Tag Archives: series

The Blackthorn Key #3: The Assassin’s Curse (Kevin Sands)

12 Sep

I love that so far, for the last three years, I’ve had a literary adventure to look forward to in September.  It almost makes going back to our regularly scheduled school program bearable.  Almost.  I’m just glad there’s another Blackthorn Key book.

 

Blackthorn Key - Assassin's Curse

Squinklethoughts

1.  The original Blackthorn Key series was absolutely fantastic.  I got a copy of it during the summer of 2015, and I made it the book for our novel-study unit a few weeks later.  I couldn’t put it down, and I’m glad that Kevin Sands has kept up the series.

2.  Christopher and Tom’s friendship is one for the books (hehe).  They get along so well, but more than that, you can tell that they have genuine respect for one another.  Christopher is, by now, known for getting himself into scrapes – completely by chance, of course – and solving riddles to get out of them.  But Tom is equally important in this adventure, and I’m glad that this is addressed in the opening pages, for while Christopher has saved London numerous times, his best friend has saved him just as often.  It’s a really great friendship that I love to read about.

3.  The addition of Sally (and Bridget) to the fold is aces.  Some of my kids weren’t too thrilled about it at first, but they eventually came round to appreciating Sally’s role with the boys.  Indeed, she does a great job again in this story where she handles her own as the Lady Grace.

4.  Kevin Sands is funny.  The banter among the trio is funny and witty – totally my type of humour.  Christopher is always thinking up crazy schemes, and Tom is one step ahead of him.  Well, he just knows his best friend well.  Even though he never stops Christopher from doing things, like turning famous paintings in the Louvre upside down, he’s comfortable enough to give Christopher a piece of his mind.  And Sally is great at keeping the peace between the two of them when things get too hot to handle.

 

Blackthorn Key - Assassins Curse - Quote

 

5.  I love that this book takes the kids to Paris.  My students were so pleased to be able to translate the various French phrases before Sands gives their English translations.  In fact, I would have liked more of this in the story.  Maybe it’s because we all grew up with French classes every day, but I thought readers could’ve definitely handled the challenge of figuring out les expressions françaises.  I mean, it’s like a code in itself, trying to understand another language, eh?

6.  I’m so happy that Master Benedict is everywhere in this book, just as he is in all the other books.  I think his conversations with Christopher may be my favourite parts of the entire series.  Kids need to know – everyone needs to know – that the people we love leave indelible prints on our hearts.  I just love that Sands explores this.

7.  I think I like this book more than the second one, Mark of the Plague.  Not quite sure why.  It might be that the codes and puzzles feel harder this time round, or that it’s set in Paris, or that the kids are surrounded by royalty, or that the storyline is full of Knights Templar allusions … I just loved it all.  I couldn’t put it down.

8.  I hope that Sands stays true to his pattern and that a fourth book will be due next September.  Actually, I hope another story comes out sooner because boy, the cliffhanger at the end!.  But I’ll be happy as long as this series continues for many more books to come.  It really is that great.

 

5 Squinkles

 

Kevin Sands’ Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for sending me a copy of The Blackthorn Key: The Assassin’s Curse in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

 

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Mighty Jack #1 (Ben Hatke)

20 Mar

So, if you like fairytale adaptations like I do, you’ll probably have a really good time with the first book in the Mighty Jack series.

 

Mighty Jack  

Squinklethoughts 1.  I’ve always had an issue with Jack and his magic beanstalk.  How could he have given up his cow for a few measly beans?  This time round, though, Ben Hatke makes Jack a little more mature, a little more kindly, a little less self-centred, and only a little … silly.  Oh, and he’s a little grumpy, but I didn’t mind that because I like talking back to grumpy characters.

2.  I’ve had a few kids of all grades and linguistic abilities read this already, and they’ve all enjoyed it.  The fourth-grader laughed out loud a lot, and the mom of the eighth-grader mentioned to me that he had stayed up late one night just so that he could finish the book.  An ESL student also told me that she really enjoyed it, which speaks to the universality of Hatke’s retelling.

3.  The illustrations in this book are aces.  The panels and page layouts are varied, so the story doesn’t lull, and I particularly enjoyed that there were a lot of things going on in the gutters.

4.  This isn’t just a happily-ever-after story.  Parts of the story are lip-quaver-inducing. For example, Jack’s mom has to work overtime because they need money for food; and Maddy, Jack’s sister, is autistic, so Jack often finds it difficult to connect with her.

