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.

Top Ten Tuesday: Unique Books I’ve Read…

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday! Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. I have not been doing a great job with keeping up and participating, but I have been inspired this week’s topic: the most unique books we’ve read!

With the caveat that I have probably/most likely missed a number of unique titles here, I’ve picked ten titles- mostly all children’s titles- that, to me, stand out. Are unusual. Out of the ordinary. Seriously unexpected and seriously unforgettable. Perhaps even peculiar. In no particular order, here are my picks:

 

 

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis
A picture book written all in imagined bug language (yes, indeed!), with gorgeous artwork…

The Liszts by Kyo Maclear, illus. Júlia Sardà
Kyo Maclear is up there as one of my favourite wordsmiths/storytellers. The Liszts is a newer title: a story about a list-making family that is beyond one’s expectations and imaginings. Sardà’s illustrations are…extraordinary…

Lost & Found by Shaun Tan
I am rather obsessed with Tan’s work. This was one of my first introductions to his work, and I haven’t stopped reading and poring over his incredible work since…

Bera the One-Headed Troll by Eric Orchard
The combination of Orchard’s unusual and beautiful style of artwork with the darker fairy-tale feel- a stand-out graphic novel…

The Sleepwalkers by Viviane Schwarz
Ah, The Sleepwalkers! I read this graphic novel after falling in love with Schwarz’s picture books. A genuinely unusual, offbeat but lovely and hypnotic story about a team of heroes who rescue children from nightmares…

A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers & Sam Winston
A feat in storytelling, visuals and typography, this picture books is also a love letter to the power of books and words…

Press Here by Hervé Tullet
One of the first interactive perfect-for-storytime picture books I remember reading and arguably still one of the best…I would argue this was a game-changer and paved the way for more delightful interactive picture books to follow…I can’t imagine storytime with interactive books…

Art & Max by David Wiesner
David Wiesner, as with many authors and artists on this list, is a favourite. While most anything and everything by Wiesner is breathtaking and innovative, I must confess to a particular soft spot for Art & Max: a picture book about art, art styles, and two friends who test and bend art between the pages of this book that cemented Wiesner’s place on my roster of favourites.

Shadow by Suzy Lee
One of the first wordless picture books where I had a serious ‘aha’ moment about the beauty and signficance of the genre…Also: why isn’t everyone just as bananas about her work as I am?!?

Milk Teeth by Julie Morstad
This is a small book/collection of Morstad’s artwork. Surreal, dreamy, so strange and so beautiful…As with Shaun Tan’s work, I could forever be breathing in Morstad’s exquisite work…

Bonus mentions:

Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear, illus. Isabelle Arsenault

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

What titles are on your top ten this week?

Recently Read: Great Children’s Titles from Elise Gravel, Dana Simpson, Ben Hatke & more!

Admittedly, there are indeed a number of book genres that I love- but children’s graphic novels hold a special spot in my reader’s and librarian’s heart. I cannot even count the number of times I’ve had a caregiver or self-described reluctant reader come ask me for reader’s advisory help and graphic novels (or comics) have been a huge (HUGE) ray of hope for both kid and adult. It breaks my heart if I hear an adult- or heaven forbid, a teacher- say they don’t ‘count’ graphic novels as reading. NOOOOO!!! I want to scream. In a roundabout way, I guess what I’m trying to say is: graphic novels for children (and all-ages) rock and definitely count as reading. These are ones I’ve recently read, enjoyed tremendously and would recommend:

 

Olga and the Smelly Thing From Nowhere by Elise Gravel
Publication: March 14, 2017 by HarperCollins

I have spoken/written about my love of Elise Gravel‘s work a few times before. The Montreal-based author/illustrator is the force behind the wonderful non-fiction Disgusting Creatures series, as well as the terrifically fun picture books I Want a Monster! and The Cranky Ballerina. Gravel’s foray into longer format graphic novels starts off wonderfully with Olga and the Smelly Thing for Nowhere. Bringing together her signature style of bold, bright illustrations and kooky characters and a love of science/creatures, this graphic novel tells the story of what happens when aspiring zoologist Olga finds a supremely cute and stinky creature (possibly from another planet?) she names Meh. Funny and a little subversive, with the promise of MORE Olga and Meh to come in future entries! Animal enthusiasts, or fans of Ashley Spires’ Binky series or Fluffy Strikes Back, or Victoria Jamieson’s Pets on the Loose might especially LOVE this graphic novel.

