This Week In Reviews: July 17, 2011

4Q 2P A/YA
Burstein, Dan, Arne de Keijzer, and John-Henri Holmberg. The Tattooed Girl: The Unauthorized Guide. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011. 384p. $14.99 Trade pb. 978-0-312-61056-2.

Burstein and DeKeijzer bring their previous experience having published similar guides for Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series and take an in-depth look at Larsson’s Millennium trilogy (Knopf, 2009-2010) in this unauthorized guide, which is as much as a page-turner as the novels themselves. The pair, along with Holmberg, an old friend of Larsson’s, have compiled a collection of essays, interviews, and photos that will take readers and fans of the trilogy behind the scenes in an examination of Larsson, his untimely death, the novels, and the captivating spell of bleak Nordic Noir.

Though this guide is unauthorized, it is no slouch of title and excels at drawing the reader in with a heavy air of mystery and intrigue, moving swiftly through its page count with short concise vignettes about Larsson and his novels. Some of the essays are reprints of articles and reviews, but mesh well with the other essays. The photos are a rather odd and eclectic collection of Larsson throughout his life and photos related to the novel in several ways. This is a great title for fans of the trilogy, and especially those fans who have wanted to glance behind the curtain of novels. Being so focused on Larsson and his work, it lacks any broader appeal.—Susan Hampe.

3Q 2P M J

Bryant, Jill. Dazzling Women Designers: The Women’s Hall of Fame. Second Story Press, 2011. 136p. $10.95 Trade pb. 978-1-897187-82-1. Photos. Biblio. Further Reading.

Emphasizing the importance of science, engineering, mathematics, and technical skills, as well as problem-solving and tenacity, Bryant focuses on ten female designers from around the world whose expertise  includes interior, city, landscape, car, graphic, fashion, architecture, textile, and robotic design. The book explores their personal and professional challenges through words and black-and-white pictures, which depict the designers more than their work. Ritu Kumar is hailed as reviving and preserving India’s textile art, but a grainy picture hides detail. Instead of her designs, Ms. Oberlander is shown standing by a tree she planted when her children were small. A Vera Wang dress pictured from the waist up focuses more on the wearer, Kate Hudson.  Books and websites listed in “Sources and Resources” provide additional places to find information about each designer and some excellent pictures of their work, but many of the sources contain adult material and presentations. An asterisk designates seven of the 118 sources as suitable for children. Five of those sources appear in the list for Cynthia Breazeal, who designs friendly robots.  Inserts throughout the book supplement the text with quotations, facts about other designers, definitions, and, explanations of technique.

Without more personal details, color illustrations, and perhaps some related activity suggestions, these profiles of women who embrace difficult challenges to celebrate the marriage of form and function falls flat. The reading level states that the series targets middle school and junior high studentsw, but librarians and teachers who wish to stimulate interest in design will want to seek more interesting and colorful sources.—Lucy Schall.

4Q 4P J S

Hubbard, Mandy. Ripple. Razor Bill/Penguin, 2011. 260p. $16.99. 978-1-59514-423-2.

On her sixteenth birthday, Lexi unwittingly drowns her boyfriend, Steven, by singing an unknown song while swimming. After this confusing and tumultuous event, Lexi’s life completely changes—her friends shun her, she needs no sleep, and she is drawn to swim all night, every night. Lexi does not understand these new parts of her life until she turns eighteen and is given a book which traces the siren curse that has been on her family for over two hundred years. Complicating Lexi’s vow to never draw anyone close enough to harm them, she falls for Cole, a popular classmate. As Cole and Lexi begin spending time together, Cole tries to convince Lexi to confess her secrets. Life is proceeding well for Lexi—until Eric arrives at school. Eric tells Lexi that he is a nix and in order for him and Lexi to break their respective curses—to continue living without killing—they must fall in love. Lexi is conflicted about staying with Cole, the one she loves but who does not truly know her, or choosing Eric, whose love might set her free.

Tales involving romances between mythical creatures and humans have become very popular and with Ripple, Hubbard spins a tale with depth and feeling. While the dialog and action is realistic (in a fantastical sense) and well written, the climax is rushed and the conclusion is predictable. Despite the small shortcomings, Ripple will appeal to readers who want more than vampires and angels in their fantasies.—Charla Hollingsworth.

2Q 3P J S

LaZebnik, Claire. Epic Fail. HarperTeen 2011.  304p. $9.99 Trade pb. 978-0-06-192126-1.

Elise does not expect the move from Amherst to Los Angeles to be easy, but she was not expecting these types of difficulties.  Surrounded by the children of celebrities, Elise is determined not to be impressed—especially by Derek, son of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie-style parents. This makes things difficult when her sister, Juliana, starts dating Derek’s best friend, Chase.  Meanwhile, Elise finds Webster, who seems down to earth, funny and easy on the eyes,  but Derek is rude to Webster, which only cements Elise’s opinion of him as a spoiled rich kid.  Juliana and Elise also find themselves targets of  mean-girl wrath when their mother, the school principal, disciplines Chelsea, Chase’s sister.

