly makes the parents seem rather self-centered. The child is warm and cozy next to them, she is yummy, she lights up a room—what benefit does the child get from any of this? It’s as if the child is there to improve the life of the parent. Certainly children might improve parents’ lives, but a child’s no tool, and that should be a two-way street with agape love on both sides.

**

These reviews are not endorsed by any one involved in their making.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Review: The Lives of Christopher Chant Stars a Child’s Perspective

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Spoilers.

I’ve read the first volume of Diana Wynne Jones’ The Chronicles of Chrestomanci several times since I was first introduced to it, near when I was introduced to Harry Potter. Somehow, Jones’ books rarely make much impression upon me. I always enjoy them as I’m reading them, and remember enjoying them, but the plots seem to fall from my head with some speed. I picked up The Lives of Christopher Chant again because I was searching my shelves for instances of magical instruction, asked my mother what she recalled of Chris’, and the details that she mentioned were not ones that I remembered—that and I was having fun making a list of fictional cats, dreaming up names for future cats of my own, and Jones’ books have several, none of whom I could remember.

The Lives of Christopher Chant is relatively quick-paced, and the language relatively simple, easily settling into the reading level of middle and late elementary students. In this tale Jones does a particularly good job capturing the child’s perspective. Chris would rather play cricket, go to school with his mates, and have adventures in the alternate worlds that he can only reach in his sleep than be thrust into society, be pawn in his parents’ war, or study at Chrestomanci Castle with promises that he will one day have to assume the responsibilities of Chrestomanci, a sort of law enforcement and high-ranking government official for the interconnected worlds within Chris’ universe.

Chris fails to see the adult perspective. He doesn’t realize—or refuses to realize any nefariousness within his uncle’s “experiments.” He does not connect his experiments with the crimes that the staff at Chrestomanci Castle are ignoring Chris to focus on stopping. Somehow that’s not irritating though. It’s refreshing. Chris is innocent where Harry Potter—the Chosen One of another more famous magical school story—is suspicious and wary. (I also use Harry as a foil because the cover of the books boasts “Mad about Harry? Try Diana.” I assume that U.S. News & World Report meant Potter given the book’s release date (2001 would have been months after the book release of The Goblet of Fire and during the lead-up to the release of the first Harry Potter film).)

Though the plot here is an interesting one—Chris’ education; assumption of the responsibilities of Chrestomani; rescue of the current Chrestomanci, Gabriel de Witt; and Chris’ takedown of his uncle’s criminal organization—it seems to intend to share its stardom with the universe.

Jones has built the interconnected worlds of Chrestomanci for me over six novels and many years, so I can’t honestly judge how well this singular book constructs the universe, but this more than any of the others perhaps really explains the ways in which the Related Worlds are connected, if the impression that it gives is vague. The physics here are difficult. There are twelve series of worlds and Series Twelve at least has an A and B, but there are hints that any series could include infinite worlds, a new world created when one world reaches a junction—perhaps something like the opposite of the Doctor’s fixed point in time—where a great event might have more than one possible outcome.

This is the only book to visit Series Eleven, and there Jones has created an eerie world of persons kept in submission to a dictatorial leader—the Dright—worthy of L’Engle’s IT, a dark, densely forest world where the Dright keeps even the laws of physics in submission to himself.

Chris as a nine-lived enchanter is able to travel to each of the Related Worlds. He does so, uniquely, through a form of spirit travel that allows him to be physically present in two worlds at once by leaving one life behind while the rest travel. Chris doesn’t really understand this spirit travel, and for a long time thinks only that he dreams himself to the Place Between whence he can enter the other worlds. Having no conversation with anyone other than nurses and governesses for most his childhood, he has had no one to tell him that these dreams of his are unusual until a governess chosen by his uncle discovers Christopher in possession of otherworldly artifacts and demands an explanation and then a confession to his Uncle Ralph.

