Friday, July 31, 2009

Celebrating Japanese Literature

Yesterday Bellezza announced the start of the Japanese Literature Challenge 3 and there was absolutely no doubt that I'd be joining in again this year. [Click on the link above or the button for more info]. Even though I've already set myself a perpetual challenge to read more Japanese books, I love the camaraderie of reading along with the other participants and hearing what everyone is reading, so this is one of my favourite challenges and one that I look forward to each year. This year Bellezza has made it super easy on us, requiring us to read only one book! But I have so many that I still want to read that I plan on reading as many as I can get to.

I could probably just direct you to my Reading Japan TBR List, as I do want to read all of them, but these are some of the ones that for one reason or another have worked their way to the top of the pile.

Beyond the Blossoming Fields - Jun'ichi Watanabe
Paprika - Yasutaka Tsutsui
The Sound of Waves - Yukio Mishima (1001*)
Thousand Cranes - Yasunari Kawabata (1001)
Beauty and Sadness - Yasunari Kawabata
Polite Lies: On Being a Woman Caught Between Cultures - Kyoko Mori (NF)
A Pale View of Hills - Kazuo Ishiguro (1001)
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman - Haruki Murakami
The Diving Pool - Yoko Ogawa
The Ocean in the Closet - Yuko Taniguchi
Shipwrecks - Akira Yoshimura
Goodbye Tsugumi - Banana Yoshimoto
Be With You - Takuji Ichikawa

Plus the one I started last night.
Goodbye Madame Butterfly: Sex, Marriage and the Modern Japanese Woman by Sumie Kawakami (NF)
And the two I just ordered yesterday. (Oops! But I decided I just had to have them!)
The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter - Retold by Yasunari Kawabata (1001)
Real World - Natsuo Kirino

*These titles are on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die List (2008 edition).

One of the reasons I'm particularly interested in reading about Japan is, as you know, because I'm currently living in this strange, fascinating land, and have even married one of the locals! I've been wanting to focus a little more on Japanese books here on my blog for a while, so in conjunction with the Japanese Literature challenge, and as part of my own Reading Japan Project, I'm dedicating most of my left sidebar to Japanese literature for the rest of the year, at least. Ideally I'd like to keep a Japanese flavour to my blog for the foreseeable future, although of course I will be reading and talking about plenty of non-Japanese books too. Like for my Reading Japan Project, the majority of the titles will be by Japanese authors, but I also enjoy reading books about Japan by non-Japanese authors, some of which I think are worth mentioning as well. A list of all the books I've read so far can be found by clicking on the Reading Japan tab above. I'll be adding more books to the sidebar as I go along, but for now I have 3 Reading Japan sections (just scroll down past Reviews Pending):
Fantastic Fiction - Japanese literature that I've read, and enjoyed.
Notable Non-Fiction - Books about Japanese culture, society, etc. that I've read and found enlightening.
The TBR Pile - The Japanese-related books on my shelves waiting to be read. Most of the ones listed above that I hope to read for the challenge can be found here.

I'd also like to have a regular Featured Book, which I've added to the upper right sidebar, just below the quote. These will be those Japanese books that I've especially enjoyed and want to either remind you of or bring to your attention. I haven't received any solicitation to promote these particular books, these are just books I think deserve notice and is simply a feature I thought would be a nice addition to my blog. However, if any publishers have Japanese titles they'd like me to showcase, get in touch and we'll see if it's something that I think would be of interest.

So I hope you'll be able to find some good Japanese literature titles here over the next few months, and beyond. I still want to tweak a few things but let me know what you think of the new features and if there's anything else you'd like to see. And I hope you'll consider joining in the challenge. Thanks so much for hosting again Bellezza. I'm looking forward to reading some great Japanese literature together!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

'Best Intentions'

by Emily Listfield
Fiction, 2009
Atria Books, hardback, 335 p.
What happens when you think you know the person you love – and you’re dead wrong?

After tossing and turning all night, thirty-nine-year-old Lisa Barkley wakes up well before her alarm sounds. As Lisa looks over at her sleeping husband, Sam, she can’t help but feel that their fifteen-year marriage is in a funk that she isn’t able to place. She tries to shake it off and tells herself that the strain must be due to their mounting financial pressures. But later that morning, as her family eats breakfast in the next room, Lisa finds herself checking Sam’s voicemail and hears a whispered phone call from a woman he is to meet that night. Is he having an affair?

