Review: Forgotten City (A Claire Codella Mystery #2) by Carrie Smith

Review: Forgotten City (A Claire Codella Mystery #2) by Carrie Smith
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: December 13, 2016 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

NYPD Detective Claire Codella is chomping at the bit for a new case. Lieutenant McGowan is determined to keep her out of the news, but she’s about to be back in the public eye in a big way. Broadway legend Lucy Merchant has tragically succumbed to early onset Alzheimer’s. At age fifty-six, she’s tucked away in the dementia care unit of the ultra-exclusive Manhattan care facility Park Manor. When she falls asleep and doesn’t wake up, her billionaire husband is ready for the funeral, but her daughter demands an investigation.

Only three months back on the job after cancer treatment, Codella finds herself at the center of a high profile case nearly everyone–especially her lieutenant–wants to shut down. But the forensic evidence raises alarming questions and Codella needs answers. To find them, she will have to crack the defenses of slippery administrators, frightened caregivers, and unobliging family members, all while unlocking some of her own dark memories.

Forgotten City, Carrie Smith’s gripping follow-up to Silent City, pits the unrelenting detective against a cast of diverse New Yorkers driven by their desires and ambitions and haunted by their pasts. But can she piece together the truth before the murderer kills again?

Forgotten City is the very strong sophomore novel in Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella mystery series that began with Silent City. Tailor made for readers who enjoy their procedurals and detective-centred mysteries brisk and intelligent, Forgotten City is tightly plotted, thoroughly engaging mystery, with a terrifically formidable female detective.

The central mystery in Forgotten City is an intriguing and unusual one: Broadway legend Lucy Merchant, who had been suffering from a rare, genetic early-onset form of Alzheimer’s disease, is found dead in a premier care facility in New York. As moves are made to declare that Lucy died of natural causes, Lucy’s daughter voices her shock and disbelief to Detective Codella and claims that her mother has been murdered- possibly poisoned. Codella is just coming off successful- and well-publicized- cases; her immediate (and bigoted) superior, Dennis McGowan, jealous of Codella’s success, will do anything to keep Codella down and away from any potentially big case. Codella, rather wonderfully, navigates her way around McGowan and begins a thorough investigation into the possibility that Lucy Merchant was somehow murdered in her suite at one of the most exclusive care homes known to man. As Codella slowly but surely unfolds convoluted layers, lies from main suspects, and strange ties between the list of suspects, we gain further insight into Codella’s brutal childhood and her tentative relationship with fellow detective Brian Haggerty. Smith has done a terrific job with Forgotten City: smart, twisty, winding, and compelling from start to finish. While not absolutely essential to have read Silent City before diving into Forgotten City, I would suggest starting with the debut; not only gripping and solidly written, but Silent City also provides a firm introduction to Codella, her cancer treatment and recovery, her past and present police team members, as well as a basis of her history with Haggerty.

Overall, Forgotten City is a very well done mystery novel, with the Claire Codella mystery series being one I would absolutely recommend to fans of detective novels, or those who enjoy their reading to align with shows like The Good Wife, Law & Order, or NYPD Blue. Forgotten City does not fall into any kind of sophomore slump here, with this novel being even stronger, sharper and more evenly teased out than the (already solid) first outing.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Must Read Monday (67): Mysteries from Maile Meloy, Gin Phillips, Susie Steiner & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week: five titles on the docket and they are all mysteries and thrillers! Titles include: the soon-to-be-released latest thriller from bestselling author Ruth Ware; a very intriguing sounding mystery from Maile Meloy, author of the middle grade The Apothecary series; and the wonderfully suspenseful-sounding Fierce Kingdom from Gin Philips, which immediately grabbed my attention. There is also Persons Unknown, the new DS Manon mystery novel from Susie Steiner; I really enjoyed the cerebral Missing, Presumed, the debut in this series and am looking forward to more! Last but not least, author Julia Thomas’s sophomore mystery novel, Penhale Wood, drop in July. Thomas’s debut, The English Boys, is a clever slow-burn of a mystery, and thoroughly enjoyable, so I am excited to read more from the author.

 

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy
Expected publication: June 6, 2017 by Riverhead Books
Book Description:

When Liv and Nora decide to take their families on a holiday cruise, everyone is thrilled. The ship’s comforts and possibilities seem infinite. The children, two eleven-year-olds, an eight-year-old, and a six-year-old, love the nonstop buffet and the independence they have at the Kids’ Club. But when they all go ashore in beautiful Central America, a series of minor misfortunes leads the families farther and farther from the ship’s safety. One minute the children are there, and the next they’re gone.

