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Archive for the ‘Jennifer D.’s Picks’ Category

In Tuesdays at the Castle, author Jessica Day George creates a setting that becomes a character.  Castle Glower, identified as “The Castle,” is home to Princess Celie and the rest of the royal family of Sleyne. Living in a castle sounds pretty great, but what makes Castle Glower even better is that it is a magical castle. It will expand to create new rooms, make rooms that are no longer needed disappear, and even provide furnishings, all at its own discretion, of course. And it is a very opinionated castle. If it likes you, your visit to Castle Glower will be most comfortable. If not, your accommodations might look more like the dungeons, or The Castle might kick you out altogether.  Furthermore, The Castle has views on who should rule. King Glower’s heir was chosen not by himself, but by The Castle.

You might think that such defenses would eliminate any concern about a hostile takeover from a rival kingdom, but that is just what happens. Prince Khelsh of Vhervhine, along with his entourage of guards and sycophants, has weaseled his way into the castle under false pretenses. He is determined to take over The Castle and claim the throne. With the rest of her family missing and presumed dead, Princess Celie, her brother Rolf, her sister Lilah, and Castle Glower must work together to mount a defense.  Allegiances are questioned, and the siblings quickly learn that they can trust no one but themselves and The Castle.

I found this story to be very immersive and quickly became lost in the twists and turns of Castle Glower. The setting truly comes to life, and you’ll soon find yourself wondering, “Well, how does The Castle feel about that?” Don’t worry, being concerned for the emotional well-being of supposedly inanimate objects is just a side effect from reading fantasy in general, and Tuesdays at the Castle in particular. This is the first in a new junior fiction series which will continue in Wednesdays in the Tower, to be published in May 2013.

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The town of Beau Rivage is filled with fairy tale characters.  There are princes and princesses, beasts and mermaids, fairies and wolves, huntsmen and match girls – but they all take the form of average citizens. All that would distinguish the teens in this tale from normal teens is a “märchen mark” or birthmark that identifies their role and destiny. Mira has a birthmark on her back that resembles a wheel, but never knew its meaning until she traveled to Beau Rivage, the town where she was born.

The only life Mira can remember is living with her extremely overprotective godmothers.  Her sixteenth birthday is only a week away and she is determined to spend it in her hometown and to find her parents’ graves.  Having concocted an elaborate plan to elude her godmothers, Mira arrives in Beau Rivage and quickly makes the acquaintance of two brothers, Felix and Blue Valentine.  While they couldn’t be more different (Felix is helpful and attentive, Blue is rude and obnoxious), Mira finds herself strangely drawn to both of them. Felix promises to help Mira find her parents’ graves, but Blue is focused on getting Mira out of town, and away from Felix, as fast as possible. Mira, however, will not be swayed from either her task or Felix’s attentions. It does seem strange, though, that no one will explain the meaning of the Valentine brothers’ heart-shaped märchen marks. What fairy tale roles do they play? What role will Mira play in their stories?

In Kill Me Softly, Sarah Cross puts a contemporary and highly entertaining spin on traditional fairy tales. Fans of the Grimms’ most gruesome stories will find much to enjoy in this modern mash-up of some of their greatest creations. While Mira’s story comes to a close in this book, the intricate mythology Cross has created for the town of Beau Rivage could potentially lend itself to a sequel.

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The first thing you have to do before reading this book is accept its hard-to-believe premise. Set in the present day, NASA scientists want to boost interest in the fading space program by sending three teenagers into space. If you can get past the fact that NASA scientists would never think this was a good idea, much less that it actually comes to pass, then you’ll enjoy this book. What makes the plot a bit easier to swallow is that NASA actually has a hidden agenda. They need an excuse to send another team of astronauts to the moon, and the media circus surrounding the worldwide teen astronaut contest will mask the true purpose of the mission. NASA needs to find out if what Armstrong and Aldrin encountered in 1969 is still up there.

