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Monday, July 21, 2014

'We Read To Know We Are Not Alone: Examining the Lack of LGBTQI Characters in Australian Youth Literature'

This is my first article to appear in the print edition of literary journal Kill Your Darlings - and it's free to view online!

I examine Australia's lack of LGBTQI focus in youth literature, some possible literary remedies to address this lack and I interview wonderful Aussie YA authors like Eli Glasman (The Boy’s Own Manual To Being a Proper Jew, out now) and Erin Gough (The Flywheel, coming 2015).

I hope you like it. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

'Invisible City' by Julia Dahl

From the BLURB:

Just months after Rebekah Roberts was born, her mother, an Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn, abandoned her Christian boyfriend and newborn baby to return to her religion. Neither Rebekah nor her father have heard from her since. Now a recent college graduate, Rebekah has moved to New York City to follow her dream of becoming a big-city reporter. But she’s also drawn to the idea of being closer to her mother, who might still be living in the Hasidic community in Brooklyn.

Then Rebekah is called to cover the story of a murdered Hasidic woman. Rebekah’s shocked to learn that, because of the NYPD’s habit of kowtowing to the powerful ultra-Orthodox community, not only will the woman be buried without an autopsy, her killer may get away with murder. Rebekah can’t let the story end there. But getting to the truth won’t be easy—even as she immerses herself in the cloistered world where her mother grew up, it's clear that she's not welcome, and everyone she meets has a secret to keep from an outsider.

Rebekah Roberts moved to New York City from Florida a few months ago. Since then she got a job as a reporter, and lost the same job when the paper folded shortly thereafter (the newspaper business ain’t exactly booming, have you heard?). Now Rebekah has a job working as a ‘stringer’ for tabloid paper, New York Tribune. It’s not her ideal job (certainly not always aligned with her ethics) – as stringer, Rebekah works freelance for the Tribune and is first on the scene for breaking news stories as well as stories less likely to make the final edition. Rebekah doesn’t have an office, per-se, New York is her office and as stringer she needs to get to locations quickly and scout sources (yes, it’s her job to find people who discovered dead bodies, hound police for answers and ask grieving loved ones how they’re feeling).

On a cold, blistery New York morning Rebekah is assigned to a call down at a scrapyard where a body has been found in the mouth of a crane. But what starts as a fairly cut and dry story (though gruesome) quickly captures Rebekah’s attention when the body is confirmed to be that of a woman … then three Hasidic Jewish men arrive on the scene, followed by a specially marked van competing with the coroner for authority over the body, and Rebekah starts to learn just how complicated this story, and case, could become. 

The woman was a Hasidic Jew from Borough Park in Brooklyn. It is their religious belief that every hair and scrap of blood be buried with the deceased – thereby potentially eliminating evidence. Once the Hasidic community retrieve the body, everyone all but informs Rebekah that the case is over; the NYPD are known to relinquish cases dealing with Hasidic Jews – even homicides – lest they step on religious toes, and they don’t even object when families decline autopsy for murder victims (a body is not allowed to be cut open). 

But this case is hitting close to home for Rebekah, whose own mother was a Hasidic Jew from Borough Park, who met Rebekah’s ‘goy’ father during her teenage rebellion when she was questioning her Ultra-Orthodox religion. But once Rebekah was born her mother returned to her community, abandoning her baby and never making contact with her father again. Rebekah has grown up with anxiety and a deep sadness over her mother’s abandonment of her, and she can’t deny that at the back of her mind choosing to move from Florida to New York may have had something to do with wanting to try and find her mother after all these years…

As stringer, it’s Rebekah’s job to move from story to story as the news hits – but she can’t let go of the ‘body at the scrapyard’. Not when she learns the woman’s name – Rivka Mendelssohn – and starts to dig into her life, and discovers she too was questioning her Ultra-Orthodox upbringing, the same way Rebekah’s mother did all those years ago.

Then Rebekah meets Saul Katz, of the NYPD Shomrim (a fraternal organization for Jewish police officers of the New York City Police Department). Saul recognises Rebekah instantly, because he knew her mother and they look so very much alike. Though Saul deals mostly in theft cases, he is very invested in Rivka Mendelssohn’s death, and angry at the lack of NYPD involvement (nobody has even bought in Rivka’s husband, the influential Aron Mendelssohn, for questioning even though he owns the scrapyard where her body was found). He agrees to being Rebekah’s police informant as she keeps digging into the case…

‘Invisible City’ is the debut novel from Julia Dahl, a journalist specializing in crime and criminal justice who has previously worked for CBS and the New York Post.

