This Week in Reviews: April 13, 2012

FICTION

3Q 2P S A/YA

Ash, Maureen. A Deadly Penance: A Templar Knight Mystery. Berkley/Penguin, 2011. 288p. $14. Trade pb. 978-0425243367.

Nicolaa de la Haye has invited guests to the castle to celebrate the opening of a home for orphans. Aubrey Tercel, a servant in de la Haye’s sister’s retinue, and Clarice Adgate, a wealthy merchant’s wife, slip away from the festivities. Fearful of being discovered by Clarice’s husband, Tercel sends her back to her room for the night. Preparing to follow her down the stairs, Tercel hears someone call his name. The next morning, his body is found below the castle ramparts. Bascot de Marins, the Templar Knight, is summoned to investigate the murder. He is certain the obvious assumption of guilt of the jealous husband is not the answer. Reunited with his “former servant,” Gianni, he questions servants and guests in a quest to solve the mystery.

Blending fact and fiction, Ash recreates the medieval period in this sixth book of A Templar Knight Mystery series. Bascot de Marins, the Templar Knight and detective, remains aloof to readers new to the series. Teen fans of historical fiction and games will enjoy sifting through the clues to solve the murder of Tercel. A list of characters is included to assist the reader. The cover art, mimicking an illuminated manuscript, makes it a perfect candidate for facing out on library shelves. Relying on medieval terminology to strengthen the period setting, it would have been helpful for Ash to include a glossary for readers.—Jeanine Fox.

3Q 4P J S

London, Kelli. Uptown Dreams. Dafina/Kensington, 2011. 256p. $9.95 Trade pb. 978-0758261281.

Four Harlem teens have dreams of glory. La La and her siblings (one with cancer) live in the ghetto with their promiscuous mother, but La La’s lovely voice will be her ticket out. Reese’s musical gifts have her mother forcing her on the Julliard track, but Reese prefers producing hip-hop on the sly. Ziggy runs a bootleg vending table and loves dancing, but his father will throw him out if he discovers Ziggy’s passion. White girl Jamaica-Kincaid’s parents think she is at boarding school, but she is really living as a runaway as she tries to become an actress. All four attend the Harlem Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, fighting for their dreams through crushes, enemies, dictatorial parents, and the complex web of “the industry.”

London’s interlinked story contains chapters following each teen and moves at a lively clip. The teens’ passions come through as they describe performing, and their hopes, dreams, crushes, and fears usually feel believable as well. The vibrant, edgy world of Harlem comes to life in swift strokes and dialects, giving readers a feel for what survival there takes. The book’s flaws come in too-swift action—major events happen with no build-up or elaboration—and goals achieved with unrealistic ease. In addition, characters are often rewarded for risky behavior in pursuit of their goals, like fourteen-year-old Reese dressing sexy for an industry party and Ziggy bootlegging. This might be an issue for some libraries. Buy where upbeat urban fiction is in demand.—Rebecca Moore.

Uptown Dreams is good for people who enjoy dividing their attention between different plots. Readers will certainly empathize with the protagonists, who face interesting challenges, because London portrays their tales clearly and simply. The storylines, though, do not entwine smoothly, and London tries to cram in too many elements, many of which are not resolved skillfully or believably. In particular, the last couple of chapters felt painfully rushed. 4Q, 3P.—Jennifer Zhan, Teen Reviewer.

5Q 2P S A/YA Graphic Format

Merey, Ilike. a + e 4ever: A Graphic Novel. Lethe, 2011. 214p. $18. Oversize pb. 978-1590213902.

Asher and Eulalie do not conform to typical expectations for their genders; both are bisexual and dress in an androgynous way. Ash also has aphenphosmphobia—he is afraid to be touched by anyone but his younger sister. When Ash transfers to Eu’s high school, they find each other through art and try to negotiate their complicated feelings. Eu is instantly struck by Ash; however, he is insistent that they will never be more than best friends. Drawing after school each weekday and dancing in clubs every Friday night, Asher and Eulalie develop a careful routine. Until they try to be without each other, when Ash is cast as lead in the school play and Eu finds an underwhelming boyfriend, these two nonconformist teens cannot realize how much they need each other.

