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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.



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.


Don’t Cosplay with My Heart (Cecil Castellucci)

26 Dec

My last new read for 2017 is Don’t Cosplay with My Heart by Cecil Castellucci, and you’ll love it if you’ve ever felt like any fandom universe is sometimes much better than the real world.


Don't Cosplay with My Heart


1.  The cover and title totally hooked me.  I love the girl’s pink hair and purple mask – they drew my attention right away.  Also, there’s a popular song that I grew up with called “Please Be Careful with My Heart”, and the title of this book made me remember the lyrics of the song, so I wanted to see how many parallels the two would have.

2.  Edan Kupferman, the heroine of our story, is going through so much.  I just feel for her.  What’s great (for the reader, not for her) is that she’s in an unusual quandary, so it’s not like I could have predicted how things would turn out.  In fact, I was quite surprised at how the problems within her family ultimately develop.  (All the more interesting for me is that there’s a bit of Hollywood and behind-the-scenes allusions to Tinseltown in the story.)  I like that Edan has a hard time telling her best friend, Kasumi, what’s really going on with her parents.  She tells the audience right away how close they are, but there are some secrets that are difficult to share even with best friends, and this felt really realistic for me.  I don’t know that I would have allowed things to develop the way Edan does, but her choices about this make the rising action more interesting.  I also love that Edan’s family is comprised of three strong women who are tested to the core.

3.  Yuri.  Ugh.  I did not like him right away.  I see why he might have been interesting for Edan, but I just felt like she fell under the whole sunk-cost fallacy.  She spent so much time pining for Yuri that she can’t see how terrible he is for her.  I mean … just his friends are hard to hang around with, and even Edan can see that clearly.  I wish there were more just deserts for Yuri, but I suppose Castellucci leaves that to the reader’s imagination.

4.  Just as Yuri is so ugh, I felt myself rooting for Kirk almost right away.  It’d have been great to have had a friend like Kirk in high school, though I’m sure I would have been just as emotionally invested in his home life as Edan eventually is.  Edan and Kirk work well for me because even though they have their own really difficult dilemmas to deal with, they both have enough compassion in them to help one another out.  This doesn’t always happen (and, for sure, I wish this had happened when I was in school), so to read about two characters who could think beyond themselves, even for a little while every so often, was quite refreshing for me.

5.  I’ve been to many cons and conferences (though none as big as SDCC), and I love that world.  I love being immersed in a fish tank of like-minded individuals for a few days.  Even though I don’t cosplay myself, I do wear tailored tees and other paraphernalia to show my fandom love.  It was particularly interesting for me to read about some of the rules, expectations, and backstage info about what happens in other cons (even the fabricated one here).  Castellucci writes about Disney bounding and ticket lotteries with an authority that makes me think she’s been to a fair (faire, ha) few cons herself.  If you are a “real nerd” (used in quotes because, well, read the book to find out why), you’ll love these bits in the novel.

6.  I loved all the back stories on Team Tomorrow, Edan’s fandom of choice.  These were the parts of the story that I thought were so well written, and I wonder if the author first thought of the Team Tomorrow backstory and just sort of built Edan’s story around it … which is so cool to speculate.  There are lots of details about the made-up characters (Gargantua, Green Guarder, Lady Bird, etc.) and real comic-book life (ashcans, story arcs, writer-illustrator-creator-producer relationships, etc.), and I really wanted to learn more.  Plus, there are tons of allusions to real fandoms that my Disney-Harry-Potter-Doctor-Who-Sherlock/Elementary-Murdoch-Mysteries-loving heart just eats up.  I guess I’m all about the behind-the-scenes stuff.  Anyway, the Team Tomorrow BTS pages were my favourite parts of the whole story.

7.  There’s one part though that I wasn’t too fond of, which is the constant references to boys objectifying girls and Edan being super feisty (or thinking about doing something super feisty) every time it happened.  I one-hundred-percent believe that girls should be treated with respect and should never be made to feel uncomfortable.  But I felt, more times than not, that the way the author presented this was unrealistic.  When Yuri’s friends are talking about how great a girl looks, Edan sometimes gets upset right away.  Maybe it’s because people who talk poorly about girls like they do wouldn’t stay my friends for very long, or maybe it’s because I think commenting on someone’s looks is not always demeaning nor are those looks mutually exclusive of a person’s intelligence.  I just can’t see myself getting as steamed as Edan does (and still being with Yuri … ugh again).  Either way, I think this would make a great starting point for discussions among my students.


4 squinkles


Cecil Castellucci’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTubeChapters/Indigo


Thank you, Scholastic Canada, for sending me a copy of Don’t Cosplay with My Heart in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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.


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
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo


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
Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo


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.

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