Bill Wallace

As a child I clung to books as a lifeboat from loneliness. I can remember distinct times in my life  I considered certain books not  just an entertaining diversion, but an extra appendage. I recall wandering the streets of Oxnard, CA with my family, clinging to the Sweet Valley High book, The Ghost of Tricia Martin. There, of course, was the long period of time that I brought Paul Zindel’s The Pigman to every family outing. And there was the stretch that involved me clinging, tears a-flowing, to A Dog Called Kitty by Bill Wallace.

Bill Wallace died last night, January 30, 2012, at the age of sixty-four after struggling with lung cancer.  Wallace was a prolific Oklahoman children’s writer, he published thirty-one children’s books for various ages and co-authored seven books with his wife, Carol Wallace.

There are a lot of things that I could say about Wallace: he was a teacher, that he is the recipient of twenty state children’s choice awards, that he became a writer by accident (in order to quiet his fourth grade class he started telling them stories, these would eventually become his books). There are many beautiful things to learn about Bill Wallace.

There is a deep sense of loss that comes with learning that someone who so profoundly changed your love of reading has passed. Bill Wallace’s books taught me the basic fundamentals of being a great storyteller. He was an exceptionally honest with his audience. The honesty and poignancy of his writing allowed me, at a young age, to visit Oklahoma, and cope with the loss of a beloved pet. His writing was a solace to me during the dark times of isolation, and his impact on the accessibility of writing for youth has stayed with me as an adult.

To learn ore about his work and impact please check out:

http://newsok.com/award-winning-oklahoma-author-bill-wallace-dies/article/3644817?custom_click=masthead_topten

http://www.wallacebooks.com/


http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/contributor/bill-wallace

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On Sweet Valley High and detesting Diablo Cody

I am many things: a tea enthusiast, a pet lover, and a bookish nerd. What I try to avoid, sometimes successfully, is being a girl-hater. I think it is necessary to delineate those that are critical of other’s actions and those that put people down because of their own personal insecurities, or even those that are just extremely judgmental. I try to be critical of people’s actions without being catty and immature about their personal nature. Sometimes I triumph over the cattiness and sometimes I fail. Who do I fail with? Who is the one person that I can’t determine if I hate on a deeply personal level or just can’t stand their work? Who is the one person that creates things that make me want to die on the inside?

Diablo Cody.

My personal vendetta reached its boiling point with: http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/diablo-cody-wants-sweet-valley-high-to-be-american-graffiti-for-the-80s#

She wants to do a Sweet Valley High movie.

There are many things that I consider cardinal sins when it comes to taste but nothing as offensive as the above link, which actually made me shake with rage.  Let’s go over the two reasons why I want to grab Diablo Cody by the shoulders and forcefully tell her horrible things about the meatpacking industry during the early 20th century.  1. The cherished sanctity of the Sweet Valley twins and their friends; and 2. The marred, overly articulated, extraordinarily irritating gaze of freakin’ Diablo Cody (I won’t even get into the name, which speaks volumes in and of itself).

To begin with, Sweet Valley High is an institution created by Francine Pascal about two “all American” twin sisters who live an unusually active life in Southern California. It started in 1983 and spanned twenty years; twenty years full of four page descriptions of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield’s blonde haired, blue-eyed beauty. It is glorious in all of its soul searching and its moral black and white vision. Problems in Sweet Valley crop up everyday. They can be as mundane as not getting into a high school sorority (by the way, who knew there was such a thing?) or as wildly intense as when another set of twins plan to kill Elizabeth and Jessica and take on their identity (not making that up, see: Return of the Evil Twin). Regardless of the dilemma the twins reign supreme, the problems get resolved, and the twins remain sixteen for almost two decades (however there were several less superior spinoff series including Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley Kids, Sweet Valley University and Sweet Valley Senior Year, et. al.).

Here is the basic plot of a novel: opening description of the twins:  Elizabeth is chaste, Jessica is devious; introduction to anywhere Southern California, Sweet Valley High, and a cast of friends; instant dilemma, generally having to do with either Elizabeth or Jessica; problem reaches boiling point but with the assistance of all the Roman virtues (gravitas, pietas, dignitas and virtus) the issue gets solved and the reader gets a sneak peak of what the next volume’s drama will be.

