Tuesday, June 30, 2009

'Last Night in Montreal'

by Emily St. John Mandel
Fiction, 2009
Unbridled Books, e-book, 244 p.
Lilia Albert has been leaving people behind for her entire life. She spends her childhood and adolescence traveling constantly and changing identities. In adulthood, she finds it impossible to stop. Haunted by an inability to remember her early childhood, she moves restlessly from city to city, abandoning lovers along with way, possibly still followed by a private detective who has pursued her for years. Then her latest lover follows her from New York to Montreal, determined to learn her secrets and make sure she’s safe. Last Night in Montreal is a story of love, amnesia, compulsive travel, the depths and the limits of family bonds, and the nature of obsession. In this extraordinary debut, Emily St. John Mandel casts a powerful spell that captures the reader in a gritty, youthful world—charged with an atmosphere of mystery, promise and foreboding—where small revelations continuously change our understanding of the truth and lead to desperate consequences. Mandel’s characters will resonate with you long after the final page is turned.
Stop looking for me. I’m not missing; I do not want to be found. I wish to remain vanishing. I don’t want to go home. – Lilia

I’d hoped to review this earlier this month before we moved but it just didn’t work out that way. I was reading Last Night in Montreal while packing and I have to say that I was often reading it instead of packing for those few days. It’s a beautifully written story of loss and obsession that had me quite enraptured. I’m a sucker for emotionally complex, melancholy stories anyway though so this book was right up my alley.

I found the part of the story with Eli in Montreal the most surreal and I felt that the story ever so slightly lost its flow in those chapters, but all the strands came together perfectly at the end. And even though I finished reading this over 3 weeks ago, it has still lingered in my mind. I definitely look forward to reading more by Emily Mandel and am glad to hear that she will have another book out next year. There are already several glowing reviews (see below) which are much more eloquent than mine so I’ll keep this short and simply refer you to them.
He was hunting just then, hot on the trail of something obscure, tracking a rare butterfly-like quotation as it fluttered through thickets of dense tropical paragraphs. The chase seemed to require the utmost concentration; still, he couldn’t help but think later on that if he’d only glanced up from the work, he might’ve seen something: a look in her eyes, a foreshadowing of doom, perhaps a train ticket in her hand or the words I’m Leaving You Forever stitched on the front of her coat. Something did seem slightly amiss, but he was lost in the excitement of butterfly hunting and ignored it, until later, too late, when somewhere between Andean loanwords and the lost languages of ancient California he happened to glance at the clock. It was afternoon. He was hungry. It had been four and a half hours since she’d gone for the paper, and her watery footsteps had evaporated from the floor, and he realized what it was; for the first time he could remember, she hadn’t asked if he wanted a coffee from the deli. (p. 3)
A side note: Due to the ridiculous prices that the U.S. Postal service charges I received the e-book version of this title. You know that’s not my favourite way to read a book, but it sounded great and I still wanted to give it a try regardless. I can say that despite the format, it was a truly lovely story that was completely worth reading. (I’ve been lusting after this new e-reader but until the day I have some spare cash to spend on one, I’ll just have to dream.)

Final verdict: A wonderful debut by an author to watch.

An interview with Emily Mandel
The Last Night in Montreal music playlist
Emily's working space (Guest post at Savvy Verse & Wit)

For more information about the book, or the author, or to read an excerpt, visit Emily Mandel's website.

Thank you to Caitlin at Unbridled Books for the opportunity to read this title.

First sentence: No one stays forever.

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

My Rating: 4/5
(2nd Canadian Book Challenge, ARC Reading Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
Bookfoolery and Babble
Educating Petunia
S. Krishna's Books
Booksie's Blog
she reads and reads
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Savvy Verse & Wit
Cindy's Love of Books
Peeking Between the Pages
Booking Mama
Violet Crush
If I've missed yours, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Monday, June 29, 2009

In the mailbox and mid-year musing

I've been too busy with packing and moving to go book shopping lately but I have received a few books this month, all thanks to some generous bloggers and publishers.

The Crimes of Paris: A True Story of Murder, Theft, and Detection by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler
This one arrived about a week before we moved, from the very generous Marcia of The Printed Page, as part of her Read it Forward project.

In the Wake of the Boatman by Jonathon Scott Fuqua
Courtesy of Bancroft Press, it arrived the very day we got the keys to our new apartment and so was my very first piece of mail at our new address. How nice that it was a book instead of a bill or something else less appreciated.

No One You Know by Michelle Richmond
Won in a giveaway at Musings of a Bookish Kitty. Thanks Wendy!

