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Monday, July 31, 2017

Maori and Pasifika Writers

In Canada, June is National Aboriginal History Month and June 21 is National Aboriginal Day.  When looking for titles written by Canada’s indigenous peoples, I wondered about the writing of indigenous peoples in other parts of the world.

I came across the Academy of New Zealand Literature which featured a list of 21 books written by Maori and Pasifika writers:  I have read none of them, but will certainly try finding some of these titles. 

I’ve been looking for a copy of Skins: Contemporary Indigenous Writing, edited by Katerina Akiwenzie-Damm and Josie Douglas.  This anthology, published in 2000, features work by indigenous writers from Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.  Unfortunately, a copy on is over $1,000! 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Male Writers Using Gender-Neutral Pseudonyms

Throughout history, many female writers have felt the need to write under a male pseudonym to mask their identity in order to be taken more seriously in the literary world, thanks to age-old stereotypes about what women are capable of writing.  Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë became Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; Mary Ann Evans became George Eliot; Karen Blixen became Isak Dinesen; J. K. Rowling became Robert Galbraith; and Nelle Harper Lee became Harper Lee. 

Apparently that bias still exists.  Catherine Nichols sent a cover letter and the opening pages of a novel under her own name and under the pseudonym “George” to agents and received very different responses:  “George sent out 50 queries, and had his manuscript requested 17 times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book.”   She even sent the same work to the same agent using both names and the result was disturbing:  “One who sent me a form rejection as Catherine not only wanted to read George’s book, but instead of rejecting it asked if he could send it along to a more senior agent. Even George’s rejections were polite and warm” 

Now apparently, the practice of adopting a female or gender-neutral nom de plume is prevalent in the psychological thriller genre.  There is market demand for psychological thrillers written mostly by women for female audiences and featuring a female narrator.  Some fans might doubt the authenticity of the female narrator’s voice when it is delivered by a male author, so male writers are adopting gender ambiguous pseudonyms in order to attract more female readers.  Hence, Todd Ritter has become Riley Sager, author of Final Girls; Steve Watson has become S. J. Watson, author of Before I Go to Sleep and Second Life; and Daniel Mallory has become A. J. Finn, author of The Woman in the Window (

Perhaps initials are the way to go so gender bias is eliminated.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Readers Get More Dates?

According to eHarmony, the dating site, listing reading as a hobby on your dating profile makes you more appealing to the opposite sex.  According to their data, men who list reading as an interest receive 19 per cent more messages, and women three per cent more.  It also said that bookworms are found to be “more intellectually curious than most and find it easier to form open and trusting relationships with others.” 

Of course what you read can make a difference:

And there is a caveat.  Rosie J. Spinks in "To Date a Reader" warns, "Perhaps it’s because reading is such an obvious hobby that it’s so difficult to separate those who read from readers when it comes to dating" (  

Friday, July 28, 2017

On Beatrix Potter's Birthday: Which Animal Character are You?

Today, July 28, is the 151st anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter.  In honour of her day, here’s a quiz you can take to determine which of her animal characters you would be:

Apparently, I’m Mrs Tiggy-Winkle the hedgehog!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

2017 Man Booker Prize Longlist

The 13 books making the Man Booker Prize longlist were announced today:

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US)
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Ireland)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK)
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Ireland)
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK)
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK)
The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (India)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US)
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan)
Autumn by Ali Smith (UK)
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US)

For more information about the books and writers, go to

I’ve read only two of the books:

The prize is worth £50,000 ($81,625 CAN).  A shortlist of six books will be announced on Sept. 13, with the winner announcement to follow on Oct. 17, 2017.

The Perils of Gifting and Recommending Books

I love receiving books as gifts and I often gift books as gifts.  Of course, choosing a book to give someone else can be a difficult task.  Back in April, Laura Marie wrote an article “The Right (and Wrong!) Way to Give Books as Gifts” for BookRiot.  She suggested four questions to ask oneself before picking a book to gift: 
Will this book make the person feel understood, not judged?   
Does this book fill a need that the receiver has expressed?
Do I personally cherish this book?
Does the person realistically have time for another book?

Maybe a bookstore gift card is better and the recipient has the fun of choosing a book?

Sometimes people don’t want to gift a book but want to recommend titles to others; this too can be fraught with peril.  Michelle Anne Schingler  wrote “25 Terrible Book Recommendations” for BookRiot:  How about recommending  Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle as the prize for winning a hot dog eating contest? 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review of HOUSE OF EVIDENCE by Victor Arnor Ingólfsson

2.5 Stars
In Reykjavík in 1973, police investigate the death of Jacob Kieler Jr. who was found dead in his home.  His father, a prominent engineer obsessed with building a national railroad, had been killed in the same way in the same spot almost 30 years earlier.  The story focuses on the police investigation, giving the perspectives of various members of the investigative team, and Jacob Sr.’s diaries written between 1910 – 1945.  The police set out to find the connection between the two deaths. 

