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

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.

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