This Week in Reviews: September 2, 2011

Fiction

4Q 4P J S
Ziegler, Jennifer. Sass & Serendipity. Delacorte/Random House, 2011. 384p. $15.99. 978-0-385-73898-9. PLB $18.99. 978-0-385-90762-0.

The trials and tribulations of Gabriella and Daphne Rivera, teen sisters often at odds due to their different approaches to life and love, are alternately explored in this ode to sisterhood and homage to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. While Gabby is jaded about love and claims to prefer independence, Daphne is always looking for someone to give her love to and longs for fairy-tale romance. Both girls, still trying to navigate the divorce of their parents several years earlier, have a difficult few weeks while they are home alone as their mom travels for work. Enduring financial stress, social problems at school, concerns about the future, and baggage from the past, they find comfort in male friends and personal strength.

The relationship between the sisters always seems to be contentious, with much focus on their squabbling and almost no moments of sisterly affection. Due to the structure of the narration, the reader gains insight into the self-image of each sister, which is often in stark contrast to the sisters’ perceptions of each other. The book is ripe with complex relationships and romantic starts and stops. The male friends, Mule and Prentiss, are particularly engaging, offering an incredible amount of wisdom, patience, and understanding to each of the sisters despite often receiving poor treatment from the Rivera girls. Ziegler delivers another solid read, perfect for romantics who love a happy, touching ending.—Erin Wyatt.

Science Fiction/Horror/Fantasy

3Q 3P S Graphic Format

O’Connor, George. Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory. First Second/Macmillian, 2011. 80p. $9.99 Trade pb. 978-1-59643-433-2.

Part of the Olympians series, Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory recasts Hera as more complex than a vengeful, jealous wife.  This graphic novel uses a skillful dynamic of text and image to present an outspoken, independent, and formidable goddess, detailing her relationship with Heracles, the son of Zeus and one of his many human mistresses.  Over half of the text describes Heracles’s adventures, from his infancy and role in the creation myth of the Milky Way to his completion of the twelve labors and eventual ascension into Mount Olympus.  Throughout this journey, frames feature Hera’s watchful observation, revealing her reactions and her role in the difficult path that makes him a hero and eventual deity.

By complicating this relationship, the graphic novel offers both a uniquely visual retelling and a distinctive take on Hera’s motivations.  Furthermore, the text is ideal for classroom use, providing educational notes, character profiles, discussion questions, a bibliography, and reading recommendations.  The mix of modern language into the classic tale, the story’s adventure and romantic intrigue, and the realistic rather than cartoony image style will draw older teens interested in Greek mythology.  Although at times, some gender stereotypes emerge in both image and text, the graphic novel’s merit as an appealing educational tool outweighs its shortcomings.  Through this gripping visual portrayal, readers can come to understand a different side of the goddess and why Heracles’s name means “the glory of Hera.”  —Meghann Meeusen.

2Q 3P J S

Delany, Shannon. Bargains and Betrayals: A 13 to Life Novel. St. Martin’s, 2011. 320p. $9.99 Trade pb. 978-1-4169-7897-8.

This third volume continues the story of the Rusakova werewolves and the humans who support them. Jessie is ripped from her family and her werewolf boyfriend, Pietr, to be institutionalized on the pretense of overcoming her grief over her mother’s death. Inside the hospital, she finds mysterious organizations are using her former boyfriend Derek’s psychic powers to control the town’s teenagers and, ultimately, to kill them to use their body parts in nefarious experiments. Meanwhile, Pietr and his family are trying to save, not only Jessie, but also their own mother, who is being held captive. To accomplish their goals, Pietr is forced to bargain with the Russian mafia, an agreement that may jeopardize all he holds dear, including his relationship with Jessie.

Fully dependent on previous volumes, this continuing story will appeal to devoted fans as Pietr and Jessie’s relationship intimately intensifies. On its own, the plot moves very slowly, and many of the events, including the rape of one of Jessie’s friends, are disconnected from the greater story. Character changes are also vague, and at times it is difficult to fully understand why they make the choices they do. Alternating between two voices, Jessie and Pietr’s brother Alexi, also adds to this disconnect, especially when Alexi’s thoughts and feelings extend beyond the current story. Ending with only limited resolution, there is certainly more of this story to come, and despite its flaws, readers who have fallen for these werewolves will find much adventure here to enjoy.—Rachel Wadham.

4Q 3P M J S

Flavin, Teresa. The Blackhope Enigma. Templar/Candlewick, 2011. 304p. $15.99. 978-0-7636-5694-2.

