Thursday, April 30, 2009

'Mouse Guard: Fall 1152'

Written and illustrated by David Petersen
Fiction/Graphic Novel, chapters first appeared separately, this collected edition 2007
Archaia Studios Press, hardback, 176 p.
Mouse Guard series, Book 1
Mice struggle to live safely and prosper among all of the world’s harsh conditions and predators. Thus the Mouse Guard was formed. They are not simply soldiers that fight off intruders; rather, they are guides for common mice looking to journey without confrontation from one hidden mouse village to another. The Guard patrol borders, find safeways and paths through dangerous territories and treacherous terrain, watch weather patterns, and keep the mouse territories free of predators. They do so with fearless dedication so that they might not just exist, but truly live.
The read-a-thon was the perfect time to finally read this beautifully drawn graphic novel. The art is truly stunning and I spent some time simply admiring the details and the fantastic rich colours.

I’ve read some reviews complaining that the story is rather simple, and it is a somewhat straightforward adventure tale, but really, it’s the art that makes this book such a joy to read.

It also reminded me of some other mouse stories I’ve enjoyed over the years. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh [The Secrets of Nimh] by Robert C. O’Brien which I don’t really remember anymore but that I loved as a child, and then more recently The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Di Camillo, and even the film, Ratatouille. Gotta love those cute, fictional mice and rats!

I’ll definitely be getting the next one in the series, Mouse Guard: Winter 1152, when it comes out hopefully later this year.

All art © David Petersen

Mouse Guard website
David Petersen's blog
Interview with David Petersen

First sentence: Let me tell ye about the Guard.

My Rating: 4/5
(#23 for 2009, Graphic Novels Challenge, Once Upon a Time III Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
things mean a lot
Stainless Steel Droppings
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Books & other thoughts
Beth Fish Reads
If you've reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Reading Non-Fiction

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about reading non-fiction…

Do you read non-fiction regularly? Do you read it in a different way or place than you read fiction? (question courtesy of Diane)

I do enjoy reading non-fiction sometimes although it's rarely my first choice. I occasionally feel a little bit guilty about that but the draw of fiction is simply too strong for me, I suppose. Even if I'm interested in a topic or a certain book, I often seem to need a little encouragement to pick it up. So no, I can't say that I read non-fiction regularly, and in fact, I haven't read any yet this year. I have a few titles that I'd like to get to before too long though, which I'll mention below.

I think I do read non-fiction a little bit differently than fiction, at least in the sense that it's not a story to just get lost in so I need to read it when I'm able to concentrate on it. I usually only read one book at a time, but with non-fiction it's much easier for me to read something alongside it, and that's what I often will do when I read non-fiction. Without a story arc to follow, it's not a problem to put it down to read something else and then pick it back up again later.

The best non-fiction is the kind that grabs your attention and reads like fiction. However, if it's a bit more challenging I might leave that particular book at home and take something else out with me for commuting and whatnot. But where I read or how often I pick up a specific book ultimately comes down to not whether it's fiction or not, but my mood at the time and how engrossed in the book I am. On that note, I plan to start a mystery tonight. Oops.

For more Musing Mondays visit Just One More Page.

I kept meaning to post about Trish's Non-Fiction Five Challenge but just hadn't got around to it yet. With today's Monday Musing topic though, it seems the perfect time to finally do so. I really enjoyed participating in the Non-Fiction Five Challenge the previous two years when it was hosted by Joy, so I'm glad that Trish has decided to take it over. Like I mentioned above, I often need a little encouragement to read non-fiction so thanks to a little nudge from the challenge, I'm looking forward to reading some more non-fiction this year. The challenge runs from May to September and, like the name suggests, the goal is to read 5 non-fiction titles during that time. For more details about the challenge, and how to join, click on the button or the link above.

A few of the non-fiction titles that I read last year and fully enjoyed were The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari, Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation by Michael Zielenziger, and A Geisha's Journey: My Life as a Kyoto Apprentice by Komomo. Perhaps not too surprisingly, I'm very curious about all things Japanese so quite a few of the non-fiction books that I'm interested in are related to Japanese history, society, or culture, but not exclusively of course. So here are some of the non-fiction books I have on hand that I'd like to read this year. Some of these I already mentioned as possibles for the World Citizen Challenge, but I'm all about the cross-over challenge books.

