Jennie Bentley is the author of the best-selling Do-It-Yourself home renovation mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime. She doesn't just write about home renovation, she lives it—working as a renovator and real estate assistant as well as a writer. Today, Jennie shares her top 5 cheap and easy renovation tips with Book Case readers.
On March 2, the third installment in my Do-It-Yourself Home Renovation mysteries featuring textile-designer-turned-renovator Avery Baker, and her boyfriend, handyman Derek Ellis, will be in bookstores everywhere.
I’ve always done my best to make Avery and Derek ‘real people,’ the kind of fictional characters most of us can relate to and that we might like to hang out with. Inherited house and lapsed medical degree notwithstanding, they’re not independently wealthy and they’re not dilettantes. They’re hard-working people trying to make ends meet the same as the rest of us. At the beginning of Plaster and Poison, they find themselves in a place we all are likely to find ourselves sooner or later, especially in these economic times: short of cash.
In Derek’s and Avery’s case, what this means is that instead of buying a new house to renovate, they’re forced to go to work for someone else until their cash flow situation improves. For the rest of us, being short of cash usually means tightening the belt, skimping on luxuries like going out to eat and going to the movies. Updating our homes go on the back burner, except for fixing important things like leaking roofs or dripping faucets.
Sometimes, though, a change of scenery can do wonders for the morale. Here are a few tips from Avery for updating the look of your home on a budget:
Rearrange your furniture. You’d be amazed at the difference it can make. While you’re at it, try to get rid of some of the clutter, too. We all accumulate lots, and it can obscure and even make you forget the things you like about your home.
Paint a wall—or four. At $20-$25 per gallon, paint is the quickest and cheapest picker-upper, because it can totally change the look of a room. Even if all you do is paint one wall, it’ll change the entire space. With not much more money and a little more work, try a special effect, like sponge painting or crackling. Remember too, that paint doesn’t just work on walls: you can paint floors, doors, furniture, kitchen cabinets . . . all kinds of things.
Have some fun with fabrics. New curtains can make a huge difference, at not too prohibitive a price. Slipcovers are great: they totally change the look of a sofa or chair. Toss some new, cheap throw pillows on the furniture to update the look. For a dining room or kitchen, try a new tablecloth. If you’re feeling adventurous—and have access to a sewing machine—grab some cheap fabric remnants at a craft store and whip up your own pillows and window treatments. Or do a Scarlett O’Hara and recycle an old pair of curtains or even a shirt or sweater. Slipcovers, pillows, and window treatments in different fabrics can transform a room in no time flat.
Update your accessories. It’s amazing how the artwork on the walls and the tchotchkes on the table can define a room. Try changing your accessories to get a different look. Move things from one room to another, and update both spaces at the same time.
Play hardball with your hardware. Change out your doorknobs, the kitchen or bathroom faucets, or the cabinet handles and drawer pulls. The difference something so small can make is profound. On a slightly larger scale, a new chandelier above the dining room table, or replacing an outdated ceiling fan with a new, streamlined model, can make a world of difference as well.
So there you have it. It doesn’t have to take an arm and a leg, or a fortune, to update your house. And if you run out of ideas, you can always pick up a DIY-book for some inspiration. Preferably one of mine.
Jennie Bentley lives in Nashville with her husband (a realtor), two kids, two frogs, two goldfish, a parakeet, and a hyperactive dog. Learn more about Jennie and the DIY books on her website.
Yesterday we highlighted features from our February issue, including an interview with romance novelist Kristan Higgins, author of The Next Best Thing (February 1 from Harlequin). Today, we have a special treat: A guest post from interviewer (and BookPage Production Designer) Karen Elley, who brings us more behind-the-book quotes from her conversation with Higgins.
Ever wondered why your favorite romance heroine has a pet? Or how an author feels at the conclusion of writing a book? Read on to get the scoop. Then tell us in the comments: What's your favorite romance novel?
