Archive for the ‘Close to Famous’ Category

Tell Me by Joan Bauer is the sugary sweet story of twelve-year-old TellMeAnna McConnell’s summer at her grandmother, Mim’s, house in Virginia. Her parents are going through a trial separation and her father is staying at home in Philadelphia, her mother is off to her brother’s in New Jersey and Anna goes to her paternal grandmother.

Anna is an actress whose stellar role was as a radish in an after school production. At home she dresses up as a cranberry and dances for a local store at the mall. In Rosemont she’s recruited to dress up as a petunia for the local library. While taking a break and sitting on the library front steps, a van pulls up. An Asian woman gets out and drags a child into the library to use the rest room. The girl is dragged back out and into the van which takes off. Anna feels something wasn’t right and the girl’s big, doe-like eyes showed fear. Winnie, the librarian, also felt something was amiss. Winnie’s grandson, Brad, happens to work for Homeland Security. So goes this unlikely premise.

Rosemont, VA has the small town, east coast equivalent of the Rose Parade and Mim is the organizer. Amidst the backdrop of flowers and the parade, Tell Me tells the story of Anna’s insistence on finding the doe-eyed girl and her hopes of her parent’s reunion.

Tell Me is more of a fable with the moral blatantly displayed on every page…don’t necessarily dismiss what you see. Anna is concerned that she’s made more of the van incident than was actually there. But Winnie and Mim and her father and Brad tell her not to doubt herself.

I’m a big, big, BIG Joan Bauer fan. I’ve heard her speak and the energy and sincerity she displays are unequaled. I love her books, especially Close to Famous, Hope was Here and Rules of the Road. But even I have to say that diabetics should stay away from this one…it’s just too darn sweet. I’ve never met an Anna-like child, so good, so focused on being a radish or petunia, so insistent that something be done about the doe-eyed girl. I’ve never met adults who are soooooooooooo supportive, so indulgent of their children, so mushy.

I’m a parent and I hope that I supported my kids and I know I’ll spoil my grandkids but I’m not even sure that I want to be like Mim.

Aside from that, the plot doesn’t work for me. I’m not sure that grandma can convince Homeland Security grandson that something needs to be investigated…that human trafficking might be involved. Maybe, but maybe no.

So, it disappoints me to say that, while I liked Tell Me, it is over the top on story line, characters and sugar.

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For a while, I thought I’d be hard pressed to come up with a 2011 Top 10 list for YA books. It was only in the past two weeks that I heaved a sigh of relief. Late reads solidified my list. So, here goes:

Topping my list at Number 1 is You Are My Only by Beth Kephart. I commented that, “As always, Kephart chooses her words with care, and while the language is not as ‘ethereal’ as in some of her recent books, her images and descriptions and wording remain essential in understanding the characters and surroundings.  There are secrets that need to be unearthed and things to ponder.  There are relationships that you are jealous you are not a part of and those you are glad you have not experienced.  You can read You Are My Only quickly and enjoy the story or you can read it slowly and savor every word and nuance and description.  Either way, you must read Beth Kephart’s latest addition to Young Adult literature.”

Night Circus by Erin Morganstern may or may not be considered a YA book, but I’m sure it will appeal to teens, so it comes in at number 2. It takes place in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Night Circus is dream-like.  Celia and Marco are unwilling pawns in a competition between two magicians, one that will last years, if not decades.  The competition’s only rule: there are no rules and neither player knows what to do and how a winner is determined. Erin Morgenstern has written a dream-like book similar to the dream state of the book’s Circus of Dreams.  It’s indescribable.  A must read.

Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet, a late comer to my 2011 reading, lands the number 3 slot.  Peet masterfully merges two stories, the first about England during WW II and and the second about the Cuban Missile Crisis into a book you can’t put down. His language, his sarcasm, his observations, his stories keep you reading way past bedtime.

Any Top 10 without a Brian Selznick book is lacking, so I must include Wonderstruck. Ben lives in Gunflint, Minnesota in 1977.  Rose is a lonely deaf child, living in Hoboken, NJ, overlooking the Hudson River, in 1927. Similar to Mal Peet, how these two stories, taking place 50 years apart, converge is one of the wonders of Wonderstruck.    There are more, such as the fact that Ben’s story is primarily written while Rose’s story is presented entirely in illustrations.  Selznick’s illustrations entice the viewer to scrutinize every line, every object, every picture, they are just so amazing. While you’re at it, reread The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I’m sure you’ll find something new in each drawing.

You know how much I love Joan Bauer and Close to Famous was as good the second tiem around as it was the first time. Number 5 on the list, it’s got great characters, a good story, and luscious sounding baked goods. It teaches you how to overcome adversity.

Coming in at nubmer 6 and 7 are Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver and Widsom’s Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, two wonderful fairy tales with amazing characters, wonderful writing and absorbing stories. Liesl and Po is geared more for upper elementary or lower middle school while Wisdom’s Kiss is for slightly older audiences.

