This Week in Reviews: August 24, 2011
Divine, L. Drama High: So, So Hood. Dafina/Kensington, 2011. 256p. $9.95 Trade pb. 978-0-7582-3119-2.
In this fourteenth volume of the Drama High series, Jayd has just been initiated as a voodoo priestess. It is the beginning of her senior year and along with the responsibilities of her calling, she has to deal with her ex-boyfriend’s “baby mama,” her current boyfriend’s cheating, and her enemies trying to put her down. Jayd has a lot to stress her out this year. She is the president of the African Student Union; she is taking AP English with hater, Mrs. Bennett; she has several clients for her job braiding hair; she has to keep the peace with all her crew; and her arch enemy, Misty, is now turning into a vampire. She tries to manage all the drama while becoming accustomed to her growing powers.
Jayd is a strong character who wants to take care of things herself, without getting help from those who are wiser and more experienced. Jayd’s grandmother, Mama, and Nettie, her godmother, guide and protect Jayd in her encounters with Misty and Esmeralda who are always causing her trouble. Jayd’s crew—Rah, Mickey, Nellie, Nigel, and Chance provide plenty of drama and will be familiar to readers of this series for African-American youth. This is a good purchase for collections where the rest of the series is popular.—Deborah L. Dubois.
Dunagan, Ted, M. Trouble on the Tombigbee. NewSouth Books, 2011. 208p. $21.95. 978-1-58838-270-2.
Best friends Ted and Poudlum can usually handle the trouble they to get themselves into, but in this new episode of their escapades, they find real trouble when they accidently discover the identities of some local Ku Klux Klan leaders. What starts out as an innocent fishing trip turns into a run for their lives for the two boys. Narrator Ted ponders the realities of having a black friend in rural Alabama in the 1940s as they face off against the Klan and a murderous slave-trader.
Dunagan grew up in rural Alabama in the 1940s, so the sense of time and place are very strong in this boyish adventure tale. In the tradition of the tales spun by Mark Twain, Dunagan creates a pair of resourceful heroes who have the practical know-how to get themselves out of jams, and the smarts to know who to trust and who not to. This is a solid addition to a school library for its historical accuracy, especially in the Tombigbee River valley of Alabama. Some readers will object to the stereotypical depictions of several characters.—Laura Lehner-Ennis.
Howell, Dorothy. Clutches and Curses. Kensington, 2011. 304p. $22. 978-0-7582-5330-9.
This is the fifth book in the mystery series featuring fashion and handbag obsessed twenty-four-year-old Haley Randolph. She is still working part-time at Holt’s Department Store in L. A., owned by her on again-off again boyfriend, Ty Cameron. Haley is continuously in debt due to her propensity for shopping and slugging down mocha lattes when the going gets tough; now, she is caught up in a murder for which she is the main suspect. In order to avoid a spa weekend with her former beauty queen mother, she volunteered to help ready the newest Holt’s store for its opening near Las Vegas. The victim is Haley’s former high school nemesis, Courtney Collins, who is found stabbed to death in the menswear department. Complications mount with a curse hurled at Haley by an irate customer; Ty’s offer for them to move in together; the attentions of a hot L.A. private detective; a drugged-out, UFO-chasing fellow employee; another dead body; and Haley’s dogged determination to prove her innocence.
Haley is sassy, spunky, and self-absorbed, but eventually she must come to terms with that. Her adventures will appeal to the fashion-conscious teen who appreciates mystery and mayhem laden with saucy dialogue and absurdities.—Judith A. Hayn.
Harrison, Kim. Something Deadly This Way Comes. HarperCollins, 2011. 256p. $16.99. 978-0-06-171819-9.
Madison Avery’s journey into the world and responsibilities of being the dark timekeeper continues in the third book of this series. As she grapples with convincing light and dark reapers that a soul is, indeed, worth fighting for, she fights an inner turmoil about locating her dead body. Can she truly embrace the job she has been given if she regains her own mortality?
