Old-Fashioned Reads

20170522ma_1307I keep a list of everything I read. In fact, if I really like a book, I put a star next to it. Sometimes a happy face. And sometimes a sad/mad face.

Recently, I was searching for a book I know I had read, but I forgot the exact title. So, I went to my list. And I noticed a bunch of the books that had stars next to them. Now, some of those books were not the old. Quite recent releases, actually.

But a number of them were not. In fact they were older than me. Something many would called “old-fashioned”.

And apparently, I like “old-fashioned” books!

So here is a list of my favourite old-fashioned books… These books, despite having been written years ago, still seem relevant today. At least in my humble opinion. (Yes, they may still have a few things that show their age, but overall they have not lost their storytelling magic).

Now, I’m not going to include anything by Jane Austen or Louisa May Alcott or L.M. Montgomery or Laura Ingalls Wilder… to name a few. Although they could be on this list. They aren’t, probably because they are on my other list of “Favourite Books of All-Time”.

No, the books on my “old-fashioned” list are those that seem to go under the radar… books that many people probably have never heard of. In fact, I had never heard of them! (Until I read them, of course.) They were books that I read, not knowing that they would become favourites of mine.

So… here’s the list. In no particular order:

1) Daddy Long Legs, by Jean Webster (1912)
2) Mrs. Mike, by Benedict and Nancy Freedman (1947)
3) My Family and Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell (1956)
4) No Graven Image, by Elisabeth Eliot (1966)
5) I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith (1948)

Review: Going Where It’s Dark

510+MH3rPYL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Going Where It’s Dark
Author: Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: When Buck’s friend David moves away, he also loses his “caving” buddy. Now he starts to explore “caves” on his own. While he knows the danger, he keeps this a secret from his family. But that’s not the only secret.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Buck’s a likeable kid. I felt Naylor captures quite well how he deals with his stutter and the bullies, etc.

2) I like Uncle Mel and how he fits into the story. He’s sympathetic to Buck and definitely a good role model. His absences due to his trucking job also allow for Buck to be able to keep some of his “secrets” from him.

3) The military approach by Jacob Wall to Buck’s stuttering problem… I found this fascinating. And to make it even more cool is that this approach seems to be based on how Naylor’s husband himself helped with people who stuttered. (This reaction is possibly due to the teacher coming out in me.)

4) I like how the theft at the sawmill is linked to… well, I won’t spoil it for you.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I was not convinced that Katie was Buck’s twin. They don’t seem to be twins. Period. She seems more like an older sister. I can’t really put my finger on it.

2) The cave parts. I think I might be a tiny bit claustrophobic, because any book that deals with people climbing through holes under ground makes me want to skim. And yes, I did skim the underground parts. This is not really a fault of this particular book, but just my personal reaction to small caves and being trapped underground.

3) The ending seemed a little abrupt to me. It felt like there should be another chapter. I’m not sure why, because Naylor has pretty much tied up all the plot strands. It just seemed like there should be more.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – While not my favourite of Naylor’s books, I did enjoy the stuttering plot-line. Again, this is probably a personal preference on my end.

When Books Disappear

You know what makes me really sad?

When books go missing from the library.

Now, I’m not talking about books that have been lost or books that are overdue. I’m talking about books that used to be at the library, but are no longer there… Because they have been deemed “no longer relevant”.

I’m talking about classic children’s books.

Elizabeth Enright is one such victim. I grew up with her classic The Saturdays. But does my library carry this book anymore? Nope. Why not? Well, it’s old. It’s set in the past (in the 1940s if memory serves). But so are a lot of other books written today. In fact, I’d say it’s more realistic because a modern author tends to put modern spin on a time period they did not live through.

btbh-032Another victim… Maud Hart Lovelace. Now, I did not grow up with the Betsy-Tacy books, so nobody can accuse me of nostalgia here. (I did grow up with B is for Betsy books, but that’s by a different author.) I discovered Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books in my 20s. And I loved them. They are set in the early 1900s and are marvelously written.

Fortunately, I own a few of them in paperback. About a year and a half ago, I read Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown to my nieces (aged 8 & 9 at the time). We loved it. The horseless carriage. The theatre production. The secret revealed at the end.

