This Week in Reviews: July 2, 2011

3Q 4P J S
Alender, Katie. From Bad to Cursed: Bad Girls Don’t Die. Hyperion, 2011. 448p. $16.99. 978-1-4231-3471-8.
The second book in the Bad Girls Don’t Die series, From Bad to Cursed continues Alexis’s story with the return home of her sister, Kasey, from her eight-month stay at a psychiatric clinic. This time Aralt, an evil spirit, is trying to make his way back into the world by possessing young girls and drawing life force from them. Concerned that Kasey is being drawn into the world of spirits again, Alexis joins the Sunshine Club with the hope of destroying the book where Aralt resides. Thinking herself clever, she nevertheless manages to become captured by Aralt in his web of deceits. If she stays united with Aralt, Alexis can have it all: power, friends, beauty, money, and success. But for what sacrifice?
Alender is able to integrate new readers into this series by providing background information through Alexis, though at times it would help to read the first book. The writing is crisp and represents the way teenagers speak today. The plot moves along quickly and involves several unpredictable twists. Alexis’s friends from the first book are back, and her relationships with them are further explored. Like Rachel Hawkins’s Sophie in Hex Hall (Hyperion, 2010/VOYA June 2010), Alexis is dealing with typical teenage issues while at the same time attempting to fight forces from beyond. There are some instances where Alexis’s actions seem irrational given what she knows, but this will not detract from the enjoyability of the book. Purchase if your teen population is interested in ghosts, spirits, and otherworldliness.—Etienne Vallee.
From Bad to Cursed is the type of book readers will not want to put down. From the first page, they are trapped. Teens will like this book because it is enchanting. So many things are going on, and it is like readers are in the book. This book will appeal to teenage girls because it shows that they can and will do anything to be beautiful. Boys may like it because there is death and magic, and at some points it is a thriller. From Bad to Cursed makes readers’ minds swirl as if they are on a ride at the amusement park. This is a great book to read for those who like the Marked series. 4P,4Q.—Monique Perry, Teen Reviewer.
3Q 4P M J

Benz, Derek, and J. S. Lewis. Grey Griffins: The Clockwork Chronicles, Book 2: The Relic Hunters. Little, Brown, 2011. 368p. $15.99. 978-0-316-04519-3.

Otto Von Strife remains at large, still kidnapping Changelings and searching for dangerous artifacts in order to rescue his daughter from the Shadowlands. The Grey Griffins, in their second year at the Iron Bridge Academy, continue to pursue him, but is he really a villain or just misunderstood? Meanwhile, Ernie may have left the Griffins to join a vigilante group protecting Changelings from slavers. Will their busy lives leave the Griffins enough time to prepare for the Clockwork King’s latest threat?

Benz and Lewis return with the second installment in their Clockwork Chronicles trilogy. This time around the four Griffins have settled into the school routine; the focus is on their daily lives and the strains this new routine puts on them as a group. Each gets a bit of personal exploration, but newer characters receive some welcome time in the spotlight as well. None of this is too in depth, but like the previous volume, this book moves along at a quick pace, leaving no time for boredom but occasionally producing gaps: some scenes and ideas feel incomplete, as when a character seems suddenly forgotten once the action starts or when an ongoing special effect is conveniently forgotten to make a scene work. Exploring this world of steampunk and fairies remains a good and interesting romp, the plot moves forward with intriguing wrinkles, and the obligatory cliffhanger ending impels readers toward the next book. It is good to see Max and company behaving heroically while managing to make mistakes befitting their personalities and ages. Closer editorial scrutiny and polish, however, would have benefited this volume.—Lisa Martincik.

4Q 5P J S

Black, Jenna. Sirensong: A Faeriewalker Novel. St. Martin’s, 2011. 320p. $9.99 Trade pb. 978-0-312-57595-3.

Dana Hathaway has just barely escaped the last attempt on her life when she is summoned to Faerie to be presented at the Seelie Court. Unable to refuse the invitation for risk of insulting the queen, she reluctantly sets off on the journey with her father; her best friend, Kimber; her boyfriend, Ethan; and her self-defense teacher, Keane. Not long after entering Faerie, the convoy is attacked, the Erlking and the Wild Hunt reappear, and Dana is framed for the assassination attempt of the queen’s granddaughter. One by one, everyone she loves is captured and held by the queen’s knights, but though she is given the opportunity to flee for the safety of Avalon, Dana decides to stay and fight. Unfortunately, this means revealing the secrets she has been fighting so hard to keep.

Action-packed Sirensong will not disappoint fans of the series. Readers find Dana stronger and more decisive, and her sarcasm and wit are infectious as she stakes out her own powers as faeriewalker and teen. While highly entertaining, this series is troublesome on one level. The Erlking’s bartering in young girls’ virginities is emphasized in this installment, and the fact that he is breathtakingly beautiful and desirable only compounds the problematic nature of this plot line. Instead of encouraging readers to be outraged at the treatment of female sexuality as male property, Dana’s seeming attraction to him undermines the issue. While appalling, this aspect of the book offers a good opportunity for a discussion about female sexuality and victimization.—Courtney Huse Wika.

