Never That Far (Carol Lynch Williams)

5 Apr

Have you ever lost someone that you never imagined losing?  Did you worry that the pain would never go away?  Never That Far by Carol Lynch Williams is a sweet story about a girl who loses her best friend but cannot lose herself in her grief, for she’s got a very important mission to accomplish.

 

Squinklethoughts

1.  What drew me to this story was the very heart of the plot: Libby’s grandfather dies, and her world is turned upside down.  I was super close to my own grandpa, and even though he didn’t die suddenly, we only had a couple of weeks from the time he got sick to the time we had to say goodbye.  I knew instantly that I wanted to read Libby’s journey of grief.  I think others who have experienced the profound loss of a beloved family member will appreciate this story, and even if you haven’t, you’ll still take away so much from Libby’s narrative, especially how she tries to honour her grandfather and the rest of her family.

2.  The characters in Never That Far are so different from one another that it’s a wonder Libby manages to juggle them all in her life.  Her dad must be a nice-enough guy, but in his grief, he becomes so withdrawn from his daughter and the world around him that I wonder if that isn’t how he was even before his dad died.  Bobby is refreshing as someone who doesn’t easily dismiss Libby’s “crazy” idea that her grandfather visits her at night.  I also like how he seems to really care for her, even though his sister, Martha, isn’t on the same page.  There’s something to be said about people who defy their parents’ orders just to help out a friend.  Not that I’m condoning disobeying your parents, Squinks … just that it works out in this novel.  Preacher Burls is not my favourite character at all, even as the story progresses and she shows a lot of good will towards Libby.  But that’s my own thing.  Maybe others will completely understand where she’s coming from.

3.  I like that Williams chose to include colloquialisms and spellings that reflect Southern American speech.  It really added something unique to the story for me.  Since I’m not from Florida where the story is set (or even from the surrounding areas), I really felt transported to Libby’s family’s groves whenever I read the dialogue or Libby’s thoughts.

4.  The idea of dead people revisiting the living is, I know, a controversial one.  Never mind all the religious beliefs that can be subscribed to (or rejected) by this idea, just the logical and emotional aspects of it are enough to make the premise a difficult one to grasp for many readers.  My suggestion is that you read this novel with an open mind and an open heart, remembering that in the same way we don’t all find joy in the same things, we all deal with sadness in different ways.  I like how Williams gives us an idea of how some people might deal with a loss.  It might not happen the same way with me, but I can appreciate Libby’s story all the same.

5.  **POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT** … Teachers/parents, I know that some people think that death and coping with loss might be too mature a topic for middle-graders to deal with.  I think otherwise, and I’d like to offer you my humble opinion: the sooner that children read about this very real and painful part of life, the better it will be for them to start grasping its inevitability.  Someone somewhere may very well be saved (or, at least, his/her pain will be lessened) by knowing that someone else, albeit a fictional character, has endured the same sorrow and come out relatively unscathed.

 

4 squinkles

 

Carol Lynch Williams’ Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Blog | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Shadow Mountain, for sending me a copy of
Never That Far in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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Love Sugar Magic #1: A Dash of Trouble (Anna Meriano)

13 Mar

Squinks, if you’re looking for a story brimming with magical adventures and misadventures, with a healthy serving of heart and humour, then you must read Anna Meriano’s Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble.

 

 Squinklethoughts

1. I love origin stories about magical people.  I think that’s what drew me to the Harry Potter series because the pitch involved a boy who learns he’s a wizard.  In A Dash of Trouble, Leo(nora) discovers that she and the other girls in her family are brujas – witches with magical powers that are passed down the matriarchal line.  It was really interesting to read about how Leo discovers her family secret and how she handles (bumbles) it.  I totally would’ve bumbled it, too, I bet.

2.  Leo is a sweet character who does many wrong things for the right reasons, and these choices are sources of great conflict – and comedy!  While her stubbornness at not leaving experimenting with magic left me saying out loud, “Don’t do it!” as if she were a movie character taking a shortcut through the woods at night, the thing is … I totally get her.  It’s hard to listen to people who are trying to prevent you from growing up or developing your skills.

3.  I don’t know what it’s like to grow up as the youngest in a large household, but I bet I’d be as frustrated as Leo is, having to watch her sisters, mom, and aunt work to make their family panadería successful, all while being told that the best way to help is to stay out of the way … for four years!  At 11, Leo is too small, too young, too green to start doing magic, but what she lacks in age and experience, she makes up for in enthusiasm and heart.  I have a sneaky suspicion I wouldn’t have been able to wait four years either.

4.  I like the friendship between Leo and Caroline.  I also like that Caroline has a sad back story, which is probably one of the reasons that Leo wants to help her out so much.  It’s nice to find good, loyal friends at a young age.  I also really appreciated Meriano’s development of Brent’s character.  Rather than being a “typical” boy that middle-grade girls (and girls of all ages, come to think of it) stay away from because of cooties, Brent is kind—often sweet—to Caroline and Leo.  It’s a welcome change from other stories with female protagonists that often brush boys aside.

