Tag Archives: penguin canada

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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A Map for Wrecked Girls (Jessica Taylor)

26 Sep

The best story backdrops are the ones that rip the main characters away from their natural habitats and pluck them into completely unknown worlds.  In Jessica Taylor’s A Map for Wrecked Girls, you’re in for a treat: there are TWO main characters (and a boy) stuck on a deserted island.  Only good things can come from this.

 

Map for Wrecked Girls

Squinklethoughts

1.  This story is about two sisters, and right there is the reason I wanted to read this.  Henri and Emma (great names!) have been as close as close can be.  They’re sisters and best friends and confidantes; they’re two halves of the same whole.  But things can’t always stay the way they are.  High school – and boys – get in the way.  Maybe it’s because I have sisters of my own that I was so compelled to find out how they get through the story with the chasm between them that seems all too permanent.  Can they even find their way back to each other?

2.  More than what would happen to the girls on the island, I wondered what would happen to the girls’ relationship.  This is what drives the book.  I know some people might think that it’s too contrived to have them maroon on an island, eke out desperate means of surviving desperate times, and hope that somehow their mitigating circumstances will eventually lead them to reconciliation.  In truth, I found the island survival part secondary to Emma and Henri surviving one another.  When you’ve spent your entire life dependent on another person, how do you now live feet away but worlds apart?

 

Map for Wrecked Girls 2

 

3.  I’m glad that Taylor doesn’t reveal the root of the girls’ problems until towards the end.  It gives readers a chance to get into Emma’s shoes (sandals?) through her narration.  I feel bad for what she did to Henri even though I didn’t even know what it was until the last few chapters.  But because Emma is a completely reliable narrator, I knew that it must have been really bad.  Imagine that, and attribute it to Taylor’s writing.  I had all these wild theories running around in my head about what Emma could have possibly done, but even without knowing it, I felt like Henri’s anger towards her was completely justified because Taylor writes Emma’s thoughts so well.

4.  Alex is so good.  So flawed, so human, so intriguing.  He treats the girls really well, especially considering he’s only known them for a few hours.  It must be quite difficult to deal with trying to thrive on an island while wracked with guilt for his cousin.  The best part about Alex is that he seems to really care about Emma, and he sees Henri for who she really is.  I wish that there had been more to the story just because I wanted to read about Alex more.  I know the story revolves, primarily, around Emma and Henri’s sistership, but Taylor sows the seeds for a great story revolving around Alex.

5.  Actually, I feel like the three characters – Emma, Henri, and Alex – have so many more stories to tell.  The novel is told from Emma’s perspective, but how great would it be to read Henri’s point of view of the whole mess as well?  I want more of these three!  And I want more of Jesse, the girls’ neighbour and long-time friend, who seems to be a beacon of stability in the girls’ lives.

6.  I feel really, really bad for Gavin.  Some people won’t agree.  But I think that sometimes, we use age as a fair-weather weapon to brandish about when it suits us, sheathing it only when doing so works in our favour.  There are so many other factors to consider.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Jessica Taylor’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Penguin Random House Canada and Dial Books, for sending me a copy of A Map for Wrecked Girls in exchange for an honest review.

 

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Look Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts (Esta Spalding)

8 Nov

If you’re looking for a story with characters that don’t fit neatly into a box, you might find a match with Look Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts by Esta Spalding.

 

Look Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts

Squinklethoughts

1.  I was really happy to encounter such a unique cast of characters in this story.  They’re definitely not cookie-cutter protagonists.  The four children – Kim, Kimo, Toby, and Pippa – find themselves thrown together by virtue of complicated parentage.  They all share a mother or a father or both. This was a selling point for me, as I haven’t read enough stories where step-siblings get along with one another as these four do.

2.  I love the setting of the island.  Even though the kids live in a car, I like to imagine that they enjoy the weather and scenery on a regular basis.  (I’d love to experience a warm rainfall on the beach of an island one day.)  There’s also something about adventures being set on islands that I really like, although I’m not too fond of the show Lost or the novel Lord of the Flies.

3.  This book was just okay for me, and this is the perfect example of a story that I felt lukewarm about but that my students loved.  I mean … I had kids repeatedly asking for when the book would become available because their classmates really enjoyed the story.  Just goes to show you, I guess.

