Monday, May 21, 2018

Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don't Do Bedtime (Book Review)

Title: Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime
Author: Cate Berry
Illustrator: Charles Santoso
Publication: Hardcover, Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins, May 2018
Genre: Children’s Picture Book
Plot: Penguin and Tiny Shrimp DO NOT have a bedtime story to share with you.

There are no soft beds or cozy covers here. There are fireworks! And shark-infested waters!!

This book will never make you sleepy. Not at all. Not even a little. . .

Enjoy their adventures while they avoid bedtime!

Audience: Toddlers – and their bedtime story readers! Fans of my favorite, Bedtime for Frances.

My Impressions: As the aunt of eight children who never want to go to bed, I found this book very charming. It begins with Penguin in PJs and Tiny Shrimp sporting a night cap but they make it clear they are not interested in bedtime. And yet, when they say there is nothing in this book about big soft beds or super-squishy pillows . . . then they test out the bed and exclaim, “Ohhhhhh, squishy pillows.” I must say, this was my favorite line in the book – every night I procrastinate about going to bed (sometimes doing quite valid things like cleaning bathrooms) but when I slide into bed it is so delicious that I wonder why I waited until 1 am to do so!

This is a debut picture book, full of humor that will appeal to the reader and the child, from the talented duo of Berry and Santoso. The quirky illustrations perfectly complement the text. I don’t understand how the Penguin and Tiny Shrimp became friends so would have liked a little more story but maybe we’ll find out in the future - I hope this will be a series and they will have more adventures in the future. In the meantime, the book would be a great gift for a baby shower or a preschooler in your life.

Purchase LinksHarperCollins * Barnes & Noble * IndieBound * Amazon

Author: Watch author Cate Berry read this book aloud. Visit her at www.cateberry.com to learn more about her. You can follow her on Twitter, @cberrywriter. You can also follow illustrator Charles Santoso: @minitreehouse and the publisher, @balzer+bray and @harperchildrens.
Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:

Tour Stops

Tuesday, May 8th: Instagram: @jackiereadsbooks
Tuesday, May 15th: Wining Wife
Thursday, May 17th: Time 2 Read
Friday, May 18th: Instagram: @thepagesinbetween
Tuesday, May 22nd: Instagram: @_literary_dreamer_
Wednesday, May 23rd: Instagram: @theliteraryllama
* Image above copyright to HarperCollins

Saturday, May 12, 2018

My Blog's Name in Childhood Favorites

Desperate Reader spelled out the name of her blog from her collection of Virago Modern Classics and Simon from Stuck in a Book used books from his TBR but I thought I would do it from some of my favorite children's books:

S - I started reading Edward Eager at my elementary school library.  It's hard to pick a favorite but Seven Day Magic could be it, with a great first sentence, "The best kind of book," said Barnaby, "is a magic book."
T - Looking inside this book I see it actually has a bookplate with my sister Andrea's name!  Sorry, Sissy, do you want it back?  I worry that the Green Knowe books are too tame for children brought up on Harry Potter.  A librarian in Mt. Vernon, NY (while visiting an aunt who brought me to her library) introduced me to the series.  This is book 2, which made a huge impression on me: to recover lost treasure, a character is commanded to sew a picture of Green Knowe using hair from everyone present when the jewels were stolen.
A- Katie Rose Belford, heroine of this series, is not as well known as Lenora Mattingly Weber's Beany Malone but I think about her a lot because she has such memorable flaws: she hates wearing hand me down clothes, terrified that the donor will see her and recognize the garment; she longs for slice and bake cookies instead of the cracked eggs her relatives bring from the farm; and she yearns for handsome Bruce (although Miguel is worth a dozen of him).
I - I love Barbara Willard's Mantlemass series!  Willard does not shy away from harsh realities of history - this is a bleak orphan story in which orphaned 15 year old Lilias suddenly has to find her own way in the world and there is no easy happy ever after in 16th century England.   I consider this the fifth book in the series.
R - Ruth M. Arthur is another beloved English author, best known for her very scary A Candle in Her Room, which is almost too unnerving for a reread!  Requiem for a Princess is about a girl who feels lost after learning she is adopted.  Ravel's Pavane for a Dead Infanta and the long ago story of a Spanish girl shipwrecked in Cornwall help Willow mature and recognize how much her family loves her.  Artist Margery Gill is another favorite.

