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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
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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.

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between (Lauren Graham)

15 Mar

Reading Lauren Graham’s memoir is like reconnecting with an old friend that you haven’t seen in a long time but have loved nonetheless through the years.  If you’re a Gilmore Girls fan like I am, you’ll love every bit of this book, and will undoubtedly fall in love with LG even more.

 

Talking as Fast as I Can

Squinklethoughts1.  When I saw that my husband had given me a book for Christmas, I thought, “What book could I possibly want but not already have?”  Turns out, he actually realized that in all the hustle and bustle of November and December at school, I hadn’t yet managed to pick up Talking as Fast as I Can.  Best Christmas gift ever (because his gift also included some Tsum-Tsum blind bags, and, really, he just gets me).

 

Talking as Fast as I Can - Gym  

2.  I devoured the original series of Gilmore Girls.  I saw so much of myself in both Lorelai and Rory – a fast talker, a book nerd, a self-confident student who didn’t care much about what others thought, a quirky friend, and a complete coffee addict.  This book brought me back to happy (and not-so-happy) memories that coloured my young-adulthood.  It was cool to know how Ms. Graham’s childhood and young adult-hood also developed.  Did you know she used to live on a boat?

3.  The best parts of the memoir are the two sections that discuss her life during the original and follow-up series.  Graham does a great job correlating what we saw on the screen to what was happening behind the cameras.  I loved learning more about the cast and their real-life relationships with one another.

4.  It would have taken a lot for me not to love this book, but even objectively speaking, anyone who liked Gilmore Girls or Parenthood would enjoy reading about Graham’s voice in her own words.  Her prose is humorous and a little self-deprecating, from time to time, which I really loved because I like that kind of personality.  I don’t usually buy audiobooks of stories I already have in print, but this is one that I’m really eager to get.  Can you imagine having Lauren Graham telling you her life story in her own voice, talking as fast as she can?  I’m sure it’s awesome.

 

5 Squinkles

 

Lauren Graham’s Online Corners
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All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History (Sam Maggs)

4 Oct

We don’t have nearly enough books outlining the remarkable women of history (and of the present).  If you’re looking for a particularly good one, you should definitely pick up a copy of Sam Maggs’ Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History.

 

wonder-women-sam-maggs

Squinklethoughts1. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting Maggs (as I’ve been lucky enough to have had) or hearing her speak in the previews to silver-screen movies, then you know about her awesome cadence and witty remarks.  They’re all over Wonder Women, which is chock full of asides and parenthetical commentary.  I know some people aren’t fans of having too many interrupters, but I love them.  They make the stories in this book more interesting.  And funnier.

2. I only knew a handful of the women Maggs highlights in this book … which I’m sure is the same sentiment as many other readers, and which is proof-positive that WE NEED THIS BOOK in libraries and classrooms everywhere.  It’s a great introduction to fierce, intelligent, and confident women like Ada Lovelace (whom I knew) and Margaret Knight (whom I’d never heard of before now).

3. You’ll enjoy learning about Lise Meitner and her instrumental contributions to science; you’ll cheer for the gutsy Sarah Emma Edmonds who fought in the American Civil War … as a guy; and you’ll wholeheartedly agree with Maggs that Hollywood needs to make a movie about the tearjerker that was Anandibai Joshi life.

4. Sophia Foster-Dimino’s illustrations are lovely. They help bring Maggs’ words to life.

5. Because the stories of these inspirational women are reduced to a few pages, you won’t have any trouble getting through this book.  Even more, it’s really easy to jump around, so you can read about women of adventure before discovering the lives of women in espionage.

6. Teachers/parents, Wonder Women is a great read that would be an excellent purchase: it fills a gap on many bookshelves, for sure.  There are huge dollops of feminism throughout the stories (original subtitle: 25 Geek Girls Who Changed the World), but with or without labelling Maggs and her writing as such, the book stands on its own as a really fascinating and informative read.

4.5 Squinkles

Sam Maggs’ Online Corners
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YouTube | Tumblr | Chapters

Thank you, Quirk Books, for sending me a copy of Wonder Women in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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