 

Unicorn Crossing (Heavenly Nostrils #5) by Dana Simpson
Publication: March 28, 2017 by Andrews McMeel Publishing

I have also written about my love of the Heavenly Nostrils series from Dana Simpson before! This series is a go-to suggestion I give to kids (or parents searching on behalf of their children) looking for a funny graphic novel series that won’t intimidate but rather inspire major fun and enjoyment with their reading. Already five (!) books into this great series, Simpson continues to mix her magic blend of humour, heart, and unicorn sparkle. I have previously mentioned that when I first picked up Heavenly Nostrils, I could see a definite kinship to Calvin & Hobbes. The more I read of Simpson’s series the more it wonderfully seems to grow Marigold and Phoebe’s bond (yes, akin to Calvin & Hobbes) in addition to cultivating its own, distinctively beautiful and funny world of magical realism. A must-read for graphic novel and comic strip enthusiasts who enjoy the work of Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, Frank Cammuso, Ben Katke, Andy Runton, Sara Varon, James Burks and other similar authors.

 

Mighty Jack (Volume 1) by Ben Hatke*
Publication: September 6, 2016 by First Second

Well, this post is clearly leaning towards authors and series I adore and have mentioned before! Third on the list here we have Ben Hatke’s Mighty Jack, the first volume in the Mighty Jack series. Hatke, author-illustrator of the awesome Zita the Spacegirl series, Nobody Likes a Goblin and Little Robot, returns with another fantastical and magical series. A retelling (and wholly unique) take on the fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk, Hatke- fascinatingly and thoughtfully- incorporates a modern setting, a neuroatypical co-heroine, and mythical elements into his version. I have been sitting on this review for a little while now- why, I am not entirely sure, but thoughts about Mighty Jack have been marinating for a bit. As always, Hatke knocks it out of the park with his gorgeous artwork, female lead characters, and his approach to animating inanimate objects. My initial reaction upon finishing was that I would have liked a bit more text/back story to Jack, Molly and family (the story is so good and I was clamoring for more!), and a few ends were left a bit looser than I would have liked (even with the knowledge that this was just book one!)…and while some points stand upon reread, I enjoyed it more upon reread and consider Mighty Jack to be a highly recommended read- another great addition to Hatke’s roster. The promise of Mighty Jack and the Goblin King has me excited to read even more about Jack, Molly, and Lilly!

 

Bird & Squirrel on Fire (Bird & Squirrel #4) by James Burks
Publication: January 31, 2017 by GRAPHIX

Tom and Jerry. Garfield and Odie. Gerald and Piggie. Pinky and the Brain. Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner. A lot of characters in shows and books that we tend to love and think of fondly are in pairs. In the children’s graphic novel genre, there is an entry in the prestige pairs group with James Burks’ Bird & Squirrel. Now four books into this funny and adventure-filled series, Bird is, as ever, our stalwart optimist and cheerleader; Squirrel, while having his courage mightily tested a few times over, remains trepidatious and safety-focuses. In this latest entry, Bird and Squirrel come up against a dyspeptic, slightly bonkers giant beaver who wants to keep ALL the water in the forest for himself- all the while planning a party (Bird’s idea), investigating animal disappearances, and Squirrel meeting a new character named Red (who could be the love of his life). As with his previous work in Gabby & Gator (which I love!) and the other Bird & Squirrel titles, Burks combines goofy, wacky characters with hair-raising moments and/or scary creatures- but all toward good endings. I adore Burks’ style of artwork and the storytelling in Bird & Squirrel; I hope we get at least a handful more adventures about this duo!