C -  I received The Book of Three on my tenth birthday, and for a long time that was the only one I owned.  Then I found this beautiful set in 1999 at Barnes & Noble.  The Castle of Llyr (book 3) is about Eilonwy facing, as Lloyd Alexander says, the ordeal of becoming a princess.  I met him very briefly at Books of Wonder and amazingly this is the book he signed for me.  He was exactly like Fflewddur Fflam and it was such thrill to talk to him!

A - The All of a Kind Family series is another I started reading at the John Ward School.  Much of what I knew about Judaism as a child came from these books, set on the Lower East Side about an affectionate family that lived frugally but managed to make everything fun, from dusting to midnight snacks to borrowing your sister's dress (don't try this at home!).  Like Betsy-Tacy, these stories were based on the author's life, and I remember how thrilled I was to learn my (now deceased) friend Rachel Rose had met Sydney Taylor at summer camp!
SSwallows and Amazons is one of many series to which I was introduced by my mother.  It is about four children who are allowed to go camping alone in the Lake District - and yes, it's surprising how much I enjoyed the adventures of these intrepid sailors and campers when I don't even like being outside!  Even their picnics sounded appealing (chicken, gooseberry tarts, and pemmican) although I would not have liked the freshly caught fish!
E - I also found the Flambards series in the John Ward School.  Christina Russell is yet another intrepid orphan I found at the library.  When she goes to live at Flambards (which is the first book), she is introduced to hunting, which is her uncle and cousin Mark's passion.   In The Edge of the Cloud, she has gone to London with her cousin Will, who is obsessed with airplanes.  Note the wonderful Victor Ambrus cover.

W - You didn't think I could do a whole list without a Betsy-Tacy book, did you?  Unlike many BT fans, I read Winona's Pony Cart as a child because my grandmother's library in Chappaqua had a copy and I liked it.  While it does not have as much substance as Maud Hart Lovelace's other books, she does capture a child's preoccupation with birthdays (and with some parents' determination to invite the friends they want their child to have and not the actual friends).

I - Janet Lambert is best known for her series about Penny Parrish, older daughter in an army family who aspires to be an actress.  My fascination with the military began at Fort Arden when Penny and her family were stationed there and continued to West Point and Governor's Island.   I read everything I could about the U.S. Military Academy!   Introducing Parri is about her daughter, and was one of the first Scholastic Books I ever purchased.  Perhaps because they were so hard to find, I was obsessed with Janet Lambert, leading to some unorthodox acquisitions.
TTheatre Shoes is not as well known as Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes (although Pauline, Petrova, and Posy make cameos) but nearly as much fun, and a recent reread revealed an interesting look at life in London against the background of WWII.  Sorrel, Mark, and Holly go to live with their grandmother when their naval officer father goes missing, and learn they are part of a well known theatrical family and may have talent themselves!
I will properly review Theater Shoes later in the year!   This is my actual library copy from childhood - fortunately, it was discarded when I happened to be passing through...  Also, it was accidental but for those who thought I only read English books growing up, the books above are well balanced: six American authors and six British authors.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

