Picture Book Review: Wild One by Jane Whittingham & Noel Tuazon

Review: Wild One by Jane Whittingham, illus. Noel Tuazon
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Pajama Press. Thank you!
Publication:
Book Description:

Can you stretch like a cat or hang like a bat? This little one can do those things and so much more as she bounds energetically through her day. Author Jane Whittingham‘s sprightly couplets take her from the park to the pool, to dinner and bed, while Noel Tuazon cleverly illustrates the animal companions of a child’s imagination.

Published in a sturdy format with a padded cover, rounded corners, and extra-heavy paper, this picture book is perfect for sharing with wiggly, little wild ones of your own. And as the last pages are turned, the story’s final, sweet “goodnight” will leave the liveliest listeners ready to snuggle like a bear at bedtime.

Canadian librarian and writer Jane Whittingham (who you might know from the terrific review blog Raincity Jane) and Canadian illustrator Noel Tuazon have teamed up to bring readers the exuberant, fun and all-around winning picture book Wild One. Written in rhyming couplets- a form in picture books I absolutely adore when done fittingly – Wild One tells the story of a young girl’s very busy, very active day, with actions mirroring those of animals. Accompanied by Noel Tuazon’s soft yet sunny and bright illustrations, Wild One is a lovely treat.

When we meet the young heroine of our story, she is “in the park, stretching like a cat”, then moving on to monkey bars, “hanging like a bat”. From the park to the pool, to supper time and snuggling in bed, we follow the little wild one about her dynamic day- well mostly all dynamic! When she has to leave her play time fun and head home with her mom, wild one slows down considerably…but not for long! Wild one goes through her mightily busy day with highlighted actions and activities accompanied by corresponding animal actions (energetically and sweetly brought to life by Tuazon’s drawings). In a sweet closing spread, after snuggling down in her bed “like a bear”, Wild One ends on a loving and continued happy tone, with the young (now sleeping) girl being wished a good night from her parents.

Overall, a joyful, fun and charming picture book. Perfect for a preschool age and under crowd, I think Wild One would go over tremendously well as a read aloud with busy, wiggly and active toddlers. It could even be used by a willing reader to facilitate an action/movement read aloud with everyone acting out the animal movements in the story! Wild One is a picture book that begs for reading aloud and having fun with, due its ideal compact length, clarity, perfectly fun rhymes, and complementary (adorable) illustrations.

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

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Review: Nine Lessons by Nicola Upson

Review: Nine Lessons (A Josephine Tey Mystery #7) by Nicola Upson
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: October 10, 2017 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

Called to the peaceful wooded churchyard of St-John’s-at-Hampstead, Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose faces one of the most audacious and unusual murders of his career. The body of the church’s organist is found in an opened grave, together with a photograph of a manor house and a cryptic note. The image leads Archie to Cambridge, where the crisp autumn air has brought with it bustling life to the ancient university and town.

Both Josephine Tey and Archie’s lover Bridget have recently settled in Cambridge, though both women are not equally happy to see him. One has concealed an important secret from Archie which now threatens to come to light. Meanwhile, the change of seasons has also brought with it a series of vicious attacks against women in town, spreading fear and suspicion through the community.

Soon, another body is revealed, and in the shadow of King’s College Chapel, Archie uncovers a connection twenty-five years old which haunted both victims—as well as some of their living companions. As Archie and Josephine each grapple with savage malefactors intent on making their victims pay, they must race to stop another attack in this beautifully written, intricately plotted mystery.

 

Curling up with a compelling, detailed and surprising historical mystery is one of my great reading pleasures, so imagine my delight to have been introduced to a new, terrifically written historical mystery series! Nicola Upson’s well-reviewed Nine Lessons is the seventh entry in the critically acclaimed Josephine Tey Mystery 1930s-set series, though the first one I have had the pleasure of reading. Beautifully, elegantly written with a subtle darker edge at its core and rounded out by terrific, engrossing characters, I found Nine Lessons to be quite a standout historical mystery title.

