Odysseus in the Serpent Maze

As I’ve said before–and if you’re actually following this blog, you should know this–I am a mythology nut. As in, you’re reading something written by a kid who takes LATIN, even though it’s practically a dying language (Sorry, Ms. K., it’s true!). But anyway, this is one of the best mythology-based books I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot). Odysseus in the Serpent Maze, a collaboration between Jane Yolen and Robert Harris, follows the adventures of young Odysseus and his best friend Mentor, and is one of those books I’ve read who-knows-how-many times. Odysseus is well known for being mischievous and getting into trouble a lot, but it still comes as a shock when he and Mentor are kidnapped by pirates, and meet Helen of Sparta and her clever cousin, Penelope. Eventually they find themselves on the island of Crete, home to the infamous Minotaur. However, the Minotaur is dead–the question is, what new terrible monster now dwells inside the maze? This book is full of action, danger, and just a bit of romance. It’s one of the reasons I got so obsessed with mythology when I was younger, and I think both boys and girls will enjoy it. You should definitely go take a look. (Oh, and there are other books, too! Just not about this particular hero.)

P.S. There was no image available at Powell’s Books for a link, so it’s here it is.

Divergent

Okay, I know that there’s been a lot of buzz about this book lately, but I just couldn’t resist putting in my two cents after I read it. At first, I have to admit I was worried. After hearing all the good stuff about Divergent (by Veronica Roth) the last thing I wanted was to be disappointed because I had my hopes up too high. (Besides, when you buy the book with your own money, you kinda want it to be worth it.) I shouldn’t have been worried. Really. I love this book! Not only are the plot and characters great, but the actual writing isn’t too shabby, either. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Ahem. Beatrice is part of the faction Abnegation, as is the rest of her family, in what used to be Chicago, Illinois. But she may not have to be Abnegation for long. In just a little while, all the sixteen-year-olds in the five factions will be tested, to find out what faction they are most compatible with. And the day after the testing, they will choose which faction they will officially become a part of. But Beatrice’s results are more than she bargained for. She’s Divergent–meaning she belongs in more than one faction. And that’s the just the start of it. After she chooses–donning a new life, new friends, and even a new name–things only get more suspicious. Could it be her once perfectly-safe life isn’t all that it seems? (Well, duh.) As I said before, this book is great. And I’m sorry if this sounds redundant because of all the reviews and stuff you’ve already heard, but as I also said before, I had to say my piece. So, if you haven’t done it already, you just have to go to the nearest library/bookstore/whatever and get this book!

The Future of Us

Okay, let me just start off with this: I love the idea of this book. It’s 1996, and the Internet is just getting its start. Not everyone has computers. Google doesn’t exist yet. Neither does Bing. But when two teenagers log onto America Online for the first time, they discover something shocking–themselves on Facebook, 15 years in the future! (Come on, you have to admit that’s kind of cool.) Meet Emma Nelson and Josh Templeton–once best friends, but who have barely interacted at all since the events of last November. Emma’s got a new computer, and Josh has gotten a free CD-ROM in the mail. Little did they know what they would find once they booted it up. As they grapple with coming to terms with who they end up marrying, or where they’re living, or whether they should even believe it at all, they begin to discover that even the slightest change in their present can alter their future. And the future is not something you take lightly. And while trying to figure out how destiny works, they’re also starting to wonder, more than ever, if their friendship will ever be the same again. This book is a collaboration between Carolyn Mackler and Jay Asher, and it’s a really solid read. Like, really solid. Okay, fine–I couldn’t put it down for most of the time I was reading it. As I said before, I love the originality and the potential of the idea, and the writing’s the icing on the cake. So I definitely recommend you go get it from the library! (Soon.)

