Thursday, July 24, 2014

I'm Back!

Hi All!

Sorry for the loooong silence!  Things got a bit crazy with Summer Reading Club here at work AND the whole moving process.  Now that the new house is somewhat in order, SRC is winding down and I can breath...I'll be reviewing again!

For my own sanity, I will be focusing just on graphic novels and picture books.  Just for my own enjoyment, I may even start throwing in a Manga Monday.

Stay tuned, y'all.  I have a box of picture books in my office just screaming to get out.

Friday, May 2, 2014

{Guest Post + Blog Tour} Author Jessica Verdi: The Summer I Wasn't Me

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about Jessica Verdi's book The Summer I Wasn't Me.  She has been gracious (a.k.a. a-mah-zing) enough to do a guest post!  Thank you so much, Jessica!

Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Sarah! Music plays a huge part in my writing process, so I was hoping I could talk a little bit about that here.

I got the idea for The Summer I Wasn’t Me one day while listening to Lady Gaga’s “Hair”—in particular the acoustic version she performed on the Howard Stern Show. Check it out here:

It’s such a gorgeous song, and the chorus goes, “I just want to be myself and I want you to love me for who I am… I just want to be free, I just want to be me, and I want lots of friends that invite me to their parties. Don’t want to change, I don’t want to be ashamed.” And I started thinking about all the kids who aren’t loved for who they are, and it made me so sad. And that’s when I knew I had to tell Lexi’s story. I wanted to write about that girl. I wanted to write for that girl.

Music often inspires me when I’m writing or thinking up concepts for new books. Most books I write have playlists that I listen to while I’m writing or songs that I listen to just to get me in the right kind of mood for the scene I’m about to dive into. I truly believe there’s nothing quite like music to inspire you—no matter if you need inspiration for writing, cleaning your house, running a marathon, having a difficult conversation, or anything else.

I also make playlists for my books (and my friends’ books) when the book is finished. Here’s my current playlist for The Summer I Wasn’t Me:

1. “Hair” by Lady Gaga
2. “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” by The Smiths
3. “Unless I’m Led” by Mates of State
4. “Closer” by Tegan and Sara
5. “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama
6. “World Spins Madly On” by The Weepies
7. “We Will Become Silhouettes” by The Postal Service (Lexi’s dad’s favorite song)
8. “Bravado” by Lorde
9. “Brave” by Sara Bareilles
10. “Everyone is Gay” by A Great Big World
11. “She Keeps Me Warm” by Mary Lambert

Pull up those songs on Spotify, and have a listen before or after reading The Summer I Wasn’t Me—I hope they do the same for you as they do for me, and make you feel all the feels! :)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend

"Are there rocks ahead?"
"If there are, we'll all be dead!"
"No more rhymes now, I mean it!
"Anybody want a peanut?"

Andre the Giant was a definitive part of my childhood, if only through The Princess Bride (my poor husband still doesn't get why I love the movie so much...and he hadn't seen it til we were engaged...sad buckets!)  I was never big into wrestling, but my uncle collected plastic figurines of Hulk Hogan and the I'm sure he was in there somewhere.

Box Brown's fantastic graphic novel Andre the Giant: Life and Legend gives a glimpse into Andre's sad, sometimes angry, but still amazing, life.  

Andre Roussimoff was a pretty normal guy...except he ended up being almost 7 1/2 feet tall, and weighed 600 pounds.  This book looks at Andre's life- his rise to wrestling fame, his immortalized performance in The Princess Bride, and the situations that resulted because of his size.

This is such a well-done biography.  For those who only know Andre as Fezzik, it was great to learn about his wrestling career.  Those who are fans of wrestling will appreciate the stories, and the history of the WWF, Vince McMahon, Hulk Hogan, etc.  Actually, it's interesting to those who don't have a real tie to wrestling, too.  Just reading about his on-the-road stories...craziness ensues.

The novel explains wrestling terms, and really puts in perspective the "good old days"- teens will be interested in large sporting events before pay-per-view.  Like, bars would charge a fee and people could watch there, or small theaters would be rented out to broadcast the event.

Looking also at the struggles he had because of his size.  Emotional AND medical...some of the situations he had were incredibly sad; but! some were also amazing, charming.  The brief look at The Princess Bride took me back to an episode of Biography, where I'd heard some of those stories told by Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin.  Seeing how the man handled a flight from Japan to the US, being unable to fit into the tiny, airplane restroom...riveting.

Done in black and white, the pictures are simple, but tell Andre's story well.  It's crazy how a couple of pen-strokes can convey so much emotion.

There are some adult themes, situations, language, humor...but look at the world he was living in!  I would say probably best for 13+...maybe older...parental call on that one.  That said, it all has a point...I mean, it's the guy's life!

This is one that could definitely bring in your reluctant readers, and your "guys"- I've lost count of how many times I've been asked for books on pro wrestling by my kiddo patrons. 