Chris’ scattered instruction in magic was not particularly helpful for my own WIP. Chris has several instructors, and the only one that makes any real impression upon me is Dr. Pawson, who believes in practical lessons, the mechanics of which Jones doesn’t describe in detail—though that did give me some idea of how little it might be important for a reader to understand magic.

****

Jones, Diana Wynne.  The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 1: The Lives of Christopher Chant.  New York: Greenwillow-HarperTrophy-HarperCollins, 2001.  Story first published 1988.

This review is not endorsed by Diana Wynne Jones, her estate, Greenwillow Book, HarperTrophy, or HarperCollins Publishers Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes Delights

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Ray Bradbury has had a huge effect on me as an writer. I’m not sure I realized how much till I took a break from editing my own WIP to reread Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury’s prose is florid and fantastic in a way that few writers can claim in this century or any other. Maybe that’s a little expansive, but I enjoy it immensely. The man creates vivid metaphors and twists language with the skill and delicacy of a spider in a web.

Something Wicked is a coming-of-age tale with a thorn. Two friends—nearer than brothers—are nearing adolescence at different rates. Jim Nightshade is growing up more quickly than Will Halloway, is more fascinated with the dark and what goes on in the dark: carnal love, the promises of adulthood offered to him by a carnival in possession of a carousel that can carry riders backwards or forwards through the years. Will remains tethered to innocence and youth. He is the grounding force for Jim.

Charles Halloway, Will’s father, has lived through the years. He longs for a return to his youth, but he overcomes the temptation offered by Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show with nobility, reason, and research found in books and dark corners of the library that is more his home than his home. He is the temperance and wisdom of age, the 20/20 hindsight cast onto youth and aging that keeps Will and Jim tethered even more so to reality.

Bradbury’s work here is insightful—about humanity and the human condition, about the bildungsroman genre. It is both within the genre and without. It shares the message that aging comes with pain but also wisdom and knowledge, but it looks backwards more than hurtling forwards at the breakneck pace of teenage exuberance. Will and Jim are narrating characters and certainly they—or at least Jim—hurtle recklessly onward (Will hesitates and teeters on the cliff’s edge), but more of the weight of the narration falls on Charles. Will and Jim and Cooger and Dark create plot. Charles creates perspective.

The plot—uncovering the nefarious devices and deeds and escaping the grasping hands of a demonic carnival—is exciting enough to keep a casual reader interested, I think, but the depth is there, easily accessible for those who want to plumb it, and maybe too for those who would rather just read the adventure, coming hand-in-hand with the adventure so that it cannot be missed.

The triumph of joy and joyful abandonment over darkness add a spark of hope into the novel—and that joy is not only for youth if youth might find it more easily. This is almost a tale to laud never growing up—or maybe more accurately not forgetting the joy of youth for it does not discredit age. In fact the most heroic of the figures ultimately is the eldest of the narrators, Charles, who, with the eyes of experience and the acceptance of his own fears, is able to see the dark creatures as pathetic and frightened and so defeat them with the power of his own confidence and smile and love of son and of Jim.

This book was recently a summer reading book for a local high school. I find it ideal for that age or college students perhaps more so, straddling as it does the line between adulthood and childhood and looking backwards and forwards across it to give a piercing perspective of the two ages. There’s also merit in it for an adult audience, with an adult hero saving youth and recovering his own youth through the acceptance of his age and the through the release of his fears and dourness.

*****

Bradbury, Ray.  Something Wicked This Way Comes.  New York: Avon-HarperCollins, 1998.  First published 1962.

This review is not endorsed by Ray Bradbury, his estate, Avon Books, or HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

May 26: Chasing Tokyo

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We decided to spend our first day in Tokyo at Ueno Park, a sprawling place with a number of museums and other attractions, plentiful street performers and people watching. We’d planned to head first to the Tokyo National Museum, a museum of Japanese historical artifacts and artwork. We left the station and walked up the park towards the end where the building sits. We passed a number of peculiar sights: a reproduction of the Rodin’s “Burghers of Calais” and a sculpture of a blue whale that put me in mind of childhood days spent crawling inside a hollow sperm whale at a more local museum.

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We found the National Museum’s gates locked.

So we changed tact. We decided we’d try for the Shitamachi Museum, a museum of traditional culture and craft. First, we misread the map and left the park behind to wander the streets around it, streets filled with academic buildings and offices and small houses and shops. Our search led us to a locked annex for one of the museums.

Returning to the park, we took our time wandering in the direction that we thought we ought to go to find the Shitamachi Museum. We passed fountains and reflecting pools, playgrounds, street performers, and equestrian statues. We paused to climb a hill to view what remains of the giant statue of Buddha that once stood within the park.

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We came to the far southern end of the park—and didn’t find the museum.

We found a temple complex—the Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple—and then the road.

It wasn’t till we passed the temple that we discovered a long flight of stairs that led to the lower level of the park.

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We hurried down the steps and not long afterward discovered why the Shitamachi Museum is so difficult to locate.  We also found the pond that Kari had known was somewhere within the park and which had been the most puzzling site that we had seemed unable to find.

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We followed the sign and found that museum locked as well. That’s when we realized that the museums are all closed on Mondays, and we had to reevaluate our plans. 

We were already at the park, and it had gotten fairly late in the afternoon by this time, so we decided to spend the rest of the day enjoying the outdoors. We wandered along the paths of the park and decided to enjoy the pond to its fullest extent by renting a pedal-powered swan boat.

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We pedaled ourselves around the pond for a full half hour, learning to navigate, pretending to be seamen, and serenading passing boats with Disney covers. It was a grand time. Others seemed to enjoy themselves too.

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We explored the park a bit farther, but we’d done most of what we could there with all of the buildings closed to us, so we left for Sensoji.

The approach to the temple is composed of several streets of vendors, selling mostly snacks and tourist goods, including this wonderful treasure.

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A popular and colorful temple, Sensoji is also the oldest temple in Tokyo, having been completed around 645. The temple’s Thunder Gate is one of the symbols of Tokyo.

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Stepping off the main paths brought us to several other temple buildings and many statues, various copper and stone Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, the Bell of Time (Toki-no-kane), the Asakusa Shrine built to honor the men responsible for building Sensoji Temple, and the burial site of a samurai from the Edo period named Kume no Heinai.

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Having explored Sensoji, we had time for one last adventure, and we went chasing it on foot. We walked to Tokyo Skytree, the tallest building in Japan and the second tallest structure in the world after Dubai’s Burj Khalifa skyscraper, and were going to climb as high as we possibly could do.

We wound through side streets of high rises and finally spotted the tower across and upriver from us. We walked through a park and along the Sumida River and then across it. We hadn’t any directions and were simply using the tower itself as our guide, heading for it as directly as we could do. It felt like a quest, like Frodo and Sam approaching Mt. Doom, though our destination was significantly nicer and our quest less epic and more personal.

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The weather was not with us, and we were not able to climb very high within the tower, to the fourth maybe fifth floor, but we thoroughly explored the shopping center within the Skytree and allowed ourselves both dinner from the food court and crepes for dessert.

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The trek and the journey were worth the trip and the food made an excellent reward for its completion.

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(Those Northern-most points are our hostel and the railway station nearest to it, which we frequented.)

All photographs are mine.  Click to see them larger.  All maps are made using Google Maps.

May 25: Keep Walking

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We left Hostel Kanouya the next morning. Our hostess followed us out into the street and just as we were about to turn the corner, we turned around to share a wave. “Wait. It’s tradition,” I said, before turning. After we’d turned the corner, Kari told me that it was in fact traditional to see guests off like so. 

We went to Kyoto Station, checked all of the coin lockers, and eventually settled for putting our luggage in the luggage room downstairs for a little more money and a bit less stress. There are fifteen floors in the JR station. We climbed as high as we could go through a series of staircases and escalators for the view from the top of the building. Plexiglass kept us from a dizzying fall but also obscured the view a bit. There was a small garden on the rooftop. There have been buildings I’ve regretted not climbing, however, so I’m glad this cannot be one of them.

A train then took us out to the Fushimi-Inari Shrine, easily one of the most photogenic architectural pieces I’ve ever seen. I have a wealth of pictures of the complex, which ranges across the mountainside along 2.5 miles of trails (let me tell you, it felt like much more than that). Trying to cull them down to the best to put on this blog has been a challenge.

We spent very little time by the main shrine itself. It was a breezy day however, and the breeze made the streamers flutter, so those pictures are worth including.

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Then we left the main complex to strike out for the trails, and perhaps you will recognize the site from this first picture.

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There are two branching trails beneath rows of these orange torii. The crowd thins the farther you go along the trail, but even so it was difficult for me to take pictures that would not include fellow travelers.

The trail wound and branched and deposited us at minor complexes, abandoned save for us—or maybe they belonged to men or women who lived on the mountaintop. One just off the path backed up against a house, which we discovered only by accident by taking narrow, greenery-lined trails. I can only imagine that the shrine was there first, for the stone has an ancient feel to it—but perhaps that is the my Western mindset speaking, where a standing stone is a thing of ancient wonder, no one knowing how long it’s been there, how it came to be there, or why it was set so. Still, there’s moss on the steps of this shrine complex.

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Kari had told me that this particular shrine sports feral cats among its patrons and inhabitants. I lost Kari briefly following one beautiful tom down a narrow path.

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There too I shared a moment with a pair of Japanese women over arachnophobia when I spotted a spider dangling not too far in front of me. Some things truly are universal.

A little farther on and higher up, past at least one way station where refreshment and talismans could be found, we passed a passel of kittens among the azalea bushes. I rested a long while, watching them. By that point in our hike, Kari and I were flagging, but then began the litany of “Just a little farther” and “I just want to see what’s around that bend” and “I just want to see the view from there.”

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That litany, joined by the occasional rendition of VeggieTales’ “Keep Walking,” took us the rest of the way along the mountain trails, with a few setbacks.

A man at a map of the trails told us to take the trail to the left after the way station that we would come to, claiming it would be the quickest way to our destination (I’m not sure we had a destination, but apparently, we did).  We found the next way station, which boasted a lookout area as well. We rested a bit.  We thought that we’d turn around, and with the thought that we might leave, I decided to climbed a steep set of stairs on the right. They led past a small house and to a mazy collection of shrines.

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As I wandered the narrow paths between stone torii and upright markers, all dotted in orange torii-shaped petitions and red bibs for the kistune, the man from the house came out to his porch to play his wooden flute. It was a magical moment I wouldn’t have missed it for nearly anything.

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The rest changed our minds, and we thought that we could go a bit farther.  We thought that we took the leftmost turn, but we were mistaken. We went a ways and turned around, lured back to the way station by the promise of soft serve ice cream. I’m still puzzling whether soybean flavored ice cream provides more than the usual protein found in soft serve.  (It was delicious, sort of sweet and salty at once.)

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Kari found the third trail that we’d missed, the leftmost. We followed this beneath orange torii that opened up in occasional glades of stone and orange torii and upright stones. As we were following this trail, we passed a couple who were pausing before the shrines.  I’d heard a strange trumpet earlier in the day, and had wondered, and I witnessed this man now blowing a long note on his conch shell. If you’ve read Lord of the Flies, you’ll recognize the importance of the conch shell. It is a magical thing. I thought then that these were perhaps genuine pilgrims, travelers here for the shrines and not for the trails or to check another feature off in sight-seeing bingo. Now I wonder if this man was a priest, having learned that conch shells are sometimes used in Shinto religious ceremonies.

This trail took us most quickly too to the peak of the trail. I think this was the destination to which the man referred.

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The trail from there, of course, went downhill—and we began to worry how long the trail might be and whether it would loop or whether we could wander too far from the gate and be stranded in the dark woods overnight.

We waited on a steep flight of stairs for a passerby, and Kari asked if the trail did in fact loop and whether we would find an exit if we continued downward; neither of us had much desire to climb the steep steps upwards.

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Having learned that we in fact were on a path towards and exit, that we weren’t likely to be lost in the wood, we continued downwards with a little more enthusiasm. We stumbled into more glades of shrines, including one that featured a small waterfall that could be found down a very narrow and by then quite dark trail, its stones dark with runoff, but was out of sight above or outside of that cleft. I wish that picture had come out more clearly.

Eventually we met up with a familiar path and familiar friends.

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We also met up with a woman who seemed to live on the mountainside, carrying her groceries up the path. The cats were following her. She wanted to practice her English and gave us gifts, including a paper crane.

Having found the exit, we had to catch a train to Tokyo, where we had hostel reservations for the night.

Inari was a great way to end our stay in Kyoto, and for only having been there three days, we saw a great deal.

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We arrived in the new city late at night and in a heavy rain. We decided to call a cab rather than risk being lost and confused in such a situation. The drive was short, but our cabman was amiable.

All photographs are mine.  Click to see them larger.  All maps are made using Google Maps.

Book Reviews: August 2014 Picture Book Roundup: Franchised

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High Voltage! by Frank Berrios and illustrated by Andrea Cagol and Francesco Legramandi. Golden-Random, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

Now I know that part of Spidey’s appeal is his propensity for awful puns (and I’m no huge fan of his, though I enjoyed—at least mildly—the first two Tobey Maguire movies; I’ve not seen any of the others put out by Marvel), but this story feels like a string of awful puns loosely tied by a plot, where of course, the hero had to triumph over a villain with a ridiculous name and ridiculous outfit. It seemed like poor writing, though I know it to be catering to a particular gimmick. I also had to explain how Spidey had defeated the villain, giving a quick (and I’m sure poor) lesson in the conductive properties of water. Now I suppose one could use that to her advantage if she knew about the story time in advance and set up a pretty nifty though probably pretty dangerous science experiment, but I was anything but prepared for this story hour.

**

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High-Stakes Heist! by Courtney Carbone and illustrated by Michael Atiyeh and Michael Borkowski. Golden-Random, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

After reading High Voltage! this book seemed much better written—though I am more invested in the Avengers’ plot since Joss Whedon got his hands on it, so it might be only fair to take this with a grain of salt. At least the puns were fewer. Perhaps because the puns were not there to throw me from the storyline or perhaps because I know more about the character of Captain America than I do Spidey’s, Captain America’s personality and character seemed to come through the story more clearly than did Spider-man’s in the Berrios book reviewed above. The plots could have been identical though. I suppose in a book intended for young readers and of the same genre—and this genre in particular—that’s to be expected—and for this audience perhaps even good—a story of right always winning—though what I’ve grown to love of the Marvel movies are the comments on society, on power and powerlessness, the doggedness to protect despite odds, and the depth of the characters portrayed, their reactions to war and to one another—and, really, all of that was lacking from this Golden Book. For those following the storyline strictly from the POV of Marvel’s movies, this book will include a few spoilers as it happens farther along the storyline than has yet been released in theaters. I think I did too here have to take a moment to explain a bit about the idea of mind-control.

***

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Sophie La Girafe: Sophie’s Busy Day by Dawn Sirett. DK, 2013. Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Sophie La Girafe merchandise before. This one let me down a bit. I didn’t find it up to the standards I’d set with Peekaboo Sophie! Like Peekaboo Sophie! this is a toddler’s touch-and-feel book. The story takes Sophie through a day of chores and fun with friends, a common storyline for toddler books. Peekaboo Sophie! was rife with questions and instructions to teach children verbs, as well as lift-the-flap and touch-and-feel interactive illustrations. Sophie’s Busy Day lacked the question and response element as well as the lift-the-flap element, and I think that’s why it fell flat in comparison. For its genre, however, and when the pedestal of Peekaboo Sophie! is out of sight, this is not a bad book.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any one involved in their making.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Challenge: Legal Theft: The Assignment (515 words)

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The door thudded with heavy security, but the boy on the other side of the bars still shivered as he faced me. I stood, a guard behind me, in a small antechamber of sorts, before a room divider with a door that locked from the inside, the boy on the other side.

I was surprised by the room divider’s inelegant design. The vertical boards hardly matched the refinement of the rest of the mansion that I’d seen, a strong tell that they’d been quickly—and probably poorly—constructed. The boards were spaced too far apart. They might deflect an arrow shot hastily or from a distance, and I allowed that the boy would have time to run or hide if the assassin came with only a sword or knife or blunt instrument, but an assassin with time could easily push an arrow’s tip between the bars before releasing.

Lying amidst brocade and velvet cushions as the boy was, and wrapped in a heavy velvet robe himself, the neckline fur-lined without his—I was sure—having hunted and skinned the fox, it was hard to pity him, though I’d heard what had rattled him—and it was enough to rattle any but the toughest-skinned.

“Do you know why you’re here?” He tired to inject his voice with steel but it was brittle as a dry twig.

“Aye, boy,” I said. “I suspect. Rumor travels fast.”

“Can you do it? Can you find it? And kill it?”

I wasn’t sure how much of me he could see, but I still fingered the wooden beads around my wrist for show as I said, “I suspect so. But not easily.” If the boy suspected devilry and magic then it was best to make a show of being pious.

“You’ll have whatever you need.”

Nobles are always saying that. It’s what makes the job profitable. The fun is in coming up with outlandish and expensive necessities and plausible uses for them when all I really need are my wits, a knife, two good ears, and stealth. With those accoutrements alone, I can usually find and end any threat. But I thought for a moment. “I’ll need a ruby, one about the size of your palm, a stylus strong enough to etch the gem, six sheets of clean vellum, ink and a pen, and a few of your hairs—to track the beast down, young master.”

“I’ll tell Styles. You’ll have them. All of them. The ruby might take time, and the stylus….”

“The sooner the better. I might be able to track the beast without but I’ll have no container for it.”

“Will only a ruby do? There’s a sapphire in my mother’s—in my collection that’s about that size.”

I ignored the stumble. “Hmmm,” I said, while trying to suppress a smile, “a ruby and a sapphire are about as hard as one another. I think it’ll do.”

“I’ll—I’ll give it to you then. For this.”

“And the other things? When can I expect them?”

“Give Styles your address as you leave. He’ll see that you have them.”

I’m abysmally late.  Apologies have been made to all the appropriate parties but you, dear readers.  This week’s theft was from Kid at The Gate in the Wood.  She wrote “Tonic and Poison” but we saw only her first line before we wrote our own stories.  I wasn’t the only thief.  Here are our other thieves’ works:

Kate at More Than 1/2 Mad wrote “Breaking Containment.”

Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master wrote “Through Walls” (563 words).

Bek at Building A Door wrote “Behind Bars.”

I suspect I may have to continue this story at a later date….

Book Review: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is a Poorly Formatted, Solid Story

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I found a copy of Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda used some time ago, and recognizing that it sold well and was therefore probably something that I should read, I took it home. It sat unread on my shelves until I thought that I’d be able unexpectedly to see Angleberger. I hurried through it, reading nearly half of it in two hours before leaving for the supposed signing. By the time that I left for the signing, I was so far into the book that I couldn’t very well stop. I finished it in two days. So take my review with those things in mind.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is written as if by a number of different characters reporting on encounters with one character, Dwight, and his finger puppet, Yoda. Several different fonts are used to distinguish the characters, though some characters share fonts, and all of the fonts are similar enough in style for the font changes themselves to not interfere with the flow of the novel as a whole.

