Tuesday, March 31, 2009

'Little Stories'

by Jeff Roberts
Fiction/Short stories, 2008
Outskirts Press, hardback, 96 p.
The tales and vignettes in Little Stories were first penned by author Jeff Roberts during his undergraduate years at the University of Iowa, where he tried to balance school with the full-time task of being a writer. Whether he’s writing about the end of a love relationship or the pain in dealing with the loss of a beloved pet, Roberts’ quietly moving stories are packed with real emotion and rich detail.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of this slim collection of stories. Many of the stories seemed distinctly autobiographical, and while there’s nothing wrong with drawing from personal experience, it often felt like I was reading a selection of his writing exercises rather than completed works. It’s very obviously a self-published book and I think it would’ve served him better to work on the stories a bit more before trying to find a wider audience for them.
The author does state the following in the prologue:
These stories are a compilation of my work at the University of Iowa. I’ve included all of the stories I’ve written so far, the immature as well as the over cooked, the writing that makes me cringe as well as the phrases that fill with pride when I see them scroll across the page.
So even the author himself admits that not all of these stories are polished, and I thought some of the characters could’ve been given a bit more depth, but there are good ideas here, the core of what could make great stories. And I did enjoy some of them. He tackled themes I usually enjoy in fiction, like how we can never truly know someone, and many of the stories effectively portray the pain involved when dealing with loss and disappointment. The last story, Cosette, about a beloved family pet was especially moving.

Actually, one of my main complaints is that there were really quite an unfortunate lot of typos. There were times when there were several of them on a single page, so needless to say I found it very distracting. I can forgive a few typos or grammatical blunders, but this was a bit excessive.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this title, but I think the author has potential, and it might be interesting to read something else by him in the future to see how he has grown as a writer.

Thank you to the author, Jeff Roberts, and Bostick Communications for the opportunity to read this book.

Interview with the author

First sentence: (Relativity) It is 4 a.m., and the only light now is the dim, green light cast by the tuner from the front console on the stereo and the glowing, hazy fog it casts across the living room.

My Rating: 2.5/5
(#19 for 2009, ARC Reading Challenge)

If you've also reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Reading records, bookish travels, and link sharing

Do you keep track of what and/or how many books you read? How long have you been doing this? What's your favorite tracking method, and why?If you don't keep track, why not?
(question courtesy of MizB)

Yes, I've been keeping track of what I read since 2002. The main place I do so is in an Excel spreadsheet where I have a tab for my wishlist (books I would like to read someday), TBR (books I own but haven't read yet), full list of all books read, a tab for each year from 2002 to 2009, and Reading Challenges. Inside the yearly tabs, I have columns for Title, Author, Gender, Nationality, Translated (from which language), Translator, Date acquired, Date finished, Rating, Copyright, Prize, Format, Publisher, ISBN-10, ISBN-13, Pages, Own, Keep, Review copy, Genre, Series, Challenge, Comments.
LOL. Are you sorry you asked? I didn't have quite all of these columns when I started in 2002 but have added to them over the years.

I also have a Reading Log, a Word document, for each year since 2006, which has some of the same information as the spreadsheet but is where I elaborate to include the blurb, my review, quotes, interesting vocabulary, and any other misc. information that I want to remember about the book. This is the record that I use when putting together my reviews for my blog. It's a bit of work to maintain the spreadsheet and Reading Log, but I actually enjoy it. It helps me organize my thoughts before posting to my blog, and I always enjoy working out my stats at the end of the year. Then every time I post a review on my blog, I add the link to my Author Index and the 'Read in (whatever year)' list, and for some of them I cross-post or add links to challenge blogs.

I haven't joined any of the online sites like Library Thing, Goodreads, or similar, because just thinking about cataloguing all my books for a site like that makes me tired. So essentially I keep a pretty detailed listing of what I read but it's all just in my computer (and on a back-up hard drive, of course!). For me it's the easiest and I love being able to just click on my spreadsheet whenever I want to refer to the information.

How do you keep track of what you read?

It's Monday, where are you?

I'm still in ancient Israel, waiting to hear the result of the battle with the Canaanites, and still feeling rather hurt that my husband divorced me after so many happy years together.
[The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy]

Today's teaser also comes from The Triumph of Deborah:

As soon as she had vanished, he knew that he had made a grievous error in letting her go. He felt an almost uncontrollable urge to chase after her and plead with her to turn back. (p. 230)

I know, I know. I haven't been very good at joining the Weekly Geeks this year, but this week's theme is a rerun of Dewey's idea in which she encouraged us to link to each other's book reviews. I've had this policy in place since Dewey initiated it, and I do try to link to other reviews in each of my own book reviews. Occasionally I'll remember where I heard of a certain book, or have read a review of it, but usually I'll just do a search in my Google Reader. That never seems to catch them all though but it's something at least. And I'm always very happy if someone lets me know in a comment that they've also reviewed the same book. So please don't hesitate to do so and to leave a link to your review.

