The Gemstone Affair by Ken Turner

It’s summertime again, but beaches and restaurants are closed or have restricted access, and we have been cooped up at home for months. Our attention spans are dwindling, but we still need something to occupy our minds. What’s the solution? The Gemstone Affair by Ken Turner. At 110 pages, this novella (or, ‘noirvella’) is the perfect summer read.

The Gemstone Affair – A Max Goodbrand noirvella

Turner chose the 1940s for the setting of this work. The protagonist is a scotch-drinking gumshoe who is down on his luck, when a mysterious woman appears with a job for him, and a wad of cash he can’t resist. Her request seems straight-forward: to retrieve four gemstones that are rightfully hers, which were smuggled out of Germany in the war.

The situation escalates quickly, and we learn that things are not what they seem. Max awakens to shots through his window, bodies start piling up around him, and the person we know as ‘Mrs. Smith’ makes some startling revelations.

The author stays true to the Dick Tracy-esque tone throughout the story, using words like ‘fellas’ and ‘swindlers,’ and phrases like, “you’ve been double-crossed, doll.” While references to Coca-Cola bottle caps, an Underwood typewriter, and a Walther PPK sidearm are effective ways of transporting us back in time without slowing the pace of the story through lengthy descriptions. Nods to pop culture of the day keep us rooted in the past, as well: Errol Flynn, Lindbergh’s flight to Paris, and the 1932 movie The Mummy, to name a few.

I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s action-packed and atmospheric, full of surprises and witty dialogue, guaranteed to keep you turning the pages. Be sure to read the Afterword for some insights into the inspiration for Max Goodbrand, and a note about the author’s love for this golden age that has captured so many hearts and imaginations. The Gemstone Affair is available from Amazon.ca here, and if you’re ready to kick-start your summer reading, there’s no better way to do it. Enjoy!

Carnegie Libraries: Woodstock

Next stop on our tour of Carnegie libraries in Ontario is the Woodstock Public Library. And what a magnificent one it is!

Woodstock Public Library, built in 1909

I’m ashamed to admit that I had no idea there was such a wealth of history and historic architecture in Woodstock. But there are a great many beautiful and well-maintained buildings in this city, and one of them is the public library. Unlike the other Carnegie libraries we have visited in this blog, the Woodstock Public Library actually began almost a century before its current home was built. According to TourismOxford.ca, a Reading Society was formed in Woodstock in 1835. It was a private group with an annual fee, and it was known as the “Woodstock Subscription Library” by 1836.

Detail of the portico

By 1840, the society had grown to 60 members, and by 1935, there were over 3,300! (WPL – history) In the gap between those years, the Carnegie Foundation provided a grant of $24,000.00, and the Woodstock Public Library opened to the public in 1909. In 1976, it was designated as a historic building.

The imposing entrance showing the characteristic ‘Carnegie stairs’ and ‘Carnegie basement’ that were so often incorporated into these libraries

The WPL has its own Twitter feed, with links to numerous resources on wellness, the promotion of literacy, programming for all ages, and a whole lot more. With all the COVID restrictions in effect lately, this library was closed when I was there, but things are starting to open up again, and we can hope that all our libraries will soon be the thriving community hubs they have always been.

Thanks again for stopping by! Stay tuned for the next installment of our Carnegie Libraries travelogue soon. ๐Ÿ’œ

Sources:
WPL History: https://www.mywpl.ca/library-history
History of Woodstock PL: www.tourismoxford.ca/listing/detail/ArticleId/12890/History-of-the-Woodstock-Public-Library.aspx
Woodstock Public Library Twitter: https://twitter.com/WoodstockLib

A bookshop to yourself!

On a recent visit to my in-laws in the Windsor, ON area I thought I would do a quick Google search for local independent booksellers. I found the Biblioasis Bookstore, and took a brief tour of their webpage, sad that it was likely closed. But then, I saw that they are offering 30-minute PRIVATE browsing sessions which you can book through their website. You can even request music to browse to! Naturally, I immediately booked myself a session that afternoon, and kept my eye on the clock as time slowly passed until it was time to get in the car and head over.

Detail of the Biblioasis storefront on Wyandotte St.

They provide very clear instructions and information on their website about what to expect: please wear a mask, but if you don’t have your own, one will be provided. Gloves will also be provided if needed. You can touch any book you like, but if you don’t end up purchasing it, you must replace it on a cart so it can be wiped down and disinfected before it gets put back on the shelf.

