Blog Tour, Guest Post, & Review: When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens

Thank you, Sourcebooks, for inviting me to part of the blog tour celebrating the release of When Audrey Met Alice!

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WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE
By Rebecca Behrens
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
February 2014
Ages 9 -12

First daughters just want to have fun.

Thirteen-year-old First Daughter Audrey Rhodes is convinced that living in the White House is like being permanently grounded. While her parents are off saving the world, Audrey Rhodes spends most of her time pining for friends back home, sulking about security restrictions, and suppressing the crush she’s developing on Quint, her only DC friend. After the Secret Service cancels the party she planned, Audrey is ready to give up and become a White House hermit.  What good is having your own bowling alley if you don’t have anyone to play with?

Audrey is ready to give up and spend the next four years totally friendless—until she discovers Alice Roosevelt’s hidden diary beneath the floorboards and starts asking herself…What Would Alice Do? But not everyone is on board with Audrey’s attempts to be more like Alice—especially not her mother’s super-stern Chief of Staff. Will meeting Alice bring Audrey happiness—like the freedom to attend the school trip and possibly a First Boyfriend—or a host of new problems?

The former First Daughter’s outrageous antics give Audrey a ton of ideas for having fun…and get her into more trouble than she can handle. A fun, smart middle grade debut that brings a fascinating historical character to vibrant life and showcases relatable tween issues like fitting in, first crushes, and finding your own way, the White House hijinks of these First Daughters is a story readers won’t want to miss!

I’m thrilled to be participating in the blog tour for this terrific new book aimed at middle grade readers! Author Rebecca Behrens was kind enough to share her thoughts on a question I posed:

What would Alice find most confusing about the lives of girls in the 21st century?

Here’s Rebecca’s response:

Photo from Wikipedia: Roosevelt family in 1903 with Quentin on the left, TR, Ted, Jr., “Archie”, Alice, Kermit, Edith, and Ethel.

It’s only been a little over a century since Alice Roosevelt moved into the White House and became perhaps the most famous girl of the turn of the century. But how times have changed! What would Alice find most confusing about the lives of girls in the 21st century?

Alice lived at a time when girls weren’t allowed to go out with dates, and they had to have chaperones even at dances. According to Alice, “There were always watchful eyes to check on one. Woe betide the girl who emerged from the conservatory at a dance with her hair slightly disheveled. As one’s hair tended to fall down at the best of times it was frightfully difficult trying to keep up appearances.” Alice would be surprised by the dating girls do today—but I think she’d consider it a great thing. From an early age, Alice was fixated on finding a husband, because that was her ticket out of her parents’ home and into the world. If she watched a show like Girls, I think she’d be amazed (and occasionally shocked) at the romantic lives of young women. But she would love how young women can live independently, and how much agency they have in their romantic lives.

Athletics for young women weren’t common in Alice’s youth. She had fun roughhousing with her siblings, swimming, and she reportedly did some yoga—but girls didn’t play on soccer teams or run track. I think Alice would be shocked by all of the athletic opportunities for girls today. Considering what a vivacious person she was—and competitive—Alice would want to start competing, too.

Alice roosevelt color 3.jpg

Photo from Wikipedia: Alice Lee Roosevelt, hand-tinted photograph taken approximately 1903

Considering how strict and modest social standards for clothing were at the turn of the century, Alice would probably find some recent fashion trends bizarre. “Buttoned-up” was the style, literally—Alice wasn’t allowed to visit a friend’s home anymore after that girl emerged from a car with a couple buttons undone! Jeggings and flip flops would seem very revealing and casual to Alice. Clothes in Alice’s time were meant to be lasting and beautiful. Alice wouldn’t know what to think about ironic fashion choices, like trucker hats or grandpa sweaters—anything that wasn’t meant to last and impress would seem like a waste of money. But I think Alice would always understand when someone uses clothing to make a statement, like Miley Cyrus or Lady Gaga. After all, Alice herself was an early fashion icon—the most popular dress color when she lived in the White House was “Alice Blue,” after the shade of her eyes—and she loved the attention that brought.

