Recently Read: Great Picture Books!

I have had the great luck- again!- to have read through another stash of tremendous, unique, and fun picture books. You will see some returning favourites here including: the latest from Kyo Maclear and Kenard Pak with the stunning The Fog; the newest (and wonderfully madcap) collaboration from Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell; a new and awesome Olivia from Ian Falconer; more Nerdy Birdy; the latest from Canadian author-illustrator Ashley Spires; a fun and lovely cat counting book from Viviane Schwarz; and a follow-up of sorts to the very funny Creepy Carrots. There are also some utter gems from newer author and/or illustrators here, so be sure to take a look through the whole list!

The Sheep Who Hatched an Egg by Gemma Merino
Shawn Loves Sharks by Curtis Manley, illus. Tracy Subisak
Counting with Tiny Cat by Viviane Schwarz
Lily Wool by Paula Vásquez
Stack the Cats by Susie Ghahremani
Nope! by Drew Sheneman
The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do by Ashley Spires
The Only Fish in the Sea by Philip C. Stead, illus. Matthew Cordell
Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds, illus. Peter Brown
The Teacher’s Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi, illus. Zachariah OHora
Nerdy Birdy Tweets by Aaron Reynolds, illus. Matt Davies
Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex
Olivia the Spy by Ian Falconer
The Fog by Kyo Maclear, illus. Kenard Pak
This Beautiful Day by Richard Jackson, illus. Suzy Lee

Advertisements

Picture Book Review: Say Zoop! by Hervé Tullet

An awesomely fun, interactive picture book here on the review docket!

Say Zoop! by Hervé Tullet
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: August 1, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

Make some noise! Shout OH!” Whisper “oh!” Say “Zoop”? Yes! “Zoop!” “Zoop!” “Zoop!” The newest book from Herve Tullet magically responds with bursts of color and moving shapes, empowering children by letting their imaginations liberate and direct each page’s reaction. Tullet’s books define the genre of participatory bookmaking, encouraging readers to explore and interact with the physical book in all its dimensions. The reward is tremendous: a journey of whimsy and sheer fun that extends well beyond the book’s pages. In this worthy and exhilarating companion to the bestselling trio launched with Press Here, Tullet’s beloved dots will have readers literally “Ooh”-ing and “Ahh”-ing out loud in a happy collective encore.”

 

Since reading and falling in love with Hervé Tullet‘s brilliant, storytime game-changer Press Here, I’ve been a HUGE fan/appreciator of interactive picture books- and of Tullet’s work! While I would argue that Tullet’s post-Press Here works haven’t quite reached the epic storytime status or incredible effortlessness of his smash bestseller, his work is always cause for celebration, wonder and awe. Say Zoop!, Tullet’s latest, is wonderfully fun, thoughtful, engaging interactive picture book that begs for multiple reads and multiple explorations.

Say Zoop! is a book of sounds, shapes, colours, movement- and like Tullet’s previous work, relies on reader (and/or storyteller) whimsy and imagination. The picture book begins with the question: ‘Hi! Are you really sure you want to play?’ and a simple blue dot above; the reader then turns the page (after answering YES, I hope!) and is asked to put their finger on the blue dot and say ‘OH!’. From there, readers are taken on part one of a merry, busy, journey with the blue dots: of saying everything from loud, huge OH’s, to softer, smaller OH’s, counting OH’s, multiple OH’s, and shivering OH’s. Lest you think Tullet would let readers off with just deceptively simple OH’s and blue dots, you would be mistaken, for we are then introduced to new friends including a red dot (AH!) and a yellow sun-like dot (WAHOO!), and more intricate word/sound/shape play.

Busy, fun, hard-to-put-down and utterly delightful, Tullet absolutely has another picture book winner here with Say Zoop!.

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

Must Read Monday (71): Children’s Titles from Jason Reynolds, Robin Stevens, Celia C. Pérez & 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: more children’s fiction! I can’t help it, folks- children’s fiction is one of my reading loves…and there is so much GREATNESS out there in this area that my to-read pile grows and grows. Some of this week’s picks are inspired by recently read incredible, moving, and overall wonderful reads. I just finished reading Jolly Foul Play, the fourth in the Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries series by British author Robin Stevens, and immediately added Mistletoe & Murder (book number five) to my list. It had been some time since reading book three in the Murder Most Unladylike series, but starting Jolly Foul Play brought Stevens’s brilliant 1930’s English world of young detectives all back- and it is a tremendous series that gets even stronger, sharper, and more engaging with each entry. Truly great. I also recently read Ghost (Track #1) by Jason Reynolds (mentioned here) and it is excellent- a highly, highly recommended read. I have Patina (Track #2) on my must-read, though for this Must Read Monday I am including another of his acclaimed middle grade novels, As Brave As You.

