Everything you see is something we've read. No hearsay or rumors to be found! Be sure to check out our "We Recommend" list where we break books down for all types of readers. We love comments, questions, and recommendations, so don't be shy! We promise we won't bite (the internet is a strong preventative barrier).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Exciting News--We've Moved!

We officially have a new website! It's still a bit rough around the edges, so don't judge too harshly just yet, but it's up and running, and we're very excited to design our own site. Check it out!

All future content will be posted there, and most of our past content has already been transferred (we'll finish it up in the next few days). Keep checking in for new changes and updates.

To help us celebrate our move, we have a great guest post by author Mike Mullin (Ashfall) on his ideas behind the book and the science involved. Check it out here!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Yellowstone Erupts: The Apocalypse is Now

Ashfall by Mike Mullin
(Based on an ARC provided by the author.)

In this thrilling, debut novel of "cataclysmic natural disaster," Alex Halprin lives in modern day Cedar Falls, Idaho, playing video games and arguing with his little sister on a regular basis. One day when his family has left for the weekend to visit an uncle, the unthinkable happens: Yellowstone erupts in a volcanic supereruption, leaving thousands of miles under layers of ash and projectile rock with no modern form of communication and few resources for immediate survivors. Alex begins the harrowing journey to Warren, Illinois, where his family is--he hopes--safely harbored with other relatives.

Alex's journey is laborious and often heart wrenching as he cross-country skis through the ash. He makes his way through cities, towns, and open, desolated land, meeting friends and strangers alike and finds himself running from cutthroat murderers, looters, and others like him just trying to survive. At one stop, Alex passes out from injuries and ends up at a farm where strangers Darla and her mother nurse him back to health; a steady relationship begins to bond the two teenagers. When tragedy strikes again and forces them back on the road, Darla accompanies Alex on his journey to Illinois, and they continue to skirt danger, both environmental and man-made.

It's a realistic, post-apocalyptic thriller. By that, I mean that the thrills are quick and gripping, but they aren't on every page; Mullin doesn't cop out to the Hollywood-ready scripts that a lot of authors (James Patterson comes to mind) throw at young readers. Instead, Mullin has created a storyline full of highs and lows with mature downtime rooted in the everyday difficulties of physical and emotional survival. It's the mix of action, science, thrills, romance, and the nitty-gritty details that make this book so gripping and good.

While I found Ashfall a little slow going at first, Mullin seemed to quickly gain more confidence in his own voice as the plot got going, and after the first few chapters I found myself thinking less about the words he used and more about what was happening, a good sign in any plot-driven, post-apocalyptic story.
The beauty of Ashfall is that the protagonist matures gradually as time goes on. Alex is believable, if conveniently physically fit for a video gamer (he has umpteen belts in taekwando), and his horror, exhaustion, and even physical arousal (nothing too descriptive) all keep him from becoming a super-human survivor. In fact, for a good portion of the book Darla outdoes him: she knows her tools, can slaughter and butcher a rabbit with minimal waste, and is the female equivalent of a teenage MacGyver.

Fans of Michael Grant's Gone series will appreciate this rough, dismal world where kids survive almost by determination alone. The story is close enough to a potential reality to be chilling: as Grant himself said of Ashfall, "The scariest apocalypse is one that could really happen."

Planned as the start of a trilogy, Ashfall is sure to appeal to readers of The Hunger Games, Gone, Hatchet, and any other number of survival and post-apocalyptic stories. (Check out the first two chapters here.) This is one to keep on your to-read list once it hits shelves on October 11th--I definitely recommend it!

Age 14+ (some mature content)
Copyright October 2011
ISBN: 9781933718552
Image from http://www.mikemullinauthor.com/

Friday, May 6, 2011

Anne Frank's World Re-Visited

Annexed by Sharon Dogar
In Amsterdam in the middle of World War II, two Jewish families--the Franks and the Van Pels--hide away in an annex above an office, praying for survival and the downfall of the Nazis. In Annexed, Dogar has created her vision of what it was like in the annex with Anne Frank from Peter van Pels' point of view. To take a time and character so closely scrutinized by the world and so well documented--by the world renowned diary of Anne Frank--is a challenge, to say the least, but Dogar has done a good job at not over-sensationalizing the material. She also manages to stay true to what she believes might have gone through the mind of a teenage boy in a time of personal and world-wide crisis. Following Peter from the morning before seclusion to his death (potentially, according to records, in a concentration camp sick bay), readers see the hope and the despair, two sides of many moments he experienced as his memories are shared in the book.
Full of hate and fear, love, shame, sexual longing, wavering faith, and all the “why” questions one could ponder, Peter examines life both inside and outside the walls of the annex and tries to make sense of it all, all the while experiencing the morphing relationships inside the hideout as tensions flow between the families and genders. Why, Peter asks, must I hide instead of fight? Why do we have to be the chosen people? Why does being Jewish have to define everything about me? Will I ever experience life beyond this point?
Dogar’s writing is powerful and conveys life in the annex as it probably was: stifling, claustrophobic, lacking in privacy, and frustrating while at times also joyful, grateful, and full of the knowledge that beauty truly is in the small, unnoticed things. As Dogar examines the emotions Peter, the lone adolescent male, might have felt as he matured, readers also get a sense of the other characters through Peter’s descriptions of them. And unlike other narratives, Dogar follows Peter and imagines--with the aid of research--what he must have gone through after capture, both in Auschwitz and on the death march that followed in his final days.
I highly recommend this, whether you're a fan of literary fiction, historical fiction, coming-of-age stories, or just about any other type. It's not a light story, as the premise indicates, but it's worth the journey. This as Dogar's first historical fiction, and she worked hard to get the research right (though she admits in the back to altering minor timeline events for continuity's sake). The whole product is well done, emotional, and absolutely worth the read.


Age 13+ (some mature content)
Copyright October 2010
ISBN: 9780547501956
Available as an eBook
Image from www.goodreads.com

A fun twist on a classic tale...

Cinderella Smith by Stephanie Barden

Meet Josephine-Kathryn Smith, aka Cinderella Smith. She's nothing like the Cinderella from the classic fairy tale. No wicked stepsisters. No wicked stepmother. There's a prince...Charlie Prince, a next door neighbor who likes to tease her. The only thing she has in common with the fairy tale Cinderella is that she's always losing her shoes.

As a new school year starts, her best friend from last year is ignoring her, and she loses the most important shoe of the year...her tap shoe. With the fall dance recital coming up and the starring role of Pumpkin Blossom Fairy up in the air, Cinderella must find that shoe.