When Lisa shares her suspicions with her best friend, Deirdre, at their weekly breakfast, Deirdre claims it can’t be true. But how can Lisa fully trust her opinion when Deirdre is still single and mired in an obsessive affair with a glamorous photographer even as it hovers on the edge of danger?

When Deirdre’s former college flame, Jack, comes to town and the two couples meet to celebrate his fortieth birthday, the stage is set for an explosive series of discoveries with devastating consequences.
I always seem to like stories that deal with the realization that we can never truly know someone else, that there are always secrets and things hidden from us even by those we love, and this proved to be an intelligently-written, compulsive read. I couldn’t seem to stop reading it (just one more chapter… ok, just one more…), staying up rather too late a couple of nights.

However, and this might sound like a contradiction, it didn’t fully grab me emotionally. By that I mean that while I enjoyed it while I was reading it, and I enjoyed the deconstruction of the main character’s paranoia once the seed of doubt had been planted, and I wanted to know who had been responsible for a certain tragic event, I wasn’t completely drawn into these characters lives. Maybe it was a timing thing, or too high expectations, as I’d previously read a few rave reviews. (You can see other bloggers’ opinions below). Don’t get me wrong though, I did like it. I guess I’d just hoped to be caught up in it more, to like it more than I did. And despite my minor lack of immersion in the story, it certainly kept me reading.

One aspect that makes it stand out from other similar books, is the fact that it’s both a character-based story and a plot-driven story combined. So it’s essentially women’s lit plus mystery/thriller rolled into one, which made for an enjoyable summer read.
The trajectory of any life, laid out across a table, reduced to jottings on a pad, would no doubt seem both damning and inane, our imperfections difficult to justify despite our best intentions.
The past is never really over. Our interpretation of it may shift like a kaleidoscope, it may inform us or lead us astray, it may bring comfort or delusion, an excuse to hate or a reason to love. Some of us race too quickly to try to escape it, some of us cling so tightly it blinds us to the present. But one way or another, it is always with us.
For more about the book and the author, visit Emily Listfield's website.
Read an excerpt of Best Intentions
Interview with the author at Just One More Page...
Guest post at Stone Soup

First sentence: I lie in bed watching the numbers on the digital alarm click in slow motion to 6:00 a.m., 6:01.

Buy this book at: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk | BookDepository.co.uk | BookDepository.com

Thank you to Lauren for the opportunity read this book.

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

Also reviewed at:
Farm Lane Books Blog
Dolce Bellezza
Madeleine's Book and Photo Blog
Book Chase
Word Lily
Popin's Lair
Stone Soup
She Is Too Fond of Books...
Book, Line, and Sinker
As usual, I need more bookshelves
A Bookworm's World
Shhh I'm Reading...
Peeking Between the Pages
Just one more page...
Breaking the Spine
S. Krishna's Books
If I've missed yours, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

New books and travels in Europe

A day late but what else is new these days!
A couple of weeks ago, when I saw, via Twitter, that The Book Depository (@bookdepository) was having a limited time offer of 10% off everything, I jumped at the chance to order a few books.

So here's what I got:

What the Birds See by Sonya Hartnett
(original Australian title: Of a Boy)
This went right on my wishlist after reading Sarah's glowing review over at A Devoted Reader.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
I've been wanting to get this one since I first heard about it, but I'm kind of glad I waited as I do really prefer the UK paperback cover (left) to the American one (right).


Which one do you like better?

The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano
I heard about this one on Simon Mayo's Book Review podcast, which I listen to religiously every week, and thought it sounded really good. I'd intended to put it in a Book Coveting post but I haven't got around to doing one recently and here I've already gone ahead and bought it. LOL.

I also got a copy of Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman that I'm planning to give to a friend who has a baby girl. And one more book that hasn't shown up yet, but I'll tell you about it when it arrives. I do hope it hasn't got lost.

Plus I received Amorous Woman by Donna George Storey, from the author herself. It's actually erotica, not a genre I've ever really read before, or been particularly inclined to read before, but it's about an American woman's sexual awakening in Japan, that pays homage to Ihara Saikaku's classic, The Life of an Amorous Woman, which was written in 1686. I'm curious about the "floating world" and everything to do with Japanese culture or society though so I decided to give it a try.

