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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Goals and Plans and Junk!

I'm good at titles!

It's the end of the year so I thought I'd ramble a little at you all. I'm feeling a bit retrospective, I guess.

It's been a little over 2 years since I came back from the hiatus I accidentally took because of reasons we don't need to go into. I've definitely slowed down when it comes to blogging, but I'm proud to say that in both 2014 and 2015, I blogged at least once a month every month. In 2015, I blogged more than 2014, and I'm proud of that, too.

Beyond strict quantity, I think the quality of my reviews has very much improved. Or, maybe, I'm just too chatty, but I think they're gotten much more thorough, detailed, and socially aware. Looking through my reviews, I like seeing the wide variety of books I've been reading the last few years, even the posts about old, probably-no-one-cares books. I've been really enjoying the posts I've been writing lately. I had a lot of fun doing the Friday Cuteness posts, although finding content for them is harder than you'd think!

I'm not entirely sure what will happen in 2016. There's been a lot of changes in my life, and I'm not sure what happens now. Honestly, thinking about the future makes me kind of have a panic attack, so I'm only going to try to think about things in my control. I don't make resolutions, but I do have a few blogging goals. I want to continue blogging once a month, but I think I'd like to aim for two posts a month. I would really like to do one review, and one "Things I've Read Recently" post a month, since I enjoy the low-pressure of those.

A not-really-a-goal thing (I guess this is the junk!) that I've been doing lately is trying to read more of books I own, and decide which ones I really want and which ones I could get rid of without minding so much. Part of this that I'm not sure I mentioned is that we moved in September from a 3 bedroom house to a 2 bedroom apartment. Since my spare room was my library, I have a little less space now! I mentioned this a bit, I think, back when I was thinking about how much it would suck to move all the books I owned, but that's all happened now.

Now it's just on-going decluttering, but I think it makes for some interesting blog posts at least! This one, this one, and this one are all posts inspired by that idea, and I think it's been fun!

Onto the reading front! For the last couple years, I've used Goodreads' reading challenge feature. 5 years, actually. In 2011, I failed because I didn't understand how the "read" function worked (hey, don't look at me like that, I was new to Goodreads). 2012, I set a sarcastic goal and that was kind of a bad year in general. 5000 is the highest they'll let you set, FYI. 2013, I didn't set a goal at all, and in 2014, I set a goal of 50 books and squeaked in the last few books on the last couple days by a breath.

This year, I again set a goal of 50 books, but this year I hit it early, so I added 5 more books twice. I've hit 61 and I may read another book tonight depending on what I feel like doing. You can see my year in books here, which is fun. In 2016, I think I'll make my goal 50 again, since I've managed to do that 2 years in a row. That's a lot of numbers, so how about we all go look at the pretty pictures on that Goodreads thing?

I'm rambling now, but I think I've managed to cover everything. I have no idea where 2016 takes me, or this blog, but I'm hoping for good places, and at least blogging-wise, 2015 was okay. So, talk to me, peeps. How was your year and what are your goals or plans or dreams for 2016? ("Nothing," is an okay answer.)

See you next year!

Peace and cookies,

Monday, December 7, 2015

Things I've Read Recently (23): Strangers, Mysteries, and Castles, oh my!

Okay, that is probably the worst title I've ever come up with, but you'll see where I'm going with it as I go along. Hopefully.

A Stranger Came Ashore

Published: Originally published in 1975 by HarperCollins, it was reprinted in May 2012 by Floris Books.
Genre: MG Fantasy
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 163 plus a couple pages of titles listed in my edition.
Part of a series? No, I don't believe so.
Got via: It was withdrawn from my library and I bought it. This pretty cover over here isn't the version I have. Mine is by Harper Trophy and is really old, probably printed around 1977 or 1978.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): A night of wild storm, a shipwreck, the sudden appearance of a stranger - that is how it all begins. The stranger is Finn Learson, a young and handsome man who seems the only survivor of a wreck. The Henderson family gladly give him shelter.

Young Robbie is puzzled by the secret smile Finn Learson sometimes wears, and later by other things - a gold coin, strange omens in the ashes of a fire, an escape that seems miraculous. His grandfather's tales reveal the Henderons have bring a terrible danger into their midst, for Finn Learson is nothing of what he seems to be.

Thoughts: Since this was basically a random book I bought a really long time ago, I wasn't actually expecting that much from it. Choosing books by colour theme, fitting with three other books you have in some way, and random words in the title isn't always the best way to determine quality, apparently.

But this one was interesting. It's set in Scotland, on a fictional island called Black Ness, and the setting is so vibrant. It absolutely feels Scottish, and I really loved the descriptions of the houses, and furniture, because they were traditional and made it feel so real. I also looked up some of the things to give myself a better mental image, which wasn't necessary because of the descriptions, but was super cool.

I also am a huge sucker for Celtic mythology, and I loved reading about it from someone who obviously enjoyed the stories and the reading.

