December 22nd, 2009

C'est Baxter!

Book 19: Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima (1966)

First line:
"When conversation at school turned to the Russo-Japanese War, Kiyoaki Matsugae asked his closest friend, Shigekuni Honda, how much he could remember about it."
Summary: It is the early 20th century and Japanese society struggles with the inexorable westernization of the country. Kiyoaki, feckless son of a samurai-turned-nouveau-riche lord, falls in love with Satoko, daughter of a waning aristocratic family. Kiyoaki's ambivalence toward his lover sends their lives in a downward spiral after Satoko is engaged to a prince of the Imperial Family. Kiyoaki's boarding school friend Honda observes Kiyoaki's fall and features prominently in the remainder of Mishima's Sea of Fertility tetralogy.

Reaction: I've been putting off this review for a long time now. Proper appreciation probably requires a greater grasp of Japanese history and culture than I possess. Still, Spring Snow is a haunting novel even without the full social context. Mishima (and translator Michael Gallagher) perfectly captures the youthful personalities of Kiyoaki and Honda. On the edge of adulthood, they remind me of friends from my college days - Honda, the driven and career-oriented go-getter and Kiyoaki, the slacker paralyzed by any responsibility. Being more critical and introspective than most, the two friends stand outside the circles of their more popular peers. Their (often sophomoric) discussions provide insight into the Japanese mainstream of the period and illustrate the social turbulence of Meiji era westernization.

The characterization alone made this an enjoyable read. Then there's the tragic love story. I prefer tragedies to comedies, but romances usually feel way too sappy for me to enjoy. Mishima avoids sentimentality and his narration reveals the relationship perhaps as dispassionate-but-astute Honda sees it: a delicate, passionate, but ultimately doomed affair. Kiyoaki and Satoko are drawn to each other's beauty, but Kiyoaki's psychic paralysis and ingrained misogyny prevent him from pursuing the culturally sanctioned path of courtship and marriage. Instead, the couple arranges secret, forbidden meetings. Their encounters become increasingly self-destructive, especially after Satoko's parents arrange her marriage to a member of the Imperial Family. The couple's fragile passion is touching, especially in the face of their unthinkable defiance of Imperial decree. The unsustainable and ultimately destructive path is hard to read (even for Kiyoaki's flaws, both lovers are sympathetic), but it makes the ending more poignant.

Bottom line: Worth the read. There is much more to be found in this book than I can discuss here. Mishima created realistic psychological descriptions of Kiyoaki and Honda, but also of supporting characters (who reappear in later books of the tetralogy). I will leave these characters (and other themes) to later reviews. The next novel, Runaway Horses, is in my to-read stack.

Thumbs: Up

# 85 A Taste For Death

A Taste For Death

P.D. James

When two bodies are found in the little vestry of St. Matthews by an unlikely pair of friends, a spinster and a young boy, it's up to Adam Dalgliesh to make sense of the sparse evidence, to find out if there was a connection between the two dead men, one a homeless vagrant and the other a wealthy well-known politician, and to prove that it was a case of double murder rather than murder/suicide.

I really liked A Taste For Death. James writes extremely well, moves the plot along, and delves deeply into the psychology and motives of the characters.

My interest was captured from the beginning, with the surprising friendship between the spinster, Emily Wharton, and the street kid, Darren Wilkes. Even though it wasn't central to the plot, I found it quite intrigueing.

I definitely plan to read more of this author's work! I can see why she is so highly regarded.

reading, activism, writing

Achieved: 50 Book Challenge!

I made it. I know the year's still not quite over and I'm deep into The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver so there may be a few additional titles, but I made it to 50 books and that makes me happy.

