Must Read Monday (68): Children’s Fiction from Paul Mosier, Adrienne Kress & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

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

This week: children’s fiction titles! The following six titles are a mixture of ones from debut authors and ones that are totally new-to-me-authors. There is Canadian author Adrienne Kress’s The Door in the Alley, which looks and sounds like the start of terrifically fun adventure/mystery series; Melissa Savage’s Lemons, a Bigfoot-centred adventure/mystery; and Paul Mosier’s contemporary and contemplative-sounding Train I Ride. Then there is the wonderfully creepy and dark-sounding The Gravedigger’s Son by Patrick Moody; Kristi Wientge’s contemporary middle grade debut Karma Khullar’s Mustache; and a beautiful and unusual-sounding fantasy called The Unicorn in the Barn written by Jacqueline K. Ogburn.

 

Train I Ride by Paul Mosier
Publication: January 24, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

Rydr is on a train heading east, leaving California, where her gramma can’t take care of her anymore, and traveling to Chicago to live with an unknown relative. She brings with her a suitcase, memories both happy and sad, and a box containing something very important.

As Rydr meets her fellow passengers and learns their stories, her own past begins to emerge. And as much as Rydr may want to forget about her life in California, on the train she finds that maybe her past can help her deal with her present. And maybe hope and forgiveness are all around her and, most important, within her, if she’s willing to look for it.

 

The Door in the Alley (The Explorers #1) by Adrienne Kress
Publication: April 25, 2017 by Delacorte Press
Book Description:

Featuring a mysterious society, a secretive past, and a pig in a teeny hat, “The Explorers: The Door in the Alley” is the first book in a new series for fans of “The Name of This Book Is a Secret” and “The Mysterious Benedict Society. “Knock once if you can find it but only members are allowed inside.

This is one of those stories that start with a pig in a teeny hat. It s not the one you re thinking about. (This story is way better than that one.) This pig-in-a-teeny-hat story starts when a very uninquisitive boy stumbles upon a very mysterious society. After that, there is danger and adventure; there are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, and famous explorers; and there is a girl looking for help that only uninquisitive boys can offer.

 

Lemons by Melissa Savage
Publication: May 2, 2017 by Crown Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

What do you do when you lose everything that means anything?

Nine-year old Lemonade Liberty Witt doesn’t know the answer to that question, except what her mom taught her. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. But what if those lemons are so big that you forget how? How do you make lemonade out of having to leave everything you know in San Francisco to move to the small town of Willow Creek, California and live with a grandfather you’ve never even met? In a town that smells like grass and mud and bugs. With tall pines instead of skyscrapers and dirt instead of sidewalks. Not to mention one woolly beast lurking in the woods.

That’s right, Bigfoot. A ginormous wooden statue of the ugly thing stands right at the center of town like he’s someone real important, like the mayor or something. And the people here actually believe he’s real and hiding somewhere out in the pine filled forests. How can anyone possibly be expected to make lemonade out those rotten lemons?

 

The Unicorn in the Barn by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, illus. Rebecca Green
Expected publication: July 4, 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

For years people have claimed to see a mysterious white deer in the woods around Chinaberry Creek. It always gets away.One evening, Eric Harper thinks he spots it. But a deer doesn’t have a coat that shimmers like a pearl. And a deer certainly isn’t born with an ivory horn curling from its forehead.

When Eric discovers the unicorn is hurt and being taken care of by the vet next door and her daughter, Allegra, his life is transformed. A tender tale of love, loss, and the connections we make, The Unicorn in the Barn shows us that sometimes ordinary life takes extraordinary turns.

 

The Gravedigger’s Son by Patrick Moody
Expected publication: August 1, 2017 by Sky Pony Press

Book Description:

Ian Fossor is last in a long line of Gravediggers. It’s his family’s job to bury the dead and then, when Called by the dearly departed, to help settle the worries that linger beyond the grave so spirits can find peace in the Beyond.

But Ian doesn’t want to help the dead—he wants to be a Healer and help the living. Such a wish is, of course, selfish and impossible. Fossors are Gravediggers. So he reluctantly continues his training under the careful watch of his undead mentor, hoping every day that he’s never Called and carefully avoiding the path that leads into the forbidden woods bordering the cemetery.

Just as Ian’s friend, Fiona, convinces him to talk to his father, they’re lured into the woods by a risen corpse that doesn’t want to play by the rules. There, the two are captured by a coven of Weavers, dark magic witches who want only two thing—to escape the murky woods where they’ve been banished, and to raise the dead and shift the balance of power back to themselves.

