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The Adventurers Guild (Zack Loran Clark & Nick Eliopulos)

5 Dec

The next great adventure is upon us, Squinks.  Even if you don’t initially choose to be part of the Adventurers Guild, you will find yourself hooked and wanting more.  Clark and Eliopulos’ story  is one you must get your hands on right away.

 

Adventurers Guild Squinklethoughts

1.  One of the first things I look for in an adventure story is whether the main character has someone he or she can count on.  I don’t like stories where there’s only one main character traversing lands and discovering things on his or her own because there’s no one for that character to talk to, bounce ideas off, or just generally depend on.  I was in luck with The Adventurers Guild, for there are TWO main characters at the beginning of the story, with a handful more of important secondary characters that join by the end.

2.  Zed (the city’s only half-elf) and Brock (his handsome, long-time best friend) each hope to be chosen for the Mages and Merchants Guilds, respectively.  But just when they think they’re about to start new chapters in the lives as members of their guilds, Alabasel Frond, the Guildmistress of the Adventurers Guild chooses Zed.  How could Brock not follow his best friend, even though this guild is known for losing its members to fates worse than death?  Brock’s decision to volunteer for the Adventurers Guild because Zed is chosen may not have been entirely altruistic, but all throughout the story, over and over again, there is evidence of how much Brock truly cares for his best friend.  And Zed feels the same about Brock.  If I cared not at all for the story, that fact might have been enough to keep me reading.  Their friendship is one for the ages, and you just wish you could be friends with both of them.  These two characters are funny and fun to be around.  I’m really glad the authors decided to alternate the focus of the chapters between the two of them.  The story is still told from third-person perspective, but readers get a slight bias towards one of the boys in each chapter, which adds depth to each character in turn.

3.  I love the Guildculling and the energy and anticipation that surrounds it.  I’ve always enjoyed doing surveys or quizzes that sort me into a particular group, so I liked learning about the different guilds in Freestone and how each is responsible for the safety of its citizens.  I’m very eager to learn more about the different characters in each guild, especially those in some of the lower guilds that didn’t get much screen time.

 

Adventurers Guild 2  

4.  I also love Liza’s character.  She can hold her own both in wit and with weapons.  She puts up a tough façade, but she slowly reveals bits and pieces about her to the boys, and it turns out that she can make Brock blush.  She’s by no means perfect, but she’s definitely interesting.  I love the way her storyline is going, and I can’t wait to see how she develops as an Adventurer.

5.  Alabasel Frond is a wonderful character.  Most of the time, I think she’s unfeeling, but she’s fierce and unabashedly loyal to her apprentices and Freestone.  Of all the characters in the story, she’s the one that has so much more to give, and I really want to know more.  Like Brock, I don’t know that I’d want to be friends with her, but …

6.  What makes this story great is that it is both a plot- and character-driven one.  The kids have a mission to save the world, and there are tons of great twists and turns and Dangers along the way.  You never know who to trust!  But what makes this story a must-read is the cast of characters that Clark and Eliopulos have created.  They jive together in a way that is at once recognizable and unique.  Even the annoying Micah has his moments that make you feel something beyond your initial loathing for him.

 

Adventurers Guild 3  

7.  Teachers/parents, The Adventurers Guild is a story you must have on your shelves.  If your kids haven’t read Zed and Brock’s adventures yet, buy or borrow a copy of this book, and give them an early Christmas present.  They’ll never forget it.  Of course, that means that you’ll be on the hook for the next titles in this awesome series, but you’ll get there when you get there.  The co-authors’ writing is funny and fresh, which make for an utterly compelling story.  (There’s a line on page 80 where Zed laughs out loud in response to something that Jett says, and I laughed out loud even before I read that the character laughs out loud.  Oh, and my eyes got misty in a few places.)  There’s so much to love about this one.  I can’t wait for what’s next.

8.  Which Guild would take you in?  Find out here.

 

5 Squinkles

 

Zack Loran Clark’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

Nick Eliopulos’ Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Disney-Hyperion, for sending me a copy of The Adventurers Guild in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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The Magic Misfits (Neil Patrick Harris)

21 Nov

I love everything about The Magic Misfits – from its title to the cover art to the fact that it’s written by one of my favourite actors ever.  This is a completely magical read that I finished in one sitting and has left me hungry for more.

 

Magic Misfits Squinklethoughts

1.  The Magic Misfits.  What a great title.  Who hasn’t ever felt like a misfit at least a few dozen times in his or her life?  As a teacher, I know I often seem all cool and collected (ha), but rest assured: I’ve had many a misfit moment in my school days.  (And a few since then, too, but we won’t talk about that.)  The title alone will hook you into thinking that you will find a kindred spirit in Carter, and you wouldn’t be wrong.

