Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday Salon: Book Awards II Challenge Completed

Another reading challenge successfully completed! Even though I tell myself that it's ok if I don't fully complete all the challenges I join, I still feel great when I do finish them in time. The goal of the Book Awards II challenge was to read 10 books between August 1st, 2008 and June 1st, 2009. During that time I managed to read 11 award-winning books. This time, there was also the added goal of having at least five different awards represented in our 10 titles. It's wasn't intentional but the 11 books I read each won a different award, therefore representing 11 different awards. I'm kind of pleased about that.

Books completed:
1. Maus I & II - Art Spiegelman (Pulitzer Prize, 1992)
2. Perfume - Patrick Süskind (World Fantasy Award, 1987)
3. Grotesque - Natsuo Kirino (Izumi Kyoka Literary Award, 2003)
4. The Sandman: Endless Nights - Neil Gaiman (Bram Stoker Award for Best Illustrated Narrative, 2003)
5. An Artist of the Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro (Whitbread Book of the Year, 1986)
6. Monster - Naoki Urasawa (Shogakukan Award for Best Manga, 2001)*
7. The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman (Newbery Medal, 2009)
8. Skim - Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki (Ignatz Award for Outstanding Graphic Novel, 2008)
9. Still Life - Louise Penny (Arthur Ellis Award - Best First Novel, 2006/Anthony Award - Best First Novel, 2007)
10. Looking for Alaska - John Green (Printz Award, 2006)
11. No Great Mischief - Alistair MacLeod (IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, 2001)

*(I guess including this one might technically be cheating since I think the award was given for the series as a whole, and I've only read the first book. I do hope to continue on with the series though.)

Best book(s) I read for the challenge?
Hmmm, there were quite a few that I really enjoyed but I guess the most impressive were Maus I & II, and The Graveyard Book.

Book(s) I could have done without?
I suppose I could have done without Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino, since I was so disappointed with it, but all of the others were very much worth reading.

Any new authors? Will I read them again?
Yes, quite a few new-to-me authors in this bunch. Art Spiegelman, Patrick Süskind, Naoki Urasawa, Mariko & Jillian Tamaki, Louise Penny, John Green and Alistair MacLeod were all authors I'd never read before. Of those I'd most like to read more by Louise Penny (to continue with her Inspector Gamache series) and John Green (because I'm curious about his other books), but I would happily read something else by any of them.
Of the authors I'd read before, I really want to read more by Kazuo Ishiguro. Neil Gaiman made the list twice this time and I'm sure I'll be reading more by him as well.

Best thing about the challenge?
I said it when I wrapped up the the first Book Awards Challenge and it's true again this time. The best thing was probably reading a variety of books from a variety of literary awards. As you can see in the list above, I read award-winning graphic novels, fantasy, YA novels, a mystery, literary fiction. Quite a nice mix, really! And it was again nice to have a little nudge to read some of the books that had been waiting to be read for far too long.

A few of the books that I read for the challenge this time were ones I'd had in mind when I made my list for the challenge last year, but I didn't get to all of them and I still have other book award winners waiting on my shelves. It would make sense to join the 3rd round but I think I'm going to hold off this time. I'm feeling like I already have enough challenges on the go at the moment, a couple of which I haven't even started yet! I do like reading award winners though, and might very well be tempted to join in again next year. Thanks so much for hosting 3M!

As for what I've been reading this week, I thoroughly enjoyed the short fairy tale, The King's Bride by E.T.A. Hoffmann and hope to have a review up this coming week. And now I'm about half way through Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel, and love what I've read so far. So even though my reading time has suffered a bit because of preparations for moving, the quality has been excellent! Tomorrow I'm going to start packing all my books. Wish me luck!

Week in review:
May Movies
'Looking for Alaska' by John Green
'No Great Mischief' by Alistair MacLeod

Saturday, May 30, 2009

'No Great Mischief'

by Alistair Macleod
Fiction, 1999
Vintage UK, trade pb, 262 p.
Winner of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, 2001
In 1779, driven out of his home, Calum MacDonald sets sail from the Scottish Highlands with his extensive family. After a long, terrible journey he settles his family in ‘the land of trees’ until they become a separate Nova Scotian clan: red-haired and black-eyed, with its own identity, its own history.

It is the 1980s by the time our narrator, Alexander MacDonald, tells the story of his family, a thrilling and passionate story that intersects with history: with Culloden, where the clans died, and with the 1759 battle at Quebec that was won when General Wolfe sent in the fierce Highlanders because it was ‘no great mischief if they fall’.
I’m not sure exactly how long I’ve had No Great Mischief but I know it had been sitting on my shelves unread for quite some time, so I’m glad that I finally got around to reading it.

It essentially tells the story of the MacDonald family and is narrated by the youngest brother of the current generation. It moves around from the present to the past and even as far back as when their ancestors left Scotland and settled on Cape Breton. So the story of one family becomes a tale of the whole clan of cousins and uncles and everyone else somehow connected to the clann Chalum Ruaidh.