What follows is a riveting, revealing story told from the perspectives of the adults and the children, as the once-happy parents now turning on one another and blaming themselves try to recover their children and their lives.

 

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips
Expected publication: July 4, 2017 by Random House Canada
Book Description:

After school on a late October day, Joan has taken her four-year-old son, Lincoln, to one of his favourite places on earth: the zoo. Just before closing time, as they need to go home, she hears some loud pops like firecrackers. Not thinking much of it, they head for the exit…until Joan realizes the eerie human emptiness means danger, then sees the figure of a lone gunman. Without another thought, she scoops up her son and runs back into the zoo. And for the next three hours–the entire scope of the novel–she does anything she can to keep Lincoln safe.
Both pulse-pounding and emotionally satisfying, Fierce Kingdom is a thrill ride, but also an exploration of the very nature of motherhood itself, from its saving graces to its savage power. At heart it asks how you draw the line between survival and the duty to protect one another? Who would you die for?

 

Persons Unknown (DS Manon #2) by Susie Steiner
Expected publication: July 4, 2017 by Random House
Book Description:

Detective Manon Bradshaw is five months pregnant and has officially given up on finding romantic love. Instead, she is in hot-pursuit of work-life balance and parked in a cold case corridor—the price she’s had to pay for a transfer back to Cambridgeshire. This is fine, she tells herself. She can devote herself to bringing up her two children—the new baby, and her adopted 12-year-old son Fly Dent. He needed a fresh start—he was being forever stopped and searched in London by officers who couldn’t see past the color of his skin. Manon feared Fly, increasingly sullen and adolescent, was getting in with the wrong crowd at school, or possibly that he was the wrong crowd. Being there for the children, and home by five, is what Manon tells herself she needs.

Yet when a wealthy victim is found stabbed close to police HQ, she can’t help but sidle in on the briefing: he is a banker from London, worth millions. More dramatically, he was also Manon’s sister Ellie’s ex, and the father of her toddler son. The investigation swirls with greater and greater urgency, and as it begins to circle in on Manon’s home and her family, she finds herself pitted against the former colleagues she once held dear—Davy Walker and Harriet Harper.

 

Penhale Wood by Julia Thomas
Expected publication: July 8, 2017 by Midnight Ink
Book Description:

On a cold December night in Cornwall, nanny Karen Peterson disappears with three-year-old Sophie Flynn. The next day, the child’s body is found on the banks of Penhale Wood.

A year later, Sophie’s mother, Iris Flynn, appears on the doorstep of investigating officer Rob McIntyre, determined to make him reopen the case. McIntyre has his own personal demons, but Iris hijacks his life in order to find the person responsible for her daughter’s death. Following the slimmest of leads, they are soon confronting ghosts from the past and a chameleon-like killer who will do anything to stay hidden.

 

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
Expected publication: July 25, 2017 by Simon & Schuster Canada
Book Description:

On a cool June morning, Isa Wilde, a resident of the seemingly idyllic coastal village of Salten, is walking her dog along a tidal estuary. Before she can stop him, Isa s dog charges into the water to retrieve what first appears to be a wayward stick and to her horror, she discovers it s not a stick at all but a human bone. As her three best friends from childhood converge in Salten to comfort a seriously shaken-up Isa, terrifying discoveries are made, and their collective history slowly unravels. Tackling the slipperiness of your memories, the relativity of truth, and the danger of obsessive friendships, The Lying Game is a page-turning mystery with compelling characters and electric prose, resulting in an unputdownable thriller.

 

Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Source: ARC courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada via First Reads. Thank you!
Publication: May 9, 2017 by Viking
Book Description:

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding unnecessary human contact, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen, the three rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. Ultimately, it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repairing her own profoundly damaged one. And if she does, she’ll learn that she, too, is capable of finding friendship—and even love—after all.

Smart, warm, uplifting, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes the only way to survive is to open your heart.

I was immediately drawn to Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine as soon as I read the book’s description; but the recommendation of this title as perfect for readers of Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette– which is one of my all-time favourites- was the cherry on top. Going into Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, I believe I expected something more along the lines of a touching, screwball comedy like The Rosie Project; and while there are currents of comedy in the novel, Honeyman takes a wholly unexpected route with Eleanor and presents a searingly heartbreaking yet hopeful story with her debut.

