On Chapter Length


I like short chapters.

Okay. Not too short. One page chapters weird me out. Really. Weird. Me. Out.

As do two page chapters. They might as well be a one-page chapter.

No, I like chapters that are short enough that I can finish it in a sitting. I usually read before bed, to unwind after a busy day. So, that means I’m sometimes pretty tired. Sometimes I can only handle one chapter (maybe two).

And I hate putting a book down in the middle of a chapter. Which usually happens if a chapter is really long. Did I say how much I hate really long chapters? No? Well, they’re worse than the really short, one-page chapters.

Give me a nice-sized chapter. So, if I need to stop reading, I just put my bookmark at the beginning of the next chapter and I’m set for tomorrow.

Of course, if the chapter ends on a cliffhanger… I’ll want to read on. And sometimes I do read on. Even though I really should get to sleep. But sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’d rather leave a cliffhanger for tomorrow. Because it’s something to look forward to…

What about you? Do you like long or short chapters? Or do you just not really care?


Books That Make You Cold

So… I was recently re-reading The Giver by Lois Lowry.

And I was struck by one scene. (Note: This may be a minor spoiler for those who haven’t read the book. But my question is this, WHY haven’t you read this book yet?!)… As Jonas and Gabe are on the run, they are attempting to hide from the heat-seeking aircraft. In order to avoid detection, Jonas transfers memories of snow to Gabe. The memories cool down their body temperatures.

Now, I don’t consider myself a scientist. So my question is this: Is this even possible? Would a heat-seeking device be fooled? Does a memory, such as snow, cool the body down?

(Note: I will give Lois Lowry gets a pass on this detail because of the nature of her story world. Technically, in our world, it’s impossible to transfer memories to another person by laying your hands on their back. But in the world of The Giver, well, this is exactly how it happens for Jonas, the Giver, and Gabe. So story world definitely takes care of this heat/memory/cool thing in the book.)

That said, here’s something I do know…

When I read certain books, they make me feel cold.

long-winterCase in point: The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

In the book, Wilder encapsulates the whole feeling of winter. The never-ending blizzards. The family huddling next to the stove, trying to keep warm. Laura and Pa twisting hay in the freezing lean-to. The train that never comes. Christmas that never comes.

The isolation of the Dakota territory.

The snow. And more snow. And even more snow.

LongWinter1Wilder intended to name the book The Hard Winter… Because that’s probably how in later years they would refer to that winter of 1880-81… Can’t you just see them sitting around the fire saying: “Remember the Hard Winter? This snow is nothing compared to that!”

But the publishers ultimately changed the title to The Long Winter. (I mean, just look at those covers. Neither of them seem to be shouting “hard”.)

By the way, this book received a Newbery Honor in 1941 for its writing.

I know why. Because those words bring feelings of COLD.

Which is great if you’re reading beside a nice, warm fire. Or in summer. Yes, a nice, hot summer day might be the perfect for reading cold books.

What about you? Do you have any books that make you feel cold?

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.)


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.)

The Art of Forgery


So, I’ve recently been reading Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History, by Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio. Basically, because I wanted to know how much of the movie was really “based on a true story”. (The verdict: Plenty of Hollywood in the movie. With a tiny bit of History.)

ArgoBut here’s what I found particularly fascinating about the book… All the behind-the-scenes stuff. All the description of the ways the CIA prepped for this mission. Creating the fake documents, passports, etc. etc.

I’m kind of a behind-the-scenes kind of person. Literally.

It’s what I do. I work behind-the-scenes in the world of film. (Not Hollywood, but independent film.) Oh, and theatre. In fact, my first job in theatre was in the props department.

And ever since, I’ve loved props.

I love finding the right props. I love scouring every conceivable shop for that hard-to-find prop. I love creating props. Aging props. You name it.

The best compliment of all is when a cast or crew member looks at a prop that I created and thinks it’s the real deal. I have “forged” World War II identification papers. I’ve painstakingly created mail, complete with cancelled stamps. I’ve created aged, torn newspaper articles and aged, torn photographs.

In short, part of my work in props calls for me to take part in the art of forgery.

I have gathered various tools for these tasks. All types of pens and papers. I scour the internet for photos of real documents so I make things look authentic.

And it always makes me feel a bit like a spy.

So, as I read the story of Tony Mendez and how he and his team prepped to rescue the American hostages from Iran in 1979, I felt right at home. When we have to dress a set, we have to create backstories, too. We need to have “pocket litter”. Everything on screen or stage is meant to sell the story as real. It’s not always easy, but it’s amazingly satisfying when you know you’ve pulled it off.

Did I miss my calling to be a spy?

Or maybe I really am a spy, and this is just my cover. 😉

Books That Make You Hungry


Are there certain books that make you hungry?

There is one series that makes me particularly hungry. And not hungry for just anything, but hungry for…


Yeah. I know. Weird, right?

