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Satisfyingly Fun: Sisters’ Fate by Jessica Spotswood

Hiya!

Moving Sale

Our first yard/moving sale earlier this month.

So, things are getting pretty chaotic around my house! We make our big trans-Atlantic move in less than three weeks and the house is a mess of boxes, not to mention all the stuff we’re selling! Selling most of your things is strange in two ways. First getting rid of it all has mad me understand that yes, it is all just stuff that can be replaced. However, I have also seen myself go all “Gollum” about certain objects! For example, I have these two naked New Kids on the Block dolls (Joe and Donnie for those of you interested) from childhood and Husband gently tried to get me to throw them away. I responded in a very “precious my precious” kind of way and now, needless to say, they are safely inside a box that has been taped up and is going on our shipping pallet.

Somewhere in the midst of all the chaos and NKOTB doll hoarding, however, I managed to find time to read the concluding book in The Cahill Witch Chronicles, Sisters’ Fate! I had been looking forward to this final installment in the series for so long and I’m glad it was able to be my relaxing read in the midst of the transition and change!

Sisters' Fate by Jessica SpotswoodOverview

A fever ravages New London, but with the Brotherhood sending suspected witches straight to the gallows, the Sisters are powerless against the disease. They can’t help without revealing their powers—as Cate learns when a potent display of magic turns her into the most wanted witch in all of New England.

To make matters worse, Cate has been erased from the memory of her beloved Finn. While she’s torn between protecting him from further attacks and encouraging him to fall for her all over again, she’s certain she can never forgive Maura’s betrayal. And now that Tess’s visions have taken a deadly turn, the prophecy that one Cahill sister will murder another looms ever closer to its fulfillment.

My Thoughts

I am not specifically drawn to witches when reading but definitely to any storyline where characters have special magical abilities. I can’t help it! I just am a little obsessed with fantasy! Spotswood’s alternate history series mixed with fantasy is one of my favorite because its just a fun read and a good conclusion to the series. Honestly, sometimes I am let down by the concluding book in a series (ahem… we shall not name some of those infamous let downs here), but none of that happened with Sisters’ Fate. This installment picks right up where book two left off—I would have freaked if it hadn’t—which means that there is pretty much a ton of things happening at all times! We have secret meetings, memory erasing, romance, fighting, angry mobs, prison breaks, fires, pestilence…and did I mention romance?! *winky winky*

Interestingly enough Sisters’ Fate doesn’t read like your average final installment. There wasn’t this sense of things being closed down throughout like in most final books in a series. In fact I found myself wondering just how Spotswood would end everything because there was so much going on! I even checked Goodreads to double check that it was, in fact, the last book. This a unique quality for the end of a series because it shows that Spotswood didn’t check out of the storyline early — she instead continued to bring the same action that we found in the first two books and doesn’t begin tying things up until the last quarter of the story. In the end, some relationships were healed and some weren’t. Some loose ends were tied and some were not and I enjoyed that it wasn’t all tied up in a pretty package!

To be fair however, sometimes I did get annoyed with the back and forth bickering between Maura and Cate…and even sometimes Tess. Maybe this is normal for sisters? I don’t know because I don’t have any. It did seem as though a spat between Cate and Maura punctuated every cool action the storyline had for us and at times I felt like some of the arguing could have been reduced, but it does all play a roll wrapping the story up so I guess I really shouldn’t complain. Either way, the sisterly arguments, while maybe annoying at times, didn’t seriously interfere with my enjoyment of seeing the Cahill sisters’ stories come to conclusion.

Don’t read Sisters’ Fate unless you have read the first two books in the Cahill Witch Chronicles, or else you’ll be utterly and totally confused. But, if you did read and enjoy Born Wicked and Star Cursed than I definitely think you’ll find this to be a satisfying end to a fun trilogy!

Want to win this book? Check back tomorrow morning for my interview with author Jessica Spotswood and a giveaway of Sisters’ Fate!

Details

Author: Jessica Spotswood

Publisher:G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (August 14, 2014)

Format: Hardcover

Length: 368 pages

Series: Third/Final book in The Cahill Witch Chronicles

YA/MG: YA/MG

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An Art History Mystery! Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Hiya!

It was recently announced that Under the Egg, a debut by Laura Marx Fitzgerald, is on the 2015-16 South Carolina Junior Award Book list! I read it this past fall and I  can tell you that this art history mystery definitely deserves the recognition!

