Sunday, July 30, 2006

A Ride in the Neon Sun – Josie Dew

I love reading travel writing. I especially like those where the writer actually interacts with the people of the country on a very personal level. Josie Dew is one who puts caution to the wind and just goes out and sees what happens. If you like Bill Bryson you will like Josie Dew, she has the same sense of the absurd and sees the characters around her. She writes very well and keeps you interested. Sometimes travel books have a down time, when the person has been on the road so long they are getting a bit tired of it. Josie never gets to that point. She seems to have boundless energy.

In this book she is traveling by bicycle in Japan...accidentally. She was heading to New Zealand and ended up in Japan. She doesn't know any Japanese and she is planning on tent camping...though she isn't sure if this is allowed. She makes her way through the south before she is called back home. She is deluged with gifts from everyone, including children. She travels through typhoons and the rainy season, staying with families or sweating the night away in her tent.

She starts in Tokyo, travels down around the Okinawa islands and then back. Her biggest obstacles where the tunnels, because some of them were very long, very dark, and didn’t have any extra room for bikes. Also, the many habu, which is a deadly poisonous snake…well actually she mostly sees them dead laying on the road. She stays with many families and describes what modern Japanese households are like, a mixture of the modern and traditional in one.

Probably the funniest time was one night when she wanted to find somewhere to camp. She stopped at a house to see if the person knew of a place she could put her tent. She was invited in and allowed to bath and was fed by a lovely couple. They were disappointed when she insists on camping. The man rides with her to a local park where he leaves her to set up the tent. As she is getting settled for the night she hears sounds outside the tent that worried her, it turned out to be three men. The men were sent by the couple to check on her, let her know that it is supposed to rain and they all had gifts. Then the couple show up with supper. The rain starts very late in the night and she is visited again by one of the men from early trying to get her to come to his family home so that she doesn’t have to get so wet. She refuses as kindly has she can. In the morning she is awaken again by someone with her breakfast. Her description of this one night is so funny; you can’t help but laugh out loud.

She includes some history, but not too much. She also has a really nice glossary in the back, a very small index, and a complete list of the equipment that she took with her. She also includes a chronology of Japanese history to help you place time periods she talks about. The illustrator does a good job with the maps which carry on the fun theme; the drawings are very funny interpretations of what happens to her.

This is Dews third book. In her first, The Wind in My Wheels, she writes a compilation of different trips she took on her bike, with or without other people. In her second, Travels in a Strange State she visited the United States, though she writes mostly about Hawaii. She also has three other books since, in the next Sun in My Eyes she returns to Japan. She has a very good website where you can get a better sense of the places she has visited in her books, She also has a forum where you can post messages, which I think is a nice touch. She does reply if you post a question.

Titles of all her books in order of publication:

Wind in My Wheels

Travels in a Strange State

Ride in the Neon Sun

Sun in My Eyes

Slow Coast Home

Saddled at Sea

I’m now going to read a mystery by Martha Grimes, The Winds of Change. I’ve been holding off on this a bit, only because I can tell it is going to be a bit dark and I’ve not really wanted to read anything very dark. But I’m going to give it a go now. I’m also reading Proust’s Swann’s Way at work, and will be starting a mystery by Beverly Connor Dressed to Die which fits very well in my purse.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

“A Taint in the Blood” by Dana Stabenow

Stabenow is one author I am never disappointed with. Her books are set in Alaska, she has a great way of writing characters, and there is a real mystery in each book. Some series become just about the characters, but her books are true mysteries that happen to be a series. She doesn’t just write one series though; she has two along with lots of different editing jobs and short stories. Her website is where she has a blog and information about her writing and Alaska.