The three teens, Midori from Japan, Mia from Norway, and Antoine from France are chosen, trained, and sent into space along with a crew of five astronauts. The majority of the plot takes place after the team has reached the moon, however one significant event occurs to each of the three teens before takeoff. They each have an experience that is unexplained and unsettling and which almost convinces them not to go through with the mission. Someone (or something) doesn’t want humans back on the moon, and from the moment the team lands things begin to go horribly wrong. Events occur at a breakneck pace and the suspense builds to a stunning conclusion.

172 Hours on the Moon is an excellent sci-fi horror story/psychological thriller and one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read. It continued to occupy my thoughts for days after I finished reading. The atmosphere is intense, drawing from the isolation of being alone on the moon accompanied by only a few others with extremely limited resources. And then the enemy reveals itself.

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The country of Illéa is divided into thirty-five provinces whose citizens are divided into one of eight castes. They range from Ones – the country’s royal family, to Eights – those who live on the street and have no way to support themselves. America Singer of Carolina is a Five – those with a creative ability such as singing, dancing, or acting. She has no particular aspirations of upward mobility. She only wants to perform, help support her family, and hopefully become the wife of secret love Aspen Leger. The only problem with her plan is that Aspen is a Six – a servant, and doesn’t want to be responsible for bringing America down a level. Then, when Maxon Schreave, Prince of Illéa announces that he will be choosing a wife, suddenly everything changes. It is time for the Selection.

By law, Maxon must marry a “Daughter of Illéa,” in other words, a commoner. One woman from each province will be chosen to travel to the castle to be courted by Maxon, and one will become his wife and eventual Queen of Illéa. Both Aspen and America’s mother are adamant that she enter the Selection. America eventually agrees, both to appease Aspen and because her mother has offered a very attractive bribe. She is certain the odds of being selected are extremely low, but if that were the case, we wouldn’t have much of a story to read, would we?

America becomes one of the Selected and must cope with being away from her family, her friendly and not so friendly fellow contestants, the rebels who routinely attack the castle, and the fact that portions of the Selection are televised for the nation to see. Oh, and that she likes Maxon much more than she ever thought she would. Making matters even more difficult, Aspen dumps her before she leaves Carolina, but she is still very much in love with him. One thing America has going for her is that she is no shrinking violet, which Maxon finds quite appealing. Readers will find it appealing, too. You will root for her, feel her pain, and be proud when she stands her ground.

Cass’s career has really taken off since her self-published novel The Siren hit shelves. The Selection earned a spot on the New York Times Best Sellers list, is the first of a planned trilogy, and has been optioned as a potential 2013 television series for the CW. Watch for The Prince, an ebook novella told from Maxon’s point of view coming in March, and book two in the series, The Elite, due out in April.

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Set four years after the events of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Jeffrey Brown’s Darth Vader and Son gives us a comic version of “Episode Three and a Half” depicting an alternate Star Wars timeline in which Darth Vader raises young Luke Skywalker.

Four-year-old Luke is just as precocious as you might think, and Vader’s exasperation is palpable. Much of Vader’s dialog comes directly from the Star Wars films, but it takes on an entirely new meaning as the context changes. Brown’s illustrations are vibrant and colorful with a touch of whimsy. Drawn with what appears to be markers and an inkpen, Brown has great precision and is skilled at coloring and shading.

As funny and inspired as the scenes are in Darth Vader and Son, true fans will find even more enjoyment in the background illustrations and in-jokes featured throughout the book. Nearly every significant Star Wars character is featured, many as child sized versions of their adult selves.

I have only one issue with this book, and it is a very small one. Why not feature Leia more prominently? I realize that this is Darth Vader and Son, and perhaps Brown intends to follow this up with Darth Vader and Daughter, but it would have been even harder on Vader to raise twins than to just have Luke underfoot. Leia is featured in only one comic and there could have been so much more. Vader at a tea party, Vader playing dress-up, Vader putting on makeup – think of the possibilities!

