Karma Khullar’s Mustache (Kristi Wientge)

15 Aug

Over the years, the stories that have become the most borrowed and requested by my students are those that tackle universal issues with idiosyncratic flairs.  This is exactly the strength of Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge, and I have no hesitation recommending it to you, Squinks!

 

Karma Khullar's Mustache

Squinklethoughts

1.  At the heart of this novel is a girl who isn’t looking to shine – just fit in.  Isn’t that how everyone feels when they’re starting a new school?  It’s hard enough changing from being the kings and queens of elementary school to becoming the guppies of middle school, but over the summer, poor Karma discovers SEVENTEEN little hairs above her lip … which is basically the end of the world.  I like that Wientge understands how big of a deal this is for some people.

2.  Karma’s moustache is the impetus for a lot of her troubles, not the least of which is earning the nickname “’Stache Attack”, but there are far worse obstacles for Karma to overcome.  The worst of it is that her best friend no longer seems to be her best friend.  I know what it’s like to lose a friend for no reason at all (at least no reason that I could foresee or understand).  Karma and Kate have been friends for years, and all of a sudden, Kate’s interests are different from Karma’s.  It was really heartbreaking that Karma was in a state of limbo.  Should she even care that Kate doesn’t like her anymore?  And yet, it’s so hard not to care about things like that.

3.  And then Lacy moves in across the street from Kate, and all of Karma’s fears deepen.  How can she compete with the girl who seems to be so well put together, while she can’t even figure out how to get rid of 17 stinkin’ strands of hair?

4.  That scene in the lunchroom where Karma tries to enjoy her tiffin full of delicious dal and chapati had me in tears.  Wientge illustrates a scene right out of my own childhood where I was made fun of for bringing squid and rice for lunch – one of my absolute favourite dishes, which I suddenly had no appetite for after being taunted by my grade-2 classmates.  Have a tissue on hand when you get to this part.

5.  Karma’s inner monologue reminds me a lot of Lizzie McGuire.  I never watched the original series, though I did see the movie.  I like how Karma is, for the most part, realistic about life, but I also enjoyed reading bits and pieces of her overdramatic thoughts about school, people, and her moustache.  I’m sure I felt the same way when I was younger.

6.  I liked learning about Sikhism and some of the traditional foods that Karma and her Indian-American family eat.  As a child of a mixed-race marriage, Karma has the added challenge of melding two traditions together.  I would have liked a bit more of that.  Karma complains about how her mom’s blonde hair would probably not be so noticeable over her upper lip, and there are a few conversations between her parents that hint at differences in upbringing, but I wanted a bit more.  Wientge sort of gets away with not going into too much detail when Karma admits that she only goes to church and temple a few times a year.  I don’t think the lack of detail about the two religions or the two cultures took away from the story, but I think the details could’ve added to it.

7.  I read this book very quickly because I was highly invested in Karma’s journey.  I think that’s what makes this a great story.  I was as sad as she was when those awkward moments with Kate happen; I was as humiliated as she was when the kids make fun of her lunch; I was as indignant (but helpless) as she was when she is blamed for something she didn’t do.  I really wanted a happy ending for her.

8.  Wientge combines Karma’s specific situation with universal problems, which will make Karma Khullar’s Mustache appealing to all readers.  I would definitely pick up the sequel if there were to be one.

 

4.5 Squinkles  

Kristi Wientge’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for sending me a copy of Karma Khullar’s Mustache in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Spellbook of the Lost and Found (Moïra Fowley-Doyle)

8 Aug

This book has everything I liked, which is why it jumped to the top of my reading queue.  Definitely pick this title up if you also love any of the following: secrets, magic, spells, friendship, strong women, Ireland, narratives in multiple voices, tree and flower names.

 

Spellbook of the Lost and Found  Squinklethoughts

1.  The title alone hooked me.  I like books about magic and spells, especially in modern times, so this seemed the perfect choice for me.  One thing I really like about Spellbook is that while magic permeates throughout the entire story, it’s not presented with the type of clichés that persist in other books.  The magic here is treated with respect, even by the characters who don’t believe in it at first, because there is every chance that a life will be changed.  Or lost.  No foolish wand-waving or silly incantations here.  (In fact, the spells are very nicely worded.)

2.  Right off the bat, I was sucked into the stories of SO MANY characters, all of whom narrate a chapter here and there.  In reality, there are only a handful, but it sure felt like there were more.  Once I got the dramatis personae figured out, including which girl-named-after-a-tree is related to or friends with that other girl-named-after-a-tree, the multiple narratives are not a problem at all.  Olive, Rose, Hazel, Ivy, Rowan, Laurel, Ash, and Holly … You really become invested in their stories once you meet them.  I felt like they might have been my own friends.