Shakespeare Wrote for Money - Nick Hornby
Tears of the Desert - Halima Bashir & Damien Lewis
Polite Lies: On Being a Woman Caught Between Cultures - Kyoko Mori
The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto - Pico Iyer
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books - Azar Nafisi
Dickens - Peter Ackroyd
Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II - John Dower
Re-enchantment: Tibetan Buddhism Comes to the West - Jeffrey Paine
Goodbye Madame Butterfly: Sex, Marriage and the Modern Japanese Woman - Sumie Kawakami

Have you read any good non-fiction lately?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday Salon: Reading Retrospective (April 2002)

I've been trying to dodge a nasty sinus headache all week, but it doesn't seem to want to leave me alone, so I haven't been online too much the last few days. I have been reading a bit though. One day, not being able to concentrate on much else, I curled up on the sofa and read Austenland by Shannon Hale. A cute romantic tale was just what I needed. I followed that up with the movie, The Jane Austen Book Club, which was pretty much what I expected but entertaining enough. I've also almost finished reading Mother Superior by Saleema Nawaz. I only have the last short novella left so I'm sure I'll finish it either tonight or tomorrow. I've really enjoyed all of the stories so far, and I think I've found a new Canadian author to watch.

As it's almost the end of April, I guess it's time for another look back at what I was reading 7 years ago. April 2002 saw me continuing my chick lit phase that had started with re-reading Bridget Jones's Diary during our move from Japan to England in late February. I can't remember now exactly for sure but I think all of our stuff probably arrived sometime in April. We had a few essentials sent by air, but the majority of our things were sent by ship container, which tends to take about 6 weeks to arrive. So I'm guessing that with unpacking and getting settled in, easy reads were the most appealing.

I have to admit that I don't really remember much about these titles now, but the ratings and brief comments are taken from my reading journal at the time. Looking back at them, I didn't seem to really love any of the books I read that month.

The Rebel Fairy by Deborah Wright 6/10
Cheesy at times but with a few twists and clever references to Shakespeare.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami 6/10
Less surreal than Sputnik Sweetheart, with frank, memorable characters, but the ending didn't seem to match the rest of story.

Angus, Thongs & Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison 6/10
Cute, sometimes silly, and very predictable.

About a Boy by Nick Hornby 7/10
Amusing but still pretty typical for chick lit/lad lit. [I think the movie has overtaken any of my memories of the book. I can't help but think of Hugh Grant in the lead role.]

Irish Girls About Town by various Irish authors 6/10
As usual with story anthologies I liked some more than others but it was enjoyable overall. Favourites were the stories by: Colette Caddle, Cathy Kelly, Annie Sparrow, and Morag Prunty.

Of these, the only one I'd really like to read again is Norwegian Wood. That was only my second Murakami and even though it's not as surreal as his other books, I still didn't really 'get' his stuff then. It wasn't until a couple of years later, when I read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle that I began to appreciate his style, and became a fan. Kafka on the Shore was one of my favourite reads of last year. So I really think I would feel differently about Norwegian Wood if I were to read it again now.

As for other authors I'd like to read more of, other than Murakami of course, About a Boy is still the only novel of Nick Hornby's that I've read, besides two of his non-fiction titles about reading, The Polysyllabic Spree and Housekeeping vs. the Dirt. I plan to read the third book of essays, Shakespeare Wrote for Money, soon. It's on my short stack. And maybe one of these days I'll try another of his novels.

Do you have a book you'd like to try again? One that you think you'd like more now than when you originally read it.

Week in review:
New books and Favourites of 2009 (so far)
'Dear Everybody' by Michael Kimball (review)
'The Graveyard Book' by Neil Gaiman (review)

Have a good week. Happy reading!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

'The Graveyard Book'

by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Dave McKean
Fiction/YA/Fantasy, 2008
Bloomsbury, hardback, 309 p.
Winner of the Newbery Medal, 2009
Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a perfectly normal boy. Well, he would be perfectly normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the world of the dead.

There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard: the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer; a gravestone entrance to a desert that leads to the city of ghouls; friendship with a witch, and so much more.

But it is in the land of the living that read danger lurks, for it is there that the man Jack lives and he has already killed Bod’s family.
I’m not as avid a Neil Gaiman fan as some other bloggers, but I’d read so many rave reviews of this book that I’d really been looking forward to reading it. Dewey even considered it her favourite of the several Neil Gaiman books that she’d read. Well, thanks to the Read-a-thon I finally sat down with it and was able to get lost in it for a few hours.
‘For good or for evil – and I firmly believe that it is for good – Mrs Owens and her husband have taken this child under their protection. It is going to take more than just a couple of good-hearted souls to raise this child. It will,’ said Silas, ‘take a graveyard.’
On the surface it’s the fantastical story of a boy growing up in a graveyard where he interacts with the various resident ghosts, but it’s so much more than that. Life in the graveyard is not without adventures and Bod learns some important lessons along the way. Ultimately it’s a wonderful coming-of-age story that left me with tears in my eyes at the end.

My main complaint is, I have to admit, that I didn’t love the illustrations by Dave McKean. Usually I’m always thrilled when a book has illustrations and wish that more books had them, and I’ve enjoyed his illustrations in a couple other collaborations with Neil Gaiman that I’ve read, but for some reason these ones just didn’t excite me. Art is entirely subjective though and regardless, the story itself shines.

