Review: REBELS OF THE KASBAH by Joe O’Neill

December 19, 2015

Rebelsposted by Cady Anderson, Guest blogger

Book Review – Rebels of the Kasbah by Joe O’Neill

The artful cover stood out amidst oodles of books crowding a Powell’s Bookstore shelf. As I reached to pick one up, I noticed a handmade sign heralding praises for this new release of an adventure story set in 1912 Morocco. That was a world I had never explored in literature before, so I decided to take a chance on this new author, Joe O’Neill. I was not disappointed.

Rebels of the Kasbah follows four friends brought together by horrible circumstances. Tariq, Fez, Aseem, and Margaret are sold into slavery to Caid Ali Tamzali. The boys are purchased to be camel jockeys, racing for the amusement of the Caid and his guests, while Margaret is sent to the kasbah’s harem. These friends pledge to care for one another and find a way to escape their dire situation. Through a series of interspersed flashback chapters, we learn about each character and their life up until the point at which they all came to know one another. This includes learning about the four kidnapped friends, as well as their captors, and supporting characters.

Rebels is Joe O’Neill’s first book and what a debut it is! This book appeals to all readers, but particularly draws in those who love adventure. With a feel reminiscent of “classic” adventure stories, the chapters have marvelous cliffhangers that leave the reader breathless with exhilaration and desperate to know what happens next. This is not to say the reader does not feel satisfied with each chapter – the desire to know more comes from a deep care and concern for the characters involved, as well as the pace of the story carefully constructed by O’Neill.

Joe O’Neill is an adventurer himself, having traveled all over the world and he brings an adult world to a younger audience. This book tackles human trafficking in a way that allows middle and high school readers to see the gravity of the situation without becoming overwhelmed by excessive violence and brutality. O’Neill neither sugarcoats the situation, nor is overtly violent, but rather allows middle readers a glimpse into a form of human trafficking that is often overlooked in schools. His honesty and treatment of the topics addressed are deeply respected by the middle school students I know who have read his story.

This book, which kicks off the Red Hand Adventure Series, is near and dear to my heart as Joe O’Neill is someone I have met and correspond with. Joe approached me via the website Goodreads about an advanced reader copy of the third installment, Legends of the Rif. Since connecting on this book review site, he has visited my middle school classroom and promises to visit again soon. To know the man who has created this world, as well as to love the adventure he provides, means this book is one of my all-time favorite stories and I highly recommend this book to adventure-lovers of all ages.

WHO DONE IT? by Olivier Tallec: A Wonderful Book for Toddlers and Their Families

December 12, 2015

Who-done-it-Who Done it? by Olivier Tallec

I’m always on the lookout for playful books that are fun for the everyone in the reading experience:  the grown-up readers as well as the toddlers sharing the book.  Who Done it?  the latest from Olivier Tallec, tops my list of recommendations.  This sturdy “seek-and-find” book has an appealing format:  the narrator asks a question, such as:  “Who didn’t get enough sleep?”, “Who is in love?”, or “Who forgot a swimsuit?”  To answer, readers turn to rows of appealing little characters to choose from.  You have to check out their facial expressions, props, hand gestures and read the clues to answer the question.  Kids (and adults) will get a good chuckle out of the amusing critters and their illustrations. I can vouch for the fact that toddlers do not tire of this book after one reading!  A great lap book, and also one that kids will pore over.  Charming and whimsical–highly recommended.

Octopuses: One for You and One for Me

December 5, 2015

Orange-OctWant to know more about an amazing creature “with three hearts, a brain that wraps around its throat, and a covering of slime instead of hair”?

Why not introduce your toddler to the wonderful octopus through this recent (and charming) picture book:

octopusOctopus Alone by Divya Srinivasan

Young Octopus, like many youngsters, is finding her way in a big world–in her case, the reef teeming with lots of species.  A bit timid (as an introvert, I can identify), this octopus tries her special species-specific tricks to cope:  like camouflaging her color and squirting ink at a boisterous trio of sea horses before escaping to deeper water.  The illustrations are charming, as readers meet a variety of animals and see a colorful seascape.  And yes, our little octopus friend does learn to seek and find companionship in her home–befriending the over-eager sea horses, who, it turns out, just wanted to play.  A simply-told and beautifully illustrated story our youngest audience will love–and,  it’s a good intro to the world of the octopus.


