This Week In Reviews: November 28, 2011

FICTION

3Q 2P M

Bosch, Pseudonymous. You Have to Stop This: The Secret Series. Little, Brown, 2011. 352p. $16.99. 978-0316076265.

Fans of the first four titles in the Secret series will likely appreciate this final installment which finally reveals (somewhat) the mysterious secret readers have anticipated.  The two, adventurous main characters, Max-Ernest and Cass, joined by Yo-Yoji, become caught up in yet another mystery in which a priceless mummy disappears from the local history museum.  The three are accused of being involved in the disappearance and must solve the case to clear their names.  They also become convinced that the disappearance has something to do with the all-important Secret they, as well as the villainous members of the secret society the Midnight Sun, have been seeking to uncover.

Despite frequent references to events and characters in the previous titles, this can serve as a stand-alone read; however, readers will definitely benefit from having read the entire series, so libraries purchasing this title would be well-advised to purchase the others to prevent reader-mutiny by fans of Bosch.  While the book will be popular with fans of the Secret series, Bosch’s writing style may be rather confusing to some readers with the omniscient narrator contributing numerous asides and footnotes that are rather distracting and can sometimes interrupt the action of the plot.—Donna Miller.

Bosch takes you into a world with wild twists and turns, and horrible jokes. As three friends search to discover an unimaginable secret, they find that secrets lie within themselves as well. The characters’ relatable changes bring you back to a place in yourself you may have forgotten. The wonder of past and present keeps you intrigued throughout the entire book. This is definitely a book all ages would enjoy for a quick read.  4Q, 4P.—Rayanne Patterson, Teen Reviewer.


5Q 4P S A/YA

Peet, Mal. Life: An Exploded Diagram. Candlewick Press, 2011. 416p. $17.99. 978-0763652272.

This remarkable work of historical fiction begins during the last days of World War II, when a heartbroken Nazi pilot goes on a last, suicidal mission over the English countryside, inadvertently bringing Clem Ackroyd into the world a little bit earlier than expected.  Clem grows up and comes of age during the Cold War—an era that shapes his life as much as both World Wars shaped those of his parents and grandparents.  War is the backdrop, but the heart of the story is the forbidden love affair between middle-class Clem and Frankie Mortimer.  Frankie is the rebellious daughter of the wealthy landowner for whom Clem’s father works.  The reader can sense they are doomed, but will be completely unprepared for the shock of how and why.

Peet plays with chronology, taking us back and forth from past to present.  He does the same with point of view, switching at will from first- to third-person and back again.  An omniscient narrator lifts us from the immediate narrative thread and drops us down for a fly-on-the-wall look at iconic scenes from the atomic age—like the Kennedy White House during the Cuban missile crisis.  Somehow, it all comes together at the end, with an older Clem fretting that he may miss an 8:45 a.m. appointment in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  This title would be an ideal choice for a multi-generational book discussion, and will very likely have adult crossover appeal.—Jane Harper.

Sidestreets. Lorimer, 2011. $9.95 Trade pb.

4Q 4P J S

Firmston, Kim. Schizo. 152p. 978-1552778715.

Dan has been trying hard to keep up with school, keep his brother safe, and possibly even join a band.  He wants to desperately be a normal teenage guy, but his mother says it is all up to the numbers. Daniel, Dustin, and their mom Denise are “four sixes…in which everything is sacred, ordered, and safe.” When Dan’s mom goes off her medication for schizophrenia, Daniel’s world gets chaotic.  The first episode begins at a PTO conference where the numbers did not align, and Dan’s mom wanted to get the principal fired.   The plot quickly escalates from Dan’s mom getting fired to her locking his brother Dustin out of the house.  At the climax, the reader is truly hoping that help will intervene for both Daniel and Dustin, before one of them is seriously injured.

Firmston is one of few authors who writes about schizophrenia from a teen’s point of view. The fear of not knowing is what underlies this story and is what makes this a page-turner.  The simplistic dreams of Daniel, in his chaotic world, balance the story. A good quick read for those who want to learn more about schizophrenia.

3Q 4P J S

Harnest, Faye. Girl Fight. 112p. 978-1552778654.

