It Take Three Strikes

20171112ma_5277Years ago, when I’d crack open a book, I knew I was in it for the long haul. If I committed to reading the book, I would finish it… no matter what. Yes, no matter what.

(I’m guessing this is probably (most likely) due to school. We are assigned a book and we have to read it for class or do a report on it or whatever.)

But now things have changed.

For me, most of my reading is (supposed to be) for pleasure. So, when I crack open a book, and for whatever reason I’m not liking it, I’ve found that it’s okay to give myself the luxury of NOT FINISHING THE BOOK.

Yes, it’s okay to not finish a book.

Really.

Now, this came as a bit of a revelation to me.

By nature, I’m a rule-follower. I always felt this (perhaps unwritten) rule that once you start a book, you need to finish it. But for what purpose? What if the book is poorly written? What if I can’t stand the plot? Or the characters? What if…? What if…?

As I stated above, I’m a rule-follower. So, I created a new rule for me to follow.

What I call”My Three Strike Rule”.

This is how it works. I always start with fresh optimism that this book may become one of my favourite books. (And sometimes it does! Hooray!)

But, sometimes, the book gets strikes. Strikes can range from lousy writing to too much historical inaccuracy to too much profanity. (Aside: If every other sentence features the f-bomb, I’m probably not going to stick around.) Or sometimes I’ll just realize I’m not actually enjoying this read. For any of the above, that’s when I’ll say to myself (and yes, often I say this out loud to myself): “Strike One”.

Now, I am pretty kind when it comes to giving strikes. If it’s a minor thing, I may ignore it at first. When it starts to get on my nerves, but it’s still not THAT big of a deal, I may even give it only a half strike. My hope, always, is that the book will just get better. (And sometimes it does! Yay!)

But sadly, in my experience, once I’ve identified a strike, or even a half-strike, it usually goes downhill from there. Strike Two. Strike Three. DNF.

A few years back, this happened to me with a book that took a modern-day girl into the world of Little Women. Now, I love this kind of book. Except when it messes with the original book too much.

(Note: If you’ve never read Little Women, this next bit contains SPOILERS.)

In this case, this book messed with Amy. Now, to be perfectly honest, Amy has never been my favourite character. And as a kid, I wanted Jo to marry Laurie just as much as anybody. I ranted at Louisa May Alcott for what she did. But, I’ve also come to accept Amy and Laurie as a couple (although I do wish Alcott had left Jo single instead of marrying her off to the Professor). But even though I don’t care for the Professor as  marriage material, I know and accept that Little Women is Little Women. And just as you cannot change history, I believe you cannot change book history.

So, as I was reading this modern take on Little Women, I began to see what the author was doing. She was getting rid of the real, true Amy of the book! Louisa May Alcott’s creation. And then she was arranging for things to be different for Jo and Laurie.

Yes, here’s the point where I gave the story my first strike.

Why was that a strike for me? Because I think the author of this book missed Alcott’s point. Amy didn’t steal Laurie from Jo. Even if Amy never existed, I still think  Jo would not have married Laurie. And while I wish in my heart of hearts that Jo could love Laurie as he loved her, sometimes that just doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen in real life. (Marriage didn’t happen for Alcott.) And so, it doesn’t always happen in book life.

Did this book get three strikes? Absolutely, yes, it did. Probably about half-way through. I can’t remember the exact point anymore. I do remember peeking at the end of the book to see if I was right about the author’s intent. I was. If I was a book thrower, I would have thrown that book across the room. (I’m not and I didn’t.)

So, I’m glad I did not feel obligated to finish this book in any way.

What about you? Do you have any rule for finishing or not finishing a book?

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When You’ve Read the Last One

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You’ve just read the last book ever written by an author.

And the author is no longer living. In other words: Dead.

What do you do?

Years ago, I remember reading about a man whose favourite author was Charles Dickens. He had read every single novel by Dickens. Except one.

This intrigued me. You see, the reason he held out on reading the final book was because he was saving it. That way he would always have one more book to look forward to.

