Saints and Misfits (S.K. Ali)

14 Sep

What happens when a person that everyone believes to be a saint is actually a monster?  Do you let the monster be, or do you cast a light to shine on his/her true self?  Boy is Janna’s predicament one that is more common than you realize.

 

Saints and Misfits

Squinklethoughts

1.  Janna Yusuf is an excellent heroine.  She deals with the inevitable troubles of being different in a mature but very real way, and it’s something that, as a book champion and book pusher, I’m thankful for.  Too often, writers include every possible emotion that people can go through in an attempt to showcase pre-teen and teen angst.  Yes, of course there are a lot of emotions that inevitably pop up in our late-elementary and high-school years, but it doesn’t mean every single one of them has to be analyzed or even explored in a novel.  I know enough of Janna’s struggles to love her and welcome her onto my bookshelf.

2.  Let me explain more.  S.K. Ali understands that young people are not yet done growing up.  Whenever Janna tries to figure out what to do with a bad situation or how to behave whenever she sees the monster, Ali writes it in a way that doesn’t reflect the kind of overwhelming maturity that Janna wouldn’t have.  Janna is confused and hesitant and … unfinished.  Beautifully unfinished.  So many girls will make a friend in Janna.

3.  I loved learning about various aspects of Muslim and Indian cultures, especially the expectations put upon people who grow up in families of mixed cultures and religions.  What I loved even more was the fact that I know so many students who will read Janna’s story and be encouraged to be themselves.  Although there are various religious- and culturally specific concepts in this story, it really is a tale that many girls can relate to.  It is a true bildungsroman, capturing the ups and downs of Janna growing up, testing the waters, and finding herself, including the roles that religion and faith play in her life.

4.  There are lots of other strong characters, too.  I kind of wish, for example, that the story of Janna’s mom was explored a little more.  Janna’s friends are mostly great, and I’m glad that Ali didn’t make them too one-sided just because Janna, herself, is a strong character.

5.  **Spoiler Alert** Parents/teachers: The inciting incident in this story is the attempted rape of Janna by someone from her own mosque.  The lead-up to it is described, but since it doesn’t quite happen, there isn’t much in the way of specific details.  Nonetheless, it may be too sensitive for some young’uns.  I suggest reading the first few chapters to see if you think it would be okay for your kids.  On that note, I’m glad that the plot gets kicking right away.  It really leaves more room in the book for the aftermath.

6.  Ali’s writing a second novel.  Another YA story, this time featuring “an ensemble cast of diverse souls, as well as LOVE” per her Goodreads bio page.  Can’t wait.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

S.K. Ali’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for sending me a copy of Saints and Misfits in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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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.

 

Karma Khullar’s Mustache (Kristi Wientge)

15 Aug

Over the years, the stories that have become the most borrowed and requested by my students are those that tackle universal issues with idiosyncratic flairs.  This is exactly the strength of Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge, and I have no hesitation recommending it to you, Squinks!

 

Karma Khullar's Mustache

Squinklethoughts

1.  At the heart of this novel is a girl who isn’t looking to shine – just fit in.  Isn’t that how everyone feels when they’re starting a new school?  It’s hard enough changing from being the kings and queens of elementary school to becoming the guppies of middle school, but over the summer, poor Karma discovers SEVENTEEN little hairs above her lip … which is basically the end of the world.  I like that Wientge understands how big of a deal this is for some people.

2.  Karma’s moustache is the impetus for a lot of her troubles, not the least of which is earning the nickname “’Stache Attack”, but there are far worse obstacles for Karma to overcome.  The worst of it is that her best friend no longer seems to be her best friend.  I know what it’s like to lose a friend for no reason at all (at least no reason that I could foresee or understand).  Karma and Kate have been friends for years, and all of a sudden, Kate’s interests are different from Karma’s.  It was really heartbreaking that Karma was in a state of limbo.  Should she even care that Kate doesn’t like her anymore?  And yet, it’s so hard not to care about things like that.

3.  And then Lacy moves in across the street from Kate, and all of Karma’s fears deepen.  How can she compete with the girl who seems to be so well put together, while she can’t even figure out how to get rid of 17 stinkin’ strands of hair?