Beyond that if I read a review of a book I've read on someone else's blog, I try to leave a link to my review, but I admit I don't always remember. And I haven't been great about looking through the archives of other bloggers. But just because I've been lazy busy, doesn't mean you have to be. So, in the spirit of this week's Weekly Geeks and Dewey's original community-building idea, please take a look at my Author Index, when you have time, and if you've reviewed any of the same books, and I haven't already included a link to your review, let me know and I'll add it asap. Thanks!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday Salon: Reading Retrospective (March 2002)

It's time for this month's reading retrospective, looking back at what I was reading 7 years ago, in March 2002. We'd moved from Japan to England in the latter part of February 2002 so my reading that month was pretty minimal, which I wrote about in last month's retrospective. March wasn't a whole lot better, at the beginning at least, as we first had to find a flat, and then once we did, to get settled in. I'd ended February with a re-read of Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding, and the first book I read in March was the sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. In my books spreadsheet, I gave it an 8/10 and deemed it "sometimes ridiculous but great characters. A fun read!" Good ol' Bridget!

Next I continued my light reading with The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank, which I'd actually got for free. One of those free books included with a fashion magazine. I'd never seen that before but you can imagine that I quite loved England for it! I knew I'd come to a land of literary goodness. I think I got the odd other book that way while we lived there but I soon realized that unless I actually wanted to read the magazine it wasn't such a great deal. LOL. Anyway, my first book acquired in England, but unfortunately I didn't think much of it. I only rated it a 4/10, and thought it was "interesting, but the stories didn't fit together smoothly, and the characters weren't very memorable." I can't even remember anything about it now, so I suppose that was true.

After that, I guess I'd had enough of chick lit for the time being, and I read my first book by Sarah Waters, Affinity. Seven years later, and although I've forgotten the details of the story, I still remember the mood, the fantastic spooky atmosphere. In my reading journal I wrote that it had great characterization, that the story completely drew me in, and was thought-provoking, and I gave it 8/10. I think it would be a lot of fun to read again. Another one for the 'want to reread someday' list. And I can't believe it's been 7 years already since I first read Sarah Waters. Just yesterday I was reading about her newest book, The Little Stranger, that will be coming out soon. I still haven't read The Night Watch yet, even though I've had it for a while, but I really must try to rectify that this year.

And that's it for March 2002. Only 3 books but not too bad considering we were just getting used to our new life in the UK and busy exploring.

As for this past week of March 2009, I didn't get nearly as much reading in as I would've liked. Not a slump exactly, but I think my intensive reading of the Twilight books and the Emma manga series, burnt me out a little. So I'm not too far into The Triumph of Deborah yet but I am enjoying it so far.

One of the other reasons I didn't read much this week was because when I had some extra time I spent it at the computer working on a new template for my blog, which you can see if you click over to it. I also added an About Page, and registered my own domain, so the address is now www.inspringitisthedawn.com. I'd appreciate it if you'd change the link in your blogroll or feed reader. I still have a few things I'd like to add or tweak but I'm quite pleased with how it turned out. If you haven't yet seen it, let me know what you think.

Otherwise, I hope you have a wonderful week. H and I have the day off tomorrow so I think we're finally going to take our cameras out in search of some blossoms.

Week in review:
Sunday Salon: Once Upon a Time III Challenge
Monday/Tuesday meme roundup
As Shadows Fade by Colleen Gleason (review)
Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer (review)
Best 'Worst' Book, Friday Finds, and a new look
Emma, vol. 2 and 3 (+vols. 4-7) by Kaoru Mori (review)

Happy reading!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

'Emma, vol. 2 and 3' (+vols. 4-7)

Written and illustrated by Kaoru Mori
Fiction/manga, 2003 (Japan), 2007 (English translation)
Translated and Adapted by Sheldon Drzka
CMX, pb, 194 p. (vol. 2), 186 (vol. 3)
Tragedy forces Emma to leave London… and William… behind!
London’s elite society places great importance on class differences, unlike William Jones. He regards Emma as a beautiful, charming young woman, and not merely a servant. After their first real date, things seem to be going in a positive direction for them. But the leisurely pace of the growing relationship between them ends suddenly when disaster strikes at home.
A chance meeting leads Emma to a new situation… and new challenges.
On the train back to her hometown, Emma meets Tasha, a maid working at a wealthy family’s mansion in the country. This fateful encounter leads to Emma finding employment with the family as well. But despite her years of experience as a maid for Mrs. Stownar, living in a mansion filled with servants is something for which she is not prepared.
After thoroughly enjoying the first volume, I knew I wouldn’t be able to wait too long before picking up the next one in the series. I had ordered volumes 2 and 3, and so had them already on hand, and quickly read through both of them. As in the blurbs above, Emma has to leave London, and William, behind, and she finds new employment in a large house in the country. It was a lot of fun to read about Emma’s experiences working among so many other servants for the first time and the upstairs downstairs dynamic between the various staff and the family in residence. Volume 3 ends with the promise of more interesting episodes as the series continues.

After finishing volume 3, I went online to see about getting the next 4 volumes in the series (the main story is told in 7 volumes with a couple of companion volumes after that), and found to my surprise the while volume 4 was readily available, volumes 5 to 7 were almost impossible to buy online, the places I checked anyway. It’s seems very strange for them to be out of print when the earlier and later ones are still available. But this left me at a bit of a loss as I really wanted to continue reading, so I found a site where I could read the scans online.

