Friday, March 6, 2015

A Snowy Day is the Best Type of Day for Book Recommendations!

So I know I originally started this blog to review bookstores & libraries, but there’s just something about snow that makes me want to get out a hot cup of Chai Tea or Hot Chocolate, snuggle up in some fuzzy pajamas with my cats, and crack open a new book.  So since I am doing exactly that, I figured I could give some great snowy-day book recommendations!  I’m only going to review a few of my favorites, and I’ll try to stay away from largely popular books; I’m sure we have all read plenty of reviews on Harry Potter or Dan Brown.  So without, further ado, here are the books I will be recommending/reviewing:

Young Adult Fiction – The Legend of Holly Claus by Brittney Ryan
General Fiction – Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Thriller/Mystery – The Poet by Michael Connelly

The Legend of Holly Claus is actually a book I bought a very long time ago at Baldwin’s Book Barn – it is one of the reasons I distinctly remember that bookstore.  Sometimes things like that just stick.  Holly Claus is – obviously – Santa Claus’s daughter, if the last name didn’t fill you in.  She is born with a terrible curse of a frozen heart and is also the reason all of Forever (where Santa Claus lives, clearly) has its gates frozen shut.  Determined to break the curse, she travels to New York with her animal companions to undergo a long series of adventures and meet new people, trying to learn more about herself and her curse.  I’d say more, but I don’t want to spoil anything.  This book is truly a great magical read, especially near Christmas-time or when there is snow on the ground.  Looking through the book a little more – it’s been years since I have read it – it might be closer to a children’s genre rather than Young Adult – think along the lines of Percy Jackson or Inkheart age-range.  However, this is the type of book I really feel like you could read at any age, and still experience the magic and "delightfulness" of the writing.  If you have young ones at home, this is also a great book to read out loud, although it is pretty long.

            Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is actually the book I am currently reading, so I can’t give too much information on it.  Basically, a young man named Clay ends up working at – wait for it, - Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and notices that very strange characters show up in the late hours of the night.  Furthermore, he is instructed not to touch any of the books, and to not look inside them.  When Clay does happen to take a look inside the books, he finds that the books don’t contain words, but codes.  Together with some friends, he embarks on a journey to figure out just who Mr. Penumbra is, why his books are the way they are, and what is the connection between everything.  If you like books that have codes in them or books that will keep you on your toes and are fast paced, I highly recommend this book.  It was hard pretty hard to tear my eyes away from the page to take a break and write this post!   And at just under 300 pages in paperback, it’s a quick, easy read for a beautiful snowy day.

            The last book I want to recommend today is one of my all-time favorite books: The Poet by Michael Connelly.  Honestly, even if you weren't a fan of Michael Connelly, I would recommend this book to you.  It is SUCH a fast-paced thriller/mystery/horror book that you will never put the book down until it is finished.  Because this book throws you so many curve balls, I’m not going to tell much of the plot since it is constantly changing.  Basically, there is a killer on the loose who leaves weird Edgar Allen Poe pieces as his signature.  Reporter Jack McEvoy tries to work with the homicide cops on the case to try and find the killer.  Note: if you don’t like gore or horrifying situations/murders, this isn’t the book for you.  However, if you like a good thrill like I do, then you will be hooked into this book from the very beginning.

            So those are my 3 snowy-day recommendations!  Sorry I don’t go into much detail, one of my biggest pet-peeves are people that write book recommendations and then end up telling you everything that happens in the book.  I like the thrill of opening a new book, and not knowing where it is going to take me; much like not knowing what you will find in the next bookstore/library you go into.  So there’s that. 

Stay tuned for later this week (weather-permitting) where I will review the University of Pennsylvania Libraries!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Baldwin's Book Barn

For additional pictures of Baldwin's Book Barn, check out my gallery HERE!

