Thursday, May 31, 2007

'Who Killed Zebedee?'

by Wilkie Collins

Hesperus Press, 2002
Who Killed Zebedee? first published 1881, John Jago's Ghost first published 1873-4

(Book #20 for 2007)
London, circa 1880: a lovelorn policeman, a pocket knife, and the unsolved crime of a young husband, murdered on his honeymoon. Narrated as the deathbed confession of a London Policeman, ‘Who Killed Zebedee?’ exposes he seamier side of Victorian Britain: a realm of cheap hotels, underpaid servants and desperate measures.
The accompanying tale, ‘John Jago’s Ghost’, set in America, portrays with similar empathy the hard-working lives of New England farmers. Both a historical record of life in rural America, and a courtroom drama with an exciting twist, it examines the rivalry between two men for the control of Morwick Farm and the love of a pretty girl.
Of the two stories included here, I have to admit that I found the first and title story, Who Killed Zebedee?, a bit predictable, and a little too short to really get drawn into the story. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the second story, John Jago’s Ghost. The atmosphere, the tension, the mystery were all that I would expect from Wilkie Collins. I’ve only read The Woman in White so far but this story has made me want to rectify that in the near future. I’m really booked up with challenge reading at the moment but I think a Collins will definitely have to be on my autumn reading list. A fun start and I’m looking forward to reading many more Hesperus titles in the coming months.

My Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hesperus Press

The next best thing to actual books in the mail has to be catalogues or magazines about books! I've received the Spring and Autumn 2007 catalogues from the lovely people at Hesperus Press and it's playing utter havoc with my book-buying restraint.

But to back up a bit, I first saw these books a couple or so years ago when we were still living the the UK, in a display at Waterstones Piccadilly I believe it was. I loved the art on the covers and those little flaps (what are those flaps on paperbacks called?) but most of all their motto "et remotissima prope":
..(a commitment) to bringing near what is far - far both in space and time. Works written by the greatest authors, and unjustly neglected or simply little known in the English-speaking world, are made accessible through new translations and a fresh editorial approach. Through these short classic works, each little more than 100 pages in length, the reader will be introduced to the greatest writers from all times and all cultures.
At first I tried to resist because they're about the same price as regular paperbacks but are very slim. There's always that thought of getting my money's worth. They're very tempting though and of course there is always the internet so I have collected a few:
Jane Austen - Love and Friendship, The Watsons
Charlotte Bronte - The Green Dwarf
Wilkie Collins - Who Killed Zebedee?, The Frozen Deep
Charles Dickens - The Haunted House
George Eliot - Amos Barton
Henry James - In the Cage
Antoine François Prévost - Manon Lescaut

Considering that they aren't in fact very long I'm really quite ashamed to admit that I'd not yet read any of them. (OK technically I've read the Austens when I went through my Austen phase many years ago and read everything of hers that I could find, but they're just so pretty I had to have them! Besides you can't go wrong with an extra Austen or two, can you?) Anyway, to remedy that, yesterday I decided I was in the mood for a little mystery and read the first story in Who Killed Zebedee? As expected, one leads to more, plus the fact that I can't resist book temptation and I've gone ahead and ordered Somebody's Luggage, and A House to Let by Dickens (with some help from Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell), and The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Tolstoy.

And some of the other ones that caught my eye, and I imagine will be purchased in the rather near future: The Calligraphers' Night by Yasmine Ghata, The Scortas' Sun by Laurent Gaudé, Claudine's House by Colette, November by Gustave Flaubert, Cousin Phillis by Elizabeth Gaskell, and on and on. Everytime I flip through the catalogues or visit the website I want more of them. (This is why I've refrained so far from getting any of the beautiful Persephone books because I know I'll not be able to stop once I start!) These are the kind of books that it would be nice to have the whole collection arranged together in the bookshelves. Of course a lovely home library to put them in would be even better. (I can always dream!) So I'm determined now to add more of these into my reading mix from now on. They really are perfect little nuggets of literary goodness.