Reading it on the screen of my laptop was less than ideal though as I couldn’t see the whole page at once, and had to scroll down to see each page in its entirety, but I couldn’t help reading just one more chapter… just one more page… until I’d managed to read all of the remaining 4 volumes. And what a lovely story it was! Sure, I could guess how it was going to end right from the beginning, just like I can imagine how a Jane Austen story will end, but it’s the journey to get to that ending that is so enjoyable.

The art was fantastic throughout, with some truly beautiful scenes. I loved the art so much that I’m quite tempted to buy the series in the original Japanese, all the volumes of which are available. I really want to see the art on paper, in book format, and as it was truly meant to be seen. So I’m trying to convince myself that since I now know the story I could try to read it again in Japanese. It might be a fun way to study, but I would at the very least be able to admire the drawings. Regardless, I’ll be getting volume 8, which was recently released in English translation, as I want to know more about the other minor characters that made up this tale. All in all, it was a very satisfying Victorian love story and a wonderful introduction to manga.

Historical notes for the series (vols. 1 - 5)

First sentence: (vol. 2) Stevens... close the curtains, will you?

My Rating: 4/5
(#17-18* for 2009, Manga Challenge, Try Something New Mini- Challenge)
*although I also read volumes 4-7 online, I'm not counting them in my yearly numbers.

Also reviewed at:
things mean a lot (vols. 1-7)
The Written World (vols. 1-7)
Have I missed your review? Let me know and I'll link to it here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Best 'Worst' Book, Friday Finds, and a new look

btt button
Suggested by Janet:

The opposite of last week’s question: “What’s the best ‘worst’ book you’ve ever read — the one you like despite some negative reviews or features?”

A short answer this week. I think I'd have to say that the books in the Twilight series are my best 'worst' books. No matter how cheesy or ridiculous the story, I just can't help myself. A bit of a guilty pleasure but I became totally addicted to them.

Another writer that people love to disparage is Dan Brown. And sure, he won't win any awards for his excellent prose but he does know how to write suspense and keep the story zipping along. However implausible the plots, I quite enjoyed both The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons when I read them.

What is your best 'worst' book?

(My answer to last week's question: Worst 'Best' Book).

I thought I'd mention a couple of the books that I've added to my wishlist recently:

Still Alice - Lisa Genova
It sounds like a sad, but moving story and Les gave it a 5/5!

The Crimes of Paris - Dorothy Hoobler & Thomas Hoobler
I don't remember now how I stumbled across this one, but it sounds good, and I do have a bit of a one-sided love affair going on with Paris.

Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger
I loved The Time Traveler's Wife and was glad to hear that her next book will finally be out in October.

I took a couple days off blogging this week, but instead I've been working behind the scenes. I'd been thinking of changing my template and getting my own domain name for awhile but hadn't really had the time or motivation to spend the time on it. I finally got the urge this week though, so I give you the new, and hopefully you'll agree, improved InSpringItIsTheDawn.com. I know it's a bit long but I couldn't come up with anything better, so there you go. Blogger should redirect tanabata.blogspot.com to the new domain, but I'd appreciate it if you'd change the link in any blogrolls and such. I still have to tweak a few things and get some links back up, but please have a little look around, I'd love to know what you think, good or bad.

I also hope to finally catch up on visiting your blogs this weekend, or at least make a little dent in my Google Reader. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

About 'In Spring it is the Dawn'

About Me:

I'm a Canadian currently living in Japan with my husband and our two cats. A long-term ex-pat, I've now lived in Japan for about 8 years on and off, as well as a 3 1/2 year stint in England. When asked about my hobbies, I always say reading and taking photos. I love my digital SLR camera, and am almost never without a book nearby. So when I'm not teaching English, you can usually find me curled up with a book, out taking photos somewhere, or blogging about one or the other.

Other places you can find me:
Twitter - @inspringthedawn
BookBlogs on Ning - tanabata
Aminus3 (my photoblog) - bisha photoblog
Zazzle (my photo gallery) - bisha photography

About the Blog:

I started this blog in January 2006 as a way to keep track of what I read, and to hopefully connect with other book lovers. Every book I read is mentioned and reviewed here, plus I also participate in a few weekly memes, mostly book related, when the mood strikes, and post some of my photos here.

I chose for its name, In Spring it is the Dawn, which is the first line of The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon. Why? Because of the Japanese connection, and simply because I thought it was pretty, but I also like to think that if she were alive today, Sei Shōnagon would write some fantastic, witty, ranty blog posts! Ones that I can only aspire to.

Authors, publishers and publicists:

I am a bit selective about the books I agree to review, but I welcome your enquiries. I'm especially tempted by Japanese literature or fiction set in Japan (see the Reading Japan tab above for more) but I read a fairly wide variety of books, and enjoy literary fiction, literature in translation, contemporary fiction, historical fiction, crime fiction, YA, fantasy, the occasional non-fiction, and some other genres, so it never hurts to ask. I try to respond to most enquiries but sometimes it's not possible. However, even if I have declined, or failed to respond, before, it doesn't mean I won't be interested in other titles, so please feel free to contact me again. You can see a list of all the books I've read since starting this blog in January 2006 in my Author Index.

Mood often rearranges my reading schedule but I try to read the books I've received within a few months. (I am currently a little behind but plan to read and review the remaining ones I have on hand over the next couple of months). If you have a certain time frame in mind, like for new releases, please let me know, and we can work something out. I'm also happy to participate in blog tours, host giveaways, guest posts or author interviews.

