Tag Archives: love

Together at Midnight (Jennifer Castle)

26 Apr

I love stories about the end of the year, which is really what drew me to this one to begin with.  Add to that the premise of practising random acts of kindness, and I was sold!  Together at Midnight is a sweet story about finding yourself while being kind to others.

 

Together at Midnight

Squinklethoughts

1.  I started reading Together at Midnight way past midnight, and I was already on page 81 by the time I realized an hour had passed.  I had meant to just start the book to get a feel for it, but the first few chapters flew by really quickly.  If you like fast-paced stories and short chapters, you’ll love this.

2.  Kendall and Max are equally strong and compelling narrators.  It was great to read the story through their distinct voices.  Kendall is a very lovely flawed character.  She’s just spent a semester abroad in a school program that takes kids across various European countries.  For her, it was the perfect way to earn credits while undergoing teaching and learning styles that she could handle.  As the youngest and only girl in the family, Kendall has had supportive parents and siblings throughout her life, but there are some struggles she has to face alone.  Kendall is a great protagonist for anyone who’s ever felt just behind every one else – grasping academic concepts a little slower, or enjoying social milestones a little later.  She’s friendly and brave and optimistic, which makes it easy for other characters to like her, even if she can be hard on herself, but she really just needs time to grow.

3.  I was rooting for Max all the way.  He seems like the ultimate gentleman when it comes to his treatment of both Eliza, his erstwhile girlfriend, and Kendall.  He’s also a caring person, as evidenced by his relationship with his curmudgeon of a grandpa, Big E.  But what I like about Max best are his flaws.  Sometimes he cares a little too much, and that turns him into a helicopter parent, or – worse – he derails his life to help someone, even if he’s not asked to do so.  He actually reminds me a lot of Ted Mosby, architect.  He is inherently kind and obviously smart to have been accepted to Brown, but he, too, needs a little growing up.

4.  The adventures in this book take place during that fuzzy week between Christmas and New Year’s when you don’t know what day it is, but you’re thankful it’s still the holidays.  I love that.  I also love Castle’s decision to set this story in New York City, in and around the hustle and bustle of Times Square, a beating heart of a metropolis if there ever were one.  So many different cafés to try out, so many different people to observe.  I’ve been to NYC a handful of times now, and it’s so easy to see why Kendall and Max’s challenge works well here – and why the city itself helps the two of them evolve.

5.  I’m often wary about multiple narrators within a story, but Castle’s choice makes perfect sense.  In fact, knowing the thoughts of the people that Kendall and Max encounter adds a wonderful depth to the story for the readers.  It’s like a very satisfying instance of dramatic irony, especially when the two protagonists aren’t sure if they’ve helped or hindered their targets.  We, the audience, know the consequences of their actions, and it makes our journey so much better.

6.  There are so many quotable quips throughout the book that would look great on posters.  In particular, I loved:

It’s possible to have no regrets but also wish everything were different.

Every minute of being with [him] took effort, and not that I have anything against effort, but when you experience a different way of being with a person, stuff begins to make sense.

Together at Midnight 2

 

7.  Teachers/parents, Together at Midnight is a nice addition to your libraries.  There are a few discussion points that would be more appropriate for senior-level students, but nothing too earth shattering.  What your YA readers will take from this story is what I did: It’s entirely possible to be a wonderful human being even if you’re far from perfect.  Also: random acts of kindness can go a long way even if you can’t see their effects.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Jennifer Castle’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Tumblr | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Harper Collins Canada, for sending me a copy of Together at Midnight in exchange for an honest review.  All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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The Confessions of Young Nero (Margaret George)

23 Jun

I can’t begin to tell you how much I loved this book.  If the only thing you know about Nero is that he blamed Christians for a great fire, then you really need to pick this title up!

 

Confessions of Young Nero Squinklethoughts

1.  I am embarrassed to admit that even I fell under the trap of skating over Nero and relegating him as merely one in a list of inefficient emperors of the Early Roman Empire.  When I teach my favourite course, Classical Civilizations, we give him maybe 15 minutes of airtime, and then we move on.  I just can’t do that anymore after reading this book.

2.  You know my life revolves around middle-grade stories, and that even the YA or adult choices I make are usually historical fiction (like this one) or retellings of old favourites (like Mechanica and Eligible).  The drawback of being immersed in MG is that I don’t find enough good supplementary reading material for my high schoolers.  Teachers/parents, in case you’re wondering, this book is totally appropriate for a senior-level history or English class.  It’s clean and, obviously, written at an adult reading level.  I very well might add it to my Classical Civs course if I can restructure the units somehow.

