Book Review: 84, Charing Cross Road

TITLE: 84, Charing Cross Road
AUTHOR/EDITOR: Helene Hanff
FORMAT: Paperback
COPYRIGHT: 1970
THIS EDITION: 1990

Another find on the library date, 84, Charing Cross Road, is nothing but a series of letters that follow an aloof writer/reader and a bookstore from 1949 to 1969.

Basically, these start with her writing from NYC to London, a request with a little bookstore to find a book she’s craving because she saw their ad in a magazine and their “antiquarian” expertise is something she equates with money.

What follows is quite charming – a $5/book cap on prices, which inflates to about $50 today, that seems quaint even though it wasn’t, a friendship that includes powdered and fresh eggs and nylons when they couldn’t get them because of post-war rationing, and a friendship that continued in letters for decades, ending only in her main friend/contact’s death.

I love that the letters were all kept to the point that this book could happen.  We don’t have this kind of society anymore.  We don’t have quaint bookshops that will operate under the honor system and mail a book across the ocean and send a bill.  We have e-Commerce sites and anonymous people and warehouses and not shoppes.  Credit cards and anonymity.

This book made my heart sing and it made me happy for a time that I wish I could have been a part of.

Life today is easier, but it isn’t better.

I’m giving this a 5 out of 5.  Beautiful in its simplicity.  (Also, they’ve made it into a movie, if you’re so inclined.)

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Book Review – Postcards From Camp

TITLE: Postcards From Camp

AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR: Simms Taback

FORMAT: Hardcover

PUBLISHED: 2011

Postcards From Camp is a story told entirely through the correspondence between Michael and his dad.

The book starts with Michael sending home a postcard about how his counselor is an alien or worse and his father must immediately get him, lest he die.  HALP!  Of course, his father doesn’t, instead he sends an encouraging word.  Through the letters, Good Ol’ Dad ends up talking Michael into staying, and, well, I’m sure you figure out that he ends up enjoying himself by the end of it.

When I saw this, I had to pick it up.  I love Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine books, and this has a similar presentation.  I like that the postcards from the kid look like a little kid did them, and the stuff from the father is typed and formal and proper.  It’s a perfect juxtaposition of the two.  [Also, that last sentence is totally true, but I seriously only put it in the review so I could write juxtaposition legitimately.  Sorry.]

Anyway, I think the book is adorable.   It’s a great book for a kid about to go to camp or somebody who really likes postcards or whatever like I do.  I think it’s totally worth the read.  5/5.

Writer Wednesday – Jeffrey Cook

1. Who are you? Jeffrey Cook. I’m an author living in Maple Valley, WA – about 30 miles from Seattle.

2. What type of stuff do you write?
I’m the author of the Dawn of Steam series. Dawn of Steam will soon be a trilogy (third book coming in March) of epistolary format (letters and journals), Regency-voice alt-history/steampunk novels, set from 1815-1819.
I’ve recently added my first YA title as well, the YA SciFi story Mina Cortez: From Bouquets to Bullets, released through Fire & Ice YA Press.
I’ve been published in the anthologies Steampunk Trails (volume 2), Avast Ye Airships (released in March), and Free Flowing Stories.
Finally, I’m currently working on a YA Fantasy series, The Fair Folk Chronicles, while finishing editing on the third Dawn of Steam novel.

3. What do you want to pimp right now?
The Dawn of Steam series has been my passion for the past two years, researching, getting voices right, getting the language and historical references right – and the tale is nearly finished. Rising Suns will end the story of the crew of the airship Dame Fortuna (for now. Books 4-6 are in planning, but won’t be written for some time.) – as they explore the world, and delve into conspiracies of the post Napoleonic War-era world.

4. What is your favorite book?
My single favorite book is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lots of competition after that, including Shogun, The Lord of the Rings and The Lonesome Gods. But Frankenstein remains my favorite.

5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
I am also a gamer (table top and live action rpgs), a sports fan (go Seahawks!), an animal lover/dog owner (The anthology I’m heading up, being released in March is a charity book, benefitting Washington State’s PAWS animal rescue.), and an advocate and organizer for other local small press and independent authors.