Book reviews reflect my personal opinion and are purely subjective. Accepting a book for review does not guarantee a positive review, but I will always try to be honest and fair about what I either did or didn't like about the book. Not everyone has the same taste, thank goodness. Reviews are also spoiler free unless otherwise noted.

Once I have read a book, if I don't plan to keep it, I will most likely offer it up for a giveaway on my blog. I have yet to join BookMooch, or a similar book swapping site, but that may be an option in the future. If you have any conditions regarding the passing on of the book, just let me know and I'll honour your wishes. 

I'm not a big fan of reading a book on my computer screen, and I don't currently have an e-reader. Although if anyone would like to send me an e-reader, I'd happily make your books my top priority! ;)
I will accept the occasional e-book though as long as I can print it out, and it has to be something that I really want to read! 
Update:  As of October 2009, I am now the happy owner of an iPhone on which I am using the Stanza application for reading e-books.  If you would like to propose an e-book title to me, please note that I will only consider those in the supported formats.

If you have a book you would like me to consider, keeping in mind the fact that it will involve international shipping to Japan, you can contact me at: inspringthedawn (at) gmail (dot) com, or by using the Contact Form.

If you have already sent me a book and would like to check its status, or to see a list of previously reviewed books, click on the following link: Review Books.

A few stats: (as of September 2009)

Google Page Rank: Page Ranking Tool
2500+ page views per month
280+ feed subscribers

Review disclaimer:

The books I read come from a variety of sources, many of them purchased myself. For books that have been received for free, expressly for review purposes, I always include a thank you in the review, and as of November 2009, I will include a brief disclaimer on the relevant blog post.  However, whatever the source, it does not affect the content of my review.

Book blurbs are copied from the back cover, the dust jacket flap, or the publisher's website.

Links to Amazon or The Book Depository, including cover images and titles (other than those that link to my own reviews) contain my Amazon Associates ID, or my Book Depository Affiliates ID. Any purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission.  There is no extra cost to the buyer.  Any money raised in this way will go towards offsetting giveaways and the associated postage costs here on the blog.  To date, I have spent considerably more than I have received in compensation.  If you have any questions regarding this, please feel free to contact me.    

Review policy:
(as started by Dewey for Weekly Geeks)

If you've reviewed any of the same books that I have, let me know via email or comments and I'll add your link to my review. You can check which books I've read in this Author Index, or in the tabs above.

If you have any questions, I'd love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me by email: inspringthedawn (at) gmail (dot) com, or by using the Contact Form.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

'Breaking Dawn'

by Stephenie Meyer
Fiction/Fantasy/YA, 2008
Little, Brown & Co., hardback, 753 p.
Twilight series, Book 4
To be irrevocably in love with a vampire is both fantasy and nightmare woven into a dangerously heightened reality for Bella Swan. Pulled in one direction by her intense passion for Edward Cullen, and in another by her profound connection to werewolf Jacob Black, she has endured a tumultuous year of temptation, loss, and strife to reach the ultimate turning point. Her imminent choice to either join the dark but seductive world of immortals or pursue a fully human life has become the thread from which the fate of two tribes hangs.

Now that Bella has made her decision, a startling chain of unprecedented events is about to unfold with potentially devastating and unfathomable consequences. Just when the frayed strands of Bella’s life – first discovered in Twilight, then scattered and torn in New Moon and Eclipse – seem ready to heal and knit together, could they be destroyed … forever?

This is probably my least favourite book in the series, but I still couldn’t stop reading it. I don’t know what it is that makes these books such addictive reads, but I did have some issues with this last instalment. It started out well enough with the wedding and the honeymoon, and I know it’s written for a YA audience, but I wanted more details, if you know what I mean. ;)
And then Jacob’s section was way way too long! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading the story from his perspective, and loved getting to know Seth better, as well as the dynamics of the pack, but nothing much happened for those couple hundred pages and I got really tired of reading about Bella’s pregnancy. It was the first time in the series that I was actually bored. So I did something I almost never do – I randomly flipped through the later part of the book and peeked at the end just to see if or when the story would move on.

Well, luckily it did finally pick up in the second half of the book when at last Bella becomes a vampire. This was what I’d been waiting for and this part of the book was a lot of fun to read as Bella adjusts to her new abilities. Arm-wrestling with Emmett, hunting with Edward, plus meeting some of the other vampires and facing off with the Volturi. So even though I didn’t like most of the first half of the book, and the ending wasn’t as dramatic as I might have wished, it was still a pretty satisfying conclusion to the series.

I guess I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye though because I found myself printing out and reading Midnight Sun, the unfinished manuscript telling the story of Twilight from Edward’s perspective. It was fantastic getting to ‘hear’ everyone else’s thoughts, as Edward hears them, and finding out exactly what Edward was doing when he was away from Bella. I’d love to read the whole of Twilight – it ended just when it was getting good - from his viewpoint and think it’s too bad that Stephenie Meyer has decided not to complete it simply because it was leaked. Oh well, maybe she’ll change her mind someday.

Having ‘lived’ with these characters in my head for the last couple of weeks, I’m really going to miss them. In the meantime, cheesy as I've heard it is, I’m looking forward to finally being able to see the film next month.