Who says girls can’t fight?  That is all Zadie can think about.  She wants to be indestructible, powerful, and unbeatable.  She wants to be the perfect superhero to her sister and kick the butt of her nemesis.  Zadie’s anger, however, has gotten out of control.  She is constantly in fights to prove herself to others, especially her ex-best friend, Kat.   When Zadie starts seeing red and wanting to “kill” Kat for making her look bad, her wish almost comes true.  She “pulverizes” Kat’s face and body until she is unrecognizable.  Zadie is given the final word that “if any more fighting should happen, she will be expelled permanently.”  It takes all the strength Zadie has to ignore the torments and taunts. It is not until her kid sister is put in harm’s way that Zadie will have to fight, and lose to win.

It is hard to imagine a girl so full of anger; however, Harnest does a good job of stepping into the shoes of someone whose rage has been building for years.  Harnest touches a bit on the bullying that may have triggered the superhero fighting effect in Zadie, but more backstory would have helped.  It is up to the reader to decide where Zadie’s anger came from and it will be for the reader to decide if she did the right thing in the end.

2Q 3P J S

Tsintziras, Aya. Pretty Bones. 142p. 978-1552777121.

Raine is beautiful, smart, and very thin.  Raine thinks if she drinks enough coffee and very little else, she will lose the weight she has been desperately trying to get rid of over the last couple months.  The only bad thing is Raine’s weight loss challenge has turned into an obsession.   Food and the mirror are her enemies; running and coffee become her constant companions; counting calories has become the new norm.  When Raine’s parents and friends finally try to get her help, she runs away. Time is running out for Raine—will there be nothing left of her but pretty bones?

Tsintziras does a great job getting the reader hooked, and then exposes the new way to be anorexic.  By the middle of the book, however, it seems a new plot develops and the original plot is put aside to dwell on another character. It is not until the end of the book that the reader learns exactly how much Raine weighs.  It seems a bit unrealistic that Raine’s parents and friends would not go looking for her; she is only a few minutes away.  For a more in-depth look at anorexia, readers should try Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking, 2009/VOYA April 2009).—Sherry Rampey.

4Q 4P J

Smith, Roland. Storm Runners: The Surge. Scholastic, 2011. 144p. $16.99. 978-0545081795.

Chase Master’s night is going from bad to worse. After surviving a bus crash, near-drowning, and a twelve hour trek in one of the strongest hurricanes to make landfall, Chase is ready to breathe a sign of relief. But the surge is just starting. Finally making it back to the farm (a winter home for a travelling circus) with his friends, Nicole and Rashawn, Chase discovers that food, gas, and batteries are nearly non-existent. As he and Nicole head out into the storm to get supplies, readers find that a new adventure awaits.  Meanwhile, Rashawn and Nicole’s grandmother stay behind to watch over Pet, the pachyderm who is hours away from giving birth. Chase’s father, who has been chasing the storm with his partner, Tomas, and a local reporter, is stuck on the other side of town, where the roads have all but washed out. While everyone works to get back to the farm, they must deal with new obstacles including escaped animals, storm surges, and a very snobby television reporter. And then…bad news. The hurricane is only the beginning of the storm.

The second book in this planned trilogy continues the thrills and excitement started in the first book. Characters are further developed, especially Rashawn. Readers will enjoy following the groups of characters as they try to make it to safety together. While not violent, sensitive readers will want to prepare themselves for the death of some of the circus animals. This is recommended for all middle grade and YA collections.—Sarah Sogigian.

SCIENCE FICTION/HORROR/FANTASY

2Q 3P J S

Salvatore, R.A. Neverwinter: Neverwinter Saga, Book 2.  Wizards of the Coast, 2011. 352p. $27.95. 978-0786958429.

The elves Drizzt Do’Udren and Dahlia Sin’felle travel together to Neverwinter, a town that is under siege by both an evil sorceress who wants to destroy it, and by a warlord who wants to  control its people. Along the way, they find a ravaged countryside and frightened townsfolk. It becomes clear to them that Sylora Salm, the sorceress and sworn enemy of Dahlia, is creating an undead army to drain Neverwinter of its life. They then discover that warlord Herzgo Alegni is using mercenaries and magic to control the town. Drizzt and Dahlia are powerful warriors with many magical items at their disposal, but whether that will be enough for them to save the day remains unclear.