I kept hearing about this book from – who ran several promotional ads and give-aways of Dahl’s debut. I loved the eerie cover, and was thoroughly intrigued by a crime-thriller based around the Hasidic Jewish community of Brooklyn. Now that I’ve read the book I have half-n’-half feelings, though I am crossing my fingers that Dahl writes more in (what I assume is?) the series, since Goodreads have labelled ‘Invisible City’ as ‘Rebekah Roberts #1’.

Straight off the bat – Rebekah having been abandoned by her Hasidic Jewish mother as a baby rings very, very convenient for this story and starts to feel clunky quite quickly. Yes, it establishes a backdrop for Rebekah and instantly gives readers some idea about the emotional instability of this protagonist. But Dahl relies heavily on Rebekah’s absent mother for plot convenience, when those in the Jewish community can seemingly tell that Rebekah is ‘one of them’ just by looking at her and it’s because of her mother that she gains a vital police informant in Saul Katz. I think Dahl relied on the mother plot too, to cut many corners in Rebekah’s investigations which also meant pacing and suspense sometimes suffered – I think ‘Invisible City’ would have been a very different (perhaps better?) story if Rebekah had actually been a true outsider to this community, instead of feeling torn between her heritage and misplaced feelings of abandonment/rejection by the community.

He thinks I’ve turned away from God. Those were his actual words. I called him to say how bad I’d been feeling sophomore year in college. I told him how I was scared all the time but I didn’t exactly know what of. Well, he said with a kind of sadness, You’ve turned away from God. His words infuriated me. I’ve never seen or heard or felt this “God”, but my life is basically a mess made by people twisting themselves into knots, trying to please him.

I don’t know, possibly Rebekah’s mother could play a bigger part in subsequent stories – but for this first instalment, there was an over-reliance and too much convenience and it even felt like Dahl was cutting emotional corners by being so on-the-nose to have Rebekah investigate the murder of a Hasidic Jewish woman when her own mother was one, and abandoned her for the very same community that harbours Rivka Mendelssohn’s killer. Y’know?

It may sound like I had a really big issue with the whole story, if I couldn’t get past this huge crux of it. But, actually, mother-issues aside, I thoroughly enjoyed and was happily sucked into Dahl’s crime-thriller. The Hasidic Jewish setting in Brooklyn is fascinating – I have little to no knowledge about that community, and the way Dahl fed readers information (sometimes outrageous, as it related to the homicide case!) was incredible.

“It’s what they do when it comes to domestic violence and mental illness and sexual abuse. All of which occurs in the community, just like in any other community. But here the shame of coming forward is compounded. Generally, Jews in this community believe that speaking to the authorities about another Jew is a sin against the community. It’s mesirah, they say.” 
Mesirah. It’s Yiddish. It means reporting on your fellow Jew. In the past, in Europe, if a Jew was arrested and sent to prison, he would be killed there. So it was every Jew’s duty to keep other Jews out of prison, which means not talking to the police.” 
“Even now?” 
“Even now.”

This was one crime-thriller in which setting definitely dictated all aspects, and became a character unto itself. It was also really intriguing because Dahl made women such a big focus of the story – the patriarchal world these women live in in the Hasidic community is explored particularly well.

My dad used to tell me stories about my mom as if she were a character in a fairy tale. Like most suburban girls growing up in the 1990s, I learned about sex young. I was nine when our Girl Scout troop went to Planned Parenthood to learn about ovaries and sperm. I learned the rest sporadically from Madonna songs and Maury Povich and maybe someone’s mom’s copy of ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’. I had several years for the act itself to morph from mildly horrifying to potentially cool, and several years after that to actually get involved in doing it. Not my mother. My mother, my father said, learned about sex only in whispers. 
I will say that some aspects of the story needed tightening and cutting. Rebekah has just started a romantic relationship, of sorts, with a local bar-owner called Tony that kind of went nowhere but that Dahl relied on (again, for plot short-cuts) to give Rebekah more ties to the NYPD. Sometimes Dahl’s writing lent itself more to literary styling than crime-thriller (indeed; pacing felt off, particularly at the end, and I felt that overall the book needed bigger injections of ‘thriller’).

