This Week in Reviews: December 8, 2011

FICTION

3Q 3P M

Kessler, Liz. A Year Without Autumn. Candlewick, 2011. 304p. $15.99. 978-0763655952.

At the end of every summer, Jenni and her family pack up the car and drive to their condo at Riverside Village. Everything is rather predictable, from the activities the village puts on, such as movie night, to hanging out with her best friend, Autumn, horseback riding and crossing the weir. Jenni soon discovers an old elevator in the village that works as a time machine, except she does not know this just yet—but she sees into the future, where nothing is predictable, every time she rides it. “I’ve never been in an old-fashioned elevator like this before. It makes me feel like I’m in an old spy movie. Maybe Autumn and I could invent a story about it.” Unfortunately, she sees something tragic happen to Autumn’s family and tries to do all she can to stop it.

While the premise is somewhat believable, the rush to avert the tragedy is rather expected. The reader is left with a lot of unanswered questions as to exactly how it is decided what changes in the future and what stays the same. If readers can successfully suspend belief, however, and go along for the ride into the future, they might start to question their own desires to see beyond the present. Young readers will enjoy the friendship Jenni and Autumn share and will likely want Jenni to succeed in helping Autumn and her family.—K. Czarnecki.

3Q 3P S

Mills, Rob. Charlie’s Key. Orca, 2011. 264p. $9.95 Trade pb. 978-1554698721.

Charlie has had a string of bad luck. First, he and his father get into a massive car accident. His father does not survive, but before dying, he presses a key into Charlie’s hand. Then, there are no foster homes available so Charlie is stuck living in a juvenile jail.  He is stuck between bullies and boys who help out in return for favors.  Charlie cannot take much more of it.  He escapes during his father’s funeral and plans to meet up with a friend just released from the juvenile jail. When he goes to the meeting place, his uncle is waiting to meet him. His uncle wants the key. Charlie does not know what the key unlocks, but he is not about to give it up without a fight.

Mills glosses over some mature issues, such as child molestation and murder, which happened in the past. Several secondary characters deal with alcohol and drug abuse.  While this story is fictional, it is based upon actual abuse young boys suffered at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John’s, Newfoundland.  Set in Canada, Charlie’s Key sets a dark, mysterious tone from the first sentence. Charlie learns about his family’s past, as he learns to hope and look forward to the future.—Jennifer Rummel.

4Q 3P M J

Paratore, Coleen Murtagh. Dreamsleeves. Scholastic, 2012. 288p. $16.99. 978-0545392457.

Twelve-year-old Aislinn O’Neill has thought her life idyllic; this summer things are going downhill. She is left to babysit her four young siblings every day. Her mother is pregnant again despite warnings from doctors. Her best friend has ditched her for her worst enemy, and her father is drinking more—a lot more. Aislinn wants to be popular, wants to date, and wants her family to be safe and healthy, but as her father’s behavior becomes more erratic, those dreams seem harder to obtain. In a desperate attempt to take control of her life, Aislinn begins writing her dreams on labels and affixing them to her sleeve. The idea is that there are people out there who can help you, but they will not know that you need their help if you do not tell them—and you might not know who they are. So, if we all wear our dreams on our sleeves, we will be opening up our lives to those we need help from and also to those we can help.

The characters and sense of place in this book are well developed; the reader is fully immersed in Aislinn’s world. The plot is compelling and will have young readers anxiously awaiting each reveal. More sophisticated readers may find Aislinn’s extreme pluckiness unrealistic and off-putting. This is an uplifting read for those who enjoy proactive heroines. It will resonate well with readers of Christian fiction, although it is perfectly acceptable for readers of any (or no) faith.—Liz Sundermann.

SCIENCE FICTION/HORROR/FANTASY

4Q 3P S

Chane, Lee Arthur. Magebane. DAW, 2011. 496p. $7.99 Mass market. 978-0756406790.

For eight centuries, a magical force field has isolated the kingdom of Evrenfels, but that is about to change. Power-hungry MageLords, princes, rebellious commoners, jilted lovers, and wise healers are all secretly working to destroy the barrier for their own purposes. As if the royal intrigue and common rebellion were not enough, Chane added a new dimension to the plot with a steampunk-like world that developed outside the barrier. On this industrial side, a professor and his young assistant, Anton, develop an airship to fly over the barrier to try to explain this scientific anomaly. Chane focuses the plot around Anton and two other young people: Brenna, an orphaned girl who has yet to learn she is heir to the kingdom, and Karl, who begins to develop the powers of the fabled Magebane.