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What girl doesn’t dream about shrinking down to play in her dollhouse? This premise, with a time travel twist, is the genesis for the story The Sixty-Eight Rooms. The titular rooms are the Thorne Miniature Rooms housed in The Art Institute of Chicago. They are meticulously crafted rooms depicting late 1200s to 1930s Europe and 1600s to 1930s America. Ruthie and Jack visit the exhibit on a field trip and Ruthie, in particular, is mesmerized. Intrigued to see what the rooms look like from the staff-only area that runs behind the exhibit, Jack manages to talk a security guard into showing them backstage. That’s where Jack finds the key.

At first when Ruthie holds the key, she feels it grow warm in her hand, and the sensation of a breeze blowing by. Later, when she holds the key in the vicinity of the rooms on a return trip to the exhibit, Ruthie is stunned to find herself shrinking! Jack and Ruthie soon realize that the key and the rooms were meant to be used together and they begin their adventure. Even more surprising than all they’ve seen so far is the revelation that the windows and doors built into some of the Thorne Rooms actually lead to the time and place they recreate. The only way they’ll have the time and privacy to explore all the Thorne Rooms have to offer is to hatch a secret, overnight visit to the exhibit—Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler-style.

The Sixty-Eight Rooms is followed by Stealing Magic: A Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventure. After all, Ruthie and Jack have 68 Thorne Rooms to explore.

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If your birthday is also Valentine’s Day, you probably either love all things hearts and flowers, or hate every pink and red bit of it. The fact that Piper’s birthday falls on Valentine’s Day means that she typically receives many heart-themed birthday gifts each year, but does not mean she believes in love. This year though, her best friends Claire and Jillian are determined that the three of them will not be alone on the most romantic day of the year. They devise “The Plan.” Some of “The Plan” involves things you might expect, such as hair highlights and new makeup techniques. Then the girls take things one step further.

When she’s not at school, Piper works at Jan the Candy Man, a candy store known for its creative confections. Piper, Claire, and Jillian borrow the kitchen one evening to make a new, special type of chocolate. A chocolate that incorporates the recipe Jillian found for a love potion. When the girls’ crushes start to notice them after eating the chocolates they are sure it’s coincidence—right?

Reading Love? Maybe is like watching a fun romantic comedy. You begin to root for the main characters in their struggle to find love. The subplots are also entertaining and even secondary characters have personality. Even Valentine’s haters will find something to love in this one.

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What Leena expects to be a perfect senior year at boarding school begins to fall apart from the first moment she sets foot back on campus. She’s excited to be living in Frost House with her two best friends, and will have a room to herself until their other friend returns from a semester abroad. Leena can’t wait to be out of the dorm, and moving into Frost House is a special treat because it was repurposed as women’s housing just for her and her roommates. Her excitement is soon dulled, however, by the news that she will be sharing her sanctuary with a roommate after all.

Celeste is eccentric, arty, and attention-seeking. So when she starts to complain about Frost House, Leena doesn’t quite know what to believe. Leena loves living in the old house and feels completely at home. Celeste feels like she is being watched, claims her belongings are being tampered with, and swears it smells like something died in her closet. Could Celeste be making it all up or is there really a presence in the house that Leena can’t sense? Why would Leena feel so comfortable in the house if there was really something wrong? Celeste certainly has a history of being unreliable, but even Leena can’t argue with the strange, if disparate, effect Frost House seems to have on them both.

Frost is not your usual haunted house story, and you may end the story with as many questions as you began. With that said, I enjoyed the layers author Baer built, each one adding more and more depth to the story than the last. Are the events of the story the result of a character’s psychological deterioration, a haunting, or something more mundane?