There is nothing new in this title, the story has been told in a dozen romantic comedies and is entirely predictable.  Despite that, Elise has a funny, charming voice and this would make a great beach read.—Mary Ann Harlan.

1Q 2P J S

Lowell, Sophia.  Glee: Summer Break.  Little, Brown, 2011. 224p.  $9.99 Trade pb.  978-0-316-12360-0.

This book is based on the hit television show Glee. The story begins at the end of the New Directions singers’ junior year. Mr. Schuester wants the group to host a singing camp for children. Everyone agrees to the plan, except Rachel Berry who feels that the camp is a waste of time. After a fight with her sometimes-boyfriend, Finn, about the issue, Rachel falls and hits her head, launching the story into a dream sequence. Rachel dreams that she has spent the summer the way she wanted to and has become a huge Broadway star. As a star, she spends a year treating everyone she knows horribly and has ruined their lives in dramatic ways. When Rachel wakes up at the end of the book, she is relieved to find herself back in her real life and agrees to participate in the summer camp.

This book is very poorly written and edited. The point of view switches between characters so often and so randomly that, at times, it is nearly impossible to figure out who is doing, thinking, or saying what. Incorrect personal pronouns are used in several instances, and subjects and objects are often incorrectly placed within sentences. The plot is silly without being humorous, and the characters feel like flat caricatures of their television counterparts. Novelizations and fan fiction are both important to many teen readers, but this is so poorly done that only the most die-hard and indiscriminating Gleeks will find any pleasure in reading it.—Liz Sundermann.

3Q 4P J S

Randall, Thomas. The Waking: Spirits of the Noh. Bloomsbury, 2011. 272p. $9.99 Trade pb. 978-1-59990-251-7.

This second installment of The Waking trilogy resumes the story of Kara Harper, an American teen who lives in Japan with her father. Kara is relieved that her Japanese high school is finally resuming a life of normalcy after the frightening events encountered in Dreams of the Dead (Bloomsbury, 2011/VOYA February 2011). A nagging suspicion, however, is warning her that the danger is not over. Tranquility soon turns to fear when students in the Noh club begin disappearing. Only Kara and a few friends suspect the truth:  their forays into the world of Noh have resurrected a demon that is now picking off students one at a time. In this case, the murderer is the Hannya, a jealous demon whose spirit appears in the form of a poisonous snake.

This well-written story will appeal to junior high and high school students who appreciate suspense stories without a lot of violence.  Even though it is a sequel, readers can enjoy the book without having read the first installment. Japanophiles will appreciate the references to Japanese life and culture. The language is teen appropriate, with only occasional, mild expletives such as “hell” and “bullshit.” The characters are likeable, but they are not as robust as in Dreams of the Dead. The character of Sakura, for example, whose idiosyncratic, nonconventional attitude to life was a solid contribution to the first book, is, in this installment, little more than an incidental side character. Nevertheless, schools and libraries will find this to be a worthwhile purchase.—Christina Fairman.

3Q 3P S

Rivers, Karen. What Is Real. Orca, 2011. 295p. 305p. $12.95 Trade pb. 978-1-55469-356-6.

Seventeen-year-old Dex Pratt used to have the perfect life. He attended a private school in Vancouver, his home life was happy, and he had aspirations of becoming a film director.  Then one day, everything changed. Dex’s mom cheated on his dad, and left him. Dex’s dad jumped off a grain elevator and survived, but is now in a wheelchair.  Dex moves home from school to care for his dad and also to help him grow and harvest marijuana in their basement. He starts smoking marijuana all the time, and the line between reality and fantasy is blurred. Feeling like an actor in a film he has created, Dex is no longer the director of his own life.

While Dex muddles through his life trying to determine what is real and what is just his imagination, the reader is left with the same detachment from the plot as Dex has from reality. Seemingly successful in describing the stream-of-consciousness thoughts of a drug user, Rivers often gives a large helping of Dex’s feelings on a topic or character, then little explanation to support that interest. Though What is Real is a gritty, realistic, and descriptive exposure to depression and drug use as a coping mechanism, readers may not feel strong enough connections to the characters or plot to finish it.—Mandy Simon.

4Q 4P M J

Schreiber, Ellen. Cryptic Cravings: Vampire Kisses 8. Katherine Tegen Books, 2011. 224p. $16.99. 978-0-06-168945-1.

In this eighth novel of Schreiber’s Vampire Kisses series, Raven and Alexander face a new crisis. Alexander’s old enemy, the wily vampire Jagger, plans to turn an abandoned mill on the outskirts of Dullsville into the Crypt, a nightclub open exclusively to mortals. Raven is beside herself with excitement, since this means there will finally be something fun to do in town, but she and Alexander suspect that Jagger is designing a second club, especially for vampires, beneath the Crypt. A large influx of vampires to Dullsville might grab the attention of the locals and upset the peaceful life that Alexander has carved out for himself living incognito near his true love, Raven. Alexander and Raven want to avoid disrupting their uneasy truce with Jagger by confronting him, so they conduct a secret investigation as they help prepare the Crypt for its grand opening. To add to the drama, Raven begins to suspect that the obnoxious high school athlete, Trevor, is in love with her. Even worse, she has to admit to herself that she may feel something for him, too.