Crazy good biography about a man who was larger than life.

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend is published by :01 First Second.  Review copy graciously provided by the publisher.
Release Date: 05.06.2014

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand

A few months ago, my friends' son asked this question: "Dad, is a univerthity where you go to learn to be a ninja, a knight or....a librarian?" Oh, my heart grew like the Grinch's.  And I had just learned this book was coming out, so I could say "Yes...oh yes."

The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand by Jen Swann Downey is a fun, middle-grade book.  When Dorrie and her brother Marcus chase a pet mongoose into their local library, they find something pretty amazing: Petrarch's Library, the headquarters of a secret society of ninja librarians.  
Their mission is to protect those whose words get them into trouble, anywhere in the world and at any time in history.  People like Socrates.
Petrarch's Library can stop anywhere there's trouble, like the Spanish Inquisition, or ancient Greece. Dorrie really wants to join the society, and learn to fight with a real sword! But when she and Marcus become suspected of being traitors, can they clear their names before the only passage back to the twenty-first century closes forever?

Oh, I loved this.  Amazing for word nerds :-D  a) I love a book with a strong, female character; b) I love books about libraries, because, well...obvi; c) it's also good for guys, what with all the sword fights, and history and stuff.

It's kind of like the manga Library Wars (which is a favorite of mine)- fighting censorship and all.  But, like Library Wars mixed with The Phantom Tollbooth.  Has anyone read that?  It's one of my all-time favorite books, and in the city of Dictionopolis the characters can give a "speech" before dinner...and then they eat their words.  In Ninja Librarians, characters can read passages out of books to create their meals.  No lie, I used to stay up dreaming of what my speech would be...

It also, with all its time-traveling goodness, introduces various historical characters: Socrates, Saul/Paul, Timotheus, the real Cyrano de Bergerac, and others!

Entertaining and educational historical(ish) fiction for middle-grades!

The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand is published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.  Review copy graciously provided by the publisher.  
Released: 04.15.2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Summer I Wasn't Me

I read this book in one sitting.  Granted, I read it in the backseat of a car heading 4 hours back home from PLA in Indianapolis...there wasn't anywhere else for me to go.  But!  This made the time go by much faster, and pretty enjoyably minus a brief bout of car queasiness.  

The Summer I Wasn't Me is a YA novel by Jessica Verdi.  Lexi's father has recently passed away, her mother isn't coping well, and she's just found out Lexi likes girls.  To rescue her unraveling family, Lexi agrees to go to New Horizons-a camp that promises to transform her; to make her like boys.  She wants to do this, she wants to start over.  However, her summer at New Horizons brings surprises, both good and bad.  

I love the movie But I'm a Cheerleader.  I think it was the first LGBTQ movie I saw that was, while satirical, poignant enough to leave a lasting impression.  Actually, I still have the song Glass Vase, Cello Case in my iTunes "Favorites" playlist.  This book was similar- but so much more gut-wrenching, heart-breaking.  I think I connected with the characters more.  Lexi is pretty awesome, and The Great Gatsby is one of her favorite books.  The symbolism in the books comes into play quite a bit throughout The Summer I Wasn't Me.

What's kind of a kicker, too, is Lexi's perspective is one who has grown up in the church.  At one point she brings up the sermons and how it was "getting harder and harder to listen to everyone talking about me like God didn't love me quite as much as he did them.  They didn't know they were talking about me, of course, but that didn't make it hurt any less."  

It's so...crazy, but then you realize that there are camps like this.  I tried to find a memoir from someone who had been through a similar experience, but to no avail.  

This book brings up tough issues like religion, family, choices in general, abuse, but specifically from the perspective of LGBTQ teens.  Definitely a conversation-starter on many levels.  

Bonus!  Author Jessica Verdi will be guest posting in a couple of weeks- stay tuned!

The Summer I Wasn't Me is published by Sourcebooks Fire. Review Copy graciously provided by the publisher.
Released: 04.01.2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Mermaid and the Shoe

Everyone has a talent- some people have many talents.  What are yours?  I, for one for instance, have double-jointed thumbs and can form them into grotesque shapes that freak out my friends and family.

Minnow, the heroine of K.G. Campbell's The Mermaid and the Shoe, is the daughter of King Neptune.  Well, she is one of Neptune's 50 daughters.  Each daughter has a talent- singing, making jewelry, gardening...but Minnow is only good at asking questions.  One day she finds an object, and is determined to find out what it is.  Turns out, asking questions is a talent- especially asking the right questions!  And more importantly, she can answer a very significant one: who am I?