3Q 4P J S

Burtenshaw, Jenna. Shadowcry: The Secrets of Wintercraft. Greenwillow, 2011. 320p. $16.99. 978-0-06-202642-2.

For ten years, the town of Morvane has escaped the annual harvest by wardens who conscript ordinary townsfolk to fight as soldiers for the country of Albion. Under this false sense of safety, Kate Winters spends her days in the care of her uncle and the quaint peacefulness of his bookshop. The wardens’ inevitable visit to Morvane, however, reveals an ulterior search to round up the Skilled—those with the power to manipulate the veil between life and death—and use their abilities to defeat Albion’s enemies. Unaware of her legendary lineage as one of the Skilled, Kate eludes the wardens but is relentlessly pursued by Silas, a mysterious and menacing servant of Albion’s High Council who has his own reasons for harnessing Kate’s powers.

Jenna Burtenshaw’s debut novel offers an intriguing premise for fans of dark fantasy. Events are fast-paced and suspenseful, leading to a gripping final confrontation between Kate, Silas, and Da’ru, an evil member of the High Council. Yet despite a thrilling plot, other elements are lackluster. Aside from Silas and Da’ru, the characters seem shells of fantasy archetypes. Readers may root for Kate and her friends, not because they are compelling or sympathetic characters, but simply because they are the protagonists. Additionally, the secrets and legends behind Kate’s powers are somewhat convoluted, making their explanations difficult to follow. Though it comes at the expense of heart, the novel still mixes enough action, magic, and mystery to engage many readers and keep them turning pages.—Grace Enriquez.

4Q 4P J S

Cach, Lisa. Wake Unto Me. Speak, 2011. 304p. $8.99 Trade pb. 978-0-14-241436-1.

Caitlyn has always felt like an outcast in her small Oregon town, not fitting in at school or even in her own family. So when she is offered a scholarship to a private boarding school in France, she jumps at the chance to change her life. Even before leaving for France, however, her normally vivid dreams become even stranger. Some dreams are comforting, such as when she talks with her long-dead mother. Others are terrifying. Once in France at the Fortune School, the dreams only become more real. In her dreams she encounters Raphael, a young French nobleman who seems to have lived in the castle that houses the Fortune School hundreds of years ago. Caitlyn feels drawn to Raphael and to a mystery at the heart of the castle they must solve together. Is Raphael her destiny, or will the dark history of the castle destroy them both?

Romance novelist Cach makes a strong foray into the genre of paranormal romance. She weaves a great deal of medieval history into the story, and genuine tension moves the plot along. The ending is surprising and unexpected, and readers will definitely not see it coming. Caitlyn has some intriguing qualities, but the relationship between Raphael and Caitlyn is poorly developed and unconvincing. The resolution of their star-crossed romance left this reader a little queasy. Fans of paranormal romance like Meyers’s Twilight (Little, Brown, 2005/VOYA October 2005) and Noel’s The Immortals (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2009/VOYA August 2009) will enjoy this book, and Cach hints at a sequel.—Jennifer Bloustine.

Wake Unto Me is an exciting, romantic novel.  In the beginning, this reviewer assumed it was another Twilight copycat but it wasn’t.  The author uses foreshadowing to keep the reader interested.  One of the things that makes this book unique is Cach’s plotting the events in different time periods.  Cach distinguishes the dreams, past, and present and every page you turn, you feel the excitement of what is going to happen next.  4Q, 3P.—Phebeana Ojomoses, Teen Reviewer.

4Q 4P J

Harrington, Kim. Clarity. Point/Scholastic, 2011. 256p. $16.99. 978-0-545-23050-6.

Sixteen-year-old Clarity plans to spend the summer working for the family business. Clarity is a psychic, her brother is a medium, and her mother is a telepath, and they do readings in a Cape Cod tourist town. When a young woman is murdered, the mayor and his son ask Clarity to use her gift to assist the detective and his skeptical son. Tensions run high, especially when Clarity’s playboy brother becomes the main suspect. Add few more murders, a mean-girl rival, and a new psychic in town and Clarity’s summer is more exciting than she expected.

This is a charming, humorous read. Clarity and her family are smart and quirky. The trials of having a mind-reading mother are particularly funny. The characters are well-drawn as is the seaside setting. The dialog is crisp and witty. The mystery is nicely paced and keeps the reader guessing.  The book has a clever, catchy beginning, but the ending leaves loose ends.  Clarity has more tales to tell, but readers may be frustrated by too many unanswered questions. A second book in the series is planned for March 2012. This is a great book for any collection with a demand for teen detectives or urban paranormals.—Heather Pittman.

5Q 4P M J S

Howe, James. Addie on the Inside. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, 2011. 224p. $16.99. 978-1-4169-1384-9.