Only Ian can stop them. With a little help from his friends. And his long-dead ancestors.

 

Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge
Expected publication: August 15, 2017 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Debut author Kristi Wientge tackles the uncomfortable—but all too relatable—subject of female body hair and self-esteem with this sweet and charming novel in the tradition of Judy Blume.

Karma Khullar is about to start middle school, and she is super nervous. Not just because it seems like her best friend has found a newer, blonder best friend. Or the fact that her home life is shaken up by the death of her dadima. Or even that her dad is the new stay-at-home parent, leading her mother to spend most of her time at work. But because she’s realized that she has seventeen hairs that have formed a mustache on her upper lip.

With everyone around her focused on other things, Karma is left to figure out what to make of her terrifyingly hairy surprise all on her own.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Must Read Monday (65): Children’s titles from Lisa Thompson, Rachel Vail, Mike Lawrence & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

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

This week: children’s fiction and graphic novels! First up, a unique-sounding middle grade mystery novel called The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson. I have been reading very strong reviews for this one and cannot wait to read it. Next up is Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail; another contemporary middle grade title which sounds great- and two reviewer friends have recently rated this title very highly. The next four titles on the docket this week are wonderful looking and sounding graphic novels: Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence; Drew Brockington‘s beyond adorable-looking CatStronauts; a new Pets on the Loose graphic novel by Roller Girl author-illustrator Victoria Jamieson; and last but not least, the incredibly unusual and delightful looking Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten.

 

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson
Publication: February 28, 2017 by Scholastic Press

Matthew Corbin suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. He hasn’t been to school in weeks. His hands are cracked and bleeding from cleaning. He refuses to leave his bedroom. To pass the time, he observes his neighbors from his bedroom window, making mundane notes about their habits as they bustle about the cul-de-sac.

When a toddler staying next door goes missing, it becomes apparent that Matthew was the last person to see him alive. Suddenly, Matthew finds himself at the center of a high-stakes mystery, and every one of his neighbors is a suspect. Matthew is the key to figuring out what happened and potentially saving a child’s life… but is he able to do so if it means exposing his own secrets, and stepping out from the safety of his home?

 

Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail
Publication: February 28, 2017 by Viking Books for Young Readers

Gracie has never felt like this before. One day, she suddenly can’t breathe, can’t walk, can’t anything and the reason is standing right there in front of her, all tall and weirdly good-looking: A.J. It turns out A.J. likes not Gracie but Gracie’s beautiful best friend, Sienna. Obviously Gracie is happy for Sienna. Super happy! She helps Sienna compose the best texts, responding to A.J. s surprisingly funny and appealing texts, just as if she were Sienna. Because Gracie is fine. Always! She’s had lots of practice being the sidekick, second-best. Its all good. Well, almost all. She’s trying.

 

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence
Publication: March 21, 2017 by First Second

Avani is the new kid in town, and she’s not happy about it. Everyone in school thinks she’s weird, especially the girls in her Flower Scouts troop. Is it so weird to think scouting should be about fun and adventure, not about makeovers and boys, boys, boys? But everything changes when Avani is “accidentally” abducted by a spunky alien named Mabel. Mabel is a scout too—a Star Scout. Collecting alien specimens (like Avani) goes with the territory, along with teleportation and jetpack racing. Avani might be weird, but in the Star Scouts she fits right in. If she can just survive Camp Andromeda, and keep her dad from discovering that she’s left planet Earth, she’s in for the adventure of a lifetime.

 

CatStronauts: Mission Moon (CatStronauts #1) by Drew Brockington
Publication: April 18, 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

When the world is thrust into darkness due to a global energy shortage, the Worlds Best Scientist comes up with a bold plan to set up a solar power plant on the moon. But someone has to go up there to set it up, and that adventure falls to the CatStronauts, the best space cats on the planet! Meet the fearless commander Major Meowser, brave-but-hungry pilot Waffles, genius technician and inventor Blanket, and quick thinking science officer Pom Pom on their most important mission yet! In this graphic novel, debut author and illustrator Drew Brockington breathes life into a world populated entirely by cats, brimming with jokes, charm, science, and enough big boxes and tuna sandwiches for everyone!

 

The Great Art Caper (Pets on the Loose #2) by Victoria Jamieson
Expected publication: June 13, 2017 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Things at Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary School have been quiet―too quiet. Cuddly yet calculating class hamster GW spends his days in second grade and his nights poetry slamming and jigsaw puzzling with his friends, Sunflower and Barry. GW has even started warming up to the second-grade students. Could he be making human friends? When the school art show is announced, GW learns of a dastardly plot―Harriet and her many minions are planning to ruin it! Once again, it’s up to GW, Sunflower, and Barry to stop to Harriet’s mousey madness.