There are at least four books that I own and feel guilty about not reading this year. Maybe I'll get to them early enough in 2010 to get them done. So here is my list:

1. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, by Niall Ferguson. 1/1/09
2. Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, by Jan Chozen Bays, MD, 1/3/09
3. Just After Sunset: Stories, by Stephen King, 1/3/09
4. Bread Body Spirit: Finding the Sacred in Food, Edited by Alice Peck, 1/11/09
5. Foods Jesus Ate and How to Grow Them, by Allan A. Swenson, 1/23/09
6. Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed & Forgery in the Holy Land, by Nina Burleigh, 1/25/09
7. Company of Liars, by Karen Maitland, 1/31/09
8. House of Happy Endings: A Memoir, by Leslie Garis, 2/5/09
9. I Never Thought Addiction Could Happen to Me, by Loree Taylor Jordan, 2/6/09
10. Patty's Got a Gun: Patricia Hearst in 1970s America, by William Graebner, 2/6/09
11. The Kiss: A Memoir, by Kathryn Harrison, 2/7/09
12. Dread: How Fear and Fantasy have Fueled Epidemics from the Black Death to the Avian Flu, by Philip Alcabes, 2/21/09
13. No one belongs here more than you: Stories, by Miranda July, 2/22/09
14. A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana, by Haven Kimmel, 3/1/09
15. An American Trilogy: Death, Slavery, and Dominion on the Banks of the Cape Fear River, by Steven M. Wisw, 3/9/09
16. Love Junkie: A Memoir of Love and Sex Addiction, by Rachel Resnick, 3/12/09
17. Dooms Day Book, by Connie Willis, 3/20/09
18. Wishful Drinking, by Carrie Fisher, 3/21/09
19. This Boy's Life, by Tobais Wolff, 3/28/09
20. Normal Eating for Normal Weight: The Path to Freedom from Weight Obsession and Food Cravings, by Sheryl Canter, M.A., 3/29/09
21. Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History, by Helene Stapinski, 4/11/09
22. John Henry Days, by Colson Whitehead, 4/30/09
23. Brother I'm Dying, by Edwidge Danticat, 5/3/09
24. Middlemarch, by George Eliot, 5/14/09
25. Apples and Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found, by Marie Brenner, 6/7/09
26. Fierce Attachments: A Memoir, by Vivian Gornick, 6/12/09
27. The Solitude of Self: Thinking About Elizabeth Cady Stanton, by Vivian Gornick, 6/15/09
28. Women In Utopia: The Ideology of Gender in the American Owenite Communities, by Carol A. Kolmerten, 6/21/09
29. The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton, 6/26/09
30. The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative, by Vivian Gornick, 6/30/09
31. Born in the Wrong Country, by Milton Lee Norris, 7/3/09
32. Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin, 7/12/09
33. Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, by Richard Wrangham, 7/26/09
34. The Fallen Man, by Tony Hillerman, 8/9/09
35. My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands, by Chelsea Handler, 8/12/09
36. Man Versus Nature: The Field & Stream Guide to How to Stay Alive in the Outdoors, by Howard Earl & Frederic T. Jung, 8/14/09
37. The Locked Room, by by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö, 8/20/09
38. Underworld, by Don Dillio, 9/6/09
39. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David Kessler, 9/11/09
40. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, 9/27/09
41. Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity, by Kerry Cohen, 10/1/09
42. Killing Castro, by Lawrence Block, 10/26/09
43. The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner, 11/8/09
44. Unafraid of the Dark: A Memoir, by Rosemary L. Bray, 11/17/09
45. Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, by Ahmed Rashid, 11/21/09
46. Silas Marner, by George Eliot, 11/29/09
47. It's All About You: A Daily Comic Strip, by Tony Murphy, 12/2/09
48. Cousin Henry, by Anthony Trollope, 12/3/09
49. Madam Bovery, by Gustave Flaubert, 12/13/09
50. Landscape for a Good Woman: A Story of Two Lives, by Carolyn Kay Steedman, 12/16/09

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55. Dreamside by Graham Joyce

Title: Dreamside
Author: Graham Joyce
Year: 1991
# of pages: 254
Date read: 11/6/2009
Rating: 3*/5 = good


"It began as an experiment in college -- a seemingly harmless investigation in to 'lucid dreaming,' the ability to control one's dreams. Ella and Lee, Honora and Brad: four students linked by youthful longings, all four of them game for something new.