Alice once said of her beloved Auntie Bye that if Bye had been a man, she would have been president, not her brother Theodore. At the turn of the century, there were very limited opportunities for women in politics and government—women couldn’t even vote yet! I think Alice would be surprised and thrilled about the number of female lawmakers today.

Finally, when Alice was a teenager, part of her fame came from her sharp wit and her willingness to be outspoken. Most of her peers were seen and not heard. I think Alice would find the many ways that girls can make their voices heard today—online and off—a little confusing, and a lot refreshing.

My thoughts:

When Audrey Met Alice is such a delight! The author does a wonderful job of weaving together a modern girl’s life and the diary of Alice Roosevelt, making both pieces of the story equally engaging and charming. Audrey is a bright, friendly 8th-grader who loves her parents, but she’s isolated from peers and even from her mom and dad once they move into “1600”. Hurray for progress — it’s Audrey’s mom who is President, and her dad — in addition to “First Gent” responsibilities — is a scientist whose research is intense and time-consuming. It’s hard to find time to just chill as a family when you’re busy running the country and trying to cure cancer — but that means that Audrey is left to wander the halls and miss her old life. Sure, the kids at her new school seem friendly at first — but do they like her for herself, or do they just want the glamor of hanging out with the First Daughter?

When Audrey stumbles across a hidden diary belonging to Teddy Roosevelt’s outspoken daughter Alice, Audrey finds inspiration both for improving her own life — and for getting into even further mischief. Alice wants to help her father and be a part of his world, but she also craves adventure and excitement, and she’s not one to listen just because she’s told to behave a certain way. As Audrey reads in Alice’s diary:

… my father simply said, “I can either run the country or I can control Alice, but I can’t possibly do both.”

Audrey’s scrapes may seem tame in comparison to some of Alice’s more out-there escapades (such as wearing a green garter snake around her neck at state dinners or being photographed betting on horses at a time when girls did not do such things), but then again, Alice didn’t have non-stop Secret Service protection, sneaky paparazzi, and ubiquitous social media scrutiny to contend with.

Alice preaches the mantra of “To Thine Own Self Be True”, and proclaims that she is someone who wants to “eat up the world”. As the book progresses, Audrey starts to think in terms of WWAD? — What Would Alice Do? — and becomes determined to find a way to be a good daughter and at the same time make a difference and be true to herself.

My review in short? I loved this book! Audrey is an easy-to-relate-to main character. She has the same hopes, fears, and worries as a typical girl her age — but as the President’s daughter, she has to deal with middle-school drama with Secret Service agents at her side and state protocol officials looking over her shoulder. Audrey narrates with humor and self-awareness; she’s not faultless, and she knows when she messes up — but she means well, and it’s fun to see her apply her WWAD philosophy in ways that are surprising, funny, and with decidedly unpredictable outcomes.

I highly recommend When Audrey Met Alice. I think this would be a terrific read for middle school and young high school students. It’s well-written and a lot of fun — and might even inspire a girl or two to think more about the power of girls to change the world!

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For more information, visit the Sourcebooks page for When Audrey Met Alice, where you’ll find additional resources about the real Alice Roosevelt, including downloadable material for kids and for educators,

About the Author:

Rebecca Behrens grew up in Wisconsin, studied in Chicago, and now lives with her husband in New York City, where she works as a production editor for children’s books. She loves writing and reading about girls full of moxie and places full of history. When Audrey Met Alice is her first book. Visit her online at www.rebeccabehrens.com.

Book Review: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

Book Review: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

In this magical story for young independent readers, Ophelia and her sister Alice have accompanied their father to a strange, wintry city where he’s been hired last-minute to curate a sword exhibition at a museum. The girls’ mother has died just months before, and it’s clear that the girls and their father have all been somewhat lost since then.

When Ophelia wanders off to explore the museum, she finds a boy locked in a hidden room, who tells her a tale of a magical mission involving a lost sword, the Winter Queen, herald trees, and a protectorate of wizards. Ophelia is a scientific and logical girl, and can’t bring herself to believe the boy’s story. But her innate compassion, bolstered by her imaginings of her mother’s voice in her ear, bring her to dedicate herself to helping the boy.

