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Together at Midnight (Jennifer Castle)

26 Apr

I love stories about the end of the year, which is really what drew me to this one to begin with.  Add to that the premise of practising random acts of kindness, and I was sold!  Together at Midnight is a sweet story about finding yourself while being kind to others.

 

Together at Midnight

Squinklethoughts

1.  I started reading Together at Midnight way past midnight, and I was already on page 81 by the time I realized an hour had passed.  I had meant to just start the book to get a feel for it, but the first few chapters flew by really quickly.  If you like fast-paced stories and short chapters, you’ll love this.

2.  Kendall and Max are equally strong and compelling narrators.  It was great to read the story through their distinct voices.  Kendall is a very lovely flawed character.  She’s just spent a semester abroad in a school program that takes kids across various European countries.  For her, it was the perfect way to earn credits while undergoing teaching and learning styles that she could handle.  As the youngest and only girl in the family, Kendall has had supportive parents and siblings throughout her life, but there are some struggles she has to face alone.  Kendall is a great protagonist for anyone who’s ever felt just behind every one else – grasping academic concepts a little slower, or enjoying social milestones a little later.  She’s friendly and brave and optimistic, which makes it easy for other characters to like her, even if she can be hard on herself, but she really just needs time to grow.

3.  I was rooting for Max all the way.  He seems like the ultimate gentleman when it comes to his treatment of both Eliza, his erstwhile girlfriend, and Kendall.  He’s also a caring person, as evidenced by his relationship with his curmudgeon of a grandpa, Big E.  But what I like about Max best are his flaws.  Sometimes he cares a little too much, and that turns him into a helicopter parent, or – worse – he derails his life to help someone, even if he’s not asked to do so.  He actually reminds me a lot of Ted Mosby, architect.  He is inherently kind and obviously smart to have been accepted to Brown, but he, too, needs a little growing up.

4.  The adventures in this book take place during that fuzzy week between Christmas and New Year’s when you don’t know what day it is, but you’re thankful it’s still the holidays.  I love that.  I also love Castle’s decision to set this story in New York City, in and around the hustle and bustle of Times Square, a beating heart of a metropolis if there ever were one.  So many different cafés to try out, so many different people to observe.  I’ve been to NYC a handful of times now, and it’s so easy to see why Kendall and Max’s challenge works well here – and why the city itself helps the two of them evolve.

5.  I’m often wary about multiple narrators within a story, but Castle’s choice makes perfect sense.  In fact, knowing the thoughts of the people that Kendall and Max encounter adds a wonderful depth to the story for the readers.  It’s like a very satisfying instance of dramatic irony, especially when the two protagonists aren’t sure if they’ve helped or hindered their targets.  We, the audience, know the consequences of their actions, and it makes our journey so much better.

6.  There are so many quotable quips throughout the book that would look great on posters.  In particular, I loved:

It’s possible to have no regrets but also wish everything were different.

Every minute of being with [him] took effort, and not that I have anything against effort, but when you experience a different way of being with a person, stuff begins to make sense.

Together at Midnight 2

 

7.  Teachers/parents, Together at Midnight is a nice addition to your libraries.  There are a few discussion points that would be more appropriate for senior-level students, but nothing too earth shattering.  What your YA readers will take from this story is what I did: It’s entirely possible to be a wonderful human being even if you’re far from perfect.  Also: random acts of kindness can go a long way even if you can’t see their effects.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Jennifer Castle’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Tumblr | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Harper Collins Canada, for sending me a copy of Together at Midnight in exchange for an honest review.  All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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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

Squinklethoughts

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.

All the Crooked Saints (Maggie Stiefvater)

13 Oct

If you’re in the mood for a tale full of magic and mystery, Maggie Stiefvater’s All the Crooked Saints may be just what you need!

 All the Crooked Saints

Squinklethoughts

1.  Okay, Squinks.  This is my first Maggie Stiefvater book.  I know, right?  So many of you have suggested that I read The Raven Cycle series, and I just might pick it up, knowing how great her writing is.

2.  Here is a thing I felt after reading a few chapters of All the Crooked Saints: This is not the book for me.  Here is a thing I felt on the last page of the book: Boy, am I glad I stuck it out.

 

All the Crooked Saints 2  

3.  I like magical realism, and I’d definitely describe this story as such.  But this wasn’t the magical realism I expected.  There is a priest with a coyote head, a snake entwining twins, and a girl who, like Echo, can only speak when spoken to, repeating the very same words she is told.  If I had known that from the very beginning, I may not have picked this book up at all.  So if you’re into that kind of stuff, you’ll have a lot of fun with this book.

