This Week in Reviews September 14, 2011

3Q 2P J S

Brian, Kate. Vengeance: The Final Private Novel. Simon & Schuster, 2011. 240p. $9.99 Trade pb. 978-1-4169-8473-3.

The final book in the Private series continues the strewing of betrayals, intrigues, and attempted murder on main character Reed Brennan. After receiving an inheritance from her biological father (who died saving her life in a previous title), Reed uses her newfound wealth to re-build Billings House for future Billings Girls, but it appears that not everyone wants the house rebuilt. Sabotage and mysterious texts are aplenty in this last adventure of Reed Brennan.

As expected in a series with fifteen books (sixteen, if one counts the prequel), the last book does not stand on its own. Readers need to be up-to-date on the previous adventures of Reed Brennan and the Billings Girls to fully enjoy the novel. The author mentions previous attempts on Reed’s life and multiple characters appear throughout the pages without descriptive details. Newcomers will flounder, but the faithful reader will appreciate the lack of redundancy. The mystery has plenty of red herrings, but the actual culprit is not even hinted as a possibility until the last minute, which will be implausible to many. This series will appeal primarily to reluctant reading girls who enjoy novels about the rich and privileged. All in all, libraries already owning the series need to have the conclusion this book offers; while the rest can safely skip this individual title for a stand-alone reluctant reader novel.—Kristin Fletcher-Spear.

4Q 4P S

Burns, Laura J. and Melinda Metz. Sacrifice. Simon & Schuster, 2011. 264p. $9.99 Trade pb. 978-1-4424-0818-0.

Gabriel believes his family will welcome Shay when they realize she is half vampire, protecting her and Gabriel from her stepfather, Martin, who is hunting Gabriel for medical research.  Gabriel could not be more wrong.  Shay is tossed into a guarded storeroom to die because his family thinks she is an abomination, but Shay cannot survive without Gabriel’s blood.  When Gabriel’s home is attacked, Gabriel rescues Shay, betraying his family and letting his brother sacrifice his own life.  Fleeing the compound, Gabriel desperately tries to revive Shay, turning her into a vampire to save her life.   Unfortunately, Shay’s visions from sharing Gabriel’s blood reveal he helped murder her vampire father.  Striking out on her own, confused and trying to stave off  her blood craving, Shay resolves to save her mother from Martin.  When Gabriel’s family sentences him to death for falling in love with Shay, Shay realizes she must combat all odds to save him.

Burns and Metz write a seamless follow up to Crave (Simon & Shuster, 2010/VOYA December 2010) with plenty of action and gut-wrenching emotion.  Characters are well-developed and the meaning of true love thoroughly explored.  Loyalty to family is achingly descriptive and readers will feel the internal struggle that both Gabriel and Shay are battling inside themselves.  Sacrifice begins in the middle of the action and keeps going full-steam ahead all the way until its climatic conclusion. Readers will identify with Shay’s emotional roller coaster, cheering for her as she fights to become her own person.  The storyline continues to be original and is a solid addition to the overcrowded field of vampire novels.—Laura Panter.

3Q 3P J S

Cast, P.C. and Kristin Cast. Dragon’s Oath: A House of Night Novel. St. Martin’s Press. 2011. 160p. $12.99. 978-1-250-00023-1.

This House of Night novella uses a flashback to reveal some of the mysterious professor Dragon Lankford’s past. While standing guard before a funeral pyre in present day Oklahoma, an apparition of his love, Anastasia, appears to remind him of his oath to her, a promise to temper his strength with mercy. This vision sends him into a reverie in which he remembers their meeting and the series of events that led to him making the oath. The two met in the 1830s as the vampyre community in St. Louis was experiencing problems with the increasingly erratic Sherriff Biddle who seemed to be under the influence of a captive raven, using an evil energy to compel Biddle to do its bidding. Anastasia was the new spells professor and Dragon was still a fledgling at the St. Louis House of Night when their paths crossed and their love story began.

The romance of Dragon and Anastasia has a gothic feel, as do the drawings found at the beginning of each chapter. Spell couplets, as well as bits of the lore and practice of the vampyre society, are smoothly integrated into the text helping the story told within the flashback to stand alone. Readers of the series would more clearly understand the significance of this flashback and its ramifications in connection to the larger story of the series, presumably including knowledge of the death of Anastasia and the bitterness and turmoil the oath has caused Dragon in the subsequent years.—Erin Wyatt.

3Q 3P M J S

Elliott, Patricia. The Traitor’s Smile: The Pale Assassin. Holiday House, 2011. 432p. $17.95. 978-0-8234-2361-3.

