Kamikaze Girls

Man, I often get stuck in a reading rut and find myself pushing through books that don’t hold my attention very well, but I’ve been really lucky with my picks recently- they’ve been knocking it out of the park! My last post I reviewed The Beast Player, which is an immersive fantasy. My most recent read, however, is a more everyday sort of story, but it certainly has its share of unexpected moments.

Kamikaze Girls by Novala Takemoto is a cult classic in Japan that inspired a film adaptation. It’s a book about two Japanese teenage girls who live in a rural prefecture and become unlikely friends. Each follows her chosen lifestyle devoutly: Momoko strictly adheres to Lolita fashion and indulgent living, while Ichigo is a full-on Yanki: a member of a motorcycle gang who thinks she’s super tough despite only having a scooter.

Cover Variant

When Momoko tries selling some of her father’s knock-off Versace pieces to make some money for buying expensive Lolita clothing, she encounters Ichigo and the two are drawn together on a fateful journey to find a legendary embroiderer.

What makes Kamikaze Girls so engaging is the humour: author Takemoto says in the afterward that Momoko is pretty much his alter-ego (p. 213), and her sarcastic narration, exasperation, and dry commentary throughout the story carry it along with tons of hilarity. You might expect an adherent of Lolita lifestyle to present herself as sweet and dainty as the fashions she wears, but Momoko is far from a delicate flower. She takes the indulgence part of Rococo style very seriously, and is quick to shut down or criticize anything that doesn’t suit her whims with a brutal retort.

Cover variant. This hardcover is the version I purchased and read.

The story is fun and at times a tad absurd, but it also feels genuine- the girls, especially Momoko, come alive as you are reading. I haven’t seen the movie adaptation yet, but I could practically imagine the whole thing in my head because it was portrayed so well. I wish I could be friends with Momoko and Ichigo! Their friendship brought to mind for me that of the Amars from Akiko Higashimura’s Princess Jellyfish series: girls who may seem outwardly very dissimilar and have completely different interests, but who share some important core values and can embrace their individuality while also supporting the passions of their friends.

The ending is very suiting, with things falling into place just as they feel they should. What really earns Kamikaze Girls a special place in my heart, though, is that there is an emboldening underlying message of “let’s all get along while following our own paths and doing whatever the hell we want!” (p. 215).

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I’ve ordered the film based on the book through inter-library loan, and very much look forward to seeing Momoko and Ichigo come alive in a different way on the screen!

The Beast Player

Fantasy fans: you need to read The Beast Player.

I picked up Nahoko Uehashi’s The Beast Player because I am visiting Japan again soon and enjoying reading a bunch of Japanese literature before I go. This book blew me away unexpectedly. I came across it in the Teen room at the library where I work, and it’s an excellent read for young readers and adults alike.

Elin’s family has an important responsibility: caring for the fearsome water serpents that form the core of their kingdom’s army. So when some of the creatures mysteriously die, Elin’s mother is sentenced to death as punishment. With her last breath, she manages to send her daughter to safety.

Alone and far from home, Elin soon discovers that she can communicate with both the terrifying water serpents and the majestic flying beasts that guard her queen. This skill gives her great power, but it also involves her in deadly plots that could cost her life. Can she save herself and prevent her beloved beasts from being used as tools of war? Or is there no escaping the terrible battles to come?

(From the book jacket)

The Beast Player is an epic fantasy, a standalone story, and a philosophical musing on the futility of war. It features an inquisitive protagonist, a badass mom, a kindly father figure, and many more admirable- and not so admirable- characters, as well as some interesting creatures.

The pacing is perfect and just enough detail is given by translator Cathy Hirano to pull you into the world without becoming tedious. Even the most fantastical elements in this story are fleshed out in a thoughtful and believable way, and the actions and reactions of the characters also feel refreshingly realistic. 

Elin is a clever, independent, and interesting young woman, and a keen observer of the natural world. Her story doesn’t follow many of the expected tropes one often sees- there’s no predictable romance here, just a tight and interweaving story full of adventure.

Saga: Quick Spoiler-free Review

It’s been a while since I read Saga Vol 1, but I’m discussing it in my comic course so I gave it a reread and remembered afresh why I love this series so much. The plentiful fantasy and sci-fi elements, plus a beautiful forbidden love story between two complex and flawed badass characters, sprinkled with startling imagery and unexpected humour, makes for a really compelling tale.

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Vaughan’s dialogue throughout feels so raw and real, especially with Alana who pulls no punches beginning with the memorable first page. The world, too, feels very attached to our own despite the whimsical fantasy of it. The story takes itself seriously at its core, depicting the brutal cruelties of life and war, as well as more tender moments. There are some very messed up things happening in Saga’s universe, but these atrocities are closer to the realities of our Earth than we’d like to think.

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It wasn’t until after reading a few volumes of Saga that I learned the amazing and award-winning artist Fiona Staples was Canadian. Today that I learned she was born in Calgary- so cool! Staples’ art impresses me a lot- I really appreciate it when artists show you the nitty-gritty and go all in instead of making something watered down for wider consumption.