I haven’t read very many Newbery Medal winning books, so I can’t compare it to previous winners, but I certainly think this one is deserving of the recognition. Neil Gaiman truly is a fantastic storyteller.

Watch Neil reading 'The Graveyard Book'
Neil Gaiman's blog

First sentence: There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

My Rating: 4/5
(#22 for 2009, Once Upon a Time III Challenge, Book Awards II Challenge, Dewey's Books Reading Challenge, Herding Cats II Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
things mean a lot
Tip of the Iceberg
where troubles melt like lemon drops
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Stainless Steel Droppings
Nothing of Importance
Fyrefly's Book Blog
Books of Mee
Book Nut
a book a week
Stella Matutina
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Maw Books Blog
...and no doubt plenty more.
If I've missed yours, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

'Dear Everybody'

by Michael Kimball
Fiction, 2008
Alma Books, e-book, 223 p.
Jonathon Bender had something to say to the world, but the world wouldn’t listen. However, he left behind unsent letters addressed to relatives, friends, teachers, classmates, professors, roommates, employers, former girlfriends, his ex-wife, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, the state of Michigan, and a weather satellite, among many others. These form the narrative of a remarkable life.

Dear Everybody maintains a tone of finely judged tension between laughter and tears in an involving and sympathetically written work of fiction.
When I was originally contacted to see if I would like to review this book, they hadn’t considered, or realised, that it would involve international postage. So instead I was emailed a PDF file of the book with their apologies and no obligation. Although I definitely prefer holding an actual bound book, the concept behind the story still intrigued me so I decided to print it out and give it a go, and I’m really glad I did! I guess I mention this because even though the reading conditions were perhaps not ideal, it was a completely enjoyable read, and as I became engrossed in the story, I didn’t really care anymore that I was reading loose pages. It’s actually made me start lusting after an e-book reader but that’s another matter entirely. As it’s a book I might not have come across otherwise, I’m very glad I gave it a chance.

The story is written in epistolary style, and the full title of the book, Dear Everybody: A Novel Written in the Form of Letters, Diary Entries, Encyclopedia Entries, Conversations with Various People, Notes Sent Home from Teachers, Newspaper Articles, Psychological Evaluations, Weather Reports, a Missing Person Flyer, a Eulogy, a Last Will and Testament, and Other Fragments, Which Taken Together Tell the Story of the Short Life of Jonathon Bender, Weatherman, gives you a good idea of the creativity that makes up this story.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Do you ever wish that the sperm and the egg that became me wasn’t me? I’m sure that you must have been expecting somebody else from all of that pleasure.
The main character, Jonathan, has had a difficult life and the various letters and diary entries and others slowly reveal more about his family and the events that shaped him into the man he became. Each small moment remembered fits together so that we begin to understand him a little better and to truly care for this character. Many of his observations were quite humourous and had me chuckling at his naïveté, but some of his seemingly innocent thoughts were actually quietly profound. Plus, running underneath it all was a strong current of sadness and despair.
Dear Heather Fairing,
I’m sorry that I wouldn’t open the windows in our apartment even though we didn’t have an air conditioner and it was so hot that summer that we lived together. I was afraid that somebody was going to climb up the fire escape and break in on us while we were sleeping and I didn’t know what they might take. There was already too much that was missing from us.
Overall it was a touching story of human relationships and how they can go wrong, and a story which made me stop to ponder the long-lasting effects our actions can have on others. A very worthwhile read.

'Dear Everybody' Blog
Guest Post: On Writing 'Dear Everybody'
Interview with Michael Kimball

First sentence: Now do you remember?

Thank you to Daniel of Alma Books for the opportunity to read this story.

My Rating: 4/5
(#21 for 2009)

Monday, April 20, 2009

New Books and Favourites of 2009 (so far)

I haven't posted anything for Mailbox Monday for the last 4 weeks, as I simply hadn't received any books to tell you about. However, I ordered a few earlier in the month and they arrived last week.

Emma, vol. 8 - Kaoru Mori
Read this one during the read-a-thon.

The Commoner - John Burnham Schwartz
Fascinating topic and such a pretty cover!

The Love We Share Without Knowing - Christopher Barzak
How could I not want this after Nymeth's review?

Tears of the Desert - Halima Bashir & Damien Lewis
Since I'm reading for a charity which helps refugees of Darfur, Book Wish Foundation, I'd like to read more about their plight.

Looking for Alaska - John Green
Everyone seems to be talking about John Green this year, so I've just got to read one for myself!

For more Mailbox Monday visit The Printed Page.

Coming towards the end of April, we’re a third of the way through the way through the year. What’s the favourite book you’ve read so far in 2009? What about your least favourite? (question courtesy of MizB)

I've read some pretty good books so far this year. My favourites though (I can't just choose one, you'll have to settle for two) are Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Høeg [US title: Smilla's Sense of Snow], for its great wintery, unsettled mood, and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman which I just read over the weekend for the read-a-thon. A wonderful coming-of-age story with a subtle, but powerful impact!

