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What Can I Get You? July 29, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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I’ve never had the desire to work in a restaurant, despite the fact that being a waitress is a time-honored cliche of working in theater. This is mostly due to my certainty that I would break lots of dishes or drop things on people.  However, after reading several older and newer YA books about working in a restaurant, I find myself almost wanting to pull out an order pad and put on an apron.

YA author Sarah Dessen has talked often on her blog about working as a waitress at a Mexican cafe in North Carolina when she was a young adult. Her appreciation for the hard work of people in the food business comes out in many of her books.

Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen

Colie is staying with her aunt for the summer in Colby, a beach town that is the setting for multiple books by Dessen. Almost by accident, she is hired to work at the Last Chance Bar and Grill, where her two fellow waitresses, Morgan and Isabel, teach her about friendship and standing up for yourself. Colie describes working during a rush as “It was Us against Them, clearly, and for once I was part of Us. I didn’t really know what I was doing; I had to go on faith. So I just handed out my drinks and grabbed the phone when it screamed, wrapping the cord around my wrist and stabbing the pen Morgan had tossed me in my hair, the same way Isabel wore hers, and fought on.” Maybe one reason the restaurant setting works so well for YA is because that feeling of Us vs. Them is universal in adolescence. Colie is a sympathetic character because the reader knows her feelings of being left out and will cheer for her as she finds a place where she can be confident and proud.

What Happened to Goodbye? by Sarah Dessen

Dessen’s latest book stars Mclean, whose father works as a consultant who advises failing restaurants. Luna Blu, an Italian place,  is his latest project, and Mclean has to put up with all the employee drama as he tries to make changes and get the business back on its feet. Dessen uses the workers at the restaurant and their many mistakes to make the point that “…people add a flavor and personality…that cannot be quantified on a piece of paper.” Friends and family aren’t perfect, but the work that it takes to maintain connections with them is worth it, as Mclean learns over the course of the story.

See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

If Mclean gets free food as a perk of being connected to a restaurant, Fern has to deal with the embarrassment of being featured in commercials for one. Her father is constantly dragging the family into schemes for bringing more customers to Harry’s, the burger and ice cream place that he runs. Fern and her siblings view the restaurant as more of a burden than anything else, as they are featured in a commercial, on an ice cream truck sign and possibly on ice cream tub labels. But when the absolute worst possible tragedy happens, it is the restaurant workers, as well as her family and friends who give Fern the strength to go on. With spot-on sibling dialogue and sensitively handled coming of age topics, this new book by Jo Knowles is perfect for middle-school readers transitioning into YA literature.

Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer

My favorite teen waitress has to be Hope Yancey, from Joan Bauer’s heartwarming novel Hope Was Here. As part of a story of small town friends, food and politics, Bauer delivers an impressive lesson in local campaigning and the power of community. Hope and her aunt Addie have moved from New York City to the small town of Mulhoney, Wisconsin, where they help run the Welcome Stairways diner while the owner, G.T. Stoop, fights simultaneously against cancer and a corrupt mayor. After years of moving around the country, from restaurant to restaurant, waitressing is what gives Hope confidence. She describes her love of food service with some great images, including this passage about opening in the morning. “There’s something about diner setup that soothes the soul. Something about making good coffee in a huge urn glistening in fluorescent light, something sweet about filling syrup pitchers and lining them on the back counter like soldiers ready to advance. It gives you courage to face another day.”

If you’re hungry for some strong teen characters who know how to stay true to themselves and serve good food, pick up one of these great reads.

Handmade Magic July 26, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.
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Some kids like to play with dolls and others don’t. There are plastic dolls, cloth dolls, and china dolls of all shapes and sizes for kids–and of course, many, many books about children and the dolls that they love.

I was interested, as I looked through some old and new picture books about dolls, to discover a common theme: that what makes a doll valuable in the eyes of a character is not their appearance, but their ability to be a part of games and play. It was a refreshing change from grown-up toys (i.e. technology) which so often must be absolutely brand-new to be special. Here are a few stories about well-loved dolls, if you are looking for a book for a doll-loving child.

The Chalk Doll by Charlotte Pomerantz

Dolls are only one small part of this fascinating collection of memories about growing up in Jamaica. Mother tells Rose about making herself a rag doll and the ‘chalk’ or plastic doll that was missing an arm and had a broken nose, but was still beloved. After hearing more stories about having parties with penny candy and making heeled shoes with mango pits, Rose decides that she will make a rag doll of her own.

The Wheat Doll by Alison L. Randall

Mary Ann lives out on the frontier of Utah in the 1800’s and what better to stuff your cloth doll with, than the wheat that is grown and harvested by your family? Mary Ann keeps Betty with her always, telling her secrets and taking her everywhere, until one day she has to leave her behind while taking shelter from a bad storm. But after the seasons change and with a little help from sun and water, Mary Ann finds her doll again, in an entirely new form.

Sophie and Rose by Kathryn Lasky

Rose is a doll that belonged to Sophie’s grandmother and mother long ago. As Sophie plays with her and carries her everywhere, Rose gradually loses an eye, gets tangled hair, and a chipped nose. But Sophie always knows how to fix her–braiding her hair and stitching a ripped arm. In a way, Rose becomes a metaphor for age and growing older–things may change, eyes may be lost, but the essential qualities of the doll–and a person–remain the same.

Dahlia by Barbara McClintock

Charlotte, the little girl in this story, is making mudcakes when she is called to open a package that contains a beautiful new doll. McClintock’s beautiful illustration of Charlotte’s room makes it clear that she does not usually play with dolls. Birds’ nests line the walls, there is a snake in a cage and various other natural specimens treasured by a girl who clearly stays outside as much as possible. But Dahlia (Charlotte observes that the doll looks exactly like a flower!) joins in the fun, even when it means she gets dirty, torn and banged up. And when the aunt who gave the doll comes to tea,  she makes the wise remark that dolls need to be “…out in the sunshine, and played with, and loved.” Many authors clearly agree with her.

Review: A Confusion of Princes July 23, 2012

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It sounds like an obscure collective noun: A Confusion of Princes, by Garth Nix. I thoroughly enjoyed this fun, plot-twisting sci-fi adventure. In an article for the latest issue of The Horn Book Magazine, fantasy writer T.A. Barron claims that the best fantasy has three essential qualities: depth of character, truth of place and richness of meaning. A Confusion of Princes can make a case for having all three.

Khemri is a Prince of the Empire, which means he is genetically altered to be faster and stronger than ordinary humans. He is also likely to be assassinated by other Princes who are competing for the role of Emperor. One of the best parts of the book is how Khemri grows from being a selfish, self-centered and arrogant teen into a compassionate and clever adult, with true depth of character. What teen hasn’t wanted to just get away from school and authority to do whatever you like? Khemri says at the beginning of the novel “I want to enjoy myself…Get a ship–you know, a corvette or maybe something smaller, of course with high automation, head out for some distant stars, see something beyond this moldy old temple, smoke a few Naknuk ships or the like….That’s not going to happen is it?”

No, it isn’t, primarily because Khemri’s Empire is not a safe place, even for a Prince with a Master of Assassins and various priests to see to his every need. The setting bounces between various planets, ships and academies, but the world  that is most fully fleshed out is one where Khemri ends up by accident–Kharalcha Four, a system with limited technology and no love for Princes. The descriptions of space ships, machines and various ‘teks’ or technologies get confusing at points, but Kharalcha Four is given many details that help the reader understand why Khemri feels at home there and decides to save these people, at any cost.

The third essential quality of good fantasy is richness of meaning. While an exciting plot, various narrow escapes and a light touch of romance are all present in this book, the heart of A Confusion of Princes is Khemri’s struggle to recover his humanity from the confusion of tek, special abilities and mind-conditioning he has had as a Prince. The question of what it means to be human and part of a family is the central idea of the novel. Readers will cheer for Khem as he makes up his mind about who, exactly, he wants to be.

Board Books for Very Big Babies July 20, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Uncategorized.
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Board books, while I think they are wonderful, are not my area of expertise. At Imagination Station, it was understood that my friend Melissa was the person to talk to about recommendations for anyone younger than 4 and I always leaned on her knowledge. Some board books are adapted picture books (this doesn’t always work well, it depends on the story) while others are only intended for the tiny babies for whom reading means chewing. However, since starting work at Hooray for Books! I have found a third category–board books that are really intended for adults.

The company BabyLit has created a series of counting board books by Jennifer Adams, all based on famous literature. The titles Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice include the subtitles “Little Miss Austen” and “Little Miss Bronte.”  Each book contains a list of items related to the classic such as ‘6 horses’ or ‘2 trunks.’ Many pages will appeal much more to the adult reader–I’m not sure babies will really understand ‘1 governess’ or ‘4 marriage proposals.’  The art, by Alison Oliver, is simple and pretty, with simple line drawings and cutouts of dresses, houses and faces. These are fun for those friends who you know will try to indoctrinate their children in Great Literature before they can event talk.

For adults who are obsessed with food, there is Foodie Babies Wear Bibs. Again, the language is a bit sophisticated for your average one year old, but the pictures of the baby reading cookbooks, eating outside and frequenting farmer’s markets are very cute. It doesn’t say where this baby lives, but I have a suspicion it is Portland.

To provide an opportunity to look at famous art outside a museum, there is the MiniMasters series from from Chronicle Books. Each board book is based around the work of Picasso, Matisse or another well-known artist. The rhyming text describes what happens in each picture, with lines such as “a serious boy steers a donkey around.” It’s a little hard to imagine a child reaching for these on his or her own, but adults will appreciate the reproductions of the art and the text that doesn’t require making animal sounds.

My favorite, however, has to be The Wonderland Alphabet by Alethea Kontis and illustrated beautifully by Janet K. Lee. I don’t know why this was published as a board book. I think  that very few people who understand children would actually read it to a child of board book age. It would make more sense to have published it as a small gift book, but I will take this clever text and these gorgeous pictures any way I can.  Kontis weaves her way through Alice’s adventures with puns, rhymes and pitch perfect lines such as “No one says ‘No’ to the Queen of Hearts.” Yes, as the back of the book warns, the pages contain ‘minimal violence’ (I’m not kidding. It actually says that.) but it also has hidden references to Shakespeare and Ogden Nash, which is much more important. The pictures match the text, with their whimsy and delicate line. The characters and objects appear (or disappear) on each page as suddenly as the Cheshire Cat’s grin. Each letter is illuminated with beautiful botanical details and silhouette skylines or doily borders ground each page. Yes, I am an adult. But adults can be big babies and enjoy board books too.

Read-Alikes: I Capture the Castle July 17, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Bookstore.
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The YA Book Club at the bookstore where I work discussed I Capture the Castle, a classic by Dodie Smith at last month’s meeting.  If this romantic English tale is a favorite of yours as well, here are some other new and new-ish YA books you might enjoy.

Regency Romances

Many fans of I Capture the Castle are also fans of Jane Austen, and Austen is actually referenced by the characters several times. Although the book is set in the 1930’s, in some ways the story about love vs. money echoes Regency themes and preoccupations. So this first section of read-alikes is all Regency Romances of one kind or another.

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindle

This new romance is narrated by Althea, who knows that she must marry a rich man in order to save her family’s falling-down castle. To that end, she tries her best to attract the local Baron, while avoiding his argumentative cousin Mr. Frederick. Fans of Pride and Prejudice will be able to guess who she ends up with!

Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede & Caroline Stevener

A novel told through the letters of Kate, enjoying her first Season in London and her cousin Cecy back home in the country, in a Regency England where magic is a part of everyday life. Balls, suitors and picnics are mixed with wizards, sorcerers and spells.

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

How often have you heard the words ‘post-apocalyptic’ and ‘Jane Austen’s Persuasion’ in the same sentence? Peterfreund has transplanted Austen’s final novel to a future where the world is run by ‘Luddites’ who eschew technology and run estates worked by ‘Posts’. Elliot North is a Luddite but her best friend Kai, back after four years away, is a Post. Will they be able to reconcile after years away from each other?

1930’s Adventures

Of course, I Capture the Castle is really set between the World Wars. The following are books set during that time period, some historical and some that take a few liberties with history.

A Brief History of Montmaray & The FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper

These two intriguing books are the journals of Sophie FitzOsborne, who lives with the rest of her royal family in the tiny island kingdom of Montmaray. In the first book, the kingdom is attacked by fighter planes and in the second book, the family is forced to flee to England. The year is 1936, Germany is a threat, and Sophie must balance her concerns for her home country with the usual trials of adolescence. A great alternative history of mid-century Europe.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

This is not a romance, and it isn’t set in the 1930’s. Rather, it is an espionage and aviation adventure set during World War II. However, in a blog post, the author revealed that one of the books she used for research into the atmosphere and setting of mid-century England was I Capture the Castle. She loves the book, and recommends that if you do too, you should read…

A Childhood in Scotland by Christian Miller

This is a memoir by a woman who grew up in a castle in the Scottish highlands in the 1920’s and it is filled with lush details of rooms, gardens, meals and clothes, similar to I Capture the Castle. Perhaps Cassandra’s life would have been more like this if the family had actually had any money! This book is out of print, but easily available on ABE Books.

Keep an eye out for my review of our book club book this month, Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis.

The Catalog part of Card Catalog July 15, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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So it’s been awhile since my last post. Mostly due to this:

That was the state of my sister’s room in my parent’s house, which was supposed to become the library. We had all her books, all my old books and the books I kept from my classroom library when I left full-time teaching this summer. Plus all the family picture books and children’s classics. My parents were incredibly nice and bought ceiling high IKEA bookshelves for one wall. Now, if it were up to Ana, all the books would just be put on whatever shelf they fit into most easily. This is how she has organized her books for the past 18 years. I, on the other hand, like to be able to reliably find books by the same author or in the same series, so I insisted on a little more organization.

It took a little teeth-pulling. And a lot of putting books in piles and then shifting piles around the room so we could get back to the bookcases. In the process, we got rid of a bunch more books, argued about cover art and discovered that yes, we do have at least six different copies of A Wrinkle in Time. And finally, the room started to look more like this:

We haven’t quite finished everything. But now the floor looks more like this:

And I’m pretty sure another bookcase will complete the library and it will all be beautiful.