Tag Archives: simon & schuster canada

Saints and Misfits (S.K. Ali)

14 Sep

What happens when a person that everyone believes to be a saint is actually a monster?  Do you let the monster be, or do you cast a light to shine on his/her true self?  Boy is Janna’s predicament one that is more common than you realize.

 

Saints and Misfits

Squinklethoughts

1.  Janna Yusuf is an excellent heroine.  She deals with the inevitable troubles of being different in a mature but very real way, and it’s something that, as a book champion and book pusher, I’m thankful for.  Too often, writers include every possible emotion that people can go through in an attempt to showcase pre-teen and teen angst.  Yes, of course there are a lot of emotions that inevitably pop up in our late-elementary and high-school years, but it doesn’t mean every single one of them has to be analyzed or even explored in a novel.  I know enough of Janna’s struggles to love her and welcome her onto my bookshelf.

2.  Let me explain more.  S.K. Ali understands that young people are not yet done growing up.  Whenever Janna tries to figure out what to do with a bad situation or how to behave whenever she sees the monster, Ali writes it in a way that doesn’t reflect the kind of overwhelming maturity that Janna wouldn’t have.  Janna is confused and hesitant and … unfinished.  Beautifully unfinished.  So many girls will make a friend in Janna.

3.  I loved learning about various aspects of Muslim and Indian cultures, especially the expectations put upon people who grow up in families of mixed cultures and religions.  What I loved even more was the fact that I know so many students who will read Janna’s story and be encouraged to be themselves.  Although there are various religious- and culturally specific concepts in this story, it really is a tale that many girls can relate to.  It is a true bildungsroman, capturing the ups and downs of Janna growing up, testing the waters, and finding herself, including the roles that religion and faith play in her life.

4.  There are lots of other strong characters, too.  I kind of wish, for example, that the story of Janna’s mom was explored a little more.  Janna’s friends are mostly great, and I’m glad that Ali didn’t make them too one-sided just because Janna, herself, is a strong character.

5.  **Spoiler Alert** Parents/teachers: The inciting incident in this story is the attempted rape of Janna by someone from her own mosque.  The lead-up to it is described, but since it doesn’t quite happen, there isn’t much in the way of specific details.  Nonetheless, it may be too sensitive for some young’uns.  I suggest reading the first few chapters to see if you think it would be okay for your kids.  On that note, I’m glad that the plot gets kicking right away.  It really leaves more room in the book for the aftermath.

6.  Ali’s writing a second novel.  Another YA story, this time featuring “an ensemble cast of diverse souls, as well as LOVE” per her Goodreads bio page.  Can’t wait.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

S.K. Ali’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for sending me a copy of Saints and Misfits in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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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.

 

Karma Khullar’s Mustache (Kristi Wientge)

15 Aug

Over the years, the stories that have become the most borrowed and requested by my students are those that tackle universal issues with idiosyncratic flairs.  This is exactly the strength of Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge, and I have no hesitation recommending it to you, Squinks!

 

Karma Khullar's Mustache

Squinklethoughts

1.  At the heart of this novel is a girl who isn’t looking to shine – just fit in.  Isn’t that how everyone feels when they’re starting a new school?  It’s hard enough changing from being the kings and queens of elementary school to becoming the guppies of middle school, but over the summer, poor Karma discovers SEVENTEEN little hairs above her lip … which is basically the end of the world.  I like that Wientge understands how big of a deal this is for some people.

2.  Karma’s moustache is the impetus for a lot of her troubles, not the least of which is earning the nickname “’Stache Attack”, but there are far worse obstacles for Karma to overcome.  The worst of it is that her best friend no longer seems to be her best friend.  I know what it’s like to lose a friend for no reason at all (at least no reason that I could foresee or understand).  Karma and Kate have been friends for years, and all of a sudden, Kate’s interests are different from Karma’s.  It was really heartbreaking that Karma was in a state of limbo.  Should she even care that Kate doesn’t like her anymore?  And yet, it’s so hard not to care about things like that.

3.  And then Lacy moves in across the street from Kate, and all of Karma’s fears deepen.  How can she compete with the girl who seems to be so well put together, while she can’t even figure out how to get rid of 17 stinkin’ strands of hair?

4.  That scene in the lunchroom where Karma tries to enjoy her tiffin full of delicious dal and chapati had me in tears.  Wientge illustrates a scene right out of my own childhood where I was made fun of for bringing squid and rice for lunch – one of my absolute favourite dishes, which I suddenly had no appetite for after being taunted by my grade-2 classmates.  Have a tissue on hand when you get to this part.

5.  Karma’s inner monologue reminds me a lot of Lizzie McGuire.  I never watched the original series, though I did see the movie.  I like how Karma is, for the most part, realistic about life, but I also enjoyed reading bits and pieces of her overdramatic thoughts about school, people, and her moustache.  I’m sure I felt the same way when I was younger.

6.  I liked learning about Sikhism and some of the traditional foods that Karma and her Indian-American family eat.  As a child of a mixed-race marriage, Karma has the added challenge of melding two traditions together.  I would have liked a bit more of that.  Karma complains about how her mom’s blonde hair would probably not be so noticeable over her upper lip, and there are a few conversations between her parents that hint at differences in upbringing, but I wanted a bit more.  Wientge sort of gets away with not going into too much detail when Karma admits that she only goes to church and temple a few times a year.  I don’t think the lack of detail about the two religions or the two cultures took away from the story, but I think the details could’ve added to it.

