Tag Archives: adventure

The Hazel Wood (Melissa Albert)

14 Sep

I knew, entering this novel, that I was in for a wacky fairy-tale-esque ride, but I wasn’t adequately prepared for the adventures that I encountered … many of which happened even before I entered the Hazel Wood.

 

Hazel Wood Squinklethoughts

1.  I received a late ARC of this title, so I had already seen finished copies at bookstores.  I was so pleased that the ARC included the gorgeous cover of the final version because it’s breathtaking!  The gold embossed figures against a black backdrop scream elegance and intrigue at the same time.  I spent a good while trying to figure out how each image – a comb, a dagger, torn pages, to name a few – might fit into the story.  Just from the cover alone, I knew this would make an excellent lesson for my students.

2.  I don’t know if this story can fit seamlessly into any one genre.  On the one hand, it’s definitely meant for YA audiences because some of the scenes are too mature for my youngsters.  On the other hand, anyone who loves fairy tales will enjoy the allusions in this story, regardless of the age of the reader.  The noir-ish feel of this story is particularly alluring.

3.  So what’s The Hazel Wood got that makes it a worthwhile read?

  • Unpredictable plot … Sure, you could slap various scenes against a plot graph and see the overall arc, but I would never, in a million years, have seen most of what transpired coming.  There are surprises, left and right, by way of betrayals, unexpected enemies, unlikely alliances, sheep in wolves’ clothing, … all of which propel the story to its final destination.

  • Interesting characters … The MC, Alice, is quite likeable.  She’s a little self-deprecating, but not annoyingly so.  Because she discovers truths about her life at the same time as the reader does, we can feel very much as if we’re part of her journey.  I also really like her relationship with her mom.  Oh, and Alice Proserpine – great name.

  • Mini side stories … It’s almost like the various tales of Beedle the Bard are strewn throughout the narrative.  Some side stories reveal info pertinent to Alice’s plotline, and others are just colourful tapestries that add to the noir-ness of the book.

4.  If you’re looking for a unique take on well-known fairy-tale creatures, villains, heroines, and overall fantasy feel, you’ll definitely enjoy Albert’s The Hazel Wood.  The author does a great job building her world and fleshing out her characters.  Even if this kind of story is not your thing, you’ll still find enough mysteries that you’ll want to keep reading to see which are solved at the end.

5.  Teachers/parents: There are some scenes (mostly in dialogue, but also in situation, including references to intimate relations) that may be too mature for some kids in elementary school.  Some of the actions in the story, which revolve around hurting/killing people might also be too scary or violent for younger readers.  Writer’s Craft teachers will find this novel to be a rich source of potential lessons and activities.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Melissa Albert’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Flatiron Books, for sending me a copy of The Hazel Wood in exchange for an honest review.  All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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The Nocturnals #4: The Hidden Kingdom (Tracey Hecht and Sarah Fieber)

10 Sep

Oof … Apologies for all the “Temporary Posts” emails!  Since WLW doesn’t do updates or support anymore, I can’t figure out how to do some things.  It’s all a bit trial-and-error for me, Squinks!

Anyhoo, the Nocturnal Brigade is back in their fourth adventure, and it’s the best one yet!  Tobin (a pangolin), Bismark (a sugar glider), and Dawn (a fox) have to find a way to save themselves and their night-time neighbours from a drought that has plagued them all.

 

Nocturnals 4 Squinklethoughts

1.  Okay, first things first, this series taught me that there is even an animal called a sugar glider.  Yup … had no idea it existed until now.  I love that a whole menagerie of animals are found in these books, and I love it even more that many of them work together (for good and for bad!) to accomplish their tasks.  Stories are always fun when you’ve got a bunch of different characters join forces for a common goal, and this tale is no exception.

2.  Bismark is ever charming, as he was in the first three books.  He is incorrigible in his flirting with Dawn, but he genuinely cares for her and the rest of his friends.  His anecdotes and bravado get wilder (and funnier) as the story progresses, which add some levity to the brigade’s troubles.  Tobin is quite funny, too, especially when he’s constantly blamed for the strange odours and squeaky noises around him.  My students found these bits particularly funny.  All in all, the characters drive this series just as much as the plot lines do, which is a great reason for the success of these stories.

 

Nocturnals 4 2

 

3.  One of the best things about The Nocturnals series is the cast of characters that Hecht and Fieber have assembled.  Whether they’re part of the Nocturnal Brigade or playing a supporting role, the animals are witty, unique, and memorable.

4.  Teachers/parents: There are so many animals in this book and in the series that ways to incorporate them into lessons and classes just kept popping into my head as I was reading.  But beyond its potential use in the classroom, anyone who loves animals or enjoys reading stories with animals in them would definitely enjoy this series.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Tracey Hecht and Sarah Fieber’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Fabled Films Press, for sending me a copy of The Nocturnals: The Hidden Kingdom in exchange for an honest review.  All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Potion Masters #1: The Eternity Elixir (Frank L. Cole)

3 Jan

Squinks, if you want to start the new year off with the right book, I’ve got the perfect one for you: Frank L. Cole’s Potion Masters: The Eternity Elixir.  I guarantee you’ll be able to say you’ve at least read one great book this year.

 

Squinklethoughts

1.  I love practically everything about this book.  But let’s start at the beginning.  The premise is exciting: there is a secret society of potion masters and 12-year-old Gordy Stitser’s mom is one of the best Elixirists around.  That can only spell trouble for Gordy … and it’s the making of a great adventure.  His mom has been training Gordy in the art of potion-making, which is fun enough already, but what I love is the fact that Gordy actually wants to hone his skills.  He actually wants to study.  Isn’t that great?  (Feel free to roll your eyes now.)

2.  Gordy is a great protagonist.  He’s curious and thoughtful and creative and courageous.  He loves to experiment with and without his mom’s permission, but he’s got a lot of respect for both of his parents, which means they have a great relationship.  I think I’m drawn to Gordy because he doesn’t rest on his laurels.  He may have an insanely incredible innate talent at Deciphering and Blind Batching, but he’s eager to continue developing his skills.  I have lots of admiration for that.  Throughout the story, Gordy encounters difficult decisions he has to make, but he uses the right amount of his heart and head to choose his path.  All in all, he’s a very likable protagonist, and one I’m eager to read more about.  I only hope that there are skeletons in his closet that will be revealed in future books because I think Gordy has the makings of a classic character.

3.  And where would main characters be without their loyal sidekicks?  I’m glad that Cole doesn’t leave Gordy to his own potions.  Adilene and Max are good friends who care so much for Gordy that they run to his side (and potential danger) the moment Gordy calls them.  The only criticisms I have of this book are mild ones that I hope will be rectified in future novels.  One, Max is sometimes a little too rash.  I get that he’s excited to help Gordy, but his excitement sometimes leads to trips, spills, and near catastrophes.  I can’t fault him for his loyalty to Gordy, and even his grudging appreciation for Adilene, but sometimes, I wish Gordy would tell him to shush a bit more.  Two, Adilene doesn’t get as much page time as Max, and I’d’ve really loved reading how she might have handled Bawdry’s energy.  And I bet she’d have come up with a better name than “Slim” and “Doll”.  I think Cole could have used her contributions as much as he used Max’s.  Lastly, I found a few too many similarities between this trio and another famous literary trio.  I wonder if maybe in future books Gordy, Adilene, and Max might separate their quirks to solidify themselves as golden in their own right.

 

  

4.  I absolutely understand why parents must not be part of the story in middle-grade stories.  Children have to develop the essential parts of their characters independent of adult, especially parental, influence.  Kids would have much more different adventures if, say, they had to go home every day after school instead of only for summer vacation.  So, I’m glad that Cole seems to have found a sweet spot that allows Gordy’s parents to be part of the action without getting in the way.  In fact, I love the secondary plot involving Gordy’s mom, Wanda, and her sister, Priss.  And I’m very, very curious to discover if Gordy’s dad, Gordon, knows more than he’s revealing … (Wouldn’t that be awesome?)

5.  I love the potions the Elixirists mention and use in this book.  As a textbook-chemistry-loving (i.e. I love learning about compounds and reactions without feeling any inclination to concoct my own, or participate in and write up any lab reports) and etymologically passionate (i.e. I do have a degree in and love for linguistics) nerd, Cole’s potions speak to me in a fierce way.  There’s the Disfarcar Gel, Goilicanje Juice, and Oighear Ointment, to name a few.  I’m sure many people will learn a little bit about a lot of languages from the compendium in this book.  Speaking of which … there’s a glossary!  I love, love, love maps and glossaries, and the inclusion of a list at the end of the story was like a little gift I devoured at the end.  I also love that the Tranquility Swathe originated in Canada.  That’s just so Canadian.

6.  This is one of those stories that seems to have been so well plotted even before it was written because every chapter was compelling.  There are tons of action scenes, but enough downtime in between, to flesh out the characters and the rising action.  I read the whole thing really quickly – as in I picked up where I left off at the end of Chapter 18 (really good, btw), and in no time at all, I was finished Chapter 38 (even better).  I hope we don’t have to wait too long for the follow up.  But until then, check out the trailer for the first book below:

 

 

7.  Teachers/parents, Potion Masters: The Eternity Elixir was one of the last books I read in 2017, and it’s the first one I’ll champion in 2018.  It’s a great story for boys and girls alike, seasoned and struggling readers alike, and those who love and are lukewarm to fantasy alike.  Readers will encounter fast-paced adventure, inspiring creativity, true friendships, complicated family matters, and a lot of fun.  I’ll be picking up this title for my school library, so I will probably create a reading-comprehension handout.  Feel free to check back here in a few weeks to see if I do!

 

5 Squinkles

 

Frank L. Cole’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Shadow Mountain, for sending me a copy of Potion Masters: The Eternity Elixir in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Adventurers Guild (Zack Loran Clark & Nick Eliopulos)

5 Dec

The next great adventure is upon us, Squinks.  Even if you don’t initially choose to be part of the Adventurers Guild, you will find yourself hooked and wanting more.  Clark and Eliopulos’ story  is one you must get your hands on right away.

 

Adventurers Guild Squinklethoughts

1.  One of the first things I look for in an adventure story is whether the main character has someone he or she can count on.  I don’t like stories where there’s only one main character traversing lands and discovering things on his or her own because there’s no one for that character to talk to, bounce ideas off, or just generally depend on.  I was in luck with The Adventurers Guild, for there are TWO main characters at the beginning of the story, with a handful more of important secondary characters that join by the end.

2.  Zed (the city’s only half-elf) and Brock (his handsome, long-time best friend) each hope to be chosen for the Mages and Merchants Guilds, respectively.  But just when they think they’re about to start new chapters in the lives as members of their guilds, Alabasel Frond, the Guildmistress of the Adventurers Guild chooses Zed.  How could Brock not follow his best friend, even though this guild is known for losing its members to fates worse than death?  Brock’s decision to volunteer for the Adventurers Guild because Zed is chosen may not have been entirely altruistic, but all throughout the story, over and over again, there is evidence of how much Brock truly cares for his best friend.  And Zed feels the same about Brock.  If I cared not at all for the story, that fact might have been enough to keep me reading.  Their friendship is one for the ages, and you just wish you could be friends with both of them.  These two characters are funny and fun to be around.  I’m really glad the authors decided to alternate the focus of the chapters between the two of them.  The story is still told from third-person perspective, but readers get a slight bias towards one of the boys in each chapter, which adds depth to each character in turn.

3.  I love the Guildculling and the energy and anticipation that surrounds it.  I’ve always enjoyed doing surveys or quizzes that sort me into a particular group, so I liked learning about the different guilds in Freestone and how each is responsible for the safety of its citizens.  I’m very eager to learn more about the different characters in each guild, especially those in some of the lower guilds that didn’t get much screen time.

 

Adventurers Guild 2  

4.  I also love Liza’s character.  She can hold her own both in wit and with weapons.  She puts up a tough façade, but she slowly reveals bits and pieces about her to the boys, and it turns out that she can make Brock blush.  She’s by no means perfect, but she’s definitely interesting.  I love the way her storyline is going, and I can’t wait to see how she develops as an Adventurer.

5.  Alabasel Frond is a wonderful character.  Most of the time, I think she’s unfeeling, but she’s fierce and unabashedly loyal to her apprentices and Freestone.  Of all the characters in the story, she’s the one that has so much more to give, and I really want to know more.  Like Brock, I don’t know that I’d want to be friends with her, but …

6.  What makes this story great is that it is both a plot- and character-driven one.  The kids have a mission to save the world, and there are tons of great twists and turns and Dangers along the way.  You never know who to trust!  But what makes this story a must-read is the cast of characters that Clark and Eliopulos have created.  They jive together in a way that is at once recognizable and unique.  Even the annoying Micah has his moments that make you feel something beyond your initial loathing for him.