The illustrations in this book are magical, you constantly see and feel the movement from being underwater.  I'm not sure if it's chalk? pastel? neither? but there's an eeriness to the dark coloring- with the stark illumination of the mermaids.  It's beautiful, almost ghostly (but not scary).  There's a beautiful scene where Minnow finds the shoe, she's swimming up with a group (or, I guess technically, a "smack") of jellyfish.  Again, the contrast of the dark with a bright red-orange, and Minnow's luminescence, and the red shoe- it's so simple, but stays with you.  Also, there's a pretty amazing shrugging octopus.

I love that the book encourages kids to ask questions, and lets them know that no matter how small it seems, a talent is a talent.

There's so much cute in here, too- as previously mentioned, the shrugging octopus, and when Minnow sees the "landmaid" with her "leg-hands."  Very...Ariel, Scuttle and Dinglehopper.  I think it would be a great one for parents and kids to read together.  It also reminds kids that curiosity could also mean they are brave explorers.  

The Mermaid and the Shoe is published by Kids Can Press.  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Released: 04.01.2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

We Were Liars

Okay...I'm not going to give the plot, a summary...anything.  All I will say is: READ THIS!  Commit the title to memory and/or pre-order it (or support your local library and put it on hold).

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is  The story catches you and carries you from the first page.  The language is so beautiful and mesmerizing.  I couldn't put it down.  Seriously, I had a procedure done on my back, and the doctor had to scold me to put it away so he could get started.

I received the ARC and thought I skillfully hid it under some papers on my desk at work.  A group of us had been talking about the book, bemoaning that none of us had gotten it, and I'd forgotten I'd requested it. of my staff came into my office to ask me a question; my not so skillful hiding spot failed me, and in 30 seconds she pounced on the title.  I spoke to her like I do my dog "Drop it!  Put. the book. down!"  (I know, not exactly boss-of-the-year behavior).  She pulled back, replying "I just want to hold it..." as she hugged it to her cheek.

If that's any indication of how much buzz this book is making, you know you're in for a treat. 

And don't worry, my staff person will get the ARC after another one finishes it.  I promise, I share post-read.

We Were Liars is published by Random House Children's.  Review copy graciously provided by the publisher.
Release Date: 05.13.2014

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust

Some of my favorite stories growing up were the ones my grandfather told about when he was a boy.  He grew up in Milwaukee in the 20s and 30s, and we got to hear about getting ice from the ice truck- or the butcher for whom they delivered sausages, who offered two salami slices as payment (instead of the usual one).  He then took the one slice, and cut it in half.  Much can be said about what we learn listening to these stories.

A sad, beautiful look at the Holocaust from the perspective of young Dounia.  Hidden, by Loic Dauvillier, Marc Lizano & Greg Salsedo, starts with a young girl listening to her grandmother's story (a story the girl's father, Dounia's son, has never heard).

Dounia was a young Jewish girl in Paris.  As Nazis moved in, Dounia hid.  A series of neighbors and friends kept her alive, as her family was taken away to the concentration camps.

I think that's the shortest summary I've ever written, and while the story seems simple from what I just wrote (and it's a mere 88 pages)- it's so much more.  

The pictures give such an innocent, confused perspective.  It's almost as if you're peeking in on Dounia's life. The warm colors throughout, the glow of a candle or a fire in a dark room, also give the feel you're privy to something quiet and important.

The characters themselves are simply drawn- circles, lines, and dots.  Similar to those a child would draw, telling a story.  This adds to the childlike atmosphere of the book.

Dounia's family and friends are so scared, so brave.  It was heartbreaking from the beginning, when Dounia's father gives her her yellow star.  He tells her that they are playing; that they are a family of sheriffs.  It was reminiscent of Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful.

The escape to the farm was symbolic more than just being free- as farms are about growth and new life.  It is there that Dounia also gets a chance at a new life.

Speaking of Dounia's new life, the ending is happy.  I'll say that much.  But it is also sad.  When someone has been through something this terrible, this is so hard to keep it inside.  It is hard for the person who won't, or can't, share.  And it is hard for those around them, who know there is something more.  Who want to help ease that burden, or see where the person is coming from.

This graphic novel is so touching, so beautiful.  It shows the Holocaust in France (which, sadly, I tend to forget about France), and shows it in a way that's accessible to young readers.  It could open a lot of conversation about that whole period.  

I highly recommend this.  Read it by yourself, read it with your it with tissues.  

*Hidden is being released in April as a tribute to Holocaust Remembrance Week.

Hidden is published by :01 First Second Books.  Review Copy graciously provided by the publisher.
Release Date: 04.01.2014

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Violet Hour

Whoa...that escalated quickly.  

The Violet Hour by Whitney Miller is a fast-paced YA horror novel.  Harlow Wintergreen is the daughter of the leader of a religious organization called VisionCrest.  She has been hiding something deep down, though- a voice telling her to do horrible things, and giving her gruesome, violent visions.  As she and others in VisionCrest tour Asia on a PR tour, the voice is gaining more and more control.  People are dying.  What is in her, and what can she do to save her friends...and herself?

