Saturday, September 24, 2016

Argos: The Story of Odysseus as Told by His Loyal Dog by Ralph Hardy

It has been many years since Odysseus left Ithaca for the Trojan War. Odysseus’s dog, Argos, maintains his promise to protect Odysseus’s family during his absence. But times are becoming desperate for Penelope—Odysseus’s wife—and Telemachos—their son. Greedy men, calling themselves suitors, take advantage of Penelope’s hospitality on a daily basis. These suitors try to pressure Penelope into admitting Odysseus is dead so she can remarry one of them. Since many suitors see young Telemachos as a threat, they plot to kill him. His life is repeatedly spared thanks to Argos’s keen intellect and boundless strength. During these troubling times, any word about Odysseus reinforces Argos’s loyalty to his master. Argos charges all seafaring birds to come to him with any information. Through these birds, Argos hears the adventures and tragedies of Odysseus’s journey.

Argos is a great introduction for young readers to a “PG” version of The Odyssey. Hardy’s canine spin on the classic Greek tale is an insightful read on the power of loyalty and family. Argos is a bear-like dog, recognized by all as the faithful “Boar Slayer” to Odysseus. When Argos is charged to protect Odysseus’s family, he goes above and beyond his call. For example, Argos takes on the fatherly role of teaching young Telemachos how to properly hunt and be brave during a fight. Argos does this because he knows Odysseus would have taught his son these skills if he were there. Later, Argos actually becomes a father and he learns, like Odysseus, how much it hurts to be tragically separated from his family. At times, the story can be a bit tedious because more than half of the book is just the retelling of Odysseus’s adventures. But Hardy does a good job at keeping the narrative fresh and unique, while he sets up suspenseful problems Argos must undergo at home. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Above by Roland Smith

On the run since their escape from the Deep, Pat, Coop, and Kate plan to reunite in Oregon. However, their reunion is postponed when Alex Dane—Lod’s brother who helped the teens escape—shows up and tasks Kate to shadow Lod’s members that are gathering in the area. Alex, Pat, and Coop follow Kate’s trail so they can understand Lod’s next move and then notify the authorities. Kate lets herself get captured by Lod’s minions, but she tries to earn their trust so she can hide her involvement with Alex, Pat, and Coop.

This sequel to Beneath is yet another rapid-fire read full of suspense, mystery, and deception. Told from Pat and Kate’s perspectives, readers follow the break-neck pace of these teens as they chase down Lod and his demented disciples. Because there is access to Kate’s mind, readers learn more details about her upbringing in the Deep and understand how losing her parents by Lod’s hand caused Kate to turn against him. Compared to Beneath, Pat is not continually confronting his claustrophobia. However, he encounters his patterned, panic-stricken thoughts again as he is forced to enter yet another Deep. A theme Smith carries through his series is that there is no such thing as a coincidence. Smith shows that the events and decisions of a person’s past ideally places them in situations where they can conquer present dilemmas. Both Beneath and Above clearly show that Smith is an expert at crafting quality, contemporary adventures for young adults. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman

For five months Anne has been surviving servitude to the rich shipping merchant, Master Drummond. However, Anne secretly plans to escape to the West Indies—the location where Anne’s English father and her West Indian mother fell in love. Anne’s goal is sidetracked when she meets Master Drummond’s son, Edward “Teach”. Teach, freshly returned from a year at sea, is immediately drawn to Anne because of her strength, intelligence, and beauty. He offers her true friendship, but she hesitates not only because of their differing social classes, but because Teach is engaged to a baron's daughter. As time goes by, the pair cannot deny they have met their match in one another.

After visiting sites associated with the pirate Blackbeard, Castroman began wondering what motivated Blackbeard to become a pirate. From these musings and her research, Castroman created Blackhearts, her debut teen novel. Castroman puts forward a noteworthy piece of literature that will have readers spellbound by her two incredibly strong, leading characters: Anne and Teach. Anne doesn’t know where she belongs because of her English/West Indian background. All she knows is that she needs to escape. Teach doesn’t want to live an aristocratic lifestyle. All he knows is he needs an escape. When the two meet, Anne finds a refuge and Teach finds an equal. With Blackhearts, Castroman expertly shows that a book can still be considered a “romance” when sex is not included. Anne and Teach’s relationship is more of a meeting of minds and hearts, similar to characters like Jane Erye and Mr. Rochester. A bright literary future awaits Castroman if she creates such quality reads like Blackhearts