I always wondered, Did he ever read that final book? And if so… when? On his death bed??

Fortunately, for the fan of Charles Dickens, there are a lot of books to enjoy. The same goes for Shakespeare. It’ll take you awhile to go through those.

I also remember my mom once telling me that, after reading To Kill a Mockingbird, she would always keep her eyes peeled for a “new” book by Harper Lee. Except, there was never any other book. She’d only ever published that one. (Until a couple of years ago, that is. I’ve still not read Go Set a Watchman. Basically because I’m afraid to. My big question is this: If the book wasn’t good enough to be published pre-Mockingbird, why would it be good enough to be published now?)

And then there’s Jane Austen. She only published six novels. Once you’ve read the six, that’s it! Unless you want to read her unfinished works. Which, frankly, I tend to avoid. And I don’t count the fan fiction. (I’ve tried, and in my opinion, those books don’t quite cut it.)

So, what do you do when you’ve run out of books by your favourite author?

I find there are two things that can be done.

1) Good books are worth reading a second time. And a third. And a fourth. Actually, a good book just keeps getting better.

2) It also means you get to look for new authors. Whether they are new “old” (read: dead) authors, or new “new” (read: alive) authors. It’ll be hit and miss. Probably more misses than hits. And when you find a good one, it’s like adding to your circle of friends.

Happy New Year!

How Much Tea Do You Drink?

20170527ma_1327I’m a bit of a tea fanatic. I drink tea pretty much all day long.

Pot after pot. Mug after mug. Summer or Winter.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m drawn to books that feature tea. And one of my favourite series that does this so wonderfully is Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

I love this series.

So, when I recently read a review of one of his books by somebody who hated it (they gave it one star), my reaction was: Wait! How can you hate Mma Ramotswe? Turns out this person was expecting a mystery novel. Okay, I get it now. Really, these books aren’t really about the mystery, even though Mma Ramotswe is a detective! (In fact, I find it funny that the books are sometimes marketed that way.)

No, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is really about Life. And people. The series delights in highlighting the quirks of people. Every single character has their own little special foibles, including our protagonist: Mma Ramotswe.

Like Mma Ramotswe’s obsession with tea. (In particular, redbush tea.)

“Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill. These were its assets: a tiny white van, two desks, two chairs, a telephone, and an old typewriter. Then there was a teapot, in which Mma Ramotswe – the only lady private detective in Botswana – brewed redbush tea. And three mugs – one for herself, one for her secretary, and one for the client.
~ The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

And every one of McCall Smith’s books has some sort of tea in them.

In fact, these books are chock full of tea!

In an interview, he was asked about this. Here’s his response: “Naturally, when I came to write my Botswana novels… tea played a part in the narrative… Some assume that the tea-drinking has some symbolic meaning; in fact, it is merely a novelist’s device for ensuring a break in between other scenes. I suppose, if pressed, I might come up with an explanation in terms of its calming effect; it is no doubt true that tea-drinking is a calming thing to read about, but that is not necessarily why I write about it. One can always do the right thing for the wrong reason.”

And do you know how many cups of tea Mma Ramotswe drinks in just one day?

Well, we find out in a delectable passage from a later book in the series: The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection

“We spend quite a lot on tea,” mused Mma Makutsi. “If you add it up, Mma. You have… how many cups of tea do you have, Mma Ramotswe? Ten? Twelve?”

“I haven’t counted, Mma Makutsi. And you yourself―”

Then our two favourite tea-drinkers start to make some calculations. Counting each cup from the time they wake in the morning…

She paused. “How many does that make, Mma?

“I think that makes eight,” said Mma Makutsi. “Call it ten.”

“Ten cups,” said Mma Ramotswe thoughtfully. “And we haven’t counted the evening tea. That must be added. So maybe fourteen cups of tea in all.”