The book is very slow-paced.  Not only does the investigation proceed slowly, but the diary entries included at the end of each chapter slow things down even further.  The diary entries reveal Jacob Sr.’s fixation with trains and give historical information about Iceland in the first half of the 20th century, but do little to advance the plot.  The constant rambling on and on about trains becomes tedious. 

Is there anything less interesting than journal entries that read like this:  “There are two locomotives:  Pionér, built by Arnold Jung in Germany in 1892; and Minør, built by Jungenthal in Bei Kirchen in Germany the same year.  The gauge is 90 cm . . . ” and “the professor shows us calculations on energy efficiency for railway trains powered by steam.  Apparently only 6% efficiency is achieved.  I am looking forward to learning about locomotives powered by electricity.  The professor says that such a train was first demonstrated here in the city in 1879, and the first extensive electric railroad, between Bitterfeld and Dessau, was open in 1911 (15 kV, 16.7 Hz).  An engine that Rudolf Diesel had completed before his death last year is also thought to be very promising.” and “Mauretania is 31,932 tons, 232 meters in length, and achieves a maximum speed of 25 knots, one of the fastest ships now sailing the Atlantic Ocean.” and “Plotted the Threngsli gradient survey onto graph paper.  Weighed myself, I am 73 kilos . . .” and “The cross ties (1.60 x 0.22 x 0.11 m) will be made of impregnated pinewood mounted with 12-cm-wide baseplates.  The price, 6.00 kr. per item, is a little high, but is based on the present high price of timber and the cost of creosote being 150 kr./ton.”  My eyes glazed over several times!

There is a lot of unnecessary information given outside the journal entries as well.  The author feels he has to explain the technology used by the investigators.  For example, “he did have equipment back at the lab for doing a so-called paraffin test, where warm paraffin wax was applied to the hands to see if they revealed nitrates left by a gunshot, but recent research had shown this method to be very inaccurate.”  Then there’s this explanation:  “Fingerprint powder works by sticking to traces of grease left behind when a finger touches an object; the grease carries the same pattern as the finger itself, and the powder therefore displays an accurate copy of it.  The trick was to use the right powder for the circumstances.  It must not cling to the surface bearing the fingerprint, and it must be the correct color:  black powder was used on light surfaces, gray powder on dark ones.  Different methods were applied depending on whether the fingerprints were old or recent.  This powder was designed to show up on only recent prints, those containing grease and moisture, and not old prints, which consist mainly of salts.”  Such extraneous details just slow down the pace even further.  This is a novel, not a technical manual on forensic methodology.

There is little character development.  Egill, incompetent and aggressive, is a stereotypical bad cop.  Hrefna, the only woman on the police team, has the most potential as a round character but there is insufficient focus on her.  Why include the death of a very minor character instead of developing the main characters?

The ending is very dramatic with several major surprises.  The solution to the mystery surrounding the deaths of father and son is a bit far-fetched; it made me think of something one would find in a Sherlock Holmes mystery. 

The storyline has potential, but was clumsily executed.  A good editor would have tightened the plot and insisted on more character development.  Thematic development could also be improved so obvious statements like “Perhaps things will change one day, and people will be able to live the way they were created” and “Many a man might have gained wisdom had he not considered himself wise already” would be unnecessary.

Though I tend to like Icelandic mysteries, this one was a disappointment.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Was the Voynich Manuscript written by a Jewish physician living in Italy?

Last summer, I posted about the Voynich Manuscript, a medieval manuscript written in an unknown, apparently encrypted language which no one has been able to decipher (

Now, Stephen Skinner, an expert in medieval esoteric manuscripts, claims that the author of the as-yet untranslatable Voynich Manuscript was a Jewish physician based in northern Italy.  He bases his theory on the many illustrations which include plants and astrological charts.  For the complete story, go to

Yesterday, I blogged about transcribing old manuscripts.  Can you imagine doing this one?

Monday, July 24, 2017

A Great Hobby for Readers: Transcribing Rare Manuscripts

Chicago’s Newberry Library is looking for volunteers to transcribe and translate a series of rare religious manuscripts written between the 15th and 19th centuries.

The manuscripts, titled The Book of Magical Charms, The Commonplace Book and Cases of Conscience Concerning Witchcraft, are part of the Newberry’s multidisciplinary project “Religious Change, 1450–1700,” which explores how the printed word changed religious interpretation in Europe and the Americas.

Anyone can visit  in order to transcribe and translate the texts without having to visit the library.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

New Maurice Sendak Picture Book

Who doesn’t love Maurice Sendak’s stories like Where the Wild Things Are?  Though Sendak died five years ago, a new book of his will be published this fall.  Presto and Zesto in Limboland, co-authored by Sendak and his frequent collaborator, Arthur Yorinks, was recently discovered. 

The discovery comes complete with a manuscript and illustrations, the latter of which were created in 1990 for a London Symphony performance of Leoš Janáček’s 1927 work Rikadla, a piece set around a series of nonsense Czech nursery rhymes: 

I will definitely be putting this on my gift list for my grandson.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Interlinked Short-Story Collections

Yesterday, I wrote about short stories which I tend to read between novels.  That blog entry got me thinking about interlinked short stories that can be read as a novel.  Probably the first examples of this genre I ever read are The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. 

Here are a half dozen novel-in-stories books I would recommend:
Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad
Dubliners by James Joyce
The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro
Olive Ketteridge and Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Friday, July 21, 2017

Some Short Story Suggestions

Sometimes short stories are the perfect read.  Between novels, I often take a break with a short story or two.  

If you are wondering what stories to read, you might want to take a look at this list of popular anthologized short stories prepared for Literary Hub:  I was pleased that some of my favourites made the list:  “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson; “Eveline” by James Joyce; “The Doll’s House” by Katherine Mansfield.

If you are looking for some of these stories and don’t have any anthologies at hand, check out  They have thousands of titles which you can read on the spot.

Here are a dozen stories which did not make the above list but which I used with my students in the past and which I think serve as a great introduction to the genre (an * indicates the author is Canadian): 
 “By the Waters of Babylon” by Stephen Vincent Benét
“A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury
“The Pedestrian” by Ray Bradbury
“All the Years of Her Life” by Morley Callaghan*
“The Two Fishermen” by Morley Callaghan*
“The Last Leaf” by O. Henry
 “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs
“Horses of the Night” by Margaret Laurence*
“The Interlopers” by Saki (H. H. Munro)
“Laura” by Saki
“The Lamp at Noon” by Sinclair Ross*
“One’s a Heifer” by Sinclair Ross*

If you are really pressed for time, why not read some micro-fiction. takes you to a site where you can read some very, very short stories. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review of INTO THE WATER by Paula Hawkins

3 Stars
This is Paula Hawkins’s much anticipated second novel after The Girl on the Train. I rated the latter as a 3-star read and Into the Water is about the same in quality. 

The novel is set in Beckford, a village in northern England.  Beckford has a river running through it and a drowning pool where several women have died.  The latest is Nel Abbott who had become obsessed with investigating the sometimes mysterious deaths about which she planned to write a book.  Jules, Nel’s estranged sister, arrives to look after Lena, Nel’s teenaged daughter, and begins to wonder whether Nel’s death was a suicide as Lena suspects.  It turns out that there are a number of people who disliked Nel and her pre-occupation with the women who had died.  Was Nel correct when she wrote before her death that “Beckford is not a suicide spot.  Beckford is a place to get rid of troublesome women”?

One of the problems with the book is keeping track of people.  First of all, there are the women who have died in the river:  Libby Seeton, Anne Ward, Lauren Slater, Katie Whittaker, among others.  One of the police detectives sums up the difficulty:  “Seriously, how is anyone supposed to keep track of all the bodies around here?  It’s like Midsomer Murders, only with accidents and suicides and grotesque historical misogynistic drownings.” 

Then there are the multiple viewpoints.  The points of view of ten characters are given, besides Nel’s which is given through her notes for her proposed book.  Unfortunately, the voices of the narrators are very similar in tone.  There is insufficient differentiation.  And because there are so many characters, each remains fairly flat.  Jules and Lena are the exceptions; they are both dynamic, but their growth is not well developed because focus is missing. 

Tension is generally missing, except for a couple of episodes in which the sense of danger and urgency is removed quite quickly.  The most common technique used to create suspense is the withholding of information.  One narrator comments, “I couldn’t touch her.  Not after what I’d done.”  Of course, he doesn’t explain what he had done.  Other characters are as secretive, and it is soon obvious that virtually all of the narrators are unreliable.  After a while, this technique of withholding information just becomes irritating. 