Overview

When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgeralddiscovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo’s search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she’ll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.

My Thoughts

Two topics of history that my students are always interested in are World War II and the Holocaust. Under the Egg is a middle grades mystery with quirky characters that includes a little bit of WWII, Holocaust, and art history tidbits in it. These history tidbits are definitely an intriguing side story to the WWII narrative, one that might not be known to many middle grade readers.

One thing that makes Under the Egg such a fun book is the quirky characters and friendships formed between them. Theo, our main character, is not your average thirteen year old – she has been raised mostly by her grandfather, who has recently died, has a mother who requires more care than Theo can give, and because of her family’s financial situation worries about how to make ends meet and wears the strangest clothes. Theo doesn’t realize that she’s lonely until she meets Bodhi, the daughter of two movie stars who lives in the neighborhood, who is also quirky and also lonely. The friendship that unfolds between Bodhi and Theo while they attempt to solve the mystery of the painting is one of the things that makes this book so special because neither girl realized just how much they needed companionship. The supporting cast of characters are also eccentric and each (An Episcopalian priest, the local diner owner and a helpful librarian) play an important role in uncovering the truth behind Theo’s painting. Characters like these are just plain fun to read!

Overall Under the Egg is a really quick read. I finished it in less than a day because I was so fascinated by the painting’s puzzle. Middle grade readers who are interested in World War II history or those who are just looking for a quality mystery with a witty, smart, and resourceful heroine will most definitely enjoy this one. Also if fans of other art related mysteries like Shakespeare’s Secret, Masterpiece, and Chasing Vermeer will find Under the Egg just as entertaining!

Details

Author: Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Publisher: Dial Books (March 18, 2014)
Format: Hardcover
Length: 247 pages
Series: Standalone
YA/MG: MG

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Epic Fantasy: Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

Hi there!

In preparation for little Colin’s entrance into the world I scheduled a few blog posts ahead of time. Today we’ll be taking a look at my thoughts on Morgan Rhodes’ Falling Kingdoms.

Overview

In the three kingdoms of Mytica, magic has long been forgotten. And while hard-won peace has reignedFalling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes for centuries, a deadly unrest now simmers below the surface. As the rulers of each kingdom grapple for power, the lives of their subjects are brutally transformed… and four key players, royals and rebels alike, find their fates forever intertwined. Cleo, Jonas, Lucia, and Magnus are caught in a dizzying world of treacherous betrayals, shocking murders, secret alliances, and even unforeseen love. The only outcome that’s certain is that kingdoms will fall. Who will emerge triumphant when all they know has collapsed?

Princess: Raised in pampered luxury, Cleo must now embark on a rough and treacherous journey into enemy territory in search of magic long thought extinct. Rebel: Jonas, enraged at injustice, lashes out against the forces of oppression that have kept his country cruelly impoverished. To his shock, he finds himself the leader of a people’s revolution centuries in the making. Sorceress: Lucia, adopted at birth into the royal family, discovers the truth about her past—and the supernatural legacy she is destined to wield. Heir: Bred for aggression and trained to conquer, firstborn son Magnus begins to realize that the heart can be more lethal than the sword.

It’s the eve of war…. Choose your side.

My Thoughts

I feel like Morgan Rhodes wrote this book (and series) for me. But then again, I feel like most fantasy novels were written for me because I can almost always get completely lost in this genre! Falling Kingdoms has all the characteristics I love in a quality fantasy novel. There is secret magic waiting to be reawakened, political intrigue and murder, action, power struggles, romance, and a cast of intriguing characters. There is no doubt that this series is an epic YA fantasy!

With all of those things happening in one story at once, Falling Kingdoms could have been bulky with too many plot layers, especially when shifting between four main characters in a fantasy world as deeply created as Mytica is . However, I feel like Rhodes has really done a fabulous job with keeping the story accessible and just layered enough to be interesting and exciting without being overwhelming and confusing.

Often times when a book shifts between the different characters in each chapter, I can get confused as to who’s perspective I’m reading or I get bored and want to skip ahead to the more interesting characters. Not so with this book! Each character (Jonas, Cleo, Magnus and Lucia) is fascinating in their own way (although I do have my favorites) and their individual chapters all fit into the story in such a way that makes you feel like you can’t miss anything anyone says or does!

If you’re a fan of high fantasy then you should definitely pick up Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes (and the sequels) because I swear it’s so engrossing you won’t want to put it down!

