Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Thank you to all of you for making 2008 a very enjoyable year of reading and blogging! I love that even in my little tiny corner of blogland, I can share with you our common love of reading. I look forward to chatting with you about books, and challenges and other reading-related obsessions in the year to come as well! And I wish you a very happy, healthy New Year! May it be filled with guilt-free book buying, plentiful bookshelves and 5 star reads! :)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My Year of Reading Dangerously wrap-up

I still have a couple of new challenges that I'm joining for 2009 that I need to post about but this is the last of the ones that ended this year.

The goal of the challenge was to read authors or genres that intimidate you either by reading the set list or your own choices. I set out to read a mix of the two and managed to read 9 out of those 12. So even though I didn't quite finish the challenge, I think I did fairly well. Especially since I did read some books that I'd been putting off for far too long.

Books read:
1. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
2. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. Surfacing - Margaret Atwood
4. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
5. Other Voices, Other Rooms - Truman Capote
6. Maus I & II - Art Spiegelman
7. Daisy Miller - Henry James
8. The Secret Lives of People in Love - Simon Van Booy
9. Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë

Best book(s) I read for the challenge?
Maus I & II were certainly the most memorable. I also really enjoyed the stories in The Secret Lives of People in Love, and was pleasantly surprised that I liked The Great Gatsby as much as I did.

Book(s) I could have done without?
I could probably have done without Surfacing and Other Voices, Other Rooms since I just didn't really like either of them. I'm kind of glad I read the Capote though as the only other book of his I'd read before was In Cold Blood, and I will read more by him because as a person, he's so intriguing. Atwood always seems to be hit or miss with me and I will read more by her as well.

Any new authors? Will I read them again?
A few new authors: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath, Art Spiegelman, Simon Van Booy, Emily Brontë. Emily Brontë and Sylvia Plath only have the one book each (and Plath's poems are still beyond me), but of the rest, I definitely hope to read them again. I predict that Simon Van Booy will be the author I read again first as I'm looking forward to his new collection of stories, Love Begins in Winter, to be published in 2009.

Best thing about the challenge? What did I learn?
It was great to finally read some of these books that had been sitting unread, some of them for years. It was also wonderful to realize that "dangerous"/intimidating reads can be good once I get past my unreasonable fear of them. I won't be joining the challenge again in 2009, because as I've mentioned before I'm just not cut out for challenges requiring me to read a lot of books, but I do hope that I'll read a few of the other "dangerous" books still on my shelves next year.

Thanks Andi and Heather for hosting!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Oh Christmas Tree!

We didn't get a chance before Christmas, but yesterday we went downtown and saw the Christmas Trees on display at The Empress Hotel. The trees are sponsored by various businesses and help to raise money for the BC Children's Hospital. I think there were about 60 or so trees tucked in the nooks and crannies of the grand hotel lobby and lower floor. Here are just a few of them.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

2nds Challenge completed

The goal of the challenge was to read 4 books by authors that we've only read once before. I ended up reading 3 from my original list of possibles.

Books completed:
Grotesque - Natsuo Kirino (previously read Out)
The Book of Proper Names - Amélie Nothomb (previously read Fear and Trembling)
New Moon - Stephenie Meyer (previously read Twilight)
Sabine's Notebook - Nick Bantock (previously read Griffin & Sabine)

And will I read a third book by these authors?
Definitely for all of them!

Thanks so much Joy for hosting this challenge for the last two years! I've successfully completed it both years which is a nice feeling. And of course it's been great to have a little encouragement to revisit some authors that I'd been meaning to for a while. I won't be joining the challenge again next year though because with the new host, the rule is to read 12 books, and I've come to realise that I just don't do well with challenges that require much more than 6 books. Oh well, it's probably a good thing since I've already joined quite a few and plan to join a few others during the year. Anyone up for a 3rds Challenge?! ;) (just joking!)

Friday, December 26, 2008

'Sabine's Notebook' and 'The Golden Mean'

BEWARE: Blurbs contain spoilers!

Sabine’s Notebook: In Which The Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Continues
by Nick Bantock
Fiction/Art, 1992
Raincoast Books, hardback, 44 p.
Griffin & Sabine, Book 2
Sabine was supposed to be imaginary, a friend and lover that Griffin had created to soothe his loneliness. But she threatens to become embodied – to appear on his doorstep, in fact.
Faced with the terrifying prospect of meeting his own fictional character, Griffin runs. His journey begins conventionally – tracing a course through Europe and the Mediterranean – but slowly Griffin begins to realize that he is travelling backward in time, drifting through layers of dead civilizations and his own soul. His precarious link to reality is the possibly unreal Sabine, who is living in his house in London and keeping a notebook of his letters and her responses.