For me, the most memorable aspect of the story was the strong sense of family and belonging, and sticking together regardless of what life throws at you. Even members of the clan who had never met would be instantly welcomed with arms wide and cared for. In our modern world where people are often so disconnected and alone, where you might never meet your next-door neighbour, it was really wonderful to read about this deep bond that reached beyond borders, and was such a tangible part of the story. As well as the strong connection they had to the land making Cape Breton as much a character in the story as the rest of them.

I don’t know anything about Scottish history and very little about Canadian history either if I’m being honest, so when they referred to old battles won or lost, I didn’t have much background knowledge to go on, but it didn’t really matter as it’s ultimately a character-driven story. As such, the story progressed at a relatively slow pace sometimes, but I enjoyed being taken along the narrator’s stroll down memory lane.
‘All of us are better when we’re loved.’

Interview with the author
No Great Mischief on the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award website.

First sentence: As I begin to tell this, it is the golden month of September in southwestern Ontario.

Buy this book at: Amazon | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk | The Book Depository

My Rating: 3.5/5
(#33 for 2009, Book Awards II Challenge, 2nd Canadian Book Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
an adventure in reading
If you've reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

'Looking for Alaska'

by John Green
Fiction/YA, 2005
Speak (Penguin), trade pb, 228 p.
Winner of the Printz Award, 2006
before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the “Great Perhaps” [Francois Rabelais, poet] even more. He heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

after. Nothing is ever the same.
John Green has been getting a lot of blog love lately so I had to try one of his books for myself, and Looking for Alaska seemed like a good place to start.

One of the things I liked most about the story was that John Green never shied away from staying true to the characters, which seemed very authentic, and their true voices. Even if it means that his book has been challenged for its use of “graphic language and sexual content” as a result. OK, I know that not all do, but really, who ever thinks that teens don’t think or talk about sex, or swear, must be living in denial! The characters in the story seemed like pretty typical teenagers, and I may not have liked or agreed with everything they did, but I enjoyed getting to know them. And isn’t a part of growing up about making mistakes and learning from them?

I have to say that I wasn’t terribly surprised by the pivotal event in the middle of the story though, and I also thought it took them quite a while to figure out the obvious reason behind it. Perhaps I’m missing the point though and the friends (or the plot?) simply needed that time to come to terms with what happened. Regardless, I still thought this was a well-written, and enjoyable story. As I’ve mentioned before, I haven’t read a lot of Printz winners but I do think this one is deserving of recognition as a coming-of-age story and for its honest look at how teens cope with tragedy and loss. Perhaps not surprisingly, it reminded me of the wonderful graphic novel, Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, that I read last month.

Final verdict: Fun characters, and a touching story about growing up.

John Green's website
Watch a great video of John Green on his book being called "pornography".

First sentence: The week before I left my family and Florida and the rest of my minor life to go to boarding school in Alabama, my mother insisted on throwing me a going-away party.

Buy this book at: Amazon | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk | The Book Depository

My Rating: 3.5/5
(#32 for 2009, Book Awards II Challenge, Dewey's Books Reading Challenge, Herding Cats II Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
The Written World
things mean a lot
Stella Matutina
Fluttering Butterflies
Semicolon --> John Green responds
an adventure in reading
where troubles melt like lemon drops
Book Gazing
Fizzy Thoughts
nothing of importance
If you've reviewed this title too, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

May Movies

I thought I'd mention a couple of movies that we've watched lately, and might do so more often if there's interest, especially the bookish, or based on a book, ones. Just a note though that we rarely go to the cinema so mostly we watch older DVDs that we've either rented or bought. Therefore I won't be talking about any new releases, but anyway, here's what we've seen in the last couple of weeks.

The weekend before last we watched the movie Paris, Je t'aime, a collection of 18 5-minute shorts by 18 different directors, each set in a different arrondissement (district) of Paris. The stories were all independent of each other and just moments in the lives of the characters. It was much like an anthology of open-ended short stories, and as such there were a couple that I really didn't care for, and some that I liked more than others, but some of them were quite clever, and most of them were interesting, and impressive really, in how much story they could tell in such a short time. Overall I liked the movie more than H who kept saying "Is that it?" almost every time one story would end and another would begin. Of course it was all filmed on location so I loved visiting Paris again, as it were. I'd certainly rather be in Paris right now than packing! Paris, je t'aime!

You might remember that I read Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote earlier this year, and quite enjoyed it. (Click on the title for my review). I'd never seen the movie but H and I finally got a chance to watch it last weekend. Well ... I think this will not be a popular opinion so please don't hate me ... but we really didn't like it. I haven't watched many older films so that may have something to do with it, but it seemed very over-acted, and I just could not get over how much they changed the story. H hasn't read the book but he didn't like it much either, and of course I told him the book was way better. We joked that our favourite character in the film was Cat! If you know the story, you know who I mean. I realize we might be a bit more sensitive than others but the character, or rather caricature, of the ridiculous, meddlesome, Japanese neighbour upstairs was also extremely condescending.
I'm glad I saw it if just to be able to say I've seen it and now know what it's like. So many people claim it as a favourite movie though, so if you're one of them please tell me why you love it and what we missed.