4.  That scene in the lunchroom where Karma tries to enjoy her tiffin full of delicious dal and chapati had me in tears.  Wientge illustrates a scene right out of my own childhood where I was made fun of for bringing squid and rice for lunch – one of my absolute favourite dishes, which I suddenly had no appetite for after being taunted by my grade-2 classmates.  Have a tissue on hand when you get to this part.

5.  Karma’s inner monologue reminds me a lot of Lizzie McGuire.  I never watched the original series, though I did see the movie.  I like how Karma is, for the most part, realistic about life, but I also enjoyed reading bits and pieces of her overdramatic thoughts about school, people, and her moustache.  I’m sure I felt the same way when I was younger.

6.  I liked learning about Sikhism and some of the traditional foods that Karma and her Indian-American family eat.  As a child of a mixed-race marriage, Karma has the added challenge of melding two traditions together.  I would have liked a bit more of that.  Karma complains about how her mom’s blonde hair would probably not be so noticeable over her upper lip, and there are a few conversations between her parents that hint at differences in upbringing, but I wanted a bit more.  Wientge sort of gets away with not going into too much detail when Karma admits that she only goes to church and temple a few times a year.  I don’t think the lack of detail about the two religions or the two cultures took away from the story, but I think the details could’ve added to it.

7.  I read this book very quickly because I was highly invested in Karma’s journey.  I think that’s what makes this a great story.  I was as sad as she was when those awkward moments with Kate happen; I was as humiliated as she was when the kids make fun of her lunch; I was as indignant (but helpless) as she was when she is blamed for something she didn’t do.  I really wanted a happy ending for her.

8.  Wientge combines Karma’s specific situation with universal problems, which will make Karma Khullar’s Mustache appealing to all readers.  I would definitely pick up the sequel if there were to be one.

 

4.5 Squinkles  

Kristi Wientge’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for sending me a copy of Karma Khullar’s Mustache in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Spellbook of the Lost and Found (Moïra Fowley-Doyle)

8 Aug

This book has everything I liked, which is why it jumped to the top of my reading queue.  Definitely pick this title up if you also love any of the following: secrets, magic, spells, friendship, strong women, Ireland, narratives in multiple voices, tree and flower names.

 

Spellbook of the Lost and Found  Squinklethoughts

1.  The title alone hooked me.  I like books about magic and spells, especially in modern times, so this seemed the perfect choice for me.  One thing I really like about Spellbook is that while magic permeates throughout the entire story, it’s not presented with the type of clichés that persist in other books.  The magic here is treated with respect, even by the characters who don’t believe in it at first, because there is every chance that a life will be changed.  Or lost.  No foolish wand-waving or silly incantations here.  (In fact, the spells are very nicely worded.)

2.  Right off the bat, I was sucked into the stories of SO MANY characters, all of whom narrate a chapter here and there.  In reality, there are only a handful, but it sure felt like there were more.  Once I got the dramatis personae figured out, including which girl-named-after-a-tree is related to or friends with that other girl-named-after-a-tree, the multiple narratives are not a problem at all.  Olive, Rose, Hazel, Ivy, Rowan, Laurel, Ash, and Holly … You really become invested in their stories once you meet them.  I felt like they might have been my own friends.

3.  In fact, I liked the multiple-narrative format that Fowley-Doyle employs here.  It really highlights the fact that the characters are all related but are experiencing the events of the story in his/her own way.  Even if they share scenes or encounter the same strange trinket in the woods, the characters repress different secrets and develop unique perspectives.  I do think there could have been a little more work put into adding more idiosyncrasies in the speech or thought processes of the characters because often, the narrator of one chapter sounds exactly like the narrator of the previous one.  I’m thinking along the lines of one of them always saying something like “Wotcher” (à la Tonks), though I like Rose’s quirk of blowing bubbles to manage her cigarette cravings.

4.  It is a lot of work to weave different characters’ stories together when those characters have little reason to be connected at all, and I really applaud Fowley-Doyle’s plot.  Everything came together very well, and although I got an inkling about the ending about halfway through the plot, I was sufficiently surprised at how she designed it.  Nothing seemed contrived … so much so that I wanted more.