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Saga doesn’t cater to the widest possible audience, but instead presents itself authentically, unabashedly, and in-your-face, no holds barred. It’s got action, emotion, diverse characters, strange creatures, and an epic feel. It’s totally earned a spot in my top favorite comic series.

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Nope, not lying!

Japanese Candy Wrapper Journal Video Tour

I love Japanese candy and snacks- they are often packaged very creatively and cutely, and feature all kinds of unique textures and flavours. For a while I had a subscription to a Japanese snack box (best birthday present ever) which gave me the chance to try out all kinds of different stuff. I love the cool packaging of these treats so much that I thought it was a shame to toss out the wrappers, and so I decided to start a Candy & Snack Journal. I’ve since added more and more as I’ve gotten candy as gifts, at shops, and on my trip to Japan in 2017.

When I first started this blog I made a post with a quick peek of my journal, but I decided it would be fun to make a video going through each page. I’ve enjoyed looking back at the candies and snacks I’ve tried, and hope that some others will enjoy the video too!

 

 

 

Mini Review: A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M. Harris

As posted on my Goodreads:

With A Pocketful of Crows, Joanne Harris has proven to me yet again why she deserves many spots on my meticulously curated bookshelves.

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This is a quick read, but full to the last page with poem, prose, wild imagery, and earthy illustrations by artist Bonnie Helen Hawkins.

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It has all the trappings of a classic fairy-tale, but with a protagonist who is strong-willed and true to herself even as she falls into the clutches of a deep and all-consuming infatuation (and especially as she rises out of it).

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This tale is charming, witchy, gorgeously written, and sometimes as cruel as nature itself.

Not only is it lovely between the covers, but the hardback edition is sumptuously bound with golden lettering.

My Hogwarts House Identity Crisis and Embracing Hufflepuff House

Do you remember the early days of fanmade Harry Potter quizzes and the sorting games on the old promo websites for the movies? As a tween and teen I frequented sites like these and I always seemed to be sorted into the same house- Gryffindor. Yet, it never felt like a correct fit for me to be in the noble house of the lion.

I often wondered if, because the main trio from the books and movies were brave Gryffindor students, those early quizzes and/or my own personal bias towards Gryffindor would skew the results towards that house.

I never did accept being a Gryffindor, as it just felt off for me. Sorting is a complex business after all- Hermione would seem a clear fit for Ravenclaw, and yet she’s a Gryffindor. Was it at her own insistence that the sorting hat made its decision? Neville has certainly proved himself to be courageous by the end of the series, but wouldn’t most of his core traits be more in line with Hufflepuff? Fans have pondered these sorts of questions for years, and the only consensus might be that sorting is more of an art than a science. Add that to the multifaceted personalities and traits of witches and wizards, and the sorting hat has a difficult job indeed.

Some people will surely scoff at the seriousness we Potterheads have with regards to Hogwarts houses, but let me tell you it’s SIRIUS BUSINESS!

Anyway, when the first rendition of Pottermore was unleashed, I did the sorting quiz and – as usual- was placed in Gryffindor. Yet again, it didn’t feel right to me. Something in the back of my head was saying “you’re a Hufflepuff and YOU KNOW IT.”

When Pottermore was revamped and re-released, I did the new sorting quiz, and the result? Hufflepuff.

I think that most people might have a bit of all the houses in them- I certainly identify with Ravenclaw in a lot of ways, and I feel that Gryffindor does represent a part of me too. Slytherin has always felt the farthest from my personality, but my proclivity to adore the types of characters that Slytherin House attracts might speak to a darker side of my nature.

However, in the end each student is sorted into one house, and Hufflepuff is mine. It feels right.

Even though at first I felt torn (what? I’ve been trying to accept that I’m a Gryffindor all this time, and now here you are confirming my Hufflepuffdom!?) my friends convinced me- one comment: “Dude. You’re so totally a Hufflepuff.” Ok, so she has a point. The Wizardmore Extended Sorting Hat Quiz, which gives you the option of answering every possible quiz question from Pottermore, further confirms my place in Hufflepuff.

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When I look at the main traits of Hufflepuff House, I feel proud to be a part of it. We don’t like personal drama, we work hard, we are inclusive and fair. We are perhaps the least glamorous or remarkable of the houses, but that’s in line with what I want in my life- to simply do good and enjoy a good life with the time i’ve got.

The Hufflepuff common room is the sort of sanctuary that I could imagine myself relaxing in at Hogwarts- it’s closest to the kitchens. It’s a cosy, hobbity sort of dwelling that is warm and full of plants. The trick to entering it involves a bit of a rhythm game, which is totally up my alley.

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I officiated my Hufflepuff identity when I visited the Wizarding World area of Japan’s Universal Studios park in Osaka last year. 

When I picked out my house robes, pet puffskein Pinku, and accompanying willow wand (I always get willow for wand quizzes and such) the young woman who assisted me exclaimed excitedly “You’re Hufflepuff? Me too!”

Blog 2: The Sequel= ShaunaSeeks

While I will continue to post on HideNGoShauna about personal stuff and geeky randomness, I’ve just started up an additional blog, ShaunaSeeks!

On this new blog I will focus on sharing my library-related posts, book-lists, projects, and experiences as I work on completing my Master of Library and Information Science and learn new things in my library career  🙂