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A Change of Scene

Wed, 2015-04-29 09:03

We’ve enjoyed a wonderful five year (almost) run here on AB4T, reviewing books and predicting award winners. Today is our last post.

Adult Books 4 Teens is changing format and delivery method, but not going away. When next you encounter AB4T it will be an online column–and its very own section of the print journal!

Mark Flowers will continue as editor. I am stepping down.

It has been a true pleasure to bring this discussion of adult books to an online audience, to write about books and reading and appeal on a weekly basis. I hope that many books have found their way into the hands of teens as a result.

I want to publicly thank all of the excellent reviewers who have contributed their work to this blog. Thank you to all of our publisher marketing colleagues for understanding this project, and for supporting it so generously by responding to our requests for the books we hoped to review. Thank you to everyone at SLJ, especially Brian Kenney, Luann Toth, Trev Jones, Kathy Ishizuka, Kiera Parrott, and Shelley Diaz, for their support and enthusiasm. And thank you for continuing to champion adult books with teen appeal in the future.

And I want to thank YOU for reading. Thank you!

Categories: Library News

The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty

Thu, 2015-04-23 10:50

The title of Amanda Filipacchi‘s latest novel says it all. So many teens are so very conscious of appearances, I can only imagine that this book will incite discussion. The cover and title alone are likely to inspire certain readers to pick it up.

It also fulfills that frequent request for funny books (the humor here is largely satirical), and will satisfy readers looking for a love story, albeit a unique one. I also appreciate that its two main protagonists are artists, a composer and a costume designer. This is a sophisticated read for smart teens.

FILIPACCHI, Amanda. The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty. 332p. W.W. Norton. Feb. 2015. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9780393243871. LC 2014037010.  

A memorable group of five friends are featured in this wholly original novel filled with plot twists and turns that address the themes of beauty, friendship, and love. Barb, 28, an exquisitely beautiful costume designer, every day painstakingly dons a disguise that makes her ugly. Lily, 25, is a brilliant pianist and composer who, by society’s standards, is deemed unattractive. Georgia is a successful novelist with quick wit. Penelope, supported by her wealthy family, is struggling to find her place after having been kidnapped and held in a coffin several years prior. The fifth member is an ex-cop who was injured when he rescued Penelope. Barb and Lily have been friends for eight years and Barb finds Lily “nothing but beautiful,” though Barb’s perception is admittedly “skewed by affection.” In an attempt to have Strad, a man Lily has loved for years, notice her, she composes music that makes her beautiful. She must go to great lengths to have her music playing while they are together, or else wear a mask that Barb has created. The author weaves amusing elements of farce and fantasy into the story without jarring the narrative. Barb and Lily just want to find true love that is not based on appearances and through a host of preposterous circumstances, their wishes come true. VERDICT Though the characters are not teens, this novel is bound to spark a lively debate about the nature of beauty, whether society’s norms can be changed, and the notion of true love.—Jane Ritter, Mill Valley School District, CA

Categories: Library News

Two Speculative Fiction Genre Blends

Mon, 2015-04-20 07:00

Two books with huge teen appeal today, both by authors comfortable writing in multiple speculative fiction genres.

First, a fantasy novel by Daryl Gregory. You may have heard of Afterparty, last year’s science fiction novel that created quite a buzz and ended up on a few Best lists. I read Raising Stony Mayhall back in 2011, an unusually thoughtful entry in the zombie canon that made LJ’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy list that year. With Harrison Squared, I believe he has written a book with genuine Alex Award possibilities.

Combining fantasy, Lovecraftian horror, mystery, and humor, the novel starts off with a great title character, adds a wonderfully weird setting, and proceeds to follow the adventures of H2 and his gaggle of allies as they search for his mother after she disappears.

And what can we say about a new collection from Neil Gaiman? Read Sarah’s review–she says it all! Then go listen to Neil speak (briefly) about Trigger Warning on NPR, because no one can talk reading & writing quite like he can.

GREGORY, Daryl. Harrison Squared. 304p. Tor Bks. Mar. 2015. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780765376954.  

Harrison Harrison, aka H2 or Harrison Squared, is the only child of an AMP (absent-minded professor), a marine biologist who studies squids and other giant sea creatures. Harrison’s earliest memory is of tentacles, teeth, and an upside-down boat in the ocean—the incident in which his father died and he, Harrison, lost a leg. Now, at 16, he and his mother have traveled across the country from San Diego to dreary and isolated Dunnsmouth, on the Atlantic Ocean, so that his mother can continue her research. It’s not long before weird things start happening. School is odd; all the students look as if “they did their shopping at,” they have classes like “Practical Skills” (knot-tying) and cryptobiology, and no one ever seems to go to the library. Then his mother disappears, and Harrison has a hard time persuading anyone that there is something wrong, so he sets out to find her on his own. But things get even weirder in the next few days, as Harrison must deal with a knife-wielding bogeyman called the Scrimshander, a monstrous female of the deep, and a weird cult. Fortunately, he also has some help, including a fish-boy who loves comics, a Dorothy Parker-esque aunt, a ghost, and some humorless but practical friends from school. Harrison is a bright, funny, determined protagonist, and readers will be glad that the ending of this book leaves open the possibility of a sequel. VERDICT Suspense, humor, and weird, creepy monsters combine to make this one a winner for teens.—Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County (CA) Library

GAIMAN, Neil. Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances. 310p. William Morrow. Feb. 2015. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062330260. LC 2014053154.  

Gaiman’s latest collection could serve as a primer on speculative fiction. It’s all here: science fiction, fantasy, horror, even mystery. In his own inimitable way, he mines the various genres, taking off from the existing canon and putting his own particular spin on each. There’s a Sherlock Holmes story here, a Doctor Who tale, several entries based on fairy tales, and a short work set in the universe of his own novel, American Gods. “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” is full of Bradbury-like elements, a another vignette is based on a Jack Vance novel, and a story inspired by lines from a William Blake poem. He sometimes plays with form, as in a work that is composed entirely of responses to an interrogation, and another one that is written in verse. As always, Gaiman’s writing is lovely and his imagination is fascinating to observe. In this anthology, he even provides an aid to that observation by including a lengthy introduction with background and context for each story. Many teens (and adults) are already huge fans of the author—most of whom have probably already been anticipating this collection. No previous knowledge of Gaiman’s work is required for enjoyment of this book—only an openness to the places the mind can take you. VERDICT A surefire win anywhere there are fans of speculative fiction, short stories, or Gaiman.—Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County (CA) Library

Categories: Library News

February Fever

Mon, 2015-04-13 13:47

Despite appearances, February Fever is not the second book in Jess Lourey’s “Murder by Month” series, but the tenth. Lourey perversely started this series in May, and now has finally rolled around to February. And despite its obvious teen appeal, this is the first time this blog has gotten around to reviewing a book in the series, which started back in 2006. So if you’ve got teens dying for their next cozy mystery series, this is a great one to offer, since there are already ten books for teens to sink their teeth into.

LOUREY, Jess. February Fever: A Murder-By-Month Mystery. 252p. Midnight Ink. Feb. 2015. pap. $14.99. ISBN  9780738742144.