Ophelia isn’t a typical heroine. She wears glasses that are always smudgy, and has to stop for quick puffs from her asthma inhaler whenever things get too exciting. Still, she has a big heart and avid curiosity, and so she keeps pushing herself to explore, to collect the clues hidden throughout the museum, and to find a way around the beautiful but menacing museum director.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a fantasy adventure set in the modern world, with magic embedded in a city full of people going about their business and not prone toward belief in evil queens or sinister spells. There are some wonderful touches: a portrait gallery of glum-looking girls sets an ominous tone, galleries of everything you could imagine which seem to change every time Ophelia passes by, museum guards who sit and knit all day until falling asleep, and an older sister who gives up her jeans and t-shirts for a mysterious beauty treatment.

I’m not sure that the climax and resolution of the book necessarily make sense, but it doesn’t really matter. Ophelia is a lovely main character, showing unexpected strength as she pushes herself beyond her normal limits. As Ophelia and her family finally face the danger in the museum, they also finally come to terms with the loss that they’ve suffered and take the first tentative steps toward healing and finding a way forward without their mother.

There are some wonderful magical scenes, as well as moments of danger and excitement. This book should please middle grade readers who like action mixed with fantasy. The reading level seems appropriate for older elementary school grades, easily accessible for children confident in their independent reading abilities.

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The details:

Title: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy
Author: Karen Foxlee
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date: January 28, 2014
Length: 240 pages
Genre: Children’s/middle grade fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Knopf via NetGalley

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen: A book & a movie with the kiddo

Book Review: Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Hoot

Perhaps you’re familiar with Carl Hiaasen’s smart-ass, Florida-centric books for grown-ups — all 22 of them! — that include bestsellers such as Strip Tease, Nature Girl, Star Island, and Skinny Dip. But the way this author found his way into my heart was through his books for kids, now totaling four — and here’s hoping there are many more to come!

Hoot was Carl Hiaasen’s first book for kids, aimed at the middle school crowd and featuring some fun, fearless, and memorable characters with just enough gross-outs and goof-ball mischief to appeal to 10 to 13-year-olds. Hoot certainly appealed to my 11-year-old, who isn’t the easiest kid to please when it comes to books. (Video games are a different matter, but I digress.)

In his younger days — oh, say at age 10 — my kiddo would help me out on my blog from time to time with “Q&A with the Kiddo” posts, where I’d write about books that we’d read together, ask him questions, and then share some thoughts from each of us. Alas, now that he’s reached the ripe old age of 11, he’s no longer willing to indulge me. Luckily, though, he still enjoys a good book, and has not yet decided that he’s too old for a read-aloud at bed time. So for as long as he’ll let me, I continue reading him a chapter or two once he’s tucked in (knowing that our days of reading together are probably numbered, although I’ve told him more than once than I’ll come to college with him if he wants).

Hoot is our most recent reading adventure, and it was a big success. We’d thoroughly enjoyed the author’s most recent kids’ book, Chomp, last year (my review is here), and reading Hoot was actually the kiddo’s idea — he’d seen part of the movie at his after school program recently, and wanted to know the rest of the story.

hoot owlSo what’s it about? In a nutshell: Roy Eberhardt moves to Florida from Montana when his dad gets reassigned for work, and boy, is Roy unhappy about being the new kid all over again. After getting bullied by the meanest kid in school, he encounters a mysterious barefoot boy running down the street, and quickly becomes fascinated by figuring out who the kid is and why he’s running. Meanwhile, Mother Paula’s Pancake House is about to open a new franchise location in Roy’s small town… but someone keeps playing pranks and causing mischief at the construction site, and the Mother Paula’s people are not happy about it. The storylines come together as Roy and his new friends Beatrice Leep and Mullet Fingers try to find a way to save the rare burrowing owls who live at the construction site before the bulldozers start to roll. Hoot is filled with a host of amusing supporting characters, from the well-intentioned but bumbling Officer Delinko to construction manager Curly to the oozily nasty corporate tool Chuck E. Muckle. As the various plotlines and people converge, Carl Hiaasen doesn’t skimp on humor, pranks, or bizarre human behavior.