Recently I interviewed romance author Kristan Higgins for the February issue of BookPage. Due to space constraints, several paragraphs had to be cut from the article. So, just in case inquiring minds want to know what I left out, here are more insights into Higgins and her writing style.
For instance, Higgins writes from the first person narrative point of view, something that is unusual in contemporary romance. She said it provides a truer point of view for her because the heroine doesn’t know what the hero is thinking, and neither does the reader.
“In real life,” Higgins says, “you don’t get the other person’s point of view—you have to make assumptions by going on what’s showing in their actions and by what’s being said. It feels like a very natural and honest way to write.”
In Higgins' previous books, a dog is usually the heroine’s best friend, but in The Next Best Thing, Fat Mikey, a cranky, overweight cat takes on that role. “I’m definitely a dog person,” Higgins says, “but I also own a cat.” (Dear reader, cat people will understand that no matter what the author believes, no one owns a cat.) “I decided to pick a pet for each of my (five so far) heroines,” she explained, “because I think the pet the character chooses, and how they relate to it, is very revealing.”
Actually, in The Next Best Thing, the heroine doesn’t pick him; her friend with benefits, Ethan, gets Fat Mikey for Lucy—to be with her while he’s away.” Higgins felt a dog would be too much for Lucy to handle with her job at a bakery and the unusual hours that go with it. “A cat is company but more independent and less needy.” Darn straight.
When she moves on to write a new book, Higgins admits that it’s hard to get the current book’s characters out of her head. “You fall in love with these people. They are so real to you. In your heart you feel their pain, you laugh at what they say, you cry with their sorrows and then when the book is done, I don’t get to see them anymore. It’s almost like breaking up.”
Higgins gave BookPage a sneak preview of the book she’s currently writing, scheduled for publication in August of 2010. All I Ever Wanted is a tale of opposites who attract, starring a woman who has a toxic crush on her boss: “When the book opens it’s her 30th birthday, and she thinks he has given her some reason to hope that things are going to be different. But as it turns out what he really wants to tell her is that he is seeing someone else. The plot revolves around a quirky, funny family and a heroine who feels that if she does everything right, she can fix everything. She’s always trying to solve other people’s problems and make everybody happy.” The hero this time is a vet. “With all the pet references in my other books, sooner or later it had to happen,” Higgins said.
When asked what she likes to read, and what authors influenced her writing, Higgins replied, “I just finished a wonderful book, Thanksgiving Night by Richard Bausch, an absolutely lyrical book about a family.” Other authors she loves and appreciates are Eleanor Lipman, Elizabeth Strout, Monica Macanerny, Steven King, Sherry Thomas and Susan Mallory. “It depends on my mood of the moment. I read a lot of different genres. But I think because I hadn’t always planned to be a writer, I didn’t look at the books I was reading as influence, more as enjoyment.
Higgins admits she doesn’t have a clue as to what the next big thing in romance novels might be. “I don’t pay attention to market trends and predictions, but I think readers are always hungry for great stories. They love characters with conflicts and issues to overcome, and they love when it’s difficult. They love the struggle. A good book with great characters will always sell.”
If she had to do something other than writing, what would it be? “I think I’d like to be an editor, that way I could still read all these great stories.”
Now better known for his standalone successes like Shutter Island, Mystic River and The Given Day, Dennis Lehane made his fiction debut in a more conventional manner—writing a stellar detective series. Boston PIs Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro hit the scene in 1994's Shamus Award-winning novel A Drink Before the War. The two started as friends, then began a rocky romance that hit more than a couple of bumps over the five-book series. Now Lehane has sold a sixth (and final) Kenzie-Gennaro book to Morrow for publication in 2011—the first novel in the series since 1999's Prayers for Rain.
We at BookPage have gotten scads of emails asking whether Lehane would ever return to the series, so we think this should be welcome news for readers!
Happy February! We’re celebrating the end of winter (will it ever come?), Valentine’s Day and our brand new issue with a doozy of a giveaway.
