Category Archives: Challenges2011

Dia de los Muertos..R.I.P. VI

    It is the Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.  It is also the end of  R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, one of my favorite events of the year.  A hearty Thank You to Carl V . for organizing RIP for the sixth year in a row.

I   finished Peril The First, read five books that I have written about, and a couple of others, Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist and Faithful Place by Tana French, that I haven’t.  I have also been introduced to some wonderful new blogs by following links to reviews from the RIP VI review site.  Did you join in and read  perilously this year?

Some wonderful news from the internet.  Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor has been awarded the 2011 World Fantasy Award for best novel.  It is a deeply intense and timely book and I gave a shout when I heard the news.


Filed under Events, RIP VI Challenge

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2011

Borrowed from my library.

Inspired by the stories of Japanese immigrants who came to America in the early 1900’s, this short novel is told in the collective first person, both Japanese and White.  Starting with women chosen as “picture brides” on their sea journey to this new place, we learn of their varied histories, thoughts and fears.  Who are these men they are going to meet and marry? What will their life be like? Did the Americans eat nothing but meat and were they entirely covered with hair?

Told in short clipped sentences the reader follows these women through their lives, from their “First Night” with their new husbands, the beginnings of married life,  issues with “Whites”, childbirth and on up to the Japanese internment of World War Two.  At times these sections read like lists and didn’t quite work for me, at other times I was astounded by Otsuka’s clarity of voice, of these voices, and her respect for these people and their suffering.  What stands out is their strength, both personal and collective.  I found this a striking book.

     A year on and almost all traces of the Japanese have disappeared from our town…We speak of them rarely now, if at all, although word from the other side of the mountains continues to reach us from time to time – entire cities of Japanese have sprung up in the deserts of Nevada and Utah, Japanese in Idaho have been put to work picking beets in the fields, and in Wyoming a group of Japanese children were seen emerging, shivering and hungry, from a forest at dusk.  But this is only hearsay and none of it is necessarily true.  All we know is that the Japanese are out there somewhere, in one place or another, and we shall probably not meet them again in this world.  From page 129.


Filed under Historical Fiction, JapaneseLiteratureChallenge 5, Review

A Banned Book – Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Perigee Books, New York, 2006

I own this one.

For Banned Books Week I decided to read a young adult classic that has been repeatedly challenged and banned in the US and Canada.  I am also including this one in my books for the R.I.P. VI challenge.

This novel was required reading for me in high school.  I read it again in college and, after several decades, have chosen to read it one more time.

This story of a group of boys who survive a plane crash on a small island is probably familiar to many people.  It is, on the surface, a tale of adventure.   On their own, with no adults, the boys can do what they want.  At first there is a sense of order and camaraderie as  Ralph, and his friend Piggy attempt to organize the group.  The boys gather food, plan to build shelters and organize the keeping of a signal fire.  Soon another boy, Jack, gathers a group and takes off to hunt the wild pigs that roam the island.  Jack wants to lead,  invites dissension and eventually something like war.  A tale of adventure turns to a story of horror and madness.

According to Golding,  Lord of The Flies is not simply an adventure story.  When asked he stated, “The theme is an attempt to trace the defect of society back to the defects of human nature.  The moral is that society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system however apparently logical or respectable.”*

I found it to be a narrative on personality, the place of individuals in human society and on group mind, mob mentality.  Of course these are children, would adults behave the same way?

Lord of the Flies wonderfully written, filled with beautiful evocative scenes and nightmarish horror. I read it deeper this time.  It is one of those “required” reading books that I found best read as an adult.

The first rhythm that they became used to was the slow swing from dawn to dusk.  They accepted the pleasures of the morning, the bright sun, the whelming sea and the sweet air, as a time when play was good and life so full that hope was not necessary and therefore forgotten.  Toward noon, as the floods of light fell more nearly to the perpendicular, the stark colors of the morning were smoothed to pearl and opalescence; and the heat – as though the impending sun’s height gave it momentum – became a blow that they ducked, running to the shade and lying there, prehaps even sleeping.  From page 58.

Toward midnight the rain ceased and the clouds drifted away, so that the sky was scattered once more with the incredible lamps of stars. Then the breeze died too and there was no noise save the drip and trickle of water that ran out of clefts and spilled down, leaf by leaf, to the brown earth of the island.  The air was cool, moist and still.  The beast lay huddled on the pale beach, and the stains spread, inch by inch.  From page 153.

*This quote is from Notes on Lord of the Flies by E.L. Epstein from my copy of the book.


Filed under BannedBooksWeek, Classic, Horror, RIP VI Challenge, Young Adult

The Sandman: Volume One by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

D.C. Comics, New York, 1995

Borrowed from my library.  I have the first 30 issues of this series tucked away in my basement.

I decided I had to review something in graphic format for R.I.P. VI.   What better than The Sandman?  I first discovered Neil Gaiman’s work when someone gave me a copy of Black Orchid.  I was hooked.

Gaiman started The Sandman project as a monthly comic in 1989.  The original idea of the Sandman character coming from a 1976-1978 DC series,  Gaiman made it his own.  The Vertigo imprint as released the series in trade paperbacks that group individual comics into complete novels.

With the help of many artist and inkers, The Sandman series grew from an awkward beginning into a complex classic tale of horror, myth and magic.   Preludes and Nocturnes introduces the Dream King, Morpheus,  held captive for nearly a century.  During his icarseration many humans have suffered horrible continuing nightmares. Finally free and seeking revenge along with his stolen magical tools, Dream finds himself weakened, almost dead.   To regain his power he must visit a ghastly hell filled with demons and flesh-eating monsters, a combination of Dante’s Inferno and The Garden of Earthly Delights.  There are several scenes in Arkham Asylum, a madhouse orginally appearing in Batman comics.   I imagine Arkham  is  based on Bethlam Royal Hospital.

My love of The Sandman is based on the mix of horror, magic, and ancient stories to tell tales of very human dilemmas.   Dream and his siblings, including Death and Delirium, are wonderful characters.  Neil Gaiman and all of the artist and others involved in this series have created a classic.  The Sandman is  perfect for reading on dark, stormy nights.

R.I.P. VI is organized by Carl V. of Stainless Steel Droppings.  Visit the review site is here.  I made full use of Wikipedia for some of the background on this series.


Filed under Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Horror, Review, RIP VI Challenge

Y.A. for R.I.P VI

Quick reviews for two young adult novels I read for the R.I.P. challenge.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ramson Riggs

Quirk Books, Philadelphia, 2011

An interesting book built around an intriguing idea.  Old and unusual photographs inspired Ransom Riggs to write this  novel featuring “peculiar” children stuck in time and filled with stories that turn out to be very real.  And there are monsters.

Jacob Portman is an ordinary sixteen-year-old  whose life suddenly takes a surprising turn.  After many years of telling Jacob stories about some unusual photographs kept in an old cigar box, Abe Portman, Jacob’s grandfather dies under mysterious circumstances.  The stress of that terrible night is almost too much.  After sliding in and out of depression Jacob decides to visit Cairnholm Island, where many of his Grandfather’s wild stories took place, hoping to find some connection to the old man.  At Cairnholm he discovers  more than he bargained for.

Fast paced and well written, this scary fantasy moves from the present into the past and back again.  The novel ends with the possibility that there are more adventures to come.

White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick

Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2011

Because of something in her past Rebecca is forced to move to the small town of Winterfold.    Ferelith has lived in Winterfold all her life.  Winterfold is slowly falling into the sea.

These two young women form a strange team, build a love-hate relationship, and through their dares and forfeits, unravel a mystery that has been hidden for over two centuries.

This gothic tale is a mix of present day and the past.  Sedgwick tells the story from three points of view.  Rebecca’s, Ferelith’s and a church pastor from 1798.  It is a story filled with questions of life and life after death, of God and the Devil, and finally of love and faith in those we love.

I really liked this young adult horror tale.  Several bloggers I trust have raved about Sedgwick’s writing and I can see why.  I will be reading more of his work.

Both of these books were borrowed from my local library.  If you have read either of them please leave a comment and I will link your reviews.

Other reviews:


Tip of the Iceberg – TextVlog


Filed under Quick Review, RIP VI Challenge, Young Adult

It’s that time again…R.I.P. VI

  Time for that certain chill in the air, leaves of brilliant red and gold, books filled with good scary fun.  Carl V is again hosting one my favorite reading events, R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, from September 1st thru October 31st.  This is not really a challenge, just a great way to join in with others and read books that can be classified as Mystery, Suspence, Thrillers, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror or Supernatural. Ghost stories anyone? And there are prizes!

There are several levels  including Peril on the Screen and, new this year, Peril of the Group Read.  Please join us!

I am taking part in Peril the First, which means I plan on reading at least four books.  I haven’t yet compiled a book list but hope to include Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar ChildrenHouse of Leaves and one or two of the mysteries that Mr G has collected over the past couple of years.  Isn’t this artwork stunning?


Filed under Challenges2011, Events, RIP VI Challenge

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2002

Borrowed from my library.  I decided to read this after reading an excerpt of Otsuka’s latest novel, The Buddha in the Attic,  in Harper’s.

In five chapters, from five different points of view, Otsuka records the displacement and exile of one family and brilliantly chronicles the uprooting of an entire generation.  In February of 1942 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which authorized the removal and internment of at least 110,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans from the west coast to the interior of the United States.

In language that is cool and spare we learn of the experience through the eyes of the Mother, Daughter, Son and Father.  Each has their own thoughts and needs.  Each  has own way of dealing with removal, their own way of coping with loss, of remembering.

All through October the days were still warm, like summer, but at night the mercury dropped and in the morning the sagebrush was sometimes covered with frost.  Twice in one week there were dust storms.  The sky suddenly turned gray and then a hot wind came screaming across the desert, churning up everything in its path.  From inside the barracks the boy could not see the sun or the moon or even the next row of barracks on the other side of the gravel path.  All he could see was dust.  The wind rattled the windows and doors and the dust seeped in like smoke through the cracks in the roof and at night he slept with a wet handkerchief over his mouth to keep out the smell.  In the morning, when he woke, the wet handkerchief was dry and in his mouth was the gritty taste of chalk.  from page 77.

Every bit of this small novel effected me.  I got to know each of these people,  but it was the mother I felt the closest to.  I only can wish I would show her strength, her fortitude, under similar circumstances.

During the daytime she spent hours scrubbing layers of dirt off the floors.  “Who were these people?” she asked us again and again.  She dusted and swept and cooked.  She washed windows with lemon juice and vinegar and replaced broken glass panes with tin squares.  On sunny afternoons she went out into the backyard in her  work gloves and her floppy straw hat and she raked up fallen leaves into piles, which we jumped in and scattered once more to the wind.  She cleared the weeds from the overgrown pathways.  She pruned back the hedges.  She tore out the rotting trellis from the middle of the garden, which had seeded itself and gone wild.  Deep down in the underbrush she found things.  A doll’s head.  A lady’s black silk stocking.  A stone Buddha lying face down in the dirt.  “So that’s where you were.”  We lifted it for her gently, brushed off the fat belly, saw the enormous round head, up lifted, still laughing.  from page 125.

This is a brilliant and beautiful book.  I highly recommend it.


Filed under Historical Fiction, JapaneseLiteratureChallenge 5, Review

Underground by Haruki Murakami

Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami

Translated from the Japanese by Alfred Birnbaum and Philip Gabriel

Vintage International, New York, 2001

Borrowed from my local Library.

After reading Kafka on the Shore, and not being sure what I thought of Haruki Murakami, I decided to read his book on the 1995  Aum Shinrikyo Tokyo gas attacks.  Murakami says in his introduction that he was motivated to write Underground because he had been living away from Japan, wanted a deeper understanding of his home country and felt an obligation to those who had died in and survived the attack.  He wanted to have their voices heard.

Underground is actually two books that were published separately in 1997 and 1998.   The first part,. Underground, is made up of interviews with survivors of the 1995  attack in the Tokyo subway system, the second part, The Place That Was Promised, contains interviews with people who had been involved with Aum Shinrikyo.

From the interview with Toshiaki Toyoda, a Subway Authority workman.

    There were ordinary passengers who unfortunately lost their lives or suffered injuries just because they were traveling on the subway.  People who are still suffering mentally or are in pain.  When I consider their lot, I don’t have the luxury to keep seeing myself as a victim.  That’s why I say: “I’m not a sarin victim, I’m a survivor.”  Frankly, there are some latent symptoms, but nothing to keep me bedridden.  I’m just glad I survived.

The fear, the mental wounds are still with me, of course, but there is no way to flush them out of my system.  I could never find words to explain it to the families of those who died or sacrificed their lives on the job.  From page 38.

Murakami shows great respect for the people he interviewed, never interfering with their answers and yet drawing them out.  I am deeply impressed by his level of caring and by his commitment to his fellow citizens.  I am also moved by the survivors, their willingness to share their stories and their commitment to their culture and to each other. I find the difference between our two culture profound.

I also really appreciate the depth of Murakami’s intelligence, his clarity of thought and willingness to probe deeply into his own psyche.

From Blind Nightmare: Where Are We Japanese Going?

            …I am a novelist, and as we know a novelist is someone who works with “narratives”, who spins “stories” professionally.  Which meant to me that the task at hand was like a gigantic sword dangling over my head.  It’s something I’m going to have to deal with much more seriously from here on.  I know I’m going to have to construct a “cosmic communication device” of my own.  I’ll probably piece together every last scrap of junk, every weakness, every deficiency inside me to do it.  (There, I’ve gone and said it – but the real surprise is that it’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do as a writer all along!)

So then, what about you? (I’m using the second person, but of course that includes me.)

Haven’t you offered up some part of your Self to someone (or something), and taken on a “narrative” in return?  Haven’t we entrusted some part of our personality to some greater System or Order? And if so, has not that System at some stage demanded of us some kind of “insanity”?  Is the narrative you now possess really and truly your own?  Are your dreams really your own dreams?  Might not they be someone else’s visions that could sooner or later turn into nightmares?  From page 233.

The second part of this book is made up of interviews with people connected to Aum Shinrikyo at the time of the attacks.  It is chilling how easily these people, all of whom seem intelligent and humane, were disconnected from their families, their peers and any sense of empathy or compassion.  They became “mindless” but sincerely thought otherwise.  Read that quote from Blind Nightmare again.

I will definitely read more of Murakami’s work, even as I struggle to make sense of it.

Other reviews:


Dolce Bellezza


The Parrish Lantern

things mean a lot

Thyme for tea


Filed under Culture, History, InTranslation, JapaneseLiteratureChallenge 5, Nonfiction, Review

Canadian Book Challenge 5

Thanks to John Mutford of The Book Mine Setfor running this challenge for the fifth year in a row.  It runs from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012. It is one of my favorites and one I have managed to complete for two years in a row.

For those who like read-a-thons, check out Under the Midnight Sun.  I plan on started my first CBC book tomorrow, though I doubt I can read for 24 hours.


Filed under CanadianBookChallenge5, Challenges2011, Events

Japanese Literature Challenge 5!

Last year a wonderful blogger introduced me to Japanese Literature and helped me open a door to a new world.  Thanks to Dolce Bellezza, it is time for the Japanese Literature Challenge 5.

Between June 1, 2011 and January 30, 2012 all you need to do is read one book, of course you can read as many as you like.  If you are not sure where to start our challenge hostess has compiled a suggested reading list.

I plan to start with Banana Yoshimoto’s newest novel, The Lake.


Filed under Challenges2011, Events