books · kids · thrifting · used books

Thrifting and Sifting for Gold

One of my favourite pastimes is to go on a hunt.  Not for the usual suspects like caribou, deer and moose (I’ll leave that to my brother and nephew), but the hunt for odd, rare and unusual books that may have missed my path in a conventional book store.

Today I did go thrifting with the intention of finding a colander (success!) but I also found a treasure trove of books at the St. Vincent De Paul (SSVP) in Cambridge, Ontario.  What I love about this thrift store in particular is the attention to detail in their displays (colour co-ordinated), the cleanliness of the store (no musty smell here!) and the treasures I find there.  The book department that is pictured has much to choose from.  I often gravitate to the children’s section as my boys love to read and be read to.  Because the price of books can be out of reach for many parents’ budget, I look to the thrift store and the local library to fill their desire to read.

Today I found a book of poetry by Emily Dickinson but written for children.  I studied Dickinson in university but also with my students and her poems can be complicated and dark at times.  It was refreshing to find this slim volume on the shelves to introduce some poetry to the boys.  I also found a copy of Cue for Treason which I was so tempted to buy but refrained as I don’t think my oldest would be ready for it.  As I further explored the very full shelves, I found some good books for my little one who is just starting to read and write.  Books about fire trucks, colours, and a moose who takes a bath will keep his interest.

A fan favourite in our house at the moment is the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney.  Although my son has read most of them, if not all, I came across a new-to-me copy of the first book.  I couldn’t resist.  I can leave it in the car, bring it to the trailer or even to Grandma’s house for when he gets bored or needs to have a laugh.  Although I walked away with about seven books for the boys I was unsuccessful finding something for me.  I was not disappointed as this is part of the fun trying to find a new author on the shelf or a well-known one.  All in all I paid $22 for my books and other treasures at this gem of a store.

Aside from visiting this thrift store, I also like to visit my local Hamilton Neighbour to Neighbour Book Store when I can.  I discovered more of Ian Rankin here, Canadian fiction on their shelves and many copies of the Geronimo Stilton series.  A few titles for me and a few for the kids.  Again it is the hunt that excites me.  I also enjoy talking to the staff who are made up of volunteers about the different books and they may entice me to try an author I may have passed over.  Lastly as a bonus, the cost of the books is a fraction of what I would pay in a book store.

One of the benefits from thrifting for books is to donate the books when I am through with them (unless I loved it!).  I am sorry to be missing the Church of the Resurrection’s Annual Book Sale the second Saturday in May this year.  Many of my favourites and not so favourite books have made their way to the sale.  I love to see the patrons leaving with their huge bag of books knowing the books have a new home and they only spent $4. Cheap entertainment indeed.

So I will keep on the hunt thrifting and sifting for gold among the well-loved books of people’s past.  Who knows, maybe the next author I discover will be you!

books · crime · mystery

Murder, Mayhem and Mysteries

I accuse Colonel Mustard in the Billiard Room with the wrench!

Clue is one of my all-time favourite board games that I first discovered in my grandma’s basement as a child.  I would convince (force) my brother and sister to play the game with me each time we visited.  I was always so intrigued with the possibility of a puzzle to solve. So it was just natural that I would eventually become a fan of mystery novels.

A great mystery often starts with the crime in progress or just minutes after it has happened and many writers make use of the prologue to set the scene for events to come.  Whether I am reading fan-favourite Agatha Christie, Ian Rankin, John Ball or even a Nancy Drew mystery,  the crime is what sets the story in motion.

My interest in mysteries has always been present as a reader but I did not discover the Queen of Crime until into my thirties.  Agatha Christie is according to her website, “the best-selling novelist in history, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare” (  What I love about her novels is the attention to detail and the exotic locations that some of the mysteries take place in.  I also have a particular fondness for both her detectives:  Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot along with other characters that represent the iconic detective character.  My first read of Christie was Murder on the Orient Express.  My department was looking for a new novel to read and there was an appeal of studying the mystery genre.  Something about this genre of writing has always fascinated me.  Whether it is the idea of solving a puzzle or following a set of clues; including red-herrings; I am usually intrigued by this type of story.  What I like most about Christie’s stories is her ability to lead the reader off-track suspecting one person when another is the guilty party.  Her novels also include very international and cosmopolitan characters who have traveled extensively and could be embroiled in the secrets and lies resulting in a robbery, murder or kidnapping.

Recently I have discovered Scottish writer Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus at my local used bookstore after reading Knots & Crosses with my book club.  There is something about Rankin’s depiction of Rebus that appeals to me.  He is good at his job; in that there is no doubt but the character is also at times, slovenly, gritty and human.  Although I have a long way to go in reading all of Rebus’ series, I like the history of how Rankin had no intention of keeping Rebus as a character, intending to kill him off in the first draft of Knots & Crosses.  Rankin also is conscious of  Rebus as he completes the new novels.  He is a crime writer I would have missed if not for my book club.

Further John Ball created the iconic detective Virgil Tibbs when he wrote In the Heat of the Night in 1965.  Although the book went on the inspire a movie and television series (which deviate from the plot of the book!), the novel needs to be recognized as a stand-alone intense mystery.  Tibbs is a strong character from the beginning to the end of the book.  Everything about him is professional, competent and detail-oriented.  I always liked to study this novel with my grade 12s because of the themes, the content and the message that some things will never change.  The novel often sparked controversy about that time period and the blatant racism that existed, the classism issues in the novel and how what we think of justice, is not always the case.  Tibbs is a remarkable homicide detective that in spite of the obstacles that are thrown in his way, he still manages to solve the case.

The mystery still remains one very popular genre today with titles like Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins) keeping the reader guessing at every turn of the page, to more classic detective stories like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.  Whether it is classified as a mystery, crime novel, psychological thriller or murder-mystery, this genre will have reader’s guessing “whodunnit” until the last page turns.