4.  What kept me going even after I realized that the elements of the story weren’t quite what I expected was Stiefvater’s incredible writing.  She has such a way with words and telling life truths that I got lost in her magical turns of phrases, and I just kept on reading.  Her writing prowess is reminiscent of J.K. Rowling’s own pen wizardry.  They’re both so quotable, so authentic.

 

All the Crooked Saints - Quotations

 

5.  Once I got the dramatis personae all figured out, it was a lot easier to get into the Soria family’s and the pilgrim’s plights.  Beatriz, Joaquin, and Daniel have such a close bond.  It was great to see that among cousins and among people who are quite different from one another.  The relationship between Antonio and Francisco was really interesting.  How could a couple get that way when they obviously love each other so much?  The pilgrims all have very intriguing stories, too.  I was especially enamoured by Marisita’s back story, which I’m glad Stiefvater reveals.  I also like the relationship that develops between Tony and Pete – strangers who become friends because of circumstances.  By the end of the story, I was rooting for all the Sorias and pilgrims to get what they needed … not just what they’re looking for.

6.  Teachers, there are a lot of things you can do with this book in school.  Lots of themes pop up throughout the novel, especially ones about family, friendship, and courage.  The title might seem like this is a super-religious book, but even without knowing much about Catholicism or saints or caring about any religion at all, readers will still enjoy the plot.  If I were to pick this book up as a text for a class, I’d definitely do some explorations on character POVs, a big discussion on metaphors and allegory, and a lesson on the writer’s craft, using Stiefvater’s fine writing as an example.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Maggie Stiefvater’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr
Indigo/Chapters

 

Thank you, Scholastic Press, for sending me a copy of
All the Crooked Saints 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 Winnowing (Vikki VanSickle)

28 Sep

I don’t think I’ll ever not like a book written by Vikki VanSickle, and The Winnowing is no exception.  This is her first foray into sci-fi, and it definitely had me wanting more.

 

Winnowing

 

1.  I bought The Winnowing without knowing what the book is about.  That’s how much I trust VanSickle in her ability to tell a great story.  I’ve read all of her other books, and the one thing that ties them all together is that they are written with so much authenticity … I almost believe that her characters are real.  Marivic Stone is loyal, curious, and courageous.  She’s your typical teen, but when the people in her life are threatened or hurt, she does what she can to make sure the good guys win.  But she’s also flawed in that great way I love about pre-teens and adolescents.  She, like other great MCs, wants so badly to help that she almost trips over herself in her desire to do something even without a fully formulated plan.  Marivic (a great name with roots I’m very familiar with) feels so many emotions, and you just can’t help but cheer her on.

 

Winnowing 3

 

2.  As an English teacher (with a specialist degree in linguistics), I LOVE VanSickle’s word play and allusions throughout the novel.  She has created a story with homages to or hints of The Giver (Dr. Lowry and just generally the dystopian setting), Ender’s Game (the Kesla), and Brave New World (Somnease and the in/fertility issue).  Add to that references to J.J. Abrams, Gene Roddenberry, Krypton, and the X-Files (I’m guessing, since the setting is New Mexico, but as I haven’t actually seen any X-Files episodes, I can’t be sure …), and you’ve got a treasure trove of bread crumbs left for conspiracy-loving readers.  I’m sure there are some other sci-fi-specific references that flew by me.

3.  I love the banter/arguments/fights between Kamal and Marivic.  I’m sure Marivic hated them at first, but it’s just so much better to have scenes where the two principal players despise one another.  To his credit, Kamal slowly becomes a team player, even displaying a bit of sympathy towards Marivic at some point.

4.  This book reads like it’s meant to be a standalone, but I could definitely see there being a follow-up to explore the stories of Ren, Abbott, and even Gumps.  VanSickle’s developed the other characters enough to keep her readers interested in their back stories.

5.  In general, I wouldn’t put sci-fi stories very high on my list.  But even though this book is very clearly steeped in the sci-fi genre, what shines more are the topics of friendship, growing up, and accepting who you are.  Marivic and her friends (and non-friends) are tested in terms of their loyalty to one another, obsequiousness towards authority, and accepting their differences as strengths rather than weaknesses.  Because of this, The Winnowing can absolutely be read by anyone … even those who aren’t fond of Mulder and Scully.

 

Winnowing - VVS

 

6.  Teachers, Vikki VanSickle is a wonderful storyteller and read-aloud artist.  If you get the chance to have her visit your class/school, do it!  Your kids will love listening to her read from her novel (picture above taken during her reading at the Word on the Street festival), and they may even be encouraged to put pen to paper to write their own stories.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Vikki VanSickle’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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