The New Bedford Samurai by Anca Vlasopolos

Monday, 30 June 2008, 21:02 | Category : Book Reviews
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When he was a young boy, Manjiro Nakahama ran away from his home in a poor Japanese fishing village. Joining up with some fishermen who took him under their wing, one of their fishing excursions soon turned into a disaster, stranding them on a deserted island. As they awaited their rescue, he had no idea he was about to say goodbye to his country for two decades and hello to what would lead to adventures on whaling ships, tropical islands, and even a life in America. Or that he would someday grow up to be the man responsible for opening the door between Japan and the rest of the world.

The New Bedford Samurai is an amazing and true story in a narrative setting. I’ve read quite a bit of Japanese literature, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover author Anca Vlasopolos’ book reads very much in the Japanese style. The writing has an almost fable-like quality, something I’ve often felt while reading a Japanese novel, and this style works well here, as Manjiro lived a life that could only have come from either a wild imagination or complete truth. One simply cannot read this book and wonder why we haven’t heard of Nakahama before. Vlasopolos has certainly brought forth a story long awaiting a writer to share it.

It is evident Vlasopolos did extensive research for this book, and she even mentions traveling to Japan to do so. Manjiro Nakahama’s life was complex, spanning many countries and major world events, and she takes you through every fascinating corner. She not only provides the reader with a story of a man that had to be shared, she manages to include a look into how the ways of today’s world have affected the environment. The reader will ponder not only how the attitudes of yesterday have impacted the earth of today, but how today’s attitudes will impact our future as well.

Read an excerpt of The New Bedford Samurai.

And Where is Our Daring Book Reviewer?

Thursday, 26 June 2008, 20:12 | Category : Book Talk
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If you’re wondering where I’ve flown off to, I must apologize. The past couple of weeks have been filled with the hurry-scurry of being a work-at-home blogging mama, and I’ve had to take a slight pause. But no need to fear because despite the busy schedule, I have been reading anyway (even if it means hiding in the closet for a short story fix), and I’ve got books waiting to be reviewed. I  may even write in the dark of night with the help of my x-ray eyes.

In the meantime, you can check out a multitude of giveaways going on right now for the dkSummer Fun Giveaway event on my other blog, another reason my powers have been temporarily shifted away.  They may not be books, but hey, if you’re looking for some great summer toys, here’s your chance.

And while you wait for my valiant return on Monday, you can anticipate some very special surprises and carp(e) libris reviews additions that you’ll be spying on the site very soon, so stay tuned and keep looking for the skies!

Contents of a Minute by Josephine Jacobsen - Book Review & Giveaway

Tuesday, 17 June 2008, 12:18 | Category : Book Review and Giveaway, Poetry, chapbooks
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Part of the Quarternote Chapbook Series from Sarabande BooksContents of a Minute gives us a look into the poetry of Josephine Jacobsen, celebrated poet. This 29-page collection is filled with recently discovered and previously unpublished poetry and is a great collection whether you’re just discovering Jacobsen’s work or you’re already a fan.

Jacobsen’s poetry is filled with depth and rhythm. If you’re new to poetry, I would suggest someone like Jacobsen for her ability to pull the reader into a scene without being confusing. This is not to say her poetry is simple–it is anything but. In fact, the subject matter often has dark undertones, speaking of death or longing. But it is not so heavy as to drag the reader down and leave them wallowing. There is something redeeming about the beautifully swaying beat and the unusual rhyming schemes in many of the works, such as in the poem Natural, one of the recently discovered. It is almost sung, and even if you’re not the poetry-spouting type, you may just find yourself trying to commit a fragment or two to memory for later.

Whether you’re a poetry buff or not, I encourage you to check out Jacobsen’s work. She won many awards in her lifetime, including the Robert Frost Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry, the highest award a poet can hope for. If you’d like a copy for yourself, I have an extra one just for giving away.  Enter to win by midnight on Friday, June 20, 2008.

3 Ways to Win

1.) Leave a comment telling me something about your poetry reading habits. Do you ever read poetry, or is it something you’re hoping to try? (Something more than “I want this book” is kindly suggested.) If the randomly chosen winner doesn’t reply to my email telling them they’ve won, I often choose the #2 winner based on their comment.

2.) or Subscribers are automatically entered into this and all future giveaways. Just enter your email address in the little white box on the upper part of the right hand column. (Please make sure to verify your Feedburner subscription by responding to the email they send you. If you don’t receive it, check your junk mail.)

3.) or Blog about this giveaway on your blog with a link back.

If you do all three, you have three entries to win.