We meet almost-thirty-year-old Eleanor Oliphant as she gives us readers a brief rundown of what she does for a living as well as her structured weekly schedule; we also get to accompany her on a rather curious visit to the doctor where she requests strong pain-relieving medication. In her rapid yet clear first-person narrative, we are brought into Eleanor’s life as she anticipates great- positive- changes coming her way- courtesy of a man she thinks might be her soulmate. As we dig a little bit deeper into Eleanor’s story, though, her soulmate fixation takes a backseat to different matters. Not only does Eleanor meet a new co-worker- a rather sloppy man named Raymond- and continues to have interactions with him beyond her predictions; but we also get some frightening glimpses into how Eleanor has been treated by her mother. Vile and hateful does not begin to describe Eleanor’s mom, and as more snippets of Eleanor’s young life are revealed, clues to an unspeakable tragedy emerge. Honeyman takes some decidedly unanticipated routes with Eleanor, as well as with Eleanor’s carefully evolving acceptance of the kindhearted and no-nonsense Raymond. Part mystery, part drama, part comedy, Honeyman balances a number of story and character elements and rather masterfully threads it all together to make for an unforgettable, devastating and beautiful story.

Overall, an excellent read; Honeyman writes so seamlessly, with such self-possession, and never allows for quirk or the chance for simple laughs to get in the way of story. I read Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine in a very short span of time; this likely would have been a must-finish-in-one-sitting type of read had life not gotten in the way. Crafted like a mystery and darker than I expected, Honeyman’s novel is all the stronger for how the author weaves and reveals Eleanor’s alarming history and her transforming present. I would absolutely recommend this read for readers who have enjoyed novels by Maria Semple, as well as for fans of out-of-the-ordinary literary fiction.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Must Read Monday (66): Titles from Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Sara Crowe, Caroline Carlson & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week: children’s fiction! The titles featured this week are incredible-sounding and looking titles with a wide-range of genre- everything from magical realism, mystery, fantasy and more. Some favourite authors are here, including forthcoming titles from Laurel Snyder and Julie Berry. The other three authors featured here are new-to-me, and all with very well-received titles. There is Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s award-winning and fascinatingly described The Girl of Ink and Stars; Sara Crowe‘s dark and magical Bone Jack; and Caroline Carlson‘s delightfully described mystery, The World’s Greatest Detective.

 

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Publication: May 5, 2016 by Chicken House
Book Description:

Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella Riosse dreams of the faraway lands her father once mapped.When her closest friend disappears into the island’s Forgotten Territories, she volunteers to guide the search. As a cartographer’s daughter, she’s equipped with elaborate ink maps and knowledge of the stars, and is eager to navigate the island’s forgotten heart.

But the world beyond the walls is a monster-filled wasteland – and beneath the dry rivers and smoking mountains, a legendary fire demon is stirring from its sleep. Soon, following her map, her heart and an ancient myth, Isabella discovers the true end of her journey: to save the island itself.

 

Bone Jack by Sara Crowe
Publication: February 7, 2017 by Philomel Books
Book Description:

Times have been tough for Ash lately, and all he wants is for everything to go back to the way it used to be. Back before drought ruined the land and disease killed off the livestock. Before Ash’s father went off to war and returned carrying psychological scars. Before his best friend, Mark, started acting strangely. As Ash trains for his town’s annual Stag Chase–a race rooted in violent, ancient lore–he’s certain that if he can win and make his father proud, life will return to normal. But the line between reality and illusion is rapidly blurring, and the past has a way of threatening the present.

When a run in the mountains brings Ash face-to-face with Bone Jack–a figure that guards the boundary between the living world and the dead–everything changes once more. As dark energies take root and the world as he knows it is upended, it’s up to Ash to restore things to their proper order and literally run for his life.

 


The World’s Greatest Detective by Caroline Carlson
Expected publication: May 16, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

Detectives’ Row is full of talented investigators, but Toby Montrose isn’t one of them. He’s only an assistant at his uncle’s detective agency, and he’s not sure he’s even very good at that. Toby’s friend Ivy is the best sleuth around—or at least she thinks so. They both see their chance to prove themselves when the famed Hugh Abernathy announces a contest to choose the World’s Greatest Detective. But when what was supposed to be a game turns into a real-life murder mystery, can Toby and Ivy crack the case?

 

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder
Expected publication: May 30, 2017 by Walden Pond Press
Book Description:

On the island, everything is perfect. The sun rises in a sky filled with dancing shapes; the wind, water, and trees shelter and protect those who live there; when the nine children go to sleep in their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joy in their hearts. And only one thing ever changes: on that day, each year, when a boat appears from the mist upon the ocean carrying one young child to join them—and taking the eldest one away, never to be seen again.