In my opinion, it’s these passages about tea and such that make McCall Smith’s work so delightful to read. These tea-breaks are the times when Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi get around to philosophizing about life. As so often happens, the two women come to different points of view. (Mma Makutsi has some very strong opinions.) But Mma Ramotswe always knows how to solve these tricky situations.

“That’s not true,” said Mma Ramotswe. “But let us not argue, Mma, because I believe it’s time for tea and the more time you spend arguing, the less tea you can drink.”
~ Precious and Grace

And finally, two more of my favourite Tea Quotes from the books:

“The telling of a story, like virtually everything in this life, was always made all the easier by a cup of tea.”
The Miracle at Speedy Motors

“It was time for tea as it so often was.”
~ The Good Husband of Zebra Drive

Now I think it’s time for a cup of tea…

P.S. To answer the question in the title of this post, I think I probably drink about 7-10 mugs of tea a day. (Yes, despite the existence of my pretty teacups, I tend to drink out of mugs for everyday.) So… not quite as many as Mma Ramotswe. I don’t know if anybody drinks more tea than Mma Ramotswe.

What Shall I Call Thee?

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Growing up, one of my best friends would often refer to our favourite authors by their first names. (In fact, she still does it today.) And, by extension, any book by said author. So an L.M. Montgomery book would become a “Lucy Maud” … As in “Have you read this Lucy Maud?” (Later she’d shortened it to simply “Lucy”.)

And I’ve noticed that this with other people as well, typically regarding women writers. Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder are “Louisa” and “Laura”. Jane Austen fans even have their own special designation as “Janeites”.

But why do we call authors by their first name? Is it because it makes these authors feel more like our friends? Well, that’s my guess.

But, I’m different. For me, it’s important to use the author’s name under which they published. So “Lucy Maud Montgomery” is written or spoken of as “L.M. Montgomery”. And thereafter, in the same conversation or article, just as “Montgomery”.  (Which becomes a slight problem if we’re talking about the Brontes!)

I think this may stem from this realization… Authors are people that have private lives. For example, “Lucy Maud” was never really called “Lucy” (her grandmother’s name) in her lifetime. Her family and friends called her “Maud”. And for most of her published life, she was “Mrs. Macdonald”. And yet, she published under the name “L.M. Montgomery”.

For me, that knowledge is enough. “L.M. Montgomery” she would be.

So, while C.S. Lewis was “Jack” to his friends, he was “C.S. Lewis” to me because that’s how I knew him.

And then there’s Jane Austen. I’m definitely a fan, but for some reason, I cannot (and will not) call myself a “Janeite”. I will not call her “Jane”.

I think, for me, it’s a respect thing. Respecting the work of the author. Respecting the boundaries between an author and the reader. Although, when my friend does the opposite? I find it endearing. It’s like Jane Austen really is her friend!

So, what’s that say about me? Hmm…

P.S. I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong side to this. But it interests me to find out where other people stand. What do you tend to do?

P.S. 2 – If you’re curious to know… The photo above is of a statue of “Lucy Maud” at the L.M. Montgomery Museum in Leaskdale, Ontario.

Pet Peeves / We are Not Amused

20170928ma_4871.jpgThis post is about a pet peeve of mine. It often comes up in fantasy novels or historical fiction. These are the stories where we are most likely to have a King or Queen.

So, what’s the pet peeve?

It’s when a king or queen is addressed incorrectly.

Never call a Queen “Highness” or even “Your Highness”. That’s what you call a Princess. Please don’t call her “milady” or “My Lady” (I’m pretty sure that’s only a Lady, as in the wife of a Knight).

The proper way to speak to a King (or Queen) is to say: “Your Majesty”. And “Sire” is okay. (If it’s a Queen, you may call her “Madam”, I believe.)

Don’t call a King “Your Grace” (I think that’s a duke) or “Your Excellency” (a bishop?).

I’m definitely not an expert in this, but I know enough to know this much. And it drives me crazy when some fictional kingdom breaks these rules of etiquette. Not because the author is doing in intentionally (I’d be okay with that if there was a good reason, like the ignorance of one of the characters).