Now, here’s the sad part. I went to my library and asked: “Could you please get these books? They have brand-new released versions for sale! It’s not like they’re out of print.  These are wonderful reads and kids deserve to read them! I want my nieces to read them!”

Maybe I picked the wrong librarian. She was probably in her 20s. Her response to me was: “Have you tried inter-library loan?”

For kids?! Really? I wanted my nieces to be able to get these books out for themselves. How realistic is it for them to jump through all the hoops in order to use inter-library loan!

Here’s the thing. I didn’t just come to the librarian with my request that the library buy the  Betsy-Tacy books. There were quite a few other titles on the list (other books I wanted to read but noticed that my library still had not ordered). These other books  were written more recently. Actually, within the past 2-5 years. Like Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye (by Wendelin Van Draanen), and Spy Camp (by Stuart Gibbs). And there were at least three more books on my request list (but I can’t remember the exact titles any more).

And you know what? They ordered every single one of those books. But, they did not order a single Betsy-Tacy book.

Now, I like Van Draanen. I like Gibbs. I like modern authors.

But what about Maud Hart Lovelace? What about Elizabeth Enright? What about the other authors that have disappeared into the library’s discard pile? Now, I don’t think every book ever written should be made untouchable. Remember B is for Betsy (the other Betsy books by Carolyn Haywood)? My library does have that one. I picked it up recently. Unfortunately, B is for Betsy has not aged well. I would not classify that book as classic. As an adult, I couldn’t even finish it. Not even for nostalgia’s sake. (Please recall that I have fond memories of reading this book as a child.)

No, the books by Maud Hart Lovelace and Elizabeth Enright are in a different category entirely. They belong with the Jane Austen books. And L.M. Montgomery books. And the C.S. Lewis books. And the Beatrix Potter books.

It made me sad to realize that these librarians couldn’t recognize a book worth keeping.

And when they disappear, I think we miss out on some wonderful literature.

P.S. So far, my library still has many of the books by E. Nesbit (like The Treasure Seekers) and Edgar Eager (like Half Magic). I fear these books might end up like the Betsy-Tacy books. I try to make it a point to take these books out every now and then. Just to show those librarians that people do want to keep the classics alive.

A Beginning After the End

20170530ma_1382“People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don’t have a middle or an end any more. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning.” – Steven Spielberg

I recently came across this quote and thought, do I agree with this? Is it true? Is it not? Is it partly true?

The more I think about it, the more I do think that it’s true. The end of a good story is never really the end of the story, is it? Even “And they lived happily ever after” implies that something does happen after the book is closed for the final time.

The same goes for the Epilogue. It will summarize what happens next, but still it doesn’t actually finish the story. Unless, maybe if the main character dies.

But even if the main character dies, the rest of the story world continues. Other characters still live on.

Just as in real life.

And the stories that touch us the most have to have some part of real life in them. That’s why I think we’re drawn to such stories. Now this is not true for every story or book. I’ve read my fair share of books where the characters and plots are, at best, just “okay”. Others could be better described as dull and lifeless (and perhaps even trying too hard, but not succeeding). These stories, we’re probably glad to see the end of.

But for good books… For the stories that stick with us… These are the stories where the end of the book is really just another beginning.

It’s a beginning that comes after The End.

 

Review: Stolen Magic

stolenmagicBook: Stolen Magic
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Rating: 2.5 Stars

Basic plot: Elodie, her masteress the dragon, and Count Count Jonty Um are all on their way to Elodie’s home island of Lahnt. Suddenly, they discover that the Replica, a statue that magically keeps the volcano from erupting, has been stolen. Now it’s up to them to deduce, induce, and use common sense find the thief.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This is the second book in “A Tale of Two Castles” series. I really liked the first book, so it was nice to join Elodie and the Dragon again. And Count Jonty Um as well.

2) I liked the introduction of Master Robbie and the friendship between him and Elodie.

3) The Dragon is a delightful character.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The first book is based (very lightly) on the Puss in Boots fairy tale (which was a delight to discover while reading it). This book doesn’t seem to be based on anything. To my mind, this makes the story a little bit weak. I think Levine is usually strongest in weaving those classic tales into her own stories… which is why “Ella Enchanted”, “Fairest”, and “A Tale of Two Castles” are top-notch reads. This one seems to be missing that little magic. (Maybe it was stolen?? Ouch!)