This book sways between a 3 and 3.5 for me. This is, after all, Dahl’s debut and if it’s for an ongoing crime series then she has good bones in Rebekah Roberts – the mother stuff may have felt overly convenient for much of this first book, but I see great potential for it to be explored (deeper, and better) in subsequent instalments. I do hope Saul Katz remains a player in any subsequent books too (in fact … I did wonder halfway through if Saul would have been a better protagonist to base this series around, especially when his backstory was far more compelling than Rebekah’s absentee mother for me?). But I can’t deny that Dahl gave me chills with some of her passages, the focus on murder in a Hasidic Jewish community of Brooklyn makes for captivating reading and I can see future potential for this sleuth. Not perfect, but pretty damn good.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

'The Beekeeper's Apprentice' Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #1 by Laurie R. King

From the BLURB:

1915. The great detective Sherlock Holmes is retired and quietly engaged in the study of honey bees when a young woman literally stumbles into him on the Sussex Downs. Fifteen years old, gawky, egotistical, and recently orphaned, Mary Russell displays an intellect to impress even Sherlock Holmes – and match him wit for wit.

Under his reluctant tutelage, this very modern twentieth-century woman proves a deft protégée and a fitting partner for the Victorian detective. In their first case together, they must track down a kidnapped American senator’s daughter and confront a truly cunning adversary – a bomber who has set trip-wires for the sleuths and who will stop at nothing to end their partnership.

Author Laurie R. King has been sent a most curious trunk. Inside there are bits and bobs of various wealth and randomness. But most curious of all are the manuscripts within – a running memoir, if you will – featuring one of literature’s most famous characters as if he were once a living, breathing real person. King does not know who sent her the trunk, and if anyone should know more about the author Mary Russell she would welcome any information. But in the meantime here are Russell’s stories, just as she wrote them (albeit, with grammar and spelling corrected).

Mary Russell’s first book is ‘The Beekeeper's Apprentice: or, 'On the Segregation of the Queen’, published in 1994 and first in the ‘Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’ mystery series, which currently has 12 books with a 13th due for 2015 release.

‘The Beekeeper's Apprentice’ covers Mary Russell’s first meeting of Sherlock Holmes, on the Sussex Downs in 1915 when she is fifteen and Holmes 54-years-old, and all but retired from his days as London’s greatest detective. Of course Mary figures out who he is, after all he has become somewhat renowned since Watson’s stories appeared in ‘The Strand’ (as written by Conan Doyle), but Mary quickly discovers that the Holmes of the stories is quite different from the sickly man she meets on the Downs … indeed, over time and through these memoirs, we will discover that Holmes’s story did not end with Watson and Doyle’s retellings, and much has been misinterpreted or forgotten over time.

Now the process has become complete: Watson’s stories, those feeble evocations of the compelling personality we both knew, have taken on a life of their own, and the living creature of Sherlock Holmes has become ethereal, dreamy. Fictional.

In ‘The Beekeeper's Apprentice’, Mary details her apprenticeship under Holmes at a time when she desperately needed family. Her mother, father and younger brother had died in a tragic car accident a year before, and Mary had come to Sussex to live with her only guardian left, a horrid aunt whose name does not bear repeating. When she meets Holmes she gains in him a teacher and father-figure (though this will be complicated and dispelled in good time), she also gains a mother in Mrs Hudson and dear friend in ‘Uncle’ John Watson.

So accomplished is Mary (a proud, self-proclaimed feminist and land girl during the war) that Holmes does indeed see her as his equal and budding apprentice, and draws her into a complicated case concerning the kidnapped daughter of an American diplomat.

‘You don’t sound pleased.’ 
He slammed down a pipette, which of course shattered. 
‘How could I be pleased? Half of Wales has trudged the hillside into mud, the trail is a week old, there are no prints, nobody saw anyone, the parents are hysterical, and since nobody has any idea of what to do, they decide to humour the woman and bring in old Holmes. Old Holmes the miracle worker.’ He stared sourly at his fingers as I fastened plaster to it.
‘Reading that drivel of Watson’s, a person would never know I’d had any real failures, the kind that grind away and keep one from sleeping. Russell, I know these cases, I know the feel of how they begin, and this has all the marks. It stinks of failure, and I don’t want to be anywhere near Wales when they find that child’s body.’

I completely stumbled across the ‘Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’ mystery series, but now that I’ve gotten stuck into it I really don’t know how I ever missed them. This series has been around since 1994, to high critical acclaim and quite a fandom. But I had never heard of them before I went searching for reading recommendations for a new ‘cosy’ mystery series.

