March 29, 2014

Review: Better Off Friends

I have such an author crush on Eulberg. Since her first novel, ‘Lonely Hearts Club,’ I have loved her writing. With Eulberg, I know what I am going to get: friendship, relationship, camaraderie.

Her latest novel is absolutely no different—it’s ‘When Harry Met Sally’ on the page for a modern generation.

Title: ‘Better Off Friends’
Author: Elizabeth Eulberg
Pages: 288 pages
Publisher: Point
Available: NOW at your local library/book store
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

For Macallan and Levi, it was friends at first sight. Everyone says guys and girls can’t be just friends, but these two are. They hang out after school, share tons of inside jokes, their families are super close, and Levi even starts dating one of Macallan’s friends. They are platonic and happy that way.

Eventually they realize they’re best friends — which wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t keep getting in each other’s way. Guys won’t ask Macallan out because they think she’s with Levi, and Levi spends too much time joking around with Macallan, and maybe not enough time with his date. They can’t help but wonder . . . are they more than friends or are they better off without making it even more complicated?

From romantic comedy superstar Elizabeth Eulberg comes a fresh, fun examination of a question for the ages: Can guys and girls ever really be just friends? Or are they always one fight away from not speaking again — and one kiss away from true love?

My Thoughts:

I loved, loved, loved this book.

Macallan and Levi sizzle on the page—finishing each other’s sentences, going on double-dates (that don’t seem to work out), being stubborn about their feelings for one another.

First, I want to address the way Eulberg has set up the storytelling, because I absolutely loved it. The novel is a flashback, and at the end of each chapter is conversation between Macallan and Levi in the present. They step into the story of that chapter, giving his/her perspective, depending on who was responsible for that particular anecdote.

That is another element I enjoyed—each chapter as an anecdote. I could just see the two of them sitting on a couch, talking about their road to meeting one another, their ups, their downs, the building of their friendship.

It was very ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ and I loved it. Very clever.

The development of Macallan and Levi’s friendship is slow, and it is apparent to readers—but not to these two—that they are meant to be together. As more than friends.

It is their friendship that makes me root for these two. It is friendship that many couples initially leave off of the table. It is friendship that sells this story to me.

Macallan and Levi meet in the halls of school—it’s Levi’s first day, and he does not know a soul. Enter Macallan. The model student who is asked to show Levi around. And she does, and then she is done. Until lunch. This one invitation to the lunch table (which we all know is one of the most important moments in high school) that changes both of their lives. Forever.

Macallan and Levi aren’t geared to be friends just yet. It begins with a simple, “Thanks for showing me around,” and evolves into Levi’s mom willing to have Macallan stay with them on Wednesday afternoons until her dad can pick her up.

These Wednesdays are important to the development of their friendship—and while the development is slow, it is what makes them the perfect friendship. After all, they really know each other in ways that no one else will understand.

With that said, every good relationship needs a bit of mystery. For Levi, it is Macallan’s mom. The one person Macallan does not mention, often. But there is moment when the two bond over her mother’s memory, a moment that brought sorrow to my heart and really proved what a twosome they would make.

I want them together, and I want it fast, but that’s not usually how these books go. Authors make us wait, and they make characters work for it.

This slow build allows readers to buy into not only their friendship but also them as individual characters. While they do not seem whole without the other, they really are. This is something that is important in life, and it is something Eulberg brings to the page that reminds readers that while being a couple is important, and while friendship is one of the most important elements to life, so is being true to yourself and learning how to function when you are alone.

While I loved these two, I loved all of the secondary characters as well—especially the parents. They aren’t cool, hip parents wanting to be friends with their kids. They are playing the role they need to play: the role of guidance.

And then there is Uncle Adam. Oh Uncle Adam, how do I love thee? I did not realize there was anything amiss with his character until Macallan kicks some major butt when a fellow classmate mocks the fact that Uncle Adam is special. Not only did I want to hug Macallan for taking up for family, but I felt that this particular scene was personal for Eulberg herself. This scene felt so real, as if Eulberg either experienced this first hand or knows someone who has.

For me, this book is the whole package. Enough drama to keep readers engaged; enough romance to not disappoint; and enough adult interaction to bring the realness of teen life to life.

Do I recommend this book?

Enthusiastically! All of Eulberg’s books are worth your reading time. Her style is fresh and fun, and her stories will make you feel good about life. And, her writing is appropriate for all readers, but the themes of her writing are aimed at late-tweens and above.

If you’re a fan of Stephanie Perkins but have never read a Eulberg book, you need to rectify this. And, if you’ve never read either, you must do so. Immediately.

Let’s talk about books—what’s the best realistic fiction novel you’ve read lately?
Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator

March 27, 2014

Review: A Snicker of Magic

First, let me say that if a cover has a large ice cream cone on it, dibs are I am going to pick it up. Period. I am a cover shopper, and nothing says, “Pick me up Hodgenator” like a giant ice cream cone.

Also, the title has the word “magic” in it. I am going to touch it.

In this case, I saw it on Netgalley and realized I needed this book in my life. Little did I know that while reading it, I did need this book in my life.

Title: ‘A Snicker of Magic’
Author: Natalie Lloyd
Pages: 320
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Available: NOW at your local library/book store
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

Introducing an extraordinary new voice---a magical debut that will make your skin tingle, your eyes glisten…and your heart sing.

Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.

But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck's about to change. A "word collector," Felicity sees words everywhere---shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog's floppy ears---but Midnight Gulch is the first place she's ever seen the word "home." And then there's Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity's never seen before, words that make Felicity's heart beat a little faster.

Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she'll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that's been cast over the town . . . and her mother's broken heart.

My Thoughts:

This book gives me all kinds of feels. Seriously. I read it while I was in the midst of a terrible shingles episode, and this book made me feel like hope existed in my life, that at the end of everything life would be okay.