2) The three characters are split up for most of the story. I love the interplay between the three main characters, which obviously can’t happen if they are all in different locations.

3) I wanted to know who stole the Replica, but when I did find out the truth, I didn’t really feel relieved or satisfied. In fact, I really hate to say it, but I found I didn’t really care that much.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 2.5 Stars (out of 5) – This book was okay. It was SO close to getting 3 Stars, but the more I thought about it, I realized that it’s just not Levine’s best writing. It’s not exactly a bad book either, it’s just… okay. It was nice to revisit the same characters from “A Tale of Two Castles”.

Review: Spy Ski School

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Book: Spy Ski School
Author: Stuart Gibbs
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: Ben and his fellow spies-in-training are activated for their first mission. They go to ski country to try to figure out the nefarious plot of crime boss, Leo Shang, by cozying up to his daughter, Jessica.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The cast of characters from this fourth installment of the Spy School books is top-notch… Everyone from Ben and Erica to Zoe and the rest of the gang. Cyrus and Alexander, too!

2) The setting for this book is a fun addition to the series. I especially love the random umlauts in the names of the “fake” Austrian names at the ski resort. Since when does the word ünd have an umlaut?? 🙂

3) I love the fact that “perfect” Erica is (**SPOILER: not very good at skiing! Even though she’s confident that she’ll be able to pick it just as easily as she’s mastered other sports, she turns out to be, GASP!… an average skier. END SPOILER)  I like that Erica is really good at what she does (she’s the best spy at the school), but it’s nice to have this little touch to humanize her!

4) The cover art continues to be excellent for this series. How can you not love this cover art?

5) Anytime you can use the word “nefarious” (and it’s appropriate) gets a bonus point!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I’m not crazy about how Alexander Hale is portrayed in these last couple of books… Yes, he is obnoxiously James Bond-like, but that little quirk makes him likeable. However, as the series grows, so do the contempt of both Alexander’s daughter and father… to the point of despising him. I wish Gibbs had made him a little less incompetent. Sure, he can exaggerate about his spy skills, but does he have to be a complete idiot??? I LIKE Alexander Hale, quirks and all!! I like Erica Hale (and yes, she has her own quirks) and I like Cyrus Hale (although, in this book I did find him at times unlikable due to a mean streak I don’t remember from the other books).

2) I’m also not crazy about the character of Mike. Mike is Ben’s best friend, which should mean I should like him, right? But the thing is, I don’t. And I really don’t know why. I just don’t like him. Every time he comes into the plot, I feel like he’s intruding on the story. (**SPOILER: And I’m not really looking forward to his recruitmenthinted at in the bookto Spy School. Sorry, but I guess I just don’t really like Mike! END SPOILER)

3) (**SPOILER: Why is Murray in this book? Totally and completely not necessary. Shang’s a “good” bad guy. He doesn’t need Murray to help him with his nefarious plotting. END SPOILER)

4) The title of the book is a weird alliteration that, frankly, is hard to say.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – A fun read! I like the development of the characters in this series (with the exception of those listed above). I look forward to the next Spy School book! 🙂

Taking Pictures

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I take pictures.

I got my first camera when I was 9 years old… from a cereal box. I remember collecting the coupons from the back of the box to send away with $10 to get that camera. It was beige and used 110 film. It was a cheap camera. But it was mine. And with it, I took pictures.

And to tell you the truth, my first shots weren’t really that good. But I practiced. I became our family photographer. Eventually I graduated to more advanced cameras and even developed some of my photos in a dark room.

Today, I use a digital camera and Photoshop is my dark room.

As a kid, all I knew was that I liked to take photos. Today I see my photography as a creative extension of who I am.

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There’s a line in one of my favourite movies, Chariots of Fire. The movie is the story of two runners preparing for the 1924 Olympics. One of them, Eric Liddell, has put his journey to China to become a missionary on hold. The movie creates tension in a scene when his sister expresses fear that he is forgetting his true purpose in life: to go to China. He responds to her: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

I think that’s what I feel when I click the camera’s shutter button. The pleasure of God. I love looking at the world, with all the colour and interesting shapes and patterns. I love the stories that a photo can tell.

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We all have some need to express ourselves by creating. And that will mean different things for different people.

For me, it means that I take pictures.