 

  

5.  There is so much to love about this story, and I’m glad it’s just the first in a series.  I really want to know more about Leo’s mama, abuela, bisabuela, and tías.  I definitely want their stories and Leo’s sisters’ stories to appear more in the next books.  Their personalities and magical powers are so different … there is so much potential for great plot lines and conflicts in subsequent tales.  And Leo’s dad.  Well, he’s a Pandora’s Box I can’t wait to open.  (Be careful what you wish for?)

6.  One of the best things about this book is how liberally Spanish words and phrases are sprinkled throughout it.  Because I code-switch all the time at home (and even at work, when I don’t realize it), it was so natural, but also refreshing, for me to have Leo and her family speaking a combination of English and Spanish.  Meriano offers readers a great avenue to learn a bit about this beautiful language and the cultures from whence it came.  This is definitely one of the unique strengths of this novel.

7.  Teachers/parents, I very much recommend this book for all your MG readers, especially if they’re into magic, sisterhood, and learning a little of the Spanish language.  I bet the follow-ups will be even better!

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Anna Meriano’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, HarperCollins Canada, for sending me a copy of Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Lost Rainforest #1: Mez’s Magic (Eliot Schrefer)

22 Feb

Readers who love stories about animals, unlikely friendships, and near-impossible goals will love Eliot Schrefer’s The Lost Rainforest: Mez’s Magic.

 

Lost Rainforest - Mez's Magic Squinklethoughts

1. I love stories about unlikely friendships and partnerships.  What better way is that demonstrated than in a story where a panther, fruit bat, tree frog, and capuchin monkey join forces to defeat a common foe?  I love Schrefer’s choice to use rainforest animals as defenders of their world.  It only makes sense that those living in Caldera would have the most reason to want to keep it safe.

2.  Mez’s relationship with her sister, Chumba, is so sweet, and one of my favourite parts of the whole story.  Their banter and the way that Mez looks out for Chumba all the time really makes you fall in love with Mez right from the start of the novel.  Add to that their double defense against Mist, their luminous cousin, and you’ve got a great sister tag team that I hope will make it into the other stories.

3.  Speaking of other stories, Mez’s Magic is the first in a planned series of books, each of which will be told from the perspective of one of the animals.  In general, I don’t like having multiple narrators, but in this case, because Lima (the bat), Rumi (the frog), and Gogi (the monkey) are all delightful and unique, I can imagine how successful having each of them as narrators in the following books could be.  I particularly love Rumi’s nerdiness – he totally speaks my language!

4.  There is a lot of action in the back half of the story, which was great because I enjoyed the animals’ journey to the ziggurat, and was kind of worried that there wouldn’t be as much adventure when they got there.  I love that there’s even a ziggurat in the book (great teachable moment), though it was hard for me to imagine all the panels on the ziggurat that the animals were seeing.  I hope subsequent books will include them.  I can see a set of playing cards or collectible cards being made from all the creatures and places in this story.  Schrefer has created a richly detailed world!

 

Lost Rainforest - Mez's Magic 2  

5.  Teachers/parents, I have no trouble recommending this book for your children’s bookshelves.  The compassion of Mez and her friends are really important to encounter in literary characters, and it’s one of the reasons I enjoyed this story.  I wonder though if maybe you want to wait ‘til the second book comes out before getting this one because you can bet your little readers will be clamouring for the next as soon as they turn the last page!

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Eliot Schrefer’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, HarperCollins Canada, for sending me a copy of The Lost Rainforest: Mez’s Magic in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Student Review: The Land of Stories #1: The Wishing Spell (Chris Colfer)

30 Jan

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell is about twins Alex and Conner Bailey who discover a secret fairy-tale world.  On their 12th birthday, their grandmother gives them a precious book.  Little do they know that it is a magical portal to a world of stories.  They have no idea that they would get stuck in the book and need a wishing spell to go home.  The problem is … someone else is also after the spell.

 

  

I like how this book is full of twists.  The Wishing Spell is unique because it combines original fairy-tale characters with new ones.  The series explores some usual tales, but the twists come from putting familiar characters in unfamiliar situations.  Who would think that there could be another Prince Charming … but one that had turned into a frog?  Even though the ideas in the book seem bizarre, they all add up and make for a great story.

This book is enjoyable for readers of all ages, especially those who are eight and older.  Adults will enjoy this book, too, because of the fairy tales that they would recognize, and they could also connect with the new characters.  For example, the twins’ mom has to let go of her children so that they could save the world.  I bet many parents would feel sad about letting their kids go.

There are many more stories in this series (six so far!), but I hope this story continues until Alex and Conner are adults.  I highly recommend the whole series because it will satisfy readers who love mysteries and adventure.  The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell is a great addition to Disney stories and classic fairy tales in your library.