Harrison’s paranormal world of light and dark contains characters passionate about their responsibilities, and while some of the plot is heavy, the story itself is very enjoyable. Readers of fantasy, with an emphasis on angels, will be drawn to this story but should read the first two books in the series for a better understanding. Light romantic elements are included but are not the focus.—Valerie Burleigh.
Kate, Lauren. Passion: A Fallen Novel. Delacorte/Random House, 2011. 432p. $17.99. 978-0-385-73916-0.
The third book in Lauren Kate’s Fallen series finds Luce Price separated from her fallen angel boyfriend, Daniel, by time and space, and by choice. Frustrated at being shut away from the celestial war waging about her and feeling cut off from Daniel emotionally, Luce must search for her own answers. Hoping to find what she seeks in the past, Luce uses the Announcers to visit her former lives (and deaths), hoping to remember who she was, and hoping to discover something that will allow her to be with Daniel.
While the strongest effort yet in the series, Passion suffers from the same weaknesses as its predecessors. Luce continues the character development that began at the end of book two, but she is still maddeningly self-centered. The story’s beginning is promising, finding Luce hurtling through her past lives, seeking answers that will help her understand her relationship with Daniel. Luce’s adventures drag on too long, however, and her quick and futile visits to different times, only to see herself die again and again, soon become tiresome. As with the previous installments, the story only begins to really move forward in the last third of the book, and still the steps it takes feel frustratingly small. Readers who read the first two books in the series will most likely want to continue, but book three is not a stand-alone story, nor is it a strong enough effort to draw new readers to the series. Passion is recommended for libraries that already own the series.—Anita Beaman.
MacCullough, Carolyn. Always a Witch. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. 288p. $16.99. 978-0-547-22485-5.
This fast-paced sequel resolves most of the questions readers were left with at the end of Once a Witch (Graphia, 2010/VOYA October 2009) , and explains why Tamsin Greene was left to believe, until age seventeen, that she was the only one in her extended witch family without a talent—the weird, normal one, pitied and excluded from family rituals. Time-traveling back to the New York of 1887 to find the then-Greenes to prevent a rival witch family from gaining power in the future, Tamsin spends much of the book pretending to be a lady’s maid in the rival family’s house—eavesdropping from secret passageways and behind curtains until her boyfriend, Gabriel, shows up with his talent for finding things. Disappointingly for some readers, maybe, the romance with Gabriel takes a backseat to Tamsin’s quest.
Also disappointingly, most of the characters are one-dimensional and Tamsin’s intriguingly dysfunctional family is left behind for most of the book. The only fully developed character is Tamsin, the first-person narrator. Readers looking for a paranormal urban fantasy to read while waiting for the next in Cassandra Clare’s more sophisticated Mortal Instruments series will want to whip through this lighter-weight series in the meantime. Enough questions are left unanswered about Tamsin’s as-yet-undiscovered powers that fans should expect a third book.—Laurie Cavanaugh.
Monk, Devon. Dead Iron: The Age of Steam. ROC/Penguin, 2011. 352p. $15. Trade pb. 978-0-451-46396-8.
Monk packs a lot into this steampunk-western-dark fantasy but somehow it all works. The story centers on Cedar Hunt, a university-educated bounty hunter who hides a dark secret. Hunt has drifted from the civilized East of the Devisers to a frontier West just beginning to open to miners, speculators, and the advancing railroad. Living on the outskirts of Hallelujah, Oregon, Hunt attempts to keep a low profile. A small child goes missing in the night and Hunt offers his services to the distraught parents. What begins as a fairly routine assignment lands Hunt smack in the middle of an epic, otherworldly battle featuring magical creatures, strange devises, witchcraft, and dark sorcery. In Hallelujah, everyone has a secret and nothing is as it appears.
Dead Iron succeeds through brilliant worldbuilding and good character development. Monk has created a gritty alternate West where one can feel the steam and smell the magic. Characters are interesting and complicated, shaped by secrets, curses, and complex motivations. Hallelujah is a world of flawed heroes and dastardly villains, and each has a rich backstory. Well plotted and briskly paced, Monk incrementally ratchets up the suspense. Purchasers should be aware that this is a dark, adult book and reads as one. There is violence and magic—both dark and benign—but no overt language or sexual situations. That said, there is plenty of teen appeal. Fans of steampunk and dark fantasy will devour this one.—Amy Fiske.
Rayburn, Tricia. Undercurrent:A Siren Novel. Egmont, 2011. 352p. $17.99. 978-1-60684-075-7.
This second installment in Tricia Rayburn’s Siren trilogy is a fast-paced and entertaining tale. Vanessa Sands has left White Harbor behind after the mysterious death of her sister, Justine. She eventually discovered that her sister was murdered by sirens, mythical mermaid creatures known for seducing men and luring them to their underwater deaths. The sirens wreaked havoc in White Harbor, killing several people, including the family of her friend Paige, who is now living with Vanessa in Boston. Now Vanessa suspects that she has been turned into a siren. Her boyfriend, Simon, is the only one she feels comfortable confiding in, but is afraid to tell him her secret. Soon she is attracting attention from other boys at her prestigious Hawthorne Prep school, especially Parker, the campus hottie. Vanessa knows they all face an imminent danger, as the evil sirens that caused such terror are after her again. She must find a way to protect her friends and family from them, and from herself.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable sequel that will appeal to mythology lovers. The action and romance are palpable and teens will find themselves sucked in to the very end. Some of the action is a bit too fast-paced, leaving readers piecing together the plot, but overall, this is a delightful and enjoyable read. Sexual situations, alcohol consumption, and violence make it appropriate for older teens.—Victoria Vogel.
Scott, Elizabeth. As I Wake. Dutton, 2011. 224p. $16.99. 978-0-525-42209-9.
Either Ava is suffering from physical amnesia or she is the victim of a crime or prank perpetrated on her, or perhaps it is a broad-based political action which creates the cat’s cradle of suspense in this well-paced exploration of the meaning memory plays in identity. When we first meet her, seventeen-year-old Ava is struggling to regain consciousness within the context of a hospital setting. The woman who introduces herself as her mother soon takes her home and Ava returns to school, albeit “return” is not how she experiences this seemingly new situation and group of people who include supposed friends from “before.” Meanwhile, in the background, both Ava and the reader become increasingly aware that the glimmer of memory that begins to intrude may have nothing to do with the seemingly everyday life Ava and her mother lead. Ava indeed has a past, but one that involves more than a typical teen life erased by a concussion. The girls who present themselves as Ava’s close friends become transparent to her in terms of their true motivations and characters, even while her own barely becomes clarified through the haze of returning memory.
Well drawn teen characters, understandably flatter adult ones—the story is told largely through Ava’s eyes—and a plot that staves off incredulity almost to the end mark this as a fun read for Ava’s peers who might like to join forces more powerful than what their everyday lives seem to allow.—Francisca Goldsmith.
Terrell, Heather. Eternity. HarperTeen, 2011. 304p. $8.99 Trade pb. 978-0-06-196571-5.
In this sequel to Terrell’s first young adult novel, Fallen Angel (HarperTeen, 2010/VOYA February 2011), Ellie continues her journey with Michael—boyfriend and fellow half-angel—to destroy the group of dark fallen angels before they begin an apocalypse. When Michael once again grows distant, Ellie finds herself relying more and more on her new friend and handsome do-gooder, Rafe. Can Ellie and Michael reconcile their differences in time to stop the dark angels from taking over, or will their mutual insecurities get in the way?
Eternity suffers from many of the same issues as Fallen Angel, such as pacing problems, unrealistic and stiff dialogue, and a heavy reliance on adverbs that place the writing in the unfortunate “telling,” instead of the desired “showing,” category. While Terrell’s combination of angel and vampire mythology is unique, at times it feels more like an attempt to appease market desires for another paranormal romance with a love triangle than to write a truly compelling young adult novel. Eternity is missing the depth that can be found in its contemporaries, such as Eternal (Candlewick, 2009/VOYA April 2009) or Angelology (Viking Adult, 2010). Purchase if you have a large budget, and teen patrons who are ravenous for any paranormal title they can find.—Allison Hunter Hill.