Her longest running series is about Kate Shugak who is an Aleut. She lives in a national park where she grew up. Her grandmother is a very important Aleut leader, which causes her some problems. Her grandmother is always after her to take up the reigns of leadership and Kate doesn’t want to. Kate went to college and worked as an investigator for the Anchorage D.A. She was investigating child abuse cases. We find out in the first book that she quit and moved back to the park when she was hurt badly during an investigation. Confronting a child abuser she ended up with her neck slashed. She ends up with both a scar on the outside, a rough voice and a bigger scar on her emotions. She hides out at her homestead and is brought back out by her lover who knows her skills are too important for her not to use them. She then goes on to investigate many crimes in the park and outside of it, but always in Alaska. The series characters are all wonderful. They are all believable with both good and bad characteristics. You learn about the modern native way of live and also the history and politics of Alaska.

This book takes Kate out of the park and into Anchorage. Charlotte Muravieff asks her to investigate a murder that happened 31 years before. Her mother was convicted of setting fire to the family home, killing one of her sons while the other escaped with a leg injury. Charlotte has found out her mother is dying and wants her to be released. She is convinced that her mother did not do the crime, even though her mother has confessed. Why did she confess and why doesn’t she want to talk to Kate about it? What is it about Kate investigating that has upset this powerful family? We get an interesting look into what the past of Alaska might have been, and also a look into the politics there.
Stabenow is one author I am never disappointed with. Her books are set in Alaska, she has a great way of writing characters, and there is a real mystery in each book. Some series become just about the characters, but her books are true mysteries that happen to be a series. She doesn’t just write one series

The series in order of publication:

A Cold Day for Murder
A Fatal Thaw
Dead in the Water
A Cold-Blooded Business
Play with Fire
Blood Will Tell
Killing Grounds
Hunter’s Moon
Midnight Come Again
The Singing of the Dead
A Fine and Bitter Snow
A Grave Denied
A Taint in the Blood
A Deeper Sleep

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

This book totally surprised me! I have never seen the movie or read any of Sparks work. Something intrigued me when a few people had this book on their Summer Challenge reading list.

I pulled it of the shelf at work, and it wasn’t very big and it was paperback…so I thought it might make a good vacation read. I was right, but I had no idea that I wouldn’t read it once but twice…in a row! I’ve never, ever done that. Even if I had to write on a book in college, I never read the whole thing again. But I had to this one. It wasn’t just that it was a good read. Spark has an interesting way of writing. I’ve not decided if she tried to write this in the way a child would have written it, or this is just how she writes. (I’ll have to read more of her books to sort that out.) She goes back and forth between the present and the future. I knew when I finished I had to reread to catch the little pieces that I missed the first time to put the whole puzzle together. I still haven’t totally. I actually went and looked at criticism book just to get someone else’s opinion.

I know that some people doing the challenge quit reading the book because they found the writing aggravating. I think that with all writing pre-WWII you have to keep in mind what was going on in history. Especially when it comes to the way women lived. Jean Brodie is one of the many thousands of women who lost their men in the WWI. Jean lost her true love she was sure she would have married. Since most of the men were either killed in the war, or where horribly traumatized and hurt, there weren’t enough men to go around to all the women of marriageable age. This lead too many women living the life of spinsters, so what were they suppose to do with their time? They had no husband or children to take care of, no household to maintain. Muriel Spark, unfortunately I think, waits until the middle of the book to explain what life was like for them. The start of chapter three she explains:

It is not to be supposed that Miss Brodie was unique at this point of her prime; or that (since such things are relative) she was in any way off her head, She was alone, merely, in the she taught in a school like Marcia Blain’s. There were legions of her kind during the nineteen-thirties, women from the age of thirty and upward, who crowded their war-bereaved spinsterhood with voyages of discovery into new ideas and energetic practices in art or social welfare, education or religion... she was not out of place amongst her own kind, the vigorous daughters of dead or enfeebled merchants, or ministers of religion, University professors, doctors, big warehouse owners of the past, or the owners of fisheries who had endowed these daughters with shrewd wits, high-coloured cheeks, constitutions like horses, logical educations, hearty spirits and private means. (42)