5.  The first book ends on such a cliffhanger (reader, beware), so my kids are all waiting for the next installment.  I think that if the series stretches out to a few more book, it would be a prime opportunity for Hatke to develop Maddy’s character.  I wonder if she’ll become the true heroine of the story.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Ben Hatke’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters

 

Thank you, Raincoast Books, for sending me a copy of
Mighty Jack in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are my own.

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye (Tania Del Rio & Will Staehle)

13 Jan

Triskaidekaphobia, schmriskaidekaphobia.  It may not bode well for Warren the 13th, but Squinks, today, on a decidedly lucky Friday the thirteenth (tempting fate, my paraskevidekatriaphobic friends), you get some goodies, including an introduction to my new friend, Warren.

 

Warren the 13th - Book 1 

Squinklethoughts

1.   I would be way too terrified to ever enter an ancient, dilapidated house – though why I would be compelled to even approach one is beyond me.  But I really enjoyed walking the corridors alongside Warren as he fulfilled his duties as bellhop, valet, and about six hundred other occupations at his family’s rickety hotel.  If you like places with corners that are dark, dank, dusty, and lit  by “a tarnished chandelier that clung to the ceiling like an insect” (not to mention odd creatures lurking in those dark, dank, dusty corners), then I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy Warren’s ancestral home.  (Twelve generations is enough to consider Warren the 1st an ancestor, right?  I’ll have to look that up.)

2.   About the guests at the Warren Hotel … Well, I use the term “guests” loosely.  The mysteries in The All-Seeing Eye begin right away when a tall, thin figure – the first guest in years, might I add – strides into the lobby.  Warren bows to him, and then … silence.  Crickets.  (No, seriously, there were probably crickets outside the hotel chatting away to one another wondering what on earth would have possessed Paleface to visit the hotel.)  I like stories that introduce mysteries and conflicts right away.  It just makes me feel like I’m getting my money’s worth on the ride.  It doesn’t mean every single story has to be that way, but when I encounter one like this, I really appreciate it.  Plus, it leaves room for my favourite literary phenomenon: mysteries upon mysteries upon mysteries upon … (I know some readers dislike this very thing, so just a heads up.)

3.   Tania Del Rio got me in the feels with this gem: “That was the main reason Warren worked so hard: because he knew his father had worked hard, and his father’s father had worked hard, and his father’s father’s father had worked hard, and so on.”  Truth, right?  I mean, even with the words I’m typing right now, I wonder … would Mom and Dad be proud?

4.   Puzzles, secret codes, and (did I mention) mysteries?  Need I say more?

5.   If you’ve been keeping up with my squinkle journey, then you’ll know by now that I LOVE illustrations and that I scour the middle-grade section of bookstores for my Next Great Read.  The All-Seeing Eye stands apart from many books out there because not only is it a great MG story (that, by the way, I would totally recommend to readers who are MG-at-heart like me), it has some gorgeous two-colour illustrations.  And, you know, I think I like Warren a little more now that I’ve seen him.  I can’t draw to save my life, so I’m always enamoured by those who can.  I tip my hat to Will Staehle.

 

Warren the 13th IG 

6.   Students of mine who stalk me on Instagram are well aware of my love for words, names, and etymology, in general (a linguistics background will do that to a person).  It may seem like a small thing, but I love the names in this book.  Warren, Rupert, Annaconda, Petula, Scalene, Friggs, even Sketchy!  It’s a cornucopia of delightful monikers!

7.   Warren has wanderlust.  (Who wouldn’t if you were stuck doing six thousand jobs in a dingy hotel?)  Kindred spirit.  That is all.

 

Warren the 13th 2  

8.   It’s taken a really long time for the sequel, Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods, to pop up, but wait no longer … well, no longer than March 21.  (That’s not that long, right?)  In the meanwhile, click this.  No, THIS.  Enjoy a short story and some puzzles to tide you over until the pub date of Book 2.

