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?

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?

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.

What Shall I Call Thee?

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?!


Fascination with Scary

20140212_billw_0148At this time of year, you’re bound to see a lot of blog posts and articles with such titles as: “What’s the Scariest Read of All Time?” or “Top 10 Horror Movies of the Last Decade” or “Halloween Book Countdown”.

And this isn’t just for the days leading up to October 31st. All year long, even the happiest place on earth (i.e. Disney) celebrates their Haunted Mansion… since 1969. (Disney even makes “scary” seem cute. Like one of Walt Disney’s first animated shorts that featured dancing skeletons.)

It just shows that we have a fascination for “all things scary.”

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of “scary”. And certainly not anything labelled under the horror genre.

I don’t mind the odd scary and/or heart-pounding scene, but I wouldn’t exactly categorize that with “horror”. I like a well-written gothic novel, whether it’s parodied like in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, or done supremely well in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

So, why do we have this fascination with all things scary?

And this fascination can manifest itself in three ways:

  1. It works as an outlet to ignore something that makes us uncomfortable.
  2. It becomes an obsession (sometimes to the point of excluding all other things).
  3. It can also act as a jumping off point to think things through.

Of these three points, the final one is the probably the healthiest. For me… while I don’t actively seek out horror books or movies, I do not completely banish scary topics/things outright. Because I know scary things exist. It reminds me of this G.K. Chesterton quote: “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

Yes, “dragons” do exist in real life. (Maybe not of the Smaug variety, but they do exist.) To explore such “dragons” in books, movies, and other pop culture is, I think, actually a healthy thing.

To become completely obsessed is not so healthy. (As in ALL you ever read/watch/think is horror, blood, murder, anger… yikes.)

But it is a healthy thing to bring things that frighten us out in the open. Popular culture (including books and movies) allows us to get a handle on our own fears, especially about our own mortality… To handle the scariness of Death.

How we treat our “dragons” (including the dragon called Death) is going to affect how we treat Life. This gives an outlet for us to explore “all things scary” in a safe way.