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!

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

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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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!

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.

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.  🙂