The portrayal of men is also problematic.  Almost all of the men are evil:  abusive misogynists, rapists, adulterers, pedophiles, or murderers.  The town seems to have no upstanding male residents.  The author obviously wants to show the effects of misogyny but portraying all men as bad suggests her viewpoint is skewed. 

Hawkins also tries to develop other themes:  the lasting impact of trauma and the unreliability of memory.  Unfortunately, the development is superficial so there is only a nod at literary depth.

Like The Girl on the Train, this book is a light, summer read.  Its short chapters make it an easy read.  Though somewhat entertaining, it does not stand up to careful scrutiny and literary analysis but is a fast read appropriate for a vacation.

This book reminded me of the Drowning Pool I encountered in Iceland. This is the Drekkingarhyulur (Drowning Pool) in Þingvellir National Park where, between 1618 and 1749, eighteen women were executed by drowning.

The Drekkingharhylur in Iceland's Þingvellir National Park

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Jane Austen Day

Today, on the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, the Bank of England unveiled its new £10 note that features the author.

Of course, since it’s a noteworthy day, a number of sites have prepared special features about Jane Austen. 

Signature has a 26-page PDF entitled The Essential Guide to Jane Austen which has 12 articles including titles such as “10 Lessons for 21st-Century Women from Jane Austen,” “Jane Austen Secret Radical: A Book-by-Book Breakdown,” “Austen Heartland:  A Guide to Jane Austen Houses and Places,” and “6 Jane Austen Novels Ranked by Their Sexiness.”  Go to to download the guide for free.

BookRiot has 15 articles about Jane Austen, including discussion of film and comic book adaptations of her novels: .  For a chuckle, make certain to read “From Pemberley to Trump Tower: Jane Austen Quotes Meet Trump Tweets.” 

If you want to test your knowledge of Austen’s novels, go to

Since I’m Canadian, I loved this feature from CBC Books:  Some Canadian books are recommended depending on which Jane Austen character is your favourite.

Vacation Reading: Some Shakespeare Perhaps?

It’s summertime and people are going on vacation.  Whether heading to a beach or elsewhere, readers have to pack at least one book.  The decision as to what to take can be stressful.

BookRiot recently had an article listing five questions one should ask when picking what to take to the beach:

Some people might never consider reading a Shakespeare play while on holiday, but a writer for Signature makes a strong case for choosing one of the Bard’s dramatic offerings.  “While others are engrossed in plots about assassinations, thwarted love, cheating cheaters, and political intrigue written in the empty-calorie style of a cookie cutter kind of paperback writer, you can read those same plots in the gorgeous words of Shakespeare” ( 

And if you do opt for a Shakespeare play, why not consider The Merchant of Venice?  In a recent issue of The New Yorker, Stephen Greenblatt wrote about how that particular play is a cure of xenophobia.  Greenblatt writes, “this is a playwright who could depict on the public stage a twisted sociopath lying his way to supreme authority. This is a playwright who could have a character stand up and declare to the spectators that “a dog’s obeyed in office.” This is a playwright who could approvingly depict a servant mortally wounding the realm’s ruler in order to stop him from torturing a prisoner in the name of national security” (  Yes, indeed, perhaps Shakespeare is the writer to read in this first summer of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Clinton Versus Trump: Reading Suggestions

Yes, the election is over – though Trump does seem to forget that, though he did NOT win the popular vote, he can stop campaigning.  Nonetheless, two interesting articles about the chosen of the Democratic and Republican parties came to my attention recently.   

A couple of weeks ago, Electric Literature wrote about Hilary Clinton’s attendance at the American Library Association conference where she listed a number of books that have made their way to her reading pile:  I was pleased to learn that she loves the Chief Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny, the Canadian mystery writer.

I’ve posted in the past about how Donald Trump does not read books ( though he has inspired novels ( and lists of books to be read during his presidency (   Though Trump might be hard pressed to recommend any books, besides the ones he purportedly wrote, those of you on Twitter might want to check out #TrumpBiographyTitles.  There you will find title suggestions for the president’s future biographers.  Among my favourites are Trumplethinskin, A Man for all Treasons and Fifty Shades of Orange.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Second Anniversary of Schatje's Shelves

Today is the second anniversary of this blog.  Schatje’s Shelves was started on July 16, 2015.  I’ve posted reviews of the 146 books I’ve read in those two years; in addition, I’ve also posted 113 reviews from my archives.  250+ reviews in two years isn’t bad!

Since January of 2017, I’ve posted 196 times; that’s a blog entry every day – all about books and reading. 

Writing a blog can be time-consuming, but I love reading and enjoy sharing books with others.  So I will continue reading, reviewing, and blogging and, hopefully, other book lovers will continue to follow my blog.

