5 Reasons Why I Liked Winnie’s Great War

Here’s a book that I hoped I would like that actually lived up to expectations. While it’s written for the MG crowd, it’s definitely meant for more than just kids.

And yes, I think I’ll give this book 5 Stars!

Here are my 5 reasons why I loved this book…

Winnie’s Great War // by Lindsay Mattick & Josh Greenhut

Winnies-great-war#1 – Winnie!

What a delightful bear! She’s so curious and kind. I love how she’s able to speak to all the animals and how the authors relate this to the Great War itself. This could be heavy-handed, but it’s not. It’s just right.

The part of the book that describes her antics at sea is cute! And I especially liked the story when Harry makes a bet. He bets the general that Winnie can find a hidden sock at their training facilities in England. Does Winnie win Harry’s bet? I’m not telling!

#2 – The Illustrations

The illustrations by Sophie Blackall are enchanting. I wish there were more of them! Especially as this is a book I could see reading to kids. They’re all black and white sketches. There are some delightful full-page spreads… Of Winnie at the train station when she first meets Harry; of Winnie and Harry at Stonehenge; of Winnie when she first comes to the zoo.

#3 – The History

I love history. So, I loved all the history in this book. World War I has always fascinated me, so I definitely liked reading about that aspect of it. It’s not heavily about the war since Winnie doesn’t actually experience life in the trenches. (There’s a moment where Harry realizes what that would mean, and so he makes the very hard decision to leave Winnie in the care of the London Zoo.)

There’s also the history of Winnie, herself… and how she came to inspire one of the most famous fictional bears in history! There’s a section at the back of the book that has pictures of Harry and of the diary entry where he notes that he bought Winnie for $20. There’s also a photo of Christopher Robin Milne standing next to the real Winnie at the zoo! Oh, my… they really did let people into the enclosure with a bear!

Note: One of the authors (and the narrator of the story) is Lindsay Mattick who is Harry Colebourne’s great-granddaughter.

#4 – The Inter-Narrations

I really enjoyed when the mom (who’s telling the story to her son) gives us a little taste of what’s true in the story!

These little interjections are set apart in italics. Sometimes Cole (the son) will interrupt his mom’s story to ask about something. I liked how the book was able to deal with some of the tougher issues using this device.

#5 – The Literary Allusions to A.A. Milne’s Classic

Reading this book includes the wonderful experience of finding little Easter eggs that allude to A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh! But I’m glad they’re not over-done. In fact, some people may not even notice them. If you love Pooh Bear, they’re subtle, but they’re there. (And yes, as soon as I finished this book, I just had re-read Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh!)


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? Did you love it as much as me? Let me know in the comments!

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5 Reasons Why I Shouldn’t Like Nancy Drew… But I Do!

20181025ma_5554**WARNING: I do not recommend reading this blog post if you’re actually in the target audience for Nancy Drew. (Although, do kids age 10-12 even read blog posts like this?)**

I’m going to do a little twist on my 5 Reasons posts. Let me say this first: I love Nancy Drew! I devoured these books when I was a pre-teen. I loved Nancy’s confidence and independence. I loved the friendship of Bess and George and how they’re always there for Nancy. I love Ned and how he was able to add that little bit of romance to the stories. And I loved the mysteries.

But…

I’ve been rereading some of those mysteries and I realize that… well, they are not the great literature I once thought they were. Reading them through the eyes of an adult… well, if they weren’t filled with nostalgia, I’d probably DNF pretty quickly.

But…

I will still recommend these books to young people. And I have actually recommended these books to young people. Why? Because there’s something in Nancy Drew that transcends the “badness” of the books. So, before I go on, let me tell you what I mean about badness…

1) Nancy Drew, meet Mary Sue

(This point even rhymes!)

If you don’t know what a Mary Sue is… she’s basically perfect in every way. Wait! Take out the basically. Mary Sues are perfect. No flaws. Period.

“Gee, golly, gosh, gloriosky,” thought Mary Sue as she stepped on the bridge of the Enterprise. “Here I am, the youngest lieutenant in the fleet – only fifteen and a half years old.”  This is from a parody of a Star Trek fanfic story. And it’s where we get the name Mary Sue. (This Mary Sue is so Mary Sue-ish that she manages to impress Spock with her flawless logic.)

