The ups and downs of 2017

Hello, and happy new year! I hope 2017 was full of literary joys and adventures for all of you, and I hope 2018 continues to delight and surprise us.

Throughout the year I read several new books that were not really ‘new,’ in that although I had not read them before, they were from series I enjoy, such as M. L. Longworth installments or Agatha Christie novels. They were not exactly new, but delightful all the same.

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M. L. Longworth books

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My Agatha Christie collection so far…

Others were books I found through rabbit holes that one so easily falls into when looking at Amazon suggestions and reviews. One such gem was The Relic Master. I have mentioned it in a previous blog post, and I can’t recommend it enough. A healthy dose of history, mystery, some action, and a little romance, made for an edition to my collection where I was sorry to reach its end.

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The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley

Another unexpected surprise was Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I didn’t have high hopes for this one, but it far surpassed the ones I had. Murder, devious plots, mistaken identity and a little romance make this another one that was hard to put down.

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Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

And speaking of books from the past, I re-read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. It’s probably been twenty years since I first read it, and I have to say, I really liked it! I am an unabashed Wilkie Collins fan, and this confirmed my high regard of his work. At over 500  pages, it looks like it could be a bit of a slog, but it went very quickly with lots and lots of mystery and intrigue, and of course some romance as well. If you haven’t read it (or The Woman in White, my all-time favourite) I can highly recommend it.

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The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

I also read a few books this year that were a little underwhelming, the most notable of which was The Circle by Dave Eggers. It was actually just the end that I disliked. To avoid spoilers I won’t go into detail, but I will say that the protagonist’s final actions were thoroughly unsatisfactory, in my humble opinion. Which leads me to another story I didn’t love, and that was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I am glad I have finally read it, but it wasn’t a story that resonated with me. That’s not to say that it wasn’t well written or engrossing, both of which it was. It just wasn’t my favourite.

I could go on and on, but I try to keep my posts from rambling, so I will sign off for now. If you would like to see all the books I read in 2017 (a whopping 38), please click on the link below.

Books for 2017

A very happy and healthy new year to each and every one of you. May your year be full of love, laughter, and wonderful BOOKS!

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Murder at Christmas

December already . . .  And so many wonderfully seasonal books out there to keep you cozy on a frosty winter’s night. For example, one of literature’s most beloved detectives stars in Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, which I haven’t even read yet (gasp)! But I will be starting it shortly – I just have to wrap up Crimson Snow, first.
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I read a lot of mixed reviews for Crimson Snow (which is a collection of stories), so I really hemmed and hawed about adding it to my collection. But I am so glad I picked up a copy, because the stories are everything I hoped they would be. They are all set in the past, which makes them interesting from a historical perspective, and because they are short stories, you can sit down and read one from start to finish in a relatively short sitting. And in the Christmas season, where there is so much to do and so much going on, you might only have a few minutes at a time to sit down with a book.
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All the stories in Crimson Snow are murder mysteries, but with protagonists who are not as well known as Albert Campion, Hercule Poirot or Lord Peter Wimsey, for example. Nevertheless, the stories are quaint and enjoyable, with neat and tidy endings. Also, Martin Edwards’  introduction to each story is full of interesting tidbits about the author or the history of the particular story – so it’s educational, too!

Another great Christmas read is Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon. This is a full-length novel, also set is the past, having been originally published in 1937. It’s actually quite creepy at times, with all the loose ends tied up nicely at the end, and there are multiple murders to keep you guessing throughout.
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I’m sure you all have your Christmas reading well in hand at this point. But just in case anyone out there needs some additional ideas, I hope these have helped. Merry Christmas!

Brave Young John MacKinnon

Hi everyone! Guess what? I am now related to a bona fide, genuine, published author! My big brother has put a book out on Amazon, and I hope you will all check it out. It’s called Brave Young John MacKinnon, and if you enjoy Anglo Saxon lore, this is definitely for you. It is a very short story, but it vividly portrays the struggle of a young man in his quest to defeat the dreaded ogre of Englishland, who will no doubt remind of you that stickler English teacher we’ve all had to encounter.

