Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Progress Report: January

I finished 5 books in January, 4 of which were for challenges and all of them moved with us from England so they've been in the stacks for at least a year and a half. Since I only plan to keep one of them, that also frees up a very small amount of shelf space! Positive progress indeed!

Two of them (Roxanna Slade, The Fall of Light) were for the From the Stacks Challenge, which ended this month, and which I managed to finish with a few days to spare. Yay!

Another two of them (Fahrenheit 451, Gigi and The Cat) were for the Classics Challenge. I'm currently reading The Good Earth which is book number 3.

I'm also counting The Good Earth for the TBR Challenge so I'm slightly behind but not terribly I think, and I hope to read a 2nd book from my list in February.

For the Chunkster Challenge, umm..nothing yet, but I have The Makioka Sisters on deck for February.

And that leaves the O'Canada Challenge, and the Japan Challenge. So far no progress in either of those but since The Makioka Sisters qualifies as Classic, Japan, and Chunkster, it'll be 3 birds with one stone, as it were. Leaving something Canadian, or two. I guess I'll just have to see where my mood takes me.

Also on deck for February:
Wuthering Heights

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

'Gigi and The Cat'

by Colette

'Gigi' translated from the French by Roger Senhouse; 'La Chatte' by Antonia White

(Book #5 for 2007; 2nd book finished for the Classics Challenge)

Two stories of the politics of love. Gigi is being educated in the skills of the courtesan. However, when it comes to the question of Gaston Lachaille, very rich and very bored, Gigi does not want to obey the rules…
In ‘The Cat’, an exquisite strong-minded Russian Blue is struggling for mastery of Alain with his seductive fiancée, Camille.

A fun glimpse at turn of the century Parisian culture in ‘Gigi’, and being a cat-person, ‘The Cat’ was quite amusing. Sometimes the translation seemed a little too literal (but I’m definitely no expert on French OR translation) so it seemed to me it would probably read more smoothly in the original French, which I have never read so this is all purely conjecture. But this being my first time to read anything by Colette, these 2 stories have made me curious to try the Claudine books, and someday when I’m feeling up to the challenge, perhaps in the original! Delightful reads!

I chuckle every time I read this part (don't worry the whole story isn't like this) from 'The Cat':

'Ah! There you are, Saha! I was looking for you. Why didn’t you appear at table tonight?’
‘Me-rrou-wa,’ answered the cat, ‘me-rrou-wa.’
‘What, me-rrou-wa? And why me-rrou-wa? Do you really mean it?’
‘Me-rrou-wa,’ insisted the cat, ‘me-rrou-wa.’
My Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, January 29, 2007

From the Stacks Challenge - Completed!

As you can see from my original list, I didn't manage to read any of the 'extra credit' books (although I should hopefully get to a few of them this year in various other challenges), but I did successfully read all 5 books I set out to for this challenge! Yay, me!

To read my reviews of the 5 books seen above, click on the appropriate book title:
About Grace
Roxanna Slade
The History of Love
Plum Wine
The Fall of Light

My favourite of the bunch is probably The History of Love, but I also really enjoyed About Grace, and The Fall of Light, and actually rated them the same so it's pretty close. The only one I didn't really care for is Roxanna Slade, but 1 out of 5 isn't bad at all, and I'm very happy to have these no longer languishing in the TBR stacks. Thanks to Michelle at overdue books for organising the challenge, you made 5 books stop feeling neglected!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

'The Fall of Light'

by Niall Williams

(Book #4 for 2007; 5th and final book for the From the Stacks Winter Challenge!)
BLURB: The men of the Foley family have always been proud and fearless, fashioned by the harsh, cold elements of their country, and by years of fighting tooth and nail for survival. Their story begins in Ireland, in the difficult years of the early nineteenth century.

