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.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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?

Picture Book Review: Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner & Christopher Silas Neal

Review: Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner, illus. Christopher Silas Neal
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: March 7, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

In this gorgeous companion to the acclaimed Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal bring to life a secret underwater world. In this book, readers will discover the plants and animals that make up the rich, interconnected ecosystem of a mountain pond. Over the pond, the water is a mirror, reflecting the sky. But under the pond is a hidden world of minnows darting, beavers diving, tadpoles growing. These and many other secrets are waiting to be discovered… over and under the pond.

The water’s a mirror, reflecting the sky.
Sunshine and clouds- then a shadow below.
“What’s down there?” I ask.
“Under the pond?” Mom says.

Award-winning author Kate Messner has a number of writing credits to her name, including the Marty McGuire series and the highly-praised middle grade novel The Seventh Wish. Christopher Silas Neal is an award-winning artist, who has multiple- gorgeous- picture books to his illustrative credit, including Lifetime and two other picture books with Kate Messner. Over and Under the Pond is the third collaboration by Messner and Neal in a series of brilliant information-filled picture books: Over and Under the Snow (a personal favourite) and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt.

As a big fan of the first two picture books in this sequence, I was delighted to get a chance to pore over (and I mean: pore over!) this latest entry. Over and Under the Pond is, as its companions, a wonderful experience in visuals and text. Poetic, lyrical and educational all at once, the splendid mix of Messner’s words and Neal’s full page colour illustrations- which are outstanding- take informational picture books to a place of excellence. In Over and Under the Pond, our guides for exploration are a young boy and his mother: paddling, lifting and dipping, and drifting in their canoe, mother and son survey the wide breadth of life found above the water of a pond and under the water of a pond. From cattails to tadpoles, herons to minnows and moose, Messner and Neal highlight the incredible scope of animal and plant life that can be found in a particular ecosystem. ‘An Author’s Note‘ provides even more information on a pond’s ecosystem,  and the inspiration behind this story; there is also a beautiful and convenient ‘About the Animals’ section matching animal image to descriptions; as well as a ‘Further Reading‘ recommendations list of print and online resources.

Overall, Over and Under the Pond is superb; another must-read collaboration from the author and illustrator. This title (as well as the others in the series), is a terrific picture book to use for a more specific environmental-themed storytime, or for any readers looking for a lovely, lyrical and educational picture book.

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

Board Book Look: Flora and the Chicks & Little Oink

Review: Flora and the Chicks: A Counting Book by Molly Idle
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: March 7, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

Inspired by the main character of the Caldecott Honor book Flora and the Flamingo, this new series of board books is perfect for the very youngest Flora fans. When a nest of eggs begins to hatch, how will Flora ever keep up with so many chicks? Featuring fold-out pages and Molly Idle’s graceful artwork, this adorable counting book will delight young children as they master new words and concepts.

If you are on the lookout for an adorable board book and/or an adorable counting board book, then may I please present to you the absolutely gorgeous and sparkling Flora and the Chicks? I have talked a few times about my love of Molly Idle’s illustrations– as well as my love for the character of young dancer Flora- and it is so wonderful to see her artwork (and the character of Flora!) newly introduced in board book form.

From one to a big finish of ten, the balletic and delightful Flora takes us on a counting adventure with some of the most adorable (and madcap) hatching chicks. Idle’s previous Flora books were quite exceptional and unique in how lift the flaps were deployed in picture books; this board book also uses flaps to great effect. Flora and the Chicks makes use of left-side opening as well as right-side opening sturdy flaps on every other page: not only to emphasize Flora’s flowing and changing balletic positions and movements as she tends to the hatching chicks, but also to highlight the gentle shenanigans that the baby chicks get up to after hatching.

Overall, a delicious board book that I, quite simply, love to bits. A wonderful addition to the roster of early learning counting board books, and a special treat for readers who have enjoyed reading Flora’s many adventures and were hoping for more! Much of the joy in Flora and the Chicks is in Idle’s radiant, fluid and funny artwork. The author-illustrator manages that perfect line between art and humour, making her work something that really can be (and is!) appreciated by readers of all ages.