England 2018, Day 12

There was about half a day left – just enough time for one last excursion!  First, we had tea and chocolate chip muffins for breakfast in our room, and checked our luggage with the extremely attentive staff. Then we strolled to the Gloucester Road tube and zipped down to Westminster. Ironically enough, it was a beautiful sunny day just as we were about to leave London.
This time we were armed with tickets as we approached the Churchill War Rooms. Two queues were already in place: one for people just hoping to get in and one for people with tickets. I guided Mother into the former and I moved into the ticket line, asking the friendly guard if I could be at the front so we could enter promptly at 11, our appointed time, or if he thought Mother might get there first. She was afraid I was going to make a fuss but I was just getting the lay of the land. He asked if I was in a hurry and I told him we were flying home that afternoon and, to my surprise, he said we could go right in. Hooray!
The civilian secretarial staff also signed the Official Secrets Act
The Churchill War Rooms were an underground bunker near Parliament where Churchill and his war cabinet were able to work during WWII without the distraction of bombing. The war rooms were opened to the public in 1984, almost exactly as they had been left at the end of WWII (one officer had left his sugar ration behind in his desk, not expected he wouldn’t return). In 2005, other nearby rooms were expensively turned into a museum honoring Churchill’s entire life. Two of the best anecdotes: that Churchill accidentally had his private secretary invite Irving Berlin to lunch at Chartwell, his country home in Kent, having confused him with a philosopher named Isaiah Berlin; and that he invited Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier to Chartwell on another occasion and was so taken with Vivien that he gave her one of his paintings, an unusual circumstance.
Perhaps my favorite part of the War Rooms were interactive displays featuring commentary from the young women who did the secretarial work for the officers. As you may recall, I have always been fascinated by women and war work (although it is annoying to think how much more they could have done if given the chance!). It was amazing to see the rooms in which everyone worked and basically lived, sneaking in and out so the Germans couldn’t target it for air raids (although wouldn’t they have been aiming for Parliament and Westminster anyway?), and smoking all the time with no ventilation.  Two of the rooms were of great significance: the Cabinet Room which in May 1940 Churchill decided he would use to direct the war, and the Map Room where every move of the British Army, Navy, Air Force was tracked and reports were prepared for the King, the Prime Minister, and Chiefs of Staff. We learned that although many spent the nights underground, Churchill only did so a very few times because he liked to take two baths a day and preferred his own bathtub!
Churchill's office/bedroom with chamber pot!

Is it really Big Ben under there?
For those interested in the period, I recommend Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour by Lynne Olson, my favorite nonfiction in years.   About 12:30 I tore myself away (allowing myself to buy a mug on my way out at the appealing gift shop).  The weather was by now warm and sparkling and Green Park was full of happy Londoners. We walked around the block and saw Big Ben covered with scaffolding, completely unrecognizable. I didn’t want to go but we returned to Hotel Xenia for our luggage, headed down Hogarth Road to the Earls Court tube station, then to Heathrow for our 5 pm flight home.

Goodbye, London, we’ll be back!
Re the Abdication - "Why shouldn't the King be allowed to marry his cutie?"

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Same Beach, Next Year (Book Review)

Title: Same Beach, Next Year
Author: Dorothea Benton Frank
Publication: William Morrow, Trade Paperback, April 2018 (originally published 2017)
Genre: Fiction
Plot: New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank returns to the Lowcountry of South Carolina in a warm story of marriage, love, family, and friendship that is infused with humor.

One enchanted summer, two couples begin a friendship that will last more than twenty years and transform their lives.  A chance meeting on the Isle of Palms, one of Charleston’s most stunning barrier islands, brings former sweethearts, Adam Stanley and Eve Landers together again. Their respective spouses, Eliza and Carl, fight sparks of jealousy flaring from their imagined rekindling of old flames. As Adam and Eve get caught up on their lives, their partners strike up a deep friendship—and flirt with an unexpected attraction—of their own.

Year after year, Adam, Eliza, Eve, and Carl look forward to their reunion at Wild Dunes, a condominium complex at the island’s tip end, where they grow closer with each passing day, building a friendship that will withstand financial catastrophe, family tragedy, and devastating heartbreak. The devotion and love they share will help them weather the vagaries of time and enrich their lives as circumstances change, their children grow up and leave home, and their twilight years approach.

Full of the richness of Dorothea Benton Frank’s appealing Lowcountry—the sunshine, cool ocean breezes, icy cocktails, and velvet skies—Same Beach, Next Year is a celebration of the infrangible power of friendship, the enduring promise of summer, and the indelible bonds of love.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins * Amazon * Barnes & Noble * IndieBound

Audience: Readers who enjoy Luanne Rice, Nancy Thayer, Mary Kay Andrews, and Barbara Delinsky will like this book, made for summer or beach reading.
Interior of Saint Spyridon, Corfu
My Impressions: Dorothea Benton Frank is a New York Times bestselling author and has a big following but I had not read her myself until her recent All Summer Long.  I liked this book much more.  The author’s descriptions of food were especially enticing!  It has the appealing Lowcountry setting (how did I spend two years at Duke without exploring this part of the world?) and a character-driven feel-good story that makes you want to know what happens next.  The pace was perhaps a little too relaxing and lulled the reader into thinking little was happening, which is not the case, but I think the author was trying to show the passage of time as she follows two couples and their families for 20 years.

