Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Secret Bookstore by Maryann Breukelman, reviewed by Arlene McCarthy

Maryann with copies of The Secret Bookstore
Available from here and here, under the pen name, Magnus Fox.

Magnus Fox begins his day chasing turkey vultures off the roof of his car, a shiny new Porsche, which he then crashes into the back of a garbage truck. In that moment of near death, he begins to wonder if his life has amounted to anything more than numbers and expensive toys.

The day does get better. He meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman who gives him a business card for The Secret Bookstore and suggests that if he can find the store, he’ll find his life’s purpose. 

Magnus searches for the woman, the Secret Bookstore, and the knowledge he craves. It is a search for love, for life, and for meaning that pits logic against the miraculous, security against risk, the impossible against the possible, and loneliness against love. But will long buried doubts and insecurities from his past life block him from the fulfillment of his quest? 

In quest myths, the forest is a labyrinth where knights are confronted with forks and crossroads, each requiring a decision, a surrender or a conflict. And the significance of their encounters is often explained to the knights by an older hermit.  

In this novel, Glenn, who is Magnus’s older self, is a mentor/hermit who leads him from the city deep into the forest, where he must confront his past and his present. It is an experience that repeatedly tests his mind, heart and belief in himself and others.

Ultimately, though, the novel proves to be more fable than quest. The main character is a 21st century everyman. Magnus (ironically not Great as his name implies) struggles with two opposing needs – his need for control in a self-centered existence and his desire to find personal truth and meaning.

This is not a book where grand battles are fought and won. It is a story which recounts one man’s search for truth, love, and meaning. In a culture of disposable materialism we seem to reject interdependence: big city apartment dwellers never meet their neighbours; religion is derided as old-fashioned, and a deep faith in God is interpreted as fanaticism. Magnus’s pilgrimage reflects our own craving for personal and spiritual meaning in such a world.

The story of his search unfolds in quiet chapters where fear, angst and tension are both real and metaphorical, and as we journey with him, our awareness grows with his.

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Arlene McCarthy is a former school principal who turned her attention to travelling, writing and painting after she retired.  When she reaches a plateau or stumbling block in one interest, she turns to another  for a different kind of problem solving until the block is gone.  “The feedback I received in Brian” Intensive courses has helped a great deal in the process of rewriting and revising my first mystery novel,” says Arlene. “I met Maryann in Brian’s course and have enjoyed reading her novel The Secret Bookstore. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a gentle and thought-provoking read! (Surely a good thing in these strange political times.”)

See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, St. John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.


  1. Yea! Maryann!! Congratulations!

  2. I love stories that have universal themes like "search for truth, love and meaning." Those are non-ending searches and make forever-appealing stories.


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