Private Eye-in-Training Mira James is headed west from her tiny hometown in Minnesota ostensibly to attend the Private Investigator’s Conference in Portland, but mostly to see her boyfriend Johnny who has recently moved there. Mira is not enchanted by the fact that her octogenarian sex-crazed sidekick Mrs. Berns has booked them for “the Valentine Train—a vehicle that encourages singles to “meet and mingle”—but is pushed into going and is joined by her good friend, the ever-cheerful, pot-smoking Jed. The “Valentine Train” answers Mrs. Bern’s desires, but the trip increases Mira’s anxiety. It is late February and a murder has occurred each month for the past nine months. Her newly found skills as a P.I. are indeed put to the test as a young woman, accompanied by her husband and child, is murdered in the room next to hers. Another P.I. and a reality TV show detective onboard join Mira in the search for the killer. Snow-trapped in a train stuck in the Rockies, there are many suspects to consider. Mira must determine who can be trusted and who is adding to the many deadly twists and turns this case takes on. Readers will love the protagonist and the earthy, witty, and quirky partners upon whom she relies. While teens do not need to read the previous nine mysteries, getting Mira’s full story would add depth to this one. VERDICT Fans of cozy mysteries will enjoy this young, sassy detective and her motley crew.—Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

Categories: Library News

Erik Larson tackles World War I

Thu, 2015-04-09 08:49

Erik Larson has another best-seller on his hands, this time illuminating a sea disaster to rival the Titanic. Of course, it’s much more than that. The sinking of the Lusitania was man-made, and pushed the United States into World War I.

For teens who savor the best YA nonfiction, books like Bomb and Hitler Youth, or Phillip Hoose’s upcoming The Boys who Challenged Hitler (if I may sneak in an advance recommendation), Dead Wake is as suspenseful as any thriller, as intricate as a well-plotted mystery.

Dead Wake will interest war buffs (were the Allies hoping a civilian ship would be shot down, so that the U.S. would have more reason to join them?), and those obsessed with lifestyles of the Downton Abbey-era rich (how did the passengers spend their lazy, luxurious days on board the ship?).

NPR shares a compelling excerpt–introducing the captain of the U-boat on course to intercept the Lusitania.

LARSON, Erik. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. 448p. bibliog. illus. index. maps. notes. Crown. Mar. 2015. Tr $28. ISBN 9780307408860. LC 2014034182.  

One hundred years ago a German U-Boat torpedoed and sank the RMS Lusitania as the British ocean liner neared the Irish coast bound for Liverpool. Hundreds of civilian lives were lost as Germans redefined the limits of naval warfare and tempted America to enter the first World War.  With his signature storytelling, Larson weaves stories of those aboard the luxury liner and the submarine with the fabric of politics. The result is history as a tale that is as engaging and enthralling as a well-crafted mystery. The fear of passengers who were well-aware of the German pronouncement that their vessel was a target of warfare and the anxiety of the U-Boat captain desperate to fire his single last torpedo before returning to Germany ratchet up the tension as the paths of the ill-fated ship and the stalking submarine are drawn to their shared destiny.  All the while, British intelligence was charting German submarine activity in the Irish Sea and calling off escort cruisers that would have deterred any attack upon the Lusitania.  Larson does not subscribe to conspiracy or conjecture and seems content to have readers experience this remarkable historical incident through the eyes of its participants and perpetrators. In doing so, he provides teens with the opportunity to recognize that history is much more than facts and dates.  In the work’s pages, they will discover that history is often comprised of random choices, individual eccentricities, and circumstance as unpredictable as the weather.  VERDICT History is best read—and understood—as the stories of intersecting lives, and no one tells those stories as well as Larson, whose work should be in all high school libraries.–John Sexton, Greenburgh Public Library, NY

Categories: Library News

Falling in Love with a Prince

Mon, 2015-04-06 07:08

What must it be like to be Kate Middleton? Now, imagine that you are an American from the midwest, with no idea of the rules of etiquette or the finer points of titles and protocols. Just how much would your life change if you fell in love with Great Britain’s next king?

The strength of The Royal We lies in the character of Bex. She’s so ordinary, so humble and likeable. She’s not a royals-watcher. She doesn’t care about the dresses or the parties or the other perks of being loved by a prince. She wants to be an artist, is a huge Cubs fan, and she doesn’t intend to change for Nick. Still, most of this book is about the trials and tribulations of living in the public eye, the trauma of the tabloid lies and paparazzi stalking, as well as all of the work that goes into becoming a princess.

At the same time, of course the book is full of delicious insider moments–attending the Royal Ascot, vacationing on the ski slopes with the family–and some wicked humor. From what I understand there are fun parallels between Bex & Nick and Kate & William, but I don’t know enough about the British royal family for it to affect my enjoyment, or assessment, of the novel one way or another.

Readers who have a fascination with twins, or stories about sisters, will also enjoy following the changing dynamics of Bex and Lacey’s relationship. They could not have been closer before Bex left for England, and everyone would have thought Lacey more likely to end up doing something notable or outrageous. What happens when the quiet twin starts getting all the attention?

The authors offer the first 7 chapters for free on their blog, Go Fug Yourself.

MORGAN, Jessica & Heather Cocks. The Royal We. 464p. Grand Central. Apr. 2015. Tr $26. ISBN 9781455557103. LC 2014049047.  

Morgan and Cocks, cofounders of the celebrity fashion website, Go Fug Yourself, deliver a fairytale romance with their first adult novel. At least it starts out that way. Rebecca Porter (Bex) leaves Cornell for a junior year at Oxford. Nick, as in Prince Nicholas, the future King of Great Britain, happens to live just down the hall. They hit it off over late-night viewings of Devour, a show that sounds vaguely like HBO’s True Blood—much like Bex and Nick are vaguely based on Kate Middleton and Prince William. From the beginning, their relationship is sweet and sincere. They are wonderfully down-to-earth, smart people. But there are hurdles. Bex’s over-enthusiastic, beloved twin sister, Lacey, comes to visit and then quits med school and moves to London after falling for Nick’s brother, Freddie (i.e. Prince Harry). Nick and Freddie’s father is a hateful man, and their mother has been tucked away in her own mind since they were mere babes, unable to handle the strain of the royal life. Worst of all are the paparazzi, who hound Bex mercilessly. Or are the royal family’s own people the worst, as they micromanage Bex’s every move until she barely recognizes herself?  It culminates in a wedding day will-they or won’t-they. Rather long (eight years from meeting to wedding) but never dull, The Royal We balances angst and drunken parties with true love and loyal friendship. It’s all about the price of life in the public eye. Teens who enjoy Stephanie Perkins and Jennifer E. Smith will eat this up. VERDICT This work is like The Princess Diaries taken to a whole new level, with readers getting an insider view.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

Categories: Library News

Emma: A Modern Retelling

Thu, 2015-04-02 13:31

Last Halloween, as I was trick-or-treating with my kids, I ran into one of my teen volunteers, who was dressed like this:

I didn’t immediately recognize the costume and I asked her who she was dressed as. Her reply–”Um, it’s from a movie? It’s called Clueless“–caused my wife an I to gape for two reasons: 1) my volunteer seemed to think we wouldn’t have heard of Clueless, a movie which practically defined our high school years, and 2) we had no idea that Clueless was still enough in the cultural consciousness of teens to make it worthwhile as a Halloween costume.

