Accessible and entertaining, these stories provide a thoughtful, fresh take on a classic subject.

The Song of Orpheus

THE GREATEST GREEK MYTHS YOU NEVER HEARD

Seventeen lesser-known Greek myths get energetic retellings in this collection for readers 12 and up.

Many YA readers are familiar with the immortals of Olympus from works like D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, but the same tales tend to get repeated, leaving out variations, contradictions, or plots with less appeal to modern audiences. Barrett (On Etruscan Time, 2015, etc.), a prolific writer of YA fiction, returns to the classical setting she employed in books like King of Ithaka (2014) to explore these less-told tales. Her framing story, which she uses to good effect, is that Orpheus has been turned into a rock after failing to bring his wife, Eurydice, back from the land of the dead, having broken the proscription to turn and look at her. He can see her again, and apologize for his stupidity, only if he can tell 300 stories (that the listener has never heard) within 3,000 years. And right now, he explains, there are just 17 more to go. These are grouped in four main categories: “Where Things Come From”; “Life’s Big Moments: Birth, Love, Death”; “Gods and Humans”; and “Creatures You Never Knew About.” Two appendices and a glossary supply helpful background information. Orpheus’ narration adds a welcome contemporary note to these 17 wide-ranging tales. They include (for example) the stories of two mischievous brothers who tease Hercules for his sunburned bottom and are transformed into the world’s first monkeys; a handsome farmer who tricks a beautiful girl into marriage through a message on an apple; a giant bronze robot; and a goddess who grants her idea of immortality to a mother by killing the woman’s sons while they’re still “young and beautiful and admired by all.” Orpheus sometimes deftly reflects on these tales for today’s audience, as with the last: “Did Kydippe thank the goddess? Or did she curse her and refuse to worship her again? Herodotus…doesn’t say.” Barrett, too, adds comments after some of the engaging tales that provide further information, food for thought, or acknowledge modern viewpoints.

Accessible and entertaining, these stories provide a thoughtful, fresh take on a classic subject.

Pub Date: July 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5351-4450-6

Page Count: 140

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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An enviable hero and appealing wish fulfillment that’s spiced with teen-friendship drama.

THE ZEE FILES

When her family moves to London, an American teen adjusts to a new school in this middle-grade novel.

Previously, 12-year-old Mackenzie Blue Carmichael, called Zee, detailed her seventh grade escapades in the five-volume Mackenzie Blue series. Now a year older and in the eighth grade, the red-haired, blue-eyed, olive-skinned Zee faces a major life change because her father’s job is taking the family to London from Los Angeles. Besides leaving behind sunny skies for London fog, Zee must say goodbye to Chloe Lawrence-Johnson, her best friend from Brookdale Academy. Another big change is that Zee will be attending a boarding school, The Hollows Creative Arts Academy, in the Cotswolds. That’s a bit intimidating, but the school has some huge advantages, especially its focus on the arts. She can concentrate on her singing and songwriting while studying academic subjects. Plus, her Brookdale friend Ally Stern now lives in Paris, just two hours away. Despite her anxieties, Zee makes several friends quickly. Unexpectedly, she is taken into the charmed circle of Izzy Matthews, a popular YouTuber, and hits it off with the school’s hottest ninth grade boy, the posh Archibald “Archie” Saint John the Fourth, a fellow songwriter. But hurdles remain, such as staying in touch with Chloe across time zones. Ally, too, has been mysteriously distant, canceling a planned Paris rendezvous for unclear reasons. Wells (now writing with Smith) continues the Mackenzie Blue series under a new umbrella title. Transplanting Zee to England allows for a fresh array of challenges and adventures, and American readers will likely enjoy learning about cultural differences with Britain. (Some references are off target; for example, the name St. John isn’t spelled “Saint John.”) Zee has a lively voice that makes her sound like a friend any teen would like to have, although few readers will be able to relate to the characters’ wealthy lives. Teens own expensive, high-status items like Alexander McQueen sneakers, and their school is so far out of reach for most that it might as well be Hogwarts. These elements are certainly entertaining as an aspirational fantasy, though Zee’s troubles seem lightweight indeed among so much privilege. The fast-paced plot ends rather abruptly just as it feels as if Zee’s story is really getting started; the tale continues in Book 2. Jamison supplies monochrome illustrations that deftly convey the teens’ expressive emotions.

An enviable hero and appealing wish fulfillment that’s spiced with teen-friendship drama.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 167

Publisher: West Margin Press

Review Posted Online: yesterday

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BETWEEN TWO FIRES

BLACK SOLDIERS IN THE CIVIL WAR

Brought together in what novelist Hansen (Which Way Freedom?, 1986) calls a ``great experiment,'' black troops in the Civil War faced not only enemy armies but their own side's vicious racism while proving their ability. They had already fought in every previous American war, but never in permanent units; faced with a manpower shortage, Lincoln overcame his reluctance and allowed black companies to form—though some had to assemble and march in secret to avoid civilian riots. Quoting frequently from contemporary sources, Hansen describes their recruitment, their struggle for proper pay, supplies, and training, and their heroic performance in dozens of actions. She contends that, for them, the war had no complex causes: first, last and always, it was a crusade against slavery. Her methodical, well-documented study is ranges wider than Cox's Undying Glory (about the Massachusetts 54th Regiment). Murky b&w photos and reproductions; notes; substantial bibliography; index. (Nonfiction. 12+)

Pub Date: April 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-531-11151-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1993

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