In both Hoot and Chomp, a dominant theme is the natural wonders of Florida and how greedy humans are encroaching on natural habitats. In both books, the author’s love for nature shines through, and the kids who are heroes are the ones who stand up and fight against the careless, thoughtless, or just plain mean grown-ups who value money over beauty. While the main characters in both books come from homes with supportive and loving parents, the author doesn’t shy away from showcasing kids who come from troubled homes or less wholesome environments. One of the things he does best is dig beneath the surface and show why a kid might be weird, or dressed funny, or be reluctant to trust or share secrets. At the same time, no mercy is shown to the bullies, whether kids or adults: The characters who mistreat others, who are mean and nasty, who like to hurt people for their own glory, or who just don’t care — well, they do tend to get what’s coming to them, and then some.

After reading the book, kiddo and I decided to watch the movie as well — and while I almost never, ever, ever sayhoot this, in this case I’ll admit to liking the movie just a smidge more than the book. The book was great, don’t get me wrong — but the movie just did a better job of showing the natural beauty of the Florida coastlines and waterways, as well as the vulnerability of the little owls (awwwww… baby owls!) being threatened by the big construction machinery. This is one instance where a picture really is worth a thousand words, because the one thing I really didn’t get from the book was enough description of the construction site and the landscape, and that made it harder to visualize the nature of the threat. The movie is mostly faithful to the book, up until the ending — where again, I have to admit that I found the movie ending a bit more exciting and dramatic than the final confrontation and big finale in the book.

The cast was very good, with a young Logan Lerman in the role of Roy, and a nice cameo by Jimmy Buffett as well. Plus, the geek in me and my kiddo (call us Mama Geek and Geek Junior, I suppose) did a little happy dance when Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson!) appeared in the sleazy role of corporate bad guy Chuck Muckle.

Should you read the book or watch the movie?

Yes to both! Why choose?

Meanwhile, I have no hesitation about recommending this author’s books for kids. Carl Hiaasen’s writing is funny and fast-paced, with strong messages about family connections, loyalty, and respect for the environment. I can pretty much guarantee that kids will love these books, and their parents will too.

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The details:

Title: Hoot
Author: Carl Hiaasen
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date: 2002
Genre: Middle grade
Source: Purchased

Book Review: The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon

Book Review: The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon by S. S. Taylor

The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man's CanyonIf you love adventurous kids, mysterious maps, hidden canyons, and steam-powered everything, you won’t want to miss The Expeditioners, the first installment in what promises to be a very exciting middle grade series.

The West kids — Zander, Kit, and MK — are the orphaned children of famous explorer Alexander West, who rose to fame and fortune exploring new lands, then died under mysterious circumstances, leaving the three kids to fend for themselves. And when I say new lands, I really mean New Lands: Several decades earlier, after computers and electricity were proven unreliable and were discarded, explorers discovered New Lands hidden amidst the lands already known. Apparently, all those earlier maps were wrong, and the globes we all rely upon are really just quaint relics. The current world includes places such as the New North Polar Sea, Fazia, and Deloia, and exploring and cartography are among the most esteemed and  sought-after vocations.

Unfortunately, the BNDL (Bureau of Newly Discovered Lands) is in control and is awfully shady. Current policy seems to be to discover resource-rich new worlds and then plunder them for all they’re worth. It’s becoming clear to the West kids that perhaps their dad wasn’t entirely pleased with BNDL’s approach — and it’s starting to seem that the feeling was mutual. The kids are being watched, and when our narrator, Kit, receives a package from a stranger in the market, it sets off a chain of events that will lead the kids into danger as well as excitement.

As The Expeditioners moves forward, Kit and his siblings, along with their new friend Sukey, daughter of a famous explorer herself, set out to solve a puzzle left behind by Alexander. Hidden maps and secret codes lead the gang to a daring escape from BNDL agents and on a mad cross-country dash toward a legendary treasure lost centuries earlier in the canyons of Arizona. The government wants the treasure too, and it’s a race to see who will find it first — if it exists at all.

I read this book with my 11-year-old (who still likes me to read to him at bedtime — hurray!). Let me just cut to the chase here — we both loved The Expeditioners.