Since her former best friend, Rosemary, has moved on to "better" things, Cinderella befriends the new girl, Erin. Now, Erin has a problem that she thinks Cinderella can solve. Erin's about to get two stepsisters when her mother remarries, and Erin is worried that they might be wicked. However, Cinderella has no experience with stepsisters, wicked or otherwise, so Cinderella comes up with a unique and hilarious way to find out.

This is a great new series for fans of Ivy + Bean (Barrows), Clementine (Pennypacker), Just Grace (Harper), and Ramona (Cleary). Each of these series has unique, spunky, fun, intelligent, hilarious girls at their center. Cinderella Smith can join the club. Barden has created a character that is in high demand with my readers. With the unique fairy tale twist (which is a popular genre), she has crafted a story to be read aloud again and again. Each chapter of the book is the featured shoe of the moment. I never had a problem with losing shoes, I just wore them until they fell apart, much to my mum's dismay. She would always buy me new shoes, but I loved the old, holey, comfortable ones.

Stephanie Barden came into my children's department yesterday, which absolutely made my day. I was telling a co-worker about her book not 20 minutes before. I was disappointed that I wasn't able to make it to an event she had at another bookstore. Now, sometime this summer we'll have her for an event at our store! Definitely looking forward to that.

Be on the look out for more shoe-less adventures in Cinderella Smith and the More the Merrier coming out in 2012.


Ages 8+
Publisher: HarperCollins (April 26, 2011)
ISBN: 9780061964237
Available as an eBook.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Author Spotlight: Interview with Inara Scott

Give a warm welcome to Inara Scott, our first author on the blog! We interviewed Inara about her series The Delcroix Academy (Jenny reviewed book one, The Candidates, back in March). Here's what she had to say.
On your website your advice to writers is to keep writing and trying, no matter the rejections. How long did it take for someone to buy your book—was it a long journey?

Author Inara Scott (www.inarascott.com)
 You know, it’s hard to say. I started writing in 2005 and sold in 2008, three books and over a hundred   rejections later. Some may say that’s short, some may say that’s long! The hardest part of the journey was actually the time after the sale. It took almost 3 years after the sale of The Candidates for it to be released.
Where did the idea for Dancia’s power come from, and why do you think it fits her character so well?
To me, the real significance of Dancia’s power isn’t exactly what it is or how it works (which is very fun, and you’ll find fleshed out further in the second book in the series!), but the fact that it brings with it serious consequences. One of the main themes I try to explore in this series is that life is never black and white; even when Dancia tries to do good, she often ends up causing harm. The need to accept responsibility for our choices, no matter how tangled and complicated they may be, was really the jumping off point for the series. 
Any hints on the kinds of powers we might see develop in current/future characters? (Pretty please?)
Hmmm…let’s see…fire, animals, flight, sound. How about that? J
You say you “fear deep, intellectual books and love romance and fantasies.” As far as we can tell, you’ve managed to include some pretty interesting—and “deep”—questions in Dancia’s ponderings, so how do you distinguish the two?
Oh my, that’s a great question! I think what I’m most scared of is a book with lots of hidden meaning and symbolism that I’m suppose to “get” and don’t. (Perhaps what I really have is a literature insecurity complex – LOL! ) I like to read great stories with engaging characters, and love it when deep questions arise naturally out of those stories. I would like to think that Dancia’s experience raises important questions for readers – but I’m also totally comfortable if they just take away from it a fun story about a girl with superpowers.
What draws you into fantasies the most?
Another great question. I think I like fantasies for the same reason I love romance novels: they take me deep into my imagination and let me live out my dreams.
What did you like to read growing up and why? Anything you couldn’t stand?
I read mostly historical romances and fantasies, with a bit of science fiction mixed in for good measure. I refused (and still refuse) to read scary books (no horror for me!) and have never liked books with sad endings. By the way, this is part of the reason I fear those deep, intellectual books. They usually end badly.
I think I’m just too easily influenced by things I read – scary things REALLY freak me out, and sad things REALLY mess me up. I have a hard time separating real life from literature. I think I would be just as scared by reading a book about a serial killer as I would be by actually being chased by one. J 
Okay, just for fun: please finish the following scene in 250 words or less (unless you get really into it, in which case we won’t complain!).
"She could hear water dripping from the stalactites above as she worked her way deeper into the cavern. Looking over her shoulder, she caught a glimmer of light behind, and her breath quickened..."
…That was it, then. They’d found her.
 Game on.
She pressed ahead as quickly as she could, brushing aside beads of sweat as they formed on her brow. She wondered who they had sent after her. Was it Talon, black eyes cold and furious, trailing behind her? Or worse, was it Ranger? Did he remember what had happened the last time they’d met like this?
Perhaps, considering the consequences, it would be better if he did not…
A huge thank you to Ms. Scott for putting up with our pesky questions and giving us juicy teasers to keep us going until the next book! Be sure to check out The Candidates if you haven't already; the rest of us will be eagerly awaiting the next book in the series, The Watchers, expected to be released August 2, 2011.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Happy Birthday to Jenny!

Today is Jenny's birthday!! Someone on Facebook already had this idea, but I think mine's cuter! This is as close as I could get to getting you one of these...

Cheers to a great night of karaoke and dancing!!


Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Sweet Celebration of Life

Desser the Best Ever Cat by Maggie Smith

In this gentle story a little girl tells the story of her family cat Desser, the "best ever cat." He starts as a kitten before she is born and grows with her, experiencing her first steps, her first real bed, her first day at school. One day, when Desser is older and has slowed down a lot, he gets sick and passes away. The girl cries and, with her family, buries him under a tree. Her mother tells her that Desser will always be with her because he will always be in her heart. As time passes, the family adopts another kitten, Ginger, who is also pretty great. The little girl tells Ginger all about Desser, sharing the story of his life just as she has done for us as readers, and the happy, healthy cycle begins again.

Smith's narration is clear and her illustrations altogether fun, but the best part by far is her visual portrayal of Desser. Cat lovers everywhere will appreciate the bright, evocative pictures of Desser as he sprawls across the backs of chairs, hides in a box, and flattens his ears uncertainly when our narrator is brought home as a baby. I read this book with Ruby, and at every page I stopped to show her a new picture, saying, "My cat does that too!" Smith gets it, and she shares that understanding of the pet-owner relationship well.
My cat Socks, 17-years-old!