Some photos of Schatje's library and its decor:

Schatje loves her new bookish rug!
Is this Schatje?
Or is this Schatje?

How Schatje tells time in her library
Schatje's husband gave this sketch for the library.

Image may contain: 1 person
Every reader needs a handmade book-themed lap quilt!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Review of STRANGE THINGS DONE by Elle Wild

2.5 Stars
This book came to my attention because it won the 2017 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel.  The fact that its setting is in the Yukon also appealed to me.

Jo Silver is a journalist who arrives in the Yukon just as winter is closing in.  After losing her job at a Vancouver newspaper, she has accepted the position of editor of the Dawson City paper.  As soon as she arrives, she finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation, and it quickly turns out not to be the only criminal investigation in the remote northern community.  Being new to the town, she doesn’t know whom she can trust when she starts trying to get to the bottom of the deaths and disappearances.

One of the things constantly emphasized is that Dawson City is almost totally isolated from the outside world in the winter: “Last chance [to leave Dawson City] before freeze-up: when the Yukon River froze and the ferry to the west was dry-docked.  Then the Top of the World Highway to Alaska would close, the airport would follow suit, and the Klondike Highway – the only route out via the south – would begin to snow in.”  My understanding is that the Klondike Highway is maintained and kept open year-round, though obviously a snow storm might make driving difficult.  And in March, a friend posted a photo from the Dawson City airport before taking a flight south.  The author also repeats several times that Dawson City has no cellular service.  Again, my research suggests that this is not true; the town has had 4G service since 2012.  The novel is set in 2004 so perhaps the community was absolutely isolated in the winter at the beginning of the century?  Surely there must have been some way of bringing in provisions.  People with medical emergencies could not be taken for treatment outside the town?  Is the author guilty of some exaggeration in order to heighten the suspense? 

Jo is not a convincing character.  For an investigative journalist, she certainly lacks common sense.  She knows so little about Canadian geography that she brings only rubber boots when she moves north?  On her first night in town, the day before she is to begin her new job, she gets so drunk that she has almost no memory of what happened?  She makes stupid, thoughtless decisions; for example, how many times will she visit a site where she is in danger of being shot?  She breaks the law in order to investigate a person’s disappearance? 

Jo is also a poor judge of character.  She may be a cheechako, a newcomer, but when choosing whether to trust someone, she ignores all the clues pointing to that person’s trustworthiness or lack thereof.  She is attracted to a man who has a reputation as a womanizer and is a viable murder suspect?  After a few of her actions, she just becomes irritating.

The police are portrayed as inept.  Jo keeps stumbling over bodies and so becomes a suspect when she reports them to the police?  The police seem not to investigate a disappearance very seriously, yet arrest Jo on the flimsiest speculation?  Even the police in Vancouver are inept:   Jo feels guilty for going along with a police request, a request that had dire consequences.  Her constant agonizing over this decision becomes annoying because it is the police who are responsible for what happened.  The focus seems to be on showing Jo to be smarter than the police.  Naturally, she also has the ability to melt the heart of a policeman:  “melted him like snow”!

There are some colourful secondary characters, as one would expect.  It is these eccentrics who often steal the limelight.  Sally, Jo’s roommate, for instance, is a much more interesting character than Jo though some of her behaviour isn’t just oddball, but stupid.  A seasoned Yukoner would go out in stiletto boots into the bush during a snowstorm?  And no matter how independent and quirky the people, is it likely that a piece of outdoor art would be erected at the beginning of winter? 

The ending is very abrupt.  The motivation for the killings seems really weak.  And though Dawson City in the winter “might as well be on another planet,” the killer has a means of escape not previously mentioned?  Much is also left unexplained.  Certainly, I craved more information about the Cariboo/Alice story which seems to have a connection to current events in the town. 

The writer uses some imaginative comparisons:  “Her face looked like a store receipt left in the bottom of a handbag for too long.”  Unfortunately, there are too many similar water analogies:  “attempting to attribute meaning to anything in Dawson was like trying to look at something underwater, where the shape and size of a thing changed when you reached toward it” and “Somewhere just below the calm surface of her subconscious, something menacing floated yet, threatening to breach the still waters and emerge at any time” and “Jo had the feeling of looking at something underwater, flitting just below the surface, and not being able to make out exactly what it was.”

I so wanted to like this book, but I found too many weaknesses in it.  For me, the most memorable line is about a young girl’s disappearance eight years earlier:  “’That happens sometimes in the North.  Especially to First Nations girls, but nobody talks about that.’”