With plenty of romantic tension, spooky suspense, and lots of humor to keep things light, this is a very enjoyable book. Will Alexander ever turn Raven into a vampire, especially now that Trevor has entered the picture? Raven is just as daring as ever, and Alexander remains quite the enticing gentleman. Once again, Schreiber offers a humorous, fast-paced novel that will appeal to younger teens, especially girls.—Dotsy Harland.

4Q 3P J S

Spiegler, Louise The Jewel and the Key. Clarion Books, 2011. $16.99. 464p. 978-0-547-14879-3.

The biblical quote, “through a glass darkly” describes life as a tarnished mirror, our experiences of life limited by our narrow human perspective. In The Jewel and the Key, sixteen-year-old Addie McNeal is certainly human, but is able to free herself from some of those human limitations when she discovers a mirror which enables her to see her world more clearly.  The story begins with Addie’s dreams of acting not coming to fruition as she would like; she also worries about a friend intent on enlisting for a chance to go overseas to fight in an unspecified war. Then she discovers a treasure trove in a forgotten closet in her father’s used bookstore—crates of theater costumes, props, and photos from the old Jewel Theater, including an antique mirror. Her life becomes, by turns, more confusing and more certain as she learns the mirror’s secret. By gazing into this mirror, Addie is able to visit her home city of Seattle in the time of the Great War in 1917, and is able to return to her present time the same way. The author skillfully weaves many parallels between the past and present into the story which serve to help Addie clarify her path into the future.

Fans of the theater will love this story, as well as readers of historical fiction who do not mind a bit of fantasy.—Debbie Kirchhoff.

3Q 4P M J S

Testa, Dom. The Dark Zone: A Gallahad Book. Tor Teen, 2011. 288p. $16.99. 978-0-7653-2110-7.

Due to a deadly virus that devastated the adult population on Earth, 251 teens have been sent through interstellar space, on a starship named Galahad, on their way to colonize planet Eos. The council that governs the ship’s crew is led by several strong teen characters and the leader is female. They are aided by an omnipresent computer which exhibits a spot-on sense of humor and speaks directly to the reader at times, giving one a sense of knowing more than the characters. With so many teenagers on board, there is enough tension and unrequited love to go around, and author Dom Testa lets the reader in on all of it, rather than focusing the story solely on the gadgetry and star travel, although that is well-crafted, too. The only unbelievable fact is that they still use email to communicate. The rest of the story works well for the genre, and both the opening and the pacing make it a compelling read—one that will likely spark an interest in the first three books in the series.

Although it is the fourth book in a six-book arc known as The Galahad series, The Dark Zone can certainly be read as a stand-alone science fiction adventure. It can also serve as a crossover book; one that has enough romance and drama to pull teens who think they are not interested into the genre. —Rochelle Garfinkel.

5Q 5P M J S

Yep, Laurence.  City of Ice. Starscape/Tor/Forge, 2011. 384p. $17.99. 978-0-7653-1925-8.

For those who loved City of Fire (Tor, 2009/VOYA December 2009), book one of Yep’s City Trilogy, this second volume will not disappoint.  Set in 1941, this fast-moving fantasy adventure picks up mid-sky with twelve-year-old Scirye and her companions flying a magical wing to Nova Hafnia on the Arctic Circle.  Her ragtag group of talented misfits (a tiny lap griffin, Kles; two street urchins, Leech and Koko; and the dragon Bayang) are still in pursuit of Mr. Roland who wants to collect the Five Lost Treasures of Emperor Yu.  In this hazardous subzero territory of snow and ice, the group learns even mere survival can be a challenge. Thankfully, they find a friend and ally in Prince Tarkhun and his clever daughter, Roxanna.  Roxanna and her ifrit servant bravely act as guides and interpreters for the troop as they follow the devious Mr. Roland and his evil dragon, Badik, to the treacherous Wastes land.  It is largely due to the heroic efforts of Lord Resak, a gigantic polar bear, and his followers, that the band finally returns to Nova Hafnia-alive-but that is not the end.  The nefarious Mr. Roland has stolen yet another Lost Treasure and continues on his quest for the rest.  As in book one, Scirye has to appeal to the temperamental Spirit of the North whose capricious and unpredictable nature may make her more foe than friend.

The reader becomes immersed in the elaborately complex saga complete with its intriguing narrative and intricate characters.  Yep has displayed his considerable skill in building a magnificent adventure, mixing both history and fantasy.  The characters, who narrate alternating chapters in both volumes, are both strong and frail, heroic yet frightened, accountable and immature.  This reader is looking forward to the final book in this most enjoyable trilogy.—Laura Canales.

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