 

Big Nate: What’s a Little Noogie Between Friends? (Big Nate) by Lincoln Peirce
Publication: February 28, 2017 by Andrews McMeel Publishing

There is a lot of love in the bookish world of the Big Nate series of books by Lincoln Peirce. It is one of those series of books that, like anything Garfield or Raina Telgemeier, is barely in the library before WHOOSH back out it goes! I do not remember reading the Big Nate series when it first came out, but have, over the last number of years, become a big reader (and suggester!) of the books. Nate is one of those middle school protagonists that we love to root for- he’s imperfect, gets into trouble, gets in fights with his friends, has unrequited crushes, has a core of two best friends who tease him and call him out when he’s being ridiculous– I could go on. There is something totally appealing (dare I say, comforting?) about this series and Nate’s world. While I have definitely preferred certain graphic novel entries more than others in the Big Nate series, What’s a Little Noogie Between Friends? has a good share of the silly (more Spitsy and baseball craziness) and somewhat serious (with Nate having to say goodbye to a classmate who is moving).

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

Must Read Monday (61): New from Laurel Snyder, Ben Clanton, Jonathan Fenske & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

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

This week, we’re talking picture books and a few early reader books! Some of my all-time favourite authors and illustrators are on the roster this week, including the following: Laurel Snyder, who has the first of a new readers series coming out called Charlie & Mouse (with illustrations by Emily Hughes!); Goldfish Ghost by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Lisa Brown, which looks awesomely strange and touching; and Triangle by the terrific duo of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. Plus a new Narwhal and Jelly, Jonathan Fenske’s latest- a follow-up to Barnacle is Bored!- and what looks to be a gorgeous and funny picture book called I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat.

I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat by Simon Philip, illus. Ella Bailey
Publication: January 12, 2017 by Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
Book Description:

Every cat needs a name. One name, one word, just a sound… It should be easy to choose one, right? WRONG!!! I just don’t know what to call my cat!

Choosing the right name for a new pet is very important! Find out just what this cat’s name turns out to be in this clever and witty story from an exciting debut author and talented young illustrator.

Triangle by Mac Barnett, illus. Jon Klassen
Expected publication: March 14, 2017 by Candlewick Press
Book Description:

Multi-award-winning, “New York Times “best-selling duo Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen conspire again on a slyly funny tale about some very sneaky shapes.

Meet Triangle. He is going to play a sneaky trick on his friend, Square. Or so Triangle thinks. . . . With this first tale in a new trilogy, partners in crime Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen upend the traditional concept book and approach it from a new angle. Visually stunning and full of wry humor, here is a perfectly paced treat that could come only from the minds of two of today s most irreverent and talented picture book creators.

Charlie & Mouse (Charlie & Mouse #1) by Laurel Snyder, illus. Emily Hughes
Expected publication: April 11, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

Four hilarious stories, two inventive brothers, one irresistible book! Join Charlie and Mouse as they talk to lumps, take the neighborhood to a party, sell some rocks, and invent the bedtime banana. With imagination and humor, Laurel Snyder and Emily Hughes paint a lively picture of brotherhood that children will relish in a format perfect for children not quite ready for chapter books.

Plankton is Pushy by Jonathan Fenske
Expected publication: April 25, 2017 by Scholastic Press
Book Description:

In this funny, underwater picture book, Plankton says hello to Mussel, but Mussel doesn’t say anything back. Plankton tries everything to get quiet Mussel to talk. In fact, Plankton gets VERY pushy about it! Will Mussel ever open his mouth? Kids will relate to Plankton’s frustration with Mussel, and they will be anxious to see what happens when Mussel finally does open his mouth… Geisel Award Honoree Jonathan Fenske delivers a laugh-out-loud ocean story, and this is the perfect follow-up to Barnacle is Bored.

