Sunday, 29 August 2010

Review: Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami


star1star1star1star1half star

  • Genre: Magical Realism
  • Published: 1985 (Japan) 1991 (English language)
  • Pages: 400


It’s going to be very hard to review this, because I don’t want to tell you what this book is about. There are two parts – “Hard-boiled Wonderland” and the “End of the World”. I do not want to tell you too much, because as with every Murakami I think it is as much your own experience as a reader that is important. So to give you too many clues would lessen that experience. It is a footpath you must explore yourself, unaware of what you’ll meet down the line.

It is described as sci-fi and futuristic but I think it is much more about the modern world, just simplified down. The book was written in 1985, in which time Japan was experiencing a growth in information based economy. I think it is important to be aware of the context in which it is set. 1985 is my birth year so I don’t remember much of this decade – let alone what it would have been like in Japan.

During the 1980s, the Japanese economy shifted its emphasis away from primary and secondary activities (notably agriculture, manufacturing, and mining) to processing, with telecommunications and computers becoming increasingly vital. Information became an important resource and product, central to wealth and power. The rise of an information-based economy was led by major research in highly sophisticated technology, such as advanced computers. The selling and use of information became very beneficial to the economy. Tokyo became a major financial center, home of some of the world's major banks, financial firms, insurance companies, and the world's largest stock exchange, the Tokyo Securities and Stock Exchange. - Wikipedia

For the sake of convenience, I will say that this book is about the juxtaposition of opposites, but that isn’t what it is really about at all. It is simply and purely, Murakami and if you’re a fan of his I think you’ll love this book.

It’s not quite as twisted as Kafka on the Shore, it feels a bit more fantasy then the other books of his I have read (Kafka on the Shore, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, A Wild Sheep Chase, Norwegian Wood and After Dark) but in other ways, it feels less surreal and the weird feels normal. Murakami has the ability to write something which is completely bizarre and otherworldly, but it doesn’t always feel as weird as it should.

In some ways, it’s a bit easier to perhaps understand then Kafka or Wind-up, but maybe that is because I have started to become more familiar with Murakami’s work. It will still leave you with questions and perhaps with the feeling you haven’t understood it all completely, but that doesn’t entirely matter. There is, I think, no one answer or  interpretation to any Murakami’s writing.

As with all of his books so far, he makes reference to a lot of novels, a lot of music and a lot of old Hollywood films. I always feel that to get an even better understanding of Murakami, I need to read every book mentioned, listen to every song by every artist and watch every film that gets featured. With this book in particular, I think reading Rudin by Ivan Turgenev would be quite useful for when I eventually re-read this book as I hope to do one day. It is not necessary to read any of the other novels he mentions, it is just that he inspires within me the desire to read further afield.

Murakami has introduced me to a lot of music. Since reading After Dark I decided to pay attention to the artists and tracks referenced – this time around I discovered Bob Dylan. I know he’s been around for years and years but I never actually really bothered to listen to his music. So I got a couple of his albums and I can’t believe what rock I have been living under. Some of them are of course familiar, I’d just never bothered to really pay attention. Anyway, I shall leave you all with Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind, so here you go…


This is part of Dolce Belleza’s Japanese Reading Challenge.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Crazy Book Swap and the Book Ban, again.

imageWallace over at Unputadownables is hosting this cool book swap where we send one of our favourites to someone else and receive one in return. Now I can’t discuss what book I’ll be sending because it’s a secret (so shhh!) but it is just so hard to narrow a favourite book down to just one. I keep chopping and changing between what to send.

I don’t know what I’ll be receiving either – not even the genre which is quite exciting. I’m quite a reserved reader and prefer to stick to books and genres I think I’ll enjoy. It is a change once in a while to just hang it all and read a book even if it’s out of my comfort zone. I would like to be a more open reader.

(Sign ups unfortunately closed I’m a little late with announcing this!)


And in September I will once again be going on another ban. I know, you’re probably thinking you’ve heard about this before but this time I’m back on it and I’m going to get these books DOWN because I have a slight situation where I have run out of shelf room so I need to read and release books back into the wild so I can fit some of my more recent acquisitions in.

My rules are:


Don’t even bother offering to send me one, even if it is for free I do not have room. My doors are closed. The windows are barred. No books shall enter this building from henceforthwith! (I mean it!!!)

The ban is kindly being hosted by Bella from A Girl Reads a Book, who after much nudging (berating) from Carin decided she needed to do something about her 2800 odd TBR.