Have you seen any good, or bad, movies lately?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunday Salon: Reading Retrospective (May 2002)

I spent most of this past week with the MacDonald clan, re-living the departure of their ancestors from Scotland to Cape Breton and following several generations up to the modern day. I finished reading No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod yesterday and I quite enjoyed it. Now I've picked up The King's Bride by E.T.A Hoffmann, one of my recent acquisitions. I decided to sneak it in, as it's really short and looks like it'll be a fun, quick read. Then after that I'll be reading Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel. It's an e-book so I've printed out all 244 pages, and while reading loose printouts isn't ideal I am looking forward to it as I've heard great things about it. This week I also posted my review of Still Life by Louise Penny, the first book in her Inspector Gamache series. I was in the mood for a mystery and really enjoyed it, and I will definitely be reading on in the series.

So that's where my reading has been taking me these days. Continuing on though with my monthly look back at what I was reading 7 years ago, when I started keeping track of the books I read, here's what I read in May of 2002. Comments in italics are my thoughts at the time from my reading journal (aka spreadsheet).

The Nanny Diaries by Nicola Kraus & Emma McLaughlin
A compelling story with great characters that really came to life. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. 8/10
I still remember feeling so sorry for the little boy in the story.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
A re-read of this well-created Biblical fiction. Dinah is such a believable character and the ending made me cry again! 9.5/10
This was one of those cases when the book was just as moving for me the second time around.

The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler
So real! A great preview to the live performance (which I saw in London). 8/10
The book is good but this is totally worth seeing live. So empowering for women, and I have to say it had a positive effect on my life, helping me be more accepting of my own body.

The Shelters of Stone by Jean M. Auel
I loved the previous books in the Earth's Children series that started with The Clan of the Cave Bear, which I devoured as a teenager. But while it was interesting to revisit the characters this was very poorly edited and flat. Too much recapping of what came before with a bit of set up for a final book. Disappointing. 4/10
I wonder if she'll ever finish, or publish the sixth and supposed final book of the series?

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Beautifully-written, heart-warming story. The characters were full of life, but a moderate ending. 7/10
I don't really know what I meant by 'moderate ending', but I guess I wasn't completely satisfied with it. I still remember some parts of the story but I don't remember how it ended anymore so maybe that says it all.

So I read some pretty good books 7 years ago this month with only the one disappointment. I can't complain about that! Have you read any of these?

Back to the present, this week we also got approved for our new apartment, and today we had two different moving companies round to give us a quote. Surprisingly one was basically half-price of the other. We're talking a difference of almost $1000! Guess which one we'll be using? Anyway, it'll be good to move on from sorting and tossing to putting things in boxes. I'll be around a little more this week as I have a few reviews I'd like to post before the end of the month. I hope you have a good week!

Week in review:
Mailbox Monday
'Still Life' by Louise Penny (review)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

'Still Life'

by Louise Penny
Fiction/Mystery, 2005
Headline UK, mm pb, 402 p.
Inspector Gamache series, Book 1
Winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel (2006), the Anthony Award for Best First Novel (2007) among others.
As the early morning mist clears on Thanksgiving Sunday, the homes of Three Pines come to life – all except one…
To locals, the village is a safe haven. So they are bewildered when a well-loved member of the community is found dead in the maple woods. Surely it was an accident – a hunter’s arrow gone astray. Who could want Jane Neal dead?

In a long and distinguished career with the Sûreté du Québec, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has learned to look for snakes in Eden. Gamache knows something dark is lurking behind the white picket fences, and if he watched closely enough, Three Pines will begin to give up its secrets…
I guess Still Life would be considered a ‘cozy’. Although I usually prefer my mysteries to be a bit more thrilling, this was truly a pleasure to read. It’s the first in Louise Penny’s series with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and takes place in the small Quebec town of Three Pines.

I have to say that after reading this book I was almost ready to pack up and move to Three Pines! The perfect opposite of hectic, crowded Tokyo, that’s for sure! The setting and the cast of quirky characters that live in the town really added to the charm, making it a fun place to spend a few days, via the pages of the book. And I was thrilled to learn that several of the other books in the series again return to Three Pines. I also liked the character of Gamache, with his moral conviction and quiet but authoritative manner, and I look forward to getting to know him a little better.

I found the writing occasionally a bit awkward, and the subplot with the bungling young female police officer unnecessary and slightly distracting, but it wasn’t enough to detract from my overall enjoyment of the story. I’ll definitely be continuing with the series.

Final verdict: Wonderful characters, and a great beginning to a promising series.

Louise Penny's website
Louise Penny's blog
Author Profile in the Quill & Quire
Article in Macleans magazine
Interview with Louise Penny

First sentence: Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday.