This novel caught me right off the bat!  They had me at Harajuku...and didn't let go after bleeding and eye gouging.  I have to admit, I giggled a little bit at the first mentions of the voice- "Obliterate.  Exsanguinate." I just kept picturing a Dalek running around inside her skull.  That quickly dissipated, though, as things escalated.

There are a lot of music subculture things in this novel- to the point where I meant to look up the history of Japanese Punk (and in writing this, am reminded of that again).  Music plays a huge part in character connections.  If you have ever read the manga Nana, you'll picture it a bit in the first part of the book.

For the dystopian aspect- Japan is now the Socialist Republic of Japan, China is the most democratic country in the world, and people can be drugged up on a SOMA-like pill to function compliantly.  

At times a futuristic, dystopian story, at others a novelization of some Junji Ito creeptastic manga mixed with del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth.  I pretty much loved it.  Kind of rethinking my desire to go to Asia right now, but...(just kidding, it's still totally at the top of my bucket list). 

I've always been intrigued by cults- not to join one, just their beginnings, followers, etc.  I did a grad school project with a YA bibliography about cults.  This cult is different, because it's not based on typical allegory or misinterpretation of texts...there's an ancient supernatural aspect. 

If you like Indie music, dystopian darkness, gruesome horror...this is for you.  Sure, there's an awesome sidekick, and a bit of a love story- but there's so much more.  

The Violet Hour is published by Flux.  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Released: 03.08.2014

Monday, March 17, 2014

Ava and Pip

Wow! W-O-W! I've been getting all these awesomely wordy books lately! Palindromes, homophones, alliteration...makes an English major happy!

Ava and Pip by Carol Weston (who's also been the advice columnist at Girls' Life since 1994) is about two sisters who are very different.  Ava is the outgoing, spunky younger sister to Pip, a shy, quiet loner.  In an attempt to stick up for her sister, after her birthday is ruined by the popular new girl, Ava writes a story for the school library's contest.  As the story gets mentioned, things begin to change, and Ava and her new friend Bea may help Pip break out of her shell.

Told in diary format, 10 year-old Ava tells the reader about her quiet sister Pip (who is 13).  They don't look or act alike (much like my sister and me), and Pip was a preemie (also like me!)  As you can see, I connected with quiet, shy, Pip.  I even had to reschedule a birthday party when a girl who was more popular had hers the same day :-(  Ava's attempts to give her sister a voice are both heartwarming, and sometimes frustrating (much like real sisters).

Ava and Pip, and their parents, all have palindrome names.  Check one for awesome.  The family plays games like The Homonym Game.  Check two.  In order to keep Ava busy, her parents would give her pages of Os to turn into Qs.  Check 3.

The story has a great flow- I actually had to make myself stop reading and get to bed.  I wanted to see what happened next, and the entries are so short, you just keep reading...and reading. 

I know bullying and mean girls have been a hot topic for awhile, and rightfully so- it needs to be talked about.  But it's refreshing to read a middle-grade fiction about girls, Jr. High girls, that is more about being friends and helping each other.  On top of all the word-awesomeness, this is what made me love Ava and Pip.  Building each other up, and not assuming things about people.

One more tidbit about this book: it comes with a Common Core educator's guide, for all my teacher friends.  Just head over to the Sourcebooks website.

Ava and Pip is published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.  Review copy graciously provided by the publisher.
Released: 03.04.2014

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Skin & Bones

I think the majority of the population is aware of Eating Disorders, and how girls are affected by them.  Not much is highlighted, though, on how they affect guys.

Skin and Bones by Sherry Shahan is a YA novel that addresses this issue from the perspective of Jack (nicknamed "Bones"), a sixteen-year-old boy who is anorexic.  The story takes place in an eating disorder ward, where Bones and his roommate "Lard" gradually become friends.  As Bones navigates the rules of the ward, he ends up meeting Alice- a thin dancer who loves to break the rules.  At what cost will Bones try to win Alice?

On the one hand- I appreciated the novel taking the perspective it did.  Showing how one remark in fifth grade can have the impact it does; affecting the person years later.  And also how each character developed the disorder, and how they dealt with it.  In that sense, I compared it to the TV show Orange is the New Black- I was very interested in learning the back stories of the other patients.

On the other hand- I found myself so, so frustrated with some of the characters.  I get teen hormones, but really?  You know this person is dangerously close to self-destructing...just tell the guy in charge!  There were also a few times I found myself thinking "I wonder what someone who has gone through this recovery process would think of the novel."  I don't mean that in an "I don't trust the writer" way- more of a "I'd like to hear this from the perspective of someone I know who's been through this."

I appreciated the sick irony of  a Carpenter's song blaring from the radio as Alice wheeled in the room at one point.  Karen Carpenter lends herself to some foreshadowing as well.  I actually have written in my notes "I don't know if I should find this clever or offensive..."

