Tag Archives: magic

Spellbook of the Lost and Found (Moïra Fowley-Doyle)

8 Aug

This book has everything I liked, which is why it jumped to the top of my reading queue.  Definitely pick this title up if you also love any of the following: secrets, magic, spells, friendship, strong women, Ireland, narratives in multiple voices, tree and flower names.

 

Spellbook of the Lost and Found  Squinklethoughts

1.  The title alone hooked me.  I like books about magic and spells, especially in modern times, so this seemed the perfect choice for me.  One thing I really like about Spellbook is that while magic permeates throughout the entire story, it’s not presented with the type of clichés that persist in other books.  The magic here is treated with respect, even by the characters who don’t believe in it at first, because there is every chance that a life will be changed.  Or lost.  No foolish wand-waving or silly incantations here.  (In fact, the spells are very nicely worded.)

2.  Right off the bat, I was sucked into the stories of SO MANY characters, all of whom narrate a chapter here and there.  In reality, there are only a handful, but it sure felt like there were more.  Once I got the dramatis personae figured out, including which girl-named-after-a-tree is related to or friends with that other girl-named-after-a-tree, the multiple narratives are not a problem at all.  Olive, Rose, Hazel, Ivy, Rowan, Laurel, Ash, and Holly … You really become invested in their stories once you meet them.  I felt like they might have been my own friends.

3.  In fact, I liked the multiple-narrative format that Fowley-Doyle employs here.  It really highlights the fact that the characters are all related but are experiencing the events of the story in his/her own way.  Even if they share scenes or encounter the same strange trinket in the woods, the characters repress different secrets and develop unique perspectives.  I do think there could have been a little more work put into adding more idiosyncrasies in the speech or thought processes of the characters because often, the narrator of one chapter sounds exactly like the narrator of the previous one.  I’m thinking along the lines of one of them always saying something like “Wotcher” (à la Tonks), though I like Rose’s quirk of blowing bubbles to manage her cigarette cravings.

4.  It is a lot of work to weave different characters’ stories together when those characters have little reason to be connected at all, and I really applaud Fowley-Doyle’s plot.  Everything came together very well, and although I got an inkling about the ending about halfway through the plot, I was sufficiently surprised at how she designed it.  Nothing seemed contrived … so much so that I wanted more.

 

Spellbook of the Lost and Found 2  

5.  About that ending … As great as the entire story was, I felt let down at the end.  Not because it wasn’t a good conclusion, but because the conclusion was so delightfully messy.  I can’t help but think (and hope) that it serves as a bridge to a sequel.  I want more of Rose’s healing, more of Hazel and Rowan’s reconciliation, more of Ivy’s secrets, more of Olive and Emily’s changing sisterliness, and more of Laurel, Ash, and Holly.  More of everything and everyone.  And I definitely want to know more about Mags.  I mean, she could be the star of her own book, and that would be awesome.  Is there even enough for a follow-up book?  I think so.  The ending of this one just leaves you wanting more … and isn’t that the sign of a great story?

6.  Fowley-Doyle writes very lyrical prose.  It was a pleasure to read her turns of phrases, though I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea (or swig of poteen). There were many times that I had to reread a sentence or phrase because it just seemed so deep that I needed to give it extra attention.  If you’re into that kind of writing, this book will definitely satisfy you.

7.  Parents/teachers, there are a few scenes that might be too delicate for certain readers, and there are sprinkles of profanity throughout the book (though not enough to seem like it was put in for the sake of sounding teenage-y).  On the whole, this story would be just fine for YA readers to devour.  Even better, I’m sure readers of adult lit would enjoy this story, too!

8.  Last thought for you to keep in mind before you begin your journey with Spellbook of the Lost and Found: Be careful what you wish for; not all lost things should be found.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s Online Corners
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Thank you, Penguin Random House Canada, for sending me a copy of Spellbook of the Lost and Found in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Mechanica (Betsy Cornwell)

28 Jan

Happy 2016, Squinks! I can’t wait to hear about all the lovely books you read over the past month. Let me get you started with Betsy Cornwell’s Mechanica

 

Mechanica 

I need a second book! This story was just not enough … I want to know more! Mechanica will appeal to many readers, especially fairy-tale lovers like me. Now, hang on. I know some of you are not into retellings, which may be why you will pass up this book, but let me tell you why this version of “Cinderella” works.