For readers who didn’t don’t know what I’m getting at: Clueless was a 1995 film retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma, reset in the modern world of a rich Beverly Hills high school, a transplantation that makes a surprising amount of sense when comparing it to the naive landed wealth of Austen’s characters. That’s all a prelude to say that yes, teens of seemingly every generation are attracted to Jane Austen’s stories (in one form or another), particularly Emma, which some (read: me) consider to be her finest novel.

And now comes Alexander McCall Smith to bring Emma back to the novel format. Like Clueless‘s writers, McCall Smith has chosen to update the story to a contemporary setting. And he’s done such a good job of it that’s we’ve given this retelling a starred review. Not much more needs to be said than that: just bask in a classic, timeless story, retold by a fabulous storyteller.

*MCCALL SMITH, Alexander. Emma: A Modern Retelling. 256p. Pantheon. Apr. 2015. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9780804197953. LC 2014025558.

After graduation from college, Emma returns home to start her own interior design business. But she is easily sidetracked by her determination to play match-maker to her friends. Always helpful, ever-opinionated, Emma attempts to bring together mismatched couples including Harriet Smith, the English Language Learning Teacher’s Assistant, hotel owner (or perhaps “it’s just a B&B”) Philip Martin, Australian raised Frank Churchill, and her old friend George Knightly. Hovering over them all is Emma’s terribly anxious father worrying over each germ and possible disaster while Miss Taylor, Emma’s governess attempts to keep Emma’s feet firmly planted on the ground. Old friends abound in Emma’s life and she is just certain that she can help them be better than they are.  McCall Smith, author of the “#1 Ladies Detective Agency” series (Pantheon) brings us his retelling of Jane Austen’s beloved tale of Emma and her misguided attempts at bringing order into a disorderly world.  Set in contemporary England, the 21st century barely impinges on the story. Texting and other modern communication is mentioned but just skims in and out of Austen-like narrative. There is just enough change from the original to keep readers wondering if the author will change the plot—could Frank really be gay? Will Harriet stand up to Emma and choose her own boyfriend?  More importantly: Will Emma mend her bossy ways so that she can find true love? VERDICT This book will introduce the cherished story to a new generation of readers—and delight those who have read the original.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

Categories: Library News

Next Up for Fantasy Readers!

Tue, 2015-03-31 07:00

Today we review the first in one fantasy series and the second in another.

Randy Henderson’s debut novel, Finn Fancy Necromancy, is fantasy with a good dose of humor, something that can be hugely popular with teens if it hits them right. (Our reviewer notes call-outs to Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams!) The first three chapters are free on the Tor website.

Half the World is the second volume in Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy, a good series for Game of Thrones fans waiting for that next volume (or season). We reviewed Half a King last year. The concluding volume, Half a War, is due in July. I should note that the Shattered Sea trilogy is being promoted to teens as well as adults, and is not as dark as Abercrombie’s usual; it is relatively “clean” as well. Also, Yarvi has a disability–a withered hand–which makes him an unusual and welcome protagonist.

HENDERSON, Randy. Finn Fancy Necromancy. 366p. (The Arcana Familia: Bk. 1). Tor. Feb. 2015. Tr. $25.99. ISBN 9780765378088.  

Great characters and serious action sequences are the big draw in this debut urban fantasy. Finn was exiled to the Outer Realm at age 15 (in 1986) for necromancy he didn’t commit. Now, 25 years later, he’s out of exile but those who first framed him are wasting no time in setting him up again. To make matters worse, the transfer back to the “real world” was botched and Finn’s “memory download” is patchy at best. With Zeke, a previous enemy enforcer turned ally, he has three days to try to discover the truth. Henderson is clearly a fan of the humorous fantasy of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, with shout-outs to both, such as when human love interest Dawn asks if Finn is going to tell her the “secret to life, the universe and everything.” While the humor is hit and miss, the pop culture is spot-on, from Finn’s bafflement at the Internet to a battle set at Seattle’s Experience Music Project that will be an even bigger lark to anyone who has been to that museum. The ending is satisfying, but hints at further installments are certainly evident. VERDICT While not as skillfully written as the “Discworld” series, this novel will probably appeal to the late-Pratchett’s fans.—Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

ABERCROMBIE, Joe. Half the World. 384p. (Shattered Sea: Bk. 2). maps. Del Rey. Feb. 2015. Tr $26. ISBN 9780804178426. LC 2014038766.  

In this sequel to Half a King (Del Rey, 2014), Yarvi, the betrayed heir to the throne of Gettland, has fought his way back from an assassination attempt and slavery to take his preferred position as minister to his mother, Queen Laithlin. The High King of Skekenhouse is gathering forces and threatens war with Yarvi’s homeland, so Yarvi must travel the countries surrounding the Shattered Sea in search of those willing to stand with him. He is accompanied by Thorn Bathu, a fierce 16-year-old-girl who is determined to be a warrior, and Brand, another teen fighter who, though equally fierce, is guided by his commitment to stand in the light and do good. Their journey, highlighted by the intense training Thorn must undergo along the way, leads them into risky situations where telling allies from enemies is difficult. Treachery, brutal battles, sly strategy, and more of Yarvi’s “deep cunning” make this a thrilling story whose appeal will reach beyond fantasy fans. Teen readers will especially enjoy the work’s focus on Thorn and Brand; although they are fierce warriors they still experience the awkwardness of a new attraction, thankfully in a way which does not detract from the action. Inclusion of just enough backstory and a rich plot make this sequel a fine stand-alone read. VERDICT Unlike many second books in a trilogy, Half the World moves the story forward with new characters and situations while holding on to the excitement, drama, and humor that made the first installment a winner.—Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, CA

Categories: Library News

Signal to Noise, Music & Magic

Thu, 2015-03-26 09:33

I am so excited to introduce this small press title today. Signal to Noise is a perfect young adult crossover novel, full of appeal, diverse characters & setting, wonderful writing–and magic.

What I love about this book is that even in the 2009 sections, when its characters are adults, Meche still has that sulky teen voice. And it makes sense because she’s still carrying around the weight of her past. She ran away from it, never resolved any of her issues, so she’s sort of trapped there. Now that she’s back in her hometown, Mexico City, her friends and family are nudging her to grow up already! At the same time, it’s impossible not to feel for Meche, to understand why she made the mistakes she made.

The author does a wonderful job of pacing the revelations through the narrative. She creates suspense around the fates of her character’s relationships, which propels readers through the book. Because this is an adult novel, things don’t wrap up as smoothly as the reader might expect.

As for teen appeal, Moreno-Garcia fills her book with music and a longing to travel the world and impossible high school crushes. And then there’s the magic. This would be a good book without it. With it, the book takes on a kind of mystery and depth, even moments of dread. The power becomes life-threatening, and causes rifts in deep friendships. As Meche’s grandmother says, “Magic will break your heart.”