There’s something for everybody in our February issue, from coverage of Don DeLillo’s new novel to an extended love & romance section (including a roundup of relationship memoirs and an interview with Kristan Higgins).
Three February novels look especially good: Louise Erdrich’s Shadow Tag; Adriana Trigiani’s Brava, Valentine; and Michael J. White’s Weeping Underwater Looks a Lot Like Laughter. . . and we’re giving them away to one lucky reader. Leave a comment for a chance to win: Which book from our February issue do you MOST want to read? (Browse our print edition webpage for a complete list of titles.) Deadline: Friday at 10 a.m. U.S. entries only, please.
Here’s a rundown of the goods:
Shadow Tag tells the story of Irene America, the wife of a painter who creates adoring, sensual and humiliating portraits—of Irene. Her husband starts reading her diary as their marriage deteriorates, and Irene starts a second, secret diary. In BookPage, reviewer Jillian Quint writes, “Erdrich is a muscular and fearless writer, and she explores her characters with both compassion and criticism and through lyrical and visceral prose.”
Reader favorite Adriana Trigiani is back with a sequel to Very Valentine. In Brava, Valentine, series star Valentine Roncalli takes over her family’s shoe business, goes on a quest to Argentina and discovers a family scandal. The novel is “laugh-out-loud funny” and “an unexpectedly poignant examination of the power and pull of family, faith and love,” writes reviewer Amy Scribner.
In debut novel Weeping Underwater Looks a Lot Like Laughter, 17-year-old George Flynn moves to Des Moines and becomes infatuated with the Schell sisters until a tragic accident almost tears them apart. “While they’re familiar to all, the territories of love and grief have no signposts,” writes Harvey Freedenberg. “Michael J. White has marked out a memorable path through this often forbidding landscape.”
Enter now for a chance to win these books!
By now I’m sure you all know that J.D. Salinger died on Wednesday, at age 91. Since yesterday's announcement, publications and blogs have been buzzing with Salinger articles and tributes. (Read his obituary in the New York Times or this article in Slate about Holden Caufield-inspired movie characters.)
In honor of what might be America’s most famous "rite of passage” novel, I wanted to ask readers of The Book Case: When did you first read The Catcher in the Rye? What did the book mean to you?
I read it when I was 13—the same copy that my mom read as a boarding school student three decades before. I still have that copy, a 1964 Bantam paperback, on my bookshelf. As you can see from the photo, it’s been around. (I’m pretty sure I spent all of eighth grade carrying it in my backpack and calling my classmates “phonies” under my breath.)
Just for fun, here are two other Catcher covers. Also, see an iconic excerpt below the jump.
From Chapter 22 of The Catcher in the Rye:
“Daddy’s going to kill you. He’s going to kill you,” she said.
I wasn’t listening, though. I was thinking about something else—something crazy. “You know what I’d like to be?” I said. “You know what I’d like to be? I mean if I had my goddam choice?”
“What? Stop swearing.”
“You know that song ‘If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye’? I’d like—“
“It’s ‘If a body meet a body coming through the rye’!” old Phoebe said. “It’s a poem. By Robert Burns.”
“I know it’s a poem by Robert Burns.”
She was right, though. It is “If a body meet a body coming through the rye.” I didn’t know it then, though.
“I thought it was ‘If a body catch a body,’” I said. “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around—nobody big, I mean—except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”
Old Phoebe didn’t say anything for a long time. Then, when she said something, all she said was, “Daddy’s going to kill you.”
Congratulations to Tricia—the winner of an autographed copy of Paris Under Water by Jeffrey Jackson! (Click here to read the original post.)
Here’s what Tricia said about her favorite work of nonfiction:
Love that enthusiasm!
In BookPage, reviewer John Slania said that Outliers, a book about what makes people smart, wealthy or famous, is “a clever, entertaining book that stimulates readers' minds and broadens their perspectives.” Read the full review here.