*Title links take you to the appropriate pages on the Hesperus Press website.
Check out the Hesperus Press blog HERE.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

'White Teeth'

by Zadie Smith

WINNER of the Whitbread Award - First Novel, 2000

Fiction/Literary, pub. 2000
Penguin UK, pb, 536 p.

(Book #19 for 2007, Book #3 for the Chunkster Challenge, Book #4 for the TBR Challenge)
One of the most talked about fictional debuts of recent years, White Teeth is a funny, generous, big-hearted novel, adored by critics and readers alike. Dealing – among many other things – with friendship, love, war, three cultures and three families over three generations, one brown mouse, and the tricky way the past has of coming back and biting you on the ankle, it is a life-affirming, riotous must-read of a book.
I always seem to enjoy reading about immigrant experiences and cultural differences and that was the case with this book as well. I think this quote from TIME says it well: “Cultures don't clash in Zadie Smith's books. They arm wrestle, get in one another's faces and climb into one another's beds.”
I can see why it was widely praised as a first novel being so epic in scope but I did find it a bit too long, especially through the middle. Perhaps it was just a little too ambitious? But while I didn’t really like the characters themselves, I kept coming back to the book to read more and there were several moments of humour throughout so it ended up being a fairly enjoyable read. All in all, an interesting commentary on race relations in modern-day Britain.

My Rating: 3.5/5
‘Where I come from,’ said Archie, ‘a bloke likes to get to know a girl before he marries her.’
‘Where you come from it is customary to boil vegetables until they fall apart. This does not mean,’ said Samad tersely, ‘that it is a good idea.’

Friday, May 25, 2007

page 161

I've been tagged by both Coversgirl and Acquisitionist so without further ado...
Grab the book that is nearest to you (no cheating), turn to page 161,
post the text of the fifth full sentence on the page, post the rules and tag three people.
I'm making progress and hope to finish in a couple of days so I've been dragging around White Teeth by Zadie Smith today.
"Unbeknownst to all involved, ancient ley-lines run underneath these two journeys - or, to put it in the modern parlance, this is a rerun."
And I think I'll tag:
Les at Lesley's Book Nook
Robin at A Fondness For Reading
Adrienne at Bookmark My Heart

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Parlez vous?

A question from Julie:
I had an idea for a BTT question when I was taking a peek at one of my bookcases yesterday and spotted my old copy of the Aeneid in Latin sitting there. Maybe this question has already been done—but if not… Do you have any foreign language books and if so can you (still) read them?
Good question, especially the part about still being able to read them. I'd love to be able to read Japanese but I'm quite a pathetic student (meaning I haven't put much effort into it and so really can't be surprised at my lack of progress!) so the books I have by Japanese authors are all in English translation.

But I do have a small collection of books in French that inspire guilt whenever I see them. Being Canadian, where a few years of French is compulsory, and having studied it a bit at uni as well, plus my year as an exchange student in France...well, it's the only other language I'd have a chance at reading in the original. The problem is at school we only basically memorised some words, and very basic grammar without learning how to have a conversation, and while I was speaking reasonably fluently after my year there, that was well over 15 years ago and I haven't had much opportunity to speak it since.

But that never stopped me from going to the lovely FNAC everytime I was in Paris or Brussels and coming away with several books. Each time trying to convince myself that I'd get back into French through reading. I did read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi in French a couple of years ago but other than that, they've just sat there smirking at me.

Besides my old copy of Le Petit Prince, a few of them date back to the courses at university so they have technically been read but so long ago I don't remember anything about them. Some of the newer acquisitions (unread) are stories that I've already read in translation, thinking that would be a good start. For example, I've got some Amelie Nothomb, Maxence Fermine's Neige and Le Violon Noir, and Dai Sijie's Balzac et la Petite Tailleuse chinoise. Then there are a few classics that I've never read like Camus' L'etranger. And then a few contemporary ones that caught my eye. I was very tempted to get Suite Francaise back before it was even published in English. It's probably best that I didn't since at least the English translation I have in the stacks now has a better chance at being read somewhat soonish. And...let's just say there are a few more.

