Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Weekly Geeks #1

I'm a bit late getting around to the first task for the Weekly Geeks: find at least 5 new blogs from the list of participants. BTW, is it cheating that some of my 'new finds' actually found me first? (It's my fault for being so behind this week!) But after they stopped by, of course I had to return the visit and found some great blogs in the process.

So here are some of the blogs that caught my eye and have been added to my Google Reader (like I really needed more blogs to follow!):

Florinda at The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness
I'd seen her around but never visited before but I'm so glad she stopped by mine. Like the name says, her blog is full of all kinds of fun and interesting posts to read.

Teddy Rose at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
A book challenge addict and she's from Vancouver! It's like a slice of home (ok not exactly but let's not get technical)!

Maree at just add books
I love her sense of humour plus it's nice to find someone else that is losing their mind! ;)

Samantha at Bookworms and Tea Lovers
The name of her blog is what caught my eye because I am definitely both a bookworm and a tea lover. And really, what better combination is there than books and tea?

GretchenA at Scarlet's Letters
Another one-book-at-a-time reader, plus we seem to share some favourite authors.

Aaron at That's the Book!
Bybee has mentioned him but I finally stopped by for a visit. I enjoyed his recent posts about Mein Kampf and wikipedia in book form so I'll be back for more.

Erin at A Book Every Day
She had me when she said "A bookcase should never be empty!"

There are of course many on the list that aren't actually new to me but that I haven't been visiting very much lately. Work and sleep and all those other things have been keeping me away from the computer and eating up my time. I haven't forgotten any of them and hope to 'catch up' one of these days.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Non-Fiction Five Challenge 2008

I've been planning to join this since even before Joy announced it officially but somehow I never got around to posting about it until now. I really enjoyed the challenge last year because it encouraged me to actually read some non-fiction, something I rarely do even though I often tell myself I should read it more often. So it's little wonder I wanted that extra nudge to help me read more non-fiction this year too.

The goal is to read 5 books between May and September. I can't quite narrow it down so I'll let my mood decide along the way, but I'll most likely choose from the following:

Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land – Patrick French (TRAVEL/HISTORY)
Cave in the Snow – Vicki MacKenzie (BIOGRAPHY/RELIGION)
Goodbye Madame Butterfly – Sumie Kawakami (HISTORY/WOMEN’S STUDIES)
A Geisha’s Journey – Komomo (MEMOIR)
Farewell to Manzanar – Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston (AUTOBIOGRAPHY)
Embracing Defeat – John Dower (HISTORY)
Polite Lies – Kyoko Mori (MEMOIR)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunday Salon: more books in the mail

This week has been pretty good reading-wise. I finished A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray and also read Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman, which was just as much fun as I'd expected it to be. After that I could've happily continued reading fantasy but since the end of the month is approaching I decided to pick up my April choice for My Year of Reading Dangerously, Ariel and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I'm now two thirds through The Bell Jar and quite enjoying it but the poetry is a bit beyond me I'm afraid. I wish I could enjoy poetry more and there are poems that I do like but I just can't seem to get my eyes to move more slowly along the words. They race along like I'm reading prose and it's hard to get anything out of the poems that way, they become simply a collection of disconnected words. Sigh. Any suggestions?

Like the title of the post suggests, the last of the books I ordered earlier this month showed up this week. Plus a book I won from Bybee, so it's been another week of good mail. I'm feeling a little bit guilty about my book binge this month but there are worse things to be addicted to, at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it!
So here are this week's new additions:

Every Secret Thing - Laura Lippman (I first heard about this from Nick Hornby in Housekeeping vs. The Dirt).
Tibet, Tibet - Patrick French (I decided to get this after reading Lotus' great review).
The Lady and the Monk - Pico Iyer (I've never read anything by Iyer and only recently realised his connection to Japan so of course I'm curious to read this).
Thousand Cranes - Yasunari Kawabata (I've been wanting to read more by Kawabata since I read Snow Country and The Dancing Girl of Izu last year).
Spring Snow - Yukio Mishima (This had been on my Amazon wishlist for awhile but recently the price went down so it seemed the time to finally add it to my basket).
Marked - P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast (Heard about this one from Stephanie and since I apparently like vampire fiction now...)
Korea Bug: The Best of the Zine that Infected a Nation - J. Scott Burgeson (I know woefully little about Korea so I'm really looking forward to reading this). Thanks Bybee!

