Prettiest Doll (Gina Willner-Pardo)

29 Aug

Prettiest DollA librarian friend of mine suggested I pick up a copy of this book, and the author, Gina Willner-Pardo, very kindly signed and sent me a copy.  This is one of those books that I probably would have passed over if I had simply been browsing Chapters for my Next Great Read, so I was glad that it was recommended to me.

Prettiest Doll is a sweet story about a 13-year-old girl, trapped in the clutches of the beauty-pageant world by her mama, whose resentment over her glitzy cage manifests itself into running away.  Olivia desperately wants to live a life that doesn’t include stiff dresses, stiff hair, and stiff smiles—no matter how many people tell her she’s beautiful.  So when a stranger comes to her small corner of Missouri, in the form of 15-year-old Danny, who’s also dealing with the trappings of his own cage, Olivia finds her ticket out of town.

There are a few things that I really enjoyed about this book that you might like as well.  First, I like that Olivia is not whiny.  It would’ve been very easy to write a character who complains about anything and everything under the sun, especially since Olivia does have something to complain about.  But I very much appreciated that despite her complaints, she doesn’t seem bratty or annoying.  She has genuine concerns about how her participation in pageants might affect the rest of her life.

Second, I liked having a bit of a backstage pass to view the life of a beauty queen between contests.  I wonder if Willner-Pardo ever participated in any pageants herself of if she knows someone who does.  I think, Squinks, what you’ll like is the fact that she tackles the "uncommon" situation of someone who’s good at something but who doesn’t actually want to participate in it.  We never think of that happening.  I mean, usually, if you’re good at gym, for example, teachers assume that you actually enjoy gym class.  I liked the fleshing out of Olivia’s character by giving her so many layers.  She wants to please her mom, knowing she easily could, but she doesn’t enjoy it and, instead, dares to think differently and deeply about her future.

The third thing I really enjoyed was the dynamic between Olivia and Danny.  Willner-Pardo nicely juxtaposes Olivia’s obstacles with Danny’s dilemmas to showcase the fact that despite being relatively similar in age, kids can have radically distinct—though somewhat related—problems.  And in talking about their lives and sharing their fears and hopes, these two people who might never have known each other if not for their chance encounter over milkshake, begin a friendship that I’m sure they will cherish for the rest of their lives.  I know it’s hard to think about making friends and leaving them, and although Willner-Pardo doesn’t indicate that Olivia and Danny will never meet again, in creating the character of Danny, the author highlights the existence of a rare and beautiful gift that sometimes we take for granted (or not even realize we have): Danny is one of those souls that walks into our lives, if but for a fleeting moment, but that nonetheless changes us forever.  I liked that Olivia and Danny discover more of themselves by getting to know one another.

Squinks, this is a nice story of friendship and growing up that you might like.  I did find some parts of it moving a little slowly—there was a moment when I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pick it up again after I was interrupted, but I was glad I did.  The ending is sweet and thought-provoking.  And parents, this is a great story to lead into discussions of physical appearances, expectations, and the true meaning of beauty—not to mention running away from home.  That being said, the irony isn’t lost on me about how I totally judged this book by its cover when I first saw it, which is the issue Olivia and Danny grapple with throughout the story.  But just as with other things, there’s so much more than meets the eye in this book.



Gina Willner-Pardo’s Online Corners
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Thank you, Gina Willner-Pardo and Clarion Books, for sending me a copy of Prettiest Doll.  All opinions and suggestions expressed herein are entirely my own; I received no compensation for them.

Always, Abigail (Nancy J. Cavanaugh)

27 Aug

Always AbigailHey, Squinklebooks Squad!  I’ve got a great new book to recommend to you today.  Always, Abigail is a fantastic twist on the epistolary novel, and I think you’re really going to love it.  Who doesn’t love making lists to be more organized?  Nancy J. Cavanaugh has found a great way to engage both bookworms and reluctant readers alike by telling Abigail’s story in amusing, delectable bites.  So, to take a leaf from her book (get it, Squinks?):

Two Things I Loved About Always, Abigail

1. The plot is believable and relatable.  I don’t know anyone out there, girl or boy, who hasn’t experienced the drama of middle school.  My own middle-school experience was so colourful that I can pinpoint sixth grade as a defining year in my emotional growth.  Just like with Abigail, it was the year that began so promisingly, unravelled rapidly, and then ended with a few surprises.  I completely understand Abigail’s dilemma of trying to hang on to AlliCam whilst knowing that they were growing further and further apart.  And who wouldn’t have a hard time accepting a Gabby Marco as the teacher’s purposeful choice of Friendly-Letter-Assignment partner?  Gabby is a great character and, in some ways, is the star of the show for me.  She’s funny, rational, and authentic.  And, to be honest, I saw so much of my grade-6 self in her that I felt sad saying goodbye to her at the end.  I wonder if Cavanaugh will tell her story someday, too.