Shahan includes additional resources at the end of the book- links to The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), and The National Association for Males with Eating Disorders Inc. (NAMED).  She also includes information about Eating Disorders in general.

I may contact my friend who has gone through this, and get her opinion on the book.  Overall, though, I enjoyed it.  I had many conflicting emotions reading it, and I'll chalk that up to the writing.  It also brought up some things I hadn't thought about before.  As I said, too, I like that Shahan wrote from the perspective of a young man. 

Skin & Bones is published by Albert Whitman & Co.  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 03.01.2014

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dust of Eden

I like novels; I like poetry.  I'm not the biggest fan of novels in verse.  

"Well, then, Sarah- why would you REQUEST a novel in verse? Not even an e-galley, but went out of your way to contact the publisher to ask for a hard copy?"

Because...this one is about a part of US History that's interested me ever since I first learned about it.

Mariko Nagai's Dust of Eden is about thirteen-year-old Mina Masakao Tagawa.  In December of 1941 she and her Japanese-American family are forced to leave their home in Seattle to live in an internment camp in Idaho for the next three years.  Through this time, Mina writes to her best friend Jamie, connects with her grandfather, and watches a struggle with her brother.

I don't know if it's because I have to concentrate harder or what...I tend to only read them when it's required.  In this case, it was worth it to slow down.  It made the reading that much more powerful.  In slowing down, I was able to make connections where I may not have before. 

I'm sure the dust aspect had something to do with it, but I kept getting thrown back into The Grapes of Wrath- which of course meant I was looking for parallels and symbolism at every line.  I found it ;-)   For example, her grandfather trying so hard to grow his roses- searching for beauty in the dust.  There's also a moment for the brother, overseas in the military, that makes the reader pause and think.

As a historical fiction, Nagai brings in true events.  There's a significant moment where a man gets shot by guards at the camp for trying to escape- the first victim, Ichiro Shimoda.  I'm sure there are other things, but that one stood out most.

It was also interesting to note the situation the men in the internment camps were put in- a conflicting position on whether to join the military for their country, but their country that put them in these camps.  

A few months ago I read The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee.  One of the things I found most interesting was the evolution of the fortune cookie, especially since they had been invented by the Japanese.  What she found was that when the Japanese were moved to the camps, the Chinese "took over" and that is when the Chinese writing showed up on the slips of paper.  Little things like that make you want to learn more about this part of our history- uncomfortable as it may be.

A powerful book for middle-grades.  It's a great introduction to the subject, and could start a lot of good conversations.

Dust of Eden is published by Albert Whitman & Company.  Review copy graciously provided by the publisher.
Release Date: 03.01.2014

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Snicker of Magic

Words and Libraries and Ice Cream and Magic!?!  This book SCREAMS Sarah!  I am absolutely head over heels for A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd.

Twelve-year old Felicity Pickle collects words.  She can see them, and each word has its own distinct look.  One word has eluded her, though: home.  When Felicity, her mother, and her sister, pull into Midnight Gulch she feels it may be a place for new beginnings, and maybe even a new friend.  That's because there's magic in the history of Midnight Gulch, and Felicity has the answer to bringing that magic back!

Oh goodness- I love words.  LOVE words.  And therefore, I LOVED this book.  Felicity Pickle is absolutely charming.  Any introverted lover of words will absolutely connect with her, especially those who have trouble expressing themselves public.

The relationships between family, friends, and old/new romances serve as the backdrop of the magical town of Midnight Gulch. I was as anxious to get to the bottom of the missing magic as Felicity was, and fell in love with the townspeople along the way.

I would recommend this to everyone.  There are wholesome characters, it promotes kindness, builds vocabulary...and ICE CREAM!  This is something I would love to have my kids read (when I have them). 

Lloyd's faith is written into the book, but in a very refreshing way.  It isn't preachy-in-your-face Christian fiction.  In fact, it's so subtle one might miss it (except now I've pointed it out to you).  I am really impressed with her writing it in a way that wouldn't make a reader uncomfortable.

Definitely a spindiddly, heart-warming middle-grade read!  I can't wait to see what other books she has up her sleeve!

A Snicker of Magic is published by Scholastic.  Review copy graciously provided by the publisher.
Release Date: 02.25.2014

Friday, February 7, 2014

{Blog Tour + Giveaway} Guest post from George O'Connor!

Hi, readers of Sare-endipity! My name is George O’Connor, and I’ll be your guest blogger today as part of my ongoing blogcrawl.  I’m celebrating the release of my new book, Aphrodite: Goddess of Love, the sixth volume of my graphic novel series Olympians, which retells classic Greek myth in a graphic novel format. The eponymous Sarah has graciously (and bravely) allowed me to park myself here and write about anything I’d like.