Nine Lessons begins in a churchyard with the discovery of a body in an open grave. Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose, as readers can surmise, has seen his fair share of crime scenes and death; but this, the finding of the church organist’s body is something…different. Penrose, with the aid of his police colleagues, finds out almost incomprehensibly disturbing details about how the deceased, former Cambridge student Dr. Stephen Laxborough, might have been killed. As Penrose begins piecing together strange and frustratingly vague clues left on the deceased person, more murders- all linked, somehow, to Dr. Laxborough and a group of Cambridge classmates- occur. While Penrose focuses most of his time and attention on the Laxborough murder and connected crimes in and around Cambridge, a string of heinous, violent sexual crimes against women are happening in the same city. As the two crime threads intersect at intervals, readers are introduced (or re-introduced) to Penrose’s friend, mystery author and amateur sleuth Josephine Tey (a character Upson has based on the highly-regarded Scottish author). As Tey finds herself exploring in both crime threads to aid Penrose and women in the Cambridge area, readers are proffered glimpses into Tey and Penrose’s somewhat delicate history and how they have come to be with their current romantic partners. How the crime threads are investigated and culminate is pretty terrific- meticulously plotted and presented. Moreover, there is another related piece to Nine Lessons that I want to bring up: just how much substance and critical weight to the subject matter Upson covers in Nine Lessons. Everything from police and public response to sexual assault, victim (female) blaming and shaming after rape, historical and public conceptions and intolerance regarding same-sex partnerships, and more. You might be wondering, with such an incredible scope, just how does everything tie together and wrap itself up by the end of 300 pages? Lest you worry, I can say that Upson does a superb job with making Nine Lessons read cohesively- never overwhelming or burdening the reader.

Overall, an excellent, complicated mystery that leaves the reader satisfied: polished, interesting and compelling from start to finish with tremendous depth. I was so intrigued by the main characters of Archie and Josephine- and their clearly complex history- during my reading, that I have now made it a goal to go back and read the series from the beginning. While I don’t think any curious readers diving into the series at this entry point will have any issues following along, my interest has definitely been piqued and I am aiming to go back and gain more insight into Archie and Josephine’s separate and joint histories. For any readers who adore this sub-genre of mystery/suspense, I highly recommend this title and series; if you’re not yet convinced, Nine Lessons has made Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2017 in the mystery/thriller category!

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.

Picture Book Reviews: Professional Crocodile & Lines

Two glorious wordless picture books on the review docket! But first, a slight preamble:

I think I have previously reflected that authors and illustrators perform incredible feats in carrying out wordless picture books: plotting and mapping a story, holding interest, moving from beginning, middle, climax/reveal, to end, all without words to propel and prompt. Wordless picture books can be somewhat of a misunderstood/under-read category of picture books, and when I read treasures like Professional Crocodile and Lines, it pains me to think readers might miss out on so much! In my time so far as a children’s librarian I have heard kids being discouraged from checking out wordless picture books by adults saying they’re “too easy” or “not challenging enough”– essentially, boiling down to the argument of ‘without words to test you, what’s the point?’ Well, as someone who advocates and adores the category, I would like make the case that there is indeed marvel, challenge, curiosity and joy in sharing and experiencing wordless picture books! Let’s take a closer look now at two stellar examples:

 

Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli illus. by Mariachiara Di Giorgio
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: August 1, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

Mr. Crocodile loves his job. Every morning he gets up with an alarm. He brushes his teeth. He chooses the right tie to match his outfit, eats a quick slice of toast, and heads off to work on a crowded train. But what exactly is his job? The answer may surprise you! Readers will want to pore over this witty, wordless book again and again, finding new details and fresh stories with every reading.

Professional Crocodile is one of those picture books that I am delighted to have read and experienced. Prior to reading this wordless picture book, I had seen snippets of the book from other reviewers, thought the book looked gorgeous and added it my must-read. I was very fortunate to be surprised with a copy of it and can now quite confidently say that it is indeed a marvelous picture book.

We meet Mr. Crocodile as he wakes up to a new day in his dapper pajamas. As we join Mr. Crocodile and follow him about, readers see that by all accounts, he is a careful, elegant, well put together character. We see Mr. Crocodile do everything from taking a crowded train, to enjoying a whiff of food stuff so fragrant and delicious that it begs his purchase, to purchasing lovely flowers to surprise a young woman. But where exactly is Mr. Crocodile’s day taking him? We then get our answer as Mr. Crocodile surprises with a reveal of where he works and what his job is! A straightforward premise told in a supremely innovative and clever way here, Professional Crocodile is one of those reads that begs for multiple reads and studies. I have pored over this book now multiple times beginning to end and have found new facets and details each time that make Professional Crocodiles ending that much more marvelous.

Some of my personal favourites in children’s lit- Shaun Tan, Molly Idle, David Wiesner, Suzy Lee, to name but a few- are masters of the wordless book, and Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachiara Di Giorgio’s work here is on par with that excellence. Professional Crocodile is a truly exceptional, clever, out of the ordinary story and experience for readers of all ages.

 

 

Lines by Suzy Lee
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: September 5, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

It starts with a line. Whether made by the tip of a pencil or the blade of a skate, the magic starts there.

