Saturday, February 11, 2012

Review: Charlotte au Chocolat

As a Boston-area food blogger of almost 5 years (and a life-long diner in the Boston area), I always want to know more about the restaurant scene, past and present, around town. That's why I was so excited to hear about Charlotte au Chocolat by Charlotte Silver. It's the story of growing up in a restaurant - and not just any restaurant, but Upstairs at the Pudding, a real Harvard Square establishment.

I never dined at the Pudding (it closed before I gave two cents about good food), but I have since dined at its replacement, Upstairs on the Square. The owners have remained the same, and Silver talks about many of the reasons why the restaurant moved. The one time I ate there, I found that the atmosphere (bright and garish) outshone the food. It's one of those spots that I've been meaning to try again ever since, but it keeps getting bumped down my list.

The back cover of the book makes it sound like it's the story of a girl in frilly dresses, drinking Shirley Temples until her lips were pink from the grenadine. And yes, there is a lot of that in the story. But what makes this an interesting story is seeing the rise and fall of a local institution through the eyes of a child who is forced to spend much of her time within its walls. I'm sure Silver had other things she could have been doing instead of napping under the bar to stay out of the way during service, but there she was, year in and year out. She marks her own growth along with the demise of her parents' relationship and the cracks in the restaurant. She paints restaurant life in very realistic ways, perhaps in ways that only a child growing up in that environment could catalog.

Of course, the little bits of Harvard gossip make this a fun read for anyone in the Boston area. Who here doesn't enjoy watching clips of the Hasty Pudding Awards on the news (all female winners of the award dined at Upstairs at the Pudding, while the males were taken to other restaurants)? I especially loved hearing about the discordant relationship between the Harvard a capella group that would sing during brunch and the wait staff.

Buy Charlotte au Chocolate on Amazon
Buy Charlotte au Chocolate at a local store through Indie Bound

Full Disclaimer: This book was sent to me for free for review. The thoughts about it are all my own.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Review: The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt

Like most kids' book nerds that I know, I was waiting (im)patiently to hear all the award winners from this year's ALA Midwinter meeting. This is when the Newbery and Caldecott winners are announced, as well as a whole slew of other awards. My favorite of the bunch is the Alex Award, given to novels written for adults but which would appeal to kids ages 12 to 18. Many people call these "crossover novels" because of their appeal to YA and adults.

When I was in the YA age group, I just called these "novels." But I digress...

Two of my absolute favorite books from last year were on the list: Ready Player One and The Night Circus. I'm sure I won't get around to reading the rest, but I was intrigued by The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, so I borrowed it from work.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is exactly what it claims to be: a scrapbook. The book is filled with color reproductions of photographs and ephemera as if it were the real-life scrapbook of a young woman in the 1920s. Frankie is from a small town in New Hampshire and doubts that she'll ever leave, until the smallest of scandals sends her to Vassar College, then on to New York City and Paris. The book takes no time to read, and the story is a bit predictable, but the form is unique enough that it will seem fresh and new to a lot of readers. I'm not entirely sure how many teens will actually enjoy this book, although more and more kids seem to be interested in the 1920s (I think, in part, because of the buzz around the Great Gatsby movie coming soon).

For those who enjoy The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, I would suggest any of Nick Bantock's books (I've only read the Griffin & Sabine trilogy), which combine art and story in ways that are exciting and intriguing.

Buy The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt on Amazon
Buy The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt at a local store through Indie Bound