No, mostly it’s because these authors just don’t know.

I can’t tell you how many times this pet peeve of mine creeps into books I read. Sometimes it’s enough to make me want to quit reading the book. (Although, if the story and characters are good enough, I’ll grit my teeth and finish it.)

Authors! All I have to say is this: If you have royalty in your story, please address them properly.

We are not amused.

P.S. The photo I’ve included was taken at the Prop Warehouse at the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. I was trying to think of a photo to go with this post and I remembered this throne. I thought, What’s more royal than a throne? And especially a throne like this one?!

 

The Magic of Half Magic

20171007ma_5029The magic of Edward Eager’s Half Magic isn’t always the actual magic in the book. Yes, there’s a charm that grants wishes (or, to be more accurate, half-wishes!). What’s really magical about the book, is Eager’s way of putting things. Usually, it’s some little aside. Something quick.

And then there is this delightful passage. It happens when the four children (Jane, Mark, Katherine, and Martha) first meet Mr. Smith, a new grown-up that has entered their lives…

The four children generally divided all grown ups into four classes. There were the ones like Miss Bick and Uncle Edwin and Aunt Grace and Mrs. Hudson whofrankly, and cruel as it might be to say itjust weren’t good with children at all. There was nothing to do about these, the four children felt, except be as polite as possible and hope they would go away soon.

Then there were the ones like Miss Mamie King, whowhen they were with childrenalways seemed to want to pretend they were children, too. This was no doubt kindly meant, but often ended with the four children’s feeling embarrassed for them.

Somewhat better were the opposite ones who went around treating children as though the children were as grown-up as they were themselves. This was flattering, but sometimes a strain to live up to. Many of the four children’s school teachers fell into this class.

Last and best and rarest of all were the ones who seemed to feel that children were children and grown ups were grown ups and that was that, and yet at the same time there wasn’t any reason why they couldn’t get along perfectly well and naturally together, and even occasionally communicate, without changing that fact.

Mr. Smith turned out to one of these.

Half Magic, by Edward Eager (Chapter 6)

This is why I love to read (and re-read) books by Edward Eager! It’s the magic of his words. 🙂

Illustrations that Make the Book – Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

It’s not only old books that have great illustrations. I’ve come up with a list of contemporary books (with authors who are still living and writing!) that have illustrations that make the reading experience just that much more enjoyable.


How to Train Your Dragon

Hiccup_Horrendous_Haddock_the_ThirdThis series has wonderful illustrations that are done by the author herself. And when you read a Cressida Cowell book, you start expecting Cressida Cowell illustrations. (Her newest series have very similar illustrations.)

I have never seen illustrations quite like these before and yet they fit the stories beautifully. They’re as whimsical and delightful as her writing.

How could you not fall in love a Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third who looks like this? He’s so puny, like he doesn’t really belong in those Viking threads. And yet, that’s what makes him so appealing!


The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

HeroGuide2This series by Christopher Healy is another series that contains wonderful illustrations by the author. Yes, I love fairy tales and fractured fairy tales. Actually, come to think of it, fairy tales in general almost cry out for pictures. Here, Healy’s illustrations beautifully add that extra je-ne-sais-quoi to the books.

I really like how, in this one illustration, we get to see each of the four Princes Charming. And each Prince’s character is perfectly captured… Prince Liam out in front with Prince Duncan focused on some peripheral detail that doesn’t matter; Prince Gustav ready for the giant behind them with poor Prince Frederic ready to surrender.


The Series of Unfortunate Events

e086af00825e794488bbcd535c22e53d.jpgI love the illustrations to this series by Lemony Snicket. I feel that they (the illustrations by Brett Helquist) are really a big bonus when you read the books. They manage to maintain the flavour of the books.

Just as Lemony Snicket loves to give asides in the books, Helquist adds his own little illustrated asides…

Like the sword, pointing straight down at the children in the illustration to the right. Or, even better, the “Beware of Leeches” sign (The leeches will play quite an important part in this unfortunate story.)