My least favourite? I guess it would be the manga xxxHolic, vol. 1 by CLAMP as I just didn't really care for it, and it's my lowest rating so far this year.

What's your favourite book of the year so far?

For more Musing Mondays visit Just One More Page.

Thanks to the read-a-thon, I did quite a bit of literary travelling this past weekend. First I spent the years of my childhood living amongst the ghosts in an old graveyard in England [The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman]. Then I went back in time to the Fall of 1152, where I almost witnessed a mouse uprising as a traitor from the elite guard tried to overthrow the main fortress town [Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 - David Petersen]. Then it was to Victorian London, with a side trip to Brighton, following various characters that somehow touched the lives of Emma and William [Emma, vol. 8 - Kaoru Mori]. After that I travelled to Japan where I lived for the first few years of my life as a rather precocious child [The Character of Rain - Amélie Nothomb]. And finally I ended up in Canada, trying to survive the angst and drama of high school [Skim - Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki].

For more Where are you?, visit an adventure in reading on Tuesday.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday Salon: Read-a-thon Redux

Well, Dewey's Readathon for April 2009 is now over. Whew! I was surprised again by how fast the time flew by, but I'm pretty pleased with my day of reading. Here's how I fared.

Total Time Spent Reading
: 8 Hours 50 Minutes
Total Pages Read: 948
Total Books Completed: 5
Total Time Spent Blogging: about 6.5 Hours

Since I completed 5 books, times that by my pledge of $5 per book, it means I'll be donating an additional $25 to the Book Wish Foundation this month, which I'll be adding to the approx. $50 I've accumulated since January.

Last year, for the read-a-thon in October, I read 605 pages in 10 hours and 5 minutes (actual reading time - blogging and other activities subtracted) and completed 4 books, so even though I actually read for less time this time, I think I did pretty well. I also had fun taking pictures of some of the Japanese snacks I nibbled on during the read-a-thon, and my reading buddy Jiro, which you can see in the update posts below.

These are the books I read during the read-a-thon:
Emma, vol. 8 - Kaoru Mori
The Character of Rain - Amélie Nothomb
The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 - David Petersen
Skim - Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki

My favourite of those is The Graveyard Book. A wonderful fantastical tale of growing up. I had tears in my eyes at the end of it! I really enjoyed all of them though. Reading graphic novels was great for my tired eyes and sometimes waning concentration. The art in Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 was simply stunning, and the story in Skim was quite moving. It was fun to find out more about some of the minor characters in the Emma series that I read last month, and Amélie Nothomb's perception of the world is always amusing to read. Now I have a lot of reviews to catch up on but it was a very successful day of reading all round. Well done to everyone who participated in the read-a-thon, and thank you again to the wonderful co-hosts, and organizing geniuses Nymeth, Hannah and Trish.

Last week, before the read-a-thon, I also finished reading Dear Everybody by Michael Kimball. It was both humourous and touching at the same time and I quite enjoyed it. Now I'll be getting back to the short stories in Mother Superior by Saleema Nawaz, but tomorrow, after I've had some sleep. How was your weekend?

Week in Review:
Blog comments, and Bookshelf Meme
'The Triumph of Deborah' by Eva Etzioni-Halevy (review)
Read-a-Thon: The Book Stack
Let the Reading Begin!
Read-a-thon: Update One
Read-a-thon: Update Two
Read-a-thon: Update Three
Read-a-thon: Update Four
Read-a-thon: Final Update

Read-a-thon: Final Update

It's almost over! It's now 8:30 PM on Sunday evening in Japan, in Hour 24 of the Read-a-thon, and here's what I've accomplished since my last update about 4 hours ago.

Time Spent Reading: 50 Minutes
Total Time Spent Reading: 8 Hours 50 Minutes
Pages Read: 140
Total Pages Read: 948
Total Books Completed: 5
(The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen, Emma, vol. 8 by Kaoru Mori, The Character of Rain by Amélie Nothomb, Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki)
Time Spent Blogging: 90 Minutes
Food/Drink Consumed: Chocolate covered almonds, orange juice.

Other Activities: Fed the boys their dinner.
Mood: Hungry! We ordered a pizza for dinner and are just waiting for it to arrive.

If anyone is in need of something fun after a hard day of reading, click on this link to watch Matt Dancing Badly. No matter how many times I watch it it still makes me smile! :)

End of the Event Meme
1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

Around Hour 10-11 as this is early morning in Japan.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
All the books I read were good at keeping my attention. Essentially any story that appeals to you and that you can get lost in for a little while and graphic novels and manga as the pictures help to keep you reading even if you're tired.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
Nope. It was all so well organized!! You all did such a great job putting this together.

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
Everything was really great!

