Inspiration From The Distant Past

Inspiration From The Distant Past
Found note in an old book... warms the cockles of my bookish heart...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

In Search of the Holden Piazza

So here is the first of my promised reviews of Australian books that are available to American readers. I’ve checked, and In Search of the Holden Piazza by Chris Warr and Joe Kremzer is for sale from that very large online shop that is named after a very large river.

It’s about an obscure Aussie car, or maybe it’s about two blokes’ search for owners of an obscure Aussie car, or it’s about a game show, or it’s about a road trip with two blokes or it’s just about beer.

Whatever it’s about, I really enjoyed it. I am neither a car buff nor a beer drinker, but I found the story funny. Two friends are drinking beer, of course, when they decide to go in search of one of Australia’s most maligned vehicles. They both remembered the Holden Piazza being a shiny, seductive prize on Australia’s richest game show, the Sale of the Century. As impressionable young boys, they had been unable to forget the awe of its sleek bonnet or the assistant Alyce Platt’s charms. Twenty years later, they attempt to track down as many examples as they can of the original 300 models in Australia.

Locating and driving 21,000 km in one of the most unreliable cars in Aussie history is a feat in itself, without compounding the situation with a complete lack of mechanical knowledge or planning. By their own admission, ‘ if the word ‘half-arsedness’ ever makes into the Macquarie Dictionary the definition will simply feature a picture of’ them.

For American readers there is a handy map of Australia inside the front cover so you can follow Alyce’s (they named the car after the assistant, of course) progress. Many references to Australian culture (and I know there’s debate as to its very existence), sport, food, beer, music and geography make this an interesting read. Some ideas might be baffling but amusing, and I’m sure there’s a lot here to enlighten. For example, after regular references to big things a reader would eventually realize that Aussies like to use large volumes of fiberglass and concrete to create attractions in otherwise attraction-less locations. Personally I am quite proud of living near a big fruit, even though it doesn’t get a mention in the book.

For public servants with no discernible writing experience they have done a good job. I love their snappy, witty style. The plot did drag a bit towards the end; another accommodation, another Piazza owner, another night drinking beer. But, like a quirky car, I am willing to take the good with the not so good.

I do think it’s worth a read, even if you don’t drink beer.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Discovering Mrs. Baja Greenawalt!

Hello, bookfriends! Thought I would share my serendipitous discovery of Mrs. Baja Greenawalt, the inspiration for this bookblog.

The Setup:
Last October, my friend and co-author, DeLynne, posed this question on facebook: Can you find a note? Apparently, there is a group on Flicker that posts photos of found notes. Intriguing...

The Stage:
The school library... remember the entire school library being moved into my classroom.
Maze of Books
Look at it Now

You may know by now that I'm compelled to open and read a few pages of every book that catches my eye... and so many do. A very old worn book lying in one of the haphazard piles begged for notice. It was a 1933 edition of The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. Since I've been an anglophile from childhood, my interest piqued.

Opening the cover, my eyes were immediately drawn to the most amazing note written by Mrs. Baja Greenawalt in October 1951, exactly 58 years ago (found in Oct 2009). What a happy accident! Didn't expect to find a note for Delynne's hunt so wasn't even on the lookout. Certainly wouldn't have envisioned a note more suited to capture the imagination of a bookworm such as myself. Couldn't wait to share it with DeLynne, knowing she'd also be completely charmed by the note.

Mrs. Baja Greenawalt's Note:
Did you notice the penmanship? Who writes such elegant script anymore, much less in cursive? Cursive is becoming a lost art, you know.

Isn't the name absolutely captivating? Never heard one like it... in the 20th century but harkening back to an earlier era. To me the name is epic and romantic. Mrs. Baja should be a character in a book or a Masterpiece Theatre mini-series!

I find the message delightful. Could I be infusing it with sentiment not intended by the writer? I don't think so. Deep down in my bookish soul, I know Mrs. Baja Greenawalt is a kindred spirit.

The Quest:
Since discovering this note, I have been obsessed with searching for Mrs. Baja. Who is or was she? Where is she? Does she have a family? How did her book end up in a rural Oklahoma school? Has her life been adventurous and fulfilling?

The quest has begun but the trail is cold. I am optimistic, however, that Mrs. Baja will be found. As clues arise, I will keep you posted.

One more thing, no one ever read Mrs. Baja's book. No one ever signed it anyway. Just heartbreaking, don't you think? Mrs. Baja, where ever you may be, I am reading your book!

The Lost Island of Tamarind

Every night I am reading aloud from the Lost Island of Tamarind by Nadia Aguiar. Wow, what a great bedtime story! Maya, Simon and their baby sister Penny are on a mysterious island looking for their parents. It doesn’t exist on any map, and has bizarre animals and plants they have never even heard of. A strange storm has washed the grown-ups from the family’s yacht where they have always lived, travelling the seas and doing research.

According to my websearch the author, Nadia Aguiar, grew up and now lives in Bermuda, which shows in the rich depiction of the tropics. Her descriptions of the plants, the heavy air, the sounds and the smells remind me of the subtropical rain forest outside my own door.

In the story, the kids manage to sail to Tamarind where carnivore vines swallow up the boat, suspend jaguars, and try to abduct Penny. They meet up with Helix, a boy who protects them and takes them to a river where they can wait for a barge. Refusing to stay, he slips into the jungle after giving them a spear and an amulet. Maya wonders if she’s made the right decision, or if she should have trekked through the dense growth with him to town.

They don’t even know if their parents are on the island, are not sure if they can trust the bargeman, can’t decipher their parents’ log book entries, don’t know what the amulet will protect them from, aren’t sure they can get help in town, and are fast running out of diapers for Penny.

I am swept up in the fantasy and mystery of the story, but also appreciate the accurate depiction of adolescents. For example, Maya pretends to be asleep so she won’t have to talk to her brother. ‘She felt too strange and emotional right then—filled with so much love for her family she thought she might weep—but if he spoke to her she was afraid she would snap at him. Why was it like that with family?’ Why indeed?

I am not reading ahead, really I am not. So at the pace we are going it might be a few weeks before we finish it. Do you want to know how it ends as badly as I do?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Stephanie Plum series

Janet Evanovich ( ) is an absolute publishing juggernaut, with dozens of titles to her name. Her books are generally in a series of romances or mysteries. So, is her popularity deserved, or have her characters run their course?

I’ll confess to reading her Stephanie Plum series for years, literally laughing out loud at times. A few of my friends are hooked, as well. Evanovich’s most recent Plum novel is Finger Lickin’ Fifteen, and her next installment, due out in June, is titled Sizzling Sixteen. Notice a pattern?

Plum is a bumbling New Jersey bounty hunter, chasing people who fail to show up for their court appearances. The situations she gets herself into are hilarious and unbelievable, and her friends, family, coworkers and clients are over the top, at times caricatures.

Lula, for example is recently retired from the world’s oldest profession and works as a filing assistant and side kick for the bail bonds office. She is a plus sized woman of color who favors high heels and neon or animal print spandex a few sizes too small.

My favorite Lula quote?

“Fritos have a calming influence on a woman.”

And then there’s
Ranger, a rich, sexy, mysterious Latino ex Special Forces who only wears black, smells sexy and kicks butt. Did I mention he’s sexy?

My favorite Ranger quote?

Stephanie had lost a fight with a garbage can when he said, “I don’t have a lot of domestic instincts, but I have a real strong urge to take you home and hose you down.”

But the man she’s occasionally committed to is Joe
Morelli, a cop who’s know her since she was five.

My favorite Morelli quote?

“We don’t seem to be all that good at commitment, but I’d be happy to give up a couple closets in exchange for wild gorilla sex at least five days out of seven.”

Evanovich's character portrayals are keenly observed. So much so that this year a passage from the Plum series describing Stephanie's uncle was in the standard test given to all twelfth graders in our state. Poor pencil chewing, nervous high school students had to read the description and then write another scene with the wacky old man.
I noticed the question because I was invigilating and picked up a spare copy of the exam to peruse as I paced the room. Told you I read compulsively.

I do still love reading the Stephanie Plum series after all these years. Yes, they are all kind of the same, and if I read the books too closely together I O.D. a bit on the wackiness, but they continue to surprise me at times. During a recent international flight my children were mortified by me laughing out loud while reading a Plum book. Shoulders heaving, face red and streaked with tears, I was just not the head of the family they wanted to sit next to in a plane or airport coffee shop.

However, a person’s sense of humor is a nebulous thing, and I was recently surprised a friend of mine didn’t like the books. We have, I thought, kindred warped, snappy views of the world and I was sure she’d be addicted just like me. She said, ‘When does it get funny? I kept thinking the next page would be funny. Yeah, I smiled, but it wasn’t really funny.’ I was astounded. It’s almost like all those laughs we’d shared in the past were a mistake or a fluke.

So, all I can say is, find a copy (it doesn’t matter which number you read first) and see what you think. Just don’t blame me if you embarrass your kids or damage a friendship.

Hello, bibliophiles!

Well, I was beyond flattered when Lesa invited me to be a guest blogger for Mrs. Greenwalt (she’s even hinting at a more permanent relationship). We’ve been friends since seventh grade when she adopted me, the new girl. In the years since reading has been an important part of our relationship. I remember phoning her up and inviting her out in high school, only to have her respond, ‘I don’t know. I was going to read this book…’

My appetite for books is voracious and indiscriminate. I read at a furious pace at the beach, at the dining table, in the bath, online, waiting for my kids, during lunch at work, even at red lights on the way home from the library. My mother used to say, ‘No reading at the table!’ and now my kids beg to be allowed to read during dinner. I’ll read pretty much anything, from the cereal packet to academic tomes, self help books (not too many!) and, ok, even Harlequin/Mills and Boone. I will justify that later, don’t worry!

Just so you know, I am an √©migr√©, having left the Southwest US for the antipodes over twenty years ago ( I was very young!). My spelling and turns of speech might seem strange to American readers, but I will try to be transparent. I’ll make an effort to highlight Australian authors and books that are available state side, but my tastes are catholic and universal.

Thanks Lesa and Mrs. Greenwalt for a new adventure!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Survival Books

No, I don't mean books about surviving in the wilderness. I mean books to read while iced in with possible power outages. The prospect of another icestorm is dreadful to contemplate especially since my house is all electric with a well. Stocked up on survival gear at Walmart like everyone else but I also stopped by the library for my survival books. Guess what I found on the new book shelf?! The latest books by two of my favorite thriller authors!

The librarian just put them out today. What a great find! It will certainly make a power outage more pleasant. Now I must locate my booklight so I can read after dark!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rhett Butler's People

Don't you adore the dramatic ending of GWTW.... but isn't it just ripe for a sequel?!

GWTW fans can't help but imagine what the author would have written in a followup. Margaret Mitchell refused to offer any clues about events that might happen after the ending of GWTW. Of course, I always imagine Scarlett getting her man.

To appease the public's hunger for more (and increase the coffers, no doubt), the Margaret Mitchell estate authorized two sequels: Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley and Rhett Butler's People (RBP)by Donald McCaig.

Rhett is such an intriguing man. In RBP, readers learn about events from Rhett's youth that form his adult character. Rhett's sensitivity and emphathy for the slaves and poor whites keeps him completely out of sync with the cruel world around him... especially with his harsh authoritarian father. The scenes between Rhett and Master Butler just broke my heart. Wish I could report Master Butler to social services! Overall, it was completely satisfying to meet and learn more about Rhett's family and friends especially the notorious Belle Watling.

Here are my observations of the two books but keep in mind that it has been at least three years since my last reading of Scarlett and I've only read it a couple of times

Even though McCaig took minor liberties with the storyline of GWTW, RBP is a great read; realistic and much closer in caliber to GWTW. Scarlett, on the other hand, is a fun exciting read but very far-fetched. Poor Scarlett's outlandish adventures almost make her seem like the Forest Gump of the post Civil War era.