The most moving moment of the story occurs when Eliza visits Corfu, a place I have always found fascinating (maybe it's time to plan my next trip - no, I need to unpack from England first).  After her mother died when Eliza was 11, she lost touch with that side of her family and I found myself almost tearful when she is reunited with her mother’s sister. Eliza also visits the shrine of Saint Spyridon in a 16th century church in Corfu which reminded me of one of my favorite Mary Stewarts, This Rough Magic.   Her heroine, Lucy Waring, is staying with her sister on Corfu and also is affected by Saint Spyridon.  Stewart wrote:


The Holy Reliquary of Saint Spyridon, Corfu
"Palm Sunday . . . is one of the four occasions in the year when the island Saint, Spiridion, is brought out of the church where he lies the year round in a dim shrine all smoky with taperlight, and is carried through the streets in his golden palanquin.  It is not an image of the Saint, but his actual mummified body, which is carried in the procession, and this, somehow, makes him a very personal and homely kind of patron saint to have: the islanders believe he has Corfu and all its people in his personal and benevolent care, and has nothing to do but concern himself deeply in all their affairs, however trivial…”

When Eliza touches the Saint’s foot, she feels a sense of benediction (well, she is not religious so compares it to LSD), showing Saint Spyridon is still a powerful presence both in Corfu and closer to home.  Interestingly, there are two Greek Orthodox churches named for St. Spyridon near me, a cathedral in Worcester, MA and one in Newport, RI.  
Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:

Review Stops
Tuesday, April 24th: A Soccer Mom’s Book Blog
Wednesday, April 25th: The Book Date
Thursday, April 26th: The Geeky Bibliophile
Friday, April 27th: Books and Bindings
Monday, April 30th: Instagram: @prose_and_palate
Tuesday, May 1st: Instagram: @booeneticsThursday, May 3rd: Time 2 Read
Monday, May 7th: Wining Wife
Tuesday, May 8: Jessicamap Reviews
Wednesday, May 9th: Bibliotica
Thursday, May 10th: A Bookish Affair
Monday, May 14th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, May 15th: Instagram: @Novelmombooks
Wednesday, May 16th: Broken Teepee
Thursday, May 17th: Always With a Book