Goldfish Ghost by Lemony Snicket, illus. Lisa Brown
Expected publication: May 2, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
Book Description:

Goldfish Ghost was born on the surface of the water in the bowl on a dresser in a boy’s room. The boy’s room was pleasant and familiar, but Goldfish Ghost wanted company, so he set out to find a friend. He floats over the neighborhood, past the pier, and let the breeze carry him into town where he discovers that not many people pay attention to goldfish ghosts.

Off he floats, searching for the perfect home and the perfect friend and then he hears a voice…

Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt (Narwhal and Jelly) by Ben Clanton
Expected publication: May 2, 2017 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

Happy-go-lucky Narwhal and no-nonsense Jelly find their inner superheroes in three new under-the-sea adventures. In the first story, Narwhal reveals his superhero alter-ego and enlists Jelly to help him figure out what his superpower is. Next, Narwhal uses his superpower to help a friend find his way back home. In the third story, Jelly is feeling blue and Narwhal comes to …more

Must Read Monday (58): Children’s Fiction from Casey Lyall, Mike Grosso, Jennifer Torres & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

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

This week is all about middle grade fiction! I am consistently impressed and wowed by how phenomenal children’s lit is; the following five titles below look incredible and I cannot wait to read them. Save for the book two in the Pumpkin Falls series by Heather Vogel Frederick, the other four authors- Casey Lyall, Mike Grosso, Jennifer Torres, and Ali Standish- are new-to-me authors…and believe it or not, out of those four, three of these works are author debuts! Here is a rundown of the wonderful-sounding (and looking) titles:

 

28256492

Howard Wallace, P.I. by Casey Lyall
Publication: September 6, 2016 by Sterling Children’s Books
Book Description:

“What’s with the get-up? Is that the company uniform or something?”
“This? All P.I.s wear a trench coat.”
“Dude, that’s a brown bathrobe.”
I shrugged and straightened out my sleeves. “First rule of private investigation, Ivy: work with what you’ve got.”
Twelve-year-old Howard Wallace lives by his list of rules of private investigation. He knows more than anyone how to work with what he’s got: a bathrobe for a trench coat, a makeshift office behind the school equipment shed, and not much else—least of all, friends. So when a hot case of blackmail lands on his desk, he’s ready to take it on himself . . . until the new kid, Ivy Mason, convinces him to take her on as a junior partner. As they banter through stakeouts and narrow down their list of suspects, Howard starts to wonder if having Ivy as a sidekick—and a friend—is such a bad thing after all.

 

28114562I Am Drums by Mike Grosso
Publication: September 6, 2016 by Clarion Books
Book Description:

Sam knows she wants to be a drummer. But she doesn’t know how to afford a drum kit, or why budget cuts end her school’s music program, or why her parents argue so much, or even how to explain her dream to other people.

But drums sound all the time in Sam’s head, and she’d do just about anything to play them out loud—even lie to her family if she has to. Will the cost of chasing her dream be too high?

 

 

25150366Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres
Publication: January 17, 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Estefania “Stef” Soto is itching to shake off the onion-and-cilantro embrace of Tia Perla, her family’s taco truck. She wants nothing more than for her dad to get a normal job and for Tia Perla to be put out to pasture. It’s no fun being known as the “Taco Queen” at school. But just when it looks like Stef is going to get exactly what she wants, and her family’s livelihood is threatened, she will have to become the truck’s unlikely champion.

 

 

30037871The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish
Publication: January 24, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

Ethan had been many things. He was always ready for adventure and always willing to accept a dare, especially from his best friend, Kacey. But that was before. Before the accident that took Kacey from him. Before his family moved from Boston to the small town of Palm Knot, Georgia.

Palm Knot may be tiny, but it’s the home of possibility and second chances. It’s also home to Coralee, a girl with a big personality and even bigger stories. Coralee may be just the friend Ethan needs, except Ethan isn’t the only one with secrets. Coralee’s are catching up with her, and what she’s hiding might be putting both their lives at risk.

 

 

30227919Yours Truly (Pumpkin Falls Mystery #2) by Heather Vogel Frederick
Publication: January 31, 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Another wild mystery needs to be solved and it’s up to the Pumpkin Falls Private Eyes to solve it in this hilarious follow up to the heartwarming middle grade mystery, Absolutely Truly.

