Tag Archives: 5 squinkles

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
Website | Facebook | Pinterest | Chapters/Indigo

 

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.

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
Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Chapters

 

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Little Paris Bookshop (Nina George)

9 Sep

Of all the stories I read this year, I think the Little Paris Bookshop has given me the biggest book hangover yet. When I was done with it, I simply handed it to my mom and said, “Read it. Trust me.” And she did. And she loved it, too.

 

Little Paris Bookshop 

Squinklethoughts

1. The title hooked me right away. “Paris” and “bookshop”? Yes, please. (My site tagline is “Bouquets de Bouquins” … Doesn’t that tell you something?) Someday, I’m going to go to Paris and be chuckled at for my franglais and my accent québécois, and I will drink my café and have un temps merveilleux.

2. The cover is gorgeous. You know me: I absolutely judge books by their covers. And this one has cotton-candy colours of sunset with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Just delicious and completely enticing.

3. There is a map! I can’t begin to tell you how much that fact made reading this book much more pleasant. I seriously think that all books should have maps in them. A writer’s imagery, no matter how well done, can only allow me to visualize individual scenes in my head, but I need them all stitched up in a map, so I know where the characters geographically are. Jean and his companions travel down the River Seine, and it was great to see where along the waterways each chapter occurred.

4. I am a fan of bittersweet moments. I don’t always like them in my own life, so when I encounter characters like Jean, whose life has been full of some sweet but mostly bitter moments, I’m hooked. And that he was the cause of his own sufferings? Captivatingly cathartic.

5. The narrative is particularly beautiful. I’m not sure if it can be wholly attributed to Nina George or to the translators, but there are many lyrical phrases in the book that made me smile.

 

Little Paris Bookshop - Quotes 

6. I know some people didn’t like this story. They thought it was overly simplistic or overly cloying or overly clichéd. I understand – if what they were looking for was a story of grand gestures and perilous adventures and harrowing revelations. For some, they couldn’t connect to Jean or understand his current place in life, but I think it’s because some people skate over the 20 years (and counting) that Jean spends in misery. Once we’re past gut-wrenching moments, it’s often way too easy to forget what it meant to live each minute with heartache. (Being bullied all through elementary school? Oh, yeah, it wasn’t that bad. Eating by yourself at lunch throughout high school? Oh, well, it wasn’t terrible.) Twenty years: that’s 10 512 000 sorrowful minutes that Jean lived through to get to where he is in the story. And this is what I truly appreciate about the Little Paris Bookshop – the author and the book itself appreciate what it means to live practically an entire life with a gnawing feeling in your stomach and an empty hole in your heart.

7. For me, this story speaks to all those quiet moments in the morning, by yourself, smiling at a happy memory from 20 years back, and finding your eyes full of tears. This was all about those lazy summer days of sipping iced tea at Starbucks, flipping through a magazine, only to be greeted by an article outlining the successes of the girl who made your school years a living hell. This was about that poignant feeling I get now, after waving thanks to my student’s grandfather for dropping him off at school, and remembering that I don’t have my grandpa anymore.

8. I love the concept of a book apothecary. Can you imagine being able to read people as easily as Jean Perdu does? And, on top of that, being able to make people’s lives a little better by prescribing the perfect livre du moment? As a school librarian, I try my best, but after reading about Jean’s perfectly tuned skills, I know I’ve got a long way to go.

9. This is a great story about the moments, choices, people, and books that leave indelible footprints on our hearts.

10. You really need to read this book.  Read it now, then re-read it after five years to see how much more it resonates with you.

 

5 Squinkles

 

Nina George’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters

 

Thank you, Penguin Random House (Crown) and Blogging for Books, for sending me a copy of the Little Paris Bookshop in exchange for an honest review.

All opinions and suggestions expressed herein are entirely my own.

Vanessa and Her Sister (Priya Parmar)

23 Feb

Vanessa and Her Sister

 

17 Bookworm Lane
Chapterville

 

23 February 2015

My dearest Squinks,

And so, the cold weather lingers on. I do hope that it has yet overstayed its welcome where you are. Winters do seem dreadfully long if they are especially cold, n’est-ce pas? When the temperature dips below 20° C, I sometimes recall those moments of my childhood during which we trudged 20 miles to school … walking barefoot … in the snow … with nary un chapeau to keep our têtes protected from the wind.

Et alors, I write to you today to tell you about the most delightful novel I have just finished. It is written by one Priya Parmar, a very talented author who hails from Mother England. Vanessa and Her Sister is a unique and lovely literary tableau of the heydays of the Bloomsbury Group, told through the wise eyes of Vanessa Bell (née Stephen). Wonderful things about this novel abound; I hope one of the copies in our library will someday find its way into your hands.