Laurie R. King has indeed written a very clever and entirely original tribute to Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. Artfully positioned as the mere conduit to Mary Russell’s message (the story of King receiving a trunk with Mary’s memoirs is particularly sweet) she presents Mary Russell as Sherlock Holmes’s continued story – perhaps a truer story than Watson’s saccharine ‘Strand’ entries – and reveals a man with a far darker psyche and complex history than literary classics would have us believe.

But don’t be fooled – while Holmes does feature heavily, the real pivot-point is Mary herself. A true product of changing times, she is a proud feminist and half-Jewish student of Oxford who is studying theology and chemistry (one, to Sherlock’s great distaste). Already a sharp mind when she meets him, working with Sherlock hones her already considerable skills and helps turn her into the formidable force she way always destined to be.

After just one chapter of ‘The Beekeeper’s Apprentice’ I was excited to have found a new, long-running series to get stuck into. Indeed, I am over-the-moon at the prospect of 12 books (with a 13th due in 2015) for me to hoe through. Even more so, since – and it’s impossible not to know this, when the fandom is so strong – Mary does become Holmes’s wife (this is hinted at throughout, as Mary is writing her memoirs from quite a distance in the future, when she is 80 odd years old and reflecting on their life together). At first I thought this would be a jarring realisation, when we meet Mary at age 15 through to 17 in this first book and when she and Holmes have such a platonic, mentoring relationship … but it becomes clear that these two are so well-suited, nobody else could have possibly been a match for Holmes. I look forward to reading the development of their romantic relationship and beyond (though I do say ‘romantic’ lightly, as Mary Russell is a discreet lady from a certain era and will no doubt refrain from delving into overtly personal details).

This is also a fabulous series for Conan Doyle-aficionados (which I cannot claim to be). You’ll find that King refers to many of Holmes’s greatest adventures (with new perspectives in the telling) and famous characters from history and Conan Doyle’s literature do feature. I also have no doubt that King has quite captured the spirit of Conan Doyle’s original work, even while twisting it cleverly and remarkably toward a far more feminist, modernist bent.

I have fallen in love with this series and while I’m slightly peeved that I didn’t discover it sooner, I’m now quite chuffed that I have such a large backlist to get acquainted with.


Monday, July 14, 2014

AUDIOBOOK: 'Landline' by Rainbow Rowell. Read by Rebecca Lowman.

From the BLURB:

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now.

Maybe that was always besides the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

I was very kindly given the audiobook of ‘Landline’ by the wonderful Adele (Persnickety Snark) who scored if for me at Book Expo America (signed by Ms Rowell herself, no less!)

Narrated by: Rebecca Lowman
Length: 9 hrs and 6 mins
Format: Unabridged

Georgie McCool has just wrecked her family’s Christmas by choosing to remain in LA instead of spending a week at her mother-in-law’s house in Omaha. But Georgia has a good reason; she and her comedy writing partner, Seth, have got to write four episodes of their dream TV show as it’s being optioned. This is a once-in-a-lifetime, dream come true opportunity, and Georgie’s taking it. But that means disappointing her husband Neal and their two young daughters, Alice and Noomi, who still intend to spend Christmas with Grandma.

This is not the first time that Georgie has put work before family – being a staff writer for hit (if terrible) TV show ‘Jeff’d Up’ has seen her workload increase exponentially over the years, particularly when it started doing well in the ratings. It’s a good thing her college-sweetheart, Neal, is such a fantastic stay-at-home dad … but that brings up a whole other set of guilt-trips, when Georgie feels that she could be taken out of the picture and things would go on as usual because she’s not the essential parent.

Then there’s the fact that her and Neal’s relationship has been under strain for several years now. The workload, late nights, missed vacations … and the fact that Neal has never liked how close Georgie and her best friend/writing partner, Seth, are. Now he sees it as Georgie choosing Seth over her family this Christmas.

When Neal and the girls leave so Georgie can get her writing done, she finds herself falling into a funk and retreating to her mother’s house that she shares with Georgie’s (much younger) step-father, step-sister and numerous prize-winning pugs. Georgie finds herself hiding out in her old childhood room, trying to reach Neal’s mobile phone from the ancient yellow rotary phone hiding at the back of her closet … which somehow connects her to Neal, from the summer before they got engaged, when they were on Christmas break from college and experiencing their first possible break-up/long-distance silent treatment. Or so Georgie thought – because apparently she and Neal did keep in touch, only some 20 years apart.