Because I know it'll be a bit of a challenge to read them, and I know I'd need to look things up having forgotten so much, therefore needing a dictionary nearby, I always put it off. Plus then I justify it by thinking that I should really be focusing on Japanese right now, and I do tend to get mixed up if I have 2 languages besides English swirling around in my brain at a time. If only I were actually studying Japanese. The curse of the eternal procrastinator, I guess. All I can hope is that someday I'll have the motivation to finally read these.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

“It’s impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was, because what you say can never be exact, you always have to leave something out, there are too many parts, sides, crosscurrents, nuances; too many gestures, which could mean this or that, too many shapes which can never be fully described, too many flavours, in the air or on the tongue, half-colours, too many.”

-The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood

Monday, May 21, 2007

Saturday, May 19, 2007

8 Things

Bookgirl has tagged me for an 8 Random Facts/Habits About Me meme. MissSin also tagged me for a 5 Things About Me That People Don't Know meme a little while back that I haven't gotten around to doing. So I hope no one minds but I'm going to combine them into 8 Random Things You May or May Not Know About Me (and May or May Not Find Interesting).

-I used to play the piano. I started around age 5 I think and quit around age 15. I was never brilliant but I did win a medal once at the local music festival playing a duet with a friend.

-My mother never let me pierce my ears. She said I could when I turned 18. By that time I no longer cared, and have never bothered.

-I'm a bit claustrophic. I start to feel panicky if I'm in a small enclosed space.

-I collect the Japan city series of Starbucks mugs (scroll to the bottom of the link for the Asian ones) of places we've been. So far I have Yokohama, Kyoto, Sendai, Sapporo, and Saitama. There is a Tokyo one of course but I haven't bought it because I don't really like the design. (Hover over the city names to see the mugs courtesy of snapshots). I also have a couple of nationwide limited edition ones that are actually very pretty. I only collect the Japanese ones because they're kind of fun and arty. I've never bothered with the England versions or the Canadian ones. Besides being, to me, boring (at least the ones I've seen, mainly skyline ones), they're simply too big.

-When I spent a year in France and attended high school there, we had to take notes in class with fountain pens.

-I have a thing for paper. Of course books (although not newsprint so much), but after bookstores, stationery stores are the next best thing. I also worked for many years at Hallmark Cards, and I LOVE Japanese paper products.

-The fact that I really hate summer in Tokyo is nothing new. It's the humidity that does me in. But I seriously wasn't made for hot climates, with my pale skin and light-coloured eyes I'm constantly squinting and seeking shade. So except for a couple of family vacations as a child, I've never gone on a beach holiday.

-Gilbert Blythe was my first literary crush.

Since it seems to have mostly done the rounds, if you haven't already done this and would like to, please consider yourself tagged.

Friday, May 18, 2007

more wisteria

going purple

As you can see I've been fiddling with my template today. Whaddaya think? Thanks to these clear and easy to follow instructions, I now have 2 sidebars, instead of the one long and unwieldy one. That meant it was also time for a new, wider banner. The wisteria (I have a thing for purple flowers) picture I used was taken 2 weeks ago at Hama Rikyu Garden in Tokyo.
Next up, some housekeeping. Specifically organising and updating my blogroll and a few other little tweakings. Sadly it's much more fun than the actual housekeeping, laundry, dishes, etc. etc. that need doing around here.