Signal to Noise is not exactly magical realism, and it’s hard for me to call this novel a fantasy–although it seems that’s the designation assigned by popular SF/Fantasy sources like Locus, Tor, and SF Signal. If you’re interested in hearing more from the author herself, Tor featured Moreno-Garcia in its Coode Street Podcast on Tuesday.

MORENO-GARCIA, Silvia. Signal to Noise. 272p. Solaris. Feb. 2015. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781781082997.  

Fans of Eleanor and Park, meet Meche and Sebastian. Their story takes place in Mexico City and alternates between 1989 and 2009, when adult Meche returns home for her father’s funeral. It’s been 20 years since she’s seen her father, and 18 since she left the city. Mostly, she dreads running into Sebastian. At the beginning of the 1988–89 school year Meche, Sebastian, and Daniela were best friends. Meche loved music, Sebastian books, and Daniela her easy bake oven. What went wrong? Something happened that year, too, to ruin Meche’s relationship with her father, because in 1988 he worked as a radio station DJ, and she wanted to be just like him. This is largely a realistic friendship and family story, but there is another element. Meche persuades Sebastian and Daniela to change their loser status at school by harnessing magical power. They wish for money, for attention from their crushes, and Meche wishes for her parents to stay together. They take an old portable turntable to a nearby abandoned factory and, with practice, tap into the power of certain music. Disastrously, they take it too far. The author digs deep into Meche’s motivations and actions, showing her immaturity and insecurity as well as her passion and intelligence. The unexpected happens when Meche stops focusing on what she doesn’t have, and sees the boy right in front of her. Recommended as a good next read for teens who enjoyed Gabi, a Girl in Pieces (Cinco Punto, 2014)—they will recognize a similar mother/daughter relationship in particular. VERDICT: Meche returns home for her father’s funeral and remembers one extraordinary year of her youth marked by music, magic, and falling in love.

Categories: Library News

Unexplored History

Tue, 2015-03-24 07:00

Today we look at two fabulous historical fiction works exploring historical periods unfamiliar to most Americans. First up is a starred review of Michelle Moran’s Rebel Queen, which tells the story of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Specifically, it tracks the exploits of Rani Lakshmi, the queen of a smallish kingdom in northern India called Jhansi, and her heroic efforts to recruit two armies–one male, one female–to stand up to the truly formidable British army. Moran tells the story from the unique perspective of Sita a highly trained member of the Queen’s personal bodyguard. Readers of all ages can enjoy the novel without knowing the history, but it may well induce them to look further into the seemingly bottomless pit of atrocities perpetuated by the British Empire.

Sophia Nikolaidou’s The Scapegoat looks at another neglected war–the Greek Civil War of 1946-49, a war fought immediately following World War II to determine which side of the Cold War Greece would ultimately take. Even more specifically, Nikolaidou uses the real story of the unsolved murder of an American journalist, which ocrcurred during the war, as a lens through which to view the politics and history of both the Greek Civil War and the recent financial crisis. If that sounds a little dry, it’s true that sometimes the modern American reader (particularly teens) may be slightly confused and put off by the history involved, but the novel is anything but dry. The center of the novel is a charming high school student who will be familiar to many teens: a smart boy who has realized that school (and college) might not be all it’s cracked up to be. This teen, Minas, guides the reader through the historical and political morass and the reader should come out of it caring more about both Greece and Minas.

* MORAN, Michelle. Rebel Queen. 368p. Touchstone. Mar. 2015. Tr $26. ISBN 9781476716350. LC 2014026037.

In 1919, Sita is an old lady when she begins to write her memoir—a story of bravery in the face of the brutality of the British Conquest of India. In this narrative, mostly unfamiliar to Westerners, she describes her life as part of the Durga Dal, the cadre of highly trained young women tasked as personal guards to Queen Lakshmi, of the Kingdom of Jhansi. Living during a time and in a culture where women were hidden away in their homes, allowed to leave only under cover of clothing and carriage, the women of Queen Lakshmi’s Durga Dal not only walk openly on the streets, they carry weapons and participate in important decisions as advisors to the Queen. Lakshmi herself is a unique ruler, a capable Queen who walks the fine line of diplomacy during contentious times. Teens who know very little about the history of India will be surprised by the grueling tests Sita faces to become a guard—handling weapons, skills of strength, as well as cleverness and education. Passing this difficult test, Sita is assured a future that saves her from one with few choices. And because her father insisted she learn English, the protagonist is able to assist Lakshmi in navigating the murky waters of British culture. Readers will be shocked by the merciless actions the British take against the Indians, and the bravery it takes for Queen Lakshmi to stand up to the far better equipped British army.—Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, NY

NIKOLAIDOU, Sophia. The Scapegoat. tr. from Greek by Karen Emmerich. 246p. Melville House. Feb. 2015. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781612193847. LC 2014039611.

As a high school student looking to graduate in the midst of the financial crisis—in Greece no less—Minas Georgiou abandons his plans to study for the exams which would send him on to higher education, figuring that his prospects are minimal no matter what he does. All of the adults around Minas do everything they can to persuade him to take his exams, except for his favorite teacher, Souk, who takes an entirely different tack. Souk asks Minas to spend the time he would have used studying preparing a research paper on a controversial murder case from 1948, during the Greek Civil War. Minas throws himself into the task, with the help of his journalist father, and the novel quickly develops two plotlines: one following Minas’s slow awakening throughout the school year, the other following his investigation of the crime. The case involves an American journalist who was murdered and a Greek journalist named Gris who was railroaded into confessing to the murder. The two plots end up having surprising connections, both small-scale—a number of characters from the murder case are involved in Minas’s present day life—and large scale—such as the political resonances between the Civil War and the financial meltdown. VERDICT: Teen readers may be challenged by the healthy doses of Greek politics, history, and philosophy; but they will be rewarded by the tender coming-of-age tale—including a beautiful love story—and the fascinating “cold case” mystery.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News


Mon, 2015-03-23 07:00

Somehow we managed to let this book from November of last year make it all the way till late March without a post. But don’t let that fool you: Elizabeth Dutton’s Driftwood is a fabulous novel with tons of teen appeal: rock stars, letters from beyond the grave, a road trip–this has got all the hallmarks of a great YA novel, with a protagonist that just happens to be in her 20s. Don’t worry about that: give it to your teens and they’ll see all the parallels between Clem’s late-20s coming-of-age and their own late-teens comings-of-ages (if that’s the plural).

DUTTON, Elizabeth. Driftwood. 244p. Skyhorse. Nov. 2014. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781629144993.