5. How many books did you read?

6. What were the names of the books you read?
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen
Emma, vol. 8
by Kaoru Mori
The Character of Rain by Amélie Nothomb
Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

7. Which book did you enjoy most?
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

8. Which did you enjoy least?
I really enjoyed all of them!

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
Not applicable since I wasn't a cheerleader but I think the cheerleaders do a fantastic job, especially since there were so many participants this time. Thanks so much to everyone who stopped by to cheer me on!

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
I really like reading, but I find it difficult to read and visit other participants and join mini-challenges and twitter all at the same time, and I feel a bit pulled between wanting to read and wanting to join in the community aspect of it more. Maybe I should just do a half-marathon next time, and cheer for part of the time. Those of you who can do both are amazing!!

Thank you to the truly fabulous co-hosts Nymeth, Hannah and Trish for all your hard work in getting this set up. And of course thank you, Dewey!

Read-a-thon: Update Four

It's now 5:20 PM on Sunday afternoon in Japan, in Hour 21 of the Read-a-thon, and here's what I've accomplished since my last update 5 hours ago.

Time Spent Reading: 160 Minutes
Total Time Spent Reading: 8 Hours
Pages Read: 332
Total Pages Read: 808
Total Books Completed: 4 (The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen, Emma, vol. 8 by Kaoru Mori, The Character of Rain by Amélie Nothomb)

Time Spent Blogging: 75 Minutes
Mini-challenges Entered: 1
Participants Visited: 10

Food/Drink Consumed: I made myself a sandwich for lunch. Then a bit later it was time for snacks.

Mood: Happy to have just completed my fourth book. Yay! But also a little overwhelmed. I'm really in awe of those of you who are reading and cheerleading! How do you do it? Every time I start trying to visit some other participants I keep getting distracted and end up wasting time on the computer without really getting much done. Sigh. So please accept my apologies for not visiting around nearly as much as I would like. And good luck to eveyone who is still conscious for the remainder of the read-a-thon. :)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Read-a-thon: Update Three

It's now a little after 12 PM on Sunday afternoon in Japan, in Hour 16 of the Read-a-thon, and here's what I've accomplished since my last update 7 hours ago.

Time Spent Reading: 55 Minutes
Total Time Spent Reading: 5 Hours 20 Minutes
Pages Read: 165
Total Pages Read: 476
Books Completed: 2 (The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen)

Time Spent Blogging: 65 Minutes
Total Time Spent Blogging: 3 Hours 20 Minutes
Time Spent Sleeping: 3 Hours 30 Minutes
Mini-challenges Entered: 3
Participants Visited: 3 (I got too tired to do anymore before I went to bed but hope to do some cheerleading this afternoon).

Food/Drink Consumed: Cereal, Grape and Aloe Yogurt, Orinamon C (a Japanese vitamin energy drink), toast.

Other Activities: Sleep!
Mood: A bit tired but ready to read some more. I really needed to sleep a bit so hopefully I'll be able to stay up now to the end. Next up Emma, vol. 8 by Kaoru Mori.

Mid-Event Survey:

1. What are you reading right now?
I just finished Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen, a graphic novel with really beautiful art.

2. How many books have you read so far? 2

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
I'm looking forward to all the books in my stack so whatever I end up reading.

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day?
Not especially. H and I often go out on the weekend to take pictures or something so this weekend we didn't make any plans but otherwise, no.

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
Just the late start and the lingering smell of gas in the apartment were quite distracting for the first half. And of course, you could say I was interrupted by sleep, even though it was intended!

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
At just how fast it flies by!

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
No, I think the organizers and cheerleaders have done a fabulous job! Thank you!

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year?
I'd try to get more sleep the night before, and would try to have dinner finished earlier so I could start on time. ;)

9. Are you getting tired yet?
I was really lagging around 6 AM, and am still a bit tired but thanks to having a short sleep, I'm on my way to a second wind.

10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered?
Nothing original, but changing location. Sleeping for a bit if needed. And taking out my contacts was nice for my tired eyes.

Read-a-thon: Update Two

It's now 5 AM on Sunday morning in Japan, just beginning Hour 9 of the Read-a-thon, and here's what I've accomplished since my last update 5 hours ago.

Time Spent Reading: 2 Hours 45 Minutes
Total Time Spent Reading: 4 Hours 25 Minutes
Pages Read: 213
Total Pages Read: 311
Books Completed: 1 (The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman)

Total Time Spent Blogging: 2 Hours 15 Minutes
Mini-challenges Entered: 2 (but none since the last update)
Bloggers Visited (since last update): 5

Food/Drink Consumed: Just some juice but I'm hungry now so it may be time for snacks, or cereal.
Other Activities: I took a break and played with the boys. Cat + laser pointer = Entertainment!!
Mood: Happy to have finished my first book. I'd originally thought I'd sleep for a few hours from 3 AM but as you can see I'm still up. My eyes are a bit tired though so I'm going to read something short and fun next, probably a manga or a graphic novel. And then I may lie down for a bit. So if you don't see me again for a few hours, don't be alarmed. I will return.
Hope everyone is having a great day so far!