Details

Author: Morgan Rhodes
Publisher: Razorbill (December 11, 2012)
Format: Audiobook (Penguin Audio)
Length: 11 hours and 35 minutes
Series: First in the Falling Kingdom series
YA/MG: YA

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More Than Zombies: Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi

Hi friends!

Welcome back! So, this past year I was on a committee to chose the titles that would go on the state middle grades award list and I read Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi while on this committee. So let’s talk about what I read!

Overview

The apocalypse begins on the day Rabi, Miguel and Joe are Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Pacigalupipracticing baseball near their town’s local meatpacking plant and nearly get knocked out by a really big stink. Little do they know the plant’s toxic cattle feed is turning cows into flesh-craving monsters…ZOMBIES!!! The boys decide to launch a stealth investigation into the plant’s dangerous practices, unknowingly discovering a greedy corporation’s plot to look the other way as tainted meat is sold to thousands all over the country. With no grownups left they can trust, Rabi and his friends will have to grab their bats to protect themselves (and a few of their enemies) if they want to stay alive…and maybe even save the world.

My Thoughts

First of all, isn’t this cover completely perfect for middle school? I know what when my boy students see it, they’re going to eat it up! But let’s not let the lighthearted (and hilarious) cover fool us, because while Zombie Baseball Beatdown is full of baseball, zombies and boys being boys, the author has also packed in a conscious and some social issues he’d like us to consider.

One thing I liked about this book right off the bat was the diversity among the characters. Ravi, our main character is Indian American, his friend Miguel is Latino American and his friend Joe is just American.  I’m a huge proponent of the We Need Diverse Books movement and it was refreshing to see these three very different boys and each of their different experiences with life in small town USA and how they relate to one another. I think my students will notice too (they’re always watching even when we think they’re not).

Although the plot line is full of boys being boys, chasing and killing zombies the author manages to pack in a social awareness into the story, which although I think a good thing, was a little heavy handed at times. Ravi and his friends are not just dealing with bullies, rude baseball coaches, and zombies, but they’re also facing racism, immigration issues, ethics in the meat packing industry. While each of these topics relate strongly to the story line, I wish Bacigalupi had been a little more creative in bringing them up. I did find myself rolling my eyes at times because these ethical plot points were pretty thinly veiled and I’d argue that his own opinion comes through strongly rather than letting the reader make their own decisions on things. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he adds these themes to the story, I just think it could have been done in a less “preachy” way at times.

All that said regarding the socially conscious themes, I enjoyed Zombie Baseball Beatdown (although it’s not the type of book I’d normally choose for myself), and I feel strongly that my middle school students, mostly the boys, will enjoy this very different zombie/sci-fi read. I’m excited that many of them will see themselves in these diverse characters.

 

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Reading Queue: January

The Reading QueueHappy 2015!

It’s a brand new year friends! There are going to be a lot of changes happening for me this year as we Hi Catwill welcome our first baby in early March. It’s really intimidating but really exciting all mixed together!

As usual, as the New Year arrives I can’t help but think about how my 2015 “Bookish Landscape” will look. I always get so excited to start the year of with a reading BANG!

Since today is January 1st I have decided that one easy way to start 2015 off right is to attempt to read more from the books I already own. Every good library contains a ton of books one hasn’t read yet, but I’d like to begin by finally giving some attention to these titles.

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How I Did Last Month

The month of December was a pretty good reading month for me. Having the start of my two-week Winter Break allowed me ample to time to read, relax, and repeat! In the end, I was able to read 8 books in December, which helped me finish my 2014 Reading Challenge Goal with 86 books read!

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (print)

Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios (audiobook)

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater We Were Liars by E Lockhart

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (audiobook)

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (e-book)

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski  Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins (print)

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski (audiobook)

Forest Born by Shannon Hale WaistcoatsAndWeaponry

Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger (e-book)

Forest Born by Shannon Hale (audiobook)

Did Not Finish

Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne

Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne (print)

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My January Reading Queue

I always have high reading spirits in January and I know I tend to bite off a little more than I can chew in the first few months of a new year, but oh well! I will have more quiet evenings for reading time this month since my Husband will be in the UK for about 10 days. So here goes!

Real Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings by HeleneJanuary Reading Queue Boudreau (print)

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson (print)

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa (print)

The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford (print)

Firelight by Sophie Jordan (print)

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (print)

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld (print)

Not Pictured

Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers (e-book)

Champion by Marie Lu (audiobook)

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I know I have a big goals for this month! How about you? What titles are on your Reading Queue? Feel free to link to your Reading Queue post below we love to see what everyone else is reading!