Have you got any new books lately?

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.



Last week I left Sweden and spent a few harrowing days in Riga, Latvia, in the winter of 1991, trying to uncover the corruption in the highest ranks of the police, and learning what life is really like under the ever watchful eye of the Soviet Union, constant police suveillance, and living with the lies and the fear.
[The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell]

Now I'm in Paris in the late nineteenth century. I started to write a novel but my main character has disappeared. I've hired a detective to look for him but so far he has eluded us. The problem is I just can't bear to go on with my book without him. Where can he be?
[The Flight of Icarus by Raymond Queneau]

It's Tuesday, where are you? is hosted by raidergirl3 at an adventure in reading.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Salon: Reading Retrospective (July 2002), or the month in which I discovered Jasper Fforde

It's time for another reading retrospective, and a look back at what I was reading 7 years ago this month. A mixture of genres but the highlight of the month was definitely discovering the bizarre, wacky imagination of Jasper Fforde and spending some time in the world of Literary Detectives, pet dodo birds, and chasing down slippery fictional characters. I devoured both the first and second books in the series, back to back, but would have to wait for the following summer for the third book in the series to be published.

What I read in July 2002, with my brief comments at the time:

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Classic. Found it a little long (due to my mood) but it was an interesting, detailed account of New York's high society at the turn of the century with all of its back-stabbing, and lost loves/hopes. 6/10

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
So much fun! What an imagination Fforde has! Clever and witty, with a great main character. 9/10

Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde
Brilliant!! Even wackier than The Eyre Affair, but just as witty & clever. I can't wait for next installment! 9.5/10

An Italian Affair by Laura Fraser
Travel lit. Enjoyed the descriptions of places I would love to visit, and the development of their relationship. The narrative voice "you" instead of "I" was a little annoying, but an easy, quick read. 6/10

The Bad Beginning (Book the First) by Lemony Snicket
Kidlit. Enjoyable, without the predictable happy ending typical of children's stories. Well-written, a good beginning to the series. 6.5/10

The Reptile Room (Book the Second) by Lemony Snicket
Kidlit. Continues the story of the Baudelaire children smoothly. Would prefer not to have the author's interjections but otherwise clever, wry humour. 7/10

The Umbrella Man and other stories by Roald Dahl
As often the case with short story collections, I liked some but not others. Some of the stories were clever and unexpected, but some of them were predictable, and (too?) simple. 6/10

I don't remember much of The Age of Innocence and should probably read it again someday. I was obviously not in the mood for a slower-paced classic at the time, as I spent the rest of the month reading fun, light books. I'd definitely like to read the Thursday Next series again and I think that might be a plan for next year when the sixth book in the series comes out.

Returning to 2009, I spent a few days this week in Riga, Latvia, trying to unravel the conspiracy and corruption that led to the murder of a colleague. The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell was a great way to pass the time during my train commutes this past week. In fact I almost wished the journey home had taken just a little bit longer on Friday as I arrived at our station with just a few pages to go. So as soon as I got in the door I sat down on the sofa, ignored the cats vying for my attention, and finished it off.

Earlier in the week I also started Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby, which I've been dipping into here and there, reading a column or two at bedtime. I fully enjoyed the other two collections of his column for the Believer magazine and this one promises to be more of the same. Then this weekend I also started The Flight of Icarus by Raymond Queneau. Even though I've only read a few pages so far, I have high expectations. From the back cover:
In late-nineteenth-century Paris, the writer Hubert is shocked to discover that Icarus, the protagonist of the new novel he's working on, has vanished. Looking for him among the manuscripts of his rivals does not solve the mystery, so a detective is hired to find the runaway character, who is now in Montparnasse, where he learns to drink absinthe and is picked up by a friendly prostitute.
These hilarious adventures make Queneau's novel, presented in the form of a script and parodying various genres, one of the best literary jokes in modern literature.

Doesn't that sound great?

Coming up this week, a few new books to tell you about and a review of Best Intentions by Emily Listfield.

What are you reading? Anything fun?

Friday, July 24, 2009

'The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant'

by Michel Tremblay
[Original title: La grosse femme d'à côté est enceinte]
Translated from the French by Sheila Fischman
Fiction, 1978 (English translation, 1981)
Serpent's Tail, trade pb, 198 p.
1942, the first day of spring, and all the women on Fabre Street are pregnant. As three knitting sisters – Rose, Violette, and Mauve – cast their curious eyes over the antics of the swelling women and their loved ones, so Montreal’s most bizarre street comes to life.