Chane created a fascinating and unique world in Magebane, a stand-alone fantasy novel. There is a little predictability with the main characters’ story lines. Neither the romance between the sheltered girl and the worldly boy nor the prince who wishes for a more meaningful life are unexpected. Readers are likely to overlook this, however, as they race to find out what happens next in this fast-paced, action-packed book. This is an excellent recommendation for fantasy-loving teens looking for something out of the ordinary.—Heidi Uphoff.

4Q 4P J S

Habel, Lia. Dearly, Departed. Del Rey/Random House, 2011. 480p. $16.99. 978-0345523310.

Nora Dearly lives in New Victoria, a society where families live according to their class and wealth in society. In the year 2095, New Victoria cultures bear well-mannered children, identifiable by implanted chips. They address each other as miss and mister no matter their age, and the girls wear long frocks. Punks, another group of people, refuse to accept the ways of New Victoria, choosing to fight for their right to live how they please. One holiday break from school, Nora is almost kidnapped. Escape is short-lived since days later she is attacked again, this time by zombies, many zombies. Nora tries to escape and is caught by the person who tried to kidnap her only days earlier. Taken to Z Base, Nora soon learns that she is surrounded by walking dead people. She becomes acquainted with Captain Bram Griswold. As Nora and Bram work together to find her missing father, and figure out how to control new zombie attacks, they could be falling for each other. There is just one major problem:  Bram is a walking dead.

Habel’s debut brings an interesting and refreshing perspective, different from the common vampire/werewolf and angel/demon themes. Told from the perspectives of five major characters, the story flows well and captures each person’s voice uniquely. Habel also does a great job of developing the multiple secondary characters so that readers will see each individually. The dialog is sometimes frail, which weakens the overall story and makes certain parts a struggle. Dearly, Departed is the first of a new series, and will be interesting to readers who enjoyed the Twilight series and Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Little, Brown, 2011/VOYA October 2011).—Nicola McDonald.

3Q 2P M J

Higgins, F. E. The Lunatic’s Curse. Feiwel & Friends / Macmillan, 2011. 352p. $15.99. 978-0312566821.

The town of Oppum Oppidulum is full of deep, dark, dreadful secrets. When Rex’s father, Ambrose Grammaticus, lapses into an apparent fit of lunacy while his new stepmother, Acantha, suppresses a smile of satisfaction, his deepest fears are confirmed—Acantha is evil. Within mere minutes, Ambrose is pronounced a lunatic and dragged off to the Asylum for the Peculiar and Bizarre on Droprock Island. After his father’s trusted friends desert him, Rex is left alone to clear his father’s name. The rumored monster in Lake Beluarum is worthy of fright, but as Rex becomes lost in the belly of the asylum, unspeakable evils await him. The truth is there, but Rex will have to both survive and break out before it can see the light of day.

The Lunatic’s Curse joins The Black Book of Secrets (Macmillan, 2007/VOYA August 2007), The Bone Magician (Macmillan, 2008/VOYA February 2009), and The Eyeball Collector (Macmillan, 2009/VOYA October 2009) in a collection of tales set in the strange world of Ubigentium. Each story stands on its own, but as the characters meander in and out of each tale, readers will want to grab them all. Higgins successfully intertwines creepy scenes and compelling mysteries that are sure to keep readers engaged to the very end. This title will appeal to mature readers who like their mysteries a little on the scary side.—Kimberly Bower.

4Q 3P M J

Kibuishi, Kazu. Amulet: The Last Council. Graphix/Scholastic, 2011. 224p. $10.99 Trade pb. 978-0545208871.

The fourth book in the Amulet series starts immediately after the third ends. Emily and her friends are now on their way to Cielis to ask the Guardian Council for help with their battle against the Elf King. When they arrive, they find the city is not what it seems to be. People who used to be dead are walking the streets; their elf comrades have been sent to prison; and Emily must compete in a series of trials for a spot on the Council. By the end of the novel, there is action, betrayal, and a few more friends to assist in Emily’s battle, which will continue in book five.

As with most graphic novel series, this fourth volume does not stand alone. Readers will be lost without having read the previous three. Those who have continued to volume four will find the rich, colored artwork and fantastical storytelling that is now Kibuishi standard. Tween readers will enjoy this fantasy adventure series full of mysteries and a depth of interesting characters to investigate. Fans of strong female characters will find a great one in Emily, who, even as she has the weight of the world on her shoulders, will still lean on her mother for support. This title is an absolute delight and the graphic series is one that libraries should continue to support.—Kristin Fletcher-Spear.

4Q 5P M J S

Link, Kelly and Gavin J. Grant, Eds. Steampunk!: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories. Candlewick Press. 2011.432p. $22.99. 978-0763648435.