We’re going to have more giveaways in the month of February, so keep your eyes on this spot for announcements. In the meantime, have you entered our sweepstakes to win a book a week for the next year?
Last week I interviewed Chang-rae Lee about his forthcoming novel The Surrendered, and our conversation was so interesting I thought readers of The Book Case would enjoy hearing a few clips. The Surrendered (March 9 from Riverhead) is Lee’s fourth novel. Native Speaker won the PEN/Hemingway Award in 1995.
The novel is alternately told from there different perspectives: June Han, who is orphaned as an 11-year-old during the Korean War, then eventually moves to New York City after living in an orphanage in Yongin; Hector Brennan, an American GI who works at the orphanage then becomes a janitor in New Jersey; and Sylvie Tanner, the wife of a missionary who helps run the orphanage.
At 480 pages, The Surrendered moves back and forth from past to present, and graphic war scenes are painful to read. Yet, I couldn’t put down the book. June, Hector and Sylvie are full, flawed characters; you will sympathize with them and despise them; root for them and cry for them. And Lee is a wonderful writer. Reviewers in BookPage have called his prose “rich, riveting, radiant” and “modern, fluent, and full of beauty.” I completely agree.
Learn more about The Surrendered in the March issue of BookPage. Until then, listen to short excerpts from my conversation with Lee:
Why did you title the book “The Surrendered”?
How were you affected by writing violent war scenes?
The church in Solferino, Italy, which is filled with human bones from the Battle at Solferino, is an important image in your novel. Why did you choose to include it in the book?
Henry Dunant’s A Memory of Solferino, the book that inspired the founding of the Red Cross, plays a central role in The Surrendered. Why did this interest you?
And a question for readers: Will you read The Surrendered?
I don’t read many books by celebrities, although Ashley Judd’s memoir (spring 2011 from Ballantine) looks like it could be an exception.
The story will recall both painful childhood memories and Judd’s humanitarian work as a global ambassador for PSI (Population Services International)/Youth AIDS. What caught my attention is that the book's foreword will be written by one of my favorite New York Times columnists: Nicholas Kristof, co-author of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.
In a press release, Judd commented: “I hope that this book will be a call to action as well as a memoir. . . By sharing my own story along with those of the beautiful and resilient people I’ve met in the most desperate places, I want to show how the change we seek in the world must start within us.”
Sounds like Judd will have her hands full during the upcoming months. She’s also starring in movies such as Tooth Fairy—and working toward a Mid-Career MPA at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Who is your favorite celebrity author? I’m a sucker for political memoirs, which isn’t totally unrelated; Judd will collaborate with Maryanne Vollers, who also worked with Hillary Clinton on Living History.
Related in BookPage: Ashley’s not the only Judd with a book deal. Her mom, country singer Naomi, wrote a guide to living well, complete with some Judd family dirt.
The Magician's Book by Laura Miller
December 2008, Little, Brown
The Magician's Book, which details Miller's reconciliation with Narnia, is a thoughtful and heartfelt book, and her exploration of the Chronicles resonates with me as much as the books themselves once did. She discovers that Narnia is big enough to contain not just the adventures she loved as a child, and not just the Christian themes that now appear obvious, but a whole world full of stories and wildness, bravery and treachery, ancient myths and Santa Claus; that loving Narnia allowed her to love all the stories it contained, referenced or built upon, and thus opened up untold worlds.
To me, the best children's books gave their child characters (and by extension, myself) the chance to be taken seriously. In Narnia, the boundary between childhood and adulthood—a vast tundra of tedious years—could be elided. The Pevensies not only get to topple the White Witch, fight in battles, participate in an earthshaking mystical event, and be crowned kings and queens; they do it all without having to grow up. Yet they become more than children, too. Above all, their decisions have moral gravity. In contrast to how most children experience their role in an adult world, what the child characters in these stories do, for better or for worse, really matters, and nowhere more so than in Edmund's betrayal.