But as you will see, the Mary Sue trope happened long before with another character. You got it: Nancy Drew.

Now, to be strictly true to the definition, a Mary Sue is also a character that wows canon characters that have come before her (or him, since a Mary Sue can also be male). Okay, so the Nancy Drew mysteries don’t quite do this. It’s not like Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple or Father Brown pop in to be impressed by Nancy’s sleuthing skills. (This isn’t fan fic!) But Mr. Carson Drew is a good stand-in. He’s always described as the best lawyer in River Heights… which is somehow connected to him solving mysteries himself (I guess, legal mysteries?) And yes, Mr. Drew is certainly impressed with the skills of his 18-year-old daughter.

Consider Book #10 – Password to Larkspur Lane – Nancy wins first prize for a flower arrangement. (Actually, this part of the plot is not necessary to the actual story!) Why does she have to WIN?

2) The Writing is Kind of… (Ahem) Bad

Yikes! I hate to say this, but the writing is actually quite bad. There is no subtext. No subtlety. And there are way too many adverbs. Here, I’ll give you an example:

Nancy did not reply immediately, but her chums noticed that she appeared to scan the woods searchingly.

“You don’t really think he might be hiding along this road, do you?” Bess demanded anxiously.

#7 – The Clue in the Diary (Chapter XIV, 1931 edition)

Talk about unnecessary adverbs: Searchingly? Really? How else would you scan the woods?? And Bess’s remark is already tinged with anxiety, you don’t need to tell us that!

3) Full of Coincidence

Nancy has more luck than a leprechaun. Clues just fall into her lap! Let’s go again with Book #10 – Password to Larkspur Lane. A homing pigeon JUST HAPPENS to fall into the yard at the Drews’ home. Nancy just happens to know that there’s a special organization that you call if a homing pigeon were ever to fall into your lap. She just happens to see Dr. Spire being “kidnapped”. Then Hannah Gruen just happens to have a fall going down the stairs so that they need to go to the doctor’s house to have her checked out. And while they’re there, Nancy just happens to take a phone call, which just happens to have a similar message to the message found on the homing pigeon. Need I go on?

That’s A LOT of coincidence. A little too much.

And here’s the thing that I love. The author knows this. I love how she (he, actually, since the ghostwriter on this book was Walter Karig) makes Nancy say: “This mystery just dropped into my lap.” 😉

4) Events Don’t Flow from One Book to the Next

In #16 – The Clue of the Tapping Heels, Nancy learns Morse code and tap dancing. But neither of these ever come into any of the other books… at least, not that I can remember.

It’s kind of like each book re-sets at the end. This is probably due to the many different writers who wrote under the pen name Carolyn Keene. Also, it means that the books can be read out of order. (Which is not necessarily a bad thing!)

However, the result of this is that there is no growth for Nancy or any of her pals from book to book.

(One slight exception to this rule may be the character Helen. She appears in the early books and her big change is the fact that she gets married. But she soon disappears from the books after this happens.)

5) Not Very Realistic

Nancy is 18 and she drives around in her convertible (or roadster, depending on when you read the books). She doesn’t have a job. She isn’t going to school.

And she’s ALWAYS 18! Meaning, she must solve at least one mystery a week for us to get to 52 books for the year. (And no, the series doesn’t stop at 52). Rarely do we ever (do we ever?) get holidays or winter or anything like that.

How is this even possible?!


Final Thoughts

So, yeah. There you have it. Five perfectly good reasons why I shouldn’t like Nancy Drew. And yet, I do. I love the Nancy Drew books in spite of these failings. (And even now, I love them for these failings.)

P.S. The photo that accompanies this blog post is of my first Nancy Drew book. #16! It was given to me by a friend for my eleventh birthday. It was my introduction to the world of Nancy Drew!