4.  One of the things I wasn’t too thrilled about was the way that the circumstances of the kids were treated very lightly.  From time to time, Kim does stress over how to find a new place to live (because the kids are growing up and the car space is growing small), but I can’t imagine how the four of them get along the way they do without a home, even though (most of) their parents are still around.  I mean, they live in a car with no reliable source of … practically anything.  Maybe for the younger ones it’s really the only life they remember, but I don’t quite understand how they’re able to survive with the meagre allowance they get from their parents or how they’re able to live on a beach with no trouble from authority figures.  The kids’ hardships were treated too lightly, almost trivially, for my liking, but for some of my students, this is exactly what they enjoyed.  They liked that despite the Fitzgerald-Trouts’ circumstances, they still get through their days and find adventures in Ikea-type stores.

5.  Spalding’s prose is very easy to get lost in.  In spite of those struggle points mentioned above, I enjoyed immersing myself in the story of the children and life on the island.  I read a few chapters aloud in class, and my students lapped them up.

6.  The illustrations are gorgeous.  They’re done by Sydney Smith whom I was really pleased to have met in January and who very graciously illustrated my copy with a palm tree (I LOVE palm trees), the beach, and the ocean.  Check out his website for more eye candy.

7.  I’m looking forward to the next book of this series, Knock About with the Fitzgerald-Trouts, which is slated for release in May 2017, because I do really want to know what happens to the kids.  I felt rather cliffhangered at the end of this book, and my students felt the same.  I’m hoping there’s a little more realism (when it comes to some of the heavy stuff) balanced with the adventures of the Fitzgerald-Trout clan.  Oh, and I’m looking forward to exploring the island with the children once again.

 

3.5 Squinkles 

Esta Spalding’s Online Corners
Website | Chapters

 

Thank you, Penguin Random House Canada, for sending me
a copy of Look Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts in exchange for
an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Last Kids on Earth (Max Brallier)

29 Oct

Squinks, just in time for Halloween, I’ve got a title to die for (mwahaha). Max Brallier’s The Last Kids on Earth is full of terrifying fun and adventure that’s perfect for this time of year. Oh, and there are zombies.

 

Last Kids On Earth

 

Squinklethoughts1. Okay, so zombies aren’t really my thing. And no, I don’t watch The Walking Dead, but I know many of YOU like it, which is why I gave it a whirl. For someone who’s not into these kinds of stories, I was pleasantly surprised to have enjoyed it.

2. Brallier is terrifically funny. The humour starts right off the bat with the first page, and it continues all throughout the story. You’ll love Jack Sullivan’s voice, – I can certainly hear many of you in him – for he’s full of amusing one-liners and witty observations.

3. Speaking of Jack, I love how cautiously optimistic he is. I mean, it IS rather a feat to be dealing with monsters and zombies taking over the town. Jack knows where his strengths lie, although he does have some laugh-out-loud moments of delusions (“I’m a zombie-fighting, monster-slaying, tornado of cool … And I will Rescue June Del Toro and complete the ULTIMATE Feat of Apocalyptic Success!”), and his plans to rescue June are not always completely thought out. He is fiercely loyal to his best friend, Quint, though, and for that, he’s a hero in my books.

 

Last Kids on Earth - Jack Sullivan 

4. I’m sure many of you will find a lot to like in Jack and Quint’s friendship. They work well together despite being very different. For one thing, Quint is always tinkering with things and using science to solve problems, while Jack is more about bat swinging and monster jumping. This combination serves them well when they’re two of the last kids on Earth.

5. I’m also happy that June Del Toro is a lovely damsel not in distress. And I’ve always been used to (and enjoyed) being the only girl in a group of boys, so that bit was particularly interesting to me. June’s feisty, but she’s pretty cool to Jack, so I find her a welcome addition to the growing posse that includes Dirk, an erstwhile-bully-turned-friend.

 

Last Kids on Earth - June Del Toro 

6. For those of you who love to draw, I’m sure you’ll find great inspiration in Douglas Holgate’s illustrations. They really add spirit to the story – in fact, much of the tale is told through the images, so not only do the drawings enhance the tale, they are actually vital parts of the plot as well. This book is like part graphic novel, which really adds to its appeal. I particularly like the many faces of Blarg. And I have to admit – Rover is rather cute.

7. What can I say about this book that I didn’t like? Well, except for the fact that there are monsters and zombies, and I now wonder what’s lurking outside my window every time I turn off the lights, not much. This may not have been my cup of tea, but I’m positive many of you will enjoy it nonetheless. I’d give it just under 4 stars … like 3.87, maybe. ‘Cause, as I mentioned, monsters and zombies.

 

4 Squinkles 

Max Brallier’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters

Douglas Holgate’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram

 

Thank you, Penguin Canada, for sending me a copy of The Last Kids on Earth 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.

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