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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.

Check the WRL catalog for Tuesdays at the Castle.

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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.

Check the WRL catalog for Kill Me Softly.

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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.

Check the WRL catalog for 172 Hours on the Moon.

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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.

Check the WRL catalog for The Selection.

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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!

Check the WRL catalog for Darth Vader and Son.

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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.

Check the WRL catalog for The Sixty-Eight Rooms.

 

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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.

Check the WRL catalog for Love? Maybe.

 

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