Beyond the Blossoming Fields by Jun'ichi Watanabe and Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui
Both courtesy of Alma Books, these two Japanese titles will be perfect for the upcoming Japanese Literature Challenge 3.

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about mid-year reading…

Now that we’ve come to the middle of the year, what do you think of your 2009 reading so far? Read anything interesting that you’d like to share? Any outstanding favourites?

I'm quite pleased with my reading so far this year. As for the numbers, I'd only read 28 books by the end of June last year, and tend to average somewhere between 25 and 30. This year I've already read 37 books. If I keep at this rate I'll be able to have a yearly total of over 60 for the first time since I started keeping track. I'm unofficially aiming for 70 this year, but we'll see how it goes. However, even though I enjoy keeping track of the numbers and other various stats, it's the quality that's ultimately most important. Of those 37, only a couple of them were disappointing. Otherwise they've all been pretty decent reads.

If I had to choose favourites, I'd go with Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Høeg, and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, as they're the two books that reached out and touched me the most so far this year.

I think I've also read a fairly nice variety of books, from my first experience with manga, to fantasy, literary fiction, and even a handful of classics. As for the rest of 2009 I'm hoping to read more Japanese literature and world literature in general, along with whatever else tempts me.

What do you think of your reading so far this year?

Musing Mondays is hosted by Rebecca at Just One More Page.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday Salon: Reading Retrospective (June 2002)

This has been a pretty busy month what with packing, moving and now the settling in, but it's coming along and we're getting used to our new neighbourhood. It was also very nice to get back online this week. Yesterday I rode a bike for the first time in many, many years. I briefly rode, and fell off of, a bike about 13 years ago but otherwise I pretty much haven't ridden since I was a kid on the farm. So it was a bit nerve-wracking, and I'm still somewhat of a danger to myself and others, but it will make life much easier if I can ride to the shops. Oh and did I mention that I'm also quite sore today? LOL. I just keep telling myself that change is good!

I have managed to read a little bit over the last few weeks in between all the craziness. The Delicate Storm by Giles Blunt, the second book in his Detective Cardinal series, was a good distraction from the chaos of packing. Then once we were in our new place, and internet-less, I finally got around to reading Yellowknife by Steve Zipp. What a fun, bizarre book this was! And now I've just begun The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant by Michel Tremblay. Quite the title, eh?

Seven years ago, in June 2002, life was a bit calmer. We had already settled into, and were enjoying, our new life in London. I apparently read five books that month with a couple of them being disappointments. Here they are with my old, brief comments (this was before I started doing longer reviews) in italics. I apologize for my obvious unoriginality at the time. My keywords for the month seemed to be 'engaging', 'believable', and 'anti-climactic'.

A Celibate Season by Carol Shields & Blanche Howard
Epistolary fiction. A joint work that read very smoothly. A thoughtful look at relationships. 7.5/10

L.A. Woman by Cathy Yardley
Chicklit. Fun characters, but anti-climactic with a disappointing ending. 4/10

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Classic. Didn't love it or hate it, but the characters weren't that believable to me so I had no real sympathy for them, plus the ending was anti-climactic. 5/10

Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris
An engaging story, preferred it to Chocolat and Blackberry Wine, as it's deeper and more complex, and I enjoyed the interweaving of time frames. 7/10

Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes
Chicklit with depth. A well-written character, in an engaging, believable story, with a touching ending. 9/10

Looking at these five titles, I can barely recall any of them! I remember vaguely the story in Rachel's Holiday but the others... not so much. My chicklit phase ended before I got through many of Marian Keyes books but I'm pretty sure I have another one or two that I never got around to. I happened to meet her once briefly at a book signing and she was super friendly. I know I've got a couple of books each by Joanne Harris and Carol Shields that I haven't read yet either. I really should make an effort to read more of my old, long-time neglected books. Maybe unpacking all of them will inspire me to pick up a few.

Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think?

Have a great week!

Friday, June 26, 2009


Bailey enjoying the rare occurrence of almost empty bookshelves pre-move.

I'm back, did you miss me? Cause I sure missed you! After a small confusion that delayed our installation for a few days, we've finally got our internet connection set up at our new place. It was kind of unsettling to be without it for the last couple of weeks, not that we haven't had lots to do in the meantime, and thankfully there are always books to amuse instead.

A few random observations about our move...

Packing always takes longer than you think it will.
Unless I'm just bad at time management, which is very likely. Unpacking and figuring out where to put everything is also taking longer than expected. We still have lots of boxes to deal with, so it's a bit of an obstacle course in here, but I am making progress. My poor books are still stuck in their boxes since I've been trying to make the rest of the place liveable first.

