Monday, November 30, 2009

Japanese Book Group: The Old Capital

Tanabata of In Spring it is the Dawn has started a Japanese Literature Book Group. As I have never read any Japanese literature, I thought this was a great way to start without the pressure of having to choose my own books. A new book will be chosen every two months and the inaugural choice was The Old Capital by Nobel Prize winning author Yasunari Kawabata.

This short book (160 pages) is actually two stories in one -- the coming of age of Chieko, a girl who follows the traditions of the past, and the inevitable aging of the ancient city of Kyoto, Japan's one-time capital. As Chieko contemplates her future and that of her own aging parents, she is confronted with information about her past that may change everything for her. We follow Chieko and her father as they explore the traditional sites of Kyoto and participate in some of the many festivals and rituals still performed even in the early 1960s.

There was so much to learn in my first literary introduction to Japan. The first thing I noticed was that Japanese does not necessarily translate smoothly to English. Many of the strange phrasings and cadences that you hear in translated Japanese animated films were also present in this book. So in a way it was familiar but only in an obviously inaccurate manner. Secondly, the pacing and movement of time in the book was much different than in Western literature. The foreword in my edition said that this story was originally published in the daily newspaper in 100 installments. I would have been really interested to see where the breaks were between installments. I think it might have brought more sense to the pacing of the book. Finally, this book gave me a definite interest in finding out more about Kyoto -- both its past and the current state of the city. It was definitely one of the most interesting characters in the story -- especially since I had problems connecting with Chieko.

The next book group selection is one that was already on my TBR list-- The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa --so I will definitely be participating again.

Embarking on a literary journey,

Support our site and buy The Old Capital on Amazon or find it at your local library. We borrowed our copy from the library.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Simple Art of Short Detective Stories

Raymond Chandler's The Simple Art of Murder is a collection of short stories that he submitted over the years to pulp magazines and is prefaced with an essay he wrote for the Atlantic Monthly about mystery and detective stories. Almost all of the stories are "private eye" tales that take place in the Los Angeles area. They are chock-full of seedy musicians, sly broads, crooked cops and indecipherable slang -- and guns ... lots and lots of guns. Any reader would be hard-pressed to find a truly honest or wholesome character in one of these stories.

However, one story stood out -- Pearls Are a Nuisance -- in that the main character is quite different from any other of Chandler's creations. Walter Gage is an upstanding if somewhat trust-fundish citizen with an upper-crust vocabulary and a trusting nature. This is the one story with a true twist and a bit of heart and, frankly, the only one without a murder.

This is my final read for the Take a Chance Challenge. I took all ten chances! This was for the Random Word Challenge --
Go to this random word generator and generate a random word. Find a book with this word in the title. Read the book and write about it.

My random word was "simple" and since we had this book in the house (technically, my husband bought it to read), I thought it would be a good choice. I've enjoyed Raymond Chandler's novels but these short stories really didn't do it for me. I couldn't read more than one in a row because they were too similar and, well, full of murder. The opening essay though was fantastic and I almost wish I had just read that.

Wanting to murder a certain genre,

Support our site and buy The Simple Art of Murder on Amazon or find it at your local library. We bought our own copy.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Starred Saturdays: week of November 22

I hope everyone in the U.S. had a great Thanksgiving Day! Here are some things that caught my eye this week.

Why wouldn't we want to know about free books, right? io9 pointed readers to The Best Places To Find Your Next Free Book Online. Okay, so they're free online or e-books but don't let that keep you from rushing out to enjoy a free read.

Until December 6, Alea of Pop Culture Junkie is running a giveaway for a "feltie" -- some cute miniature felt creatures that she is making herself from the book Felties. I put my name in for the "sleepy fox". So cute!

Did you know that there's a 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up? I need this list.

When my unexpected inheritance finally materializes, I will attend this auction --
A valuable collection of children's literature, including Alice's own copy of "Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There," a first edition of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" and Beatrix Potter's personal copy of "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" will be presented for auction Dec. 16.
Looking through the item list makes me a little sad that I don't have a million dollars to spare. (from Jacket Copy)

Have you seen this video for the New Zealand Book Council? There's apparently someone reading a book passage in it but my eyes had to work so hard to keep up with the amazing visuals that I think my ears turned off. (from Shelf Life and others)

And I'll leave you with something to warm the heart - a story in pictures by Shaun Tan. I love it. (from Neil Gaiman)

Scooting into December,

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

" 'Where oh where ...' wondered Ophie Peeler, looking around her big, almost-empty bedroom, 'did Mom pack my ruby slippers?' "

One of the most random tasks of the Take a Chance Challenge was this one --
Random Book Selection. Go to the library. Position yourself in a section such as Fiction, Non-Fiction, Mystery, Children (whatever section you want). Then write down random directions for yourself (for example, third row, second shelf, fifth book from right). Follow your directions and see what book you find. Check that book out of the library, read it and then write about it. (If you prefer, you can do the same at a bookstore and buy the book!)