Today I braved all the elements in order to get to Baldwin’s Book Barn.  For anyone not local to Chester County, it hailed here today.  Luckily, I have a handy Jeep that gets me anywhere I need to go, so the 10-minute drive to the historic Brandywine Valley area was not too bad.  From the street, you might just drive past this gem of a bookstore; it looks like all the other historic barns in the area and has just one sign on the lawn.  I was lucky enough to hear of this bookstore back when I was much younger, so I’m a frequent visitor – it’s the perfect place to begin my journey.  For the sake of my review, I am going to give my first impressions of the Book Barn

Before I give you some insight as to what the inside of this barn holds, let me provide a little background information on the Book Barn, all of which can be found in further detail on their website, which I will provide at the end of the post for you.  Local Quakers originally constructed the barn in 1822.  It wasn’t until 1934 that William and Lilla Baldwin began their book collection, and it wasn’t until 1946 that they actually moved their business into the barn.  Ever since then, their collection has only grown to include not only rare and historic books, but also maps, paintings, sheet music, and many more types of treasures.  Today, they advertise that they have over 200,000 books.  And based on the layout on the inside, I believe it.

The barn is divided into 5 floors and two sides, utilizing pretty much the entire barn.  When you first walk in you are immediately surrounded by the smell of perfectly musky books and of old wood.  There’s a little chalkboard that says, “Read,” an old wooden desk and leather chair, and even a small wood burning chiminea.  Upon further investigation, this first room holds some of the rarest books they offer, located behind the counter in very neatly organized bookshelves.  There’s also a glass case with signed editions of Andrew Wyeth paintings.

The Front Room of the Book Barn

Every room I went into after this first one just kept amazing me at every turn.  Absolutely any type of book you were looking for – from books about Scandinavia to sexuality to World War II, they had a section for it.  The bookshelves went from the floor to the ceiling, with every shape, size, and color book in it.  I think that’s one of the biggest pros of an independent bookstore – they have much more variation in their books over a more generic bookseller like Barnes and Nobles. 

The first floor contained the maps of every different place in Chester County, military books, and children’s books.  The children’s room had a quaint little bench for kids to sit on, and had both newer books for them to read like The Fault in our Stars but also older books, like 1900’s Alice in Wonderland and 1969 Nancy Drew books.  Once you’re through these rooms, you go up a small wooden staircase to the second level, where books are laid out on tables, rather than bookshelves.  If you are lucky like I am, an adorable black cat that will meow and let you pet him will greet you at the top of the stairs.  I gotta tell you, this cat has the life – he gets to live in a bookstore, lay on books all day, explore when he feels his curiosity strike – I must say, I’m pretty jealous. 

A glimpse of the Children's Room

We kept travelling up and up, pretty amazed at the different categories of books we found.  On every level and in almost every aisle, there were at least one or two small wooden or leather chairs, encouraging you to take a seat and enjoy a book.  Because we went when it was so cold, it wasn’t crowded at all, and it had a real solitary feel to it, like it was just the books and myself.  By the time I got up to the fifth floor, I was pretty much in awe at the sheer quantity of books that I have seen.  200,000 might not seem like a lot of books for a large bookstore, but 200,000 in a small dairy barn-turned-bookstore does seem like a lot. 

After you get to the fifth floor, you find the exit to “side B,” which is the same as the first 4 floors that I just described but more.  I feel like this book barn is one of those game shows – “but wait, there’s more!”  That’s pretty much what it feels like to be in there for the first time.  This side of the barn even had doors that said “more books in these next few rooms,” as if the main area of the barn wasn’t enough. 

Books and comfy chairs were everywhere.

If it wasn’t so cold out, I could definitely see myself just sitting there in the barn, on a random level, reading a good book and maybe chilling with Mr. Cat from earlier.  I signed up for their email list, so if they ever change anything or have an event, you know I will be the first one there to see what’s up.  So, to recap: if you enjoy out of the ordinary appearances, and small nooks with a diverse selection of older books, Baldwin’s Book Barn is the place to go! 

The happiest cat ever & my new potential best friend.

Next week – University of Pennsylvania’s Libraries – Van Pelt & Franklin 

For more info on Baldwin's Book Barn, visit their website!