May 27, 2014

Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

I want to complain about that cover. I never would have picked this book up in a bookstore because that cover does not speak to me. It is plain, it is hard to read the title, and the connection to the novel just doesn't work for me. 

Guys—do NOT let that cover deceive you. This novel is fab!

Title: ‘The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender’
Author: Leslye Walton
Pages: 320
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Available: NOW at your local library/book store
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga.

Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird.

In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration.

That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo.

First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.

My Thoughts:

One word to describe this novel: WOW. Seriously, I was shocked by how much I truly loved this story. I loved taking the journey with the Roux family. This novel was the whole package for me.

I want to deal with the plot first. This book is full of raw emotion and storytelling. I was not prepared. I thought it would be a bit of a quirky read; I mean, a girl born with wings sounds pretty quirky.

Walton takes readers through several generations of the Roux family—ending with Ava. It seems as if this family is cursed when it comes to love. Each generation has her own “battle” to fight, but they all try to be practical in their life choices.

I loved every single character. While Ava's name is in the title, this is not solely her story. She shares her woes with her grandmother and her mother.

Ava's grandmother is a strong woman who must overcome town gossip in order to survive and feed her baby.

Ava's mother is almost Gatsby-like (just without the money). She is waiting for her true love to return for her. So much so that she cannot bring herself to even leave the house.

There's Gabe, a man who comes into the night to help with odds and ends around the house, and who works ferociously to try to find a way for Ava to use her wings to fly.

Jack Griffith—a childhood friend of Ava's mother who has big aspirations in life, and a father he cannot please.

There's Ava's twin brother, who is autistic (it doesn't so say in the text, but he is).

And then there's Ava. A girl born with wings who wants nothing more than to be “normal” and to live a normal life. But, her mom seems to have other plans for her.

There are other players, but that's about all I can write without giving away really important plot points—and trust me, you don't want this story ruined for you.

The setting of this novel is also a character, bringing just enough charm to the page to make the reader feel at home but providing just enough menace to remind readers that all is not as it appears.

This novel is an engaging story of love and loss and heartbreak spanning over several generations of the Roux family, and it is an absolute must read.

Do I recommend this book?

Absolutely. I do feel that this novel is more suitable to a more mature reader. This not a novel for everyone, but I feel as if you are a big reader and are mature by nature, this novel will appeal to you.

I do need to caution you—the novel does contain sex. It's not graphic nor overly descriptive, but when I read a YA novel with sex, I always like to give a heads-up about it because I know not everyone approves. There is also a rape, which absolutely broke my heart, but that is the job of a writer—to tell a true story.

This is one of my favorite novels of 2014—share one of yours below.

Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator

May 24, 2014

Review: We Were Liars

That title...

That plot...

The Sinclairs...

Title: ‘We Were Liars’
Author: E. Lockhart
Pages: 240
Publisher: Delacorte
Available: NOW at your local library/book store
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.
We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

My Thoughts:

Oh Lockhart...she has hit a hole-in-one with this novel. (I think the Sinclairs would approve of my use of golf humor.)

First, let me say that I was not expecting this book to leave such an impression on me. I had to step away from the story a few times to absorb the plot, the characters, the setting. I don't do that too often, and I don't recommend that any of you do it while reading this book. It gave me a disjointed feeling by novel's end. That is not the author's fault but my own.

This is a novel that needs to be read within a day of when you start. There are so many minor details that come into play, details that are easily forgotten. But I think that is Lockhart's plan all along.

She needs us to forget those details.

They don't matter.

Or do they?

I want to deal with the plot—a plot that is indescribable as anything other than “pick up this book and read it so we can talk about it!!!” The storytelling is so carefully woven, revealed, closed with so much care. At novel's end I hugged my Kindle. Yep, that's right. I hugged it. It was the closest I could come to hugging the Sinclairs—and Lockhart herself.

The characters are so wonderfully created and revealed on the page. At first I thought Lockhart was giving me a fictional YA Kennedy saga. And then as I was reading I felt as if I knew the Sinclairs; as if I were a neighbor living next door. I could hear the sounds of the water, the natural elements of life living on an island, of conversations and arguments and birds and...well, you get the picture.

Lockhart had me ON that island, living life with the Sinclairs, feeling their ups and downs and triumphs and losses.

And she had me from the very first page.

This is one of my favorite reads of 2014...and one of my favorite YA reads ever. For me, this novel was a whole package deal. The writing is beautiful; the story is beautiful; the character- building is beautiful.

Do I recommend this book?

YES! This is not a novel geared at a certain audience—it is geared toward all readers. But be warned, you really need to make time to read this novel in one to three sittings. Period. You will thank me for it.

What's the best novel you've read lately? Share below!

Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator

May 22, 2014

Review: The Chapel Wars

I absolutely adore Leavitt's writing. The moment I see a book with her name on it, I pick it up. I know that by book's end I am going to feel good about life—and I'm going to read a solid story.

Her latest novel is no exception. I mean, look at that cover. It screams, “Pick me up! I look awesome!!!”