SoulThe Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery

Whys should your pre-schooler have all the fun? You’ll want to dig into even more wonders of the amazing octopus with this brand-new release for grown ups.  The main character in this non-fiction book is not just big-hearted; he is multi-hearted! Not only that, octopuses are smart, affectionate, and incredibly fascinating. Readers learn so much about the world of the octopus–and as a bonus,  it’s also a memoir by “an official octopus observer” from the New England Aquarium. I loved the factual information–and the philosophical musings as well.  I promise, you’ll have a new and heightened appreciation of the octopus.


Review: THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Colllins

November 28, 2015

 ~posted by guest blogger, Cady Anderson

Hunger-GamesBook Review – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

At this point there’s almost no one who hasn’t heard the phrase, “May the odds be ever in your favor.” The popularity of the phrase is a testament to the work of art and social commentary created by Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games. As with many “trendy” reads, I adamantly resisted reading The Hunger Games initially. But when a trusted mentor proclaimed this series as a “must-read” I decided to take the plunge. I was blown away! Immediately, I was swept up in the plot and conflict, the challenges characters are forced to face, and Katniss’ story.

The Hunger Games opens as citizens of District 12 prepare for the 74th annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death among young tributes from the Districts of the Capitol-controlled Panem. The protagonist is 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen: friends with Gale – a fellow hunter, older sister to Prim, and daughter of a grief-stricken mother who is mourning the loss of her husband. In the first chapter, the reader is introduced to the Capitol, District 12, Katniss, and the circumstances of Katniss’ world through a combination of flashbacks and descriptions of Katniss’ day as she prepares for the selection of the tributes, known as the Reaping. Against all odds – Katniss’ sister is chosen as a tribute for the Hunger Games. Katniss volunteers to take her place as tribute. Katniss, and her fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark, are swept up in the trap of the Games making choices necessary to survive. Katniss’ decisions extend well beyond the competition and the reader is invited into a dangerous game that will have consequences for Katniss, her family, and Panem.

To me, Katniss is an immensely likable character, although not all readers feel that way. Katniss’ ability and desire to survive creates tension for readers and her choices or lack of choices can be a source of frustration. But her ability to survive is what I admire most about her. Katniss’ heart aches from having grown up in a cruel world where happiness was not a luxury she could afford. Her response to her heartache is to become stoic, caring only for her sister. But the games change her, in ways that the reader can see, but Katniss cannot. This is just one of the many joys of reading this book.

The plot and world Collins created is incredibly complex. The concepts of the nation of Panem, the Capitol, the Districts, and the objective of the games are explained quickly in the first few chapters. But despite the copious amount of information, Collins quickly lures readers into a new world in a way that allows the reader the pleasure of being able to get lost in Panem and thus the plot of the book. While reading, I was able to completely believe in the possibility of this world and these events, evidence to the strength of Collins’ writing. In this way, I believe The Hunger Games is comparable to the Harry Potter series; both books allow readers to become lost in a different world.

Not only is the plot riveting, the characters endearing, and the challenges epic (surviving in an arena where your peers are trying to murder you in order to win a game is about as challenging as it gets), but the book leads to a trilogy that explores topics such as revolution, resistance, corruption, power, social responsibility, community, and the purpose and function of government. Due to the depth of these different themes, in addition to the basic plot line, this is a book that begs to be read over and over again.

Books for Your Viking and Norse Myths Exploration

November 21, 2015

OdinOnce you get started exploring the Norse myths, (through Magnus Chase, and further resources ) you’ll find there is so much to learn, and so many fascinating stories to read. Here are some of our favorite book resources:

UnofficialThe Unofficial Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Companion by Peter Aperlo

This timely companion may be “unofficial,” bu we found it to be a perfect text to have on hand as we read the story of Magnus.  It’s written in accessible and interesting prose, just right to answer questions and pique the interest of readers.  There are Q and A sections, helpful graphics, and delightful explorations of new vocabulary.  The History of the Viking age is particularly useful in dispelling myths about the Vikings, and defining their place within Norse culture.


There are several good coloring books that celebrate the Norse Gods, but the following two are the best for their factual information, and fun in coloring (even for adults!):

The Story of the Vikings Coloring Book (Dover)

Myths and Legends of the Vikings: Coloring book


Children’s picture books are always a good introduction to the world of gods and goddesses, and the Norse Gods are no exception.  Check out our two recommendations below:

Children-of-OdinThe Children of Odin: The Book of Northern Myths by Padraic Collum, illustrated by Willy Pogani

Norse-Gods-and-GiantsNorse Gods and Giants by Ingri  and Edgar D’Aulaire

Both these texts have well-written narratives to accompany spell-binding illustrations.  We suggest having the books handy as you read the resources for older children just to stimulate mental images.  Fun to compare and contrast the artists’ renditions, too.