The view to my right, my reading buddy, Jiro.

Read-a-thon: Update One

It's now 12:15 am, early Sunday morning in Japan, in Hour 4 of the Read-a-thon, and here's what I've accomplished so far.

Currently Reading: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Time Spent Reading: 85 min.
Pages Read: 98
Books Completed: None yet.

Time Spent Blogging: I forgot to keep track exactly but probably about an hour.
Mini-challenges Entered: 2
Other Participants Visited: 3

Food/Drink Consumed:

Mood: Already feeling that time is going way too fast, and I'm not getting nearly enough read. Plus I'm a bit distracted by the gas smell still all over our apartment. But for now it's back to Bod in the graveyard.

Let the reading begin!

A little bit of a late start for me and proof that the best of intentions isn't always enough. H decided to try making homemade gnocchi tonight, which was delicious, but took longer than expected, so we've just finished tidying up. And we've also just had the fire people here as the neighbour below us smelled gas and called them. After that we could smell it in our apartment too but they measured the fumes and they're apparently not combustible. That's something I suppose, and as long as the fumes don't give me a headache!

So it's after 9PM in Japan now. Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon has officially started, and I'm eager to get started. I went to bed far too late last night as I was busy doing stuff to get ready for it, but I did try to sleep in as much as I could. I did a few chores around the house today though, some laundry, vacuumed, so I wouldn't be distracted or feel guilty about those things during the read-a-thon, and I did fit in a short nap, before this evening's drama. I'm still a bit tired but I'm excited.

The Introduction Meme
Where are you reading from today? Just outside Tokyo, Japan.
3 facts about me …
I'm a night owl and a tea fiend.
My reading buddies, our two cats, are hanging out in the living room with me right now.
I love collecting pretty bookmarks but often end up using free ones or old postcards and whatnot.
How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? I have 14 to choose from but I hope to finish 5 or 6.
Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?
I'd like to read more pages and complete more books than I did for the last one in October. Last time I read 605 pages and finished 4 books.
If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, Any advice for people doing this for the first time?
It's only my second time but I guess the main one would be to take breaks when you need them, and just have fun!

Well, my snacks aren't too far away, my stack of books is nearby, so let the reading begin! Good luck everyone!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Read-a-Thon: The Book Stack

Not too much longer now until Dewey's Read-a-thon for April 2009 kicks off. Last October I joined the Read-a-thon for the first time, and learned a few things about what types of books to read for it, for me at least. Here are a few guidelines I considered when putting together my stack for this read-a-thon.

1. Nothing too dense, or long, or hard to read.
Last time I was about halfway through Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino before the read-a-thon, and struggling with it, but I decided to use the read-a-thon as a way to push through it to the end. I did in fact finish it but it was a challenge, and not all that enjoyable.

2. No short story collections.
I really enjoyed the stories in The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy, which I read during the last read-a-thon, but by reading them back to back in a short time they did meld together in my mind somewhat. I've come to realize that I much prefer reading short stories one here, one there and then allowing myself time to muse on them, to let them properly sink in.

3. Pictures are good!
I actually had a bad headache during the last read-a-thon which certainly didn't help matters, but reading a graphic novel last October when I was sleepy and couldn't really concentrate on much else was perfect. And reading only text for a long time is tiring. Or is that just me?

So here are the books I've collected together this time. Some graphic novels and a manga, a mystery, chick lit, plus a few YA, fantasy type books that should be quite easy to read and fun to get lost in for a few hours.

The Delicate Storm - Giles Blunt
Emma, vol. 8 - Kaoru Mori
Embroideries - Marjane Satrapi
Inkheart - Cornelia Funke
The Character of Rain - Amélie Nothomb
French Milk - Lucy Knisley
Austenland - Shannon Hale
Shakespeare Wrote For Money - Nick Hornby
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie
The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 - David Petersen
Skim - Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki

I won't get to all of these and I of course have plenty of other books around the house if these just don't quite fit my mood at the time.

Like I mentioned on Sunday, since it starts at 9PM Japan time, my plan is to sleep for a few hours (6 max.) during the read-a-thon so my target is to join for 18 hours. I'll probably update here every 3 or 4 hours, and I might check in to the main site every hour or two to see what's going on, but I'm going to try to keep my computer off otherwise because I think it would be all too easy to start blogging and twittering and not get much reading done. I'll keep my camera out though and will try to post some photos to include in the updates. And I will also try to do a little cheerleading here and there when I take breaks. I've already stocked up on some snacks and drinks so I think I'm pretty much all set. And just a reminder that I'll be reading for the Book Wish Foundation. I'll be donating $5 for each book I complete during the read-a-thon.
I'm getting really excited about it all and I'm hoping for an even more enjoyable read-a-thon this time around. See you tomorrow!
What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

'The Triumph of Deborah'

by Eva Etzioni-Halevy
Fiction/Biblical, 2008
Plume (Penguin), trade pb, 350 p.
The richly imagined tale of Deborah, the courageous biblical warrior who saved her people from certain destruction.