Clem is the middle child of a famous rock star, Tommy Jasper, lead singer of the 1970s band Condor. Clem’s older brother Simon is a successful Hollywood agent, her younger sister Dena is an environmental activist, married, and a mother. Clem is 27 and just drifting. When Tommy dies suddenly, he leaves Simon his guitars, Dena a Matisse painting, and their mother everything else. Clem gets a document folder containing a numbered series of sealed letters. In the first letter, she learns that her father wants her to take a road trip around California, opening each successive letter in a designated location that has something to do with his past. As he tells her in the first letter, “This is a cosmic path I want to share.” Ignoring advice from her close-knit family, Clem decides to make the trip by herself, and sets out from Los Angeles, through the Central Valley, to San Francisco, and back down the coast. At each stop, she learns something about her father, and, ultimately, about herself. Nothing terribly startling happens in this debut novel, but Clem is an appealing narrator with a terrific and distinctive voice, and her observations about the various locales in California are snarky and spot-on. Tommy’s letters to Clem are kooky and touching, her family is supportive, and the people Clem meets along the way are a real cross-section of California. Although she is in her late 20s, Clem’s journey to understand her family and herself is very much one that older teens will appreciate.—Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County (CA) Library

Categories: Library News

Doomboy by Tony Sandoval

Mon, 2015-03-16 09:06

French writer Tony Sandoval has created a tour de force of storytelling in his latest graphic novel. In France, Doomboy was an Official Selection of the 2012 Angouleme International Comics Festival and winner of the Coup de Coeur Youth Jury prize (for best comic book). Published in the States last fall, it is ideal for teens and will appeal most to readers drawn to mood–and metal music! Art-lovers will wallow in the gorgeous illustrations.

There is an excellent interview with the author on CCN (Comics Creator News) and you can see the book trailer, which will give you a great idea of the art, on the Magnetic Press Doomboy page.

SANDOVAL, Tony. Doomboy. illus. by author. tr. from French. 136p. Magnetic Pr. 2014. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780991332472.  

The beautiful drawings of this graphic novel were inspired by the beaches and deserts of Sandoval’s native northwestern Mexico. The title character is teenager D, a heavy metal freak with a guitar, who has just lost his (maybe) girlfriend Annie tragically. D hides at an empty beach with Annie’s orphaned dog at his side to write the music no one would listen to… for her. As he composes, his friend Sepelium transmits his thunder chords via pirate radio. The music reaches friends and enemies, inspiring one especially sweet tough guy to make art, not war. Drawn with round faces and button eyes, Sandoval’s mopheads are adorable. But the protagonist’s face, obscured by his hair throughout the story, reminds us that many teens in this subculture don’t always fit in, and the dominant culture would often prefer that they disappear. D may have his aggression issues, but he’s not a “headbanger” who’s unable to express emotion: “I’m always a little sad,” he tells his mom about his loss. But it’s Sandoval’s illustrations that soothes readers, with pages of beaches and deserts awash in rosy browns, purple grays, and pale greens and blues whitened by the sun—the artist’s argument for the natural world as a resolution in itself. Heavy metal fans will love Sandoval’s sea serpents, dragons, and horned Vikings—all signaling D’s distress at overexposure. That won’t be the artist’s problem, when overdue recognition in this country of his fine work comes to pass with Doomboy. VERDICT A touching graphic novel about an alienated youth, beautifully executed by an internationally known artist new to the U.S. audience.—Georgia Christgau, Middle College High School, Long Island City, NY

Categories: Library News

Gretel All Grown Up

Wed, 2015-03-11 07:00

At the opposite end of fairy-tale retellings from the gritty 2013 Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, comes this delightful cozy mystery, the first in a prospective series starring the same Gretel, grown-up and solving crimes.

Regular readers know my affection for fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, and while I haven’t read this one yet, I’m very excited by the review below. I’m particularly charmed by the name of the town Gretel lives in–Gesternstadt, which means something like Yesterday-ville, if my German doesn’t deceive me–and by the priceless puns like the frog “prints”.

Lovers of fairy tales and cozy mysteries (or both, like me), rejoice for this new series.

BRACKSTON, P.J. Gretel and the Case of the Missing Frog Prints: A Brothers Grimm Mystery. 235p. Pegasus Crime. Jan. 2015. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781605986722.

The best-selling author of The Witch’s Daughter (St. Martin’s, 2012) begins a cozy and quirky mystery series with a tale centered around Gretel (yes, that Gretel) in Bavaria. The title character, who admires fancy wigs and even fancier bakery goods, is a detective, although lately business has been slow in Gesternstadt. When she is summoned to Nuremberg to find Albrecht Durer the Much Much Younger’s missing artwork, she takes the case. Why wouldn’t she, especially after the messenger who informed her of the opportunity drops dead in her house? Gretel’s detective methods are hilarious—she pretends to be a dominatrix in a brothel to investigate a possible suspect and she is prone to spontaneous napping.  She’s constantly finding herself in embarrassing situations when encountering the handsome General Ferdinand von Ferdinand, and she spends too much time dodging the irritating Strudel who keeps trying to arrest her for the death of the messenger. Teens who love Gail Carriger’s Alex Award-winning Soulless (Orbit, 2009) will enjoy entering this quirky fairy tale world where things feel familiar, yet different. The talking mouse studies philosophy, and the frog prints (instead of the frog prince) are missing.  Puns and wordplay are everywhere—the townsfolk yell, “The wurst is coming!” when the world record sausage is being delivered through the town. The adjective-rich descriptions are reminiscent of Alena Graedon’s The Word Exchange (Doubleday, 2014).  Fans will highly anticipate the upcoming sequels. VERDICT An entertaining, light mystery for fairy tale fans.—Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

Categories: Library News

From Medieval England to the 19th-century Austro-Hungarian Empire

Mon, 2015-03-09 09:24

Two exciting and very different historical novels today.

First, a medieval murder mystery set in 1350 England. A 17-year-old is called home to run his family’s Manor after his brothers and fathers are killed by the plague. That’s hard enough, but then a young girl is murdered. We are not the only ones singing the praises of Plague Land. S.D. (Sarah) Sykes has been compared to Raymond Chandler, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Ellis Peters in various reviews. And (good news!) she is working on a second novel featuring young Oswald de Lacy.

If you are curious about the author’s process, and in particular historical research, there are several interviews linked from the News page of her website. Sykes mentions the Down and Wealdland Open Air Museum near Chichester, which she describes as “probably the only place in Britain where it’s possible to sit inside a 14th century cottage, and for it to feel exactly as it would have been in those times.”

In The Accidental EmpressAllison Pataki (yes, the daughter of former Governor of New York, George Pataki) writes about Empress Elisabeth of Austria. The reader meets her at 15, and gets to know her as Sisi. She married Franz Joseph, Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1854. Her popularity with the people, difficulties with the royal family (in particular her mother-in-law), and involvement with a Hungarian Count make for fascinating reading.

I heard Pataki speak at a Simon & Schuster preview, and she is clearly passionate about the strong, forgotten women of history. (You can hear her talk about Sisi here.) Library Journal hits the nail on the head — “Highly recommended for fans of both Michelle Moran and Philippa Gregory.” Pataki’s debut novel, The Traitor’s Wife follows Benedict Arnold’s wife, Peggy Shippen, who was loyal to the British. It is also well worth consideration for school library collections.

SYKES, S.D. Plague Land. 336p. Pegasus Bks. Feb. 2015. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9781605986739.  

