It's the first week of December, all to soon, it will be Christmas and then the year will end. Depending on how many books I read this month, I don't know if I will reach my goal of reading at least 100 books (I only have 3 books left to reach that mark). But before you all praise me, I must admit that my list includes a lot of children's picture books, photography books, and graphic novels. This month's choices includes three books of fiction. A couple of travel essays (including the one written in Japanese), one magazine and one freebie on choosing books for kids.
DOG LOVES BOOKS by Louise Yates – As with last month’s title, “It’s a Book” which promotes reading books, I discovered another title with a similar theme. This time it’s a dog who loves books. He loves books so much that he decides to open his book store. With easy to follow illustrations, we see dog unwrap, unpack and stack books to get ready for his grand opening. Dog loves books so much, he loves the smell of them, the feel of them, and just everything about them. But when he opens shop, he doesn’t get a lot of customers. Instead of becoming depressed, dog chooses a book and starts to read. When he reads he forgets about being in a bookstore. However, when his first real customer does come in, dog knows just what to recommend! And like dog, I love books too so I highly recommend this one!
THE BEST AMERICAN TRAVEL WRITING 2010 edited by Bill Buford – It’s that time of year again when Mariner Books publishes their annual “Best American Writing” series. I have not missed a volume of “The Best American Travel Writing” since it first started in the year 2000. This book is a collection of travel essays taken from a variety of publications – from mainstream magazines to literary publications, travel sections in newspapers to travel websites that were published in the previous year which is then sent to a guest editor – this year being Bill Buford who picks the best twenty or so from the hundreds to choose from. Travel essays are another one of my favorite genres to read. If I had more time and money, I would love to travel to many of the destinations that are written about. This year’s collection takes us on such journeys as spending time with the homeless in Fresno to looking for the place where Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus in Jerusalem. From wandering around the Sighisoara in Romania where the real Count Vlad Dracul lived, more commonly known as Dracula to spending the week with the Hadza in Northern Tanzania who are one of the remaining hunter-gatherers. A couple of my favorite articles in the year’s collection would have to be Simon Winchester’s “Take Nothing Leave Nothing” which is about the reason he had been banned from visiting the English outpost of Tristan da Cunha and Steven Rinella’s “Me, Myself, and Ribeye” which could easily be another chapter in Mark Schatzker’s book, “Steak”. Another interesting piece was is Peter LaSalle’s “Walking : An Essay on Writing” where he reads his favorite authors where the stories are set.
チーズケーキの旅 by 山本ゆりこ[Cheesecake no Tabi] by Yuriko Yamamoto ‐Most of my readers know that I don’t usually read a book twice no matter how good I thought it was. However, there are some titles I make an exception to. One was J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”, a story I could probably read a dozen times and never get tired of. I reread this title for another reason though. As you can tell from the title, this is a Japanese only publication. The title translates in English to [A Cheesecake Journey]. In my opinion, one of the joys of life is eating desserts! And because my favorite dessert just happens to be any type of cheesecake, it was without question that I had to read this book. The author, Yuriko Yamamoto is a graduate of the Kagawa Nutrition University located in Sakado City in Saitama Prefecture. After graduating, she moved to Paris and continued her studies at the prestigious Ritz Escoffier School and Le Cordon Bleu where she received her Le Grand Diplome, and continued to hone her skills at Michelin three star restaurants and hotels. Having spent many years living in France, this gave her the opportunity to travel throughout Europe. Her travels take her to cheesecake’s country of origin – which happens to be Greece. She also travels throughout the Russian Federation and Central and Eastern Europe and delights in the cheesecakes and cheese-filled desserts in countries such as Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria. Of course, she spends more time on the cheese desserts of Italy and France. Just one word of warning – don’t read this on an empty stomach! A more detailed review will be featured on the “Asia by the Book” blog in the near future.
THE PUFFIN HANDBOOK : THE PERFECT LITTLE GUIDE TO THE 70 BEST BOOKS FOR CHILDREN – Puffin, which is the children’s line of Penguin Books is celebrating their 70 anniversary by providing their readers with this free guide to some of their best children’s books. The guide is set up in a chronological order of learning to read. Starting with books to read to your baby. Followed by recommended picture books and then to young adult series as your child grows older. Puffin Books have a line of books for every age and interest imaginable. And one must not forget Puffin’s incredible line of Puffin Classics featuring all those titles and authors we had to read in school – “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, “Tom Sawyer”, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, and the list goes on. The guide also includes “expert advice, exclusive articles, brilliant books for children of all ages and much more…” Reading through this guide reminded me of my own reading history. I fell in love with Roald Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach” that my second grade teacher read to the class. And my earliest memory of choosing my first book was Eleanor Cameron’s “The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet” and Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” which probably lead me to my love of fantasy and science and fiction. As an adult I discovered the joys of Jon Scieszka’s “The Time Warp Trio” and his funny picture books “The Stinky Cheese Man” and “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” which may not have been published by Puffin but that’s beside the point. With Christmas just around the corner, this would make a great stocking stuffer and may give your children (or yourself for that matter) an idea of what they might want to read.
FORD COUNTY by John Grisham – Yep, that John Grisham. Writer of “The Firm”, “The Pelican Brief” and a bunch of other titles that were adapted for the silver screen. To be honest though, I have only read one other Grisham novel and it was one that was not made into movie called “Playing for Pizza” which was definitely not a legal thriller. It was a story about a 3rd string quarterback in the NFL who threw 3 interceptions and blew a 17 point lead in one of the team’s most important games which could have led them to the Superbowl. He of course is cut from the team and no other team in the NFL wants him. So his agent finds him a contract with the Parma Panthers – a minor football league in Italy. But I’m getting away from the book I actually read. “Ford County” is a collection of short stories that take us back to Ford County, Mississippi which was the setting for his first novel “A Time to Kill”. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m not a big fan of short stories because by the time you really get into the story, it’s over. The stories range from a family going on a road trip to see one of their kin who is on Death Row. Another is about a hometown boy who comes back after years of being away but is shunned by everyone because he has a sickness everyone fears – AIDS (kind of reminded me of the movie “Philadelphia”). A lawyer meets a victim from one of his past cases and fears for his life. The stories are entertaining and keep you interested, but like I said before, short stories make you yearn for more. You find that you keep asking yourself, “And then what happened?” I suppose short stories could be great for people who commute by train or bus and have a little extra time where they can read. Then again, these short stories could be a good introduction to John Grisham as well.
THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett – I can’t believe I picked another book to read that’s set in Mississippi again (okay, it was a gift and I had just finished reading “Ford County”). This time it’s Jackson, the year is 1962. I can see all your heads spinning. Deep South! Early 60s! Jim Crow ring a bell? An embarrassing era of our country. This is an incredibly great story for a debut novel. I really couldn’t put it down, and I’m sure it wouldn’t have been a book I would have chosen on my own. You see, I may have been born right before the Civil Rights movement (or somewhere in the beginning or middle), but I was an army brat. Born in France, moved to Japan. I never heard of Jim Crow or knew what prejudice was until I moved to the States when I was about ten. But let’s get back to the story. This is written from the perspective of three main characters – Aibileen, a maid who’s raising her seventeenth white child; her friend Minny, another maid who speaks her mind which gets her fired from most of her jobs; and Skeeter, a young white woman back from college who has dreams of becoming a writer, but who’s mother would just like to see her get married. How the three of these become friends is an interesting plot in itself. Skeeter has an idea for a book and needs Aibileen and Minny to accomplish her goal. Which is to write a tell-all book about what it’s really like for a black maid to work for white families in the deep South. At times intense and at times quite humorous, I had a hard time putting this book down. I highly recommend it. I also discovered that film rights had already been purchased and a movie based on the book is scheduled for release some time next year.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Laarson – I had recently watched the original Swedish movie which was based on this book. The original Swedish title is “Man som hattar kvinnor” which translates to “Men who Hate Women” and might give you a little idea as to its subject. Apparently, Hollywood thought this was a great film as well and is currently doing a remake which will star Daniel Craig. Unfortunately, because the original movie is all in Swedish, and because I live in Japan, the subtitles are all in Japanese, I may have missed out on some important aspects of the story. To resolve that matter, I decided to read the book in English. The story starts off with a journalist named Michael Blomkvist who has just lost a court case for libel against a major industrialist. The disgraced journalist is then hired by one of Sweden’s wealthiest man to solve a mystery that’s been haunting him for the past forty years. Harriet Vanger had disappeared in mysterious circumstances and her aging uncle is hoping for one last chance to find out who her killer was. Blomkvist is joined by a young tattooed and pierced prodigy named Lisbeth Sander who helps him solve the case. As Blomkvist and Sander dig deeper into the lives of the Vanger Clan, they find out a lot more than just one murder mystery. I can’t wait to read the next two books in the series.
THE PRESENT by Bob Gill – This is such a simple story about the true meaning of giving. Just perfect for Christmas. Arthur is a little boy who has discovered a beautifully wrapped present in his parent’s closet. Arthur’s birthday is coming soon and he believes that the present is for him. As a boy with a very vivid imagination, Arthur wonders what the present might hold inside. A basketball? A baseball glove? A globe? As his birthday gets closer, he keeps imagining what the present might contain. What makes this picture such a delight is that every page is filled with black and grey, only the present being in color. The day before Arthur’s birthday, the doorbell rings. A woman is going door to door to collect toys for the poor. It’s at this point in the book which is the heart of the story. But as a reader who does not want to give away the climax, you will have to read for yourself what kind of action Arthur takes. The answer may be quite obvious but still, it is worth reading for yourself. And as I always mention when reading children’s book, stories like these are not only for kids but can be enjoyed by adults as well. I should know, since I happen to be an adult (at least believe that I am). But I’m still a kid at heart!
FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION July/Aug 2010 Issue – Yes, yes, this is a magazine but includes many short stories, novelets, poems, and other stuff which makes it worthy of being reviewed. In this issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, new novelets from Sean McMullen, “The Precedent”; Richard Bowes, “Pining to Be Human”; Albert E. Cowdrey, “Mister Sweetpants and the Living Dead”; John Langan, “The Revel” and more. Also short stories from Ian R. MacLeod, “Recrossing the Styx”; Richard Norwood, “Brothers of the River”; Brenda Carre, “The Tale of Nameless Chameleon”; Heather Lindsley, “Introduction to Joyous Cooking, 200th Anniversary Edition” and more. Recommended books by Charles de Lint, book reviews, coming attractions, film review of “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” and this issue Curiosity – “But for Bunter” by David Hughes, published in 1985.