This Week In Reviews June 27, 2011

FICTION

4Q 4P S

Alexander, Jill S. Paradise. Feiwel & Friends, 2011. 256p. $16.99. 978-0-312-60541-4.

Paisley Tillery wants nothing more than to leave her small, east Texas town and become a professional drummer.  Her mother, however, has other plans for her future, and Paisley’s mother is a force to be reckoned with.  So, Paisley and her band mates sneak off to her uncle’s airplane hangar to practice for the upcoming Texapalooza. If the band wins, it will be a huge step forward in her dream of a career as a drummer.  When the handsome and talented Paradise joins the band, though, complications arise.  Soon the band members are arguing and Paisley has to resist the urge to be more than friends with the band’s new lead singer.

As she demonstrated in The Sweetheart of Prosper County Fiewel & Friends, 2009), Alexander has a good ear for teen speak and a wealth of knowledge of about east Texas communities and how they operate (she lives in Tyler, Texas). Even though the story is set in Texas, this is a story that will translate to many readers, especially those who have a dream of leaving their town and finding fame and fortune.  While the cover of the book promises romance, the attraction between Paisley and Paradise is only a part of the story Alexander tells.  Issues of stage mothers, small town gossip, conflict of music and musical styles, and trouble with subterfuge all play a role in this story.  Readers who loved Five Flavors of Dumb (Dial, 2010/VOYA February 2011) will enjoy spending time with Paradise and Paisley and their friends.?Teri S. Lesesne.

4Q 3P M J S

Chaltas, Thalia. Displacement. Viking/Penguin, 2011. 356p. $16.99. 978-0-670-01199-5.

Vera has hit the road to escape the hurt, loneliness, and disappointment at home where each day she has to face the loss of her younger sister, Amy; her mostly absentee, glamorous, and adolescent mother; and her extremely efficient, bossy, and mother-like older sister, Carole—the only one Vera still has. In her escape, she finds a nearly abandoned desert town, Garrett, California, where she is told, “Pick any house with a ‘for sale’ sign and stay there.” She does and names her hideaway, the Hovel. Among the few people who still live there, she finds one or two she can trust and one or two she cannot—but without realizing it, she starts to heal.

Novels in verse are really novels told in short lines, but Chaltas’s lines are smooth and richly filled with imagery that puts the reader straight into Vera’s dusty shoes. The hard thing to accept is that Vera is supposed to be seventeen. The character presented seems more like a woman geologist in her mid-twenties who has enough money and experience to abandon life while she heals. This conflict makes the target audience difficult to define, but those who find it will enjoy it.—C.J. Bott.

4Q 3P M J S A/YA

Meyer, Carolyn. Cleopatra Confesses. S&S, 2011. 304p. $16.99. 978-1-4169-8727-7. Biblio, Source Notes, Chronology.

With this latest title, Meyer continues her trend in writing engaging, historical fiction.  As with her previous books on historical figures, this story is told in first person, providing readers with an intimate feel to Cleopatra’s life from age ten to her death by suicide.  As Meyer relates in the author’s notes at the end of the book, Cleopatra remains a largely mysterious figure as there is little information about her life.  Despite this scarcity of information, Meyer weaves a plausible plot integrating historical facts and her own creative narrative, complete with secondary characters that may or may not have existed.  Cleopatra is portrayed as a beautiful, resourceful leader whose quest for power and royalty appear to be based on an altruistic belief that she truly can make a positive difference for Egypt and its people.  Value-added resources at the end of the book include the author’s notes, a bibliography, websites, a time line, a list of Egyptian gods and goddesses, and an explanation of the Egyptian calendar.

This well-crafted tale will definitely appeal to fans of historical fiction dealing with ancient Egypt and those who have a particular interest in one of the world’s most fascinating female leaders.  In addition, the book will serve nicely as an introduction to historical fiction for book clubs focusing on this genre, or as a read-aloud to introduce students in social studies classes to the time period.—Donna Miller.

Sidestreets. Lorimer, 2011. $16.95. $9.99 Trade pb.

2Q?2P?M?J?S

Lee, Ingrid. Thief Girl. 152p. 978-1-55277-539-4. 978-1-55277-538-7 Trade pb.

Avvy is tired of working hard in her parents little Chinese food stall at the mall,  working hard to keep her grades up, and seeing her family work their fingers to the bone just to see them get taken advantage of, beat up, and called names. Avvy then finds a wallet. She tries to good things with the money—to help her brother, sister, and parents, even getting a little something from the thrift store. Avvy then finds out who the wallet belongs to. Will she finally be honest or keep up the thief charade?

The fact that Lee uses a protagonist that is culturally different is refreshing, but the plot slumps. The author does not come across as too preachy, but one can definitely hear the didactic tone. What saves the plot is Avvy’s little brother, who offers a bit of comedic relief under the seriousness of Avvy’s dilemma. This is a great book for those who have a low interest in reading, especially girls of different cultures in the middle grades; however, librarians may have a hard time selling this book to avid readers or boys.

