I really enjoy this series by Vicky Alvear Shecter. The Anubis one was certainly entertaining and this Hades follow-up is just as fun. Hades takes us on a personal tour of the Land of the Dead. He is sarcastic and funny and very informative. In between tales of how his younger brother Zeus causes him no end of misery, he imparts all kinds of historical stories from Greek and Roman times. There is a lot of humor mixed in with all the historical information. I think kids will appreciate the fact that they are being entertained and educated at the same time. I can’t wait to see who comes next in this series. 

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.

23. July 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys, read by Angie, on 07/22/2014

Josie lives in New Orleans in 1950. She is the daughter of a prostitute and has no idea who her father is. However, she doesn’t get along with her mom and lives on her own above a bookstore where she also works. Charlie, the owner, has been like a father figure to her. Charlie is now sick (with dementia or Alzheimers) and his son Patrick runs the store. Josie’s second job is to clean the house of Willie Woodley, the madam of the local whorehouse. Willie is like a mother to Josie; she provides for her and protects her. Josie meets a nice gentleman in the bookstore one day and has an instant connection to him. She dreams he might be her father. So she is disturbed when he turns up murdered. The police think her mom may have something to do with it. Mom skips town with her abusive mobster boyfriend Cincinnati. Josie also dreams of leaving town and going to college. She is focused on Smith after meeting a nice Uptown girl who goes to Smith. Josie tries to figure out if her mom really did have something to do with the man’s death and how she can escape and go to Smith. 

Ruta Sepetys really has a way of making a story come alive. Once I started reading this book I was enthralled. I wanted to know how the Memphis man was killed and why. I rooted for Josie to get into Smith. Josie was such a well-developed character that you couldn’t help but root for her. She was a tad naive when it came to some things, but also very aware of the underbelly of New Orleans. I thought it was interesting that all the prostitutes who worked for Willie where shown as happy and healthy. It was a bit of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” vibe. They were all prostitutes with hearts of gold; they looked after Josie and tried to help her when they could. Really Josie’s mom was the only true whore among them. She was a murder and a thief, even stealing from Josie. I thought this book really brought New Orleans to live; it showed the fabulous parts of it as well as the nasty bits. 

21. July 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Gilt by Katherine Longshore, read by Angie, on 07/20/2014

This is the story of Catherine Howard, the doomed 5th wife of Henry VIII. It is told from the perspective of her friend Kitty Tylney. Cat schemes and plots her way to court and then into the heart of Henry. Once there she brings her girlhood friends to court with her. Her schemes don’t end with becoming queen. She continues to scheme and fool around and basically doom herself by her selfish actions. Kitty is loyal to her friend Cat, but becomes disillusioned as Cat’s plots bring them closer and closer to destruction. 

You know the ending of this story before it starts. You know Cat will not make it to the end with her head intact, but the journey there is an intriguing one. Anne Boleyn seems to be the wife that gets all the attention. The others all seem to fade into the background. It is nice to see a story about one of Henry’s other wives. This was a fun guilty pleasure type book. I had no idea until the very end whether Kitty was going to follow Cat to her end or not.

Everyone knows the story of the doomed Romanov family. How they were all murdered during the Bolshevik Revolution. How there were claims that Anastasia or Alexei still lived. How once the tsar fell the country became communist under Lenin and Stalin. What you might not have known were the events leading up to the revolution and the murders. Or how truly oblivious Tsar Nicholas was to what was happening around him. Candace Fleming does a wonderful job telling this story. She gives us insight into the imperial family through historical details and primary sources. She gives us details about what the common people were going through both before and during WWI. She also shows the politics behind the revolution and the rise of Lenin. What surprised me most about this book was how doomed the Romanov’s seemed from the beginning. Nicholas and Alexandra were so wrapped up in themselves and their children and Rasputin that they really had no idea what was happening in their country or how their actions set them on the path of destruction.

18. July 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Velvet by Mary Hooper, read by Angie, on 07/17/2014

Velvet is an orphan who works in a laundry in Victorian London. She comes to the attention of Madame Savoya, a famed medium, and starts working in her household. Life with Madame is definitely different from the poor conditions Velvet was previously used to. She comes to like the finer things in life and is enamored with George, Madame’s assistant. Velvet starts out as a firm believer in Madame’s powers over the Other Side. However, she does come to suspect that Madame may not be quite as in tune with the spirits as she seems. Velvet has to decide what is more important: the truth or her new life. 