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The tale is meant for children, although adults will certainly relate to the message written between the lines. I don’t want to give any more of it away, so I hope this post piques your interest, and you head straight over to Amazon.com to check it out!

It never ends well

As soon as the words were out of my mouth I realized that an unhappy or unresolved ending is sort of the point, for dystopian novels. Being somewhat new to the genre, I kept hoping that in the end, Good would rise up and overthrow the evil regime that had oppressed everyone during the story. Alas, happy endings don’t ever seem to happen.

My first foray into dystopia was with The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I read the first book which of course made me want to read the next one in the trilogy, but I also wanted to wait to buy it once it was in paperback so it matched the first volume (I know, I know).
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So while I waited for Catching Fire and Mocking Jay to come out in paperback, I read other books, one of them being 1984, since it has become quite popular in the last few years and I felt bad that I hadn’t yet read it.

As I read that dystopian classic, I realized where Collins had likely gathered many of her ideas, noting a lot of similarities between the two books. As I finished 1984 I was really surprised (in a bad way) by the ending. No overthrow of Big Brother? No victorious uprising with truth and freedom winning the day? I found that a depressing end to the story. But as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it has only recently dawned on me that a depressing end is the goal here. Or at least, the point.
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Once the second and third Hunger Games books came out in my required format, I read those and was also disappointed by the extremely depressing and not-at-all satisfying end. All my hopes and anticipation of good finally triumphing in the end were dashed.

My most recent (and probably final) foray into the world of dystopia was The Handmaid’s Tale. As with 1984, its revived popularity combined with my mild feelings of guilt over still not having read that portion of Western literary canon, caused me to pick it up and get it over with. As I trudged through it, I kept thinking that sadly, I would not be able to join the multitudes who declare their undying love for this work. But then, as I caught myself thinking this while washing the dishes or getting ready for bed, I admitted that the book was indeed very thought-provoking, and therefore possibly better than I was giving it credit for.
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I am someone who needs, if not exactly a ‘happy ending,’ then certainly an ending that does not provoke feelings of despair or defeat. I put myself in my characters’ shoes, so if things don’t end well for them, they don’t end well for me, and I really prefer it not to be that way. So, as I finished The Handmaid’s Tale, I was glad to find an epilogue that points to the regime’s downfall. That glimmer of hope helped perk me up a bit. But as I was saying to my dear husband, “the thing about dystopian novels is, they never seem to end well.” And so, dear readers, I will be sure to avoid them in my future reading adventures.

Looking for something different?

Hello and happy summer, everyone! I didn’t think it would be possible, but this year has been even busier than last year was. Has anyone else noticed that? Despite being run off my feet while the days become weeks and weeks dissolve into months, I have found time to enjoy a little literary peace and tranquility.

Himself  by Jess Kidd
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I have to admit, I was immediately drawn to this book because of the cover. As a honeybee enthusiast and admirer, I couldn’t resist picking this up at the bookstore and was pleasantly intrigued by the synopsis. There are some brief moments of graphic brutality that caused me to question my choice, but I persevered and I’m glad I did. This book was an enjoyable step out of the norm and I really liked it. As per my usual, it’s out of the ordinary and would definitely be at home in the ‘quirky’ category.

The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley
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Oh my goodness, was this ever a fantastic book! I highly, highly recommend it. Once again, this is beyond the scope of your average mass market read; a really engaging look into Renaissance-era art and forgeries. Intrigue, murder, scandal and a touch of romance make this a wonderful escape from the everyday. If you are looking for something different, this is another book you might just love.

Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
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This one was a real surprise. I don’t know why I always expect older books to be kind of slow, but this was amazingly gripping. I am a huge Wilkie Collins fan, and I think Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s style is similar in a lot of ways (but slightly less wordy). There was murder, tons of mystery, secrets galore, suspense almost from the very first page, and a delightfully happy ending. Again, this is one I would definitely recommend.

What are you reading this summer? If you’re looking for a break from the ordinary, I hope these books will give you a nice change, leaving you refreshed and ready for your own next chapter!

Keep your treasured books safe!

Hi everyone! I hope wherever you are, you are seeing signs of spring. We had a bitterly cold weekend, but I hope that was the last of the winter’s rage. Speaking of winter, and the cold, I thought now would be a good time to remind you that while books can last a very long time, they need to be cared for properly in order to do so.

