Review: Minders by Michele Jaffe

mindersTitle: Minders

Author: Michele Jaffe

Publisher: Penguin

Pub. Date: January 30, 2014

Genre: Young Adult

Rec. Age Level: 12+

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For years, Sadie has worked with one ultimate goal in mind: being accepted into the prestigious Mind Fellowship program, a program that seeks to educate the future’s best minds. She knows little about the program, but what she does know – that the it pushes boundaries, selects only the best, and is a frontrunner in technological advancement – would make it a shining achievement on her already impressive resume. Sadie learns she will undergo a process in which her mind will connect with a randomly selected subject’s; she will see and feel everything he experiences, but he’ll have no idea she’s there. Sadie is expected to stay objective, to observe her subject without the bias of emotion, but she soon finds that task is much easier said than done. All she’s told about her subject, Ford, is that he’s on the fast track to criminality, information that immediately biases Sadie. Though privileged and sheltered, it doesn’t take long for Sadie to realize that people, even those from the wrong side of the tracks and with infuriatingly annoying tendencies, are complex… and that there’s always more than one side to every story. As the days she spends in Ford’s mind turn to weeks, she finds herself reevaluating the way she looks at the world. Pulled into his quest to solve his brother’s murder, Sadie is surprised to find herself feeling for Ford… and maybe even falling for him.

Oh, where to start with my love for this book? There’s crazy, advanced science, a mystery, dark threatening forces, gorgeous, crumbling Detroit architecture, and a complicated, swoon-worthy romance. What more could you want? Read this book!

Review: The Lost Planet by Rachel Searles

the lost planetTitle: The Lost Planet

Author: Rachel Searles

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan

Pub. Date: January 28, 2014

Genre: Middle Grade

Rec. Age Level: 8-12

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A boy wakes in a room he’s never seen before. In fact, he has no memory of anything… not even his name. It’s only after the man tending to him finds a chip embedded under the boy’s skin that his identity, or at least his name, is discovered: Chase Garrety. Armed with his name and little else, Chase sets out to unravel the mystery of how he ended up on the planet Trucon, wounded and without his memory. He teams up with Parker, the boy who found him unconscious and in mortal danger of the monsters that plague Trucon. Parker talks Chase into “borrowing” a spaceship that belongs to Parker’s mysterious benefactor, in the process, giving the slip to his cyborg nanny/bodyguard. What starts as a joyride soon morphs into danger when Trucon is destroyed in a fiery explosion and the boys unwittingly rescue the man accused of coordinating the attack. As secrets are revealed and Chase is driven by the faintly remembered phrase, “Guide the star,” the boys are no longer sure who to trust. Met by danger at every turn, Chase and Parker struggle to stay one step ahead of those who seek them, including the government, the mob, the accused terrorist, and even Parker’s guardian.

Nonstop action and an absorbing premise make THE LOST PLANET a thrilling MG debut from Rachel Searles. These characteristics, paired with fast pacing, also make this title a great pick for reluctant readers who prefer to jump right into the action or don’t have the patience for a long introduction. The well-placed, surprising twists within THE LOST PLANET will keep readers engaged as they struggle with Chase to unravel his past and determine which forces within the novel seek to save or destroy him.

Review: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

ophelia and the marvelous boyTitle: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

Author: Karen Foxlee

Publisher: Random House

Pub. Date: January 28, 2014

Genre: Middle Grade

Rec. Age Level: 8-12

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Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard, her sister, Alice, and their father, the world’s leading expert on swords, leave home for a foreign city where it always snows. Ophelia’s father has been hired to curate a museum exhibit and, while exploring the museum, a confusing, drafty place full of curiosities, Ophelia discovers an abandoned room. Within the room is a small door. On the other side of the door, is a boy. As you might expect, this is no ordinary boy, but a Marvelous Boy, the prisoner of the sinister Snow Queen. The Queen has kept him prisoner for near 300 years and he’s been waiting for Ophelia. Only she can help him defeat the Queen… and time is running out. Scientifically-minded Ophelia must look within herself – and to the memory of mother – to find the magic she holds within herself. A gorgeous retelling of The Snow Queen and an unforgettable story about friendship, love, and grief, OPHELIA AND THE MARVELOUS BOY is sure to be loved by readers of all ages.

Ophelia has much to overcome in her journey to defeat the Snow Queen. Not only must she brave Misery birds, ghosts, a cold museum director, and other sinister and fantastical beasts, she has to overcome the grief of the recent loss of her mother and her own leaning towards empirical truths. Ophelia’s mother, even in death, has a lasting impact on Ophelia and her struggle to find magic and hope in the cold world of the Snow Queen. When she doubts herself or the Marvelous Boy, Ophelia looks to memories of her mother, a writer who was always ready to believe in fantastical and everyday magic. And, in time, she looks within herself, where she finds her mother is always present.