And magic once again flows from the pencil and imagination of internationally acclaimed artist Suzy Lee. With the lightest of touches, this masterwork blurs the lines between real and imagined, reminding us why Lee’s books have been lauded around the world, recognized on New York Times Best Illustrated Books lists and nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest international honor given to children’s book creators. This seemingly simple story about a young skater on a frozen pond will charm the youngest of readers while simultaneously astounding book enthusiasts of any age.

Since first reading (and rereading) Suzy Lee’s award-winning wordless picture books Wave, Mirror, and Shadow in succession, I have been a dedicated fan of the author-illustrator’s work. Sophisticated, experimental yet approachable for all ages of reader, Lee’s work is sublime, surprising and something to behold. In her latest wordless picture book Lines, Suzy Lee starts with the glide of a pencil tip to tell a gently- quietly- ebullient and ingenious tale.

Like a story within a story, Lines has layers and dimensions that draws the reader in and plays with perceptions about a story’s narrative, artwork, interruptions in reader experience, and how artists can turn a supposed slip back into something picture-perfect. Readers fall under the spell of an ice skater, watching as their blade cuts more and more lines of various width, shape, and weight into the ice. As the skater’s moves become more complicated, we see the ice become a patchwork of busier and busier carved lines until the ice skater leaps into a jump, spins in the air and— then– the story stops, restarts, and finishes in wonderful and surprising ways. Lee plays here so well with format and dimension, testing and nudging the reader into experiencing the story as both a journey of an artist working their way through a story and a standalone wintry narrative.

Lee’s work in Lines is terrific, thoughtful and understated brilliance, and I continue to be such a fan of her work. If you haven’t yet had a chance to explore Suzy Lee’s work, I highly recommend taking a look through the artist’s entire oeuvre up to and including this latest treat.

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

Review: Unholy City (A Claire Codella Mystery #3) by Carrie Smith

Review: Unholy City (A Claire Codella Mystery #3) by Carrie Smith
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: November 7, 2017 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

Despite their rocky history, Detective Claire Codella and Precinct Detective Brian Haggerty come together when senior churchwarden Philip Graves’s bloody body is found lying in the herb garden of historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side just two days before Good Friday. Upon first glance, it looks like a random act of big city violence, but it soon becomes clear churchwarden Philip’s death was the result of a meticulously calculated ploy by someone who knew him.

There are five vestry members and a choir director in addition to the ten homeless men asleep in the church basement. Any one of them could have done it, but what did Philip Graves do to warrant such a merciless death? Struggling to share the case and salvage their personal relationship, Claire, Brian and trusted Detective Eduardo Muñoz work around the clock to uncloak the desires, secrets, and resentments that find home through the iron gates and into the hidden beauty of one historic Romanesque church in Unholy City, the haunting third installment in Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella mysteries.

Unholy City is the third entry into Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella Mystery series, behind the debut Silent City and sophomore entry Forgotten City. As with the previous two series entries, Unholy City is a sharply written, highly engaging mystery with another unique criminal investigation at its core.

The focus in Unholy City is somewhat of a departure from the homicide investigations that occurred over the course of books one and two. While the crime itself is no less shocking in terms violence, there is an altogether unusual, perplexing mystery that meets Claire and fellow Detectives Brian Haggerty and Eduardo Muñoz. Their investigation into the death of a churchwarden at an Upper West Side church explodes into an exceedingly thorny examination into the supposedly quieter lives of multiple vestry members and their increasingly convoluted recollections of their time and relationship with the deceased. Unlike the first two Claire Codella novels, it seems as though Unholy City is more primarily focused on the crime and scene at hand; slightly less time is given to Claire and her partnership (professional and now personal) with Detective Haggerty in favour of concentration and detail on the strangely hushed, almost locked-room nature of the church homicide. Smith is meticulous in how the particular details of the major crime(s) committed are studied, examined and played out; more so than the previous series entries, Unholy City‘s major investigation is a case that involves logistics, deductive reasoning, and exhaustive suspect interviews. The third-person narrative also continues to rotate between that of Claire and her team’s work, to that of parties involved on the other side of the police investigation. This alternating viewpoint structure really works in this series to sustain reader’s attention and in this entry especially, works so well in layering and adding surprising character reveals, as well as in smoothly propelling the story toward the climax and reveal.

Overall, another very strong, well-written, well-plotted and well-paced entry into what has become a favourite new mystery/crime series. Now three books into Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella Mystery series and I continue to be hooked: not only by the titular protagonist who continues to engage and evolve, but also by the changing nature and scope of the investigations at the heart of the novels. I have likely mentioned this about the series, but will say it again: I do hope to read and explore many further titles in Carrie Smith’s terrific crime series.