6. What link can we find you at?
http://www.authorjeffreycook.com/  and  http://www.amazon.com/Jeffrey-Cook/e/B00IRMC3H6/ (for reviews, book info, etc.)

Guest Post:

This is a little bit of a combination of “Advice I’d give new authors” and “Best advice I’ve gotten.” I’ve learned a lot from a lot of people who have been writing much longer than I have, quite a few of whom are much more successful. Some of that advice is useful, some of it is not. Some is consistent, some contradictory. Here’s the three pieces of advice I’ve found that’s very consistent, and that I’ve adopted, and do my best to pass along:
As a new writer, write. It seems simple, but there’s more to it than that. A lot of people have great ideas, but never get that book out. A lot of people write until they hit writers block. Or until they get another job, or whatever, and then stop. Write every day, for 15 minutes. Do not make exceptions. If you’re serious about your craft, you can find 15 minutes. If you can do it for 3 weeks, no exceptions, you’ll likely find it becoming habit, and find ways to rearrange your schedule to get the time in. The writing doesn’t necessarily have to be on your book, or on anything serious. If you’re blocked up, spend it editing, or writing an outline for that other idea – but make the time every day to put words down on the page, or fix the words you already put down.

Second, when you’re getting ready to publish: There’s a lot of really, really good stuff out there in self-and-small-press published material. There’s also a lot of rushed-to-print garbage. And the latter gives all of us a bad reputation that’s hard to shake. The more good, professional looking material there is out there, the easier it gets for people to consider buying other small press and self-published books. If you spend money on only two things, make it an editor and a cover artist. Regardless, unless you are really, really good at either self-editing (a rare skill. Some can do it, most can’t.) or visual art, have someone you know and trust do both. Do everything you can to put out a clean, edited, professional looking product. Plenty of people say “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But people do. And in some ways, should. A quality cover tells people the author cared enough about their book to put time and thought into it.
Doing this will both help you, and a lot of other authors out there. Speaking of which…

Third and final thing: other authors are your best resource. Talk to them, learn from them, network with them, leave reviews for them, buy their books if you can, and otherwise make use of this resource. Plenty of authors see others as competition, and try to sabotage them in hopes it will somehow help their own career, or out of jealousy. Don’t do this. There is a lot of material out there – in the long run, your best bet for getting noticed comes from networking, having people who want to read and review your work, and shared fanbases.

Book Review – Dear Mr. Longfellow by Sydelle Pearl

Dear Mr. Longfellow : letters to and from the children’s poet
Sydelle Pearl
Paperback
2012

Okay. I wanted with most of my being to love this book and think it was awesome. I really did. In fact, when I saw it at the library, I snatched it without a second thought.

And then I read it. Or, part of it anyway.

The book is listed as adult non-fiction and is a combination of letters written to Longfellow by children, transcriptions thereof (just in case you can’t read the absolute perfect cursive handwriting), biographical commentary and whatever else.
And that’s where my issue is the largest. The book reads more like its geared towards children than the children’s letters do. Simple sentences, complete with fancy punctuation to make a point! There are so many exclamation points so that we’ll be excited! Oy!

I was hoping that this was truly just an introduction and reprints of the letters. But what I got instead was a dumbed-down volume that insulted me as a reader. Hello, this is Longfellow! We’re taking a scholarly look at a historical writer. Chances are that we have a brain if we’ve picked it up in the first place. The book actually goes so far as to explain to us what state a letter is from if it uses a standard postal abbreviation. Seriously. They actually went far enough to explain that N.Y. was New York. I could see it (possibly) if they were using unacceptable abbreviations (standard two letter abbreviations weren’t yet standard in Longfellow’s time), but every example I saw either used an accepted abbreviation or half the state name.
Oh, and something like THIRTY PAGES of notes and indexes at the end of the book. Which means that it was a lot less substantial than it appeared.

If this had been written as children’s non-fiction and structured slightly differently, it would have been much better. The images needed to be larger, the comments needed to be reworked, and seriously – children’s book.

So, as it is right now, I give the book a very sad 2 out of 5.

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