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Monday, May 29, 2017

Attending a Wizarding School

If you are a Harry Potter fan, you might consider attending a wizarding school. 

Housed in East Sussex's 15th-century Herstmonceux Castle, the Bothwell School of Witchcraft will host weekend-long live-action roleplay experiences.  Players will be asked to complete a questionnaire when purchasing their tickets; their answers will be used to design a character for their weekend at the castle.

The school’s website states, “You'll stay for 3 days, full board, and be sorted into your house, take part in lessons, attend a banquet, explore the grounds and meet weird and wonderful creatures.”  Costumes will be provided, but wands will not.

The school does not have the rights to any of the Harry Potter universe so The Bothwell School of Witchcraft is set in an entirely different universe and time with entirely new characters and plots.

The first event is scheduled for Aug. 11 – Aug. 13. 

For further information, go to

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Hereford Chained Library

If you happen to be visiting England, why not take a trip to Hereford to visit the Hereford Cathedral Library with its chained books.  It is the only library of this type to survive with all of the chains, rods and locks still intact. 

Most of the books in the collection date to about 1100.  The cathedral’s earliest and most important book is the 8th-century Hereford Gospels; written in Anglo-Saxon characters, it dates to around the year 780.  It is one of 229 medieval manuscripts which now occupy two bays of the Chained Library.

The chaining of books was the most widespread and effective security system in European libraries from the Middle Ages to the 18th century.  A chain is attached at one end to the front cover of each book, and the other end is slotted onto a rod running along the bottom of each shelf.  The system allows a book to be taken from the shelf and read at the desk, but not to be removed from the bookcase.

The cathedral and its library are open to visitors.  Check this website for further information and opening times:

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Review of FROZEN ASSETS by Quentin Bates

 3.5 Stars
I recently read Snowblind by the Icelandic author Ragnar Jónasson and discovered the translator was Quentin Bates who has also written a series of Icelandic mysteries.  So I thought I’d give Bates’ book a try.

Frozen Assets is the first in the series introducing Sgt. Gunnhildur Gísladóttir, known by everybody as Gunna the Cop.  A body is found in the water near Hvalvík where Gunna is the police officer in charge.  It might seem like an accidental drowning but then Gunna discovers that the victim had been seen in Reykjavik severely inebriated so the big question is how he got 100 kms away from the city.  Gunna’s investigations uncover corruption involving the victim’s boss, Signurjóna Huldudóttir, who is married to the country’s Environment Minister. 

It is Gunna the Cop that interests me enough to get me to read more of the books in the series.  She is described as “a big fat lass with a face that frightens the horses” though that is an obvious exaggeration.  She is astute and intelligent and straightforward.  She doesn’t suffer fools easily.  Colleagues respect her.  For me, she is just a character I could not help but like.

Minor characters, unfortunately, tend to be a blur.  I had difficulty differentiating the other police officers.  Only the journalist shadowing Gunna and the villain emerge as fully developed characters.

I enjoyed learning more about the political and economic turmoil that Iceland experienced in 2008.  I had never clearly understood what had happened, but Bates manages to explain in a way that makes sense. 

The story is told from multiple perspectives; being given the viewpoint of the villain certainly increases suspense as a cat-and-mouse game develops. 

I also appreciated the touches of humour.  Throughout the book, blog entries by an anonymous blogger are inserted.  This blogger provides “completely reliable, totally unsubstantiated and extremely libellous gossip about the great and the good of Icelandic entertainment, business and politics.”  Some of his comments are hilarious, though of course his victims are less than pleased. 

I will definitely return to this series because of the protagonist who is anything but a stereotypical police detective.

Free Libraries

Free libraries have been cropping up in more and more communities.  What is a free library?  It’s a “take a book, return a book” free book exchange.   Free libraries come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box of books.  Anyone may take a book or bring a book to share.

Amongst my favourite free libraries are the book trees in Renfrew County where I grew up.  Free Community Book Trees are currently located in Petawawa, Killaloe, Arnprior, Pembroke, Cobden, and in Bonnechere Ontario Provincial Park.  In an area where forestry was a major industry, it is appropriate that already fallen trees from local forests are used.  There’s a Facebook page with photos of the various book trees: 

The Bonnechere Park tree is unique as it is the first inside a provincial park. Made out of a massive 100-year-old white pine that fell during a wind storm two years ago, this Book Tree is crowned with an authentic Pointer Boat ( 

When visiting a community, why not hunt out the free libraries.  The Globe and Mail even did a feature article on some free libraries in Toronto:  There’s even an organization which can help you find these in your travels:

If you would like to build a free library where you live, you can find advice here:   And check out the tips from someone who has a free library:

Friday, May 26, 2017

A Literary Vacation by Rail

The British Tourist Authority has dubbed 2017 as the “Year of the Literary Heroes” because of its many milestones:  the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death; the 20th anniversary of the release of J. K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel; the 75th anniversary of Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series and 120th anniversary of her birth; the 100th anniversary of the birth of the poet Edward Thomas; the 150th anniversary of the birth of Matthew Arnold; the 50th anniversary of the death of children’s author Arthur Ransome; the 125th anniversary of the death of Alfred, Lord Tennyson; and the 125th anniversary of the publication of the first Sherlock Holmes novel ( 

To help celebrate this year, Rail Europe is offering a series of literary-themed itineraries from London to surrounding areas.  With the help of the rail company, you can see Jane Austen’s home, visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street, or hang out at the Edinburgh cafes where J.K. Rowling wrote her first books.

“’These stories and authors are treasured around the world, and now is the perfect time to celebrate them on their milestone anniversaries,’ Melanie Albaric, Marketing & Communications Manager for Rail Europe, told Condé Nast Traveler. ‘Many trains offer easy transportation to these stories’ settings or author’s hometowns, so travelers can truly immerse themselves in the worlds of their favorite books’” ( 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Library in a Hotel Bar

Yesterday, I blogged about a bookish hostel in Japan.  If Japan is not on your itinerary, perhaps New York City is.  There’s a hotel bar to check out. 

The NoMad Hotel at 1170 Broadway and 28th St. in Manhattan has a bar with a library with 3,650 books in various genres.  “Everything about the space invites you to sit down and read from the deep-seated leather chairs to the long cushioned couches”(,EORP,4M9UM2,1I2QZ,1).  A glass of wine and comfy chairs in a library – who could ask for anything more!

Of course, if you’re interested in a room, check out the hotel’s website at

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

An Accommodating Bookshop?

If you are a book lover and are fortunate enough to visit Japan, you might want to consider a stay in an accommodation bookshop. 

The Book and Bed Hostel, centrally located in Tokyo and Kyoto, features semi-private sleeping nooks built right into the bookshelves.  With rates starting at 4,445 yen ($53 CAN) per night, everything is set up dorm style with shared bathrooms.  Each sleeping nook has a personal lamp, a privacy curtain, luggage space under the bed, clothes hanger, and power outlets.  Wi-Fi is free.

Apparently there are about 5,000 Japanese and English books from which to choose.  Unfortunately, they can’t be purchased on site. 

Check out the website for further information:

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Visiting Harper Lee's Hometown

I am not alone in listing To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee as one of my favourite novels.  For this reason, I’ve always wanted to visit Monroeville, Alabama, Lee’s hometown, which was used as the model for Maycomb in the novel. 

Monroeville calls itself the literary capital of Alabama because Harper Lee and Truman Capote had roots in the town. 

Apparently, one of the must-see sites in Monroeville is the Old Monroe County Courthouse.  The courthouse is now a museum, with the second-floor courtroom restored to its 1930s appearance.  (An exact replica of the courtroom where Lee used to watch her father in court sessions was recreated in Hollywood for the filming of To Kill a Mockingbird.)  There are two exhibits in the museum, one focusing on Lee and one on Capote. 

In the spring, from mid-April to mid-May, an all-local cast known as the Mockingbird Players, stages a play based on To Kill a Mockingbird.  “The first act of the two-act play takes place at the amphitheatre on the lawn of the Courthouse Museum.  Act II takes place inside the historic courtroom.  Once inside the courtroom, you will see the trial unfold as Finch makes a passionate plea in Robinson’s defense. The members of the jury are always selected from the audience, so you might get a shot at sitting on the jury during the second act” (  Apparently tickets sell out quickly. 

A self-guided walking tour, known as Monroeville in the 1930s, is available with sites such as the building where Lee’s father had his law office, the building where Capote’s cousins ran a millinery shop, the location of the Boulware house believed to be the model for the Radley house, and the jail. 

Other places to visit include the Budget Inn (where Lee met Gregory Peck), David’s Catfish House (where Lee was known to indulge in the house specialty), and Mel’s Dairy Dream (located on the site of Lee’s former home).  There’s a To Kill a Mockingbird mural, a Truman Capote historical marker, bronze statues of the novel’s young characters, and a birdhouse trail with several birdhouse designs depicting scenes from To Kill a Mockingbird.  You can eat at the Mockingbird Grill or Radley’s Fountain Grille where Radley’s BLT Supreme is featured in the “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die”.