Monday, November 23, 2015

Genre Scouting - Narrative Non-Fiction

I make no secret of my general non-enjoyment of standard non-fiction textbook type books. I find them boring even when I'm passionate about the subject, I just can't get into them or read them for long periods of time without getting drowsy the way I do with novels. I can sometimes get interested in true crime books without getting bored. I'd really like to start reading narrative non-fiction but I'm not 100% sure where to start. Book Riot recently had a great article, which is actually what ended up inspiring this post, Genre Kryptonite: Non-Fiction For Fiction Lovers and I am definitely thinking about starting with a few of their suggestions since the library I work at has the three that sound most appealing to me, a few of the Stella Tillyard ones (Aristocrats and A Royal Affair) and one of the Nancy Mitford's (Madame Pompadour) .

Aside from the Book Riot article, I've read some other pieces in the past that have led me to believe that narrative non-fiction is the best way to get someone who is a strict fiction reader actually reading narrative non-fiction, but I was always kind of confused about what exactly makes narrative non-fiction. I feel like I won't really completely understand the genre until I get a book that I know is classed as narrative non-fiction into my hands and start reading it.

So really I guess the point of this post is that I'm hoping to crowd source some reading recommendations. As a genre fiction lover, specifically fantasy, paranormal romance (paranormal anything really), sci-fi and mysteries what narrative non-fiction books would you suggest I get started with?

-- Ren

Friday, November 20, 2015

First Read Friday: The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase & The Gods of Asgard #1) by Rick Riordan

   Title: The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase & The Gods of Asgard #1)
     Author: Rick Riordan
     Publisher: Disney - Hyperion Books
     Published: October 6, 2015
     Number of Pages: 528
     Genre(s): Mythology, Fantasy, YA
     Date Read: November 1, 2015
     Acquired: Walmart

Magnus Chasehas just turned 16, but he's not like most other 16 year olds, Magnus has been living on the streets of Boston, on his own for the last two years since his Mother died. Well actually she didn't just die, she was killed, by inexplicable wolves. So Magnus hates wolves with a passion now, and really who could blame him. For many teens who've just turned 16 their looking forward to a birthday party with lots of their friends, and maybe learning how to drive. Magnus is just looking for his next meal and to stay out of trouble. Magnus doesn't get what he wants though because apparently turning 16 triggers something, something that he doesn't understand, some sort of destiny. Somehow he ends up on a bridge fighting a fire giant for a barnacle covered sword, while being defended by his two homeless friends who are wielding a make way for ducklings sign and a toy store bow and arrow, after listening to an Uncle he hasn't trusted since long before his Mom was killed.

After his fight on the bridge Magnus finds his way to the einherji where the strange things just keep on coming, and the more answers he gets the more confused he gets. The aforementioned homeless friends come to rescue him, and it turns out they've been protecting him from unseen enemies all along, and they're not really homeless humans either, one is a deaf elf and the other is a fashion conscious dwarf who turns to stone in the sunlight. They set off on a quest to find Frey's Sword of Summer and keep Surt from releasing Fenris Wolf and starting Ragnarok. Will they succeed?

I have been waiting for a Rick Riordan Norse mythology series since The Kane Chronicles (KC) so when this was first announced I was freaking out and I have been so excited for it. I followed all the progress updates on Facebook, I gleefully and eagerly counted down the days until the release date. I was jealous that my friend Rachel got her copy before me and resisted the urge to ask her for spoilers beyond telling me exactly HOW Magnus is related to Annabeth (it had been circulating for months that he was going to be her brother so I HAD to know whether he was or not and I was impatient). I hurried to finish the book I was reading when it was released and then the book that I had gotten while reading that book (Chess Queen Enigma) so that I could get myself a copy of Magnus and read it.  So to say I had expectations and high hopes it putting it rather mildly. But oh man did it ever live up to my expectations. Once I got it it was near next to impossible to put it down. I would think about reading it while I was at work. I loved every single page of it, it hooked me right from the beginning and just stayed awesome all the way through. 

Rick Riordan just has a thoroughly enjoyable writing style, he's informative and educational while being highly entertaining. His humour is spot on and perfectly irreverent which I love. My favourite chapter title in the book for example is the one where is breaks the fourth wall "Hearthstone passes out even more than Jason Grace (Though I have no idea who that is)". I was really looking forward to seeing how Riordan would make Magnus stand out from Percy Jackson/Heroes of Olympus (PJ/HoO) and the KC because he did so well at keeping those two mythologies from being too similar even though they were both dealing with the same type of character really (modern teenagers with ties of some sort to mythological gods/goddesses). In PJ/HoO, you'll recall, the kids were all children of first the Greek and then the Roman aspects of the Greek/Roman pantheons (Thanks for catching that I typed Freek instead of Greek the second time there Google) while in the KC the teens were descendants of Egyptian magicians who could channel the auras and powers of the Egyptian pantheon. What he does with Magnus and his companions definitely stands on it's own from the previous two series and perfectly fits the Norse mythology.