My rating: 3.5/5
(#30 for 2009, Book Awards II Challenge, 2nd Canadian Book Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
Tip of the Iceberg
Thoughts of Joy
You Can Never Have Too Many Books
A Reader's Journal
Framed and Booked
If you've read and reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mailbox Monday

It's been 4 weeks since my last confession, book confession that is. I've been consciously trying to limit the number of books and the amount I spend on books this year, because I really do have too many unread books as it is, plus with things a bit tighter this year due to the economy. So earlier this year H and I agreed on a small-ish monthly book budget each and I've been sticking to it. H went over last month but tried to justify it since they were computer books that he was going to use for work. Hmm.. Anyway, I haven't used any of my budget this month since it seems silly to buy more now when we'll just have to pack them and move them in a few weeks. (I fully intend to carry it over though and splurge after we're settled in!) However, I did receive a few books for review last week, and they look great!

Best Intentions by Emily Listfield
I thought it sounded like something I'd enjoy, and it's had some great reviews by other bloggers, so I'm looking forward to it even more now.

The King's Bride by E.T.A Hoffmann
The Flight of the Icarus by Raymond Queneau
Both of these are from OneWorld Classics, an independent publisher whose "aim is to expand the literary canon in the English-speaking world through a series of mainstream and lesser-known classics, often by commissioning new translations." Sounds good, right? I'd actually been approached to review a different title, but when I was browsing their site these ones caught my eye, and they were kind enough to send me these instead. They both sound like such fun, I can't wait to read them. Since they're also both quite slim, I hope to slip them in sometime soon.



For more Mailbox Monday visit The Printed Page.

What new books have you received lately that you're eager to read?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday Salon: Book Coveting

I've been pretty absent around the blogosphere this past week, but I did finally post my review of Mother Superior by Saleema Nawaz, a book of short stories that I really enjoyed. And I've still been reading, a little bit anyway. After finishing Looking for Alaska, which I stayed up way too late one night reading, I've now started into No Great Mischief by Alastair Macleod. It's a Canadian award-winning book so it's perfect for my challenges, and one I've had on my shelves for a few years so it seemed a good time to pull it out. It's kind of a family saga and I've enjoyed what I've read of it so far.

I haven't had a chance to post any Friday Finds recently, but Debi's mini-challenge this month for the Dewey's Books Reading Challenge is the perfect opportunity to take a look at some of the books I'm looking forward to. Dewey's Book Coveting posts were some of my favourites of her regular features as well, and it's always fun to see everyone's lists of what they'd like to read. So here are a few of the books that I'm coveting these days.

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
I really enjoyed The Shadow of the Wind and am looking forward to returning to the Barcelona filled with books and mystery that he introduced to us in it.
In an abandoned mansion at the heart of Barcelona, a young man - David Martin - makes his living by writing sensationalist novels under a pseudonym. The survivor of a troubled childhood, he has taken refuge in the world of books, and spends his nights spinning baroque tales about the city's underworld. But perhaps his dark imaginings are not as strange as they seem, for in a locked room deep within the house are letters hinting at the mysterious death of the previous owner.
The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland
I first heard about this book on the Simon Mayo Book Reviews podcast that I listen to each week, and it sounded fascinating. Set in England in 1321, a little plague, a little witchcraft, what's not to like? It won't be released until the end of September in the US but is available now in the UK.
England, 1321. Deep in the heart of countryside lies an isolated village governed by a sinister regime of Owl Masters - theirs is a pagan world of terror and blackmail, where neighbour denounces neighbour and sin is punishable by murder. This dark status quo is disturbed by the arrival of a house of religious women, who establish a community outside the village. Why do their crops succeed when village crops fail; their cattle survive despite the plague? But petty jealousy turns deadly when the women give refuge to a young martyr.
Beyond the Blossoming Fields by Jun'ichi Watanabe
I found this one while browsing the Alma Books website. Dear Everybody by Michael Kimball, which I read recently, is one of their titles.
As a young girl from a wealthy family, Ginko Ogino seems set for a conventional life in the male-dominated society of nineteenth-century Japan. But when she contracts gonorrhoea from her husband, she suffers the ignominy of divorce. Forced to bear the humiliation of being treated by male doctors, she resolves to become a doctor herself in order to treat fellow female sufferers and spare them some of the shame she had to endure.

Her struggle is not an easy one: her family disown her, and she has to convince the authorities to take seriously the very idea of a female doctor, and allow her to study alongside male medical students and sit the licensing exam.

Based on the real-life story of Ginko Ogino – Japan’s first female doctor – Beyond the Blossoming Fields does full justice to the complexity of her character and her world in a fascinating and inspirational work of fiction.
Then I was updating my Orange Prize list today and added this book from this year's shortlist to my wishlist.

Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
I'm always interested in stories with a Japanese connection, and this sounds like a slightly different look at the after-effects of the war.
August 9, 1945, Nagasaki. Hiroko Tanaka steps out onto her veranda, taking in the view of the terraced slopes leading up to the sky. Wrapped in a kimono with three black cranes swooping across the back, she is twenty-one, in love with the man she is to marry, Konrad Weiss.

