Friday, July 30, 2010

Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop

I'm joining the Book Blogger Hop this week. Every Friday Jennifer of Crazy For Books hosts The Book Blogger Hop which is a great chance to find some new blogs and gain some readers for your own blog.

This week Jennifer asks who is the best author we've discovered so far this year. Mine has to be Junot Diaz, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I've just finished it and I think Diaz is such a cool writer. I'm reviewing his book next week so stay tuned. If you've come to my blog via the Hop please leave a comment so I can return the visit. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Blankets


There's something truly wonderful about the medium of graphic novels. Somehow, if the art is brilliant, the book can convey so many different emotions without too many words and that's exactly what happens in Blankets by Craig Thompson. This is a beautifully drawn and written book about the pain of adolescence, trying to fit in, religion, first love, first heartbreak and growing up.

Thompson based the book on his own childhood in Wisconsin with his younger brother Phil, and his devout Christian parents. Craig always felt like an outsider not just at home but at school. He found comfort in his art and his drawings. One day in his teens, he goes to a religious summer camp and falls in love with a beautiful girl called Raina. The two share a long distance relationship for a while then Craig finally visits Raina and her own dysfunctional family. But as first loves go, this one inevitably has to end.


If you look at the panel above, you can tell exactly what's going on and you don't even need words to describe it. Craig has just met Raina. They're shy, awkward and embarrassed but quite obviously attracted to each other.

This is a beautiful graphic novel and incredibly emotional. Every page has wonderful drawings that completely convey the depth of Craig's feelings for everything in his life. The book opens with the young brothers fighting over the blankets on the bed they share. The Wisconsin winters are incredibly harsh and both brothers are freezing. Their quarrel soon attracts the attention of their domineering father who punishes one of his sons by locking him up in a cubby hole. Thompson's drawings are so spot-on that they'll even give you a little shiver. As the book continues, we feel Craig's isolation, his disillusion with religion, his experiences with Raina, his heartbreak and finally growing up and finding himself.  This is a unique book even among graphic novels. Thompson is obviously quite talented and I look forward to exploring more of his work. Even if you're not a fan of graphic novels, you'll love this one.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Juliet, Naked


A new Nick Hornby novel is always something to look forward to and when I saw his latest novel Juliet, Naked at the Schipol airport in Amsterdam, I grabbed it. I remember reading A Long Way Down a few years ago on a long-haul flight and laughing out loud so much. I think Hornby is perfect for a plane ride or for long sleepless jet-lagged nights.

Juliet, Naked doesn't disappoint. I loved its unique plot. Annie and Duncan have been together for fifteen years and Annie is suddenly realizing she wants out. Duncan has been rather obsessed with an obscure singer, Tucker Crowe, for years. In fact, obsessed is an understatement. He maintains a website, connects with fans on forums from all over the world and even drags the unwilling Annie to the United States on a Tucker Crowe pilgrimage visiting famous restrooms, ex-girlfriends homes, bars and what-nots. Annie would much rather be walking the streets of San Francisco like a real tourist for a change. As soon as they're back home in their little village of Gooleness, Duncan has an affair and Annie decides to end the relationship. Just before she does, a new album of old acoustic recordings by Tucker Crowe  titled Juliet, Naked is released. Both Annie and Duncan then write contrasting reviews on the website resulting in Tucker contacting Annie. Saying more will spoil the fun but you can imagine why this was an enjoyable read. As usual, Hornby is spot on with his characters and their dialogue. Although this book isn't his best, it's still quite entertaining.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mini Reviews for the Japanese Challenge

I've been suffering from writer's block lately. I just can't seem to write any reviews though I've got quite a number of books I've finished in the wings. Maybe it's because I'm suffering from horrible jet lag. Its been two weeks so this isn't funny anymore. I thought I'd drop two little mini reviews here for books I read last month. These books are part of my list for the Japanese Literature Challenge hosted by  Dolce Bellezza.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Although I loved, loved many of Murakami's previous novels, I have to say that I was very disappointed in this one. Kafka on the Shore started out quite promisingly with two interesting and distinct story lines that eventually connect. The first thread involves a fifteen-year-old boy who runs away from home and hides out in a library in another town. The second story involves a man who is able to talk to cats. I enjoyed most of the first half but after that it started to go downhill and I found myself losing interest. Somehow the horrible scene with the cats being murdered plus the revelation that Kafka, the young boy, was in love with the person he believed was his long-lost mother, just turned me off. However, if this is your first Murakami, I can completely understand why you'd be very impressed. He is a fabulous and unique writer. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is still my favourite and I highly recommend that one if you have yet to read his books


Real World by Natsuo Kirino
This is a Japanese teenage angst novel that I just didn't get. A strange and aloof teenage boy murders his mother and a group of young teenage girls suddenly become completely fascinated with him. One girl eventually runs away from home and becomes a fugitive alongside him. I found the characters quite unlikeable but I guess that was intentional. I suppose Kirino was trying to portray the 'real world' and how some adolescents are today. It's a chilling premise that I didn't enjoy. I have to read her other novels for the Japanese Literature Challenge so here's hoping I'll like them more than this one.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Paris in July: The Rose Bakery




One of my favourite cookbooks is Breakfast Lunch & Tea: the many little meals of Rose Bakery, so I knew I just had to visit this scrumptious little eatery on our trip to Paris earlier this month. The Rose Bakery is known for its delicious salads, soups, scones, vegetable tarts, cakes and biscuits. The founder, Rose Caranini is one of the UK's leading pioneers in using local and organic ingredients. She stresses the importance of using only the best ingredients and choosing the right vegetables (choosing a certain tomato over another tomato). She also mentions that through trial and error she's created sweet things with much less sugar content than normal without sacrificing taste.




On our second day in Paris after a visit to the Musée d'Orsay, our stomachs were rumbling so we zipped in the metro and stopped at Notre Dame de Lorette. We weren't disappointed. I loved the food and desserts. It was exactly like the book. All my favourite recipes were there for the picking and even some of the staff were familiar because they were pictured in the book. Rose was nowhere to be found, however, her husband was there serving behind the counter. It was lovely and I'm so glad I dropped by. So on your next visit to Paris do visit The Rose Bakery at 49 rue des Martyrs. I highly recommend it.







This post is a contribution to Paris in July, a month long event hosted by, Book Bath  and  Thyme for Tea. Do visit their websites for more on Paris and French literature.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Matisse to Malevich

I recently visited this fabulous art exhibition at The Hermitage Amsterdam. It was breathtaking. If you are in Amsterdam anytime this summer until September 17th then do try to visit the Matisse to Malevich exhibition. Besides the latter artists you'll also find exceptional works by Picasso, Van Dongen, De Vlaminck, Derain and many other contemporaries of theirs. Seventy-five paintings have been specially selected from The Hermitage St. Petersburg that explore the origins of modern art.

For more information check out The Hermitage Amsterdam website at http://www.hermitage.nl/en/. Below are some of my favourites from the collection.

Woman in Green by Henri Matisse, 1909


Lady in a Black Hat by Kees van Dongen, 1908

Red Room by Henri Matisse, 1909

Small Town on the Seine by Maurice de Vlaminck, 1909

Boy with a Dog by Pablo Picasso, 1906

La Bacchante by Marie Laurencin, 1911

Friday, July 2, 2010

Looking for Alaska


I read a lot of good books and as some of you know, lately I've raved about many of them but once in a while you actually fall in love with a book. That's what happened when I unexpectedly fell in love with Looking for Alaska by John Green. I know it's not the most brilliant book in the world and it won't win the Booker or Pulitzer but I just fell in love with it...with the characters, the story and finally its message. This is a book that makes your heart soar. A book you want to give to all your friends. A book that really is some kind of wonderful.

Looking for Alaska is a young adult novel that I probably would never have picked up but then Sasha and the Silverfish  and  Paperback Reader mentioned that reading Green is like being privy to a secret that you can't wait to divulge. That's quite an irresistible line and I knew I just had to know the secret.

Miles Halter is sixteen and friendless so he decides to move to another state and attend boarding school in Birmingham, Alabama. He wants to start anew and find 'the Great Perhaps' that Francois Rabelais spoke about just before he died. Oh, that's another thing, Miles memorizes famous last words and Looking for Alaska is peppered with funny quotations spoken by the famous before they expired. At his new school, Culver Creek, Miles becomes fast friends with his roomate Chip (the Colonel); Alaska, a fascinating but moody girl; Takumi, a rapping Japanese boy; and Lara, a Russian girl who wants to be Miles' girlfriend.

The book is divided into two parts: before and after. I don't want to give too much away but suffice it to say that a tragic event occurs to one of the main characters. The first half feels like a John Hughes film... quirky and funny. Miles arrives at his new school and quickly settles in. The second half should be directed by Sofia Coppola. It deals with the loss of one of the characters and how the remaining friends try to understand what happened and why. Miles goes through a phase where he questions life, death and what happens after we die.

I thought this was a beautiful novel and though it's marketed for young adults, this particular adult still thought it was wonderful. I just have to write up some quotes below so I don't forget them.

"The times that were the most fun seemed always to be followed by sadness now, because it was when life started to feel like it did when she was with us that we realized how utterly, totally gone she was." (page 190)

"When adults say that, "Teenagers think they are invincible" with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don't know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail." (page 220)
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