The world-building is terrific, as we are introduced to a steampunky society in which the ability to build, tinker, and create is of utmost importance, as are big heaps of courage and a willingness to leap into the unknown. The author takes our own world and technology and spins it into something at once familiar yet completely new. There are no cars, but that’s okay: People travel by steam trains, dirigibles, even steam-powered bicycles and IronSteeds, steam-powered mechanical horses.

The West kids are all talented and honorable. Zander, the oldest at 14, is brave and protective; Kit is a budding cartographer like his dad, and little sister MK can fix anything. Along with their pilot friend Sukey, they demonstrate courage and conviction over and over again, relying on their smarts to get in and out of tight scrapes, with an absolute devotion to one another and to their mission.

A hint of preachiness creeps in when the kids begin to understand the unscrupulous dealings of BNDL and realize how poorly the indigenous populations of the new worlds are being treated. Of course, the PC-lecture tone didn’t faze my son, but I found it a bit heavy-handed.

The storyline is tightly woven and packed with action. After the initial chapters, which seemed about to bog down in exposition, the pace picks up, and we get to truly know the West kids through their adventure, seeing their initiative and daring, as well as their commitment to their father’s memory and to their family as a whole.

Black and white illustrations by Katherine Roy add to the hip feel of the book, bringing the kids to life and adding in details such as gears, clockwork, and goggles that really enhance the story.

The ending makes clear that there is more to come, as the children complete their treasure-seeking adventure and are given a fresh opportunity for new experiences in a new setting. (I’m being intentionally vague here — you won’t get spoilers out of me!) My kiddo and I are both looking forward to seeing how Zander, Kit, and MK fare along their new path, and we really can’t wait for the next Expeditioners book!

Summing it all up: The Expeditioners seems like a perfect choice for middle grade readers, and it’s smart, savvy, and hip enough that parents will enjoy it too. A decidedly different adventure story that’s full of intellectual challenges too, with brave, independent characters of both genders and a range of ages, set in a steampunky American Southwest — this book is one I could see appealing to a wide audience for years to come.

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The details:

Title: The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon
Author: S. S. Taylor; illustrated by Katherine Roy
Publisher: McSweeney’s McMullens
Publication date: 2012
Genre: Middle grade fiction
Source: Library

Book Review: Will in Scarlet

Book Review: Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody

Will in ScarletIn this exciting middle grade adventure story, Robin Hood takes a backseat to young Will Scarlet, born the son of a nobleman, now a refugee on the run from the evil lord who has captured his father’s castle and betrayed the king. When we first meet Will, he is the 13-year-old son of the estate, born to privilege and prone to mischief. Now on the verge of manhood, it’s time for him to grow up and start acting like a lord — but when his family is betrayed, Will escapes to Sherwood Forest, where he meets up with a band of thieves and outlaws. Will the Merry Men kill Will, ransom him, or make him one of their own? Will is forced to finally figure out who he is and what he stands for — and whether he going to allow his thirst for vengeance to take over his life.

In the forest, Will meets Much the Miller’s Son (who is really a girl in disguise), John Little, a big, strong but fair fighting man, and the drunken, smelly man whose tent Will shares — the prickly and rather repulsive Rob. But once Rob sobers up on a key mission, Will starts to realize what a natural-born leader this man is — as well as an expert hand with a longbow.

It’s terrific fun to read this version of the Robin Hood story. Will In Scarlet serves very much as an origin story. Instead of focusing on Robin Hood himself, we see the band of outlaws through Will’s eyes, and as Will comes to appreciate their bravery and honor, so do we. The story is told mostly from Will’s perspective, although Much gets her fair share of the action as well, and she’s… well… awesome, for lack of a better word! Much is clever, skilled with a knife or a lock-pick, fierce and determined — and bloody well certain that she does NOT want anyone to know she’s a girl.

As Will and Much discover each other’s secrets, they also form a strong bond based on trust, respect — and something more as well. They’re both such delightful characters, and it’s wonderful to get to know them and see how they grow and change during the course of the story.