In a split second, the world turns white. In the next, it explodes with the sound of fire and the horror of realization. In the numbing aftermath of a bomb that obliterates everything she has known, all that remains are the bird-shaped burns on her back, an indelible reminder of the world she has lost.
And I'm still lusting after Kabuki: The Alchemy by David Mack. I first heard about this graphic novel from Carl, and the art in it looks fantastic. Visit Carl's post to see some of the awesome images with a strong Japanese flavour. As I mentioned above, I'm always intrigued by all things Japanese so how could I possibly resist this one?

I could go on but I think I'll stop there. I haven't bought a single book this month, although I did receive a couple last week that I'll mention tomorrow, and am refraining until after we move. I have far too many books to move as it is, it seems silly to add more right now. A little book buying post-move sounds like a nice incentive though. As I mentioned last week we'll be moving sometime in June to a different area of Tokyo so I won't be around too much over the next few weeks, but will try to stop in when I have time. I hope you all have a great week! Happy reading!

Friday, May 15, 2009

'Mother Superior'

by Saleema Nawaz
Fiction/Short Stories, 2008
Freehand Books, trade pb, 287 p.
A prostitute takes shelter with a group of young anarchists. A sister goes missing, mailing a trail of encoded postcards from destinations across the globe. The daughters of a Montreal bagel-shop owner navigate the tricky terrain of being young, Sikh, and female, one growing larger while the other fades. A precocious child spies on her adoptive mother, trying to grasp the secret of her mother’s hidden obsession and of her own unexplained origins.
The seven stories and two novellas in Mother Superior are a heady blend of misfits and mothers, of sisters and mysterious others. Nawaz traces the scars left by family secrets and sings the complex, captivating language of lust and of love.
These are the stories of mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, and their complicated relationships. Sometimes with a collection of stories by a single author, they can start to feel repetitive if read too closely one after the other. But even though these stories all pretty much deal with women and relationships, they were all different, each one engaging and complete, and I never felt I was reading the same thing over and over. Sure, there were one or two stories I didn’t care for quite as much, as is often the case with a book of short stories, but even in those ones I stopped sometimes to admire the writing or the very real emotions being portrayed.

My favourites were My Three Girls and The White Dress. The first is about sisters and loss and the past haunting the present. The latter story is about a young girl trying to understand her adoptive mother’s strange moods and sadness, and coming to realize why some people treat her so differently. I thought the author did a lovely job capturing the thoughts of a child in this one. The characters in all the stories came vividly to life and they all felt very realistic, making me care for them and think about them long after I’d read about these moments in their lives.

An impressive debut, these stories were very well crafted and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them. Saleema Nawaz is currently working on a novel, and I very much look forward to reading more by her in the future.
Final verdict: Wonderful, touching stories by an author to watch.

Read an excerpt from 'My Three Girls'
Interview with Saleema Nawaz
Q&A with Saleema Nawaz
Review in Quill & Quire
Saleema Nawaz's blog

Thank you to Mini Book Expo and Freehand Books for the opportunity to read this book.

First sentence: (Mother Superior) Joan won't get an abortion.



My Rating: 4/5
(#29 for 2009, 2nd Canadian Book Challenge, What's in a Name Challenge (Relative), ARC Reading Challenge)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunday Salon: April in Review

Happy Mother's Day! I'm only a mom to furkids and they didn't think to get me anything. LOL. But I spent a couple of hours reading this afternoon and finished up The Museum Guard by Howard Norman. It was interesting, but I didn't love it either. Actually, I'm not really sure exactly what I think of it yet, I'm going to have to let it sit in my head for a couple of days first. As for what to read next, I'm leaning towards Looking for Alaska by John Green. I think it's time to find out what all the fuss is about.

This past week on my blog was a week of reviews, and nothing but reviews. No memes, no photos (I know I haven't posted many photos lately, sorry!), no random posts, just reviews. Not a common occurrence around here but I was trying to catch up on some of the books I'd read during the read-a-thon, and afterwards. I still have one more book that I read in April to post a review for but I should hopefully have it up this week.

In April my reading took me to ancient Israel, Victorian England, modern day Japan, Canada, and the US. I battled the Canaanites, watched a mouse uprising, met some fabulous ghosts, endured high school, fell in love with a vampire (again), and discovered a secret about my adoptive mother, among other events. So it was a pretty full month!

Books Read in April
(clicking on a title will take you to my review)
20. The Triumph of Deborah - Eva Etzioni-Halevy
21. Dear Everybody - Michael Kimball
22. The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
23. Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 - David Petersen
24. Emma, vol. 8 - Kaoru Mori
25. The Character of Rain - Amélie Nothomb
26. Skim - Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki
27. Twilight - Stephenie Meyer
28. Austenland - Shannon Hale
29. Mother Superior - Saleema Nawaz (review pending)

I really quite enjoyed everything I read last month so I can't choose a favourite. Dear Everybody was unique and poignant. The Graveyard Book brought tears to my eyes. The art in Mouse Guard was truly stunning. Twilight was just as addictive the second time around. And the stories in Mother Superior were wonderful. They really were all enjoyable books though, and I'd be happy to read more by any of these authors. A successful month, I'd say!