Eugenie and her love interest, Justin, are smuggled ashore at Deal, England, having escaped the bloody terrors of revolution in their native France.  They are welcomed warmly and promised safety by Eugenie’s uncle, an English doctor.  Eugenie’s cousin, Hetta, however, is involved in the underground movement to support the revolution and therefore, is not impressed by Eugenie’s aristocratic bearing. Eugenie’s brother, Armand, has been imprisoned in France for his part in a failed attempt to rescue King Louis, and Eugenie desperately wants to help him escape.  Only the evil and deformed Rauol Goullet can make that happen, and his price is Eugenie’s hand in marriage.  His henchman appears in Deal offering help—but what is his motive? Moreover, has Justin come to prefer Hetta?

The stage is set for a story reminiscent of old melodramas—a beautiful and innocent heroine in mortal danger, a thoroughly evil villain with designs on her, and a prolonged misunderstanding between lovers. True to its formulaic nature, the plot turns on a fantastic piece of good luck—in fact, several of them. The redeeming feature of this novel is its historical setting. A wealth of period detail sets the scenes in Deal, the French country side, and in terror-torn Paris.  This element of realism creates an engaging suspense that will have readers turning the pages to see what happens. Written as a sequel to The Pale Assassin, this novel stands on its own. Recommend it to fans of historical romance.—Marla K. Unruh.

Though filled with slightly unrealistic coincidences, The Traitors Smile is an intriguing glimpse into the turmoil of the French revolution. The novel’s most unique feature is its neutral tone and fluid language which allows the reader to interpret the mood of every passage and the true intentions of each character. Consequently, Elliott’s strength is focused on developing plot rather than character, though both aspects are well-executed, no pun intended. 4Q, 3P.—Nicole Jacques, Teen Reviewer.

5Q 4P M J

Gantos, Jack. Dead End in Norvelt. Farrar Straus & Giroux/Macmillan, 2011. 352p. $15.99. 978-0-374-37993-3.

Jack Gantos lives in, as so many put it, “dead end” Norvelt, Pennsylvania.  Jack’s parents do not agree about Norvelt—Jack’s father thinks it is a “commie” town and wants to leave it behind for Florida, while Jack’s mother thinks it is a wonderful place with a great sense of community.  Jack thinks Norvelt is okay, but does see it as a town full of old people.  One of the old-timers is Miss Volker, Jack’s neighbor and founding member of the town, its original nurse and current obituary and “this day in history” writer.  As some of the old-timers start to die at a quick pace, the town starts to wonder if their deaths are suspicious, and if someone wants to clear the town for their own purposes.

Dead End in Norvelt wonderfully depicts the life of a young boy finding adventure and fun (and humor, often at his own expense) when being grounded for the summer limits his world to mostly adults.  His interaction with these adults is positive, and he respects the perspective they have on the world.  Jack is a lover of history, and the book focuses on the Cold War realities of life just before the Cuban Missile Crisis.  His reading of history is often referenced throughout the book—from King Arthur to the Incas and beyond.  Jack also realizes he is living through a change in history, as the country’s economy, political landscape, and generations, are about to change.  This is a thoughtful, funny, enjoyable read for younger readers, especially boys.—Nancy Pierce.

2Q 3P M J S

Lemon, Melissa. Cinder and Ella. Cedar Fort, 2011. 280p. $9.99. 978-1-59955-906-3.

Cinder and Ella grow up in a family of four daughters with loving parents. After a visit by the evil Prince Monticello, their father becomes more and more withdrawn and finally disappears. Their mother struggles to raise her family alone. She gradually loses touch with reality, doting on only two of her daughters and treating the other two like servants. She mentally merges Cinder and Ella into one entity: Cinderella, who must attend to everyone’s needs. Finding life at home intolerable, Cinder leaves to find work at the castle and Ella sets out to make her own way in the world. Circumstances eventually bring both girls to the castle, where they discover their captive father and Prince Monticello’s power over him is finally broken.

Loose ends abound in this book, and the writing often seems stilted and stiff. While fairytale adaptations are currently popular, the narrative style employed by the author effectively separates the reader from the action. Unfortunately, in the end, it is not Cinder and Ella who defeat the prince. The girls have to be rescued, making them disappointing as heroines. While the characters are never fully developed, the innovative plot device that each person has a tree that contains his life force is underscored well by foreshadowing and carried through to the end. The Cinderella theme has always had lasting appeal and the attractive cover art will pull teens in.—Nancy Wallace.

4Q 3P J S

Pixley, Marcella.  Without Tess. Farrar Straus & Giroux/Macmillan, 2011. 288p. $16.99. 978-0-374-36174-7.

Lizzie Cohen is seeing a guidance counselor because of her depression, poor grades, withdrawal, and sudden aggression. Five years have passed since her older sister Tess drowned, but her life is still dominated by memories of Tess and the magical, make-believe world she created. When Lizzie was a child, she viewed this magic land as a world populated by flying horses, selkies, and exciting fantasies. She went along with whatever Tess told her, including eating crab shells and enduring a “blood pledge” that hospitalized her with an infection. By then, she was beginning to see that Tess’s world involved delusions and psychoses. The action occurs in the present when Lizzie is fifteen, and five years earlier when she is beginning to doubt her sister’s infallibility. In the present, Lizzie feels tremendous guilt over not saving Tess from drowning. The guidance counselor and a neighbor, Niccolo Amodeo, finally convince her she could not have rescued Tess. The ensuing romance between Niccolo and Lizzie seems a too easy way to create a positive ending, but it is a relief to see Lizzie move into healthy grieving.

The writing is smooth, well-paced, and contemporary. Several of Tess’s poems appear between chapters, and Lizzie’s poem about Tess’s life and death lend closure to the story. Teenagers with family members or friends suffering from mental illness will recognize the brutal nature of Tess’s behavior, much of which makes for disturbing reading. Other teens will relate to Lizzie’s role as a student who does not fit in, acts out when offered kindness, and is intelligent but locked into self-destructive behaviors. Lizzie is finally able to acknowledge the truth about Tess’s illness and restart her own life journey, scarred but standing.—Florence Munat.

3Q 4P M J S
Richmond, Blair. Out of Breath. Ashland Creek Press, 2011. 274p. $12.50. 978-0-9796475-7-4.
Kat is a runner. She ran track in high school, and had her father not run over her foot with his car, she would have run on a university scholarship. She ran away from her drunken father in Houston, and slowly made her way to Lithia, Oregon, her birthplace. In Lithia, Kat gets a job in a sports store and prepares to run the Cloudline, a brutal run up a mountain in late fall. She also meets Alex, the friendly and gorgeous guy who works at the food co-op and, like her, is a vegan. She also meets Roman, the even more gorgeous guy who is the best actor in town. When people start dying from “bear” attacks, Kat is thrust into a world where vampires live in secret among the population, and the two guys she is attracted to turn out to be like the very creatures that killed her mother and threaten her life. On top of that, the father she thought she shot and killed has sent a detective to track her down. Will Kat run away from her problems again, or will she finally stand her ground and resolve them?
Blair Richmond is the pen name of a Northwest author. Out of Breath is the first novel of a trilogy under this pseudonym. The good-and-bad-vampires theme, the dreary and forested environment, and the love triangle between the main protagonists are reminiscent of Twilight (Little, Brown, 2005/VOYA October 2005), and those who enjoyed that series will love Kat’s innermost thoughts and her difficulty in choosing between Alex and Roman while simultaneously being threatened by both. This may be a good read for girls, but boys are unlikely to be impressed with yet one more vampire young adult novel.—Etienne Vallée.

3Q 3P J

Stevenson, Robin. Escape Velocity. Orca, 2011. 240p. $12.95. 978-1-55469-8660.

Fifteen-year-old Lou feels trapped by many things in life: her father’s injury that leaves him home on the couch all day, her lack of friends at her school, and her mother’s abandonment of her when she was only one day old. Lou just wants to escape Alberta’s Badlands and find a better life for herself.  Lou’s opportunity arises when she unexpectedly goes to live with a mother that she has never known. Although Lou’s mother is a famous writer, she and Lou can barely communicate with each other. Living with her mother causes Lou to wonder about her family’s past.  When her mother will not tell her about it, Lou takes matters into her own hands. What she finds out will change her relationship with her mother and her family forever.

Robin Stevenson has managed to craft a unique book: she has inserted adventure into a novel about family turmoil.  Although many readers may not relate to the troubles of the main character, they will want to finish the book to find out what happens to Lou and her family. In addition, Lou’s desire to know the truth about her family will resonate with many young adults trying to understand their own family dynamics. The central conflict of this book is certainly an intriguing one that will captivate some young adults.  Students who enjoy realistic fiction and books about family will be most interested in this book. While the plot of this book will not interest every reader, those who do pick it up will enjoy it.—Erica Sogge.

4Q 3P M J

Yep, Laurence. Dragons of Silk: Golden Mountain Chronicles. HarperCollins, 2011. 352p. $16.99. 978-0-06-027518-1.

Silk is in the blood of several girls from the same Chinese family who experience love, loss, and the need to make often painful sacrifices for the sake of their family.

This is the tenth and final book in Yep’s Golden Mountain Chronicles series, which began in 1975 and includes two Newbery Honor books.  While this novel’s publicity states it is the story of four girls, there are actually five of equal importance: sisters Swallow and Lily; Lily’s granddaughter Little Swallow; Little Swallow’s granddaughter Lillian; and Lillian’s daughter Rosie.  Yep binds their stories with the Chinese legend and festival of the Weaving Maid and the family’s generation-spanning involvement in the silk and garment industries.

There is a great deal of history here, none of which is sugar-coated, particularly the devastation of opium (“Demon Mud”) on China’s population in the nineteenth century.  All of the girls face impossible choices that almost always mean putting the family’s survival ahead of their own desires (Swallow and Lily’s mother tell Swallow this is what women have always done), which should prove thought-provoking for modern readers.  The five girls are deliberately alike, and likeable; readers will be relieved that Rosie, at last, is able to follow her dreams and that the one loose end from the first story is tied tight at the end.—Vikki Terrile.


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