. . . To the adult skeptic, the evident Christianity of the Chronicles makes their morality seem pat, the all-too-familiar stuff of tiresome, didactic tales. . . . But that's an illusion, fostered by an adult's resistance to what appears to be religious proselytizing. True, Lewis does populate Narnia with semiallegorical figures who represent eternal aspects of human nature in addition to more realistic characters like the Pevensies. The White Witch is bad through and through, almost as uncomplicated as a fairy-tale villain. But she's not the moral ground on which the story's moral battle is fought. Edmund is.
What are you reading today?
On January 18, Rebecca Stead won the Newbery Medal for When You Reach Me, a middle-grade novel that’s part mystery, part touching family comedy. The plot centers on Miranda, a sixth grade New Yorker who saves her friend’s life; preps her mom to appear on a game show; and holds down a part-time job at the neighborhood sandwich shop. Fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time will love this book; Miranda carries it around, and time travel figures into the story.
Because we couldn’t imagine the excitement Stead felt upon learning of the award, we contacted her for an e-mail Q&A. Below, she describes the moment of receiving a call from the Newbery committee, growing up in New York City and why she writes for kids.
Describe the moment when you were awarded the Newbery Medal.
I was standing in the kitchen of my apartment. [Chair of the Newbery committee] Katie O’Dell introduced herself on the phone and then said something like, “I’m about to tell you something that will change your life.” I think that’s when my feet fused to the floor. She had the whole committee on speaker phone, and there was this wonderful cheer. I couldn’t seem to move. I remember Katie saying, “it’s okay, you don’t have to talk.” But I hope I managed to tell them how grateful I felt—still feel.
What were your favorite books to read as a child and teenager?
I loved all kinds of fiction. I read books by Edward Eager, Madeleine L’Engle, E.L. Konigsburg, Judy Blume, Norma Klein, Bette Greene, Paula Danziger, Anne McCaffrey, Louise Meriwether, Robert Heinlein and Louise Fitzhugh. I also loved Grimm’s Fairy Tales, D’Aulaire’s Myths and Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-kind Family books.
What do your children read today?
My sons read a lot of fantasy, including Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl, and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books. But they also love the Hank Zipzer books, Hillary McKay’s Casson Family novels, Judy Blume’s Fudge books, and many others.
When did you first read A Wrinkle in Time? At what point did you decide to feature the novel in your own book?
I read A Wrinkle in Time when I was 11 or 12. My main character, Miranda, was carrying the book around from day one, but I wasn’t sure for a long time that it would be part of my final story. Wendy [Lamb] and I talked about that, and decided that I would try to deepen the connection between the two books. If it seemed to work, wonderful. If not, I would have to take Wrinkle out.
What’s the best part of writing books aimed at a younger audience?
Middle-grade kids are blossoming intellectually, and they’re less jaded than adults. I think they’re more open to big ideas. Also, kids generally root for a story to succeed, and they’re willing to do what I call “the reader’s work.” I find it much easier to write knowing that I have them for partners.
What were your favorite things to do as a kid growing up in New York City?
Eat Chinese food, see plays, go skateboarding, eat pizza, go ice skating and read. We used to have great block parties in New York City, and I loved those too. I also watched a heck of a lot of television.
Miranda’s mother appears on “The $20,000 Pyramid.” If you could go on any game show, which would it be?
I would be terrified to be on any game show, because I don’t like being put on the spot. But if I had to go on one, it would absolutely be Pyramid.
Do you identify with any specific character in When You Reach Me?
Miranda. Her brain works the way my brain worked at her age.
Have you read or listened to past Newbery acceptance speeches? Are you excited (or worried!) about your own speech?
I’ve read a couple of past speeches in The Horn Book, but that was before I ever dreamed I might be writing a speech myself. I’m excited. And worried.
I’m working on another novel for children. It’s unrelated to either of my first two books, and it’s coming together pretty slowly. I have a feeing that lots of people will write three books before I finish this one.
And a question for readers: What's your favorite Newbery winner?