5 Reasons Bookish Things I’m Thankful For

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I’ve been doing posts this past year entitled 5 Reasons Why I Liked {Insert Book Title Here}. But today, I’m expanding this theme a little… By the way, these reasons are not in any particular order, and there are probably so many other things I’m thankful for. These are the ones that come to mind 🙂

#1 – Talking Books

I’m NOT talking about audiobooks here (although I love audiobooks, too!)… What I mean here is talking about books with other readers. Whether in person, or with the bookish community online. I love to find out what you’re reading, because I might want to read it, too! I love to discuss why I like certain books. I even like to discuss reasons I don’t like a particular book. It’s nice to know there are people out there who share my thoughts. And it’s also great to know there are people out there who think differently than me.

#2 – Book Downtime

Books have the ability to take us away to unknown lands. Yes, even in a contemporary read. I always read before bedtime. It’s the time I take to unwind from the stresses of the day. Sometimes a book will force me to read way past my bedtime, but usually I get in just a chapter or two. It’s something that makes me look forward to the end of the day.

This is probably why I’m not crazy about super-depressing books. I don’t mind that in little doses. Do I need Happily Ever After? I love Happily Ever After! But I don’t mind some slight ambiguity or even a touch of pessimism. I just don’t need to read the end of a book and feel the need to end my life. And that brings me to my next point…

#3 – Book Recommendations

This is related to number one, but it’s also slightly different. I love getting book recommendations. I love giving book recommendations. I love going to the bookish community, which includes blogs, Goodreads, Amazon reviews, bookstagram, etc. I like researching which books I want to read next. I look for recommendations by reviewers or bloggers who like books similar to the ones I like.

That way I know to avoid books like Jude the Obscure! (Sorry Mr. Hardy, I just can’t handle you anymore. Although I love your Far From the Madding Crowd. Probably because that was the last hopeful book you wrote.)

#4 – ARCs

And I’m also thankful for Advanced Reader Copies. I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s kind of fun to read a book before everybody else. Of course that’s not strictly true, since there are a lot of other ARC readers out there. And I took heed of the warnings not to go crazy with my ARC-requests, so I haven’t really felt the worry of falling behind.

#5 – Libraries!

Ah, my home away from home. I love libraries! I do buy books, but I really can’t afford all the books I’d want to read. And frankly, I don’t have room to store all the book I’d want to read. That’s where the library comes in. I get to read wonderful books for FREE. (And when I get the occasional dud, it’s not a big deal. I just return it, happy that I didn’t actually pay for it.) There’s so much to choose from. There are new books and old books. Fiction and non-fiction. And audiobooks! And yes, even DVDs. Libraries make me happy 🙂


Your Turn

What are some bookish things you’re thankful for? Anything you’d add to this list?

5 Reasons Why I Liked A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens always amazes me. I’ve been meaning to read this book for some 20 years. Maybe longer. Why did I wait this long? I ask you…

Five stars. Yes, there’s a reason why this book is so famous. And after (finally) reading, I’m in complete agreement. It was wonderful. And without further adieu, I’ll give my 5 reasons why I loved this book…

A Tale of Two Cities // by Charles Dickens

#1 – The Purple Prose

tale-of-two-citesI don’t always like purple prose. But Charles Dickens is the master. And yes, there’s a lot of purple prose in this book. Just look at the opening lines… possibly the most famous lines Dickens ever wrote (although A Christmas Carol might give this one a run for its money)… These lines are absolutely beautiful.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

(Book the First, Chapter 1)

What’s amazing about those lines is that they actually mean something to the story. Sure, it’s purple prose, but it demonstrates the dual-nature, the good and the bad, of the French Revolution. Dickens’ point is that the peasants needed relief from the tyranny of the aristocrats… But the bloody results made this the worst of the times.

But, that’s not our only example. This book is chock-full. Here’s a less familiar quote, but it’s equally just as poignant:

He had never seen the instrument that was to terminate his life. How high it was from the ground, how many steps it had, where he would be stood, how he would be touched, whether the touching hands would be dyed red, which way his face would be turned, whether he would be the first, or might be the last: these and many similar questions, in nowise directed by his will, obtruded themselves over and over again, countless times…

The hours went on as he walked to and fro, and the clocks struck the numbers he would never hear again. Nine gone for ever, ten gone for ever, eleven gone for ever, twelve coming on to pass away.