2.  Carter is such a great hero – a kind, courageous new hero I’m so pleased to introduce to my students.  He’s had a hard life, but he hasn’t let it beat him down.  I love that he develops, on his own, his tenet of never stealing, even though he’s raised by a thieving uncle.  Carter is not super trustworthy of others at first, and we can’t blame him, but he also wants to believe in them, which just goes to highlight his indomitable spirit.  He’s smart, funny, and a little dented – a perfect MC in my books.  He has so many more stories to tell.

3.  Leila, Theo, and Ridley are awesome companions.  They’re not all alike, so they don’t always agree with one another.  This makes for some great conversations.  But, like Carter, they’ve got big hearts.  Izzy and Olly round up the group very nicely, and I’m eager to learn more about them.  In fact, I want to learn more about all of them.  We get to meet a little of Theo’s family, but there’s so much more to explore about his tuxedo-wearing ways and Ridley’s reasons for being confined in a wheelchair.  I’d also love more stories about Leila’s two dads.  It was great of Harris to create a dramatis personae full of people with different personalities, divergent back stories, and unique talents.  A cast of misfits that fit so well together.  I love it!

4.  When Theo doesn’t even bat an eyelid when offering Carter a place to stay – The Feels.

5.  Uncle Vernon, Purveyor of Illusion and the first to befriend Carter in his new runaway life, is an enigma I want to demystify.  There are so many breadcrumbs about his childhood and his daily life that I’m just as interested in him as I am in the kids.  (Also, I love that he’s an Uncle Vernon and that there’s an allusion to Aunt Petunia in the novel, too.)

 

Magic Misfits 2  

6.  There are lots of magic tricks revealed in this story (but shh, don’t share them with non-magicians!).  This is great for young and old readers alike who would like to learn a little more about the tricks and illusions magicians perform.

7.  Loved the ending!  But boy, does it ever epitomize the whole “always leave ‘em wanting more” motto in showbiz.  I want more Misfit magic!  Luckily, there seem to be three more books planned in this series.  On the one hand, yay … three more books!  On the other hand, I really loved this story, and I’m a little sad that there will only be three more.  Perhaps we can persuade NPH to write beyond just four books?

8.  I wonder if Al A. Kazam is a real person.

9.  Teachers/parents, there are so many teachable lessons here.  I’ll be adding this title to our school library (especially since the author states at the beginning that the ARC is but a sapling in comparison to the finished copy), and I’ll also be putting together some reading and discussion questions for my students.  Among other topics the book explores are: what it means to fit in, how a person’s experiences shape him/her, what “magic” actually is, and creating families from friends.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Neil Patrick Harris’ Online Corners
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Thank you, LB Kids and HBG Canada, for sending me a copy of The Magic Misfits in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Secret of Nightingale Wood (Lucy Strange)

26 Oct

If you like reading stories with strong and sweet heroines, family relationships, and life after a war, I’m sure you’ll love Lucy Strange’s The Secret of Nightingale Wood.

 

Secret of Nightingale Wood Squinklethoughts

1.  It’s been nearly 100 years since the Great War ended, and most of my students AND the people around them are far removed from the effects of the war.  But it’s called the Great War because it’s the first time that so many people from so many lands and across so many fronts have been affected by a mutual event.  There are lots of great stories about soldiers before, during, and after battles, including one we read in French class called Journal d’un soldat.  But some of my favourite stories are about the people at home – mothers, sisters, and friends, awaiting news of their loved ones, and rebuilding their lives upon their loved ones’ return or … permanent leave.  The Secret of Nightingale Wood reminds you of how war often rips apart families.

2.  Henry is a lovely, authentic heroine.  She’s at the great age where she’s stuck between having true independence in her teenage years and enjoying enough freedom to think and feel the way she wants to, regardless of how other people tell her to behave.  She loves her little sister, Piglet, and if I didn’t like Henry for anything else, I’d respect her for that.  What a great older sister to have.

3.  Henry is brave but not reckless.  I would have been too scared to enter the woods, so I applaud her courage in doing so, but she also recognizes when to be on her guard.  She takes calculated risks, including visiting her mother who’s been locked in a room, if need be or if her heart can’t take it any longer.  She is also wracked with guilt that her last conversation with her brother, Robert, was a fight.  I don’t know if this is what makes her push herself to be brave, but she tries really hard to keep her family together once her family seems to be ripped apart.

4.  I like that Henry’s plan towards the end of the story isn’t completely out of this world.  I don’t like endings that employ deus ex machina or have some sort of implausible, neatly tied dénouement, so I like that Henry’s solution isn’t too easy to be believable.

5.  I was a bit annoyed with Nanny Jane.  Her heart seems to be in the right place, but I feel like she bends too easily to forces outside Hope House.  If Henry and Piglet are her primary charges, why would she let others’ opinions sway her from doing her job?