Are you wondering if this story really is worth your time? Maybe you’re not particularly keen on immersing yourself in the lives of these Bloomsbury authors, artists, and critics, whom some have undoubtedly labelled as equally the epitome of intelligence and the pinnacle of pretentiousness? Peut-être reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse has given you a perpetual, irrevocable, indomitable refusal to ever read anything related to her ever again? If so, dearest Squinks, I beg you to let me plead my case.

Read this novel for Parmar’s writing. Read it for the pure joy of hearing her witty words spoken aloud because saying them in your head once is simply not enough. It is facile enough to read the curricula vitæ of these beaux amis, but Parmar’s writing brings them, especially the Stephen sisters, to life. Told from Vanessa’s perspective, with the occasional welcome interruptions from friends, Vanessa and Her Sister affords its readers an extended glimpse into the lives of this coterie from the rare point of view of someone living within it. Parmar’s Vanessa is an intelligent and perceptive heroine, keenly aware of her place as a woman, wife, and artist in the England of the early 1900s. I think many of you will truly appreciate recognizing that she was both a product of and participant in her time, and that she handled herself with aplomb even in the most trying of circumstances. Some would undoubtedly admonish her for her seeming passive-aggressiveness, but dear Squinks, as you read this novel, I hope you, too, come to comprehend and applaud the quiet but steady trail that Vanessa blazed. And what of Virginia Woolf? I’ve never loathed her nor understood her as much as I do now that I’ve seen her through the eyes of her sister. Vanessa’s forbearance of Virginia haunts me in the same way that Virginia’s beauty haunted her.

If, by the time you reach her journal entry dated 20 November 1906, you still have not found the lure that draws you into the turbulent English Channel that was the Stephens, I encourage you, then, to simply admire Parmar’s talent with me. Her words are eloquent, and her turns of phrases capture the voices of this time period. Rather than seeming tentative or contrived, Vanessa’s wit and humour flow freely across the page as a testimony to the author’s deft. Parmar makes me want to write and paint and read to feel the same passion that permeated throughout the Bloomsbury Group.

Please, my dear Squinks, please put me out of my misery. Venez me voir dans la bibliothèque et demandez-moi ce nouveau roman incroyable.

Amicalement,
Ta professeure

PS: My favourite line of the entire novel is the last line.  Let me know when you get there!

 

5 Squinkles 

Priya Parmar’s Online Corners
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Thank you, Random House and Ballantine Books, for sending me a copy of Vanessa and Her Sister.  All opinions and suggestions expressed herein are entirely my own; I received no compensation for them.

The War that Saved My Life (Kimberly Brubaker Bradley)

20 Feb

War that Saved My Life  

Hey Squad,

I’ve got a lovely new book to tell you about. The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley has quickly become one of my favourite MG titles, and from the first page, I think you’ll understand why. It’s the story of Ada and Jamie, two children living in London at the outbreak of the Second World War. They’re not orphans, but they may as well be for the way their mom treats them. Right off the bat, we find out that Ada has a club foot, so she’s not allowed to go outside lest she cause her mother shame. Ada spends her days watching her brother go off to school because, according to their mom, “he ain’t a cripple like you” (1). Her whole life, Ada has stayed indoors, learned to “walk” using her hands, taken care of Jamie, and been more of a servant than a child to her mom. When the London government starts sending children to the countryside to keep them away from potential bombings, it begins a new chapter in Ada’s life, one in which she learns that not all adults hit children when they’re upset, having been born with a physical deformity is not the person’s fault, and people’s real families are not always the ones they’re born into, but the people whom they choose to let in.

Ada is a wonderfully sweet heroine, full of the spunk I expect from young and strong female characters. She’s protective of and fiercely loyal to her brother. She’s open to new adventures and seeing the best in others, but she’s also vigilant and aware of other people’s capacity to hurt. She’s also got razor-sharp with, which I not-so-secretly admire!

I’m so thankful this book came into my radar and I had the chance to read it, and now that I think about it, part of the reason it really resonated with me is that Ada’s spirit bears more than a striking resemblance to that of another favourite heroine of mine – Anne-with-an-E!

Be on the lookout for this title to appear on our library shelves soon, and let me know if you love Ada as much as I do!

 

5 Squinkles 

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters

 

Thank you, Penguin Canada, for sending me a copy of The War that Saved My Life.  All opinions and suggestions expressed herein are entirely my own; I received no compensation for them.

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