(Book the Third, Chapter 13)

If you love words, you’re in for a treat.

#2 – The Characters

I loved old Mr. Lorry (that man of business!). And the Doctor. And Lucie and Darnay. And Sydney Carton. Okay, Sydney was my favourite from early on in the book… in spite of the fact that he drinks too much!

And then we have an assortment of true Dickensian characters. You know the ones. The caricatures… the larger-than-life creatures that inhabit every novel by Charles Dickens. There’s the old codger, Jerry Cruncher (who made me furious with how he treated his wife!)… And Miss Pross (who plays a role in the story I didn’t anticipate)… And the three Jacques (who inhabitant of the wine shop in Paris)…

Which bring me to the antagonists of the book: M. and Mme. Defarge. What complex feelings they stirred within me. One minute, I was hating them, and another minute, feeling pity for their long-suffering. (I have hope for M. Defarge at the end of the book, although his fate after the last chapter is untold.)

And most of all… I loved seeing how all the characters come together at the end. It never ceases to impress me how Dickens manages it all.

#3 – The Themes and Symbols

Reading this book brought me back to my course of study at university: Literature! We studied other works by Dickens (Great Expectations and David Copperfield), but not this one. What I love about writers like Dickens is that there is so much to be digested in terms of themes and the symbolism he works into his novels.

The symbolism of twos. Two cities. Two heroes. Even Miss Pross and Mr. Cruncher make an interesting two-some!

The symbolism of feet and shoes. Lucie hears phantom footsteps. Doctor Manette, in time of great distress, sets to work making shoes. The fact that time ever marches forward, marking out our path in life. (I feel an essay coming on!)

Then there’s the images of wine and blood that permeate the story. After all, it IS the French Revolution.

But best of all, I loved the theme of resurrection that runs through the book. The story starts with Doctor Manette being “recalled to life”. And the theme keeps popping up. Even in the macabre grave-robbing scene involving Mr. Cruncher. And finally to Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay. (Note: I did a blog post earlier this year about the theme of resurrection in books. Here’s one more book to add to that list!)

#4 – The History

This book was a historical novel even in Dickens’ day. And boy, does it bring to life the reality of the French Revolution like no other. The chapters devoted to the Storming of the Bastille, the frenzied state of Paris, the blood-soaked paving stones gives us a vivid picture of the Reign of Terror. It’s not like reading the history books. (Maybe it’s all that purple prose!)

And yet, it feels so real. It doesn’t feel like a historical novel. At least not like the historical novels written today. (Sometimes, those books just feel like they’re historical novels.)

And finally, let’s just say that reading this book makes me very glad I am not living in Paris at the time of the French Revolution. Or as Dickens would say: “The new era… the Republic of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death…” (Book the Third, Chapter 4)

#5 – The Ending

This is a wonderful story of sacrifice. If you haven’t read the book, I won’t give spoilers. But if you have, you will know what I mean. As I was reading, it reminded me of the movie, Casablanca. I love that movie because of the sacrifice at the end of the story.

Back to A Tale of Two Cities. I did guess (partly) what would happen by the story’s end, although, there were various possibilities. The suspense was well-played. Which brings me to my next comparison: The Scarlet Pimpernel. Perhaps this is just a French Revolution thing going on here, but trying to get our characters out of the city of Paris (with their heads intact) is a harrowing read.

I also love the glimpse into the future that we get at the very end.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? Did you love it as much as me? Let me know in the comments!

5 Reasons Why I Loved 84, Charing Cross Road

When I finished reading this book, I was overwhelmed. I’m actually giving this book a 5-star rating. (And I NEVER give out 5 stars. Well, hardly ever.) This is definitely on the list of the Best Books I’ve Read This Year! Note: It’s an older book, originally published in 1970. But I hope that won’t stop you from reading this wonderful peek into the past.

So, in honour of those 5 stars, I’ll give 5 reasons why I loved this book…

84, Charing Cross Road // by Helene Hanff

#1 – The Letters

84-Charing-Cross-Road.jpgIf you’ve never read this book, then let me tell you that it is written in a series of letters. What makes this so unique is that the letters are between a woman writer who lives in New York City and a bookseller in post-World War II London. Why is she writing to a bookseller across an ocean? She wants books! (Yes, these are the pre-Amazon days. She apparently was ahead of her time.)