Today’s Changing is no different. The boat arrives, taking away Jinny’s best friend, Deen, replacing him with a new little girl named Ess, and leaving Jinny as the new Elder. Jinny knows her responsibility now—to teach Ess everything she needs to know about the island, to keep things as they’ve always been. But will she be ready for the inevitable day when the boat will come back—and take her away forever from the only home she’s known?

 

The Emperor’s Ostrich by Julie Berry
Expected publication: July 18, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
Book Description:

Young dairymaid Begonia has lost her cow, Alfalfa. So she has set off on a search across the countryside even though she has nothing but a magical map to guide her. Along the way she meets a mother and baby, a woodcutter, a very dirty young man, and an eight-foot ostrich.

Meanwhile, the Emperor has gone missing from the royal palace in a most mysterious manner. Was it murder? Was it magic? It will take all of Begonia’s wits to save the empire and get Alfalfa home safely.

 

Picture Book Reviews: Blue Ethel & A Funny Thing Happened at the Museum…

Review: Blue Ethel by Jennifer Black Reinhardt
Source: AR courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: May 30, 2017 by Farrar Straus & Giroux
Book Description:

Ethel is old, she is fat, she is black, and she is white. She is also a cat who is very set in her ways… until the day she turns blue! Blue Ethel is an adorable story written and illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, showing readers that being different can be a good thing.

Blue Ethel, written and gloriously illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, is a sweetly surprising story about an old black and white cat who experiences changes while out on her day-to-day activities. One of the most unusually drawn, vivid and adorable (huggable) cats I have seen recently in picture books, Ethel is a creature of habit. As we learn, Ethel does the same few things every day: she looks out over the land (from her spot on the porch); closely watches the weather and clouds (from a lovely grassy hill); and goes after nefarious creatures (look out for the ants!). One thing that Ethel also loves to do is explore the sidewalk and roll around on it before falling asleep.  But one day, Ethel rolls down the covered-with-colourful-chalk-drawings sidewalk and turns the colour blue! Ethel, of course, cannot see that she now looks different- different from her usual self and quite different from the other cats in her neighborhood. Ethel finds her mood turning to match her new blue colour as the other cats whisper about her new, funny colour. Luckily, a brave little white cat named Fluffy comes to Ethel’s rescue with an idea of how they can be happy and colourful together.

Blue Ethel is a story that emphasizes acceptance, friendship, kindness and empathy; the turns of humour, quiet bursts of quirk and the illustrations make the story so lively and one that kids (and cat lovers!) might especially clamor for. Jennifer Black Reinhardt does such a wonderful job here with the full-page dynamic illustrations and straightforward storyline and text that makes just the right use of repetition. I have had the pleasure of reading this story aloud with my daughter- who is quite obsessed with Ethel and Fluffy now- and she and I both love the story’s tranquil, diverting nature and deserved happy ending.

Review: A Funny Thing Happened at the Museum… by Davide Cali, illus. Benjamin Chaud
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: March 14, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

There’s more to this museum than meets the eye! This is the wonderfully wacky world of celebrated international author-illustrator team Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud, the duo behind Junior Library Guild selections I Didn’t Do My Homework Because . . ., The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer . . ., and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School . . . . Notoriously (and delightfully) unreliable narrator Henry is late to a museum where his class is spending the day. But he has a plan: He’ll just catch up in one of the exhibits. That’s not possible in these halls! With volcanoes erupting, dinosaurs charging, and secret stairwells lurking, reuniting with his classmates becomes a quest of outrageous proportions. Young readers will revel in this entertaining book’s over-the-top antics.

Author Davide Cali (Snow White and the 77 Dwarfs) and illustrator Benjamin Chaud (The Bear’s Song) have collaborated together on a number of fun book projects. Included in their collaborative work are other titles in this series of picture books/early fiction titles involving protagonist Henry and his larger-than-life, incredible diversions. Henry has so far, had some spectacular (and some might argue unbelievable!…) adventures during his summer break, while getting to school, and attempting to finish his homework. Now, we turn to the museum!

In this latest adventure, the story begins with Henry’s teacher asking how he found their class trip to the museum. Henry immediately dives in with letting his teacher know that it “wasn’t exactly what he expected” as he was “charged by a triceratops” as soon as he set foot in the museum! From there, Henry (and his constant canine companion) experience one tremendous, funny, or bonkers experience to the next. Cali has a sharp and funny sense of humour that plays so well in his storytelling; Chaud’s finely detailed, bright, eye-catching and funny illustrations capture Cali’s stories so well. Cali and Chaud’s series of stories featuring Henry are good fun and should appeal to readers who enjoy wacky reads or stories by authors like Jon Agee, Ole Könnecke, Gemma Merino or Margery Cuyler. Reluctant readers who enjoy funny reads and might find themselves scared off by heavier text in early readers or early chapter books- but don’t want to necessarily read “picture books”- might find themselves reaching for A Funny Thing Happened at the Museum.. and other titles in this series.