Rhett Butler's People opens during Rhett's childhood, many years before GWTW begins and closes several years after GWTW ends. Scarlett begins immediately after GWTW ends. Since both sequels were authorized, I expected the storyline of RBP to intersect that of Scarlett at some point. It didn't! McCaig completely disregarded any events that happened in Scarlett.

I've read that the Margaret Mitchell estate was embarrassed by the book Scarlett. Could that be why?

So, two disparate sequels and two alternate endings. In both, Scarlett matures, becoming, if not completely compassionate, at least more considerate and less selfish. In both, Scarlett gets her man... and that is not a spoiler, folks, you know Scarlett is always gonna get her man.

So which is my favorite ending... okay, I'll confess... I prefer the ending of Rhett Butler's People.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tuesday Treasures...

What a lovely Tuesday working among the books in my library work space. During spare minutes, I read a page or two here and there. Today's pages were sponsored by: A Little Princess, These Happy Golden Years, Sidney Poitier Bio, Prince Bio, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

Today's lunch offering was the first two chapters of The Borrowers.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Today's Breakfast Book...

Reading at breakfast starts the day out right. Well, actually, reading in bed then reading at breakfast starts the day out right.

This morning, I read the first chapter of Rhett Butler's People. Bought it at the school book fair awhile back and wasn't planning to read it yet but I'm already enthralled. Oh, I think it is going to be a good one.

Gone With The Wind is one of my all time favorite books. Scarlett isn't in the same league as GWTW but is still a fun read. I'm only one chapter into Rhett Butler's People but it seems very well done and may be closer in calibre to GWTW.

It begins with an affair of honor between Rhett and Belle Watling's brother who is no gentleman. With flashbacks to his difficult childhood as a sensitive boy with a harsh authoritarian father, the first chapter provides much insight into Rhett's character. Can't wait to read more!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Blackboard Jungle

Finished The Blackboard Jungle on Tuesday. What a good book! It was a critically acclaimed movie as well. Can't believe I missed out on both all these years.

The book was published in 1954. It tells the story of an idealistic first year teacher's experience teaching disaffected boys at an inner city vocational highschool in New York City in the 1950s.

Didn't realise that the plague of inner city school problems started so long ago. I thought it was a relatively new phenomenon. Funny, that back then, the thugs and problem kids were placed in vo-tech schools. Nowadays, these type of kids go to alternative high schools. Vo-tech schools are considered very nice in my state and are a great resource for the students who are not college bound.

Here is a photo of the actual book I read. It is a later edition but still has a great retro picture on the cover. Such drama! Speaking of drama, love the NY Times blurb on the cover: A bombshell... frays the nerves like a scream for help in a dark alley. What a great line!

Oh, I bet folks were all atwitter when this came out in the 50s. Don't get me wrong: This book is a fascinating social commentary
that stands the test of time. It is just that our society has continued to disintegrate at a rapid pace since the 50s. The everyday local news is so horrific that people become desensitized, I think. Wouldn't it be nice if we could still be shocked and dismayed so easily...

Interesting to see how racism and sexism of the period is portrayed in The Blackboard Jungle. I did, sometimes, express a mental 'eeyew' to myself-- especially when reading from the wife's viewpoint. Amusing that the school had separate lounges/lunch rooms for male and female teachers. How times have changed. So grateful for the feminist movement!

I particularly enjoyed the dynamics between all the groups of characters. Between the new teacher (Richard Didier) and the burnt out career teachers. Between the teachers and the typically clueless inept administrators. Between the new teacher and the sexy female teacher on the prowl. Between the new teacher and the students... lots of interesting tension there.

Educators will especially relate to the flopsweat, the convictions, the doubts, the discipline problems, the attempts to reach students who have given up and the surprising miracle breakthroughs that make teaching worthwhile.