Last, but certainly not least, this week also includes: James Nicol’s The Apprentice Witch, which I picked up on a whim and looks delightful; the fantastically spooky and strange sounding The Bone Snatcher by Charlotte Salter; and Celia C. Pérez’s The First Rule of Punk, which I have been reading rave reviews about.

 

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds
Publication: May 3, 2016 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Book Description:

When two brothers decide to prove how brave they are, everything backfires—literally.

Genie’s summer is full of surprises. The first is that he and his big brother, Ernie, are leaving Brooklyn for the very first time to spend the summer with their grandparents all the way in Virginia—in the COUNTRY! The second surprise comes when Genie figures out that their grandfather is blind. Thunderstruck and—being a curious kid—Genie peppers Grandpop with questions about how he covers it so well (besides wearing way cool Ray-Bans).

How does he match his clothes? Know where to walk? Cook with a gas stove? Pour a glass of sweet tea without spilling it? Genie thinks Grandpop must be the bravest guy he’s ever known, but he starts to notice that his grandfather never leaves the house—as in NEVER. And when he finds the secret room that Grandpop is always disappearing into—a room so full of songbirds and plants that it’s almost as if it’s been pulled inside-out—he begins to wonder if his grandfather is really so brave after all.

Then Ernie lets him down in the bravery department. It’s his fourteenth birthday, and, Grandpop says to become a man, you have to learn how to shoot a gun. Genie thinks that is AWESOME until he realizes Ernie has no interest in learning how to shoot. None. Nada. Dumbfounded by Ernie’s reluctance, Genie is left to wonder—is bravery and becoming a man only about proving something, or is it just as important to own up to what you won’t do?

 

Mistletoe & Murder (Murder Most Unladylike #5) by Robin Stevens
Publication: October 20, 2016 by Puffin
Book Description:

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are spending the Christmas hols in snowy Cambridge. Hazel has high hopes of its beautiful spires, cosy libraries and inviting tea-rooms – but there is danger lurking in the dark stairwells of ancient Maudlin College.

Two days before Christmas, there is a terrible accident. At least, it appears to be an accident – until the Detective Society look a little closer, and realise a murder has taken place. Faced with several irritating grown-ups and fierce competition from a rival agency, they must use all their cunning and courage to find the killer (in time for Christmas Day, of course).

The fabulously festive fifth mystery from the bestselling, award-winning author of Murder Most Unladylike.

 

The Bone Snatcher by Charlotte Salter
Publication: February 14, 2017 by Dial
Book Description:

Sophie Seacove is a storyteller. She tells stories of what the world would be like if madness hadn’t taken over. If her parents hadn’t sold her off as a servant to pay for their stupid vacation. If she wasn’t now trapped in a decaying mansion filled with creepy people and surrounded by ravenous sea monsters.

The mansion has plenty of stories, too: About fantastical machines, and the tragic inventor who created them. About his highly suspicious death. And about the Monster Box, a mysterious object hidden in the house that just might hold the key to escaping this horrible place—and to reuniting Sophie with her family.

But not everyone wants Sophie to have the Monster Box, and as she gets closer to finding it, she finds herself unspooling years-old secrets—and dodging dangerous attacks. Sophie needs to use her brains, her brawn, and her unbreakable nature if she wants to make it off this wretched island…and live to tell this story.

 

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol
Publication: July 25, 2017 by Chicken House
Book Description:

Arianwyn has flunked her witch’s assessment: She’s doomed. Declared an apprentice and sent to the town of Lull in disgrace, she may never become a real witch– much to the glee of her arch-rival, Gimma.But remote Lull is not as boring as it seems. Strange things are sighted in the woods, a dangerous infestation of hex creeps throughout the town, and a mysterious magical visitor arrives with his eye on her.

With every spirit banished, creature helped, and spell cast, Arianwyn starts to get the hang of being a witch–even if she’s only an apprentice. But the worst still lies ahead. For a sinister darkness has begun to haunt her spells, and there may be much more at stake than just her pride . . . for Arianwyn and the entire land.

 

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez
Publication: August 22, 2017 by Viking
Book Description:

There are no shortcuts to surviving your first day at a new school–you can’t fix it with duct tape like you would your Chuck Taylors. On Day One, twelve-year-old Malu (Maria Luisa, if you want to annoy her) inadvertently upsets Posada Middle School’s queen bee, violates the school’s dress code with her punk rock look, and disappoints her college-professor mom in the process. Her dad, who now lives a thousand miles away, says things will get better as long as she remembers the first rule of punk: be yourself.

The real Malu loves rock music, skateboarding, zines, and Soyrizo (hold the cilantro, please). And when she assembles a group of like-minded misfits at school and starts a band, Malu finally begins to feel at home. She’ll do anything to preserve this, which includes standing up to an anti-punk school administration to fight for her right to express herself!

