Kafka on the Shore

And now for something completely different. Every so often I do pick up a book that isn’t a murder mystery, and most recently that was Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. I saw a post about this author on Instagram, and was drawn to the synopsis of this particular story. Any book that features talking cats and raining fish is worth investigating, I thought. And I’m glad I did!

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

I’m almost 20 years late to this party, as Kafka on the Shore was written in 2002, but better late than never. (It was translated into English in 2005, so I guess I’m only 15 years late.) On the front cover of my edition, The New Yorker claims this story is “an insistently metaphysical mind-bender,” but I don’t know that I would completely agree with that statement. There are some moments where one does wonder what on earth is going on, and the bulk of the story is built around the belief in ghosts who are capable of all sorts of things. But, why not? Live a little, I say. And aside from these two areas of flexible rationality, the story is not so metaphysically mind-bending as to be beyond the comprehension of the average person. I’m not one for much philosophizing, and I quite enjoyed this story.

There were some moments in this book that could safely be labelled as ‘explicit sexuality’ and ‘graphic violence and cruelty,’ yet it was not a violent or overly graphic tale. And I quickly found it impossible to put down! I think I would even go so far as to say that this book was a breath of fresh air, so different was it from what I usually read. And different again from the majority of books one finds in the average bookstore. It was gripping, intriguing, interesting, and even funny. I chuckled right out loud many times.

Without going into too much detail, here are a few details to pique your interest: A 15-year old rich boy runs away from home. A truly bizarre event happened in the countryside during World War II that was hushed up. A grown man on social assistance can talk to cats. The runaway boy finds himself covered in blood but with no sign of a victim. A private library and a remote mountain cabin provide solace, and a delightfully quirky young truck driver comes to the rescue.

Murakami is described as one of the world’s best fiction writers, and I’m inclined to agree. If you are looking for something different to sink your teeth into, look no further!

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!

#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

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! đź’ś

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

The Pain of Remembering

I think I can count on one hand the number of memoirs I’ve read in my entire life, but this year I read two in as many months!

The memoirs I read are Educated by Tara Westover, and War Child by Emmanuel Jal. I was surprised to discover that I could actually relate to one of these memoirs, and as you might expect, it was not the one about child soldiers in Sudan. However, while I also have some tales from north Idaho that defy belief, Emmanuel Jal’s account of his life was even more gripping and horrifying (at times), so I’ll start with that one.

I had the honour and privilege of meeting Mr. Jal in person, and his life story is one I will never forget. He has lived through horrors that people in the West cannot begin to truly understand, and yet he came out of bitterness, death and hatred, to a life devoted to the spread of peace. He found healing when he met God, but also through music, and he has released several albums, topping the charts in Africa, and working with some very big names here in North America and the UK as well. (Check out We Want Peace, More Power, or Baai on YouTube.) Although there are devastating moments in this memoir, it is still quite easy to read, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Wow. What a tragic story. Educated is technically also an easy read, but emotionally speaking, ‘easy’ is not a word anyone would use to describe this book. I like reading while I eat, and there were times when I had to put the book down to finish my meal. So much violence. And plenty of emotional manipulation as well, although that was less stomach-churning. The worst part for me was that so much of the physical injuries (well, mental injuries too, but from head trauma, not emotional trauma – of which there is also plenty!) could have been easily avoided. This book is a real page-turner and also comes very highly recommended. And if it seems like it’s too extreme to be real, let me assure you that it is very likely true.

If there are memoirs out there that you would recommend, could you let me know the titles? I’d love to hear which ones have touches your lives, and get more acquainted with this genre at the same time. Thank you!

What a year!

Overall, was 2018 a good year for your reading? A good year could mean you reached your goal for the number of books you hoped to read. Or it could mean that generally, you liked the books you read. For me, I wouldn’t say it was a great year. I read fewer books than I hoped to, and there were a lot of books in there that I really did not enjoy. My least favourite 2018 reads are:

  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
  • The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
  • Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee

On the plus side, there were some new titles I discovered last year which I really enjoyed. They are pictured below, and I honestly can’t recommend them highly enough. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a book I will always cherish, because it opened my eyes to the the astonishing intricacies of the little guys we see on the sidewalk every morning in the summer. I will forever appreciate snails now that I’ve read this book.

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock was very unusual, and extremely well written; there’s nothing like a breath of fresh air just when you need it.

As someone with a heart for books (especially old ones), history, mystery, and quaint, ancient English towns, Charlie Lovett’s The Lost Book of the Grail was the literary equivalent of eating a delicious dessert every time I picked it up (which wasn’t often, because I rarely put it down!):

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett

I am happy that I discovered some new gems in 2018, and even though I read a few books I didn’t enjoy, no reading is ever a waste of time. The books we don’t connect with still teach us things – about ourselves or something else. And learning is always a good thing!

To see a list of the books I conquered last year, please click the following link:

Thank you for stopping by. I think last year was my worst for blog posts, but I will try to post more this year. Although truth be told, I do find it difficult to come up with original things to blog about. But please hang in there! I appreciate everyone who pops in to read my thoughts ❤

Is there anything better than summer reading? (of course not!)

Have you been able to work on your To Be Read pile this summer? For the first time in years, I have actually had time to whittle away at my TBR list, and it’s been wonderful.

Last week I read The Slow Waltz of Turtles by Katherine Pancol. It’s a sequel to The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles, which I really enjoyed. Yellow Eyes was definitely quirky and original, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Slow Waltz of Turtles was a bit grittier, but I still liked it – not quite as much as its predecessor, though.
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I am an unabashed lover of animals, insects, nature and all things related to our natural world, so I was excited to read The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel. Lewis-Stempel is a renowned nature writer, and wow, it did not disappoint! Throughout the entire book, I was preparing myself for the horrible demise of the creatures I was growing to love (the hares that the author was protecting and indirectly providing for, for instance) but although nature and her carnivorous ways were well depicted, the book ended on a positive note, and my fears were allayed. (I might have also bought it because of the cover.)
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To change things up a bit, I also read an Agatha Christie mystery, The Murder on the Links. As well as being a nature lover, I’m also a cozy mystery enthusiast, and Agatha Christie does cozy mysteries like no one else. What better way to relax and unwind, than going through an exercise of the “little grey cells” with Hercule Poirot?
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So what have you been reading this summer? Have you found new books and added them to your TBR pile? Or have you been diligently ticking off those titles that have been looking at you for months? Maybe both! Whatever this summer brings you, I hope it involves many hours of literary happiness. ❤

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!