A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

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.

snicker

A Snicker of Magic had been sitting on my ‘to read’ shelf for a while.   As a librarian, and lover of words, I immediately fell for this charming middle grade read. Set in the magical town of Midnight Gulch, Tennessee, readers are introduced to a variety of quirky characters.  I found it hard to keep track of the cast of characters, as they were mostly introduced with a long back story.   Besides the excess characters, one very special little lady stood out; the narrator, 12 year-old Felicity Pickle.  I could relate to her love of words and social anxiety. She explains, “… I like words; I collect them. I like poems, songs, stories…everything. But words never sound right when I try to string them together and say them out load. They’re just for me to keep (p.38)”. Felicity sees words, and they appear in a variety of different ways. My favourite was for ‘believe’- “The letters were made of melted sunshine. They dropped down the window glass, warm and tingly against our faces (pg.8)”.Although I enjoyed her visions of hovering words, I got irritated with the overuse of her word ‘spindiddly’ (better than awesome).

Overall, it’s a positive, uplifting tale of the magic of words and stories.  I loved the hopeful and satisfying epilogue in which Felicity asserts, “

“…I’m convinced Midnight Gulch can’t be the only magical town in the world. I bet there’s a snicker of magic on every street, in every old building, every broken heart, every word of a story. Maybe it’s hidden away and you need to look harder for it. Or maybe the magic is right there, right in front of you, and all you have to do is believe (p.309)”

This One Summer- Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

 

Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It’s their getaway, their refuge. Rosie’s friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose’s mom and dad won’t stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. It’s a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up, and it’s a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

 

one summer

Set during summer vacation in a small town, This One Summer is a coming of age graphic novel.  Windy and Rose are growing up and on the verge of becoming teenagers.  Rather than spending time building forts, they become fascinated with older teens, and partake in gossiping, swearing, and watching horror movies to appear cool to their movie-store crush.  I was sad to see the term ‘slut’ tossed around quite a bit by Windy/Rose, even calling girls they don’t know sluts.  Sex is a topic that interests them, but mostly they fixate on what their bodies will look like, repeatedly talking about their breasts, including the last line of the book, “boobs would be cool (p. 319)”  Overall, there isn’t too much of a plot besides the increasing tension between Rose’s parents that has stemmed from a miscarriage.  Rose picks up on the tension- “I thought that things would get back to normal. I guess they sort of are. Except they’re not talking (p.300)”.  Only in the last few pages do readers find out why the water is such a trigger for Rose’s mother. I wonder what Awago Beach will have in store for Windy and Rose next summer as they continue to grow both emotionally and physically.

The whole graphic novel has wonderful art done in shadowed blues. The full spread pages were my absolute favourite, especially the underwater illustrations (p.160) and Windy’s krunking moves (p.174.). I completely enjoyed this alternative format as a treat in between lengthy novels. It’s a quick read, and easy to devour in one sitting.

 

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Former piano prodigy Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone learning about her past and to make the boy who took everything from her—her identity, her spirit, her will to live—pay.

Josh Bennett’s story is no secret: every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. Now all he wants is be left alone and people allow it because when your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.

Everyone except Nastya, the mysterious new girl at school who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But the more he gets to know her, the more of an enigma she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.

sea

Writing this review is difficult. I know tons of individuals that raved about this book (including the majority of the Goodreads community), but I found it just okay. Yes, the writing is beautiful and there are tons of memorable lines, but the lack of plot made the storyline move incredible slow at times. The book is character driven, and switches point of view between damaged high schoolers ‘Nastya’ and Josh. The mysterious reason for Nastya’s silence is hinted at and slowly revealed as the book progresses.

The romance is heavily focused on, and is mostly adorable. I thought it was cute that she fell for an equally damaged individual with his own ‘human force field’. Although they both survive tragedies, they are able to find healing and safety in each other. Their love and trust builds slowly and it felt authentic. Pet nicknames in general are terrible, but Josh’s overuse of calling Nastya ‘Sunshine’ got beyond irritating.

Speaking of names, the origin and meaning of names played a large role in the book. It’s interesting (and so not a coincidence) that every single name meaning matched their personality (example- Sarah being a princess, Josh being a savior, etc.)  While I don’t think a given name predicts your personality, I did a quick search of the meaning behind my name and it is weirdly accurate.

Overall, this is a very angst filled book of two broken individuals finding each other and starting over. Because of the profanity, and mature content, it reads like other darker ‘new adult’ books and so I would recommend this title to older teen readers.

 

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record. The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls.

For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one. Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders? Hannah’s just trying to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.

With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets. She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.

paper valentine

Yovanoff’s book covers always grab my attention. Paper Valentine is no exception.

A while back I read The Replacement, which is set around Halloween. By complete coincidence, I read Paper Valentine over Valentine’s Day. I found both books to have some similarities:

-Sibling relationships (Ariel is a big part of the story—Hannah is very protective of her younger sister)

-Underlying message— No one is perfect. We have to learn to be happy in our own skin and not care what others think.

-Stand alone title. Not a series!

-Genre-hard to classify. It includes a mix of different elements: romance, paranormal, mystery, thriller.

While the storyline centres on the murders, it is also a book about a girl coping with her best friend’s death. Although never referred to as ‘anorexia’, it is clear that Lillian died from the eating disorder. How Hannah describes the appearance of Lillian’s ghost and the smell of her breath is truly disturbing. Hannah’s guilt is prominent throughout, and only in the end can she finally let go.

