Tag Archives: family

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.



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.


Student Review: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy (Karen Foxlee)

10 Nov

This fantasy story is mysterious and breathtaking.  Karen Foxlee has made a very clever and adventurous story that will impress you and touch your heart.


Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy  

This story is about two main characters who have very different personalities.  Ophelia is just a normal girl who feels like she is not brave at all.  She has a sister and a dad, but her mom has passed away, so she’s very sad.  The Marvelous Boy, whom Ophelia thinks is named David, has been a prisoner for hundreds of years.  Ophelia discovers him locked in a room in the museum where her dad works.  As soon as they meet, they go on a mission: to save the world.

I have several things I like about this book.  One is that the characters are great.  They all have a special role to play in the book.  I like that Ophelia questions everything.  She’s used to believing in things that are logical, but when she meets the Marvelous Boy, she has to try to wrap her head around the stories he tells her.  She seems like a girl I could be friends with.  Another reason I liked this book is there was a lot of action.  Specifically, I liked the idea that this sort-of-scary story happens in a museum.  It seems like a magical place where you don’t think about finding ghosts and villains, but then it makes sense that they’re there.

Foxlee’s writing wasn’t too difficult for me to understand, but it actually felt a little more grown up than typical middle-grade books that my teacher gives me.  I would recommend this book to boys and girls who have a big imagination.  I think adults would enjoy the book, too.  It’s a great story.

Hannah B., grade 6

The Secret of Nightingale Wood (Lucy Strange)

26 Oct

If you like reading stories with strong and sweet heroines, family relationships, and life after a war, I’m sure you’ll love Lucy Strange’s The Secret of Nightingale Wood.


Secret of Nightingale Wood Squinklethoughts

1.  It’s been nearly 100 years since the Great War ended, and most of my students AND the people around them are far removed from the effects of the war.  But it’s called the Great War because it’s the first time that so many people from so many lands and across so many fronts have been affected by a mutual event.  There are lots of great stories about soldiers before, during, and after battles, including one we read in French class called Journal d’un soldat.  But some of my favourite stories are about the people at home – mothers, sisters, and friends, awaiting news of their loved ones, and rebuilding their lives upon their loved ones’ return or … permanent leave.  The Secret of Nightingale Wood reminds you of how war often rips apart families.

2.  Henry is a lovely, authentic heroine.  She’s at the great age where she’s stuck between having true independence in her teenage years and enjoying enough freedom to think and feel the way she wants to, regardless of how other people tell her to behave.  She loves her little sister, Piglet, and if I didn’t like Henry for anything else, I’d respect her for that.  What a great older sister to have.

3.  Henry is brave but not reckless.  I would have been too scared to enter the woods, so I applaud her courage in doing so, but she also recognizes when to be on her guard.  She takes calculated risks, including visiting her mother who’s been locked in a room, if need be or if her heart can’t take it any longer.  She is also wracked with guilt that her last conversation with her brother, Robert, was a fight.  I don’t know if this is what makes her push herself to be brave, but she tries really hard to keep her family together once her family seems to be ripped apart.

4.  I like that Henry’s plan towards the end of the story isn’t completely out of this world.  I don’t like endings that employ deus ex machina or have some sort of implausible, neatly tied dénouement, so I like that Henry’s solution isn’t too easy to be believable.

5.  I was a bit annoyed with Nanny Jane.  Her heart seems to be in the right place, but I feel like she bends too easily to forces outside Hope House.  If Henry and Piglet are her primary charges, why would she let others’ opinions sway her from doing her job?

6.  Dr. and Mrs. Hardy – ugh.  Dislike both of them with a sneer.  And Dr. Chilvers, too.  Aren’t the best characters to hate the ones you know smile with duplicity (even though you can’t actually see them smiling)?

7.  Moth is a lovely, bittersweet character.  She’s caring and motherly towards Henry, but sadness and pain just oozes out of her.  I’m glad that she has small bits of beauty in her life.  I think Henry saves Moth just as much as Moth saves Henry.  I can imagine them having a nice, long friendship.


Secret of Nightingale Wood 3


8.  I let my book fall open on a page, and it happened to be on one where there is a letter set in a different font from the rest of the story.  The final copy of the book may have this letter in a different font than the ARC I read, but the font – Janda Elegant Handwriting or something remarkably similar – has been one of my favourite ones for as long as I can remember.  It’s even the font I use for the header of my blog, which tells you how much I love it.  I guess I knew from the moment I saw that letter in the book that this was going to be a good, heart-tugging story.

9.  Teachers/parents, there are many lessons you can do with this novel.  The biggest one is a discussion on the effects of war and death on an entire family and community.  Right from the beginning, we know that Robert, Henry’s older brother, has died, and with him, bits of their parents have died, too.  We also find out later on about another boy who has died.  The two deaths, though from different causes, rock two families and a community.  This could be a teachable moment in terms of the ripples people make.  Also, there are tons of allusions to classic lit, which would make a great side project.