The Golden Mean: In Which The Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Concludes
by Nick Bantock
Fiction/Art, 1993
Raincoast Books, hardback, 44 p.
Griffin & Sabine, Book 3
Sabine’s Notebook ended with a disturbing disclosure – Griffin and Sabine had somehow eluded each other once again. The Golden Mean begins with an even more disturbing development.
It seems that each cannot exist in the presence of the other. Yet neither can continue without the presence of the other. And so, in this final volume of the Griffin & Sabine trilogy, they struggle against the mysterious forces that keep them apart. Time is running out: Sabine’s crystalline visions of Griffin’s artwork grow cloudy and dim, and a threatening stranger begins to appear everywhere she goes. The Golden Mean is the tale of Griffin and Sabine’s journey towards one another, sometimes dreamy, sometimes desperate, sometimes nightmarish. The golden mean – the harmony of perfect balance – is what they seek in the haunting conclusion of this extraordinary correspondence.
Along with the first book in the trilogy (my review here), these two books continue the bizarre, yet fascinating tale of Griffin & Sabine. It really is a wonderfully surreal story, which actually reminded me a little bit of Haruki Murakami but with the added bonus of some gorgeous illustrations. I did like the art in The Golden Mean a little bit more than in Sabine’s Notebook - such interesting combinations of colour, texture and styles – but it was all intriguing to look at.

The story meandered a bit in the second book as we follow Griffin’s journey and growing acceptance of what he had originally run from, but then in the third book there are even some elements of suspense as the story comes to an end. Or does it? I’m glad I finally got around to reading these properly (I’d only flipped through them before) and I’m sure I’ll pull the books off the shelf occasionally if only to admire the artwork again.

I’m curious now to read the second trilogy to see where else Nick Bantock’s imagination and collage-style art has taken this story. I also found a bargain-priced copy of his longer book Windflower, during our recent trip, which I look forward to reading too.

Author's website
Interview with the author

My Rating (for both books, and the trilogy as a whole): 4/5
(#55 and #56 for 2008, 2nds Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
Thoughts of Joy (trilogy)
Reminder: If you have read and reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

I wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas. For those of you who don't celebrate or celebrate something else, I hope you have a wonderful day. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Greetings from snowy Victoria!

Snow + Victoria is not a combination we usually expect but this year it looks like Victoria will actually have a white Christmas. Luckily we arrived on Saturday after only a few minor delays, because since Sunday flights in Vancouver and all across Canada have been majorly delayed or cancelled. Instead we've been having fun trying to get around in our rental car the last couple of days. We almost got stuck getting out of the parking lot at my father's apartment building this morning - it's down a slope with pretty deep snow! Since it rarely gets snow, Victoria isn't very well equipped to deal with it so the main roads are mostly getting cleared but all the side roads are buried. It's been an adventure so far, and other than it limiting our getting around and visiting, I am enjoying the white winter scenery. This is what it looked like this morning near where we're staying.
After a wander around in the snow taking a few photos, we walked to the nearby Starbucks. There's something so wonderfully wintery about coming in from the cold and snow for a hot chocolate, don't you think?
We've got it set up now that we can connect to the internet on our laptops so I should be able to post a little bit while we're here, and reply to the comments that I'm behind on. For those of you getting slammed with snowstorms I hope you're all staying safe and warm.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What's in a name? Challenge 2009

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I'm joining in the challenge again for 2009. Like this year it runs from January to December, and the goal is to read one book in each of six categories. When I first saw the new categories, I thought it would be hard to find books from my TBR stacks that matched. But once I started looking at titles, I found lots! So here are the categories for round two, with a few possibilities of what I might read:

1. A book with a "profession" in its title.
The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova
The Visit of the Royal Physician - Per Olov Enquist
The Gun Seller - Hugh Laurie

2. A book with a "time of day" in its title.
After Dark - Haruki Murakami
The Night Watch - Sarah Waters
The Laws of Evening - Mary Yukari Waters

3. A book with a "relative" in its title.
The Piano Man's Daughter - Timothy Findley
The Distant Land of My Father - Bo Caldwell
To My Daughter in France - Stephanie Keating and Barbara Keating

4. A book with a "body part" in its title.
Twenty-Four Eyes - Sakae Tsuboi
Tooth and Nail - Ian Rankin
Mouthing the Words - Camilla Gibb

5. A book with a "building" in its title.
The Ice Palace - Tarjei Vesaas
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Brontë
A House to Let - Charles Dickens et al.

6. A book with a "medical condition" in its title.
Blindness - José Saramago
The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant - Michel Tremblay
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman - Haruki Murakami

It should be fun! Have you read any of these?