I received copies of these titles courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: The Goat by Anne Fleming

Review: The Goat by Anne Fleming
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Groundwood Books/House of Anansi. Thank you!
Publication: March 1, 2017 by Groundwood Books
Book Description:

When Kid accompanies her parents to New York City for a six-month stint of dog-sitting and home-schooling, she sees what looks like a tiny white cloud on the top of their apartment building. Rumor says there’s a goat living on the roof, but how can that be?

As Kid soon discovers, a goat on the roof may be the least strange thing about her new home, whose residents are both strange and fascinating.In the penthouse lives Joff Vanderlinden, the famous skateboarding fantasy writer, who happens to be blind. On the ninth floor are Doris and Jonathan, a retired couple trying to adapt to a new lifestyle after Jonathan’s stroke. Kenneth P. Gill, on the tenth, loves opera and tends to burble on nervously about his two hamsters — or are they guinea pigs? Then there’s Kid’s own high-maintenance mother, Lisa, who is rehearsing for an Off Broadway play and is sure it will be the world’s biggest flop.

Kid is painfully shy and too afraid to talk to new people at first, but she is happy to explore Manhattan, especially the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Central Park, where she meets Will, who is also home-schooled and under the constant watchful eye of his grandmother. As Kid and Will become friends, she learns that Will’s parents died in the Twin Towers. Will can’t look out windows, he is a practitioner of Spoonerism, and he is obsessed with the Ancient Egyptian Tomb of Perneb.

When Kid learns that the goat will bring good luck to whoever sees it, suddenly it becomes very important to know whether the goat on the roof is real. So Kid and Will set out to learn the truth, even if it means confronting their own fears.

“Once there was a mountain goat who lived in New York City.”

Last year, I was immediately taken in with two titles from independent Canadian publisher Groundwood Books: A Boy Named Queen and Kabungo. Both of those short novels were entirely their own being, unusual and great, stayed with me through the course of the year, and ended up my on best of 2016 lists. Now in 2017 and almost halfway through the year, I think I might be able to say that Groundwood Books has done it again with Anne Fleming’s The Goat: one of the most wondrous, curious, heartbreaking and funny books I have had the pleasure of reading this year.

The book description provides an ample- and concise- outline of the story, so I won’t get into that much here. I would like to stress though that if you think the plot sounds too peculiar, or with too many characters, or too much quirk, just let Fleming’s leveled and focused writing take you along for this unforgettable journey. A multitude of singular characters- circling around young protagonist Kid and her newly-made friend Will- knit together in lucky and tremendous ways as their focus becomes one and the same: find the elusive goat supposedly hiding somewhere in a New York City twelve-story apartment building. Before the big build-up to Kid and Will’s final search for the goat, readers gain insight to multiple storylines involving Kid’s new apartment neighbours. Some of the storylines include: a senior couple struggling to re-connect and communicate after the husband’s stroke; a young skateboarding bestselling-author who can’t quite fathom why pigeons are making such bizarre hoofing noises on his apartment ledge; and a man fighting with a life-changing decision made while spreading his father’s ashes on a hike in the woods. Covering a plethora of subject matters, from the darker, heartache-inducing to the joyful and wacky, The Goat packs such amazing depths of richness and surprise in its 155 pages.

Imagine, if you will, mixing the writing of Louise Fitzhugh, A.S. King, E.L. Konigsburg and Rebecca Stead, with generous dose of Norton Juster, and you might get something along the lines of The Goat. If that sounds like a dream to you, then I implore to track down this title and savour it. If you are looking to try something outside of your comfort zone with a children’s fiction title that reads as eloquent and capable as any adult title I have read lately, then look no further than this title. Truly unique, gorgeous and unexpected, The Goat is an excellent read.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Groundwood Books/House of Anansi in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Spotlight: Rachelle Delaney’s The Bonaventure Adventures!

Welcome to a special spotlight post featuring Canadian author Rachelle Delaney and her latest children’s novel (out now!), The Bonaventure Adventures. Read on for my thoughts on the novel and an interview with Rachelle!

Sebastian Konstantinov has grown up in a travelling circus, surrounded by talented performers. Seb, however, has no circus skills at all. He can’t even turn a somersault. But he does know this: the old-fashioned circus his father founded is out of date and running low on money. If someone doesn’t figure out how to save it, the Konstantinovs will be in real trouble.