People have different standards of clean.
Whoever lived in this apartment before us liked frying things. A lot. It took me 3 days to clean the layer of grease covering practically every surface, nook and cranny. Yuck!!

Nature is wonderful.
One of the things I complained about the most about our old neighbourhood was the lack of green. Our new apartment is somewhat old and run-down (but the price was right and they allow pets), the trains are less frequent here, and I can't just walk to the supermarket in under 10 min. anymore (now the nearest one is about a 25 min. walk - I haven't ridden a bike in years but think I'll be getting one soon. Hope what they say is true about never forgetting...) but it's so nice to see trees outside our window instead of a dusty factory. I love that there are even some small fields right next door! We may now be living in the "countryside" of Tokyo, said derogatorily by true Tokyoites, but we're enjoying the slightly slower pace and can't wait to explore some of the many parks in this area.

Pets make one's life more difficult interesting.
The boys have adjusted to their new home quite well but getting them here was a bit of an adventure. We'd left them with the vet for a few days during the worst of the packing chaos and for moving day. Then we rented a car to go pick them up and bring them here. It took almost 2 hours to drive back and Jiro meowed loudly and constantly for pretty much the first hour until he finally calmed down. Bailey on the other hand, apparently couldn't hold it and with about half an hour to go he peed in his cage making for a very stinky car! Ah the joys of living with furkids, I say as both of them are curled up on the bed with me, looking rather adorable. I suppose they're worth the trouble they cause. :)

It's going to take me awhile to catch up with everyone, especially as I still have unpacking to do and have started back to teaching already, albeit part-time, but I'm very glad to be back online! I hope you're all well, and I'm looking forward to seeing what you've all been reading.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Going offline

It's been a crazy couple of days involving a lot of packing and not a lot of sleep. The moving company will be here in a couple of hours and we still have a few things to do before they get here. So I'll be going offline until we get our internet connection up at our new place, hopefully in about a week. See you soon!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

'The Museum Guard'

by Howard Norman
Fiction, 1998
Picador, mm pb, 309 p.
Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1938. Orphaned at the age of nine by a Zeppelin crash, DeFoe Russet grew up in a hotel under the care of his magnetic Uncle Edward. Now thirty, DeFoe works with Edward as a guard in Halifax’s three-room Glace Museum. By night, DeFoe spends his time trying to keep the affection of Imogen Linny, the young caretaker of the small Jewish cemetery. When the Dutch painting Jewess on a Street in Amsterdam arrives at the museum, Imogen becomes obsessed and abandons her life in favour of the ennobled one she imagines for her subject – even though being a Jew in Amsterdam is becoming more and more perilous as the clouds of World War II begin to gather.
On the one hand, this is the story of a man, the narrator of the story, DeFoe, going through life being barely tolerated by his girlfriend, constantly ridiculed by his uncle, and feeling a bit lost while trying to figure out his place in the world.
It struck me that Imogen, Miss Delbo, my uncle, even Mr. Connaught, in his own way – certainly Ovid Lamartine – were all somehow beckoned by the world. Whereas I seemed only to be day-to-day enduring it. I felt locked out in the cold. The particular cold of my narrow life; I had not even philosophically ever thought of it as a life, only days lined up behind and in front of me. The narrow alley of cold, of having been born and raised in Halifax, a place I could never, not for the life of me, figure out how to leave.
On the other hand, it’s an exploration of identity, emphasized by one of the character’s tenuous hold on reality. All taking place under the shadow of World War II, with the spread of anti-semitism, and the growing fear in Europe. The common thread holding the strands of the story together is an exhibition of Dutch paintings at the museum of the title, of which DeFoe and his uncle are the guards.

It’s a very intelligent novel, and one of the things I enjoyed about it was the mention of art, and especially people’s reactions to it. I know virtually nothing about art, or technique or art history, but I like reading about it in a fictional setting. In fact, I’ve very much enjoyed other books with a strong art theme, like What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt, and Martin Sloane by Michael Redhill, to name a couple, and this one did remind me of those somewhat. I quite liked the following quote for showing how art is personal and touches us in different ways:
[T]he man and woman moved off slowly to Still Life with Pears and spoke in low, excited tones about it. The man put on eyeglasses, stepped back, and waved his outpointed finger in front of the painting like an orchestra conductor. The woman’s speech was full of exclamation. It was as if they were remembering all the best pears they had ever eaten. It did not change my mind about Still Life with Pears, but at least I would now have the memory of them delighted with the painting.
Ultimately though, I couldn’t relate to any of the characters or understand the reasoning behind their actions. They were all quite self-indulgent, and some of their behaviour and dialogue was almost surreal in its bizarreness, and unbelievable, to me at least. I don’t need to like the characters to enjoy a book, but I still have to be interested in the story as a whole, and I found that while I was curious to know how the events would play out, I didn’t really care. Yet, despite that it did still keep me reading. Overall, I guess I’d say that while I didn’t love it, it did have its moments, and I certainly don’t regret reading it.