So what is it that Brodie gets up to at this school that is different then the other spinsters of her age? Well she tries to manipulate the lives of a few select girls in her class. These girls become the “Brodie Set” and are given lots of extra attention by Miss Brodie. As the book plays out, in the end the one girl that she had the most effect on betrays her. The head of the school had for years tried to get rid of Brodie. She had been trying on moral grounds, but one of the girls steers her in another direction. A direction that leads to Brodie’s downfall (historically this brought about the downfall of many of the aristocracy of that time). I leave you to find out what this was, and which girl finally brings an end to Brodie’s meddling in the lives of her students.

I’m still left with one question…and if you figure it out please write me! Why does the character Sandy become a Nun? I know the explanation that is given in book, but it doesn’t quite sit right. Especially, when it is said that she was not calm and controlled like other nuns when people come to visit, she hasn’t totally found peace. She also writes a book about psychology. I would love to have been given a glimpse at some of the contents, because I’m a bit confused by the title that is given. I’m sure that if I understood that better I would be able to puzzle more together!

Muriel Spark has been very prolific in her writing. I include a list of the novels she has written. If you go to you will be connected to her archive in Scotland. They have a full bibliography listing and also some information of the archive they have of her writing and letters. I guess she kept all of her papers at some point in her career and they have been given to the National Library of Scotland.

1957 The Comforters

1958 Robinson

1959 Memento Mori

1960 The Ballad of Peckham Rye

The Bachelors

1961 The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

1963 The Girls of Slender Means

1965 The Mandelbaum Gate

1968 The Public Image

1970 The Driver's Seat

1971 Not to Disturb

1973 The Hothouse by the East River

1974 The Abbess of Crewe

1976 The Takeover

1979 Territorial Rights

1981 Loitering with Intent

1984 The Only Problem

1988 A Far Cry from Kensington

1990 Symposium

1996 Reality and Dreams

2000 Aiding and Abetting

2004 The Finishing School

Spark, Muriel. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. London: Penguin Books (2000).

I'm now reading Josie Dews book about traveling in Japan. I will be posting next week about Dana Stabenow though. I finished one of her books over my vacation, but I just had to write this review first.

Happy Reading

Added July 20th. My husband and I watched the movie "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" this weekend. It was very good and I can see why Maggie Smith one an Oscar. There is only area I was really disappointed. I knew it would be different to the book and it was. There was one area I thought they could have done and that was the hats. In the book there are 6 girls and each wears her hat in a different way. They are all suppose to wear them the perscribed way that the school set, but Spark makes a point of saying that these girls each wore theirs different. This was to show that even though they were wearing uniforms they were set aside from the rest of the girls. Unfortuantley, even though there were only 4 of the girls, they didn't each have their hat a different way, most even had them like the rest of the school girls.

I wasn't surprise that the end was different, though I did think it was interesting that they have a confrontation between Brodie and the girl that betrays. It made a powerful ending a suppose, but I thought the whole idea of Sandy becoming a Nun was an important fact in the book...where this wasn't touched at all. Anyway, it was a good movie and I did enjoy it.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Vacation pics part 2

This is a really cool bird we saw the day we went birding. I've been wanting to see for all the years we've been here and we saw tons this time!

Enjoying the windy day!
We decided that I should live in this town since I enjoy sleeping so much! That is our car also..I'm in there but you can't see me very well.
This is a juvenile Morhen. It got really excited and came running towards us when we first came up to the lake. I couldn't believe it would eat out of my hand.

These are the lovely beach huts along the coast. They are really expensive (more then a car) and they are only a glorified sheds! They do brighten up the coast line though!

Well there are your pictures, enjoy!

Vacation pics

We aren't very good about taking pictures...but I thought I would show you a few things we saw on our vacation! Firs is the Shire horse we saw ... there are several different breeds and this place has them all. It was really cool to see them. This was Rich's chose of places to go for his birthday!
This horse is the biggest of all the Shire horses. He was funny because the whole time he was in his pen he stood with his back to everyone peeking in!
Here is Rich smartly in the middle of the boat on our way to see the seals!
As you can see I got soaked!!!!