Title: ‘The Chapel Wars’
Author: Lindsey Leavitt
Pages: 304
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Available: NOW at your local library/book store
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

Sixteen-year-old Holly wants to remember her Grandpa forever, but she’d rather forget what he left her in his will: his wedding chapel on the Las Vegas strip. Whatever happened to gold watches, savings bonds, or some normal inheritance?

And then there's Grandpa's letter. Not only is Holly running the business with her recently divorced parents, but she needs to make some serious money—fast. Grandpa also insists Holly reach out to Dax, the grandson of her family's mortal enemy and owner of the cheesy chapel next door. No matter how cute Dax is, Holly needs to stay focused: on her group of guy friends, her disjointed family, work, school and... Dax. No wait, not Dax.

Holly’s chapel represents everything she’s ever loved in her past. Dax might be everything she could ever love in the future. But as for right now, there's a wedding chapel to save.

My Thoughts:

First, let me say that this novel's plot is clever, on all levels. It's 'Romeo & Juliet, Vegas Edition' (without the suicides at the end).

With that out of the way, let me say that I absolutely adored Holly and Dax as characters. I really wanted to be their best friends because throughout the novel, I felt like I was their #1 cheerleader.

I was also rooting for both wedding chapels. Back when I was engaged, we had discussed going to Vegas and getting hitched at one of these places, so even before I opened the book I felt invested within the story.

For the plot, Leavitt gives readers a solid love story of not just two souls but with all characters. Each character has his/her own love story—and they are tied to the chapels in one way or the other. Friends were born here. Love. Memories. These are things that connect us all as humans, and it is what makes Leavitt's story worthy of your time.

Holly fights for all of this. She has lost her grandfather; her parents have lost their marriage; she cannot fail now. She needs to use her business savvy knowledge to help save this chapel. And let me tell you, Holly goes all out.

First, she is sixteen, and she has more business knowledge than most adults I know. Of course, if someone grows up in a business, this is usually not unusual. But the one thing she understands is that she has to give customers what they want; otherwise, why would anyone come to the chapel.

And then there is the problem of Dax. Well...Dax isn't a problem more than, well, no, he IS a problem. He is a problem for Holly's heart. He is the grandson of the enemy; the one that Holly's family despises the most. (Sound familiar?) But she wants what her heart wants, and it is beating for Dax.

Luckily for her it is reciprocal.

This novel is a journey into friendship, into love, into saving one's legacy. But it is more than that. It is a tale of life—of discovery. The one lesson Holly seems to be missing throughout the novel and through her efforts of saving the chapel is this: what does Holly want? She is only sixteen. She does have a life ahead of her. She can take control and change destiny.

Do I recommend this book?

Enthusiastically!!! If you've never read a Lindsey Leavitt novel, you need to rectify that immediately. Her style and storytelling are approachable for readers of all levels.

She is especially great for readers of Stephanie Perkins and Elizabeth Eulberg. I always seem to group them together because when I close one of their books, I always have the feels of happiness.

What's the best novel you've read lately? Share below!

Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator

Review: The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy

Finally! I have found a YA novel that uses rhetorical strategy lingo of my AP Language students. See guys, this stuff does appear in REAL life.

Title: ‘The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy’
Author: Kate Hattemer
Pages: 336
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Available: NOW at your local library/book store
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

Witty, sarcastic Ethan and his three friends decide to take down the reality TV show, For Art's Sake, that is being filmed at their high school, the esteemed Selwyn Arts Academy, where each student is more talented than the next. While studying Ezra Pound in English class, the friends are inspired to write a vigilante long poem and distribute it to the student body, detailing the evils of For Art's Sake. But then Luke—the creative force behind the poem and leader of the anti-show movement—becomes a contestant on the nefarious show. It's up to Ethan, his two remaining best friends, and a heroic gerbil named Baconnaise to save their school. Along the way, they'll discover a web of secrets and corruption involving the principal, vice principal, and even their favorite teacher.

My Thoughts:

I read this book in two sittings in March, which is one of my busiest months. That is how much I really enjoyed reading this book.

First, let me talk plot—which I loved. The idea what words can (and do) change the world really drove the storytelling. It is a fabulous reminder to teenagers to actually listen and participate in English class because if nothing else, English teachers can help students learn to use their words in a more effective way—possibly to take down the corruption that surrounds them. Just a thought.

I also loved seeing the upper-level vocabulary words used throughout this novel. I was tweeting my AP Language students because I would see one of their rhetorical strategy terms in the novel. It made me smile.

The idea of reality TV hitting our schools, and we have seen this already, is something not only topical but also applicable to teen lives. I mean, some of today's teens really hold reality “stars” in high esteem. They would love to find themselves on a reality show. I think for this reason, many teenagers will find the novel engaging. For those who are against everything reality TV stands too will find the novel engaging.

I found the pacing to be right on target. As readers, we know what we need to know at the right moments. And the characters, they all brought something to the table. Do you know how sometimes you read a book and you think, “Where is the writer taking this character?” or “Why is this character even here?” Yeah, that doesn't happen. They all build from one another—sometimes what appears to be the most trustworthy character on the page is the one who has the biggest 180.

Which I liked.

Do I recommend this book?

