Saturday, March 12, 2016

Couth Buzzard Used Books Damaged in Explosion in Seattle, Laura Childs latest, The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof by Annie M.G. Schmidt, and The Wtiches of Cambridge by Menna Van Praag

I was horrified to read last week that there was a huge gas explosion in my old neighborhood of Phinney Ridge/Greenwood in Seattle. Fortunately, since it was in the wee hours, there were few injuries and no deaths. Still, many businesses adjacent to the blast had their windows blown out and had structural damage, including the new Couth Buzzard bookshop. I used to live across the street from the original Couth Buzzard Used Bookstore, at 71st and Greenwood, in the 1990s when it was owned by Gerry Lovchik and Marilyn Stauter.  I shelved books in exchange for books, and  I grew to love that ratty, tattered space and its odd book loving denizens. Gerry sold the store to Theo before he passed, and the bookstore moved farther down Greenwood to an old space that used to be a post office. The PNA, where I used to work, has set up a donation station on their website, and other area businesses are holding fundraisers to support the rebuilding of these stores.

Seattle Bookstore Damaged in Huge Gas Explosion

Broken windows at Couth Buzzard Books.
A huge natural gas explosion
early yesterday morning in the Greenwood neighborhood in Seattle, Wash., destroyed three businesses, damaged 36 others and injured nine firefighters. Among the damaged stores was Couth Buzzard Books, a used and new bookstore that includes the Espresso Buono Cafe; and performance and community gathering spaces.

Owner Theo Dzielak told local TV station Q13
that the store lost most of its windows, which have since been boarded up with plywood. When the explosion occurred, he was at his nearby home and said it was so loud that "my first thought was, 'Oh my God, someone's dead from this.' "

On Facebook
the store wrote: "Under extremely stressful conditions we interacted the First Responders and Seattle Police, PSE employees and others, and all responded to our questions, needs and concerns clearly, efficiently, and with great compassion. Thank you all!"

The store is closed for the time being, and fundraisers are being organized for the affected businesses.
My mother and I are both huge fans of Child's tea shop mysteries, and, as veteran tea drinkers, we are both always excited when a new book comes out.
bookstore, Minneapolis, Minn., hosted a signing for Laura Childs and her
new book, Devonshire Scream: A Tea Shop Mystery (Penguin). Pictured:
Childs (c.) with the new owners of the store, MegKing-Abraham (l.) and Devin Abraham.
The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof by Annie Schmidt is a translated children's book that I'd heard a lot about from friends and cat fanciers. It's one of those stories that is just as interesting to adults as it is to children. Unfortunately, my child is now 16, and wouldn't be caught dead having his mother read to him, otherwise I'd be repeating his review of this fantastic little tome here on my blog. Here's the blurb:
In the tradition of The Cricket in Times Square comes this charming tale of courage, friendship, and what it really means to be human. This classic, which originated in Holland and has withstood the test of time worldwide, will appeal to readers young and old—and dog and cat lovers alike!

An act of kindness brings shy reporter Mr. Tibble into contact with the unusual Miss Minou. Tibble is close to losing his job because he only writes stories about cats. Fortunately, Minou provides him with real news. She gets the juicy inside information from her local feline friends, who are the eyes and ears of the neighborhood. Tibble is appreciative, but he wonders how she does it. He has noticed that Minou is terrified of dogs and can climb trees and rooftops with elegance and ease. . . . It’s almost as if she’s a cat herself. But how can that be? From Publisher's Weekly: In this delightfully quirky story from the late Dutch author Schmidt (1911–1995), which was originally published in the Netherlands in 1970, a timid, feline-obsessed reporter is about to lose his job for filing stories on cats instead of more newsworthy fare. Mr. Tibble leaves his editor’s office knowing that he’ll be fired if he doesn’t produce better stories, only to rescue a woman named Miss Minou from a tree. When the woman shows up at his attic apartment, she confides that she used to be a cat, which seems outlandish to Tibble until her feline behaviors—such as sleeping in a box, hiding from dogs, and rubbing up against people—begin to convince him otherwise. In exchange for housing, Minou activates a “cat press agency,” enlisting local cats to feed her scoops that Tibble turns into hard-hitting articles. Tibble’s newfound wealth and influence is tested when a tip reveals the sinister side of a beloved philanthropist. It’s a satisfying and triumphant fantasy—one that will have readers watching what they say in front of their cats. Ages 10–up. (Jan.) 