Who knows when I'll get around to reading all of my new books even though I'd love to read all of them right now but I do hope to start a couple of them very soon.
Have a great week and happy reading!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

'Once Upon a Time in the North'

by Philip Pullman

Fiction/Fantasy, 2008
David Fickling Books, hardback, 103 p.
prequel to His Dark Materials trilogy
When Lyra is studying at Oxford University, she comes across the story of Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnisson's first meeting, many years ago, along with much evidence of the adventure that brought them together. When a young Texan balloonist, Lee Scoresby, comes down to earth in the harbour of an Arctic town in the North, little does he realise that he is about to be embroiled in an out-and-out political brawl. Lee and his daemon, Hester, find themselves the target of political factions trying to take over the running (and oil) of the town. And also resident in the town are huge arctic bears, ignored and patronised by the people and treated like second-class citizens. When Lee and Iorek first meet, they cement a friendship that will continue throughout their lives, as the tensions and pressure in town lead to a deadly conclusion...Another wonderful tale from a master story-teller, giving us more extraordinary insight into the world of "His Dark Materials".
Reading this has made me want to read His Dark Materials (all 3 books) all over again! A short, quick read, it was great fun to revisit the characters of Iorek Byrnison and Lee Scoresby and to read about how they first met. I also really enjoyed the relationship between Lee and Hester, his daemon. The illustrations were great; of course I would’ve loved to have even more of them and it’s just such a cute little hardback. Even the ‘Peril at the Pole’ board game that is included had me chuckling at the various hazards. I do wish Pullman would hurry up and write ‘The Book of Dust’, the purported fourth book in the series that he’s supposedly working on. Recommended for any fans of His Dark Materials.

Face to face, the bear was formidable. He was young, as far as Lee could judge; his body was enormous, and his small black eyes quite unreadable. His ivory-coloured fur waved in ripples as the brisk wind played over it. Lee could feel Hester’s little heart beating fast close to his.
The bear said, ‘You gonna help him?’ He looked briefly at the Captain, watching them from across the road, and then back at Lee.
‘That’s my intention,’ said Lee carefully.
‘Then I help you.’
‘Do you know Captain van Breda then?’
‘I know his enemy is my enemy.’
‘Well then, Mr…Mr Bear -’
‘Iorek Byrnison,’ said the bear.

My Rating: 4/5
(#16 for 2008, Once Upon a Time II Challenge #3)

Also reviewed at:
Things Mean a Lot

PhotoHunt: Funny Signs

I haven't joined in the for quite awhile but this seemed a good time to jump back in. Here are some amusing signs I found on our recent trip to Miyajima, when taking the ropeway up Mount Misen.
run a little

10 min. walk (7 if run a little!) to ropeway stn.

seen by least

Wonderful scenery is seen by least.

put off driving

The ropeway because of the foul weather, has put off driving.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Fill-in #25

1. When I fell in love it changed the course of my life forever!
2. You know summer is on its way when the flowers bloom and it heats up outside!
3. Oh no! The internet connection is down, I'm suffering from withdrawal!
4. Any Japanese late night variety show is the craziest tv show ever.
5. Cheese and anything make a great meal!
6. I wish we had a garden.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to reading a bit in bed, tomorrow my plans include hanging out at home and catching up on a few things and Sunday, I want to take my camera out- the azaleas are blooming!

This week I received the Blogging Gold Card Award from the always lovely Bellezza who had the nicest things to say about me. Thanks Bellezza! I'm going to copy Nymeth and instead of passing this on to a limited few, I suggest you have a look down there on the sidebar for a sample of the many wonderful blogs of my fellow readers that I try to keep up with.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mount Misen

Mount Misen is the highest point on Miyajima, an island near Hiroshima.


First we took the ropeway up part of the way.


Then we climbed a lot of steps to reach the lookout point.

lookout point

You can see the ropeway station in the bottom left of the above photo. We climbed all the way from there to get to the top. Whew!

Mount Misen summit

But the view was worth it!

view from the top

'A Great and Terrible Beauty'

by Libba Bray

Fiction/Fantasy/YA, 2003
Delacorte Press, trade pb, 410 p.
1st book in the Gemma Doyle trilogy
Libba Bray's blog
Gemma Doyle isn’t like other girls. Girls with impeccable manners, who speak when spoken to, who remember their station, and who will lie back and think of England when it’s required of them.
No, sixteen-year-old Gemma is an island unto herself, sent to the Spence Academy in London after tragedy strikes her family in India. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma finds a chilly reception. But she’s not completely alone … she’s been followed by a mysterious young man, who warns her to close her mind against the visions.
For it’s at Spence that Gemma’s power to attract the supernatural unfolds; there she becomes entangled with the school’s most powerful girls and discovers her mother’s connection to a shadowy group called the Order. It’s here that her destiny waits … if only she can believe in it.
It didn’t suck me in quite as much as some other children’s/YA fantasy has done like Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, or Twilight but I was in the mood for something fun and fantastical after finishing Black Rain and this certainly fit the bill. And what is it about British boarding schools and corsets and lace that always appeals? So even though I wasn’t entirely convinced by the story, it kept me turning the pages and I’m curious enough to read on in the trilogy. And Heather’s recent post makes me doubly curious to find out for myself how it all turns out. Thanks again Les for passing this one on to me.

