Review & Giveaway: The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman

the glass casketTitle: The Glass Casket

Author: McCormick Templeman

Publisher: Random House

Pub. Date: February 11, 2014

Genre: Young Adult

Rec. Age Level: 14+

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Life in Nag’s End is steady and predictable for Rowan Rose and her best friend Tom Parstle, until the day five riders thunder through town bound for Begger’s Drift, a place rumored forsaken by the Goddess. The arrival and subsequent sinister disappearance of the riders mark both the arrival of beautiful and mysterious Fiona Eira and the beginning of evil’s descent upon the superstitious village of Nag’s End. Rowan’s gentle scholarly father grows suddenly cold and distant, distracted by something he keeps closely guarded in his study, and forbids Rowan from speaking to Fiona, who she discovers is her estranged cousin. When Tom first sees Fiona, he falls suddenly and irrevocably in love with the dark-haired, scarlet-lipped beauty and begs Rowan to break her father’s commandment and convince Fiona to meet with him. As the youth of Nag’s End experience first love, unexpected pain, and dream of happy endings, a dark and violent force creeps into locked rooms, leaving nightmarish scenes and death in its wake. When tragedy strikes, madness and fear reach a fever pitch among the town’s inhabitants as they seek to unmask the evil in their midst. With THE GLASS CASKET, McCormick Templeman gives readers an ominous and horrific fairy tale filled with the darkest, bloodiest bits of their nightmares.

I have very mixed feelings about McCormick Templeman’s THE GLASS CASKET. On one hand, I found it impossible to put down. I felt compelled to unravel the mystery surrounding the disturbing deaths plaguing the people of Nag’s End; the horror and mystery aspects of the novel are remarkably well done. As Templeman demonstrated with her debut novel, THE LITTLE WOODS, and proved once again with this sophomore offering, her writing is sumptuous and richly detailed. I found it easy to imagine the setting and characters of THE GLASS CASKET as I read, an aspect that made the horror elements of the novel especially frightening.

My disappointment with the novel stems from the characters. I found it impossible to connect with any of them. I, quite honestly, loathed them all… On multiple occasions, I was so frustrated that I nearly gave up on the novel. It sometimes felt that Templeman was employing character idiocy and horrible communication to further suspend the mystery, which might be fine if this tactic didn’t make the characters so unbearable. In retrospect, I realize that the characters are very much products of their upbringing within the village. They’re quick to judge, with those judgments, more often than not, grounded in superstitions and first impressions rather than careful observations and rational thought. But Rowan, the girl who dreams of escaping Nag’s End and who claims to be above this superstitious upbringing, is the worst of the lot! I might have been able to handle the others, but Rowan’s ridiculous reactions and shortsighted judgments proved too much for my patience.

Though I was extremely put off by the characters within THE GLASS CASKET, there were many elements that I appreciated, so I’m happy I read this one. I’ll definitely read Templeman’s next book, but with my fingers-crossed for characters that live nowhere near Nag’s End.

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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!