Tag Archives: China

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow, illustrated by Jen Wang

Anda’s family has just moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, not far from the Grand Canyon, and now she finds herself at a new school. She’s an ordinary teen, kind of on the chubby side, finding a place with the group of kids who play Dungeons and Dragons during their free period. Since computers are her thing, Anda is taking a programming course where Liza McCombs from Australia comes to speak with the females in the class. She’s in the process of organizing a guild, exclusively for girls, to play Coarsegold Online, a MMRPG (Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game). It seems that women players have a tendency to hide their gender behind male avatars, afraid to show their true selves for fear of discrimination. This guild is looking to induct women into its fold if they pass the three month initiation. Anda is all in, as long as her mom lets her use her credit card to pay the twelve dollar a month fee.

Anda’s avatar, Kali Destroyer, represents her inner voice – bold, beautiful, with bright red hair and skills galore. She soon levels up as she masters the game play. Inside the MMRPG, Kali teams up with Sarge (Lisa) and they begin to destroy the Gold Farmers who are illegally mining for valuable objects which are then sold to other players for profit. Unfortunately, the profit is a big business, and the Gold Farmers are actually abused Chinese workers who are forced to work long hours for little pay. Anda befriends Raymond who wants to learn to speak better English. He’s about her age and works the overnight shift, but his previously injured back is causing problems. Thinking she can help she advises he go on strike to get some health care (just what her own dad’s union is doing with his company). Unfortunately, this advice only gets Raymond fired. To top it off, Kali Destroyer has been earning money by her antics and her mother cuts her off from the Internet, afraid that she’s in danger. Liza also suspends her (and Lisa) for not following the gaming rules. Anda feels responsible for Raymond’s troubles and looks for ways she can contact him and help him out of his difficulties.

Disclosure: I’m not a gamer, although my son has enjoyed the gaming experience participating in various leagues although not an MMRPG.

There are a lot of positives in the graphic novel, In Real Life by Cory Doctorow. Number one is the colorful illustrations by Jen Wang and the fact that the characters are portrayed as real people, not ones with Barbie Doll looks. Anda has insecurities, but grows stronger as Kali Destroyer, building confidence to the point where she proudly dies her hair red. The girl power is a plus. There is also a bit of a lesson, details given by Cory Doctorow in a forward, letting the uninitiated know about Gold Farmers, a real phenomena. Anda’s attempts to assist her friend are noble, even when they backfire. After all, this is a book for teens who need to know that they have a voice in this world. However, the resolution to the storyline, although rectifying the situation, is unrealistic at best. I also question the entire premise that a school would allow someone like Liza to solicit gamers to her league.

Given all that, I feel that the intended YA audience will enjoy this book, especially the fact that an average high school student becomes the hero, no matter how impracticable the ending. Gamers need to have their existence avowed.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.


Nick Bertozzi’s Adaptation of The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck

It seems like everyone read The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck during their high school years and even if they didn’t, they’ve at least heard of this book. Buck, as a Westerner, was criticized for daring to write a story about a family in China. Taking place in the 1920’s it’s a universal story about a man’s struggles in life from his years as a young farmer through his old age, dealing with the numerous trials which come from overseeing a large extended family. He makes mistakes, lives through various crises, has disgruntled sons, and supports a bunch of leeches who take advantage of his hard work as he moves from poverty into wealth. In the background is the Chinese Revolution and the shedding of the old ways. As the reader becomes immersed in the story, they grow to understand something of the culture from that time period. Published in 1931, this book was considered a ground breaker for a generation of people who knew nothing about the Chinese culture.