 

Review: Little Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illus. Jen Corace
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: March 7, 2017 by Chronicle Books (originally published in 2009)
Book Description:

Little Oink is a neat little fellow. Clean, clean, clean, that’s all he wants to do. But Mama and Papa won’t have it! They say in order to be a proper pig he has to learn to make a proper mess. What’s a little pig to do? Now available as a board book, Little Oink shows Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace applying their traditionally wry humor to the issue of cleaning up, in a laugh-out-loud romp that is sure to make readers giggle with recognition.

The recent death of acclaimed and beloved author and filmmaker Amy Krouse Rosenthal was felt deeply in the children’s literature community and far beyond. I have to say that when I opened up my mail to discover the board book of Little Oink, I felt it in my heart. For years now, I have been a fan of the author’s work, always looking forward to reading and discovering what Krouse Rosenthal would next publish. I remember reading Little Pea, adoring it, then reading my way through Spoon, Chopsticks, Plant a Kiss, Exclamation Mark, and more, as they were published. Little Oink is one of the titles in Little Books series, illustrated by Jen Corace, and is an example of the truly lovely and lively voice rooted in all of Krouse Rosenthal’s books.

As we meet Little Oink, we get to learn a number of things about him, but perhaps the most important thing we learn is that Little Oink loves things to be neat. And because Little Oink likes neatness and tidying, he does not like the fact that he, because he is a pig, has to be messy! Little Oink is expected to ‘make a mess, mess, MESS’, but would much rather clean his room and wear freshly washed and spotless clothing. Little Oink’s parents, as we find out, do their best to encourage Little Oink to make MESS- even making sure that Little Oink messes up his room and puts on dirty clothes before going out to play. While most piggies and other animals might jump at the chance to freely make messes, Little Oink is less than thrilled. But, being a good little piggy, he messes up enough to please his parents and then goes off, happily, to play his favourite (tidy) game: house! Sure to engage readers with its ‘role reversal’ of a little pig who loves to be as neat as a pin, Little Oink is at once a tranquil, comfortable kind of read with just-right moments of visual levity and humour.

Little Oink is a sweet, quietly funny, and all-around engaging read. Jen Corace’s illustrations are so charming; clean, precise lines, bright colours, and beautifully imagined, personable pigs are perfect here for Krouse Rosenthal’s text. Any readers who are fans of the work of Peter H. Reynolds, Patrick McDonnell, Karma Wilson or Kevin Henkes, those who have previously enjoyed Little Pea, Little Hoot, or who have loved any of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s incredible roster of picture books might especially want to meet Little Oink.

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

Picture Book Reviews: A Perfect Day by Lane Smith & Noisy Night by Mac Barnett and Brian Biggs

9781626725362Review: A Perfect Day by Lane Smith
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: February 14, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
Book Description:

Today is a perfect day for Cat, Dog, Chickadee, and Squirrel.

Cat is lounging among the daffodils. Dog is sitting in the wading pool, deep in the cool water. Chickadee is eating fresh seed from the birdfeeder. Squirrel is munching on his very own corncob. Today is a perfect day in Bert’s backyard.

Until Bear comes along, that is. Bear crushes the daffodils, drinks the pool water, and happily gobbles up the birdseed and corncob.

Today was a perfect day for Cat, Dog, Chickadee, and Squirrel. Now, it’s just a perfect day for Bear.

Just look at happy Bear on the cover! Sniffing beautiful flowers, lounging on the grass and enjoying the sunshine- what could be wrong?! In bestselling and award-winning Lane Smith’s funny and terrifically timed A Perfect Day, readers get a look at multiple animals’ perspectives of what makes for their idea of a perfect day.

A Perfect Day starts off with Cat enjoying some colourful flowers and Dog enjoying the feel of cool water, followed by a few other adorable animals having their own ultimate day. Where some authors/illustrators might veer- or perhaps stay- on a straight line of the darling and sweet, Smith takes a wonderful and quiet dive off to the comical and unexpected- all the while maintaining major levels of adorable. As we get to little Squirrel enjoying some corn, readers have, up to that point, only seen that all animals have been enjoying a perfect day…but then- surprise!- in trundles big, lumbering, impervious Bear, making a grand mess of things. And while effectively wrecking everyone’s flawless day, Bear ends up (happily) making his own day of perfection.