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Kate Kae Myers, author of The Vanishing Game, wrote on her blog, “Smart teens interested in clues and codes (and fiction, of course!) are my target market.” I may no longer be a teen, but I am definitely a fan of fiction that incorporates clues and codes. That may have been what started me reading, but what kept me reading was the atmosphere, the suspense, and the plot. It is a mystery, thriller, noir, fantasy novel all weaved into one. It is suitably eerie as well as puzzling. Most of the time I had no idea where the story would twist and turn next, and I certainly didn’t guess the ending.

The overarching mystery in the story is whether Jocelyn’s brother Jack is dead or alive. Jocelyn was told that Jack had died in a car wreck, but shortly thereafter she received a letter in the mail. It was signed “Jason December,” a code name she and Jack had created as children. The only other person who knew that name was their friend Noah. Jocelyn, Jack, and Noah had all grown up in Seale House, a foster home where they were neglected. One of their diversions was making up codes to try and stump one another. The message Jocelyn receives from “Jason December” is a newspaper clipping about a fire that destroyed Seale House. Jocelyn is sure it is a clue, especially since it was sent after Jack’s death, but first she must track down Noah. At worst she can confirm that he did not send the letter, at best maybe he’ll help her find Jack.

Now you know as much as I did when I started reading The Vanishing Game. I wouldn’t deprive you the enjoyment of finding out the rest for yourself. Myers drops you right into the middle of the action and rarely gives you time to catch your breath. I also wouldn’t recommend reading this alone at night. Myers’ story is as creepy as it is suspenseful.

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Nikki Beckett is a modern-day Persephone. One hundred years ago, Cole took her to the Everneath, where Everlivings like him feed off the lives of forfeits—mortals with nothing left to live for. But Nikki still had one thing left. She was supposed to retain no memory of her previous life. Forfeits shouldn’t even be able to function after they have been drained. But when Nikki woke, she was still herself. Cole realized that Nikki was very special and asked her to stay with him forever as an Everliving. Knowing that she would then be required to feed off of forfeits herself, Nikki turned him down, and her fate was sealed. Nikki would return to the Surface, but after six months she will be returned to endure a painful eternity fueling the Everneath.

When Nikki returns to the Surface only six months have passed since her family and friends thought she ran away. Now she has six months to make amends before the Everneath claims her again. All Nikki had intended was to set a few things right, say a proper goodbye, and keep to the fringes for the time she had left. But it turns out to be harder to stay uninvolved than she expected. Her father, her brother, and her best friend Jules all want answers. There is the added pressure of Cole, and his attempts to change her mind about becoming an Everliving. And there’s Jack. How can she say goodbye to the person 100 years in the Everneath couldn’t erase?

Everneath is the first in a planned trilogy that will appeal to paranormal romance and mythology fans alike. Look for the sequel, Everbound, in 2013.

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Yesterday’s post was about a girl who lost her entire family. Today we have a book about a family that loses a child. Ethan was nine years old when he was taken from his front yard. His younger brother was the only witness. Now, eight years later, Ethan has returned home. Each member of his family, which now includes a six-year-old sister, reacts in different ways. His parents are so happy to have him home, but his brother is angry, confused, and unwelcoming. His sister, too young to know the whole story of his abduction, adapts to him quickly and is much like he was at her age.

Ethan’s homecoming is far from idyllic, however. He is having trouble coping with his new life, which is very different than the one he has known. He has virtually no memory of his life with his actual family, remembering only the life he led with Ellen, the woman who took him. After living with her for many years, she abandoned him at a group home, from which he eventually ran away. He lived on the street for a year after that, before finding his family on a website for missing children. What starts as a happy reunion soon shows the strain of Ethan’s efforts to regain his memories, his reintroduction to friends and family, enrolling in school, and heated therapy sessions.

Ms. McMann’s story is dramatic and well-told, but should probably be avoided by readers with children. What is an “angst-y” young adult drama for high school teens would be a horror story for them.

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Laurel never dreamed that walking home from dinner at her neighbor’s and choosing homework over ice cream would save her life. Laurel’s parents, brother, and neighbors head off for dessert, leaving Laurel and the neighbor’s son, David, to their own plans. They never make it home. Laurel must now handle losing her entire family to a car accident David’s father seems to have caused, and cope with the survivor’s guilt she feels.

Beginning of After tells the story of Laurel’s first year without her family. She completes the end of her junior year, takes her SATs, goes to prom with Joe, the Brian Krakow to David’s Jordan Catalano (My So-Called Life reference – I just couldn’t shake this comparison throughout the entire book), gets a summer job, and starts senior year all while trying not to break down. And she does break down, occasionally at the most inopportune times.

Laurel’s relationships with friends, her grandmother (who comes to live with her), counselor, therapist, Joe, and with David are all woven into a wonderful story of her life after loss. At times it is tragic and moving, and others uplifting and exciting. Ms. Castle takes you along on Laurel’s journey and every emotion Laurel feels and reaction she has is earned and realistic.

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As the song goes, “What a difference a day makes.  Twenty-four little hours.”  The events of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight take place over the course of just one day.  It is a very momentous day for Hadley and Oliver.  They meet at the airport, on a transatlantic flight from New York to London.  Hadley might never have met Oliver if she had made her original flight.  But, in this case, the four minutes she was late made all the difference.

Hadley is on her way to her father’s wedding.  He left her and her mother for a job at Oxford two years ago, and never came back.  Hadley is still bitter about it, but she has been told in no uncertain terms that she must attend this wedding.  His wedding to “that British woman,” as Hadley refers to her soon-to-be stepmother.  Add to that her crippling claustrophobia, and she is really dreading this trip.  Then she meets Oliver.

Oliver is a British college student studying at Yale.  He is also on his way to London for a wedding, and he doesn’t seem any more excited about the prospect than Hadley.  He is very helpful in getting her through her fear of flying, however, as they talk the seven hour flight away.  By the time they arrive at Heathrow they have formed quite the attachment and, even though they go their separate ways, Hadley can’t help but hope they’ll meet again.

If you’ve done the math, you know that Hadley and Oliver’s flight has only brought us to the seven hour mark of the aforementioned twenty-four hours, so there’s a pretty decent chance their story doesn’t end there.  Odds are they’ve probably fallen in love at first sight.

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What if you built a machine that could receive messages from the future? What messages would you like to receive? Probably your first answer would be winning lottery numbers. But what if, along with the winning numbers, you also received an SOS? Tane and Rebecca receive just such a message, and they sent it to themselves. Something horrific is about to happen to their New Zealand home, and they must decipher their own messages to stop it. They follow the directions they receive to the best of their ability, but they still don’t know exactly what they’re up against. Early attempts to carry out their instructions don’t go exactly as planned, and when the threat does become clear, it might be too late.

A mist has begun moving South through New Zealand. At first, it is centered mostly over farmland, wilderness, and uninhabited land. The first reports from populated areas indicate that it rolled in without warning and then began to thicken. It moves at no consistent rate of speed and moves against the wind. The transmissions end there, and when backup is sent in, they are also never heard from again. Everyone who encounters the mist seems to simply disappear. If this is the danger Tane and Rebecca warned themselves of, how will they ever be able to stop it?

Falkner has written a suspenseful science fiction horror story that kept me turning the pages. While the reasoning behind the creation of the mist seems a bit heavy handed, I suppose that there had to be some sort of back-story for the “villain” of the piece. I won’t give it away, but it works as well as any for this type of sci-fi thriller.

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Daniel can remember lifetime after lifetime after lifetime.  He has had countless different lives in countless different places, meeting countless different people – and Sophia.  He meets Sophia, or the reincarnated version of her, in many of his lives.  He loves her desperately, but they have never been able to make a life together.  She does not remember him from one lifetime to another, and so Daniel must find her and make her fall in love with him over and over again.

Only it’s not quite that simple (not that that sounds all that simple, really).  Often Sophia is significantly older or younger than he is.  Sometimes they live so far apart that he cannot find her.  Sometimes she is right under his nose, but married to his brother.  That’s probably the worst – being so close but unable to touch her.  This time, though, Daniel is sure that they’ll get it right.  He and Lucy both attend the same high school, and this time, when he tells her who he is (and who she is), she’ll understand and they can be together.  Until he fudges things, and she never wants to see him again.

Daniel must win Lucy back, and deal with an unexpected problem from their past, before he loses her to another lifetime.  My Name is Memory appealed to me in the same way as The Time Traveler’s Wife, and fans of that book will find much to enjoy here.  Although this can be read as a stand-alone novel, it was meant to be the first of a trilogy.  A sequel has yet to be approved for publication, however, so Ms. Brashares encourages readers to spread the word (duly noted and done!) so that the rest of Daniel and Lucy’s story can be told.

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Cas and his mother just moved to a new town. They move around pretty often, so Cas knows the routine:  find a house, find a school, find the popular crowd, and get them to share the local ghost story. Chances are, if Cas has done his research well, the ghost everybody thinks is just a story will turn out to be real. That’s why he and his mom moved to town in the first place. Cas is a ghost hunter.

His current case is the titular Anna Dressed in Blood. She was murdered while walking to a school dance in 1958 and her killer was never found. Anna now haunts her former home, killing anyone who enters, until the day Cas comes to call. Cas is the first person to enter Anna’s home and make it out alive. In fact, not only is he alive, but he is entirely unharmed. He is the first person to enter Anna’s home who could actually cause her harm, could even destroy her, and still she chooses to let him go. Now Cas is driven to solve both Anna’s murder and the mystery of her sudden change of heart. In Cas’s experience, a ghost with a track record like Anna’s doesn’t just turn over a new leaf. But then Anna isn’t quite like any ghost Cas has ever hunted before.

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Kate DiCamillo’s work has long been a staple on our Battle of the Books lists, but The Magician’s Elephant (on this year’s 4th and 5th grade list) is definitely my favorite. It features an eclectic cast of characters including a fortune teller, two orphans, a magician, a nun, a dog, an ex-soldier, a policeman and his wife, and an elephant.

One of the orphans, Peter Augustus Duchene, is searching for his sister. He has been told that she is dead but maintains the hope that, somewhere out there, she is alive. His hopes seem to be well-founded when he meets a fortune teller who tells him that in order to find his sister, he must “follow the elephant.” While that prospect seems to be quite the impossibility, at least the fortune has confirmed that Peter’s sister is alive. Then he overhears the most amazing story. A magician in town has performed an unbelievable trick. He has materialized an elephant out of thin air! Could this be the elephant that will lead Peter to his sister?

The Magician’s Elephant is a quirky, lovely book that quietly tells a story of, as Ms. DiCamillo puts it, “love and magic.”

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When Harvey Swick meets Rictus, Harvey is deep into the mid-winter blues. He’s desperate for some fun. So when Rictus offers to take Harvey to a place where children can have as much fun as they want, perhaps he doesn’t question the offer quite as much as he should. Rictus and Harvey travel to Mr. Hood’s Holiday House, where children can have anything they wish. Each day sees the passing of all four seasons, with trick-or-treating every evening, a Thanksgiving meal for every dinner, and Christmas presents every night. The only thing Harvey can’t have? He can’t go home. At least not to the home he’s always known.

There is a price for Mr. Hood’s magic, and the children are paying it without even knowing. It is only when Harvey attempts to return home that he discovers what he has sacrificed for his fun at Holiday House. For every day that has passed while Harvey was at Holiday House, a year has passed for those who exist outside its walls. Mr. Hood has taken his payment in time. Now Harvey must determine how to get it back.

Although this title is technically an adult book, it was assigned in school for my seventh grade class and my classmates and I enjoyed it very much. Harvey is ten when he has his adventures, but as it has crossover appeal, this title could be read by both young adult and adult readers.

Check the WRL catalog for The Thief of Always

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