Important-to-remember rule #1: Moisture and books do NOT go well together.
Try to keep you bookshelves on interior walls, and out of damp places like attics and basements. Mold loves paper, and it doesn’t need much help to start growing. As well as avoiding the damp, make sure you don’t jam books on your shelves if you’re running out of space (like I always seem to be). Proper ventilation around and through bookshelves will help keep your books from getting moldy or musty.
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image retrieved from Redwood Environmental Services

 Important-to-remember rule #2: Light damage is cumulative and irreversible.
Have you noticed that posters or fabric that regularly get a lot of sun fade or discolor? Even things that might not get direct sun will fade over time, and books are just as susceptible to light damage as anything else. That’s why if you go to see a museum exhibit that features books, the lighting is very dim. And if you go more than once, the book(s) on display will likely not be turned to the same pages, because the curator wants to limit the amount of light that the pages get exposed to. Light not only causes fading and discoloration, but it speeds the chemical breakdown of books as well, leading to brittle pages that crack and break more easily. Try to keep your books away from light, and especially out of direct sunlight.
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image retrieved from NEDCC

I’ll keep this post short and sweet, as those are the two biggies in terms of damage, and also the two causes of damage that are easiest to prevent. For those of us who don’t live in a museum, and who don’t have all the latest tech at our fingertips to control humidity and light, keeping your books out of the damp and out of the sun is a good start!

Penguin Random House tour!

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This week brought the privilege of touring Penguin Random House Canada’s gorgeous new facilities in downtown Toronto, sponsored by the Ontario Library Association’s 2017 Super Conference (#OLASC). As soon as we walked through the front doors, the wonderful smell of new books greeted us, and set the tone for the tour.

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Reception area at Penguin Random House Canada

When Penguin merged with Random House in 2013, it just so happened that the leases on their separate business offices were coming due shortly thereafter. Because of this fortuitous coincidence, a brand new location was renovated to house the new, combined company. We had a lovely tour guide from the architectural firm that built the new office, and she was wonderfully informative, showing us all the innovative designs that were used to build the open-concept space that truly fosters creativity and collaboration.

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We were invited to view individual work stations, as well as meeting rooms and casual spaces designed to promote spontaneous interactions and conversations. The end of the tour brought us to the brand new retail store that opened over the summer (@PenguinShopTO). Even though it is only 158 square feet, this little shop holds a great many treasures for book lovers including paperback and hardcover books, mugs, bags, water bottles, and more!

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Full disclosure though, the tour would have been even better if we had learned about what Penguin Random House actually does as a publisher. The tour was focused on the space where all the magic happens, but not on the magic itself. All in all, however, it was still a great way to spend an hour, and I think everyone on the tour would agree that it was interesting, informative and a lot of fun!

 

Moomins!

To all of you who are acquainted with some of the world’s most delightful creatures, the Moomins, I ask that you bear with me as I gush about them. I just discovered the Mooomins by accident a couple of months ago and Comet In Moominland arrived at my house yesterday, so in keeping with my blog’s initial theme of writing about quirky, slightly unusual books, I had to do a post on the Moomins. Not that Moomin books don’t abound or already have a huge following, which they do, but they aren’t quite run-of-the-mill in North America. Yet.

I’m one of those people who reads series in the order the books were published, if it’s at all possible. So naturally, I began with the completely adorable first installment, The Moomins and the Great Flood.
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Illustrated in just pen and ink, these little creatures who don’t like the cold and traditionally live behind stoves (not happy when central air started becoming more and more common) are so endearing I couldn’t put the book down. The books are written and illustrated by Tove Jansson, and the stories were published between 1945 and 1970. There are also comics and picture books, as well as all kinds of fun paraphernalia including calendars, mugs, sweatshirts, a theme park and more!

Moomins are technically children’s books, but Comet in Moominland is over 150 pages (I’m assuming the other books are equally long), so really they are more like Pixar movies. That is, they are officially billed as children’s entertainment, but people of all ages enjoy them. And it’s the same with the Moomin books.
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I mean.. those tails! How adorable are these little guys?!