In ancient Israel, war is looming. Deborah, a highly respected leader, has coerced the warrior Barak into launching a strike against the neighboring Canaanites. Against all odds, he succeeds and returns triumphantly with Asherah and Nogah, the daughters of the Canaanite king, as his captives. But military victory is only the beginning of the turmoil, as a complex love triangle develops between Barak and the two princesses.
Deborah, recently cast off by her husband, develops a surprising affinity for Barak. Yet she struggles to rebuild her existence on her own terms, while also groping her way toward the greatest triumph of her life.

Filled with brilliantly vivid historical detail, The Triumph of Deborah is the absorbing and riveting tale of one of the most beloved figures in the Bible, and a tribute to feminine strength and independence.
I don’t usually read much Biblical fiction, or Christian fiction for that matter, although I loved The Red Tent when I read it several years ago, and I do enjoy good historical fiction. Needless to say then I’m not very familiar with the Bible so I didn’t know the story of Deborah beforehand, but I quite enjoyed reading about ancient Israel at this point in time and the conflict with the neighbouring Canaanites. I can’t say for sure, not having any background knowledge, but it certainly seemed that the author did a good job researching the time to create an accurate, plausible tale.

Although Deborah is the de facto leader of the Israelites, and it’s ultimately her story, her triumph, as the title of the book indicates, I was much more interested in the goings on in Barak’s household, and the love story unfolding there. I loved the character of Nogah, and even came to feel for the womanizing, brutal Barak as he grew and became a better person through his relationship with her.

Overall it was a satisfying read and one I probably wouldn’t have picked up on my own. Thank you to the author, Eva Etzioni-Halevy, for the opportunity to read this book.

Author's website

First sentence: Two women were standing on high places, shielding their eyes from the blazing sun with their hands, peering into the distance in search of messengers from the battlefield.

My Rating: 3.5/5
(#20 for 2009, ARC Reading Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
B&b ex libris
A Novel Menagerie
Book Addiction
Melissa's Bookshelf
Reminder: If you have reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Blog comments, and Bookshelf Meme

How do you respond to the comments on your blog? Do you try to email individually or comment on post yourself answering the comments above? What do you think is the best way to respond to comments and do you respond to all of them? Do you feel slighted if you don't receive a response back from the blog owner? (question courtesy of Jenn)

I reply to the comments I receive within the comment section on each post. Sometimes it can take a couple of days but I do try to reply to everyone, although I sometimes do a general reply if individual replies would just be repetitive, on my photo posts for example. On most of my bookish posts though I do try to respond to everyone. Emailing each commenter seems like it would be quite time-consuming so I don't do that unless very occasionally I want to chat with someone about a topic more indepth. And most blogs nowadays seem to have a way to subscribe to the comments on any individual post, so it's easy to see the replies, via email, without having to remember to go back to the original blogs.

I also try to return the visit by commenting on the blogs of those who have commented on mine. I'm not always very good at keeping up with this, especially lately, but I keep trying. Since I never seem to have enough time to comment everywhere that I'd like to though, and since I'm often a bit behind in reading others posts, I do end up lurking a lot sometimes. And I have to admit that I comment a lot less on the blogs that don't give any kind of response. I completely understand that it takes time to respond, and that not everyone has that time, but even in real life, if it feels like I'm just talking to myself, I'll soon fall silent. I know some people are happy to keep on chatting away, so I think it's a personality thing. I guess I feel that replying to comments is a way to build up a relationship with other bloggers, a conversation of sorts. A few of my favourite bloggers always reply to comments and even to comments on older posts so it really encourages me to visit more often. And ultimately creates a positive spiral as I visit more, I get to know them better and comment more, and so on.

So what it boils down to is that I love to receive replies and always try to do so on my own blog. And while I tend to comment more on the blogs that do reply, or that visit me regularly, there are lots of other blogs I love reading and will continue to do so regardless of whether they reply to comments or not.

I hope I haven't made anyone feel bad by explaining my thoughts on this. How do you respond to comments?

Avis of she reads and reads tagged me for the Bookshelf meme, started by Eva at A Striped Armchair, ages ago, but I forgot all about it until recently. Sorry! I'm going to skip the rules because I think they are most likely very out of date, but here are my answers...

The book that’s been on your shelves the longest:
I guess it would be my Narnia boxed set, or maybe an old copy of Clifford the Big Red Dog that I think I still have tucked away in a box somewhere. I don't really have any of my baby books though, and due to various long-distance moves I only have a select few of my children's books left. It's probably a good thing considering my extreme lack of space but I do wish I still had some of them. I talked more about my childhood books last year.