2. Cavanaugh’s voice is so well developed.  It really felt like Abigail was talking to me, and when the novel ended, I could still hear her making lists in my head.  Readers often take it for granted that different characters will sound differently from one another, but we forget that it requires talent, which Cavanaugh has in spades, to make this skill seem effortless yet effective.

Squinks, pick up this book: it will give you a glimpse into the grade-6 world of modern times.  Parents, this is a great segue into the topics of conformity, (mild) peer pressure, and dealing with classmates who are different in one way or another.



Nancy J. Cavanaugh’s Online Corners

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters


Thank you, Sourcebooks, for sending me a copy of Always, Abigail.
All opinions and suggestions expressed herein are entirely my own;
I received no compensation for them.

HBB, Tomorrow’s Kingdom!

9 Jul

Happy Book Birthday

It’s here!  It’s here!  It’s finally here!

I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Maureen Fergus at an event last year.  I was super excited to meet her because I was a huge fan of her first YA novel, The Gypsy King.  Well, imagine my surprise and utter delight at receiving a galley of its sequel, A Fool’s Errand, that day, too!  The only trouble was, since I received the 2nd book six months before it’s release date—which I am very grateful for, by the way—it also meant that I had to wait that much longer for the finale to come out.  Well, now it’s been one whole year later, and I have finally been able to get my hands on a finished copy of Tomorrow’s Kingdom.  I have to admit … I’m just a teensy bit giddy thinking about how the plot will unfold!

I can’t wait to find out how Azriel and Persephone’s story continues.  I really really wish Fergus will someday feel compelled to share with us what happens after Tomorrow’s Kingdom ends, but for now, I’m just going to focus on getting my lesson planning done as quickly as possible so I can enjoy more time with Azriel, Persephone, and the rest of the gang.  See you all in a couple of days.

(Just kidding … Or maybe not …)

A Fool’s Errand (Maureen Fergus)

9 Jul


Hey Squinklebooks Squad, do you want a great way to kick off our summer term? I’ve got one of my suggestions-that-aren’t-really-suggestions suggestions for you today … go grab a copy of Maureen Fergus’ A Fool’s Errand. It’s the follow-up to her fantastic YA novel, The Gypsy King, which I reviewed earlier, and it’s just a whole lot more of all the things I loved in the first book.

What’s so great about A Fool’s Errand?

  • First of all, it concludes the incredible cliffhanger that Fergus left us with at the end of the first installment. (No spoilers here, so if you haven’t read the first book yet, don’t read the first chapter of this one!)

  • Second, it begins a great journey that takes you with Azriel and Persephone all around the wonderfully imagined kingdom of Glyndoria.

  • And third, well, let’s talk about those crazy lovebirds …

I am just so in love with Azriel and Persephone! They’re smart, funny, and incredibly charming. Fergus’ voice shines throughout this entire story, and she is among my favourite writers whose dialogue is so delicious that I find myself re-reading characters’ conversations all the time. From the very moment that Azriel and Persephone met in Book 1, the electricity between them was so evident, and I felt like I couldn’t get enough of it, so I was extremely happy with the way this second novel developed. During their travels, Azriel and Persephone can’t help but show their feelings for one another, and for me, some of the greatest love stories involve people who obviously care so much about each other that—no matter how ardently they try to hide it or deny it—that love just makes them glow.  These two kids glow!

If you love great writing—and Fergus is a phenomenal scribe—and stories full of adventure, romance, and intrigue, you really must carve out a couple of days to immerse yourself in The Gypsy King trilogy. And if you’re like me, who absolutely devoured the first and second books, you’ll be giddy beyond belief that the third installment, Tomorrow’s Kingdom, has just released!

Go buy and read these three books now. Then we’ll talk about how Azriel makes our knees weak and Persephone makes us laugh out loud …



Maureen Fergus’ Online Corners

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The Lightning Thief: The Graphic Novel (Rick Riordan, Robert Venditti, José Villarrubia, Attila Futaki)

28 Jun

Lightning Thief - GNI had been waiting and waiting for the graphic novel version of The Lightning Thief, so I was très excitée to get my hands on this! If you were in my grade 9 class, I know how much you enjoyed using this and the movie to comprise our media studies unit, so I hope you finish this series. The rest of the graphic novels are just as witty, thought-provoking, and well-drawn as this one.

Aren’t graphic novels the best? I know there are many parents and even teachers out there who can’t find enough value in them, but I think they’re fantastic for getting kids hooked onto reading. And for those of you who think that they’re “just a bunch of pictures”, let me tell you … SO MUCH HAPPENS in those pictures. And let me tell you something else … SO MUCH HAPPENS between the frames. The choices that the writers and artists have to make about what to include, what to exclude, and how to present everything just boggle my mind. I can’t even decide between a Caramel Crunch Frappuccino and a Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino, and these guys have way more serious decisions to make! If you haven’t gotten hooked onto graphic novels yet, try this one for starters. I’m sure you’ll love it.



Online Corners You May Be Interested In

Rick Riordan:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters

Robert Venditti: Website | Facebook | Twitter

José Villarrubia: Facebook | Twitter

Attila Futaki: Website | Facebook


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