Springtime on Mars by Susan Woodring - Book Review

Friday, 13 June 2008, 13:10 | Category : Book Reviews, short stories
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Ever since space exploration first became a real possibility, the people of America have been looking towards the skies with hopeful wonderment. Finally, there is something more mysterious for humans to focus on than our own complicated lives. Susan Woodring’s collection of short stories,Springtime on Mars, captures this sense of the unknown, in regards to all that has been America’s pulse from the 1950’s to today. 

The assassination of John F. Kennedy, walking on the moon, the Vietnam War, and UFO’s are all backdrops to Woodring’s stories as the characters try to understand their own universes of death, disappointment, and fear. If this book has one overall theme, I’d have to say it is fear of the unknown. By placing the stories in various time periods rich with American history, Woodring has managed to bring out the best in each plot, giving a wonderful contrast and lending much more to the flavor of each. 

One thing that impresses me about any book or story, no matter the length, is a good ending. Most tend to peter out after the climax, and while they may tie up loose ends and give the reader a sense of closure, very few leave me with a sigh of good old fashioned readerly satisfaction. But I believe I got that sigh out of every one of Woodling’s stories. I actually found myself putting the book down to say, “Now, that was a good one,” before picking it up to start the next. Combine that with a constant shifting of time periods, most of which any reader will remember and hold a sentimental attachment to, and you have a great combination for staying on Mars straight through to summer.

Note: Published by Press 53.  If you buy from their site, you even have the opportunity to buy a book for a soldier.  They really appreciate reading materials!

Arte Y Pico Award

Friday, 13 June 2008, 9:47 | Category : Book Talk
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I am a happy blogger, for I have been bestowed with the Arte Y Pico award from Jane Marie at Thyme for Herbs. Thank you, Jane Marie! I must now choose five of my favorite artistic haunts to receive the award as well, which for me is a difficult task because I have discovered a lot of artistic and interesting blogs over the time I’ve been blogging. But I will share five of them with you here, and I hope you take a moment to visit them:

Camilla Engman of Sweden - I admire her eye for groupings and her artwork and photography.

one black bird of California - Diana Fayt’s ceramics make me smile. Something so charming and completely original, and she sells her work!
The Well-Read Child - She reviews children’s books, and her site is well-organized and professional. I admire her for helping children find that artistic part of themselves through reading.
The Daily Coyote of Wyoming - She lives in a one-room log cabin with her rescued coyote Charlie and her cat. And what a photographer! You must see this one. Follow Charlie from orphaned pup to adulthood. Very inspiring and beautiful.
B&b ex libris of Oregon - She writes great reviews of books that take you all over the world, and I love her selection. Hey, with titles like “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian,” how can you not be curious?
To the five bloggers I’ve chosen, thank you for bringing us your artistic talents! If you’d like, choose five recipients of your own. If you don’t have the opportunity to do so, I’ll understand. You are, after all, busy with your wonderful endeavors!

Walking on Air by Muriel Spark - Book Review

Tuesday, 10 June 2008, 9:07 | Category : Book Reviews, Poetry, chapbooks, short stories
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Muriel Spark’s work can be found in every corner of the literary world: Novels, short stories, poetry, reviews, and many other written forms, best known for her novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Walking on Air, Cahier 2 of The Cahier Series published by Sylph Editions, was brought into being shortly after Spark’s death. These collected works of both poetry and prose were organized by Dan Gunn, some of them being published for the first time. Gunn’s process of pulling the pieces together for a cahier is what he hopes is its own sort of translation, and I must agree.

Walking on Air
features a few images of the author’s handwritten pages, complete with scribblings and rewrites, which was of particular interest to me. Most of my reviews and other writings are first handwritten (as is this one) with many such scratched out and reworded phrases. To see the written notes of someone of Spark’s caliber is certainly fascinating to any writerly mind.

The reader will also enjoy a few journal entries in which Spark discusses ideas for short stories and tidbits about her daily writing life. These entries are followed by a wonderful short story called The Ormolu Clock, which was discussed in the preceding journal entries.

Walking on Air wraps up with a few more pieces by Spark, including a short work on artist Piero della Francesca. Overall, this collection gives a unique look into the life of a great writer, leaving the reader with a sense of having had a personal encounter with Muriel Spark herself.

Bone Strings by Anne Coray - Book Review & Giveaway

Monday, 9 June 2008, 15:18 | Category : Book Review and Giveaway
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Poet Anne Coray was born and raised in Alaska. Her book of poetry, Bone Strings, reflects not only the beauty and grandeur that haunts anyone who has even seen a picture of the state, it presents the harshness and disquietude of Alaskan nature as well.

Bone Strings reads with a graceful rhythm, smooth and melodic. However, the poetry is often quite the opposite, describing the things that happen in nature we humans wish didn’t occur–like watching the wildlife channel and always hoping to see the rabbit escape the jaws of the wolf. Coray speaks from the vantage point of one who is well acquainted with all that is Alaska and its wilderness, and one who loves and honors it as well.