Our local library has a very random shelf configuration so I couldn't write down directions. Instead, I stood just outside the children's section (since we're getting close to the end of the challenge and I needed a book I could read quickly) and peeked around corners to count shelves. Still, I didn't look at any of the books before I picked my numbers. I ended up with Ophie Out of Oz by Kathleen O'Dell. This is a pretty standard "kid in a new town" story.

Ophelia Peeler is a fourth grader who has moved with her father (a salesman), mother and new baby sister to Oregon from California. It's another new school and time to make new friends for Ophie. She, of course, sets her sights on the popular girls but quickly gets on their bad sides and ends up hanging out with an awkward girl and her younger sister who are both in public school for the first time after being home-schooled. She decides to make the best of it until they move again but then her dad ends up with a coveted desk job and Ophie finds out that they are going to stay in Oregon permanently. So she has to find a way to fit in and also to be honest and be herself.

I wasn't in love with this book but I am not the target audience. I'm not sure how I would have felt if I had read it in grade school. I appreciate taking this chance though because with a child just starting school, it's helpful to be reminded of the sorts of things that kids go through in elementary school. So many things in this book were familiar--from awkward moments at a new school to trying to get someone to notice you--but I had forgotten about those experiences. I think I will read more elementary school fiction in the coming years as a way to be a better parent.

Remembering the days that I was the new girl,

Support our site and buy Ophie Out of Oz on Amazon or find it at your local library. We borrowed our copy from the library.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New Release: Mercury Falls

If Kevin Smith's film Dogma and Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's novel Good Omens had a witty yet mature baby, it would be Robert Kroese's Mercury Falls. This novel about the Apocalypse is well-researched and amusing.

Christine Temetri is a journalist who has somehow ended up covering third-rate Apocalyptic cults for The Banner, a very prominent religious news magazine. After yet another eventless sunrise in the desert with a "prophet" and his followers, she has decided she is done with the work. When she gets back to Los Angeles, though, not only has her apartment been shoddily vandalized but her boss has a last-minute assignment for her in Israel. What she learns from her contact there and from her first near-death experience convinces her that the Apocalypse may actually be approaching. Meeting Mercury, a rogue angel, is just the icing on the cake. If she could only convince him to help, they might be on the way to saving the world.

This is a really funny book -- rarely laugh out loud funny in a Douglas Adams way but more like "snicker and snort" humor. For some reason it reminded me of late night group discussions at Denny's when my friends and I were twenty-somethings with nothing else to do. It has a really comfortable, easy tone through most of the book. It takes a few potshots at both religion and atheism but a light way. It also takes a mildly serious look at the various "signs" and "happenings" of the Apocalypse and imagines a possible way for it to all unfold. There are seraphim and cherubs, demons and The Devil, and even an overweight, loser Antichrist named Karl Grissom who won the title in a contest.

Mercury Falls is a self-published book but I didn't feel that there was any problem with the quality of the writing or the story. In fact, I hope that this novel finds its audience and a publisher because this is a bright first novel and I would love to see what the author creates next. You can visit his website for more reviews and background.

Wondering if it's safe to upgrade our flooring, (it's an inside joke)

Support our site (and Rob's dream) and buy Mercury Falls on Amazon.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Non-Fiction Review: Three Cups of Tea

It seems like I've been writing a lot lately about book genres that I don't regularly read. Well, yet another one is modern non-fiction. I read recently-written non-fiction but usually about subjects that are at least fifty years old -- history, biographies of long dead people and the like. So when I ended up with Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations ... One School at a Time for a challenge, I knew it would be an adventure. This is the story of Greg Mortenson-- as told by journalist David Oliver Relin --and the time he has spent in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the past twenty years.

Greg's first trip to Pakistan was to scale K2. When things went wrong during the trip, he ended up in the remote village of Korphe. He became close to the head of the village and his family and made a promise that he would return and build the children of Korphe a school. Through many years and multiple return trips to the region, Greg eventually built the school and became something of a local legend -- so much so that other villages approached him for help. He successfully started a non-profit organization that managed the schools and their expansion and everything was going well until September 11, 2001 when the region became America's number one target. Still, Greg has tried to continue fulfilling his dreams and the dreams of the fathers, mothers, sons and daughters of Pakistan.

This is one of my final selections for the Take a Chance Challenge. It was for the Public Spying task.
Find someone who is reading a book in public. Find out what book they are reading and then read the same book. Write about it.

I saw plenty of people reading but always forgot to look at their books or just couldn't bring myself to read what they were reading. When I saw another mother at Kindergarten pick-up reading Three Cups of Tea, I decided to read it even though I wasn't sure I would enjoy it. I'm glad I took the chance though because I learned a lot about Pakistan, Islam and another side of our current conflict. It's somewhat disheartening to realize that this book was published in 2006, five years after the terrorist acts against America, and yet the war still hasn't ended. But hopefully the seeds of change that Greg Mortenson is planting will reduce radicalism and terrorism in the future.

If you are interested in Greg and the Central Asia Institute, you can visit their website. Also, a follow up book to this one, Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, will be released next week.

Realizing peace is built in one heart at a time,

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hello Japan! Food Challenge

This month's Hello Japan! task (to my great delight!) was to eat some Japanese food. Although I would have loved to try making some yakisoba again (I've only made it once before), I decided instead to go to my favorite local Japanese restaurant, Kikuya. It had been a couple of months since I was last there and I had some definite cravings. The husband (T), Z and I went on a weekday afternoon to avoid the long wait that this place usually has at dinner time. Without further ado, here's my photo post about our visit this past week.

I can't find a meaning for "Kikuya". I think it might be a name.

This is a small and tastefully decorated restaurant in a strip mall. All of the employees are Japanese. The man in the picture is the sushi chef.

We started as usual with some hot green tea -- except for Z who had lemonade. We also had miso soup and cucumber salad.

T got his standard order -- "sushi plate".

Z got his favorite -- gyoza.

And I enjoyed my favorite Japanese food -- tempura. This restaurant serves prawns, carrots, broccoli, green onion, sweet onion, zucchini, green bean and sweet potato tempura.

We had a great meal. I can't wait to go back! We have one more Japanese food outing planned this month -- a trip to Benihana this week with family. Though the teppanyaki method is authentic, the onion volcano is not.

Loving our Japanese excursion,
K and Z

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Starred Saturdays: week of November 15

Welcome to another Saturday!

Aarti of BOOKLUST has posted about the upcoming Flashback Challenge. This is the re-birth of my Re-Read Challenge and I hope everyone will go sign up there. I am probably going to run a couple of mini-challenges alongside the main challenge so stay tuned!

Scott of Pages to Type Before I Sleep has written a great letter to his nephew about creating characters in a story.

If you haven't seen the Curious Pages blog, get thee over there immediately. Their tagline is "recommended inappropriate books for kids" ... and boy are they!

My beloved Tim Burton is going to have an exhibition at MOMA from November 22 to April 26, 2010. (from io9)
This major career retrospective on Tim Burton (American, b. 1958), consisting of a gallery exhibition and a film series, considers Burton's career as a director, producer, writer, and concept artist for live-action and animated films, along with his work as a fiction writer, photographer and illustrator. Following the current of his visual imagination from early childhood drawings through his mature work, the exhibition presents artwork generated during the conception and production of his films, and highlights a number of unrealized projects and never-before-seen pieces, as well as student art, his earliest non-professional films, and examples of his work as a storyteller and graphic artist for non-film projects.

I'm going to print out the "family activity guide" for Z -- who also loves Tim Burton. (Note to Lena: It has a scary clown drawing!)

Mike Stilkey is an artist that uses books for his canvases. I'm not sure if I appreciate his work or not. I mean, I like the art but the death of the books is a bit sad for me! (from io9)

And that's what caught my eye this week. To all my American readers, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Always a fan of the inappropriate,

Friday, November 20, 2009

Poe Fridays: The Bells

Today's Poe Fridays poem is The Bells. You can read it here. I've copied the beginning of each part of it to represent the change of mood but you should definitely read the entire poem.

Hear the sledges with the bells -
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Hear the mellow wedding bells -
Golden bells!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
Through the balmy air of night
How they ring out their delight!
From the molten-golden notes,
And all in tune,
What a liquid ditty floats
To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats
On the moon!
Hear the loud alarum bells -
Brazen bells!
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
Hear the tolling of the bells -
Iron bells!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.

This poem was first published after Poe's death. It is a very thoughtful movement from birth to death and also an example of the many faces of a single symbol. This poem highlights the fact that we have different words for the same sounds based on the emotions of the moment -- bells "peal" when we are happy, "clang" when we are anxious and "toll" when they are rung in mourning. This is another of Poe's works that really comes to life when read out loud. There is musicality in the words and the rhythm that enhances the idea of the bells. This is one of my favorite Poe poems.

Because next week is Thanksgiving and I have family coming to visit, I'm going to take a break from Poe Fridays until the following week. The longish short story for December 4th will be The Purloined Letter -- another story featuring Poe's French detective, C. Auguste Dupin.

Still enjoying the bells of youth,

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How to Spawn Your Own Inanimate Monsters

Dan Reeder, a local artist and author, asked us to review his new book, Papier-Mâché Monsters. It is a colorful and unique book that is perfect for anyone interested in learning how these sculptures are made or those brave few who are looking to make something of their own.

The first half of the book is dedicated to a single project with detailed instructions on each step. Even if you weren't keen on making monsters, you could easily apply the techniques to any sort of creation that you were interested in bringing to life. Reeder uses paper and cloth strips in his papier-mâché -- and no balloons! Actually, most of his materials are easy to come by like Elmer's glue, masking tape and wire coat hangers. He also uses his well-developed sense of humor to give a light-hearted feel to labor intensive projects. Note: He loves masking tape enough to marry it but he doesn't feel as strongly about glue. His feline friends also make appearances throughout the book though they never seem to be working very hard!

This is a fascinating how-to book and it also serves as a showcase of Reeder's amazing work. He's a papier-mâché veteran who is willing to share his expertise with newbies -- what could be better than that?

In awe of artists,

Support our site and buy Papier-Mâché Monsters: Turn Trinkets and Trash into Magnificent Monstrosities on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received our copy from the author.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"So Mom got the postcard today."

After seeing great reviews of Rebecca Stead's youth novel When You Reach Me on Lena's site and others and noticing it on many TBR lists, I was really interested in reading this book. It is the story of a twelve-year old girl, Miranda, in New York City, trying to navigate the ups and downs of the sixth grade but also a mystery much more adult.

I agree with Lena that the least said about this plot before you read the book, the better. However, I think your experience will be greatly enhanced if you have already read Madeleine L'Engle's classic A Wrinkle in Time. It is Miranda's favorite book and she references it frequently. This is a very smart middle grade book that owes much to L'Engle's example of trusting children with topics beyond the normal realm of their understanding.

Enjoying this visit to 1979,

Support our site and buy When You Reach Me on Amazon or find it at your local library. We borrowed our copy from the library.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"In 1902 Father built a house at the crest of the Broadview Avenue hill in New Rochelle, New York."

I've always wanted to read something by E.L. Doctorow and now I've finished my first of his novels with Ragtime. This book is a mix of fiction and historical fiction set mostly in New York in the early 1900s. There are multiple plot lines in the book, some that progress and intersect and others that are merely vignettes.

A wide variety of historical figures make appearances -- from escape artist Harry Houdini to "it girl" Evelyn Nesbit and workers' rights advocate and Socialist leader Emma Goldman. There are three fictional families in the story -- one is the family of a successful businessman and explorer, the second is an immigrant Jewish father and daughter and the final one, a family not yet fully formed, is a young black working class girl, her baby and her sometimes beau, a ragtime pianist. These families all encounter the prejudices and disadvantages of the period which have various degrees of effect on their lives. They all do the best they can to achieve the American dream but it turns out that it might not be available to everyone.

This is one of my selections for the Take a Chance Challenge. It was my choice for the Birth Year Book. The challenge was this -- Find a book that was published or copyrighted in the year of your birth. Read the book and write about it.

My birth year is 1975 and this was an award winning novel from that year. I'm glad to have chosen this book. I don't think I would have ever picked it up on my own but it was a well-composed and poignant story of a time quite different from our own. The juxtaposition of the lives of tycoon J.P. Morgan and Tateh, a poor Jewish immigrant, living in the same city but living in opposite situations, highlights the disparity of the era. I will definitely look for more books set in this time and will also read other books by Doctorow.

This novel also happens to count toward the 1% Well-Read Challenge. I can easily understand why this novel is on the list as it was more era-driven than plot-driven. It highlights some parts of our nation's history that some would like forgotten but are essential to remember. Recently, the L.A. Times book blog highlighted part of their original review of Ragtime if you're interested.

Doctorow has one other novel on the list, The Book of Daniel, that is about the Rosenbergs, alleged spies for the USSR that were executed by the U.S.. Based on Ragtime, I would trust that book to be a strong historical fiction as well.

Learning about America one brief period at a time,

Support our site and buy Ragtime on Amazon or find it at your local library. We bought our own copy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

New Release: No Wind of Blame

Of the Georgette Heyer mysteries that I've read so far, No Wind of Blame is one of my favorites. It has a more balanced set of characters--with a few that are even tolerable people--and a strong mystery.

With the first third of the book reserved for character development before the murder, this book shows the strength of the Heyer mystery. A pieced-together family lives in their English countryside home, Palings. We have Ermyntrude Carter, a widow on her second marriage with an adult daughter, Vicky, from the first. Her husband of the last two years is Wally Carter who brought along with him his cousin and adult ward, Mary Cliffe. They are an unconventional set that have their good days and bad. Ermyntrude was on the stage in her youth and Vicky spends her days on her own mental stage and gets through her days by acting in different personae. In the adjoining Dower House is Wally's distant relative, the generally-disliked Harold White, who tends to bring out the worst in Wally. Ermyntrude has a retinue of admirers in the picture as well and when Wally is murdered one afternoon, there is no shortage of suspects.

I really enjoyed this book and it is one that I would definitely recommend to someone new to Georgette Heyer's mysteries. There were a few twists and turns and the requisite Heyer romance. It also features a new detective from Scotland Yard, Inspector Hemingway, who has a great sense of humor to match his strong wits. I hope that the next mystery I read is as strong as this one.

An unexpected murder can ruin any pleasant afternoon,

Support our site and buy No Wind of Blame on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received our copy from the publisher.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Take a Chance Challenge: Lit Riff

I thought about this challenge element from the Take A Chance Challenge for a long time. Here's the challenge --
Lit Riff (inspired by the book Lit Riffs by Matthew Miele.) Choose a song and then write a brief story that is inspired by or further explains the lyrics of the song.

I wasn't sure I was going to participate in this one because it seemed difficult and possibly boring to write about a relationship or something. And then I had an idea ... a really terribly bad idea (so feel free to leave now).

First, you pick an unbelievably mopey song ...
Lyrics from Apart by The Cure

He waits for her to understand
but she won't understand at all.
She waits all night for him to call
but he won't call anymore.
He waits to hear her say "forgive"
but she just drops her pearl-black eyes
and prays to hear him say "I love you"
but he tells no more lies.

He waits for her to sympathize
but she won't sympathize at all.
She waits all night to feel his kiss
but always wakes alone.
He waits to hear her say "forget"
but she just hangs her head in pain
and prays to hear him say "no more,
I'll never leave again".

How did we get this far apart?
We used to be so close together.
How did we get this far apart?
I thought this love would last forever.

And then you write ...

Childish Games by Kristen M.

Oh my god ... how long have we been here? It feels like only moments ago that we both started out ... him on the ladder, me on the steps. He waits for me to close my pearl-black eyes (Marco!) and then we both start moving. But now he seems so far away (Polo!). Did he get out of the pool? I just couldn't forgive him if he got out. I shout "Marco" and his "Polo" takes so long to come that I'm sometimes afraid that he's actually gone away -- into the house or something. Seriously ... I'm getting really pissed off. I think he's lying about still being in the pool.

Now it's his turn and he wants me to feel bad for him and how long it's taking to find me? (Marco!) Yeah right. Like I could forget how he just left me hanging for like half an hour. (Polo!) I'm not even sure why we're playing this dumb game. When we were kids we used to love it and I thought that love would last forever but I guess we outgrow almost everything. I honestly don't think I'll ever say "I love Marco Polo" again. I think about teasing him with a kiss on the back of the neck but then I swim away from his outstretched arms -- knowing that I'm also going to cheat and get out of the pool.
The End.

Well, there was my Lit Riff! What mopey song would you turn into a silly parody? Duncan Sheik's She Runs Away as a game of tag? U2's classic I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For as hide-and-seek?

Getting the sillies out,

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Starred Saturdays: week of November 8

Welcome to another installment of Starred Saturdays! Thanks for the great reception last week. I think this is going to be something fun.

First is the massive Kindle II giveaway that J.T. (at Bibliofreak) has orchestrated. She's basing it on Amazon Affiliate profits through her site so I wish her luck. I've made 89 cents in the last year and a half.

If you missed signing up for the Book Blogger Holiday Swap, consider the Secret Santa Book Exchange started by msmazzola of State of Denmark. Sign up by December 5th!

Did you know that AbeBooks lists their most expensive titles sold each month? It's fun to look at even though I'm not the kind of person to ever spend $6000 on a book. (from The Millions)

This is a "collective art site" called Gorilla Artfare -- specifically the art of "bluefooted". I think the wolfman picture is just beautiful and the Wild Things piece under it is fantastic. (from io9)

Carlos Ruiz-Zafon's YA books (four of them!) are being translated from Spanish and released by Little, Brown. The first will be The Prince of Mist. (from Fuse #8)

Here's something that I hope NOBODY receives as a holiday gift.

And finally a couple of books that caught my eye --
The Girl of Slender Means by Muriel Spark -- a novella that prompted me to by a different Muriel Spark novella that was on the discount rack at Half Price Books (found on Savidge Reads)

The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall, and Edmund Weiner -- an exploration of words that Tolkien created or gave new meaning to through his books. I'll be looking for this one at the library (found on the Oxford University Press blog)

There were also a couple of other books that might make good Christmas presents for family members so I have to keep those to myself for a bit!

Dreaming of first editions,

Friday, November 13, 2009

Poe Fridays: The Oblong Box

For this week's Poe Fridays, I chose the short story The Oblong Box. You can read it here.

This is the story of a man who sets out on an ocean voyage to New York. A close friend of his is also on the ship and is acting strangely. He is an artist of irregular temperament but he seems overly morose during the trip. He brings on board with him a 6 foot by 2 foot pine box which he keeps in his own cabin. This friend is also traveling with his sisters and his new wife -- who was reported to the narrator to be of extraordinary beauty, talent and wit. The narrator is surprised then to meet the wife and find her rather plain, uneducated and nervous. Though the narrator is mistaken for some time in thinking that the box contained a precious artwork, I didn't find it hard to guess what the titular "oblong box" really contained.

This was a very quick-reading and simply-written story. There was no philosophy and little mystery -- only the genuine actions of a grieving man and the puzzlement of a less-than-astute friend. Although the subject of this story is sad and a bit grotesque, I thought it was also touching.

Next week's Poe Fridays reading will be a poem, The Bells. It's an introduction to winter gone terribly wrong!

Hoping to be cherished even after death (but maybe not THAT cherished),

Thursday, November 12, 2009

New Release: The Broken Teaglass

How often do you pick up a book, sure that you will love it, only to put it down at the end feeling a bit disappointed? That is how I felt after finishing Emily Arsenault's debut novel The Broken Teaglass. I've had it on my TBR list since before it was released because it sounded like the perfect book for me. However, there were some flaws that kept me from having the reading experience I hoped to have with this one.

