Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Cocoa Book Club Call For Bibliophiles - Part II!

Photo by Lulu

Well, bunnies, the Cocoa Book Club presses on! As of tomorrow, the super-secret club is in its fifth month and incredible readers like yourself have made it an astoundingly super success. The only problem? We're running out of volunteers to be book clubbers! The list has slowly dwindled down, slipping from a pretty thick list to just a few names, so that means that once again I need your help!

For those of you who have just dropped in and don't know what all of this fuss is about, The Cocoa Book Club is a guest-driven segment where others share fantastic books that may not be super well-known but are definitely thrilling enough to be categorized as must-reads. Every month a different reader or blogger or other mysterious guest picks a book for the club and writes up a guest article on it, introducing it in all it's fabulousness to the world, and by the end of the year we've got a neat little list of fabulous cult books for all to read. 

Now I know you're asking yourself, how do I become a super-secret book clubber? (Okay, so maybe you're not asking yourself that - but you should be!) Becoming a book-clubber is super-simple - there's no criteria to fill or paperwork to fill out - you simply need to enjoy reading and want to share your hidden gems with the world. All you have to do is comment with your e-mail address or shoot me an e-mail yourself! (And if you're a blogger, please also include a link to your blog!) I'll get back to you as soon as possible with more information and we'll set up a date for you to post straight away!

I need your help, lovelies, and can't do this without you! So go to your bookshelf, pick up your favorite book, and send me those e-mails! Ready? Set? Read!

Penelope ♥

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Weekly Wishes

I wish... Every morning could be filled with big sweet-toothed breakfasts, pink china plates covered in pecan pastries and spinach soufflés and tiny heart-shaped pancakes and powdered sugar dusted croissants, and everything would be topped off with a big mug of cafe mocha with a snowy mountain of whipped cream on top. I wish I could share it with everyone I know and we'd eat outside in the early morning sun, talking sweetly and loudly and jolting the ground with our laughter, and we'd sip down those warm cafe mochas in-between words and laughs and let them warm us from the inside like tiny fires burning bright. I wish we could recapture breakfast and give each day a wonderful start, all with nothing but a pastry-filled meal and a conversation or two in-between.

I wish... To start a ballet flat appreciation society. Because, really, who doesn't love ballet flats?

I wish... That unhappiness was like a stain on your shirt or a bug in the house - worrisome, yes, but easy to get rid of with a little help from others. I just can't stand to see people unhappy and I wish that there was some fail-safe way for me to help and make everything better for them.

I wish... for carousel rides and shooting stars.

Penelope ♥

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cocoa 2008 Holiday Gift Guide

Photo by Qatar

Those of you who live in the States will most likely be in one of two places right now: either you've stayed home with a cup of coffee in hand to enjoy the lovely weather and holiday weekend, or you're out at your nearest shopping mall partaking in the strictly American tradition of Black Friday. For all of you international lovelies, Black Friday is the notorious busiest shopping day of the year - it's the Friday after Thanksgiving that rings in the holiday season and with it, holiday shopping. Every Black Friday, stores open their doors as early as four a.m. to offer ridiculous deals on big-ticket items, things like flat-screen T.V.'s and hot video games with discounts as big as 75% off. Sure, it may seem crazy, but the hope is that folks will be able to get all kinds of wonderful gifts for their friends and family and finish all of their holiday shopping in one day - and so they push through the crowds and go from store to store to store, everybody looking for those perfect gifts for the people they love.

But why go out and brave the crowds when you've got a whole world of shopping right in front of you? You too can get all kinds of marvelous gifts for your friends and family, perfect gifts tailored just for them, but unlike those folks dashing through shopping malls and department stores right now, you don't even have to leave your flat! My lovely bunnies, sit back and jump into the holiday spirit - I give you the Cocoa holiday gift guide for 2008!

For the Daring, Dashing Dame
When buying for that supersonic cool-for-cats dame in your life, it's always best to go vintage! Scour around for that perfect shade of heartbreaking red lipstick or for pencil-thin dresses with big, thick bows, buying only things that have as much character as that girl herself. HumblebumbleB is a great place to find retro hats that are absolutely perfect for any swingin' dame, but I personally recommend the Fascinator hats just for that extra pinch of style. Pillbox hats are just as stylin', though, when shopping for a more atomic kind of girl, and they're bound to thrill even the most chilling of dames.