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Reading Queue: October

The Reading Queue

Hi guys! Okay and it’s time again for our Reading Queue! The Reading Queue is a monthly event hosted by Books a True Story and myself to help us keep track of our reading plans for the month. We love to have people join us too, so you should sign up! How I Did In…
Continue reading »

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How It Should Be Done: Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

Hello!

In high school photography was kind of my thing. I took a photography class and was even the head photographer of my yearbook staff for a few years. There were even these little freshman boys who had lockers near mine and used to call me “Camera Girl”…I loved it! I’d read Cynthia Lord before but was really interested in Half a Chance when I realized that Lucy, the main character, was an aspiring photographer!

When Lucy’s family moves to an old house on a lake, Lucy tries to see her new home through her camera’s lens, as her father has taught her — he’s a famous photographer, away on a shoot. Will her photos ever meet Half a Chance by Cynthia Lordhis high standards? When she discovers that he’s judging a photo contest, Lucy decides to enter anonymously. She wants to find out if her eye for photography is really special — or only good enough.

As she seeks out subjects for her photos, Lucy gets to know Nate, the boy next door. But slowly the camera reveals what Nate doesn’t want to see: his grandmother’s memory is slipping away, and with it much of what he cherishes about his summers on the lake. This summer, Nate will learn about the power of art to show truth. And Lucy will learn how beauty can change lives . . . including her own.

Half a Chance is one of those middle grades novels that deals with difficult topics, but does it exactly how it should be done. Often times in middle grades fiction difficult topics are dealt with using a heavy hand, but Cynthia Lord manages to handle hard subjects with a perfect mix of sweetness and gentleness. What we see is Lucy struggling to get her father’s attention and help her new friend Nate’s family come to terms with their grandmother’s growing illness. All of this difficult stuff is approached through Lucy’s camera lens and creates a book that isn’t heavy handed in it’s struggles.

Lucy is your quintessential middle school girl who is constantly riding that line between self discovery and lack of confidence. Her father is this world renown photographer who is rarely home, she is the new girl in town who is starting to have a crush on her new friend and who isn’t too sure about the girl across the lake who hasn’t been very welcoming. I understand Lucy in the midst of all of this and she’s a very likable character.

The summer lakefront setting just adds to the gentle way Lord approaches Lucy’s story. The morning sunrises over the lake and the haunting calls of the loons (who play a major part in the story) create that kind of hazy summer setting that always seems to find itself in coming of age stories. It makes me wish I spent summers in a lake house!

I would highly recommend Half a Chance to any middle grade readers looking for a quick contemporary and even to parents interested in finding a way to open the conversation about an ill grandparent.

Author: Cynthia Lord

Publisher: Scholastic Press (February 25, 2014 )

Format: Hardcover

Length: 218 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book:

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Sadly, Not Much to Offer:The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman

Welcome back friends!

I was lucky enough to met author Gordon Korman a few years ago, and he was such a friendly and humble individual! He’s one of my librarian crushes, I have to admit.  My students adore his books, mostly because he is a good storyteller and writes interesting and funny characters, but I was a little disappointed with The Hypnotists.The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman

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Jackson Opus has always been persuasive, but he doesn’t know that he’s descended from the two most powerful hypnotist bloodlines on the planet. He’s excited to be accepted into a special program at the Sentia Institute — but when he realizes he’s in over his head, Jackson will have to find a way to use his powers to save his friends, his parents, and his government.

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The world Jax (Jackson) lives in mirrors our own but with one big difference, some people have hypnotic powers. Overall, The Hypnotists was an interesting idea, but was also completely unbelievable and what it was lacking is the follow through to make be believe it.

The pacing of the story was quick and a lot of action happens, especially in the first few chapters where we meet Jax on a seemingly out of control bus speeding through the city streets. Adventure and action scenes like this are one of Korman’s strong points but unfortunately it’s the only thing that this book has to offer.

I’m sad to say that the majority of the characters, Jackson included, are not well developed, which is unusual for Korman. Jackson goes from being naive to knowledgeable and wavers between the two the whole time. I found myself more than halfway through the book when I suddenly realized that I just didn’t care about Jax or saving the world from evil hypnotists. Really. And because I had read so much of the book already, and I feel loyal to the author, from that point on I was skimmed the pages just so I could finish it.

