Tag Archives: historical fiction

Samurai Champloo

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My rating: 4.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE

In a mad series of events including a bar fight, a fire, and a couple of near executions, 15-year-old barmaid Fuu loses her home and her job–and recruits two young samurai to accompany her on a harebrained quest to find a “samurai who smells of sunflowers.”  Seriously, if they didn’t owe her so much, you’d really have to question the reason of Mugen (a rakish vagabond with an obviously rough past) and Jin (a mysterious ronin who clearly has some dark secret) in following her. Not that they do it particularly well. Although they do mostly follow the same (usually hungry) path together, it seems like any mention of women, food, or a ready fight will draw Fuu’s two bodyguards away. Not that you can entirely blame them. . . .

Samurai Champloo has got to be one of the most ridiculous by fun anime that I have watched in quite a while. Just to give you an idea: it’s the only anime I can think of in which you can hear both enka and hip-hop, sometimes in the same episode! Music really is a significant factor in this story, so if you’re a music geek like me, that’s a fun factor. Similarly, the story is this huge mish-mash of history and absurdity. You totally can’t accept it as historically accurate, but at the same time, you can get a good idea of some of the major events and issues that were present in the Tokugawa (Edo) Era of Japan. But then you get all kinds of random hip-hop cultural references thrown in as well–like punk kids who beat box around town. The three main characters are fantastic, definitely the carrying force of the story. Fuu is all ditzy and cute; I could see folks being bothered by her damsel-in-distress sort of role, but I personally didn’t get that feeling so much. Jin is totally badass and scary in the quietest, most subdued way possible. Mugen, on the other hand, is equally scary, but in a noisy, rowdy sort of way that contrasts strongly with Jin’s manner. Maybe that’s why they’re always at each other’s throat. . . . In any case, the interactions between these three characters provide the majority of the humor and heart of the story, although there are plenty of outside forces causing action. Lots of impressive sword fights. And I will say, you need to be in the right mood to watch this show, because it’s just that sort of story. As for the art, it’s mostly really attractive, although a bit older; there are a few spots where the faces get somewhat distorted, like an assistant was left with the responsibility to draw them, but it doesn’t really detract from the story. The voice acting is excellent; I especially love Kazuya Nakai’s work with Mugen (well, I love his voice acting in general, but he does a particularly good job with this character). Only other thing I’d like to note is that this really is an 18+ show–there are lots of mature themes, sex, drugs, violence, etc. Lots of violence. But if you’re an adult who’s in the mood for a fun samurai anime, Samurai Champloo has a lot to offer.

Written by Shinji Obara/Directed by Shinichirō Watanabe/Produced by Takatoshi Hamano, Takashi Kochiyama, & Tetsuro Satomi/Music by Nujabes, Tsutchie, Fat Jon, & Force of Nature/Voiced by Kazuya Nakai, Ginpei Sato, &  Ayako Kawasumi

Note: This anime has two seasons for a total of 26 episodes.

 

 

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Dust of Eden

Author: Mariko Nagaidust of eden

My rating: 5 of 5

Mina Tagawa was born in the U.S. She sees herself as an American just as surely as her best friend Jamie Gilmore is American. Sure, her family speaks both English and Japanese in the home, eats miso soup as well as potatoes, it’s never mattered. Until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 and suddenly everyone in her hometown looks at her like she’s the enemy. Until she and her family are forced from their homes into camps like war criminals in their own country.

Dust of Eden was a hard book to read. I can only imagine how hard it was to write. I feel that Mariko Nagai chose a very important but difficult topic in depicting the internment camps the government forced many Japanese Americans into during the second World War. And I do feel that she handled this topic with grace and respect. Mina is a beautiful character, and her loving family and supportive friend Jamie do a lot to soften the story without diminishing the unfairness and wrongness of the situation. The entire story is written in verse from Mina’s perspective, and Nagai’s poetry is truly beautiful and moving–a style that reminds me greatly of Helen Frost’s work in that it is poetic and elegant without ever stooping to being rhyme-y or cheap. I ended up crying through a large portion of the book; it’s that sort of story. I found Dust of Eden in the children’s section, and it’s appropriate for younger readers although I would recommend an adult reading the story first and being available to discuss it. But this is a book that breaks age barriers and speaks an important memory to adult readers as well.