Two young lexicographers at a company that compiles dictionaries start a friendship over their shared curiosity about mysterious citations that surface while they are doing their research. Billy is a brand-new employee and Mona is a one-year veteran at Samuelson Company in a quiet town in Massachusetts. Billy is attempting to answer one of the many strange letters that they receive at the company when he finds a citation for the word editrix that seems a bit odd. It is an entire paragraph and it seems to be written by someone working at Samuelson. He asks Mona about it and she is curious enough to look through some more cits until she finds another from the same source, The Broken Teaglass by Dolores Beekmim. As they find the pattern in how the citations are hidden, they find what could be either a disturbing fiction or a shocking confession.

This summary makes the book sound perfect for someone like me who loves mysteries and words. I really think this could have been a great book. However, the characters were rather shallow and inconsistent and the dialogue didn't seem realistic. Even at times when the characters were baring their souls, they didn't seem sympathetic or compelling. Obvious questions weren't asked and bizarre little tangents emerged. I'm not sure if the fault was with this being with Arsenault's first novel or if she just didn't have a connection with her characters either. If you are interested in this book, I suggest checking out some other reviews because there seems to be a range of opinions on this one.

Looking up a synonym for "meh",

Support our site and buy The Broken Teaglass on Amazon or find it at your local library. We borrowed our copy from the library.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Release: The Handy Answer Book for Kids (and Parents)

Z has always been a pretty self-sufficient kid who likes to figure out things for himself. However, lately he has wanted to learn about bigger and more complicated things. I was excited to get the chance to review The Handy Answer Book for Kids (and Parents), hoping that it could help me answer some of the tough questions that are going to come up over the next few years. This is the Second Edition of this book, compiled by Gina Misiroglu.

The book focuses on science, engineering, political science and daily life. There are color photographs and diagrams throughout the book and key vocabulary words are in bold. Answers vary from a few sentences to some half-page long entries. Most of the answers are written at an upper elementary to middle grade comprehension level but parents can easily read and re-word answers for younger children.

One of Z's recent interests is the solar system and this book starts out with a great (and currently accurate) diagram of the eight planets and their orbits. Some of the answers are so simplistic that they are a bit inaccurate (the sun is made of plasma, not gas -- although try explaining plasma to a six year old) but they have enough information to be a launching pad for children who want to learn more. I like the section on weights and measures--a discipline that always confuses me--and now I can figure out my weight in "stone" -- not that I would share it with you!

This book really is "handy" and would be a great tool to have around the house. Even in this age of Google and Wikipedia, a quick reference book is never a bad idea.

Discovering questions we didn't even know to ask,
K and Z

Support our site and buy The Handy Answer Book for Kids (and Parents) on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received our copy from a publicist for review.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"My favourite thing to do in London is to fly the Eye."

I've had The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd on my reading wish list for a long time. I enjoy young detectives and thought this would be a fun, light read. In fact, it turned out to be a very different type of story.

This is the summary from Barnes and Noble --
Ted and Kat watched their cousin Salim board the London Eye, but after half an hour it landed and everyone trooped off—except Salim. Where could he have gone? How on earth could he have disappeared into thin air? Ted and his older sister, Kat, become sleuthing partners, since the police are having no luck. Despite their prickly relationship, they overcome their differences to follow a trail of clues across London in a desperate bid to find their cousin. And ultimately it comes down to Ted, whose brain works in its own very unique way, to find the key to the mystery.

I don't know if it was purposefully written this way so as to not scare away readers but they glossed over what it turns out is the major focus of the book -- Ted, the twelve-year old narrator, has Asperger's Syndrome. His unique way of looking at things is what allows him to solve the mystery of his missing cousin.

I thought there were some good things and some not as good things about this book. I thought that a lot of the adult emotions and behaviors that were explored in this story were possibly a bit too intense for the target age group for this book. I think that you have to be careful when writing about subjects like child abduction for children. As a parent, it was hard for me to read about Salim's mother and her reactions and emotions after she discovers he is missing. I did like that the brother/sister relationship between Ted and Kat was realistic in that they got along some of the time but clashed at other times. I always appreciate when siblings have balanced interactions. So I guess I liked the realism in some parts but found it to be a bit much for a youth book in other parts.

The mystery was an intriguing one but the main problem I had was that I figured out the solution in the same scene where the mystery was unfolding -- for the exact reason that Ted figured it out later. The thing is that if he was so focused on patterns and numbers and such, I have a feeling that he would have figured it out just as quickly. So his strengths were suppressed for the sake of the story which bothered me a little bit. Still, I think this book would be a great learning experience for an older child or even an adult who is curious about kids with autism and how they can use their differences to their advantage.

Investigating the mysteries of the human mind,

Support our site and buy The London Eye Mystery on Amazon or find it at your local library. We borrowed our copy from the library.