Friday, December 19, 2008

What's in a Name? Challenge completed

The goal of the challenge was to read one book in each of six categories. I only ended up reading 3 that were on my original list (and one of those I used for a different category) but I found, interestingly enough, that I read several books this year that fit the animal and weather categories, and I've included them here.

Black Rain - Masuji Ibuse
The Elephant Vanishes - Haruki Murakami
Birds of a Feather - Jacqueline Winspear
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats - T.S. Eliot
The Tenderness of Wolves - Stef Penney
Griffin & Sabine - Nick Bantock
The Painter of Shanghai - Jennifer Cody Epstein
Tales of Moonlight and Rain - Akinari Ueda
The Scortas' Sun - Laurent Gaudé
Shutting Out the Sun - Michael Zielenziger
Clouds Over Mountains - Matt Joseph
Cave in the Snow - Vicki MacKenzie
Daisy Miller - Henry James

I enjoyed all of them and can't really choose a favourite from among these, but the one that has remained most vividly in my mind would be Black Rain. It's not a book I'll likely forget anytime soon.
Thanks so much for hosting, Debi and Annie. It's was a fun idea, and I'm looking forward to trying again next year. My list of possible reads for What's in a Name 2 will be up tomorrow.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

'The Painter of Shanghai'

by Jennifer Cody Epstein
Fiction/Historical/China, 2008
Penguin UK, trade pb, 469 p.
Based on a true story, The Painter of Shanghai tells the captivating tale of one woman’s journey from a life of prostitution to the art studios of Shanghai.
At the age of fourteen Pan Yuliang, an orphan girl in the care of her opium-addicted uncle, finds herself in the third-class cabin of a steamship bound for a strange new town. When Pan and her uncle arrive in the city he sells his niece to ‘The Hall of Eternal Splendour’, where she is destined to live out her life as a prostitute in its smoky back rooms.
And yet, two years later, escape appears in the unlikely form of a government inspector who will take Pan as his concubine and introduce her to a glamorous new life in 1920s Shanghai: a life of love and of art.
But as Pan begins to realize her talent as a painter she also sees that she may lose something even more precious: a life of safety.
I’d never heard of Pan Yuliang, the often controversial, Chinese painter schooled in Western-style art before, but I usually enjoy historical fiction and fictional biographies so I was intrigued. Plus the comparison to Memoirs of a Geisha also had me curious. I think the author has done a wonderful job here researching and then bringing Pan to life in the pages of the book. Not a lot is known about the life of Pan Yuliang, but Epstein has created a fascinating account of what it might have been like.
He laughs. ‘Position? You’re a student. Of an art no one in China understands.’
‘I’m a painter,’ she counters stubbornly. ‘A painter of Shanghai. And this’ – she touches her canvas – ‘this is my painting.’
For a long moment he just stares at her. Then he drops his head. When he speaks again, his voice is flat, and very careful. ‘Very well. Here’s a choice for the painter of Shanghai. You can keep your picture. Your position.’ He takes a breath. ‘Or, you keep your position as my wife.’
I have to admit that I think my enjoyment of the book was slightly marred by the fact that I read it so slowly. Busy days and not having enough time to read more than a few pages a day, made it seem to drag a little, for me. On the other hand, I sometimes wished the story didn’t jump a few years between sections. I know that it would be impossibly long otherwise, but sometimes I wanted to know more how she got from one place to another. Yes, I realise it’s a contradiction to think of the book as both too long and not long enough.

One of my favourite aspects of the book was actually the setting. I haven’t read a lot of books set in China, but of the ones I have read, I don’t think any of them have been set in Shanghai in the 1920s. They have either taken place long ago, or during the Cultural Revolution, so it was very interesting to read about the China of that time, with the hints of some of the upheaval that was to come. And I’m always interested in cultural differences and the role of women in different cultures. So overall, it was a good read, and an impressive first novel. The author is apparently now working on a book set in Tokyo during World War II. As you can imagine, I am very much looking forward to reading it.

Thank you to Sophie Baker of Curtis Brown for sending me this to review.

My Rating: 3.5/5
(#54 for 2008, What's in a Name Challenge)

Author's website
Interview with the author at WOW! (Women on Writing)
Interview with the author (Loaded Questions with Kelly Hewitt)
Review in The New York Times

Also reviewed at:
Diary of an Eccentric
Also at Diary of an Eccentric, an interview with the author.
Reminder: If you have read and reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dewey's Books Reading Challenge

I think this is such a nice way to honour Dewey's love of books. Thank you Chris and Robin for hosting it. The challenge runs throughout 2009 and I'm going with Option 2, which is to read 5 books that Dewey reviewed. (Click on the button for more info).