This is probably one of the best epistolary book I’ve ever read. First, because it uses the art of letter-writing so well. And second, it doesn’t fall into the trap of most epistolary books… where letter-writing characters write about things for the sake of us (the reader), thus creating unrealistic correspondence. The reason for this is probably due to the fact that the letters are indeed real. (This is a non-fiction book, after all.)

#2 – The Books

This is really a must-read if you love books or bookstores or … well, anything related to books. (Come to think of it, if you like books, you’ll probably like bookstores and anything related to books!) I love how Helene talks about her favourite books. And in one letter, reveals how much she despises novels. Then in a later letter, well… I’ll let her words say it all:

Favourite Quote: “You’ll be fascinated to learn (from me that hates novels) that I finally got round to Jane Austen and went out of my mind over Pride & Prejudice which I can’t bring myself to take back to the library til you find me a copy of my own.” (p.51)

#3 – The Unanswered Questions

I love that there are unanswered questions in this book. Just like in real life. People come and people go out of that life. (Often I think of a person from my past and wonder “What ever happened to them?”)

And there are missing letters in this exchange of correspondence. But I was never confused. I felt that it all gave an air of reality. Yes, I loved the reality of this book.

#4 – The Friendship

If you’re looking for a romance in this story, you won’t find it. Now, I love a good romance as well as the next person. But I LOVED that this book was about friendship. A friendship chronicled in letters.

The correspondence starts with Helene addressing a letter to the “Gentlemen” at Marks & Co. (Bookstore), 84, Charing Cross Road, London. The response is to “Dear Madam”. In subsequent letters, we see the salutations evolve to “Dear Helene” and “Dear Frank” (or sometimes, in Helene’s case, she’ll address him as “Hey, Frankie” or “SLOTH”.

Favourite Quotes: “[Letter from Helene] I hope ‘madam’ doesn’t mean over there what it does here.” (p.3)

AND

“To All at 84, Charing Cross Road: Thank you for the beautiful book… Would you believe it arrived on my birthday? I wish you hadn’t been so over-courteous about putting the inscription on a card instead of on the flyleaf… And why didn’t you sign your names? I expect Frank wouldn’t let you…” (p.27)

#5 – The History

The historian in me was in heaven as I read this… realizing that this book is written in letters by REAL people at the time in which this story is set. This book is actually categorized as non-fiction. Which means it really happened! And knowing that the book-Helene is the same as author-Helene, well, I can certainly believe she didn’t fiddle with artistic license. (With her disdain for fiction!)

While I love a well-written historical novel, there’s something wonderful about a book that actually comes out of experience of the time period. And this book has that in spades. We have the post-war rationing; the death of the King George; the re-election of Churchill; the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth…

Favourite Quote: “11th June, 1953… Dear Helene, Just a note to let you know that your parcel arrived safely on June 1, just in time for our Coronation Day celebrations…” (p.59)

Finally, after reading this book, I wanted to go to 84, Charing Cross Road! But alas, the bookstore is no longer there… (I read somewhere that it’s a MacDonald’s now??? Say it ain’t so!)


Have you read this book? Did you love it as much as me? Let me know in the comments!

5 Reasons I Loved Caroline

CarolineSo, this book is the best book I’ve picked up this year. Yay!

It almost gets a 5-star rating. (But I NEVER give out 5 stars. Well, hardly ever.) And what’s weird is that I was hesitant to even read this book in the first place. But, once I started, well…

So what would I rate this book? 4 1/2 stars. Which is an amazing star-rating from me. Folks, it’s practically 5 stars!

Well, instead of 5 stars, I’ll give 5 reasons why I loved this book…

Caroline // by Sarah Miller

#1 – It’s Faithful to the Old

What makes this such a wonderful book is that it stays true to the original. Sarah Miller’s Caroline is a parallel novel to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. Miller calls her book a “marriage of fact and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s fiction.” Let’s stick to LIW’s fiction for the time-being. If you are familiar with Wilder’s work, you may know that she fictionalized some of the events from her life… For the sake of story. (Probably with the help of writer/daughter Rose Wilder Lane who helped her edit the books.)