Review: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

magicstringsBook: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
Author: Mitch Albom
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Detailing the life of superstar musician, Frankie Presto… his ups and downs… tragedies and triumphs. He travels everywhere with his guitar from his maestro. And then, one day, one of the strings turns blue. That’s when he realizes that his life is affecting those around him.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The narrator is “Music”. I liked how Music is able to give us details of the story that even Frankie himself doesn’t know. I also like the musical lingo and refrains. “Everybody joins a band in this life…”

2) Aurora and Frankie. I won’t give out spoilers here.

3) The rogue’s gallery of real-life musicians and performers. In a way, this book reminded me of Forrest Gump. Now I didn’t care too much for that movie, because I felt the coupling of real events with Forrest’s life was forced. I did not feel the same way with this book. Not every event is Frankie “doin’ Elvis”. There was just enough to make it seem real and legit. Well done, Mr. Albom!

4) Lyle and his friends. I wasn’t sure at first about this little thread, but I loved how that turned out. 🙂

5) The Woodstock story interspersed with other stories. I thought it was well done. A nice twist with Aurora that I was not expecting!

6) **SPOILER ALERT: The daughter. I love the connection made later on with regards to his own adopted father and his rejection of him. And then the realization that you can truly love a child who is not biologically yours. As Frankie loves Kai. END SPOILER**

7) El Maestro.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) **SPOILER ALERT: The final revelation of his death. I felt this was a tiny bit anti-climatic. I was expecting something disastrous and awful, and it wasn’t. Part of me is glad, because I didn’t want him murdered spectacularly, but I still have mixed feelings about the ending. END SPOILER**

2) The aunt in Detroit. I felt this scene was almost unnecessary. Almost. What I didn’t like about it is how quick it is. How does Frankie come to even understand everything she tells him? I feel that in real life, Frankie would need a longer time with them to grasp the reality that there is no way his “father” could be his father.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I really enjoyed this book! The real musicians mixed in with the fiction. I thought it was well done.

Review: A Little Princess

littleprincess.jpgBook: A Little Princess
Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Sara Crewe comes to a boarding school by her rich papa where she is treated like a little princess. Tragedy strikes when her father dies, leaving her penniless and at the cruel mercy of the headmistress of the school.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Sara SHOULD be a spoiled brat. But she isn’t. She really is a princess, but in the best of ways.

2) I liked the friendship between Sara and Becky, Lottie, and Ermengarde.

3) Miss Minchin is a character that you love to hate. Her hypocrisy is evil! Definitely a memorable character :/

4) The scene with the bun lady is a beautiful scene. She is everything that Miss Minchin is not. I was actually glad when she shows up at the end of the story once again.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Miss Minchin. Yes, she appears above in the “What’s Cool” section, but she also appears here. Could a headmistress be this evil? I suppose she could, but really, this character almost doesn’t seem real. I wish Burnett would have given some redeeming quality, even if just to make her a more rounded character.

2) Sara is too good! Consider her next to Burnett’s other heroine: Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden. Mary is a spoiled brat who is NOT likeable at all in the beginning of the story. But she has a character arc. Sara really has no character arc. She’s good and wise at the start of the book. She’s good and wise at the end of the book. I like Sara, but I don’t love Sara. Certainly not in the way that I love Mary Lennox.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – A re-read for me. I still hate the Miss-Minchin-treating-Sara-badly parts… actually to the point of me not wanting to read the book. Overall, it’s a good book, but not a great book. If you want a great book by this author, check out The Secret Garden.

Reading Pride and Prejudice Backwards

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I’ve read it many times over. It’s one of the books that I’ll just pick up and “spot read”.

I don’t know if anybody else does this, but for me “spot reading” is when I re-read my favourite parts of a favourite book.

Pride and Prejudice definitely qualifies.

This time I started near the end… when Elizabeth first reads Jane’s letter about Lydia and Wickham. I got so engrossed with the story, that I just kept on reading to the end of the book.

That’s when I started to read the book “backwards”. I went back to read about how Elizabeth and the Gardiners first go to visit Pemberley. When I reached the Jane’s letter regarding Lydia, I went back further to the part where Elizabeth visits Charlotte and Mr. Collins.

It’s certainly an interesting way to read a book. I wouldn’t recommend for any book other than one you’ve already read countless times before.

And for me, that’s Pride and Prejudice.