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After Alice

Author: Gregory MaguireAfter Alice

My rating: 5 of 5

Have you ever wondered what happened back in Oxford after Alice disappeared down the rabbit hole? Perhaps her best friend Ada was coming over to visit her and happened to fall into the same (or another nearly identical) hole into Wonderland. Perhaps her older sister Lydia thought she was just being Alice, off on a lark again–or maybe she was just too distracted with the complications of being caught in the gap between girlhood and womanhood to worry about her sister. Perhaps the visit of the notorious Mr. Darwin had the household in too much of a stir to properly look for a wandering child. Perhaps there were more interconnected stories relating to Alice’s adventures than we have ever before imagined. . . .

Gregory Maguire’s treatment of the tale Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in his book After Alice is absolutely brilliant. He takes the classic and focuses on people who were barely mentioned in passing in the original, people who were side characters, and others who were never even pictured at all. And in doing so, he creates a vivid picture, not only of Wonderland, but of 1860’s Oxford as well. The imagery of his phrases is elegant and subtle such that each sentence is a delight to read–this is one of those books that makes me aware afresh how much I love language, words themselves. Moreover, his characters are a delight–conflicted, changing, sometimes morally ambiguous, but always so very human. And the way in which Maguire captures Victorian mores and opinions through his characters is not only enjoyable but educational. I will say that I would recommend this for an adult audience, not really because there’s anything inappropriate (or rather, anything inappropriate is couched in such Victorian propriety that it would go right over a child’s head) but because the story is rather complex and meant to be thought-provoking to adults, so kids might get bored–although there are probably also children who would adore this. (Okay, I would have loved this book if I had read it as a child.) In any case, After Alice comes with high recommendations, especially for those who liked the Carroll or who enjoy retellings or Victorian era literature.

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He Shall Thunder in the Sky

Author: Elizabeth PetersHe Shall Thunder in the Sky

Amelia Peabody, vol. 12

My rating: 4.5 of 5

The year is 1914, and the tension surrounding the first World War is casting a pall over even the Emersons’ archaeological fervor. David has been imprisoned somewhere as a potential troublemaker, Ramses is the scorn of European society in Egypt for his pacifist views, Nefret seems to be drowning her sorrows in flirtation. Meanwhile, Turkish troops approach the Suez Canal, and it seems all Amelia and Emerson can do is watch and work half-heartedly on their unpromising wadi. Or at least, so it seems until they discover that Ramses and David are actually both in Egypt doing extremely dangerous undercover work for the British government. Of course, they can’t allow the two to face all that danger alone, so they immediately pitch in to help–as if Amelia could resist such a temptation!

Elizabeth Peters’ historical mysteries are consistently well-written, exciting, and full of character. Such was the case with He Shall Thunder in the Sky. It was really interesting in this volume to see a side of WWI history I’d never really gotten before–apparently there was a good bit more action away from Europe that I had known. And of course, Amelia and her family make any story more amusing with their absurd, larger-than-life characters and their bent for getting into any trouble that might happen to be around (or for manufacturing it if the situation demands). I really liked that, in this volume, Ramses and the other children are adults in their own right–they’re such good characters that it’s quite enjoyable to read the sections from their perspectives as a complement to Amelia’s own story. Plus the whole love story part of this volume is really sweet, even if you don’t much get that impression until near the end of the book. He Shall Thunder in the Sky is a fantastic blend of history, romance, archaeology, and espionage that’s truly a delight to read; highly recommended for anyone who enjoys historical mysteries.

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The Ghost Belonged to Me

Author: Richard Peckthe ghost belonged to me

Blossom Culp, vol. 1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Alexander has never been one to believe much in ghosts, but an encounter he had in 1913 (the year he turned 13 himself) was one that couldn’t help but change his mind in that regard. His family was one of the up-and-coming social climbers in Bluff City, new money out looking to impress–or at least his mother was. And his sister Lucille was not averse to jumping right in with her. Alexander though, he mostly tried to stay out of folks’ attention. That wasn’t so easy though after his classmate Blossom Culp–a girl that he’d never particularly noticed before–said he was perceptive. To ghosts, that is. And that he had a ghost in the big barn out back. It was true, too, and the events that followed brought Alexander and the ghost to national attention. Although Blossom might have been the one to profit most from the affair. . . .

