Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Adding another link:

This is an online book club where you can swap books with other members for the price of postage. It's great for people like me who a) have about five zillion books languishing around that used bookstores won't take and b) have a list as long as their own arm of older books they just can't find anywhere. Fix both problems at once.

Nicely browsable and searchable, with publishers' blurbs and reviews.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Here's an oldish favorite . . . I don't know how often I'll be updating, because the fall semester starts today. Oy! On the other hand, it's my last semester. Huzzah!

Book: Sorcery and Cecilia, or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot
Authors: Caroline Stevemer and Patricia C. Wrede
Originally Published: 1988

18-year-old cousins Kate and Cecilia thought that their lives were going to be dull this spring of 1817. Although Kate is in London for her first Season, her gorgeous sister is there too, pretty much ensuring nobody's going to look at Kate. Poor Cecy is stuck at home in Rushton, where nothing ever happens (except for that dust-up about Squire Bryant's goat). Their entertainment becomes writing long letters to each other.

Except all of a sudden, Kate and Cecy find themselves hip-deep in the doings of wizards in both London and Rushton . . . wizards who don't want to be interfered with. Why did an ominous woman try to serve Kate chocolate that burned a hole in her skirt? Who is the Mysterious Marquis, and why is he after that chocolate pot? Why does James Tarleton keep trying to sneak around, apparently spying on Cecy? (He's very bad at it, too.) And how the heck did their shy little friend Dorothea suddenly become the reigning belle of the neighborhood and then of London? Working together through their letters, Kate and Cecy are going to get to the bottom of this . . . hopefully before the wizards figure out what they're doing!

From the moment you meet Cecy (discussing a proposed visit to the oh-so-dull Reverend, she tells Kate that "I am determined to have the headache on Thursday if I have to hit myself with a rock to do it) and Kate (recounting a visit to the Elgin Marbles, she tells Cecy that listening to other people talk about them is enough "to make the eyes roll right back in your head with boredom"), you have to like them. Funny, caring, clever, and still just teenaged enough to be real, these are girls you want to have on your side in a battle against unscrupulous villains.

It takes a little while for the plot to get going, but when it does, readers discover a fast-paced and ofttimes hilarious magical adventure in an alternate Regency London where magic is accepted and wizards are commonplace. This book is often described as Jane Austen with a dash of magic, and I have to agree with that. Lively, ever-so-slightly screwball, and just romantic enough, this book is just plain old fun.

The story of this book is almost as interesting as the plot. Patricia C. Wrede convinced Caroline Stevemer to play the letter game, a writer's exercise in which letters are written in-character and neither player is allowed to tell the other what's going to happen next. At the end of it, being professional writers in their own rights, they realized they had a book, and thus Sorcery and Cecilia was shared with the world. Wrede (as Cecilia) and Stevemer (as Kate), luckily have similar enough styles that the switch is not jarring, as might be expected. A sequel, The Grand Tour, was published in 2004, and Wrede carried on with the idea of this alternate England in her two books Mairelon the Magician and The Magician's Ward. Go find them!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Quick post in order to furnish y'all with a new website I've found.

Not, as far as I can tell, affiliated with the KIDLIT-L listserv (which by the way, can someone out there in BloggerLand tell me what the correct address is for that? I've been trying to subscribe for weeks, without success). This website was started by a mom looking for books for her kids. It features a database, which you can search by all sorts of different criteria, like the reader's age, gender, or reading level, and genre, keywords, and even ethnicity of the book's characters. Pretty handy. Plus you can look up particular books to see what real kids think of it, and whether you agree.

The database does not include picture books and concentrates mostly on chapter books for readers between 6-12 years. It does include YA books, but under the lump heading of "12+". Still, it's well worth putting on your favorites list, if you ask me.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Book: What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows
Author: Nora Raleigh Baskin
Published: 2001

Twelve-year-old Gabby doesn't get this whole "woman" thing. How is she supposed to know what it's all about? She hasn't had a mother since she was three. She does the best she can, keeping a list of all the things that are apparently necessary to being female, as best she can tell. These include: drinking gelatin to keep your nails strong, how to make veal scallopini, and putting lotion on your elbows. But she has the haunting feeling that's not all there is to it.

Then she meets Taylor Such, the new girl at school. As they become best friends, Gabby slowly learns that even girls with moms aren't too sure what they're doing on the best of days. Along with this knowledge, she gets the courage to confront the actual events surrounding her mother's death.

Baskin has a gift for mingling silly and significant with ease and without fear. Taylor and Gabby ring true as twelve-year-old best friends, with goofy in-jokes and believable rough spots, and Gabby's relationship with her brother Ian is also realistic--neither too close nor too antagonistic, but the blend of the two that exists between just about any siblings. There are some plot threads that seem to get lost, but Baskin thankfully avoids the sweeping happy ending in which all problems are miraculously fixed. Gabby remains somewhat uncertain about womanhood, but she's a little more comfortable with that uncertainty now.

Overall, this is a great, funny book for girls and women, with or without mothers. If you're twelve, this will seem like your life. If you passed that age a long time ago, reading this book will make you laugh and be grateful you're never going to be there again.