That is powerful people. Power. Ful. And magical. If you’ve ever had shingles, you know why.

Midnight Gulch is a magical place full of hope—and this seems to be something Felicity has always needed in her life. And her mother’s. After all, she is a girl on the move.

She has a mother who is always on the move; she cannot stand to stay in the same place long. Is this a symptom of the ever-vanishing magic in Midnight Gulch?

It doesn’t matter because they are back. And Felicity wants to stay. This word collector feels the magic in the air, and she feels that this is the place that is meant to be her home. Her mom just can’t take that away from her. She just can’t.

But the question is this: can Felicity help restore the magic that has been lost? And if so, how will this restoration affect her life (and her mom’s)?

What I enjoyed most about this book is Felicity. Felicity’s character is nicely developed, she is the novel’s star and she remains so throughout. There isn’t a single secondary character that steals her thunder; but those secondary characters serve to support her. Each has a specific role in Felicity’s life, and each brings out the best in her.

A note about adults in children’s books: usually I find that adults in a child’s tale are tricky. A lot of the time I find the adult gets in the way of the storytelling, but that is not the case in this tale. They are there as guidance, which is what all children need in their life. While the novel is on the fantastical side, the role of Felicity’s mom and grandma add a realistic feel to the story, and at times I found myself lost deeper in the text because of it, believing that Midnight Gulch is real—and that I too want to live there. To experience the magic.

Or at the very least, eat a bit of ice cream.

The plot of this book is nicely paced, especially for younger readers. It is engaging from the first page, and it holds readers attentions until the conclusion.

Do I recommend this book?

Absolutely. I recommend this to readers of all ages—and of all genres. This novel doesn’t just speak to a certain type of reader. It is for all readers.

Readers will connect with Felicity the word girl; they will be intrigued by Midnight Gulch; they will find themselves lost in the words, much like Felicity is when she is collecting them.

Have you read a great magical read lately, one with ice cream, cupcakes, cake? Comment below and let’s talk about books, especially those with sweet treats.
Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator

March 16, 2014

Review: Knightley & Son

love this cover
It has been a while since I last blogged. A lot has happened, mostly of the shingles variety, so my time has been devoted to other areas, like napping. And itching. Let me not forget the non-stop itching.

But, I am happy to review this because this is a book that I think my own little man would enjoy.

Title: ‘Knightley & Son’
Author: Rohan Gavin
Pages: 320
Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens
Available: NOW at your local library/book store
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

The once highly in-demand detective Alan Knightley has just woken up after an unexplained incident kept him asleep for four years. While he was out cold, his son, Darkus, took it upon himself to read of all his dad's old cases, and he's learned a lot about the art of detection. It's a good thing too—because suddenly the duo find themselves caught up in a crazy conspiracy that involves a group of villainous masterminds (who keep appearing and then vanishing), some high-speed car chases (that will have everyone fastening their seat belts), and a national, bestselling book with the power to make people do terrible, terrible things. But because Alan is still suffering the effects of his coma, he tends to, well, fall asleep at the worst possible moments, Meaning that young Darkus might just have to solve this mystery . . . by himself.

My Thoughts:

When I am not reading tween and YA novels, I am reading mysteries. I love them. I always have, ever since I wanted to be Nancy Drew. I was excited to see that I found an adorable detective story aimed at children, and one that deals with a father-son team.

This novel had me from the start. From the moment Mr. Knightley awoke in his hospital room until the very end, I was hooked into the plot. It was like a young Indiana Jones and his dad hunting down the bad guys, just without the craziness that usually accompanies those films. Actually, I take that back. There is a touch of craziness happening in this book too.

Darkus is his father’s son. He keeps the faith that his father will wake up eventually. In the mean time, he is reading and memorizing his father’s journals. There must be a clue to help him uncover why his father is in an unexplained sleep, there just has to be. But then his father wakes up, sometimes steals the journals, and Darkus is back at square one. Or is he? This kid has a lot invested in helping his father, and now that the journals have been stolen, this piques Darkus’ curiosity and proves to him that indeed, there is something in those journals to lead him to the right conclusion.

Father and son reunite and head out to stop the bad guys. But, who are the bad guys, and why are there children committing unexplainable crimes? Can a simple book unlock this mystery, and how much help is Mr. Knightley when he cannot stay awake?

The development of Darkus’ character is spot on—this is his story, and the author lets us know that. He is the only character to truly receive page time, and he is the only character we see evolve. All of the adults in the novel are pretty stagnant, and at times I felt they got in the way of the plot, which is one reason I feel a lot of writer’s try to keep adult interaction on the page to a minimum.

With exception to Mr. Knightley. He seems to get his son—and he is off the page enough to give Darkus just the support he needs to solve the mystery without interfering in Darkus’ development.

While the plot itself was simple—and yet complicated enough to keep readers guessing—the execution of it was a little slow-going. It’s the only complaint I have. I felt like the pace could have been faster, especially since this is aimed at younger readers.

Do I recommend this book?

For readers of mysteries, absolutely. I don’t think this is a good novel for the novice mystery reader because the plot is a little slower than most mysteries. I think readers of the Geronimo Stilton series will especially enjoy this novel. They have the same feel to them.

My little man loves reading and watching Geronimo Stilton, and when I brought up this novel and its plot, he said, “That sounds like a cool book mommy.” I think he secretly wants to be a detective himself. He loves watching ‘Jesse Stone,’ ‘Murder She Wrote,’ and ‘Matlock.’

Kids like these are the ones I think will really embrace Darkus and his dad into their reading lives.

Have you read a great tween/YA/adult mystery lately? Comment below and leave me suggestions. I am always looking for new mystery series.
Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator