Tag Archives: 5 squinkles

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.

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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.

 

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.

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