Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Review: Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

Finally, a review! Yay!

I've been going through a reading slump and was lamenting about it to Ames and Brie yesterday... If I don't read, I'm not doing much in the evenings and that's just sad. This morning, I finally figured what I could do: review, of course! Hopefully, I'll keep it up ^_^;

Today's review is one that I've wanted to write for a long, long time... After all, I've read this book back in February ^_^; Hopefully, it makes sense and you enjoy :)

Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg
published by Scholastic Press in February 2014
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?
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Series: None

The Story: I like the blurb because it sums up Better Off Friends quite well. Basically, on their first day of school of 7th grade, Macallan is asked to show Levi around. Both have apprehension starting this new school year... Macallan has recently lost her mother in a car accident and needs something to distract her from her grief. As for Levi, his family has just moved from California to Wisconsin and while everything was good in California, nobody turns down the opportunity of a fresh start. When the two discover a common love for a TV show, they quickly bond and become best friends.

What Macallan and Levi learn in the next few years is that friendship is hard to maintain, especially as you grow... and it is perhaps even harder when it's between a girl and a boy. Having love interests is challenging... but what happens when you develop feelings for your best friend?

My Opinion: I have read all of Ms Eulberg's books in order of publication... and it seems that I've developed a pattern: I enjoy one, doesn't like the next, love again the one after and so on. As a result, I was really looking forward to Better Off Friends because according to the pattern, it'd be one that I would enjoy a lot... and so far, the pattern holds true LOL.

One of the things I liked best about Better Off Friends was the writing style :) I liked the alternating POVs between Macallan and Levi, but also that the story wasn't continuous. Instead, Ms Eulberg decided to show us the important moments of Macallan and Levi's friendship throughout the five years that the book spans. In that regard, this book reminded me a lot of Take a Bow, but perhaps even better because there's only two main characters. I liked this style because we got to know Macallan and Levi really well, but also it allowed us to explore their relationship more deeply.

Speaking of relationship, I think Ms Eulberg did a great job building this one. I liked that Macallan and Levi became friends at 11 years old instead of younger... It makes the dynamic different because they don't know all of each other's secret and also, but also because they're on the verge of big changes in their lives... and it was great to see their friendship endure and blossom :) I enjoyed seeing the ups and downs our two main characters went through  and I thought it was very realistic. What added to the realistic feel is how well Ms Eulberg captured the confusion of Macallan and Levi and their maturity/immaturity.

All in all, Macallan and Levi were very likable characters :) I enjoyed reading their story and see how growth affected their friendship. I also liked seeing them falling in love with each other. So much in a romance is about timing and Better Off Friends was a good example.

My Grade: B+. I really enjoyed Better Off Friends and I think Ms Eulberg is at her best when she writes slices-of-life storylines :)

Friday, June 06, 2014

Review: Skin Game by Jim Butcher

I'm still alive :) Actually, not much is going with me except reading... so I really hope to find my muse so I can share my thoughts with you. I'm currently toying with some ideas for the blog... Hopefully, some of them will pan out :)

For now, enjoy this review!

***Warning: This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk***

Skin Game by Jim Butcher
published by New American Library (ROC) in May 2014
Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day...

Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful.

He doesn’t know the half of it…

Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever.

It’s a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.

Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance…
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Dresden Files, Book #15

The Story: The blurb is a good summary for the book, so there's not much for me to add. Basically, since the events of Cold Days, Harry has been living by himself on Demonreach with very little contacts with anyone. Then Mab shows up because she has a job for him... and if he's successful, she'll help remove the parasite in his head which is going to kill him in a few days.

However, when Harry learns of the job, he's ready to balk no matter the risk to his life... because not only will he be stealing for Hades, Lord of the Underworld, but he'll be working for Nicodemus Archleone. Unfortunately, Harry doesn't have a choice... and he'll do everything in his power to undermine Nicodemus' careful planning.