7.  I read this book very quickly because I was highly invested in Karma’s journey.  I think that’s what makes this a great story.  I was as sad as she was when those awkward moments with Kate happen; I was as humiliated as she was when the kids make fun of her lunch; I was as indignant (but helpless) as she was when she is blamed for something she didn’t do.  I really wanted a happy ending for her.

8.  Wientge combines Karma’s specific situation with universal problems, which will make Karma Khullar’s Mustache appealing to all readers.  I would definitely pick up the sequel if there were to be one.

 

4.5 Squinkles  

Kristi Wientge’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for sending me a copy of Karma Khullar’s Mustache in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Cyclone (Doreen Cronin)

24 Jul

What would you do if it were your fault that your cousin is in a coma?  I received a bunch of books all at the same time as Cyclone, but it jumped to the top of my list when I read the blurb.

 

Cyclone

Squinklethoughts1.  Squinks, I can’t imagine feeling the kind of guilt that Nora does.  It would be so overwhelming that I wouldn’t be able to breathe.  Not only does she feel guilty, but she can’t tell anyone why Riley agreed to ride a roller coaster she was afraid of to begin with.

2.  I love that Nora and Riley have a really close relationship.  I have cousins I love and speak to from time to time, but they live far away, and we only see each other maybe once a year.  How lucky that these girls are close enough in age to find a friend in one another.

3.  Okay, so I was lured in by Doreen Cronin’s blurb at the back of the book, but I have to tell you … she had me hooked to the story from the get-go.  I really liked how easy it was to put myself in Nora’s shoes.  Every time a chapter ended, I just wanted to know more: Will she ever reveal what forced Riley to ride the Cyclone with her?  Who is that mystery guy?  Will Riley get better?

4.  I loved, loved, loved, the storyline around the three sisters.  It adds an interesting and emotional layer to Riley’s ordeal.  I really enjoyed the idea that it takes Riley’s situation to bring the sisters back together again.  The three of them have such different personalities, but can they find a common thread?  Sisters.  Family.  Love it.

5.  The scenes where Riley talks to Sophia in Spanish broke my heart.  I teared up a bit, thinking about how Nora’s heart must have been breaking, too.  All the feels.

 

Cyclone 2  

6.  Parents/teachers, there are so many teachable moments in this story, from how to deal with guilt, how to handle secrets, the oddness that is family, and even how to talk to people who have family members in the hospital.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Doreen Cronin’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for sending me a copy of
Cyclone in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Only Child (Andrew Pyper)

9 Jun

Fans of Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde will recognize a lot of their favourite stories in Andrew Pyper’s The Only Child. If you’re looking to read along the lines of creepy, gothic, or psychologically thrilling, well, you’ll find them all in this novel.

 

Only Child

Squinklethoughts

1.  I don’t care much for the horror and thriller genre. The only reason I decided to give The Only Child a go was because it was by Andrew Pyper. I enjoyed The Demonologist from a few years back, so I was happy to read his words again. When I find authors I like, I’m eager to give their new worlds a try.

2.  I wasn’t as scared as I thought I would be, which really is very good news for people like me who don’t enjoy the heart-pounding scenes. I pegged this novel as a horror story based on the blurb on the back cover, but I think I’d classify this more as a psychological thriller. The main character, Lily, goes back and forth in her thoughts about the goodness of the people she meets, and it was very nerve-wracking trying to do the same. Is Michael going to kill her? Is Will a decent guy? What about Lionel?

3.  Let’s talk about Lily for a second. In truth, she’s not my favourite MC. In fact, she gets on my nerves a little bit. I didn’t really enjoy her indecision, and she seems a bit too reckless for me. For someone who’s supposed to be smart and an expert in her field, I figured she wouldn’t really be the type to leave her comfortable life and go traipsing about Europe in search for answers and a mad man/non-man. But, there she goes anyway. The story is written in third-person perspective, so I attribute the fact that Lily’s thoughts get under my skin to Pyper’s prowess with prose. There is a lot of narration specifically about her thoughts, but at many points of the story, I felt as if Lily were sharing her thoughts herself, rather than a narrator telling me a story.

4.  One of the reasons I enjoyed The Demonologist and now The Only Child is because I really like the way Pyper paints pictures with his words. His imagery seems to come effortlessly, and yet, it can transport you to whichever old-world club or pub he is describing. I find myself entering the lavish Savoy or walking around the Villa Diodati with Lily with ease. It is so easy to highlight paragraphs and passages to show my students examples of masterful writing.

 

Only Child 2

 

5.  Throughout the book, I found myself caring more for Michael than I did for Lily, and I think that’s just incredible. Pyper manages to evoke all sorts of sympathy from me for his monster, and if I meet the author again, that’s something I’d definitely ask him about. Did he mean to make him more likable than Lily? Of all the twists and turns in this story, I never expected that.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Andrew Pyper’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for sending me a copy of
The Only Child in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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