For the reader who loves the great outdoors and stands in awe of its complexities, its gentle beauty as well as its unforgiving hardness, Bone Strings will satisfy your urge to experience it all through poetry. I have one copy of Bone Strings to give away to a reader chosen at random. To win, enter here before midnight, Thursday June 12, 2008.

3 Ways to Win

1.) Leave a comment telling me something about your views on Alaska. Have you been there? Do you want to visit? Or do you live there? (Something more than “I want this book” is kindly suggested.) If the randomly chosen winner doesn’t reply to my email telling them they’ve won, I often choose the #2 winner based on their comment.

2.) or Subscribers are automatically entered into this and all future giveaways. Just enter your email address in the little white box on the upper part of the right hand column. (Please make sure to verify your Feedburner subscription by responding to the email they send you. If you don’t receive it, check your junk mail.)

3.) or Blog about this giveaway on your blog with a link back.

If you do all three, you have three entries to win.

Published by Scarlet Tanager Books.

Arkansas by John Brandon - Book Review

Saturday, 7 June 2008, 8:54 | Category : Book Reviews
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Two men of very differing personalities have excused themselves into lives of crime. Their upbringings and inner workings may be as opposite as Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison, but here they are, living together as drug traffickers. Arkansas by John Brandon gives the reader a humorous, sometimes dark look into the lives of Kyle and Swin, who are trying their best to be successful drug carriers for the mysterious crime boss “Frog”. As people keep turning up dead, or perhaps getting killed in the wake, they figure they might as well cover up the mishaps and give themselves promotions.

Set in the woods of Arkansas, this story is told from varying viewpoints (including that of the elusive Frog), often written in a catchy repetitive rhythm that gives Brandon his own unique voice while lending more flavor to the humorous yet edgy characters. Brandon is every bit worthy of being published by McSweeney’s, which is known for delivering humorous, slightly off-balance literature to the book-hungry masses. The story line is unpredictable from start to finish, as are all the characters within.

Overall, Arkansas has a solid and complete package: Humor, suspense, criminals you can root for, and even an ugly blue dog. The book holds the attention of its readers with a good pace and no laggy parts. If you’re searching for a good summer read with a darned cool cover to boot, then you best head for Arkansas.

Translating Music by Richard Pevear - Book Review

Friday, 6 June 2008, 8:44 | Category : Book Reviews
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I love reading translated works; I devour them. There’s a whole other world of literature outside the U.S. waiting to be read, and I mean to discover as much of it as I can. Translating Music, first of The Cahier Series published by Sylph Editions, is written by translator Richard Pevear, putting a whole new slant and appreciation on the way I perceive translated literature.

The first portion of this 35-page cahier is Pevear’s translation of the poem “The Tale of the Preacher and His Man Bumpkin” by Alexander Pushkin. Part Two discusses the work of a translator and how every translator presents the same text differently and why.

Pushkin’s poem contains his sketches and presents the work in its original Russian text on the left hand pages. On the right are Pevear’s translations. This merges well with Part Two as now the reader has had a taste of translated text.

I’m the first to admit I’ve been sloppy in the past about choosing translations. I never gave a thought to who translated my copy of War and Peace. But Pevear explains simply and clearly why one translation may be vastly different from another. Using several examples from Tolstoy’s War and Peace, the author gives the reader a whole new look and appreciation into the world of a translator.

Sylph Editions has published The Cahier Series in association with The Center for Writers & Translators at the American University of Paris. The series includes two “books” or sets of cahiers, each containing 6 volumes. Sylph has kindly sent me the entirety of Book One for review, and I’ll be sharing a new cahier with you every few days.  You can order The Cahier Series by visiting any of the links in this post. 

Book Review & Giveaway Mishaps Etc.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008, 14:36 | Category : Book Talk
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If you tried to enter the giveaway for A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness yesterday and were unable to do so, you were the victim of a computer mishap and a wee bit of errant code. The problem is fixed, to my great relief! If you did enter already, you’re still entered. For some reason, the post worked just fine in certain browsers.

If you were unable to enter and would like to, please click this link for A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness. It’ll work now, really!

Also, I am a little uncertain what Feedburner will be sending to all my subscribers this evening, as I tinkered away with my site in the morning. So in the interest of making sure today’s regularly scheduled review is not overlooked, I’m linking it here for you. That’s because it’s a review with a wonderful 88-year-old poet who has her first book published, and I would not want anyone to miss out on discovering her. Here’s the link to that interview: A Cartography of Peace. Please don’t miss it.

Thanks for your patience, and to make sure everyone has an opportunity to enter the giveaway for A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness, I’m extending the deadline to June 8, 2008.