Even Truly Lovejoy has to admit that teeny-tiny Pumpkin Falls, New Hampshire, has its charms—like the annual maple festival, where tourists flock from all over to sample the local maple syrup, maple candy, maple coffee, and even maple soap! But when someone tries to sabotage the maple trees on her friend Franklin’s family farm, Truly has to rally the Pumpkin Falls Private Eyes to investigate. Meanwhile, she uncovers another, more personal mystery under the floorboards of her very own home—a diary written centuries ago by her namesake, the original Truly Lovejoy…and it might just prove her family’s ties to Pumpkin Falls run deeper than anyone ever could have imagined.

 

Review: Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen

9781770497825Review: Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen
Source: ARC courtesy of Susin Nielsen and Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Expected publication: February 21, 2017 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

Petula’s funny, and a crafting genius, but no social star at high school, and it doesn’t help that she’s isolated herself after her adored toddler sister died. Petula feels responsible for this death, though her parents say it was a tragic accident. No one’s fault. Now, Petula sees danger everywhere: every activity and every bite of food could kill you. Then a new boy, Jacob, joins Petula’s group in the school’s lame art therapy program; he has a prosthetic arm and darkness behind his sunny surface. Petula and Jacob become friends, then, something more. But a secret behind why he’s in the group could derail them.

A heartbreaking yet humorous first YA from award-winning author Susin Nielsen, Optimists Die First continues Susin’s tradition of creating memorable characters and genre-bending narratives.

Governor General Award winning author Susin Nielsen has written some of my favourite children’s titles: Word Nerd, Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom, We Are All Made of Molecules, and last, but absolutely not least, The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen. Nielsen’s novels are ones I recommend time and again to kids (and their caregivers) in my work as a children’s librarian, and I have also often mentioned Nielsen’s work in top ten lit lists. So, needless to say, as soon as I saw/read/heard about a new book from the author- a young adult debut, no less- I was there. And I have been an extremely lucky reader indeed to have had the opportunity to read Nielsen’s already multi-starred (!) YA debut Optimists Die First.

In Optimists Die First, we follow the first-person narrative of Petula De Wilde. Petula is, as other protagonists of Nielsen’s novels, imminently likable, wonderful and slightly (or intensely) hurt in some way. Whether working through or surviving family tragedy, loss, life-change…Nielsen’s characters might be some of the most tenacious, stubborn, lovely, and brave kids or teens you will meet. Here, we have Petula: shaken to her core, reshaped since a horrifying and fatal accident forever altered her and her family. Now constantly fearful, experiencing debilitating panic and anxiety, and exhibiting compulsive behavior, Petula is forced to attend an art therapy group for emotional troubled kids as well as talks with her watery-eyed but exceedingly patient and kind principal. Through circuitous circumstances, a new student at her school- who Petula has nicknamed Bionic Man- Jacob, joins her art therapy program and takes an interest in getting to know her.

Jacob, as we learn, is also suffering- and more intensely than Petula realizes. He and Petula are both dealing with tremendous scars of aftermath, regret and guilt; but once their tentative connection in and out of art therapy begins, it grows into something tangible. Nielsen writess Petula and Jacob’s relationship as such a beautifully aching, fluttery, strange and hazy-happy first-love; it sincere, genuine, and unforced, and something that clicks naturally and necessarily (as we see) with the arc of each character’s story. Lest you wonder whether Nielsen has taken the route of ‘troubled teens meet, fall in love and quickly heal’ (which can be grating and oft-abundant in YA…), I can assure you that it is not the case. The author works Petula and Jacob’s relationship from the very beginning as something that occurs within and among the chaos of their internal voices and immediate surroundings, which means that while Petula’s psychological traumas about her family and school life might ebb and flow, they simply do not heal due to first-love (Jacob does not magically heal, either). I do not want to give away too much more of the story’s intricacies here, as I hope for readers to get to experience it for themselves…but I will say that Optimists Die First offers some terrifically surprising and wonderfully weird moments à la Breakfast Club, intense heartache and rawness (think Judy Blume), as well as loveliness mixed with hope and possibility- all in Nielsen’s incredible style.