Author's website
Review in The Guardian

First sentence: I’d had more than my fair share of near-death experiences; it wasn’t something you ever really got used to.

My Rating: 3.5/5
(#16 for 2009, What's in a Name Challenge - Time of Day)

Also reviewed at:
books i done read
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Age 30+ ... A Lifetime of Books
In the Shadow of Mt. TBR
Not Enough Books
Just One More Page
where troubles melt like lemon drops
Let me know if I've missed yours and I'll link to it here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

'As Shadows Fade'

by Colleen Gleason
Fiction/Paranormal Romance, 2009
Signet Eclipse, mm pb, 342 p.
Gardella Vampire Chronicles, Book 5
Directly descended from the very first vampire hunter in the Gardella family, Victoria knows she must continue the lineage so humanity will have protectors against the undead. While Sebastian Vioget appears to be both the perfect warrior and lover to ensure the Gardella legacy, Victoria cannot forget Max Pesaro – the former slayer still haunted by the vampire queen Lilith’s obsession with him.

But it is Lilith’s obsession that may save all of humanity. Demons, enemies of both mortals and the undead, have found their way to earth. To defeat them, vampires and slayers must fight side by side. But Lilith wants Max in return for her cooperation – a small price for the world, but too high a price for Victoria.
As Shadows Fade is the fifth and final book of the Gardella Vampire Chronicles, and it was just as much fun to read as the previous four. In fact, I found myself with an unexpected day off work and devoured the whole thing in one day! I can’t remember the last time I did that.

After the fourth book, When Twilight Burns, I had a pretty good idea how I thought it would end and which man Victoria would ultimately end up with. So in that sense, it was perhaps a little more predictable than the other books in the series, but that’s not to say that there weren’t some wonderful twists along the way. I certainly hadn’t predicted the fate of the man that Victoria doesn’t end up with, but I’d sure love to read more of his story someday.

Colleen Gleason did a fantastic job creating characters with depth, and imperfections, and she made me care for all of them. All in all, it was a thoroughly satisfying end to a great series.

Author's website
Interview with a Vampire Author, Part Deux, Part the Third, Part the Fourth

First sentence: Victoria Gardella Grantworth de Lacy, Dowager Marchioness of Rockley, had a problem – and for once, it didn’t have to do with vampires.

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

My reviews of the previous books in the series:
The Rest Falls Away, Rises the Night, The Bleeding Dusk, When Twilight Burns

Also reviewed at:
Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
Reminder: If you've reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Monday/Tuesday meme roundup

How many bookstores do you frequent? Do you have a favourite? If so, which one and what makes it so?

My favourite bookstore in Tokyo is the big Kinokuniya in Shinjuku. They seem to have the biggest selection of English books, so I like to stop in there to browse once in a while. I really don't go to the bookstore very often though, as it's in central Tokyo and I spend most of my days out in the suburbs. I do most of my book shopping online, either at Amazon Japan or The Book Depository. Gotta love the free shipping!

When we lived in London, I was in book heaven, but one of my favourite bookstores was the big Waterstones Piccadilly shop for its sheer size. With several floor of books, I almost invariably came out of there with a book or two or three. Those 3 for 2 offers were especially tempting, but I also loved their display tables in the fiction section.

And when I'm Victoria, I always make a point to stop by Bolen Books, for the selection, and Munro's, for it's great atmosphere and bargain tables, and the fact that it's next door to Murchies tea shop. Books and tea = a perfect match!
Munro's Books, November 2007

Only one book arrived this past week. Drood by Dan Simmons. There's actually a little story behind my getting this one, if you'll indulge me. As you may know, a lot of the publishers only ship out review copies to the US or Canada. But last fall, I saw that Hachette was giving out copies of Drood, which sounded really intriguing. Since I knew I'd be in Canada over Christmas, I asked Miriam if she'd send one to me in Canada. She kindly agreed, but then unfortunately she ran out. Fast forward to January, I'd been to Canada and was back in Japan, when she emailed me to say that she had more and to ask if she could still send one to that address. So I asked my father a favour, to forward it on to me. I told him to send it surface mail to help reduce the cost, and a little over a month after he sent it, it finally arrived last week! So thank you to Miriam and a big thank you to my dad, for getting this book to me. Now I just have to figure out when to read it, it's a real chunkster!

It's Monday, where are you?
Last week was spent mostly moving between London and Haworth, England with a brief, rather unplanned trip to the US. [Emma, vol. 2 - 7 by Kaoru Mori]
Now, I've just arrived in ancient Israel and war is looming against the neighboring Canaanites. [The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy]

And this week's teaser quote:
His heart kicked up inside him in terror for his life. He had hauled himself from the jaws of death so far, but he had no breath left in his lungs to continue to fight.
[p. 83, The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy]

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Salon: Once Upon a Time III Challenge

Last Sunday I was in between books, wondering what to read next, and I did end up turning to manga again. I'd enjoyed volume one of Emma so much that I decided to continue on in the series. I had volumes 2 and 3 here and quickly read through them. Then when I looked up online about getting the remaining 4 volumes, I discovered that while volume 4 was readily available, volumes 5 to 7 seem to be out of print and were difficult to find online. I wonder why as it's such a great series, and they've just released volume 8, back stories on some of the secondary characters, in English. So essentially, you can easily buy volumes 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8 but not 5, 6, and 7. Strange. Anyway, I found a site where I could read it online and proceeded to read the equivalent of 4 volumes in about a day. What a wonderful story! Sigh.