Okay, so that’s my list of contemporary reads that I feel go hand-in-glove with their illustrations.

Got any to add to this list?

Illustrations that Make the Book – Part 1

Not every book needs illustrations. Let me make that clear.

And yet, there are those books in which the illustrations seem to go hand-in-hand with the written page… So much so that we come to find it hard to think of the book without these illustrations.

When I was coming up with this blog post idea, I noticed that most of the books on my list are OLDER books. Back in the day, it seems like a lot of books came with illustrations. However, there are a few contemporary books that made my list. (You’ll find those books in Part 2.)

The list of books below are all books written by authors no longer living…


The Chronicles of Narnia

44d68d9efe02b0989776792662a92c6aWritten by C.S. Lewis and illustrated by Pauline Baynes. Her pen and ink drawings are still used in the editions published today. Why? Because they are beautiful and amazing and capture the magic that is Narnia. I can’t tell you how much I love these drawings.

Like this iconic moment in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe… Lucy has just entered Narnia for the first time and is walking with Mr. Tumnus and his umbrella. Such a wonderful scene! (And, on a side note, it’s the image that Lewis himself saw in his mind’s eye that inspired him to write the book in the first place!)


Winnie the Pooh

92ffd90047cc7581e73a3707645700bc.jpgThere aren’t illustrations that have become as iconic as A.A. Milne’s masterpiece: Winnie the Pooh. Even the great Walt Disney couldn’t overshadow E.H. Shepard’s illustrations, they are that good! (While I don’t mind the Disney version of the Pooh characters, I’d pick Shepard’s illustrations over Disney’s in a heartbeat!)

I think Shepherd was able to capture the childlike wonder of the Hundred Acre Wood and its inhabitants. Pooh and Piglet are charming in the illustration to the left, as is Christopher Robin.

And it makes me want to find a bridge to play a game of Pooh Sticks…


The Little House books

2014_0708_webimages_53_littlehouseLaura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books show that sometimes books have to wait a bit to find their perfect match in illustrations. While the first edition had other illustrations (by Helen Sewell), the later editions (starting from 1953) were given the Garth Williams touch. These simple pencil, charcoal, and ink drawings have since become inseparable from Wilder’s work. Probably what helps make them so amazing is that, before he sat down and drew, Garth Williams traveled to the real-life locations to get a feel for the prairie scenery world of Laura Ingalls.

I love how Mary and Laura are gazing in awe as Pa plays his fiddle. Pa’s fiddle is such an integral part to the books 🙂


The Betsy-Tacy books

Meeting Miss SparrowThis series by Maud Hart Lovelace, in many ways, can be split into two series. The “younger” books and the “older” books. And interestingly enough, the illustrations follow this divide.

The first four books, beginning with Betsy-Tacy until Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown, have illustrations by Lois Lenski. Beautiful, whimsical, and perfect for capturing the magic of childhood!

Betsy at her writing deskHowever, once Betsy and her friends enter Deep Valley High, Vera Neville takes over the illustrations. And guess what? Hers are perfect, too! I’m not sure if Lenski could have done the high school books. And I’m not sure is Neville could have handled the younger girls. Whoever made the ultimate decision about this, bravo!

Two illustrations are necessary for this series. The first shows young Betsy in the library (I couldn’t resist!). And the second is an older Betsy sitting at her “writing desk” (her uncle’s trunk).


Swallows and Amazons

00048975-300x403These books are written by Arthur Ransome. And he illustrated them too “with the help of Miss Nancy Blackett” (one of the characters in the books!) These drawing are unique to the books. They’re fun and have that child-like abandon of the untrained child-artist… Alluring in their own way.

The illustration I chose for this book is entitled “Despatches”. It’s the answer from the four young Walkers have been waiting for… their father’s permission that they may indeed go camp out on Wild Cat Island. Let the adventures begin!


So, these are just five of my favourite illustrated books. I’m sure there are other books that fall into the same category… Books, that when I think of them, these illustrations come to mind.