The plot of Will in Scarlet zips along with never a dull moment. There are battles, sword fights, ambushes, trickery, and daring escapes. There are also moments of great kindness, and we see how Will changes from spoiled little rich kid to young man with a conscience. In this version of the Robin Hood legend, it’s Will who is responsible for the “rob from the rich and give to the poor” ethos of the Merry Men, and this turning point for Will and the gang is given a meaningful and powerful context within the story.

There are serious moments and moments of pain and suffering as well, but overall Will in Scarlet is an upbeat adventure story with terrific characters, some cleverly concealed and revealed secrets, and a storyline that bounces right along. With Will and Much as the two lead characters, I can see this story appealing to boys and girls alike, and highly recommend it for kids in the middle grade zone.

While I couldn’t find anything to confirm this, Will in Scarlet certainly seems like it should be the first in a series. Nothing is left hanging at the end, and the wrap-up is well-earned and satisfying — but in Will in Scarlet, we’re seeing the early days of Robin Hood as the leader of his band of Merry Men. I really and truly hope that author Matthew Cody will give us more! I’d love to see what happens next for Will, Much, Rob and the rest of the gang!

 

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The details:

Title: Will in Scarlet
Author: Matthew Cody
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Middle grade fiction/adventure/historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Random House Children’s Books via NetGalley

 

Book Review: Sky Jumpers

Book Review: Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman

Sky Jumpers (Sky Jumpers, #1)If you’re looking for a middle grade novel with a strong female character and lots of action and adventure, look no further! Sky Jumpers absolutely fits the bill.

In Sky Jumpers, we meet 12-year-old Hope Toriella, a spunky, fearless girl living a surprisingly happy life in White Rock, Nebraska. Surprisingly happy — because this book is set some 40 years after World War III, during which the world was destroyed by “green bombs”, which are basically a more environmentally-friendly version of nukes. People were killed by the millions, cities were destroyed, general devastation resulted — and yet Earth itself is still inhabitable, for those lucky enough to survive the initial bombing.

White Rock is a town located in a deep valley formed by a massive bomb crater, surrounded on all sides by huge mountains. Its limited access — only one tunnel in or out of town — gives it an  ideal defensible position. And safest of all, the upper skies over White Rock, and indeed, over the entire Earth, have a layer of mutated air known as Bomb’s Breath — thicker than normal air, instantly deadly when inhaled, yet invisible to the naked eye. The Bomb’s Breath sits over White Rock like a cork along the mountain tops, ensuring that no invaders will ever attempt to invade by crossing the mountains.

But… Hope and her friends have invented a thrilling game, carefully hidden from their parents, that involves holding their breath, climbing up above the Bomb’s Breath layer, and then jumping back through it. As the dense air cushions their fall, they are able to do amazing acrobatics, and dare one another to try riskier and riskier moves. Hope is the absolute best at sky jumping, and finally manages to nail a double somersault as the book opens.

In White Rock, the most valued skill of all is the ability to invent. The green bombs changed not only the air but also the nature of certain metals, so that the survivors have to find new ways to make what they need with the materials readily available — largely wood, water, stone, and the products of their fields. Each year, the townspeople show off their new inventions during a big festival, and everyone from age four upwards is expected to participate. And Hope, to put it bluntly, sucks at inventing. Nothing she makes ever comes off the way she intends, leaving her feeling like the town laughingstock.

The action really revs up when White Rock is invaded by a group of armed bandits, intent on stealing the town’s supply of a rare and valuable antibiotic, and willing to kill in order to get it. However, if the town hands over its supply, it won’t be able to make more until the next spring, by which point a recurring disease may kill off a good portion of the town. All seems lost — but Hope is nothing if not a daredevil, and she knows a secret way out of town. Risking everything, she and her friends set off to get help — but will they get there in time? Can children really save the day?

I won’t say whether Hope’s quest is successful — it’s too much fun to find out on your own! Hope is a brave, strong girl, intensely loyal to her parents, her friends, and her community. Everyone around her can see her strength and her leadership qualities, but it takes this threat to the town for Hope to fully realize that her lack of inventing skills doesn’t mean that she has nothing to contribute.