Well, then I decided that since I'd already spent a good portion of the month with the Cullens, I'd better read the unfinished manuscript by Stephenie Meyer, Midnight Sun, that got leaked awhile back, to complete the experience. Like the other two books in the series that I read this month, I flew through it as well, and I was sad when it ended much too soon. But for now, except for the movie that I'm looking forward to finally being able to watch next month, I think I'm well and truly vampired out for the time being.

So, after that I finally returned to a review book of short stories that I'd already dipped into a bit and finished it this morning. As a result, this Sunday finds me also between reads. I really need to get back to reading some books for review, so I'm thinking it'll be either The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy, or Mother Superior by Saleema Nawaz that I read next. Biblical fiction or short stories. Hmmm....decision, decisions.

However I can't resist joining in Carl's third annual Once Upon a Time Challenge. I'd like to try for Quest the First, to read 5 books, but because I have quite a few other books lined up to read over the next 3 months, and two other challenges ending, I'm instead just going to officially sign up for The Journey. In other words, I'll read at least one book from the categories of fantasy, fairytale, folklore and mythology between now and June 20th. It's kind of too bad I didn't wait to read Eclipse and Breaking Dawn, but I don't regret it since I was in the perfect mood for them earlier this month. Anyway, for the challenge I'd really like to read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint. And then if I have time, I'll try to finally get to some of these as well:
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
Marked by P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast
I've heard good things about all of these and wish I could read them all. Well I guess we'll just see how it goes. If you were me, which one would you read first?

Week in review:
Sunday Salon: Comfort Reads
Mailbox Monday Musings
Monster, vol. 1 - Naoki Urasawa (review)
Eclipse - Stephenie Meyer (review)
PhotoHunt: Yellow
xxxHolic, vol. 1 - CLAMP (review)

Have a great week and happy reading!

'xxxHolic, vol. 1'

xxxHolic volume one mangaWritten and illustrated by CLAMP
Translated and Adapted by Anthony Gerard
Fiction/manga, 2003 (Japan), 2004 (US, English translation)
Del Ray, pb, 185 p.
Kimihiro Watanuki is haunted by visions of ghosts and spirits. Seemingly by chance, he encounters a mysterious witch named Yuko, who claims she can help. In desperation he accepts, but realizes that he’s just been tricked into working for Yuko in order to pay off the cost of her services. Soon he’s employed in her little shop – a job that turns out to be nothing like his previous work experience!
Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this one nearly as much as the other 2 manga (Emma and Monster) that I tried this month. Even though the other 2 were both set in Europe, they still had a Japanese flavour to the drawings and the way the stories were told, but this one felt distinctly Japanese. I guess it kind of fit into my preconceived idea of what manga would be like: supernatural elements, exaggerated actions and cho kawaii (super cute) characters, in this case Maru and Moru, that really didn’t seem to serve much purpose except to up the cuteness factor. Plus the fact that I’ve never read any of CLAMP’s other works, made me feel like I was missing out on the story a bit, since apparently characters and such regularly show up from their other series. There were some notes at the back to explain some of them, but still, I can't know the full significance not having read the other stories.

I also didn’t really enjoy the art. Some panels are very nicely drawn, but I often found the art a bit chaotic. And like I mentioned above I really disliked the over-exaggerated expressions of the main character, Kimihiro, to show his anger. And I found the English adaptations of the Japanese sound effect words to be distracting throughout, because in some cases the sounds were transliterated exactly, sometimes they were translated into English, like ‘clap’ or ‘sigh’, but in others they didn’t make any sense in English either. (I can’t read very many kanji but I can read the katakana that these sound words are usually written in). For example, one of the sound effects was ドロッ (do-ro pronounced 'dough-row') but was translated as “bloog”. Huh? Neither explains to an English speaker what that sound is meant to represent. I know this is a translation issue, not a problem with the original but I still found it rather annoying.
Even with all my complaints, there was one incident in the story that I found very amusing. A woman calls on the witch to help her quit her addiction… to the internet. It made me smile because I find I can relate, a little too much perhaps!
I have to quit… the Net. When I’m doing housework or even watching television, it’s always on my mind. I know I shouldn’t but suddenly I find myself in front of the PC.
Overall though I guess I prefer the realism of the other two manga, so maybe this one is simply too fantastical for me. Whatever the reason, I don’t plan to continue with this series. There are certainly plenty of other ones out there to try instead. But for some more favourable reviews, please visit the links below.

Read xxxHolic online

First sentence: There are a great many strange things in the world... but no matter how odd... how incredible something may be... if a human does not touch it... if a human does not see it... if a human is not involved with it... it is simply something that happened.

My Rating: 2/5
(#14 for 2009, Manga Challenge, Try Something New Mini-challenge)

Also reviewed at:
Read About Comics - vol. 1
Books & other thoughts - vol. 9, vol. 10, vol. 11, vol. 12
If anyone else has read this series, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

PhotoHunt: Yellow

Yellow chrysanthemum at Shinjuku Gyoen, November 2008.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Worst 'Best' Book, and Friday Fill-ins

Suggested by Janet:

How about, “What’s the worst ‘best’ book you’ve ever read — the one everyone says is so great, but you can’t figure out why?”