Its inhabitants include Josaphat-the-Violin who lights up the moon beneath which ladies of the night Betty Bird and Mercedes Benz patrol. There’s courtesan Ti-Lou, owner of one hundred and eight pairs of shoes and the hearts of Canada’s most powerful. There’s Pit and Laura who eat every hour of the day. And there’s the fat woman, pregnant with the author…

Tender and memorable, both a love letter to his characters and an elegiac portrayal of the street where Michel Tremblay grew up, The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant is a beautifully crafted novel by one of Canada’s most beloved writers.
This is a fairly slim novel that centres on the lives of the residents of rue Fabre, in the Plateau Mont-Royal area of Montreal, and takes place during a single day. From the book flap (see above) we learn that the fat woman of the title is in fact the author’s mother when she was pregnant with him. It’s a semi-autobiographical tale and obviously a loving portrayal of his large, loud, extended family and the working class neighbourhood where he grew up. Even the grumpy, fickle, neighbourhood cat, Duplessis, was given a voice, which was quite amusing to read.
Suddenly, Duplessis woke up: ‘I’m hungry!’ He stretched, yawned and jumped up onto Marie-Sylvia’s lap. She began to make him purr by stroking his striped fur. Less to make his old mistress happy than to encourage her to feed him again, in spite of all he’d eaten a few hours earlier, Duplessis rubbed against Marie-Sylvia’s chest, which she took for a sign of affection. He even went so far as to stretch out on his back on the woman’s lap, offering his belly and his fleas to her expert caresses, caresses that verged on the violent and were not unpleasant in the least. (p. 49)
This is what Michel Tremblay had to say about the novel (for Canada Reads: The Book Club):
In [The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant] I send 22 characters (20 humans and 2 animals) on a journey that begins one May morning of 1942 in Montreal and finishes the same night. Each and every one of them learns something essential about his or her life, something that will change it forever.

I have to say that I had a hard time keeping all of those characters straight, especially the ones that only appeared briefly here and there. I enjoyed spending the day with these characters though, and it was interesting to read about the time period in that setting. This was my first encounter with the writing of Michel Tremblay but I understand that he wrote several other novels and plays set in the same section of Montreal, with many of the characters reappearing often. This book hasn’t made me want to rush out and read the rest of his “Chroniques du Plateau Mont-Royal” but I wouldn’t mind trying some of his other work.

The translation here seemed very good, but since the original is apparently written in “joual”, a working class dialect, I wonder if perhaps it has an added flavour that is missing in English. Still, a worthwhile read.

Video clips of the author from the CBC Archives.

First sentence: Rose, Violette and Mauve were knitting.

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

My Rating: 3.5/5
(#38 for 2009, The Canadian Book Challenge 3, What's in a Name Challenge (Medical Condition), Lost in Translation Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
That's the Book!
If you've reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Salon: The Canadian Book Challenge 3, and a movie outing

Well, here I am joining the Sunday Salon on Monday again. But in my defense, it's a national holiday here today, Marine Day, so it feels like a Sunday!

If you've been reading my blog for a while you know that I tend to read one book at a time, but earlier in the week I started The Dogs of Riga, the 2nd book in Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander series, even though I was right in the middle of Best Intentions by Emily Listfield. This in no way means that I wasn't enjoying Best Intentions, because I was. It was a much more practical and mundane reason. Best Intentions is a hardback, and therefore too big and heavy to lug around, but I needed something to read on the train for my commute so I looked to my mass market paperbacks and in fact, I've been wanting to continue with this series for a while so the choice was quickly made. Sometimes size really does matter!

I was going to try to make the tiniest little dent in my Google Reader yesterday morning but our internet connection was misbehaving (go figure!) so instead I went back to bed, curled up, and finished off Best Intentions. It felt like ages since I'd just sat and read like that. It was a very nice start to the day! I guess that means I'm now back down to one book, but I'm oddly tempted to start another one and keep the Mankell for my train rides this coming week.