So I admit it. I have an ongoing Google vanity alert that sends me notifications whenever some soul out there on the interwebs mentions a combination of the words ‘George’, ‘O’Connor’ and ‘Olympians’, I get a little email sent to me with a link to the aforementioned mention. Recently I received a link to this very site, a little article entitled “The Olympians (The First 6 Books)”.

Hey cool, thunk I, this is about me.

It was one of those reviews that anyone who has ever had anything they’ve worked on been reviewed loves to read. This reviewer just got my books. She understood them and dug them and said oh so many nice things about them. And at the end of the review, a promise of a special post on Olympians in a couple of weeks! Cool! It’s only then I realized that the special post she was referring to would be this very one you’re reading now, written by me.


I’m being a little silly here, and more than a little longwinded, but what I wanted to talk about today was the act of putting yourself out there in a creative endeavor, and the joys and perils of reading what other people think about your work. A cartoonist friend of mine was recently lamenting the horror of reading his entry on Goodreads, and in truth it can be a dispiriting endeavor. I feel I’ve been pretty lucky so far in the review game. I definitely feel I get more positive reviews than negative. I tend to be a real 4 star type guy on Goodreads—judging from my reviews, a lot of people like my stuff, but it’s a more select few who love it. Critically speaking, I’m like a solid ballplayer, a strong performer with a good on-base percentage, but one who seldom makes it to the all-star game. 

I guess this is why I was so excited by Sarah’s Olympians review on this very site. I create Olympians for an all-ages audience—I want everyone from six to six hundred to read them and enjoy them—but, truthfully, the audience I create this series for is myself. Olympians is the series that I wanted to read when I was growing up, Olympians is the series I want to read now. I am so lucky to be able to be creating these books for myself and everyone else, and I’m glad that most people who read them like them. And when I encounter that review that really just gets what I’m doing, who seems to just love it—It’s amazing. It’s meeting a new friend, or a kindred spirit.

I’ve always wanted to write a piece about reviews and awards, but I’ve never figured out a way to do it without sounding like I was wallowing in sour grapes. I’d love it if Olympians won a big award, some sort of Caldecottian Newburyish affair, the sort that drives new readers to discover my little series, but I’m also just so happy to occupy my comfortable little ecological niche. A series enjoyed by many, but beloved by a comparatively select few, a select few whom I am truly proud to call my audience.


HUGE thanks to George for stopping by on his blogcrawl :)  You can read my review of Olympians here.

I'm also super excited to be able to offer a Giveaway!  To win a copy of Aphrodite, just leave a comment with your  favorite character in Greek Mythology and why.

This Giveaway will run until 2/28/14.  Winner will be notified soon after. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Not gonna lie, had the soundtrack for the musical Chess popping up in my head through this whole book. However, if you're not a fan of ABBA, or musicals, don't let my mental musical accompaniment deter you from David Klass's Grandmaster.

Daniel Pratzer is a freshman at a school where the cool kids play chess (and are also athletic).  When the All-Star Seniors invite him to a father-son tournament in New York, he's a bit confused, since he's not the best player.  He finds out that thirty years ago, when his father was a teenager, he was one of the best players in America.  However, the stresses and pressures of the game drove him to give it up completely.  What else will Daniel discover about his father over a weekend full of new friends, old rivalries, and the oldest game of war?

First, how could you not love this cover?  I kind of want it as a poster.

I...was actually on the chess team in high school.  For about 10 days.  I was horrible- I don't have a mind for strategy games (I killed it in Academic Decathlon, though!)  I think I typically lost my King within 10 moves.  It WAS cool to watch those who were serious about it, though- studying moves and all. Grandmaster was very interesting in that aspect- it took a game (sport?) that is generally viewed as boring, and gave it new life.  When one remembers that it's based on war, it's an interesting perspective.

It is wonderfully written- there were times I felt like an observer in a totally new environment.  Kind of like my first time at C2E2.  I don't know how to describe it..."I am so out of my element, but this is so cool in a non-traditional kind of way, and I want to keep watching and being a part of it."

It was interesting to learn more about the darker side of Chess- the mental and emotional drain it can be on a person (and especially young Chess prodigies).  There was definitely a sadness to some of the characters' stories.

On a happier note, though, I loved Daniel's family.  Seeing his relationship with his father develop over the weekend was great, and I especially loved his rapport with his mother.  There are friendships, rivalries, romantic interests, but at its core: father and son.  It's definitely a story of relationships and overcoming things for your family.

I'd recommend this book to middle-grade and YA readers; the subject matter is gender-neutral, but I think would definitely catch guys (competitions and all).  Also, anyone who is interested in chess and its history, and those who enjoy reading about child prodigies.

Grandmaster is published by Macmillan Children's. Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 02.25.2014

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

When Audrey Met Alice

Being First Kid would be awesome, right?  Well, maybe not...

Rebecca Behrens' When Audrey Met Alice is a great blend of contemporary & historical fiction.