My Opinion: I love the Dresden Files series. It's really one of my favorite Urban Fantasy series because it has it all: solid world building, complex stories full of twists and turns, great characters and great humor. The last book, Cold Days, was epic which is why I considered it my Best Read of 2012... I was so excited when Skin Game was finally announced, especially since the blurb sounded so good! I mean, Harry having to team up with Nicodemus to steal the Holy Grail from Hades?!?! OMG! LOL. I guess all of this meant that I really had high expectations for Skin Game... and as much as I wanted to love this installment, it fell flat a little for me :(

In short, what was missing for me in Skin Game was the intensity, the "sitting on the edge of your seat" excitement. The last few Dresden Files books were pretty much non-stop action and revelations... and while there was plenty of both in Skin Game, it felt less urgent. It also seemed like there was a lot of "quiet" time. When I read the blurb of Skin Game, I thought the book was going to be about going into the Underworld, the obstacles and people they'd meet in order to succeed. An adventure! Instead, a huge part of Skin Game was about planning the break-in and involved a lot of running around. Even worst, breaking-in the vault in the Underworld and the theft turned out to be anti-climatic! ^_^; I talked to my friend about Skin Game and his words were "the pacing was weird." I think a better word would be: uneven. Skin Game started out pretty strong, but then, it slowed down too much and lost momentum. So when it was time for the grand finale, it couldn't reach the high it was supposed to :(

Another issue I had was with Harry. In Skin Game, Harry still struggles with being the Winter Knight and how the mantle can affect his personality. He's still scared to become lose his conscience and become a monster. I understand that we all want character's growth and development, especially in a series featuring the same main characters... but in the case of Harry, it just seems a bit pointless. Perhaps it's because he's so aware of the possible effect of the winter mantle and therefore, keeps worrying about it and bringing it up. To me though, all his concerns just make him wishy-washy :(  Especially since in the end, Harry still reverts back to the same old Harry that we like and want. I wish he would stop worrying and accept the consequences of the decision he made. He needed the power of the Winter Knight to save Maggie. He tried to kill himself and didn't succeed. What else can he do? Especially now that Molly is the Winter Lady, shouldn't he stand by her side? Also, I feel that Harry should have processed his feelings and thoughts already. I mean, at least a year goes by between books... doesn't he think about it? As a result, it makes this issue a bit redundant.

Despite my complaints, there were quite a bit to like about Skin Game. I liked that Mr Butcher kept the cast of Skin Game small and intimate instead of bombarding us with all of Harry's friends and allies. It allowed more focus which was a good thing in this book. It was so nice to see Michael again and to have him team up with Harry... Just nice :) The twist about the parasite was inspired LOL. I'm curious to see how it's going to turn out. All I can think though is that Bob will have company and who knows, perhaps a girlfriend in the future :P I'm also happy that some elements of the whole series are moving along. For example, Harry and Murphy's romance - finally!! I understand Murphy's fear, but it'd be sad to miss out on love because of it. Also, we have a new Knight of the Cross! Yay! It was a good surprise to see who picked up Fidelacchius... Unexpected, but good because seriously seriously, Butters rocks LOL. I'm also happy that Murphy as a possibility as a Knight of Cross has been resolved. As usual, there was also a lot of humor in Skin Game. I particularly liked the scene with Uriel's mortality... and oh, the parasite - that was priceless LOL. However, my favorite part of the book is when Harry finally meets Maggie :) She deserves a father and Harry needs her. Oh and I'm really glad that Harry will finally be back in Chicago.

My Grade: B-. I read in LazerWraith's Goodreads review that Mr Butcher considered Changes, Ghost Story and Cold Days as a three-part mid-season special episode... and they were. He attained such a high with those three books that coming back down was going to be inevitably hard. I know that I'm in the minority, but I feel that's what happened to Skin Game. It's definitively not a bad book, but the difference between it and the three other books is huge. Still, I'm looking forward to the next book! Can't wait to see what Mr Butcher and Harry have in store for us :)