Seb thinks he may have the answer, and it involves attending the highly selective Bonaventure Circus School in Montreal, Canada. Seb secretly writes to the school’s Directrice (conveniently leaving out the part about his lack of circus skills), and to his surprise, he gets accepted right away. Now all he has to do is keep his lack of talent a secret. Fortunately, he isn’t the only misfit at Bonaventure; Seb quickly befriends two other students—Frankie de Luca and Banjo Brady—who don’t quite fit in.

It turns out that Seb is not the only one with secrets. The school is literally crumbling beneath the students’ feet, and the Directrice is counting on Seb’s “talent” to save it. But Seb has his own problems to solve. Can he and his friends stay out of trouble long enough to find a way to save Seb’s family circus back home—as well as the Bonaventure Circus School?

While reading The Bonaventure Adventures, recollections of my childhood came up. Most notably, memories of when, as a child, I used to very happily curl up in my room and speed through books such as Enid Blyton’s Adventure Series, or anything by Beverly Clearly, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Laura Ingalls Wilder (and countless others) for hours on end. Growing up, I liked nothing more than to read about children (or animals) who were on adventures of any kind; perhaps more specifically, I adored reading about brave and/or underestimated children or animals who made their way through surprising twists and turns, difficult times or growing pains. Reads that met those criteria are ones that I consider timeless and think of so very fondly to this day. Quite similarly, Rachelle Delaney’s writing style and approach to characters and storyline in The Bonaventure Adventures is also wonderfully timeless.

While of a contemporary, modern-day setting, with references to email and internet, The Bonaventure Adventures, as mentioned above, reads more like an ageless children’s novel. Part of that might have to with the main thrust of the novel which is the circus! When we meet our protagonist, twelve-year-old Sebastian Konstantinov, he is in Europe with his ringmaster father and other close friends who are part of the traveling Konstantinov Family Circus. Unlike his self-confident and magnetic father, though, Seb is not a performer. His father Dragan sometimes jokes (and jibes) about Seb having no discernible circus talent. However, as much as Dragan believes in himself and the family circus, the circus is dangerously floundering and money is almost non-existent. Seb, rather ingeniously, comes up with a plan to enroll himself in a circus school in Montreal where he just might learn enough about the ‘modern circus’ and techniques of storytelling to save his family.

Hold your possible quibbles and disbelief for just a while as Seb rather quickly gets accepted, permission from his father, and somehow to Montreal, for the rest of the story is even more delightful and enjoyable then the opening. As Seb arrives in Montreal and the surprisingly run-down Bonaventure school (housed in a former grand cathedral!), he is stunned when the other circus students and teachers refer to him as a superstar. His father’s reputation as a magnificent ring master and the mistaken belief that the Konstantinov Family Circus is somehow rolling in money leads to the rather nefarious and scheming directrice of Bonaventure expecting piles of money from Dragan! As Seb’s lies get out of control and truths come out, Seb forms a team with two other so-called bad eggs, Frankie and Banjo, to not only save the Konstantinovs, but also to save their odd yet beloved new home at Bonaventure with a heroic- and bold- act.

Overall, The Bonaventure Adventures is an enchanting read that is, quite simply, terrifically fun. I am not sure if there are plans for future titles, but the ending leaves some room for further adventures, and I would be delighted to read more about Seb and his friends. Perfect for kids (and older readers!) who love more classic adventure tales and stories of mischief and daring, this novel will likely appeal to readers who tend toward authors such as Katherine Applegate, Laurel Snyder, Kate DiCamillo, Kathi Appelt, Lisa Graff and more.

Now for my interview with Rachelle!

I learned that Rachelle herself spent some time taking circus classes and I asked her if she could elaborate on her experience:
About three years ago, when I was first attempting to write The Bonaventure Adventures, I decided to take some beginner circus classes to help me understand and describe the skills my characters were learning in the story. This was a departure for me, because I’m awfully uncoordinated—pretty well the least acrobatic person I know. But my main character, Sebastian Konstantinov, is also a hopeless beginner with no skills, so I figured at least I’d be able to empathize.

I dabbled in *very* rudimentary acrobatics, trapeze, silks, aerial hoop, and juggling. And unsurprisingly, I discovered that circus skills are really, really difficult! Also, painful! But my teachers were very patient with me, as were the friends I whimpered to in the days after my classes, when I was too sore to lift my arms.

