The Confessions of Young Nero (Margaret George)

23 Jun

I can’t begin to tell you how much I loved this book.  If the only thing you know about Nero is that he blamed Christians for a great fire, then you really need to pick this title up!

 

Confessions of Young Nero Squinklethoughts

1.  I am embarrassed to admit that even I fell under the trap of skating over Nero and relegating him as merely one in a list of inefficient emperors of the Early Roman Empire.  When I teach my favourite course, Classical Civilizations, we give him maybe 15 minutes of airtime, and then we move on.  I just can’t do that anymore after reading this book.

2.  You know my life revolves around middle-grade stories, and that even the YA or adult choices I make are usually historical fiction (like this one) or retellings of old favourites (like Mechanica and Eligible).  The drawback of being immersed in MG is that I don’t find enough good supplementary reading material for my high schoolers.  Teachers/parents, in case you’re wondering, this book is totally appropriate for a senior-level history or English class.  It’s clean and, obviously, written at an adult reading level.  I very well might add it to my Classical Civs course if I can restructure the units somehow.

 

Confessions of Young Nero Lesson

 

3.  This is my first Margaret George book, and I’m keen to try more of her work.  Her prose is gorgeous and polished, making her narrative voice completely unobtrusive to Nero’s story.  I have the unfortunate habit of being able to recognize (and see over and over again) the phrases that denote an author’s voice or style, but in this case, I was just so engrossed in the story that I didn’t even think of analyzing the prose.  Really, Nero’s story is so well told that you might, as I often did, think that Nero, himself, is telling the story.  Also, Locusta is such a great instrument.  I don’t know if she’s real or not, but her chapters really make the plot sizzle.

4.  I rooted for Nero the entire time I was reading this book.  I mean, history has relegated him to the halls of the crazy/evil/useless leaders, but my heart broke time and time again over the sad moments of his life.  (I kept thinking about Crispus until the end of the novel.)  So, now, I keep wondering whether history has completely messed up his story.  He was a product of his time, for sure, but in so many ways, he rose above expectations.  For one thing, he actually cared about what happened to his people.  I don’t know if that’s solely George’s interpretations of events, or if she read historical papers that actually mentioned his kindnesses, but it was a really good feature of the Nero in this book.  You know the saying, “History is told from the perspective of the victors”?  Well, in this case, the victors were Nero’s enemies, so most (all?) of the stories that exist of him reflect their belief that he was a terrible leader and person.  No one tells the story of how beloved he was by the citizens of the Rome that he led.

5.  I imagined Simon Woods as Nero about a quarter of the way into the story.  I’m not sure if that’s because I had just rewatched the TV series Rome or what, and I don’t think he quite fits the traditional images of Nero, but if there’s ever a movie of The Confessions of Young Nero, I think Woods would be a good choice.

6.  The ending was rather abrupt, and I wish I had known that the book wouldn’t cover everything in Nero’s life.  Well, I guess I could have figured that out for myself if I had tried to work out his timeline in comparison to the book length.  Anyway, I was left hanging!  But not in a terrible, terrible way.  Now that I know that this is the first in a duology, I can admit that this one ends in the perfect spot.  The great thing is that it seems like you can read both books as standalones.  But if you enjoy the story and writing as much as I did, you’ll be just like me … eagerly anticipating the follow-up.

7.  This is at the top of my list of best books I’ve read in 2017 so far.  I highly recommend this to all lovers of history, Ancient Rome, character-driven stories, and engaging prose.

 

5 Squinkles

 

Margaret George’s Online Corners
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Thank you, Berkley and Penguin Random House, for sending me a copy of
The Confessions of Young Nero in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Little French Bistro (Nina George)

21 Jun

I was excited to read The Little French Bistro because I enjoyed The Little Paris Bookshop a lot. I really felt for Marianne at the beginning of the novel when some man rescues her from her suicide attempt. Why couldn’t he just leave her alone? Then, we get more information about how loveless her marriage is (husband leaves her to make her own way home!), so I’m happy that she finds some courage to make it to the coast of Brittany and start a new life.