Squinklethoughts1.  I like happy endings. I like dénouements that tie loose ends tightly to lead into satisfying conclusions. I like knowing that Murdoch, Sherlock, and Sherlock are (usually) going to solve their cases by the time the episode is over and that a happily-ever-after ending awaits me. I feel free. I can enjoy unfettered catharsis until I get to the end of the ride, knowing that everything will be okay. I knew that unless this “Cinderella” was faithful to the Perrault or Grimm publications, I would find a happy resolution, so I had no hesitation filling up my coffee mug and picking up Mechanica.

2.  I love strong female characters, and Nicolette Lampton is just that. But she’s not as unrealistic as some of her contemporaries – though she is just as unique and unlikely as they are. Instead of wielding swords and other weaponry, she uses her skills at inventing and innovating to improve not only her life but those of people around her. She is kind and empathetic, worrying about how her words affect others, and despite her disdain for doing the biddings of the Steps, she does her job with sincerity anyway. I think what I really loved most about Nicolette is her loyalty to Mr. Candery, her family’s erstwhile servant and friend. Her devastation at being separated from him shows me the very best of both her character and the human condition.

3.  You’ll enjoy the banter between Caro and Fin. You’ll love, even more, the air of mystery that surrounds their characters, especially considering they take to Nicolette quite quickly. The word “soupçon” came to mind while I was reading their first few meetings.

4.  My favourite character in the entire book is Jules, the loyal mechanical horse built by Nicolette’s mother and treasured by Nicolette herself. He ranks up there for me, along with the likes of other noble animals in literature like Charlotte, Stuart Little, and Hedwig.

5.  Okay, one thing I’m still not quite sure of, in terms of how I feel, is the ending. Remember when I said I like happy endings? Well, there is a happy ending here, but it didn’t quite sweep me off my feet. I guess it’s because I had assumed this would be the only book, so I really wanted lilies to fall from the sky. However, the ending is so different and unexpected that I have to applaud Cornwell for completely shocking me with it. It’s a bold choice, and I know many will agree with it, even if it’s not my jolt of java.

6.  If there were no sequel to Mechanica, I’d still be okay with the novel, and I do highly recommend it. The story is intriguing, the prose is beautiful, and the characters are endearing (well, except for the Steps).  Find a rather short, but delightful, excerpt to read online here to get you started on the adventure.

7.  But I really, really hope there is a follow-up because Cornwell’s reimagined world is a place I’d love to visit again.

8.  ** Update AFTER I had typed up the original review: Click here for some awesome Mechanica news! **

* 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

 

Betsy Cornwell’s Online Corners
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Thank you, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for sending me a copy of Mechanica 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
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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.

Hamster Princess #1: Harriet the Invincible (Ursula Vernon)

5 Oct

Now that we’ve got September under our belts, let’s talk about more books! In particular, I want to share with you a fantastic series opener that boasts a fun, feisty, and fierce heroine named Harriet, whose adventures I can’t wait to read more about.

 

Hamster Princess - Harriet the Invincible

 

In this twist to Sleeping Beauty, Harriet finds herself growing up overly protected in a castle for 10 years … until she’s finally told the story of the curse set upon her at her christening by a wicked fairy godmouse. Rather than feeling depressed at the news that she is doomed to fall into a deep sleep when she’s 12, Harriet rejoices in the fact that she has TWO WHOLE YEARS to do whatever she wants because, after all, she has to stay alive until she’s 12 for the curse to work. And so she begins the best years of her life (so far), travelling up and down the countryside with her loyal quail, Mumfrey. Meanwhile, her evil fairy godmouse has vanished mysteriously …

Squinklethoughts

1. Princess Harriet Hamsterbone is easily one of my favourite rodents in all of literature. She’s got wit and humour in spades, and she’s not afraid to show it. She’s also quite logical for a hamster, which is, you know, pretty cool. She knows her shortcomings, and she can work with them to do what needs to get done, including finding an elusive prince and fighting Ogrecats. Plus, Mumfrey’s pretty loyal to her, and that says a lot to me about what kind of friend she is.