I thought Hannah made an interesting main protagonist. She loves putting her own spin on her clothes and aims to stand out from the rest of the crowd.  Although she feels guilty for her role (or lack thereof) in Lillian’s death, she puts on a smile and pretends she’s happy. I liked how her love interest, Finny challenges her to be real and accept those emotions.

Although I didn’t see the end twist coming, I figured by the number of pages left that something was around the corner. However, I had big questions surrounding the killer’s motive. Why kill young girls? To demonstrate power? For a thrill? It’s a HUGE leap from shoplifting to murder. I didn’t get it. I also didn’t quite grasp the reason for all the dead birds and the constant mentioning of heat. I definitely thought it was so sort of eerie foreshadowing.

Overall, I think Yovanoff did a great job at weaving together an interesting murder mystery. The book tackled plenty of issues to keep readers hooked and guessing. The Ouija boards and séances really upped the creepy factor.

 

 

Review: The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers

From Goodreads: Tink Aaron-Martin has been grounded AGAIN after an adventure with her best friend Freddie Blue Anderson. To make the time pass, she decides to write an encyclopedia of her life from “Aa” (a kind of lava–okay, she cribbed that from the real encyclopedia) to “Zoo” (she’s never been to one, but her brothers belong there).

As the alphabet unfolds, so does the story of Tink’s summer: more adventures with Freddie Blue (and more experiences in being grounded); how her family was featured in a magazine about “Living with Autism,” thanks to her older brother Seb–and what happened after Seb fell apart; her growing friendship, and maybe more, with Kai, a skateboarder who made her swoon (sort of). And her own sense that maybe she belongs not under “H” for “Hideous,” or “I” for “Invisible,” but “O” for “Okay.”

Scholastic sent me some new fall releases and I immediately gravitated towards this middle school junior fiction novel about a witty pre-teen girl, Isadora. Like many girls her age, her life revolves around family, friends, and obsessing about first crushes. I remember being that age and going through similar experiences- especially feeling the confusion and hurt over the demise of a friendship.

Written in encyclopedia format, I found that sometimes the random entries (like ‘Stephen King’ or ‘Mesopotamia’) disrupted the storyline. They definitely acted as filler, as only a couple of the entries like ‘Mega Mall’ were much longer in comparison. These longer entries were used to help move along the plot and storyline. There was also use of photos (hairless cat, paella, etc.) and footnotes throughout Tink’s encyclopedia to allow for her random (yet hilarious) thoughts.

Although sometimes fluffy, the book also includes deeper issues like: being bi-racial, bullying, autism, and social pressures. I think Rivers did a great job at ensuring that Tink acted age-appropriate when dealing with those issues.  From the beginning to the end, Tink’s character grew and matured.  I was rooting for her the entire book, so her transformation was truly satisfying to read.

Pick up this touching and hilarious book September 2012. If you don’t take my word for it, Meg Cabot endorses the book too, declaring: ‘What every girl will be reading this year!’

PS-For all those still wondering what ‘quince’ is… it’s an Asian fruit tree.

Review: Cheesie Mack is Not a Genius or Anything by Steve Cotler

At our last Father/Son Bookclub the boys chose Diary of a Wimpykid: Dog Days and absolutely loved it. Since it was my turn as the moderator to choose the next book, I wanted a read-alike that would appeal to my grade 4-5 boys. I selected the junior fiction book, Cheesie Mack is Not a Genius or Anything by Steve Cotler after reading some positive reviews.

The humorous book was about Ronald ‘Cheesie’ Mack retelling the crazy events leading up to his grade five graduation. Cheesie began with Chapter 0 (The Story is Over!) where he informed readers that the story was about a “mysterious old coin, an evil sister, a dead sister, runaway rodents, a super-best friend, a fifth-grade graduation disaster, some really unusual words… and The Haunted Toad (pg1).” Sounds awesome, right?

Well it was… yet I am still so incredibly peeved at the amount of times the CheesieMack website was promoted that I find this review difficult to write. It seemed like every page had ‘if you like this or have something to add… please go to my website CheesieMack.com and let me know!’  Ughh- I just wanted to scream, enough already! We get it!  I’m sure there could have been an equally effective way of promoting the website without having it so ‘in your face’. I can’t wait to talk to the boys to see if they were equally annoyed and if any actually checked out the website while reading the book. 

Despite this SUPUGE (SUPER-HUGE) annoyance, the book did have some redeeming qualities:

-Cheesie’s voice as a tween boy is believable. I liked the character of Cheesie, especially when he was forced to make a tough decision that had the potential to affect his friendship with his best friend, Georgie. His family relationships were also fun to read about. I was amused by the ongoing secret point battle he had with his sister. Cheesie created a point rating scale and would designate points for whoever made better insults, got the other in trouble, etc.  I wonder what my score would be with my siblings…

-As a librarian, I love when a book teaches readers new vocabulary words in an interesting way. When Cheesie added and defined new words, it never felt forced. 

-Tween boys will enjoy this book.  The storyline was fun and humourous (such as Cheesie’s invented words like scoogled- scoot and wiggle). Another aspect that will appeal to boys was the addition of several visuals, including black and white illustrations and lists. When Cheesie used lists and bulleted points, it added a visual element that changed up the words from the standard text.

While Cheesie Mack is no Wimpy Kid, I think it will satisfy its target audience. Those that loved the book will be happy to know that Cheesie Mack is being turned into a series, with the second book, ‘Cheesie Mack is Cool in a Duel’ to be released June 2012. For those that can simply not wait for the next release, you can always check out the CheesyMack website! HA!

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