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.

Halloween Picture Book Giveaway!

Comic by ‘The Little World of Liz Climo‘ author-illustrator Liz Climo

Something fun and not at all too scary for Halloween: a chance to win one of four perfect-for-Halloween picture books! Courtesy of the lovely folks at Raincoast Books, I have four new seasonal spooky reads to share with you, and one lucky reader will have the chance to win their top picture book pick. Halloween Picture Book Giveaway details are at the bottom of the post, so please read on!

Now let’s take a look at the books:

Herbert’s First Halloween by Cynthia Rylant, illus. Stephen Henry
Publication: August 1, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Herbert is deeply doubtful about his first Halloween—but with a little help from his dad and a special tiger costume, Herbert might just find confidence on Halloween night. Together, father and son practice roaring, carve a pumpkin, and venture out in search of candy. And by the end of the night, Herbert finds his doubts have melted away. A sweet introduction to Halloween and to being brave, this book is sure to delight the youngest of trick-or-treaters.

Just right for any child a bit uncertain about Halloween and trick-or-treating, or skeptical about wearing a costume, Herbert’s First Halloween is a gentle and friendly story from beloved children’s author Cynthia Rylant and illustrator Stephen Henry about a young (adorable) piggy named Herbert getting ready for his first experience of Halloween night. With the help of his kind and patient dad- who shares memories of his own Halloween and favourite costume- Herbert discovers much to enjoy about Halloween.

How to Catch a Monster by Adam Wallace, illus. Andy Elkerton
Publication: September 5, 2017 by Sourcebooks
Get ready to laugh as a young ninja heads into the closet to meet the monster that’s been so scary night after night! But what if things aren’t whatthey seem and our monster isn’t scary at all? What if our ninja hero is about to make a friend of strangest sort? Is there a monster living in your closet? Are you brave enough to catch him? Parents and children will love sharing this fun and inventive picture book, which reminds us that things aren’t always as scary as they seem.

A goofy and totally fun rhyming picture book, Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton’s How to Catch a Monster is their Halloween offering in their popular ‘How to Catch…’ series. In How to Catch a Monster, a young child who recently got the role of a ninja master in a school play, decides to come face to face with the monster in their closet. Feeling “brave and strong, and full of courage, too”, our young ninja faces down a fuzzy green and blue monster, while discovering some very surprising facts about the possibly not-so-scary (maybe even sweet and fun!) monster!

Tyrannosaurus Rex vs. Edna, The Very First Chicken by Douglas Rees, illus. Jed Henry
Publication: September 26, 2017 by Henry Holt
Tyrannosaurus Rex wants breakfast. He stomps and he roars and he gnashes his teeth―and he scares all the other dinosaurs right out of the forest. Only Edna, the very first chicken, is unafraid. She won’t let that bully T. rex push her around! But will Edna’s mighty beak and terrible flapping wings be a match for T. rex’s mighty claws and terrible jaws? This hilarious tale of bravery will have readers clucking in triumph! Jed Henry’s charming illustrations accompany Douglas Rees’ upROARious tale.

Okay, okay, so Tyrannosaurus Rex vs. Edna, The Very First Chicken might not be Halloween book per se, but it’s got roaring dinosaurs and one very cool, very, very brave chicken facing down a terrifying T-Rex! In this story all about bravery, a cute and ferocious chicken named Edna goes face to face with a monstrous, bossy T-Rex who disturbs the other dinosaurs and yells about wanting breakfast and threatening to eat anyone is his path. Edna commands the T-Rex’s attention and fights her way to teach the T-Rex a few lessons. A tale from Douglas Rees and illustrator Jed Henry all about courage, filled with wackiness and laugh out loud moments, this one would make for a perfectly zany read aloud.

The Pomegranate Witch by Denise Doyen, illus. Eliza Wheeler
Publication: August 1, 2017 by Chronicle Books
When a scary old tree blooms with the most beautiful pomegranates ever seen, the neighborhood kids’ mouths water with anticipation. But the tree isn’t theirs—and it has a protector! So begins the Pomegranate War, a fun, rollicking, rhyming tale of a battle between the sly, plucky young rascals and their wry, witchy neighbor who may have more than one trick up her sleeve. This delectable romp from award-winning children’s poet Denise Doyen and acclaimed illustrator Eliza Wheeler honors classic children’s literature and revels in nostalgia for free-to-roam days full of playful invention.