On an intellectual level I can acknowledge that the SVH series isn’t in the same league as say, Fear & Trembling by Kierkegaard. It isn’t even quite as cerebral as Nancy Drew. However, the kind of consistency in a book series provides a few benefits for young readers. Children, especially struggling readers, are drawn to a series because they create a world with consistent characters, settings, language, and even problems. This consistency creates an atmosphere of comfort for the reader;  it allows them to experience the first important element of reading:   jouissance. Jouissance, meaning “bliss” (or, in the non-readerly context, “orgasm”) is the pleasure derived from reading. It is only with the pleasure of reading that the reader can go on to experience plaisir, which, in its basest connotation, is reading for knowledge.[1] A series offers the ability for reluctant readers to become familiar with the joys of immersion through reading. Fundamentally, and ideally, they provide the building blocks for a reader to move from the plot and language basics of the series to more complex literature.

While in SVH there are ridiculous elements of frivolity and superficiality, they are books surrounding the lives of two young women. It is their world, and while they occasionally represent the archetypes of the angel/whore dichotomy, the twins are also ambitious and determined (whether you are an Elizabeth or a Jessica). I am not putting the twins on a feminist pedestal, as they generally experience first world problems and are almost always lauded for their beauty, but I do want to acknowledge the unusual candor that is associated with a young woman doggedly pursuing her wants during a time where YA books for women often included the most perfect example of the “good girl.”   On a personal level, I also learned what the word “maudlin” meant from SVH, and it introduced me to Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poems, as On the Edge included “Dirge Without Music.” Those two things are just basic representations of how books that are often considered laughable throwaways provide layers to further spark literary growth in even the most hesitant of readers.

Here are just a few reasons why I fear this re-make:

Diablo Cody is all of her projects, and not in the way that Van Gogh is all of his art. Every thing I have ever seen of Diablo Cody’s is just facets of Diablo Cody. It is peppered with personal opinions, it is overly verbose, and it is deftly sarcastic. Everything is highly ironic with characters that are hyper aware of themselves, and during this self-conscious exploration (I use that word loosely) the characters rarely learn anything that assists in helping them grow. And lest one think that I am unfamiliar with Cody’s work let me back myself up saying that I have read her memoir Candy Girl, I’ve watched Juno, and I survived all of United States of Tara.

All of these projects are the antithesis of the Sweet Valley series. The characters are different versions of the same seemingly precocious person. The dialogue is an exhaustingly detailed list of pop culture references, which seem to illustrate the vast indie knowledge that Diablo Cody probably prides herself on. The humor is irritatingly self-depreciating and often comes off as insincere. The interactions between the characters are unnatural and bizarrely one dimensional.  I hate to imagine Diablo Cody staring at herself in the mirror and talking to herself while the tape recorder runs, but it certainly seems like that could be a possibility.

And in case you think I am being overly critical; allow me to direct your attention back to the fact that I read her memoir. It is a self-congratulatory account of her younger days as a stripper. I have nothing against the sex industry, what I do have a problem with is someone who delineates the difference between “geek” and dumb stripper. The majority of the memoir is Cody pointing out the differences between her “unaltered” and natural body and the behavior of the “other” strippers. I was significantly bothered at Cody’s description of these seemingly “dumb” strippers while lauding her own work as a stripper because unlike those “other” strippers she was smart, she was “different,” and she was somehow worthier than all of those other working girls.

Why is it that Diablo Cody gets to depict herself as some indie goddess that is ironically working in the sex industry, but everyone else with the same exact profession gets lumped together as undesirables? It was an insulting and skewed account where one woman presents herself as a hilarious outsider in her profession while presenting the other women, who take their profession seriously, as dumb cretins who couldn’t possibly have the same amount of dignity and intelligence as the narrator.

Incase you think I am downplaying the intensely offensive nature of this memoir; here are just a few brief snippets of reviews from Amazon:

“Because of this, I find her attitude of being “above” the “dirtiness” of certain clubs disingenuous, and her condescending description of dancers an insult to any woman in that occupation. Her sudden vague-ness when describing what occurred in the Loft at Deja Vu also begs the question of how candid she really is. The few things she actually mentions are blatantly illegal, things that many dancers never do, yet despite this lack of willpower in the face of a generous and pushy client, she still expresses her belief in her own mental superiority to other strippers. I guess she didn’t see the irony” (Otoki, 2008)

“Candy Girl is so smugly, irritatingly, hiply written that it should come with a disclaimer. About four of the book’s innumerable wise-cracks are actually laugh-out-loud funny – the rest are just so painful and self-impressed that I felt like throwing the book across the room.” (Spence, Helen Joan “Loui”, 2008)

“Until I got to this line, near the very end, I thought the book was ok, though I too was troubled by the too glib writing style and the touch of oversimplification and arrogance I felt the author displayed. Then, towards the very end, she wrote what may be the most offensive sentence I’ve ever read in a book: “I was never sexually abused as a child, probably because I wasn’t pretty.”

What???

What does appearance have to do with sexual assault at any age? This trivializes the experience of all sexual abuse survivors, and is just horrifying on so many levels I cannot believe her editor let it stand.” (Maria, 2006).

I was not exaggerating. This kind of self-entitled and arrogant writing bleeds over to every project that I have seen her involved in.

How does this relate to a movie version of a cherished YA series? Why do I find this more offensive than the 90s television series? I feel like the reasons are becoming more apparent, but in case they aren’t it is because I have confidence that the characters that I admired so much will become overly ironic, one dimensional carbon copies of Diablo Cody. I have a feeling that the stereotyping that is so overwhelming in the previously mentioned projects will now be a part of the Sweet Valley world.  And while the world of Sweet Valley certainly isn’t free from its own marginalization, in the very least they try. On rare occasions Sweet Valley at least attempted to draw a watchful eye toward serious issues, and while doing so they didn’t treat the reader as a poorly educated underling.

My biggest concern is in one distressing sentence. “I want it to be wonderfully nostalgic…” She goes on to talk about how she wants her version of Sweet Valley to be a sort of American Graffiti. This very sentiment is the easiest way for even the most casual observer, and the most fervent of Sweet Valley fans, to see that Cody doesn’t get Sweet Valley at all. Sweet Valley isn’t meant to be a snapshot or retrospect of a particular decade in the way that American Graffiti was. By only looking at Sweet Valley through the gaze of the early eighties, during its inception, one completely overlooks the legion of fans that grew with the series’ popularity. A creator doesn’t self-consciously develop nostalgia. A period piece imbibes the sense of the time and dedicatedly portrays that era, therefore evoking a sense of nostalgia.

Sweet Valley doesn’t live in the eighties. While it has nods to certain aspects of pop culture,  Sweet Valley never mentions a current president, a decade, or even a year (until recently with the last series of books and the final Sweet Valley book, Sweet Valley Confidential). Everything is a fabrication, it is a made up world that survives in its own microcosm. And there is no need for Diablo Cody to invade that world and inject herself into something that is such an esteemed part of the YA literature world. It is perfect just the way it is.


[1] Barthes, Roland, and Richard Miller. The Pleasure Of The Text. Hill and Wang, 1975. Print.

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Bite-sized reviews

Sometimes, a book is best reviewed in miniature. Think of it as an apéritif for the mind:

(Carol Topolski, Fig Tree, 2008, 272 pp)

The story of a the Gutteridges, a young couple that moves into a staid English suburb, and the atrocity that occurs in their home with the murder of their young daughter. It reads a bit like a Law and Order episode; one stark event occurs at the very beginning of the novel and is delved into and expanded upon throughout the story through the eyes of the couple as well as a community that has to deal with the consequences. Topolski uses her psychology background to great effect, as the story progresses we are shown the background of the Gutteridges that offers a chilling explanation for their pathological, obsessive love.  A major problem with what is a fairly solid debut novel is that it comes across as being student work quite often, especially at the end of the novel, which left me very dissatisfied. The Gutteridges seem to become more flat as the novel moves on, and it doesn’t seem entirely intentional.