 

Confessions of Young Nero Lesson

 

3.  This is my first Margaret George book, and I’m keen to try more of her work.  Her prose is gorgeous and polished, making her narrative voice completely unobtrusive to Nero’s story.  I have the unfortunate habit of being able to recognize (and see over and over again) the phrases that denote an author’s voice or style, but in this case, I was just so engrossed in the story that I didn’t even think of analyzing the prose.  Really, Nero’s story is so well told that you might, as I often did, think that Nero, himself, is telling the story.  Also, Locusta is such a great instrument.  I don’t know if she’s real or not, but her chapters really make the plot sizzle.

4.  I rooted for Nero the entire time I was reading this book.  I mean, history has relegated him to the halls of the crazy/evil/useless leaders, but my heart broke time and time again over the sad moments of his life.  (I kept thinking about Crispus until the end of the novel.)  So, now, I keep wondering whether history has completely messed up his story.  He was a product of his time, for sure, but in so many ways, he rose above expectations.  For one thing, he actually cared about what happened to his people.  I don’t know if that’s solely George’s interpretations of events, or if she read historical papers that actually mentioned his kindnesses, but it was a really good feature of the Nero in this book.  You know the saying, “History is told from the perspective of the victors”?  Well, in this case, the victors were Nero’s enemies, so most (all?) of the stories that exist of him reflect their belief that he was a terrible leader and person.  No one tells the story of how beloved he was by the citizens of the Rome that he led.

5.  I imagined Simon Woods as Nero about a quarter of the way into the story.  I’m not sure if that’s because I had just rewatched the TV series Rome or what, and I don’t think he quite fits the traditional images of Nero, but if there’s ever a movie of The Confessions of Young Nero, I think Woods would be a good choice.

6.  The ending was rather abrupt, and I wish I had known that the book wouldn’t cover everything in Nero’s life.  Well, I guess I could have figured that out for myself if I had tried to work out his timeline in comparison to the book length.  Anyway, I was left hanging!  But not in a terrible, terrible way.  Now that I know that this is the first in a duology, I can admit that this one ends in the perfect spot.  The great thing is that it seems like you can read both books as standalones.  But if you enjoy the story and writing as much as I did, you’ll be just like me … eagerly anticipating the follow-up.

7.  This is at the top of my list of best books I’ve read in 2017 so far.  I highly recommend this to all lovers of history, Ancient Rome, character-driven stories, and engaging prose.

 

5 Squinkles

 

Margaret George’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Pinterest | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Berkley and Penguin Random House, for sending me a copy of
The Confessions of Young Nero in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Geekerella (Ashley Poston)

4 Apr

As much as I love fairytale retellings, I’m equally wary of venturing into them.  I shouldn’t have worried about Ashley Poston’s Geekerella because it is every bit as delightful as I wanted it to be.  Squinks, you’re in for a treat!

 

Geekerella

Squinklethoughts

1.  It was the cover that caught my eye.  I love purple, in general, but there was something simultaneously sci-fi-y and fairytale-y about Geekerella’s cover that drew my eyes to it.  There are also stars, and it almost felt like there would be fairy dust inside the book.  Upon closer inspection, it was the girl in the glasses that sealed it for me.  I just knew I had to read this.

2.  I really like that Poston does not stray very far from the Cinderella story.  I mean, that’s what a retelling is, right?  She’s given it a modern twist and added the spunk to CinderELLEa/DaniELLE that I’ve always felt the original character had bubbling deep inside her.  Elle handles her stepfamily really well, and it is with these characters that I think Poston shines.  The stepsisters are truly UGH.  Very well written.

 

Geekerella 2

 

3.  I like stories that make use of different formats, so I am very fond of the texting scenes.  I did find them a little … bland (sometimes), but then again, I’m OLD and have no idea what texts between teenagers are like today.  Elle’s and Darien’s characters are developed very well through these exchanges.

4.  I totally thought that Starfield was real.  Shows what I know.  But for anyone who’s ever geeked out over Doctor Who or Harry Potter (or any of the tons of fandoms out there), you’ll find a little bit of yourself in Elle.  She’ll win you over, for sure.

5.  There’s a part near the very beginning that has gotten some criticism.  If that bit bothers you, I do very highly suggest that you do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  We all hold different things dear.  There is so much to love about this book, and I hope you don’t measure the whole of the book by that one small part.

6.  Sage.  She rocks.  Everyone should have a Sage.

7.  In other news, check out the book trailer for Geekerella here.  (Can’t you just see this novel being made into a movie?)  Then go out and buy the book.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Ashley Poston’s Online Corners
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Chapters

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

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Little Paris Bookshop (Nina George)

9 Sep

Of all the stories I read this year, I think the Little Paris Bookshop has given me the biggest book hangover yet. When I was done with it, I simply handed it to my mom and said, “Read it. Trust me.” And she did. And she loved it, too.