3.  In fact, I liked the multiple-narrative format that Fowley-Doyle employs here.  It really highlights the fact that the characters are all related but are experiencing the events of the story in his/her own way.  Even if they share scenes or encounter the same strange trinket in the woods, the characters repress different secrets and develop unique perspectives.  I do think there could have been a little more work put into adding more idiosyncrasies in the speech or thought processes of the characters because often, the narrator of one chapter sounds exactly like the narrator of the previous one.  I’m thinking along the lines of one of them always saying something like “Wotcher” (à la Tonks), though I like Rose’s quirk of blowing bubbles to manage her cigarette cravings.

4.  It is a lot of work to weave different characters’ stories together when those characters have little reason to be connected at all, and I really applaud Fowley-Doyle’s plot.  Everything came together very well, and although I got an inkling about the ending about halfway through the plot, I was sufficiently surprised at how she designed it.  Nothing seemed contrived … so much so that I wanted more.

 

Spellbook of the Lost and Found 2  

5.  About that ending … As great as the entire story was, I felt let down at the end.  Not because it wasn’t a good conclusion, but because the conclusion was so delightfully messy.  I can’t help but think (and hope) that it serves as a bridge to a sequel.  I want more of Rose’s healing, more of Hazel and Rowan’s reconciliation, more of Ivy’s secrets, more of Olive and Emily’s changing sisterliness, and more of Laurel, Ash, and Holly.  More of everything and everyone.  And I definitely want to know more about Mags.  I mean, she could be the star of her own book, and that would be awesome.  Is there even enough for a follow-up book?  I think so.  The ending of this one just leaves you wanting more … and isn’t that the sign of a great story?

6.  Fowley-Doyle writes very lyrical prose.  It was a pleasure to read her turns of phrases, though I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea (or swig of poteen). There were many times that I had to reread a sentence or phrase because it just seemed so deep that I needed to give it extra attention.  If you’re into that kind of writing, this book will definitely satisfy you.

7.  Parents/teachers, there are a few scenes that might be too delicate for certain readers, and there are sprinkles of profanity throughout the book (though not enough to seem like it was put in for the sake of sounding teenage-y).  On the whole, this story would be just fine for YA readers to devour.  Even better, I’m sure readers of adult lit would enjoy this story, too!

8.  Last thought for you to keep in mind before you begin your journey with Spellbook of the Lost and Found: Be careful what you wish for; not all lost things should be found.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Penguin Random House Canada, for sending me a copy of Spellbook of the Lost and Found in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

York #1: The Shadow Cipher (Laura Ruby)

26 Jul

Codes, ciphers, secrets?  Count me in!  If you want an adventure that requires a bit of thinking and a lot of running, you’ll definitely want to pick up Laura Ruby’s York: The Shadow Cipher.

 

York 1 - Shadow Cipher

Squinklethoughts

1.  I have been waiting and waiting for the next great puzzle adventure, and I’m glad that it is the York series.  We love The 39 Clues (by various authors) and The Copernicus Legacy (by Tony Abbott), and now, we’ve got York to add to the list.

2.  I’m not a fan of time-travelling stories, but I LOVE stories where people in the past leave clues for folk in the future.  In 1798, Tess and Theodore Morningstarr begin their work of revamping New York City using mysterious technology that is super avant-garde.  Just before they disappear, they leave behind a puzzle called the Old York Cipher.  How cool is that?  If you like stories with advanced technology, you’ll love all the gizmos and gadgets in this one.

3.  Fast forward to the present day, and Tess and Theo Biedermann, along with their friend, Jaime Cruz, go all around the city, trying to solve the puzzle that no one has been able to solve since the Morningstarrs bequeathed it to NYC.  And for them, it’s not a matter of just getting the right answer … because solving the puzzle could mean saving their homes.  I love it when characters are tasked with impossible tasks.

4.  The twins are great in this story.  They don’t always get along; in fact, they often get on each other’s nerves.  I like that Ruby decided not to have twins who are completely in synch with one another.  This way, there’s more excitement.  And since this is only the beginning of the series, I do wonder if Ruby will make her readers gasp by … separating the twins at some point.  Oh, boy, would that be fun to read.

5.  Jaime’s story is one I definitely want to know more about.  Ruby’s given us bits and pieces, but I want more.  His and his grandmother’s close relationship is very enviable, and, I think, a great, calming force in the story.

6.  Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character, which makes for an interesting read.  In the beginning, I had to flip back to the first pages of the chapters to remind myself who was narrating, but you get used to it.  It’s a great way to get to know more about the characters through what they want you to know about them.