The writing is dated and not exactly what modern readers may be used to, but I think it's a really interesting read, and with there being a very recent reprint, that does open it up to a lot of younger readers. There's not any romance that happens to the main character, which I know some readers look for, and it was apparently very popular in its day. Despite the age, there wasn't really anything like weight jokes or even a great deal of sexism that would make me uncomfortable to give to a kid. There's a certain amount of gender roles there are somewhat stereotypical because it is set in the past. Think no electricity and outhouses past, not disco and bellbottoms past. You guys know that can be a problem with me and older books, and it's neat to find one that isn't like that.

This one, especially because of my interest in this kind of mythology, gets to keep its spot on my book shelf, and would be worth checking out if you run across it. (Especially because the kindle copy is pretty cheap!)

(I couldn't find my exact cover - the one of the right is closest - so I just used the pretty one.)

The Secrets of Hidden Creek by Wylly Folk St. John, illustrations by Paul Galdone

Published: Sometime in 1966 by Avon Camelot
Genre: MG Mystery
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 160
Part of a series? I don't believe so
Got via: Same as the last one, withdrawn from the library and bought at a library sale, probably for a quarter.

Summary (from goodreads): After three days at Grandma and Grandpa's summer cabin, we knew it was going to be a long, boring summer. Then Jenny got her bright idea: Ghost-Hunting at Wormwood!

I don't know about Chuck, but I felt prickles on the back of my neck. The place across the lake looked like something an author named Edgar Allan Poe wrote about in Grandma's book with horrible pictures of ruined castles with bats, and people decaying and dribbling down the sides of their coffins. But Jenny thought it would be fun to poke around and see if the ghost stories Grandma told us were really true.

None of us were prepared for the strange noises and suspicious characters we were going to meet. This summer vacation turned out to be plain scary! But if it hadn't been, we would never have found the lost treasure (not one but two treasures) or have helped Sheriff Jenkins solve a real-life robbery and murder case!

Thoughts: One word - dated. This book is just about fifty years old, and boy does it show. The references are outdated, there's a buttload of casual racism, and it's just... not so good. The idea is fun, and I like the idea of having children's books that feature a lot of history and learning about history without actually being historical fiction. I'm sure in 1966, this was a great book. But we have better things now that are hopefully less racist and problematic in other ways.

There are attitudes in this book, even beyond the casual racism, that are problematic. The grandmother is very judgemental of a widowed mother because people who buy things from her drive up "their" road when it's been raining and leave ruts. You don't OWN the road, lady! She even suspects this woman, who has four kids, of making moonshine. We later find out the woman sells herbs, both ones to dye things and medicinal ones. Basically, Grandma didn't like that sick people didn't wait until after the roads dried up to drive to get medicine. Somehow this isn't supposed to make Grandma look bad?

I also thought the characters all came off two years younger than they actually were, oddly. Maybe it's just that kids act older nowadays, or that we're more used to characters in books acting older, but I would have believed a lot quicker that they were (almost) eleven, (almost) nine, and five, versus (almost) thirteen, (almost) eleven, and seven. It was very strange, really.

All in all, it's dated. The voice is very different from modern books, and the dialogue isn't always incredibly realistic. The setting of 1966 Georgia is interesting, but also seems to rely on some pretty heavy stereotypes. The characters were good, with all of them fairly fleshed out and interesting. But the book has just not aged well. I don't regret reading it. It was a fun story to read, and I do very much enjoy this kind of story. I would have loved it was a kid. Mysteries were my jam! And I still have a soft spot for this kind of story. But I'm probably going to let this one go, since I can't see myself reading it again, or letting a kid in my care read it since it is so dated, and has those problematic elements. I am glad I read it first, though.

Apologies for the bad cover photo on this next one. I couldn't find one online at all! So this is what we get.

Hidden Gold Mystery by Marion Crook

Published: Goodreads says originally 1941, but I'm pretty sure there weren't computers readily available for most people in 1941, so I'm assuming my copy's date of 1987 by Overlea House is correct. The about the author says she didn't even start writing until 1969. Goodreads, what's the deal??
Genre: MG Mystery
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 172
Part of a series? Surprise, it is indeed! There are now two other books in the series! Marion, you should ask a goodreads librarian to update your page!
Got via: A library sale, same as the others.
Amazon (Kindle)AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Could it really be murder? Or was Mike just bluffing about "bumping off" Jock so he could keep all the gold? Megan and Rick weren't sure, and they didn't want to tell anyone what they had overheard unless they had to.

There was only one solution: they would have to find out the truth for themselves.

Thoughts: See where I was going with this theme? Hidden Creek, Hidden Gold? Yeah?

Wow, okay, this review went a really different place now that I know there's been a reprint of this. Or, a recent kindle edition at least. Partly that I got hugely distracted adding those books to goodreads because that majorly bothered me, and seriously dude, update your goodreads profile because that is a lot of books to be missing, and that's way too much work for me.