 

Little French Bistro Squinklethoughts

1.  The author does a great job portraying the small-town charms of the small town that Marianne finds herself in. There is an interesting (but large) cast of secondary characters that envelop Marianne in their lives. I felt that some of the friendships came a bit too easily. Maybe it’s because I don’t reveal myself as easily as Marianne does, or maybe it’s because I don’t live in a small town, but that part felt a little unrealistic. So, too, does the fact that Marianne is able to find a good job and place to live within a day or so of landing at the coast. Is it really that easy? Especially considering Marianne is now in her 60s, I think? I am happy that she is able to reinvent herself, but I would have liked a little more struggle — a few more obstacles besides the sometimes dark thoughts that run around her head — before she could settle in to her new routine.

2.  The ending was definitely a surprise, and I think it saved the story for me. As the novel progressed, I sort of got lost in all of the names of the characters, which meant that there were a few too many for my liking. I liked being alongside Marianne as she grew in her role at the restaurant, but all the other stuff outside of the day-to-day, which is usually what interests me more, didn’t do it for me this time round.

3.  I’d recommend the book for anyone who likes stories about the French seaside, women’s growth, and happy endings … with the caveat that they’d have to adopt a little willing suspension of disbelief, and wade through lots of interactions with Breton neighbours before getting to the good ending.  I’d say that this was just under 4 stars for me.

 

3.5 Squinkles

 

Nina George’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, First to Read, for sending me a copy of
The Little French Bistro in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Only Child (Andrew Pyper)

9 Jun

Fans of Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde will recognize a lot of their favourite stories in Andrew Pyper’s The Only Child. If you’re looking to read along the lines of creepy, gothic, or psychologically thrilling, well, you’ll find them all in this novel.

 

Only Child

Squinklethoughts

1.  I don’t care much for the horror and thriller genre. The only reason I decided to give The Only Child a go was because it was by Andrew Pyper. I enjoyed The Demonologist from a few years back, so I was happy to read his words again. When I find authors I like, I’m eager to give their new worlds a try.

2.  I wasn’t as scared as I thought I would be, which really is very good news for people like me who don’t enjoy the heart-pounding scenes. I pegged this novel as a horror story based on the blurb on the back cover, but I think I’d classify this more as a psychological thriller. The main character, Lily, goes back and forth in her thoughts about the goodness of the people she meets, and it was very nerve-wracking trying to do the same. Is Michael going to kill her? Is Will a decent guy? What about Lionel?

3.  Let’s talk about Lily for a second. In truth, she’s not my favourite MC. In fact, she gets on my nerves a little bit. I didn’t really enjoy her indecision, and she seems a bit too reckless for me. For someone who’s supposed to be smart and an expert in her field, I figured she wouldn’t really be the type to leave her comfortable life and go traipsing about Europe in search for answers and a mad man/non-man. But, there she goes anyway. The story is written in third-person perspective, so I attribute the fact that Lily’s thoughts get under my skin to Pyper’s prowess with prose. There is a lot of narration specifically about her thoughts, but at many points of the story, I felt as if Lily were sharing her thoughts herself, rather than a narrator telling me a story.

4.  One of the reasons I enjoyed The Demonologist and now The Only Child is because I really like the way Pyper paints pictures with his words. His imagery seems to come effortlessly, and yet, it can transport you to whichever old-world club or pub he is describing. I find myself entering the lavish Savoy or walking around the Villa Diodati with Lily with ease. It is so easy to highlight paragraphs and passages to show my students examples of masterful writing.