Audrey Rhodes' mother is the President, making her First Daughter (aka FIDO...poor girl)- it's hard enough for her to make friends, but when her epic birthday party is cancelled due to a security breach, she's ready to throw in the towel.  That night, though, she finds Alice Roosevelt's journal hidden in the floor boards.  Will the former First Daughter's words help Audrey navigate life in the White House?

This was such a fun read!  And very educational and interesting.  I had actually never known about Alice Roosevelt, and now I regret that (but! have some books coming on "Princess Alice.")  She was so feisty, spunky and fun! I, for one, did not know that we were doing yoga here in the US in 1901.

The book tackles multiple issues, but a central issue is gay rights.  Both now, and back when Alice was First Daughter.  Audrey's Uncle Harrison and his boyfriend Max live in Madison (Yay! Wisconsin mention!).  Since Harrison's sister is the President, the issue is approached by many of the current characters.  We discover, too, that Alice was an advocate for gay rights, and received a letter calling her an "honorary homosexual."  It's true!  I Googled it!  Other themes in the book are parent-child relationships, smoking, responsibility, and love (or crushes).

Audrey and Alice also raise the question about life in the White House, and whether or not it's a fairy tale.  Especially harder for Audrey, with the rise of social media, she feels imprisoned.  So, it may be like a fairy tale, but perhaps one like "Rapunzel" where she's locked in the tower.

Life is hard enough when you're thirteen.  It's a hormonal/emotional roller-coaster in the first place, and it's when you're beginning to discover yourself.  To not have that freedom to find yourself would be so much worse.  Audrey could do worse than looking to Alice Roosevelt to help her through the First Family rough patch.

I would recommend this for middle-grade girls, especially.  Those interested in history- I'd suggest it as a step up from girls who like the American Girl series.  Like I said, it's a fun book!  I read it in a day and a half (darn work and sleep, getting in the way).  I learned so much I didn't know before, and wish Alice Roosevelt had been mentioned more in my history classes!

[Note for Educators: There are Common Core-aligned Guides for this title]

When Audrey Met Alice is published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.  Review ARC graciously provided by the publisher.
Release Date: 02.04.2014

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Olympians (The First 6 Books)

By the Beard of Zeus!  George O'Connor's Olympians series is...amazing.
And the newest in the series:

I don't know why it took me so long to read these- no lie, they've been on my desk for almost 3 months.  I am FLOORED by how well-done this series is!

I was a Classical Studies minor, spent a summer in Greece when I was in high school, memorized Edith Hamilton's Mythology, and in my younger years wore out a Mickey Mouse mythology book.  The picture of Medusa with her snakey hair and dripping, body-less neck have stuck with me. I tried to find a picture to post here, but it seems it's been a long time defunct :-(  If anyone can help a girl out- it had a white cover, Mickey, Myths...(oh the irony of the librarian giving that description).


Update: Oh my goodness, I found it! Thank goodness for eBay! Now to convince my husband our house needs more books...


I won't go book-by-book, because I have a feeling it would be a lot of repetition of how much I love Olympians. So, I will do a general overview.

O'Connor uses beautiful language- his narrative reads like an epic poem, but is more approachable to younger (or reluctant) readers.  I would recommend starting with Zeus, but the books don't have to be read in order.  I just think Zeus and the whole creation story are a great kick-off (plus, there's an amazing illustration of the Titans that is haunting and powerful.)  

The bold colors and illustrations sweep you up, and before you know it, you're halfway (or all the way) through the book.  Actually, I had a stack of these in front of me at work for this review.  As I was reading one, one of our regular boys (a bit of a reluctant reader) came and sat across from me.  I told him he could look at them if he wanted.  He sat there for an hour, and read three of the books.  He said he loved the stories and the illustrations, and I was excited to tell him that there are more coming!

Each book focuses on an Olympian, but also on those involved with their stories.  For example, we learn about Hera, but also Heracles/Hercules.  We learn about Athena, but also Arachne and Medusa.  We learn about Poseidon, but also Odysseus and Minos.  

The books also include notes about the writing process, a glossary with translations, information on characters, discussion questions (like, "Zeus's dad tries to eat him.  Has your dad ever tried to eat you?")  As well as a bibliography and recommended reading for different age groups.

I especially enjoyed O'Connor's takes on certain situations, and even more enjoyed that he is trying to tell the women's stories, too.  "For when the men of ancient Greece wrote down their stories, they did not think to ask the women theirs." (Hera, p. 65)  This, of course, gives a deeper appreciation and understanding of the goddesses, and other female characters.  There are things I had overlooked or never thought of before, in my mythology reading/classes, and I love that this is a medium for a new take, a new perspective on such ancient stories.  Bravo, George.  Bravo.

Honestly, if the next six books are anything like the first- I will be getting the entire collection for my department, and for my home.  