Okay! Well, I like the idea of this. You guys know me and the mysteries. I think it was too much Scooby Doo as a child. Meddling kids became my favourite thing. And boy do these kids meddle. I also loved how Canadian it was. I kept going, "kilometres! Royal Bank!" And especially because it's set in BC versus, say, Ontario. I obviously have a soft spot for Western Canada in books.

But this is pretty dated. Some of the references especially, like brand-dropping of Adidas bags, some casual racism, attitudes like girls being weird for having purple streaks in their hair in sixth grade. There's also a lot of weirdness about how Megan is apparently pudgy (as you can obviously tell from that cover), and that was annoying.

I didn't buy the kindle version, but I compared the available preview chapters and it seems like there was no editing to update it to a more modern version, at least in the first three chapters. There was also no editing to make the voice more modern, and the voice is not amazing in this book. The voice is weird at time, like the narration randomly saying "Wow, calm down, Megan", and there's parts where it takes 2 pages to say a character is smart, small, and doesn't worry much. Other parts have a lot of POV jumping, or really out there similes.

This isn't a review of the second and third books since I haven't read them, but I did skim the preview chapters, and it struck me how different the voice was between the first, and the second and third. With a 26 year gap between the first and second books, how could it not be different? I really wasn't drawn to the second book's chapters either. It seemed really rushed, and not very well edited, unfortunately.

So while I enjoyed the Canadian aspects of this, I am probably going to be passing it along, and I don't think I recommend getting the kindle version, even though it's only 3 dollars. Maybe if you're super into gold mining and you want to read a really Canadian book, but I think there are better, less dated books. I also will not be seeking out the sequels.

The Mystery of Castle Croome by Hilda Boden

Published: Sometime in 1966 by Scholastic Book Services as it was apparently called at the time.
Genre: Mystery, probably YA?
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 191
Part of a series? There's a sequel!
Got via: A library withdrawal again.
Amazon / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): "And why," bellowed the man in the kilt, "do you think I'll allow you inside? Croome Castle isn't open to stray visitors, and it's never likely to be."

But Molly Stewart is not a casual visitor. Croome Castle is her home now, willed to her by her Scottish great-uncle. Why is the caretaker so hostile? And who are the mysterious paying guests he allows to stay there? What is the secret that lies buried deep in the dungeons beneath Castle Croome?

Thoughts: This one surprised me! It's the same age as the second book in this post, but it has aged so much better. First of all, I'm not entirely sure how to categorize this one. The library classified it as J for Juvenile, but considering the first stamp is from 1986, the library may simply not have had a YA section at a time, and therefore lumped all books under the Juvenile heading. The three main characters are in their final year of college, so much older than most middle grade or even modern young adult books.

I'd say it would be perfectly appropriate for younger readers to read, though. Beyond a couple of outdated attitudes, which you could talk about and point out how people have changed, I don't see anything incredibly inappropriate. There's no cursing, no drinking or anything, and there's not even any romance. There's a minor amount of violence, but nothing more than you would probably find in a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys of the same time period. It's very non-graphic. And unlike the last two, there isn't any casual racism.

It is somewhat dated, obviously. The girls listen to cassette tapes (...I think it was cassettes? Possibly it was 8-tracks?), and another person talks about records, and I realized that their 20 year old car was actually from the 40s. Doing the conversion of the money will make your head spin! (10 pounds in 1966 is about $113.11 2015 USD, or $151.28 2015 CAD.) Even with that, it doesn't seem as badly dated as the Secrets of Hidden Creek. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's that the writing is still quite lovely, and it seems more historical than dated. It's also a third person books, and it's a very good third person.

Honestly, if this was repackaged today with a new cover, I'd say buy it! Yes, there's a little bit of sexism, but honestly I've read worse in modern books. The girls are capable, smart, all three are in college with no talk of romance (not that that's a bad thing! Just that their being in college isn't about getting an "Mrs" degree, as the expression goes), and one of the themes of the book is that they're better together in a group than they are on their own.

It's old, but it has aged well. I think Scholastic should get on my idea of that repackaging thing, marketing it as YA probably. The cover it has is really cool, though, if you look at it for a moment. It fits the book - kind of dark and creepy, with the three girls heading towards the castle. The mystery is great, the setting of Northern Scotland is awesome, and the writing has held up well. Of all the older books I've read recently, this is my favourite. It's a very enjoyable read. If you can get your hands on this one, read it. Or go bother Scholastic to reprint it!

I just like two seconds ago found out there was a sequel and I would actually seek that out if it was a little more readily available! Seriously, my birthday's December 13, who wants to get me it? If I ever ran into it at a sale and recognized the title, I'd snap it up in a heartbeat. I'd love to hear more about Molly and her adventures with her castle.

So what did think of this post? Did you see my little word association thing I was doing? Would you read any of these?

Peace and cookies,