The welcoming view upon entering the Biblioasis Bookstore

This bookstore was exactly as I hoped it would be: old hardwood floors, shelves full of interesting books, friendly staff, a bright front window, and fun bookish gifts for every bibliophile (cards, puzzles, etc.). They have the usual assortment of fiction and new releases, but also some really neat local interest books. The super-cool part of discovering this book store is that Biblioasis is *also* an independent publisher! You can check out their press at www.Biblioasis.com.

#shelfie

If you’ve read much of this blog, you know I love a good cozy mystery, so I picked up a couple more during my private browsing session – both to do with bookshops!

I was impressed by what a great solution Biblioasis came up with, to resume the retail experience amid the ongoing economic upheaval caused by COVID-19. Imagine: an entire bookstore to yourself! If that’s not a dream come true, I don’t know what is. Thank you, Biblioasis ๐Ÿ’–

#BlackLivesMatter

In response to the tremendous upheaval caused by the death of George Floyd, I have not felt it appropriate to post anything here for the past several days.

Now, in honor of this tragic event, and in the hope that true change comes as a result, I wanted to do a post on Native Son by Richard Wright, which I read several years ago.

Especially relevant today, in this time of renewed civil unrest and loud calls for deep change, this book is a searingly accurate social commentary decades ahead of its time. It was originally published in 1940, but has the feel of a modern novel. The main character is a young black man, who accidentally kills a young white woman, and the story quickly escalates from there. At times disturbingly graphic, the story clearly illustrates the systemic racism that prevailed in 1930s Chicago.

Over the years I have recommended this book many times, and if you haven’t yet read it, now is the time to get a copy. I cannot stress what a gripping and convicting book this is, and I guarantee it will cause a lot of thought and discussion, and possibly a change in outlook.

It is absolutely true that all lives matter, and no single group should be seen as more important than others, but right now, we need to stand behind the Black Lives Matter movement. Racism against those of African decent is in the spotlight today, and it must come to an end now, forever. We must hope that with the victories that will surely come as a result of the protests after George Floyd’s death, racism against all ethnicities will become a thing of the past.

#BlackLivesMatter

Itโ€™s #ThrowbackThursday

This is my first #throwbackthursday post! I thought it might be fun to share this old photo of yours truly, because we are all book lovers here, and thereโ€™s a beauty of a card catalogue featured tucked into this picture.

Belleville, ON Public Library, 1985

I spent a week visiting my grandparents in Belleville one summer, and they took me to the library! What a time capsule this picture is.. Note what appear to be homemade dolls/stuffed animals behind me ๐Ÿ™‚ But what I especially love is that beautiful card catalogue. Little did anyone know how soon it would become obsolete!

Thanks for visiting, and happy #throwbackthursday ๐Ÿ’—

Carnegie Libraries: Amherstburg

Picturesque Amherstburg sits along the Detroit river in Southwestern Ontario, just south of Windsor in Essex county. Replete with historic buildings, this quaint little town is a history-lover’s dream, with buildings from the War of 1812, and ties to rum running and the Underground Railroad.

Essex County Library – Amherstburg branch

The Essex County Library branch in Amherstburg is another public library that was funded by Andrew Carnegie. He provided $10,000 in 1911, and the library opened to the public in 1913. In 1987 the building was granted Heritage Designation, and it’s no wonder: the building is made from limestone quarried in the former township of nearby Anderdon, and features many characteristics that are typical of Carnegie libraries. This is another rare example of a library built just after the turn of the last century that has maintained continual, uninterrupted service as a library!

Town of Amherstburg historic plaque for their public library funded by Andrew Carnegie

This beautiful structure was built on the site of a hotel that burned down in 1895. At that time, the town’s library was housed on Dalhousie street, and in 1901, it was moved to a building on Ramsay street before finally settling into the newly constructed location in 1913, where it remains to this day.

Detail of the imposing archway over the main entrance

According to a brief history of the library, as described by the Ontario Heritage Foundation, there was much back-and-forthing between Mr. Carnegie and the Amherstburg Town Clerk before the grant was agreed to. The architects who built the library submitted plans with design elements that Carnegie has previously approved, incorporating “Carnegie Stairs” and a “Carnegie Basement,” which are found in many other of his public libraries.