It’s lovely to see a girl take the lead in a physically grueling plan to escape and rescue her town. Hope is a smart girl who knows the risks she’s taking, but also realizes that if she doesn’t try, the town is doomed. Between her courage and her agility, Hope has pretty much the only chance of success, and you can’t help but root for her as she faces challenge after challenge, thinking ahead, taking chances, and pushing forward even when the odds seem insurmountable.

Start to finish, Sky Jumpers is fast-paced and exciting. The world-building is quite good, portraying a post-apocalyptic Earth that’s different and startling, but not too bleak or depressing for the intended audience. This new world feels like a frontier full of challenge, and even though there are bad guys out there, life itself doesn’t seem particularly awful — just different. Characters are nicely defined — not just Hope, but her parents, teachers, and friends are all distinct personalities with talents, ideas, and inner lives that make them feel like real invidividuals and not just faces in a crowd.

Sky Jumpers is a book I’d have no qualms about handing to a boy or girl in the target age range — in fact, although I read this book both for my own enjoyment and for the purpose of reviewing it here, I’d love to have my 11-year-old son read it next. I think it would be right up his alley.

Well-written, with a dynamic story arc, lots of excitement and adventure, a high-stakes climax full of heroic daring — I’d consider Sky Jumpers a terrific choice for kids in the 8 – 13 age range. And who knows? Perhaps this one will even entice my reluctant reader to read past his bedtime.

Final note: According to the author’s website, Sky Jumpers #2 will be out in Fall 2014. But have no fear! Even though this is apparently an ongoing series, Sky Jumpers is a fully realized story, with a beginning, middle, and end, and stands on its own just fine. But I’ll happily check out book #2 — I’m sure there are great adventures ahead for Hope and for White Rock, and I’d love to see what happens next!

Okay, really the final note: I see from the author’s blog that she’s a Joss Whedon fan. And now it all makes sense. ***happily geeking out…***

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The details:

Title: Sky Jumpers
Author: Peggy Eddleman
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Middle grade adventure
Source: Review copy courtesy of Random House via NetGalley

Thursday Quotables: Sky Jumpers

quotation-marks4

Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

This week’s Thursday Quotable:

You would think I’d never jumped off a cliff before, based on how long I stood there. Not jumping.

Of course, I’d never made this jump before.

Sky Jumpers (Sky Jumpers, #1)

Source: Sky Jumpers
Author: Peggy Eddleman
Random House Children’s Books, 2013

Now that’s one catchy way to start a book!

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Click below (next to the cute froggy face) to link up your post! And be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables too.
  • Have a quote to share but not a blog post? Leave your quote in the comments.
  • Have fun!

At a Glance: Trash Can Days

Trash Can Days: A Middle School Saga

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Jake Schwartz is not looking forward to middle school. Puberty feels light-years away; he’s not keen on the cool clothes or lingo; and he has the added pressure of preparing for his bar mitzvah. The only saving grace is that Danny Uribe, his lifelong best friend, will be by his side…

Or will he? Since Danny’s summer growth spurt, there’s been a growing distance between him and Jake. Danny is excited to explore all that junior high has to offer…especially the girls (and most notably Hannah, Jake’s older sister). But gang life has its allure, too, and he soon finds himself in over his head.

Meanwhile, Hannah is dealing with her own problems–being queen bee is not easy. The other girls are out for blood, and boys are so…exhausting. Danny surprises her with his maturity, but can Hannah’s reputation survive if she’s linked to a sevvy? And what would Jake think about her hooking up with his best friend?

Dorothy Wu could not care less about junior-high drama. She is content to stay in her bedroom and write epic stories of her adventures as a warrior mermaid maiden. But that changes when she discovers the school’s writing club. There, she meets a young lad with heroic potential and decides that life outside her fantasy world just might have some appeal.

In the course of one year at San Paulo Junior High, these four lives will intersect in unique and hilarious ways. Friendships will grow and change. Reputations will be transformed. And maybe someone will become a man.