Mr Tibble and Minou are so charming, and the other cats such vivid characters that I can't imagine anyone not loving this slender volume.  The prose is polished and delightful, and the plot zings along like lightening. Having spent the last 30 plus years as a reporter, I was able to empathize with Mr Tibble and his grumpy editor who only wants him to write hard news stories, when Tibble is more interested in cats and lifestyle articles. I was never that good at doing the boring city council round up or the articles about schools or politics, but I excelled at talking to people and getting their stories on paper, because I find people endlessly fascinating, just as Tibble finds the lives of cats fascinating. To my mind, in 50 or 100 years, no one will care about a squabble within the city council or road improvement plans, but I think people will still want to read about the human beings who made up the community, who founded it and nurtured it and had their own stories published in the paper. Currently I figure that I brought people closer to learning about and understanding their neighbors, which helps foster community, which is what newspapers are for, in my opinion. lMr Tibble feels the same about the community of cats in his town, who all talk to each other and gather news just like the AP Wire service. Once Tibble is able to get this news from Minou, who has been turned into a human from being a cat, his career soars, and he learns of a local politicians corruption. This was an altogether lovely tale well told, and I'd give it an A, with a recommendation to all parents with children ages 9 and over who enjoy a good cat story with a happy ending.

The Witches of Cambridge by Menna Van Praag looked like a combination of an Alice Hoffman novel and Sarah Addison Allen tale, so I was immediately intrigued by it, but I was also nagged by a feeling that I'd already read something by Van Praag. Turns out that if I have, I've forgotten it and not posted a review, because I can't find any evidence of Van Praag in my database. Still, it looked like magical realism or fantasy/chick lit, which I love, so I delved in with all due haste. Here's the blurb:
For fans of Alice Hoffman, Sarah Addison Allen, and Adriana Trigiani, The Witches of Cambridge reveals an astonishing world where the heart’s deepest secrets give way to the magic of life-changing love.
Be careful what you wish for. If you’re a witch, you might just get it.

Amandine Bisset has always had the power to feel the emotions of those around her. It’s a secret she can share only with her friends—all professors, all witches—when they gather for the Cambridge University Society of Literature and Witchcraft. Amandine treasures these meetings but lately senses the ties among her colleagues beginning to unravel. If only she had her student Noa’s power to hear the innermost thoughts of others, she might know how to patch things up. Unfortunately, Noa regards her gift as a curse. So when a seductive artist claims he can cure her, Noa jumps at the chance, no matter the cost.

Noa’s not the only witch who’s in over her head. Mathematics professor Kat has a serious case of unrequited love but refuses to cast spells to win anyone’s heart. Kat’s sister, Cosima, is not above using magic to get what she wants, sprinkling pastries in her bakery with equal parts sugar and enchantment. But when Cosima sets her sights on Kat’s crush, she conjures up a dangerous love triangle.
As romance and longing swirl through every picturesque side street, the witches of Cambridge find their lives unexpectedly upended and changed in ways sometimes extraordinary, sometimes heartbreaking, but always enchanting.

Unfortunately, Van Praag's characters don't have the backbone that Allen and Hoffman's characters have, and they seem rather wimpy, whiny and too afraid of life to really live it.
At any rate, I was hoping for strong female characters who could navigate their lives without men. I was disappointed in that, because all of the characters, from the recently widowed Amandine to gullible Noa and stupid Cosima all are willing to die to have a romantic relationship with a man, or to get over said relationship, in Amandine's case. Kat is also remarkably stupid, for a brilliant mathematics professor, when she doesn't seem to realize that the man she's had a crush on for years is gay, and when she is oblivious to the student who has a crush on her, mainly because she assumes that no one younger than she is would find her attractive. Cosima, Kat's sister whom she had to raise herself, is well aware that she has a disease that prevents her from surviving pregnancy, yet when her husband breaks up with her because he'd cheated and gotten another woman pregnant, Cosima is even more determined to have a baby. So she magically seduces Kat's friend and love interest, George, who, after sleeping with Cosima realizes that he has made a mistake. Of course, Cosima gets pregnant after one night, and dies in childbirth, thereby leaving Gay George with a child he's not prepared to raise and a bakery cafe he has no idea how to run. That everyone is married or paired up and somehow happy at the end boggles the mind, because they've really had no time to get to this happy place. Despite it's shortcomings, Witches of Cambridge was a charming novel with a very European feel to it. Though I would wish for a lot less angsty drama around the women and their love lives, I'd give the book a B, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys magic, baking and romance.

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