What if you had a conduit to the past? Not able to go back physically, but talk to the past? What would you say, or warn, those you loved? … What if you wanted to warn them to stop loving you?

‘Landline’ is the new contemporary fiction novel from Rainbow Rowell.

I was so over-the-moon excited for this book because even though Rainbow Rowell has most recently had mega-hits with her young adult novels ‘Eleanor & Park’ and ‘Fangirl’ (maybe more New Adult?) her debut adult novel ‘Attachments’ is still my favourite by a long shot. For sure her first novel made people sit up and take notice (of course it did, it was brilliant) but her YA forays have really put Rainbow Rowell very quickly in league with the likes of John Green – and are probably what she’s most well-known for now. But something I love about author Rainbow Rowell is that she seems drawn to writing good stories, as opposed to writing good stories for certain readerships.

With ‘Landline’ Rowell is writing a story about marriage in crisis; there are lengthy flashbacks to twenty-something Georige and Neal meaning ‘Landline’ could potentially have some ‘Fangirl’-esque New Adult crossover appeal (and young readers who love Rowell’s writing style will enjoy this book too) but it is an adult read dealing with the very adult problems of balancing work/life, the pressures of keeping a romance burning and acknowledging one’s own defects.

I’ve got to say this was a hard book for me to review. On the one hand, I had a most enjoyable audiobook experience with Rebecca Lowman as a narrator who seems exceptionally well suited to Rowell’s charming prose. On the other hand … my interest drifted quite a bit, weighed down by very ho-hum adult issues story (to be fair, this wasn’t me preferring YA but probably more to do with the fact that I’m not married, so a book that’s so heavily focused on a marriage in crisis held little appeal for me).

First up: Georgie McCool is not the easiest character to like … actually, none of the characters in this book held much appeal. From deciding to ditch her family over Christmas, to constantly forgetting to have her phone replaced due to dead-battery … heck, this woman even has a serious aversion to pugs. Pugs! What is this madness? I struggled to connect with Georgie with the third-person narration – it was even hard to understand her being so driven creatively because the TV show she and Seth are working on didn’t sound all that great.

Passing Time’, Heather said, in a smooth voice, pulling a pizza box out of the refrigerator, ‘is an hour-long dramedy. It’s something, plus something, plus something else.’
Georgie threw her sister an appreciative smile, at least someone listened to her. ‘It’s Square Pegs,’ Georgie said, ‘plus My So Called Life, plus Arrested Development.’
If Seth were here, he’d add; ‘Plus some show that people actually watched.’
Sure, the concept was good – but I had the same problem with Seth and Georgie’s TV show that I did with Aaron Sorkin’s short-lived ‘Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’. Mainly, that I could never suspend disbelief that Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford were the best-ever comedy writers for a SNL-type comedy show because viewers were rarely given the chance to see their writing play out (or, when we did, it was terrible and unfunny). I’m not saying I’d have wanted huge chunks of ‘Passing Time’ script, but I needed something that showed me Georgie’s career passions were not mislaid and a poor alternative to family time.

The other character this book really hinged on me liking (and it never really quite got there) was Neal. On the one hand, when readers first meet him he’s a bit cantankerous and moody – but, fair enough, his wife has just chosen work over Christmas family time. But as the book progresses we learn that that’s just Neal’s default-setting: a human equivalent to Grumpy Cat. To the point that he proposed to Georgie all those years ago with this corker of a line: ‘I love you more than I hate everything else.’

To be fair, as the story progresses and more flashbacks come into it we see what Georgie fell in love with – that Neal is a loyal, solid, trustworthy and kind person who starts out frosty with everyone but once she earned his love, Georgie became his ray of ‘sunshine’ and they did have a very romantic courtship, enough that I could understand why she was fighting so hard for him in the past and present. But he’s still not the most amiable of characters, and when the novel offers little in the way of truly lovable players I really struggled to care for these imperfect, frustrating protagonists.

Obviously the pivot points of this story is around Georgie finding a connection to the past through an old rotary phone – which allows her to contact a much younger Neal before he proposed to her. Taking into account all the ways their marriage hasn’t quite worked out over the years (despite having two beautiful daughters in Alice and Noomi) this begs Georgie to wonder if; … she wanted him more than she wanted him to be happy – and how much she should subtly warn Neal about their imperfect lives together.

