And the Winner Is….


Courtesy of Random.org, the winner of Jeannie Lin’s “The Dragon and the Pearl” is…

Walt! Walt, I will PM you for your address. Thanks, everyone for your interest in this book.

Book Review: The Dragon and the Pearl

Well, it took me WAY too long to buy this book, for which I can only offer my profuse apologies to the author. I had wanted to do a review while the book was still in stores, but October escaped me. Obviously, November did, too. Before I tell you about this book, I think I will remind you about my review policies and admit that yes, I know the author and consider her a friend. That has nothing whatsoever to do with the nature of my reviews. I do not hold punches. If I’m uncomfortable posting a favorable review on this blog, I won’t do it. I also try to be honest about likes and dislikes. It speaks volumes for “Dragon” that you won’t find any mention of “dislikes” below.
So, I’m almost two months late, but the book was worth the wait. “The Dragon and the Pearl “ is a stand-alone novel by Jeannie Lin, however it does pick up where “Butterfly Swords” left off. “Dragon’s” cast includes Li Tao, the antagonist of Butterfly Swords, as the hero of “Dragon,” and his backstory gives us a much wider vision of the author’s Tang Dynasty China.
Now I loved “Butterfly Swords” (click the link to see my review), but you can see Lin’s skill as an author has increased since the first book. She has sunk herself into this world, making the characters rounded, fleshed and highly sexual. More than that, her political and social structure is more solid than the Kunlun mountains. She needed that solidity as we find out how both the court and the seedy underground culture of Tang dynasty functioned.
Thanks to that background structure, we discover why Li Tao is the stern and unyielding man you met before, but we also find the heart beneath that exterior. That said, he never breaks character. His is one of the strongest, most well rounded characterizations I’ve ever seen. Hypnotizing, never a good man, but always a believable and desirable man. In many ways, Lin’s characterizations and dialogue reminded me of works by my favorite author, Guy Gavriel Kay. Those of you who know me will recognize I mean that as the greatest compliment I can give.
If you enjoyed the dainty appetizer of “Butterfly Swords,” you will love the full course spread that is “The Dragon and the Pearl.” Go out and buy a copy via Amazon, Barnes and Noble or wherever else you can find one OR you can put your name into the hat for this second copy I bought. I refuse to give away mine.

Wow, new blogger interface is really weird. We’ll see if I stay with it, but honestly, I’ve been contemplating making changes here anyway. This may just be the (invisible to you) beginning of them. Well, I wanted to let you all know I won’t have a real post today, but if you come back on Wednesday I’ll have a review of Jeannie Lin’s “The Dragon and the Pearl.”

Occupied: What Do You Think?

This was in Shelf Awareness’ news on Thursday and it ticked me off so much, I wanted to know if I’m the only one with this reaction.

The National Book Awards were held at the Cipriani Ballroom at 55 Wall Street, just a few blocks away from Zuccotti Park, where the Occupy Wall Street movement was still recovering from a raid by New York City police in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Damage from that raid included the roughly 5,000-volume “People’s Library,” although contributors began bringing more books down to the park almost as soon as it re-opened. By late Wednesday afternoon, volunteer librarian Hristo was standing guard over a few hundred titles, stored in several jumbo-sized Ziploc bags to protect them from rain. Contrary to claims by city officials that the library had been preserved during the raid, he said that the majority of the books had been damaged when seized by authorities. (His description was backed up by eyewitnesses at the reclamation center for the property seized during the raid.) He also mentioned that he and other librarians needed to maintain a constant vigil on the small stacks of books, as police had already threatened to seize it should it be left unattended.

An hour later, as guests began arriving at Cipriani for the pre-awards NBA reception, the NYPD returned to the park, providing a solid line of security for a Brookfield sanitation crew as they tossed the entire contents of the restored library into a Dumpster. News of this second seizure spread rapidly as people with access to Twitter began telling others at Cipriani, and some attendees (including myself) encouraged others to take the books displayed on every table to re-restock the library after the ceremony was over. I took two YA nominees to a now near-deserted park, where another volunteer named Anthony vowed that the “People’s Library” would rebuild again on Thursday, and we discussed an impromptu strategy: maybe this time, instead of stockpiling all the books in one place, every person taking part in the Occupation should carry a book or two, and people can ask each other what books they have, and if they can borrow them. The police can’t seize books from citizens’ hands, can they? –Ron Hogan

Considering the recent pepper spraying of peaceful student protesters, I think the police may be losing some self-control during these protests. I’m afraid Mr. Hogan may find he was naive in his last question.