(Rivka Galchen, Fourth Estate, 2008, 256 pp)

A creative and interesting debut marred by indulging too often in its own cleverness. Leo Liebenstein is an anxious, middle-aged psychotherapist living in New York with his younger charismatic Argentinian wife, Rema. When Rema enters their apartment one day holding a puppy, Leo is certain that his wife has been replaced by an almost-identical duplicate. This realisation marks the start of Leo’s quest to locate the missing Rema while avoiding her persistent clone. He is aided by Harvey, one of his psychiatric patients who has a strange connection to the mysterious the Royal Academy of Meteorology and driven by the mysterious figure of Tzvi Gal-Chen, whose presence and meteorological findings may play an important role in discovering Rema’s location. His quest and growing obsession with Gal-Chen takes him to Rema’s family home in Argentina, where his journey takes a strange turn. Galchen mixes the clinical, distantly intellectual voice of Leo with descriptions that focus on the mundane sensations of married life and the memories they invoke. The book excels in these moments, such as when Leo and Rema discuss fastenings on Tzvi Gal-Chen’s shirt in a photo they’ve acquired, or when Leo reminisces about his mother while in Argentina.  It’s when the story goes too far into its own quirks that the story falters, especially when Leo’s obsession with the Royal Academy of Meteorology grows. It could have also done with a small chop; it is too long and  sputters towards the end. Galchen is definitely a writer to watch; she has taken a story of a man’s possible breakdown and the issues that arise when marriage becomes too expected and takes it to weird and wonderful heights.

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This Week In Publishing

Links to various news and events in the world of books:

 

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This Week in Publishing

Links to various news and events in the world of books:

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The gift that keeps on igniting

I have a kindle. My parents bought it for me for Christmas. When I first received it, completely forgetting the “it’s the thought that counts” idiom, I was nonplussed. It was a lovely thought; I was getting my Masters in Education and Library Science and had my undergraduate degree in English so it was natural that the Kindle was under the tree for me. My hesitations lied in the fact that I was, and am, hopelessly dedicated to the physicality of the written word. I prefer to write in pen and paper over typing on the computer. Antiquity appeals to me, and I mean that in the most positive sense of the word. I still write handwritten letters, I write any draft in pen before I transcribe it to type.

I am in love with my books. They are a part of me, despite how clichéd and sentimental it sounds. The special volumes have traveled with me to several different states and several different countries. Many of the books that I own have been a part of my life since childhood, the yellowed and dog-eared pages smeared with the remnants of whatever meal I was eating while reading are as dear to me as heirlooms.

Since I adore my parents and I was so touched by the thoughtful gift that I eventually picked up the Kindle to see what it was all about. I find my Kindle delightful. Better than delightful; I view it as a necessary companion to the shelves that house my many beloved volumes. But I find it to be a totally different, though appealing, experience for me in comparison to what my books offer.

In one of my educational library science classes the professor handed out an article that dealt with the library finding its footing in the modern world. It is hard to deny the transition of the world and its dependency on technology, much more so than when I was growing up. The article discussed that librarians have to find a way to better incorporate the library with the population that depends on technology. Librarians cannot cling to the sentimentality of the smell of books being so important to them and the pages evoking the senses. Librarians have to find a way to use E-Readers in the library, and if librarians can move forward with technology, why shouldn’t I give it a go?

E-Readers don’t work the mind in the same way that physical books do. And when using my Kindle it is absolutely evident to me that that is the case. It is not as aesthetically pleasing as reading a book, at the same time there are many benefits to the Kindle. Since I move frequently I can’t afford to consistently hoard books. My last move I had seven full sized boxes full of books. I don’t regret the pain and suffering of moving those extremely heavy boxes (alright, my friends moved them with very vocal complaints). But I also acknowledge that I don’t need to buy or keep every single book that comes across my path. So I am grateful that my Kindle has allowed me to have access to hundreds of free volumes that I like to have near me (see: Aristotle’s Poetics, or the original version of Pinocchio, and -admittedly- the newest Sweet Valley book that I couldn’t wait to have). The library is for when I want a book right away, or I want to savor all the senses that physical books evoke for me. The Kindle is for having a reference to ancient texts that I feel should be in my possession, but don’t need to be on my shelf. Also, the Kindle saw me through some extremely difficult financial times, when I couldn’t afford textbooks and couldn’t wait on the ILL to get them. School required me to have numerous volumes that I needed for an extended period of time, so I was thrilled that a large amount of them were available on e-text.

Libraries now offer a version of lending books for e-readers, so I can continue to support the library, as I’ve always done, while they move onto a more modern version of the library. But lest I sound like I am doing a commercial for the Kindle, I should say that to this day I prefer my books. I am sentimental about the notes in the margins, the folded pages, and the smell of old texts. I still frequent used bookstores and purchase way too many books, ensuring that the next move will be even more painful. But I am glad that my Christmas present turned out to be an indispensible part of my education and my bookshelf.

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To Kindle or Not to Kindle?

As the Kindle continues to become a daily part of modern life, the bookworms of Book Sauce are debating its merits! Who will win this battle of ideas? Will any minds be changed and Kindles purchased (or thrown in the scrap heap)? Continue reading for Idroma’s argument against the Kindle:

Sometimes I think that I might be a very technologically-adept Luddite. Despite my constant use of social media, blogs, digital cameras and art-based software, I remain a traditionalist of sorts- especially in regards to books. I’ve expounded on my love of books before, they are the foundation upon which I have learned to engage with the world. I am a bibliophile who edges quite close to the precipice of bibliomania, my house is covered in books that I haven’t yet read because I was taken by the yellowing softness of their pages, a memory evoked or a lovely sense of sturdiness and security. I still feel a sense of wonder and pleasure when coming across a word that I have never seen before. Having to look it up, write it down and sound it out like a child, working out how the syllables should taste on my tongue. I find it a small tragedy that I had to leave behind my dictionary in the States and have not yet bought a new one. I loved the process of looking up words on fragile, thin paper and trying not to be distracted by another word or phrase unveiling its mysteries to me out of the corner of my eye.

My books are my security blanket, a way to always feel grounded no matter where I am in the world. As someone who also has a lifelong textural fixation, I take immense joy rifling through books in shops and libraries. In the British Library, I longed to touch original drafts of Austen and Carroll manuscripts. Never underestimate the importance of touch when dealing with books, it is too part of the experience. But what does this have to do with my traditionalism? Well, it started with Christmas. My mother asked if I wanted a Kindle. This caused a minor crisis.

As someone formerly in the book business, I understand the importance of new technology. I get that publishers have to figure out new ways to be innovative and increase their audience (as well as profit). In this brave new economy, publishers that stay behind the times become extinct really quickly. But dear god, there is something about the Kindle that repulses me. It makes text feel ephemeral in a way that other digital media doesn’t. At least with digital photography (and here I mean proper cameras, not phones. I have issues with camera phones as well), there is the physical act of taking the picture, thinking of composition, of feeling. The camera still feels like an extension of the person taking the picture.

The Kindle makes books feel so insignificant, both in physicality and choice (though I find it interesting that Kindle adverts portray a lo-fi, trendily handmade feel that is in complete opposition to the smooth and sleek object being sold. As if a Kindle can still be folksy and intimate). I don’t want my book selection to be like my mp3 player, full of unlimited selection. I want to be able to put some thought into what books I want to take out on the town with me. I want the small pleasure of looking forward to the book I have specifically chosen to accompany on a journey, of admiring the typeface on the the first few pages, reading the author bio, seeing a nail mark or smudge of polish that shows me that someone else has enjoyed it before me. I want that smell that you can only get with books, the slight acridness of new pages or soft sigh of decay that perfumes old books. Having only one book at your disposal makes you pay attention to the words in a way you just won’t if you know that you can change at anytime.

In a fantastic interview in The Literateur, Zadie Smith discusses that reading off a screen causes casualness with the text. Reading things on computers makes us fragment and misread text, and in some cases removes the author from their creations (for a clear example of this, look at Tumblr). She prints things off if she wants to read them more thoroughly. I don’t think that the Kindle is that far removed from this issue. I think the idea of ownership in regards to the Kindle is problematic as well. Numerous arguments and discussions have been raised about the fact that people do not own their e-books and the fact that they can be removed even after being paid for. There is something that saddens me about not being able to keep something that you may love, and I think it robs readers of control. You can’t share your e-book or pass along your Kindle. It destroys the sense of community that arises around books.