Steampunk! delivers a smorgasbord of narratives to hold any readers’ attention. One story in particular tells the tale of several young boys leading a revolt against their headmaster at an orphanage after being beaten and denied common human decencies. After murdering their headmaster, they devise a plan to create a robotic type of headmaster to greet the nuns every week as to not alert them of his death. Another story tells of a young mistress alone in type of country home on the outskirts of a battling city awaiting the return of her father. Unexpectedly, she falls in love with a pilot that has come to pass by accident to recover from the outcry of the battle. But upon recovery he will head to the city to his home to reunite with his fiancée. When he is fully recovered he begins his journey on foot. From the window the young mistress sees he is leaving her. In fear, she in possession of a time machine goes back in time to see if she can make him fall in love with her and forget his fiancée. When the machine stops there the pilot lays once again in the garden bleeding in need of medical attention.

This mixology of literature is brilliant in that it provides the reader with a variety of genres like sci-fi, technology, fantasy, magic, and romance in our world and alternate ones. Both teens and adults will enjoy the array of tales. It offers a peek into the twisted, creative and imaginative minds of the authors, as well as giving the reader stories that, above all, humanize the characters. In the midst of fantasy, the human necessity for love and survival comes through and lessons are learned. Steampunk! has many tasty morsels to leave any reader satisfied.—Mirta Espinola.

3Q 4P M J S A/YA

Pierce, Tamora. The Mastiff: The Legend of Beka Cooper, Book 3. Random House, 2011. 609p. PLB $21.99. 978-0375914706. $18.99. 978-0375814709.

Beka Cooper, guardswoman, is urgently summoned for a secret mission by Lord Gershom, trusted confidante of the king. Beka gathers up her pack and her scent hound, preparing with her partner for another hunt. They are joined by a mage with very special powers as Lord Gershom leads them to the summer palace, still not explaining their mission. Encountering the grief-stricken young queen, Beka learns that they are to rescue the kidnapped four-year-old prince. A very long, complicated journey ensues as they track the prince, fighting scheming mages and evil royals along the way. Beka never wavers from her mission to rescue the heir to the throne, although some very powerful enemies, possibly in her own camp, do not want her to succeed.

This third novel in the Beka Cooper trilogy by the very prolific Pierce has a medieval feel and takes place in the richly imagined land of Tortall. The chapters are entries in Beka’s journal and are headed with successive days in June and July in the year 249 H.E. Sprinkled through the dialogue are expressions such as sommat, mayhap, and bespoke. Yet the very modern, “They’re not paying us by the hour,” also creeps in. Words such as cove for man, mot for woman, and twilsey, a beverage, are not explained, thus fans of Pierce who are familiar with her worlds will have the advantage. Gradually, though, even the skeptical newcomer falls under Pierce’s spell, suspends disbelief, and presses on to know how it ends.—Marla K. Unruh.

The Mastiff bears a lack of recap that is refreshing for those who already understand the complex jargon present in the Tortall universe but annoying for the rest of us. Despite the perplexing terminology, Pierce has an astounding attention to detail and a knack for fluid language that make even the mundane tasks of each character interesting. This, teamed with her distinctive deductive reasoning skills, makes for an absorbing read. 4Q, 4P.—Nicole Jacques, Teen Reviewer.

NONFICTION

3Q 2P S

Roddy, Nikki. How to Fight, Lie, and Cry Your Way to Popularity (and a Prom Date): Lousy Life Lessons from 50 Teen Movies. Zest Books/Orange Avenue Publishing, 2011. 112p. $12.99 Trade pb. 978-0982732229.

Have you ever had a “Lucy” moment? Mine was working on a sandwich assembly line. How about a “Seinfeld” moment? Mine was losing my car in a parking garage more than once. But a Sixteen Candles, Grease, Rebel Without a Cause, or Twilight moment? That would be a big no for this reviewer, and probably for most teens. The fifty teen films profiled here teach tongue-in-cheek lessons which somehow lead to success and romance for the characters despite their despicable, and sometimes deadly, actions. Here is what a reader would learn from 1999’s Jawbreaker: “It’s an inconvenience when you accidentally kill your friend, but true devastation is losing your popularity.”

A brief summary of each film is provided, along with one sound bite, lessons to be learned (or not), a trivia question about questionable actions, and a still photograph from the film. The films seem to have been selected randomly but include movies released from 1955-2010, focusing mostly on the 1980s and 1990s. It is humorous to see many of today’s young stars in their first roles. This is not a necessary purchase unless you are in need of an ice breaker for a teen film program.—Pam Carlson.

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