I've mentioned it before, but one of the books that continues to stand out as one of the worst books I've read, even years later, but one that has many fans, is Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières. It's one of the very few books where, when I finally managed to finish it, skimming the boring chapters, and being utterly annoyed with the ending, that I felt like reading it had been a complete waste of my time. I don't necessarily adore every book I read but I rarely really regret spending time on them, like I did in this case.

Not a passionate hate, but a very popular author that I just won't read anymore is Jodi Picoult. I've read 3 of her books. The first one I read was The Pact several years ago, and I think I didn't mind it at the time, but I really can't remember anything about it now. Next was My Sister's Keeper. The ending really frustrated me - such a cop out! And I didn't like the author's complaints, in online discussions at the time, about people who didn't 'understand' the mother in the story, getting all defensive and trying to force her interpretation on to the readers. An instance for me when the author's own personality put me off their work. A year or so later I decided to give her another chance since I still had another book of hers in my TBR stacks, Plain Truth. But I was again disappointed by what I thought was a very predictable, somewhat formulaic story. So, I know I'm very much in a minority, but Picoult is on my 3 strikes, you're out list. There are simply too many other books out there that I'd rather be reading.

What's your worst 'best' book?

1. Why do we have to work and sleep and do laundry and all the other things that take up too many hours of the day?
2. Feeding the boys, cleaning their litter box, playing with them are now habits.
3. I have enough unread books in the house to keep me occupied for several years. But will I stop buying more? Hahaha.
4. (I couldn't think of one off the top of my head so I asked H what English phrase he had never heard before we moved to England). He had never heard the phrase "bollocks" and it is pretty fun to say.
5. I'll probably just procrastinate the way I almost always do.
6. How was I to know that I just wouldn't be able to stop reading.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to going out for dinner with H, tomorrow my plans include something as yet undecided and most likely depends on the weather and Sunday, I want to relax and get ready for a busy week ahead!

And a very kind thank you to Blacklin for passing on the I Love Your Blog Award to me. I'm simply chuffed! :) As per usual, I'm not going to pass this on to anyone else specifically, but I would really like to thank all of you who have continued to stop by and comment even though I haven't been returning the favour lately. I hope to get back into full blogging mode, not just posting on mine but reading and commenting on yours as well, soon. And when I do you'll be the first ones I visit, promise!

Thursday, March 19, 2009


by Stephenie Meyer
Fiction/Fantasy, 2007
Little, Brown & Co., hardback, 629 p.
Twilight series, Book 3
As Seattle is ravaged by a string of mysterious killings and a malicious vampire continues her quest for revenge, Bella once again finds herself surrounded by danger. In the midst of it all, she is forced to choose between her love for Edward and her friendship with Jacob – knowing that her decision has the potential to ignite the ageless struggle between vampire and werewolf. With her graduation quickly approaching, Bella has one more decision to make: life or death. But which is which?
What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said? I’m not nearly as creative as Kim so I’ll keep it short. Guilty pleasure maybe but it was a lot of fun to return to Forks, Washington and the uneasy balance of vampires, werewolves and humans. In this book, the love triangle between Edward, Bella and Jacob took centre stage and I have to admit I really enjoyed the scenes in which Edward and Jacob were verbally sparring with each other. I loved the tent scene!
“You know, Jacob, if it weren’t for the fact that we’re natural enemies and that you’re also trying to steal away the reason for my existence, I might actually like you.”
It was certainly cheesy in places but it was such an addictive read! I couldn’t stop turning the pages and flew through all 600 of them in a couple of days. These may not be the kind of books to win any literary awards but it was still a very satisfying story to get lost in for awhile.

Author's website
Stephenie Meyer interview (YouTube video)

First sentence: All our attempts at subterfuge had been in vain.

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

Also reviewed at:
Bold. Blue. Adventure. (Just love this! And it's so true!)
Age 30+ ... A Lifetime of Books
books i done read
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
The Written World
Melody's Reading Corner
Adventures in Reading
where troubles melt like lemon drops
Rhinoa's Ramblings
...and no doubt plenty more. Let me know if I've missed yours and I'll add the link here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

'Monster, vol. 1'

Monster volume one (manga)Written and Illustrated by Naoki Urasawa
Translated by Satch Watanabe
Fiction/manga, 1995 (Japan), 2006 (English translation)
Viz Media, pb, 214 p.
Winner of the Shogakukan Manga Award, 2001
An ice-cold killer is on the loose, and brilliant Dr. Kenzo Tenma is the only one who can stop him! Conspiracies, serial murders, and a scathing indictment of hospital politics are all masterfully woven together in this compelling manga thriller. Tenma risks his promising medical career to save the life of a critically wounded young boy. Unbeknownst to him, this child is destined for a terrible fate. Who could have known that Tenma would create a monster!
I don’t remember now exactly where I heard of this series but I think it was from browsing a list of recommended manga online somewhere. I don’t discuss books with my husband too much because he reads almost exclusively non-fiction but when he saw that I’d bought the first volume (on this Mailbox Monday post no less), he told me he’d read this series when he was a student and that he’d enjoyed it. He even used to have many of the volumes but sold them quite a few years ago. I wouldn’t have been able to read them anyway, being as they were the original Japanese, but still. Anyway, I thought it was fun that I’d picked up on my own a series he knew and had read, and this made me even more curious to read it myself.

