Monday, July 28, 2014

Non-Fiction Monday: Hades Speaks! by Vicky Alvear Shecter

Hades Speaks! A Guide to the Underworld by the Greek God of the Dead by Vicky Alvear Shecter. Illustrated by J.E. Larson. Secrets of the Ancient Gods series. 128 p. Boyds Mills Press/ Highlights, September 1, 2014. 9781620915981. (Finished copy courtesy of publisher for review.)

Poor misunderstood Hades. He invites the reader to join him on a tour of the Underworld but warns those with a fear of the dark away and recommends sturdy walking shoes. Then he whines a bit about his little brother Zeus cheating him out of his right to choose his domain. He has no love for Zeus' son Herakles either. Not only does he lament the fact that temples are never built in his honor but that modern day children think that Homer is Homer Simpson and not the famous Greek poet. 

Never mind, he is here to set us straight as he guides us through the Underworld and patters on snarkily while pointing out landmarks of interest. Persephone even makes an appearance. Atmospheric black and white illustration pepper the text, backmatter includes a map, a glossary, guide to gods and heroes and suggestions for further reading in print and on the web. 

I hope there are more of these nifty guides planned. Hades Speaks and the earlier, Anubis Speaks are both wonderful additions to the 292 section of the collection. Your myth-o-philes will just eat this one up! 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen. Illustrated by Scott Bakal. 371 p. Schwartz + Wade Books/ Random House Children's Books, August 26, 2014. 978-385371032. (Review from arc courtesy of Books, Bytes and Beyond)

Riddles, ravens and writing desks. No, we have not wandered into Alice's Adventures in Wonderland but a unique and wholly original story of parallel universes and human/ bird bonding. Twelve-year-old Gabriel Finley lives with his Aunt Jaz in Brooklyn ever since his father disappeared without a trace three years earlier. Fledgling raven, Paladin lives in a nest not far from Gabriel with his mother Endora, who is constantly vigilant against attack by nefarious walravens. The walravens wish to kidnap Paladin for Corax, who also happens to be Gabriel's uncle. Gabriel has never met the man as he disappeared long before Gabriel was born. He is pure evil, half-man, half-walraven and intent on obtaining a magical torc, necklace, which grants the wishes of its handler. 

Gabriel is bright and likes nothing better than a good riddle. Indeed, he wishes he could make a living solving riddles. He is a bit of a bully magnet. Well, one bully actually, Somes seems intent on making his life miserable and he's also bummed to learn that his best friend, Addison is moving. He's startled to discover that he can communicate with ravens. He learns from his father's diary that he too was a raven's amicus. Upon his twelfth birthday, Gabriel receives a key. He also receives some unwelcome roommates. But the girl who moves into Addison's house seems a promising friend.

It seems that Gabriel and Paladin were destined to bond and Corax knows that they are the key to obtaining the torc. The story shifts points of view and with that and Mr. Finley's diary entry, the reader slowly puts the pieces together.

Unbearably suspenseful and utterly captivating, middle grade fantasy lovers will just eat this one up chuckling at the riddles, word play and rambunctious writing desk along the way. This story is compared to The Phantom Tollbooth in the publisher's online description. A blurb by Norton Juster graces the front cover. I can sort of see it. To me, it has a more sinister Alice in Wonderland vibe. Fans of Gregor the Overlander will enjoy it as well even though Gabriel and his companions don't spend that much time in Aviopolis.

Speaking of covers, it initially didn't appeal. It grew on me a bit though. When I featured it on a Friday meme, most of the comments complimented the cover, so I am in the minority. It certainly lends itself to the possibility of a remarkable book trailer. I hope one is being planned. This is the author's children's debut. Here's a link to his website.

Thanks to Mary and Trish from Books, Bytes and Beyond for the opportunity to read this arc. You ladies are always spot on. This is a 2014 favorite.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

What's New? Stacking the Shelves

StS is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Hop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got this week.

For review:
Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka. Illustrated by Brian Biggs. (Frank Einstein series #1) 180 p. Amulet/ Abrams, August 19, 2014. 9781419712180.

From the back cover: Frank Einstein (A) is a kid-genius scientist and inventor. Klink (B) is a self-assembled artificial intelligence entity. And Klank (C) is a mostly self-assembled and artificial almost intelligence entity. Together they create an Antimatter Motor using the three states of matter: solid (D), liquid (E), and gas (F). Their plans to win the Midville Science Prize are all but guaranteed-until Frank's classmate and archrival T. Edison shows up!