Sunday, April 29, 2018

England 2018, Day 11

When we arrived on Sunday night it was too late to fully appreciate the charm of the Edward Hotel in Gloucester. The hotel is located a few blocks from the historic part of town near the cathedral and was built in 18th and 19th century. Our room was accessed by climbing a flight of stairs then walking a narrow hallway across the length of the building to another flight or two of stairs. The room had slanted ceilings but was quite spacious and had its own bathroom. There were biscuits thoughtfully tucked next to the tea making supplies.
Gloucester Cathedral from the west
Downstairs there was a large breakfast room and nice-looking bar. There were hundreds of pictures of historical items in the passageways and public rooms of the hotel, including a puzzle in the dining room about the connection between several of the pictures. We were intrigued but got sidetracked by breakfast: croissants.
The Cathedral's secluded garth
The male owner of the Edward Hotel in Gloucester provided tea and croissants, which made us happy (a cooked English breakfast was available but not our preference). His wife had suggested we ask him for sightseeing advice to supplement our visit to Gloucester Cathedral, and first he asked my niece if she was a Harry Potter fan.
The Great Cloister with magnificent fan vaulting (but no Harry, Ron, or Hermione)
Overlooking the Garth (courtyard)
Intrigued, she said yes, and he told her that Gloucester Cathedral had been used for filming some of the HP movies.  It has also been used for The Choir (dramatization of Joanna Trollope's book), Wolf Hall, and the Hollow Crown.  Then he very kindly offered to meet us there at 10:30 to provide some historical background: he even knew some fascinating connections with Boston history which had us intrigued, involving the organist's (practically a hereditary position) family.  
Robert of Normandy (c. 1054-1134)
We left our luggage in the front office, then headed on our way, spending a little over an hour in the Cathedral ourselves.  We saw the great Cloister with its beautiful fan vaulting where the original Abbey's monks lived and prayed, which were featured in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, HP and the Chamber of Secrets, and HP and the Half-Blood Prince.   Edward II, not one of my favorite English kings, is buried in this cathedral, as well as, more intriguingly, Robert of Normandy, eldest son of William the Conqueror, who did not get along with his family so never became king.
The lectern's majestic eagle crushes a dragon-like monster to symbolize the triumph of good over evil
Mine host was waiting for us on the steps of the Cathedral and led us on an amazing tour.  I had to ask his name, which was embarrassing not to know, and it turned out to be St. John (pronounced Sinjin as in Elswyth Thane; of course, a delightful bonus) and I introduced the three of us. He took us around the exterior of the Cathedral, pointing out many historical and architectural facts. My favorite story was his description of a visit paid to the Cathedral by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, showing us which gate they would have approached, that they had stayed in the Bishop's rooms, and had probably come because Henry wanted to hunt nearby. He told us that when Henry stayed out late hunting two lackeys waited at the gate with torches to light his way back to the Bishop’s House and that Anne Boleyn supposedly gave them a gold coin each, enormous largesse, which caused a stir. “The next day,” St. John said deadpan, “there were 20 men with torches!”
He took us throughout the town, which was extremely kind, and continued to be fascinating, pointing out, for example, the “New” Inn (1450) which is the most complete surviving example of a medieval courtyard inn with galleries in Britain, and it is possible Shakespeare performed there with his company. From the exterior, St. John showed us how the eaves jut out of the walls and how there was no privacy at such a busy place – people could stand beneath to listen and that is the etymology of the word “eavesdrop.” I would recommend that anyone visiting Gloucester see if he would be willing to provide a tour.
The nave is Norman but the Cathedral's many additions are Gothic
My mother and I were enjoying every word but eventually he had to get back to work at the hotel and left us on our own.  We continued through the town and visited the Victoria dock and warehouses, then headed back; Lily’s Tea Room where, in addition to sandwiches, we shared our last Victoria Sponge Cake of the trip. This was a fancy version with frosting flowers that were very tasty.
The Victoria Warehouses (1849) were used for corn storage
my mother went back to look at the Cathedral while my niece and I (churched out) scouted a place for lunch and did a little shopping. She found some pretty sterling silver earrings at Debenham’s and I charitably donated the two paperbacks I had brought to read on the plane to Oxfam. Somehow, I found myself buying three more but they definitely weighed less than the two I discarded, so definitely a net gain. I was proud of myself for being restrained and didn’t do any serious book hunting elsewhere. At the appointed time, we retrieved my mother and had lunch at

Then we took the train to London, where we hugged my niece goodbye (she was eager to get back to her dashing student life and architecture paper) and a difficult Tube ride to Gloucester Road with far too many stairs. Our new residence was extremely elegant and well appointed: Hotel Xenia, a boutique hotel affiliated with Marriott, with very courteous staff. Under other circumstances and wearing snappier clothes, I would have enjoyed hanging out in its trendy bar, but we were so tired they couldn’t tell us our room number fast enough! My mother was thrilled because although the room was small there was a luggage rack (which she feels strongly should always be provided), a wardrobe for our coats, Kleenex in the bathroom, and – mirabile dictu – a washcloth! I took a walk to figure out the best Tube station for the following day and to buy us a snack at a large Sainsbury next door as she was not interested in dinner.
Gloucester Cathedral
Cathedral count: one
Book count: donated two, purchased three
Miles walked: 7.8

