This blog is basically about how good books are nice and bad books are the pits. And then I get grumpy.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Leslie M.M. Blume

Loved the title when I first saw it and the adorable French Bulldog on the cover. Was very curious to learn what a youthful Oxford and Cambridge-educated author had written.

I pretty much flew through this book. Cornelia is actually not a dog, contrary to what the cover of the hardback might make you think. But she is a winsome young character who lives in the sophisticated world of concert pianists in Manhattan, which is interesting enough. Leslie M.M. Blume, the author, adds something, though. And what she adds really makes the book....

Now, here is where I start to worry about the many articles, blogs, books, etc that I read. Somewhere sometime somebody in the very recent past compared some piece of literature (or some story or something else) to the magical residence of Sarah Crewe's next-door neighbor in A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. (You see how hazy my memory is?) And I'm not sure if it was this book, Cornelia, that that person was comparing Princess to or not.

Regardless, let me appropriate the comparison and use it here. Basically, Cornelia finds a "world" next door to the swanky apartment she shares with her pianist mother. It's an even swankier, and considerably more exotic (there are palm trees growing out of the floor), apartment occupied by an elderly writer. The woman's tales and incredible apartment have a huge effect on Cornelia's life.

While it's not exactly a novel idea for a child character to undergo a metamorphosis after meeting a wise older person, Blume's tale joins in strong form the roster of these kinds of stories. The descriptions of the apartment are vivid. The old lady's stories are engaging. The characters and images are drawn such that many can be seen particularly well with the mind's eye.

If I, an adult, had this reaction to Cornelia, I can imagine that a child reading this book would be as absorbed in it as the title character is entranced by neighboring apartment with palm trees growing out of the floor.

Blogger is frustrating!

Just a note to say that I try to maintain a sane amount of spacing between paragraphs, but Blogger is not cooperating. So I apologize for posts with miles of white space between graphs and, especially for those in which the graphs run on and on, one on the heels of another. Irritating....

Another old-fogey rant

Remember the Katie John books? And The Phantom Palomino? What about Mystery Aboard the Ocean Princess? And By Secret Railway?

I can see you shaking your head. And I'm not surprised that you don't remember. These were great kids' books; as that animated tiger used to say (the one that used to advertise cereal at just about the time I read these books), "They're g-r-r-r-eat!!!"
These examples of kids' lit have gone the way of that marketing campaign: oblivion. Not to sound like some aged teeny-bopper who's become sour and resentful in later life but there are some perfectly good books that ought to be shared with our youngsters along with today's servings of literature. Dare I say, better books, in some cases?

These are lost books that no one except former child bookworms fondly recall. I was in the bookstore today and heard a disheartening exchange between a girl of about eleven or twelve and her father.

Girl: (Shows a book to her dad.)

Father: Hmmm. (In dismissive voice) "That looks like a book your mother would have read as a child."

Father and daughter thus place said book back on the shelf and continuing searching.

The books was a Bobbsey Twins mystery.

I should have had a lovely sitcom moment at the time and done something one of the many bold, mouthy characters of television would have done. I should have pivoted to face that man, cocked my head critically and said something sassy like, "Was that meant to actually be helpful or do you just work undercover for Cecily von Ziegesar?" I didn't.

I mean, what's he trying to do? He didn't look like someone who would, because he wanted desperately to be thought hip by his pre-teen daughter, diss retro kid lit. I think he was serious. But with what motive? Is he worried that his daughter will grow up thinking she has to be prim and proper and vacuum while wearing pearl necklaces while her husband is out earning money? I just don't think she's likely to become June Cleaver just 'cause she read an old book.

I found two books from the Katie John series at the store today. Unbelievable. They were in the bargain books section where I (and Pop and the little girl with good taste) were browsing. How the store's buyers found an unused edition of Depend on Katie John copyrighted in the 1970s, I don't know. It's presence in that store is not a ray of hope as much as a reminder that these retro kids books are dying, if not already dead.

And, really, it's no wonder. It's the way of the world, isn't it? Youth tends to inherit its spoils prematurely. What fifty-year old executive isn't looking behind his back to make sure Junior doesn't take his place? Is it really any different for things as likely to be dated as books?

Still, and you knew there had to be a 'still,' there are many children today who'd enjoy these older books. Maybe it would be for their old-fashioned qualities or their wholesomeness. Maybe it would be for today's kids, as it was for me, because of the charmingly outdated terminology used. (Remember when Nancy Drew used to "don frocks" instead of putting on dresses?)

Kids aren't, after all, frozen in their own time. They aren't focus groups. They're individuals. And today's old-fashioned adults were once yesterday's old-fashioned kids often mistaken by elders as only interested in the whatever fads were contemporary to that era. Not every one of today's kids wants to read the A-List books; some are quite yearning for the Green Gables series. Some prefer the romance of Jean and Johnnie to that of Twilight. And more might, but they're not being given the opportunity to discover it because publishing executives are ramming what they see as most profitable down the small throats of children.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Miss California isn't the only looker on the block

Well, is it pageant season or what? I'm not sure there even is such a thing. Certainly pageants have been in the news with the big Miss CA controversy that never dies.

The allure of pageants died for me long ago. And this blog is about books, not looks. Still, I spied a picture of Charlotte Bronte today and thought to myself, What a looker! So, I thought I'd open the topic of literary lookers. Reader, I'm asking your opinion: Which writer was to-die-for great looking in addition to talented with pen or quill.

My nominations go to the aforementioned Charlotte Bronte and to a gentleman who's not my favorite author, but whom I always thought of as quite something in the beauty department: Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Who's caught your eye?

Monday, May 11, 2009

A happy find in the children's non-fiction section....

Hot on the heels of reviewing Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls, Moving Day, I had to read a Meg Cabot bio. And, since the only biography that seems to have been written is, understandably, geared toward children, it was that one I borrowed from the library. It's part of a series called, Who Wrote That? and the book is written by Camille-Yvette Welsch, an English teacher from Penn State, according to the back cover.

It's not so simplified that an adult would find it frustrating, but it does do what children's biographies tend to do: make the subject into a paragon of, if not virtue, then role model-hood. But that's fine. Kids need role models and Cabot seems a fine one. The book is colorful, with many sidebars under the subtitle Did you know... and photos. This 136-page book is recent, with a copyright of 2008, so you don't feel like your reading one of those ancient dusty bios the neighborhood librarians just can seem to take off the shelves, or afford to replace.

There are many other authors bios in the series, like Judy Blume, Beverley Cleary, E.B. White, L.M. Montgomery, C.S. Lewis, Charles Dickens and the list goes on for about two and a half columns of bold-faced type. It seems a happy thing to have happened upon this series, a good resource in research for kids and adults alike.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Library book sale treasures and no buyer's remorse!

The library book sale I went to today, in a neighboring town, was small with little selection, especially compared to the annual sale in my own town. But it was worth the lengthy and beautiful walk I had to make home. A lovely excursion on a Saturday morning: I knew I'd like poking around at old books, the older the better.

Well, there were precious few really old books. And I thought the library was overpricing its wares at $1 a paperback and $2 for a hardcover. It used to be that you could get a book for fifty cents and it felt like a steal (a great feeling) and you were more likely to load up on them. But, perhaps, I'm being a Scrooge. In any case, I purchased two books, one old, one ancient-looking. I was prepared to pay the $4 for the two of them, but right when I got to the counter, the gentleman who had been doing the transactions was relieved for a break by a woman. Lucky me. Because she felt the books I'd selected were so out of shape that she seems to have made an executive decision and let me have them for half off. Happy thing for me! I sometimes feel foolish after I buy used books, deciding I don't want them after all and giving them away. I hate that wasted money feeling.

I am quite sure, quite sure, that there is no monetary value to the books I purchased. Their value is entirely personal. One is is Louisa May Alcott from 1908 with some pretty frontispieces which I plan to make part of a LMA collection as Alcott things seem to turn up a lot of places; I already have two others.

Thrifty book buyer that I have become, I thought hard and relatively long about whether I wanted these two. I couldn't let the Alcott go; I anticipated relative disappointment then. But, I realized as I pretended to browse the other books on the tables while I deliberated, if I'd found that the other book had gone missing there would have been near-visceral disappointment. What is this mystery book?

I have to laugh and say it's really nothing special. IT terribly tattered, missing its back cover, looks like it fell in someone's bathtub a hundred years ago. It's like something pulled out of a traveler's trunk that's been rescued from a long-ago sunken sea-faring vehicle.

But that's why I love it. It's as old as it looks. The copyright is 1859 with no later years listed. The first page is blank save for the inscription its owner made, presumably many years ago. The book appears to have been a text entitled A Greek Reader by Anthon and Jacobs. Its owner was Chas. L. Babson who wrote his school name below his, East Corinth Academy. Below that a Latin inscription and its English translation - Labor Omnia Vincit - Labour (British spelling) Conquers All Things.

So, was he studious, this Charles L. Babson. Did he place the Latin quote in his Greek text to motivate himself? And where was East Corinth Academy? And could I find out anything more about him in the wired world of today?

In times like these, Google is a friend, indeed. So, I found out that East Corinth Academy was located in East Corinth, Maine. Also, a Chas. L. Babson (that same spelling) was a town selectman in Brooklin, Maine circa 1864. I fancy he was in high school when he used the book and five years later, finished with school, became an involved member of the community. Of course, this brings up more questions. Can I find out more about him? Did he harbor grand ambitions as a antebellum young man? Had he dreamed of having Lincoln's job before Lincoln himself had it?

The search will, when I'm bored and want to putter around the internet, continue. Would Chas. L. Babson ever have guessed that one hundred and fifty years after inscribing that book, his signature and text would be on display for anyone to see who happened upon a place called GBBS?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Artsy-craftsy idea for people with clothes they don't want and books they do in fifteen easy steps

Step 1: Take inspiration from CS Lewis and decide to create magic wardrobe.

Step 2: Resolve to call your armoire a 'wardrobe.'

Step 2: Haul out the bell-bottoms, hot pants, pill-box hats, poodle skirts, Nehru jackets, tie-dye shirts, polyester pantsuits, coats bulging with shoulder pads, and other vintage items hanging in your armoire. Fish out that snood swimming at its bottom. Clear the whole place out and determine to wear bravely your old new-found period apparel in public or to give it away.

Step 3: Scour attic and basement and boxes beneath beds to find all your precious long-lost books.

Step 4: Spread said books out on the floor of the largest room in your house so it looks like you're re-tiling with a literary theme. Open windows and allow the poor books to breathe in the open air that wafts through. If it's winter, keep windows closed but at least let the Glade-scented inside air do its thing.

Step 5: While books are breathing, measure your wardrobe.

Step 6: Joyfully sashay to your local thrift store with the intention of making your wallet happy and the owners of the store, too, in this rotten economy. Buy stinky old bookcase.

Step 7: Rope a neighbor into hauling the bookcase home for you.

Step 8: Attack the bookcase with Clorox and sandpaper and staining supplies.

Step 9: Place your fabulous 'new' bookcase in your wardrobe.

Step 10: Load books onto the bookcase.

Step 11: See the happy books in their proper habitat.

Step 12: Close the wardrobe doors and decorate with pictures of Jane Austen, photos from various movie adaptations of novels, bookmarks, etc.

Step 13: Bask in that satisfied sense of having sheltered your babies from dust and mildew, provided a comfortable home for them with pretty aesthetics, and allowed new-found accessibility to loving readers.

Step 14: Visit occasionally and transport yourself to new worlds Lucy Pevensie-style via your new magic wardrobe.

Step 15: Buy more books!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Have you ever seen a character come to life?

Remember my review of The Penderwicks? Well, if you do then you probably remember that one stand-out character was little Batty Penderwick, the youngest of the sisters, the one who constantly wore butterfly wings everywhere.

In a little bit of miscellany, I thought I'd mention that I saw Batty on the street the other day. I'm not sure if outside of Halloween and costume parties I've ever seen a little girl wearing butterfly wings, especially not on a street corner while obviously out on an afternoon walk. But there waiting for the walk signal was a tiny thing with her mother and she was wearing a pair of lavender butterfly wings! Maybe fairy wings, but still....

Saturday, April 25, 2009

But I didn't even get a chance to read the book.

A book caught my eye today. It was dense. I mean, it was really thick. It had a dark greyish cover, no jacket and a drawing embossed in gold coloring. The drawing, some sort of symbol, with foreign writing around it was ominous. I think I always knew whose book that was. It was J.R.R. Tolkien's work. Possibly, it was the whole Lord of the Rings series.

Don't be surprised that I'm not sure. Immediately - and I don't know why, especially as I'm far from a Tolkien expert - a thought hit me: This guy really lived. So, I put the book down. It seemed to have made its point, albeit probably not the one that's contained in the text within its covers.

Tolkien was a language-lover. It was either that or he put an awful lot of effort into something that he didn't feel a great affinity for. He was a professor, a linguist, a creator of languages, a creator of fictional worlds. That much I know. I also know that he was spiritual, a Catholic.

Now, I knew he was a writer. That he was a professor was never surprising. (I don't know if I ever knew about his piety until I was in a seminary bookshop one day and the clerk there, a young, earnest, be-spectacled seminarian, started to talk with me and leapt into a speech about Christianity in the Rings books.) But the language creation really impressed me. To make up a language seemed like such a cool thing. Language is usually organic. But here it is being made by a man, one person. That's one person soaking up the world around him, and feeding back to it his own modest contribution.

And that's the crux of this matter of living. Arguably, to live, you have to engage with the world around you. You have to take in what it offers and, in turn, give back something. I'd say creating a language fits this criteria for living. But Tolkien had more than that. His spirituality meant he believed there was more in life than the world around him. He had a cake and he ate it, too. That's life and then some. That's living.

That's sort of what I was thinking when I saw this book.

Poll results

Poll results tell me readers would like more book reviews and literary ramblings. And, so, today I oblige with some of the latter; there's more of the former coming up shortly. And, of course, don't forget to check-out Book-ivorous for more book reviews, info and links. Finally, thanks for participating in the poll!

A quiz and a giveaway at Book-ivorous!

Visit Book-ivorous for a quiz on the literary classic Pride and Prejudice and the chance to get entered into a drawing for a new book courtesy of Hachette Publishing!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Oh, to be young again!

I've been feeding my inner child recently. Or, perhaps, I should say I've been submitting it to taste tests of different reading material geared toward little bookworms. I want to see what kind of fare is being offered to the younger age groups, but I want to do it without the pain of having to read books about vampires, or sulky, gorgeous teens whose weekly allowances exceed a year of minimum wages, or Harry Potter knock-offs.

So, having already read The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall and given it a review here, I made my way to not one but two local libraries and raided the children's sections of books that I thought I might enjoy. Those are the ones I'm testing. Some test! you might say. True. But it is a test, I'd argue because our instincts can be wrong, and, indeed, I am trying a couple I have some questions about.

For instance, what's the big deal with Meg Cabot? Hats off, she's got a little dynasty going with her various series. But when I've started reading her books I've been left with...questions. For me, the books didn't have a magnetic quality that a book needs. And they're so modern. And I'm decidedly unmodern. Well, I'm using a computer now so perhaps that isn't quite true, but you get the picture. I'm still a Louisa May Alcott girl and kids these days don't seem so interested in poor Louisa.

So, I had a grand time marching into the children's room of the library yesterday (considerably warmer in atmosphere if not company - librarians can be cold, but more on that later) - and pulling Allie Finkel's Rules for Girls, Moving Day, off the shelf. I also took out The Penderwicks on Gardam Street and I await with delight the experience of reading these. Let's face it, there's just something about children's lit that grown-up lit doesn't match, some charm or something. I mean, just think of the wonderful drawings on the covers of kids' books. (Harry Potter comes in adult and children's editions and I'll take the colorful kids' editions any day; I don't care who sees me reading them on the bus!)

In addition to these two titles, I also pulled a few Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne. Just by chance, one of them happened to be the first in the series, Dinosaurs Before Dark. Finally, making its way into my to-be-read pile was Nicola and the Viscount, another creation from Meg Cabot and her endlessly-filled pot of ink.

I read Dinosaurs Before Dark last night and let me tell you, there's a reason kids love this series. I loved this book. It always seemed promising to me, the idea of a treehouse that transports kids to different times and places. But when I found out that treehouse was filled with books, well, that really got me excited. As you know, fellow reader, book-lovers love books about books. This particular one was a wonderful yarn a kid can read alone or listen to an adult read. And the adult won't get bored reading it. No wonder that kid at the library book sale kept asking me if I'd found any. Obviously, these books are good enough that the young man was willing to interrogate library patrons and hunt all over the sale to find one.

So, shortly I'll be off to read some more. I think it will be Allie Finkel. This looks like a promising series and, in the interest of being a good reading connoisseur and book blabbermouth, I figure I ought to know something about it. So, I'll let you know how it goes. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

This one fits right in - Review of The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

It seems as though there have been very few books which fit the theme of this blog quite so well as does The Penderwicks, A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall.

This delightful read had me from line 1. It's the type of children's book that I wish I saw more of these days, reminiscent of Louisa May Alcott, L.M. Montgomery, Maud Hart Lovelace, C.S. Lewis and so many others who were on the literary scene in those eras when childhood really seemed to be childlike. That is not at all to say it's out of touch. It's not to say it's childish. Far from it. This middle-grade novel presents the whimsy of a child's summer in a natural wonderland while deftly touching such subjects as death, memory, first love, sibling relationships. I enjoyed its retro-yet-timeless feel; it may have taken place a hundred years ago, so little does the garishness of twenty-first century life invade its bucolic magic.The eldest daughter in this story of four sisters actually writes letters to her friend while on vacation. Forget emails. But a computer is mentioned, and subtle details allow the reader's subconscious to know it's a contemporary story without overpowering the tale and robbing it of the kind of natural spell children's stories so often used to weave. You know, I'm talking back in the days before the A-list and Clique novels brought wetbars into kids' books. Wetbars or enchanting gardens? Which will I choose? If only all decisions in life were so easy.

The characters are believable down to the youngest, an adorably-drawn four year old who sticks to her dog and costume butterfly wings with an endearing stubborness that makes an older reader want to adopt her and a younger reader identify with her. The middle sisters are a scream. Young Jane, a budding writer, sometimes finds herself narrating her life in the third person and Skye, math whiz, has great one-liners. The eldest spends much of the book lovesick and is presented respectfully by Birdsall, who bestows the same respect on the entire cast of characters. Each is written with compassion.

I had to put the book down for a split second out of admiration when I read a passage describing the little Batty playing in a field with birds singing overhead and worms gliding through the earth below. There's an obvious love of nature present in the book, as well as a love of words. Birdsall possesses the happy ability to create place and character names which simultaneously charm and remain credible.

I have occasionally heard of children today who are described as "old-fashioned," the kind who read Anne of Green Gables or A Little Princess. If you're stumped for a new read for such a child, I suggest The Penderwicks. It deserves its place among these wonderful books.

Monday, April 20, 2009


I'm launching a new blog called Book-ivorous about - what else? - books. The new blog has a different format and will be more generalized, as well as have links to newsy tidbits on the web. I hope you're able to stop by and let me know how you like it. There are some posts up already....Enjoy!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dream a little dream...

Photo credit: nufkin at

What a dream this is, huh? Can the greenery be any greener? Imagine the air there! Take a big whiff and browse the bookstalls....
I found this lovely photo on Apparently, it's a castle in the background. Quite a little fairy-tale moment for the booklover, I'd say!

Friday, April 17, 2009

New poll!

Just over to the left!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dearest Diary... (Wherein the writer attempts Regency parlance worthy of Mr. Collins)

It is with the greatest felicity that I take up my pen once again after a lengthy absence due to my being much occupied with matters of great import. Now, at last, I may fulfill the happy duty of reporting on D.A. Bonavia-Hunt's Pemberley Shades, the reading of which I have recently commenced, though not yet completed.

To sate my desire to write, I have made the decision to comment whilst I read this promising novel rather than wait for the end. Indeed, though I am just on page 24 and the story remains in expository stages, I find I have much to say.

That Elizabeth seems to me to have forgotten her modest origins - gentlemen's daughter, of course, but with a family of questionnable manners and situation - troubles me. The vicar of Pemberley has most sadly died and Mrs. Darcy, who has now a son of two years, wishes to be certain that the new vicar have no daughters of similar age; this would endanger the boy when he becomes a young man seeking a wife. Only a lady of appropriate standing will do for Richard. Thankfully, her husband, Fitzwilliam Darcy, overcame similar prejudices when choosing her as his beloved.

Mr. Darcy himself (or Fitz, as Elizabeth calls him) is his usual self, concerned with the welfare of his employees and their families. Happily, this has not changed, though it is apparent that Elizabeth has done nothing to educate Fitz on his great fortune of being - how shall I say it? - the big fish on the end of the food chain. No one is bound to ever displace a Darcy from his or her home, as is happening to the deceased vicar's daughters. The vicar gone, they must leave their childhood estate. This is a point on which my twenty-first century self feels powerful stirrings of late twentieth century feminism. Oh, to have means of one's own!

But the strength of the fidelity and partnership that the Darcys share is robustly gratifying. There is nothing on which they do not consult, a very advanced situation for their time, I think, and each appears to be defensive of the other in a manner most appealing.

I must take leave now. Until next time, when I will continue with my attempts at nineteenth century parlance...or give up and resume my modern persona, I am ever your steadfast literary servant, etc. etc.,


Thanks to Danielle from Sourcebooks for the review copy of Pemberley Shades.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Birthday Miep Gies!

Tomorrow is Miep Gies's 100th birthday. Gies helped hide Anne Frank and the others in the Secret Annex during WWII and has, by the accounts I've read, always remained loyal and modest about it. I find her so courageous and principled, very admirable. And that this member of that circle of friends is still here today is wonderful and amazing. So here's a big shout out to Miep Gies:

Happy Birthday!!!

Check this out :-) And some advice...

I hope you had a chance to read my Q&A with Lost for Words author, Lorelei Mathias. But I forgot to put something in and I'm a little ashamed of myself and - OUCH! (Note to the wise: If you forget to do something and, thus, the whole 'slapping yourself on the hand' thing comes to mind, DON'T actually do it! It hurts.)

So I'm popping in today and just wanted to let you know that Lorelei has a really fun site of her own where you can read about her books, her articles and play videos! Here's a link. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Charity Girl by Georgette Heyer - A review

Alas, blood is not thicker than water, after all. At least this seems to be the case for Charity Steane, the unfortunate young woman whose father is dead and who has been thrust into the care of her mean relatives. Unable to bear her life with the Bugles, she runs away and is rescued en route to London by Viscount Desford who takes it upon himself to find a better life for Cherry, as she likes to be called.

Georgette Heyer's novel, the second that I've read, is light and frothy. At times it gets a bit longwinded but you can always count on a character to clarify a situation for you and that can be greatly appreciated, as anyone knows who reads books that simply don't make their plots clear. Now who's that? Why's he there, not in London? How'd she get out of that scrape? Characters explain themselves which can be either tedious or helpful, depending on the reader's temperament. Consequently, you could shave off a great deal of this novel and retain the whole plot and even most of the characterization (which, by the way, is done very well.)

There's no real way to emphasize how light this novel is; it's lighter than air or even helium. And it's without that shoe and shopping mania, that man-crazy female theme that so many of today's 'chick-lit' novels aspire to. Say you're drinking champagne. This is the bubble that tickles your nose. Non-alcoholic.

And the characters are loveable, particularly Cherry and Desford and, later, Hetta and Simon. Reading Georgette Heyer's work astutely, the reader realizes that it wouldn't be all fun and games living in Regency England, despite the frothiness of the tales. This becomes obvious when you consider lives from the minor characters' viewpoints, or at least when you consider how vulnerable they are to those on whom they rely. If it's Desford and Hetta being relied on, no problem. The major characters that populate this novel are loveable for a reason, not least of which is their decency.

So why is it that water is thicker than blood? I won't tell you. Why would I want to spoil it?

Thanks to Danielle at Sourcebooks for this complimentary review copy.

Yea! A Q&A! - Lorelei Mathias

Lorelei Mathias is the author of two novels Step on It, Cupid and Lost for Words. After reading the lovely Lost for Words, a romantic tale of a slush pile reader, her literary discovery and her love-life, I emailed Ms. Mathias with a question and was very pleased to receive her thoughtful response. And I am so pleased now, as well, to present this Q&A, made possible through the magic of email (as were my previous Q&As). If you're looking for a frothy, romantic read for Valentine's Day, the kind that doesn't insult sensibilities or intelligence, Lost for Words may be for you. (Meanwhile, I'm going to look forward to Step on It, Cupid!) Thanks so much to Ms. Mathias for her thoughtful answers! Reader, enjoy!

GBBS: If you could, which literary fictional character would you date?

LM: Septimus Hodge in 'Arcadia' by Tom Stoppard. It's a play, but he's just the most dashing, intellectual hero of all in my opinion. He's classic Byronic hero in looks, and genius in mind. Oh and he's a great dancer too - he's got it all!

GBBS: What is the one book you'd take to a deserted island?

LM: War and Peace. It's so long, so I’d be getting the most out of my one and only book. And it's also one I've not yet got round to reading, but always wanted to!

GBBS: What's your preferred method of book-buying -- internet or old-fashioned bookstores?

LM: I'm a total luddite, so I'd say old-fashioned book stores all the way. There's so much more magic in browsing through old shelves and being surrounded by them than just staring at a screen! My favourite bookshop in the world is 'Shakespeare and Co' in Paris - it's wonderfully chaotic and romantic and dusty...

GBBS: Which writer is so great that it's hard to tear yourself away from his/her writing so you can get stuff done?

LM: Ian McEwan

GBBS: Lost for Words possesses a big sense of fun while declining to stoop to the questionable language and situations of so much chick-lit. Is this a reflection of your preferred brand of writing?

LM: I guess so - I don’t actually read that much chick-lit per se but I do know that the genre often gets slated for being trashy. I don’t know if I succeed in this but I do try to write books that are entertaining but also make you think – so it’s not just literary popcorn, but perhaps chick-lit with a brain… Even though all my books are romantic at heart, I also try and make them books about ideas too, and a bit more nourishing in some way (!). In both my novels there is usually an intellectual pursuit running along side the romantic strand. In Step on It, Cupid Amelie has an ad campaign to come up with, so it’s as much a journey of ideas as it is romantic. Similarly, in my latest, Lost for Words, Daisy is drowning in a slush-pile and is helping a struggling author get published. I’m told my readers enjoy learning about both these industries, (a number of fans have written to tell me they now want to work in advertising or publishing as a result, which is sweet!) So yeah, I like to hope that my readers get more than just escapist buzz from my books, and they’re not (entirely) brain dead when they turn the last page!

GBBS: Are you writing anything new? Any possible sneak-peaks, by chance?

LM: Yes, I've got two ideas on the go at the moment. One's a non-fiction piece but is on a backburner while I focus on the novel. The novel has a much more complex plot than my last two so it's taking a lot longer to do! It's all about a group of friends joined together by weirdly similar circumstances - in some ways it's also a modern spin on John Hughes' classic 80's movie The Breakfast Club. I can't say much more about it than that though for now!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Here she goes talking about movies again!

Just saw Inkheart, based on the young adult novel by Cornelia Funke, and quite enjoyed it! I stopped reading the book when I was well into it because it was so dark, but it was obviously written by a booklover and that sort of persuaded me to like it anyway. The trailer looked good so I thought I'd give it a try.

I can't believe Cornelia Funke wrote the book with Brendan Fraser in mind and was then actually able to get him for the movie! It reminds me of Colin Firth and the Bridget Jones books and movies.

The movie is interesting because it obviously takes place today but one wonders why Folchart, Fraser's character, doesn't just place an ad on Craigslist or something for the book he's seeking. Of course, then we wouldn't get to see the beautiful Swiss village book market and so much would be taken away from the story. Adding to the story's odd placement in time and geography, is Helen Mirren's beautiful wardrobe which seems to come out of the 1930s. It's these different cues the audience gets from the film (when to place it? where to place it? why there? whey then?) that bring to it some of the ambiguity which makes it so storybookish.

Jim Broadbent is wonderfully bumbling as the writer. After seeing him play the professor in Narnia who could expect anything else? Dustfinger isn't anything like I imagined him which would have been a sort of a younger, shiftier Danny Devito. Instead, he's tall and blond, sensitive and conflicted. The young actress playing Meggie is engaging, one might even say captivating, and personifies well the question mark her wandering life seems to be.

A warning is due that this movie can be quite dark and is not for the very young. But what booklover could resist such a story?

Friday, January 2, 2009

A little recycling

On my old blog, Bookspring, I used to post under a heading called Musings every once in a while. I've decided to bring one particular bit of Musings back as I've noticed that people are now talking about what I mentioned there three years ago. Laura Miller touches on childhood versus adulthood reading in her book, The Magician's Book and an article byMichelle Slatalla in The New York Times is entirely devoted to the issue. So, since it seems to be one of the literary topics of the day and since I seem to have been the one of the early birds on this band wagon, I'll re-post here my musings from October 4, 2005.


I wonder. Why is reading such a different experience as an adult than it is as a child? Children put their imaginations to use so skillfully when reading. As an adult, I'm not sure I have ever been so engrossed in a novel as I was when I was a child reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I'm quite sure I have never read a book in a single afternoon at the library as I did with one of Beverly Cleary's wonderful children's chapter books.

I still love to read, but it is a different experience. A book can interest me, even absorb me, but still not fully envelop me.

Recently, I had been longing to read a great book, the kind of book that makes you feel like you've been sucked into an alternate universe. So, of course, I was on the look-out for one. One day when I was downtown I managed to find a popular book on the shelf of the library. I began reading the book across the street on the terrace of a restaurant, shaded from the sun by a large umbrella over my table. The book, Girl With the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, is a story about a Dutch maid in the painter Vermeer's household during the 17th century. It was intriguing. Despite its stains and tattered condition it was good company. Whenever I left the book I found myself wanting to return to it. But it still wasn't the consuming experience of my childhood. That seems no longer possible.

And, yet, I wonder. Is it the same for all adults? If a person is never encouraged to read as a child, has he missed the only opportunity in life for such an experience? What is reading like for a person who only became a bookworm as an adult? I read raves about books on a literarature-related website I frequent and I wonder how those readers seem to still have the experiences that ended for me as youth did.

Maybe it's just the cynicism of adulthood, the lack of being able to suspend disbelief. Maybe it's chemical - perhaps there is a biological reason children get so absorbed in books and not adults. We live too much on the surface, as has been said. I don't know.

Reading continues to give me pleasure. It provides me with entertainment and information. I recommend it. But, still, I wonder.

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