 

Warren the 13th SS 

9.   One last serious note.  I highly regret passing on getting a galley of this book at a previous BEA.  I, as you all know, judge books by their covers.  Why would I not, when so much work goes into them?  Well, I didn’t have a lot of time to thumb through this galley, so I passed up Warren and his friends all because I thought the book would be too scary for my taste.  (Maybe I had just seen the cover of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and was completely influenced.)  So, let this be a lesson kids: Do not pass up on a book without thumbing through it first.  Otherwise, you’ll miss out on getting to know people like Warren with his six million jobs.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Tania Del Rio’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters

Will Staehle’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Chapters

 

Thank you, Quirk Books, for sending me a copy of
Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye in exchange for
an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Kid Artists: True Tales of Childhood from Creative Legends (David Stabler)

12 Oct

I love, love, love the Kid Legends series, and this latest addition is no exception.

 

Kid ArtistsSquinklethoughts

1.  Kid Artists is the third installment, preceded by Kid Presidents and Kid Athletes, which are also terrific.  I love finding series that are so great that they become auto-buys.  I have no doubt I’ll be reading (and buying for our library) the next title in this collection, whatever it might be about.

2.  You’ll enjoy finding out what the childhoods of some very famous people were like.  Well-known names like Andy Warhol (who loved Campbell’s tomato soup as a child) and Dr. Seuss (rhymes with “choice”, ya know) are just some of the people you’ll read about.

3.  Sometimes, illustrious people have privileged beginnings, but many more times, they endure hardship and unsupportive friends and family in their younger years that you have to wonder how they ever produced their art.  This book gives you the good stuff and the bad stuff that made these artists not just unique, but also remarkable.

4.  I have a soft spot for Vincent van Gogh.  (One of my favourite Doctor Who episodes is Vincent and the Doctor … bawled my eyes out at (spoiler alert) the end.  Soooo great.)  Be sure to read about his beginnings.  We might never fully understand people, but we can try to appreciate what might have led them to turning points in their lives.

5.  I hadn’t heard of some of the people covered in Kid Artists, so I’m glad to have this book accessible.  There are so many cool people and events in history that we should all read about.

6. I love Doogie Horner’s people drawings.  They’re wonderful!

7.  Check out the Kid Legends website!

* Teachers/parents, if you’d like a copy of the chapter-by-chapter questions that I give to my students, please feel free to email me!

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

David Stabler’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Chapters

 

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

All Squinklethoughts herein are entirely my own.

My Weird School Fast Facts: Geography and Sports (Dan Gutman)

11 Oct

I love learning random facts, though I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always remember what I’ve learned.  If you’re into geography, sports, or random trivia, you’ll find Dan Gutman’s My Weird School Fast Facts: Geography and My Weird School Fast Facts: Sports very awesome reads.

 

My Weird School - Geography Squinklethoughts

1.  Are you already a fan of Gutman’s My Weird School (and My Weirder School and My Weird School Daze) series, which began in 2004?  My students love these stories, which are full of memorable characters and funny dialogue.  We particularly enjoy their rockin’ rhymin’ titles like Mrs. Yonkers is Bonkers! and Mr. Harrison is Embarrassin’!.

 

My Weird School - 1-21 

2.  In both Geography and Sports, you get to hang out with A.J. and Andrea outside of school.  Their very different personalities make for great banter between them.  I’d like to think that they are still friends-ish even though they bother the heck out of each other a lot.

3.  There were so many places I had already known (like Pangæa and Lake Vostok), but many others that were completely new to me (like Chimborazo and West Quoddy Head).  You’ll learn a TON of new geography facts.

4.  And I haven’t forgotten about you sports fans.  You’ll love learning about how “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” began and why Ulrich Salchow’s and Alois Lutz’ names are mentioned very often in the winter.

 

My Weird School - Sports  

5.  I particularly enjoyed how Gutman divides each book: Geography has chapters based on various elements like water, the continents, and natural disasters.  I really liked the section where he names a few interesting facts about each US state.  Makes me want to go on a road trip!  Sports is, as you can guess, divided into chapters based on different sports.  The one on baseball is really long, so my only disappointment is that the other chapters (like the one on hockey) were just as long.  I am glad that curling and table tennis were mentioned though!  And I loved learning lots of cool stuff about the Olympics.

6.  Jim Paillot’s artwork is phenomenal.  You’ll enjoy the the drawings on each page that help bring Arlo’s and Andrea’s narrations come to life.  Definitely check out his website!

 

4 Squinkles 

Dan Gutman’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Chapters – Geo | Chapters – Sports

 

Thank you, HarperCollins, for sending me a copy of My Weird School Fast Facts: Geography and My Weird School Fast Facts: Sports
in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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