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.

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.

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.

Spotlight & Giveaway: Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds!

Welcome to a special post featuring Peter H. Reynolds’s Happy Dreamer and a giveaway, courtesy of Scholastic!

Read on to find out more about Happy Dreamer, my thoughts on the picture book, and how you can enter to win a copy. Thank you to Scholastic for sending me a copy for review.

About the Book

Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds
Release: March 28, 2017, recommended for ages 4-8

In the same spirit as OH, ALL THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!, the beloved, worldwide bestselling creator of The Dot and Ish inspires readers of every age to find their own unique path to happy, and to always follow their dreams with HAPPY DREAMER.

Picture book and creativity guru Peter H. Reynolds brings us a universally poignant celebration of the colorful spectrum of what it means to dream and the many ways to find happy!

While the world tells us to sit still, to follow the rules, and to color inside the lines, Happy Dreamer celebrates all those moments in between when the mind and spirit soar and we are free to become our own true dreamer maximus! In Peter’s signature voice and style, this empowering picture book reminds children of how much their dreams matter, and while life will have ups and downs, he enlists readers to stay true to who they are, to tap into their most creative inner selves, and to never ever forget to dream big!

Peter H. Reynolds’ latest inspirational book is a perfect gift for graduations, new babies, milestone moments, and any happy occasion throughout the year for any age!

Peter H. Reynolds has quite the number of acclaimed (and loved) picture books on his roster: everything from The Dot, Sky Color, Ish, to his illustrative work for the Judy Moody series, Someday and Tess’s Tree. Reynolds’s work encapsulates a kind of lovely positivity- always gently uplifting but not saccharine- and I consider myself quite a fan! Happy Dreamer is an ode to the ones who dream (excuse the La La Land nod!); the quiet dreamers, the loud dreamers, the colourful dreamers, the individuals who don’t fit and don’t feel right when forced into a tidy box. A broad theme in Reynolds’s work is that of expression and staying true to one’s self: that message carries across in Happy Dreamer with a lovely missive that the ‘best way to be a happy dreamer’ is to be one’s self. It is tricky to balance sweetness, guidance, praising individuality and proffering hope without veering off into a lane of moralizing, but Reynolds keeps the line firmly in the corner of encouragement.In the description above, comparisons are made to Oh, the Places You’ll Go!– a longtime staple (and standard) of gifts-to-grads. I personally have not reached the high levels of affinity for this particular Dr. Seuss title as many other readers have, but I would still like to content that Happy Dreamer is indeed as wonderful an inspirational bookish treat, just the right thing to hearten and show love and appreciation. The heartening, compassionate nature of his picture books often reminds me of work by authors such as Alison McGhee, as well as the work of Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Patrick McDonnell. Any readers who have already read and enjoyed Reynolds’ previous work or have enjoyed work by the aforementioned authors might especially appreciate Happy Dreamer.

About the Author

Peter is a New York Times bestselling children’s book author and illustrator of many books for children, including the Judy Moody series, written by Meghan McDonald; The Dot; Ish; Sky Color; and Allison McGhee’s Someday, selling more than two million books in over 25 languages around the globe. In 1996, he founded FableVision with his brother Paul as a social change agency to help move the world to a better place by creating “stories that matter, stories that move.” He lives in Dedham, Massachusetts, with his family.

Official Site + Social Media

Visit the official site
Follow Scholastic on Twitter and Instagram
Like Scholastic on Facebook
#HappyDreamer

Trailer + Activities:

*Watch the Happy Dreamer trailer
*Download the Happy Dreamer Guide, a fun kit complete with activities to share with your readers!

Peter H. Reynolds Interview

*Learn more in this podcast featuring the author!

Giveaway Information:

Happy_Dreamer_Cover_3fe71e22fcOne (1) winner receives:

  • a copy of Happy Dreamer

Giveaway open to Canadian AND US addresses. Prizing provided by Scholastic.

The giveaway will run from April 20th to April 27th, 2017 and is open to Canadian and US addresses. The winning entry will be randomly selected via Rafflecopter. All entries will be verified. Winner will have 48 hours to respond to me via email at fabbookreviews[at]gmail[dot]com OR DM’ing me via Twitter with their mailing address, or a new entry will be drawn.

To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link below and follow the instructions:

Enter to win the Happy Dreamer giveaway!

 

A copy of Happy Dreamer was provided courtesy of Scholastic in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this giveaway. Review comments and opinions are my own.

Giveaway for Loryn Brantz’s Feminist Baby Board Book & Prize Pack!

Welcome to a special post featuring Loryn Brantz’s Feminist Baby board book and a fabulous giveaway, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion!

Read on to find out more about Feminist Baby, my thoughts on the board book, and how you can enter to win a prize pack! Thank you to Disney-Hyperion for sending me a copy and providing a prize pack  for review.

Board Book Details

Feminist Baby by Loryn Brantz
Publication:  April 11, 2017, recommended for ages 0 – 2

Synopsis

LOUD AND PROUD FEMINIST!

Meet the irrepressible Feminist Baby in this refreshing, clever board book about a girl who’s not afraid to do her own thing, and wants to make as much noise as possible along the way!

Feminist Baby likes pink and blue.
Sometimes she’ll throw up on you!
Feminist Baby chooses what to wear
and if you don’t like it she doesn’t care! 

A bright, cheeky, and funny board book with a positive message for all babies, Loryn Brantz’s Feminist Baby is a board book winner. Blurbed by feminist writer and professor Roxane Gay, Feminist Baby broadly takes on feminism and wonderfully turns the concept into an affirmative board book that babies/kids and adults will like. In the last few years, there appears to be an increase in the number of concept board books (concepts beyond ABC and counting, etc.). For example, Ruth Spiro and Irene Chan have collaborated on a Baby Loves series featuring aerospace engineering, quarks, and more, giving STEM a place in early childhood literature. Other board books series such as Cozy Classics and BabyLit have taken on themes or concepts in classic literature and adjusted them to suit babies and toddlers. Loryn Brantz’s Feminist Baby now joins the oeuvre, and it is wonderful to see and read. While concepts- such as feminism- can be complex, and you might wonder, what can a baby get from this?…The answer is: an introduction to vocabulary! It’s all about learning and exploring, and having the pleasure and option to read something as encouraging and aware like Feminist Baby to a wee one is just fantastic.

About the Author

Loryn Brantz is a two-time Emmy Award-winning author, illustrator, and design professional. Her picture book Harvey the Child Mime was the recipient of the 2010 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for Best First Picture Book. Loryn lives in New York City, where she is on staff at BuzzFeed writing and illustrating about feminism and body image. Find her online at www.lorynbrantz.com or www.facebook.com/LorynBrantzBooks.

Official Site + Social Media

Visit the Official Site
Follow @DisneyHyperion on Twitter
Follow @DisneyBooks on Instagram
Follow @LorynBrantz on Twitter and Instagram
#FeministBaby

Giveaway Information:

One (1) winner receives:

  • copy of Feminist Baby
  • branded tote bag and pin

Giveaway open to Canadian AND US addresses. Prizing provided by Disney-Hyperion.

The giveaway will run from April 17th to April 24th, 2017 and is open to Canadian and US addresses. The winning entry will be randomly selected via Rafflecopter. All entries will be verified. Winner will have 48 hours to respond to me via email at fabbookreviews[at]gmail[dot]com OR DM’ing me via Twitter with their mailing address, or a new entry will be drawn.

To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link below and follow the instructions:

Enter to win the Feminist Baby Prize Pack!

 

A copy of this title and prize pack 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.

 

Hopping Into Easter with Picture Books and a Giveaway!

As a children’s librarian, part of the build up to Easter weekend at the library includes fielding a lot of questions about Easter books or Easter-themed books, preparing songs and stories about bunnies and other cute creatures…and, did I mention, finding lots and lots of cute stories about anything Easter-themed? I now have two more charming Easter titles to add to the list!

My lovely friends at Raincoast Books recently sent me two perfect-for-Easter picture books: Bunny Bus by Ammi-Joan Pacquette, illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow, and Margret and H.A. Rey’s Happy Easter, Curious George. Bunny Bus is quite the adorable story featuring a bunny-shaped bus, resplendent with rosy cheeks and bunny teeth. A rhyming story with bounce and a fun repetition of ‘hop’ and ‘stop’, Bunny Bus is perfect for toddlers and preschoolers (or any bunny-hop loving kid!). The story is short, simple and sweet, with just a brief moment of trouble (when the bunny bus tires out), followed by quick problem-solving and a happy turnaround to an Easter Parade. Happy Easter, Curious George (with sparkly stickers!) is, as one can expect from the franchise, a light and sweetly silly story featuring George’s antics that always go slightly awry, leading to some confusion followed by a happy conclusion. In this tale, George joins Easter celebrations at a park, where he excels at Easter egg juggling and decorating, and gets into a slight mix-up with how Easter egg hunts work! I adored Curious George growing up, and am always happy and comforted to see George and read about his adventures. R.P. Anderson and Mary O’Keefe Young, the author and illustrator, respectively, of this title have done very well in keeping the charm of the original series.

Now for some (more!) excitement:

I have new (just read once by me) hardcover editions of these titles and I would like to find them a new happy bookish home! One winner will have a chance to win both Bunny Bus and Happy Easter, Curious George. You won’t get them in time for Easter, I’m afraid, but you’ll still get some fun picture books, so it’s all win-win!

If you’d like to enter, here’s what you need to know:

You must be a Canadian resident, 18 years of age or older. The giveaway will run until April 18, 2017.

One winner will be randomly selected at the end of giveaway via Rafflecopter. The winner will have 48 hours to respond by emailing me at fabbookreviews[at]gmail[dot]com OR DM’ing me on Twitter @fabbityfab confirming their name and their mailing address. If there is no responses from the winner within 48 hours, a new name will be drawn.

The giveaway is now closed!

Congratulations to MELINDA P.!

Please email or DM in the next 48 hours to confirm your address!

To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link below and follow the instructions:

Enter the Hopping into Easter Book Giveaway

Copies of Bunny Bus and Happy Easter, Curious George were provided courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own.