Tag Archives: fantasy

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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Ella and Owen #1: The Cave of Aaaaah! Doom! (Jaden Kent)

12 Sep

Sibling rivalries make for awesome stories – in real life and in books.  If you’ve got young’uns who love to squabble with their brothers and/or sisters, they might love the antics of twins Ella and Owen!

 

Ella and Owen 1 Squinklethoughts

1.  Okay, so Ella and Owen don’t always fight … sometimes, they just argue.  In this first of a long-running series, Owen has a cold, but it’s not so bad.  He can stay in bed to read stories about hairy trolls, magical fairies, and heroic dragons.  But Ella thinks they should look for Orlock Morlock, a dragon wizard who is rumoured to be able to cure anything.  It will probably be smooth sailing, right?  My students got into this story right away, and it has a lot to do with its compelling intro.

2.  The story has some very imaginative features, including Ella and Owen encountering an ogre (a little terrifying) and an evil veggie wizard (super terrifying).  Lots of great fun!

 

Ella and Owen 1 - 1-2

 Ella and Owen 1 - 3-4  

3.  The sibling love-hate relationship thing works very well in this story, and engenders lots of funny dialogue between the two main characters.  I’m sure many readers can imagine having similar conversations about escaping ogres and other fantastical creatures with their own dear siblings.

4.  The illustrations are great and really bring out the personalities of Ella and Owen – not to mention the other characters they encounter!  Even better is the fact that the first book ends on a very exciting cliffhanger – my students were begging for the follow-up.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Jaden Kent’s Online Corners
Website | Chapters/Indigo – the 2nd book!

Student Review: The Land of Stories #1: The Wishing Spell (Chris Colfer)

30 Jan

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell is about twins Alex and Conner Bailey who discover a secret fairy-tale world.  On their 12th birthday, their grandmother gives them a precious book.  Little do they know that it is a magical portal to a world of stories.  They have no idea that they would get stuck in the book and need a wishing spell to go home.  The problem is … someone else is also after the spell.

 

  

I like how this book is full of twists.  The Wishing Spell is unique because it combines original fairy-tale characters with new ones.  The series explores some usual tales, but the twists come from putting familiar characters in unfamiliar situations.  Who would think that there could be another Prince Charming … but one that had turned into a frog?  Even though the ideas in the book seem bizarre, they all add up and make for a great story.

This book is enjoyable for readers of all ages, especially those who are eight and older.  Adults will enjoy this book, too, because of the fairy tales that they would recognize, and they could also connect with the new characters.  For example, the twins’ mom has to let go of her children so that they could save the world.  I bet many parents would feel sad about letting their kids go.

There are many more stories in this series (six so far!), but I hope this story continues until Alex and Conner are adults.  I highly recommend the whole series because it will satisfy readers who love mysteries and adventure.  The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell is a great addition to Disney stories and classic fairy tales in your library.

Hannah B., grade 6

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.

Don’t Cosplay with My Heart (Cecil Castellucci)

26 Dec

My last new read for 2017 is Don’t Cosplay with My Heart by Cecil Castellucci, and you’ll love it if you’ve ever felt like any fandom universe is sometimes much better than the real world.

 

Don't Cosplay with My Heart

Squinklethoughts

1.  The cover and title totally hooked me.  I love the girl’s pink hair and purple mask – they drew my attention right away.  Also, there’s a popular song that I grew up with called “Please Be Careful with My Heart”, and the title of this book made me remember the lyrics of the song, so I wanted to see how many parallels the two would have.

2.  Edan Kupferman, the heroine of our story, is going through so much.  I just feel for her.  What’s great (for the reader, not for her) is that she’s in an unusual quandary, so it’s not like I could have predicted how things would turn out.  In fact, I was quite surprised at how the problems within her family ultimately develop.  (All the more interesting for me is that there’s a bit of Hollywood and behind-the-scenes allusions to Tinseltown in the story.)  I like that Edan has a hard time telling her best friend, Kasumi, what’s really going on with her parents.  She tells the audience right away how close they are, but there are some secrets that are difficult to share even with best friends, and this felt really realistic for me.  I don’t know that I would have allowed things to develop the way Edan does, but her choices about this make the rising action more interesting.  I also love that Edan’s family is comprised of three strong women who are tested to the core.

3.  Yuri.  Ugh.  I did not like him right away.  I see why he might have been interesting for Edan, but I just felt like she fell under the whole sunk-cost fallacy.  She spent so much time pining for Yuri that she can’t see how terrible he is for her.  I mean … just his friends are hard to hang around with, and even Edan can see that clearly.  I wish there were more just deserts for Yuri, but I suppose Castellucci leaves that to the reader’s imagination.

4.  Just as Yuri is so ugh, I felt myself rooting for Kirk almost right away.  It’d have been great to have had a friend like Kirk in high school, though I’m sure I would have been just as emotionally invested in his home life as Edan eventually is.  Edan and Kirk work well for me because even though they have their own really difficult dilemmas to deal with, they both have enough compassion in them to help one another out.  This doesn’t always happen (and, for sure, I wish this had happened when I was in school), so to read about two characters who could think beyond themselves, even for a little while every so often, was quite refreshing for me.

5.  I’ve been to many cons and conferences (though none as big as SDCC), and I love that world.  I love being immersed in a fish tank of like-minded individuals for a few days.  Even though I don’t cosplay myself, I do wear tailored tees and other paraphernalia to show my fandom love.  It was particularly interesting for me to read about some of the rules, expectations, and backstage info about what happens in other cons (even the fabricated one here).  Castellucci writes about Disney bounding and ticket lotteries with an authority that makes me think she’s been to a fair (faire, ha) few cons herself.  If you are a “real nerd” (used in quotes because, well, read the book to find out why), you’ll love these bits in the novel.

6.  I loved all the back stories on Team Tomorrow, Edan’s fandom of choice.  These were the parts of the story that I thought were so well written, and I wonder if the author first thought of the Team Tomorrow backstory and just sort of built Edan’s story around it … which is so cool to speculate.  There are lots of details about the made-up characters (Gargantua, Green Guarder, Lady Bird, etc.) and real comic-book life (ashcans, story arcs, writer-illustrator-creator-producer relationships, etc.), and I really wanted to learn more.  Plus, there are tons of allusions to real fandoms that my Disney-Harry-Potter-Doctor-Who-Sherlock/Elementary-Murdoch-Mysteries-loving heart just eats up.  I guess I’m all about the behind-the-scenes stuff.  Anyway, the Team Tomorrow BTS pages were my favourite parts of the whole story.

7.  There’s one part though that I wasn’t too fond of, which is the constant references to boys objectifying girls and Edan being super feisty (or thinking about doing something super feisty) every time it happened.  I one-hundred-percent believe that girls should be treated with respect and should never be made to feel uncomfortable.  But I felt, more times than not, that the way the author presented this was unrealistic.  When Yuri’s friends are talking about how great a girl looks, Edan sometimes gets upset right away.  Maybe it’s because people who talk poorly about girls like they do wouldn’t stay my friends for very long, or maybe it’s because I think commenting on someone’s looks is not always demeaning nor are those looks mutually exclusive of a person’s intelligence.  I just can’t see myself getting as steamed as Edan does (and still being with Yuri … ugh again).  Either way, I think this would make a great starting point for discussions among my students.

 

4 squinkles

 

Cecil Castellucci’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTubeChapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Scholastic Canada, for sending me a copy of Don’t Cosplay with My Heart in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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