What do you think? Are the police out of line? Does the destruction of books, however symbolic, light your fuse?

Research Suggests We Experience Fantasy Differently

In light of the fact that I’m leaving the house in thirty minutes for a funeral, I’m cheating on today’s blog post. (BTW, no sorrow here. Really. Granny was a 93 woman who, up to two weeks ago, had led a happy, active life. She’s having an even better party now and I’m happy for her.) That said, I ripped today’s blog post from an article on one of my favorite topics: fantasy. Many thanks to Russell Webster for his research into the subject. My question for you is, are you emotionally engaged by fantasy, or are you more fantasy prone?

Whether you love the “Harry Potter” series or despise it, there may be a psychological explanation behind your opinion.

Russell Webster, Kansas State University doctoral student in psychology, Sherwood, Ill., recently discovered that people experience fantasy differently, which explains why some people enjoy it more than others.

According to Webster’s research, people participate in fantasy at different levels of cognitive and emotional intensity, which helps determine how much they enjoy a fantasy book or movie.

“With films like the ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Harry Potter,’ there are so many aspects that attract people to them,” Webster said. “Fantasy is a general framework with which people can work in. You have fantasy, but then you also have action, drama, relationships and other things happening within it.”

For the research, Webster defined fantasy as a type of narrative — such as a book, film or piece of art — that includes supernatural, unreal or impossible aspects in it. This differs from science fiction, which often has an explanation behind an incredible power.

Webster conducted two studies: one involving written narratives and another involving visual narratives. For the written narratives, participants read a passage describing the sunrise and had to imagine themselves as either watching the rising sun or flying toward it. For the visual narratives, participants looked at a painting that featured a man floating in the sky and a man sitting in a cottage. Participants had to imagine themselves as either the man floating or the man in the cottage.

“We wanted to see if we could predict people’s subjective vividness of their imagery,” Webster said. “We also assessed people’s engagement: how much they enjoyed it, how much they were immersed in it and how they felt afterward.”

To understand people’s experiences with the narratives, Webster looked at two very similar yet different personality traits: fantasy proneness, which is the tendency to experience more intense daydreams and fantasies; and absorption, which is the tendency to be absorbed by mind-altering tasks. Fantasy proneness relates to what is going on in a person’s mind, while absorption deals with what is going on in a person’s heart.

People with higher fantasy proneness traits experienced more vivid imagery, but not as much emotional engagement, according to Webster’s research. People with higher absorption traits were more emotionally engaged in the narratives and were in a more positive mood at the end.

“If the heart is invested, that’s where the enjoyment comes from,” Webster said. “What’s also interesting is that while some people reported seeing more vivid images, that doesn’t necessarily determine how emotionally engaged they are or how much they enjoy it.”

That explains why some people find the fantastical images in “Lord of the Rings” or “Game of Thrones” visually appealing but they may not enjoy the movie or show as a whole.

The type of fantasy narrative — whether written or visual — might also make a difference in enjoyment. A person has to put more effort in reading and imagining written narratives than visual narratives.

“It might be easier to engage in a visual narrative because you have a picture in front of you,” Webster said. “It is easier when there is a motion picture, because there are moving images, action and drama. There’s not just the fantastical element.”

Webster also discovered that even in situations that don’t include fantastical elements, people still inserted fantasy into them. For instance, when participants higher in fantasy proneness or absorption were imagining the rising sun in his first study, they were more prone to imagine themselves flying.

“They seemed to inject supernatural elements into narratives that don’t involve fantasy,” Webster said. “This shows that people might try to create their own experiences and their own fantasies in everyday life through daydreaming.”

Webster attributes resurgence of the fantasy genre in recent years to improved film production capabilities. The technology behind special effects has finally reached a point where filmmakers can create fantastical elements on screen that are both believable and enjoyable to watch.

“‘It all goes back to it’s a good story,” Webster said. “People like good stories.”

Webster’s research appears in a recent issue of the journal Imagination, Cognition and Personality. His doctoral adviser is Donald Saucier, associate professor of psychology. Webster is planning a few follow-up studies that deal with supernatural powers and how people perceive them.

Erinn Barcomb-Peterson
Director, News & Editorial Services
Kansas State University Media Relations
Manhattan, KS
785-532-1543