Sorry this is all the pictures that will fit at the moment....

Monday, July 03, 2006

A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow by Tim Brookes

I was a bit surprised by this book. As with most funny titles, I really should know better then to think that it means the book will be funny too…. The book has it’s moments, instead there is a real sense of what America is like. Not just the fast food, over eating, fake side that most books written by non-American’s talk about. Brookes finds the adventurous, proud, kind side that I remember and miss!

I picked up the book at my favorite new/used book store. I was feeling very homesick for the US at the time, so I was happy to pick up this book about hitchhiking around the country. Tim is commissioned by National Geographic to travel around the States in 1998 like he had when he was 20 in 1973. A photographer also traveled around by car, sometimes with Brookes and sometimes on his own, taking pictures for the magazine article. This is not a picture book, however there are a few pages in the middle.

What struck me most about this book was his discussion toward the end about letting go of control. Many people we know need to have complete control of all situations. They don’t like to be alone, or try new things without someone being with them. I have found in my life that these are the moments when I learn the greatest things about myself and my fellow human beings. Brookes talks to the photographer, Tomasz, about this:

I couldn’t shake a very strong sense that giving up control exerts some kind of attraction that is, in the language of quantum physics, “non-local”: It affects people and even objects in ways and at distances that it shouldn’t. It doesn’t seem to have much to do with the conscious mind; in fact, our conscious mind seems mostly to get in the way, by second-guessing and worrying too much. Every time I’ve stated worrying about whether I’ll get a ride, I told him, it has done me no good… (238-239)

If you never like to do new things where you aren’t in control of the situation…you never learn that you don’t NEED to be in control. Things will work out on their own, if you let them. When I flew on my own for the first time I found it so exhilarating and very scarey! But I found that no matter what problems might creep up, I learned that I could handle the issue with an inner strength that I didn’t know I had. I use this often now when I need to travel on my own. If you don’t have a car to control you have to allow others to get you from A to B. All you can do is plan the route to your best ability and then trust that if for some reason something happens that doesn’t go to your plan, you can still work through what you need to do to get there.

Brookes also talks about strangers:

Many of the people who bring about the greatest changes in our lives are strangers, and, by the same token, many of the most important events seem to arise by sheer coincidence (239).

I’ve been amazed at how people react to you if you are traveling on your own. I’ve had such friendly interesting conversation with people that I wouldn’t have had if I was with someone. Sometimes these are the times when you get not only an insight into yourself, but also to what people are really like. Recently I’ve started doing crafts again. I never stopped really, but I haven’t been going at it with such ferver as before. I’ve let some strangers into my life that have changed me. People have challenged my view of arts and crafts, who have made me learn new skills. Sometimes you just have to be open to it, or stagnate and become someone who is unhappy because life can’t be controlled. Things are going to happen. I have faith that a positive outlook on life and my ability to face trails will actually not let terrible things happen. If I hadn’t married Rich and moved clear across the globe, would I be as happy…no…but I trusted him and me and felt that we could make it. Four years on, we are still happy and thriving in our life. This books really made me see that more then I had before. Sometimes books just do that!

So I’ve rattled on, I would suggest you read this book if you are interested in travel books. He meets very interesting people and learns a bit about himself and society along the way. He has a positive experience and sees America as the many parts it is, instead of one society. Many people I deal with here in the UK don’t get that. They think we are all the same, Brookes reveals that we aren’t.

Now that I've been such a bore with my review...I thought I would offer the book to anyone who is interested. If I get more then one reply I'll have a drawing for the book! I've been thinking about this and feel that I really want to make sure these books get recycled to others that might enjoy them! It is a hardback copy in really good condition. Drawing will happen on July 15th......