 Desser the Best Ever Cat is a good book to broach the subject of mortality with young kids, especially when pertaining to the loss of a pet. Though it touches a sad and emotional subject, Smith approaches it as a celebration of the life once lived, starting sweet and ending the same.


Age 4-8
Copyright April 2001
ISBN: 9780375810565
Image from www.bn.com

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

An Amazing Whirlwind of Emotions and History

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
(Review based on Advanced Reader Copy.)

You've got to respect a historical fiction novel for teens that has three pages of bibliography.

In this emotional whirlwind of a book, an American high school student--lost in despair over the death of her younger brother and the mental instability of her mother--finds herself through music and the history of the French revolution.

Andi is the equivalent of a musical prodigy, and when her brother dies, music is the only thing besides caring for her mother that keeps her going. (The anti-depressants help, but only just.) She's flunking out of her private school, and she gets an ultimatum: complete a well-orchestrated senior thesis or don't graduate. Andi's dad sweeps her off to Paris, hoping she can focus on graduation while he tests a 200-year-old heart for proof that it belonged to the dauphin, son of Marie-Antoinette. In the process, Andi discovers a hidden diary belonging to another 17-year-old girl, Alexandrine Paradis, the daughter of a puppeteer, who finds herself companion to the dauphin right before the start of the French revolution. Andi's depression continues to rise and fall, and she gets pulled into Alexandrine's story of pain, faith, and hope as Alex tries to survive the bloody massacres of her time and save the child prince. As Alex writes, "They are a truthful account of these bitter, bloody days." Andi finds herself absorbed in the past, so much so that one night she finds herself thrown into the horror of Alexandrine's world, unsure of what is dream and what is reality.

A story within a story could easily backfire or become confusing, but Donnelly pulls it off with a simultaneous grace and intensity that is impressive. Andi acts as a conduit between worlds, and her emotional responses to both are what make Revolution truly successful. Her depression is raw and tangible, not the never-ending list of adjectives some writers use to describe sadness. Donnelly makes both her character and her emotions--sorrow, hope, passion--available and accessible to readers, which is no easy task.

This is a great read for lovers of history, music, and modern-day dramas... and just about anyone else, for that matter. Highly recommended--Revolution captures the depths of depression and the heights of passion in a truly beautiful way, all the while exploring how history isn't always as distant as it may seem.


Age 14+ (some mature content)
Copyright October 2010
ISBN: 9780385737630
Available as an eBook
Image from www.goodreads.com

Monday, April 25, 2011

Something doesn't smell quite right...

Smells Like Dog by Suzanne Selfors

How could I not read a book called Smells Like Dog? This is the sad, surprising, heart-warming, and hilarious journey of 12-year-old Homer Winslow Pudding. Homer is a dreamer who usually has his head stuck in a book (sounds like me) or his mind on the many maps that may or may not be a treasure map. He gets along best with his treasure-hunting uncle, Drake Horatio Pudding, who fills his head with daring feats and dangerous quests. Homer's father, on the other hand, wants his head out of the clouds and on terra firma, ready to work on the family-owned goat farm.

When Homer gets the news that his beloved uncle has died, he is heartbroken. However, Uncle Drake has left Homer his most valuable possession, a gold coin and a basset hound that can't smell anything and has unusual talent (read the book to find out). Homer immediately dismisses the dog and focuses on the coin. It's here that the adventure really begins.

After accidentally burning down the local library, Homer and his older sister, Gwendolyn, decide to run away (both for different reasons) to The City.* On his journey to find out the meaning of the gold coin, he runs into friends and foes alike, but which is which? A treasure hunter trusts no one. With his unusual companion, Dog, they find themselves in one mishap after another.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! Homer is a lot like I was at that age; however, my mum always believes that I can do anything I put my mind too, unlike Homer's dad, who doesn't want him to reach too far or dream too big. His mother tries to overcompensate by mothering a little too much, his older sister has her own ambitions (and thinks he's weird), and his little brother Squeek wants to do what everyone else doing. Homer is still an outsider in his family, but he made a promise to his uncle to never give up on his dreams. Funny and unusual secondary characters abound that will have you laughing out loud. Treasure hunting, man-eating tortoises, villainous characters, a dog that will eat anything, and cloud-copters...what more could you ask for?

"Anyone who loves books the way Homer does, loves libraries, too. It doesn't matter if the library has fancy red leather chairs and gold-plated shelves that reach to a vaulted ceiling, of if the library has splintery wooden benches and shelves made of old milk crates. It's the scent that sets the book lover at ease. It's better than grandma's perfume, or freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, or even toast. It's a scent derived from paper, mildew, dust, and human endeavors. The oldest books smell best of all, ripened by time like expensive goat cheese." (pages 98-99)

Book Two, Smells Like Treasure will be out May 2011.

*The City is an ominous place where all kinds of bad things happen to good people, according to Homer's dad.


Ages 9-12
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (May 1, 2010)
ISBN: 9780316043984
Available as an eBook.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A "Rootin' Tootin' Good Time" for Girls!

Emily's Fortune by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

A word of warning: don't let the cover fool you--this book is really fun!

Newbery Award-winning author Naylor sets off on a tale in the untamed west where Emily, a recently orphaned girl who has inherited an unexpected fortune, attempts to escape her greedy, conniving Uncle Victor. Though timid and used to sitting quietly indoors all day, she grits her teeth and sets off in a coach (with her trusty pet turtle in hand), hoping to live with her distant but kind-hearted aunt. Along the way Emily meets Jackson, an orphan and a street urchin, and together they find themselves running for their lives and working together to befuddle Uncle Victor. In Emily’s adventures she learns how to climb tall trees, sleep outdoors, and disguise herself as a boy, all the while growing from meek to self-sufficient, and it’s a fun transition to witness.

Fun illustrations appear throughout the text, as do enlarged captions and Wild West “rootin’ tootin’” phrases (such as "blinkin' bloomers") that lead readers from one chapter to the next. Naylor keeps the action fun and her characters funny, elaborating on genteel ladies as they complain about bumpy wagon rides and overly ambitious child-services agents. With smart, quirky character names like “Miss Catchum” of the Catchum Child-Catching Services and Emily’s helpful neighbors—Mrs. Ready, Mrs. Aim, and Mrs. Fire—Naylor maintains the ride throughout, keeping it entertaining. With the southern dialogue and western “slang”, it would make for a great class read-aloud. It’s a book that shows just how strong and smart a little girl can become without being too girly—and really, anyone who learns to appreciate a good tree climbing while "hootin' and hollerin'" is a-okay by me! 