My Rating: 3.5/5
(#15 for 2008, Once Upon a Time II Challenge #2)

Also reviewed at:
A High and Hidden Place (review of the complete trilogy)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

origami for peace

Children's Peace Monument

origami booths

origami cranes (2)
Origami displays at the Children's Peace Monument in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

Sunday Salon: books in the mail

Last week, you may remember, I was contemplating starting something else to take a break from Black Rain but I ended up getting a good chunk of it read that night and finished it up early in the week. It was certainly a worthwhile read and one I'll not forget. After that, still in the mood for some fantasy, I picked up A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, partly inspired by Heather's recent post mentioning the trilogy. There's definitely something to be said for reading a book that you're in the mood for. I'm almost done and will most likely finish it in bed in just a little while. Next up, Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman. I'm quite looking forward to reading about Iorek Byrnison and Lee Scoresby, from the His Dark Materials books, and how they first met. I've flipped through it and it looks fun. And I love illustrations. I wish more books had them!

Otherwise, this has been a good week for receiving books in the mail. Most of the books I ordered from The Book Depository last week have arrived (just waiting for one straggler). Books really are the best kind of mail! So here are my new lovelies:

Once Upon a Time in the North - Philip Pullman
I Was a Rat - Philip Pullman (since I didn't win it in Nymeth's giveaway...)
Pardonable Lies - Jacqueline Winspear (I read Birds of a Feather last month so I need to have the next one in the series on hand for when the mood strikes).
The Goose Girl - Shannon Hale (I've read so many glowing reviews I knew it had to be one of my reads for the Once Upon a Time Challenge)
The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly (Another one I've heard good things about).
Grotesque - Natsuo Kirino (I found her earlier book, Out, compelling in a dark, twisted way and have been waiting for this one to be released in paperback).

Plus I have a few more books coming my way. An order from Amazon (I've been a very bad girl this month!) and a couple I won (I've also been a very lucky girl this month!) so there is certainly no shortage of books around here. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Have a great week!

'Black Rain'

by Masuji Ibuse
Translated from the Japanese by John Bester
Fiction/WWII/Japan, first appeared in Japan in installments, 1965
Kodansha International, pb, 297 p.
Black Rain is centered around the story of a young woman who was caught in the radioactive "black rain" that fell after the bombing of Hiroshima. lbuse bases his tale on real-life diaries and interviews with victims of the holocaust; the result is a book that is free from sentimentality yet manages to reveal the magnitude of the human suffering caused by the atom bomb. The life of Yasuko, on whom the black rain fell, is changed forever by periodic bouts of radiation sickness and the suspicion that her future children, too, may be affected.

lbuse tempers the horror of his subject with the gentle humor for which he is famous. His sensitivity to the complex web of emotions in a traditional community torn asunder by this historical event has made Black Rain one of the most acclaimed treatments of the Hiroshima story.
I really don’t know what to say about this book. I can’t say that I ‘enjoyed’ it because of the subject matter, and at times it was very depressing to read. But I think Ibuse did a formidable job showing the result of the bomb on a purely human level. The story doesn’t concern itself with blame or politics or history or right and wrong. It is simply the story of some ordinary people coping in an extraordinary situation. The narrative is very matter-of-fact, never becoming melodramatic or overly emotional but this actually makes the detailed descriptions more powerful. There are many vivid, horrific scenes that have been burned into my mind. It’s certainly not for the squeamish. I’m very glad I read it though, and will not likely forget it or the images and artifacts we saw in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum anytime soon.

Review of Black Rain at BookSlut

My Rating: 4/5
(#14 for 2008, What's in a Name Challenge -Colour)

black rain
Section of a wall marked by the 'black rain'.*
Nothing stood on the scorched waste at the center of the city save the skeletons of a few buildings; apart from these, the only thing that met the eye was a litter of carbonized timbers and fragments of tile. The occasional black or white speck moving in the wilderness would be a human being – searching, as likely as not, for the remains of a relative or a friend. It was a scene of unremitting desolation. (p. 160)
Who cared, after all, which side won? The only important thing was to end it all soon as possible: rather an unjust peace, than a “just” war! (p. 161)
*photos taken inside the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

Also reviewed at:
things mean a lot
Have you read and reviewed this title? Let me know and I'll link to it here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Fill-in #24

1. The last time I lost my temper I frightened the cats! ;)
2. My weight is what I'm fed up with!
3. The next book I'd like to read is Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman which just arrived (see #6).
4. Dry, sandal-wearing weather is what I'm looking forward to.
5. If you can't get rid of the skeleton[s] in your closet, dress them up and have a fashion show!
6. The best thing I got in the mail recently was books. Yesterday. Four of them. :)
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to a nice mug of hot tea (which I'm going to go make right now), tomorrow my plans include maybe going shopping or taking pictures or staying home or going out to eat - it all depends on the weather and Sunday, I want to do whatever we didn't do on Saturday!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hiroshima: genbaku*

Atomic Bomb Dome
Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Atomic Bomb Dome)


Hypocenter - The atomic bomb exploded approx. 600 meters directly above this point, about 150 meters away from the dome.

Memorial Cenotaph

*genbaku is the Japanese for 'atomic bomb'

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki

One of the first things we did after we arrived in Hiroshima was to eat okonomiyaki, Hiroshima style.

Sunday Salon: heavy reading

Not much to report this week. As predicted, I found myself ordering a few books from The Book Depository this week but I'll mention those when they arrive.
Otherwise, I'm still reading Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse. It's going rather slowly, a combination of being too tired at night to read more than a handful of pages, and the subject matter being heavy and not one to rush through. It's very readable, don't get me wrong, but hardly a happy story. I did spend a little time this afternoon reading it and I'm making progress but I'm also starting to eye the other books on my 'hope to read soon' pile. So I may pick up something else to take a break from reading about the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima for a little while. I'm wavering between a mystery or something for the Once Upon a Time Challenge. As I write that I think I'm leaning more toward escaping into something a bit fantastical for a while. I think I need a break from reality.

This weekend has also been rather uneventful. The weather hasn't been very nice so we just stayed home and I've been doing some housekeeping. Both the real kind and the computer kind. You may or may not have noticed that I've changed my banner again. H complained that the previous one was a bit on the large size plus it felt like time for something new again. Let me know what you think. On that note, I think it's time for me to go choose a book and get ready for bed. Happy reading!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

'Tuck Everlasting'

by Natalie Babbitt

Fiction/Fantasy/kidlit, 1975
Bloomsbury, trade pb, 138 p.
Speech by Natalie Babbitt: The Purpose of Literature - And Who Cares?
When Winnie stumbles across a spring which can bestow the gift of everlasting life, she also stumbles across the unforgettable Tuck family. The Tucks, having drunk from this spring, will never age, and will never die. With calm clearsightedness they have kept the spring’s whereabouts secret, realising the harm and chaos full knowledge of it would bring. But the Tucks need to take grave measures when the spring’s secret is in danger of being revealed …
I wish I had read this as a child but I’m glad that at least I finally read it now. It’s a short book that contains all you need: a little action, adventure, a kidnapping, a bad guy, magic, mystery, love. It is simply written, but it holds a deeper message about the circle of life and death so even though it’s a children’s story it can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of age. A great choice to kick off my Once Upon a Time II Challenge reading.
Otherwise I really don’t know what else to say about it that hasn’t already been said. Make sure to read Stephanie’s review if you haven’t already. She said it all much better than I could have.

My Rating: 4/5
(#13 for 2008, Once Upon a Time II Challenge #1)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Fill-in #23

1. I love springtime in Japan!
2. Homemade muffins (my mom's banana oatmeal muffins were the best!) or freshly baked croissants are foods I love to eat for breakfast.
3. It seems I'm always searching or the Internet for a name that's on the tip of my tongue.
4. Reading in bed is a great way to end the day.
5. I think I have a serious book-buying problem! I just ordered more books despite all the unread ones on the shelves! sigh.
6. Olives and cheese are what I've been craving lately.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to relaxing and maybe watching some TV, tomorrow my plans include spending time with H and Sunday, I want to stay home and read since the forecast is for rain!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

bye bye sakura

Last Saturday we went out to catch the last of the cherry blossoms for this year. A couple days of heavy rain later and they've all pretty much disappeared.
hey cherry blossoms--
why the rush
to scatter so soon?
- Issa
the cherry blossoms
that stirred me, shade me
no more
- Issa

Sunday, April 06, 2008

BAFAB Week Giveaway: The Winners

Thanks so much to everyone who joined in my book giveaway. It's time to announce the winners. I decided to go with a low-tech method this time around: some bits of paper, a bowl, and I enlisted the help of Jiro. We decided on one simple rule: whichever piece of paper he pulled out of the bowl first would be the winner!

First was the draw for Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami.
Jiro was so quick he's just a blur and I had to rescue the paper from him before he started chasing it all around the room.
But the winner is...
Next up for grabs was All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe.
And the winner is...
And last, Snakes and Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara
And the winner is...

If the three of you could please email me with your mailing addresses, I'll get the books in the mail sometime this week.
Jiro is now sleeping on my lap and purring and seems quite pleased with his contribution to BAFAB Week! For those of you that didn't win this time, remember that the next BAFAB Week is in July. Until then, happy reading!

P.S. If you can't wait that long, Wendy is giving away two more books this week and Katrina has two books up for grabs this week too.