 

Adventurers Guild 3  

7.  Teachers/parents, The Adventurers Guild is a story you must have on your shelves.  If your kids haven’t read Zed and Brock’s adventures yet, buy or borrow a copy of this book, and give them an early Christmas present.  They’ll never forget it.  Of course, that means that you’ll be on the hook for the next titles in this awesome series, but you’ll get there when you get there.  The co-authors’ writing is funny and fresh, which make for an utterly compelling story.  (There’s a line on page 80 where Zed laughs out loud in response to something that Jett says, and I laughed out loud even before I read that the character laughs out loud.  Oh, and my eyes got misty in a few places.)  There’s so much to love about this one.  I can’t wait for what’s next.

8.  Which Guild would take you in?  Find out here.

 

5 Squinkles

 

Zack Loran Clark’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

Nick Eliopulos’ Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Disney-Hyperion, for sending me a copy of The Adventurers Guild in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Tales from Adventureland #1: The Keymaster’s Quest (Jason Lethcoe)

22 Nov

If you love visiting Disney parks, especially Adventureland and the Enchanted Tiki Room, and your heart is eager to go on a little adventure, then this is the book for you!

 

Tales from Adventureland - Keymaster's Quest Squinklethoughts

1.  The Keymaster’s Quest is a fast-paced adventure that grabs you from the very start.  I’m really glad that there wasn’t a whole lot of downtime in between chase scenes and fight scenes and escape scenes.  That meant that I didn’t skim quickly through any particular part: I was riveted to the story the whole way through.  From a mansion in Oregon to the waters of the Pacific Ocean (literally) and onto the Hawaiian islands, readers journey alongside Andy Stanley as he fulfills his grandfather’s mission.

2.  I love how awkward and clumsy Andy is.  These qualities make him someone you really want to root for.  It also makes for an excellent protagonist in a story that is so quintessentially a bildungsroman.  Not that that is what my students will pay attention to.  They’ll just love how awkward Andy is and how funny he can be … and maybe how there’s a little bit of him in all of them.

3.  I wasn’t all that pleased that Andy leaves for his adventure without personally talking to his parents.  I know it’s important for the main parental figures to get out of the way so that the adventures can truly start, but I still would’ve liked to see him make a phone call or something to let his mom know he’s okay.

4.  What a great location for a story – the Polynesian islands!  There’s so much natural beauty and, of course, potential traps put into place by ancient magic.  Maybe it’s just because I’ve always loved stories based in Hawaii, but it was really hard not to lap up every detail of the islands that Lethcoe offers.  I loved reading about Pele, Kapu, the menehune, and all the other magical island dwellers in the story.

5.  Ned Lostmore’s friends are a hoot!  I so want to know more about them and how they came to be part of the Explorers’ Society.  I’m particularly enamoured with Madame Wiki.  She seems like she’s got quite a story to tell.

 

Tales from Adventureland - Keymaster's Quest 2  

6.  This is the first book in a series, but I’m not entirely sure how long the series will last.  On his website, Lethcoe alludes to the idea of a trilogy, but three books really aren’t enough!  I really hope there are way more stories based on the various rides and lands in the Disney Parks.  I think a Jungle-Cruise-themed adventure is up next (or soon), and I’m so ready for that!

7.  I really wanted some Dole Whip while I was reading this story.  I can’t wait for more Disney adventures this Christmas.

8.  Teachers/parents, this is an excellent story to add to your shelves.  Even if your kids are not as Disnerdy as I am, they’ll still love Andy’s adventures.  What really drives this story is Andy himself whom Lethcoe brilliantly colours as sweet and smart and sensitive.  He’s exactly what many kids are at his age, and his lack of certainty mixed with his stalwart desire to be brave is both heartwarming and encouraging.  I’m sure many kids will find a kindred spirit in Andy.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Jason Lethcoe’s Online Corners
Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Disney Books, for sending me a copy of Tales from Adventureland: The Keymaster’s Quest in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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