Stories With Ms. Jenna

Storytimes, Programs, Booklists, and More!

Review: Greenglass House

greenglassMy library teamed up with our local news to provide a “Read of the Week” feature. For my latest review, I talked about Greenglass House by Kate Milford! If you want to hear my thoughts about this middle grade mystery, check out my review.

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Review: Absolutely Almost

absolutelyMy library recently teamed up with our local news to provide a “Read of the Week” feature. I was the first one up to bat, and I reviewed Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff. Check out my rave review and then do yourself a favor and read the book!

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January Reviews, Part 1

One of my goals this year is to write more book reviews. My plan right now is to do round up posts twice a month of short reviews of my most recently read books published in 2014. Synopses clipped from goodreads descriptions.

Teen

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard (1/28/14)

andwestay“When high school senior Paul Wagoner walks into his school library with a stolen gun, he threatens his girlfriend Emily Beam, then takes his own life. In the wake of the tragedy, an angry and guilt-ridden Emily is shipped off to boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she encounters a ghostly presence who shares her name. The spirit of Emily Dickinson and two quirky girls offer helping hands, but it is up to Emily to heal her own damaged self.”

This book is gorgeously written, especially because of the infused poetry. It is also very heavy and filled with issues begging to be discussed. Emily Beam is a character that I found myself caring about very much. Because this book is written in third person with literary pose and mature themes, it’s best for upper teens who enjoy strong, moving novels and have the patience to savor each word.

Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi (1/28/14)

intothestill“Their love and their leadership have been tested. Now it’s time for Perry and Aria to unite the Dwellers and the Outsiders in one last desperate attempt to bring balance to their world. In this final book in her stunning Under the Never Sky trilogy, Veronica Rossi raises the stakes to their absolute limit and brings her epic love story to an unforgettable close.”

Fans of this series will be very satisfied with this conclusion. Like the first two books, it is action-packed and a whirlwind of emotions. Where Rossi excels above other books in the genre, is her portrayal of relationships. She has created a great romance, but also realistic parent/child relationships and moving friendships. My favorite relationship is the friendship between Aria and Roar. How refreshing to have a friendship between a male and female that never veers near love-triangle territory!

Cress by Marissa Meyer (2/4/14)

cress“In this third book in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army. Their best hope lies with Cress, who has been trapped on a satellite since childhood with only her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker—unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.”

With this book, this has become one of my all-time favorite teen series. Each book is better than the last, and Cress has left me very anxious for the final book, Winter, coming in 2015. Cress is a Rapunzel-inspired character, but she hasn’t just been sitting idly in her tower- er, satellite. She has spent her time becoming a hacker, and in this book uses those skills to aid our ragtag team in the battle against Queen Levana. I enjoyed every second spent reading this book. Love the action, love the characters.

Middle Grade

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee (1/28/14)

ophelia“Unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard doesn’t believe in anything that can’t be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room. He is a prisoner of Her Majesty the Snow Queen. And he has been waiting for Ophelia’s help.”

I thought The Midnight Dress by Foxlee was one of the most beautifully written books of 2013, so I was excited to see what she would bring to the middle grade set. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy does not disappoint. Once again, the writing is spectacular. The museum setting aids the eerie tone, and the countdown clock moves everything along at a frantic pace. The scientific-minded heroine, Ophelia, is very endearing and worth rooting for. This book will be enjoyed by a wide audience, especially those who like fairy tales or a touch of magic.

Picture Book

Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson (1/7/14)

babybear“From Kadir Nelson, winner of the Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King Author and Illustrator Awards, comes a transcendent picture book in the tradition of Margaret Wise Brown about a lost little bear searching for home. This simple story works on so many levels: as the tale of a bear who finds his way home with the help of his animal friends; as a reassuring way to show children how to comfort themselves and find their way in everyday life; and on a more philosophical level, as a method of teaching readers that by listening to your heart and trusting yourself, you will always find a true home within yourself–and that even when it feels like you are alone, you never really are.”

It’s hard to read this and not feel completely emotionally connected to Baby Bear. In large part, this is due to the gorgeous illustrations (Baby Bear’s eyes!! So full of emotion), but also because despite his fear, he remains unfailingly polite. Some may find this book a little saccharine, and it definitely is very sweet, but I did not find it to be overly so. Is it too early to call it a Caldecott contender?

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The Water Castle

watercastle

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore
Published January 2013 by Walker Childrens

I have a new favorite middle-grade novel of 2013 (or at least a tie for favorite… I really loved Holly Black’s Doll Bones as well). The Water Castle is a brilliant novel that combines science and fantasy, interweaves past and present, and showcases unique family dynamics and friendships. It is reminiscent of timeless classics. I believe this is a strong contender for Newbery 2014.

The Appledore-Smith family relocates to Crystal Springs, Maine after the father has a stroke and is no longer talking and barely moving. The three siblings and their parents move into a grand house called the Water Castle; it’s a house that has been in their family for generations. They quickly discover the house holds many mysteries and is filled with secret rooms and passageways. At school, middle-child Ephraim meets Mallory and Will and discovers that their families have had ties for generations: Mallory’s ancestors were always the caretakers of the Water Castle, and Will’s family has always been the enemy of the Appledore family. What has really brought these families together in the past and the present is the search for the Fountain of Youth which will cure all illnesses and lead to immortality. The story jumps back and forth between the present day and the early 1900s to show the explorations of the Appledore, Darling, and Wylie families then and now.

Many people are drawing comparisons between The Water Castle and Tuck Everlasting because the Fountain of Youth element. Tuck Everlasting is even mentioned in one of the school scenes. However, as I was reading this book, I was reminded more of Holes. Both books focus on past and present and have a strong link connecting the different times. Also, both have this slightly-fantastical mystery that has been part of the family for generations, and must now be solved by the present protagonists. Just being able to draw these comparisons shows the timeless nature of The Water Castle and speaks to its merit.

There are many powerful elements of this book that make it so strong and noteworthy. For example, the book addresses the issues of different types of prejudice. There are issues of race, gender, financial status, and intellect. These provide many outlets for great discussion. The story as a whole is about exploration and growing up, but by bringing in prejudice, rivalry, and family issues, a depth is added to the book. There is a lot to relate to in this story, and a lot to talk about.

I’ve mentioned that this book feels timeless. Part of this is because of the plot, but it’s also largely due to the setting. A mysterious tale in a small town where something is not quite normal and inside this huge old house with a name and history… it all just feels very classic. Add to that Blakemore’s beautiful, descriptive, intelligent writing and even the little black and white illustrations at the start of each chapter. I think this story has the potential to stick around, and I hope that it does.

One last thing that makes this book truly stand out in my opinion is that the author relies on the reader’s intelligence to piece parts of the story together. Not everything is explained in the end, but there are many clues throughout that enable the reader to infer connections and answers.

The Water Castle is a brilliant story, and I highly recommend it. I hope it receives the recognition it deserves.

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