Overall, Optimists Die First is a gorgeously written, funny and heart-rending read. As with Henry K. Larsen, my reading experience with Optimists Die First was one ranging from belly laughter to tears and everything in-between. Nielsen takes a sensitive and thoughtful approach to covering serious, raw subject matters in all of her novels and that consideration always comes forth in her writing- this novel is another great example of that. I cannot recommend Nielsen’s novels enough, and would highly encourage readers new to Nielsen to check her books out. I loved meeting and spending time with Petula, her family, and Jacob, and I hope you get the chance to as well.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of the author and publisher. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: If This Is Home by Kristine Scarrow

9781459736504Review: If This Is Home by Kristine Scarrow
Source: ARC courtesy of Dundurn Press. Thank you!
Canadian Publication: January 28, 2017 by Dundurn Press
Book Description:

When her mom is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jayce searches for her estranged father, hoping he can fix everything.

Jayce Loewen has had to take on a lot of responsibility over the years. Her single mom works two jobs and long hours, leaving Jayce in charge of her four-year-old sister most of the time. When her mom is diagnosed with cancer, Jayce decides to track down her long-absent father in the hope that he will be able to make everything okay again.

Looking for her dad was one thing, but when she actually finds him, Jayce is in for a real shock. When everything in her life seems to be going wrong, Jayce has to figure out who her family really is, and how to live with the possibility of losing the person she loves most.

Canadian author Kristine Scarrow’s sophomore young adult novel, If This Is Home, is a contemporary story covering everything from terminal illness, complex teen friendships, sibling love and difficult family history. Taking place in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Scarrow’s compact novel embraces much of what I personally love about Canadian YA: the overwhelmingly fluid, uncluttered, quiet yet potent writing; rooted protagonists and secondary characters that read as genuine and free of veneer; and the presentation of unidealized concepts of teenagers and ‘the teenage years’.

In If This Is Home, we follow the first-person narrative of sixteen year old Jayce Loewen- known as J.J.- as she and her four year-old sister Joelle deal with beyond devastating news: their mother is sick with lung cancer. A tight-knit family of three, with a long-absent father and long-estranged grandparents, J.J.’s mom has been her everything. When a doctor gently states an unspeakable prognosis, J.J. is overwhelmed but determined that she and Joelle stay strong and stay together. In the midst of high school chaos with her less-than-considerate best friend, and worried about what might happen if they lose the only parent they’ve ever known and had, J.J. goes in search of her father. With the help of a boy she meets in detention, a teen named Kurt, J.J.’s life begins a complicated roller coaster of major revelations and disappointments.

In a plot move I really appreciate, Scarrow grows the relationship between J.J. and Kurt as platonic and heartfelt. Perhaps due to the more serious nature of the crux of the story- that of J.J.’s intense love and protectiveness for her sister and mom and the threat of it being torn apart- Scarrow decided to keep that story element more neutral. Arguably a more unconventional route to take in a teen novel, yet one that works so well here with the direction the story takes. Scarrow also writes and develops the relationship between J.J. and her mom and sister, and- later- another family member very well. I would have appreciated more by way of introduction and background to J.J. herself, Kurt (I feel he was introduced and then suddenly so involved with the family), and more about the Loewen’s family history. Certain aspects of the story came across as rushed or a little surprising, or in need of elucidation: as a whole, If This Is Home is absolutely moving and interesting, but I feel as though more detail would have been of benefit to add even further richness and depth to the story.

Overall, If This Is Home is a moving read, deftly written, propelled by a solid, well-written protagonist. As noted above, I would have liked more exposition about Kurt, as well as background exploration into J.J.’s mom and grandmother to add more foundation to the story, but in all, I truly enjoyed this read. Readers who enjoy contemporary Canadian YA lit, or readers who enjoy authors such as Susin Nielsen, Robin Stevenson or Sarah N. Harvey (all write so beautifully on family and serious subject matters), might especially appreciate this lovely book. Scarrow has published one YA title prior to If This Is Home called Throwaway Girl; it is one title I’ve seen in local bookshops and am now inspired to pick up.