It’s set in Germany, and the main character is a Japanese neurosurgeon working at a hospital in Düsseldorf. In volume 1 (of 18 in total), the story is just beginning, so much of this first volume is devoted to setting the scene and it’s not until practically the end of this first instalment that the main character makes an important discovery, that I imagine will lead the story in the volumes to come.
The artwork isn’t perhaps quite as beautiful as in Emma (which I think might be difficult to top), but the panels were very well drawn, and especially the characters’ faces were really quite expressive. With the hospital setting, and medical jargon, it sometimes felt like an episode of ER, or House. I usually like hospital or crime dramas though so that was no bad thing and it held my interest. The story was sometimes predictable, but it seems to have the makings of an exciting thriller and I’m curious enough after reading this one to read on in the series to see how it progresses. My second foray into manga has also been deemed a success.

Naoki Urasawa interview (YouTube video, taken from a documentary aired on French TV, with English subtitles).

First sentence: That was amazing. He’s the best we’ve got, by far.

My Rating: 3.5/5
(#12 for 2009, Manga Challenge, Try Something New Mini-Challenge)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mailbox Monday Musings

It's been 4 weeks since I've posted a Mailbox Monday because I just hadn't had any new books for awhile, but my delayed Amazon order finally showed up this past week, plus a couple others I'd ordered recently.

Be With You - Takuji Ichikawa
As Shadows Fade - Colleen Gleason
Breaking Dawn - Stephenie Meyer
Emma, vol. 2 and vol. 3 - Kaoru Mori
The Museum Guard - Howard Norman (Thank you Sandra of Fresh Ink for this one).

Most surprisingly is the fact that I've already read 3 of them. I'm always excited to get new books, but I don't often get to them right away. They just fit my mood though, so good timing.
It's Monday, where are you?

I've racked up a few more literary airmiles this past week. I started off in London, England but then travelled to Prague, and into the mountains of Romania in an attempt to take down the evil vampire queen (As Shadows Fade). After that it was back to Forks, Washington for more vampire and werewolf adventures (Breaking Dawn). Now I'm back in London at the end of the 18th century, working as a maid and falling in love with William, even though he's an aristocrat and I know his family will never allow us to be together (Emma, vol. 2).
We were all warned as children to 'never talk to strangers', but how do you feel about book-talk with random people? When you see people reading, do you ask what it is? Do you talk to people in the book store or the library? Why or why not? What do you do if people talk to you? (question courtesy of Dena)

No, I have to say that I don't usually talk to strangers, about books or anything else really. If I spot someone reading, I do always try to see what book it is, but I won't try to ask them about it. Besides being naturally shy, a lot of it has to do with the environment I live in. In Japanese culture you just don't talk to strangers. You can see a lot of people reading in the trains, but no one would think to start up a conversation with someone they didn't know. Plus my poor Japanese skill and the fact that I'm a gaijin (foreigner) would probably give someone a heart attack if I tried to talk to them out of the blue! Even in a bookstore or library, the only stranger I'm likely to talk to would be one of the staff, if I had a question. So the reverse is obviously also true. People don't talk to me either in those situations. Which I suppose is one of the big appeals of having a book blog, and talking with all of you about books. Thanks guys! :)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday Salon: Comfort Reads

I've been feeling rather overwhelmed by my online and real life commitments and lately it just seems easier to escape into the pages of a book than deal with the here and now. Which I think is where the vampires come in, since even though I've been reading more intensively, all I've been craving is fun, easy reads. Ones to get completely lost in. Comfort reads.

At the beginning of the week I tried my third manga, xxxHolic vol. 1, which I have to admit I didn't like as much as the other two. Then mid-week I had an unexpected day off as all my lessons were cancelled. Although it was not by me, it was fortunate because hayfever decided to hit me hard this week, leaving me sneezing, stuffed up with a headache, and lethargic for the last few days. Admittedly, this is probably partly why I'm feeling more reclusive than usual but instead of getting some other stuff done around here, I gulped down all of Colleen Gleason's latest, As Shadows Fade, which finally showed up by the way. I can't remember the last time I read a whole book in a day! Then I spent quite a few hours reading yesterday and today, and have just finished reading all 700 odd pages of Breaking Dawn. Whew! Considering I read all of Eclipse last weekend. Double whew! And even though it was cheesy and I didn't even like most of the first half of Breaking Dawn, I'm still going to miss Bella, Edward, Jacob, Alice and all the rest. As well as Victoria, Max, and Sebastian.

What to read next? I'm not sure. I still feel like losing myself in something not too challenging but I do think I'm vampired out for now. Maybe more manga. Or fantasy. Or I wonder if a mystery would fit my current mood. What are your comfort reads?

Hope you're achieving a better balance than I am lately, and apologies for being a bad blogger lately, or rather a bad blog visitor. I love your comments and I promise to stop by when I get my blogging mojo back. Have a good week!

Week in Review:
Sunday Salon: a vampire weekend
Berry Angel of Spring (Weekend Snapshot)
Bookish Musings and It's Tuesday, where are you?
'Emma, vol. 1' by Kaoru Mori (review)
Friday Finds and Fill-ins
PhotoHunt: Four