A Profile of Howard Norman

Thank you to Sandra for sending me this book and therefore giving me the opportunity to read it. I’d heard of one of the author’s other books, The Bird Artist, but hadn’t read anything by him before, so I was glad for the chance to give it a try.

First sentence: The painting I stole for Imogen Linny, Jewess on a Street in Amsterdam, arrived to the Glace Museum, here in Halifax, on September 5, 1938.

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

My Rating: 3/5
(#31 for 2009, What's in a Name Challenge (Building), 2nd Canadian Book Challenge*)

*Maybe it's cheating to count it for the Canadian Book Challenge as the author is American, but he spent several years living in the Canadian North studying regional Indian dialects, and this book is set primarily in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

I’d like to pass the book on to someone else, so it can continue travelling, as it were, and to get another opinion on it. So if you’re interested, just let me know, and I'll draw a name in a couple of weeks. It's actually already been packed up for our move, but I'll send it once it's been unearthed in our new place.

Also reviewed at:
Fresh Ink Books
A Life in Books
Steve Zipp's Book Blog
If you've reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sunday Salon: May in Review

This was quite a busy week as the packing got into full swing. It's amazing how much stuff we've squeezed into our current place! Except for a few stragglers, I've pretty much finished packing my books, all 28, or was it 29 boxes! I sure don't envy the moving guys having to lug all those heavy boxes up and down the stairs! The boys have been having fun though playing on the empty bookshelves and jumping on the boxes! Today I've been working on emptying out the storage room, otherwise known as the room of chaos!! Why didn't I sort through some of this stuff earlier? Sigh. So needless to say, I've barely been online all week and I miss blogging! I'm looking forward to getting settled in our new place so life can find a calmer rhythm again.

I only managed one post this week, my review of The King's Bride by E.T.A. Hoffmann, a short fairy tale that was such fun to read. This edition was published by Oneworld Classics, an independent publisher in England that reminds me of Hesperus Press, of which I am also a fan. I like reading classics sometimes but I often shy away from the big chunky ones, so reading short, lesser known classics is right up my alley. Tomorrow I'll have a review up of The Museum Guard by Howard Norman. And then, I also hope to add my review to the growing number of rave reviews for Last Night in Montreal, the beautifully written debut novel by Emily St. John Mandel, but with moving day fast approaching I haven't had the time to really sit down and work out my thoughts on it so I'm not sure I can do the book justice right now. We'll see how it goes, but before that I suppose I should wrap up my reading for last month.

In May, my reading took me to Three Pines, a small town in Quebec to solve the murder of one of its long time residents. Then it was to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and my job there as a museum guard. Next, I went to boarding school in Alabama where I met some great friends, and my life changed forever after one fateful night. After that, I spent some time in Cape Breton, remembering our family's Scottish history. And finally, to a small town in Germany, where a sneaky gnome tried to get me to marry him!

Books completed:
(click on the title to read my review)
30. Still Life - Louise Penny
31. The Museum Guard - Howard Norman (review pending)
32. Looking for Alaska - John Green
33. No Great Mischief - Alistair MacLeod
34. The King's Bride - E.T.A. Hoffmann

My favourite book of the month is The King's Bride because it was just so much fun to read! I suppose my least favourite is The Museum Guard. I wanted to like it more than I did, but it was still worth reading. All of these books were by authors that I'd never read before, and of these I'm most looking forward to reading more by E.T.A. Hoffmann, and Louise Penny.