This past week I also went to see a movie in the cinema for the first time in ages! I had Wednesday off, and Wednesdays are "Ladies Day" at the movie theatres here in Japan (or at least around Tokyo that I know of), which means those of us of the female persuasion get in for a considerable discount. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opened this Wednesday here as well so I decided to make the most of the opportunity and went to the afternoon showing. I used to work every Wednesday, all day, but since our move my schedule has changed and I should have one or two Wednesdays off a month. Plus it is really nice being able to cycle to the nearest cinema in only about 10 minutes. I actually have to work the next 4 Wednesdays but I have a feeling I'll be going to the movies a little more often than before. So anyway, that was my bookish viewing this week, and a lot of fun it was too!

I didn't quite complete the Canadian Book Challenge for last year, falling one book and 3 reviews short, but as I mentioned in my 2nd Canadian Book Challenge wrap-up post, I'm looking forward to trying again this year, and I already have quite a few Canadian books waiting impatiently on my shelves. So I thought I'd list some of the ones I have on hand and would like to read over the next year. This is only a small portion of the ones I have available but at the moment are the ones I'm most eager to read. Some of these are ones I wanted to read but didn't get around to last year, some of them I picked up the last time I was in Canada so are relatively new to the stacks, and some of them have been languishing for far too long.

The End of the Alphabet - C.S. Richardson
Helpless - Barbara Gowdy
Mercy Among the Children - David Adams Richards
Jane Austen - Carol Shields
The Gargoyle - Andrew Davidson
The Boys in the Trees - Mary Swan
The Time in Between - David Bergen
Barnacle Love - Anthony De Sa
Mouthing the Words - Camilla Gibb
The Birth House - Ami McKay
HappinessTM - Will Ferguson
Dreams Underfoot - Charles de Lint
The Lions of Al-Rassan - Guy Gavriel Kay

Plus I really want to get my hands on The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, as well as the next books in the series by Louise Penny and Giles Blunt, Dead Cold and Black Fly Season respectively.

Have you read any of these, or are there other must-read Canadian books/authors that you'd recommend?

Coming up this week, when I get a chance, my review of The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant by Michel Tremblay, my first book completed for The Canadian Book Challenge 3. Have a great week!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

June in review

Due to the distraction of packing, moving, and unpacking, June was a pretty light month for reading. I only managed to finish 3 books. However, the books I did read took me all over North America. First it was to New York and Montreal, with many brief stops along the way. On the run with my father, we were always trying to stay ahead of the detective on our tail. Next it was to a small town in Ontario. My investigation of a local murder there also took me to Quebec where old deceptions came to light. And last to Yellowknife, North West Territories, where many bizarre events took place. So it was still a pretty entertaining month!

Books completed:
(click on the title to read my review, click on the book covers below for more information on the books themselves)
35. Last Night in Montreal - Emily St. John Mandel
36. The Delicate Storm - Giles Blunt
37. Yellowknife - Steve Zipp


It's impossible for me to choose a favourite this month. These 3 books were quite different from each other but they were all enjoyable to read and I rated them all the same.

New-to-me authors: 2
Books in Translation: 0

This was my second book by Giles Blunt, while Emily St. John and Steve Zipp were both new-to-me authors this month, and these books are their debut novels. Both very well-written debut novels at that. I'm very much looking forward to reading more by all 3 of these authors in the future.

Books in: 6
Books out: 3

The Year of Readers: Reading for the Book Wish Foundation.
Money raised this month: $9
Total raised to date: $106

Reading Challenges Progress Report
(see sidebar for current challenges)
Ended
Once Upon a Time III Challenge: 3 books completed
2nd Canadian Book Challenge, Eh?: 12 books completed

Ongoing
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 9 read, 8 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)

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

Reading plans for July
Well, July is already half over and I haven't really set any reading goals for myself this month, but in the remaining couple of weeks I'd like to read another review book or two, and maybe some non-fiction.



I never did a wrap-up post for the Once Upon a Time III Challenge, that ended on the first day of summer, so here is a brief mention of what I read. I only signed up for The Journey this year, in other words, I only committed to reading one book for the challenge. However, I ended up reading 3 books that would qualify.
The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 - David Petersen
The King's Bride - E.T.A. Hoffmann

Of these, I rated The Graveyard Book the highest, but they were all wonderful books. The Graveyard Book was a touching story of growing up. The art in Mouse Guard was fantastic, and The King's Bride was just pure fun! David Petersen and E.T.A. Hoffman were new to me, but all 3 are authors I hope to read more of. I'd certainly recommend any of the books mentioned in this post!