Carin has more or less volunteered become our Ban Officer. She’ll be beating us into shape, chasing after anyone who dares so much as look at a book with her whip. No books shall get past her powerful detectors and any criminal book activity will be squashed out! We’ll be up every morning and marched around the block in the opposite direction of all those bookshops and temptations.

Any discretions and Carin will have us strapped into a straight jacket and sent to the little padded room.

Who else will be joining me in Book Ban Boot Camp this September? Are you up for it, or maybe you’re too chicken?


*Carin is actually a very nice person and I am sure would not dream about chasing anyone around with a whip.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Review: The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa


star1 star1 star1 star1 star1

  • Genre: Japanese Literature
  • Published: 2003 (in original Japanese)
  • Pages: 180


He is a mathematical genius who only has an eighty minute memory. She is a kind, caring and young woman who comes to be his Housekeeper. He forgets who she is after eighty minutes, but they communicate and build a beautiful friendship through the eloquence of numbers and equations.

How can I possibly put this book into my own words? I can’t begin to imagine I could capture or convey to any of you, how this book made me feel. It took me two days to read and I wish I could have taken more time to read it – but I simply couldn’t put it down. The pages seemed to turn themselves and I didn’t really feel like I was reading at all.

This book moved me. It is a small ripple that travels a long way across calm waters. It is nothing ground shaking, nothing that makes you tumble and dive – but something that makes a certain small, but important part of you shift inside.

It is on the surface a simple story about a friendship that grows in an unlikely place. I love these kinds of stories – in books or films, because though they are simple, they can mean a lot to you and touch you very deeply.

It is told in first person and none of the characters are referred to by their names. Even the Housekeeper’s son is given a name other then his own. The Professor is obsessed with maths – it is all he has left to him. The Housekeeper has to re-introduce herself to him every eighty minutes. They make a friendship through the connections between themselves and numbers.

You do not have to know anything about maths to enjoy this book – although it did bring back some vague memories from maths lessons at school. I used to think maths as boring, and rather frustrating perhaps because I could never appreciate maths for itself. The Housekeeper herself is ignorant about maths, but when she met the Professor she expressed an interest and start to learn through the Professor.

I loved this book – it touched me deeply and I’m going to be hunting down more of Yoko Ogawa’s books from now on. Hotel Iris is next on my list but unfortunately there is this thing called a book ban and I’m on it until I can fit more books into my bookshelf.

I am taking part in Dolce Bellazza’s Japanese Reading Challenge and this is my first book, yipee! I know I’m a late starter but finally I have my foot in!

Friday, 13 August 2010

Writing the Blog


Image thanks to Wordle

How do you write your blog?

I’m just sitting here wondering, how do other people write their blogs and what do you get from it? We all have different methods of going about things. Lately I have been going through some Writer’s Block, or Blogger’s Block and whatever I say just comes out as a mangle – well I suppose to me anyway. Maybe it’s a kind of Writer’s dysmorphia where everything I put down looks like it’s been written by a semi-literate five year old. Fortunately I am getting back on track but unfortunately I have a small pile of uncompleted and need-to-start blog posts that I need to write including the last two Harry Potter review blogs so apologies for the higgle-de-piggledy-ness of it all!

So, dear readers, I have some questions for you all:

  1. Do you plan each blog post before you even start writing it? If so how – on a piece of paper or on your computer?
  2. Do you take notes whilst you are reading purposely to help with writing your review?
  3. Do you have a special format for writing reviews so they all have a similar structure to them all?
  4. Do you write a lot of blog posts in advance or do you just write them and then publish them the same day?
  5. What do you do when you just can’t think of anything to write – have you found some books harder to review then others?
  6. What inspires you when writing a blog post?
  7. Do you try to aim for a certain style, or voice or do you just let whatever is inside you flow naturally? Casual as opposed to a more formal essay-mode style?
  8. How long does it typically take you to write a blog post? Do you post it immediately or later?
  9. Are you using Blogger or Wordpress – or anything else? What made you choose that service over the other? Have you used any other blogging websites other then the one you’re using now?
  10. Where do you write it? Do you use a blog editor like Scribefire or Windows Live Writer? Do you save the initial body to a Word document or do you just write and edit it online?
  11. How has your blog changed since you first started it?

To answer my own questions:

1. I don’t sit down and plan everything I post but I often write and re-write it as I go. I’m a pretty rotten planner – never really been able to because I need to see something in its shape before I can really decide what I want to do. So often the first thing I do is just write something fairly rough out and then go back through it and fill in the gaps.