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

England (and Wales) 2018, Day 9

The Clock Tower, Cardiff Castle
Off to Wales!  Our hotel in Worcester did not include breakfast so my niece thoughtfully suggested she go to a shop across the street to pick up some treats before we dashed to the train.  I was busy trying to buy advance tickets online to the Churchill War Rooms as we had been disappointed by the long line for entry the other day. Unfortunately, I had waited too long and the 10:00 am time slot on Tuesday was already sold out. I tried phoning my mother to see if she thought we could make 11:00 am work but eventually had to dash down the hall in my pjs - luckily, did not run into any other guests! However, this purchase took so long I had to throw everything back into my suitcase so we could meet in the lobby at the appointed time, and I left my brand new purple umbrella behind.
The 12-sided Castle Keep
I had spent a lot of time online figuring out our train tickets and this morning's particular route had been one of the trickiest for which to find a good price. I ended up using TicketClever which had us boarding at Worcester Foregate but switching trains at Worcester Shrub, just a couple minutes away, and making another connection before we reached Cardiff. The train ride was entertaining and my mother and I were entranced by lambs we saw frolicking as we sped past. All went well until we got out at Bristol Parkway, which is where we were supposed to make our connection to Filton Abbey Wood.
Looking down from the Norman Keep
I was heading to the monitor to check our platform but happened to ask a station employee instead, and he said there was no train to Cardiff at this stop. I asked if he was sure and showed him my ticket but he told us to get back on the train and go to another station. I dragged my very reluctant mother and niece and all our stuff back onto the train where we were all squashed into those standing. Luckily, someone else was going to Cardiff too and we followed her at the next stop, and only had to wait about 35 minutes for a train. We chatted with a friendly retired couple who were going to a huge flower show in Cardiff.

Looking down: 50 stone steps to the Keep entrance, then more to the top!

Once at Cardiff, we grabbed a taxi to the Tanes Guest House, which was the least appealing of any of our temporary homes. My mother had a single room, I shared a twin with my niece, and there was a bathroom half a flight down. The rooms were dark and depressing, and the bedspread was kind of icky. When there is no top sheet or blanket, one really has no choice but to use whatever duvet or comforter is provided but this was the only one where we really wondered how recently it had been cleaned. And why no top sheets in England anyway?

Another gray day but the bus stop was right outside Tanes and it took us right to Cardiff Castle in the center of town. It was lunch time but I really thought we should visit the Castle while the sun was shining. Remembering my sister's warning to feed my niece regularly, I stopped at a shop that was selling Welsh tea cakes and got everyone a chocolate chip one, fresh out of the oven. They were a little like round thick pancakes but sweeter - quite delicious - I should have bought half a dozen! The Castle itself was not as large or enthralling as Edinburgh Castle but was still entertaining. It had been a Roman fort, then a Norman fortress but in the 18th century it had been purchased by a rich aristocrat, the third Marquess of Bute, who restored it expensively and somewhat gaudily.
We also toured the house restored by the Marquess and his eager architect.  Some of the rooms were furnished, including the library, which was impressive but when have I ever seen a library I didn't like?  The sun came out, motivating my mother to join us for the climb to the Keep and then as close to the top of the tower as possible, where we enjoyed the view.
Cardiff through a narrow keep window
After the Castle, we had a snack at a nearby Caffe Nero, then walked to the National Cardiff Museum, which contains both natural history and art. We stayed there until it closed, then sat in a park across the street to enjoy the improved weather before we strolled back to the Castle area, admiring a very attractive, historic church, St. John the Baptist. My niece and I had been excited about trying a nearby restaurant called Café Citta, which smelled enticing but it was tiny and they told us they were full all night and closed on Sunday. Boo!
Happily, we had seen another restaurant in our wanderings called Gray's that had a varied menu, so we retraced our stops and persuaded them to find us a table even though we had no reservation (oddly, it never seemed all that full, so I wonder why the hesitation - we looked respectable, if casually dressed).  The food was great, and we loved our desserts: Sticky Toffee Pudding and Apple Crumble. Despite being in London since January, my niece had not discovered the joys of a well-made Sticky Toffee Pudding and she was most gratifyingly appreciative.   As we headed back to the guest house, we noticed that the families who had been out enjoying a Saturday were now replaced by a rowdier but harmless contingent who were out on the town.
The Welsh kings of Aberffraw adopted the dragon in the 5th century to symbolize their power after the Romans left Britain

Did anyone notice I posted Day 10 before Day 9?