Otherwise I haven't got a lot of reading done this week. I'm only a few chapters into White Teeth, but I am enjoying it so far. It's a chunkster though so I'm sure I'll be reading it for some time to come. Hopefully I'll get some reading time in this weekend.
What's everyone else reading right now?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone'*

by J.K. Rowling

Fiction/Fantasy, 1997
Bloomsbury paperback, 218 p.
Book #1 in the Harry Potter series

(Book #18 for 2007; Book #1 for M&N's Summer 7 Challenge)

What a wonderful world J.K. Rowling has created in these books! It was fun to revisit the beginning when Harry just discovers he’s a wizard and all that entails, his first visit to Diagon Alley, and to Hogwarts, to meet all the other characters again for the first time, and of course Harry's first encounter with Voldemort.
‘Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.’
My Rating: 4/5

As part of my Harry Potter reread-a-thon, I’m also watching the films again. So yesterday I watched the movie of
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone*. They all look so young!! By watching it so close to reading the book I definitely noticed the little changes throughout, but it was still fun to watch. I’m looking forward to more Harry Potter.

*Yes both my book and DVD (in fact all my Harry Potter books and DVDs) are the British
original versions. :P

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Anne Frank House

Amsterdam, August 2005

The former Opekta office building and site of the Secret Annex, now the Anne Frank Museum.

'The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition'

by Anne Frank

Translated from the Dutch by Susan Massotty
Edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler

Bantam Books, 345 p.
First published in Dutch, 1947; in English , 1952; The Definitive Edition, 1995.

(Book #17 for 2007; Book #3 for the Banned Book Challenge; Book #1 for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge)
Anne Frank’s extraordinary diary, written in the Amsterdam attic where she and her family hid from the Nazis for two years, has become a world classic and a timeless testament to the human spirit. Now, in a new edition enriched by many passages originally withheld by her father, we meet an Anne more real, more human, and more vital than ever. Here she is first and foremost a teenage girl – stubbornly honest, touchingly vulnerable, in love with life. She imparts her deeply secret world of soul-searching and hungering for affection, rebellious clashes with her mother, romance and newly discovered sexuality, and wry, candid observations of her companions. Facing hunger, fear of discovery and death, and the petty frustrations of such confined quarters, Anne writes with adult wisdom and views beyond her years. Her story is that of every teenager, lived out in conditions few teenagers have ever known.
I’m not sure why I’d never read Anne’s diary before, but I’m glad I finally did, especially since we visited the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam a couple of years ago. It’s truly a coming-of-age story, but like the blurb says, one that takes place under extraordinary circumstances. Over the two years spent hiding in the Secret Annex, we see Anne grow up and come to mature realizations about herself and her family. It's also a fascinating, and personal insight into what life was like in hiding, from the frustrating and mundane details of daily life to the terror of being discovered. Of course knowing her fate shadows the diary with sadness that such an optimistic, clever young girl was never given a chance to realize her potential. She did however fulfill her dream of being a writer, sadly posthumously, and being remembered after her death. A very worthwhile read.
"I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!"

Monday, May 14, 2007


Usually translated as 'Japanese plum', with it's fuzzy exterior ume is actually more like a sour apricot.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Summer Mystery Reading Challenge

The Challenge:

To read six mysteries by authors whose works you haven’t read before between June 1st and August 31st.

I really shouldn't join another challenge but this one, hosted at Reviewed by Liz, is one I can't resist. I haven't actually read many mysteries, and I keep meaning to read more but I never seem to get around to it. Partly because I know that if I start a series and like it, then I'll HAVE to keep buying them and my bookshelves are already bowing (seriously!) under the weight of all my books. Summer, when it's too hot to move, seems like a good time to finally get to some of these though. So, here are some of the new-to-me authors that I already have here waiting to choose from:

Ian Rankin (Knots & Crosses, Hide & Seek - Inspector Rebus series) --FINISHED
Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs) --FINISHED
Boris Akunin (The Winter Queen, Murder on the Leviathon)
Miyuki Miyabe (All She Was Worth) --FINISHED
Tess Gerritsen (The Surgeon, The Apprentice)
Kate Atkinson (Case Histories)
Giles Blunt (Forty Words For Sorrow) --FINISHED
Harlan Coben (Tell No One, Gone For Good, No Second Chance)
Henning Mankell (Faceless Killers)
Mo Hayder (Tokyo, The Treatment)
Susanna Gregory (A Plaque on Both Your Houses, etc. - Matthew Bartholomew Chronicles)
Michael Connelly (The Narrows)
Scott Turow (Reversible Errors)

UPDATE - Not from original list:
Alexander McCall Smith (The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency) --FINISHED
Suki Kim (The Interpreter) --FINISHED

*Last updated August 27, 2007

Friday, May 11, 2007

new addition

Meet Bailey's new playmate and wrestling buddy... Jiro
(aka J.J., aka Spaz!)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Shades of pink

Did you know that all azaleas are rhododendrons but not all rhododendrons are azaleas?
(Ok some of you with green thumbs probably did but being rather unknowledgeable about plants I didn't).

Both 'azalea' and 'rhododendron' come up as translations of the Japanese tsutsuji. Thank goodness for the internet!
What is the difference between Rhododendrons and Azaleas?**
* Rhododendrons have ten or more stamens, while Azaleas have five.
* Rhododendrons have large, paddle-shaped leaves and large, bell- or funnel-shaped flowers borne in terminal trusses. Azaleas have small, elliptical leaves and trumpet- or tubular-shaped flowers at the ends of the shoots.
* Rhododendrons are erect, growing up to 80 feet high, while Azaleas are more twiggy, spreading bushes, usually reaching a height of no more than 8 feet.
* Both Rhododendrons and Azaleas provide fragrant blossoms in an array of colors - from pure white and light pastels to brilliant orange and gold to purple and red. Some blossoms change color over time or are marked with contrasting colors.
Other interesting facts about rhododendrons:**
* There are around 1000 species/varieties of Rhododendrons.
* Rhododendron is the national flower of Nepal, and the state flower of Sikkim in India.
* All the parts of Rhododendrons are dangerous, especially leaves, showing symptoms of Stomach irritation, abdominal pain, abnormal heart rate and rhythm, convulsions, coma, death. Honey made from the nectar of Rhododendron flowers is also toxic and should not be consumed.
**Taken from The Flower Expert. Click on the link for more information.
Pictures taken at the
Koishikawa Botanical Garden on April 21, 2007.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

'The Bride's Kimono'

by Sujata Massey

Avon Books (Harper Collins) mass market paperback, 378 p.

5th book in the Rei Shimura series

(Book #16 for 2007)
Antiques dealer Rei Shimura has managed to snag one of the most lucrative and prestigious jobs of her career: a renowned museum in Washington, D.C., has invited her to exhibit rare kimonos and give a lecture on them. Accompanied by a gaggle of Japanese office ladies bent on a week of shopping, Rei lands in the capital. But her big break could ultimately break her. Within hours one of the kimonos is stolen, and then Rei’s passport is discovered in a shopping mall dumpster – on the dead body of one of the Japanese tourists. Trouble is only beginning, though, for now Rei’s parents have arrived and so has her ex-boyfriend. To track down the kimono and unmask a killer, Rei’s got to do some clever juggling, fast talking, and quick sleuthing, or this trip home could be her last.
It was fun to catch up with Rei and the trouble she always seems to find herself in. This book was set in the US instead of Japan, and a few references already seemed a bit dated, but I quite enjoyed it. I popped it in my bag to read on the train a couple of days ago but ended up reading it at home too. It’s an easy read and I kept saying to myself ‘just one more chapter’! I was in the mood for something fun and light though so it fit my mood perfectly. I look forward to reading the next in the series.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Friday, May 04, 2007


otherwise known as "Little Edo"

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Kamakura Pasta

The Restaurant Meme got us craving some of those foods. We've already gone out for sushi this week, although it was just to a local shop, not the one I wrote about. But today we decided to go to Kamakura Pasta. (sorry the pics are little dark)Something I forgot to mention before, in keeping with Japanese style, you take your shoes off when you enter, and the pasta is eaten with chopsticks.Their basil bread is very yummy!
We'd never had it before but after mentioning it we decided to try it this time. Here's the sukiyaki beef pasta.
And a more typical dish- carbonara but with nanohana (rape blossoms/canola).
I wonder what we'll have tomorrow...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Reading Update: April

Well April was considerably better than March!

Books completed: (clicking on the title will take you to my review)
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke (Chunkster & TBR)
The Shipping News - Annie Proulx (TBR)
Comfort Woman - Nora Okja Keller (Reading Matters)
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood (Banned & O'Canada)

Progress on my Reading Challenges to date:
(clicking on the Challenge will take you to my original challenge book list to see what I have read and should be reading)
Chunkster Challenge = 2 done, 2 more to go
Banned Book Challenge = 2 done, 3 to go
Since these 2 challenges finish at the end of June, I'll be trying to focus on the remaining books on these lists this month and next.

TBR Challenge = 3 done, 9 to go
Japan Challenge = 2 done, 10 to go
O'Canada Challenge = 1 done, 11 to go
I finally read my 1st Canadian book this year- yay! Of course it's not actually one of the many books in my TBR stacks since I got this through Bookcrossing, but it's still a book by a Canadian author, at last!

And of course both the
Non-Fiction Five Challenge and M&N's Summer 7 Challenge have started now that it's May. So I'll be starting my Harry Potter reread extravaganza soon.

Favourite book read in April? Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. So on that note, a picture of one of the wonderful illustrations in the book by Portia Rosenberg.

'The Handmaid's Tale'

by Margaret Atwood

paperback, Vintage UK, 292 p.

WINNER of the Governor General's Award for Fiction 1985, Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 1986

(Book #15 for 2007, Book #2 for the Banned Book Challenge, Book #1 for the O'Canada Challenge)
“You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, is what he says. We thought we could do better.
Better? I say, in a small voice. How can he think this is better?
Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse, for some.”
The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire - neither Offred's nor that of the two men on which her future hangs. . . . .

My third Dystopian SciFi Novel this year (the other 2 were Fahrenheit 451, and Nineteen Eighty-Four), and this one was, for me, the most compelling. The ‘future’ she presents here is frighteningly believable, with fertile women essentially forced into being nothing but breeding machines.
“We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices.”
Of course there are already religious regimes that severely restrict women, but this story brings that loss of freedom and human rights closer to home and made me think about the role of women in society, and attitudes towards them, especially regarding sexuality.

Regularly on lists of the most challenged books in the US, primarily for sexual content, this extensive list of objections from PABBIS (Parents Against Bad Books In Schools) is enlightening/amusing. In addition to being "saturated with sexual allusions, innuendos, crude references, and seven actual sex acts described, one more than a page long", references to suicide, drugs, drinking and smoking, profanity and being a vicious attack on Christianity, "there is also a very detailed account of giving birth, and a graphic description of the menstrual cycle", heaven forbid! :P (click on the link for more)

After reading and hating The Blind Assassin a few years ago, I steered clear of Atwood for awhile, convinced I didn’t like her style. Then I read Oryx and Crake for a book group a couple of years ago and didn’t hate it. Since The Handmaid’s Tale is the book of hers that everyone always seems to suggest, I finally decided to read it thanks to the extra nudge from the Banned Book and O’Canada Challenges. And I’m glad I did as it was definitely worth the read. I’m sure the image of the handmaid will stay with me for some time. So while I’m still not convinced I love Atwood, I’m certainly more receptive to reading some of her other books in future.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Also reviewed at:
things mean a lot
Rebecca Reads
Melody's Reading Corner