6.  Dr. and Mrs. Hardy – ugh.  Dislike both of them with a sneer.  And Dr. Chilvers, too.  Aren’t the best characters to hate the ones you know smile with duplicity (even though you can’t actually see them smiling)?

7.  Moth is a lovely, bittersweet character.  She’s caring and motherly towards Henry, but sadness and pain just oozes out of her.  I’m glad that she has small bits of beauty in her life.  I think Henry saves Moth just as much as Moth saves Henry.  I can imagine them having a nice, long friendship.

 

Secret of Nightingale Wood 3

 

8.  I let my book fall open on a page, and it happened to be on one where there is a letter set in a different font from the rest of the story.  The final copy of the book may have this letter in a different font than the ARC I read, but the font – Janda Elegant Handwriting or something remarkably similar – has been one of my favourite ones for as long as I can remember.  It’s even the font I use for the header of my blog, which tells you how much I love it.  I guess I knew from the moment I saw that letter in the book that this was going to be a good, heart-tugging story.

9.  Teachers/parents, there are many lessons you can do with this novel.  The biggest one is a discussion on the effects of war and death on an entire family and community.  Right from the beginning, we know that Robert, Henry’s older brother, has died, and with him, bits of their parents have died, too.  We also find out later on about another boy who has died.  The two deaths, though from different causes, rock two families and a community.  This could be a teachable moment in terms of the ripples people make.  Also, there are tons of allusions to classic lit, which would make a great side project.

10.  The Secret of Nightingale Wood is set to pub on October 31.  You definitely want to put this on your bookshelf!  There’s so much heart in this story.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Lucy Strange’s Online Corners
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Thank you, Scholastic Canada, for sending me a copy of The Secret of Nightingale Wood in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing (E.K. Johnston)

3 Oct

Squinks, you really need to read this if you, like me, love stories with British royalty; strong, female friendships; and Canada.  This is my first E.K. Johnston title, and I’m so glad I picked it up!

 

That Inevitable Victorian Thing

Squinklethoughts

1.  Above all else, I feel like this story is a love letter to Canada.  The setting is Toronto and the Muskoka Region (a few hours north of the city), but in a reimagined world where Canada is just one of many colonies of a British Empire that never fell.  There are so many little nods to real life, including (my favourite) a reference to my beloved Leafs tying things up in the third only to lose, spectacularly, dramatically, and not all that surprisingly in overtime.  My husband laughed when I read this part out loud.  Other allusions, like the note from the Minister of Transportation reminding officers to prepare for Friday exoduses from the city to cottage country once warmer weather begins, really made the story more enjoyable than it already was.  You’d think it’s a small thing, but it really adds to the entertainment value of a story when the readers recognize bits and pieces from real life.

 

That Inevitable Victorian Thing 3

 

2.  Despite the title, the expectations of Victorian England, as they are manoeuvred by the main characters, are just plot devices.  Yes, there is British imperialism, but that is the backdrop of the book, not a commentary on why or when or how imperialism might be okay.  In fact, Johnston doesn’t shy away from mentioning all the failings and trappings of history’s darker moments, but it’s a different world that plays with the answers to what-if questions.  I chose to read this book because I was interested in the characters and what they could do; I didn’t comb through every reference to other cultures and traditions mentioned in the story only to analyze why this culture is mentioned and not that, or why this aspect of Victorian England is highlighted and not that.  And, truth be told, I read quickly a lot of the “history” stuff.  This book is all about the characters for me.

3.  Let’s talk about those characters.  There are three fun and feisty women in this story, and I love how Johnston develops them.  I particularly like the fact that Margaret and Helena recognize that socialite Elizabeth has more to her than what the paparazzi depict.  Elizabeth is genuinely kind and incredibly knowledgeable of how her world works, using that knowledge to her advantage.  I also like that Helena, who is introduced as more of a homebody than anything else and who has essentially plotted out her path in life, discovers other interests that draw her out of her shell.  She isn’t afraid to stand alone in the corner, waiting for the debutant ball to begin.  It’s great that August, her childhood friend, appreciates that Helena had always been happy with herself.  And Margaret … I think I like her best of all.  I love the push and pull of wanting to do things your own way while knowing you simply cannot.  That kind of conflict has always been one of the more interesting ones for me.  Commoners often think that royalty have it great, but every one has battles no one else can fathom.  Margaret is kind and dutiful, both to herself and to her country, and I think many people will fall in love with her.