This review does not attempt to rate Pearl S Buck’s works. Instead I would like to focus on the adaptation by Nick Bertozzi who has created a graphic novel illustrating the plot line of the original work. While it helps if you’ve already read the book, the reader can easily get more than a gist of the tale through this condensed version of Buck’s words. The black and white line drawings, however are problematic. I received an ARC from Netgalley so perhaps additions have been made to the illustrations for the final copy to make them clearer and more defined. While in the beginning there are some relevant details, as the book progresses there is less and less definition to the drawings. You definitely need the text, at times, to figure out what is going on in the picture. So even though the adaptation is adequate, the graphics are not. While I wasn’t expecting color (it just wouldn’t have been appropriate in a story reflecting the grayness of their lives), I was expecting a sharper image with characters who were well shaped instead of basically a blob. My main complaint is the abrupt ending with a final panel which only vaguely captures any of Buck’s nuances unless you just happened to have recently read the final paragraph of the book.

Hopefully the final draft had an improved quality. Still, illustrations always enhance a work, which is why graphic novels are so popular, and I appreciate when the classics are made more approachable for the upcoming generations. A barely three star version of a five star book.

I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Convergence (Zodiac, #1) by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore, Art by Andie Tong

If you are a twelve year old boy, do I have a treat for you! The Zodiac Legacy is a new “comic” book series featuring an evil doer who wishes to control the creatures of the Zodiac so he can take over the world.

In Convergence (Zodiac #1) by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore, the villain is power-hungry, billionaire Maxwell, who uses his authority and the talent of geek, Carlos, to incorporate six of the twelve Zodiac signs into his body, not counting his own sign of The Dragon. Due to an interruption in the process, the remaining energy of the Zodiac is accidentally released where it unwittingly enters the hosts of unsuspecting people throughout the world. Through his organization, The Vanguard, Maxwell sends his minions to capture the “lucky” individuals who have become unwilling recipients of the five remaining signs. Jasmine, who shares The Dragon sign with Maxwell, thwarts his attempts by recruiting the “newbies” and bringing them to a training center in Greenland. Jasmine needs help in order to stop Maxwell from implementing his evil plans, partially in revenge of her parents’ murder. Maxwell, on the other hand, is determined to syphon off all of Jasmine’s Dragon power to make himself the most powerful being in the Zodiac.

Jasmine’s team include neophyte trainees:

Steven Lee — a Chinese American teen on a class trip to China who inadvertently witnesses Maxwell’s insanity and somehow receives the power of The Tiger at the same moment his Grandfather dies.

Roxanne – a French Rock star who channels her powers of The Rooster through her music.

Liam – an Irish pub fighter who relishes the added strength from the Zodiac as The Ram.

Duane – an electronics whizz who can use his power of The Pig to control electrical output.

Kim – a young girl from a broken down town in the Midwest who can teleport with her powers as The Rabbit.

The experienced Vanguard team includes Josie – The Horse, Malik – The Ox, Vincent – The Monkey, Nicky – The Dog, and the Black Ops Team of Celine – The Snake and Thiago – The Rat.

This book is fast paced and action packed, transitioning from one battle to the next as Vanguard goes on the offensive to herd in Jasmine and her followers. I haven’t seen all the graphics as the book I have is an ARC, but the pictures, drawn by Andie Tong, are phenomenal. I wouldn’t call this a graphic novel in the true sense, although it does have numerous illustrations, usually at the beginning or the end of a chapter (hopefully the final version will have even more). There is definitely more story than art work. In fact, it is a rather long book (about 500 pages), the first of a Trilogy. Just don’t question the plot too much, as the young zodiac recipients all seem to have few ties, beyond sentimental ones, to their former homes. This feature is a fortunate one, since their lives will be taking a different path where destiny will decide their fate, “the destiny determined by the Zodiac”.

Please note that comic icon Stan Lee has been a part of the writing process of Convergence, and the Zodiac series is published by Disney, indicating to me that we will be seeing a digital version of the story on film or television. Even though 93-year-old Stan Lee has created numerous Super Heroes over the years, this is his first time actually writing a book. The plot is designed to show movement, although almost half the book consists of background which has a tendency to drag. However, once the action starts, it doesn’t let up and there are several surprises in the last few chapters which will make a perfect segway into the next book in the series. The characters reflect various races and nationalities, with fourteen-year-old Steven Lee, the hero, being biracial. This book is perfect for feeding the fantasies of middle schoolers and those adults who have never outgrown the Super Hero Genre.