For the Closet Geek
Admit it - everybody has their nerdy side. There's always that part of them that loves to watch old reruns of Dr. Who and who still thinks that Star Wars is the pinnacle of motion picture achievement. Granted, with loads of new technology flooding into the world every day, the word geek has branched off to have so many different meanings and to gain a new form of popularity, but that doesn't mean that we love our geeks any less. When buying for our techno-cuties, ThinkGeek is the absolute hub for all things nerdy and it's impossible to not find just the thing you were looking for. For a 4chan geek who knows what Rickrolling is and loves to scour around the internet for new trends and macros, try the LOLCats-esque LOLMagnetz. As for those science geeks? The Good Chemistry salt & pepper shakers may be just the thing, bringing a whole new life to plain old salt and pepper. Geeky and educational!

For the Down-To-Earth Gal
Shopping for those earth-friendly folks in your life may seem like a bit of a challenge at first, but now that "going green" has become so popular and has seen such a warm reception in everyday society, shopping for the environmentally-conscious is as easy as a click! Be sure that whatever you choose to buy for your earth-loving lovers is recycled and biodegradable, and remember that buying all-natural, vegan products is always best for both the person you're buying for and the Earth. Etsy has a wonderful selection of handmade and Earth-friendly products, my personal favorite being the recycled address file box which manages to be beautiful and conscious at the same time. If you have a die-hard vegan in your circle of friends your range of potential purchases may seem to be even more limited, but another seller off of Etsy offers this beautiful and eco-friendly Not A Nugget pendant which is a great way to show vegan pride, no animal products included!
For the Slapdash Eccentric
There's always a lot of pressure to buy all of those wild and crazy folks you know really spectacular gifts, and, as crazy as it sounds, the rule of thumb seems to be the funkier the gift, the better! Wrap up old family photos in metallic pink paper or make little paper-dolls out of found materials - be creative and have loads of fun doing so! If you're short on time and looking for something a little less time-consuming, though, try this super cool laser-cut Polaroid sx-70 ring from Etsy for lots of colorful flair, or, the key into the heart of eccentricity itself, this wonderful collection of bottlecap jewelry
from California's Casa del Corazon.

For the Epicurean in Training
Buying for those foodies you love means indulging on simple, universally tasty things (or the tools to make them!) which may sound like a pretty daunting task. But remember, gifts don't always have to be complicated numbers - keep it simple! Sometimes a good holiday present can be something as easy as taking your epicurean lovely out for a spectacular dinner or coming over with a big marshmallow fluffed cake and a bottle of wine. If you're looking for something a little more wrap-able, though, try the incredibly ingenuous
honey drops from Honibe, an especially lovely gift for those tea-drinkers in your immediate sphere of friends who aren't exactly fond of the mess that swirling honey into a cup of earl grey creates. For bakers-in-training who spend their days cooking up a storm of treats and concoctions to share, the cooking superstore that is Williams Sonoma offers a pack of super-cool circus cookie cutters which can be used, among other things, to create your very own animal crackers - what can be more fun than that?

For the Fashionista
Remember all those Christmases from your childhood where you'd get sweaters or huge, billowing dresses wrapped up in neat, white JC Penny's boxes? Remember always hating getting clothes instead of toys and dolls and big colorful books? It's strange that as adults sometimes getting a package-full of beautiful clothes can be the best gift a girl can receive, especially after all those years of throwing fits over red gingham dresses or little pink shirts printed with flowers and butterflies. Now's your chance to finally give marvelous outfits and accessories to your fashiona friends to make up for all of those sad, department store-filled Christmases that all girls have had to trudge through - the trick of it all is finding those marvelous pieces in the first place! For the shoe-lover, I highly recommend checking out Hetty Rose's handmade shoes for beautiful, one-of-a-kind creations. As for the girl who already has the perfect outfit and always knows just the thing to wear, Bando is the perfect place to find absolutely gorgeous hair accessories that go great with any outfit, not to mention the fact that each beautiful little brooch comes with a custom haiku!

For the World Traveler
When buying for that globe-trotting go-go girl in your life, use the internet to your advantage and buy internationally! Dig around for kitschy ethnic items that you can't find just anywhere, items that are unique to one area or that grew out of a regional phenomena, or, alternatively, look for little things to aid your lovergirl in her travels. SewingRabbit, an Etsy seller from Thailand, offers this adorable Little Red Riding Hood passport case to style-up any boring old passport, as well as quite a few others in that same style. For the girl who loves to advertise her travels when she finally settles back down at home, though, Teresa Sheeley offers a lovely latin print shouting the world traveler's battle cry: I came, I saw, I conquered.

Penelope ♥

Friday, November 21, 2008

One-Line Fairy Tales

Photo by Amalia Sieber

♥ It’s a strange tale how I met her, her with her perpetual grace and strange charms and voodoo dreams and silver screen glow and her tendency to ramble on about the strangest things, like Frida Kahlo or 1950’s soda shops during car rides or lovemaking, and us with our battered looks tossed back and forth over cups of coffee and slices of pizza and our awkward windowless serenades and our collective feelings on certain unspoken things, like training your pets or taking the train at night, alone we were just strange souls in an even stranger city, but together, after she twirled herself into my world one sparkling night, we made quite a handsome pair.

♥ On dimly sleepy nights we wandered out, with red silk ribbons and ornaments in our hair, and we shook the world and shattered plates and carried our lanterns high above our heads so that the light made our hair look like icy sidewalks and grass that wept with dew, and we followed the others as they too carried their lanterns high and sung travelers songs and spoke in blistering poetry about the tiny sorrows of their lives and we sung too, humming playground songs as we marched towards the ocean which was already ablaze with tea-lit lanterns and buttercream moonlight, and when we were knee-deep in salt water thick with the tears of a thousand souls just like us we took off our masks and set our lanterns free until the pool of tears before us was sprinkled with red crepe paper and black ink, and the sea became our journal in which we wrote out our happiness and our sorrow until the ever-creeping waves swallowed up our stories, but we made our mark and stained the ocean with billowing clouds of black ink that became us, naked except for our masks of animals and heroes and ancient queens, because our faces didn’t matter, because we still had our stories.

♥ And a chill soaked through us as we drowned ourselves in the kinetic night air, neither of us by choice, and I followed him in as far as we could go until he stopped running, exhausted, and threw himself down upon the brush and shook and shuddered and howled and shifted from one being into another, and I stared with open eyes and an open mind and tied back my hair because it was all I could do to keep from shouting, “This is a tragedy, a story unlike any other, and I can never imagine the pain shaking deep within your body and seeping into your bones!” and I stared as he pulled himself up and ripped off his clothes in resentment and paced towards me with his eyes reflecting the perfectly rounded moon all the while, and he pulled me close and looked straight through flesh and blood, howling out in the highest of lows, “It is your tragedy, madam. For you are cursed with being nothing more than human.”

Penelope ♥

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cocoa Book Club Book of the Month: Freak Show

Hello, book clubbers! It's time for yet another installment into the epic saga of the Cocoa Book Club. Regrettably, due to an e-mailing mix-up we won't be having a formal pick and review for this month, but the good news is that the absolutely lovely Miss Rie of Leaving Shangri-L.A. has offered one of her reviews from LSLA up to tide us over in the meantime.

The book she chose? A quirky little thing called Freak Show by James St. James. Those of you who were around for the 1980's New York City club scene (or who at least are familiar with the film Party Monster) will probably recognize his name - for James St. James was the celebutante mentor of infamous club-kid-turned-murder Michael Alig. While St. James' first novel, Disco Bloodbath, did focus solely on this event and everything that lead up to it, Freak Show is a horse of an entirely different color, although I leave Miss Rie to explain the rest.


Where have I been for the past few months? Where haven't I been is a better question, but there are too many answers to that one--"Budapest," "Salamanca," and "Bluestockings NYC" come to mind. Where I have been is a much easier question to answer, and that would be Library School. Yes, like many greater book bloggers before me, I'm on the path to be a custodian of the cultural record, a grande dame of the general public's right to truth, knowledge, and the best damned Story Hour and Macaroni Picture Workshop in the NYPL.

Here are a few facts about your blogmistress: I live in Outer Borough of NYC, I go to East Coast Library School and love it more than I can stand, and when I'm not reading, I'm teaching myself how to watercolor and play Tori Amos songs on the keyboard. My favorite Outer Borough hangout is the Everything Goes Book Cafe, and if it were possible to marry The Strand, I probably would.

I've also invited my professors to view my oeuvre online; hello professors!

Now, down to business. Today, I have a review of a heartwarming tale about the coming of age of a teenage drag queen, Freak Show by James St. James.

(Goodbye, professors!)

Billy Bloom has accepted his fabulousness. The population of his reform-school-cum-prep-academy is not so keen on letting an all-singing-all-dancing fully costumed review of one flounce confidently through their hallowed halls. The abuse Billy endures is brutal, and culminates in a month-long stay in the hospital after a savage beating. His savior? The untouchable school quarterback, simple but kind-hearted Flip (who, need I mention, Billy is over-the-moon-and-heels-over-head in love with):

Since the day he carried my limp and lifeless body into the emergency room here at Plantation General Hospital, he's been by my side...He's been talking to me nonstop, he says, telling me stories, details about his life and his plans, anything at all, hoping that maybe the sound of his voice would guide me back.
And now his prayers have been answered.

Well! How about THAT!
Of course, I'm WILDLY jealous of myself for spending SO MUCH TIME with him and hearing his stories and GETTING TO KNOW HIM like that. I wish I'D been there. I wish he would tell ME stories. It's not fair!

Upon his triumphant return (wearing flowing white and bestowing blessings on all who did wrong by him), Billy decides to use his new untouchable status for good. How? By running for Homecoming Queen, of course. The opposition, Lynette Franz, has all the wholesome charm of a cupcake laced with arsenic, but Billy perseveres, winning the vote of his school's underground society and sparking a media war. I won't breathe a word about the end, but it's fitting and lovely.

Billy Bloom posesses the most unique voice I've read in young adult literature; if you can't abide capslock speak, you'd best turn back now. He is raunchy and witty and passionate, but with a heartbroken undercurrent sparked by the death of his relationship with his bon vivant mother. One of the only criticisms I have about this book is that this particular thread was not explored in a deeper manner, and it would have been great to see closure to that storyline. However, what is here is so surreal and wonderful. The story particularly picks up when Billy's best friend, Blah Blah Blah (I shan't give away her real name) joins him in a bloodless revolt against the status quo. While she suggests tae kwon do classes and The Art of War, he offers to design a boomerang tiara and hypno-belt-buckle with a compact full of knockout powder.

The art of fashion and makeup is Billy's driving passion:

Suddenly, I was tired of my mewling, tired of feeling powerless, and tired of being traumatized. I burst out of the cupboard and took over my place at the makeup table. Ah! The healing power of creation.

Our hero, a self-proclaimed "gender obscurist" (I love that term!), makes himself over with fierce Kali-inspired warpaint, bubbling wigs, and Spanish-moss draped gowns. You've never read fashion so over-the-top, except maybe in Simon Doonan's work and of course, Ms. Block's own. Billy's use of the healing power of art and transformative qualities of costuming (not always beautiful, mind you--he dresses as Dead Zelda Fitzgerald for an oral report, with strategic use of Grape Nuts and burned finery) brings to mind a line from "Fashion Quest:"

Call me superficial. But when my soul is fully expressed by my body, she can leave her dark room, sing her stories out loud and fearlessly dance.

There is something here in Freak Show that I've rarely seen before in queer teen lit. Despite the horrors that surround Billy, he never internalizes the horrendous things said about him. He realizes that the people out to hurt him are ignorant, cruel, or both, and his place in life is to speak for those who don't possess his bravery, or must keep silent to preserve their own lives.
Another rare theme is that of gender fluidity; sexuality in the Oughties cannot be easily labeled and categorized, and many young queer people are experimenting with all the shades and tones of gender identity. I loved seeing that explored in an exciting, positive manner in Freak Show.

