Tag Archives: adventure

A Map for Wrecked Girls (Jessica Taylor)

26 Sep

The best story backdrops are the ones that rip the main characters away from their natural habitats and pluck them into completely unknown worlds.  In Jessica Taylor’s A Map for Wrecked Girls, you’re in for a treat: there are TWO main characters (and a boy) stuck on a deserted island.  Only good things can come from this.

 

Map for Wrecked Girls

Squinklethoughts

1.  This story is about two sisters, and right there is the reason I wanted to read this.  Henri and Emma (great names!) have been as close as close can be.  They’re sisters and best friends and confidantes; they’re two halves of the same whole.  But things can’t always stay the way they are.  High school – and boys – get in the way.  Maybe it’s because I have sisters of my own that I was so compelled to find out how they get through the story with the chasm between them that seems all too permanent.  Can they even find their way back to each other?

2.  More than what would happen to the girls on the island, I wondered what would happen to the girls’ relationship.  This is what drives the book.  I know some people might think that it’s too contrived to have them maroon on an island, eke out desperate means of surviving desperate times, and hope that somehow their mitigating circumstances will eventually lead them to reconciliation.  In truth, I found the island survival part secondary to Emma and Henri surviving one another.  When you’ve spent your entire life dependent on another person, how do you now live feet away but worlds apart?

 

Map for Wrecked Girls 2

 

3.  I’m glad that Taylor doesn’t reveal the root of the girls’ problems until towards the end.  It gives readers a chance to get into Emma’s shoes (sandals?) through her narration.  I feel bad for what she did to Henri even though I didn’t even know what it was until the last few chapters.  But because Emma is a completely reliable narrator, I knew that it must have been really bad.  Imagine that, and attribute it to Taylor’s writing.  I had all these wild theories running around in my head about what Emma could have possibly done, but even without knowing it, I felt like Henri’s anger towards her was completely justified because Taylor writes Emma’s thoughts so well.

4.  Alex is so good.  So flawed, so human, so intriguing.  He treats the girls really well, especially considering he’s only known them for a few hours.  It must be quite difficult to deal with trying to thrive on an island while wracked with guilt for his cousin.  The best part about Alex is that he seems to really care about Emma, and he sees Henri for who she really is.  I wish that there had been more to the story just because I wanted to read about Alex more.  I know the story revolves, primarily, around Emma and Henri’s sistership, but Taylor sows the seeds for a great story revolving around Alex.

5.  Actually, I feel like the three characters – Emma, Henri, and Alex – have so many more stories to tell.  The novel is told from Emma’s perspective, but how great would it be to read Henri’s point of view of the whole mess as well?  I want more of these three!  And I want more of Jesse, the girls’ neighbour and long-time friend, who seems to be a beacon of stability in the girls’ lives.

6.  I feel really, really bad for Gavin.  Some people won’t agree.  But I think that sometimes, we use age as a fair-weather weapon to brandish about when it suits us, sheathing it only when doing so works in our favour.  There are so many other factors to consider.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Jessica Taylor’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Penguin Random House Canada and Dial Books, for sending me a copy of A Map for Wrecked Girls 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.

 

Look Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts (Esta Spalding)

8 Nov

If you’re looking for a story with characters that don’t fit neatly into a box, you might find a match with Look Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts by Esta Spalding.

 

Look Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts

Squinklethoughts

1.  I was really happy to encounter such a unique cast of characters in this story.  They’re definitely not cookie-cutter protagonists.  The four children – Kim, Kimo, Toby, and Pippa – find themselves thrown together by virtue of complicated parentage.  They all share a mother or a father or both. This was a selling point for me, as I haven’t read enough stories where step-siblings get along with one another as these four do.

2.  I love the setting of the island.  Even though the kids live in a car, I like to imagine that they enjoy the weather and scenery on a regular basis.  (I’d love to experience a warm rainfall on the beach of an island one day.)  There’s also something about adventures being set on islands that I really like, although I’m not too fond of the show Lost or the novel Lord of the Flies.

3.  This book was just okay for me, and this is the perfect example of a story that I felt lukewarm about but that my students loved.  I mean … I had kids repeatedly asking for when the book would become available because their classmates really enjoyed the story.  Just goes to show you, I guess.

4.  One of the things I wasn’t too thrilled about was the way that the circumstances of the kids were treated very lightly.  From time to time, Kim does stress over how to find a new place to live (because the kids are growing up and the car space is growing small), but I can’t imagine how the four of them get along the way they do without a home, even though (most of) their parents are still around.  I mean, they live in a car with no reliable source of … practically anything.  Maybe for the younger ones it’s really the only life they remember, but I don’t quite understand how they’re able to survive with the meagre allowance they get from their parents or how they’re able to live on a beach with no trouble from authority figures.  The kids’ hardships were treated too lightly, almost trivially, for my liking, but for some of my students, this is exactly what they enjoyed.  They liked that despite the Fitzgerald-Trouts’ circumstances, they still get through their days and find adventures in Ikea-type stores.

5.  Spalding’s prose is very easy to get lost in.  In spite of those struggle points mentioned above, I enjoyed immersing myself in the story of the children and life on the island.  I read a few chapters aloud in class, and my students lapped them up.

6.  The illustrations are gorgeous.  They’re done by Sydney Smith whom I was really pleased to have met in January and who very graciously illustrated my copy with a palm tree (I LOVE palm trees), the beach, and the ocean.  Check out his website for more eye candy.

7.  I’m looking forward to the next book of this series, Knock About with the Fitzgerald-Trouts, which is slated for release in May 2017, because I do really want to know what happens to the kids.  I felt rather cliffhangered at the end of this book, and my students felt the same.  I’m hoping there’s a little more realism (when it comes to some of the heavy stuff) balanced with the adventures of the Fitzgerald-Trout clan.  Oh, and I’m looking forward to exploring the island with the children once again.

 

3.5 Squinkles 

Esta Spalding’s Online Corners
Website | Chapters

 

Thank you, Penguin Random House Canada, for sending me
a copy of Look Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts in exchange for
an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History (Sam Maggs)

4 Oct

We don’t have nearly enough books outlining the remarkable women of history (and of the present).  If you’re looking for a particularly good one, you should definitely pick up a copy of Sam Maggs’ Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History.

 

wonder-women-sam-maggs

Squinklethoughts1. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting Maggs (as I’ve been lucky enough to have had) or hearing her speak in the previews to silver-screen movies, then you know about her awesome cadence and witty remarks.  They’re all over Wonder Women, which is chock full of asides and parenthetical commentary.  I know some people aren’t fans of having too many interrupters, but I love them.  They make the stories in this book more interesting.  And funnier.

2. I only knew a handful of the women Maggs highlights in this book … which I’m sure is the same sentiment as many other readers, and which is proof-positive that WE NEED THIS BOOK in libraries and classrooms everywhere.  It’s a great introduction to fierce, intelligent, and confident women like Ada Lovelace (whom I knew) and Margaret Knight (whom I’d never heard of before now).

3. You’ll enjoy learning about Lise Meitner and her instrumental contributions to science; you’ll cheer for the gutsy Sarah Emma Edmonds who fought in the American Civil War … as a guy; and you’ll wholeheartedly agree with Maggs that Hollywood needs to make a movie about the tearjerker that was Anandibai Joshi life.

4. Sophia Foster-Dimino’s illustrations are lovely. They help bring Maggs’ words to life.

5. Because the stories of these inspirational women are reduced to a few pages, you won’t have any trouble getting through this book.  Even more, it’s really easy to jump around, so you can read about women of adventure before discovering the lives of women in espionage.

6. Teachers/parents, Wonder Women is a great read that would be an excellent purchase: it fills a gap on many bookshelves, for sure.  There are huge dollops of feminism throughout the stories (original subtitle: 25 Geek Girls Who Changed the World), but with or without labelling Maggs and her writing as such, the book stands on its own as a really fascinating and informative read.

4.5 Squinkles

Sam Maggs’ Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram |
YouTube | Tumblr | Chapters

Thank you, Quirk Books, for sending me a copy of Wonder Women in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Alien that Ate My Socks (Brandon Dorman)

9 Sep

Meet Hank, Hector, and Henry Hooligan – three brothers who love adventure.  The only trouble is … adventure sometimes comes with a side of purple.  Purple alien, that is.  A great adventure awaits you all, Squinks, in The Alien that Ate My Socks.

 

Alien that Ate My Socks 

Squinklethoughts

1. The action never stops.  This book begins with the Hooligan brothers competing in a go-cart race against their perpetual enemy, Rock.  Once they encounter the purple guy, it’s just one thing after another.  It was really hard for me to quit reading at the end of the night (or at the end of lunch) because each chapter ends with a cliffhanger.  Is the purple alien going to eat ALL their clothes?  Is it going to start eating the three boys or their friend, Ellie?  And what makes it smell so … ick?  I imagine green ooze wrapping itself around all that purple.

2. Hank, Hector, and Henry have such a great brotherly relationship.  They annoy one another and taunt one another, but they never stop having each other’s backs.  When Hector is hugged by the purple blob and goes temporarily noodly, Hank and Henry do what they can to get Hector back to normal.  It must be so much fun to live in the Hooligan house!

3. The illustrations are just wonderful.  Brandon Dorman is the illustrator of so many middle-grade books, including The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull, and The Curvy Tree, one of The Land of Stories tales.  I loved flipping through the book again to see the pictures, which helped bring me back to various points of the story.  You’ll love the images, too!  You most definitely need to see the rest of Dorman’s wonderful illustrations online.

4. I really locked onto Henry’s character from the get-go.  He’s quite charming and really funny with his retorts to his brothers’ jabs.  I love that he’s always wondering about what else can be replaced with superficial materials just as his teeth had to be replaced with fake ones.

5. This is the first book in the Hoolie and the Hooligans series, and I’m glad because one book just isn’t enough to cover the Hooligans’ adventures.  This book ends with such a bang … alas, that makes me impatient for the follow-up!  Don’t worry: you’ll know when I know when the next book will be published.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Brandon Dorman’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Instagram

Thank you, Shadow Mountain Publishing, for sending me a finished copy of Hoolie and the Hooligans 1: The Alien that Ate My Socks in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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