This debut novel is a medieval murder mystery set in England in 1350, just after the Black Death has devastated the country. After the plague deaths of his father and two older brothers, 17-year-old Oswald de Lacy has been called home to Somershill Manor from the monastery where he has lived since he was seven. He is struggling to keep the manor going, with little experience and a decimated work force, when he is faced with an even bigger challenge. A young girl has been killed in the forest, and the local priest, John of Cornwall, is convinced that the culprit is a dog-headed beast. Oswald is certain that the killer is an ordinary human, and sets out to prove it. Oswald finds himself drawn deeper into village intrigue as the plot twists and turns to its final denouement, and he learns more than he ever wanted to know about his family and himself. In the process of discovering the murderer, Oswald discovers what kind of person he wants to be and what kinds of decisions he must make to become that person. Many of Sykes’s characters tend to the stereotypical—the ignorant priest, the drunken monk, the sadistic lord, the village “witch” who knows more than anyone else, the beautiful and wise peasant girl—but the story is compelling enough to keep readers interested. VERDICT: Teens who like historical novels and mysteries will find much to sink their teeth into here.—Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County (CA) Library

PATAKI, Allison. The Accidental Empress. 512p. S. & S./Howard Bks. Feb. 2015. Tr $26. ISBN 9781476790220. LC 2014020804.  

Raised in the freedom of an outpost to the vast Hapsburg Empire, 15-year-old Sisi and her older sister Helene are surprised by a summons to meet their cousin, Franz Joseph, so that Helene can become his bride. It is 1853, and Franz Joseph is Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ruling under the influence of his domineering mother Sophie. It is Sisi, however, who attracts Franz Joseph’s attention and with uncharacteristic defiance, he insists on marrying Sisi instead. Their love affair lasts only as long as Sophia allows it, and she segregates Franz Joseph from Sisi, and steals their babies to raise as her own. Sisi is devastated but cannot fight back against this powerful force in her husband’s life. Strictly regulated Court life conspires against freedom-loving Sisi, leaving her with little recourse but to turn to the handsome Hungarian Count Andrassy, who introduces Sisi to the Hungarian people. Recognizing a kindred spirit, the people offer her a love that she cannot find at Court with Franz Joseph. When rebellious countries within the Empire wage war against the Emperor, it is Sisi who keeps Hungary from joining in the rebellion. With the unexpected death of her oldest daughter, Sisi realizes that she will never escape Sophie’s influence over her family, so she begins a life of travel and goes to her childhood home to recover. While she is forever linked with Franz Joseph, it is with Andrassy’s help that she accepts her role and asserts small pieces of control where she can. VERDICT: A piece of history that will send teen readers to the encyclopedia to discover the true pieces of Sisi’s remarkable story.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

Categories: Library News

A Darker Shade of Magic

Thu, 2015-03-05 10:36

V.E. Schwab is no stranger to writing for young readers. She has published The Near Witch and the Archived novels for teens and the middle grade Everyday Angel series. Last year her adult debut, Vicious, was the top fantasy pick on the RUSA Reading List.

A Darker Shade of Magic made February’s Library Reads. It is the first in a new series–a fast-paced fantasy with fascinating world-building and engaging characters. Sounds like a good readalike for Gaiman’s Neverwhere and Fletcher’s Oversight trilogy.

SCHWAB, V.E. A Darker Shade of Magic. 400p. Tor. Feb. 2015. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780765376459.  

Kell is one of only two creatures who can travel between worlds in this fantasy set in an alternate version of Regency England. There are four consecutive worlds, all unique, but all with a city called London located on a river in an island nation: destroyed Black, evil White, magical Red, and our very own, prosaic, Grey London. Red London’s Kell and White London’s Holland travel between worlds at the behest of their respective rulers. Meanwhile, in Grey London, pickpocket Delilah Bard dreams of pirate adventure. When a White London plot to overthrow Red London leaves Kell stranded in Grey London, Delilah, finding herself uncharacteristically sympathetic to Kell’s plight, rescues him, and is thrown into the adventure. The ages of the three leads are unspecified, but they give the impression of being late teens or early-20s. While there are enough loose ends to spawn a sequel, the narrative arc of this title stands alone. Readers who pay attention to detail may find the presence of a revolver in this time period, a definite anachronism, distracting. Generally, though, this is an entertaining, fast-paced, “new adult” fantasy with an interesting world and well-drawn characters. While historic rather than futuristic, this work will appeal to fans of Samantha Shannon’s Bone Season (Bloomsbury, 2013).—Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH

Categories: Library News

The Nightingale

Mon, 2015-03-02 07:25

I’ve written about my regard for Kristin Hannah‘s novels before. The last one I read and reviewed was Night Road, and we also reviewed Fly Away in 2013. Hannah has a way with contemporary family stories. She writes deeply emotional women’s fiction with great characters, usually facing loss or tragedy. This year she brings those elements to historical fiction for the first time.

The Nightingale takes place in France during World War II. It follows the women (and children) left behind after the German invasion, after the men went to war, many to POW camps. There are so many truly great novels that take place in this time and place. I think of Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky or last year’s All the Light We Cannot See. What I like about The Nightingale is its accessibility and appeal. It involves two sisters, the younger an impetuous older teenager who joins the resistance. At first she does it out of defiance and boredom. But she matures, and holds to her course even after she realizes how much she is risking–even losing the great love of her life.

I was occasionally frustrated by a lack of detail (I wanted to know more about day-to-day life in France at this time) or because the author sometimes skips weeks or whole seasons from one chapter to the next. At the same time, both keep the action and the emotional arc of her characters moving forward at a good pace. Again, an advantage for most teen readers. So I wholeheartedly recommend this for school libraries and other teen collections.

HANNAH, Kristin. The Nightingale. 448p. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2015. Tr $27.99. ISBN 9780312577223. LC 2014033303.  

Hannah is known for her popular contemporary novels; with The Nightingale she extends her range into historical fiction. This is the story of two sisters who come of age during the World War II Nazi occupation of France. Viann Mauriac is the responsible one; she lives in the Loire Valley countryside near the small village of Carriveau with her husband Antoine and daughter, Sophie. Viann’s younger sister Isabelle Rossignol is the flighty one, always running away from school. Their father returned from the first world war damaged, unable to love, leaving them to take care of each other. After the German occupation of Paris, Isabelle, still in her teens, throws herself into the resistance, eventually leading grounded British and American airmen again and again over the Pyrenees to safety in Spain. She also falls in love with a fellow resistance fighter, and recklessly brings danger to her father and sister. Meanwhile, Viann does everything she can to keep her daughter safe after Antoine becomes a prisoner of war and a high-ranking German officer is billeted in their home. A contemporary framing device adds suspense and mystery to the fates of the sisters and the people they love, in a story that highlights the unsung women of the French resistance. This is women’s fiction at its most affecting, and teens looking for a romantic, suspenseful, and heartrending read will not be able to put it down. VERDICT While not as literary as other World War II favorites, such as The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (Knopf, 2010) or All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Scribner, 2014), this is a deeply emotional, fast-paced reading experience.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

Categories: Library News

The Sacrifice by Joyce Carol Oates

Thu, 2015-02-26 07:00

Considering that it is based on a police case from almost 30 years ago, it is astonishing how much currency Joyce Carol Oates’s new novel has. A black teen is found beaten and apparently raped, naming only “white cops” as the perpetrators before lapsing into silence. The ensuing polarized reactions on the parts of the black and white communities of the teen’s town sound eerily similar to the conversations (or non-conversations) that have been raging in this country over the past two years in response to the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin (two years ago, today). Blaming the victim, blaming all whites, blaming black family values, conflicting reports of what really happened: we have seen all these reactions in abundance, and at least according to Oates, they were almost identical to the responses to Tawana Brawley’s rape allegations in 1987.