Dewey had great taste in books and there are plenty of reviews on her blog of books that I'd like to read. I already have quite a few of them in my TBR piles, and I'll most likely choose from them for the challenge. There are some others too though that I don't yet own but that are on my wishlist, so I may end up reading some of those instead. But here are some of the ones that I already have waiting for me and that I really would like to read next year.

After Dark - Haruki Murakami
The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie
The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly
Helpless - Barbara Gowdy
The Invention of Hugo Cabret - Brian Selznick
A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
Purple Hibiscus - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Everything is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer

I've heard good things about all of them. So which one should I read first?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

the warm colours of autumn

Taken last weekend at Rikugien Japanese garden.

Sunday Salon: Secret Santa

I'm still reading The Painter of Shanghai. Sigh. I'm enjoying it but I've been so busy lately I just haven't had a lot of time to read. I did read for a little while in bed this morning which was very nice after a hectic week. And I'm off to bed now to read a bit more. Hopefully I'll be able to finish it sometime this week since I'm starting to get a bad case of next-book-itis!

As for book-shaped mail, I only received one book in the last 2 weeks, and it's already been sent back. You can read more about why here. But I have several books already waiting for me in Canada. Not long now! It really will be like Christmas opening up all my book parcels. I'm rather worried about the weight of my suitcase for the return journey but of course that won't stop me from browsing a couple of my favourite book stores while I'm there.

So no books but I did receive my Book Blogger's Secret Santa gift last week. Inside was a notepad, some pretty bookmarks and some nice smelly soap. My Secret Santa decided to remain anonymous, so all I know is that the package came from New Zealand. Thank you Secret Santa! And of course a big thank you to Nymeth and Dewey for organising it.

Week in Review:
Weekend Snapshot: Japanese maple
Review: The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
Graphic Novels and Manga (1 challenge completed, another beginning)
Orbis Terrarum Challenge wrap-up
Lost in Translation Reading Challenge

Have a great week!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Lost in Translation Reading Challenge

Even though I didn't read very many books in translation this year, I always at least hope to read more of them, so of course I couldn't resist a Lost in Translation Reading Challenge. It's extremely simple, it runs through 2009 and the only requirement is to read six books in translation over the course of the year.

I'm going to let my mood decide which books to read during the year but here are some of the books in translation, currently residing in my TBR piles. Unfortunately I can only read fluently in one language so these are all English translations.

Mr. Muo’s Traveling Couch – Dai Sijie (translated from French)
Suite française - Irène Némirovsky (translated from French)
Fateless – Imre Kertész (translated from Hungarian)
Embers – Sándor Márai (translated from Hungarian)
Hunger – Knut Hamsun (translated from Norwegian)
Smilla’s Sense of Snow – Peter Høeg (translated from Danish)
The Visit of the Royal Physician – Per Olov Enquist (translated from Danish)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson (translated from Swedish)
My Name is Red – Orham Pamuk (translated from Turkish)
Blindness – José Saramago (translated from Portuguese)
I’m Not Scared – Niccolò Ammaniti (translated from Italian)
Inkheart – Cornelia Funke (translated from German)
Independent People – Halldór Laxness (translated from Icelandic)
The Sound of Waves – Yukio Mishima (translated from Japanese)
Rashomon and other stories – Ryunosuke Akutagawa (translated from Japanese)
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman - Haruki Murakami (translated from Japanese)
...among others including several Japanese books.

I love discovering new books or authors in translation, and the worlds that they open up to me. So I'm really looking forward to hearing about the books the other participants read during the year and adding to my wishlist! Suggestions always welcome, of course. What good books in translation have you read?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Orbis Terrarum Challenge wrap-up

I didn't end up reading nearly as much international literature as I would've liked this year. The goal of this challenge was to read 9 different books, written by 9 different authors, from 9 different countries. When I made up my original list of possibilities (of which I only read 3!), my idea was not to include any English-speaking countries. So considering that criteria, I read the following since the challenge began in April, representing 5 countries:
Kafka on the Shore - Haruki Murakami (Japan)
The Scortas' Sun -Laurent Gaudé (France)
The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur - Daoud Hari (with Dennis Michael Burke & Megan M. McKenna) (Sudan)
Perfume - Patrick Süskind (Germany)
The Book of Proper Names - Amélie Nothomb (Belgium)

Kafka on the Shore is probably my overall favourite but they were all worth reading. The Translator especially was eye-opening and educational.