Castle count: one
Church count: exterior only
Miles walked: 4.0

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Charmed Life (Book Review) #1977Club

The 1977 Club is a theme in which two prolific bloggers, Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings, promote a specific year of published books. Anyone can join in by reading and reviewing a book published in 1977 and adding a link to that book's review in the comments on Simon's blog. 1968 and 1951 have also been promoted recently. 
Title: Charmed Life (Book 1 in the Chrestomanci quartet)
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Publication: 1977, Beech Tree Books paperback edition
Genre: Children's Fantasy

Plot: As the younger brother of imperious Gwendolen, a talented young witch, Cat is used to being ignored and he is happy that way. But after their parents die and the town authorities put them in charge of elderly Mrs. Sharp, Gwendolen writes to their parents' oldest friend, Chrestomanci, about their situation. Chrestomanci comes to bring the two orphans to live with his own family and be educated with his children.  However, Gwendolen resents being treated like an ordinary child and begins plotting to use her magic not just to disrupt life at her new home but also promote her own greatness, without any concern for her brother's well-being.  

Audience: This is a children's book, suitable for ages 9 up, but just as delightful for an older reader. While characterized as fantasy and does include magic and witches, I would describe it as the type of fantasy that is set in a real world. Those who dislike dragons and elves don't need to worry.

My Impressions: Charmed Life is the first in a four-book series about Chrestomanci, which I read many years ago. It was a fun and entertaining reread and great introduction to the all-knowing and all-powerful Chrestomanci. The big reveal was clear to me because I remembered something similar in Archer's Goon (a book I recall as being especially clever) and, of course, it made me want to read the whole series in order (the book I am supposed to be reading today for my book group tomorrow is The Underground Railroad: Pulitzer prize winner though it is, wouldn't you rather read some well written fantasy?). 

Regular readers of this blog know that I love stories about orphans, and during this reread, I noticed that one of the usual conventions - that sibling orphans become closer and protect each other against outsiders - is flipped. Not only does Gwendolen have no loyalty to her brother, it is clear from the beginning of the story that she cares only about herself. There is a touching scene in which Cat, whose real name is Eric, yearns to play with Chrestomanci's children, Roger and Julia, who are playing with their toy soldiers (using magic their father has forbidden), and when they unenthusiastically invite him, he is afraid to accept because he knows Gwendolen would be furious. Later, he is flattered when they ask him to play in their treehouse because they have begun to accept him and once they are his friends, he becomes much more comfortable in his new home.   However,  Gwendolen's encounters with Chrestomanci continue to be contentious:

"I won't put up with it!" Gwendolen shouted at him. "In future, my letters are going to come to me closed!"

"You mean you want me to steam them open and stick them down afterward?" Chrestomanci asked doubtfully. "It's more trouble, but I'll do that if it makes you happier."

Gwendolen stared at him. "You mean you did it? You read a letter addressed to me?"

Chrestomanci nodded blandly. "Naturally. If someone like Henry Nostrum writes letters to you, I have to make sure he's not writing anything unsuitable. He's a very seedy person."

"He was my teacher!" Gwendolen said furiously. "You've no right to!"

"It's a pity," said Chrestomanci, "that you were taught by a hedge wizard. You'll have to unlearn such a lot. And it's a pity too that I've no right to open your letters. I hope you don't get too many, or my conscience will give me no peace."

"You intend to go on?" Gwendolen said. "Then watch out! I warn you!"

"That is very considerate of you," said Chrestomanci. "I like to be warned."

I suspect that as Jones was writing this book, she became so fond of Chrestomanci as a character that she decided she and we deserved more of him in future books! While Jones never received the acclaim (or sales) of J.K. Rowling, her books are creative, amusing, and intricate in a way that appeals to readers of all ages, and she probably did benefit as fantasy increased in popularity as Harry Potter became a craze. She is very funny without using slapstick humor I dislike. She also wrote for a variety of reading levels. Fire and Hemlock, one of my favorites, is a YA novel, so layered that I have reread it several times without being sure I got every nuance - great motivation for future rereads!
Source: I have enjoyed Diana Wynne Jones' books since I first found The Ogre Downstairs at the library and brought it home in the late 70s (I remember my mother laughing out loud as she read it that night). I collected her books when I could and, luckily, when I worked at Avon/Morrow I was able to get many of them in hardcover. I see I have a duplicate copy of The Spellcoats: leave a comment if you would like it.