When the Amherstburg library moved into its new home on Sandwich street in 1913, it had just 6,000 volumes. But, by 1935, “Ontario Library Inspector F. C. Jennings stated in his report that the Amherstburg Library was one of the most complete and up to date in the County.” (https://www.heritagetrust.on.ca/en/oha/details/file?id=420, page 6)

This concludes our second library travelogue. Thank you for traveling with me to Amherstburg! Look for the next Carnegie Libraries installment on BookNotes soon. ๐Ÿ’œ

Sources:
http://www.mtc.gov.on.ca/en/libraries/carnegie.shtml
https://essexcounty.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=386befd577814c4f86e041837af7fab5
https://www.heritagetrust.on.ca/en/oha/details/file?id=420
https://windsorstar.com/news/local-news/amherstburg-to-mark-librarys-history/wcm/2a7652cf-80ce-4f27-936f-7a8015bd6e9d/
https://www.amherstburg.ca/en/live-and-play/heritage-designations.aspx
https://www.werelate.org/wiki/Place:Anderdon,_Essex,_Ontario,_Canada

What to read when you can’t concentrate

Have you noticed that it’s harder to stay focused these days? I think the stress of self-isolation, working remotely while still attending to your home and domestic responsibilities, and so much time together with the same people is getting to us. It’s safe to say that these are very unusual times, even though states, provinces, and countries are trying to slowly return to normal. It has been an unprecedented, stressful time for everyone.

What if you don’t feel like sitting in front of the TV for another day? But the thought of picking up a book is just too much; it feels overwhelming. Here are a few suggestions that might help.

1. Read some comics.

Calvin & Hobbes comics are always good for a laugh, and they brighten the spirits.

2. Pick up a graphic novel. The stories are just as complex as a regular novel, but with far fewer words (sometimes no words at all!), so they won’t overwhelm.

If you haven’t read a graphic novel before, now is the time to try one! Lots of words, no words, short or long, there’s a graphic novel out there just for you.

3. Why not bust out those old coloured pencils and give adult colouring a try? It might just be the de-stressor you never knew you needed.

Click on the image to buy this book on Amazon. Image courtesy of Amazon.com

I hope you find these ideas helpful. It’s true we are living in strange times, but good can come from this disruption of our busy routines: more (quality?) time with family, more time outside getting healthy fresh air, and maybe a broadening of your bookish horizons.

Until next time, happy reading! ๐Ÿ’œ

Carnegie Libraries: Paris

Brant Public Library – Paris branch

Andrew Carnegie is famous for his philanthropic donations in support of public libraries, and in fact, his donations resulted in 125 public libraries being built in Canada, 111 of which were in Ontario. Not all of the libraries remain in use today, but the one in Paris, Ontario still does.

Interesting tidbit: unlike many public libraries that were built near the turn of the last century, the Paris public library has been in continual use as such since it was built. A list of head librarians through the years can be found at the County of Brant Public Library Digital Collections website, along with the building’s timeline.

Paris Public Library first opened to the public on July 27, 1904.

Voted ‘the Prettiest Little Town in Canada’ by Harrowsmith Magazine, Paris is replete with natural beauty (it lies between two rivers) and architectural delights, featuring a great many well-kept Victorian buildings.

Fun fact: both Alexandrea Graham Bell and Andrew Carnegie have ties to this little town. On August 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell received the world’s first successful long-distance telephone call here; and as we know, Andrew Carnegie sponsored our featured library, tying both of these great men to the humble town of Paris, Ontario.

Doric columns are featured on the library’s former facade.

I hope you enjoyed this tiny library travelogue. There are several Carnegie libraries that I plan to feature in this new section of BookNotes, so please stay tuned for the next one!

Sources:
http://www.mtc.gov.on.ca/en/libraries/carnegie.shtml
http://images.ourontario.ca/brant/3281106/data?dis=dm
http://images.ourontario.ca/brant/2713035/data
https://oaa.on.ca/bloaag-detail/Carnegie-Libraries/327
https://www.brant.ca/en/live-and-discover/paris.aspx#

Trees, Demons, and Secrets

There’s nothing like weeks of self-isolation to really help you get a a handle on your To Be Read pile. In keeping with one of this blog’s themes, suggesting books that are a little out of the ordinary, I would like to recommend a few titles. I haven’t done this in quite a while, so I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on any of these titles, if you’ve read them. Or if you do read them. But full disclosure: the last one is pretty mainstream, so not exactly along the lines of ‘quirky’ or ‘out of the ordinary.’ Still a good book, though!