 

Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten
Expected publication: June 27, 2017 by Clarion Books

Lint Boy and Lint Bear live in their cozy dryer home, carefree and happy—until the day Lint Bear is snatched away by a cruel woman with a vendetta against dolls! Can Lint Boy unite a group of lost dolls to vanquish the villain and save his brother?This magical story is showcased in the stunning full-color art of this young graphic novel. A gently gothic, age-appropriate blend of Roald Dahl and Tim Burton, Lint Boy is a compelling tale of good vs. evil that will leave readers spellbound.

 

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.

Review: Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Review: Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada via First Reads. Thank you!
Publication: March 25, 2014 by Ballantine Books (Trade Paperback edition)
Book Description
:

It’s January 1995, and Franny Banks has just six months left of the three-year deadline she set for herself when she came to New York, dreaming of Broadway and doing “important” work. But all she has to show for her efforts so far is a part in an ad for ugly Christmas sweaters, and a gig waiting tables at a comedy club. Her roommates―her best friend Jane, and Dan, an aspiring sci-fi writer―are supportive, yet Franny knows a two-person fan club doesn’t exactly count as success. Everyone tells her she needs a backup plan, and though she can almost picture moving back home and settling down with her perfectly nice ex-boyfriend, she’s not ready to give up on her goal of having a career like her idols Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep. Not just yet. But while she dreams of filling their shoes, in the meantime, she’d happily settle for a speaking part in almost anything—and finding a hair product combination that works.

Everything is riding on the upcoming showcase for her acting class, where she’ll finally have a chance to perform for people who could actually hire her. And she can’t let herself be distracted by James Franklin, a notorious flirt and the most successful actor in her class, even though he’s suddenly started paying attention. Meanwhile, her bank account is rapidly dwindling, her father wants her to come home, and her agent doesn’t return her calls. But for some reason, she keeps believing that she just might get what she came for.

You know when you consider yourself a fan of someone’s oeuvre- whether they are a singer, author, activist, actress, etc.- you tend to approach any new work with equal amounts delirious excitement and major trepidation? This is how I feel about Lauren Graham and her work. I will be honest here: Gilmore Girls is one of my all-time favourite shows, thus I have adored Lauren Graham (and her portrayal of character Lorelai Gilmore) for years now. I actually held off reading Someday, Someday, Maybe when it first came out because: excitement + trepidation. But when the opportunity came up recently to read Graham’s debut novel recently, I was finally ready to dive in.

As per the book’s description, Someday, Someday, Maybe tells the story of aspiring actress Franny Banks, who is on the last six months of her self-imposed deadline to make something of herself as an actress. Taking place in New York in the mid-90s, the novel is told in Franny’s  loquacious and witty first-person narrative. Similarly to her Gilmore Girls‘ character- known for making extensive and esoteric pop culture references- Graham crafts the character of Franny as a knowledgeable, educated, highly verbose and analytical person. Franny, however, is trying to forge into the entertainment world, and that strange, illogical and often insincere world (as portrayed in the book) does not often jibe with Franny’s heart or expectations. As readers go through the whirlwind of Franny’s six month countdown, we get to meet and know three major secondary characters: her roommates Jane (a production assistant) and Dan (struggling screenwriter), as well as fellow aspiring actor (and crush) James Franklin. Jane and Dan act as the sounding board/conscience to Franny’s moments of crazy and brushes with celebrity; James becomes the voice of sincere pretension and ‘I’m an AC-TOR‘- a character that you sincerely hope Franny doesn’t become enamored of. Dan is an especially lovely, supporting character, well-written and maintained, who grows more integral to the story as Franny’s impending deadline looms.

Graham spends much of the novel (as one would expect) exploring the sometimes truly bizarre processes of auditioning, working on stage, filming shows and commercials, working with actors, agents, and more. As a well-known actress with a solid stage/theatrical background herself, Graham likely has a treasure trove of entertainment stories and unbelievable experiences: I feel as though some were carried over, if not adapted, to fit directly into Franny’s story here. Additionally, I really appreciate that Franny’s story was not one of instant success or quickly fought minor setbacks. A winning story, and one full of comedy to be sure, but Franny’s story here is also one of struggle and persistence. Of small yet tremendous feats, and of crushing lows and major doubt. Someday, Someday, Maybe is also a story that interestingly shows so much love and respect to theatre and the study of acting, yet is simultaneously wary (if not loathing) of aspects regarding celebrity and fame.