Although it wasn't my original intention, I suppose I could count some other books that I read this year to make up the numbers, such as:
The Tenderness of Wolves - Stef Penney (Scotland)
How to Be a Canadian - Will Ferguson & Ian Ferguson (Canada)
Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë (England)
Matrimony - Joshua Henkin (USA)
among the many other American, and British authors that I read this year, but I still kind of feel like it's cheating. There is always next year though, and I plan to try again for Orbis Terrarum 2. Thanks for hosting Bethany!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Graphic Novels and Manga

I hadn't originally joined the Graphic Novels Challenge for 2008 because I wasn't sure I'd manage to read 6 of them over the course of the year. But thanks to a little gentle arm-twisting from Dewey in the summer, inviting people to join in then, and read 3 graphic novels by the end of the year, I pretty quickly gave in. And I'm so glad I did! I'm quite new to the genre but it was great to read something different from my usual fare and also to discover some of the diversity in the art and stories. In fact, I ended up reading 4 graphic novels, and they were:
99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style - Matt Madden
Maus I & II - Art Spiegelman
Three Shadows - Cyril Pedrosa
The Sandman: Endless Nights - Neil Gaiman
Except for Three Shadows, which I bought this year, the rest had been on my shelves for quite some time so it felt good to finally read them.

Best book(s) I read for the challenge?
Maus I&II, not just because it was a moving holocaust story but because I loved the story of writing the story told alongside the main one. That sounds really confusing but if you've read them you know what I mean.

Book(s) I could have done without?
None. They were all good!

Any new authors? Will I read them again?
I'd only read Neil Gaiman before but it was my first time to read one of his graphic novels, specifically his Sandman series. The other books of his that I've read are children's books (Coraline, The Wolves in the Walls, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish) and Neverwhere, so this was quite different. I'm curious to read the rest of the Sandman series but it's rather expensive so I may wait until I live in an English speaking country and where I can find them in the library. We'll see.
Of the other three authors that were new to me, I'd gladly read another graphic novel by them sometime although at the moment I don't feel a desperate need to search out their other books. Another we'll see.

Best thing about the challenge? What did I learn?
That graphic novels are a heck of a lot of fun to read, and that the art is so varied. The Sandman: Endless Nights was the only one that was in colour, but they were all quite impressive in their respective styles. I've already picked up a couple more graphic novels based on reviews from other bloggers and have several others on my wishlist, so I think it's safe to say that I'll be reading more graphic novels in the future. I'm not sure yet what's happening with the challenge for next year, or who is taking it over, but I'll most likely participate again. I know Dewey would be pleased to have won over another convert! :)

In the same vein, I've also decided to join Rhinoa's Manga Challenge with a goal of reading at least 6 manga in 2009. I kind of feel like I should read some manga, considering that I am living in Japan after all, but I am also curious about them. The problem is figuring out where to begin. Each time I stop by a Japanese bookstore, I'm quite overwhelmed with just how many there are, so I look forward to hearing what everyone else is reading. I do have a couple ideas but I'm not going to make a list, instead I'll simply let my mood decide. It should be fun, thanks Rhinoa!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

'The Tales of Beedle the Bard'

by J.K. Rowling
Fiction/Fantasy, 2008
Collector's edition by Amazon, hardback, 170 p.
Offering the trademark wit and imagination familiar to Rowling's legions of readers--as well as Aesop's wisdom and the occasional darkness of the Brothers Grimm--each of these five tales reveals a lesson befitting children and parents alike: the strength gained with a trusted friendship, the redemptive power of love, and the true magic that exists in the hearts of all of us. Rowling's new introduction also comments on the personal lessons she has taken from the Tales, noting that the characters in Beedle's collection "take their fates into their own hands, rather than taking a prolonged nap or waiting for someone to return a lost shoe," and "that magic causes as much trouble as it cures."
But the true jewel of this new edition is the enlightening and comprehensive commentary (including extensive footnotes!) by Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, who brings his unique wizard's-eye perspective to the collection.
These tales were truly a joy to read! I think my favourite was ‘The Fountain of Fair Fortune’, or maybe ‘Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump’ but actually they were all imaginative and well told. I loved Dumbledore’s notes at the end of each tale giving some historical insight to when the stories were written, and his typical way of looking at things made me smile several times. Overall, it was very fun to return to the world of Harry Potter, even if it was much too short a visit.

As for the Collector’s Edition, I was quite disappointed with the poor quality of the book. The metal designs applied to the front cover were noticeably crooked and overall the materials just didn’t seem to be worth the $100 price tag, not to mention the occasional typos and smudged printing. I know the proceeds go to charity but I couldn’t justify spending that much money on something that I didn’t totally love and want to treasure. So my copy has already been sent back to Amazon for a full refund. I will buy a Standard Edition instead because the tales themselves are wonderful and I look forward to reading them again.