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

Must Read Monday (56): Adult Fiction from Heather Tucker, Jen Sookfong Lee, Claire Fuller & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

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

This week: new and upcoming adult fiction titles on my radar! Three recent, well-reviewed titles from Canadian authors whose work I have not yet explored but cannot wait to- Heather Tucker, Jen Sookfong Lee and Claire Fuller- as well as the soon-to-be-released contemporary novel from one of my long-time favourite writers, Elinor Lipman.

 

28691857The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker
Publication: October 11, 2016 ECW Press
Book Description:

Vincent Appleton smiles at his daughters, raises a gun, and blows off his head. For the Appleton sisters, life had unravelled many times before. This time it explodes.

Eight-year-old Hariet, known to all as Ari, is dispatched to Cape Breton and her Aunt Mary, who is purported to eat little girls. But Mary and her partner, Nia, offer an unexpected refuge to Ari and her steadfast companion, Jasper, an imaginary seahorse.

Yet the respite does not last, and Ari is torn from her aunts and forced back to her twisted mother and fractured sisters. Her new stepfather, Len, and his family offer hope, but as Ari grows to adore them, she’s severed violently from them too, when her mother moves in with the brutal Dick Irwin.

Through the sexual revolution and drug culture of the 1960s, Ari struggles with her father’s legacy and her mother’s addictions, testing limits with substances that numb and men who show her kindness. Ari spins through a chaotic decade of loss and love, the devilish and divine, with wit, tenacity, and the astonishing balance unique to seahorses.

 

28691882The Conjoined: A Novel by Jen Sookfong Lee
Publication: September 13, 2016 by ECW Press
Book Description:

On a sunny May morning, social worker Jessica Campbell sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral. In the basement, she makes a shocking discovery — two dead girls curled into the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers. She remembers a pair of foster children who lived with the family in 1988: Casey and Jamie Cheng — troubled, beautiful, and wild teenaged sisters from Vancouver’s Chinatown. After six weeks, they disappeared; social workers, police officers, and Jessica herself assumed they had run away.

As Jessica learns more about Casey, Jamie, and their troubled immigrant Chinese parents, she also unearths dark stories about Donna, whom she had always thought of as the perfect mother. The complicated truths she uncovers force her to take stock of own life.

Moving between present and past, this riveting novel unflinchingly examines the myth of social heroism and traces the often-hidden fractures that divide our diverse cities.

 

30304221Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
Publication: January 28, 2017 by Anansi International
Book Description:

Ingrid Coleman writes letters to her husband, Gil, about the truth of their marriage, but instead of giving them to him, she hides them in the thousands of books he has collected over the years. When Ingrid has written her final letter she disappears from a Dorset beach, leaving behind her beautiful but dilapidated house by the sea, her husband, and her two daughters, Flora and Nan.

Twelve years later, Gil thinks he sees Ingrid from a bookshop window, but he’s getting older and this unlikely sighting is chalked up to senility. Flora, who has never believed her mother drowned, returns home to care for her father and to try to finally discover what happened to Ingrid. But what Flora doesn’t realize is that the answers to her questions are hidden in the books that surround her. Scandalous and whip-smart, Swimming Lessons holds the Coleman family up to the light, exposing the mysterious truths of a passionate and troubled marriage.

 

28114543On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman
Expected publication: February 14, 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Book Description:

At thirty-two, Faith Frankel has returned to her claustro-suburban hometown, where she writes institutional thank-you notes for her alma mater. It’s a peaceful life, really, and surely with her recent purchase of a sweet bungalow on Turpentine Lane her life is finally on track. Never mind that her fiancé is off on a crowdfunded cross-country walk, too busy to return her texts (but not too busy to post photos of himself with a different woman in every state.) And never mind her witless boss, or a mother who lives too close, or a philandering father who thinks he’s Chagall. When she finds some mysterious artifacts in the attic of her new home, she wonders whether anything in her life is as it seems. What good fortune, then, that Faith has found a friend in affable, collegial Nick Franconi, officemate par excellence . . .