To see what everyone else read for the Once Upon a Time III Challenge, visit the Review Site. And, as always, thanks for hosting, Carl!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sunday Salon (on Monday): Everything Austen

My reading has really slowed down over the last week as I spend my days either working or unpacking, sorting and cleaning. By the time I get to bed at night I'm tired and either try to sneak a few minutes on the computer or read a few pages while struggling to keep my eyes open. But I did finish reading The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant last week, and am now a few chapters into Best Intentions by Emily Listfield, which I'm quite enjoying so far.

At last I've been unpacking my books over the last couple of days and it's got me thinking about how to organize them. For the moment I'm mainly just getting them out of their boxes and onto the shelves, and in our old place there wasn't much of a system beyond fitting as many as possible into the limited space available. You may remember this picture of a couple of my crammed bookshelves. Space is still an issue but this time I think I'd like to keep my unread books together instead of mixed in with the others. I figure that will make it easier to see at a glance my massive TBR, and hopefully easier to find a particular book when I want to. But then that means separating books by the same author if I've read some but not others. Plus I also think it would be nice to have all of my Japanese lit together which would mean combining the read with the unread. Decisions, decisions. How do you organize your books?

Meanwhile, I've decided to join Stephanie's Everything Austen challenge. I love me some Austen so how could I resist? The goal is simply to read or watch six Austen-themed things between July 1st, 2009 and January 1st, 2010. It's a fun idea letting us choose among books, movies and whatnot. I had an Austen phase quite a few years ago and have read all of her published novels at least once, and others, like Pride and Prejudice, I've read several times. And I rarely go a year without watching a few of the movies or tv series based on her books. I've actually already had a few Austen fixes this year as well. A couple of weeks ago, I caught the BBC mini-series of Sense and Sensibility on tv, and earlier in the year I read Austenland by Shannon Hale and watched the movie, The Jane Austen Book Club, which was predictable but amusing all the same. Plus late last year I read the Hesperus Press edition of The Watsons, an unfinished story by Jane Austen.

I'm not really sure what I'll read or watch during the remainder of the year, but I do have a few ideas. I'd like to finally read Jane Austen by Carol Shields as it's been waiting to be read for far too long. I also have Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure by Emma Campbell Webster which looks like a lot of fun, and I'm tempted to reread Northanger Abbey this autumn. Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange also sounds deliciously fun. Then it might be amusing to watch Bridget Jones's Diary again, as it's been ages since I saw it. Or Becoming Jane, or any of the Austen dramatizations that I never get tired of watching. Also, Lost in Austen has started to air on tv here and I just watched part 2 this afternoon. Whatever I end up choosing though, I'm certainly looking forward to spending some quality time with Jane and her characters.

A little personal side note: This past Tuesday, July 7th, was Tanabata. It's not an official holiday (so not a day off) here but it is widely celebrated. It's based on an old Chinese folk tale (click on the link above to read more about it at wikipedia) and is considered quite a romantic day. In Japan, people write their wishes on strips of paper which are then hung on bamboo, and which kind of looks like a summer version of a Christmas tree. I've mentioned this before in 2006 and in 2007, but a recent comment by Trish made me realize it's been a while, so if you've ever wondered why I adopted 'tanabata' as my online screen name it's because July 7th, the festival of tanabata, is our wedding anniversary. So H and I have now been married for 9 years! My how the time flies!

Sorry I still haven't had much time to stop by your blogs. I'm barely even managing to post on mine, but an end to the unpacking is in sight. I hope you're all enjoying the summer so far and reading lots of wonderful books. Have a great week!

Friday, July 10, 2009

'Yellowknife'

by Steve Zipp
Fiction, 2007
Res Telluris, trade pb, 276 p.
Welcome to the mysterious north.
The time is 1998. The millennium looms. Yellowknife, capital of one-third of Canada and home to beasts and bureaucrats, is about to become a player in the world diamond market.

A penniless drifter, a businessman obsessed by bones, an artist with a baseball bat, a fallen academic who lives at the dump, a biologist with a son named after a fungus, a native man older than Canada, a Mounty with a jaw of steel.