Author's website

My Rating: 4/5
(#53 for 2008)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Japanese maple

Yesterday we got out for a few hours to enjoy some more of the autumn leaves, but I haven't uploaded the photos to my computer yet or sorted them, so here is another one from last weekend.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sunday Salon: Spending Time with Jane

I finally got a chance to watch last year's BBC production of Persuasion a couple of weeks ago. We'd just finished watching a couple of seasons of Spooks (known as MI-5 in the US) so it was fun to see the actor as Captain Wentworth instead of a spy. He is pretty easy on the eyes! I'm not a purist when it comes to these tv dramatisations, as I usually just enjoy spending some time with Jane's wonderful characters and stories. And this one seemed quite good, up until near the end. For those that have seen it, what was with all the running around at the end and that painfully drawn out kiss? Ack! It did make me want to reread Persuasion though, if only for the letter! Sigh. Anyway, watching it put me in the mood for something else by Jane and since I didn't really have time to reread one of her books, I picked up the Hesperus Press edition of The Watsons. It's a fragment of an unfinished work, and while much too short, was very enjoyable. You can read my review here.

When I originally signed up for the Austen Mini-Challenge, I had hoped to reread one or two of her novels this year but it seems it was not meant to be. The only requirements for the challenge though were to read and/or watch at least two Jane Austen novels/movies in 2008. So with watching Persuasion, reading The Watsons, along with my yearly viewing of Pride and Prejudice in January (has it been that long? No wonder I've been feeling the urge to watch it again!) I suppose I have technically completed the challenge. Hesperus Press have a couple other short Austen titles that I'd like to get, and one of these days/years I would really love to go back and read all her novels again. There's just something about Jane!

Also this week I read The Tales of Beedle the Bard. I'll post a review tomorrow so today I'll just say what fun! And now I'm back to The Painter of Shanghai, which I put briefly on hold to read these two other short books. So reading-wise, it's been an interesting, varied week.

Week in Review:
Weekend Snapshot: autumn colours
Mailbox Monday
Farewell Dewey
It's Tuesday... (Where are You? and Teaser Tuesday)
November in Review
Friday Fill-ins, Friday Finds
Randomness, catching up on Awards/Memes
Review: The Watsons by Jane Austen

Have a good one!

'The Watsons'

by Jane Austen
Fiction/Classic, 1870
Hesperus Press, pb, 66 p.
The youngest daughter of a widowed clergyman, Emma Watson has been brought up by a wealthy aunt, where she is given a genteel education and the expectation of independent means. However, when her aunt suddenly makes a reckless second marriage, Emma is obliged to return to her father’s house and be reunited with her estranged siblings. Initially delighted with her new life, Emma soon realises that her family harbours many ill feelings, not least those springing from her sisters’ hopes – and disppointments – in snaring husbands. When she begins to attract attention from the nearby titled family and their associated friends, the result can only be further sibling rivalry and unrest.
Although never finished, The Watsons is a delightful and exquisitely drawn portrait of family life. Taking marriage as her central concern, Jane Austen captures in miniature the well-known, and well-loved, themes of her more famous novels.
Watching the BBC TV movie of Persuasion recently put me in the mood for more Austen. I didn’t really have time for one of her novels so I picked up this short piece, a lovely Hesperus Press edition. It’s a fragment of an earlier unfinished story, so it’s a little rough, but very enjoyable all the same and it ended far too soon. It’s such a shame it never got completed. At the end there is a short synopsis of how Jane had intended to continue the story, according to her sister Cassandra, that made me wish all the more that the story didn’t end where it did. However, it was interesting to see some hints in these characters of her other well-known and beloved characters, as well as her usual keen eye for observation and wit. I suppose a little bit of Jane is always better than none!
Emma Watson was not more than of the middle height, well made and plump, with an air of healthy vigour. Her skin was very brown, but clear, smooth, and glowing, which, with a lively eye, a sweet smile, and an open countenance, gave beauty to attract, and expression to make that beauty improve on acquaintance. Having no reason to be dissatisfied with her partner, the evening began very pleasantly to her, and her feelings perfectly coincided with the reiterated observation of others, that it was an excellent ball.
Read The Watsons online

(#52 for 2008, Austen Mini-Challenge)
Reminder: If you have reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Randomness, catching up on Awards/Memes

I was tagged by Nymeth a few months ago for the 6 Random Things Meme but I never got around to doing it. Yes, the regular random version before the bookish version that's made the rounds more recently! So sorry Nymeth. Instead of random things about me though, because I can't think of anything interesting right now (but if you want to know more about me I've done somewhat similar memes before here, here, and here), I give you six random things about the furboys. (FYI, Jiro is the one on the left, Bailey the white one on the right).
*Jiro is about half the size of Bailey but can hold his own in their regular wrestling matches.
*Bailey's favourite snack is nori (dried seaweed). Jiro's favourite treat is canned salmon.
*If I'm in the kitchen making a salad or something with greens, Jiro usually comes to see what I'm doing. If I give him a piece of lettuce or celery leaves, he'll chew on them for awhile. Must be craving some vitamins? Bailey, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with vegetables.
*We can't leave any kind of plastic bags around otherwise Bailey will try to eat them!
*Bailey knows his name and will come when called, but Jiro has no clue.
*Their favourite places to sleep change regularly and are often influenced by the season. Currently Bailey's favourite is the chair in the bedroom, while Jiro is quite in love with a certain Ikea wool blanket.