 

Spellbook of the Lost and Found 2  

5.  About that ending … As great as the entire story was, I felt let down at the end.  Not because it wasn’t a good conclusion, but because the conclusion was so delightfully messy.  I can’t help but think (and hope) that it serves as a bridge to a sequel.  I want more of Rose’s healing, more of Hazel and Rowan’s reconciliation, more of Ivy’s secrets, more of Olive and Emily’s changing sisterliness, and more of Laurel, Ash, and Holly.  More of everything and everyone.  And I definitely want to know more about Mags.  I mean, she could be the star of her own book, and that would be awesome.  Is there even enough for a follow-up book?  I think so.  The ending of this one just leaves you wanting more … and isn’t that the sign of a great story?

6.  Fowley-Doyle writes very lyrical prose.  It was a pleasure to read her turns of phrases, though I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea (or swig of poteen). There were many times that I had to reread a sentence or phrase because it just seemed so deep that I needed to give it extra attention.  If you’re into that kind of writing, this book will definitely satisfy you.

7.  Parents/teachers, there are a few scenes that might be too delicate for certain readers, and there are sprinkles of profanity throughout the book (though not enough to seem like it was put in for the sake of sounding teenage-y).  On the whole, this story would be just fine for YA readers to devour.  Even better, I’m sure readers of adult lit would enjoy this story, too!

8.  Last thought for you to keep in mind before you begin your journey with Spellbook of the Lost and Found: Be careful what you wish for; not all lost things should be found.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Penguin Random House Canada, for sending me a copy of Spellbook of the Lost and Found in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

York #1: The Shadow Cipher (Laura Ruby)

26 Jul

Codes, ciphers, secrets?  Count me in!  If you want an adventure that requires a bit of thinking and a lot of running, you’ll definitely want to pick up Laura Ruby’s York: The Shadow Cipher.

 

York 1 - Shadow Cipher

Squinklethoughts

1.  I have been waiting and waiting for the next great puzzle adventure, and I’m glad that it is the York series.  We love The 39 Clues (by various authors) and The Copernicus Legacy (by Tony Abbott), and now, we’ve got York to add to the list.

2.  I’m not a fan of time-travelling stories, but I LOVE stories where people in the past leave clues for folk in the future.  In 1798, Tess and Theodore Morningstarr begin their work of revamping New York City using mysterious technology that is super avant-garde.  Just before they disappear, they leave behind a puzzle called the Old York Cipher.  How cool is that?  If you like stories with advanced technology, you’ll love all the gizmos and gadgets in this one.

3.  Fast forward to the present day, and Tess and Theo Biedermann, along with their friend, Jaime Cruz, go all around the city, trying to solve the puzzle that no one has been able to solve since the Morningstarrs bequeathed it to NYC.  And for them, it’s not a matter of just getting the right answer … because solving the puzzle could mean saving their homes.  I love it when characters are tasked with impossible tasks.

4.  The twins are great in this story.  They don’t always get along; in fact, they often get on each other’s nerves.  I like that Ruby decided not to have twins who are completely in synch with one another.  This way, there’s more excitement.  And since this is only the beginning of the series, I do wonder if Ruby will make her readers gasp by … separating the twins at some point.  Oh, boy, would that be fun to read.

5.  Jaime’s story is one I definitely want to know more about.  Ruby’s given us bits and pieces, but I want more.  His and his grandmother’s close relationship is very enviable, and, I think, a great, calming force in the story.

6.  Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character, which makes for an interesting read.  In the beginning, I had to flip back to the first pages of the chapters to remind myself who was narrating, but you get used to it.  It’s a great way to get to know more about the characters through what they want you to know about them.

7.  This is an excellent book for school and classroom libraries.  I will probably be adding this to my curriculum next year, so check back to see the questions and activities I create!

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Laura Ruby’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Tumblr | Chapters/Indigo

Thank you, HarperCollins and Walden Pond Press, for sending me a copy of York 1: The Shadow Cipher in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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