The family have lost their home and suffered another loss which proves even more vital – beautiful Emer Foley, wife of Francis, mother to Tomas, Finbar, Finan and the youngest boy, Teige. With nothing to hold them they move on, setting out across Ireland to its western shore, searching for the untenanted land that is to be their new Eden. But Francis Foley is a bitter man, and his flinty soul can only bring destruction. Inevitably the five Foleys are scattered, each to his own road and his own future.
Reading Angela’s Ashes a few years ago completely put me off anything Irish, and even now I was hesitant to start this one. Most likely why it lingered in the stacks for so long and needed the push of a Reading Challenge to finally get it read. Luckily, this book was nothing like the other, and has made huge inroads in redeeming Irish Literature for me.
The story starts with a brief introduction:
“This is a story that has been passed on. It is a story that begins in the time when my great-great-grandfather was a small boy. It has been told and retold for over a hundred and fifty years. It is not a history. As with all such telling each has added his own colouring, imagined and created details that were otherwise perished. These same were then forgotten or elaborated upon and others still added until the story itself became a kind of airy bridgework linking the living and the dead, the teller and those of whom it told.”
What an apt beginning to this story that throughout kept its air of fable and magic, as if told by a fire under the stars, by the gypsies themselves who make an appearance and play a part in this epic tale. Even when I felt it dragged a bit in the middle, I still kept turning the pages, wanting to find out what happens to the various Foley men in their wanderings. A compelling read; it is a simple, yet beautifully-written story about the power of hope and love in the midst of tragedy and despair.

With my recent thoughts of snow, I quite liked the following quote:
“It fell in those mountains in large thick flakes. Each was like a piece of paper, torn fragments of some broken treaty between heaven and earth.”
My Rating: 4/5

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sunday, January 21, 2007


The fact that I grew up in Manitoba (and have wonderful childhood memories of tobogganing, ice skating, cross-country skiing, digging out caves in giant snowbanks...) probably explains why even many years later, every winter I still miss snow! So I'm quite looking forward to seeing some ice and snow in two weeks when a friend and I go north to Sapporo, Hokkaido, for the Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival).
Due to my friend's schedule, and ticket availability, we're actually arriving a couple of days before the festival starts, but I've heard it's also interesting to see them making the snow sculptures, and they should be at the finishing-up stage by then. Woohoo!

*picture taken one year ago today, January 21st, 2006, on our ONE snow day last winter!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Book Meme

Inspired by this meme at Carl's Stainless Steel Droppings, I have to warn you, I've edited it heavily. So I apologize to the person who started it, because it was originally a scifi, fantasy book meme, but I've taken out those questions and left the core reading ones. (Please refer to Carl's page for the full version).

Hardback or Trade Paperback or Mass Market Paperback?

Trade paperback. Nice to hold, cheaper than hardbacks, and they take up less room on the shelves (the most important!).
I still like to buy some hardbacks, and can be rendered powerless by a beautiful cover, but I usually reserve that right for favourite authors.

Amazon or Brick and Mortar?

I use Amazon a lot, especially living in Japan, as it's usually cheaper than the English books available in bookshops in Tokyo, and of course there is more selection. I still love to browse in bookstores though, and have a hard time passing one by without going in.

Barnes & Noble or Borders?

Well, I've never lived anywhere that had a Barnes & Noble.
When we lived in Cambridge, I went to Borders and Waterstones pretty much equally (they're just around the corner from each other).
I probably prefer Waterstones, but at Borders I could get American magazines, like Pages, and they would often have different books in their 3 for 2 offers, and different displays to catch my eye, so it was always fun to visit both.

Bookmark or Dogear?

Bookmark most definitely!

Alphabetize by author Alphabetize by title or random?

By size. Shelf space is at a premium, my books are double-stacked horizontally so by size is logically the best way to get the most books into one shelf!

Keep, Throw Away or Sell?

I keep quite a bit, but I do try to get rid of ones I most likely will never read again. When we lived in England, I sold some through Amazon Marketplace, registered others with Bookcrossing, or gave them away. But throw them away- never! I've lately been considering trying out BookMooch since I keep hearing about how great it is!

Keep dustjacket or toss it?

Why on earth would you throw it out?

Read with dustjacket or remove it?

Sometimes I remove it, sometimes I keep it on. I'm not really consistent about this one.

Short story or novel?

I mostly read novels but I like reading short stories too sometimes.

Collection (short stories by the same author) or Anthology (short stories by different authors)?