I've also received a couple of awards. So thank you to Sylvie for the Hooked on Your Blog Award. And thank you to Karen at BookBath for the Kreativ Blogger Award. This one includes a meme of sevens:

7 things I did before
play the piano
ice skate
work retail
read chicklit
live on a farm
have a dog (and cats)

7 things I do now
take photos
teach English
read vampire novels
live in a big city
collect poppets

7 things I want to do
speak Japanese fluently
speak French fluently
live in Europe
have a home library
lose weight
have more hours in a day
procrastinate less

7 things that attract me to the opposite sex
a sense of humour
being considerate to others
confidence (without being arrogant)
beautiful eyes
a fondness for reading

7 favorite foods
my mom's macaroni and cheese
rhubarb pie
gnocchi with gorgonzola cream sauce
French bread

7 things I say most often
No problem.
Bakka (It has several meanings, when I say it I essentially mean 'you goof'. Said regularly to Jiro - he's a very silly cat - and occasionally to H!)
Where's Bailey?
Where's Jiro?
Are you coming home for dinner?
See you next week. (Most of my students have lessons once a week).
I'm almost done. (And then continue to do stuff on the computer for another hour or so).

And last but not least, I was tagged by Iliana for the 7 Random Book Facts Meme.

I love bookmarks! Whenever we go somewhere I always seem to pick up a couple, so I've got quite a collection of them. But I usually end up using the free ones instead of my 'nice' ones! I also often use postcards as bookmarks. They're a nice size for large hardbacks.

Another bookmark fact, I always turn the bookmark to face the page that I'm on.

When we move I always make a point of packing my books myself before moving day, and this takes some doing since there are so many. But I don't trust the movers to pack them carefully. Instead I let them pack the dishes and other breakables.

I really love books with rough paper edges.

In my reading log, I keep track of how many pages in each book. But I take this literally to mean pages that I read so I flip through and subtract any blank pages and then add any extra pages that weren't numbered, like an introduction. Oh and illustrations get counted since I still spend time looking at the illustration.

I don't dogear, or write in my books, or lay them open face down. I'm a bit analcareful reader so most of my books look brand new even after I've read them. I'm slightly more easy-going with paperbacks lately... slightly.

I haven't been to many author signings but my favourite was probably meeting David Mitchell briefly. He's such a nice guy!

Well, I think these have all done the rounds plus you know I always feel bad choosing only a few people for awards, so I'm not going to tag anyone specifically. But feel free to grab the memes if you'd like to play. :)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Friday Fill-ins, Friday Finds

1. Snow is something is almost never get to see. I miss it!
2. I'm looking forward to someday not feeling so behind in everything.
3. Lamy is the best pen ever! (says H who has recently become a huge fan. I'm happy enough with my old Waterman but have been eyeing an Acme pen lately and would love a MontBlanc someday. H's second response was N is the best wife ever! Even though he said it jokingly, awww! :)
4. One of my favorite old tv shows is Scarecrow and Mrs. King. Course it seems pretty cheesy now. :P
5. I'm done with long hair.
6. The most enjoyable thing around the holidays is spending time with family and friends, and of course the food!
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to sleeping, it's been a long week, tomorrow my plans include probably going out somewhere to take pictures and Sunday, I want to relax and read, but instead I'll most likely spend the day doing stuff around the house! It's a mess lately and H's brother is staying with us next week.

It's been a while since I posted any finds here but of course I've still been adding to my wishlist! So here is a sampling of what's appealed to me over the last little while.
Man in the Dark by Paul Auster - review by Karen (BookBath)
Silent Girl by Tricia Dower (short stories loosely based on Shakespeare's heroines) - review by Andi at
Biblio Buffet
Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott (nominated for the Giller Prize)
Album of the Damned: Snapshots from the Third Reich by Paul Garson - review by Nancy (Bookfoolery and Babble)
Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy - thanks to Iliana mentioning NPR's Best Foreign Fiction of 2008

*I don't remember now where I 'stole' this button from, so if you made it, it's great - thanks! And I hope you don't mind. :)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

November in Review

Four seems to be my average despite my grandiose ideas each month that I'll somehow read much more than that. The fact that I read New Moon in only 2 days though just goes to show that if I were to stop working and cleaning our apartment (not that it's spotless as it is!), laundry and dishes and all that, and blogging(!!) I'd have much more time to read! LOL. Oh well, I'll keep trying to find a balance.