This graphic novel is a touching, beautifully designed exploration of a teenage experience that is not often presented in contemporary fiction. Merey’s dark illustrations portray the story of teenagers who are bullied for looking and acting differently than their peers, but are able to push through their struggles together. The content is certainly mature; language and sexual situations make this graphic novel suited for an older audience.—Kate Conklin.

4Q 4P J

Peacock, Shane. The Dragon Turn: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His Fifth Case. Tundra, 2011. 240p. $19.95. 978-1770492318.

Young Sherlock Holmes returns in the fifth mystery of the series, and this time he is investigating magicians and dragons. Holmes escorts Irene Doyle to watch Alistair Hemsworth perform his amazing dragon illusion before an astonished London crowd. Even the boy detective cannot understand how the magician makes a dragon appear on stage. Sherlock and Irene are visiting Hemsworth backstage when the illusionist is arrested by Inspector Lestrade for murdering his rival in a secret workshop. Irene, who hopes to sing in Hemsworth’s show, encourages Holmes to take on the case, certain that her potential employer is innocent. Holmes digs into the mystery only to find that when dealing with magicians, absolutely nothing is as it seems.

This is another good entry in a strong, entertaining series. As usual, the period details are engaging and thorough. The exploration of stage magicians in London is fascinating. A new character, the charming urchin Scuttle, will delight readers with his loyal ways and unorthodox speech. The return of Beatrice Leckie will also please fans who like the idea of romantic competition for Irene Doyle. This is a good read, though not quite as solid as the other books in the series. There are a few subplots that trail off without resolution, and the appearance of Holmes’s arch rival, Malefactor, is brief and somewhat bewildering. This series belongs in any library with a demand for mysteries. The recent release of a new Sherlock Holmes movie will also spur interest in these books.—Heather Pittman.

4Q 3P M J

Raschka, Chris. Seriously, Norman! Michael di Capua, 2011. 352p. $17.95. 978-0545298773.

Because Norman Normann bombed the Amalgamated Academic test to get into the best city school, his parents decide to hire a tutor. Teacher Balthazar Birdsong has an unconventional teaching style—his first assignment is to read the dictionary. Despite his oddity, Birdsong inspires Norman and his friends to observe the world and use their imaginations. Lessons include looking at clouds, flying kites, and climbing trees. Meanwhile, Norman discovers that his father, Orman Normann, obsessed with making money, is a bomber airplane salesman and is mixed up with some shady underworld characters. Fretting about his dad’s dubious business dealings, Norman uses his newly acquired observational skills to track the bad guys to Singapore and rescue his dad from a life of bad karma.

Raschka’s first novel is smart and funny, with seemingly insignificant details brought together in surprising ways. Laced with snippets of dictionary terms from Norman’s studies, occasional asides bring readers into the adventure. As his character develops, Norman contemplates the ethics of his father’s bomber business and the morality of war. In response to his questions, tutor Birdsong says, “The human family . . . is still a 3-year-old with a stick.” On the good side, they can learn to play nicely. Written in a rather high-brow, tongue-in-cheek tone, some of the humor may go over young readers’ heads. But there are plenty of jokes that will hit youngsters’ funny bones, like Norman’s birthday present of a pooping rubber pig. Norman and his friend, Leonard, fly off the pages with energy, excitement, and pure boyish banter. Fair warning;  the s— bomb is dropped, but kids will laugh at the frequent play on words and even add a few new ones to their vocabulary.—Ann McDuffie.

4Q 2P M J

Yep, Laurence, with Kathleen S. Yep. The Dragon’s Child: A Story of Angel Island. HarperCollins, 2011. 160p. $5.99 Trade pb. 978-0062018151.

The Dragon’s Child is an historically accurate fictional work about Chinese immigration to Angel Island off the coast of San Francisco in the mid-1900s. Through analyzing archives and immigration records, as well as family conversations, Yep compiled documentation of his father’s immigration to America. Yep’s father at that time was a ten-year-old boy named Gim Lew, living in China with his mother. His own father had emigrated to the United States, referred to in the text as “Golden Mountain” because there were prospects for work, giving the father the ability to support his family in rural China. Gim Lew’s father returns to China and tells him that he is to accompany him back to America to help make money for his family. Gim Lew is daunted by the journey when he learns that there are grueling examinations requiring the Chinese to detail their village and home life in order to be granted passage into the country.