Fourteen-year-old Sunni is an artist, the best one in her class, in fact, until an American boy, Blaise, arrives at school. Despite the rivalry, Sunni and Blaise’s shared interest in the mysterious and magical artist Fausto Corvo brings them together in ways that neither could have ever anticipated. When Sunni’s stepbrother, Dean, tags along as she and Blaise sketch the Corvo painting in the Blackhope Tower, only to disappear into the painting, Sunni and Blaise are forced to follow Dean to rescue him. Inside the painting, the trio finds a cast of centuries-old characters all searching Corvo’s layers and layers of fantasy worlds for the precious map that will shed light on Corvo’s magic. As Sunni, Blaise, and Dean search for a way out of the painting, they navigate enchanted woods, pirates, deathly sea creatures, and the worst criminal of all, an art forger and ex-con from back home.

Well written and well paced, Flavin’s debut novel is inventive and adventurous. Readers who enjoy magical realism and the tensions that time travel produces will enjoy the similar culture clashes going on here. A touch of high seas adventure will also appeal to pirate fans. Also worth noting: Sunni and Blaise are equally smart in solving the problems brought about by the magical painting. Gender equality is not always the case in fantasy and adventure texts, but Flavin is mindful to balance weaknesses and strengths in thoughtful and fair ways.—Jennifer Miskec.

4Q 4P M

Pearson, Ridley, and Dave Barry. The Bridge to Never Land: Starcatchers. Hyperion, 2011. 448p. $18.99. 978-1-4231-3865-5.

After lifting his sister’s iPhone, fifteen-year-old Aidan flees the forthcoming flailing, finding asylum beneath their father’s antique desk. When his sister, Sarah, comes to pummel him for his transgression, he shirks back, clunking his shoulder against the bottom of the desk, releasing a secret drawer and a coded message. Sarah faintly recalls the names and places as corresponding to the Peter and the Starcatchers series (Disney, 2004-2009/VOYA December 2004) she read as a child, leading to an international scavenger hunt to unravel the mystery of the sheet; their finding of the last bit of stardust (fairy dust) left on earth,; and dealing with the ancient evil it awakens.

This companion novel is everything one expects from a fast, fulfilling, fluffy read. The characters are dynamic enough to prove interesting, but static enough that one knows exactly what to expect from them.  Previous Peter and the Starcatcher books had a slow, Victorian pacing to them. The Bridge to Never Land, however, is a fast-pace fantasy/science fiction romp that fits well with its more contemporary voice. The story has all the excellent aspects of a typical fantasy quest novel, while mixing in some features from the science fiction genre (Albert Einstein built a wormhole to transfer Peter Pan and his island to another dimension?!). The story would be enhanced by knowledge of the other Peter and the Starcatcher books, but those who have not read all, or any, of them will not feel left out. This is a fun read.—Devin Burritt.

2Q 3P J S

Abbott, Ellen Jensen. The Centaur’s Daughter. Marshall Cavendish, 2011. 352p. PLB $17.99. 978-0-7614-5978-1.

The people of Watersmeet are fighting a losing battle to keep themselves and the Vranian refugees that keep turning up fed and housed. Foragers are in danger from the growing number of überwolves and must be accompanied by a guard detail. Glynholly, the leader of Watersmeet, proposes that they refuse to accept any more of the refugees in order for the village to survive. Abisina and Kyron the centaur disagree with Glynholly, and they decide to journey to the Fairy Motherland to ask the fairy queen for help. The journey is long and fraught with danger from überwolves and other creatures, including humans.

This sequel to Watersmeet (Marshall Cavendish, 2009/VOYA August 2009) is long and rambling. Although the basic plot makes sense to one who has not read the first book, it is somewhat difficult to understand the characters’ motivations without knowing their background stories. The prejudices of the Vranian people come straight from Nazi Germany: everyone who is not blonde and blue-eyed is to be feared, though in this world there are not just other humans but also other species to be shunned. The underlying message of the story—tolerance and equality—is worthy but delivered in an unpleasantly heavy-handed manner. Save it for readers who loved Watersmeet.Marlyn Beebe.

3Q 4P J S

Parrish, Anya. Damage. Flux/Llewellyn Publications, 2011. 264p. $9.95. 978-0-7387-2700-4.

After years of battling diabetes as a child and months spent in the terminal ward of Baptist Memorial Hospital, Dani has finally gained some control over her disease and focuses almost entirely on dancing. On a school trip to see the Rockettes dance at Radio City Music Hall, Dani and her classmates are involved in a deadly accident when their bus collides with a truck. Dani and bad boy, Jesse Vance, are presumably the only two survivors and they soon learn that they have more in common than they thought. Not only were they undergoing treatment in the terminal ward at the hospital during the same time frame, but they have both been running from demons that have haunted them since their difficult childhoods. What they do not know is if their demons are real or imaginary, why they are following them, and if the two classmates can survive their wrath.

Dani and Jesse are determined to discover the origins of their imaginary enemies and how to stop them from doing any more harm. As the two race to find answers, they soon discover there are few they can trust but each other. With so many elements packed in, from scientific experiments gone awry to superhuman powers to battling paranormal creatures, readers will surely remain fully engaged throughout. The novel moves at lightning speed, with more shocks and surprises around every corner. No neatly wrapped-up ending here; the book finishes with as much of a bang as it started with.—Lindsay Grattan.

