Tag Archives: canadian author

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 Only Child (Andrew Pyper)

9 Jun

Fans of Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde will recognize a lot of their favourite stories in Andrew Pyper’s The Only Child. If you’re looking to read along the lines of creepy, gothic, or psychologically thrilling, well, you’ll find them all in this novel.

 

Only Child

Squinklethoughts

1.  I don’t care much for the horror and thriller genre. The only reason I decided to give The Only Child a go was because it was by Andrew Pyper. I enjoyed The Demonologist from a few years back, so I was happy to read his words again. When I find authors I like, I’m eager to give their new worlds a try.

2.  I wasn’t as scared as I thought I would be, which really is very good news for people like me who don’t enjoy the heart-pounding scenes. I pegged this novel as a horror story based on the blurb on the back cover, but I think I’d classify this more as a psychological thriller. The main character, Lily, goes back and forth in her thoughts about the goodness of the people she meets, and it was very nerve-wracking trying to do the same. Is Michael going to kill her? Is Will a decent guy? What about Lionel?

3.  Let’s talk about Lily for a second. In truth, she’s not my favourite MC. In fact, she gets on my nerves a little bit. I didn’t really enjoy her indecision, and she seems a bit too reckless for me. For someone who’s supposed to be smart and an expert in her field, I figured she wouldn’t really be the type to leave her comfortable life and go traipsing about Europe in search for answers and a mad man/non-man. But, there she goes anyway. The story is written in third-person perspective, so I attribute the fact that Lily’s thoughts get under my skin to Pyper’s prowess with prose. There is a lot of narration specifically about her thoughts, but at many points of the story, I felt as if Lily were sharing her thoughts herself, rather than a narrator telling me a story.

4.  One of the reasons I enjoyed The Demonologist and now The Only Child is because I really like the way Pyper paints pictures with his words. His imagery seems to come effortlessly, and yet, it can transport you to whichever old-world club or pub he is describing. I find myself entering the lavish Savoy or walking around the Villa Diodati with Lily with ease. It is so easy to highlight paragraphs and passages to show my students examples of masterful writing.

 

Only Child 2

 

5.  Throughout the book, I found myself caring more for Michael than I did for Lily, and I think that’s just incredible. Pyper manages to evoke all sorts of sympathy from me for his monster, and if I meet the author again, that’s something I’d definitely ask him about. Did he mean to make him more likable than Lily? Of all the twists and turns in this story, I never expected that.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Andrew Pyper’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for sending me a copy of
The Only Child 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 Nameless City (Faith Erin Hicks)

15 Jun

I don’t get to read as many graphic novels as I would like, so I am quite particular about the ones that I do read. Wow, am I really glad to have come across The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks.

 

Nameless City 

Squinklethoughts1.  Why is it called the Nameless City? Because the city has been named and renamed by its invaders (of which there have been many), but its citizens try to live without paying much heed to the constant tug of wars. The easiest way to identify someone who isn’t a true citizen, then, is by hearing him/her try to name the Nameless City.

2.  I like both Kaidu and Rat, and I really enjoyed reading about their developing friendship. They’re so different, but they manage to find common ground become friends in the process. I’m happy that Hicks didn’t reveal all of their backgrounds (especially Rat’s) because I’m quite looking forward to knowing more about her and how she got to where she is in the story.

3.  Parkour fascinates me, and to have it as recurring scenes in this graphic novel really made my toes tingle!

4.  That tower in the centre of town is a mystery. It seems like a haven, but as with most interesting things, it’s the background that draws me in. I’m keen to find out more about how it came to be.

5.  The whole premise of the Nameless City being nameless is so sophisticated that at the end of the book, I was left speechless. It was like I had passed through a (very enjoyable) whirlwind. It’s almost as if while I was reading, I knew there was something great about the whole thing, but I kept that thought at bay because I knew it was complicated. Am I not making sense? Yeah, well, The Nameless City is the type of story that will make you think about the significance of words and labels, the importance of where you come from and how you’re raised, and other social issues that the city itself is mired in. Life is messy and really hard to compartmentalize, and I’m glad Hicks explored this (or is beginning to, anyway).

6.  There’s a lot of potential for the next two books of the trilogy. This is the first time I’ve encountered Faith Erin Hicks, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.

 

4.5 Squinkles 

Faith Erin Hicks’ Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Tumblr | Chapters

 

Thank you, First Second Books, for sending me a finished copy of
The Nameless City in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Blackthorn Key (Kevin Sands)

7 Oct

I was so pleased to receive a couple of copies of the Blackthorn Key at a blogger event this summer. In fact, the very Monday after the meet-up, I began teaching it because I had already finished reading it, and I knew I just had to share.

 

Blackthorn Key - Poster

 

If you’ve been searching for a book with mystery, heart, and a little bit of history, this is the perfect book for you. I’m happy to say that my students loved this book – and they were very engaged in the culminating tasks I had them do, including a hashtag image (below) and book poster (above). It was the perfect way to end summer school. And now, well, there’s a waitlist for our school copies.

Squinklethoughts

1. I’ve found historical fiction to be hit or miss with younger students, so I was happy that the historical aspect of this novel was not a deterrent for my kids. Personally, I LOVE history and tying dates and events together, so I really enjoyed learning about Oak Apple Day. It became even more interesting to correlate the real feast days with the fictional events to find themes in Sands’ story.

Blackthorn Key - Hashtags

2. I’ve got an unusual affinity for chemistry. Unusual only because I teach humanities and social sciences, and, oh yeah, I hate math. But I LOVE chemistry, so I was particularly drawn to the formulae and concoctions scattered throughout the chapters. And “oil of vitriol” just sounds so old fashioned. I love it! (It also led to a great discussion on vitriolic diatribes …)

3. Speaking of chapters, there are many in this story, and none are too long. It’s got nothing to do with attention span; I think stories are much more exciting with shorter (but more) chapters. It might have to do with the fact that I flip the pages more often.

4. I really admire Christopher’s relationships with both Tom and Master Benedict. The fact that he is loved and respected by both a peer and a superior says a lot about his character, and the banter between the two boys, which only happens when two people are as close as they are, is funny and even enviable.

Blackthorn Key - Quotes 2

5. Christopher is honourable and loyal. He will defend and champion his best friend and master at all costs, and his fealty to them drives many of his choices throughout the novel. He is also exceedingly brave and inquisitive – characteristics that anyone would be lucky to possess. And though his inquisitiveness is what sometimes gets him into trouble, I’d argue that they inform his bravery as well.

Blackthorn Key - Quotes 0

6. I love codes and solving puzzles. Our class had a grand old time trying to solve the clues before reading the answers. It was also a great stepping stone to the various games we ended up playing in class.

Blackthorn Key - Quotes 1

7. There are a great many things that my students and I were able to discuss from this story, including solutions, planets, feast days, history. I can’t help but think that Sands had cross-curricular activities in mind when he wrote it. I love books that can be appreciated across the curricula, so that’s part of what puts this book at the top of my suggestions list. I think this story can be appealing to a wide range of kids.

8. This book seems to be a standalone – and it works well as it is – but my kids and I still wonder what happens after the last chapter. That’s always a sign of a great book.

* Teachers/parents, if you’d like a copy of the chapter-by-chapter reading questions that I give to my students, please feel free to email me!

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Kevin Sands’ Online Corners
Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for giving me a copy of the Blackthorn Key in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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