Hamster Princess - Princessly Quote

2. Adults and children alike will enjoy Vernon’s wit, allusions, and general writing style. I found myself bursting out laughing at many of Harriet’s expressions. I love how she communicates with Mumfrey with just looks and qwerks. It’s not hard at all to read this book because Vernon’s writing is smooth and natural. You’ll forget that this is about rodents and other furry animals retelling Sleeping Beauty. You’ll like it just for what it is – a great, funny tale with an awesome heroine.

3. I’m all for varied narrative formats, and Harriet the Invincible is a great mixture of traditional narrative and graphic novel features. I love pictures, and people who think this book is “too young” for them on account of these pictures will miss out on something seriously great. Never mind that the drawings themselves are cute … Who wouldn’t want visual representations of the various facets of Harriet’s crazy personality? And Mumfrey’s expressions are just the greatest.  Click here for a preview of the book and the lovely illustrations!

4. I share birthday fairy dust with a princess. That makes me kind of princessly, too, right?

5. Princess Harriet, long may she reign. Find copies of this book in our library now.  The sequel, Hamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic, will be out March 2016.  I can’t wait!

 

Hamster Princess - Of Mice and Magic

 

4.5 Squinkles

Ursula Vernon’s Online Corners
Website | Other Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters

 

Thank you, Dial Books for Young Readers, for sending me a copy of Harriet the Invincible, in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Student Review: Desmond Pucket Makes Monster Magic

21 Sep

Desmond Pucket Makes Monster Magic 

Have you ever heard of Desmond Pucket?  If not, well let me tell you about him.  He is a monster maker.  He is very good at scaring people with his creations, which include paint-filled balloons, confetti cannons, and more.  In the beginning of the story, readers are told that he is really good at special monster effects and pranks that scare other people.  Then, a school disciplinary officer named Mr. Needles stops Desmond from going on the Mountain Full of Monsters ride at Crabshell Pier.  So Desmond has to be Mr. Perfect until school ends, or else he could get expelled!  This is no easy task.

 

Desmond Pucket Makes Monster Magic - Excerpt 

Some things about this book that readers might like are the illustrations because there are lots, and they’re all really cool.  Also, the book is easy to read and the text is big.  Lastly, it is a short book, so it doesn’t take too long to finish, which is good because the story is very interesting, and you just want to find out more!  Something I wish the author, Mark Tatulli, had done is make the book a little longer, but I am glad there are more books in the series.  I think people who believe in monsters and those who like pranks will enjoy this book.

Alex P., grade 6

 

Squinklethoughts

1. It’s hard to find books sometimes that can appeal to a wide range of readers, but this is one of them.  It’s a great book for students in elementary school, young and old alike.

2. Tatulli’s voice is engaging and very funny – definitely a plus when it comes to MG books.

3. The drawings are fantastic.  They look hand drawn (and I suppose they are), and that adds to their appeal.  I’ve found students trying to make their own versions of some of the doodles, which is a great sign that they’ve taken a liking not just to the illustrations, but to the story itself.

4. Both my boys and girls liked this book, but I’ve found that my boys tended to laugh out loud much harder and louder.  Make of that what you will.

5. One of the things I missed out on by growing up in the previous century is the extension of the reading experience through activities, events, and (especially) websites.  There’s an entire site dedicated to Desmond Pucket that is chock full of information and handouts that my kids have enjoyed exploring.  Take a look at the trailer below, too.

 

  

 

4 Squinkles 

Mark Tatulli’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters

 

Thank you, Andrews McMeel Publishing, for sending me a copy of Desmond Pucket Makes Monster Magic in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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