This Week in Reviews: July 24, 2011

FICTION

5P 5Q S

Bogdan, D.L. Rivals in the Tudor Court. Kensington, 2011. 384p. $15. Trade pb. 978-0-7582-4200-6.

In the time of Henry VIII of England, everyone was vying for the attention of the crown, if not for the crown itself.  Thomas Howard was no different. Howard is obsessed with regaining power for the Howard family and will stop at nothing to gain it. Told in the first person from the perspectives of Thomas Howard, Elizabeth Howard, and Bess Holland, this gripping tale looks into the lives of the people in the thick of Henry’s court, and takes you deep inside the minds of these major players to explore what truly motivated the deaths of several English queens.

The first person narrative gives the reader insight into a time very far removed from today’s modern world.  The mature content and language lends to the authenticity and reality of this tale.  The reader is hearing the confessions of Thomas Howard as he tries to justify the motivations for his actions, and ultimately, his downfall.  Even the deaths of his children and relatives do not deter his blind ambition.  In contrast, Elizabeth Howard tells of her attempts to stay true to her queen even against her husband’s wishes.  Her plight tears at the heart and shows what true courage is: believing in things one knows are right even when others believe they are wrong.  Last, but not least, Bess Holland tells of how she came to be in the middle of this husband and wife, and all the political maneuvers that Thomas Howard attempts to make.  Neither woman is really in control of her situation, but both make due the best they can because nothing and no one can deter Thomas Howard.—Barbara Allen.

4Q 3P J S

Finn, Mary. Belladonna. Candlewick, 2011. 384p. $16.99. 978-0-7636-5106-0.

This is a simple love story, one known to many readers. Girl loves horse, horse loves girl, girl loses horse to another owner, girl entices comrade on horse rescue mission.  Granted, this particular horse and girl grand amour is unique inthat it involves both a circus and eighteenth-century artist/anatomist, George Stubbs. Hélène, aka Ling, is horrified to learn that a wicked circus master sold her cherished horse, Belladonna. She is even more aghast when she discovers that Belladonna is now in the hands of a man who buys old horses, then kills and dissects them.  Ling finds a confidante in tender-hearted Thomas Rose, and no sooner than one can shout, “The Electric Horseman in Olde England!” the pair heads off to save a horse from a tragic fate.

Sadly, this mighty good, vocabulary-building novel may not get the attention it deserves.  No doubt, its old-fashioned, lyrical narrative style takes some getting used to;  however, once the reader becomes familiar with the text’s cadence and takes some occasional breaks to look up a word (or ten) in the dictionary, it should be smooth riding.  Animal lovers will need to steel themselves to read about ill treatment suffered by horses at the hands of humans. Be prepared to strategically booktalk this one to fans of historical fiction, or equine adventures, who enjoy a challenge when it comes to prose.—Angelica Delgado.

4Q 4P S

Simone, Ni-Ni, and Kelli London. The Break-Up Diaries, Volume 1. Dafina/Kensington, 2011. 272p. $9.95 Trade pb. 978-0-7582-6316-2.

Co-authors Simone and London debut the first book in a new teen urban fiction series. In Simone’s “Hot Boyz,” Chance is used to getting whatever she wants, even older guys. Twenty-two-year-old Ahmad saves Chance during a street shoot-out and when the sparks then begin to fly, Chance tells one little lie to keep his interest.  Chance ends up having no idea how to tell Ahmad that she is actually only sixteen-years-old.  When the truth does come out, Chance learns the very grown-up lesson that you can’t always get what you want.

In London’s “The Boy Trap,” Easy Breezy Gabrielle has one life goal—to become a pampered NBA wife. When Tyler moves to town and joins the basketball team, Breezy’s chances at the good life have suddenly gotten better.  Unsatisfied with Tyler’s seeming disinterest, Breezy goes to extremes to trap him, inadvertently destroying their relationship when Tyler discovers the truth.  Breezy finally has to admit to herself that she should have higher aspirations than just marrying into the good life.

This new series has it all:  street settings, urban slang, hot clothes, hotter guys, and a lot of relationship drama.  Both Simone and London manage to fully encapsulate the street life, not sacrificing setting at all to deliver the deeper relationship lessons that each girl learns. Fans of Simone’s earlier works like Teenage Love Affair (Dafina, 2010) will stand in line to put this book on hold. Public and high school libraries with urban fiction collections should definitely pick up this title to enhance their holdings.—Jessica Miller.

SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY/HORROR

2Q 2P S A/YA

Green, Simon R. For Heaven’s Eyes Only: A Secret Histories Novel. ROC/Penguin, 2011. 384p. $25.95. 978-0-451-46395-1.

Eddie Drood, a.k.a. Shaman Bond, finds himself walking among the dead in his own home, Drood Hall. His girlfriend, witch Molly Metcalf, brings him out of Limbo, and they travel via “the Merlin Glass” to join her sister, Isabella, who is searching the headquarters of Satanists.  Alerted, the Satanists attack and the trio barely escapes.  Eddie and Molly return to alert his family to the Satanists’ plan of “Great Sacrifice.”  The death of the matriarch has left the family vulnerable.  Suspecting a hostile interloper, Eddie suggests hiring telepathic Ammonia Vom Acht, but, before they know the extent to which the family has been compromised, the Satanists unleash their attack on the world and Eddie “armors up” and steps in to save humanity.

Green’s Secret Histories series is a tribute to Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. Fifth in the series, For Heaven’s Eyes Only may be read as a stand-alone novel, but the cast is large and it takes effort to sort out their past/present relationships to Eddie.  Eddie is a likeable character with a sardonic wit.  His powers to overcome all nemeses would be more believable if more time was spent on plot and less on unleashing every horror imaginable upon him.  Green reels in readers only to cast them out in the lengthy and exaggerated action scenes, one of which lasted for twenty-three pages.  Readers may enjoy or be annoyed by similarities to other books in this genre.  Language, sexual innuendo, and graphic violence make this novel an appropriate selection for mature readers.  Fans can look forward to Live and Let Drood.—Jeanine Fox.

3Q 4P J S

Lim, Rebecca. Mercy. Hyperion, 2011. 288p. $16.99. 978-142314517-2.

Competitive high school sopranos and pushy music directors are no match for a fallen angel named Mercy in this genre-blending fantasy/mystery from an Australian author. An unusual teen detective, Mercy is a strong-willed but incorporeal being who is transported into the bodies of one girl after another, living their lives until, without warning, she wakes up in a new body. This time Mercy has “soul-jacked” Carmen, a mild-mannered member of the St. Joseph’s Girls’ School Chamber Choir on a choral exchange trip to a little town called Paradise. As Carmen, Mercy fends off jealous frenemies in the multi-school choir, and tries to solve the mystery of why sixteen-year-old Lauren Daley disappeared two years ago from the home of Mercy/Carmen’s host family. The missing girl is presumed dead by everyone except her twin brother Ryan, whose angelic looks seem vaguely familiar to Mercy, though that is surely impossible.

Although the jacket flap and cover design give away some of the answer, Mercy struggles to figure out what type of being she is and why she is condemned to live a series of human lives, before she is forced to move on and forget everything from this one. A dark fantasy with some swearing, sexual innuendo, and scenes of underage drinking, this first-person narrative should appeal to fans of Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. A sequel, Exile, is due to be released in the U.S. in May 2012.—Laurie Cavanaugh.

3Q 2P M

McMullan, Kate. Nice Shot, Cupid! Stone Arch/Capstone, 2011. 208p. $5.95 Trade pb. 978-1-4342-3435-3.

In this retelling of a classic Greek myth, Hades, the god of the underworld, narrates the romance of Cupid and Psyche.  Cupid falls in love with the beautiful, mortal Psyche and whisks her away to an isolated palace where, because of insecurity over his pimples and braces, he romances her from behind a curtain.  When Psyche’s jealous sisters convince her to investigate the identity of her secret lover, Cupid is so embarrassed that he refuses to see her again.  Aphrodite, the goddess of love and Cupid’s mother, finds out and assigns Psyche a series of impossible tasks if she ever wants to see Cupid again.  With a little help from her friend Hades, Psyche completes the tasks, and Cupid and Psyche are reunited in the end.

Hades, traditionally depicted as a frightening and morose figure, seems a strange choice as the hero of the story.  He is characterized here, however, as a fatherly, friendly character.  Several other elements of the classic myth have also been tweaked.  For example, Cupid has the speech patterns of a surfer dude; Hades is a wrestling aficionado; and Zephyr, the West Wind, complains about how underappreciated he is.  While the story does mostly follow the original myth, this attempt to appeal to young readers with kitschy changes comes off as silly and might annoy some readers.  This book is written for a young audience but is a little too shallow to be taken seriously.—Cheryl Clark.

NONFICTON

5Q 4P S A/YA

Hideo, Nitta, et. al. The Manga Guide to Relativity. No Starch Press, 2011. 192p. $19.95 Oversize pb. 978-1-59327-272-2.

What an intriguing and novel concept for making math and science appealing to teens.  The Manga Guide to Relativity is part of a series of titles using manga to explain scientific concepts.  In this one, a junior class is sentenced on a whim to learn Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in summer school.  Student body president Ruki Minagi takes on a challenge from their headmaster to write a report on relativity in order to spare the rest of the class.  Of course, this involves getting physics lessons from the intriguing Miss Uraga, who happens to look hot in a bikini.

Through a series of vignettes interspersed with textbook-style explanations the reader is led through a humorous and interesting tour of the world of Einstein’s explanation of the relation of space and time.  Reluctant readers might skip the text, but they are sure to learn something.  The story is weird and funny.  The characters are quirky.  Bottom-line, this is a worthy purchase for any school or public library.  If catalogers can buck tradition and allow this one to be included with the manga rather than non-fiction, it will surely be noticed.—Victoria Vogel.