Got any that you’d like to add?

Review: Romancing Miss Bronte

51WvuAc7ByL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Romancing Miss Bronte (a Novel)
Author: Juliet Gael
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: A novelized version of the biography of Charlotte Bronte. The book covers her days at Haworth leading up to becoming an author, along with her sisters, to her untimely death.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) It’s about Charlotte Bronte. Need I say more?

2) Having studied the life of Charlotte Bronte myself years ago, I can say that the author was able to capture her life amazingly. The book reads like a biography, yet also like a novel. Well done!

3) I loved, loved, loved the stories of the events that led up to the publication of Jane Eyre.

4) I thought she did a good job weaving Arthur into the story. The book begins with his arrival at Haworth, and he keeps popping up throughout. [SPOILER] (Of course, he’s very much the focus in the latter part of the book when he reveals his esteem for Miss Bronte and eventually convinces her to marry him.) [END SPOILER]

5) The passages dealing with Branwell were heartbreaking (in a good, but sad way)… how the sisters have to deal with their brother.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) [SPOILER] Arthur is no Rochester. I really wanted to root for him and Charlotte as a couple, but I felt something lacking in him as the “hero” of a romance. This may be a casualty of fiction vs. real life? I feel the author tried to somehow morph Arthur into a Rochester-mold towards the end of the book. And yet, I wasn’t fully convinced. Again, it’s hard to put this into words. [END SPOILER]

2) Every so often, the dialogue/narrative would give what I came to realize are nicknames for various people. For example: Emily and Anne call Charlotte “Tally” which threw me a few times before I realized to whom they were speaking. And Elizabeth Gaskell seems to be “Lily Gaskell”? Who’s Lily? Is that Mrs. Gaskell herself or perhaps it’s her daughter??

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed reading this book. Biographies about my favourite authors are usually a safe bet for me. I liked how she was able to weave the biography part in with the novel part.

Visiting L.M. Montgomery

20170824ma_4688I love taking a pilgrimage to the historic homes of authors. Almost any author will do, but, there’s always something special about visiting the houses where my favourite authors lived. And especially where they wrote my favourite books!

This is certainly true for L.M. Montgomery.

Twenty years ago, if you wanted to visit an L.M. Montgomery site, you pretty much had to go to P.E.I. While we all know of her love for the Island, the fact is that Montgomery lived half of her life in Ontario. (Yay!) And it is only recently that her home in Leaskdale, Ontario was acquired and turned into a museum.

And I must say that they’ve done a lovely job!

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This is the manse where she and her husband moved after their marriage. This is where her children were born. And this is where she wrote many of her books… Anne of the Island, Anne’s House of Dreams, Rilla of Ingleside, The Blue Castle, just to name a few.

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And here’s the room where she wrote her books! She’d sit in the corner and write her manuscript out by hand. When she was writing, nobody was supposed to disturb her. Not even her two young sons. In fact, the door was locked. If they wanted to communicate with their mother, they had to slip a note under the door!

My friend asked the young man who was giving us the tour about whether there’s a story about the fur on the ground. He replies, “No, there’s no story. But it’s there because we know she had one like it in this room.” My friend smiles and says, “Well, that’s a story.”

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Apparently she had 1000 books lining the walls of the study. The museum doesn’t have quite so many books, but they have been collecting books that she would have owned and placed them in these wonderful book shelves. (Bonus: Can you see me playing peek-a-boo in the glass?)

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Her wedding china. (Well, not actually hers, but it is her pattern.)

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The kitchen. Recognize the set-up from the old black and white photo?

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And here is her bedroom. The cedar-lined chest is one of the few pieces of furniture that actually belonged to her. L.M. Montgomery.

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Her husband’s church. This is the congregation he pastored after their marriage in 1911. The Macdonalds lived here until 1926 which is when he went to his next parish in Norval, Ontario.

And guess what? They’re working on restoring the Norval manse, too!

Oh, the joy of expectation 🙂