Our Lady of the Lake Trout, the Paradox of the Ravens, the Ice Road Café, the Mosquito Research Institute. Y2K and the birth of Nunavut. A legend, a myth, a mystery.
What a wonderfully weird, surreal story this was! And such an eclectic cast of quirky characters! We’re introduced to quite a few different characters throughout the book, who were all equally unique, and bizarre, and memorable. Some of them only showed up briefly, and there is no clear ending for most of them, which has left me thinking about them long after having finished the book. About halfway through I was wondering what the point of it all was, but then I decided it didn’t matter if there was one or not. It’s a portrayal of a city, above all, and the people that pass through it, so we only witness moments of their lives in and around Yellowknife. What happens to them before or after is of little consequence to this particular story. I imagine it’s the kind of book that may frustrate some people because of all this, but I think fans of Haruki Murakami would appreciate it.

The furthest north I’ve been in Canada is Edmonton which is still not really anywhere near Yellowknife, so I can only imagine what life is like in the north. However, the author has done a wonderful job bringing this fantastic, frustrating city vividly to life. I was reading this just after we moved into our new apartment and didn't have my sticky notes at hand, so I didn't make a note of any particular quotes, but this book had plenty of humour, sadness, mystery and wonder. I really enjoyed my brief virtual visit to Yellowknife, and discovering a part of Canada very different from the one I know. It’s a shame that it hasn’t yet found a wider audience, or availability. I hope that doesn’t deter Steve though and that he’s working on something new. I’d love to read more by him in the future.

Thank you to the author, Steve Zipp, for the opportunity to read this book for the 2nd Canadian Book Challenge.

Steve Zipp's Book Blog
For more information, to read an excerpt, to order the book or to download it for free, visit Res Telluris, the publisher's website.

First sentence: The border gave Danny a start.

My Rating: 4/5
(#37 for 2009, 2nd Canadian Book Challenge, ARC Reading Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
Brown Paper
an adventure in reading
The Book Mine Set
She Reads Books (including an interview with the author)
kiss a cloud
The Book Zombie
A Reader's Journal
The Indextrious Reader
book-a-rama
SMS Book Reviews
Geranium Cat's Bookshelf
If I've missed yours, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Mailbox Monday and where am I?

Just a couple of new books to mention this week, but I'm quite looking forward to both of them.

10:01 by Lance Olsen
Won in a giveaway at Save Ophelia. Thanks so much for sending this Lena!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows
Picked up at my favourite book store in Tokyo, when I stopped by there last week for the first time in a couple of months. I know I probably shouldn't be buying new books yet, especially considering I still haven't unpacked all of mine, but I've been wanting this one and they had it discounted. How could I refuse that?

So only 2 books, but I also got 2 bookish magazines today. The July/August edition of newbooks arrived in the post, and I picked up the current edition of Bookmarks while out and about. I've had a little flip through and there seem to be so many books I haven't heard of to discover and tempt me. I'm sure I'll be adding some of them to my already ridiculously long wishlist!

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.



As for my reading, I've been spending my time this past week in Montreal, meeting the curious residents of Fabre Street, including the pregnant woman of the title, and even the neighbourhood cat. [The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant by Michel Tremblay]
I only have a few pages left so next I think I'll be heading to New York where I have a bad feeling not everything is as it previously seemed. [Best Intentions by Emily Listfield].

It's Tuesday, where are you? is hosted by raidergirl3 at an adventure in reading.

Where has your reading been taking you lately?

Thursday, July 02, 2009

'The Delicate Storm'

by Giles Blunt
Fiction/Crime, 2003
Seal Books, mm pb, 393 p.
Detective John Cardinal series, Book 2
When the dismembered corpse of an American tourist turns up half-eaten by bears near Algonquin Bay, Detective John Cardinal is assigned to the case. Without a solid lead, and with the RCMP and CSIS involved, Cardinal is forced to band together with his nemesis, Sergeant Malcolm Musgrave, to untangle the deceit and cover-ups surrounding the case. Then a well-respected local woman is found frozen under a glaze of ice in the woods, and Cardinal realizes that the two very different murders may well be connected.

Working closely with his trusted colleague, Detective Lise Delorme, to whom he feels a dangerous attraction, Cardinal fights his emotions and a relentless ice storm only to uncover a knot of lies and conspiracies that go back more than thirty years and extend to the highest reaches of Canadian intelligence.
A mystery was a great choice to read during the chaotic days just before and after moving day, and this proved to be a good one. When I got into bed each night it was engaging enough to distract me from all the boxes and the countless things I still needed to do, but also fun and easy to read since I doubt I would’ve been able to handle anything too deep at the time.