Books completed in November:
(click on a title to read my review, click on the book covers below to read more at Amazon)
48. Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë
49. Lighting the Dark Side - William R. Potter
50. The Book of Proper Names - Amélie Nothomb
51. New Moon - Stephenie Meyer

Favourite of the month:
That's a really hard question! I loved the writing and gothic mood of Wuthering Heights. I enjoyed the great characters and the variety of the stories in Lighting the Dark Side. I got totally sucked up into New Moon. And even though I didn't love the ending of The Book of Proper Names, it was still an engaging story up to that point. So let's just say that Wuthering Heights was my favourite classic of the month, Lighting the Dark Side my favourite collection of short stories, and New Moon my favourite vampire story! ;)

Books in: 9 (3 bought, 3 review copies, 3 won in giveaways)
Books out: 0

Reading Challenges- Progress Report:
My current status on all active challenges. See sidebar for links.
Ended in November:
Herding Cats Challenge (May 1 - Nov. 30, 2008) - completed!
Orbis Terrarum Challenge (Apr. 1 - Dec. 20, 2008) - 5 out of 9
2nds Challenge (Sept. 1 - Dec. 31, 2008) - 3 out of 4
My Year of Reading Dangerously (Jan. - Dec. 2008) - 9 out of 12
What's in a Name Challenge (Jan. - Dec. 2008) - 5 out of 6
Graphic Novels Challenge (July - Dec. 2008) - 4 out of 3 - completed!
Reading Jane Austen (Jan. - Dec. 2008) - 1 out of 2
Japanese Literature Challenge 2 (July 30, 2008 - Jan. 30, 2009) - 2 out of 3
1% Well-Read Challenge (May 1, 2008 - Feb. 28, 2009) - 3 out of 10
Book Awards II Challenge (Aug. 1, 2008 - June 30, 2009) - 4 out of 10
2nd Canadian Book Challenge (July 1, 2008 - July 1, 2009) - 4 out of 13

Reading Japan - I've read 12 books so far this year (none in November).
Orange Prize Project - I've read 2 books so far this year (none in November).

Reading plans for December:
I can realistically finish a couple more challenges and have accepted that I simply won't be able to complete a couple others so I'll be posting wrap-ups for them soon along with some of the new challenges for 2009 that I've been considering. Then before I know it it'll be time to choose what to read during the long flight to Canada, where I have several books already waiting for me! Can't wait!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

It's Tuesday...

I'm still in China, or rather, I'll be heading back to the brothel in China soon (The Painter of Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein) but for the last couple of days, I interrupted my training and took a short trip half-way round the world to 19th c. rural England where I attended a lovely ball (The Watsons by Jane Austen).

Lord Osborne was silenced. Her manner had been neither sententious nor sarcastic, but there was a something in its mild seriousness, as well as in the words themselves, that made his lordship think, and when he addressed her again, it was with a degree of considerate propriety totally unlike the half-awkward, half-fearless style of his former remarks.
(The Watsons by Jane Austen)

Farewell Dewey

I'm still feeling quite stunned about yesterday's sad news. There have been many wonderful tributes which have been all quite moving and which just go to show how many people's lives she touched. I never had much direct contact with her myself but I have enjoyed many of the community events she so enthusiastically organised and find it hard to believe she won't be there urging us on anymore. I think Nymeth said it well:
I think shock and disbelief are common enough reactions when we hear that someone has passed away. But somehow that's even more noticeable when it's someone we knew online, because there isn't even a physical absence - just silence where words used to be. And somehow that makes it even more difficult to process.
The book blogging community has certainly lost one of its stars. I'm sure she would want us to carry on with what she's started but she will be truly missed! Thank you for everything Dewey!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Mailbox Monday

Three books this week, one that I won in a giveaway and the other two the result of stopping by my favourite bookstore in Tokyo on the weekend. It seems that the recent strong yen has finally kicked in because many new paperback books were a little cheaper than I've seen them in quite some time. Of course I couldn't come away empty-handed! So here's what I got:
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Runemarks by Joanne Harris (Thanks Heather!)

What books have you got recently?
For more Mailbox Monday visit The Printed Page.

autumn colours

Last weekend we went to Tonogayato Teien, a Japanese garden in Tokyo. They're not completely red yet but at last the momiji (Japanese maple) have begun to change colour.