Elinor Lipman may well have invented the screwball romantic comedy for our era, and here she is at her sharpest and best. On Turpentine Lane is funny, poignant, and a little bit outrageous.

Must Read Monday (54): His Bloody Project, Anatomy of a Girl Gang, The Mothers & More!

Happy New Year! Before I get cracking on the first post of 2017, I want to say a BIG thanks to all the lovely folks- fellow readers, visitors to the site, supportive bloggers, publishers, authors, and all- who helped make my 2016 year of reading, reviewing and posting so great (and so much fun!).

Now– welcome back to another Must Read Monday– the first Must Read Monday and first post here of 2017!

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

This week: a smorgasbord of adult fiction titles. After reading a slew of ‘Best of 2016’ book lists as well as perusing numerous bookish sites and journals over the holidays, I’ve added some very intriguing looking and sounding titles. Let’s take a look:

 

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His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae
by Graeme Macrae Burnet
Publication: October 18, 2016 by Skyhorse Publishing

A triple murder in a remote northwestern farming community in 1869 leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. There’s no question that Macrae is guilty, but the police and courts must uncover what drove him to murder the local village constable and his two children. The book starts with the account of the accused killer who gives us the events leading up to the murders from his jail cell. The book then offers the fictional opinion of a medical doctor and psychologist on the questionable sanity of Roderick Macrae. The last third of the book is a courtroom transcript that reveals the full truth of the events that left three dead. Burnet has created a fascinating unreliable narrator in this historical revenge tragedy and courtroom drama.

 

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Anatomy of a Girl Gang by Ashley Little
Publication: October 15, 2013 by Arsenal Pulp Press

A sharp and gritty novel told in multiple voices, Anatomy of a Girl Gang is the powerful story of a gang of teenage girls in Vancouver called the Black Roses, a.k.a. “the city’s worst nightmare”: Mac, the self-appointed leader and mastermind; Mercy, the Punjabi princess with a skill for theft; Kayos, a high-school dropout who gave birth to a daughter at age thirteen; Sly Girl, who fled her First Nations reserve for a better life, only to find depravity and addiction; and Z, a sixteen-year-old graffiti artist.

Cast out by mainstream society, the Black Roses rob ATMs, cook crack on stoves, and savagely beat down anyone who dares to harm them. Brutal and broken, they claw at the knot of darkness and violence that tightens around their lives.

 

themothers28815371

The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Publication: October 11, 2016 by Riverhead Books

“All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we’d taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season.”

It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.

 

The Dilettantesdilettantes17920855 by Michael Hingston
Publication: September 10, 2013 by Freehand Books

The Peak: a university student newspaper with a hard-hitting mix of inflammatory editorials, hastily thrown-together comics and reviews, and a news section run the only way self-taught journalists know how—sloppily.
Alex and Tracy are two of The Peak’s editors, staring down graduation and struggling to keep the paper relevant to an increasingly indifferent student body. But trouble looms large when a big-money free daily comes to the west-coast campus, threatening to swallow what remains of their readership whole.

It’ll take the scoop of a lifetime to save their beloved campus rag. An exposé about the mysterious filmed-on-campus viral video? Some good old-fashioned libel? Or what about that fallen Hollywood star, the one who’s just announced he’s returning to Simon Fraser University to finish his degree? With savage wit, intoxicating energy, and a fine-tuned ear for the absurd, Michael Hingston drags the campus novel, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.

 

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The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
Publication: December 26, 2016 by The Borough Press (first published in 2015)

England,1976.

Mrs Creasy is missing and The Avenue is alive with whispers. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly decide to take matters into their own hands.

And as the cul-de-sac starts giving up its secrets, the amateur detectives will find much more than they imagined…