New-to-me authors: 6
Books in Translation: 2

Books in: 5
Books out: 6

The Year of Readers: Reading for the Book Wish Foundation.
Money raised this month: $15 + $25 from the read-a-thon
Total raised to date: $89

Reading Challenges Progress Report
(see sidebar for current challenges)
New challenge joined
Non-Fiction Five Challenge: 0 read, 5 to go (May 1 - September 30, 2009)

Ongoing
Book Awards II Challenge: 9 read, 1 to go (by June 1, 2009)
Once Upon a Time III Challenge: 2 read, 0 to go (March 21 - June 20, 2009)
2nd Canadian Book Challenge, Eh?: 7 read, 6 to go (by July 1, 2009)
Dewey's Books Reading Challenge: 2 read, 3 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
Lost in Translation Challenge: 6 read, 0 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
Orbis Terrarum Challenge: 2 read, 8 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
World Citizen Challenge: 0 read, 3 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
What's in a Name? 2 Challenge: 4 read, 2 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
1% Well-Read Challenge: 0 read, 10 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
Manga Challenge: 6 read, 0 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
Graphic Novels Challenge: 2 read, 4 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
ARC Reading Challenge: currently 6 read, 6 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)

Long-term Reading Projects (Total read in 2009)
Reading Japan Project: 10 (including manga, 2 in April)
Orange Prize Project: 0

Reading plans for May
I just have one more Book Award winner to read by the end of the month to complete that challenge, and then I still need to read 6 Canadian books by July 1st. I'm not sure I'll make it but I'd like to give it a try. I'm going to be pretty busy over the next few weeks though (see below) so I may end up just reading light, easy stuff. We'll see how it goes.

Yesterday we spent the day apartment hunting. H's office recently moved to another part of Tokyo and from our current apartment he has to commute about an hour and a half one way to the new location. So we're planning to move from the northern outskirts of Tokyo where we are now to the western suburbs. We think we might have found our new-to-us apartment. It's not perfect, and the location is not as convenient as now, but it's so hard to find apartments to rent that allow pets, and it's probably the best we'll be able to do with what we're able to spend. I dread the packing and moving, and H is grumbling a little bit about all my books, and the cost of it all, but it'll be fun to explore a different area, and one which is much greener than the northern industrial area we live in now. If it works out with the one we decided on yesterday, we'll be moving at the beginning of June. So my posting for the rest of the month will be considerably sparser than usual. I have a couple posts I'd like to get up this week, and I'll try to stop by if and when I have the time, or need a break. I'll still be teaching too some of the time so a busy few weeks ahead. Wish me luck!

Hope you have a good week!

Week in review:
'The Character of Rain' by Amélie Nothomb (review)
'Skim' by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki (review)
'Twilight' obsession (the book and the film)
'Austenland' by Shannon Hale (review)

Friday, May 08, 2009

'Austenland'

by Shannon Hale
Fiction/Chicklit, 2007
Bloomsbury USA, trade pb, 194 p.
Jane is a young New York woman who can never seem to find the right man – perhaps because of her secret obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths to her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-obsessed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become more real than she ever could have imagined. Is this total immersion in a fake Austenland enough to make Jane kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?
I read most of this one afternoon curled up on the sofa with a headache, and it was just the thing to distract me from my sinuses. I couldn’t concentrate on anything too deep just then and after re-reading Twilight I was still in the mood for a little romance, so this one caught my eye. It had been in my stack for the read-a-thon, although I didn’t get to it the day of. It would’ve been a good choice though as it was easy to read, and the pages flew by. It’s essentially chicklit so it had some typical cheesy moments and the requisite happy ending, but it was also humorous and witty sometimes. I'm pretty sure I chuckled out loud a couple of times. I’m not quite as obsessed as the character Jane in the story, but I do have a fondness for Mr. Darcy, and Jane Austen, so the premise and the setting was a lot of fun. Overall, it was an amusing story and a nice way to spend a few hours.

Shannon Hale's website
Interview with Shannon Hale (at Estella's Revenge)
Interview with Shannon Hale (at Maw Books Blog)

First sentence: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a thirty-something woman in possession of a satisfying career and fabulous hairdo must be in want of very little, and Jane Hayes, pretty enough and clever enough, was certainly thought to have little to distress her.



My Rating: 3.5/5
(#28 for 2009)

Also reviewed at:
A High and Hidden Place
Bookfoolery and Babble
Fyrefly's Book Blog
Tip of the Iceberg
Savvy Verse & Wit
Stephanie's Written Word
Maw Books Blog
Books Lists Life
If I've missed yours, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

'Twilight' obsession

Well, I finally got to see the movie Twilight last month after I got my hands on the DVD. (It was only released in the cinemas in Japan in early April, about the same time that the DVD came out.) I'd heard all the complaints about the poor special effects, the makeup, sparkly Edward and issues with casting, but I still wanted to see if for myself and I have to say I really quite enjoyed it. I thought it felt true to the book, not necessarily in keeping all the details, but in the overall tone.