Growing up, my mom made us eat oatmeal in the mornings. I can’t remember if this would have been every morning. Probably not. But it SEEMED like every morning.

Can you tell that I wasn’t a huge fan of oatmeal?

I didn’t gag or anything. I could eat the oatmeal. But, when I grew up, I vowed oatmeal would be a thing of the past.

Oatmeal? No, thanks. Pass the toast, please!

And for years, I was happily oatmeal-less.

But then my sister-in-law kept telling me about these books she was reading with her kids… The Sammy Keyes series by Wendelin Van Draanan. So, I started reading them, too. It’s a mystery series, following the adventures Sammy Keyes. She’s kind of like Nancy Drew, only a feistier! And, although it pains me to admit this (because I love Nancy Drew), these books are better written than the Nancy Drew books.

Now, it’s been a few years since Van Draanen finished the series. But a couple weeks ago, I decided to check out a few of the books from the library. Now, as I was reading, I remembered something about the books.

These books make me hungry.

You see, Sammy is always talking about oatmeal. Or eating oatmeal. Or Grams is telling her to eat her oatmeal.

And before I knew it, I wanted to eat… oatmeal.

I was hungry… for… oatmeal! (How is this possible???)

So, I made some. And ate it, too. (Not for breakfast, mind you. For some reason, I still associate breakfast oatmeal as something to avoid.) But every now and then, especially when I pick up one of the Sammy Keyes books, I get a hankering for… you guessed it.


Sprinkled with a little brown sugar, of course.

What about you? Got any book that makes you crack open the kitchen cupboard?

If You Like Russian Fairy Tales

Bear and the NightingaleSo… I recently read The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden.

Everybody is raving about this book. So, what can I say?

Well, I liked it. But…

I probably didn’t like it as much as you. I don’t know why, because I love Russian fairy tales. In fact, that’s the reason I read the book in the first place. I loved the premise. (And the cover of the book. I mean, just look at it. It’s enticing me. Yes, even now. It’s drawing me in…)

So… this book did not make me want to write a review of the book. (I am definitely not inspired to write a review just now. Maybe later? Instead, I decided to come up with a list of books that I recommend for those who did love the book and loved it because of the Russian fairy tale aspect of the book.

Without further adieu, here is that list*:

7973Enchantment // by Orson Scott Card


While he’s probably best known for his sci-fi (Ender’s Game ring a bell?)… Orson Scott Card does a wonderful job with this book. It mixes Russian folklore and fairy tale elements with our modern world. In a sense, it’s a Sleeping Beauty story. The story begins in the modern day with Ivan, who travels to Russia as part of his graduate studies. But then he comes across a woman sleeping in the middle of the forest and… Well, I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t read it.

By the way, I am truly enchanted by this book. It is probably one of my favourite books outside of classic literature and have read it numerous times.

1369831Blood Red, Snow White // by Marcus Sedgwick

This book is broken up into three parts. The first part deals with the events of the Russian Revolution almost as if it were a Russian fairy tale. Actually, it’s very reminiscent of Old Peter’s Russian Tales (see below). The second part introduces us to Arthur, an Englishman who comes to live in Russia. It’s almost like reading a new book, but you begin to see how it connects with the first part. And finally, the third part shifts yet again, this time with first person POV. We continue our story, seeing Russia through the eyes of Arthur.

P.S. The Arthur in the book is based on the real life experiences of the author, Arthur Ransome. (If you don’t know who Arthur Ransome is, he wrote one of my favorite children’s series: the Swallows and Amazons books. And yes, Swallows and Amazons does get a nod in this “fairy tale”.)

old-peters-russian-tales-by-arthur-ransome-fiction-animals-dragons-unicorns-and-mythicalOld Peter’s Russian Tales // by Arthur Ransome

Speaking of Arthur Ransome… He really did live in Russia at the time of the Revolution. And he came to love Russia very much. Part of his infatuation led him to write a collection of Russian fairy tales. He created Maroosia and Vanya who live with their grandfather, Old Peter. It’s Old Peter that brings us the stories “that Russian peasants tell their children and each other.” Beautiful writing. Wonderful stories.

Honourable Mention…

The Crown's GameThe Crown’s Game // by Evelyn Skye
I just finished reading this. So, I’m not sure it even belongs on this list. It has some fairy tale elements, like Enchanters and magic. But it also seems a little like it shouldn’t quite be on the list. Probably because there are no bears mentioned in the book! (Tigers are are mentioned. But I don’t remember any bears!)  In all, I haven’t quite decided if it’s got that Russian Fairy Tale vibe. Anyway,  I liked the book, so I’m going to tag it on here for now.