A book that reminds you of something specific in your life (a person, a place, a time, etc.):
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell reminds me of England since he's English and that's where I got it and we were living at the time. But it also reminds me of Japan because he spent some time here and his wife is Japanese. Change the genders around and it's my life, well except for the being a brilliant writer part! It also reminds me of when I had an opportunity to go to a reading and live interview with David in London after which we chatted for a few minutes, me rather tongue-tied, as he signed my copy. David was such a nice guy! It's one of my most treasured, signed books.

A book you acquired in some interesting way (gift, serendipity in a used bookstore, prize, etc.):
A couple of years ago I never would have imagined that I'd receive books sent to me directly by the authors! The wonders of blogging! And it's nothing out of the ordinary now, but a few years ago receiving a book from half way around the world through Bookcrossing seemed pretty exciting. Isn't it amazing how the internet has made the world so much smaller?

A book that’s been with you to the most places:
That would have to be my small assortment of children's books, as they moved with us in Canada from Manitoba to Victoria, and later travelled to England, first to London then to Cambridge, and are currently residing with me Japan.

The most recent addition to your shelves:
I was going to say my copy of Drood by Dan Simmons that arrived about 3 weeks ago, but the small Amazon order I made last week just showed up this afternoon. It included Emma, vol. 8 by Kaoru Mori, The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz, and The Love We Share Without Knowing by Christopher Barzak.

A bonus book that you want to talk about but doesn’t fit into the other questions:
How about my most watched book? By that I mean the book to screen adaptation I've watched the most, and that would be without a doubt Pride and Prejudice. I've only read the actual book two or three times, but I've watched the BBC TV series countless times and even the more recent movie version a few times. Ah, the classic love story! And my default answer for "What's your favourite book?" so I don't have to think, because really, who can choose just one?!

Again, I'm sorry it took me so long to do this. Because this made the rounds so long ago, I'm not going to tag anyone, but if you'd like to revive it, please feel free to grab it and let me know so I can come read your answers. Or answer a question or two in the comments, I'd love to hear about your memorable books.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sunday Salon on Monday: Dewey's Read-a-thon

A belated Sunday Salon post this week. But even though it is Monday here now, I thought I'd post anyway. We actually had a pretty lazy day yesterday that involved a lot of sleep. We got up late and had brunch, then we took the boys to get their yearly shots in the afternoon, went out for dinner and stopped by the supermarket on the way home. We were thinking of watching a DVD but for some reason I just couldn't keep my eyes open and crashed around 9pm! I'm usually a night owl so this wasn't very typical. I do hope that's not an indication of what will happen next weekend for the read-a-thon.

And yes, I've decided to join Dewey's Read-a-thon next weekend, but I don't think I'll read for the full 24 hours this time around. With the time difference it starts at 9PM on Saturday here and for the last one in October, I found it quite hard to be up during the day and then start reading for 24 hours. I ended up having to take an hour or so nap last time anyway, I just couldn't hold out. So this time my plan is to have a 6 hour sleep partway through, making it an 18 hour read-a-thon for me. I think I'll read for the first 6 hours, from 9pm to 3am, then sleep to 9am and begin again. That's my plan anyway, but we'll see how it goes on the actual day. Maybe I'll be able to stay up later, or sleep less.

As you know, I'm reading for the Book Wish Foundation this year for The Year of Readers. When I think about it we're really very fortunate to have such easy access to and money for books. This charity helps provide, among other things, textbooks to the refugees of Darfur, in the refugee camps in Chad, so that they can learn English and attempt to better their lives in the future. As an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher myself, it's something I can appreciate and believe in. Click on the link above, or the button, for more information.

So far this year, from my original pledge, I've raised $50 dollars, but I'd love to give it a little boost from the read-a-thon. So I've decided to personally donate an additional $5 for each book completed during the read-a-thon. Last time I read 605 pages and completed 4 books. This time, I'm thinking to read some graphic novels along with YA and other perhaps fast-reading books, so even though my reading time will be shorter I hope to reach similar numbers or even more. I would be extremely grateful if anyone would like to sponsor me in any way, even if it's only a few dollars, as every little bit really does help. If you'd like to help out you can email me (tanabata2000 at gmail dot com) or use the contact form. Thanks!

This past week I've been dipping into the short stories in the collection, Mother Superior by Saleema Nawaz, and thoroughly enjoying them. Her characters really come alive, and her writing is wonderful. I actually don't want to read the stories too quickly so that I can fully savour them. I also started reading Dear Everybody by Michael Kimball. It's told in epistolary style and each letter or diary entry gives us a little more insight into the main character, his family, and why he became the person he did. I'm enjoying it very much as well so I have two great books on the go right now.

Have a great week, everyone!

Week in review:
Herding Cats II: Attack of the Hairballs
TBR List, and bookish travels
BTT: Numbers Game (and giveaway winners)
Friday books and blanks (and awards)
PhotoHunt: Triangle