Either. I wouldn't not buy something for either reason. I have found though that in anthologies, I usually never like ALL the stories. But it's still a good way to get introduced to new authors.

Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?

Harry Potter. Although that's not really fair since I've only read 3 or 4 of the Lemony Snicket books. I have most of them, and do think they're clever. I really should read them soon.

Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks?

It all depends on where I'm reading. If it's while commuting, there's not much I can do about it. I try to stop at chapter breaks where possible, but otherwise, I try to stop where there is a break in action, or at the end of a page at least. In that case, I turn my bookmark to 'face' the next page to be read.

“It was a dark and stormy night” or “Once upon a time”?

"It was a dark and stormy night."

Buy or Borrow?

I'm rather picky about my books, and prefer new books. But I will borrow books sometimes, especially if it's something I don't think I'd want to keep.

New or used?

Again, I generally prefer new books and I won't buy used books if they're really ratty, but if the price is right, and they look fairly decent, I can be tempted.

Buying choice: Book Reviews, Recommendation or Browse?

All of the above. Book reviews and recommendations come mainly in the form of other bloggers' reviews. I rarely read critics' reviews. And I still love browsing bookshops and coming away with something I've never heard of before.

Tidy ending or Cliffhanger?

Somewhere inbetween. I don't like to be left completely hanging, but I don't like endings that are all tied up in a pretty bow either.

Morning reading, Afternoon reading or Nighttime reading?

I do most of my reading in bed at night before sleeping, but would gladly read anytime.

Standalone or Series?

I don't read very many series, but do enjoy them sometimes, and I keep thinking I'd like to get into a few mystery series, I just haven't gotten around to starting them yet.

Favorite series?

Since I don't read many series, this probably isn't a fair reply, but of the few I do, my favourites are Harry Potter, and Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series.

Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?

Can't think of anything that would fit this category. My favourites all seem to be relatively well-known, or at least heard of.

Favorite books read last year?

The Way the Crow Flies - Ann-Marie MacDonald
How to Breathe Underwater - Julie Orringer
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

Favorite books of all time?

I always have a hard time answering this type of question. For me, a favourite book of all time must have a long-lasting effect, a story that truly stays with me, and be one I'd happily read again (perhaps several times).
One that definitely fits that requirement is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I've just finished watching the BBC version for the umpteenth time and now have the urge to read the book, again!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


At first I thought they were unripe berries out early but up close we saw they were soft and fuzzy! Any ideas?
(click on photos to enlarge)
Taken at Jomyo-ji, Kamakura, January 4th, 2007.

Monday, January 15, 2007

'A Wrinkle in Time'

by Madeleine L'Engle

WINNER of the Newbury Medal, 1963
1st Book in the Time Quartet

(Book #3 for 2007; January book for Our Coffee Rings)

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

With all the reading challenges keeping me busy, I probably wouldn't have bothered reading this if it weren't for the group, but I remembered I had a copy lurking around, and I wanted something easy to read since I'm slightly under the weather. I must have read this as a child since the copy I have is one of my children’s books I rescued from my parents' house, but none of it was familiar. Is that just proof of my terrible memory, or even then was I not a fan? The religious elements reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, which I have a nostalgic fondness for. (I remember reading them as a child!). I can see why it’s still a popular children’s book, but to my jaded adult self, it was rather hokey. Bah humbug!

My Rating: 2/5

Also reviewed at:
The Well-Read Child
Things Mean a Lot
Dolce Bellezza

'Fahrenheit 451'

by Ray Bradbury

(Book #2 for 2007; 1st book finished for the Classics Challenge)

A not very subtle commentary on censorship and the importance of free speech. As a warning to society, some of the issues apply nowadays and cause pause for thought. It’s rather short though and as such, I found it a bit slight. Still it’s worth the read and I’m glad to have finally done so.

My Rating: 3/5
“Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more “literary” you are. That’s my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.” (p. 81)
Also reviewed at:
Melody's Reading Corner
So Many Precious Books, So Little Time

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Enjoying the Sun (2)

Temple cat at Jomyo-ji, Kamakura

*Enjoying the Sun (1)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

'Roxanna Slade'

by Reynolds Price

(Book #1 for 2007; 4th book finished for the From the Stacks Challenge)

Roxanna begins her story on her twentieth birthday – a day that introduces her to the harsh realities of adulthood and changes the course of her life forever. From this day on, Roxanna is quick to share the intimate details of ninety years of life in North Carolina.