While so far these are the only two Moomin installments in my collection, I look forward to getting acquainted with the rest of the books and characters. And if you haven’t yet made a trip to Moomin Valley, I hope you do! It will bring a smile to your face and warmth to your heart.

Men and Books

A little while ago, my husband went on a trip and asked if I had anything to read that he could take with him. At first, I was worried I didn’t have any books that a man would enjoy reading! After all, my collection is full of 1930s murder mysteries, classics, historical murder mysteries set in various regions, books about books, historical fiction… I do have some interesting true crime books, but I wanted to recommend something gripping. Something that someone who reads magazines and lots of information online would still enjoy, despite it coming in the form of a book.

1. After a fresh look at my bookshelves with these criteria in mind, my eyes fell on
Headhunters by Jo Nesbo and I knew he’d enjoy it. Sure enough, he couldn’t put it down.
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Headhunters is an extremely fast-paced, incredible story of a man-hunt, fraud, and murder. I would also recommend Nemesis to those who don’t read many books. While other installments in Nesbo’s detective Harry Hole series can be quite dark, Nemesis isn’t quite as graphic or disturbing as some of the others, and it’s a thriller with a shocking twist I never saw coming.

2. Who doesn’t like James Bond?! Nobody. Or at least, lots of people like the movies. And you may or may not know that the movies are based on books. So if you know someone who loves the movies, they might enjoy reading the books as well. It’s always interesting to see how closely the movie adaptation adheres to the original work.
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3. Dan Brown’s books are always action-packed, and Deception Point is no exception. Unlike many of his other works, however, this one has nothing to do with art history. It takes place in the arctic and keeps you glued to the story from page one. This book is perfect for saying, “Just read the first 10 pages,” because I guarantee it will hook anyone long before they get to page 10.
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All of these books are written by men, and have male protagonists. If there’s a man in your life who doesn’t love reading quite as much as you do, these may help to bring him over to the dark side 😉

A bookish retrospective

Hello, and happy new year! I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you are also amazed by how quickly 2016 went by. It happens every year, so I don’t know why it is such a surprise each time, but…I can’t believe it!

Every year people write about all the books they’ve read, and I was always left wondering how I would fit in on the spectrum of volumes read per year. So in 2016 I kept a list, and I managed to get 26 books read this year! That number has made me especially skeptical of those who read over 100 books a year. Unless their job is to read and review books, of course. But for anyone with a full-time job to read over 100 books a year, I have to wonder.

2016 Reading Highlights

  • I discovered a new series this year: A Victorian Bookshop Mystery series by Kate Parker. They are obviously fluffy reads, but I love that they are set in Victorian England; the protagonist is the proprietor of a bookstore; there’s a cat, murder, intrigue and romance. What’s not to love?! A wonderfully entertaining escape from reality.

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  • The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell. I enjoyed this novel about a descendant of the Brontë family, and I was especially impressed by the author’s insightful comments about the Brontë girls and how events in the lives of the other sisters seem to have ended up in Charlotte’s best-selling work, Jane Eyre.

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  • As some of my posts this year indicated, I re-read some books that I haven’t looked at in years. Re-reading books is always enjoyable, because it’s like visiting with old friends. I read The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, which is one of my all-time favourites, and I think I will try to tackle The Moonstone this year, which I haven’t cracked open in close to 20 years.
  • I renewed my acquaintance with Agatha Christie. I read lots of her books in high school, but hadn’t picked one up in years! So after following @agathachristie on Twitter and reading about The Bibulous Bibliobiuli‘s challenge to read all of Christie’s works last year, I thought I would re-visit those classics, and have thoroughly enjoyed them. I try to pay equal attention to M. Poirot and Miss Marple.

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Who knows what this new year will hold? If I could make a wish, it would be for the space to build some shelves that can hold all the books in my home. Aside from that, I can’t wait to read more M. L. Longworth books, find out what happens in the newest Birder Murder installation (being released in May), and meet more new books, as well as re-visit some old familiar ones. Oh, and let’s not forget the next illustrated Harry Potter book, due out in October!

On that note, I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year! All the very best in 2017 – may your tea always be hot and your bookshelves always full.  🙂