This Week in Reviews: October 14, 2011

FICTION

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Bailey, Elizabeth. The Gilded Shroud: A Lady Fan Mystery. Berkley Publishing Group/Penguin, 2011. 368p. $15. Trade pb. 978-0-425-24289-6.

This first novel in a new mystery series is ultimately a slight disappointment, but it offers great promise for the volumes to come.  Ottilia Draycott, the new companion to the Dowager Lady Polbrook, finds herself embroiled in the mysterious death of the Lady’s daughter-in-law, and quickly takes it upon herself to help the Lady and her younger son, Francis, to clear the murdered woman’s husband of the crime.

Despite a few seemingly avoidable anachronisms, the narration is remarkably true to Regency-era English, and the characters, particularly Ottilia and Francis are strongly presented.  Most importantly, although the ultimate solution disappoints, the mystery itself is quite engaging­­—especially the confusion over the timeline of the crimes caused by two separate thefts following the murder itself. Unfortunately, flaws are abundant.  The ease with which Ottilia insinuates herself into the role of detective, for example,  is frustratingly unrealistic, although Bailey mitigates this somewhat by giving Ottilia an appropriately astute understanding of her intensely hierarchical world.  At the same time, the characters’ constant amazement at Ottilia’s investigati­ve powers, while perhaps warranted in light of their views of women, gets wearisome quickly for a contemporary reader.  Presumably, with Ottilia now established as a detective, both of these flaws can be overcome in future installments.  Bailey has the skeleton of a great series here–great characters and narration, and a strong sense of suspense and intrigue.  Let’s hope she is able to flesh this out into a truly great mystery next time around.­­­—Mark Flowers.

3Q 2P S
Gates, J. Gabriel and Charlene Keel. Dark Territory: The Tracks, Book 1. Health Communications, 2011. 504p. $9.95 Trade pb. 978-0-7573-1574-9.

Ignatio Torrez is moving from the rough streets of Los Angeles to a small town that is supposed to be safe and gang-free. He soon finds himself being taken in by a “Flatliner” named Raphael. At the same time, Aimee is returning from a year abroad following a tragic accident that has left her boyfriend dead. Raphael, Aimee, and Ignatio are being drawn into an ancient story of love, betrayal, and sinister characters. Unable to escape their fates, each character is slowly being drawn into a showdown at the tracks that separate the Flatliners from the “Toppers.” The tracks are the dark territory, a place where children are told never to go, the place where Aimee’s boyfriend died. The tracks are also the place of an epic showdown between good and evil.

Dark Territory draws upon classic tales such as Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story. This tale of star-crossed lovers is unique in that it incorporates Hispanic and Japanese culture, including martial arts and mysticism. There is a little Mephistopheles thrown in, as a sinister character named Magician orchestrates the final showdown. The story starts out slowly, but as the elements fall into place there is a building tension that will keep readers wanting to know more. Although this is the first book in a new series, there is an overwhelming sense that a little bit of everything has been thrown in to the story: love, honor and betrayal, prophecies, destiny, martial arts, even time travel, and a brief appearance by a dinosaur. The elements of the story are at times a bit much, but there is enough mystery to keep readers turning the page.  Purchase this title where teens are looking for summer-blockbuster-type reads. Also consider purchasing this for some discussion of multiculturalism or class warfare.—Karen Jensen.

3Q 3P J

Hieber, Leanne Renee. Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul. Sourcebooks, 2011. 336p. $8.99 Trade pb. 978-1-4022-6052-0.

Natalie Stewart is a mute girl living with her father in New York City in 1882. Natalie’s life is relatively uneventful until a portrait of an English man named Lord Denbury arrives in New York City.  The portrait is shrouded in mystery as its subject disappeared shortly after it was painted.  Although Lord Denbury is presumed dead, a man looking quite like him begins to lurk the streets of New York. Meanwhile, Natalie discovers that there is more to the portrait than originally meets the eye.  With each piece of information that Natalie learns about the portrait and the man who was its subject, she is forced ever deeper into a dark mystery. Will she be able to solve the puzzle before it is too late?  Readers who like mysterious books about the paranormal will enjoy reading to find out.

Hieber’s novel is basically a retelling of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 The Picture of Dorian Gray, with the roles reversed and paranormal romance inserted.  Because so much of the plot is influenced by Dorian Gray, savvy readers may find the events of the story predictable;  however, younger readers and those not familiar with the book to which it alludes may find this book confusing and slow-moving.  This book will definitely be popular and well-liked by readers who enjoy stories about magic, romance, and the paranormal. While this book is not for every reader, it will be a valuable addition to a collection serving teens who enjoy paranormal romance and Gothic stories.—Erika Sogge.

SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY/HORROR

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Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. Every Other Day. Egmont, 2011. 336p. $17.99. 978-1-60684-169-3.