Not a great start to the year; this story of an “uneventful life” was rather …uneventful! Actually, that’s not entirely true as things did happen, but I never had an emotional reaction to anything that did. Mainly, I never warmed up to Roxanna, our fictional narrator sharing her life history, and found her naivety frustrating, and her tone occasionally condescending. This is most likely due to my modern perspective on things, as many reviewers or critics hail it as a wonderful Southern story, evocative of time and place. One reviewer on Amazon however, stated “the lack of character development among key, critical characters, the heavy-handed foreshadowing, the excruciating slow pace, and the unconvincing female voice” as the book’s flaws and essentially I’d have to agree. Perhaps if you’re from the South, or have some connection there, you would have quite a different experience with this book.

My Rating: 2/5

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Bookmarks on offer

In addition to the New Year's cards, I also tried making a few bookmarks.
And now I'd like to offer them up to you, my fellow book bloggers, as a kind of thank you for all the fun bookishness over the last almost year. (I started this blog at the end of January 2006). So be forewarned, they're very much the work of an amateur, but if you'd be interested, please send me an email to my gmail address (see profile), and I'd love to send one (or two-I'm having ideas now for a spring version) your way.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Kamakura, January 4th, 2007
Still a few red leaves hanging around on the odd tree,
and plenty on the ground.

But the buds on the trees already hint at the sakura
blossoms to come.

And the daffodils are coming out!

Not a hint of Winter anywhere! Sure, we don't usually get snow here but this really seems ridiculously early for signs of Spring!
Appears to be unusually warm elsewhere too. Global warming?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Japan Challenge

Last year, I never stated it officially, but a personal challenge of mine for the year was to read a book a month by a Japanese author (in English translation). I did read 9 in 2006 but I thought by putting it out there, like Kailana's Canada Challenge, it would help keep me on track this year. So, again I'm aiming for a book a month or a total of 12 for the year.
The following are the unread Japanese books I already have:

Rashomon and other stories – Ryunosuke Akutagawa
The Elephant Vanishes – Haruki Murakami
Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami
The Silent Cry – Kenzaburo Oe
I am a Cat – Natsume Soseki
The Makioka Sisters – Junichiro Tanizaki

Goodbye Tsugumi – Banana Yoshimoto
Shipwrecks – Akira Yoshimura

(Tale of Genji – Murasaki Shikibu)- I attempted it last year but lost steam and set it aside because I'd rather wait until I'm ready for it than force myself through it. I contemplated it for the Chunkster Challenge, but I decided that I'm not quite ready to try again. Someday though, someday.

Since I only have 8 on hand, that also gives me license to buy more! Logical, no?

Update: (February 23, 2007)
I forgot about a short book I bought at the used book store a couple of months ago, plus last week I picked up 2 more Japanese books:

The bridegroom was a dog - Yoko Tawada
Snow Country - Yasunari Kawabata
All She Was Worth - Miyuki Miyabe

O'Canada Challenge

Kailana set herself a Canada Challenge stating "I seem to collect more Canadian authors than I read." Those exact words could've come from me! Each year or so when I make it back to the homeland, I make a point of picking up some Canadian books, especially ones that may be a bit more difficult to get outside of Canada. There's always but the shipping costs are so ridiculous! So I eagerly choose as many books as I think I can lug back in my suitcase and then they just sit on my shelves, rarely getting read. So I've decided to join Kailana and read one book by a Canadian author a month or thereabouts, for a total of 12 for the year from the following, all of which I already own:

Surfacing - Margaret Atwood
Tamarind Mem - Anita Rau Badami
What the Body Remembers - Shauna Singh Baldwin
Forty Words for Sorrow - Giles Blunt
The Ash Garden - Dennis Bock
The Polished Hoe - Austin Clarke
A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali - Gil Courtemanche
The Jade Peony - Wayson Choy
HappinessTM - Will Ferguson
Hitching Rides with Buddha - Will Ferguson
Not Wanted on the Voyage - Timothy Findley
Pilgrim - Timothy Findley
The Piano Man's Daughter - Timothy Findley
Mouthing the Words - Camilla Gibb
The Petty Details of so-and-so's Life - Camilla Gibb
The Chorus of Mushrooms - Hiromi Goto
Three Views of Crystal Water - Katherine Govier
The Romantic - Barbara Gowdy
Am I Disturbing You? - Anne Hébert
The Lions of Al-Rassan - Guy Gavriel Kay
Goodnight Desdemona Good Morning Juliet - Ann-Marie MacDonald
No Great Mischief - Alistair MacLeod
The Birth House - Ami McKay
Red-Rose Chain - Jeffrey Moore
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage - Alice Munro
the love of a good woman - Alice Munro
The City of Yes - Peter Oliva
Mercy Among the Children - David Adams Richards
The Bay of Love and Sorrows - David Adams Richards
Larry's Party - Carol Shields
The Republic of Love - Carol Shields
Unless - Carol Shields
Stanley Park - Timothy Taylor
Swing Low - Miriam Toews
The Last Crossing - Guy Vanderhaeghe

Reading Goals 2007

Once again I have my book-a-week goal of 52 books for the year. As a personal goal I'd actually like to read 60 books this year. I only just managed to finish 52 last year and the closest I've gotten is 59 a couple of years ago, but I'd like to try to aim for 60 again.

More classics would be nice and I would like to read more books by Japanese and Canadian authors this year. (More on that coming up next).

Like last year, I will also continue to try to read more of the unread books in my teetering TBR stacks. Thanks to the many reading challenges (From the Stacks, Classics, Chunkster, TBR) I should get to several of them this year.

And most of all, I'm hoping for a year of good reads!!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Books Read in 2007

Clicking on the title will take you to my review.

1. Roxanna Slade - Reynolds Price
2. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
3. A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle
4. The Fall of Light - Niall Williams
5. Gigi and The Cat - Colette
6. The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck
7. The Bridegroom was a Dog - Yoko Tawada
8. The Makioka Sisters - Junichiro Tanizaki
9. Hotel du Lac - Anita Brookner
10. Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell
11. McSweeney's Issue 21 - Edited by Dave Eggers
12. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke
13. The Shipping News - Annie Proulx
14. Comfort Woman - Nora Okja Keller
15. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
16. The Bride's Kimono - Sujata Massey
17. The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition - Anne Frank
18. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling
19. White Teeth - Zadie Smith
20. Who Killed Zebedee? - Wilkie Collins
21. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J.K. Rowling
22. Tales from the Secret Annex - Anne Frank
23. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling
24. Buddhism: Plain & Simple - Steve Hagen
25. Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
26. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling
27. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J.K. Rowling
28. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling
29. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling
30. All She Was Worth - Miyuki Miyabe
31. Knots & Crosses - Ian Rankin
32. Forty Words for Sorrow - Giles Blunt
33. Maisie Dobbs - Jacqueline Winspear
34. Hitching Rides with Buddha - Will Ferguson
35. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith
36. The Interpreter - Suki Kim
37. Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings - D.T. Suzuki
38. The River - Tricia Wastvedt
39. Tears of the Giraffe - Alexander McCall Smith
40. Twilight - Stephenie Meyer
41. The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way - Bill Bryson
42. Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne - Ben Hills
43. Dracula - Bram Stoker
44. The Rest Falls Away - Colleen Gleason
45. Rises the Night - Colleen Gleason
46. Kwaidan: Ghost Stories and Strange Tales of Old Japan - Lafcadio Hearn
47. Hide & Seek - Ian Rankin
48. them - Joyce Carol Oates
49. Snow Country - Yasunari Kawabata
50. The Dancing Girl of Izu and other stories - Yasunari Kawabata
51. The Love of a Good Woman - Alice Munro

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

January 1st

Inaba Jinja in Gifu city on January 1st

(Hatsumode - the first shrine visit in the New Year)

And here is a sample of what we ate.

(Osechi ryori - traditional Japanese New Year's food)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007