Overall, A Perfect Day is a delight, begging for multiple readings and closer inspections of Lane Smith’s illustrations. A relatively simple story, light on text, A Perfect Day makes great use of repeated words and phrasing, and sets itself apart with its comical twist in the introduction of Bear. This story could work brilliantly as a read aloud for toddlers/preschoolers (I hope to try it out soon!), especially if given the right intonation and animated stress on certain words. Smith’s mixed-media illustrations are lively; detailed yet broad at the same time, and though distinctive (as is all of Smith’s beautiful art), his work is easily approachable for all ages to enjoy.

9781596439672Review: Noisy Night by Mac Barnett, illus. Brian Biggs
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: March 7, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
Book Description:

It’s a noisy night in this city building! The residents of each floor can hear their neighbors above them, and are wondering what’s going on above their heads. Climb floor by floor and page by page to find out whose singing, dancing, cheering, and cooing are keeping a grumpy old man awake.

With innovative split-level spreads that offer the feeling of climbing an apartment building floor by floor, this clever and colorful collaboration between New York Times -bestselling author Mac Barnett and gifted illustrator Brian Biggs offers an irresistible investigation of one noisy night.

I love a good, boisterous book for reading aloud and Noisy Night, from award-winners Mac Barnett and Brian Biggs, certainly delivers on multiple fronts. A rambunctious story centred around figuring out the various- and unexpected!- noises going on in an apartment building, readers are treated to one wacky surprise after another.

Noisy Night opens with a quiet scene of a young boy fast asleep in his bed. The lights are off, the scene is washed in blues and grays and then…suddenly, the lights are on and something or someone has woken up the young boy! As the young boy asks what is making the ‘la la la’ noise above his bed in the apartment above, readers are treated to a reveal on the next page, followed by the next apartment resident asking what is going on above their own head. Noisy Night follows a straightforward pattern, allowing readers to easily get into the rhythm of the ask and answer. If performed as a read aloud, kids might really get a kick out of trying to guess who or what could be making noises- especially as the reveals get a little bit kooky as we get higher and higher up the apartment!

Overall, Barnett and Biggs have crafted a genuinely vibrant, livelier than lively story here. As with Lane Smith’s A Perfect Day, the story format and plot in Noisy Night is arguably simple and accessible. And as with A Perfect Day, author and illustrator give that something extra to the story to make it memorable. In Noisy Night, it is the particular details of Barnett’s flare for comedic language and approach to sounds, in combination with Biggs’ unmistakable vivid art that gives this story that extra pizzazz to make it shine. I have already had the pleasure of reading this story aloud to my daughter multiple times and she loves the artwork and making the variety of funny noises along with me! Mark Noisy Night as a must-read picture book for a funny (and booming!) storytime or read aloud.

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

Review: Stalking Ground (Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #2) by Margaret Mizushima

Review: Stalking Ground (A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #2) by Margaret Mizushima
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: September 13, 2016 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

When Deputy Ken Brody’s sweetheart goes missing in the mountains outside Timber Creek, Mattie Cobb and Robo are called to search. But it’s mid-October and a dark snow storm is brewing over the high country–and they’re already too late. By the time they find her body, the storm has broken and the snow is coming down hard.

While Brody hikes down to bring back the forensics team and veterinarian Cole Walker gathers supplies to protect them from the storm, Mattie and Robo find themselves alone, guarding the gravesite overnight in the dead of the early winter. And that’s only the first long, dark night in a series of them, because as their investigation develops, Mattie, Robo, Brody, and Cole find themselves in the middle of the killer’s stalking ground–with no way out unless they can catch a predator more deadly than any natural threat.

An effortlessly engrossing read filled with tension, excitement, and heart, Stalking Ground, the second in Margaret Mizushima’s lauded debut series, will send a chill down every reader’s spine.

The first entry into Margaret Mizushima’s Timber Creek K-9 Mystery series, Killing Trail, was met with strong praise and starred reviews from multiple review journals. I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s debut novel and had been looking forward to continuing on with the singular mystery series featuring Officer Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo. Book two, Stalking Ground, picks up soon after the end of the first novel, and is an engrossing, well-plotted, and suspenseful read- a worthy sophomore novel that also packs some serious surprises.

After the tragic events that transpired over the course of book one, Mattie and her police team- as well the members of small town Timber Creek- are uneasy and on heightened alert for suspicious activity. When the girlfriend of Mattie’s police colleague Ken Brody goes missing under decidedly peculiar circumstances, Mattie and her police team are immediately guarded and on edge. When Mattie is sent out to do some initial investigating into the case with Robo, a number of red flags go up, leading Mattie to lose hope about the chances of Adrienne’s survival. As Adrienne’s case deepens and Mattie and Robo find themselves on a tricky maze, finding more out about Adrienne’s past and attempting to expose lies, a surprising lead opens up, taking Mattie, Robo and Ken down an incredibly dangerous path.

In the first novel, we were introduced to a character named Cole Walker, a father and highly-regarded town veterinarian who slowly becomes a friend to Mattie- and to Robo. He and Mattie’s third-person narratives once again rotate in Stalking Ground; this time, his storyline overlaps with Mattie’s investigation even more closely. Mizushima makes the most of their alternating narratives and propels the urgency and ‘who done it’ of Adrienne’s case very well by running a parallel storyline involving Cole that eventually meets up with Mattie’s. As in Killing Trail, Mizushima does wonders in creating a wholly compelling (and fascinating!) police team in Mattie and Robo; in Stalking Ground, readers are given even more insight into the training that Mattie and Robo do to hone and perfect their working relationship and Robo’s superior- incredible- skills.  Mizushima also delves more into Mattie’s history, offering some intense and heartbreaking backstory into Mattie’s life with her birth parents and siblings, likely ensuring that even more about Mattie’s backstory is to be explored in future novels.

Overall, Stalking Ground is a strong, tightly plotted and terrifically executed read. Mizushima continues to impress with her distinctive area of K-9 mystery writing. As our protagonist, Mattie is a terrific, intriguing character who we are slowly but surely learning more about. In addition to that, her and Robo’s relationship is one that absolutely fascinates; readers are shown even deeper acumen into Mattie and Robo’s working relationship and their incredible skills as a human-canine team. Any readers who previously enjoyed Killing Trail  would do well do continue on with the series as it is only getting better. Stalking Ground plays off of all of the strengths in the well-done first novel and excels here with a first-rate sophomore entry. Readers looking to try out a mystery series with a unique edge or who are looking for a more police-work focused mystery series might especially love this series.

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

Blog Tour Stop: Fish Girl by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli

Welcome to one of the stops (the last one!) on the Raincoast Books blog tour for David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli’s graphic novel Fish Girl! Please read on for my thoughts as well as a look inside the book…

9780547483931Fish Girl by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: March 7, 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Book Description:

Triple Caldecott winner David Wiesner brings his rich visual imagination and trademark artistry to the graphic novel format in a unique coming-of-age tale that begins underwater. A young mermaid, called Fish Girl, in a boardwalk aquarium has a chance encounter with an ordinary girl. Their growing friendship inspires Fish Girl’s longing for freedom, independence, and a life beyond the aquarium tank. Sparkling with humor and brilliantly visualized, Fish Girl’s story will resonate with every young person facing the challenges and rewards of growing up.

In Fish Girl, the new graphic novel from David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli, readers are taken into the world of a young mermaid who is kept as a star attraction- and money-making draw- by her keeper, Neptune. Kirkus Reviews has described Fish Girl as a ‘riveting…adaptation’ of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale The Little Mermaid- and what an on-point, perfect statement that is! Fish Girl is absolutely its own weighty, serious and intense story, but its ties to the Anderson fairy tale are fascinating.

Fish Girl lives her life in an aquatic exhibition run by a man called Neptune. Neptune, as we learn, was a fisherman who apparently took Fish Girl (along with a myriad of other sea life) from the ocean from the time she was a baby. Keeping Fish Girl in a boardwalk exhibition to make money off of teasing exhibition go-ers with the possibility of the existence of a ‘real, live’ mermaid, Neptune is the keeper of Fish Girl. Aside from her magnificent octopus friend and other sea creatures, Fish Girl only has Neptune…until a young girl visiting the exhibition takes genuine interest and care in getting to know Fish Girl. As Fish Girl gets to know the girl, Livia, she begins to question and investigate Neptune, her claustrophobic life as an exhibition, and how she might escape from her caged life and start a new life on land. Layered and complex, Fish Girl is a more serious, contemplative read with darker undercurrents. Neptune in particular, is an uncomfortable character; he mistreats Fish Girl and baits her with promises of stories about her mermaid family if she behaves and performs well. Fish Girl herself becomes a heroine to root for; readers will likely be captivated (and hopeful) as she attempts to thwart Neptune and escape from what has become- and has likely always been- her oceanic prison.

Overall, Fish Girl is an excellent, potent story. David Wiesner’s work is always distinct and impressive; readers who have experienced his wordless and award-winning picture book Flotsam will see once again how majestically he draws sea creatures. The combination of Donna Jo Napoli- an author seasoned in stories based on myth, legends and fairy tales- and Wiesner works wonderfully to bring the singular experience of Fish Girl. A sophisticated and layered story- at times, intense and taut, with sinister undercurrents- Fish Girl works as a graphic novel with definite crossover appeal for older children and teens. Readers who have enjoyed children’s or YA graphic novels with more mature subject matter, along the lines of Sunny Side Up, Matt Phelan’s Bluffton or Snow White, anything from Gene Luen Yang, David Petersen or Kazu Kibuishi, might especially appreciate Fish Girl.

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Excerpt from Fish Girl, courtesy of Raincoast Books

Interested in reading more reviews and thoughts about Fish Girl? You can check out the other great blogs participating in the tour:

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

Picture Book Review: The King of the Birds by Acree Graham Macam & Natalie Nelson

9781554988518_hr_1024x1024Review: The King of the Birds by Acree Graham Macam, illus. Natalie Nelson
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press. Thank you!
Publication: September 2016 by Groundwood Books
Book Description:

In this picture book, inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor, a young fan of fowl brings home a peacock to be the king of her collection, but he refuses to show off his colorful tail. The girl goes to great lengths to encourage the peacock to display his plumage — she throws him a party, lets him play in the fig tree, feeds him flowers and stages a parade — all to no avail.

Then she finally stumbles on the perfect solution. When she introduces the queen of the birds — a peahen — to her collection, the peacock immediately displays his glorious shimmering tail.

This delightful story, full of humor and heart, celebrates the legacy of a great American writer. Includes an author’s note about Flannery O’Connor.

A picture book inspired by the life of celebrated author Flannery O’Connor? If you think the idea might sound…perhaps too grand or ambitious for a picture book, then please let me assure you that the team of author Acree Graham Macam and illustrator Natalie Nelson have done it! The duo has crafted something fascinating, funny and altogether idiosyncratic with their picture book The King of the Birds.

The story begins with a chicken who can ‘walk backwards and forwards’. A young girl named Flannery and her chicken become famous after being seen by a newspaperman…but after the excitement and fame dies down, Flannery decides she needs more birds. After buying every kind of bird imaginable, Flannery decides she needs even more. The ‘more’ ends of being a spectacularly proud, reticent peacock who refuses to show his tail, who grows increasingly lonely and squawks and screeches loudly (oh so loudly) into the night. As Flannery comes up with a royal solution to the King’s loneliness and lack of tail display, she ends up with even slightly more than she bargained for, making for a very funny (and wordless) ending. Nelson’s illustrations here are vibrant, eye-catching and stylishly atypical, while Macam’s writing of the story is a perfect blend of offbeat and wry yet totally accessible for a picture book audience.

Overall, The King of the Birds is a unique and wonderful picture book. Unusual and visually splendid, with an interesting story to boot, Macam and Nelson have designed and presented something special for their debut here. While a story inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor, younger children will likely enjoy the story as a great and funny story about a young girl named Flannery and her surprising assortment of fowl. Older kids (and adults!) unfamiliar or less than familiar with O’Connor‘s life will likely find much of the story- and the author’s note- fascinating (and perhaps even an inspiration to read more about O’Connor’s life!). I have been loving the burst of non-fiction, and biographical picture books in children’s lit, and The King of the Birds is another fantastic title to add to the growing list. Any readers who have enjoyed titles such as The Iridescence of Birds, Swan, Henri’s Scissors, Radiant Child, or Viva Frida, might especially appreciate the singular beauty and quirkiness of The King of the Birds.

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Image courtesy of House of Anansi website

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