4.  I had absolutely no problem with a world in the future that relies on –bots and –grams and all the good stuff that come from advanced technology while also celebrating debutant balls, sending and receiving formal invitations, and … employing servants in households.  I can see how others might be offended with the concept of servants still in use in the future, but there are a few times in the novel that address this and that I think Johnston got spot on.  We can always honour someone’s professional pride regardless of the job that person chooses.  Fanny is an amazingly loyal companion to Helena, and Hiram and his sisters make the Callaghan household run smoothly.  Servants though they may be, they are integral to the lives of those they serve.  (If only this concept had been swallowed by the patricians in Ancient Rome, the Conflict of the Orders may never have happened.  But that’s another reimagined world …)

 

That Inevitable Victorian Thing 2

 

5.  I love that Margaret is so sure of her duties and responsibilities and restrictions.  I love that she knows why she can’t do something even if she really wants to.  I love that she’s innately kind and that she doesn’t want to get in the way of others who have found paths that are undeniably less complicated than hers.  We forget, sometimes, that not everyone is brought up in a family (or society) that encourages children to be what they want, marry whomever they want, or even think what they want.  It’s a great notion that we take for granted in our modern world, but we should remember that it’s not universal.  I would have loved to learn more about Margaret.  She was my favourite of the three.

6.  August is so kind and loyal.  Poor guy is in such a quagmire throughout the story.  I can only imagine how difficult it must be for him to juggle the problems at work, his parents’ confidence and trust in him, and his own expectations of being a good husband.  What a good and flawed guy.

7.  Ms. Johnston, can we please, please, have another book?  I fell in love with the three girls and August, and I’m so curious to know what life is like for them after the summer is over.  But seriously, Squinks … It’s been ages since I finished reading this book, and I’m still wondering how the rest of the summer goes for Margaret, Helena, August, and Elizabeth.  There is still so much story to tell!  I really do hope Johnston writes a sequel.

 

5 Squinkles

 

E.K. Johnston’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Tumblr | Instagram | Indigo/Chapters

 

Thank you, Penguin Random House Canada and Dutton Books, for sending me a copy of That Inevitable Victorian Thing in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Blackthorn Key #3: The Assassin’s Curse (Kevin Sands)

12 Sep

I love that so far, for the last three years, I’ve had a literary adventure to look forward to in September.  It almost makes going back to our regularly scheduled school program bearable.  Almost.  I’m just glad there’s another Blackthorn Key book.

 

Blackthorn Key - Assassin's Curse

Squinklethoughts

1.  The original Blackthorn Key series was absolutely fantastic.  I got a copy of it during the summer of 2015, and I made it the book for our novel-study unit a few weeks later.  I couldn’t put it down, and I’m glad that Kevin Sands has kept up the series.

2.  Christopher and Tom’s friendship is one for the books (hehe).  They get along so well, but more than that, you can tell that they have genuine respect for one another.  Christopher is, by now, known for getting himself into scrapes – completely by chance, of course – and solving riddles to get out of them.  But Tom is equally important in this adventure, and I’m glad that this is addressed in the opening pages, for while Christopher has saved London numerous times, his best friend has saved him just as often.  It’s a really great friendship that I love to read about.

3.  The addition of Sally (and Bridget) to the fold is aces.  Some of my kids weren’t too thrilled about it at first, but they eventually came round to appreciating Sally’s role with the boys.  Indeed, she does a great job again in this story where she handles her own as the Lady Grace.

4.  Kevin Sands is funny.  The banter among the trio is funny and witty – totally my type of humour.  Christopher is always thinking up crazy schemes, and Tom is one step ahead of him.  Well, he just knows his best friend well.  Even though he never stops Christopher from doing things, like turning famous paintings in the Louvre upside down, he’s comfortable enough to give Christopher a piece of his mind.  And Sally is great at keeping the peace between the two of them when things get too hot to handle.

 

Blackthorn Key - Assassins Curse - Quote

 

5.  I love that this book takes the kids to Paris.  My students were so pleased to be able to translate the various French phrases before Sands gives their English translations.  In fact, I would have liked more of this in the story.  Maybe it’s because we all grew up with French classes every day, but I thought readers could’ve definitely handled the challenge of figuring out les expressions françaises.  I mean, it’s like a code in itself, trying to understand another language, eh?

6.  I’m so happy that Master Benedict is everywhere in this book, just as he is in all the other books.  I think his conversations with Christopher may be my favourite parts of the entire series.  Kids need to know – everyone needs to know – that the people we love leave indelible prints on our hearts.  I just love that Sands explores this.

7.  I think I like this book more than the second one, Mark of the Plague.  Not quite sure why.  It might be that the codes and puzzles feel harder this time round, or that it’s set in Paris, or that the kids are surrounded by royalty, or that the storyline is full of Knights Templar allusions … I just loved it all.  I couldn’t put it down.

8.  I hope that Sands stays true to his pattern and that a fourth book will be due next September.  Actually, I hope another story comes out sooner because boy, the cliffhanger at the end!.  But I’ll be happy as long as this series continues for many more books to come.  It really is that great.

 

5 Squinkles

 

Kevin Sands’ Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for sending me a copy of The Blackthorn Key: The Assassin’s Curse in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

 

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