I wanted to mention a bit about the author, Evan Hunter. Interesting fellow and very prolific writer. He wrote crime fiction under the pseudonym, Ed McBain. (actually Evan Hunter isn't his real name either) I don't typically read crime fiction but I have friends who rave about his 87th Precinct series. He also wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's movie The Birds. If you would like to learn more about the author, here is a link to the official website:

I didn't plan to seek out the movie but think I might now to round out the whole experience. Changed my mind after finding out that Sidney Poitier is in the movie. Love Sidney Poitier!

If you've never read The Blackboard Jungle, give it a look. Even though there have been many variations of this theme in books and movies over the years, this one is the original. The book that started a genre, imagine that...

Look at it now!

Remember the mess? Books piled and stacked all over the floor... Well, look at it now!

The librarian is only there two days a week but she did an amazing job putting all the books back in order. The room is half size and is only a quarter the size of the regular library. Can't believe the books fit!
The supt apologized more than once for moving the library into my spot. As if! This is the best the room has ever looked and it even smells better!

Such a pleasant spot to work now but you see what I mean about it being a bookworm's dream and nightmare. So many beautiful books and I want to read them all. Hope I don't get the boot for neglecting my duties...

Maze of Books!

Here is the explanation of my Tuesday workspace that I promised. I provide contract speech therapy in public schools. Since, I'm not a regular staff member I work out of what ever space is available: closet, lounge, hall, lunchroom, ect. I felt fortunate to have a whole empty classroom to myself even if it was dirty and full of broken furniture and outmoded learning materials.

September is my one hectic month at work. October 1 is the childcount deadline for funding and schools are serious about funding. Such a long process to place a student in therapy and only one day a week to do it at this particular school. So loads and loads of work to do and what do I see when I walk into my room one day last September: Books... Piles of books... Books Galore... a maze of precariously stacked books!

The entire school library had been moved into my room due to flooding. Oh, really not a good environment for a bookworm with work to do. I adore books of all kinds so I was falling into books all day--- literally and figuratively...

See what I mean about precarious--- few shelves came with the books so they were stacked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa all over the floor, tables and even in the windows! Difficult to navigate and, of course, I was compelled to open any that caught my eye. Didn't matter if they were picture books, reference, new fiction or literary classics. Each book was like a treasure chest of wonders calling: 'Hey, open me' 'No, over here, open me'...

Monday, January 4, 2010

Back to the Blackboard Jungle...

Literally and figuratively. The holidays are over so back to work at school tomorrow. Would love to have another day or two at home but excited to get back to reading The Blackboard Jungle. You see, on Tuesdays, I nab a book out of the school library to read during lunch. Been working on The Blackboard Jungle for a few weeks now and it is fabulous! More on my Tuesday workspace (a bookworm's dream and nightmare) and the book later.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Finished my book today. In the past I devoured books while yearning to read slower to savor the experience. Well, now that I'm a parent, my books last longer. Which is a good thing I think. Still bittersweet when a good book ends though... wish they could all last forever...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Lost in a Book- The Gathering Storm

Love this book! I've been immersed in it all week! As immersed as can be while keeping house and playing with a toddler!

Brandon Sanderson did a brilliant job stepping into Robert Jordan's hard to fill shoes. The intrigue and strategy continues in the 12th volume as various factions move into place for the Last Battle.

I'm particularly enjoying Egwene's battle for the Amyrlin Seat at the White Tower. All the female characters throughout this series have been well defined and interesting with distinct personalities. Plenty of quirks and foibles too. Same with the male characters and the multitude of cultures portrayed.

When the last two books come out, I plan to re-read the whole series yet again! If I can hold out that long!


Oh how I love books! The heft of a book, the fragrance and texture of the pages...

Reading is a very organic and ritualistic experience for me. Believe I will delve more into the ritual in a future post.

For now, let me say that this won't be a typical book blog with critical (criticizing) reviews of books or authors. Don't expect deep literary analysis of books. Just musings on reading and all that entails: beloved books, new books, libraries, bookstores, authors, favorite quotes and passages, tea, reading spots, flights of fancy and, of course, the quest for Mrs. Baja...
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