I was disappointed in my usually awesome Gordon Korman, but The Hypnotists just doesn’t have much to offer the reader other than a few exciting action scenes and I wouldn’t make this book your introduction to Korman’s books. I do think some of my students will still enjoy anything written by this author because of his normally great track record, and the quick pacing might really appeal to reluctant readers, but I doubt that I’ll be doing much recommending of this one in my library, which is a shame.

Author: Gordon Korman

Publisher: Scholastic Press (August 1, 2013)

Format: Hardcover

Length: 232 pages

Series: First book in The Hypnotists series

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book:

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Waiting on Wednesday: The Glass Sentence

Welcome back!

I’ve been in the mood to read more middle grades fiction recently, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that for this week’s Waiting on Wednesday post I’m focusing on the upcoming middle grades fantasy  The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove.

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It is Boston, 1891. Sophia Tims comes from a family of explorers and cartologers who, for The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grovegenerations, have been traveling and mapping the New World—a world changed by the Great Disruption of 1799, when all the continents were flung into different time periods.  Eight years ago, her parents left her with her uncle Shadrack, the foremost cartologer in Boston, and went on an urgent mission. They never returned. Life with her brilliant, absent-minded, adored uncle has taught Sophia to take care of herself.

Then Shadrack is kidnapped. And Sophia, who has rarely been outside of Boston, is the only one who can search for him. Together with Theo, a refugee from the West, she travels over rough terrain and uncharted ocean, encounters pirates and traders, and relies on a combination of Shadrack’s maps, common sense, and her own slantwise powers of observation. But even as Sophia and Theo try to save Shadrack’s life, they are in danger of losing their own.

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I am completely intrigued by the premise of this book!  The whole idea of each continent experiencing a different time period sounds utterly cool, I can’t handle it. I have a feeling this could totally be a Doctor Who plot! Luckily, the advance reviews on Goodreads are really positive, so I’m hoping that when The Glass Sentence (which is supposed to be the first book in a trilogy) on June 12 (only a few short days away!) I’ll be able to get my hands on a copy and see for myself!

What books are you waiting for this week?

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Perfect for Summer Lounging: Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

Hello!

It’s getting to be about that time…summertime!

Yes, it’s true! Teachers and students around the country are beginning to rejoice! Whoot!

With that said, let’s talk about a great read for your beach/pool bag. It’s not actually set in the summer, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulbergbut it’s a fun contemporary novel…and what better for the summer than a good contemp?!

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?

Right?! It’s a romance…or is it?! Perfect for lounging by the pool or on the beach!

It has been said by reviewers before me, but I’ll say it again; Better Off Friends really is like the YA version of When Harry Met Sally. One of the best things about that movie was the mini interviews with all the different couples that were in between scenes throughout the movie, and Eulberg does something similar in this book. Instead of interviews with random couples however, she gives us dialog between Levi and Macallan as if they’re sitting with us at a table over coffee telling their story. Their back-and-forth teasing banter is just so spot-on!

In fact, so much of what Levi and Macallan deal with over the course of their story is so spot-on realistic. In addition to their own friendship/relationship drama, both Levi and Macallan are also confronted individually with the regular middle/high school woes. They have friend issues, family problems and school troubles just like normal teens do and Eulberg writes them with authenticity, while also keeping in line with the fun, light, and all around adorable plot.

Additionally, in keeping with the honesty of the story, both Levi and Macallan are average, non-perfect people. Most of the miscommunications and misunderstandings that go on between them stem from their flaws and inability to deal with awkward and difficult situations. Just like real life! I’m not a teenager anymore (not by a long shot!! haha) but I still struggle with figuring out how to deal when things are awkward and difficult!

The story’s pacing in quick. Levi and Macallan start off in middle school on the day they first meet and over the course of the book their story takes us all the way into high school. Both narrators give us the details on pivotal moments throughout the course of their friendship and they alternate chapter to chapter, which also helps an already fast paced story feel quicker, which can be good or bad depending on your preference. I happened to like the quickness because it makes it that much more perfect for your poolside summer lounging.

So do they remain just friends or do they take the leap and pursue more? I can’t tell you! You’ll have to pack Better Off Friends in your beach/pool bag! It really is a fun, sweet, and light-hearted contemporary read that will make you smile!

Author: Elizabeth Eulberg

Publisher: Point (February 25, 2014)

Format: e-galley

Length: 288 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: YA (possibly older MG too)

Buy the Book: