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Postcard from France June 29, 2013

Posted by ccbooks in Uncategorized.
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A quick note to say that there won’t be much more from me this summer—I’m traveling overseas with only three books in my bag! Ana and I are off adventuring in Europe in search of family time, art, theatre and of course books. I’m sure we will find lots of used bookstores, new authors and writer-affiliated locations, especially once we get to the UK. I look forward to writing about it all in the fall. But for now, have fun reading! See you in a few months.

Quirky Protagonists, Ghosts and Rooftops June 7, 2013

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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A round-up of new middle-grade work coming out in the next few months:

alexanderThe Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfeld by John Bemelmans Marciano

Fans of Lemony Snicket and Adam Gidwitz should enjoy this slightly gruesome story of Alexander Baddenfeld, a true brat of a kid. The last of his family, all of whom died early in accidents caused by their cruelty to animals or humans, Alexander lives by himself in a fortress, looked after by an over-protective servant who is determined to keep him alive. This becomes MUCH harder when Alexander decides to ask a mad scientist to transfer his cats nine lives to him. Freed from having to worry about death (at least for a little while) Alexander indulges in all sorts of dangerous activities, leaving the reader to shake his or her head in disapproval tinged with envy.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

countingSloan brings a new set of quirky characters to life in this tale, aimed at slightly younger readers than her debut I’ll Be There. The style is similar though, with each chapter written from the point of view of a different character, all of whom eventually end up connected in surprising and significant ways. Protagonist Willow is not your run-of-the-mill middle schooler–she has a lush garden of native plants in her backyard, researches diseases and learns Vietnamese on a whim. This makes the devastation of losing both her parents in a car accident far more terrible–who will support and understand her now? This is a great choice for fans of Rebecca Stead and the late, great, E.L. Konigsburg.

Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper

ghostAfter books starring Shakespeare and Lord Nelson, Cooper turns to early American history for the setting and characters of her latest book. As English settlers come to what will eventually be Massachusetts, they bring disease, religious arguments and new ways of life with them. The indigenous peoples of the land have their own traditions and way of life, but lack of communication between the two groups brings tragedy multiple times. The first part of the book, which follows the character Little Hawk is likely to be enjoyed by fans of other outdoor survival stories by Gary Paulson or Jean Craighead George (and I’m very curious to know how accurate the depiction of Pokanoket life is). The later troubles of the second protagonist John Wakeley are less engaging and the magic that connects them not as compelling as in earlier works by Cooper. Still a good choice for historical fiction with male protagonists.

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

roofRundell’s second novel for children maintains an older, classic feel–the British equivalent of Jeanne Birdsall, if you will. A shipwreck, a baby saved and brought up by an eccentric scholar, orphanages to be avoided, children who live on their own on the rooftops; all of these elements combine to create an old-fashioned adventure story. Raised by bachelor Charles, who reads her Shakespeare and tells her “Never ignore a possible” Sophie is going in search of her mother. She may have perished in a shipwreck or she may be somewhere in Paris, playing cello and waiting for Sophie to find her. Aided by a gang of children who live on rooftops and in trees, Sophie races against time in the process finds out just how brave she can be. Good for fans of classics such as A Little Princess as well as more contemporary classics like The Invention of Hugo Cabret. 

Five Reasons I Love Paperbacks June 4, 2013

Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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Each year, I have to restrain myself from buying too many books and often make a deal inside my head. “You can get it when it comes out in paperback,” I tell myself. I had a discussion once with an ex about which was better: hardback books or paperbacks. He insisted that hardbacks would last longer, were easier to keep in good condition and looked nicer on the shelf. Perhaps. But here are my five reasons why I love paperbacks.

1. Cheaper 

This is kind of the top one. I’m a freelance artist, with a pretty small income. Yes, I only support myself, but I live in one of the more expensive cities in the US and much to my dismay, you can’t eat books. Hardcover chapter books are almost always going to be more than $20, while the paperback editions are around $5-$10.

2. Lighter

I spend a lot of time reading on public transport (and occasionally missing my stop as a result). Since I’m going from place to place all day, carrying multiple hardcovers is hard on my back.

3. Smaller

Pretty much the same as #2. I can fit paperbacks into my bag more easily, especially trade fiction.

4. Better covers (sometimes)

If a book that I really like has a cover that I find misleading or ugly, there is always the chance that it will be improved in the paperback edition. Not always, but I can hope.

5. Extras!

This is the sneaky way that publishers try to entice me into buying a second copy of something, even if I already own the hardcover. Interviews with the author, award acceptance speeches, previews of the next book coming out, playlists of songs and recipes are all tidbits that have been added to recent paperback editions. One more reason to wait until they come out to buy a book. You never know what treasure might be waiting in those final pages.

Review: The Mighty Lalouche June 1, 2013

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laloucheFirst, it was wombats. Now it’s 19th century French boxers. Somehow, illustrator Sophie Blackall has a knack for getting me hooked on subjects that I would never think of as picture-book material. The Mighty Lalouche, written by Matthew Olshan and illustrated by Blackall, is for anyone who likes boxing, Paris or stories of quirky underdogs.

Lalouche is a postman who loves his job. But the world is changing and when a fleet of electric autocars are introduced, he loses his job and must find some other way of supporting himself and his pet finch Genevieve. AFter coming across a poster advertising a need for boxers, he presents himself to a skeptical manager who declares “I could sneeze and knock you down!” But Lalouche proves, against various opponents that he is nimble, fast and strong and above all that you should “…never underestimate a man who loves his finch.” Despite his success in the ring, Lalouche still misses his old life and when asked to return to work as a postman, he happily complies.

Olshan explains in an author’s note that French boxing in the 19th century allowed the use of feet and favored agility and speed, which meant small opponents could often defeat bigger ones. The note also includes some great photos of real boxers, which were the original inspiration for the story. Blackall’s illustrations were created as shallow paper dioramas which were then photographed and you can see more of her in progress work on the Seven Impossible Things blog, here. The details in each exquisite layer of paper are astonishing and bring the story to life beautifully. This is a great read-aloud celebrating the underdog, with a liberal dose of nostalgia for mail and stamps thrown in. Vive Lalouche!