 

Little Paris Bookshop 

Squinklethoughts

1. The title hooked me right away. “Paris” and “bookshop”? Yes, please. (My site tagline is “Bouquets de Bouquins” … Doesn’t that tell you something?) Someday, I’m going to go to Paris and be chuckled at for my franglais and my accent québécois, and I will drink my café and have un temps merveilleux.

2. The cover is gorgeous. You know me: I absolutely judge books by their covers. And this one has cotton-candy colours of sunset with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Just delicious and completely enticing.

3. There is a map! I can’t begin to tell you how much that fact made reading this book much more pleasant. I seriously think that all books should have maps in them. A writer’s imagery, no matter how well done, can only allow me to visualize individual scenes in my head, but I need them all stitched up in a map, so I know where the characters geographically are. Jean and his companions travel down the River Seine, and it was great to see where along the waterways each chapter occurred.

4. I am a fan of bittersweet moments. I don’t always like them in my own life, so when I encounter characters like Jean, whose life has been full of some sweet but mostly bitter moments, I’m hooked. And that he was the cause of his own sufferings? Captivatingly cathartic.

5. The narrative is particularly beautiful. I’m not sure if it can be wholly attributed to Nina George or to the translators, but there are many lyrical phrases in the book that made me smile.

 

Little Paris Bookshop - Quotes 

6. I know some people didn’t like this story. They thought it was overly simplistic or overly cloying or overly clichéd. I understand – if what they were looking for was a story of grand gestures and perilous adventures and harrowing revelations. For some, they couldn’t connect to Jean or understand his current place in life, but I think it’s because some people skate over the 20 years (and counting) that Jean spends in misery. Once we’re past gut-wrenching moments, it’s often way too easy to forget what it meant to live each minute with heartache. (Being bullied all through elementary school? Oh, yeah, it wasn’t that bad. Eating by yourself at lunch throughout high school? Oh, well, it wasn’t terrible.) Twenty years: that’s 10 512 000 sorrowful minutes that Jean lived through to get to where he is in the story. And this is what I truly appreciate about the Little Paris Bookshop – the author and the book itself appreciate what it means to live practically an entire life with a gnawing feeling in your stomach and an empty hole in your heart.

7. For me, this story speaks to all those quiet moments in the morning, by yourself, smiling at a happy memory from 20 years back, and finding your eyes full of tears. This was all about those lazy summer days of sipping iced tea at Starbucks, flipping through a magazine, only to be greeted by an article outlining the successes of the girl who made your school years a living hell. This was about that poignant feeling I get now, after waving thanks to my student’s grandfather for dropping him off at school, and remembering that I don’t have my grandpa anymore.

8. I love the concept of a book apothecary. Can you imagine being able to read people as easily as Jean Perdu does? And, on top of that, being able to make people’s lives a little better by prescribing the perfect livre du moment? As a school librarian, I try my best, but after reading about Jean’s perfectly tuned skills, I know I’ve got a long way to go.

9. This is a great story about the moments, choices, people, and books that leave indelible footprints on our hearts.

10. You really need to read this book.  Read it now, then re-read it after five years to see how much more it resonates with you.

 

5 Squinkles

 

Nina George’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters

 

Thank you, Penguin Random House (Crown) and Blogging for Books, for sending me a copy of the Little Paris Bookshop in exchange for an honest review.

All opinions and suggestions expressed herein are entirely my own.

A to Z: H is for the Harry Potter Series

8 Apr

H is for Harry Potter.  Does this series even need any introduction?  There are so many wonderful things about these books that have been discussed and dissected through the years – the colourful characters, the tortuous plot that inevitably gets tied up in the end, the wonderful word play that makes my lessons on morphemes so much easier – but there is one thing that always strikes a chord in my heart whenever I read through the series again: empathy.  J.K. Rowling lends a voice to the oft-unheard, the oft-misunderstood, and the oft-dismissed.  If a reader really claims to have appreciated her work, he/she should have walked away from Book 7 a better person – a more empathetic human being.  I know I did.  The Harry Potter series is funny, heartwarming, gutwrenching, and intricately plotted.  I never get tired of reading and/or listening to Rowling’s words, and I envy those who will still experience her magic for the first time.

 

H - Harry Potter

 

Which books are your favourite (‘cause it really is difficult to pick just one)?  I like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  My favourite opening chapters, however, come from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, where so many concepts from previous books were tied together.  As for characters, I have a special spot for Professor McGonagall and Dobby.  How about you?

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