I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it often probably, but I love Richard Peck’s writing. The Ghost Belonged to Me was particularly interesting in that it combined his ghost stories with his humorous slice-of-life stories set in the Midwest around the turn of the twentieth century. And it somehow does both brilliantly! There’s a certain chill to Alexander’s ghostly encounters, although they’re mixed with a compassion for the dead girl whose ghost he meets and for her story. But more than scary, this book is immensely funny. Peck has this incredible knack for crafting characters who are, well, characters. They’re full of quirks that, combined with circumstances, are absolutely hilarious–and the understatement used at points only serves to amplify the underlying humor. Added to that, there’s a lot of solid history woven in so subtly that you don’t really realize how much you’re learning. And of course, the entire tale is told in Alexander’s unique voice, complete with colloquialisms and occasional grammatical lapses; it’s very well done and adds a lot to the writing. I would definitely recommend The Ghost Belonged to Me to anyone (upper elementary and up) who is interested in this time period, as well as to anyone who just enjoys an entertaining, funny story.

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The Gift of Sarah Barker

Author: Jane YolenGift of Sarah Barker

My rating: 4 of 5

It is truly stifling to be a free spirit in a world bound up with rules and ceremony. So Sarah finds to be true living in a highly structured Shaker community where every action is watched and judged. Yet though the consequences may be severe if she’s caught, she still dares to slip away to be alone and delight in the birds and beauty surrounding their small community. Meanwhile, Abel finds himself questioning the same rigid Shaker rules, struggling to match them with both reason and with the rampaging thoughts and feelings that growing up is forcing him through. And when he encounters Sarah, when he truly notices her for the first time, something changes irrevocably in a way that would be direly condemned in their society that forbids nearly all interaction between men and women.

How should I say this . . . The Gift of Sarah Barker, based on its cover, is exactly the sort of book I hate: sordid romance made to seem more thrilling by the danger of a highly disapproving society. If it hadn’t been written by Jane Yolen, I would never have even tried reading it. I’m glad I got past the cover (gross misrepresentation, by the way) and gave the story a try. What I found within was an intriguing historical novel, told in two voices, revealing a fascinating view of a most unusual community. I found out things about the Shaker community in the 1850’s that I had never heard of before, so that was interesting. Moreover, Sarah and Abel are well developed individuals who struggle with all sorts of complex issues (ones that are actually applicable to normal people today) and who have characters that I truly enjoyed reading–not just love-struck obsessives. There is a love story involved, true, but it doesn’t take up nearly so much of the book as I had expected AND it’s actually dealt with realistically. I actually would really recommend The Gift of Sarah Barker, especially to young adult (and older) readers who enjoy historical fiction or are interested in this time period.

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Past Perfect, Present Tense

Author: Richard Peckpast perfect, future tense

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Stories of bygone days long past, of times that were simpler (sometimes stranger), when exhilarating change was just around the corner. Stories of the world in which we dwell today, with all its troubles but all it’s wondrous possibility as well. And stories of ghosts, that ephemeral something that joins the past to the present in ways we’ll never fully comprehend. Whichever you prefer, Richard Peck has a treat in store for you in this delightful collection of short stories.

I may have mentioned this before, but Richard Peck’s books are always favorites of mine, and Past Perfect, Future Tense is no exception. It’s a wonderful collection of shorts, some previously published in magazines or other short story collections, others new to this volume. Remarkably, I think every single story in the collection hit true, consistent with Peck’s classic style, full of humor and heart and that delicious chill of potential. I laughed my way through much of this book (especially when Granny Dowdel put in an appearance). And as an extra, Peck has included some brilliant pointers on what makes story so important, as well as on what goes in to an effective short story–very insightful, and also fun to read! I would highly recommend Past Perfect, Future Tense to anyone later elementary and up (adults too, definitely); these are the sorts of stories that are just good fun to read, regardless of age or circumstance.

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