And I agree with her that story trumps history when it comes to novels. And that’s what LIW’s books are: novels. Well-crafted works of fiction. With a wonderful foundation of history.

But Caroline, like the Little House books, also stays true to history. In spite of the fiction, the history of the pioneers shines through.

#2 – …And the New

Which brings me to the “new stuff”. Or the stuff that didn’t make Little House on the Prairie.

The main event in Caroline that stands in contradiction to the original Little House books is the timing of the birth of Baby Carrie. Miller follows the historical record for this one; Carrie Ingalls was indeed born on the Kansas prairie. Which means… Some of the things that happen in the story are all that more amazing when you realize that Caroline was pregnant during this time! Like the building of the house? The event with the well? Talk about strong, pioneer women… Go, Ma!

To tell the truth, one of the most memorable moments in the original book is where Laura demands that her Pa get her the little, black-eyed “Indian” baby to have as her own. Reading this scene in Caroline takes on a whole new meaning. Here’s Laura, about 4-years-old. She knows that her ma just got a baby (out of nowhere). Suddenly, Laura’s desire for a baby of her own makes just that much more sense. And since she has no idea where Baby Carrie came from… well, why not want a baby that is right before you?

#3 – The Difference in POV

It was amazing to read this story, which I know so well, from a different point of view. Instead of experiencing this adventure through the eyes of a little girl, we get to see it all from a mother’s perspective.

And not just any mother, but a pregnant mother, heading away from family and friends. A mother who wants her children to grow up to have a proper education. And they’re moving to a place where there will be no schools! A mother who has her own fears, hopes, and desires.

One of the wonderful examples of the differing POV is the story of Mr. Edwards on Christmas Eve. Again, retold from a mother’s perspective of not having anything to make her children’s Christmas… Powerful.

#4 – It’s a Pioneer How-To

One thing I loved about the original Little House books is all the “how-to” information. Like digging a well, and building a house, and… well, everything. When I first read these books, I ate this stuff up. It made me feel like I could be a pioneer if it came down to it. I could dig my own well, and I wouldn’t make the same mistake as Mr. Scott. No siree!

And the “how-to” of Sarah Miller’s Caroline is also there, albeit in a different way. We don’t just get a rehash of Wilder’s descriptions. While Laura and Mary had plenty of time to shadow their Pa, watching his every move, Caroline doesn’t. She has plenty of her own work to do. And so, the book focuses on her view point. On the bits of how-to that effected her.

Which made by adult heart so happy. And yes, it makes me feel like I could be a pioneer if it ever came down to that.

#5 – No Politically-Correct Revisionism…

Just for the sake of being Politically Correct. And finally, I loved the fact that this book did not fall into some politically-correct retelling. It documents the prejudices of the settlers, warts and all. Now, I love that the book doesn’t condone it (which is a good thing!), but it documents it… like a good historian. Miller does have Caroline struggling and questioning her own fears and reactions. But, ultimately this book remains true to how the Ingalls family (and others like them) saw the world around them. The historian in me was pleased and satisfied with her treatment of the material.

(Mini Rant. I HATE books/movies/etc that attempt to make the people in history as “tolerant” as we are. First off, I have a feeling that we have our own little prejudices for which future generations will mock us. I feel that history should be told as it is. Not that we condone the prejudice. No, I don’t mean that. But when we acknowledge that the past, just as the present, and the future for that matter, isn’t and never will be perfect.)

Bonus:

I love the cover of the book! Although, I will say it reminds me of Caroline as played by Karen Grassle from the television show. The real Caroline would probably have been wearing a sunbonnet!

And finally, a Warning. Yes, this book is a reworking of a famous children’s book, but that doesn’t mean it’s meant for children. It’s meant for adults, folks. There are a couple sex scenes. Of course, we’re talking married sex. If you can get that into your head. (I know. Weird, right? It’s a little hard to go there with characters that are kind of like your own parents.)