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!

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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!

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.  🙂

Classics Re-visited

Earlier this year I mentioned that I planned to re-read some of the classics I’ve read years ago, and I did! I read The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, and The Hobbit. I’m hoping to add The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier to my list by the end of this year.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
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This is one of my favourite books. I first read it in high school, and it has remained a favourite for all these years. I even named my cat Percy after the hero 🙂 It takes place at the time of the French Revolution, during Robespierre’s reign of terror. In a gripping tale of suspense, espionage, mistaken identity and love, we meet the daring British men who smuggle French aristocrats out of their homeland to safety, at great risk to their own lives.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
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This is also a favourite of mine, if only because it was so surprising. Written in 1859, the story is incredibly creepy and chilling, and when I first read it (also years ago), I had no idea that semi-early Victorian writers could produce works that would keep modern readers glued to the page. Collins is often cited as the creator of the detective novel, by whom Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was inspired. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It begins by drawing us in right away, and continues as we meet the man whom our heroine is engaged to marry, and who is not at all what he appears to be. There is greed, more mistaken identity, murderous cunning and a brilliant plot that brings a very satisfying conclusion.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
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Many people are familiar with The Lord of the Rings and middle earth. My father read this book to me when I was about 10, and the only thing I could remember of it was the description of Gollum. I realized it was high time I re-visited this classic and read it over the summer. It was fun to watch the movies afterwards (I always enjoy comparing books to their movie versions), and I’m glad I read this book again. What an epic tale! And while I rarely delve into the fantasy genre, it was highly entertaining to read of the dwarves’ quest for their stolen treasure, and to meet all the different creatures they encounter on their journey.

If you’re looking for something to read and have not enjoyed these classic tales before, or if you have read them but it’s been a while, I recommend all three and hope you enjoy them as much as I have!

Books for Babies

Hi everyone! Is there anyone else out there who can’t believe we are well into September? The summer flew by faster than ever this year.

The other day I received an invitation to a baby shower, and in the invitation was card that asked the guests to bring a book instead of a traditional baby shower gift. I had seen a post on Twitter a week or two before I got the invitation, showing a baby shower invitation with the same request, so I guess this has become a thing. And I am not complaining! On the contrary, there are few things in life that I enjoy more than choosing books for others, especially children’s books. Here are some books I pooled for my options, even though I knew I would have to narrow it down:

Beatrix Potter stories
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The Berenstain Bears
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Curious George
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Goodnight Moon
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Paddington Bear
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Corduroy
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There are many, many other options, including The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, The Snowy Day, and of course, Dr Seuss. Also, a lot of these books are not only available in paperback, but also in hard cover for a more formal gift, or as board books, more appropriate for babies.

In the end, my husband chose Curious George, as they  were favorites from his childhood, and my selection was Goodnight Moon, because those bright colors will catch the eye of a little one, and every new parent needs a helping hand when getting their baby to sleep!

If you want to give books for a special occasion (or even for no reason at all), and are in need of suggestions, I’d love to help you out! Just reply to this post and I’ll do my best to provide some appropriate titles.

You gotta read this!

Hi everyone! I am so sorry I have been such an infrequent blogger this year. Interesting, original blog posts have been hard to come up with, and life has been so busy that I haven’t had many opportunities to read. But I hope I will be able to create more posts as we move into the second half of 2016.

This year, my goals is to re-read some of my favourite books, as well as to read some of the classics that I still haven’t read yet. Future posts will bring you up to date on my progress in those areas, but this post is about some new, interesting, and entertaining books I’ve read lately that I highly recommend.

  • The Case of the Secretive Sister by Nilanjan P. Choudhury

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I first heard of this absolutely delightful book from another blogger, The Bibulous Bibliobiuli. His review here is definitely worth reading to get more of a sense of this witty, engaging read. It’s published in India, and I have not read much contemporary Indian fiction, but this was a quick read that was fun from cover to cover. Perfect summer reading, or just to get away from everything for a while, I know you’ll be glad you read it.

  • Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

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This is the second book I’ve read by Amy Stewart, and I thoroughly enjoyed them both. Girl Waits With Gun takes place in pre-WWI America, and is based on true events. The author brings the past vividly to life in this story about a thug and his gang of hoodlums who hit a horse-drawn buggy while they are driving in their car. The three Kopp sisters were in the buggy at the time of the accident, and the story unfolds as they try to get the driver to pay up for the damages. A very satisfying story with a dose of history as well!

  • The Great Pearl Heist by Molly Caldwell Crosby

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The Great Pearl Heist falls into the true crime category. It’s a well-researched tale of the amazing theft of the world’s most expensive necklace. It happened in London in 1913, and as well as full details on the theft itself, we also learn a lot about policing and the art of detection at that time. For a synopsis, click here – but I have to warn you, if you don’t already, you will want to read the book after you learn more about it!

I Never Would’ve Read That!

Over the years, friends and family have broadened my reading horizons considerably. Gifts and reading recommendations have influenced me to read things that I never would have read on my own. Some examples of recommendations are: Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, Headhunters by Jo Nesbø, and Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda. Each of these are books that did not catch my eye in the bookstore or library, but came with such persuasive insistence that I would enjoy them, that I felt I should at least give them the 50-page trial. And while each of them are totally different genres, they were all page-turners that I thoroughly enjoyed (and now recommend to others).
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My parents gave me the adorable, heart-warming story of Dewey the Library Cat by Vicki Myron for my birthday and I was unfamiliar with this amazing true story. I would never have picked it up if I’d seen it on the shelf at a bookstore, but after I unwrapped it and read about the poor kitten who was left for dead in the library’s book return and lived to brighten countless lives, I couldn’t resist it!

Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King was a birthday present some years ago now, and as with Dewey, I was a little surprised when I unwrapped it. But, I had such a high regard for the friend who gave it to me, that when they told me that they had not only enjoyed it, but thought of me when reading it, I gave it a go. And I did love it! They were right – Ross King brings the history of the Sistine Chapel ceiling to life in an unforgettable, intriguing way.

Yet another birthday brought me Secret Sanction, the first in a series by Brian Haig, and I thought, “Hm..” when I opened it. Military suspense/thrillers are okay, but once again, not something I look for. I enjoyed it so much that I bought all the others in the series. Haig’s dry wit actually had me chuckling out loud throughout the books while I also enjoyed the action and suspense.
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In fact, the bookmark pictured here in Dewey, and that fun mug are gifts too. 🙂 Have you received gifts or recommendations that prompted you to read something you would otherwise not have considered? It’s always such a nice surprise to have your horizons broadened enjoyably!