Monday, November 9, 2009

New Release: Warbreaker

I now realize that saying "I don't read fantasy" and "I don't like fantasy" are two very different things. I don't read very much fantasy but I've enjoyed the few that I've chosen to read in recent years. The latest is Brandon Sanderson's new novel Warbreaker. He has gone to great lengths to create a unique world with its own religions and politics and the result is almost flawless.

Siri is the youngest princess in the kingdom of Idris. She has had an easy life since she is not destined for any particular fate. When the time comes to send her oldest sister Vivenna to marry the God King of neighboring Hallandren, the King decides he can't surrender his favorite daughter and so at the last minute he sends Siri instead. Now Siri must do her best to please an immortal King that she knows nothing about. At the same time, Vivenna sets out to Hallandren in hopes of rescuing Siri from what she believes is certain death. As they both enter a culture that is basically the opposite of their own, they must quickly learn who to trust and how to act in order to survive.

The religions created and deconstructed in this novel are fascinating. In Idris, they worship one god -- Austre, the God of Colors. The people of Idris dress in drab browns and live in modest homes. By contrast, the people of Hallandren wear gaudy clothing and live in bold-colored homes. They worship many gods that are the "Returned" -- people who have died in heroic ways and then returned from the dead. They are kept immortal by draining the colors from regular citizens which they will one day use to heal a single citizen and thus end their immortality. Many of the common questions about faith and religion are addressed in this fictional world in a very intelligent way.

There are many more characters and side plots in the novel and they are all well-written and interesting. There are a few twists and turns that keep the reader on their toes. One premise of the novel seemed a bit "gamer-ish" with certain numbers of "breaths" bestowing powers or heightened senses. It seemed strange that these people would be able to count something as light as a soul. It sounded like a game with "lives" and "hit points" and all of that. But really, this was a very tiny complaint and I accepted it and forgot about it after a while. I enjoyed this novel much more than I expected to and I need to remember to keep an open mind about reading different genres.

Successfully navigating other worlds,

Support our site and buy Warbreaker on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received our copy for review from the publisher.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Discussion: Domestic or Import

The other day I chose a book at the used bookstore, not noticing that it was a UK edition. While I was reading it, I eventually spotted the foreign URL on the back and was just a little excited. Then I wondered why. It's the exact same cover and text as the American version. There's nothing special about it. I used to buy a lot of import CDs because they had extra content but books are the same no matter where they are released, right?

But then I started thinking of the exceptions. There are different covers. There are different titles like The Philosopher's Stone versus The Sorcerer's Stone or The Sister versus The Behaviour of Moths. And then there are the times when a book is just not available in your country yet.

So what do you think about foreign versions of a book? Are there times when you specifically look for a different edition than the one locally available? Or is it just not something that matters to you?

Wondering if the books are better on the other side of the pond,

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Starred Saturdays: week of November 1

I "star" so many things each week in my Google Reader that I find interesting or useful and I figure that there is a good chance that most of my readers have the same interests. So, I am going to start Starred Saturdays. I will only do this when I have good stuff to share but I'm guessing it will be most weeks. There will also be non-book related links because life is diverse. Enjoy!

First is, of course, the Book Blogger Holiday Swap. I was too scared to participate last year but I just finished signing up for this year and I can't wait to see who I get to buy for. There is only a small window of time left for sign-ups so don't delay! (Found on Presenting Lenore)

Martha at SPOGG (The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar) is my hero and she found an illustration of the proper use of apostrophes. As this is one of my pet peeves, I find this funny and also hope that it helps people improve their punctuation use!

Another fun reference page is The Stoakes-Whibley Natural Index of Supernatural Collective Nouns at Wondermark. It gives the collective nouns for tons of mythological creatures like "a yearning of sasquatches" and "a tackle of basilisks". This is very useful if your NaNoWriMo project is a fantasy! (Found at io9)

Tanabata has launched November's Hello Japan! challenge and it's all about Japanese food! I already know where I'm going and what I'm eating but I'm going to try and make this a good sized post and to learn something new.

I'm excited that my favorite local new/used bookstore is getting a Book Espresso Machine. I'm going to have to figure out which of the books on my TBR list have been hard to find (The Nebuly Coat comes to mind) and go get them printed out!

I'm also adding the following books to my TBR list --
Murder on the Cliffs by Joanna Tallis -- a mystery featuring a young Daphne Du Maurier (found at A Work in Progress)

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd - a female sleuth in a WWI English setting (found at A Reader's Respite)

And I'm going to make these salted brown butter krispy treats sometime soon!

I share because I care,

Friday, November 6, 2009

Poe Fridays: William Wilson

This week's Poe Fridays short story is William Wilson. You can read it here. All I knew going into this story was that it was a doppelgänger story.