It also helps to jeopardise one of my favourite spaces, the bookshop. Amazon has already done a lot of damage to independent bookshops (and we are all guilty of using it out of convenience, myself included), and the Kindle is just another aspect of this ongoing problem. But something is lost when you can’t walk around a place and pick up something that could possibly change your life. Something is lost when you can’t be spontaneous or emotional or drawn in by a book cover that speaks to you. A Kindle limits you (even in cost it is a machine of privilege). It takes away choice, whether in selection or ownership or the ability to gift others with words and ideas. When I read a book, I want to switch off from technology. I want respite from all my mod cons for just a while. I feel that the Kindle puts me in a convergence of technology, consumerism and ethical questioning that I just don’t want to be in when reading Nella Larsen or Harry Potter. Just this once, I am happy to remain behind the times.

Come back soon for Janie’s argument in favour of the Kindle.

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Review: Eleven Kinds of Loneliness

(Richard Yates, Vintage Classics, 1962, 220 pp)

I was pleased by my first journey into Richard Yates’s writing. In Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, Yates has created a collection of short stories that delve into the intricacies of alienation in post-war America. His stories feature characters that have become Americana icons over the years- from soldiers to suburban children, housewives, expatriates and city businessmen. He expertly dismantles their carefully constructed exteriors in order to let the reader explore how constricting 1950s American life could be for both the privileged and down and out.

His short stories are cinematic and vaguely familiar; we have seen them often in the past decade in cinemas and in shows like the clearly Yates-influenced Mad Men. Yet the characters still feel fresh and contemporary, we know these characters, we have seen aspects of them in ourselves, in our parents and grandparents. I read this collection in three bursts because I was desperate to read more about these haunted lives while also being somewhat hesitant to endure the sometimes raw honesty of sadness contained amongst the pages. Four of the stories have especially stayed with me, “Doctor Jack-O-Lantern” and “Fun with a Stranger” both involving schoolchildren and their teachers; “A Very Good Jazz Piano”, about two Ivy League students on holiday in France; and “Out with the Old”, about veterans with TB and their lives in their ward on the cusp of a new year.

What Yates is masterful at is capturing the sense of transitional anxiety, the fear that surrounds people who are yearning for both their past and their future. These characters are not symbols of nostalgia; they are on the front line of all the social changes slowly occurring around them. They can’t see its effects yet but they can sense it, and it terrifies them. In my favourite stories, this fear and loneliness is intergenerational. In “Doctor Jack-O-Lantern”, a young boy confronts his loneliness and alienation through destruction, while in “Fun with a Stranger” it is schoolchildren who bear witness to their teacher’s loneliness, while compounding it with their lack of understanding. “ A Very Good Jazz Piano” shows inherent loneliness of a life abroad, where a constant sense of thwarted potentiality colours the interactions of two Ivy Leaguers with everyone around them, as well as each other. In “Out with the Old”, TB patients must continually negotiate their previous selves, and all roles they once had, with how they are regarded in their ward and their encroaching obsoleteness. I found this story to be particularly moving; it contained a bittersweet warmth unmarred by sentimentality.

One of the only flaws found in this lovely book is the end piece, “The Builder”. Longer than the other stories, the tone never felt particularly sincere to me. Though this was largely done purposefully- the story centres on a writer asked to write mawkish stories for a cab driver with stars in his eyes- I couldn’t move past the clunky metaphors bandied about by the characters. It didn’t contain the underlying gracefulness of the other stories. Whether this is simply my own preference of wanting some kind of desperate grace or an actual defect of the story, I cannot be certain.

Despite the last tale, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness is a strong collection that is also aided by strong and beautiful cover art. The characters remain with you once you have stopped reading its pages and you realise how much the echoes of their actions reverberate throughout all of us as we attempt to survive the loneliness of the mundane.

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Salutations!

Book Sauce is an ongoing project between two friends living on two different continents who share a love of the written word. In this blog we will have book reviews, publishing and library news, spotlights on independent bookshops and many other things that strike our fancy. This blog will not be limited to any particular genre because there are too many books out there that deserve to be mentioned. We hope that you enjoy it and come back soon!

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