New-to-me authors: 5
Books in Translation: 1

Books in: 3
Books out: 4

The Year of Readers: Reading for the Book Wish Foundation.
Money raised this month: $8
Total raised to date: $97

Reading Challenges Progress Report
(see sidebar for current challenges)

Book Awards II Challenge: Completed

Once Upon a Time III Challenge: 3 read, 0 to go (March 21 - June 20, 2009)
2nd Canadian Book Challenge, Eh?: 9 read, 4 to go (by July 1, 2009)
Non-Fiction Five Challenge: 0 read, 5 to go (May 1 - September 30, 2009)
Dewey's Books Reading Challenge: 3 read, 2 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
Lost in Translation Challenge: 7 read, 0 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
Orbis Terrarum Challenge: 3 read, 7 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: 5 read, 1 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
Herding Cats II: Attach of the Hairballs: 2 read (until 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 7 read, 7 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)

Long-term Reading Projects (Total read in 2009)
Reading Japan Project: 11 (including manga, 0 in April)
Orange Prize Project: 0

Reading plans for June
Other than a review book or two, I'm planning to focus on Canadian books for the month of June in an attempt to complete the 2nd Canadian Book Challenge which will end on July 1st. I'm reading another one right now, The Delicate Storm by Giles Blunt. It's the second book in his Detective Cardinal series, and I'm enjoying it, whenever I get a chance to read a chapter or two in bed at night.

What do you plan to read in June?

Monday, June 01, 2009

'The King's Bride'

by E.T.A. Hoffmann
Translated from the German by Paul Turner
Fiction/Classic/Fantasy, 1821
Oneworld Classics, trade pb, 105 p.
Happily engaged to the poet Amandus, Fräulein Anna is horrified to discover that a beautiful ring, mysteriously deposited upon her finger whilst tending her kitchen garden, forces her into marriage with the gnome Corduanspitz. Can Anna find any way of removing the ring? Will her poet lover shake off his passive demeanour and come to her aid? And has Corduanspitz truly relinquished all ties to his gnome heritage?

Around a love story very much of its time, Hoffman arranges a narrative that brings to mind the most successful elements of contemporary magical realism and surreal comedy. Always entertaining, yet capable of a focused though subtle morality, The King’s Bride brings disparate elements into a masterful harmony.
I’m always interested in reading international literature, so I was thrilled to be contacted by a representative of Oneworld Classics, an independent publisher in the UK with an aim “to expand the literary canon in the English-speaking world through a series of mainstream and lesser-known classics, often by commissioning new translations.” I have to admit that I’d never heard of E.T.A. Hoffmann before but I’m so glad I had the chance to read this novella. What a perfectly delightful fairy tale!
Amandus had convinced himself that he could never in his whole life love anyone but Fräulein Ann. In the same way Fräulein Ann knew for a certainty that it would be quite impossible for her to feel the slightest partiality for anyone but the brown-haired Amandus. They had therefore agreed that the sooner they got married and became the happiest couple in the whole wide world the better.
In the introduction by the translator Paul Turner, he writes that The King’s Bride contains Hoffmann’s “characteristic blend of fantasy and realism, pathos and impish satire, buffoonery and magic.” Indeed! It was certainly all of those. I couldn’t help myself from smiling, frequently, while reading this short book.

There were several little touches that added to the charm. Like the beginning of each chapter, which addressed the reader, for example the start of chapter one:
In which various characters are introduced and their circumstances described, and the stage is pleasantly set for all the extraordinary scenes that will be enacted in the following chapters.
Or the somewhat fanciful correspondence between Anna and Amandus.
The poet’s sword is his pen. I will have at my rival with Tyrtacean war songs, run him through with pointed epigrams, cut him down with dithyrambs full of passionate love. Such are the poet’s true weapons, which, eternally triumphant, secure him against every assault, and thus armed and accoutred I shall appear and do battle for your hand, my Anna!
Or Anna’s father and his amusing rantings. The story’s quirky characters and playful narrative made it a complete joy to read!

Regarding the translation, I think Paul Turner did a fabulous job. Of course, not having read the original I can’t compare it, but it read very smoothly and included clever turns of phrase that I can only guess stay true to the original. Quite impressive were the few rhyming poems that were part of the story.

As for the author himself, I was surprised to learn that Hoffmann wrote the story that was the inspiration for Tchaikovsky’s The Nutracker. Since I enjoyed his style so much in The King’s Bride, I’m very curious now to read The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, as well as some of his other work.

Final verdict: A delightful, charming, humourous, and thoroughly entertaining fairy tale that will bring a smile to young and old alike.

Read the first chapter of The King's Bride (click on the link about halfway down the page)

Thank you to Clémence Mahéo and Oneworld Classics for the opportunity to read this book.

Buy this book at: The Book Depository | Amazon.co.uk
Or pre-order your copy at: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca

My Rating: 4/5
(#34 for 2009, Orbis Terrarum Challenge, Lost in Translation Challenge, Once Upon a time III Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
A Common Reader
Let me know if you've reviewed this title too, and I'll link to it here.