This story is told from Gim Lew’s perspective and does a remarkable job of detailing the conflict he feels in being uprooted from his home, his trepidation regarding the examination he must face, and his desire to make his father proud of him. This is an excellent choice for teaching the personal struggles many faced in coming to America. The imagery and emotion conveyed throughout the text, both in words and illustrations, provide a compelling example of the conditions of the homeland that made many seek refuge, as well as the intensities of the trip they had to endure to emigrate to Golden Mountain.—Susan Redman Parodi.

SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY/HORROR

4Q 4P J

Little, Kimberley Griffiths. Circle of Secrets. Scholastic, 2011. 336p. $17.99. 978-0545165617.

Twelve-year-old Shelby Jayne is not having a good year. Her father accepted a job offer in Europe, forcing Shelby to move in with her mother, Mirage, the very woman who left the family a year ago. Shelby does not like living in the swamp house where her mother practices as a traiteur, a healer. She especially does not like that life is very different living a boat ride away from town. There are odd things happening in the swamp, like a young girl dancing on the beach and the strange tree with blue bottles hanging from it. When Shelby discovers notes in some of the bottles, she sets out to find who wrote the notes and why. Shelby meets a young girl named Gwen who likes to hang around the cemetery. Through Gwen, she discovers secrets her mom has long buried. There is a dark secret the town has been working hard to forget, and somehow it involves the people closest to Shelby. With the help of a charm bracelet, the blue bottle notes, and a very mysterious friend, Shelby sets off to find out what happened all those years ago.

The author has written a perfect ghost story for young readers—not too spooky, but with lots of mystery and a relatable heroine. While this reader found much of the story enjoyable, if a bit predictable, there is one great twist at the end that will please even seasoned mystery readers. This book is recommended for all middle grade collections.—Sarah Sogigian.

4Q 4P J S

Neill, Chloe. Charmfall: A Dark Elite Novel. NAL/Penguin, 2012. 288p. 9.99 Trade pb. 978-0451230805.

Lily Parker is now a junior at St. Sophia’s elite school for girls. She is still getting used to being part of the hidden world of magic and trying to sort out the “good guys” (Adepts), from the “bad guys” (Reapers). This third volume in the Dark Elite urban fantasy begins with Lily deciding to take a break from dealing with soul-sucking Reapers, a vampire war, and a werewolf boyfriend with a disapproving family by helping make decorations for the fall school dance.  This normal activity quickly takes a back seat when Lily discovers that her magic no longer works.  All the Adepts and Reapers in Chicago have lost their magic.  Lily and her friends in the Adept Enclaves have to begin looking for answers.

There is tension between Lily and her friends when she refuses to accept the implacable right and wrong views that are espoused by the Adepts about the Reapers.  Lily stands firm in her belief that good and bad are not so clearly defined and that an open mind is a better approach to the Adept/ Reaper paradox.  She continues to consult her Reaper “frenemy,” Sebastian, causing a rift with her werewolf boyfriend.  The characters in the series continue to develop in a satisfying manner and the storyline continues to be believable, adeptly blending action, mystery and romance into a thoroughly enjoyable read.  This third installment is well worth the wait.—Susan Allen.

4Q 4P J S

Rainfield, Cheryl.  Hunted. WestSide Books, 2011. 370p. $16.95. 978-1934813621.

Fifteen-year-old Caitlyn, a powerful paranormal telepath, has been on the run from government ParaTroopers since childhood.   Her family was ripped apart years ago when her father was murdered for trying to stop brutality against Paras. That same night, her brother Daniel was captured by the Authority, a renegade group seeking revenge against Normal citizens, and disappeared.  Forced to move frequently to avoid enslavement and torture from ParaTroopers, Caitlyn and her mom decide to hide in plain sight.  Enrolling in a new school, Caitlyn finds people who are pro-Para and willing to support her despite her talents.  Caitlyn discovers her brother alive at her new school, but the joy of locating her brother is soon extinguished when she realizes her brother is secretly working with the government to start a revolution that will kill and imprison Normals.  As Caitlyn’s life is threatened, she realizes she is the only one powerful enough to shut Daniel down before thousands lose their lives.