The text and format of the book as collected narratives, however, do make it disjointed, and that I think is what keeps it from shining for me. If there had been less acknowledgement of its form within the texts, if the characters hadn’t kept referring to the book and complaining about being asked to write in it, I would have been less thrown from the novel with each new chapter.

Each report is headed by a drawing of the POV character. Illustrations pepper the report as well. In their loose, sketchy style, the illustrations remind me of those that I’ve seen on Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, though Kinney’s are somehow both better at conveying emotion and more cartoonish. Kinney’s books also sell enormously well, and I have to wonder if the similarities between the two illustration styles contribute to Angleberger’s success.

A few quick notes: I will be the first to admit that trying to capture the essence of my characters in drawings is one of the hardest things, but I recognize that I am not a professional artist and plan on accepting help—or foregoing illustrations more likely. Angleberger accepts help from Jason Rosenstock with whom he has co-illustrated the book. I don’t know which illustrations are Angleberger’s and which are Rosenstock’s, but I suspect that the more professional illustrations are Rosenstock’s, so I applaud Angleberger accepting some help, but maybe he didn’t accept enough or was overenthusiastic about having illustrations at all. On the whole, the illustrations may make the books seem less frightening to a young reader, but they don’t for me add anything to the plot or to my understanding of the story. Applause for the text there. (Though I would argue that an overreliance on illustrations might signal too little confidence in children’s imagination and in the strength of the text. “How can you read this? There’s no pictures.” “Well some people use their imagination.” It’s not as though Angleberger is describing unique experiences—apart from perhaps the origami Yoda itself, and that is illustrated on the cover by Melissa Arnst.)

So overall, I don’t feel as if the format of the book as collected narratives or the inclusion of illustrations were particularly good choices and feel that these choices may have limited my enjoyment more than enhanced it. However, the content is solid.

This is a school story, and its focus is on the everyday challenges of interacting with classmates.

Dwight is unpopular. He does odd things like wear the same t-shirt for a month. This book was not part of the curriculum for Giving Voice to the Voiceless, but I think that it easily could have been. There’s no explicit mention of any neurodevelopmental disorder that might explain the quirks in Dwight’s behavior, but I suspect that Dwight might fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, explaining his difficulty relating to his peers, the difficulty that he has in speaking to them, and the ritualistic behaviors in which he engages.

While Dwight is unpopular, the finger puppet that accompanies Dwight gives wise advice to Dwight’s classmates, some of whom believe that the puppet may even be able to predict the future.

The premise of the book is to determine whether or not this is the case—though that mystery is never solved—and the end makes it seem less about Yoda and more about Dwight—particularly Tommy’s relationship and reaction to Dwight. The book takes the form of an apology. Tommy decides after examining Dwight and Yoda that he’d “rather be on Dwight’s side than Harvey’s. Dwight is weird, but I guess I’ve started to like him, and I hated to let him down. Somehow I didn’t mind letting Harvey down” (138).

Tommy’s relationship to many of his classmates changes over the course of his study. Harvey begins as one of his better friends, and Dwight as just the odd kid of the class. Dwight is able by standing out more than usual by the adoption of his puppet to influence the whole of the school for the better, bringing partners together, exposing bullies, healing peer relationships, and making traditionally disappointing school events more fun.

It’s a story of the power of the outcast and of acceptance, and I really like the conclusions that Angleberger and his characters come to.

This book has a great title, and it’s a good middle-grade read for its morals, but I really wanted to be blown away by this book. I wanted it to deserve its bestseller status. Especially as Angleberger is now among those local authors that I might one day have a chance to meet in a relaxed setting.  I wish that I could be more pleased with the book’s format.

***1/2

Angleberger, Tom. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. Illus. Tom Angleberger and Jason Rosenstock.  Cover art by Melissa Arnst.  New York: Amulet-ABRAMS, 2010.

This review is not endorsed by Tom Angleberger, Jason Rosenstock, Melissa Arnst, Amulet Books, or ABRAMS.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.