For me, this book is not a part of my normal reading choices, although I am glad that Netgalley and Disney allowed me to download a copy in exchange for an honest review. It seemed a little long for a YA book, even though the style was simplistic. However, there is a lot of potential for a Saturday morning cartoon adventure. Three and a half stars (mainly for the basic premise and the art work).

The Viscount of Vice by Shana Galen

In the Regency Romance,The Viscount of Vice by Shana Galen, Henry Flynn, the new Earl of Chesham, also aptly known as the Viscount of Vice, finds himself in Bath, instead of London, at the urgent request of Sir Brook Derring who has accidentally found Flynn’s long lost, presumed dead brother. With the help of Lady Emma Talbot, Flynn finds, not just his brother, but true love, in this satisfying novella, an introduction to the new Covent Garden Cub series.

Galen takes us on a merry ride as Flynn fights his past transgressions and pulls out his gentlemanly manners to protect the innocent Emma from both the outside world as well as from the rising passion which threatens to overwhelm them both. It takes all his will power to keep from ruining Emma, although circumstances allow him to give her the pleasure he feels she deserves. The romance is titilating, the action satisfying, and the ending fulfilling, yet leaving us wanting more. In addition, Galen makes the characters come alive and provides understandable motivations for their actions. Flynn suffers from guilt for his part in his little brother’s supposed death which results in his bad-boy-devil-may-care behavior and his inability to develop any meaningful relationships, even with his own mother. Lady Emma has her own issues since her brother, the Duke of Ravenscroft, is forcing her to marry his choice for a husband, after her rejection of too many acceptable suitors. It is not her fault that she is secretly in love with the unacceptable Flynn and all others seem just plain boring in comparison. It is the motivations of ruthless kidnapper, Satin, which leave us wondering, so it is lucky for the reader that there is an upcoming novel, Earls Just Want to Have Fun, which further delves into this evil doers misdeeds through the quest of Bow Street Runner, Sir Brook Derring, who searches to track down another one of Satin’s victims and bring this devil to justice.

I thank Sourcebooks Casablanca for allowing me to download this preview in exchange for an honest review. I heartily recommend this short story/novella to all lovers of a good romance and I give it four stars.

Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip

Well, Secret of A Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip has a happy ending, sort of, but the rest of the novel deals with the trials and tribulations of the main character, Spring Swallow who experiences a life full of drama. Even the so called “good times” are fraught with bad behaviors by the people around her. It seems that Spring Swallow flees one disaster only to land in another – first from marriage to a ghost husband, then to protect herself from enemies of her revolutionary husband, and finally to escape the clutches of her nasty husband addicted to gambling and other evils. Interwoven throughout Spring Swallow’s travels in 1930’s China (from Soochow to Peking) is the story of Auntie Peony, who teaches her the fine art of embroidery, and her adopted sisters, Purple, Leilei, and Little Doll. Spring Swallow has a natural aptitude in the intricacies of Sooxiu embroidery, the finest in the world, and it sustains her throughout her many difficulties.

Although Secret of a Thosand Beauties is an easy read, Spring Swallow’s journey gets a little cumbersome as her thoughts on life are too often repeated. It is also wearying reading about her many troubles. Too many. The most interesting character is Auntie Peony. She is the true Secret of a Thousand Beauties. In her youth, Peony, the master embroiderer in the royal place, has a forbidden love affair with the emperor. Bits and pieces of her life are slowly revealed, but there are some unanswered questions left dangling for the reader to puzzle out on their own. How much better to have told the same story from her point of view, with the “adopted” daughters a subsidiary storyline. That is the novel I wanted to read.

However, I did enjoy the Chinese proverbs, symbolism, folklore, and cultural idiosyncrasies sprinkled throughout the book, as well as the background on the importance that embroidery played in Chinese culture.

An interesting but slightly flawed storyline, to which I give three stars.

I want to thank Kensington Books for allowing me to download this book for free in exchange for an unbiased review.