As for my thoughts on the casting, Carlisle and Esme really don't match up to the image I had of them from the books. Plus I dislike Carlisle's fake blonde hair, and everytime I see the actress who plays Esme I can't help but see the character she played in Grey's Anatomy, Ava/Rebecca. Hardly a beautiful, self-confident vampire type character! But everyone has pretty much grown on me, and Robert Pattinson IS Edward Cullen now.

Should I admit that I've already watched the movie 2 1/2 times? The half is for rewatching some of my favourite scenes again. What were my favourite scenes? I do think Kristen and Robert (Bella and Edward) have great chemistry on screen so I loved all their scenes together. And another favourite has to be the baseball scene, it's just so much fun! Sure, the movie might not be perfect but it certainly kept me entertained!

Image © Summit Entertainment

I don't usually pay much attention to Hollywood gossip, and I feel a bit sorry for the actors for all the crazy fandom now surrounding them. But lately I've also been known to, on occasion, stop by a couple of the Twilight fan sites looking for news and teasers from the filming of New Moon currently taking place in Vancouver. I have no idea when I'll actually be able to see them here but I can't wait to see the next two films!


by Stephenie Meyer
Fiction/Fantasy/YA, 2005
Megan Tingley (Little, Brown), pb, 498 p.
Twilight series - Book 1


Continuing my Bella and Edward obsession, I ended up re-reading Twilight as well last month. You might remember that I read the Midnight Sun extract earlier this year but that only goes so far. I first read Twilight in September 2007, and after watching the movie I wanted to see just what had been changed from the book. It was fun actually to see how things had been slightly altered or certain conversations moved from one situation to another. And some things in the movie that I thought hadn't been in the book, actually were in the book, so it shows I really had forgotten a lot of it. And even though I already basically knew the story it was once again very addictive reading!

I heard the term "Obsessive Cullen Disorder" recently and had to laugh because I seem to have all the symptoms! LOL. What is it about the Cullens, and Edward in particular, that keeps me wanting more? Although I'm a bit embarrassed at just how addicted I am to this story and these characters, considering I'm not a teenage girl, I'm sure I'll be watching the movie and reading the books all over again... and again.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

'Skim'

Written by Mariko Tamaki
Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Fiction/Graphic Novel, 2008
Groundwood Books (Anansi Press), hardback, 140 p.
Winner of the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Graphic Novel, 2008
“Skim” is Kimberly Keiko Cameron, a not-slim, would-be Wiccan goth who goes to a private girls’ school. When her classmate Katie Matthews is dumped by her boyfriend, who then kills himself, the entire school goes into mourning overdrive. As concerned guidance counsellors provide lectures on the “cycle of grief,” and the popular clique starts a new club (Girls Celebrate Life!) to bolster school spirit, Skim sinks into an ever-deepening depression.
And falling in love only makes things worse…
I don’t remember now where I first heard of this graphic novel, but I had it on my list of books to look for while I was in Canada over Christmas last year, and it did, in fact, come back with me. The recent read-a-thon was the perfect occasion to finally read it. It’s the story of a somewhat ordinary, shy girl not really knowing how to deal with all the new, intense, confusing emotions she’s experiencing. I don’t personally know any teenagers these days but the character of Kim felt very real. The illustrations were wonderfully expressive and did a great job portraying her internal conflict as she tries to come to terms with who she really is. I think a lot of us can, at least I know I could, relate to being a teenager, feeling alone and misunderstood. As Skim says, “Being sixteen is officially the worst thing I’ve ever been.”
With some moments of wry humour and sadness, it’s a touching story of growing up. Recommended.


Images © Jillian Tamaki

Mariko Tamaki's website
Mariko Tamaki's blog
Jillian Tamaki's website
Jillian Tamaki's sketchbook
Review in The New York Times

First sentence: Dear Diary,
Today Lisa said, “Everyone thinks they are unique.” That is not unique!!




My Rating: 4/5
(#26 for 2009, Graphic Novels Challenge, 2nd Canadian Book Challenge, Book Awards II Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
Bookgirl's Nightstand
Life in the Thumb
words by Annie
nothing of importance
Sassymonkey Reads
If you've also reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

'The Character of Rain'

The Character of Rainby Amélie Nothomb
(Original title: Métaphysique des tubes)
Translated from the French by Timothy Bent
Fiction/Memoir, 2000
St. Martin's Griffin, trade pb, 132 p.
The Japanese believe that until the age of three children, whether Japanese or not, are gods, each one an okosama, or “lord child.” On their third birthday they fall from grace and join the rest of the human race. In The Character of Rain, we learn that divinity is a difficult thing from which to recover.
Amélie Nothomb always seems to have a unique, quirky, often self-indulgent view of life, and this book is no different. The Character of Rain portrays a rather precocious child, Amélie, during the first years of her life in Japan. Nothomb was born in Kobe, Japan while her father, a Belgian diplomat, was stationed there. She is well known for writing novels based on her own experiences, “fictionalised memoirs” as I’ve seen them called, and must be taken with a grain of salt. If you’re willing to suspend disbelief and accept the exaggeration though, this is an amusing, even touching, story of childhood.