As with his other two previous series the world of Norse mythology is well woven into the modern world, this time in Boston instead of a borough of New York. I'm sure given Magnus's connection to Annabeth that as the series goes on we'll get more and more references to people and events from the other series' especially PJ/HoO and I am really looking forward to that. I don't know how many books Riordan has planned for this particular series but I plan to read all of them.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Corn Maze of DOOM - a writing prompt exercise (50th post! wOOt!)

Saturday writing prompt - courtesy of Creative Writing Prompts (and a number generated by

Prompt #100

Write for 10 minutes using "I used to think..." as your starter.


I used to think that I was normal, that my life was going to follow the standard path that the average person's follows - you know, finish secondary school, go to college or university, find a job, get married, blah, blah, blah - "normal" stuff. But now that I find myself face to snout with a Minotaur in the middle of a corn maze I've come to the realization that words like "normal", "average" and even "safe" really don't apply to me or my life in any way at all. You're probably asking yourself what's going on right? Where is this crazy corn maze? Why is there a Minotaur in the middle of it? And how did this girl get there? Yeah I'm asking myself those last two questions as I draw my sword and take a defensive stance. I don't know why the Minotaur chose to manifest in this particular corn maze in rural Ontario, but he has. As to why I'm here facing him? Purely by coincidence or accident if you believe in those sorts of things, which I don't anymore at this point. The first time this kind of thing happened, me running into a mythical monster, I had no idea what was happening, I was 6 at the time though so that was to be expected. Over the years I've learned a lot, faced a lot of monsters, myths and urban legends, things that aren't supposed to exist but do. I remember all of those times now as this stinky Minotaur, his hot breath filling the crisp October Canadian air with steam, charges at me...

Annnnnd that's where my timer went off, that did not feel like 10 minutes haha. That was fun though, I haven't done anything like that in ages. It was good practice! I think I'm going to end up really enjoying writing prompt weekends!

-- Ren

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

#Library Learning - fun fact: main stream media tried to tell us that apparently it's plague gerbils not plague rats

I was on my library's chat reference service last week and was asked if I could help find videos on the Black Death. So I did a search of the library's catalogue to see what we had, the patron didn't end up sticking around on the chat after I said searching the catalogue was their best place to start, but I was curious about what videos we had on the topic so I decided to look at the search results. I started reading through some of the titles with my coworkers, because they were curious about what I was looking at. There was the usual stuff about religion, war, and famine...and then we got about half way down the first page of results, and came across this:

That stopped me right in my tracks, piqued my curiosity, that was not what I was expecting to come across. Gerbils responsible for the plague. I immediately had to know more. So I turned to Google for some news articles on the subject. 

As you can see from those few results in the above image, it turns out it's not so cut and dry, there's a lot of debate about whether or not it was actually the gerbils or whether it was indeed the rats like it has historically been attributed. The original study that inspired all this gerbil related sensationalism is a report by Professor Nils Christian Stenseth and scientists from the University of Oslo titled Climate-driven introduction of the Black Death and successive plague reintroductions into Europe. The article from the Skeptics Guide, which was the top result in the Google search was actually very interesting and does a really good job of explaining how the media took the original report out of context for the sake of headlines. Alison Atkin, whose article Avoid Killer Gerbil Headlines Like a Cliche was linked in the Skeptics Guide article as being a good explanation of the chain of logic in the original study, commented on the article with a link to another of her articles, Blame The Gerbils? Blame The Journalists! which explores how the media blew it so out of proportion.

This is just another standard example of not taking everything the media tells you at face value, it's always a good idea to do some digging into the headlines.

-- Ren

Monday, November 9, 2015

2015 Reading Challenge(s) update

As I've mentioned before in past entries, every year I do a reading challenge. I set my goal for this year at 52, which is the same goal I had last year. In addition to just setting a number goal what I decided to to this year was to expand my horizons as well, I made a mental pact with myself that I would finally start reading comic books (other than Archie which I've been reading since I learned to read.). I also found a reading challenge checklist from PopSugar and thought I would give that a go as well. 

So how does my progress stand right now?

I've read my 52 books for the year, read the last one just tonight in fact, so anything else I read for the rest of the year is cake. Of the 52 books I've read this year, 22 have been comics.

Lauren's bookshelf: books-in-2015

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 2
3 of 5 stars
tagged: books-in-2015, comics, fantasy, science-fiction, steampunk, and par...
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1
4 of 5 stars
tagged: to-read, books-in-2015, comics, science-fiction, and steampunk
The Sword of Summer
5 of 5 stars
tagged: books-in-2015, fantasy, favorites, mythology, and ya
The Chess Queen Enigma
3 of 5 stars
I originally posted this review on my blog. ( Title: The Chess Queen Enigma (Stoker & Holmes, #3) [ARC] Author: Colleen Gleason Publisher: Chronicle...
tagged: books-in-2015, fantasy, science-fiction, steampunk, mystery, and hi...
Three to Get Deadly
4 of 5 stars
tagged: books-in-2015, mystery, and thriller

And out of the 50 challenges listed on the PopSugar list, I have completed 24:

1. A book you can finish in a day - How to drive a dragon crazy
2. A book that became a movie - Mockingjay (reread)
3. A book published this year - Zodiac legacy : convergence
4. A book with non-human characters - Last dragon standing
5. A funny book - What a dragon should know (reread)
6. A book by a female author - Witness protection
7. A graphic novel - Guardians of the galaxy : cosmic avengers
8. A book by an author you've never read before - Siren's treasure
9. A book you own but have never read - College of magics
10. A book based on a true story - Paris to die for
11. A book set during Christmas - Jingle spells
12. A memoir - Pyongyang : a journey in North Korea
13. A book you started by never finished - About a dragon
14. A book with Magic - A discovery of witches (reread)
15. A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit - Shadow of night
16. A book with more than 500 pages - The book of life
17. A trilogy A discovery of Witches / Shadow of night / The book of life
18. A book with a one word title - Soulless
19. A book with a colour in the title - Superman : Red Son
20. A book based entirely on its cover - Gotham City Sirens Vol. 3 : strange fruit
21. A mystery or thriller - The Silkworm
22. A book that came out the year you were born - Batman : the Dark Knight returns
23. A popular author's first book - One for the money
24. A book with a number in the title - Two for the dough

Sunday, November 8, 2015

On writer's "stage" fright

One of these days I am going to figure out how to get over my writer's stage fright. I cannot figure out why I have so much anxiety about actually translating my story ideas from ideas into actual is a most annoying problem.

-- Ren

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Ode to chocolate chips

Earlier this week I got talking about poetry at random with some coworkers which reminded me that last week I'd been scrolling through my Facebook feed when I came across a haiku I wrote back in 2009 for a class. So, I'm posting that haiku as tonight's blog post on the subject of creative writing.

The chocolate chip:
Bringer of gooey delight, 
Tasty muffin mate. 

I was on a chocolate chip muffin kick at the time.

-- Ren

First Read Friday: The Chess Queen Enigma by Colleen Gleason

     Title: The Chess Queen Enigma (Stoker & Holmes, #3) [ARC]
     Author: Colleen Gleason
     Publisher: Chronicle Books
     Published: October 6, 2015
     Number of Pages: 351
     Genre(s): Mystery, Sci-fi, Steampunk, YA
     Date Read: October 25, 2015
     Acquired: Goodreads Giveaways

It is my great pleasure to introduce you this evening to one Miss Alvermina Holmes, daughter of Sir Mycroft Holmes, niece of the esteemed detective Sherlock. She would prefer that you call her Miss Holmes, or if you must use the familiar, Mina. Mina is every bit a Holmes, she is following in her uncle's famous footsteps as a master of deductive reasoning (although she still has much to learn). May I also introduce you to her associate Miss Evaline Stoker, sister of Mr. Bram Stoker, oh yes, and she's a trained vampire hunter. Together they form the team of Stoker & Holmes, under the guidance of the indomitable and infamous Miss Irene Adler they endeavor to become a crime fighting force to rival the likes of Holmes and Watson. 

The year is 1889 and our intrepid young heroines have been tasked by the Crown to act as diplomatic escorts for a foreign Princess as she attempts to restore the relationship between her country and England by returning a letter that will lead to a loss chess piece, a white queen. On the eve prior to their assignment to escort the Princess of Betrovia, Evaline gets drawn into a mystery involving her friend Pix. Inevitably everything goes bottoms up, the letter ends up stolen and Mina and Evaline are called in to track it, and the queen down. Mina deduces that their adversary in this endeavor is someone they have faced before, their own Moriarty if you will, a criminal mastermind known only as the Ankh. What, if anything does the Ankh and the missing chess queen have to do with Pix's mysterious client? And is everyone around them really who they appear to be?

