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