When last I wrote about Oates, I said that readers who chose to could ignore her gender politics and focus on her deft story telling. This time out, I don’t think that’s possible. Every page of this novel demands to be read through the prism of race and gender and American values. Nevertheless, the story Oates has to tell is compulsively readable, and she handles a number of narrative tricks with her usual deft hand. This is an astonishing novel from an author who shouldn’t really be astonishing us any more.

*OATES, Joyce Carol. The Sacrifice. 309p. Ecco. Jan. 2015. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062332974. LC 2014052422.

After briefly describing the central event of her powerful new novel—a 15-year-old girl named Sybilla Frye is found tied up in a basement, beaten, and apparently raped—Oates quickly expands the work’s focus to the impact of the crime on the girl’s New Jersey community, and eventually the nation. Sybilla remains largely uncommunicative with doctors and police—beyond a vague accusation that “white cops” raped her—leaving the community, and readers, to make their own decisions. Soon, a prominent Black minister and his attorney brother get involved in the case, at first merely drumming up support for Sybilla, but eventually taking the entire case into their hands and even accusing specific individuals not originally named by Sybilla. Oates manages this expanding campaign (or “Crusade,” as the Reverend has it) with expert narrative skill, moving deftly among the characters, from Sybilla and her mother to the Reverend and his brother to Sybilla’s incredibly disturbed stepfather, and other community members. The seeming timeliness of this novel is made somewhat depressing by the fact that it is a reimagining of a true case from 1987—that of Tawana Brawley, whose rape allegations briefly made national news and merited a mention in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. That case was never fully resolved, with opinions about Brawley’s veracity still debated. Oates uses her poetic license to resolve some of the issues involved, but the heart of the issue—the distrust between poor black communities and their white police departments remains. VERDICT: A powerful novel which should give teens much to ponder and compare to current events.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News

Nonfiction Roundup

Mon, 2015-02-23 07:00

A group of nonfiction titles that includes something for everyone.

Wes Moore is an advocate for youth, education, and veterans (see the 2014 PBS series Coming Back with Wes Moore). He became well-known in library and school circles with his 2010 debut The Other Wes Moore. Now he’s back with an inspirational book of life lessons, and it wins a starred review from us!

Matt Richtel’s A Deadly Wandering made the Booklist Editors’ Choice: Adult Books for Young Adults, 2014 list. This is a heartbreaking story of a deadly accident caused by texting and driving, and the subsequent investigation and trial. It is both an emotional story of the families involved, and a look at the scientific research around technology and multi-tasking.

Finally, one for the anthropology crowd. Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found is the kind of nonfiction that nearly defies categorization, described as “a serious and seriously entertaining exploration of the varied obsessions that the “civilized West” has had with decapitated heads and skulls.” Frances Larson wanders around the world and across time bringing together diverse information about beheadings from executions past and present, wartime acts, even headhunting. It will be the erudite teen indeed who has the context to appreciate all of the author’s musings, but the curious will definitely find sections of interest. Readers drawn to Mary Roach will like this, and those same readers will be able to handle the more gruesome descriptions. (And don’t you just love that subtitle?)

*MOORE, Wes. The Work: My Search for a Life that Matters. 248p. notes. Spiegel & Grau. Jan. 2015. Tr $25. ISBN 9780812993578. LC 2013038679.  

When reading The Work, the word “humblebrag” comes to mind repeatedly, with emphasis on the “humble” rather than the “brag.”  After all, Moore’s previous book (The Other Wes Moore; Spiegel & Grau, 2010) examined the difference between his life and that of the “other” Wes Moore, a young man from similar upbringing who is spending life in prison. So he is aware that his history of military service, a Rhodes scholarship, and a stint on Wall Street is something to appreciate, and that he should be thankful for and humble about his accomplishments. Now, Moore wants to share what he has learned on each step of his journey with those who are about to set out on a journey themselves. Each chapter is a lesson, focused on an aspect of his life: the Student, the Professional, the Soldier, the Public Servant, the Risk Taker, the Worker, the Family. But he doesn’t tell the story alone. Each chapter also includes advice from another successful adult, such as Daniel Lubetzky, CEO of Kind, Inc., or Esther Benjamin, associate director of the Peace Corps. Moore also includes a notable failure, and demonstrates how failure can be a good learning experience as well. The book concludes with a lengthy resource guide listing hundreds of opportunities, both for volunteering and meaningful work. All prospective graduates could find this title to be an inspiration as they begin their own journeys. VERDICT: This book should find a home as widely as Richard Nelson Bolles’s What Color is Your Parachute? in any library serving teens and adults.—Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

RICHTEL, Matt. A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Redemption. 416p. Del Rey. Sept. 2014. Tr $28.99. ISBN 9780062284068.  

It’s rare these days to see teens without a smartphone in their hands, constantly reaching out to their friends via text or social media.  Many articles talk about how today’s teen brains are wired differently because of this constant “on–ness” and that they can, as a result, multitask at a very high level.  A Deadly Wandering shows that while we may have accepted this as truth, the reality is different. In 2006, Reggie Shaw was living at home, having been expelled from the Mormon missionary training program he’d had his heart set on and working in nearby Logan. One day, during a snowstorm, his car swerved into the oncoming lane, causing the car in that lane to spin into the path of a tractor trailer driving behind Shaw; two rocket scientists die in the accident.  Why did Reggie swerve? As Trooper Rindlisbacher drives Reggie to the police station after, he notices that Reggie is a “one handed texter” and doesn’t even seem aware he’s doing it. Readers learn about the lives affected by this accident, from Reggie (who now speaks about the dangers of texting and driving) and his girlfriend Briana to Trooper Rindlisbacher and Victim’s Advocate Terryl Warner to the bereaved families of James Furfaro and Keith O’Dell, all linked due to a few moments of inattention. Using the investigation as an anchor, Richtel builds a solid case that debunks assumptions about how well we multitask and how dangerous it can be to assume that either task is being performed effectively. VERDICT More than the usual “true crime” or “scared straight” story, this will interest teens because of the texting element; budding neuroscientists will also learn quite a bit about the brain’s inner workings.—Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, Farmington, CT

LARSON, Frances. Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found. 336p. bibliog. illus. index. photos. Liveright. Nov. 2014. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9780871404541. LC 2014028228.  

From the neck down, people are pretty much the same. It’s the head that grants individuality, that makes people, people. It’s no wonder that the head is an object of fascination and veneration.  Severed looks at heads from a variety of angles, including the historical obsession with preservation and the modern efforts to understand how the brain works. For example, the term “headhunter” was usually applied to natives who collected their enemy’s heads, sometimes shrinking them to create a trophy of sorts. Yet to those “savages,” Europeans became the headhunters when their interest in shrunken and tattooed heads created enough demand that the they started skipping traditional rituals in order to keep the supply flowing. (Some even handed over European heads in lieu of native, or tattooed them to order!) Ever wondered how long a head retains consciousness after being severed? There’s a whole chapter of answers. From death masks and revered relics to cryogenically frozen and dissected, Larson’s book will amuse and repel readers. There’s little gore, but the author’s stories of how we’ve treated heads over the centuries can be disturbing (example: the fate of Oliver Cromwell’s head, which gets pride of place in the Prologue). For anyone interested in social history, this is great narrative nonfiction. VERDICT A nonfiction title perfect for fans of Mary Roach, Thomas Cahill, and Mark Kurlansky.—Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, Farmington, CT

Categories: Library News

Continuing Mystery Series

Thu, 2015-02-19 14:23

Today we look at two entries in continuing mystery series – both also parts on ongoing multi-media franchises. The much older of these is, of course, Sherlock Holmes. When last we talked, I mentioned Holmes’s semi-unique place as a character who has leaped the bounds of his original stories. What I didn’t know at the time was that the Conan Doyle estate had picked teen-favorite Anthony Horowitz as the author in charge of bringing Holmes back into the “official” world of print stories. Horowitz’s first Holmes novel, House of Silk (2011), was a major success which I had missed. So I was glad to catch up with his follow-up, Moriarty, which, perversely, is a Holmes novel entirely without the presence of Holmes (or Watson for that matter). Instead, we follow two small-time characters on a Holmes-like mystery which may or may not have something to do with the famous professor of the title. It is an ingenious take on the Holmes mythology and should be beloved by Holmes and Horowitz fans alike.

Meanwhile, Veronica Mars continues to spread her brand–having moved from TV to a big screen movie, and now to a mystery series. I reviewed the first of these warmly, here, and I can only say that I have become more convinced with this sequel that Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham and not just cashing in on a fan-favorite, but truly creating some exciting mystery novels.

HOROWITZ, Wes. Moriarty. 285p.  HarperCollins. Dec. 2014. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062377180. LC 2014045644.

Shortly after the famous duel between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls—which led to both of their (presumed) deaths—readers are introduced to the heroes of this Holmes tale-without-Holmes: Frederick Chase, a Pinkerton detective from America and the novel’s narrator; and Athelney Jones, a Scotland Yard inspector. Jones, reeling from being shown up by Holmes (in one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories) has, in Horowitz’s timeline, reimagined himself according to Holmes, leaving Chase to take up the role of Watson. After discovering a coded message on the body they believe to be Moriarty’s, the two begin a hunt for a mysterious American gangster named Clarence Devereaux who has come to England to expand his power. The intrigue and body count piles up quickly and though Jones at times seems the equal of Holmes in his powers of induction, it becomes clear that Jones and Chase may be in over their heads. Though the novel is loaded with references to the original mysteries, Horowitz’s decision to leave Holmes out of the story is marvelously effective, as it gives readers a new perspective on the great detective, and saves the author from having to be needlessly faithful to Doyle. The prose runs at Horowitz’s trademark fast pace and readers will find themselves racing towards the end. VERDICT: Perfect for teen fans of Sherlock Holmes, whether they’ve encountered him through the source material, or in one of his many cinematic representations.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

THOMAS, Rob and Jennifer Graham. Mr. Kiss and Tell. 330p. (Veronica Mars: Bk. 2). Vintage. Jan. 2015. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9780804170727. LC 2014042612.

The second installment in Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham’s “Veronica Mars” series delivers exactly what fans of the TV show and first novel are expecting: a well-constructed, seedy mystery; sassy dialogue courtesy of Veronica, Mac, and Keith; and the further romantic adventures of Veronica and Logan. The mystery surrounds a girl found on the side of the road, beaten and raped, who, once her memory returns, accuses a laundry worker at the Neptune Grand Hotel. Veronica is initially hired by the Grand’s insurance company to prove the accusation wrong, and therefore to limit the hotel’s liability, but true to form, Veronica can’t stop until she finds the truth, which turns out to be much more complicated than she could have imagined. Meanwhile, Logan is on shore leave from the Navy but feels compelled to cut his time off short when a shipmate dies in an accident and leaves the ship a man short. Logan’s newfound devotion to his job over his relationship offers a nice mirror for Veronica’s longstanding inability to let go of a job, while ratcheting up the tension between the couple. Finally, Keith continues to try to take down Sheriff Lamb by proving that he and his men have been planting evidence on suspects. Despite the disparate plots, Thomas and Graham keep the threads tightly woven, and the novel reads fast and strong. VERDICT: Another winning mystery for Veronica Mars fans of all ages.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News

The Sweetheart

Tue, 2015-02-17 07:00

Here is a great debut novel that brings universal themes to a unique and unusual story. The Sweetheart is a coming of age story set in the world of women wrestlers in 1950s Florida.

I found an interesting review on a site titled Pro Wrestling Books, by a professional wrestling journalist, John Lister, who finds the details of the sport spot-on. It’s also worth reading this PW article by Angelina Mirabella on why she wrote in the second person and how it helped her get to know her teenager protagonist.

Readalikes that come to mind are Betsy Carter’s wonderful Swim to Me and Jennifer Niven’s Velva Jean novels. (That’s the same Jennifer Niven currently making a splash with her YA debut, All the Bright Places.) My student bookgroup chose Velva Jean Learns to Drive a few years ago with mixed results, but the readers who loved it really loved it.

MIRABELLA, Angelina. The Sweetheart. 352p. S. & S. Jan. 2015. Tr $25. ISBN 9781476733876. LC 2014001457.  

In 1953, 17-year-old Leonie Putzkammer looks into her future and sees decades of quiet days just like the current day: waiting on tables, fixing dinner for her widowed father, and listening to the radio. Embarrassingly tall and curvaceous, the teen believes that she will always be the awkward butt of unwanted attention. But after an appearance on Bob Horn’s Bandstand, where she is prompted to turn three audacious handsprings on camera, all Leonie can think of is the magical sound of applause. In the next few months, events move quickly as the protagonist discovers that her big body, Nordic looks, and gymnastic skills can get her the positive attention she craves—in the wrestling ring. As “Gorgeous Gwen Davies,” she can bask in the love of fans and take charge of her own life. But her flirtatious stage persona soon becomes intolerable for the guy in her life. Is the fame worth all she must sacrifice? The story of Gwen Davies is bookended by present-day narration of a woman named Leigh, who receives an invitation for the now passé “Gwen Davies” to attend a wrestling banquet. Leigh’s second-person narration of Leonie/Gwen’s story works fairly well here. Teens will be intrigued by the true athleticism and courage displayed by young Gwen and her opponents, set in a time period when the journey through adolescence was quite different from now.—Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN

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