I must preface this review by noting that the copy of the book that I read is an uncorrected advanced reader's copy that I received from the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways. Therefore, without having a finished copy of the book in hand I cannot say for certain whether or not any of the problems I had with this book actually appear in the final version of the novel. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I love books that take characters we know and love (or historical figures in the case of Bram) and give them bigger and more complex lives than we saw them have in their own stories. In this instance those beloved characters serve as background characters to give the two main characters a reason for existing, but I love that. There are things that Mina Holmes and Evaline Stoker can do that Sherlock and Bram could not as characters.The steampunk meets urban paranormal fantasy mashup intrigues me as well, you can't have a character called Stoker without having vampires. This is the 3rd book in the Stoker & Holmes series, but it is the first one that I have read. I went to the public library last night and borrowed the other two.

I'm betting that many of the problems I had with this book stem from the fact that I didn't read the first two before reading it. The story felt rushed to me over all, and like there were too many side plots that the author had to hastily try and fold into the main plot...which caused the main plot to get sort of diluted. The Dylan story line, that felt out of place for me, but that one I definitely expect is because I haven't read the first two books yet. Wedging the vampire portion of the plot (the Pix storyline) into the puzzle of the chess queen seemed unnecessarily contrived, it seemed more like its purpose was setting up the 4th Stoker and Holmes book rather than driving the plot of this book. And the actual enigma of the chess queen? I feel like that was the one storyline in the book that didn't get as much attention as it should have, it just to me any way felt like that investigation was just happening whenever they didn't have something else on the go. And the last thing that bothered me? The something else on the go usually related to men. I feel like Mina and Evaline shouldn't be concerned about men or what men think of them etc. but Evaline spends time telling us how jealous she is of another female friend of Pix's and also trying to sort her feelings out for him. Mina spends quite a lot of time trying (and failing miserably) to deny that she has feelings for Inspector Grayling (the Lestrade to her Sherlock). I'm telling you, if I am picking up a novel called a Stoker and Holmes novel, I am NOT picking it up for the relationship dramas of young Victorian ladies, I am picking it up for kickass vampire hunting a damn good mystery...and I just feel like both of those things were somewhat afterthoughts in the novel. 

Enjoyable read, just not 100% what I was expecting. Won't stop me from reading the rest of the series though.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

On trying to blog again & one reason I love public libraries

Well, it's been a long time since I wrote a post. I have been very neglectful of this blog for quite awhile now. I managed to fall out of the habit of writing regularly and then avoiding starting up again became a habit. About a month ago I thought to myself that I missed writing and that I'd like to get back into it again, and a set of ideas for different themes I could use on this blog popped into my head. But then I just put it off because I wasn't in the mood to start writing/scared of starting again because I can be a real chicken about putting myself out there to be judged. My best friend Angie, who is my biggest supporter (along with my mother) and my biggest encouragement and inspiration, is doing a blog post every day this month. So after reading one of her posts earlier this week I told her how much I love reading her writing, and when I told her that she said she loved mine, and she's not the type of person to just return a compliment like that or to bullshit me so I believe her when she tells me my writing is good. So with that encouragement I thought, you know what, I'm going to do it too, I'm going to do a blog post every day from November 3rd to December 3rd to get back into the swing of writing. Well you'll notice it's November 5th now and this is my first post of the month, Tuesday night I got sidetracked by: CSI: Cyber, The Flash, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Scream Queens, and last night I had a few errands to run, some volunteer work to do, and I was just really into the work I was doing on the house I'm building for Angie in the Sims 2 (which I was still working on again tonight as well) so I didn't end up getting around to writing any entries. I decided that tonight, no matter what I was going to start, so my month of a blog post every day starts now, with this post, and will last until December 5th. After December 5th I will try to blog as regularly as possible, whether that will be every day or not remains to be seen but I will keep it up this time.

As far as they ideas for themes I had in mind, I thought that, in keeping with the theme I have for this blog that I would write about:

- General reading/writing topics on Mondays
- Fun things I come across at work (I work in an Academic Library) on Tuesdays
- Comics/Comic TV/Films on Wednesdays (Mostly so I can geek out about The Flash and AoS which come on on Tuesday nights)
- Libraries and library associations on Thursdays
- Book reviews on Fridays
- And time permitting on the weekends I thought I'd post some creative writing in order to help me get back into doing creative writing regularly too

So since it's Thursday, I thought I'd end this first post off by talking about libraries. Specifically tonight I'm going to talk about something I love about public libraries. I love the reader's advisory service offered by public libraries. For those of you that don't know what reader's advisory is, I offer the definition from the Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science:

Reader's advisory is a service provided by experienced public services library staffers who specialize in the reading needs of the patrons of a public library. A readers' advisor recommends specific titles and/or authors, based on knowledge of the patron's past reading preferences/requests. This type of information is also provided by reference works such as Reader's Adviser: A Layman's Guide to Reading published by Bowker. For genre fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, romance etc.), the standard guide is Genreflecting: A Guide to Reading Interests in Genre Fiction (Libraries Unlimited, 2000) by Diana Tixier Herald. For online readers' advisory, try Find a Good Book: If You Like... from the Hennepin County Library, or Book Browser from Barnes & Noble.  (Reitz)
 Like I said above, and I believe I've mentioned before, I work in an Academic Library, I am a trained library professional. I've taken a course specifically geared toward learning how to do reader's advisory for genre fiction. I provide reader's advisory for friends, family and people I know on Facebook quite regularly. But reader's advisory is not what I do every day, I don't know all the tricks and tools and I am willing to admit that. Although in this instance it took me 4 days before I was willing to admit defeat and turn to the Waterloo Public Library for help, because I felt like I should have been able to do it myself. After finishing Colleen Gleason's The Chess Queen Enigma last week I got it into my head that I would love to read some steampunk that is set in Victorian Canada instead of Victorian England, so I started hunting for some. After 4 days of trying the only thing I found was an anthology of short stories that won't even actually be published until next April! (Sad face, I want it now!) So this afternoon I admitted defeat and emailed the WPL for help sheepishly. I was totally, absolutely thrilled and impressed when I got a response less than an hour later with 3 titles that they had found that fit what I was looking for! And the staff member who contacted me was even helpful enough to place a hold on the item they had for me, put in an Interlibrary loan request for the one that could be obtained through ILL and submit a purchase order for the one that couldn't be! So yes, if you're ever stuck trying to find something for you next read, or for a specific type of book you aren't even sure exists, ask the staff at a public library, they are really good at it!


Reitz, Joan M. "Online Dictionary for Library Sience - R." ODLIS. ABC-CLIO, n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2015.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Reading Challenges: 2014 Wrap-up

Well clearly I failed at one portion of my self assigned reading challenge, in my initial post for my 2014 reading challenge I said I was going to post updated reading bingo cards every month, something which I obviously never did because there are no further posts about it on the blog. In fact there weren't many posts at all from me over the last year. A total of 6 posts for the year and that's it. 2014 was a strange year for me, I started writing e-book reviews for Parajunkee's view if you recall, but not long after I started doing that I was laid off from my job in early February and so all of my energy ended up going into job hunting so having to write a book review every two weeks became too much for me and I ended up stopping after only about 3 reviews :(. It took 6 months to land a new job, but I did and it's a wonderful job and I love it. It's a full-time permanent position and it makes me very happy. I've been there since August and I've got enough of a routine down now that I think I will have more time to blog this year. I've missed writing about books and reading actually so it'll be nice to do it again. I don't think I'll give myself a fixed schedule right off the bat, but that may come again.

So, let's get down to business. Reading challenges, I like them, I do them every year as you know. For 2014 I said my goal was 52 books, and I surpassed my goal again :D (thanks largely to finding the entire Archie Americana series on the shelves at the library I work at, so that knocked out 12 books in about 5 days which caught me back up after getting behind). I ended the year with 62 books. As you'll see if you visit my books in 2014 shelf on Goodreads, which I just linked to in the previous sentence, you'll notice an eclectic mix of comic books, really old YA, lots of new YA, a crapton of different types of fantasy, some mysteries, and a whole lot of harlequin and harlequin imprints books. I discovered the joys of paranormal fantasy romances last December in the push to finish my 2013 reading challenge. This year I discovered that those category romances you find in the bookshelves of department stores, or at least the Nocture category specifically, are actually pretty good! Yeah they're smutty, but I like smut, fanfiction got me into smut haha. They're fast little entertaining reads that I can get through in one sitting, I like books like that as I have mentioned before. If you go back and re-read the post about my 2014 reading challenge, or if you can just remember that far back, or even just back to the first sentence of this post, you'll remember that in 2014 I didn't just have a number in mind for books, but I decided to play Random House's reading bingo as well.

Let's have a look at my finished cards then and see how I did.

My Cards (as of Dec. 31, 2014)

General reading bingo:

Young Adult reading bingo:

Out of both cards there were only 6 squares that I wasn't able to fill in with any of the books I read. I did read a book set in Paris, but it wasn't a YA book so I couldn't count it. 

Coming up next? A post about my 2015 reading challenge :)