But the dreams turned more and more real -- and when the four of them learned how to meet one another on Dreamside, the experiment began to engulf their waking lives. Then, in a spasm of violence, they flew apart, fleeing from Dreamside and from each other.

Now, ten years later, the dreams have returned to upend their adult lives -- and, most frightening, to drag the four of them back into one another's company. Worse, they each need the others' help.

The dreams of youth fade, if you're lucky. If not, they can consume you -- and they will." -- from the inside flap

My thoughts:

This book was an interesting look at lucid dreams and what happens when dreams invade reality. I like the interactions between the characters as they struggle to understand what happened years ago.


55 / 100 books. 55% done!

18244 / 30000 pages. 61% done!
Cardiff Tardis

(no subject)

55. Northern Lights - Phillip Pullman
56. Nobody Likes You – Green Day - Mark Spitz
57. The Subtle Knife - Phillip Pullman
58. The Amber Spyglass - Phillip Pullman
59. The Book Of General Ignorance - QI
60. The Constant Princess - Phillipa Gregory
61. Peter Pan - JM Barrie
62. Assassin’s Apprentice - Robin Hobb
63. Royal Assassin - Robin Hobb
64. Assassin’s Quest - Robin Hobb
65. Fool’s Errand - Robin Hobb
66. The Golden Fool - Robin Hobb
67. Fool’s Fate - Robin Hobb

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Total Books: 67
Total Pages: 29792
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Book 63 for 2009

The Case Of The Late Pig by Margery Allingham

I came to Margery Allingham's detective novels featuring Albert Campion via the BBC's adaptations with Peter Davison in the title role, and the books which were used for the series were the easiest to get hold of, so this is one of the few series with which  I've broken my usual  rule of reading in order.

This was one of the adapted books and one of the first I read at the time. Re-reading it to my husband I can see some justice in his accusation that it was rather slow to start and plods along rather. And the resolution is perhaps a little too rapid. But I enjoyed the writing and the characters nonetheless.

The plot centres on a man named Peters (known as "Pig") who bullied Campion when they were at school together. Campion attends Pig's funeral in the village of Tethering. A few months later he is summoned to the neighbouring village of Kepesake to investigate a murder, in which the victim bears an uncanny resemblance to the late Pig...
did you know you could fly?

(no subject)

Book #93 -- Joseph Bruchac, Night Wings, 192 pages.

An adventure novel about a young Abenaki boy and his grandfather forced by an unscrupulous monster hunter to guide him in his quest for a mythical treasure guarded by a beast sacred to the Abenaki people. It's very well done, with the right blend of traditional and modern; material and spiritual.

Book #94 -- R. L. LaFevers, Flight of the Phoenix (Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist, Book I), 134 pages.

The first adventure of Nathaniel Fludd, born into the intrepid Fludd family, famous explorers and Beastologists. Nate doesn't think he has what it takes to be a Fludd, but he'll find he's full of surprises. Quite a fun YA book.

Progress toward goals: 356/365 = 97.5%

Books: 94/100 = 94.0%

Pages: 23464/25000 = 93.9%

2009 Book List

cross-posted to 15000pages, 50bookchallenge, and gwynraven
smile for the world // Homestuck

[Book 06] Hunter x Hunter volume 5 by Yoshihiro Togashi

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Hunter x Hunter volume 5
Mangaka: Yoshihiro Togashi
Genre: Shounen, action, adventure, supernatural
Book details: Manga, 192 pages
Rating: 5/5

Baka-Updates Manga Summary: Hunters are a special breed, dedicated to tracking down treasures, magical beasts, and even other men. But such pursuits require a license, and less than one in a hundred thousand can pass the grueling qualification exam. Those who do pass gain access to restricted areas, amazing stores of information, and the right to call themselves Hunters.

My Review:

I really like the inside illustration - Killua as "dark" and Gon as "light"! And yet they both have a bit of the other in them.

We see another side of Killua here, one you'd not think possible for him. Rereading this just makes me realize how great the story is. I love watching the characters change and grow like this, knowing what the futuer holds! Gon is awesome in this volume, particularly chapter 37! It's so awesome to see him defend Killua, getting angry like that for his friend. ^_^

ROFL, and the 'dress up Gon' game! I love the editor's note: 'Is it just me or does a lot of these dress-up clothes seem ecchi?'. ...It's not just you, editor-san.

More Hisoka creepy face too! Perhaps the creepiest because of the ah, innuendo. XD

Gon's temper really shines through in this volume...

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smile for the world // Homestuck

[Book 07] CUT by Kawai Touko

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Title: CUT
Author: Kawai Touko
Genre: Yaoi
Themes: Abuse, depression, school life, BDSM, cutting, scars, violence
Book details: Manga, 200 pages
Rating: 5/5

Summary: Sakaguchi is in a sexual relationship with his step father that is abusive, but he enjoys the pain because it helps mask darker memories from his past. He then meets another student who also has a troubled background who may be the person to help him stop his self-inflicted pain.

My Review:

I first read this story a long time ago and thought it was time I did a reread.

Eiji's story is so horrible. What's sad is that I can see that happening in real life, and unfortnutely there are a lot of parents who feel that way towards their children. Chiaki's story is also sad, but in a different way. What Chiaki puts himself through because of guilt is the worst part. It's sad that the only way Chiaki knows how to comfort Eiji is through sex (and pain for himself).

I love how by the end they both came clean about why they did the things they did. They both wanted to move on because they had each other, and they couldn't go on properly if they could hide behind their past. The end of chapter five totally made me cry!

The epilogue is an awesome ending. I love how the scars of the past are still there, they both know they probably always will be. But they're still happy together, they get through it together.

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did you know you could fly?

(no subject)

Book #95 -- Becky Citra, Never to Be Told, 217 pages.

This is a story about life, and death, and what makes a family a family, whether they're related to you or not. It's about being young and growing old. Oh, and it's about ghosts. Did I mention the ghosts? Go read it now!

Progress toward goals: 356/365 = 97.5%

Books: 95/100 = 95.0%

Pages: 23681/25000 = 94.7%

2009 Book List

cross-posted to 15000pages, 50bookchallenge, and gwynraven
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Books 40 and 41

Cemetery Dance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 448

B&N Synopsis

Pendergast-the world's most enigmatic FBI Special Agent-returns to New York City to investigate a murderous cult.

William Smithback, a New York Times reporter, and his wife Nora Kelly, a Museum of Natural History archaeologist, are brutally attacked in their apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Eyewitnesses claim, and the security camera confirms, that the assailant was their strange, sinister neighbor-a man who, by all reports, was already dead and buried weeks earlier. While Captain Laura Hayward leads the official investigation, Pendergast and Lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta undertake their own private-and decidedly unorthodox-quest for the truth. Their serpentine journey takes them to an enclave of Manhattan they never imagined could exist: a secretive, reclusive cult of Obeah and vodou which no outsiders have ever survived.

Always good to see Pendergast back in action, and this one was quite a good read. However, I would like to see the authors return to more of the original style and not as far-fetched as this one tended to be. Also, can we please see Viola Maskelene again? I liked her. Constance, too!

Books completed: 40/50
Pages completed: 12,915/20,000

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 607

B&N Synopsis

The war against Voldemort is not going well; even Muggle governments are noticing. Ron scans the obituary pages of the Daily Prophet, looking for familiar names. Dumbledore is absent from Hogwarts for long stretches of time, and the Order of the Phoenix has already suffered losses.

And yet...

As in all wars, life goes on. Sixth-year students learn to Apparate -- and lose a few eyebrows in the process. The Weasley twins expand their business. Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love. Classes are never straightforward, though Harry receives some extraordinary help from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince.

So it's the home front that takes center stage in the multilayered sixth installment of the story of Harry Potter. Here at Hogwarts, Harry will search for the full and complex story of the boy who became Lord Voldemort -- and thereby find what may be his only vulnerability.

I hadn't read this in ages, and this is only my 2nd reading of it (I believe). I liked this far better the second time around, and it made mourn how badly they butchered the movie. They left SO much out that was crucial to the storyline.

Books completed: 41/50
Pages completed: 13,522/20,000