 

Only Child 2

 

5.  Throughout the book, I found myself caring more for Michael than I did for Lily, and I think that’s just incredible. Pyper manages to evoke all sorts of sympathy from me for his monster, and if I meet the author again, that’s something I’d definitely ask him about. Did he mean to make him more likable than Lily? Of all the twists and turns in this story, I never expected that.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Andrew Pyper’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

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

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Geekerella (Ashley Poston)

4 Apr

As much as I love fairytale retellings, I’m equally wary of venturing into them.  I shouldn’t have worried about Ashley Poston’s Geekerella because it is every bit as delightful as I wanted it to be.  Squinks, you’re in for a treat!

 

Geekerella

Squinklethoughts

1.  It was the cover that caught my eye.  I love purple, in general, but there was something simultaneously sci-fi-y and fairytale-y about Geekerella’s cover that drew my eyes to it.  There are also stars, and it almost felt like there would be fairy dust inside the book.  Upon closer inspection, it was the girl in the glasses that sealed it for me.  I just knew I had to read this.

2.  I really like that Poston does not stray very far from the Cinderella story.  I mean, that’s what a retelling is, right?  She’s given it a modern twist and added the spunk to CinderELLEa/DaniELLE that I’ve always felt the original character had bubbling deep inside her.  Elle handles her stepfamily really well, and it is with these characters that I think Poston shines.  The stepsisters are truly UGH.  Very well written.

 

Geekerella 2

 

3.  I like stories that make use of different formats, so I am very fond of the texting scenes.  I did find them a little … bland (sometimes), but then again, I’m OLD and have no idea what texts between teenagers are like today.  Elle’s and Darien’s characters are developed very well through these exchanges.

4.  I totally thought that Starfield was real.  Shows what I know.  But for anyone who’s ever geeked out over Doctor Who or Harry Potter (or any of the tons of fandoms out there), you’ll find a little bit of yourself in Elle.  She’ll win you over, for sure.

5.  There’s a part near the very beginning that has gotten some criticism.  If that bit bothers you, I do very highly suggest that you do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  We all hold different things dear.  There is so much to love about this book, and I hope you don’t measure the whole of the book by that one small part.

6.  Sage.  She rocks.  Everyone should have a Sage.

7.  In other news, check out the book trailer for Geekerella here.  (Can’t you just see this novel being made into a movie?)  Then go out and buy the book.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Ashley Poston’s Online Corners
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Thank you, Quirk Books, for sending me a copy of Geekerella
in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Mighty Jack #1 (Ben Hatke)

20 Mar

So, if you like fairytale adaptations like I do, you’ll probably have a really good time with the first book in the Mighty Jack series.

 

Mighty Jack  

Squinklethoughts 1.  I’ve always had an issue with Jack and his magic beanstalk.  How could he have given up his cow for a few measly beans?  This time round, though, Ben Hatke makes Jack a little more mature, a little more kindly, a little less self-centred, and only a little … silly.  Oh, and he’s a little grumpy, but I didn’t mind that because I like talking back to grumpy characters.

2.  I’ve had a few kids of all grades and linguistic abilities read this already, and they’ve all enjoyed it.  The fourth-grader laughed out loud a lot, and the mom of the eighth-grader mentioned to me that he had stayed up late one night just so that he could finish the book.  An ESL student also told me that she really enjoyed it, which speaks to the universality of Hatke’s retelling.

3.  The illustrations in this book are aces.  The panels and page layouts are varied, so the story doesn’t lull, and I particularly enjoyed that there were a lot of things going on in the gutters.

4.  This isn’t just a happily-ever-after story.  Parts of the story are lip-quaver-inducing. For example, Jack’s mom has to work overtime because they need money for food; and Maddy, Jack’s sister, is autistic, so Jack often finds it difficult to connect with her.

5.  The first book ends on such a cliffhanger (reader, beware), so my kids are all waiting for the next installment.  I think that if the series stretches out to a few more book, it would be a prime opportunity for Hatke to develop Maddy’s character.  I wonder if she’ll become the true heroine of the story.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Ben Hatke’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters

 

Thank you, Raincoast Books, for sending me a copy of
Mighty Jack in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are my own.

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