Graphic-GodsGods of Asgard:  A Graphic Novel Interpretation of the Norse Myths by Erik Evensen

The artwork is the selling point of this graphic novel.  Detailed and imaginative, these pictures capture details of the Gods’ stories and personalities.  While the writing doesn’t match the power of the images, this graphic novel is a wonderful resource for your explorations.


The Norse Gods: Further Resources

November 13, 2015

~posted by Ragna the Swift (aka Ruth)

Viking-soxOK, I am a sucker for those sites that create a personalized name for you, be it Pirate, Steampunk, or in this case, Viking.  I like thinking of myself as Ragna the Swift, so I don my Viking Maiden socks (hand knit, of course), as I collect and choose resources to help enter into Rick Riordan’s latest Gods and Demi-Gods series:  Magnus Chase.


Norse Mythology for Smart People

“If you’re looking for reliable, well-documented information on the fascinating gods, goddesses, tales, places, and ideas that comprise the ancient mythology and religion of the Norse and other Germanic peoples, you’ve come to the right place.” This statement welcomes you to a veritable treasure trove of history, stories, and information about the Norse peoples and their cosmology.  I was fascinated by the information on runes, which is a key magical element in Magnus Chase.  Not only were the Norse runes literally letters, they also  had magical powers.  Check out the images of actual ancient runes, as well as ways to play with them, using the runic alphabets  (or futharks) for codes and messages .


The Viking Gods of Norse Mythology

God-checker is your Guide to the Gods, written with humor and chock full of fascinating Norse God facts.  For example, the introduction begins: “The red-blooded, rip-roaring, gung-ho Gods beloved by the Vikings. We could have listed them as Nordic, but ‘Norse’ sounds like the snorting of a giant battle stallion so we went for that. ” You can learn about each God, as well as their connections to other mythologies.  Lots to explore.


The Norse Mythology Blog

This one is a bit more serious, for adults mostly who want to bring more depth to their study of Norse Mythology. Karl Siegfried’s website, The Norse Mythology Blog, was named the world’s Best Religion Weblog in 2012, 2013 and 2014. It is the first religion blog to enter the Weblog Awards Hall of Fame. From his site, you can go to his facebook page, send (or receive) tweets, and even find out the classes you might take from him!  Best of all, he has a free on-line library you can access.


The Viking Rune

Another in-depth website, with information on all aspects of the Viking culture, including history, gods, tattoos, Norse runes, and any information you might want on “The Anglo-Saxon Age.”  There’s even a post on how to create an authentic Norse tattoo based on runes.


What Would Your Viking Name Be?

This one is very straight-forward and easy to navigate to find what your Viking name could be.  There are more sophisticated sites  that truthfully, are probably more authentic, but this one is quick and easy and the tweens and teens in your life will get a kick out of it.

And heed this important Norse saying:

Enn skal lytte, når en gammel hund gjø.
One should listen when an old dog barks.


November 7, 2015

MagnusMagnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard:  Book I The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

The latest book by Rick Riordan is always a cause for celebration–but especially when it is the start of a new series.  I have loved previous series that took us deep into ancient myths:  the Greeks, the Romans, and the Egyptians.  Fasten your seat belts for this exploration and update into the 21st century of the Norse gods and myths.  I can’t believe I am saying this, but I think this may be the best series yet! (And be sure to check out our suggestions for further resources here and here. )

Some of the premises that are behind the other series are the same:  the myths of the ancient civilizations are actually true.  In this case, it’s the Norse myths.  The Gods of Asgard are preparing for war.  It’s up to  the contemporary demi-Gods to enter the fray.  Enter an intriguing new protagonist:  Magnus Chase.  After his mother’s mysterious death a couple of years ago, he has been surviving by his wits and courage, homeless on the streets of Boston.

And this experience serves him well as he is thrust into a search for a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.  In fact, he must search through the Nine Worlds, meeting and befriending trolls, giants, and Valkyries along the way.  Oh, yeah, and making lots of enemies as well.  Along this adventure, we readers are treated to the world of Norse mythology, and a wide range of fascinating characters.  I appreciate learning the differences from the Thor of screen and comic book fame and the Thor of the Vikings.  Loki is as two-faced, treacherous ,and oddly compelling as any film or book depiction.

I love that one of the hero-helpers that befriends Magnus is deaf and is a courageous figure in his own right.  Lots of humor, exciting twists and turns–and even connections across the other series:  it turns out Annabelle is Magnus’s first cousin! No hesitations in recommending this new series, and look for our suggestions for further resources and books to enhance your reading experience.


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