Billed as a companion volume to The Misfits (Simon & Schuster, 2001/VOYA December 2001), James Howe’s Addie on the Inside is the third book in a series about the self-proclaimed “gang of five,” which actually consists of four twelve- to thirteen-year-old social outcasts:  thoughtful Bobby, gay Joe, social activist Addie, and rebel Skeezie.  This volume consists of Addie’s poems—free-form, rhyming, and even haiku—reflecting on her anxieties about fitting in; her efforts to combat social injustice, particularly in regards to gay and lesbian teens; her relationship with her parents and grandmother; and her friendships with the gang.

In this series, Howe continues to surprise and delight, particularly in his ability to completely change the narrative structure and voice of each book.  He achieves enough overlap between books to provide multiple perspectives on key events, but also continues to move things forward chronologically.  As such, readers can enjoy Addie on the Inside on its own, but will find their experience greatly enriched by the earlier books’ context.  Especially notable is that Addie came across as mildly annoying in The Misfits and Totally Joe (Simon & Schuster, 2005/VOYA December 2005), but her inner voice as expressed in these poems makes her completely sympathetic.  Librarians should do what they can to ensure that potential readers are not put off by the poetry format; the poems are extremely accessible, and some approach literary excellence even when removed from the story.  Undeniably, all of the Misfits books belong in every school and public library, as they combine authentic, diverse young adult perspectives with compassion and sensitivity.—Amy Sisson.

5Q 3P J S Graphic Format

Jablonski, Carla. Defiance: Resistance Book 2. Illus. by Leland Purvis. First Second, 2011. 128p. $16.99 Trade pb. 978-1-59643-292-5. PLB $18.89. 978-1-59643-292-5.

In 1943—three years into the Vichy Regime—fourteen-year-old Paul Tessier and his family are fed up with the Germans who control their village in southern France. Paul’s father remains a prisoner of war, while his mother struggles to provide for her household as soldiers claim wine produced from the family’s vineyard.  The Tessier family resists cooperating with the enemy in spite of the continual temptation to exchange their integrity for such extra privileges as new clothes and better food. As the youngest area member of the Resistance, Paul posts his subversive drawings and delivers messages around town. At school, his little sister, Marie, refuses to sing the praises of Marshal Pétain, resulting in suspension. Meanwhile, his older sister, Sylvie, flirts with a German soldier to gain information that may save the lives of the Maquis, Resistance members training for battle in the nearby woods.

Defiance provokes the reader to imagine how ordinary people may have felt living in the so-called free zone of occupied France. The book conveys an atmosphere of suspicion and shock as townspeople betray each other to gain favor with those in power. Both images and text work together seamlessly to tell the story; the illustrations in particular immerse the reader into this French village and clearly depict the characters’ emotions. This graphic novel would serve as a valuable part of any study of war—especially World War II—but is worth reading regardless because it is simply a good story, expertly executed.Michelle Young.

5Q 4P S A/YA

Jones, Tayari. Silver Sparrow. Algonquin, 2011. 352p. $19.95. 978-1-56512-990-0.

James Witherspoon has two families, each with a daughter the same age. This is their story. Pretty and bright, Dana Lynn Yarboro begins the narrative by detailing the complexities of being the secret daughter of a bigamist. When Dana’s mother informs her, “Life, you see, is all about knowing things,” she takes it to heart and learns all she can about her father’s other family. As the girls get older and their lives begin to interconnect, the tale is taken over by Bunny Chaurisse Witherspoon, who, unlike her unknown half-sister, is ordinary looking, without any noticeable artistic talent or academic prowess. The inevitable unraveling of secrets takes place when the girls have car trouble on the way to a party and each calls a different parent. This coming-of-age story, set in Atlanta in the 1980s, interweaves the cultural events of birth control, recreational drugs, blended families, and the civil rights movement into an engaging story of love, fortitude, and forgiveness.

Wonderfully written, the authentic backstory concerning the adult characters furthers their connections and contrasts. It is this information that allows the reader to be compassionate and understanding toward the complex and confusing decisions that were made. There is a philosophy that every student should be able to find at least one book in the school’s library that reflects their life. Therefore, if there is a risk-taking African American girl who suffers from low self-esteem while keeping a distressing family secret, this is her book.—Lynn Farrell Stover.

4Q 4P M J S Graphic Format

Jones, Gerard and Mark Badger. Networked: Carabella on the Run. NBM, 2010. 134p. $12.95 Trade pb. 978-1-56163-586-3.

Mysterious Carabella radiates off the pages of this delightful graphic novel, and not just for her blue skin.  She is a fiesty, intelligent girl who is very concerned about privacy, especially her own.  Her story unfolds as one long chase scene, with the reader being a sort-of invisible pursuer as everyone tries to find out who she is, from whence she came, and why it is that a hair cut could lead to world domination by people from a parallel universe.

The supporting cast of characters is also quite interesting, and the writing shines with true wit running throughout.  Although billed as a cautionary tale about privacy issues for teens, this is not some drippy commercial.  There are good writing and good artwork here, and this book will stand up well alongside other graphic novels on the shelf.  Rather than preaching a message, the book presents a story that invites teens to ask their own questions and come to their own conclusions about what information they want leaked about themselves.  This is a solid addition to most collections.—Spring Lea Henry.

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