Like I said before, the cover is a bit murky and unfriendly, and while it does depict some of the scenes in the book, it doesn't do the book justice. Give it a chance, especially with some fun-loving, even quiet, girls and boys. Let the giggling and western twang begin!

Emily's Fortune is currently out in hardcover, and the paperback edition is planned for this November.


Age 8-12
Copyright June 2010
ISBN: 9780385736169
Available as an eBook
Image from www.perma-bound.com

Dear George Clooney...

Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom by Susin Nielsen

It's been two years since twelve-year-old Violet Gustafson's parents were divorced. Her father, a television director, met and later married the star of the show he worked on. They created a new family, one that didn't include Violet or her younger sister, Rosie. Now, their mom, a hair stylist, tries to make ends meet while going on dates with unsuitable (according to Violet) men.

The latest is Dudley Wiener. That's right, Dudley Wiener. His name goes hand in hand with his appearance, and it's up to Violet, Rosie, and her best friend Phoebe to find out if he's Mr. Right. Using sleuthing skills learned from Harriet the Spy, Violet is determined to prove that he's Mr. Wrong no matter what.

Because of an autographed photo of George Clooney, a hilarious journey of the heart ensues to get Violet's mom and George Clooney together. Violet is a character you can sympathize with and get frustrated with, but her actions reflect her hurt and the need to protect her family. Rosie provides enough comic relief without eclipsing Violet's struggle. Always aim for the stars (pun intended). George Clooney is someone's ideal man (mine is Bruce Willis...if I had to name just one), but in the end Violet has to learn that you have to take a leap of faith and trust someone. There will always be bumps in the road, but that's life. (I know, I sound like a Hallmark card.)


Ages 10+
Publisher: Tundra Books (August 10, 2010)
ISBN: 9780887769771
Available as an eBook.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Zanna Snow Solves Her First Case!

The Midnight Tunnel by Angie Frazier (Book 1 Suzanna Snow Mysteries)

I picked up this book because I'm always on the lookout for great mysteries for young readers, which (to me) are hard to find. While perusing other reviews of this book, I notice they make the obvious comparisons to Nancy Drew. The 11-year-old detective, in what I hope is the first of many books in this series, is better than Nancy Drew. I would actually compare this series to the Enola Holmes Mysteries by Nancy Springer. Nancy Drew is good reading, but her character has no "oomph."

This fantastic new series, featuring 11-year-old Suzanna "Zanna" Snow, is set at the turn of the 20th century in the coastal town of Loch Harbor, New Brunswick. She toils day in and day out at the Rosemount, an exclusive summer hotel managed by her parents. As much as she longs to be a detective like her famous Uncle Bruce Snow, she is being groomed as her parents' replacement someday. But serving tea and waiting on other people are not what Zanna sees for her future.

You can't help but like Zanna from the start. She has a strong sense of who she is and what she wants to be. Like a meticulous detective, she keeps a notebook handy to jot down anything of interest, from the goings and comings of the hotel guests to the rules a detective should live by.

When a young girl, a guest at the hotel, goes missing, Zanna becomes the only witness. No one will take her seriously though, because she is young. I know children can be imaginative, but why do adults seem to think that what children see and say can't be taken seriously? Most books I've read immediately dismiss them. Now of course, it's up to Zanna and her friends Lucy and Isaac to solve the mystery. When her Uncle Bruce is called in to help, Zanna is delighted. However, upon meeting her uncle, she finds her expectations of him were too high. Zanna's great deductive reasoning would give Sherlock Holmes a run for his money. Read the book to find out.

Angie Frazier has done a great job of creating a cast of characters and an atmosphere that can grow with the series. This is her first novel for young readers. Her previous book Everlasting is for young adults.


Ages 9-12
Publisher: Scholastic Press (March 1, 2011)
ISBN: 9780545208628
Not available as an eBook at this time.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Byron, Keats, and Shelly Re-imagined

So Shelly by Ty Roth

Loosely based on the lives of George Gordon, Lord Byron, John Keats, Mary Shelly, and Percy Shelly, this re-imagining is set in a small town in Ohio, with the main characters in high school. Narrated by Keats, who is both the observer and the minimal participant in the lives of Byron and Shelly, this novel is told in alternating chapters between the present and the past.

In the present, Byron and Keats reminisce about the life of Shelly as they fulfill her last wishes, a "romantic adventure" that is So Shelly. As they both navigate their own memories of Shelly and piece together the reasons for Shelly's tragic death, a tentative friendship is formed.

In the chapters about the past, we discover that both Byron and Shelly have very dysfunctional families. Byron grows into a pathological, egocentric, and sex-obsessed teen. Shelly (an amalgamation of Mary Shelly and her husband Percy) is more than Byron's best friend with no limitations. As they both dabble in combined and separate endeavors, their relationship never turns romantic (despite Shelly wanting otherwise). Keats observes their mutually destructive friendship from the sidelines.

Keats has his own set of problems. He's obsessed with death. As he narrates, he throws out statistics about death. His father and mother are dead, and his older brother Tom is also on his way to death's door. Keats himself will also die young, this he knows.

I picked this book up initially because of the cover, but once I started reading I was both shocked and awed by the contemporary lives of these great writers. Once you pick this book up, it will be hard to put it down. All three characters are flawed, but their flaws are what make them great. I've only read about Percy Shelly, but it's well worth reading about them all.

My favorite passage is the last in the book from Keats: "So, what I said at the beginning, I'll repeat at the end: learn to deal with the truth of dying, and you'll experience the awesomeness of living. Death and love are real. That's all I know on earth, and all I need to know."


Ages 15+ (mature content)
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (February 8, 2011)
ISBN: 9780385739580
Also available as an eBook.

Chasing Storms

Storm Runners by Roland Smith (Book 1 Storm Runners)

Chase Masters and his father are known as Storm Runners. They chase after extreme weather and help people prepare. However, while they are chasing storms, they are both running from their past. A tragic car accident took Chase's mother and younger sister two years before. Some time later, Chase's father was struck by lightning, and after being in a coma for two days, a new man was born.

Both are heading down to Florida to help prepare people for Hurricane Emily. Chase's father heads for where he thinks the hurricane will make landfall and leaves Chase with "family friends." There Chase meets Nicole Rossi, whose family owns and operates a circus. The Rossi family lives in Florida in the off season with their menagerie of animals.

Momma Rossi, Nicole's grandmother, predicts that the hurricane will actually make landfall where they live. Chase's instincts agree, but he does what he was taught by his father: Be prepared, be smart.

On Chase's first and only day at another school, Hurricane Emily makes landfall, and it's up to Chase, Nicole, and and new acquaintance Rashawn to survive the onslaught with danger all around in one of the deadliest hurricanes on record.

Roland Smith is one of the best writers for young readers, especially for boys. This story may be short, but it is full of energy. Smith has a way of writing that puts you smack dab in the middle of the story.

With the loss of his mother and sister, Chase and his father have held up remarkably well, maintaining their family of two. I get the sense that Chase longs for more. With the job that he and his father do, they are on the move lot, which means many different schools for Chase and no sense of permanence or a chance to make friends his own age.

When the hurricane hits, Chase uses the knowledge taught by his father to help him and his friends survive. This is a great series for fans of Hatchet. Regardless, it's Roland Smith...go out and pick this book up. Then when you're done, read the rest of his books. Peak is my absolute favorite...if you'd like a recommendation.

The Surge, Book Two in this series will be out in September 2011.


Ages 9-12
Publisher: Scholastic Press (March 1, 2011)
ISBN: 9780545081757
Not available as an eBook at this time.

Divorce Doesn't Mean Bad

Dad and Pop: An Ode to Fathers & Stepfathers by Kelly Bennett, illustrated by Paul Meisel

Okay, I'll admit it: I have a soft spot for this book. Not only does it resemble my family and the way I grew up, but it's also one of the few books I've found about divorce (indirect though it may be) that shows it doesn't have to be bad. Sometimes things don't work out the way we plan, but it can mean good things in the end, like a bigger family with more people to love.

It also helps that the main character has red hair. Yes, you got it out of me: I'm a carrot top.

Bennett writes from the perspective of a little girl who has two fathers via divorce, but unlike the usual "dealing with divorce" books, hers is positive and upbeat. It's a message for kids with stepparents about the importance of family, and it focuses on the greatness behind personal differences.

Meisel's colorful watercolor illustrations are a great match for Bennett's text, and they keep the comparisons between "Dad" and "Pop" fun and light. Each set of facing pages depicts the two fathers, one on each side, in a different activity with their daughter. One parent likes to ride his bike (a mountain bicycle); the other one does too (a motorcycle)!

Short sentences in large, bold-faced print are easy to read and see. Though there is no real plot to follow, the message is clear and very sweet. It's a great choice when talking about family and change, and while it won't work well in a large group, a one-on-one session might do the trick.

Recommended for young children with multiple sets of parents--it's okay to have more than the traditional two, and it's more than okay to love them all!

(As a personal aside, thanks to all of my wonderful, loving parents for being just the way they are. Okay, I'm done being mushy now, I promise.)

Age 4-7
Published April 2010
ISBN: 9780763633790
Image from www.booksofwonder.com

Fighting to Survive in a Flooded World

X Isle by Steve Augarde

In the not-so-distant future, climate change has taken over and the earth has been submerged, oceans covering the majority of land on Earth. The survivors are few and struggling, trying to live with limited resources and virtually no technology. There is one beacon of hope: Eck's Island. Jokingly renamed X Isle, it is a place where a select few--young boys only--are taken to work and, as payment, are properly fed and cared for by the divers and salvagers who hire them.

When Baz is selected to board the Eck brothers' boat, it seems like a dream come true. Along with Ray, another recruit, Baz excitedly awaits their arrival, only to realize that their paradise is tainted, not the safe haven they were promised. Clustered in disgusting conditions and forced to work on little food at exhaustive tasks, they take physical and mental abuse daily from their so-called saviors. Baz and Ray protect one another as best they can, and soon they bond with the other boys, trying to survive the brutal labor and the crazy sermons of "Preacher John," the Eck's father and manager of the salvage operation they run. As tempers rise and Preacher John's religious declarations of the apocalypse escalate, the boys realize they're in a dangerous game of survival, and they must plot a way to either escape or be the last ones standing.

X Isle is yet another future interpretation of our world in which the adults have made a mess of things and kids are the only ones who can figure it all out. If you enjoyed The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games, Augarde's close-to-home adventure will keep you up reading into the early hours.

Though a bit of a stretch at times, the story is compelling and detailed, a well described struggle for life as a small band of boys fights for food, self protection, and eventually their lives. With some incredible, emotionally tense scenes and crazy twists throughout, this post-apocalyptic thriller is a really good read. Strongly recommended for the dystopian, post-apocalyptic fan base—X Isle is a good bet when teen fans of the sub genre think they've run out of options.


Age 13+
Copyright July 2010
ISBN: 9780385751933
Available as an eBook
Image from www.goodreads.com

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Do I Have To Go To Bed Yet?

I’m Really Not Tired by Lori Sunshine; illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
This fun, curious picture book asks the very important question “what do our parents do when we go to sleep?” Certain that his parents have all kinds of fun once he’s tucked safely into bed, Samuel McKay decides to sneak out of bed with his accomplice Petey Bear, a panda stuffed animal, to catch the excitement once and for all. Images of Sam and Petey Bear sliding down the stairs and creeping down hallways are interspersed with Sam’s imagination: maybe they play video games and eat cake, have a circus act in the kitchen, or ride dinosaurs in the yard! When he finds his parents quietly doing the crossword and reading magazines, Sam is utterly disappointed, and decides he just must have missed the good stuff--he sneak out of bed earlier next time.
Sunshine’s narrations are done in rhyme and rhythm that are at times reminiscent of classic Dr. Seuss and The Night Before Christmas, and most of it works pretty well. In my opinion, though, the best part is the illustrations. Ebbeler's pastel pictures are fun and colorful, and he's hidden hilarious images and hints around every page. If you look closely, Sam’s bedroom at the beginning suggests imaginings to come as it’s littered with a toy rocket, a fish tank, jungle sheets, to name a few. Kids will enjoy scouring the pages for new details each reading, which (hopefully) will encourage them to read on their own. It would also work well as a classroom read-aloud--the lilting rhymes make it fun and easy for kids to follow.
It's a great bedtime story that's sure to trigger fun, fanciful dreams, and the grown-ups reading it will laugh out loud just as easily as their kids.


Age 4-8
Copyright November 2008
ISBN: 9780979974618
Image from www.flashlightpress.com

A Dragon-slaying Adventure

No Such Thing As Dragons by Philip Reeve

Brock, a self-proclaimed dragon slayer, is seeking an assistant, and when he stops at a local tavern, Ansel—who is mute, small, and undesired by his father—finds himself offered up for the job. Ansel takes his job seriously and believes in Brock's heroic stories, only to discover a crocodile skull hidden in Brock’s possessions and to hear him say, “There’s no such thing as dragons.” Still, Ansel honors his master and commits to the job.

As they make their way to the next village with plans to "slay the worm," they encounter superstitions and fears. Together they embark into Drachenberg Mountain with Brock's promises to return once the dragon is dead. Intending to stay a few nights and dress up the crocodile skull for show, plans are suddenly changed as they find a battered village girl, Else, and are then attacked by a living, breathing dragon!

In the end, the dragon is captured—mostly by Ansel, as it happens—and dragged back to the village before it makes an escape into the mountains once again. Through it all, Ansel finds his voice, both figuratively and literally, and he realizes he has the right to make decisions for himself and question the decisions of others.

Reeve's narrative is intriguing: as the plot progresses, Ansel faces the philosophical questions of the definition of bravery, the reasons for sacrifice, and the difference between “real life” and “stories” one’s told. Reeve has created an interesting story that flips characters back and forth between savior and villain—there is no “good verses evil” here. His descriptions are often striking, and he personifies the wild setting well.

Here's the hard part: while some kids will enjoy the extreme setting and struggle for survival as well as the mystery of the wilderness, others will get bored or lost in the narrative and wish Ansel would stop asking questions and do something. If your kids are fans of the Alex Rider series and want constant action--none of that fluffy thought-provoking stuff to slow it down--No Such Thing As Dragons is going to be a letdown. If, however, your kids embrace the humanity behind characters and enjoy fantastic landscapes with adventure thrown into the mix, it has the potential to be a hit. Overall it's an uplifting story of kinship, questioning values, sacrifice, bravery, and fantasy--well worth a try.


Age 8-12
Copyright October 2009
ISBN: 9781407115290
Image from www.tower.com

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Magic And Time Travel--A New Juvie Adventure Begins!

Side note: I just finished Beyonders: A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull, author of the great juvie series Fablehaven. I think Mull has outdone himself, and I cannot wait to read the next installment in this new series! Since Ruby reviewed it a few weeks back, I've added my thoughts to hers--check out this amazing, incredible new fantasy (just released last week)!

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens
(Review based on Advanced Reader Copy.)

There seems to be an abundance of strong middle-reader fantasy books lately! John Stephen's debut novel, The Emerald Atlas, has a great magical tingle to it. If you combined the Chronicles of Narnia, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter, Fablehaven, and the Lord of the Rings, to name a few, you would have a really good feel for the spunky fun, adventure, and depth of The Emerald Atlas.

Atlas features three "orphaned" siblings--Kate, Michael, and Emma--who were long ago sent away for safe keeping by parents they hardly remember, and they are still waiting, years later, for their parents' return. Kate and her siblings find themselves shuttled from orphanage to orphanage until they end up in a forgotten-looking mansion in a desolate-looking town with a strange old man as their caregiver. Upon searching the house, they find a magic book that resembles an album, and when Michael puts a picture in it, all three kids are magically transferred to the time and location of the photo!

Suddenly the town is full of anguished parents and kids, separated by a cruel but beautiful sorceress (with the requisite simpering sidekick) who oppresses the people in a search for the very book that brought the children back in time. As the adventure continues, we learn that this ancient, magical tome allows users to alter history and even rewrite the creation of the world as we know it.

Through separation, hardship, and the making of both friends and enemies, the three children find themselves caught up in an adventure 30 years before they were born, trying to prevent disaster, protect themselves, and figure out their own past along the way. They travel through thick forests, down steep cliffs laced with waterfalls, deep underground into ancient magical cities. I found it particularly refreshing to see the space-time continuum used in such a detailed way in a middle-reader book--not to say it hasn't been done before, but in The Emerald Atlas it's done with a specific attention to consequences of actions, changing of events, and responsibility. The deeper they get in the quest they're on, the more involved the siblings become with the magic they've unleashed, and it's up to each of the brother and sisters to learn about it and themselves to survive, all the while unlocking secrets to their past.

The first in the Books of Beginnings trilogy, Atlas is full of intriguing characters, mostly unique, though some generalized through cliche characteristics (the occasional dwarf, for example, though adamantly idolized by Michael, seems a bit familiar from other fantasy tales). Overall the children's adventures make an exhilarating story full of epic battles and snarky, humorous bickering among siblings. The blurb on my galley copy of the book said I would laugh and cry; I did, which tells me that I was emotionally invested in the characters Stephens introduced, a laudable feat. Smart, funny, and full of adventure--it's hard to go wrong with that combination!

The Emerald Atlas hits shelves on April 5th.


Age 8-12
Copyright April 2011
ISBN: 9780375868702
Available as an eBook (at publication)
Image from www.goodreads.com

Monday, March 21, 2011

"Perfect Society" Meets Punk-Rock Action and Thrills

Divergent by Veronica Roth
(Review based on Advanced Reader Copy of book.)

If I could tell you (the adoring public) to read a book and know--absolutely know--that you would pick it up and actually read it, this post would read "Divergent by Veronica Roth comes out in May. Read it. The end."

Sadly, my every whim does not typically get carried out by the rest of the world, so here are some plot points and other fun facts.

The world has changed into one none of us would recognize. In order to avoid wars and the negative aspects of humanity that go along with them, a dystopian American society has broken up into five distinct factions, each one a representative of a virtue that some people think can keep conflict at bay. In Candor, members strive to only tell the truth, hurtful or uncomfortable as it might be. Dauntless is for the brave, the protectors. Amity lifestyle is that of peace, no matter how it is obtained, while Erudites value knowledge above all else. And, lastly, there is Abnegation, dictating a plain, selfless lifestyle, others first at all times.

Having grown up in Abnegation, Beatrice has always lived a quiet, subservient life, though not a bad one. On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, she and her brother enter a simulation, rather like a career test, to tell them in which faction they most belong. Beatrice, though, is Divergent--for her there is no answer, and for her own protection, she can tell no one. Surprising even herself at the choosing ceremony, she walks away from her family and all she knows to join the dangerous, studded and tattooed Dauntless group, the daredevils and action-seekers of her world.

What follows is a dangerous, passionate ride through which our protagonist learns strength, freedom of spirit, and independence as she works to prove herself in a faction that might never accept her for her prior lifestyle. These punk-rocker types jump off of buildings, hurl knives at one another, and face their darkest fears in realistic simulations in order to grow stronger, better, and fearless, and it is a grueling process for everyone, including the reader. Some fellow Dauntless initiates become friends while others become feared opponents, and even their instructor, Four, makes Beatrice's new life confusing as she finds herself both repelled and drawn to his rock-steady attitude and frustrating ways.