I’d really enjoyed the first book in the series, Forty Words for Sorrow, when I read it a couple of years ago, and The Delicate Storm didn’t disappoint. It was nice to revisit Algonquin Bay and to catch up with Detectives Cardinal and Delorme, along with some of the other characters that are a part of their lives, both old and new.

I don’t think I’m giving too much away by saying that I didn’t know anything about the October Crisis that took place in Quebec in 1970 and so found it interesting to read a little bit about this event in Canadian history, when it was referred to in the story. The author has changed names and tweaked some details, but apparently he relates the incident quite accurately, so says Peter Rozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders.

I’ll definitely be continuing with the series and getting the third book, Black Fly Season, when I’m next in Canada.

Final verdict: Likeable characters and so far a very enjoyable series.

Interview with Giles Blunt (Crime Factory)
Video interview with Giles Blunt (The Poisoned Pen)
For more on the author and his books, visit Giles Blunt's website.

First sentence: First came the warmth.

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

2nd Canadian Book Challenge wrap-up

Happy Canada Day!
It's actually already Thursday here in Japan but it's still July 1st in Canada, and my home country is 142 years old today. Hmm...we should've had some cake. :P

It's also the last day of the 2nd Canadian Book Challenge, eh? The goal was to read 13 books (the number of provinces and territories) over the period of a year. I was behind in my reading for the challenge so I mostly focused on Canadian authors the last couple of months. However, moving slowed me down in June and I didn't quite make it to 13. I came very close though by completing 12 books, a few of which were on my list of possibities, and have even started on a 13th. Oh well, I guess I'll have a head start on round 3!

Even though the common theme for these books is Canada, they represent a variety of genres. Humour, fantasy, short stories, a graphic novel, a couple of mysteries, a couple of award-winners, literary fiction, and a couple that I don't know how to define. A nice selection, I think.

Books completed:
(click on the title to read my review)
1. How to Be a Canadian - Will Ferguson & Ian Ferguson
2. Griffin & Sabine - Nick Bantock
3. Dingo - Charles de Lint
4. Lighting the Dark Side - William R. Potter
5. Skim - Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki
6. Mother Superior - Saleema Nawaz
7. Still Life - Louise Penny
8. The Museum Guard - Howard Norman
9. No Great Mischief - Alistair MacLeod
10. Last Night in Montreal - Emily St. John Mandel
11. The Delicate Storm - Giles Blunt (review pending)
12. Yellowknife - Steve Zipp (review pending)

Best book(s) I read for the challenge?
I read some great books so it's hard to choose favourites. How to Be a Canadian made me laugh. I admired the art in Griffin & Sabine, and was touched by the story in Skim. Mother Superior and Lighting the Dark Side had some great short stories. It was fun to revisit one detective in The Delicate Storm and meet a new one in Still Life. Last Night in Montreal was beautifully written. Yellowknife was tantalizingly surreal, and so on. But if I had to choose, I guess I was most impressed by the touching, and realistic story in the graphic novel, Skim, and the art and imagination in Griffin & Sabine.

Book(s) I could have done without?
They were all worth reading but of these, the one I liked the least would be The Museum Guard. I just didn't enjoy it, or relate to it, as much as I wanted to.

Any new authors? Will I read them again?
Except for Will Ferguson and Giles Blunt, the remaining ten were all new-to-me authors, and I think for about half of those this was their first published book. So some of them don't have any other books out yet, but I will certainly look forward their new work, and I'd happily read something else by any of these authors. I already have a few books on hand by Nick Bantock, Will Ferguson and Charles de Lint so I imagine I'll be reading them again first. Although we all know how that goes! I also plan to continue with both mystery series, so when I get a chance I'll be buying the next book in each series by Louise Penny and Giles Blunt. And I'll be on the lookout for new books by Saleema Nawaz, Emily St. John Mandel and the others that have yet to have another book published.

Best thing about the challenge?
The fact that it encouraged me to read some of the Canadian books that had been languishing in my TBR for far too long. It's also fun to hear about new books to add to my ever-growing wishlist. Thanks so much for hosting, John. I'll definitely be joining the 3rd Canadian Book Challenge for another year of great Canadian reads.