Overall, a funny and thoughtful, appealing contemporary fiction read. Franny is an effervescent, deprecating yet sincere voice- a character to adore and root for. Readers who like their reads on the side of entertaining and/or packed with fascinating insight into ‘the business we call show‘, then Someday, Someday, Maybe might especially be your cup of tea. Fans of Graham’s work, or those who have enjoyed her non-fiction title Talking As Fast As I Can (great as an audiobook), have likely already read this title, but if you haven’t yet, I would give a whirl! A note that this trade paperback version includes a conversation between Lauren Graham and Parenthood costar (and terrific actress) Mae Whitman, and is quite delightful.

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

Must Read Monday (63): Children’s Lit from Linda Williams Jackson, Caela Carter & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

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

This week: children’s fiction! I am featuring a slew of wonderful sounding (and looking!) titles; genres from historical fiction to realistic fiction and humour from first-time novelists and seasoned authors including: Linda Williams Jackson, Caela Carter, Steve Moore, Stephan Pastis, and Darcy Miller.

 

Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson
Publication: January 3, 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Rose Lee Carter, a 13-year-old African-American girl, dreams of life beyond the Mississippi cotton fields during the summer of 1955. Her world is rocked when a 14-year-old African-American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. A powerful middle-grade debut perfect for readers who enjoyed The Watsons Go to Birmingham and Brown Girl Dreaming.

 

Forever, or a Long, Long Time by Caela Carter
Publication: March 7, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

An achingly beautiful story in the vein of Rebecca Stead and R. J. Palacio about two foster children who want desperately to believe that they’ve found their forever home.

Flora and her brother, Julian, don’t believe they were born. They’ve lived in so many foster homes, they can’t remember where they came from. And even now that they’ve been adopted, Flora still struggles to believe in forever. So along with their new mother, Flora and Julian begin a journey to go back and discover their past—for only then can they really begin to build their future.

 

No Fear! (King of the Bench #1) by Steve Moore
Expected publication: March 28, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

From the nationally syndicated cartoonist of “In the Bleachers” comes a new, highly illustrated middle grade series about Steve, who plays the same position in every sport: bench-warmer. Perfect for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Timmy Failure, King of the Bench is an ode to teammates, underdogs, and bench-warmers everywhere.

Steve is King of the Bench. No brag. It’s just a fact. But this year, Steve and his friends are excited to try out for the Spiro T. Agnew Middle School baseball team. The only problem is, after watching another player get beaned by a fastball, Steve has developed a serious case of bean-o-phobia—the fear of getting hit by a pitch. If Steve ever wants to get off the bench and get in the game, he’s going to have to muster up some courage, and fast.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why Steve would write a book and tell total strangers all about the humiliating phobia that almost ruined his first year on the baseball team? Duh. It’s pretty much a rule that you spill your guts when you write a book about yourself.

 

The Cat Stole My Pants (Timmy Failure #6) by Stephan Pastis
Expected publication: April 25, 2017 by Candlewick Press
Book Description:

In the sixth book in Stephan Pastis’s hilarious series, Timmy is being threatened and must rely on his new partner to solve the mystery and possibly save his life!

Timmy is in Key West, Florida, ostensibly for the honeymoon of his mother and Doorman Dave if they even got married, which Timmy doubts. Unfortunately for Timmy, crime doesn’t take a vacation. And because Total has fled to Cuba seeking political asylum, Timmy must rely on a new partner for help: Doorman Dave’s nephew Emilio. Meanwhile, a surprise newcomer shows up in Timmy’s life and, as if things couldn’t get more hectic, Timmy’s pants have been stolen by a six-toed cat.

 

Roll by Darcy Miller
Expected publication: May 23, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

A hilariously funny and poignant debut novel, perfect for fans of Jerry Spinelli, Kat Yeh, Gary Schmidt, and Rebecca Stead.

When Lauren (but call him “Ren,” pretty please) Hall sees birds falling from the sky, he knows something is wrong. But just as he’s starting to worry, he realizes that the birds are plummeting toward the ground on purpose. Turns out they’re Birmingham Roller Pigeons, and his new neighbor Sutton is training them for a competition. Sure, it’s strange, but Ren’s best and only friend Aiden has picked this summer to start hanging with the popular kids. So Ren starts training pigeons with Sutton—what’s the worst that could happen? A bird falls on his head? You’ll have to read Roll to find out.