Throughout her journey, Beatrice must put up with verbal abuse about her home faction and a steady stream of published insults from one faction to another, and tensions rise throughout the city. Is another war coming, or will everything settle down? What defines loyalty, bravery, and equality? What role will Beatrice play in her new Dauntless family, and is it worth everything she has lost and left behind?

This action-packed, thrilling book is full of interesting characters and intense plot turns. While Beatrice occasionally fumbles and works to deal with her own insecurities, she is a strong female protagonist, working hard to prove her worth, not just to others but also to herself. Occasional cliches pop up--I have yet to read a book without at least one or two--but Roth's writing is such that as a reader, I don't actually care. It's just so good!

Divergent is awesome. Really. If you're a fan of the Hunger Games/Post-apocalyptic/Perfect-society/Science-fiction world, you will enjoy it.

Author Veronica Roth is a 22-year old graduate of Northwestern University, and Divergent is her debut novel, the first in a trilogy. It has already been optioned for a movie (the film rights went to Summit Entertainment), and I expect the entire enterprise to be a runaway hit (and rightly so). Publication of Divergent is expected May 3, 2011.


Age 14+
Copyright May 2011
ISBN: 9780062024022
Available as an eBook (at publication)
Image from www.harpercollins.com

Friday, March 18, 2011

Boys Will Be Boys

Masters of Disaster by Gary Paulsen

This book is a riot!

As Henry Mosely states pompously to his two friends Riley and Reed, "We may be the most boring twelve-year-olds on the planet." Whether or not that's true, the rambunctious trio agrees that something must be done so that they may become "Men of Action and Daring" in order to better "Impress Girls" and "Alter the Course of History."

The first course of action, obviously, is to tie their friend Reed to a bicycle and have him attempt to ride down a neighbor's roof, somersault in mid air, and bounce off of the swimming pool diving board unharmed, all in the name of creating a new world record. (Kids: do not try this at home!) While Reed is amazingly uninjured by the stunt, he does end up deep in a dumpster and smelling pretty gross. (It turns out this is a theme.)

One crazy stunt follows the next as Henry, the architect and the logistics planner; Riley, the meticulous observer-and-reporter of all attempted manly exploits; and Reed, the hapless guinea pig, try their hands at bigger and better things, all followed by Manly pronouncements on Adventure and Fame (from their directing supervisor Henry, of course). Paulsen breaks the chapters down into individual adventures, three of which are based on previously published short stories for Boy's Life magazine. There is an attempt at outdoor survival with only school supplies at hand (and an escaped circus animal), solving a local hundred-year murder mystery (in a haunted house), and being rodeo cowboys at a family ranch (involving a great deal of smelly manure), to name a few.

Masters of Disaster is a great boys-will-be-boys adventure full of slimy, smelly, ridiculous fun that even girls--as they shake their heads in disbelief at the antics of adolescent boys--will enjoy. In fact, I challenge any reader, kids and adults alike, to not laugh out loud multiple times while reading this book.

Masters of Disaster is one of my new middle-reader favorites. Try it out with just about any age group and wait for the giggles and guffaws to begin!

Paperback copies will be available August 9, 2011.


Age 8-12
Copyright August 2010
ISBN: 9780385739979
Available as an eBook
Image from www.randomhouse.com

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Parasitic Vampires

Peeps by Scott Westerfeld

... and no, these vampires don't sparkle in sunlight.

Cal is a 19-year-old Texan vampire living in New York City. Okay, so technically he's a carrier for the parasite that makes people into full-fledged vampires, so as far as being infected, he's sane and in control. Cal works for the Night Guard, an organization deep underground that tracks down Parasite Positives or "Peeps" for short (the preferred term for vamps) and medicates them so that they are no longer a threat to society.

Signs you may be infected? See in the dark: check. Start craving extra-rare meat: check. Shun the things you once loved: check. Of course, the eventual cannibalism and lack of conscious communication are pretty good giveaways too. Oh yeah, and the flock of rats, also carriers, that make up your brood. Pretty sexy lifestyle, right?

Cal is following a trail of his progenitor and of those individuals he accidentally turned (the parasite is transferred through saliva, blood, and sex-ed related bodily fluids). Once he tracks down his ex-girlfriends and some tenants who mysteriously disappeared from the same floor in a swanky apartment building, he starts to notice some anomalies: some of these Peeps talk, and some even seem to recognize him, which shouldn't really be possible. Throw in a red-eyed, gloating cat that commands a group of thousands of rats in a subterranean complex and the unmistakable smell of ultimate evil. Then add the fact that only one out of one hundred people are supposed to be "immune" like Cal is, but somehow he finds four in the same contamination group, and Cal starts questioning everything he's ever been told.

Oh, plus there's the enforced-celibacy thing: how is he supposed to deal with Lace, the too-smart and too -interested human who won't let him off the hook? It is, to say the least, kind of distracting.

Part supernatural, part action/adventure, part medical thriller, and part dopey-kid-trying-to-figure-things-out, Peeps is a fun, smart, and compelling read. Westerfeld weaves evolutionary theory throughout the action. Every other chapter addresses the existence of a real-life parasite--it's life cycle, evolutionary strategy, world impact--in a snarky way that makes it both gross and interesting. In addition, Westerfeld includes recommended additional reading (non-fiction!) and a helpful list in the back on how to avoid parasites; here's my favorite:
"If your burger oozes red,
Send it back; them worms ain't dead."
Westerfeld's fun and action-filled style keeps the plot rolling, and twists and turns along the way are smooth and effective. If you're looking for a supernatural/vampire book that doesn't include an over-stressed love triangle, this is definitely a keeper. I really enjoyed it. (Kirkus Reviews agreed with me and gave it a starred review... very wise of them.) The sequel, The Last Days, was published September 2006.


Age 14+ (some mature content, mostly glossed over)
Copyright September 2005
ISBN: 9781595140838
Available as an eBook
Image from www.scottwesterfeld.com

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Power to Kill: Joint Review

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Ruby's take: Katsa was only eight years old when she killed for the first time. She is one of the "Graced," a person who is distinguished by their eyes, which are different colors. She has the Grace of fighting and is used by her uncle, King Randa, to be his "lady killer," to carry out torture and killings to satisfy any wrongs (right or otherwise) done to him.

In order to bring some good from her Grace, Katsa and her friends form the "Council" to help people throughout the seven kingdoms who have been unjustly punished, imprisoned, or abused. Through this secret council, Katsa rescues an elderly man who turns out to be a prince from a neighboring kingdom. His grandson, Prince Po, comes looking for him in the kingdom of Middluns.

Po is also Graced with superior fighting skills and is a welcome fighting partner for Katsa. The two form a close friendship...which turns into more. Both are pulled into a plot that starts with the kidnapping of Po's grandfather and turns into something far more dangerous. Po and Katsa have to rely on each other and their Graces to survive.

This is one of the best books I've read this year. I had put off reading it, but when I found out that a third book (Book 2 is Fire, and the third is tentatively titled Bitterblue) will be coming out later this year, I had to hurry up and read it. Cashore's writing is fluid, descriptive, and utterly delightful. She really knows how to bring the story to life. All the characters are relatable, but the focus of the story is Katsa, and what a woman! Being graced with the ability to fight while controlling her anger is one of the many challenges she faces, but she does so with great courage and strength. Prince Po is definitely a great match for her, as he respects her abilities and who she is. Best line in the whole book: "If there's anyone I wish to stun at dinner, I'll hit him in the face." All in all, a great first novel.


Jenny's take: My turn! I read Graceling about a year ago and loved it. I'll leave the summary bits out for the most part (since Ruby covered it above), but I will say that a vital part of Katsa's struggle is internal as she comes to terms with not only her grace and how to handle herself but also her response to those around her (including those with other graces). Her physical journey turns into an emotional one as she starts, for the first time, to allow others into her heart and mind. And the best part? She kicks butt the whole time. Think of a female gladiator/Robin Hood/progressive princess/avenger/assassin, and you've got a pretty good vision of Katsa.

Cashore has found a way to combine about a billion genres into one fantastic book: action, fantasy, survival, epic journey, romance, and mystery, to name a few. To cap it all off, she did an amazing and fluid job; her writing style grabbed my attention from the start and kept me captivated all the way through. Fans of The Hunger Games trilogy will enjoy the independent fighter Cashore has created, along with the in-depth and beautiful fantasy world that completes the package.

As a follow-up, read Fire, also by Cashore. It's a prequel of sorts, though there is only one overlap character and the story takes place in a different part of the world with monsters and people of an entirely different nature. It makes for another great read!


Ages 13+
Publisher: Graphia (September 2009)
ISBN: 9780547258300
Also available as an eBook.
Image from www.bn.com

Real-life Drama with a Kick

The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones

I picked this book while randomly scrounging the teen shelves at the local library, and I'm really glad I did.

In this emotional, whirlwind drama, Mimi is a spunky film student at NYU who has an affair with a married professor. When she breaks it off, he takes a turn for obsession and Mimi runs far, far away to her father's "house on the snye," a small, unoccupied cottage in Canada. Her plan: work on a new screen play, ignore all calls from her ex, and get some quality alone time. When she arrives, however, she discovers that she is not alone--already living there is Jay, a music graduate student who just happens to be a half brother Mimi never knew she had, another product of her run-around artist father. Despite the emotional tangle, Mimi decides to stay, and she and Jay build a close bond.

All is not well, though, as Jay has been dealing with harassment at the Snye--break-ins, a snake skin on his pillow, a dead bird placed at his doorstep, new inclusions in his music recordings. Enter player three in this dramatic triangle: Cramer, a local, poor, early-twenties guy working overtime to take care of his manic-depressive mother, all the while trying to connect silently with the guy he knows (privately) to be his half-brother, Jay.

Wynne-Jones weaves together the lives of three young people who were born into different worlds sharing the same blood. Wynne-Jones entangles love, hate, fear, lust, affection, and romantic confusion as Mimi, Jay, and Cramer meet each other first as strangers and friends and then as family. Each chapter alternates in perspective, and while this could be confusing, it instead adds to the reader's understanding of each person in turn.

The Uninvited is all set against the beautiful and whimsical background of "the Snye" where Mimi's father started the journey for all of them, finally culminating in tragedy and then rebirth. Sometimes dark, sometimes flirtatious, the characters are thrown into a strange family drama, but this is no soap opera. It's a suspenseful and emotional story with some creepy overtones thrown into the mix. A solid emotional drama that embraces forgiveness, understanding, personal flaws, and overcoming isolation.


Age 14+ (mature content: sexual allusions/curse words/violence)
Copyright May 2009
ISBN: 9780763639842
Available as an eBook
Image from www.tower.com

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ancient Greece from a Porcine Perspective

The Pig Scrolls by Paul Shipton
*Great for fans of Percy Jackson and mythology!*

Here's the thing: Gryllus is a pig. Literally. You see, he was a crew mate for Odysseus on the way back from the Trojan war, and when they hit Circe's island... well, you know the story. The thing is, when all the other guys got returned to human form, Gryllus thought, Gee, snuffling around for food all day? Sleeping? Not working? Now this is the life for me!

Until, that is, the day he was captured by some snot-nosed guys who decided to make some money off of a talking pig. Along comes some hilarious pig-hosted dinner theater, a pimply teenage Homer, and an assistant prophetess from Apollo's temple, Sibyl, who claims that Gryllus is destined to save the world (including those pesky gods and goddesses). Off he goes--kicking and screaming and proclaiming he really isn't that interested in hero duties--on a riotous journey through ancient times with a great cast of characters, some familiar and some a little more unique.

Through Gryllus' narration--cheeky, self-important, and more than a little exaggerated--Shipton keeps the laughter and action going along the whole adventure. Awesome, snarky lines will have kids and adults alike rolling on the floor, such as "puzzlement crossed the big lad's face, like a cloud across the moon on a night when the moon is looking especially puzzled" and "[he] wasn't the brightest--clearly several Spartans short of the full three hundred."

Though history isn't told in complete accuracy (we meet the creator of sliced bread and the splitting of the atom, and the historical figures are mish-mashed as needed, despite the era), it's smart, sarcastic, funny... and, well, really smart, sarcastic, and funny. This is one of those books that somehow got published under the radar and has stayed there ever since, despite its brilliance. Kids who flew through Percy Jackson's epic adventures, along with any other mythological reads, will delight in Gryllus' story and in the way he tells it. Paul Shipton has created a fun read for kids of all ages, grown-ups included. Highly recommended!
Follow Gryllus on additional adventures in his second book, The Pig Who Saved the World.


Age 10-14
Copyright August 2007
ISBN: 9780763633028
Image from www.candlewick.com