The fact that the story takes place in Japan, and that I could relate to some of her impressions of the Japanese, no doubt added to my enjoyment. I do wonder if I’d have enjoyed this book as much if I weren’t familiar with the culture, and perhaps understandably, it’s her stories about her experiences in Japan that I am most interested in reading about. I wouldn’t rule out reading some more of her other books as well though at some point. There’s something about her style that can either grate or entertain depending on my mood, and that, itself, makes me curious to read more. A slim, quick, and engaging read, it was another good choice for the read-a-thon last month.
Memory has the same power as writing. When you see the word “cat” in a book, it looks very different from the neighbor’s cat with the beautiful eyes. Yet to see the word written gives you a pleasure like the one the cat gave you when its golden gaze was fixed upon you.
First sentence: In the beginning was nothing, and this nothing had neither form nor substance – it was nothing other than what it was.



My Rating: 3.5/5
(#25 for 2009, Orbis Terrarum Challenge, Lost in Translation Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
Out of the Blue
dovegreyreader scribbles
If you've reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sunday Salon: Busy Week

I've been so busy with other things and so tired lately, I've been suffering from a bit of blogger burnout this week. As a result, I haven't been posting on my own blog as often as usual, even though thanks to the read-a-thon, I'm very behind in reviews. Plus my Google Reader is so stuffed full, and overwhelming, but I just can't seem to face it. I haven't even been reading much the last couple of days.

Some of it is 'good' busy though. It's Golden Week in Japan right now so we have a few days off work and on Friday we took a day trip out of Tokyo, during which I got a sunburn but also got to see some beautiful wisteria. I haven't gone through the photos yet but hopefully there are a few good ones to share. Today we were again away from home for most of the day, checking out a few possible areas to live as we may be moving to another part of Tokyo soon, and I am so ready for bed, but I thought I'd write a quick Salon post first on what I've been reading.

Earlier in the week I was in the mood for a mystery so I read Still Life by Louise Penny, the first in her Inspector Gamache series. It was a lot of fun and I'm thrilled to learn that the Chief Inspector will be returning to the village of Three Pines in later books. I'm very much looking forward to catching up with some of those characters again at some point.

Now I've started, but haven't got too far in yet due to my limited reading these last few days, The Museum Guard by Howard Norman. I'm just getting to know the main characters but it's set in a small museum in Nova Scotia and has me curious to read more. Thanks again to Sandra for passing this one on to me.

Speaking of thanks, I'd also like to say how grateful I am to Kathrin (Secret Dreamworld of a Bookaholic) and Book Bird Dog for giving me the One Lovely Blog Award. I don't really feel like I've earned it since I haven't been a very good blogger lately, but it means a lot to me that you're still reading and enjoying my blog, and I still hold out hope that one of these days I'll catch up. I'm not going to pass this on to anyone else specifically, but as always thank you to all my regular visitors and commenters. You're the best, and knowing you've stopped by always makes my day!

I hope you're having a nice weekend, and reading something good!

Week in review:
Reading Non-Fiction
'Mouse Guard: Fall 1152' by David Petersen (review)
'Emma, vol. 8' by Kaoru Mori (review)

Friday, May 01, 2009

'Emma, vol. 8'

Written and Illustrated by Kaoru Mori
Translated and Adapted by Sheldon Drzka
Fiction/manga, 2007 (Japan), 2009 (English translation)
CMX, pb, 199 p.
Emma series, volume 8 (of 10)
The secret lives of the Emma supporting cast are revealed!
This volume is a collection of short stories focusing on some of the supporting characters introduced throughout the course of the series. The first chapter pre-dates the very start of the series, and tells the story of how young Kelly Stowner and her husband Doug try to save up money to visit England’s Great Exhibition. Then we revisit Eleanor Campbell, who spends a day at the beach trying to get over William, with surprising results.
A fun, quick read; this was another good choice for the read-a-thon. There’s not a lot more I can say about this series though that I haven’t already, when I talked about volume 1, and then volumes 2 – 7. The main story concluded at the end of volume 7, so volume 8 is simply a collection of short episodes in the lives of some of the minor characters that played a role in the story of Emma and William, and it was fun to revisit some of them. My favourite story was the first one about Mrs. Stowner and her husband as newlyweds, saving up to visit the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace.

The panels were again beautifully drawn, and I thought the section on The Times newspaper, with the paper as the common element in a variety of situations, was cleverly done. However, I must say that I did miss Emma and William so it wasn’t quite as engaging a read for me as the previous volumes, but there are two more volumes of stories about Emma and William’s world and I’m still very much looking forward to reading them once they become available in English.

First sentence: Excuse me, but might I trouble you a minute?



My Rating: 3.5/5
(#24 for 2009, Manga Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
things mean a lot (vols. 1-7)
The Written World (vols. 1-7)
If you've also reviewed this book or series, let me know and I'll link to it here.