City of ThievesCity of Thieves // by David Benioff
Again, this one isn’t so much a Russian Fairy Tale. It’s more of a coming-of-age story set in the time of World War II. And it’s been awhile since I’ve read it, but I remember a fair bit. It definitely has that Russian feel. It’s the story of two young men on a quest to find a dozen eggs during the Siege of Leningrad. Maybe it’s the quest that made me give it Honourable Mention status.

*Please note that none of these books are really children’s books. Although for some odd reason Blood Red, Snow White is listed as a children’s book. In my opinion, it is not. (Not that a child couldn’t read it.) In any case, the only book on this list suitable for kids is probably Old Peter’s Russian Tales. Those were meant for children of all ages. Grown-ups, too!

Got any books to add to this list? Please let me know in the comments. Because I love a good Russian fairy tale!

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.


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?

When You’ve Read the Last One


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!

My Top 10 Reads of 2017

So, I’ve been going over my favourite reads from the past year. And here is my list that made the Top Ten… in no particular order. (Or maybe in the order of which I read them?)

Maria’s Top Ten Reads of 2017

1. The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones // by Wendelin Van Draanen
I loved the character of Lincoln Jones in this one. It’s been awhile since Van Draanen has published anything and so when I saw this book, I was very excited to read it. It did not disappoint!

2. The Tin Snail // by Cameron McAllister
When I picked up this book, I did not know what to expect. I got a very charming tale… and a bit of a history lesson (a fun one!) to boot.

3. Apollo 8 // by Jeffrey Kluger
I really liked this book about the Apollo 8 mission to the moon.

4. Romancing Miss Bronte // by Juliet Gael
A fictionalized account of Charlotte Bronte’s life. Oh, and the other Brontes are there, too.

5. The Wizards of Once // by Cressida Cowell
It’s like reading How to Train Your Dragon, but with wizards and warriors! I’m looking forward to the next books in the series.

6. Jane Austen at Home // by Lucy Worsley
Jane. Austen. At. Home. The title says it all, folks. (If you’re looking for adventure and daring, this probably isn’t the book for you.)

7. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry // by Mildred D. Taylor
Love the courage and resilience of this family. Although the prejudice is heartbreaking. Not a feel-good read, but definitely worth the read.

8. The Seventh Most Important Thing // by Shelley Pearsall
I almost didn’t read this one, and I’m so glad I did. It’s a based-on-true-events story and Pearsall does a fabulous job!

9. My Lady Jane // by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
A wonderful fractured fairy tale… based on history (with more emphasis on the fairy tale and less on the history). A fun read 🙂

10. Rook // by Sharon Cameron
It’s a dystopian, futuristic/historic reworking of The Scarlet Pimpernel? You had me at Scarlet!

The More Popular the Book

20160628ma_2092The more popular the book…

The less likely I am to read it. Or at least want to read it.

Like Harry Potter. I’m just not crazy about these books. Oh, I’ve read the first three in the series. And, to be honest, I didn’t hate them. But I didn’t LOVE them either. So, I stopped after number three.


Well, I’m not entirely sure, but I think it might have to do with the fact that these books are just so popular. There is just too much hype.

I’ve never liked hype. Cabbage Patch Kids, anyone? These were the be-all, end-all to dolls when I was a kid. But I did not have one. I did not even want one. Basically, I didn’t see what the fuss was about.

They were just too popular.

I wonder that if I had come across Jane Austen’s books in the late 1990s, would I have read them? Luckily for me, I read and loved Pride and Prejudice well before the big 1995 mini-series that rocketed the book to superstar-status. (Oh, I realize that P&P was well-loved long before then; but after 1995, it gained a following of people that never even read the book… People that loved Darcy in his wet clothing in that infamous pond scene. I hated that scene, by the way, purist that I am.)

Here’s one thing that I’ve noticed. IF I already like the book (or the author’s writing style), then I don’t care how popular it is.

Take for example The Hunger Games. I read the first two books in the series blissfully unaware of how trendy they would become. By the time the final book came out, I was already hooked and so I read it anyway. (Not to say I don’t think Mockingjay is a perfect book. I believe it has its flaws, but I think Suzanne Collins is an amazing writer. She really is. I absolutely love her Gregor the Overlander series. But even in that one, she seems to fall apart a bit on her final book.)

I wish people would just stop the hype. Stop insisting that I should love Harry Potter. Or that I have to read this book or that book.

A lot of times I disagree with the quality of what’s in vogue. For me personally, I don’t need the validation of millions of readers to know what makes a good book. “Everybody’s reading it” is not necessarily a recommendation in my view.

But am I missing out of some good stories?

Perhaps. That’s why I will sometimes pick up a book I am resisting… just to give it a shot. Just in case I’m missing a gem of a story. But, I’ll tell you this. That book has a very steep mountain to climb. Because it’s got to overcome my bias against the popularity that surrounds it.

Basically, this book has surpass my expectations.

Problem is, most popular books rarely ever do.