3Q?4P?J?S

Sherrard, Brent. Final Takedown. 128p. 978-1-55277-525-7. 978-1-55277-523-3 Trade pb.

For as long as Elias can remember, Jordan has always been there for him, but lately Jordan is taking chances that are getting Elias in trouble. Elias swears he is going to work hard to get off the streets and make a life for himself—he does not want to end up like his father. With Elias’s mother always drinking, however, and with trouble always seeming to find him, how will he turn his life around?

Sherrard has created a  believable and strong character. A lot of young men in our society today grow up on the streets like Elias. The author does a great job of getting into the mind of a young man. Despite the strong character, the plot needs a tad more development. The climax of the story seems to take place in a few short paragraphs. The author could have put more description and emotion behind the friendship of Elias and Jordan. Even with these minor concerns, the book is recommended for the reluctant reader. Because of certain situations that arise within the context of the book, it is best for boys fourteen and up.—Sherry Rampey.

SCIENCE FICTION/HORROR/FANTASY

4Q 3P M J S A/YA

Black, Holly, and Ellen Kushner, Eds. Welcome to Bordertown. Random House, 2011. 544p. $19.99. 978-0-375-86705-7.

Welcome to Bordertown revives an urban-fantasy setting first used in 1986’s Borderland (Roc, 1986/VOYA December 1986) and Bordertown (Roc, 1986), about the city between the human and elfin worlds where disaffected youth from both realms run away to find themselves. In this new collection, the town has just reopened after a vanishing spell. For those inside, it feels like thirteen days have passed. In the human world, it has been thirteen years.  The title story by Kushner and original editor Terri Windling tracks a girl in Bordertown when it closed and her once-younger brother who has come to find her now that it has reopened. Two best friends arrive in Bordertown in Janni Lee Simner’s “Crossings” looking for a vampire and a werewolf to fulfill all their romantic inclinations but soon learn that all is not quite how Twilight portrays it. In Cory Doctorow’s intriguing “Shannon’s Law,” entrepreneurial Shannon calls upon two sisters to help him find an Internet connection between the faerie and mortal worlds. The editors deserve extra kudos for several romantic plot lines that encourage positive girl empowerment.

Much like the trendy nightspots depicted in these pages, the best stories blend contemporary storytelling devices with a relatively mild fantasy element that goes down smooth. There is enough of each element to draw in those uneasy with a new genre and still please more voracious readers—perfect for readers who long for more fantasy in their life but still thinks there is plenty of wonder to be found in reality.—Matthew Weaver.

3Q 3P M J S

Harrison, Lisi. Monster High: The Ghoul Next Door. Poppy/Little, Brown, 2011. 256p. $16.99. 978-0-316-09911-0.

The RAD, Regular Attribute Dodgers, are fighting for equal rights in this second installment of Monster High. Frankie Stein, a newly created monster, is determined to make it acceptable for monsters to come out and stop hiding their true identities. She grows weary of slathering on make-up to cover her green skin and wearing less than stylish clothing to conceal the bolts in her neck. Dealing with a blackmail threat that would expose Jackson as a monster, new girl Melody and Frankie team up to lead the way in creating a documentary directed by a “normie” to show the town that there is nothing to fear from the many monsters who have been secretly living in their midst for decades.

Girl drama abounds as friendships are stressed and stretched by newcomers. Cleo has always been queen bee, but the arrival of Frankie and her partnership with Melody leaves Cleo unsure about how to retain her position. The names are clever, and the progeny of many familiar monsters appear in this fun and fluffy read. Mentions of pop culture pepper the text, with fashion designers and songs dropped in regularly. A huge twist is revealed in the closing pages, effectively creating a cliff-hanger for volume three. While Harrison stays in familiar territory with teen friendship issues and love interests, the monster mash-up adds a new twist to this enjoyable read that does not take itself too seriously.—Erin Wyatt.

3Q 4P J S

My Boyfriend is a Monster. Graphic Universe, Learner Publishing Group, 2011.

Tsang, Evonne. I Love Him to Pieces.  Illustrated by Janina Gorrissen. 978-0-7613-6004-9.

Storrie, Paul. Made for Each Other.  Illustrated by Eldon Cowgur. 978-0-7613-5601-1

Baseball bat-wielding Dicey and science nerd Jack form an unlikely pair when their teacher puts them together for a school project.  They become an even unlikelier duo when Jack and Darcy find themselves in the midst of a freak fungal outbreak that destroys humans’ soft tissue, thereby creating a fleet of walking dead.  When Maria lures high school newcomer Tom to the orchestra room with her vivacious violin playing, she becomes smitten with his music appreciation skills, broody attractiveness, and emo haircut. Much to her dismay, Tom’s main afterschool priority is helping his dad, Franklin Stone, with their family’s mortuary business which has experienced a mysterious surge in clientele.  Add to that, Tom’s odd and quasi-Goth sister, Hedy, has a particularly close relationship with Tom and most definitely does not like competition.