My thoughts:

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy Trash Can Days, for two main reasons:

1) The ages just seemed… off. This is a book about 7th and 8th graders, but the tone was really off for a middle school story. Between the Hollywood producer’s kids’ privileged lives, the gang turf wars, the online cattiness, and the “slut shaming” that happens far too frequently in a relatively short period of time, I felt that the content was not believable or realistic, given the ages of the characters. Perhaps if the setting had been a high school, it might have worked better. As is, I just didn’t buy it.

2) The main events and characterizations also felt strange and off-target. Oddball character Dorothy Wu comes across as a caricature and is not credible for a second as an actual 7th grader. Her weirdness — and then sudden triumphant change to a leadership role in the school — just doesn’t work at all. And this problem is consistent throughout the book — all of the various point-of-view characters and their storylines come across as an adult’s idea of what “kids today” are like. I didn’t buy any of it — not the Hollywood princess and her boy trouble, not the uncool younger boy, and definitely not the boy lured into gang life and violence. The pieces don’t mesh together, and none of it was believable. Additionally, the book can’t seem to settle on a tone — at times it feels almost satirical; other times, it’s deadly earnest about the pressures of middle school life. The jumps between flip and serious are jarring and don’t help the story at all. The synopsis uses the word “hilarious” — and this book definitely is not.

I struggled to finish Trash Can Days, and I can’t say that I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t recommend it for middle school-age kids, as the subject matter seems much older — yet I think it’s a bit too jokey and light-weight for the young adult market. I’m not sure where this book really belongs, and that’s one of the problems.

I’d looked forward to reading Trash Can Days. Sadly, I can’t recommend it.

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The details:

Title: Trash Can Days
Author: Teddy Steinkellner
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Middle Grade (per Amazon, ages 10 and up)
Source: Review copy courtesy of Disney-Hyperion via NetGalley

Wishlist Wednesday

Welcome to Wishlist Wednesday!

The concept is to post about one book from our wish lists that we can’t wait to read. Want to play? Here’s how:

  • Follow Pen to Paper as host of the meme.
  • Do a post about one book from your wishlist and why you want to read it.
  • Add your blog to the linky at the bottom of the post at Pen to Paper.
  • Put a link back to Pen to Paper somewhere in your post.
  • Visit the other blogs and enjoy!

My wishlist book this week is:

Hollow Earth

Hollow Earth by John Barrowman & Carole E. Barrowman

From Goodreads:

Imagination matters most in a world where art can keep monsters trapped—or set them free.

Lots of twins have a special connection, but twelve-year-old Matt and Emily Calder can do way more than finish each other’s sentences. Together, they are able to bring art to life and enter paintings at will. Their extraordinary abilities are highly sought after, particularly by a secret group who want to access the terrors called Hollow Earth. All the demons, devils, and evil creatures ever imagined are trapped for eternity in the world of Hollow Earth—trapped unless special powers release them.

The twins flee from London to a remote island off the west coast of Scotland in hopes of escaping their pursuers and gaining the protection of their grandfather, who has powers of his own. But the villains will stop at nothing to find Hollow Earth and harness the powers within. With so much at stake, nowhere is safe—and survival might be a fantasy.

Why do I want to read this?

Reason #1:

Excuse me for getting all fangirl-y… but it’s written by CAPTAIN JACK HARKNESS! John Barrowman can, apparently, do everything. He sings, he dances, he hunts aliens, and now (in partnership with his sister) he writes children’s books! This man is just golden (and so, so pretty in his captain’s coat. See below if you don’t believe me).

Fangirlishness aside, I really do want to read Hollow Earth! It sounds like a promising, exciting start to a middle grade adventure (the sequel, Bone Quill, has just been released as well). I love the concept of the twins being able to enter paintings, and wonder what the connection to Hollow Earth and the trapped terrors will be. Add to that the Scottish setting, and I think it sounds pretty terrific!

I’ve just ordered myself a copy of both books, and plan to dive in as soon as my reading schedule eases up a bit. (Ha! Like that ever happens… ) Meanwhile, I’ll amuse myself with more pictures of Captain Jack, in all his Torchwood/Doctor Who glory:

What’s on your wishlist this week?

So what are you doing on Thursdays and Fridays? Come join me for my regular weekly features, Thursday Quotables and Flashback Friday! You can find out more here — come share the book love!