Yes—I especially recommend this novel to readers who enjoy realistic fiction. I thought the novel was a solid read with a solid story and strong characters.

I especially feel that the book is for the more sophisticated reader in your life, but I think anyone who has ever felt like rebelling against anything they didn't agree with would enjoy the novel.

What's the best realistic fiction novel you've read lately? Comment below; start a conversation about books.

Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator

May 4, 2014

Happenings in Hodgensville - May's Stitch Fix

Happenings in Hodgensville is me sharing a small piece of myself with you—sometimes it will be classroom related and sometimes just a, “Hey! Here is what is happening in my life right now” post.

Last month I shared that I have started using Stitch Fix, and today I want to share my latest fix with you.

What IS Stitch Fix?

<div align="center"><a href="" title="Stitch Fix" target="_blank"><img src="" alt="Stitch Fix" style="border:none;" /></a></div>Stitch Fix is an personal styling service that charges you a $20 styling fee—a fee that is immediately put toward any purchase you make. You fill out an exhaustive survey on your body type, what you like to wear, what type of pieces you would like to receive, your favorite styles to wear, how much you’re willing to spend, etc.  I did say the survey was exhaustive, right?

They “schedule” your box, and you wait. Upon arrival, you will find five pieces—one is usually an accessory—that you can try on at home and decide what you want to keep.

There is a pre-paid envelope in your box, so anything you do not want to keep can easily be placed in and dropped at your local post office.

It really is that simple. And, if you love all five pieces, you not only have the $20 styling fee toward your purchase but also receive a 25% discount on every piece. BUT, only IF you purchase all five items.

They also have an amazing referral program. You can share your referral link to Facebook and Twitter and on your blog and receive $25 credit when your friends/family/referrals receive their first Fix. (Mine is located at the bottom of this post.)

What I love about it is this—as your check out on their website, you tell them if you’re keeping the piece or returning. Then, they ask you specific questions on the style of the piece, the price, the fit, and any additional comments you wish to make. About every single piece.

Here is why I really love Stitch Fix:

1.    I love to shop but am sometimes too busy.
2.    I love clothes and always want to add pieces.
3.    I am completely intimidated by trends and how to dress my body.
4.    I love not having the pressure of shopping in a store. Sometimes those reps are like sharks, circling and waiting. I don’t like that feeling.
5.    I love having the opportunity to try on at home, take pics of the outfits on my body, and have three days to decide what to keep and what to send back.
6.    I enjoy having pieces chosen for me from CA, giving me something fresh and new I might not find locally.

Here is why my husband loves Stitch Fix:

1.    He doesn’t have to go shopping with me as often.
2.    He doesn’t feel the pressure of helping me pick out pieces.
3.    He loves to see how excited I get when I see my box on my front porch.
4.    He enjoys seeing what is waiting for me in my box too—because he knows my love for clothes.

Here is what was in my MAY box—spoiler: I kept ALL items

Adorable packaging. I LOVE opening my box and seeing my envelope that contains my style cards, a personalized note, and the invoice.

After I open the box and look over my style cards, I always lay the outfits out on my bed. This gives me a chance to really look at the pieces and to see if I can pair any of them together. This also gives me a chance to see if I already  have pieces I can pair.

Here is what my Stitch Fix items look like on:

Malcolm Heathered Dolman Sleeve Knit Shirt by Renee C ($48.00)

This is the FIRST thing I tried on. I paired it with my jeans from last fix, and voila. I have an adorable outfit. I LOVE this shirt. It is so soft, the cut is perfect for me, and I love the color. It is versatile and I can pair this shirt with a variety of bottoms.

Addison Striped Knit Cardigan by 41Hawthorn ($48.00)
Madeleina Embroidery Detailed Tank by Renee C ($48.00)

I paired these two together—and look how adorable. I am still wearing the jeans from last fix, and I love the softness of this look. I do not usually buy blue, and every box has given me blue. I have to say I love this color on me. Part of it is because I recently darkened my hair, so the blue helps with the contrast.

Tammi Sailboat Print Fit & Flare Dress by 41Hawthorn ($68.00)  

I am IN LOVE with this dress. I feel like a hot mama with this dress on. This is not something I would pick out for myself, but the cut is flattering to my body (there is a belt on the side the cinches the waist).

Remmie Multi-Color Chevron Print Skirt by Papermoon ($58.00)

The final item I tried on. The style card recommended that I pair this skirt with a jean shirt. I really liked that idea. It softened the look for me. This was my least favorite item in the box, but I kept it because it was worth keeping financially. With the 25% discount, I would have had to pay an additional $4.50 for four items or keep all five and save the $4.50. So, I kept it.

(Sorry my pics are not that awesome. I had my husband take the pictures, and he is NOT a master photographer. Actually, I try to avoid having him take pictures as much as possible. Plus, he used my phone. So...)

As a whole, I am in love with Stitch Fix. I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of my next box scheduled for May. If any of you are interested giving it a shot, visit their website. If you click on this link, I will receive $25.00 credit when you receive your first fix, and I know my husband will be ever so grateful to you.

Happy Shopping!

-      The Hodgenator