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. 💜

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 💖

It’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 there’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 🙂 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 💗

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! 💜