Hannah B., grade 6

Potion Masters #1: The Eternity Elixir (Frank L. Cole)

3 Jan

Squinks, if you want to start the new year off with the right book, I’ve got the perfect one for you: Frank L. Cole’s Potion Masters: The Eternity Elixir.  I guarantee you’ll be able to say you’ve at least read one great book this year.

 

Squinklethoughts

1.  I love practically everything about this book.  But let’s start at the beginning.  The premise is exciting: there is a secret society of potion masters and 12-year-old Gordy Stitser’s mom is one of the best Elixirists around.  That can only spell trouble for Gordy … and it’s the making of a great adventure.  His mom has been training Gordy in the art of potion-making, which is fun enough already, but what I love is the fact that Gordy actually wants to hone his skills.  He actually wants to study.  Isn’t that great?  (Feel free to roll your eyes now.)

2.  Gordy is a great protagonist.  He’s curious and thoughtful and creative and courageous.  He loves to experiment with and without his mom’s permission, but he’s got a lot of respect for both of his parents, which means they have a great relationship.  I think I’m drawn to Gordy because he doesn’t rest on his laurels.  He may have an insanely incredible innate talent at Deciphering and Blind Batching, but he’s eager to continue developing his skills.  I have lots of admiration for that.  Throughout the story, Gordy encounters difficult decisions he has to make, but he uses the right amount of his heart and head to choose his path.  All in all, he’s a very likable protagonist, and one I’m eager to read more about.  I only hope that there are skeletons in his closet that will be revealed in future books because I think Gordy has the makings of a classic character.

3.  And where would main characters be without their loyal sidekicks?  I’m glad that Cole doesn’t leave Gordy to his own potions.  Adilene and Max are good friends who care so much for Gordy that they run to his side (and potential danger) the moment Gordy calls them.  The only criticisms I have of this book are mild ones that I hope will be rectified in future novels.  One, Max is sometimes a little too rash.  I get that he’s excited to help Gordy, but his excitement sometimes leads to trips, spills, and near catastrophes.  I can’t fault him for his loyalty to Gordy, and even his grudging appreciation for Adilene, but sometimes, I wish Gordy would tell him to shush a bit more.  Two, Adilene doesn’t get as much page time as Max, and I’d’ve really loved reading how she might have handled Bawdry’s energy.  And I bet she’d have come up with a better name than “Slim” and “Doll”.  I think Cole could have used her contributions as much as he used Max’s.  Lastly, I found a few too many similarities between this trio and another famous literary trio.  I wonder if maybe in future books Gordy, Adilene, and Max might separate their quirks to solidify themselves as golden in their own right.

 

  

4.  I absolutely understand why parents must not be part of the story in middle-grade stories.  Children have to develop the essential parts of their characters independent of adult, especially parental, influence.  Kids would have much more different adventures if, say, they had to go home every day after school instead of only for summer vacation.  So, I’m glad that Cole seems to have found a sweet spot that allows Gordy’s parents to be part of the action without getting in the way.  In fact, I love the secondary plot involving Gordy’s mom, Wanda, and her sister, Priss.  And I’m very, very curious to discover if Gordy’s dad, Gordon, knows more than he’s revealing … (Wouldn’t that be awesome?)

5.  I love the potions the Elixirists mention and use in this book.  As a textbook-chemistry-loving (i.e. I love learning about compounds and reactions without feeling any inclination to concoct my own, or participate in and write up any lab reports) and etymologically passionate (i.e. I do have a degree in and love for linguistics) nerd, Cole’s potions speak to me in a fierce way.  There’s the Disfarcar Gel, Goilicanje Juice, and Oighear Ointment, to name a few.  I’m sure many people will learn a little bit about a lot of languages from the compendium in this book.  Speaking of which … there’s a glossary!  I love, love, love maps and glossaries, and the inclusion of a list at the end of the story was like a little gift I devoured at the end.  I also love that the Tranquility Swathe originated in Canada.  That’s just so Canadian.

6.  This is one of those stories that seems to have been so well plotted even before it was written because every chapter was compelling.  There are tons of action scenes, but enough downtime in between, to flesh out the characters and the rising action.  I read the whole thing really quickly – as in I picked up where I left off at the end of Chapter 18 (really good, btw), and in no time at all, I was finished Chapter 38 (even better).  I hope we don’t have to wait too long for the follow up.  But until then, check out the trailer for the first book below:

 

 

7.  Teachers/parents, Potion Masters: The Eternity Elixir was one of the last books I read in 2017, and it’s the first one I’ll champion in 2018.  It’s a great story for boys and girls alike, seasoned and struggling readers alike, and those who love and are lukewarm to fantasy alike.  Readers will encounter fast-paced adventure, inspiring creativity, true friendships, complicated family matters, and a lot of fun.  I’ll be picking up this title for my school library, so I will probably create a reading-comprehension handout.  Feel free to check back here in a few weeks to see if I do!

 

5 Squinkles

 

Frank L. Cole’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Shadow Mountain, for sending me a copy of Potion Masters: The Eternity Elixir in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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