I adored the setting of OPHELIA AND THE MARVELOUS BOY. Foxlee’s words paint an amazingly detailed world full of wonder and, of course, magic. Not much is known about the city, except that it’s always snowing there, but I couldn’t help but imagine the museum was in a large Russian city. There are gorgeous black and white illustrations within the book by Yoko Tanaka that beautifully complement the text, giving readers a visual treat in addition to Foxlee’s lyrical descriptions.

I urge you to read OPHELIA AND THE MARVELOUS BOY, regardless of your age. Its magic will transport you, leaving you satisfied even as you mourn leaving Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy behind.

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Don’t miss my interview with OPHELIA author, Karen Foxlee, here!

Review: The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher

the killing woodsTitle: The Killing Woods

Author: Lucy Christopher

Publisher: Chicken House/Scholastic

Pub. Date: January 7, 2014

Genre: Young Adult

Rec. Age Level: 14+

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Something went terribly wrong the night Emily’s father emerged from the forest with a dead girl in his arms. An emotionally scarred ex-soldier with PTSD, Emily doesn’t believe her father would have killed Ashlee Parker, even if he was prone to flashbacks to the day he accidentally killed a young civilian overseas. Desperate to exonerate her father, Emily searches for answers. Her path repeatedly crosses with Damon, Ashlee’s ex-boyfriend and the two are, inexplicably, drawn to one another… by anger, by grief, by an unexpected attraction. Even as Damon starts to wonder if Emily is right, that her father might not have been the murderer, he still hides the truth of the “Game” he and his friends played in woods. The Game Ashlee was a part of the night she died. As time runs out, Emily and Damon begin to uncover surprising truths about Ashlee… and her death.

Whoa, this book is intense. Lucy Christopher is extremely skilled at slowly building a novel’s action to create a powerful and emotional climax. Though THE KILLING WOODS starts slow, readers will be quickly hooked as they try to fit together the events leading to Ashlee’s death.

I was really curious about how the relationship between Emily and Damon was going to work out. It definitely has the potential to be awkward and unrealistic: Boy’s girlfriend dies and he suddenly falls for likely murderer’s daughter? That’s the impression I got from the summary description, but that’s not really how things pan out in the book. In the book, it’s actually quite easy to understand how Emily and Damon could be drawn to one another given the emotional events of the book.

THE KILLING WOODS is the second book I’ve read this month that focuses on father’s suffering from PTSD, the first novel being Laurie Halse Anderson’s THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY. I found it interesting to compare the two novels. In THE KILLING WOODS, Emily has her mother to lean on as her father struggles with PTSD. Her father withdraws into himself, is often scared, and spends much of his time alone in a bunker in the forest. In TIKoM, the main character, Hayley, must take care of her father alone and he reacts to his PTSD very differently, self-medicating with drugs and alcohol and often lashing out with anger. In both books, those with PTSD often self-harm and carry massive amounts of guilt and the daughters in each book feel that they must remain strong, are protective, and feel they must be the ones to fix their fathers’ problems. I feel that the similarities and differences between the PTSD and effects in each book were very telling. Though PTSD can affect sufferers in different ways, there are definite similarities between the effects PTSD can have on families. There’s much that can be said about these similarities, but I especially like that it means those who feel trapped and scared by the effects are not alone. These books show kids that they are not alone… that there are others out there who feel scared like they do – like Emily and Haley do.

I also feel that I should mention that I’m not a fan of this novel’s summary description. In some parts, I feel like it focuses on things that aren’t really that important to the story and, in other places, it feels like it emphasizes important things but in the wrong way. It’s hard to explain, but this book is much better than I think the description makes it out to be. Or just… different. For this one, check out some reviews instead of basing your interest solely on the jacket description.

Don’t forget to check out author Lucy Christopher’s guest post here at The Hiding Spot and enter to win a signed copy of THE KILLING WOODS!

Review: Vitro by Jessica Khoury

384e9-vitroTitle: Vitro

Author: Jessica Khoury

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Pub. Date: January 14, 2014

Genre: Young Adult

Rec. Age Level: 12+

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The author of Origin, Jessica Khoury, takes readers to a new locale and a new scientific experiment with her newest novel, Vitro.

Sophie Crue has spent most of her life living with her father in the United States, seeing her mother only a handful of times and only during exotic vacations, but before her parents divorced, they lived on a remote island in the Pacific. Her mother remained on the island after Sophie and her father set off for the States, staying behind to devote her life to making huge, life changing scientific breakthroughs…. or so Sophie always believed.

After receiving a cryptic message from her mother, Sophie returns to the island and teams up with her childhood friend Jim, the only pilot on the island who will brave flying her to the sinister Skin Island where her mother works. Sophie doesn’t believe in the mysterious fear and whispered stories that keep the islanders from venturing too near Skin Island, but she soon finds out that there’s more truth that dark experiments are being performed on the island and that her mother may be at the center of everything.

Tackling big issues, like nature versus nurture, the myriad of questions associated with creation and science, and the bond between parent and child, Vitro is sure to garner praise from readers looking for depth packaged within a fast-paced story and an exotic locale.