I would recommend this series to all ages.  Anyone interested in mythology or folklore, Greek history/culture, superheroes (cuz really, these are the first superheroes), comic much awesome!  Annnd...stay tuned for a special post in a couple of weeks!  In the meantime, you can follow the Blog Tour for Aphrodite here.

The Olympians series is published by :01 First Second. Copies provided by my awesome Public Library System/Consortium.  

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Scar Boys

I read the book Wonder when it came out.  Well, I listened to the audiobook.  It was great, except I listened in my car.  If you haven't read it, you should; if you have, well, you know that sobbing mid-commute isn't the safest.  

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos is kind of like Wonder for a slightly older crowd.  It's Wonder on sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll (not necessarily in that order).

When Harbinger Jones was 8 years old, he was tied to a tree that was struck by lightning.  His face was horribly burned.  After years of being bullied, he is rescued by his new friend Johnny.  The two start a band, and onstage Harry can just be.  Watching the journey of the band, friendships, love, and family is both humorous and heart wrenching.  Told by Harry as a letter to the Faceless Admissions Professional, as part of a college application, we are transported back to high school in the 80s.  And we will laugh and cry right along with him.

I liked this more than I anticipated (I know, I hate admitting that I wasn't thrilled about starting a book).  Part of it has to do with my love for Freaks & Geeks (and since it's the same time frame, and both have great soundtracks...).  As I read, though, I found I really related to Harry.  While I don't have anxiety to the extreme he does, I do have it.  His attempting to explain it was so spot-on, and it's one of those things that unless someone experiences it- they don't get it.  I absolutely empathized with his panic attack.  

It's a great coming-of-age novel, and Harry's narration is both sarcastic and heartfelt.  His use of vocabulary is great (and he lets you know they're SAT words, so pay attention kids!)  You forget he's writing to the FAP- until, of course, he addresses him/her.  

The story of how he got his name was great- I've actually flipped back to that twice since finishing the book, just to re-read it.  I also liked the soundtrack that accompanied each chapter.  They should sell the book with a CD (or, whatever, a playlist code...QR code...thing).

The Scar Boys will appeal to teens, and I think especially teen boys.  It's a story of love, rock'n'roll, friends, family, bullying, heartbreak, and coming into one's own.  I think they will also relate to the scenarios that go through Harry's head, along with the options he ends up choosing.  It's hard enough being a teenager, but throw in horrible scarring and it's got to be almost unbearable.  Teens will appreciate Harry's courage and chutzpah, and will hopefully be inspired to go forth, do great things, and follow their dreams.

The Scar Boys is published by Egmont USA.  Review copy graciously provided by publisher.
Release Date: 01.21.2014

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood

Remember the movie What a Girl Wants- with pre-crazy Amanda Bynes? I love that movie, and have watched more than I should probably admit (but c'mon...Colin Firth, people!)

Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood, by Varsha Vajaj, is a lot like that...only better (I think Mumbai is much more interesting than London...and more colorful...with better food).

Abby Spencer has always wanted to meet her father.  After thirteen years, she finds out he's actually a huge Bollywood actor!  Next thing she knows, she's on a plane to Mumbai and has to experience a whole new culture.  She experiences major culture clash: incredibly rich juxtaposed with extreme poverty, tandoori chicken pizza, and the whole Bollywood genre.  On top of all this, she's getting to know her father and has to keep it a secret.  Will Abby figure out where she belongs?

I'll be honest; I was a bit jealous of Abby and her adventures.  She was adorable, too!  She got me with her love of violin, and how she imagines a string quartet providing a soundtrack to her life.  Throughout the book, key scenes are accompanied by those violins, a viola, and a cello.  She is also sassy and funny.  From "accidentally" throwing the basketball at the mean girl's head instead of the hoop, to "Hicbucroak"ing on the plane, she's a girl teens will relate to.

It is interesting to see her journey, both cultural and familial.  It brings to light the poverty in the area, and it's a heartbreaking moment when she realizes that what she thought were sandbags are actually people.  The fact that she takes steps (baby steps, but steps nonetheless) toward helping some of the less fortunate is inspiring.  Maybe those who read the book will be prompted to help others in their areas. The meaningful relationships she develops convey to the reader the importance of family, and those who are like family.  Abby meets her father, but with him come his mother (Abby's Grandma Tara) and Shiva, his, like, right-hand man and Abby's confidante.  There's also some romance with a boy named Shaan.

This was an enjoyable read.  Like I said, Abby is funny and relatable- there's romance, adventure, drama (her Dad's a big Bollywood actor!)  There's also self-discovery, and realizing when to leave the past in the past and start fresh now, looking forward to the future.

Highly recommended for those Tween/Teen girls, those who like food (seriously!?! Chicken tikka pizza!?! Pooris, Tandoori stomach just growled again).  Also recommended for those who like travel, or may come from a family with separated parents.  Good for both YA and middle-grade.

Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood is published by Albert Whitman & Company.  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 03.01.2014