Seventeen-year-old Kali D’Angelo has daddy issues.  (You would think an academic who teaches Introduction to Preternatural Biology would be delighted to have a daughter who regularly turns into an invincible demon-hunter.)  With a family history more complex than she can ever imagine, events start spiraling out of control when her father enrolls her in Heritage High School. It is here that Kali, with her self-acknowledged hero complex, quickly becomes involved in a life-and-death situation involving a memory-destroying parasite and a curious group of new friends.   Our brave and conflicted young heroine quickly discovers that fighting off dragons, zombies, hellhounds, and basilisks is not as treacherous as interacting with mad scientists, typical teenagers, and newly-discovered relatives.

The scientific concepts interwoven in this urban fantasy are interesting, well researched, and thought provoking.  It appears that Darwinism in Kali’s world includes both convergent and divergent evolution accounting for a wide range of real life mythical monsters.   The dialog in this first-person narrative can get stilted and repetitive as the reader is privy to Kali’s thoughts as well as her reactions to the other characters.  While the story includes a strong protagonist, fast-paced action, and very little romance, there is some gratuitous gore that may not be to the liking of all readers.  The torrent of plot twists that appear at the end of the book is edifying.  While the book stands on its own, the satisfying ending could easily segue into a sequel.—Lynn Farrell Stover.

3Q 4P J S

Bridges, Robin. The Gathering Storm: The Katerina Trilogy. Delacorte/Random House, 2012. 400p. $17.99. 978-0-385-74022-7.

Katiya confronts magical evil and the conventions of high society in this novel which takes place in 1888 St. Petersburg, Russia. Katiya lives in an alternate Russia where Light and Dark faerie courts vie for hegemony against the tsar. Katiya finds herself an unexpectedly important pawn because of her unique gift:  she can call the dead back to life. Wanted by the vampires for her gifted blood and wanted by the tsar for her ability to awaken a mythic warrior, Katiya simply wants to avoid the snide girls at her boarding school and become a doctor at one of the hospitals her progressive father funds. Katiya survives kidnapping by a vampire suitor only to wind up in the middle of an epic battle with the undead. This is the first book in a planned trilogy.

Bridges could become a worthy successor to Libba Bray with this historical fantasy. Her lush settings, secret rituals, and paranormal creatures make for an atmospheric political adventure. Katiya’s romance with the tsar’s son, George, will also please teen readers. There are some places where the novel could use improvement. Despite a note on Russian naming conventions, the sheer multitude of titles and similar names may be difficult to absorb. Not all of the plot elements lock together smoothly, although that may be addressed as the trilogy progresses. For example, Katiya’s journey to the vampire kingdom seems disconnected from the other parts of her story. Nonetheless, Katiya is a strong female hero whose further adventures are worth following.—Caitlyn Augusta.

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Delaney, Joseph. The Spook’s Bestiary: The Guide to Creatures of the Dark (The Last Apprentice). Illus. by Julek  Heller. Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2011. 240p. $16.99. 978-0-06-208114-8.

This companion book to Delaney’s The Last Apprentice series is an inside look at the demons, beasts, and gods that keep Spook John Gregory and his apprentice, Tom Ward, in business.  The book references characters, creatures, and episodes from the eight books in the series, along with others that are, perhaps, a glimpse into future books.  Meant to be the aggregate knowledge of John Gregory’s study of dark creatures and the only book that survived the destruction of Spook’s library, this title relies heavily on Gregory’s point of view, which readers of the series will know is decidedly anti-witch and often anti-woman.  Case in point, Gregory says flat-out at least twice in this bestiary, “Never trust a woman.”

The accompanying illustrations of the various creatures are highly detailed and appropriately grotesque; reading the bestiary ahead of the rest of the series and keeping these illustrations in mind will certainly make for creepy reading.  Fans of The Last Apprentice will enjoy the deeper look into the creatures and characters they have been reading about, although this bestiary is not essential reading for the series.—Vikki Terrile.

4Q 4P J S

Mead, Richelle.  Bloodlines. Razorbill/Penguin, 2011. 432p. $18.99. 978-1-59514-317-4.

Alchemists hold no loyalty to either Moroi vampires or half-breed dhampirs, but they work tirelessly to keep them safe from evil Strigoi vampires in order to protect human lives.  Even though Sydney has been raised, trained, and inked as an alchemist, the line of her loyalty often blurs as she brings her own interpretation of protection into play.  Much to the chagrin of her father, who fears she will further embarrass him before the alchemist leaders, Sydney volunteers to act as the guardian of a vampire, the Moroi queen’s sister, Jill.  Sydney and Jill are concealed as students at a boarding school.  This backdrop provides a canvas for the well-played teen angst that moves the story along.  With Mead’s proven ability to keep the hearts of her readers pounding, Bloodlines is sure to be a fantastic new series.

Readers who have not cut their teeth on Mead’s Vampire Academy series (Razorbill, 2007/VOYA August 2007) may struggle to make connections among more than a dozen characters who appear in the early pages of this new series.  Although Mead does not clarify those relationships, she does take ample time to differentiate between the various bloodlines.  Be careful vamp lovers—Bloodlines will suck you in and you will keep vampire hours until you read the last page.—Kimberly Bower.

4Q 3P J S Graphic Format

Nijyo, Rin and Hana Saitou. Tales of the Abyss: Asch the Bloody,Volume 1. Bandai Entertainment, 2011. 180p. $10.99 Trade pb. 978-1-60496-298-7.

Asch the Bloody uses stellar art to create an enjoyable companion manga suitable for all fans of the original video game and anime, Tales of the Abyss.  The manga follows Asch, who played a secondary, though crucial, part in the original series.  Van kidnaps the young prince, Asch, and replaces him with a clone.  Asch thinks Van saved his life and dedicates himself to fighting for Van.  As time goes by, the lost prince begins to question his loyalty as he uncovers lies and reconnects with his clone, Luke. Betrayals occur and a world-wide war risks all life on the planet. Saitou’s art tells a tale of epic proportions of lies, war, magic, and science as a clone and his original discover their true purpose.

Any audience familiar with the Tales of the Abyss series will be familiar with their complex and grandiose plots, but outsiders might become confused. The manga reveals Asch’s mounting frustration, though other characters remain fairly undeveloped. Asch follows Japanese role-playing standards, with stereotypes like the quiet female healer, the fighting tank, and the spy.  There is even a mascot.  Despite these restrictions, Saitou floods each page with spectacular drawings that could be helpful to any teens interested in honing their fanart skills.  Yoshitaka Amano’s Final Fantasy enthusiasts will enjoy the series and might get a kick out of the Sepiroth tree reference.  Those who enjoy more straightforward role-playing games, like Zelda, might find Asch too convoluted.  Since Asch will be released at the same time as the anime, this manga could see the same result as Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto series, and would be a good addition to gaming fans’ libraries.—Jessica Atherton.

3Q 4P A/YA

Rowland, Diana. My Life As a White Trash Zombie. DAW, 2011. 320p. $7.99 Mass market pb. 978-0-7564-0675-2.

Humor adds an enjoyable twist to this romp through familiar urban fantasy turf. A self-described “loser girl,” twenty-one-year-old Angel Crawford is a foul-mouthed, pill-popping, high-school dropout with a felony record, an alcoholic father, a slacker boyfriend, and heavy-duty anger management issues that keep her from holding down a job. Ironically, after dying, Angel gets her life together. Emerging unscathed from a deadly car crash with a week’s worth of a strange-looking shake and an anonymous referral for a position at the local coroner’s, she slowly starts to figure out what readers will already know from the title. When she learns that someone is killing off all the other zombies in town, Angel has to find out who is doing it before she is the next decapitated body being investigated by the police.

Angel’s self-deprecating humor may remind readers of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse, just a little younger and rougher around the edges. Like Sookie, Angel starts out with low self-esteem and grows to accept herself for who (or what) she is. Brain-eating scenes are graphic, as is the language. Suggest this one to older teens or twenty-somethings looking for an edgy, contemporary urban fantasy along the lines of Jim Butcher or Patricia Briggs.—Laurie Cavanaugh.

NONFICTION

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Kirkpatrick, Katherine.  Mysterious Bones: The Story of the Kennewick Man. Illus. by Emma Stevenson. Holiday House, 2011. 60p. $17.95. 978-0-8234-2187-9.

When festival goers at a Kennewick, Washington, park stumbled across a human skull in 1996, they had no idea that the skull was thousands of years old. Police and archaeologists soon found more than 300 other bones, making this one of the most complete ancient skeletons ever found in the Americas. Named “the Kennewick man,” the skeleton elicited questions about who he was, who his people were, and how they got to the Pacific Northwest 9,500 years ago. He also brought about controversy, as local Native American tribes claimed him as their own, and insisted he be re-buried without any DNA or other testing.  The story of the Kennewick man is used to demonstrate the work of anthropologists and the fascinating things about human history that scientists can learn from such a find.  His is only one story among many.  Though Kirkpatrick seems to take the side of science, she also illustrates the legal and ethical dilemmas in claiming ancient human remains for science or education.

Older children and teens interested in science and anthropology will enjoy reading about this ancient mystery, and trying to put the puzzle pieces together themselves.  The book will get its most use, of course, for student assignments, and it will give them plenty of information for a well-rounded paper.  It is recommended for larger public libraries, as well as middle school and high school collections.—Stephanie L Petruso.

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