2. No but I often think I should. Sometimes if I leave a review too long and I lose the immediacy of my reaction to the book. Notes would help me jog my memory about how I felt.

3. No, I also think I should try and structure my reviews more. I’ve never been very good at structure because I’m not very good at planning. I usually try to add structure in after I’ve written it – by re-editing it, moving paragraphs around when I float from one thought to the other.

4. No I don’t really – well, yes and no. I have several drafts I’m still writing but I don’t have any completed ones ready and waiting to be posted.

5. Some books are easier to review because I have more to say about them but some books I find hard – because I don’t like talking too much about them due to spoilers. Some books I just plain enjoyed but didn’t resound too deeply with me. If I’m going through writer’s block then I try to write something else, something fresh. If I just sit there trying to force myself to write something it never comes out how I want it. I tend to go off on tangents and ramble a lot and that causes me to lose my way.

6. Inspiration comes from the books I’m reading, other blogs and lately chatting on twitter to all the other bloggers. I really love twitter and it’s a great way to connect with people, plus very interesting to just watch conversations between people.

7. I don’t write formally, but I do try to have a more open, conversational style I suppose. When I’m communicating on message boards etc I even add in a lot of the ums and ers because I tend to just let my fingers type whatever is in my head. On a blog I suppose I might edit those out and I round them off a bit because in the end, a blog is more self indulgent and I am writing with the aim that it’s going to be read.

8. It can take anywhere between half an hour to a couple of hours – but then I might write it in spots and spurts throughout the day or I might sit for a solid amount of time to write it all out.

9. I chose Blogger because it was the one I knew about and it seems the easiest. I did sign up to Wordpress who at the time had a better choice of themes and customisations but it felt complicated and I was used to Blogger.

10. I use Windows Live Writer myself but there are others like Scribefire which you install to your browser and you can just hit F8 and it will pop up however you want it – full screen in another tab or split screen so you can blog and browse websites without switching between tabs. I liked Scribefire but had problems with the titles coming out mangled when I published. I admit I haven’t really used it much since because Windows Live Writer I just find so much easier. It’s a programme that you install to your computer and I find it so much easier to use. I like how you get a full screen to write in rather then that annoying little box.


11. My blog’s only been around for about three months now. Before I used to take part in more memes like the blogger hop and that but I’ve cut down on those now a bit mainly because otherwise it’d all be just too samey. I have a little bit more confidence now and not bothered about making a post every day. I’ve met some fantastic bloggers out there and it’s great feeling more part of the community. I kinda have more of a ‘feeling’ for my blog now and less floaty. How it’ll be in a year’s time though is anyone’s guess!

marble chop

So how do you write your blog and one last question… what does your blog mean to you?

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Character Connection – Hazel

character connection

Character Connection is hosted by IntrovertedJen over at The Introverted Reader every Thursday.

We all have characters we love. Let's spotlight these fantastic creations! Whether you want to be friends with them or you have a full-blown crush on them, you know you love them and want everyone else to love them too!

My last character connection was with the four most important men in Harry Potter and this time it is about Hazel from Watership Down. If you haven’t read or heard very much about Watership Down then it is an anthropomorphic novel about a group of rabbits who escape human destruction of their home. It isn’t a cute little story about cute little bunnies – it is aimed more at older young adults to adult readers.


Hazel is a kind rabbit who is clever and quick witted. He may not be the strongest in physical strength, but he becomes a good leader because of his kindness and his intelligence.

I have always liked him because of his deep inward strength, he is a rabbit you could rely on. It’s a funny thing thinking of rabbits – they, at first glance, look like cute insipid little things. They are not. When I was younger we had a pet rabbit – mean little thing she was but very clever and mischievous. Rabbits have often been shown as clever tricksters in literature – think about Br’er Rabbit and even Bugs Bunny – neither of them are what you’d call cute and fluffy.

Hazel is such a strong character and he held the little group of rabbits – consisting mostly of runts – together. He is brave, honourable and he always has the group in his mind, rather then himself. He is a brilliant leader – not arrogant or power-hungry like the mean old General Woundwort. He is a fine example of what a good leader should always be – whether human or rabbit.

A Spoiler…

I’d seen the 1978 film before I’d read the book and so my image of Hazel has always been from this most magnificent of films. I’ll never forget the song Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel when Hazel is shot that time. When I read the book I had that song going through my head.

Here is the song Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel, it still makes me tear up just listening to it!

If you haven’t seen the film, I strongly recommend it – it follows the book as well as it can. I love the watercolour backgrounds and the detail of the rabbits and that for the most part, they act like rabbits and not cute cartoon versions of the things.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Review: Trespass by Rose Tremain


  • star1 star1 star1 half star
  • Genre: General Fiction/Literary (Man Booker Long listed)
  • Published: 2010
  • Pages: 253


I decided to read this partly because it’s on the Man Booker Longlist and I’m never usually “with it” enough to have read any of them. I hope very much that Trespass wins.

Trespass is a difficult story to describe. In short, it is about a struggling antiques dealer who decides to move to France, near his sister, to get away from everything in London he has come to hate. Whilst trying to find the perfect, ideal house, he bumbles into a lifelong argument between a brother and a sister. Trespass does not refer simply to the physical, territorial of the word – but also the personal and private spaces that we can’t always see. It is a very subtle book – by no means slow moving because the writing is beautiful, but it does not move great distances and is more about the small, delicate interwoven relationships between mother and child, brother and sister.

Rose Tremain is one of my favourite authors and I would not say I have many authors that I would follow to the ends of the earth, but Tremain is one of them.

I have read three of her previous books and loved them all more then this one – which is why I have given it a three point five stars rather then a round four. It’s still a book I would recommend – but not before reading at least one of her others. I would recommend either The Road Home or Restoration to start with, because these are two of my all time favourite books.

Tremain is one of those authors who can bring the three parts of a good book together – good writing, good story and good characters making them some of the most perfectly balanced books I have ever read. She has a unique, quirky voice that is very strong and clear. She approaches her writing not from a face on angle – but just a little to the side, making her books a little unexpected, a little different and not like any other. It’s a style of writing that is very different to others out there, but it isn’t distracting or interfering.

The sibling relationships are dark and dysfunctional. They aren’t particularly likeable because there is something deeply unsettling about their relationships with each other. What I have always loved about Tremain is that she is capable of creating very real, three dimensional characters who aren’t nice all the time. I didn’t think that the characters were quite so well drawn in Trespass as her others, but I’m putting this down to the fact that it is more about the dynamic between brother and sister then the individual characters.

This feeling of trespass pervades through almost every page of the book – like strangling ivy. It’s not a very nice feeling but an effective one and still an enjoyable book because of it. It’s probably more enjoyable for those who already love Tremain rather then newcomers to her books.

I can’t recommend Tremain enough, I think she’s a fantastic author, but this book just doesn’t seem to be up there with the others. That isn’t to say it’s a bad book – I really enjoyed it. Her writing is so good I can practically taste the words in my mouth.

If you haven’t read Tremain before please do check out The Road Home and Restoration. The Road Home is set in modern London about an immigrant from the eastern bloc and Restoration is set during the restoration of King Charles II. Although I enjoyed Trespass, it is a comparatively weaker book to her others.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Unputdownables’ 48 Hour Readathon

imageI had good fun taking part in this, more fun really for following the book blog chat on twitter and feeling like I was reading with people in some joint effort. I didn’t really get much read over the weekend as I was hoping. I think the moment I try to set out to read a lot I go slower then planned, but I did read about 282 pages over the weekend, and for such a slow coach as myself, I’m going to pat myself on the back.

I mentioned in my previous blog post what I have been reading – I am still reading Trespass by Rose Tremain which I’m actually really enjoying and if I hadn’t been trying to read like a cheetah, I might have read less like a snail and finished. But there you go! That serves me right for impatience.

Over July I finished off Magic Kingdom, then stormed through the whole Harry Potter series and chomped through Eight Days of Luke by Diana Wynne Jones and The Housekeeper and the Professor making up a total of 9 and a bit books which is pretty damn good for me. All together that is 3920 pages. I wish I could do that more often but as I said, I am a snail. I am more molluscan then avian, I should have chosen a different theme for by blog then being ‘The Book Coop’.

I still have to complete my review for The Housekeeper and the Professor (five stars, loved it, magnificent, read it!) never mind the two remaining Harry Potter books. I’m feeling very overwhelmed all of a sudden! So apologies for not being able to link to them at the moment.

I find the problem with being a British/European blogger is that the vast majority of people I know through blogs, Twitter, Goodreads come from the USA which means that I miss out on some of the activity unless I try to exist in all three time zones within the US as well as my own time zone… it is all rather exhausting to say the least. I am a bit of a night owl I admit, but when I wake up the next day I am rather too groggy and the old brain takes a little while to get back into gear – usually waking up in the late evening when I should be getting to bed early.

However, this is what I love about the internet – how international we all are and we can get to know each other even though we’re sitting on opposite sides of the world. How else could I sit down and read here – knowing that someone else, was doing the exact same thing with a different book, but for the same purpose – somewhere around the other side of the world? Not just between England and the USA, but across different parts of Europe and Asia too.

People criticise twitter for various reasons – dumbing down of society, trivialising communication, etc. That might happen on other people’s twitter feeds, but I certainly haven’t noticed it. I feel so much more connected via twitter – with the whole world. It’s like a massive group chat across the globe where everyone is invited. It connects people, it doesn’t trivialise or divide. It is not full of inane text language, in fact it probably helps people to become more articulate because each word has to be considered.

Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed taking part in this, especially the #bookblogchat which I wish I could have taken more part in. Only trouble is, the more time I spend staring at twitter, less reading I get done! I think Wallace from Unputdownables is scheduling another blogger chat like this in August though so I shall be keeping a watch out for that. 

I did sit down and read my heart out, I didn’t bother trying to multi-read because I’m no good at that and never have been and it never works so I don’t. I just sat down in the knowledge that others were doing the same and read my 282 pages feeling very happy. I have read so much over the past month and it’s made me more then eager to read more and more and more and try to get this dread TBR pile down to something respectable again.

I do wish I’d picked up the non-fiction I tried multi-reading with though, I really need to get back into that. Natasha’s Dance by Orlando Figues is very good and very interesting and it’s really making me want to pick up another Russian. So that is my one regret that I didn’t find time to read a few pages of that in the least.

I hope everyone else that took part in this had a lot of fun and got a lot of books read, or just sat down and read, read, read and enjoyed their wonderful book. I love reading, I love giving myself to a book and I love it when a book receives me whole heartedly and completely. It’s the best ever of feelings.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Review: Eight Days of Luke – Diana Wynne Jones

image star1star1star1

    • Genre: Children’s Fantasy
    • Published: 1975
    • Pages: 203

I read this to take part in Jenny’s Books Diana Wynne Jones week from the first to the seventh of August. If you don’t know already, as I’m sure this author has cropped up a few times in earlier posts – she is one of my favourite authors. I won’t go on too much about how amazing I think she is and that I think everyone should just drop what you’re reading now and go and read Howl’s Moving Castle. I won’t do that. I’ll just let you know how I found this book.

It is the summer holidays and David Allard has to spend his summer with his awful relatives. He lives with Aunt Dot and Uncle Bernard and his Cousin Ronald and his wife Astrid. They’re all perfectly horrible, so he’s quite glum at the prospect of all those weeks being told to be grateful. Then Luke turns up and David’s summer holidays become a lot more fun – and extremely weird.

Typical of DWJ her books contain shoddy parenting and grumpy, sometimes evil gardeners. What more could you want? This was a fun, imaginative read that I had a great time reading. In typical Diana Wynne Jones fashion the fantasy and the magic just oozes out from around corners. She rarely spends much time explaining things because when you read one of her books you simply, just magically know and I can’t explain how.

I don’t want to say too much more about the book – it’s quite short and so I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. It probably isn’t my favourite of hers. One of her flaws is that she does tend to dash things out a little too quickly and this one didn’t seem to have the strength of characterisation that is so strong in the other books I have read. Luke felt a little generic and not as fleshed out as I’d have liked. It is however a good, fun, enjoyable read.

It loosely inspired Neil Gaiman’s American Gods in that he found out his fantastic idea had already been thought up by Diana Wynne Jones. I wonder if the Wallsey in this book is any relation to the town of Wall in Gaiman’s Stardust?

What I do love about her books is that I always feel that they never end and that they just carry on after the pages stop She always leaves you satisfied with the end, but she doesn’t let the characters or the world die, just because that part of the story is over. In that way, her stories are never ending. Diana Wynne Jones created a multi-dimensioned, multi-universed world in Chrestomanci – and in a way that is where all her books are based. In different worlds, different times, split by different histories but all inter-linked. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t need to spend a lot of time explaining the world, because if you read enough of her books, you’re already there.

If you are interested, you can also check out my Time of the Ghost review.


If you’d like to read more Diana Wynne Jones then I whole heartedly recommend Howl’s Moving Castle, Dogsbody and the Dalemark Quartet (starting with Cart and Cwidder), all of which are my favourite.


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