4Q 4P A/YA

Richardson, Kat. Downpour: A Greywalker Novel. ROC, 2011. 368p. $24.95. 978-0-451-46398-2.

While visiting an isolated Olympic Peninsula lake resort to gather information for a client, private investigator Harper Blaine crosses paths with the ghost of a man who seems to have burned to death in an automobile. Ever since Harper was shot, died for two minutes, and came back to life she has been a “greywalker,” someone able to see into the murky dimension between the living and the dead, and communicate with its inhabitants. Because of her ability, Harper feels a deep obligation to help murder victims when they seek her out from the “Grey.” She is determined to find out how and why the man died and track down the person or persons responsible for his death. Harper uncovers the identity of the dead man, finds his remaining family, and she and her lover, Quinton, become embroiled in a dire struggle with the humans and otherworldly beings fighting for control of the area’s magical properties.

In spite of a rambling plot and an overwhelming cast of demons, zombies, ghosts, and paranormal hierarchies to keep straight, Downpour is a very exciting novel. Richardson’s descriptive powers are impressive, and her images of the rainy, wintry Pacific Northwest landscape are intensely beautiful. Harper Blaine is a lively heroine, filled with relentless curiosity and possessing a wry sense of humor. Downpour is the sixth of Richardson’s Greywalker novels, and will be appreciated by fans of the series, as well as others who enjoy the paranormal mystery genre.—Dotsy Harland.

3Q 4P M J S

Mayer, Julia. Eyes in the Mirror. Sourcebooks, 2011. 224p. $9.99 Trade pb. 978-1-4022-4040-9.

When her mom falls into the broken pieces of a mirror as it shatters onto the floor, Dee does not know who to turn to for help.  She tracks down Jamie and blurts out the whole story to him.  She thinks the only way to get her mother out is to follow her into the mirror and bring her back.   She goes home, breaks the bathroom mirror, and falls into it.  She does not land as expected, but experiences colors more intensely as she struggles to get all the feeling back in her arms and legs before everything suddenly goes to black.  One step forward through the dark door takes her into a new world on the other side of the mirror.  There, Dee meets her own double, Samara, who is Dee’s alter ego with a life opposite Dee’s own.  Dee and Samara explore, switching places on either side of the mirror, swapping lives, relationships, and issues.   Dee discovers Samara has been cutting herself and tries to help by telling Samara’s dad the truth.  The girls experience life, love, loss, and loneliness through the eyes of their own reflected self in the mirror.

Alternative universes, cutting, teen pregnancy, and all the weight of adult responsibilities are all explored in this debut novel with the notably haunting cover.  Fans of science fiction will appreciate this intriguing teen pleasure read which offers fantasy, romance, and imagination.—Ava Ehde.

NONFICTION

Sommer, Sue. The Bugaboo Review: A Lighthearted Guide to Exterminating Confusion About Words, Spelling and Grammar. New World Library, 2011. 288p. $14. Oversize pb. 978-1-60868-026-9.

The Bugaboo Review reads like a catalog of grammar offenses created by someone with a sense of humor on the frontlines of writing instruction that is because…it was. Sommer has taught high school English for over a decade and her list of misunderstood words is nothing if not comprehensive. The lion’s share of the book is over 180 pages of alphabetically-listed trouble spots that plague inexperienced and experienced wordsmiths. How many times have writers used continual – “repeated regularly and often” – when they should have employed continuous – “prolonged without interruption?”   To keep things light, Sommer introduces the fatherly, tie-sporting Bug and his son, cap and t-shirt clad Boo, early in the text. Bug and Boo show up throughout, illustrating Sommer’s meanings.  For example, Bug uses a pool cue to take a shot while Boo and a trail of other insects queue up for their turn. Sommer dispenses with lengthy “whys” of grammar and cuts straight to how to get it right, usually in under fifty words. Grateful writers will barely skip a beat before returning to their brainstorms.

The book begins with a quick review of the parts of speech followed by a twelve-page chapter entitled “The Worst Offenders.”  The “WOs” are repeated through the alphabetic third chapter, “The Body of The Bug,” which is a good thing since the title will be most useful as a handy desk reference. The last chapter, “The Final Stingers,” is inappropriately subtitled “The ‘EI’ and ‘IE’” section since it includes far more spelling tricksters than those sporting the infamous vowel pairing. Littered throughout are boxed mini-lessons which tackle pitfalls like duplicate phrases, misuse of the word of and apostrophe traps. These, as well as the alphabetical list —which includes non-alphabetical word pairs—would be better served with an index, which is unfortunately lacking.  Still, Sommer has provided writers with a thorough and funny tool that will earn tattered corners quickly.  This is an excellent addition to any collection and a great graduation gift.—Laurie Vaughan.

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