I also mustered up the nerve to take a parkour workshop, since another one of my main characters, Frankie, is a parkour expert. That was perhaps the most humbling day of my life. Those bruises lasted a long time.

Who were your favourite authors growing up?
I loved Beverly Cleary and Astrid Lindgren, and I read a lot of L.M. Montgomery, though I have to admit I wasn’t an “Anne girl” – I preferred the Story Girl books. In my teens I discovered Tamora Pierce, and it was game-over; I must have read the Song of the Lioness series fifteen times.

Which characters did you most relate to as a child and then as a teen?
I think I was always drawn to daring and adventurous female characters—not that I was really either of those things growing up, but I aspired to travel and have adventures. I loved Pippi Longstocking’s wild spirit and nutty ideas—thanks to her, my sister and I spent many hours playing Don’t Touch the Floor. And as a teen, I loved Alanna from the Tamora Pierce series I mentioned above. She was another strong and daring character—a girl who disguised herself as her twin brother in order to train to be a knight.

Did you have an “aha” moment where you decided you wanted to be a writer?
I think it was more of a slow realization. Though I’d always loved writing stories and poems, I decided to study conservation sciences in university—mostly because a high school teacher had informed me that writers don’t get paid. But within a year, I was avoiding all my science classes and taking every English class I could squeeze into my schedule. I realized I wanted to study words and stories, so I changed schools and started studying creative writing instead.

How or why did you decide to pursue the profession?
After I finished my undergrad degree in creative writing, I decided to follow it up with an MFA, largely to avoid working a nine-to-five job (a common theme in my life). At that point, I was focused on creative nonfiction—I had vague plans of being an environmental writer. But then I took my first Writing for Children course, and I fell in love with the genre—it’s so much fun to write for young readers. I do still write a lot of nonfiction, though. It’s nice to change things up.

If you weren’t writing or teaching writing, what do you think you would be doing?
I’ve worked a lot of jobs to support my writing habit over the years. I’ve managed programs and communications for non-profits, taught environmental education, and worked on museum and science centre exhibits. But if I had to do something completely different, I’d probably return to conservation biology. I adore tree-climbing and have this long-time dream of being a tree canopy scientist, which is probably a lot harder and more painful than I imagine. Not unlike parkour.

What are some of your reading highlights of the year so far?
I was a bit late to the party on this one, but I just read Ruta Sepetys’s YA novel Salt to the Sea, which was incredibly engrossing. And I’m currently reading [Adam Gidwitz’s) The Inquisitor’s Tale (Or, Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog), and so far it’s delightful.

Thank you so much for your time, Rachelle!

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this post. All opinions and comments are my own. Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for organizing the interview with Rachelle.

Picture Book Review: This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe

Review: This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World by Matt Lamothe
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: April 4, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

Follow the real lives of seven kids from Italy, Japan, Iran, India, Peru, Uganda, and Russia for a single day! In Japan Kei plays Freeze Tag, while in Uganda Daphine likes to jump rope. But while the way they play may differ, the shared rhythm of their days—and this one world we all share—unites them. This genuine exchange provides a window into traditions that may be different from our own as well as a mirror reflecting our common experiences. Inspired by his own travels, Matt Lamothe transports readers across the globe and back with this luminous and thoughtful picture book.

 

An utterly engaging entry into the informational picture books genre, Matt Lamothe’s This Is How We Do It is a wonderful and illuminating look inside the daily routines of seven children (and their respective families) from countries around the world. From Uganda to Italy, Peru to Russia, This Is How We Do It is educational and all-around fascinating. Lamothe leads readers through his illustrative representations of components of daily life such as “This is who I live with” to “This is how I go to school” and “This is how I spell my name” and beyond. For every one of these components (and there are many!), Lamothe draws each of the seven featured children and their respective experiences. How the authors has encapsulated the representation of each child’s experience is quite marvelous. Readers might find themselves in moments of major surprise as they learn about how vast, or, in fact, how minor our different practices and habits actually are!

Picture books speaking to dissimilarities/commonalities of children around the world are not necessarily a new concept but Lamothe’s entry here is one I would absolutely recommend due its reflective, open nature and attention to detail. It is worth noting here as well that Lamothe acknowledges that these seven children cannot of course be “representative of their country or culture” (or of how family structures have changed)- but the author hopes that there can be learning, insight and surprise to be gained from reading his book. I receive increasing numbers of questions on the children’s reference desk on broader subjects such as empathy, compassion, cultural sensitivity and awareness: This Is How We Do It is one terrific, current, and insightful children’s book to have on hand to recommend. A special bonus: readers get to see some pictures of the children and families featured in the book in a ‘Meet the Families’ spread in the back pages of the book.