I think I struggled with the crux of this story because, and forgive me for this, but the problems of marriage are just not all that interesting to me. I’m going to quote ‘The Midnight Garden’ reviewer, Wendy Darling, here: “Had I never read Liane Moriarty, who writes excellent books that humorously dissect marriages and relationships…” true dat. I like reading adult novels, and I like reading adult novels about the breakdown/problems of a marriage. But I’ve come to expect my interest to be held on this subjects to a certain level, and Rowell didn’t quite do it for me;

Nineteen years since Georgie stumbled across Seth in the Spoon offices. Seventeen years since she first noticed Neal. Fourteen since she married him, standing beside a row of lilac trees in his parent’s backyard. Georgie never thought she’d be old enough to talk about life in big, decade-long chunks like this. It’s not she thought she was going to die before now, she just never imagined it would feel this way. The heaviness of the proportions. Twenty years with the same dream, seventeen with the same man. Pretty soon, she’d have been with Neal than she’d been without him. She’d know herself as his wife, better than she’d ever known herself as anyone else. It felt like too much. Not too much to have, just too much to contemplate.

There were parts of ‘Landline’ that I loved though. I warmed up to the flashbacks revealing Georgie and Neal’s courtship, and how it caught me off guard that he slowly became more and more the romantic heartthrob as Georgie peeled back his layers. I actually loved when Georgie moved back in temporarily with her mother, step-father and step-sister: this allowed for Rowell’s excellent comedy writing (and kinda made me wish Georige could show similar excellence in her own writing life). But above all I loved Rebecca Lowman narrating this audiobook – she was incredible, and was particularly wonderful at doing the male and childen’s voices but also brining an intimacy to Rowell’s writing. I’m really excited to listen to more of Rowell’s audiobooks as read by Lowman (and then to listen to any other books that Lowman has narrated).

Overall I think ‘Landline’ was a so-so book for me. The heavy focus on married life held little interest to me, and I struggled to love these frustrating characters. But I love Rowell’s writing; her soft touches and comedic timing were further enhanced by actress Rebecca Lowman narrating this audiobook.


YA is the New Black

Another Kill Your Darlings column went up while I was away. 

In this piece I defend adult readers of YA, while praising Orange is the New Black

Hope you like it - 

This is my trip to Japan ...

I'm back! 

Had the most amazing time in Japan, I already want to go back. 

So here are a few snaps, and I'll have some book reviews of my holiday-reading up soon! 

This was right near our hotel in Tokyo: a steam-punk themed clock designed by the famous Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli. 

My first encounter with manga in Japan! 

Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo - that's me!

So, I was a real geek and looked up where Lost in Translation shot around Tokyo, and found some movie trivia that said Sofia Coppola filmed lots of the Shibuya scenes from Starbucks - so that's what we did too. 

Shibuya at night. 

Yep, did Tokyo Disneyland. It's pretty awesome hearing Buzz Lightyear speak Japanese. 

Fushimi-Inari Shrine.

Secondhand bookshops in Japan are the absolute best, and most amazing places to find hidden treasures. I paid $3 each for about 10 painting prints.

First taste of sake. Yum!

Nara Deer Park, about an hour out of Kyoto, was my absolute favourite. Especially because we walked a little further away from the main entrance, to a secluded park where there were dozens and dozens of deer, but not another soul around. Perfect.

There was a baseball game on the day we arrived in Hiroshima, so we tagged along to support local team - Hiroshima Toyo Carp. 
I can't say the game itself was overly thrilling, but crowd enthusiasm was astounding! 

The Atomic Bomb Dome, Children's Peace Memorial Park and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum - this was such a moving experience. 

Osaka Castle, and a time capsule that's to be opened in 5000 years.

First-time karaok'ing, but it won't be my last! 

Amerikamura, Osaka (America-village) 

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo. 

Didn't get to the Studio Ghibli Museum (requires booking advanced tickets, and the person I was travelling with wasn't familiar with the films) but I did stumble across an official store that had a little gallery-display area that was pretty damn cool. 

So that was my trip to Japan! 

Monday, June 30, 2014

I'm off to Japan!

Hello darling readers,

Just a little note to say I am leaving for Japan today, so the blog will be on a short hiatus for two weeks. 

Take care while I'm gone, and if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you'll probably see some pictorial evidence of my travels (which is also proof that I am capable of leaving my reading-nook for extended periods of time).