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