My Boyfriend is Monster series is an excellent example of “good enough” graphic fiction. That is to say, the books do an acceptable job of combining lighthearted romance with not-so-nail biting action and a minimum amount of horror. Readers looking for a quick, forget-it-as-soon-as-you-finish-it novel may find it refreshing to open a book and find formulaic, though sweet, plotlines and unsurprising characters.  Made for Each Other’s cover art, featuring windblown hair and a heaving bosom, practically screams, “Damsel in Distress!”  On happy note, the rest of the illustrations are more than adequate and include inside jokes (Tom’s literally “cut” abs). If the first two entries are a paradigm for the remainder of the series, expect cotton candy fluff that does not require many brain cells or imagination on the part of the reader, which to be completely honest, is not a bad thing for summertime fun.—Angelica Delgado.

3Q 4P M J S

Pearce, Jackson. Sweetly. Little, Brown, 2011. 320p. $17.99. 978-0-316-06865-9.

Twelve years ago, three Kessel children went walking in the woods leaving a trail of candy behind. Chased by something with wicked yellow eyes, only Gretchen and her older brother Ansel escape. Now that Gretchen is eighteen and their evil stepmother has kicked them out, the siblings are hoping to leave the past behind by leaving Washington and heading as far southeast as possible, which turns out to be Live Oaks, South Carolina. Live Oaks is a small town that is getting smaller every time another teen girl goes missing. Eight girls have disappeared over the past two years, always without a trace and always after Sophia Kelly’s Chocolate Festival. But Sophia has been so kind to the Kessels, she could not really be responsible for those missing girls, could she?

This is the second, companion book to feature the Fennris, or werewolves, in a re-imagined and modernized fairy tale. They can be read independently but might be best enjoyed in order, beginning with Sisters Red (Little, Brown, 2010/VOYA June 2010), and more books are promised to follow this one. The story starts with a nice dose of spooky mystery, and clues are slowly provided to continue building the drama. It is easy to care what happens to these characters, even when readers are left wondering who is on the right side and who is not. A bit of romance develops for both siblings, but only one of them has chosen wisely. The final fight between good and evil is a little abrupt, and some small details are ignored, but the overall story will still satisfy readers looking for a thrill.—Stacey Hayman.

NONFICTION

3Q 2P J S

Carter, Carol, and Maureen Breeze. Leadership for Teenagers: From Ancient Times to the 21st Century. Lifebound, 2011. 288p. $16.95 Oversize pb. 978-0-98-2058824. Illus. Charts. Source Notes. Appendix.

Contrary to what the title suggests, this book is not organized in historical sequence.  In fact, Oprah Winfrey is the featured personality in the first chapter. This chapter continues with a comparison between Cyrus the Great and Frederick Douglas, which it uses to describe and discuss what it takes to be a leader.  Topics such as thinking creatively, gaining respect, working with teams, and mentoring are addressed with appropriate leaders, young and old, highlighted to add interesting insights and revelations.   The theme of ethical behavior and integrity is woven throughout the text.  The authors wisely include vignettes of unscrupulous individuals to demonstrate that a leader is not necessarily noble and altruistic.

Lackluster black-and-white photographs serve to define the text’s content, but do little to enrich it.  The extensive appendix contains useful sections such as “Leader Biographies” and “World’s Greatest Problems.”  Multiple websites are referenced.   The lack of an index, however, could be problematic if this book is to function as a research tool.   Also of concern is the book’s workbook-like format in which the reader is given space and encouraged to enter personal information, write responses, and record reflections on a chapter’s given theme.  If the temptation to do so proved too great for a student, it would render the book useless to others. Helpful hints, character studies, and interesting points to ponder may make this contemporary “how-to” book useful to a potential student council president, school club sponsor, or guidance counselor.?Lynne Farrell Stover.

PROFESSIONAL

Mates, Barbara T. Assistive Technologies in the Library. ALA Editions, 2011. 176p. $55. Oversize pb. 978-0-8389-1070-2. Appendixes. Index.

In 2008, ALA specifically addressed library services to persons with disabilities, a large and sometimes marginalized sector of society, delineating the role that libraries could play in facilitating their ability to access and exchange information, leading to full participation in society. Assistive technologies, from such simple and intuitive devices as larger computer monitors and trackballs to more specialized and sophisticated options, like Braille displays and screen readers, ensure that the library achieves its avowed mission: to serve all patrons. Achieving that goal is not always realized without stress, however. Any library, especially in these days of constantly shrinking budgets, may need practical help and guidance in considering assistive technology tools for its patrons.

Mates provides a superbly clear and comprehensive guide for libraries needing help in selecting, acquiring, and using assistive technology products. Her lucid and jargon-free manual is a model of clarity and functionality. Her collaborator, William R. Reed IV, responsible for the chapters “Creating Accessible Electronic Information” and “Creating Avenues for Accessible Electronic Communication,” likewise achieves the rare goal of writing about technical matters in an understandable and nonthreatening manner. Covering all aspects of assistive technology in libraries, from making the commitment to provide these products and selecting the devices to possible funding sources, staff training, and finally marketing of the technology to potential users, this outstanding guide belongs in all libraries.—Jamie Hansen.

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