A perfect-for-Halloween story told in rhyme, Denise Doyen and Eliza Wheeler’s The Pomegranate Witch reads like a modern fairy tale. This is a tale about a haunted pomegranate tree on abandoned farmhouse land; a tree filled with the beautiful and delicious pomegranates ever seen and protected by the terrifying Pomegranate Witch. A group of brave children- and one fast-acting young boy- try to battle the witch for a taste of the elusive fruit. The Pomegranate Witch might make for a great witchy read aloud for elementary age and up students; Denise Doyen’s writing is atmospheric and fun, while Tell Me a Tattoo Story artist Eliza Wheeler continues to delight with her beautiful illustrative style.

Giveaway Info:

The Halloween Picture Book Giveaway is open to Canadian residents, ages 18 and up. The giveaway will run from October 29, 2017 to November 5, 2017. One winner will be randomly selected at the end of giveaway via Rafflecopter. The winner will have 48 hours to respond via Twitter or by emailing me at fabbookreviews[at]gmail[dot]com, confirming their name, their mailing address, and their one picture book prize pick. If the first drawn winner does not contact me within 48 hours, another winner will be chosen.

GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.

Thank you to everyone who entered!

Winning entry drawn via Rafflecopter is:

KIRSTEN N.!

Winner has been notified and has 48 hours to claim the prize or another entry will be drawn.

 

Click here to enter the giveaway via Rafflecopter!

I received copies of the four picture book titles from Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. Opinions and comments regarding the titles are my own. Prizes provided courtesy of Raincoast Books.

Picture Book Review: After the Fall by Dan Santat

Review: After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: October 3, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
Book Description:

From the New York Times -bestselling creator of The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend comes the inspiring epilogue to the beloved classic nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty.

Everyone knows that when Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. But what happened after ?

Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat’s poignant tale follows Humpty Dumpty, an avid bird watcher whose favorite place to be is high up on the city wall – that is, until after his famous fall. Now terrified of heights, Humpty can longer do many of the things he loves most.

Will he summon the courage to face his fear?

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) is a masterful picture book that will remind readers of all ages that Life begins when you get back up .

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

How many of us, growing up, sang or heard a version of the popular nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty featuring the character as an egg? As one of the many, many children who did, I must confess to having always wondered a little bit at poor egg Humpty Dumpty: what happened to Humpty Dumpty after the king’s horses and men couldn’t put him together again? I never felt quite satisfied that Humpty Dumpty’s story was complete. Enter Caldecott Medal-winning author and illustrator Dan Santat– one of my favourite storytellers and artists- who tells an incredible, affecting, inspired epilogue of what happened to Humpty Dumpty after the fall

In Santat’s After the Fall, readers are treated to a fantastically illustrated and ingenious tale of what happens to Humpty Dumpty when he decides to get back up again after his fall. In this epilogue, Santat presents a bandaged, suited Humpty Dumpty as a passionate bird watcher. Readers learn how and why Humpty’s fall actually happened: he was sitting “high up on the wall” watching birds, just being close to them, when the accident happened. We learn that much of Humpty simply could not be fixed with “bandages and glue”: after the fall, fear started creeping in to all aspects of Humpty’s life and he became scared of so much. Things that he used to love- most especially being up high, spending time with his beloved birds- he couldn’t face anymore. In a wonderful, impassioned turn- one involving paper airplanes and birds- we see Humpty face his fears as he builds himself up to face the great wall again. I don’t want to give away the ending here, as it should truly be experienced with Santat’s words and gorgeous art, but I will say that Humpty Dumpty’s hope- that you won’t just think of him as “that egg who was famous for falling”- will be made.

Overall, After the Fall is a truly heartening, beautiful experience in storytelling and art; a unique take on a well-known rhyme that will undoubtedly change the way you think of Humpty Dumpty’s story. Inspiring in the deepest, honest sense of the word; a story to be shared with and by children and grown-ups, Dan Santat continues to excel in delighting and engaging readers of all ages.

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: Wishtree & The Exact Location of Home

I have had the pleasure of recently reading two children’s fiction titles: Wishtree, from Newbery Medal award-winning author Katherine Applegate (The One and Only Ivan), and The Exact Location of Home from another award-winning author, Kate Messner (The Seventh Wish). Read on for my thoughts on the two middle-grade titles:

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate, illus. Charles Santoso
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: September 26, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends
Book Description:

Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood wishtree” – people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood. You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.

Funny, deep, warm, and nuanced, Wishtree is Newbery Medalist and New York Times -bestselling author Katherine Applegate at her very best – writing from the heart, and from a completely unexpected point of view.

Told through the first-person narrative of an old oak tree (a wishtree) named Red, Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree is compassionate story with overarching themes about the importance of kindness and of hope. The angle of the story being told from an ancient oak tree’s perspective is truly unique: like an omnipotent being watching over a neighborhood, Red tells us stories about one particular neighborhood they have been watching over for years. As Red witnesses unwelcome and outright cruel acts taken against a young girl named Samar (and her family) who have recently moved into the neighborhood, Red decides that the time for action has come. With the help of friend Bongo, a clever crow, and the slight interference of wildlife friends close by, Red takes on a daring mission to make Samar’s wish- for that of friendship- come true.

Readers who have previously enjoyed Katherine Applegate’s titles will undoubtedly enjoy this story; a story, at its core, about kindness, inclusion, and friendship. While I do think the story might have benefited from a longer finale and conclusion (certain facets to the story seemed a little rushed and/or solved too quickly!), it is nonetheless a moving tale. A beautiful, affecting story that reads almost like a parable, Applegate has another solid middle grade title here with Wishtree.

The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: September 12, 2017 by Bloomsbury USA*
Book Description:

Kirby “Zig” Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than most people – especially his father, who he hasn’t seen in over a year. When his dad’s latest visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo – a garage sale GPS unit – for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town to explain his absence, Zig sets out to find him. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon discovers that people aren’t always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there’s more than one set of coordinates for home.

An important story of love and hope that will capture readers’ hearts, The Exact Location of Home is another must read from beloved author Kate Messner.

Kate Messner, picture book writer and middle grade author of The Seventh Wish and All the Answers, returns to contemporary, realistic issues in The Exact Location of Home. Readers are taken into the changing and suddenly complicated world of protagonist and narrator Zig. As we soon learn, Zig lives with mom; his dad, Zig Senior, and mom are divorced, though Zig looks forward to his (increasingly sporadic) visits with his larger-than-life dad almost more than anything. After he learns from his mom that Zig Senior is not making his next planned visit and his mom remains tight-lipped about the reasons for the cancellations, Zig decides to investigate a little bit. While investigating, Zig and his two closest friends become ensconced in daring geocaching missions around his neighborhood- where Zig becomes utterly convinced his dad is leaving secret clues for him to track him down. Messner carefully balances plotlines that include serious financial strain, homelessness, parental lies, and possible romance. It’s a heavy load of subject matters, but Messner approaches all- especially that of sudden homelessness, fear, and shame (not often covered in middle grade)- with careful consideration and eloquence.

As with Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree, discussed above, Messner’s The Exact Location of Home touches upon realistic, seriously affecting issues that resonate and provide much for contemplation. Readers who are searching for a meaningful, contemporary title- with a tangible, complex young protagonist- might especially appreciate The Exact Location of Home.

(*It appears that The Exact Location of Home was first published solely in e-book format in 2014; reissued this past September 2017 in print format.)

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

Spotlight & Giveaway for Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes!

Be An Upside Down Thinker!

Welcome to a special post featuring Shelley Johannes’s debut children’s title Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker! Disney-Hyperion has very kindly sent me a copy of the book to check out and is partnering with me for a great giveaway.

Shelley Johannes’s debut is an early children’s fiction title with lots of zest and heart. Beatrice Zinker is one of three Zinker children, and she’s never felt like she’s quite fit in with her family- most especially with her older sister Kate, the spit of her very organized, right-side up mom. From an early age, Beatrice has been most fascinated by the ‘maybe’s’ of life, of adventure, of not quite doing the expected…and of doing her best thinking upside down (or hanging out in trees). When Beatrice is surprised with a special award for ‘Best Upside Down Thinker’ at the end of first grade- and makes a wonderful friend in classmate Lenny- Beatrice thinks things might actually be turning perfectly upside down in her favour. But then third grade starts and things start to go more than awry for Beatrice. With a stricter, unbending new teacher, and a best friend who seems to be drifting away from adventure and ‘what-ifs’, Beatrice finds herself in a terrible bind. With it looking like a disastrous, lonely year ahead, Beatrice decides to charge ahead with her top secret Operation Upside. Beatrice is an unusual, brave character who will likely find lots of young readers able to empathize with her and her growing pains. Tackling broader yet understandable issues like sibling drama, changing friendships and staying true to one’s self, Johannes creates something unique and winningly kooky with Beatrice and the Zinker family. While some of Beatrice’s motivations and actions through the middle of novel come off as a little haphazard or unexplored (well, kind like Beatrice herself, at times!), the story swirls beautifully towards a lovely ending. Readers who are enjoying series like Dory Fantasmagory, Mercy Watson, Princess Pistachio, Judy Moody, or Clementine, might especially adore Beatrice (and her family!) and look forward to more of her upside down adventures.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes, with illus. by the author
Release date: September 19, 2017
Recommended for ages 9-12

BOOK DESCRIPTION

Beatrice does her best thinking upside down.

Hanging from trees by her knees, doing handstands . . . for Beatrice Zinker, upside down works every time. She was definitely upside down when she and her best friend, Lenny, agreed to wear matching ninja suits on the first day of third grade. But when Beatrice shows up at school dressed in black, Lenny arrives with a cool new outfit and a cool new friend. Even worse, she seems to have forgotten all about the top-secret operation they planned!

Can Beatrice use her topsy-turvy way of thinking to save the mission, mend their friendship, and flip things sunny-side up?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shelley Johannes previously spent ten years in architecture—where she fell in love with felt-tip pens, tracing paper, and the greatness of black turtlenecks. She lives in Michigan with her husband and two sons. Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker is the first book she’s written. Find her online at shelleyjohannes.com.

LEARN MORE

Visit the Official Site
Follow Disney-Hyperion on Twitter and Instagram
Like Disney Books on Facebook
Hashtags #BeatriceZinker #UpsideDownThinker

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

One (1) winner will receive:

-Copy of Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker
-“Upside Down Thinker” beanie
-Branded pencil case and notepad!

Open to US addresses only. Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion.

Update: GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED- Thank you to everyone who entered!

The winning name is: KELLY T.! Congratulations! Please confirm your win within 24 hours of notification to claim your prize.

The giveaway will run from October 6, 2017 to October 13, 2017, and is open to US residents. The winning entry will be randomly selected via Rafflecopter. Winner has 48 hours to respond to me via email at fabbookreviews[at]gmail[dot]com with their mailing address or a new entry will be drawn. Enter by clicking on the following link to Rafflecopter and follow the instructions to enter:

Click here to enter the giveaway!

Here’s our family guinea pig Wilbur hanging out with Beatrice, showing off his favourite way to read. He’s always been an awesome, unexpected kind of piggie…

 

A copy of this title was sent courtesy of Disney-Hyperion for the purposes of this post and giveaway. Disney-Hyperion is also providing a prize pack for one winner from my site. Review opinions and comments are my own.

Blog Tour Stop: Eileen Cook’s The Hanging Girl!

Welcome to one of the stops on the Raincoast Books tour for Canadian author Eileen Cook‘s latest young adult novel, The Hanging Girl! Read on for my thoughts on the novel as well as a special Q&A that the wonderful author herself participated in!

The Hanging Girl by Eileen Cook
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: October 3, 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Skye Thorn has given tarot card readings for years, and now her psychic visions are helping the police find the town’s missing golden girl. It’s no challenge—her readings have always been faked, but this time she has some insider knowledge. The kidnapping was supposed to be easy—no one would get hurt and she’d get the money she needs to start a new life. But a seemingly harmless prank has turned dark, and Skye realizes the people she’s involved with are willing to kill to get what they want and she must discover their true identity before it’s too late.

Eileen Cook’s last released YA novel, With Malice, was met with solid reviews and great reception from the YA reader and mystery lover crowd. I had the luck of getting to read and review With Malice, and was delighted to see Eileen focus more in the mystery/suspense genre (a genre which I particularly enjoy!). With The Hanging Girl, the author strongly continues in the mystery genre with an even twistier, more complex, layered, exciting- and surprising- story.

At the core of the story is our protagonist, high school student Skye Thorn. Daughter of a single mom (who is a self-professed psychic), Skye has used tarot reading and her own ability to read people well to fake classmates out (and make money) with her own so-called ‘psychic’ and tarot reading abilities. Then, in a quick turn, readers find out that Skye has gotten herself with involved in…a kidnapping scheme with a supposed big payout and no repercussions. Yes, Skye has become inextricably and dangerously- due to reasons which will reveal themselves- involved in a seriously unnerving, twisted kidnapping plot. And readers, let me just say that the author does a wonderful job of throwing major curveballs in how Skye’s involvement with the kidnapping- and the supposedly ‘simple’ kidnapping job itself- turns around. The Hanging Girl is one of those hard-to-put-down reads- I actually read it in one big gulp (staying up very, very late into the night) transfixed by this unusual, suspenseful story. Skye herself is not the most sympathetic of characters, but she holds major interest- and experiencing the story- especially as big reveals happen- through her first-person narrative makes it all the more intriguing and edge-of-your-seat. While a tiny bit rushed toward the end of the novel, my enjoyment with the story was absolutely held from start to finish. With The Hanging Girl and With Malice, I think Eileen has more than shown herself a very strong, exciting writer in the YA mystery genre.