This second book in the Neverwinter saga sets the stage for a forthcoming computer game set in the same world and with many of the same characters. A reader does not have to have read the previous volume to make sense of this book —the characters go to great lengths of expositional dialog to help out. There is not much story here; mainly, there are detailed descriptions of weapons, treasure, and outfits strung between accounts of magically-enhanced fighting. While fans of Salvatore’s previous books and players of online fantasy roleplaying games will no doubt find this book irresistible, fans of the fantasy genre may not be satisfied with all the telling and the lack of showing.—Geri Diorio.

Neverwinter is a very unsatisfying read. The plot was frustratingly clichéd and fragmented by rapidly switching perspectives. The writing style leaves much to be desired. The same ideas are often rephrased in an astonishingly repetitive fashion, giving the reader no opportunity for individual inferences. While the characters have some potential, their good qualities are overshadowed by the monotonously detailed descriptions that the author included every few pages. This book was an uphill struggle to finish.  2Q, 2P.—Holly Storm, Teen Reviewer.

5Q 4P J S

Webb, Philip. Six Days. Chicken House/Scholastic, 2011. 352p. $17.99. 978-0545317672.

One hundred years after the Quark Wars, London is literally being pulverized inch by inch. Russian oppressors drive the populace in a mad search for the “Artifact.” No one knows what it looks like, but they will know it when they see it. Fifteen-year-old Cass, her little brother Wilbur, and their father are scavs, clawing through the wreckage that is London, looking for “It.” While out scavving, Cass and Wilbur run into two odd-looking teens, Erin and Peyto, also searching for the Artifact, but with much more urgency. They are from another planet and the missing flinder needs to be recovered within six days or Earth will be destroyed. Wilbur is seen by the sentient alien space ship as “the One” who can find the missing flinder and save the fate of the planet. Soon Cass, Peyto, and Erin are in a frantic three-way race against time, the Russians, and the spaceship that is a living, thinking power to rescue Wilbur and save everyone.

First-time novelist Webb, a high-tech consultant, has written a wildly inventive, fast-paced science fiction adventure story complete with a strong female protagonist, creative language, and tender relationships between wonderful young adults caught up in terrible times. This is one terrific page-turning tale.—Beth Andersen.

NONFICTION

5Q 2P S Graphic Format

Ishikawa, Kenji and Kiyoshi Kawabata. The Manga Guide to the Universe. Illus. by Yutaka Hiiragi. No Starch Press, 2011. 256p. $19.95. 978-1-593272678.   Illus. Photos. Index.

The Manga Guide to the Universe makes astronomy approachable and fun.  It explains major astronomical concepts with manga interludes to lighten the tone as characters explore the history of astronomy, the details of the solar system, and the modern mysteries of the cosmos.  In addition to manga sections, pictures and graphs augment the text to clarify various calculations and theories.  Ishiawa and Kawabata’s clear explanations make concepts easy for readers without an interest in the mathematical details, though the book requires rudimentary knowledge of geometry and algebra.  More advanced mathematics will help those interested in exploring fascinating ideas like the Drake equation or dark energy.

The art of Yutaka Hiiragi masterfully combines humorous illustrations with abstract concepts.  The characters of Yamane, Kanna, and Gloria are endearing, even if the storyline becomes occasionally strained as it tries to cover a literally expansive topic. The book’s use of humor relies on certain graphic symbols, which could create confusion if readers are unfamiliar with manga motifs.  The book’s bias occasionally appears as various Japanese contributions to astronomy get special recognition.  The index contains full color photographs that showcase the stunning beauty of the subject matter. A great read for teens with a burgeoning interest in astronomy, the book has been printed in “layflat binding” to help those studying the subject.  An excellent addition to any collection of ACT,SAT, and college preparation courses, The Manga Guide to the Universe entertains as it informs about the wonders of our universe.—Jessica Atherton.

REFERENCE

Hamby, Zachary. Greek Mythology for Teens. Prufrock Press, 2011. 216p. $19.95. 978-1593637170.

This title attempts to connect the lessons of Greek mythology to modern society. Hamby opens his text by discussing the definition of myth and its function throughout history. Through illustrations and individual profiles, he sets up the context of various gods and goddesses by describing their characteristics, flaws, and impact on mortals. Using reader’s theatre, each of the nine chapters addresses specific themes with discussion questions, fun facts, and analytical assignments interspersed throughout. In addition, he includes historical and cultural information to lay the foundation for each myth, as well as its influence on society as a whole.

Whether educators are teaching mythology for the first time, or they are seasoned veterans, this text provides innovative ways to engage students so that they take a proactive approach to the learning process rather than rely solely on teachers’ dissemination of knowledge.  Hamby simplifies the complex lives and interactions of gods and goddesses by creating skits that incorporate modern language, humor, and meaningful connections to students’ lives. Although the skits and various lessons seem mostly geared towards middle grades, each one possesses the flexibility to be modified to fit the needs of more mature students. In addition, each section contains information that links each myth to real-world places, events, literature, and artwork in an effort to connect classic literature with modern culture.—Courtney Krieger.

PROFESSIONAL

Coman, Carolyn.  Writing Stories: Ideas, Exercises, and Encouragement for Teachers and Writers of All Ages. Stenhouse Publishers, 2011. 186p. $17.50 Oversize pb. 978-1571108715. Illus. Source Notes.

Sharing writing with others is an act of courage.  For teachers, it takes creativity to elicit the writing and sharing of stories among classroom students.  This thought-provoking book coaches teachers on how to approach teaching the art of writing to a variety of students.  Coman asserts students should be encouraged to formulate stories through writing exercises that promote the sharing of ideas and personal experiences.  Writing about actual events gives writers a sense of authority and confidence in their storytelling abilities.  In Coman’s writing process, students engage in writing through pre-writing questionnaires and exercises that focus on drawing out the elements of character development, plot, tone, point of view, and story location.  Various writing styles are discussed, outlining ways teachers can model writing to generate interest and shape writers’ stories, including the use of storyboarding to solidify story details.  Several other chapters focus on the sensitivity needed to interact with writers on story revisions.

Coman produces an adequate depiction of the writing process and the way students can be encouraged to enjoy it.  Her chapters on character development and the use of storyboarding are useful for teaching students to elaborate on character emotions and actions.  Her writing style is interesting and straight-forward.  She focuses on reaching the student and making them feel that their work is important.  This is an excellent instructional handbook for educators working with students who lack a strong writing foundation as it gives insight on how to begin getting those students excited about writing.—Laura Panter.

SERIES NONFICTION

A Taste of Culture. Kidhaven/Gale, 2011. 64p. PLB $28.75. Index. Glossary. Maps.

3Q 3P M

Sheen, Barbara. Foods of England. 978-0737758818.

__________.  Foods of Morocco.978-0737758658.

__________.  Foods of Afghanistan. 978-0737754209.

Each volume of the A Taste of Culture series begins with a colorful map of the country with the food regions clearly labeled.   There is a good mix of recipes for deserts and main dishes in each book.  The books serve as a helpful introduction to the main dishes of the region and explain how the foods mirror the country’s culture.  Each volume includes a glossary, index and metric conversion chart.

Foods of Morocco includes descriptions of Moroccan riads, homes, eating habits, and the spices commonly used.  Foods of England gives a detailed gastronomic tour of England, enough to make your mouth water for hot cross buns, sausages, and scones.    Foods of Afghanistan is an excellent, short explanation to complement thereading of Three Cups of Tea or The Kite Runner.  Did you know that the Afghanistan woman is often judged by the quality of her rice?  If you want to understand a bit about the Afghanistan culture you will have to know the value of chai, or tea, and know that if you do not say “bus,” the Dari word for “enough,” the tea will keep coming.  Each volume includes some easy recipes which can be prepared in a few minutes and are often staples of the everyday diet of the people represented.  Foods of Afghanistan contains recipes for spiced chickpeas and haft mewah, a type of fruit soup, which is served on Nauroz, a spring holiday.

The series is simpler than the Culture of the World series many libraries own and would be helpful to the English language learner who wants to share his or her cultural practices with classmates.  The writing style is clear and direct, and the layout is visually appealing.  The photographs make your mouth water and the vibrant scenes of city life make the reader feel as if he is actually in the country.  The books present the history of each country in a vibrant, living fashion.  This series is recommended as a lively supplement to other informational texts and encyclopedias.—Ellen Frank.

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