Hm, not sure I get the multiple choice options but it's a new Scieszka and that's all I need to know.

Fly Guy Presents: Firefighters by Tedd Arnold. (Fly Guy Presents series) Scholastic Inc., July, 2014. 9780545631600.

Publisher synopsis: Come ride the fire truck with Fly Guy!
Fly Guy and Buzz are off on another exciting field trip. This time, they're visiting the fire station! There, they will learn all about firefighters, fire trucks, and fire safety. They'll even get to zoom down the fire pole and try on a firefighter helmet! Come along to learn all about firefighters in this fun nonfiction reader. Award-winning author/illustrator Tedd Arnold really brings nonfiction to life!
Memory Maze by Gordon Korman. (The Hypnotists #2) 233 p. Scholastic Inc., July, 2014. 9780545503297.
Publisher synopsis: Jax Opus knows he's not like other kids. And it isn't his skill on the basketball court or his test scores that set him apart. No, Jax is different because he can hypnotize people. In fact, he might be the best hypnotist the world has seen in a very long time.
You would think Jax would be happy about this. But really? It's ruining his life. He and his family are hiding from a master hypnotist who wants Jax out of the picture . . . forever. And the FBI is also starting to ask questions about Jax and his abilities.
Jax thinks life might be getting a little better when a very rich, very powerful man asks him to help out with something. The reward will be great. And the price -- well, the price is that Jax starts taking on the man's memories. And some of them are pretty deadly. 

Paper Airplanes by Dawn O'Porter. 272 p. Amulet/ Abrams, September 9, 2014. 9781419711848.

Publisher synopsis: Renée and Flo are the most unlikely of friends. Introspective and studious Flo and outspoken, wild, and sexually curious Renée have barely spoken in their years of going to school together in Guernsey, a small British island off the coast of France. And yet, when tragedy strikes, it is only wild child Renée, who lost her mother at a young age, who is able to comfort a grieving Flo. The girls form an intense bond that sees them through a host of deeply relatable, wince-inducing experiences—drunken snogging; a séance in which clueless friends offer to summon Renée’s mother; dating a guy for free fish and chips. But toxic mean girls and personal betrayals threaten to tear the girls’ delicate new friendship apart.

In this gripping debut, Dawn O’Porter shines an unflinchingly honest, humorous light on female friendship, lost innocence, and that moment when you are teetering on the threshold of adult life.

What's new with you?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Memes - Loot: how to steal a fortune by Jude Watson

Book Beginnings is hosted bRose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice.

Loot: how to steal a fortune by Jude Watson. 266 p. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., June, 2014. 9780545468022.

Publisher synopsis: On a foggy night in Amsterdam, a man falls from a rooftop to the wet pavement below. It's Alfie McQuinn, the notorious cat burglar, and he's dying. As sirens wail in the distance, Alfie manages to get out two last words to his young son, March: "Find jewels."
But March learns that his father is not talking about a stash of loot. He's talking about Jules, the twin sister March never knew he had. No sooner than the two find each other, they're picked up by the police and sent to the world's worst orphanage. It's not prison, but it feels like it.
March and Jules have no intention of staying put. They know their father's business inside and out, and they're tired of being pushed around. Just one good heist, and they'll live the life of riches and freedom most kids only dream about.
Watch out! There are wild kids on the loose and a crime spree coming . . .
First line: No thief likes a full moon.

Page 56: Darius tilted his head. He regarded March the way a lion might eye a gazelle, planning the fun of running it down before ripping its throat open.

I also love how the book is dedicated: "To bad children everywhere."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday - The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan

WoW is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine, in which we share the titles of books we are eagerly anticipating.

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan. (Heroes of Olympus #5) 528 p. Disney-Hyperion, October 7, 2014. 9781423146735.

Publisher synopsis: Though the Greek and Roman crewmembers of the Argo II have made progress in their many quests, they still seem no closer to defeating the earth mother, Gaea. Her giants have risen-all of them-and they're stronger than ever. They must be stopped before the Feast of Spes, when Gaea plans to have two demigods sacrificed in Athens. She needs their blood-the blood of Olympus-in order to wake.
The demigods are having more frequent visions of a terrible battle at Camp Half-Blood. The Roman legion from Camp Jupiter, led by Octavian, is almost within striking distance. Though it is tempting to take the Athena Parthenos to Athens to use as a secret weapon, the friends know that the huge statue belongs back on Long Island, where it mightbe able to stop a war between the two camps.
The Athena Parthenos will go west; the Argo II will go east. The gods, still suffering from multiple personality disorder, are useless. How can a handful of young demigods hope to persevere against Gaea's army of powerful giants? As dangerous as it is to head to Athens, they have no other option. They have sacrificed too much already. And if Gaea wakes, it is game over.

This series is still going strong at my school. I'm wondering if this is the concluding volume.

What are you waiting on? Leave a link to yours in the comments section.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black. Unabridged audiobook on 10 compact discs, 12 hours. Read by Christine Lakin. Hachette Audio, September, 2013. 9781478924692. (Purchased)

Tana awakens in the bathtub the morning after a wild party at which she downed a few too many shots. The house is eerily quiet. This is because it is filled with corpses. Apparently, the party was crashed by marauding vampires and somehow, Tana escaped notice having been passed out in the aforementioned bathtub. She needs to leave. Quickly. As she searches for her stuff, she discovers her ex-boyfriend tied to a bed and a chained vampire near him. Her relationship with Aiden, the ex, is complicated and, while he has been bitten and surely infected, she cannot bring herself to leave him behind. Her relationship with Gavriel, the chained vampire is about to become very complicated since she saves him as well. From what? Apparently, there are an unknown number of vampires waiting for the sun to set to kill Gavriel.

Tana has no choice other than to load them up in her car and head to the nearest Coldtown, a walled off city where humans, possibly infected humans and vampires live quarantined from the rest of the population.

No sparkly, stalkerish vampires here (thank goodness). This is purely predator and prey, violence and blood and gore. That a romance could arise in such an unforgiving atmosphere is testament to Holly Black's storytelling. Through the narration by her kick-ass heroine, Black paints a wholly believable, terrifying world. The performance by Christine Lakin is pitch perfect. She gives Tana that slightly monotonous, tough girl tone, a charming accent to Gavriel, and an appropriately bad-boy whine/cajole to Aiden. Other characters receive individual voices as well. I was so totally swept up by this story that I actually hoped for traffic since I was listening to it in my car. And it was one where I frequently lingered in my driveway to listen longer. 

Had I been reading this with my eyes, I might have swallowed it in one big gulp. Reading with my ears, while excruciating because I couldn't hurry up the narration, allowed me to appreciate the worldbuilding, setting and character development in a way I might not have had I barreled on reading with my eyes.

This is a new favorite and one I will recommend to my more mature, thoughtful readers.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan. unpged. Arthur A. Levine Books/ Scholastic Inc., April, 2014. 9780545639125. (Finished copy courtesy of publisher for review)

Rules for reading Shaun Tan:
1. Always expect the unexpected.
2. Never skim.
3. Therefore, always leave a chunk of time to pore over the book.
4. Prepare to think.
5. You might just feel a bit uncomfortable.
6. Plan on rereading and finding something new each time that you do.

This is definitely a "never too old for picture books" picture book. There is a universality in the theme that should speak to any generation of siblings. I am the oldest of six (five girls). Were it not for the fact that I went on to birth four boys, this peculiar world might be totally alien to me. Might be. But on second thought, not really. (note rule #4)

As the oldest, I was tasked with "watching" my siblings most summers that I can remember. I remember longing for freedom, to go to camp, to go anywhere really. I remember utter fury at being yoked to this passel. Sure, we all had some fun but I truly resented having to be responsible. 

I remember racing my next younger sister around the block on bikes. She was beating me and when she looked back to see where I was, her foot slipped off the pedal and into the spoke of the front wheel. The result was that she pitched over the handle bars bringing the bike with her. I am loathe to admit that I raced right past her. Only when I "won" did I turn my bike around to check on her. Wonder why this long buried memory surfaced while contemplating my review of this book? That is the evocative power of the images. (note rule #5)

At first glance, what with the winsome little guy in the foreground sporting a weird helmet and the cheery palette, one might be lulled into thinking this a nostalgic reminiscence. Upon closer inspection, one might notice the scowl on the face of the older boy and the industrial background. Don't skip the end-pages and the jacket flaps. (note rule #2) Surreal, provocative and disorienting might be words used to describe the illustrations. (note rule #1) Any one of them would make for a great VTS (Visual Thinking Strategy) exercise or writing prompt in the classroom. (rule #3) The entire book could be used as a mentor text at any level.

This is a 2014 favorite. I highly recommend adding it to your collection. I'm going to follow rule #6 now.