10.  The Secret of Nightingale Wood is set to pub on October 31.  You definitely want to put this on your bookshelf!  There’s so much heart in this story.


4 Squinkles


Lucy Strange’s Online Corners
Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo


Thank you, Scholastic Canada, for sending me a copy of The Secret of Nightingale Wood in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.


Mustaches for Maddie (Chad Morris and Shelly Brown)

6 Oct

If you’ve ever been faced with a grave illness, sometimes, you can find solace in knowing other people have gone through the same thing – even if those other people are charming characters in a novel.  Mustaches for Maddie is a great read for anyone who has ever worried a lot.


Mustaches for Maddie 1


1.  Mustaches for Maddie is based on a true story, which makes it even more poignant.  I love Maddie.  She’s funny and sweet.  She’s annoyed with her brothers, but she loves them to death.  Her parents’ tears make her heart expand and feel squishy at the same time.  I love that she cares so much for her family, and she worries about how her diagnosis affects them.

2.  Aside from handling an illness, Maddie has to go through typical middle-grade problems, and it was great for the authors to explore this.  I was worried that they’d focus on Maddie being sick for the entire book, but the story delves into problems at school with friends, boys, and life in general, too.  Of course, the big problem in the story is how Maddie goes about her day as normally as she can while having a not-so-normal health issue, but it’s good for readers to know that the other things in life keep going … even though it’s hard to think much of anything else in Maddie’s situation.


Mustaches for Maddie  

3.  I loved Maddie’s friends, Lexi, Yasmin, and Devin.  They’re kind and loyal and the type of friends I would wish on anyone.  I also love that Maddie doesn’t always say or do the right thing when it comes to her schoolmates because it really is hard sometimes to say or do the right things at the right time.  She trips over herself (literally and figuratively), but she battles through the awkward moments.  Maddie’s stream of consciousness was a refreshing part of this book.  We get to hear (read) Maddie’s inner monologue about what she really wants to say and what she actually feels (about dragoporkisaurs, her twisty arm, and mean girls … you know, the usual stuff), so we know her true self … even though it’s hard for her sometimes to reveal it.  This makes her narration all the more authentic and interesting.


Mustaches for Maddie 3


4.  As an English teacher, I loved the fact that elementary kids are learning the major themes and popular lines in Shakespeare’s plays.  It makes it easier for high-school teachers to teach the Bard’s works, for sure.  I didn’t meet Shakey until I was in grade 9, so I really liked this part of Maddie’s school life.

5.  Cassie … ugh.  We all know a Cassie.  I have known several Cassies.  I love that the authors make her really malicious because it means they don’t shy away from the idea that there really are kids like that.  Sorry, Squinks.  There really are kids like that sometimes.

6.  Teachers, this is a great title to add to your school library, and especially your classrooms.  Shadow Mountain has even put together a very helpful guide for incorporating Mustaches for Maddie in your lessons.  Click here.


4 Squinkles


Chad Morris’ Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter


Shelly Brown’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter


Thank you, Shadow Mountain, for sending me a copy of Mustaches for Maddie in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.


Cyclone (Doreen Cronin)

24 Jul

What would you do if it were your fault that your cousin is in a coma?  I received a bunch of books all at the same time as Cyclone, but it jumped to the top of my list when I read the blurb.



Squinklethoughts1.  Squinks, I can’t imagine feeling the kind of guilt that Nora does.  It would be so overwhelming that I wouldn’t be able to breathe.  Not only does she feel guilty, but she can’t tell anyone why Riley agreed to ride a roller coaster she was afraid of to begin with.

2.  I love that Nora and Riley have a really close relationship.  I have cousins I love and speak to from time to time, but they live far away, and we only see each other maybe once a year.  How lucky that these girls are close enough in age to find a friend in one another.

3.  Okay, so I was lured in by Doreen Cronin’s blurb at the back of the book, but I have to tell you … she had me hooked to the story from the get-go.  I really liked how easy it was to put myself in Nora’s shoes.  Every time a chapter ended, I just wanted to know more: Will she ever reveal what forced Riley to ride the Cyclone with her?  Who is that mystery guy?  Will Riley get better?

4.  I loved, loved, loved, the storyline around the three sisters.  It adds an interesting and emotional layer to Riley’s ordeal.  I really enjoyed the idea that it takes Riley’s situation to bring the sisters back together again.  The three of them have such different personalities, but can they find a common thread?  Sisters.  Family.  Love it.

5.  The scenes where Riley talks to Sophia in Spanish broke my heart.  I teared up a bit, thinking about how Nora’s heart must have been breaking, too.  All the feels.


Cyclone 2  

6.  Parents/teachers, there are so many teachable moments in this story, from how to deal with guilt, how to handle secrets, the oddness that is family, and even how to talk to people who have family members in the hospital.


4 Squinkles


Doreen Cronin’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo


Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for sending me a copy of
Cyclone in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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