Books in Translation Other Prizes Uncategorized

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

Strange Weather in Tokyo Translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell

Shortlisted for 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize

Five words from the blurb: romance, old, teacher, friendship, solace

Strange Weather is Tokyo is a beautifully written story about the friendship that develops between Tsukiko and one of her former high school teachers. The pair meet by chance in a bar and over time their relationship blossoms into a strange love affair.

Very little happens over the course of the book, but I was captivated by the quality of the writing. If the same story had been set in England I’d have probably been bored, but there is something about the Japanese way of life that fascinates me. I loved the atmospheric descriptions of the bars and food had a high prominence – it was mouthwatering:

With renewed determination, I seized a piece of the fish with my chopsticks and dunked it in the gingered soy sauce. The firm flesh had a slightly peculiar flavour. I sipped from my glass of cold sake and looked around the bar. Today’s menu was written in chalk on the blackboard: MINCED BONITO. FLYING FISH. NEW POTATOES. BROAD BEANS. BOILED PORK. If sensei were here, he would definitely order the bonito and broad beans first.

It is probably worth pointing out that the cover of this book is quite misleading. The floating woman implies some supernatural element, but this book is firmly grounded in reality. Anyone looking for the more bizarre aspects of Japanese fiction will be disappointed.

Despite the slow pace of the plot I read this book very quickly – it only took a few hours to reach the emotionally charged end. It’s the perfect way to be briefly immersed in Japanese culture.

Recommended to those who love all things Japanese.




For more Japanese book reviews see Tony’s January in Japan blog..

Other Uncategorized

Brief Thoughts: The Psychopath Test, The Secret Life of Bees, The Interestings and Strange Bodies

 The Psychopath Test

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Five words from the blurb: insanity, compelling, adventure, madness, truths

Fascinating investigation into psychopathic behaviour. It was light, entertaining and raised many interesting questions. It didn’t quite go into enough scientific depth for me, but was the perfect introduction to the subject.




 The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Five words from the blurb: forgiveness, racial, tension, sanctuary, mystery

Had a promising premise, but was surprisingly lacking in emotion. It didn’t give me any new insight into the racial tensions of the American South and I felt that the characters lacked depth. It was compelling enough to finish, but overall I was a bit disappointed.


The Interestings

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Five words from the blurb: American, tragicomedy, adolescence, friendships, fortunes

Fantastic writing and wonderful character development, but the plot failed to grab me. It all felt too ordinary and I’m afraid I didn’t care enough to want to find out what happened.



Strange Bodies

Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux

Five words from the blurb: metaphysical, challenging, forgery, identity, literature

Great premise, but I was unable to suspend my disbelief. I abandoned it at the half way point because it became increasingly weird, but lacked the charm or enlightenment necessary to keep me engaged.


Have you read any of these books?

What did you think of them?

2013 Recommended books

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project
Five words from the blurb: love, science, emotion, incompatible, perfect

Books about Asperger’s Syndrome are normally depressing so it was refreshing to read The Rosie Project, a wonderfully entertaining book that highlighted the positives of the condition.

Don Tillman is a highly regarded geneticist, but is clearly on the autistic spectrum and struggles with relationships. He decides to find himself a wife and so creates a detailed questionnaire to ensure he only dates those with the same likes and habits as him. Unfortunately his questions rule out almost everyone. But then Don begins to fall in love with a totally incompatible woman and realises that love cannot be governed by strict rules.

I loved this book! I laughed so much that I had tears streaming down my face. I’m sure that most people won’t have the same strong reaction, but the humor really resonated with me. I recognised so many of the character traits – the literal thinking was especially accurate and often shown in an amusing light:

And now the institution that I was paying to supply us with a meal – the service provider who should be doing everything possible to make me comfortable – was putting arbitrary obstacles in my way. My Gore-Tex jacket, the high-technology garment that had protected me in rain and snowstorms, was being irrationally, unfairly and obstructively contrasted with the official’s essentially decorative woollen equivalent.
‘My jacket is superior to yours by all reasonable criteria: impermeability to water, visibility in low light….Vastly superior tensile strength…’
To illustrate this last point, I took the lapel of the employee’s jacket in my hands. I obviously had no intention of tearing it but I was suddenly grabbed from behind by an unknown person who attempted to throw me to the ground.

I also loved the way that the book highlighted flaws in the general population. It showed that everyone has their quirks and those with Asperger’s are no stranger than others.

The Rosie Project may appear to be an entertaining romance, but it uses humor to highlight many important issues. The fact that this book will appeal to a wide variety of people makes it very special and I hope that its messages of tolerance and acceptance will spread far and wide.

Highly recommended.



Happy New Year!

I hope that you all had a fantastic Christmas and New Year! 

We had a great few weeks visiting family and friends. We traveled up and down the country; our journeys made all the more entertaining by the accompaniment of The Harry Potter Audio Books

My boys really enjoyed Christmas. Their favourite present was a Warhammer starter set, which they have been painstakingly painting in every spare moment. They also received several new books (of course!), a recorder, some CDs and a few new games. Here they are pretending to go down a slope in a new sledge!: 

ch1Unfortunately they didn’t get any snow. It has rained almost continually for the last few weeks and much of our time has been spent watching the waters rise around us. Luckily our home hasn’t been affected, but here’s what I found when I tried to go shopping on Boxing Day:


The floods are going to peak again tomorrow so we’re keeping all our fingers crossed for our friends who live near the river. 

Despite the fact that the rain kept me inside, I read very little. In fact I only finished one book: Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami (which I read for Tony’s January in Japan). Luckily, I completed several wonderful books at the beginning of December (especially The Rosie Project and The Signature of All Thingsand so have plenty of books to review in the near future.

I look forward to getting back to reading & blogging soon!