I sometimes find books like this difficult to read, not because they are poorly written or bad books but because the characters in them are so different from people today. Hooper does a great job making her characters into true Victorians. They are firm believers in spiritualism and there is an innocence in them that makes them less suspicious than modern people. As a reader I clearly saw that Madame was a fake and that there was something suspicious about George. But Velvet with her Victorian sensibilities is oblivious. I like the fact that Hooper really did her homework on how the mediums of this age practiced their art and how gullible their clients were.

17. July 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Award Winner, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction · Tags:

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park, read by Angie, on 07/16/2014

Tree-ear is an orphan in 12th century Korea. He lives under a bridge with Crane-man. They live in Ch’ulp’o, a small village on the sea that is renowned for its celadon pottery. Tree-ear becomes the apprentice of a great potter named Min. Tree-ear labors for Min hoping that one day he too will be a great potter. In order to secure a royal commission, Min sends Tree-ear on a long journey across Korea with priceless pottery vases. Disaster strikes but Tree-ear manages to complete his mission and return with the commission. 

I actually liked this more than I thought I would. I thought the characters were very relatable and the story gripping and interesting. I also liked the fact that it is based on historical facts. I had to look up celadon pottery and the Thousand Cranes Vase after I was finished reading. Both are truly beautiful and you can tell that it took great skill to make these items. 

15. July 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Graphic Novel

Sisters (Smile #2) by Raina Telgemeier , read by Angie, on 07/14/2014

I had no idea there was going to be a sequel to Smile. I love everything Raina Telgemeier writes and Sisters was no different. Sisters tells the story of Raina and her sister Amara’s rocky relationship. Before Amara is born, Raina can’t wait to have a sister. Once she arrives it is another story however. They are completely different and don’t really get along. They fight and squabble and are interested in different things. Things come to a head when the family takes a cross country car trip. As the oldest of three girls I could completely relate to Raina and Amara. You always love your sisters but you don’t always like them (especially during those tween/teen years). I thought the fights were pretty typical as was the instances where they were allies. Another winner from Telgemeier. 

I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley. It had mostly black and white illustrations so I can’t wait to see what it looks like in full color.

The Triple Nickles were the first black paratroopers in the American military. During WWII many Blacks joined the military; unfortunately, they were mostly relegated to labor positions and not allowed to fight for their country. This gradually changed as an all-Black tank unit and infantry units were established. Soon Blacks were being trained as pilots at Tuskegee. It wasn’t until 1944 that the Triple Nickles were established. They trained throughout the end of the war always ready to be called up to fight. However, military brass wasn’t quite as ready to integrate as the president was. The Triple Nickles never saw combat during WWII. While the white soldiers were fighting and dying they were sent to the Northwest to be the some of the first smokejumpers. It wasn’t until they were integrated into another paratrooper unit that these brave men would see combat. 

This is an important story to tell. It is amazing to me how we treated people in all walks of life just because the color of their skin was different from our own. This racism is still there today even if it might not always be targeted at Blacks. It took a lot of perseverance and courage on the part of these Black soldiers to break through the racial intolerance of the military leaders. They should be applauded.

14. July 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Steam-punk, Teen Books

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, read by Angie, on 07/13/2014

Sophronia is being sent to finishing school. Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality to be exact. Sophronia would rather be figuring out how things work than learning how to curtsey, but her mother has other ideas. Her mother would be appalled at what she is actually learning at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s. Not only does Sophronia learn how to curtsey and act appropriately in social situations she also learns how to poison someone and the fine art of gathering intelligence. Her other skills come in handy when she and her friends must figure out what has happened to a communications prototype that is wanted by a lot of nefarious characters. 

I like this Victorian steampunk world a lot. I have read Souless, the first in Carriger’s adult series, but didn’t really remember it a lot. This series is set in that same world. The school is a giant balloon that floats across the moors. There are vampire and werewolf teachers. And there are flying skypirates who attack the school. I found the whole thing fun and ridiculous and really enjoyable. There is just enough steampunk, just enough historical fiction, just enough zaniness to make this a really fun read. 

14. July 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction

Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull, read by Angie, on 07/12/2014

Sky Raiders is the first in a new series by Brandon Mull. Cole and his friends visit a spooky haunted house on Halloween and are kidnapped by people from another world. Cole follows the kidnappers to the Outskirts where he too is caught. They are all slaves off to be sold to whoever wants them. Cole is bought by the Sky Raiders, a group that raids the floating castles for whatever treasure they might hold. Cole befriends Mira and they develop a plan to escape. Mira is more than she seems and needs to leave Skyhold before the Grand Shaper finds her. Cole, Mira, Jace and Twitch make their escape but are pursued by hundreds of soldiers. They make their way across this strange country to fight the Carnag and make Mira whole again.

This was a fun book. I thought Cole was a really interesting character full of loyalty for his friends and a daring risk-taker and hero. I can see how this series will be shaped with each book dealing with each of the princesses and each of the five kingdoms. This is a fascinating world Mull has created full of magic and mystery and intrigue. I think the series will be one kids will really enjoy. It is fast-paced, filled with interesting kids and a fabulous adventure.

Sure everyone has heard of the Mason Dixon line. A lot of people may know that it was used to divide the country into slave and nonslave states. Few people might know that it all started because of a boundary dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland. I had some vague knowledge about the Mason Dixon line before reading this book, but I really had no idea about its true origins. Mason and Dixon were hired to survey the true boundaries between Pennsylvania and Maryland because no one really knew what they were. It took them years to do the survey, but the border lines are still those used today. 

Obviously the information in this book was really interesting and I am a big fan of Sally Walker; however, I felt the execution of this book fell short. The first big issue is the side bars. Children’s nonfiction always has sidebar information which is usually little tidbits about different aspects of the subject discussed. I love them and wholeheartedly think they should be in children’s nonfiction. They generally add a depth to the information that was missing. However, the sidebars in this book are terrible. Instead of being nicely separated by a box or off in the margins they are just big block paragraphs in italics. To make things even worse they are always placed in the middle of text; sometimes in the middle of a paragraph that splits between pages. It was horribly distracting and a terrible way to set up a book. 

The second issue was how technical this book got which made it boring! I really enjoy history and this was a story I wasn’t aware of. The bits about William Penn and George Calvert and why they founded their colonies was interesting. The story of Mason and Dixon was interesting. The long paragraphs about how you measure by the stars and what the instruments did was boring. It got so technical that my eyes glazed over. I found myself skimming long paragraphs of technical crap until the story picked up again. If I can’t take it then I am sure the intended audience of kids won’t be able to either. 

I had high hopes for this book and was soundly disappointed. Thankfully I did learn something from it.

12. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, History, NonFiction

Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure by Don Kladstrup, Petie Kladstrup, read by Angie, on 07/10/2014

I, like many people, have a fascination for the horrible things the Nazis did in Europe during WWII. I am especially fascinated by their large-scale looting operations. I knew about the looting of art throughout Europe but had no idea just how far their pillaging went. This book looks at how the wine makers of France were subject to just as much Nazi attention as the art collections of Europe. Millions of bottles of wine were sent to Germany. The vignerons and négociants throughout France had to either sacrifice their wine to the Germans or find ways to hide it and fool the Nazis. Many buried their wines behind false walls in their caves or truly buried it under gardens and ponds. Others hid the good stuff in plain site by mislabeling it and labeling the crap as the good stuff. This book was full of fascinating information about the wine industry in France both before and during the war and the major players on both the French and German sides of the struggle. I admit to getting a bit lost in all the French names, but didn’t let that detract from my enjoyment of the story. I think my favorite part came at the end when the French and American armies were liberating France. The French Army made sure to send the Americans through secondary vineyards so that the prime ones would not be destroyed. The French Army went slow and carefully forward making sure to preserve their heritage whereas the American army simply went through the vines. I thought it said a lot about a culture that prized wine so much it was sent to the soldiers on the front and the lack of it and its destruction helped bring the French Resistance to power. Very powerful story that I would recommend to any history lovers out there.

12. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Teen Books

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, read by Angie, on 07/11/2014

Ari is a young man filled with anger and silence. He comes from a family with a father scarred by war, a mother devastated by a son’s actions and a brother who has disappeared from their lives since he went to prison. Ari has no friends and is melancholy. His only desires are for a truck and a dog. He likes to run and workout, both solitary activities. It all changes when he meets Dante. Dante is vibrant and chatty. He likes to draw and read poetry. He asks hard questions and truly wants to know the answers. Ari and Dante become best friends. Dante brings Ari out of his shell and gets him to talk and makes him realize it is ok for boys to cry. They are there for each other even when Dante moves to Chicago for a year. Their friendship holds up even when Dante confesses he would rather kiss boys than girls and would really like to kiss Ari. Ari cares so much for Dante that he saves his life and goes after a boy who hurt Dante. However, Ari is still conflicted and angry even if he doesn’t know what he is angry about. 

I thought this story was wonderful. I loved the friendship of Ari and Dante and the fact that Dante being gay really had no affect on it. Ari accepts Dante for who he is and who he loves. They are friends no matter what. I also loved the parents in this book, which is something I don’t often say. I thought both Ari and Dante’s parents were some of the best. The relationships were realistic and touching. I also really enjoyed the dialogue of this book. It is snappy and relevant and reminded me of the dialogue on some of my favorite tv shows. This is a great story about acceptance, both of others and yourself. It is a love story, a story about families, a story about self-awareness and a story about growing up into who you are meant to be. 

12. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Going Over by Beth Kephart, read by Angie, on 07/11/2014

Ada and Stefan are young and in love. Unfortunately they are separated by the Berlin Wall. It is 1981 and there are still many years before the wall will fall. Ada, in the west, works at a daycare during the day and graffitis during the night. She lives with Omi (grandmother) and Mutti (mother) in a squatters flat close to the wall. She urges Stefan to make his escape when she sees him every 3 months. Stefan lives with his grandmother in the east. His mother escaped to the west and hasn’t been seen. His grandfather tried to escape and was killed. Stefan is cautious despite his love for Ada.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It is unique, which I enjoyed. I don’t believe I have ever read a teen book about Berlin during the time of the wall. I thought Ada really represented my image of a young German Punk with her cans of paint and bright hair. Stefan seemed to be her exact opposite but also somewhat of a stereotypical reserved German. I liked their love story even if I didn’t always buy its authenticity. I also liked the secondary storyline of the Turkish women and children brought into West Germany as second-class workers. I thought it helped flesh out Ada’s character and make her become more fully realized. Stefan felt a little flat to me because of the lack of more story on his part. I also liked/disliked the writing style. I liked the sparse prose but I thought it left holes in the story. I wanted more information on who these characters were, especially the secondary ones, and what their motivations were. I felt like the story lacked the details that would have made it great. 

08. July 2014 · 1 comment · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Poetry, Teen Books

Odette's Secrets by Maryann Macdonald, read by Angie, on 07/07/2014

Odette lives in Paris with her mother and father. They are non-practicing Jews and have a good life in Paris. Then the Nazis come into power and things begin to change. First her father joins the French Army and is taken prisoner by the Germans. Then the Nazis start rounding up the Jews of Paris. Odette’s mother is prepared however and Odette gets sent to the Vendee countryside with several other little girls. They are going to hide in plain sight not as Jews but as Christian girls escaping the violence of Paris. Odette must learn the Catholic prayers and the sign of the cross and never tell anyone she is Jewish. Odette considers this just one more secret she must keep. Her mother soon joins her in the country which makes things even more difficult. They spend the war safely ensconced in their country cottage, but suspicions still follow them. After the war they are able to return to Paris and their home, but life will never be the same. 

I really enjoy novels in verse and thought the format really worked for this book. Odette’s Secrets is based on the true story of Odette Meyer and how she and her family survived the war. Odette was able to blend in as a Christian girl and actually came to enjoy praying and different aspects of Christian life. It is amazing how adaptable people, especially children, can be. I am always fascinated by the stories of how people survived during WWII. These stories make me wonder if I would be as strong or as brave as those who fought against the Nazis and did what they must to survive.

08. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, read by Angie, on 07/07/2014

The KKK was set up after the Civil War by white Southerners who felt they needed to protect their way of life from the Northern Reconstructionists and the uppity Blacks. They used intimidation, fear, beatings and murder to try and get what they wanted, which was for blacks to go back to being subservient to whites. Bartoletti takes a hard look at how the KKK was started, what precipitated its creation, how they grew to include so many members and what those members did. She also details the reaction to the KKK by Southern Blacks, Northern Whites and the governments of both the North and the South. President Grant was successful in disbanding the KKK, but he was not successful in creating equality in the South. It is sad that the same practices of the KKK during Reconstruction existed for many up until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The KKK was truly a terrorist group and it is pretty scary that some people today don’t see them that way. 

08. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

The World Made New: Why the Age of Exploration Happened and How It Changed the World by Marc Aronson, John W. Glenn, read by Angie, on 07/07/2014

The Age of Exploration began with Columbus “discovering” America in 1492. After his trip many other explorers set out to discover the riches America had to offer. Their expeditions brought many things to Europe: the potato and tomato, spices, gold and silver and new ways of life. These explorers changed the world in both good and bad ways. They opened up trade routes and new lands for exploration, but the native peoples suffered greatly as their way of life came to an end. The explorers were generally not friendly to the natives. They saw them as savages to be tamed with riches to be taken. They brought death and disease and destruction to the natives. This book provides a good overview of why these explorations took place, what they found and the consequences of their discoveries. 

07. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell, read by Angie, on 07/06/2014

A baby is discovered floating in a cello case after a shipwreck. She is taken home by Charles and raised as his daughter Sophie. Sophie and Charles are not conventional people. They eat off of books because Sophie breaks plates. Sophie wears trousers even though girls are supposed to wear dresses. Children’s services doesn’t always approve of Charles’s methods, but they leave Charles and Sophie alone until she turns 12. Then they decide it isn’t appropriate for a young girl to live with a non-relative. So Charles and Sophie escape to Paris to find her mother who Sophie believes is still alive. In Paris they are thwarted by the police but not discouraged. Then Sophie meets Matteo who lives on the rooftops and introduces her to a whole new world in the sky. She enlists his help in finding her mother. 

I was completely charmed by this book. The language is beautiful and lyrical and reads almost like poetry in some places. Sophie and Charles are not conventional, but they are interesting and unique. I really loved the world Rundell created both in England and on the Paris rooftops. I think the only criticism I have of the book is that I wish the ending would have been a little more fleshed out. I wanted to know more of the whys and the what happens nexts. Other than that it was a completely enjoyable read.

07. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fantasy, Fiction, Teen Books

The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal, read by Angie, on 07/06/2014

Nalia has been brought up believing she is the future queen of Thordaval. After she turns 16 she is informed that she is not in fact the princess, but an imposter who replaced the princess because of a horrible prophecy. So Nalia, now Sinda, is unceremoniously sent to the country to live with an aunt she has never met. She has to leave everything she has known and loved behind to start a life she is not prepared for. Her aunt tries to teach her dyeing, but Sinda has no talent for it. She does find out that she has magic however. The spell that made her into the princess repressed her magical abilities. She heads back to the capital to learn how to control her magic. Sinda is unable to get into the wizard college because she is not a member of the nobility, but does find a witch willing to teach her. While in the capital Sinda uncovers a plot against the throne. It seems the princess prophecy might be more than it seems and the new princess might not be the true princess. Sinda has to figure out who is behind the plot and why before things go too far. 

I really enjoyed this story. I actually read it in one gulp for the most part. I like the fact that it is a stand alone novel and I don’t have to wait years to find out how the story plays out which is so very rare these days. I thought Sinda was fascinating. She is really thrust into situations that are completely different from what she is used to all without warning. She does fairly well dealing with them, but like anyone there are issues. She pushes away her best friend Kiernan and trusts new friends who don’t deserve her trust. But she is determined to solve the mystery and she is willing to go to any lengths to do it. I would definitely recommend this one.

07. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Dystopia, Fiction, Science Fiction

Archon by Lana Krumwiede, read by Angie, on 07/05/2014

Archon is the continuation of the Psi Chronicles that started in Freakling. Taemon has successfully gotten rid of psi in Deliverance and the community has fallen into chaos as people try to figure out how to live without psi and do things manually. Taemon learns that when he asked the Heart of the Earth to get rid of psi it left everyone except him. So not only did he destroy everything he kept power for himself. Taemon also discovers that his father has been taken over the mountain into the Republik. Taemon and Amma venture over the mountain and discover the Republik is building up an army of psi warriors to invade Deliverance. Taemon’s action hasten the invasion and he has to bring all the communities of Deliverance together to fight back the Republik.

For some reason this book took me forever to read. I got about half way through it and then put it away for several months. It wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t nearly as excited about it as I was the first book. I still like this world where people have mental abilities and thought it was interesting to see them figuring out how to live without them. I didn’t think it was ever fully explained how psi existed in the Republik when it was only supposed to be a part of Deliverance, but that is a minor issue which may be resolved in the next book.