4Q 3P A/YA

Kniffel, Leonard, Ed. Reading with the Stars: A Celebration of Books and Libraries. ALA, 2011. 168p. $17.95. 978-0-8389-3598-9.

Kniffel, former editor-in-chief of American Libraries magazine, shares interviews with and overviews of some of today’s noted public figures, from then-senator Barack Obama to media mogul, Oprah Winfrey. They all sing the praises of libraries and librarians everywhere. Kniffel also captures each celebrity promoting literacy in his or her own way. In the late 1990s, he accompanied Bill Gates as he traveled with his wife around Alabama to public libraries that would receive grants from the Gates’s foundation. He even landed an interview with the 44th president of the United States when he was a senator and keynote speaker at the American Library Association’s annual conference in 2005.

Students interested in individuals such as former first lady Laura Bush will learn titles of books she authored and titles she recommends, while other sidebars offer interesting quotes from the editor’s interview with her. The book is inspirational and engaging, but it is possible that few teens would choose to read about many of the fourteen individuals featured. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the only notable sports star and he might not be familiar to today’s youth. Other luminaries (e.g., Garrison Keillor, Julie Andrews, Ralph Nader, and Cokie Roberts) might not fare any better with a teen crowd.  After explaining who the celebrities featured in the book are, perhaps teachers and librarians can share the most important part of Reading with the Stars: literacy and intellectual freedom is both a right and a privilege.—KaaVonia Hinton.

PROFESSIONAL

Schall, Lucy. Value-Packed Booktalks: Genre Talks and More for Teen Readers. Libraries Unlimited, 2011. 261p. $45. Oversize pb. 978-1-59884-735-2.

This unique professional reference illustrates how YA literature may be used to develop societal values.   Its goal is to motivate teens to explore through reading, discussion, and research how to determine, without costly slip-ups, their own “why behind their actions”

Using the same organizational pattern throughout the book, Schall uses seven popular genres—issues; contemporary; action, adventure and survival; mystery and suspense; fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal; historical; and multiple culture. Each of the seven divisions focuses on specific common values.  For example, “Issues Books” are associated with self-respect. Their myriad themes (abuse, disease, dysfunctional families etc.) show how physical, emotional, and mental health impact the acquisition of self-respect.  Under the sub-topic of “Health,” Schall summarizes five books including Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls (Viking, 2009/VOYA April 2009) which deals with anorexia, death, and blended families. Then, the author lists five possible “Read Aloud/ Reader Response” passages to garner interest. A short and attention-grabbing “Booktalk” follows and then three “Curriculum Connections” that encourage research, creativity, and continued exploration. For Wintergirls, Schall proposes a display using photos, graphs, and medical illustrations. Finally, a section of “Related Works” gives additional titles, all with short annotations, bibliographic citation, suggested age level, and gender appeal. Two additional sub-topics, “Friendship” and “Authority,” contain more titles focused on self-respect.  Specific values are listed in the contents and the inclusion of almost one hundred current titles gives plenty of options for reading and gender preferences.

Schall’s extensive booklists, summaries, exciting booktalks, and practical curriculum applications underscore her expertise in the field of YA literature. School libraries should consider this well-designed timesaver an essential purchase.—Barbara Johnson.

SERIES NONFICTION

Science Behind Sports. Lucent/Gale Group, 2011. 128p. PLB $33.45. Glossary. Index. Illus. Photos. Charts. Source Notes. Further Reading.

4Q 3P M J S

Yancey, Dianne. Basketball. 978-1-4205-0293-0.

Schwartz, Heather E. Snowboarding. 978-1-4205-0322-7.

This informative new series examines popular sports through a scientific lens. Each volume analyzes one sport, focusing on history; training and injuries; equipment; physics of motion and technique; and psychology. Each book reveals the scientific principles behind each of these categories. Because the scientific principles involved in the different sports vary, each book is unique. For example, Snowboarding looks at the physics of balance and motion that a snowboarder must master; Basketball examines the physics of ball control; shooting arcs and trajectories; and jumping and moving through space. Snowboarding highlights the physiology of strength and endurance training for snowboarders, while Basketball discusses the physiology of fast-twitch muscle fibers and proper nutrition and hydration required of basketball players. Chapters on psychology add an extra dimension.

Other titles in the series include: Ice Hockey, Gymnastics, Baseball, and Swimming. The text is informative, interesting, and distinctly scientific. Source notes for each chapter provide solid documentation of research. Charts, graphs, illustrations, photographs, and sidebars support the text, add visual appeal, and break up long passages of text;  however, the books lean more in the direction of high interest rather than quotable source. They are companion volumes rather than teaching volumes. These high-interest, informative reads will appeal both to sports and science enthusiasts alike. They may possibly make science more appealing for non-scientists, which is valuable on its own.—Amy Fiske.

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