Freak Show is a marvelous revenge-of-the-geek story, smart and sophisticated enough for the adult freak, but lively and snarky enough for its teen audience. I cannot recommend it enough for its fantastic narration, wicked wardrobe, and beautiful message.

You are a drag queen! It's your nature! You provoke. You expose. You arouse and inspire.
You open wounds and push buttons and rattle cages.
You unleash demons. You do! You do! You waken slumbering tigers. You know you do!
It's the path you've chosen. The life you desire.


Freak Show is available for purchase on, and I highly suggest hopping over to Rie's original post, Gender Is A Choice, Not A Life Sentence, which can be read here.

As usual, if you've got a spectacular, inspirational, or just plain wicked cool book in mind and would like to volunteer to be a Super Secret Book Clubber, send me an e-mail with your name, e-mail address, and blog (if applicable) and I'll get in contact with you ASAP! In the meantime, keep reading, lovelies!

Penelope ♥

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What I'm Digging

Dressing Up - But really, what else is new? Since Halloween has come and gone, I've been stuck in this loop-de-loop swing of french vanilla tulle and costume jewelry. I've revisited all my favorite movies and comic books, drafting out little notes of what those especially fabulous characters wore and what kind of fabric I would need to re-create their looks, tracking down everything from yards of tiny pink ribbon to knee-high go go boots. First on my list of costuming priorities? The super-swingin' Ulala from Space Channel 5! (Remember her, Sega Dreamcasters?)

Bust a Groove 2 - The theme for this post is obviously obscure video game references, but this one in particular is close to my heart. Bust a Groove 2 is this wonderfully kitschy game from the late 90's which, much like Space Channel 5, marries fabulous hand-spun characters and "dance battles". When I was a semi-wee thing I used to rent it from Blockbuster religiously and spend hours laying on the living room rug, jamming along as Kitty-N until my eyes were watering. I've been hunting for a relatively cheap copy for about two years now, but the game hasn't been produced in forever and all those lucky enough to have a copy aren't willing to part with them for anything less than $100. Nevertheless, I still vow that if I ever start a band I'll be adamant on covering some of the songs from this game, whether I own it or not!

Birthday Cakes - Everybody loves cake, but I never realized exactly how all-out some folks go when it comes to decorating their birthday cakes. You're talking to a girl who's the poster-child for homemade simple pink party cakes, so when I started stumbling upon cake after beautiful cake, I was absolutely blown away!

Who wouldn't want this cake for their birthday?!

Ukuleles - After a friend of mine let me borrow his for the weekend, I've discovered that the ukulele is the most under-appreciated instrument to ever exist, sitting in ranks right next to the keytar and kazoo. Nobody bothers to play them, no one with any kind of musical background takes them seriously, and the public thinks that only Hawaiian men and/or Tiny Tim can pick them up with any success. You know what? I, Penelope Bat, publicly declare that I absolutely love ukuleles and, much like Randal Graves, am taking them back!

Further proof that ukuleles do, in fact, rock.

Now I turn the spotlight on you, bunnies. What are you digging as of this week, go-go girls?

Penelope ♥

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Can

Photos from the New York Times

In the six months that I've been running Cocoa, I've made it my goal to be as optimistic as humanly possible - to show people that life is what you make it and that the world is a dizzying, wonderful place. Nevertheless, it's hard to ignore what the world is going through today. We're in a crisis. We're struggling. People from all around the world are suffering in so many different ways, some losing their jobs, some losing their houses, some losing hope.

But today, all of that will change.

For the first time in my entire life, I can truly say that I am proud to be an American - that I love my country. I feel something today that I have never felt before, and it's a fizzy cocktail of pride and joy, but above all I feel hope - hope and the belief that this is the only country in the world where anything can happen. Where anyone can make a difference. Where anyone can change the world. America has just made history. We have come together for a common cause, and I truly believe that President Barack Obama will be the glue that keeps us together. Because we are one nation, one world, one voice. And yes, we can.

Penelope ♥