I received copies of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest reviews All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: The Dead Inside: A True Story by Cyndy Etler

Review: The Dead Inside: A True Story by Cyndy Etler
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books
Publication: April 4, 2017 by Sourcebooks
Book Description:

For readers of Girl Interrupted and Tweak, Cyndy Etler’s gripping memoir gives readers a glimpse into the harrowing reality of her sixteen months in the notorious tough love program the ACLU called “a concentration camp for throwaway kids.”

I never was a badass. Or a slut, a junkie, a stoner, like they told me I was. I was just a kid looking for something good, something that felt like love. I was a wannabe in a Levi’s jean jacket. Anybody could see that. Except my mother. And the professionals at Straight. From the outside, Straight Inc. was a drug rehab. But on the inside it was… well, it was something else.

All Cyndy wanted was to be loved and accepted. By age fourteen, she had escaped from her violent home, only to be reported as a runaway and sent to a “drug rehabilitation” facility that changed her world. To the public, Straight Inc. was a place of recovery. But behind closed doors, the program used bizarre and intimidating methods to “treat” its patients. In her raw and fearless memoir, Cyndy Etler recounts her sixteen months in the living nightmare that Straight Inc. considered “healing.”

As I read the harrowing true story of Cyndy Etler‘s time in the Straight Inc. program, I felt as I had when I read Garrard Conley’s brilliant memoir Boy Erased: floored, aghast, enraged. A memoir of Cyndy Etler’s time in the “rehabilitation” centre for “wayward” and “druggy” youths, The Dead Inside is an incredibly detailed, eye-opening, disturbing read that brings to light a very troubling so-called recovery program that existed only decades ago in North America (…and one that perhaps not many know about).

The Dead Inside is an emotional, bleak read- and a very important one at that. Not only is the memoir insightful about one particular kind of ‘treatment’ program that was tested on youth, but it is also read that stirs thoughts regarding opportunity (and limits to) for forgotten or hidden youth; parental abuse; as well the dangers inherent in labeling teens as ‘bad’ kids. Many intense subjects are openly approached in this title: sexual abuse, verbal abuse, psychological and physical trauma for a start. Etler does not broach any subject matter in a benevolent, timid fashion- and The Dead Inside makes all the more impact for it. Etler’s memoir is one read that I feel needs to be experienced for the full impact; I fear that I cannot do justice to aptly describing or condensing the dark and compelling nature of this memoir.

A little side story here before wrapping up my thoughts: while in the middle of this read, I actually stopped to tweet about my reading experience (so many thoughts and emotions were running through my head) and Cyndy Etler herself (unexpectedly and so sweetly!) responded back…which is all kinds of incredible. Any readers who appreciate darker, no holds-barred memoirs, or the writing of authors such as Ellen Hopkins or Patricia McCormick might especially take to this read. Interested readers: take note that a follow-up to The Dead Inside called We Can’t Be Friends, detailing Cyndy’s recovery and life after leaving Straight Inc. is due out in the fall of 2017.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Recently Read: Great Picture Books from Lucy Cousins, Mary Sullivan, Aaron Blabey & more!

Another spate of recently read wonderful picture books- with a board book tossed in for good measure! Everything from the new and terrifically vibrant, active read alouds, to cheeky and funny rhyming stories to the quietly gorgeous and interactive picture books. As ever ,I am in awe of the talent and innovation in picture books (and board books). I’ve starred the ones which I have used (and were a big hit!) at one of my storytimes.

Hooray for Birds! by Lucy Cousins*
Publication: March 28, 2017 by Candlewick Press

Treat by Mary Sullivan
Publication: March 1, 2016 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey*
Publication: July 1, 2014 by Scholastic

Hello, Mr. Dodo! by Nicholas John Firth
Publication: January 31, 2017 by Arthur A. Levine Books

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima*
Publication: February 14, 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Tree: A Peek-Through Picture Book by Patricia Hegarty, illus. Britta Teckentrup
Publication: February 9, 2016 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers (this edition)

Chicken Story Time by Sandy Asher, illus. Mark Fearing*
Publication: December 13, 2016 by Dial Books

Charlotte and the Rock by Stephen W. Martin, illus. Samantha Cotterill
Publication: March 14, 2017 by Dial Books

Bunnybear by Andrea J. Loney, illus. Carmen Saldana*
Publication: January 31st 2017 by Albert Whitman Company

Tickle My Ears by Jörg Mühle (board book)*
Publication: September 2016 by Gecko Press (this edition)