  1. The Overstory by Richard Powers

This book was incredibly moving, and extremely relevant to today’s world. A truly real glimpse into the impact that the natural world has on us, whether we are aware of it or not. The first section appears to be short stories, but parts two and three weave all the initial and seemingly unrelated stories together, creating an epic story that spans generations. Although this was not what I would call an ‘uplifting’ read, it was an excellent book, and I highly recommend it.

2. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Wow, what a change of pace! This book is still in print, even though it was first published in 1996. So that should let you know right there, that this book is worth reading. Neverwhere falls into the fantasy category, but it’s not high fantasy, so there are still humans with pronounceable names, and they live on earth. Definitely a great escape from the ordinary, and it even causes a few chuckles along the way! If you are looking for something different to read that will quickly become hard to put down, look no further. Neverwhere is the answer.

3. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this is mainstream book. But, even books we find at the grocery store or in an airport departure lounge can still be good, and this was one of those books. It was a thought-provoking and intricate story, and also easy to read. A mysterious past, the fight over a baby’s future, and problems that everyone struggles with as they navigate the choppy waters of adolescence. This is a good story that will definitely help you escape the four walls of your home as you practice social distancing.

Please let me know if you read (or have read) these books. Other suggestions are always welcome, too! Stay healthy, xoxo

Bored? Not anymore!

This is week 3 of working from home, for me, and week 4 of self-isolation. At first, so much extra time was filled the exciting possibilities that all my unread books presented, their time of languishing on my shelves finally coming to an end. But, as it turns out, there is only so much reading one can do over a period of several weeks, and one starts to get a bit stir-crazy, even knowing that adventures and new friends await in each new book.

If you’re in a rut, and starting to drift away from your books, take heart! There are still some things we can do that are not technically reading, but are still very much book-centric, and thus, almost as good. If you will allow me just a few minutes, I would like to walk you through the very easy process of making something fun: bookmarks! Make them funny, or scary, or beautiful – it’s all up to you.

  1. All you need is: a cutting mat and an X-Acto knife (or not even those, if you prefer to use scissors), a ruler, a pencil, glue stick, and some paper that you love. I used chiyogami paper, and some flyers that had graphics I was drawn to, but any paper will do – even wrapping paper works – whatever you have that makes you smile, and can be cut to about 2″ x 6″.
1. All you need to get started: scissors or a knife & cutting mat, pencil, ruler, glue stick, and your choice of paper.

After you make the bookmarks, you will need a means of laminating them, at an office supply store (once they open again), or you can use a home laminator, if you have one. If you don’t have a means of laminating, that’s okay! Once the glue has dried, they are ready to use until you can get them into that protective coating.

  1. Once you have the paper ready, measure a rectangle on the back it, over the part you want to be featured on your bookmark. It should measure two inches wide (we will fold this in half, so your bookmark will be one inch wide), and as long as you would like, usually between 6 and 8 inches.
2. Measure two inches across, and 6-8 inches long, being very careful that your lines are straight. Using the grid from a cutting mat will help you, if you have one.
  1. Next, cut along the rectangle you drew. Using a ruler will help you make sure the lines are perfectly straight.
Use a knife on a mat for quick, perfect edges. You can use scissors, but be careful to keep the lines straight.
  1. Once you have your rectangle, fold it in half lengthwise, creasing it very hard to give it a sharp fold. If your bottom and top edges do not match up exactly, just trim them up against the ruler.
Trim edges after the rectangle is folded, to make sure the sides match exactly.
  1. Once you have the paper folded, it’s time for the glue. Cover one half of the paper in a layer of glue, being sure to go beyond the edge of your paper. This ensures the glue will go right up to the edge of all three open sides, and prevent any lifting. Don’t press it together yet! Let the glue dry slightly, and then apply it again. After the second coat, firmly press the sides together, taking care to smooth any air bubbles out.
Apply two layers of glue, being sure to apply the glue beyond all the edges of the paper, to ensure full adhesion.
Ta-daa! Now all you need to do is laminate.

I hope this little project helps to settle some of your restlessness, and brightens your day at the same time. If you do end up making some bookmarks, please let me know in the comments! Good luck, and STAY HEALTHY ๐Ÿ’œ