Cheryl Rainfield writes a masterful dystopian fantasy novel with a gripping plot that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.  The story is well written and steadily paced.  Caitlyn is a daring, headstrong protagonist with enough grit to be an army of one.  Supporting characters are multi-dimensional, garnering emotional attachment from the reader.  Daniel and other secondary characters symbolize the ignorance of hatred and the persecution of people because they are different.  Rainfield’s dynamic story expands on the themes of sexuality, racism, human rights and oppression.  The first in a planned series, this is a thought-provoking tale that amplifies the reader’s awareness of controversial issues.  This is a marvelous read for those teens who loved The Hunger Games.—Laura Panter.

3Q 4P J S

Rutkoski, Marie. The Jewel of the Kalderash: The Kronos Chronicles, Book 3. Farrar, Strauss, Giroux/MacMillan, 2011. 336p. $16.99. 978-0374336783.

Having survived thus far, Petra Kronos must now embark upon a final adventure to save her father. Her friend, Tomik, is able to duplicate the Mercator Globes to help her return to face the evil Prince Rodolfo and rescue her father from his fate as a Gray Man. Supported by Neel, who has his own surprise awaiting him in his homeland, and others she has met along the way, the final confrontation in Rutoski’s Kronos Chronicles is filled with drama and suspense. Gifted with two magics, Petra is the key to defeating Rodolfo, although incapable of doing so alone.

The Jewel of the Kalderash is the final book in a trilogy, and while the reader can follow the plot of the story without knowledge of the previous titles, it is helpful if they read the first two. Similar to other fantasy adventures, there is magic, sacrifice, danger, and romance. There are enough plot twists to maintain the readers’ interests, some more cleverly disguised than others. Petra is a familiar heroine, much like Lyra from Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass (Random House, 2002) in her independence and ability to court danger. Furthermore, the love triangle holds similar predictability, briefly calling to mind The Hunger Games; however, within the genre of fantasy adventure, this is a solid entry that is a fun read.—Mary Ann Harlan.

4Q 4P J S

Woon, Yvonne. Life Eternal: A Dead Beautiful Novel. Hyperion, 2012. 400p. $16.99. 978-1423119579.

Renee Winters found her soul mate in Dante Berlin. In some stories, that would be the beginning of the happily ever after, but of course that depends on the definition of “soul mate.” In the Dead Beautiful world, a soul can be lost or stolen, and your soul mate may be an Undead who has been searching desperately for your reincarnated soul, hoping to take his soul back. While it is not happily-ever-after time yet, Renee has nothing to fear from Dante because these soul mates fell in love and now, because of unique circumstances, they share the soul. Is Dante still undead and at risk for second death at age twenty-one? If Renee is still fully alive, why are her senses dulled?

Life Eternal is the story of the couple coming to terms with this new half-life they lead. Renee is confused by strange dreams that turn out to be more than dreams. She struggles to learn about her new state of existence and with classes at a new school. Separated from Dante, she also worries for his safety and the possibility of his impending death. This story has parallels to both Harry Potter, and Twilight’s Bella and Edward’s stories, yet it remains original and complex in its own right.—Debbie Kirchhoff.

2Q 3P M J

Zartman, Jennifer. Rory: King of Petla. CreateSpace, 2011. 426p. $16.99 Trade pb. 978-1463696559.

In this science fiction/fantasy combination, high school senior Rory notices strange purple lights appearing in different places he goes.  Eventually, he touches them and is drawn to the future of another planet.  He is greeted by Adam who tells him the king has sent him to Petla to close the portal, defeat the Iverns, and rule Petla.

The story has very little world-building or detailed description.  It flows more like a screenplay than a novel.  Chapters are very short and there is no narrative description of scene or plot.  It is mostly action and dialogue.  All this makes it hard to read as a traditional story.  It is hard to keep track of who is talking and what has just happened.  Every other page, a new character is introduced with no clear entry or raison d’etre.  It is a journey story, but it is so fast-paced, the reader does not feel immersed into the world or able to understand the story on a deeper level.  This book is not an essential purchase; however, where readers who want pure action with little full attention demanded of them, it could have a purpose.  This book will need promotion to appeal to a wider audience due to its length and lack of narrative development.— Karen Sykeny.

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