Overall, a solidly plotted mystery with genuinely shocking moments, The Hanging Girl bests With Malice as an even darker, more surprising, sophisticated mystery entry. Readers who adored With Malice, and/or readers who have enjoyed novels such as Caleb Roehrig’s Last Seen Leaving, Mindy Mejia’s Everything You Want Me to Be, or the work of Megan Abbott might especially enjoy sinking into The Hanging Girl.

 

Q&A Time with Eileen!

Q: I am always interested in hearing about the research that goes into a book! In With Malice, the protagonist deals with post-accident amnesia and recovery- areas in which you have personal experience given your past career in counseling patients recovering from major trauma and injuries. For The Hanging Girl, what was the preparation for writing the character of Skye and the plot focus on tarot reading and psychic abilities? Did you have the opportunity to research and/or interview practicing psychics and tarot readers?

A: One of the things I enjoy best about the writing process is the chance to do research. I love learning things. Sometimes this can become a procrastination technique (I also can spend hours online chasing random bits of information.) However, in this case I felt if I was going to write a character who read tarot then I felt it was something that I needed to understand. Especially because reading the future was so important to Skye and her mom. I wouldn’t say I’m very good at it—but I did like learning about the history of tarot and the meanings of different cards.

A lot of what makes for a good tarot card reader is like being a counsellor. Counsellors are always listening not just to what you say, but also what you don’t say. We’re paying attention to body language. For example, if you cross your arms and scowl as I’m saying something, I get the idea that you either disagree with me, or have strong feelings about what I’ve said. A psychic is often doing the same thing, paying attention to how you react and moving their reading in that direction.

I also went to about a half a dozen different psychics to have them do a reading for me. I compared what they said to what I’d learned at a conference put on by The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. They’re a group of people who use science to investigate various topics— including psychics. The session I went to covered how easy it is to fool someone into believing you have psychic ability. I found that fascinating and filed away the information knowing it would be useful for a character and because I hadn’t realized how easy it could be to take advantage of someone who wants to believe.

Thank you so much for your time, Eileen!

Don’t forget: you can check out the other stops on the blog tour this week!

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog post. All opinions and comments are my own. The interview with the author was kindly organized by Raincoast Books.

Review: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

Review: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: October 3, 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

A modern classic in the making reminiscent of the Penderwicks series, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street is about the connections we make and the unexpected turns life can take.

The Vanderbeekers have always lived in the brownstone on 141st Street. It’s practically another member of the family. So when their reclusive, curmudgeonly landlord decides not to renew their lease, the five siblings have eleven days to do whatever it takes to stay in their beloved home and convince the dreaded Beiderman just how wonderful they are. And all is fair in love and war when it comes to keeping their home.

If a cozy, heavenly blanket – think of a warm, lovely blanket, possibly handmade, the best in the world- came in the form of a book, that book might look something just like Karina Yan Glaser’s The Vanderbeeker’s of 141st Street. One of the most genuine, moving, kindhearted novels I have had the pleasure of reading in the last long while, I cannot think of enough wonderful things to say about this extraordinary debut children’s novel.

The five Vanderbeeker siblings and their parents live in an unusual brownstone on 141st Street in Harlem. For the Vanderbeeker siblings and their parents, the brownstone is not just a home but an extension of their family and how they fit in the world. When the family receives the terrible and seriously unexpected news that their strange and exasperating landlord, Mr. Beiderman, is not going to renew their lease, the siblings decide to team up and do whatever it takes to convince the reclusive Beiderman to let them stay. The Vanderbeekers are an unforgettable family, consisting of tremendously lovable, sparkling, one-of-a-kind siblings and parents. Through the varied not-so-successful early efforts to keep their home, readers are taken inside the inner workings of each Vanderbeeker sibling and treated to a closer look at their parents, their marvelous neighbours and the unfortunate- tragic- events that forever changed Beiderman’s life. While I had an inkling about what was to be discovered about Mr. Beiderman’s past, the journey to the discovery- and the resulting outcomes- was in no way less thrilling, affecting or joyous. Absolutely lovely from start to finish, with wonderful main and supporting characters, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street is an excellent read.

Already having received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist, as well as solid reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, I am happy to see that Glaser’s debut is making waves this year on the children’s lit front. Readers who enjoy the work of authors such as R.J. Palacio, Kate DiCamillo, Jeanne Birdsall, or Sara Pennypacker might especially love the veritable, profound charm and loving nature of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street. With a sequel (yay!) planned for release in 2018, it delights me to know that I will get to spend more time with the Vanderbeekers in the future.

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