The narrator is a man who has lived a vice-filled life. He wants to tell us his story and he uses the pseudonym William Wilson because his real name is now well-known and linked to his notorious reputation. He takes us back to his childhood when he used his dominant personality to get just about anything he wanted. When he went to boarding school, he quickly became a leader. His only challenge was another boy with the same build, the same birthday and coincidentally, the same name. This other William Wilson and our narrator always had an antagonistic and yet friendly relationship. The "other" would sometimes try to steer our narrator toward better behaviors but our William just ignored the advice and eventually came to hate the other boy. As he left this small school and went on to Eton and Oxford and then out into the world, the doppelgänger would always show up to foil his dishonest or lascivious plans. By this point, William's hatred escalates into fury and provokes a desperate act to end the story.

I'm sure it's no small thing that Poe used his own birth date in this story. He also uses his own experiences as a youth in England for the setting. Though Poe counted this as one of his best, I had a bit of trouble with the language in the story. It was difficult to follow the story in some places. Still, it was amusing to read about William's anger at finding someone that shared his name. I am one of those people that constantly gets mistaken for someone else and it drives me crazy -- although, not so crazy that I would kill anyone.

Next week's short story will be The Oblong Box. If you have any requests for stories in our last two months, let me know. We are quickly approaching Poe's birthday again, if you can believe it!

Wondering if anyone is really unique,

Thursday, November 5, 2009

New Release: Her Fearful Symmetry

Many readers waited with baited breath for Audrey Niffenegger's newest book, Her Fearful Symmetry. Now that it's here, some readers have already rushed through it and their opinions have been good for the most part. Carl thought it was a "probably should read". Lenore is torn between sort of liking it and really liking it. Simon is pretty sure it's going to become one of his favorites. I usually don't read reviews of a book I'm planning to read in the near future so I skipped the summaries and just read the impressions in these posts. My views ended up being very similar to theirs.

(Warning: This review is mildly spoilerish as to the tone of the book but not to any plot elements.)

Edie and Elspeth are twin sisters that had a falling out when they were young adults. Edie ended up living with her husband Jack in the States and Elspeth stayed in London and lived her own life. Now, twenty years later, Elspeth has died of cancer and has decided to leave her flat and her money to Edie's twin daughters, Valentina and Julia. The girls have never been able to decide or agree upon their futures so this seems like a lucky break. On their twenty-first birthday, the girls legally inherit the estate and move to London. What they find is a flat that looks over the well-known Highgate Cemetery and a pair of strange neighbors -- upstairs is a married man whose wife has just left him because of his severe O.C.D. and downstairs is Elspeth's partner who is still having problems coping a year after her death. As the girls spend more time in the flat, they find that books and clothing aren't the only things that Elspeth has left behind. They also discover that their special relationship as sisters might not be as idyllic as it once seemed.

When I started this book, I thought that this was one of the best books of its kind that I had ever read. By the end, I wasn't so sure. Niffenegger's writing is fantastic throughout the whole book. There's no fault there. My problem was with the direction that some of the characters took. I saw the major plot twist coming but hoped that it wouldn't actually happen. It wasn't that it was a poor plot choice. It was just incredibly heart-breaking and I hoped that the book would go in a different direction. It didn't but I would have to say that there were so many things to like in this book that I enjoyed it nevertheless. It was a fantastic spooky, gothic read and has inspired me to learn more about Highgate Cemetery. I plan to visit the cemetery and I may even revisit this book at some point.

Still waiting for a life-changing inheritance,

Support our site and buy Her Fearful Symmetry on Amazon or find it at your local library. We borrowed our copy from the library.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Two Traveling Piglets

Until Z came, I knew nothing about Holly Hobbie except for the calico-wearing, simple-living character that was on one of my lunchboxes when I was a kid. The real Holly is an artist that created that character for American Greetings in the 1970s and named it after herself (Holly is her middle name and Hobbie is her married name). In the 1990's, Holly had another idea and created Toot and Puddle. Now there are ten Toot and Puddle books and a television series. We received two books that feature these characters as a shower gift when Z was born.

In the first book, just called Toot & Puddle, we are introduced to two young piglets who live together in a place called Woodcock Pocket. Puddle loves their home and is content staying there. Toot, however, has a bit of wanderlust and spends a lot of his time traveling and sending postcards back to Puddle. In this book, he sets off on a world adventure -- going to Africa, Egypt, the Solomon Islands, India, the Alps, Spain, Antarctica, France and Italy. Though Puddle enjoys hearing from his friend, he also enjoys the simple pleasures and routines of home. And when it comes time for Toot to return home, both little piggies are excited and ready to be together again.

In some of the other books, Puddle takes a chance and travels but in others he is still content staying home -- and there's nothing wrong with that. The other book that we own is called Charming Opal. In it, Puddle's cousin Opal comes to visit and they show her all there is to see around Woodcock Pocket and have an adventure when she loses her tooth. Two that we checked out from the library are Toot &Puddle: Top of the World and Toot & Puddle Take a Leap!. One is about world travel and the other is about a closer-to-home but higher-in-the-air adventure.

Toot and Puddle can be found online on the National Geographic Little Kids website and on the Noggin website.

This little piggy went just about everywhere,
K and Z

Support our site and buy Toot & Puddle on Amazon or find it at your local library.