Eona: The Last Dragoneye by Alison Goodman is an action adventure with roots in Chinese astrology. The sequel to Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, it is action packed. This will attract boys and girls since there are  protagonists of both sexes. It is a marvelous way to introduce teens to the 12 astrological signs.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine got great reviews and rightly so. Twleve year old Caitlin has to deal with the death of her mother from cancer two years earlier and the recent middle school shooting death of her older brother Devon.  It’s a lot to contend with even if you don’t have Asperger’s.  While her father understands her, he must deal with his grief, and is unable to translate that to Caitlin.  It was Devon who really understood her and explained the world to her.  Caitlin’s special nature comes through loud and clear; her drawing ability, her affinity for dictionaries and the meanings of words, the comfort she feels when she puts her head under the couch cushions to feel closer to those people who sat on it.  Erskine doesn’t downplay the socialization difficulties Asperger children have because of their unique nature.  What you come away with after reading Mockingbird is a real sense of who Caitlin is–she is a real person and you want to get to know her, to be her friend.  There is a love and warmth that emanates from Erskine’s writing…you get the feeling she really loves Caitlin, not an emotion you often get when reading a book.   I had picked up Mockingbird back in mid-September and put it down within a chapter.  I guess I wasn’t ready for the book.  This time, I read the book in one day; that’s how much I liked it.  Mockingbird is a book for all age groups.  It is beautifully written, tender and informative as well.  It is worthy of its award (not something I can say about every award winner).

Forgotten by Cat Patrick was an unexpected find. Each night at precisely 4:33 am, while sixteen-year-old London Lane is asleep, her memory of that day is erased. In the morning, all she can “remember” are events from her future. London is used to relying on reminder notes and a trusted friend to get through the day, but things get complicated when a new boy at school enters the picture. Luke Henry is not someone you’d easily forget, yet try as she might, London can’t find him in her memories of things to come. When London starts experiencing disturbing flashbacks, or flash-forwards, as the case may be, she realizes it’s time to learn about the past she keeps forgetting-before it destroys her future.

I hope you pick up a few of these books and enjoy them as much as I did.

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I told you about seeing Joan Bauer at a luncheon and being so impressed with her and her talk and her writing, so I reread Close to Famous.  Surprisingly, I couldn’t improve on my original review, posted on LibraryThing, so here it is.

“I’m going to make the world a better place, one cupcake at a time,” is Foster McFee’s motto. Her goal is to have her own children’s cooking show on The Food Network, just like her idol Sonny Kroll. But first she’s got to overcome a few obstacles.

She and her mother, Rayka, flee Memphis because of Rayka’s abusive boyfriend, Huck, the Elvis impersonator. As a result, Foster has a fear of all Elvis’. In their haste, Foster left her Las Vegas pillowcase behind, the one with all of her mementoes of her father who died in the Iraq war. So, she’s got to learn that it’s what’s inside that counts, the memories, the feelings. There are a few other obstacles she must overcome, but I’ll leave you to discover those by yourself.

Rayka and Foster settle in Culpepper, West Virginia, a small town populated with big hearted people, among them Kitty and Lester who give them a place to stay, Perseverance Wilson who is trying to save a church from being sold and Miss Charleena, a movie star who moved back home to avoid the paparazzi.

Joan Bauer is a marvelous author. On her webpage she states, “I need to find hope in the world. I need to laugh. That’s why I write.” Her books are full of hope and full of laughter and just downright fun to read. Foster is a spunky twelve-year-old with big ambitions. Macon, her very short twelve-year-old friend wants to be a documentary film maker. Her mother wants to be a singer. Everyone in Culpepper seems to be working towards a goal. They all have hardships to overcome. But they also have spunk.

Bauer’s writing is descriptive, sometimes flowery, sometimes down to earth. Her plot is fun and moves quickly. But it’s her characters that take the cake (no pun intended). They are interesting, funny, quirky, and endearing. You’ll take to them immediately and want to know what happens to them.

So, if you’re looking for a fun to read, hopeful, funny book, Close to Famous is definitely for you. Then start at the beginning and read some of her earlier books, Hope Was Here, Rules of the Road, and Peeled. The only thing that could make Close to Famous more delicious would be to have some of the recipes in the back of the book, especially the Triple Chocolate Cupcakes.

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The Young Adult Division of the Nassau and Suffolk Library Associations are having Joan Bauer speak at their December luncheon and, so far, I’m planning on going. You may not think that’s a big thing, but I do…for two reasons.  One-Ms. Bauer just looks like a really nice person…don’t you think so?  Two, she writes great books (only a nice person can write her kind of books).  I’ve read Close to Famous, Peeled, Best Foot Forward, Rules of the Road and they are so enjoyable. You know, it’s so hard these days to find good stories without sex, violence, profanity, etc.  Ms. Bauer writes those kind of stories.

When Susan and I started this blog, one of our goals was to bring to the forefront writers that may be under the radar a bit.  You don’t hear a lot about Joan Bauer, so some of you may not know of her.  Her books haven’t been withdrawn from National Book Award consideration (I know, enough is enough).  They haven’t been challenged or banned, as far as I know.

On the other hand, she’s won the Newbery Honor Medal, the L.A. Times Book Prize and the Golden Kite Award of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators among other awards.  Rules of the Road was chosen as one of the top young adult books of the quarter century by the American Library Association.

My favorite Joan Bauer book?  It’d have to be Close to Famous.  Anything with food in it.  So, that’s why I’m excited about meeting Joan Bauer. (Plus, she lives in Brooklyn.  She’s got to be nice.)

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