7.  This is an excellent book for school and classroom libraries.  I will probably be adding this to my curriculum next year, so check back to see the questions and activities I create!

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Laura Ruby’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Tumblr | Chapters/Indigo

Thank you, HarperCollins and Walden Pond Press, for sending me a copy of York 1: The Shadow Cipher in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Cyclone (Doreen Cronin)

24 Jul

What would you do if it were your fault that your cousin is in a coma?  I received a bunch of books all at the same time as Cyclone, but it jumped to the top of my list when I read the blurb.

 

Cyclone

Squinklethoughts1.  Squinks, I can’t imagine feeling the kind of guilt that Nora does.  It would be so overwhelming that I wouldn’t be able to breathe.  Not only does she feel guilty, but she can’t tell anyone why Riley agreed to ride a roller coaster she was afraid of to begin with.

2.  I love that Nora and Riley have a really close relationship.  I have cousins I love and speak to from time to time, but they live far away, and we only see each other maybe once a year.  How lucky that these girls are close enough in age to find a friend in one another.

3.  Okay, so I was lured in by Doreen Cronin’s blurb at the back of the book, but I have to tell you … she had me hooked to the story from the get-go.  I really liked how easy it was to put myself in Nora’s shoes.  Every time a chapter ended, I just wanted to know more: Will she ever reveal what forced Riley to ride the Cyclone with her?  Who is that mystery guy?  Will Riley get better?

4.  I loved, loved, loved, the storyline around the three sisters.  It adds an interesting and emotional layer to Riley’s ordeal.  I really enjoyed the idea that it takes Riley’s situation to bring the sisters back together again.  The three of them have such different personalities, but can they find a common thread?  Sisters.  Family.  Love it.

5.  The scenes where Riley talks to Sophia in Spanish broke my heart.  I teared up a bit, thinking about how Nora’s heart must have been breaking, too.  All the feels.

 

Cyclone 2  

6.  Parents/teachers, there are so many teachable moments in this story, from how to deal with guilt, how to handle secrets, the oddness that is family, and even how to talk to people who have family members in the hospital.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Doreen Cronin’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for sending me a copy of
Cyclone in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Alex and Eliza: A Love Story (Melissa de la Cruz)

13 Jul

I haven’t splashed around in the Hamilton craze at all, but Alex and Eliza: A Love Story might just do it for me.

 

 

Alex and Eliza

 Squinklethoughts.png

1.  I love Melissa de la Cruz’s writing style.  It’s as if she were right there in the room with Alex and Eliza, writing down everything they say, recording every blush and secret glance.  It’s not necessarily that she speaks in period language, but there’s an authenticity to her voice that makes you lose yourself in the story rather than in wondering whether the characters are truly talking in 18th-century turns of phrases.  This is the first book I’ve read of de la Cruz’s works, though I did read enough of The Isle of the Lost (Descendants #1) to know that my students would like it, and the first two books of the series are in our school library.  (The third, which has just published, is on its way.)

2.  The setting of this story is 1777 in Albany, New York, which is part of the reason why I was intrigued by it.  I love stories set during times of great tension, and the American Revolution (and subsequent years) has so much tension.  It’s a really great backdrop for the story.

 

Alex and Eliza 2

 

3.  I like that Eliza in this take is neither prudish nor coquettish.  I’ve read essays about her relationship with the General where she’s too easily hooked by him, or she makes Alexander jump through hoops to test him.  De la Cruz’s Eliza is smart, loyal to her family, and completely aware of the constraints of her time.  She doesn’t really play hard to get, but she doesn’t bat her eyelashes unnecessarily at Alexander either.  (At least, I don’t think so.)

4.  You know that I enjoy MG stories than YA, but this particular title can very easily be read by those in elementary and high school alike.  It’s clean enough that teachers and parents don’t have to worry about explaining concepts to children that they may not be ready for.  The great thing about Alex and Eliza, too, is that the romance in it is not one that’s found in other YA stories set in modern times.  Another reason to thank the backdrop of the American Revolution.

5.  I’m the type to care more about a character’s back story than what he or she is doing at the moment.  That being said, I really want to read more of how Alex and Eliza’s marriage and family life work out.  Do they have their own places in society, or do they find adventures as a team?  (Spoiler alert: They both eventually die.  Sorry to break it to ya.)  I’m very excited that de la Cruz will be writing a follow-up called Love & War: An Alex and Eliza Story, due out in the spring of 2018 (OMG, that’s so long from now).

  

4.5Squinkles.png

  

Melissa de la Cruz’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Penguin Random House, for sending me a copy of Alex and Eliza: A Love Story in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

 

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