The Wild Queen

Well, I suppose it’s high time for another post, isn’t it? And, luckily, I just finished a book that is definitely post-worthy. The Wild Queen, Carolyn Meyer‘s newest installment in her Young Royals series, details the life of Mary Stuart, famed Queen of Scots. Six days into her life, Mary Stuart is declared queen after the death of her father. Only several years later she’s packed up and shipped off to live with her betrothed, the dauphin of France, Francois, and his family, only to return to Scotland later in life after his death. The book follows Mary over the years, through three marriages, civil war, giving birth to a son, and a whole lot of danger, as well as an ongoing stalemate between her and Elizabeth Tudor considering a certain treaty(believe me, it’s more interesting than that last bit made it sound). And as said danger escalates, leading to Mary being accused for conspiring for the murder of Elizabeth, it leads to her inevitable end. This book is extremely well-written, and the plot keeps you sucked in to no end. What I love about these books is that they’re not history lessons–they make the main characters, whether they’re Cleopatra or Elizabeth Tudor, come to life and seem incredibly real. The Wild Queen is no exception. So I strongly suggest you go pick it up from the nearest library, bookstore, etc. Now.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect

This book is a great break for when you’ve just finished a humungous, confusing novel and your brain is going, “Aaaaahhh!” at the prospect of reading another. A Crooked Kind of Perfect, written by Linda Urban, is short and thoroughly enjoyable. You could even call it refreshing. The focus of the book is Zoe Elias, whose biggest dream is to become a champ piano player and perform at Carnegie Hall. All she needs is a gorgeous piano to get her started. So you can imagine her excitement when her father goes to buy her one. And what does he come back with? The Perfectone D-60. An organ. With “Luxuriously realistic walnut veneer!” says the brochure. Needless to say, Zoe is not exactly thrilled. Then she’s entered into the Perfectone Perform-O-Rama. It’s practice, practice, practice! And that’s not all Zoe has to worry about. Best friends, boys, and an ever-working mother also play parts in this book. This book is funny, honest, and Zoe has a unique voice that sucked me in right away. Like I said, this book is a good refresher after plowing through a big novel, but even if you’re not using it for that, it’s still a rewarding read. I suggest you check it out!

Angel on the Square

I humbly apologize for my laziness and taking-too-longness in posting again. No, seriously. Sorry! (I know some of you may be giving me dirty looks at this point, but I hope you’ll forgive me. . .eventually.) But let’s get down to business. This book, as you can see, is entitled Angel on the Square, by Gloria Whelan. I’ve previously read another one of this author’s books (Chu Ju’s House), so I figured, why not try another one? So I did. The story was every bit as good as I expected. The setting is Russia, in the 1910s, and the main character is Katya Ivanova. Katya lives the life many children in St. Petersburg can only imagine–her mother is an aristocrat, and they live in a large mansion, complete with servants, and always have enough to eat. Katya’s life only becomes more interesting and rich when her mother becomes lady-in-waiting to the Empress Alexandra, and she herself becomes the dear friend of the Empress’s daughters! However, it later becomes apparent that not all is well with the world. War hangs over Russian life like a shadow, and the people are becoming unhappy and thirsty for change. It seems that revolution isn’t very far away, and suddenly life becomes more uncertain than ever before. This book, though very sad, offers a portal into Russian history and how it affected people. Plus, it’s just a really good story, well written, too. If you like this book as much as I did, turn to the sequel, The Impossible Journey, and after that, the third and fourth books as well! This is a rewarding read for someone interested in history, and also for those who aren’t.

Granny Torrelli Makes Soup

This is such a great book. Really, I’m not sure how else to start this post. But since I certainly haven’t posted in a while, I decided I’d make it about something good. And this book, Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, written by Sharon Creech, is good. It’s about two twelve-year-old kids, Rosie and Bailey. Rosie and Bailey are about as close as you can get. Best best best best best friends. But one day, things suddenly change. Rosie doesn’t understand why things went the way they did. Luckily for her, though, there is a very special someone coming over that night to look after her while her parents are away–Granny Torrelli. And as Rosie and Granny Torrelli are making zuppa, soup, they start to talk. Just like they do when they’re making pasta. This book is a nice, short read that can pull a reader in and really make them care about the characters. The words are practically poetry, and I think that almost everyone will find something to like in this story. So why don’t you take a trip to the library?

P.S. This book, while it is on sale at Powell’s Books, did not have an image available, so you can just click on the book title for the link.

Flygirl

Flygirl, by Sherri L. Smith, tells a very unique story. Ida Mae Jones wants to fly. She wants to fly bad. But I guess that proves a little difficult when you’re a black girl living in Louisiana in the 1940s. Actually, it proves very difficult. Ida Mae doesn’t even have a pilot’s license. But she most definitely does not want to just live out her days cleaning houses, even if it is with her best friend, Jolene. So she can’t help but get ideas when her little brother shows her an article about the WASP program: Women Airforce Service Pilots. This is exactly the chance Ida Mae’s been waiting for, the chance to really fly, and to even help her brother, who is overseas fighting WWII. But there is one key obstacle–the WASP won’t accept an African American. Ida can get around that, but it means passing for white, using her light skin to her advantage. Flying is easy, but Ida Mae realizes that turning her back on her heritage and self isn’t.This book not only brings the reader into the character’s struggles, it also shows them the struggles of the WASP itself. Well-written and interesting, Flygirl is a great addition to the book world.

Part of Me

This book, Part of Me by Kimberly Willis Holt, was something new for me. It’s follows the trail of a family, starting with Rose, on to her son Merle Henry, and continues. Each part of the book is composed of one generation’s voice, tracing the years, from 1939 to 2004. Rose is a fourteen year old living in Texas, but when her father walks out one day, her family is uprooted and taken to live with her grandfather in Houma, Louisiana. This world of bayous and Cajun accents is brand new to Rose, but she may have found her place driving the town’s bookmobile. Years later, Rose has a son, Merle Henry, whose sole dream is to trap a mink…and hopefully learn how to dance in time for the Sweetheart Dance. Of course, he’d rather read Old Yeller then some dance book. Before you know it, Merle Henry has his own family, and his daughter Annabeth is struggling to deal with one of the most baffling things in the world–popularity, and how to get it. But every now and then she can settle down enough to read a fairy tale. However, Annabeth’s son Kyle would much rather listen to Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin than even think of picking up a book. So you can imagine his problem when he has to get a job at the library. All these people are real, interesting characters. The author’s writing is great, and kept me sucked in. There was just one problem: I found myself wanting to know what happened after the characters’ narratives switched, especially Rose’s. I want to know more about Rose’s grandfather, how the Sweetheart Dance went for Merle Henry, how Annabeth found her knight in shining armor, and if Kyle ever earned the respect of his father. I would definitely be pleased if the author wrote individual books for these characters, but this book is still great in its own right. You should give it a try.

A Christmas Carol

Yes, I know it has been a while since my last post. But I am back on Christmas Eve, with a holiday-themed book. Who hasn’t heard of A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens’s famed ghost story of Christmas? Who hasn’t heard of the grumpy Ebenezer Scrooge, whose every other word is “humbug”? How many of us have actually read the story? I never had, I realized, so I thought I’d give it a try. Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserly man, without a family, whose sole interest is making money. He believes that Christmas is a humbug, and no more cares for it than he does for being wished a merry one. Scrooge has no sympathy for the beggars who crowd the streets of London, nor even for his own clerk, Bob Cratchit. He has had no friend since his partner, Jacob Marley, died on Christmas Eve seven years past. But Scrooge doesn’t mind, which is just as well. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge has his usual day of conducting business, eating at a tavern, and going home to his lonely house: The one Jacob Marley formerly lived in. It is a normal day, correct? But the night brings something unexpected. A ghost, wrapped in chains, appears to Scrooge as he sits by the fireside. And there are three more specters to come. After a whirlwind night of memories, visions, and revelations, Ebenezer Scrooge will never be the same. Charles Dickens’s writing can certainly be a little confusing at first, even frustrating, but once you get the hang of it, the story is enjoyable. Warning: It may be a Christmas story, but that doesn’t mean it will not give you the chills. However, it will get you in the holiday spirit, and I wish you a happy one!