Black and white illustrations and collage art throughout make The First Rule of Punk a perfect pick for fans of books like Roller Girl and online magazines like Rookie.

Picture Book Review: Charlotte the Scientist is Squished by Camille Andros & Brianne Farley

Review: Charlotte the Scientist is Squished by Camille Andros, illus. Brianne Farley
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: March 14, 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Book Description:

Charlotte is a serious scientist. She solves important problems by following the scientific method. She has all the right equipment: protective glasses, a lab coat, a clipboard, and a magnifying glass. What she doesn’t have is space. She has so many brothers and sisters (she is a rabbit, after all) that she is too squished to work on her experiments! Can she use science to solve her problem? This funny, satisfying story is a playful introduction to the scientific method and perfect for sparking an interest in STEM subjects.

Joining the wonderful, growing stream of science-leaning picture books, Camille Andros and Brianne Farley’s Charlotte the Scientist is Squished is a beautifully illustrated, utterly delightful story that comfortably and easily introduces the scientific method to children- with an adorable story to boot.

You might be wondering how a picture book can all of those things, and I think it comes down to how debut author Andros approaches the story, and how Secret Tree Fort illustrator Farley captures the spirit of the story. The story is set-up with readers being introduced to scientist Charlotte and her big problem: she is squished and unable to properly conduct her science experiments. Her rabbit family is so large and her siblings are making things very difficult for her. So, Charlotte approaches her problem of being squished with the five steps of the scientific method. Andros, with Farley’s delicious illustrations, outlines the five steps- from question, hypothesis, experiment, observation, conclusion- in a comfortable, understandable fashion, that works beautifully due to Andros’ natural storytelling style. Readers get to go along a journey with Charlotte as she experiments with everything from trying to make herself invisible to commandeering her carrot-like rocket ship to space.

Charlotte the Scientist is Squished eases along into a satisfying, well-deserved ending for both Charlotte and her family, all the while maintaining a nice balance between the sweet storytelling side and the science side of things. I think this could make for a great read aloud for a preschool and up age group; older children might be more curious in the science leanings and have their interest piqued by Charlotte’s scientific approach, while a younger audience might especially adore the delightful, bright illustrations and happy ending. Overall, a lovely, fun, educational read that promises and delivers on storytelling, illustrations and a unique angle.

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

Recently Read: Great Picture Books & Non-Fiction Titles!

It’s been a tad quiet on the Fab Book Reviews front lately…I had lofty goals for posting in June, somehow (why?!?) not counting on the fact that Summer Reading Club, school visits, and recent life craziness, etc., would really impact my reading and posting schedule! Ah well!

Here are some wonderful picture books and non-fiction children’s titles I’ve recently read and/or shared at storytimes. Some titles have been promoted during Summer Reading Club, though I may do another separate post just for those titles! I’ve starred the ones which I have used and were a big hit at one of my storytimes. I haven’t yet used Corinna Luyken’s The Book of Mistakes or Adam Lehrhaupt and Felicita Sala’s I Don’t Draw, I Color! at storytimes, but I highly, highly recommend taking a close look at both of these titles. Totally unique- an experience in storytelling and incredible visuals– just amazing work!

 

Shark Dog! by Ged Adamson*
Morris Mole by Dan Yaccarino*
You Don’t Want a Unicorn! by Ame Dyckman, illus. Liz Climo*
My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis by Paul Meisel*
Blue Whale Blues by Peter Carnavas*
Whose Poop Is That? by Darrin P. Lunde, illus. Kelsey Oseid*
Pink is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals (World of Weird Animals) by Jess Keating, illus. David DeGrand*
South by Daniel Duncan
Colette’s Lost Pet by Isabelle Arsenault
I Don’t Draw, I Color! by Adam Lehrhaupt, illus. Felicita Sala
The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken

Review: Mary Anning’s Curiosity by Monica Kulling

Review: Mary Anning’s Curiosity by Monica Kulling, with illus. by Melissa Castrillon
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Groundwood Books. Thank you!
Publication: May 1, 2017 by Groundwood Books
Book Description:

Mary Anning, considered the world’s greatest fossilist, discovered her first big find at the age of twelve. This novel is an imaginative re-creation of her childhood in early nineteenth-century Lyme Regis.

Mary was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, England, to a poor family. She and her older brother were the only two of ten children to survive. Her father, a carpenter and part-time fossil hunter, taught his children to look for fossils. When her father injured himself and was unable to work, Mary quit school and took up fossil hunting full-time to help support her family, a task that became even more important when her father died, leaving the Annings in debt.At the age of twelve, Mary, with her older brother Joe, found what they believed to be the skeleton of a gigantic crocodile, the Great Croc of the legends. Between dodging her rival fossil hunter, the Curiman, and the sheer work of carefully digging out the fossil, Mary took almost a year to excavate what would later be termed the Ichthyosaurus.

Mary Anning may have been uneducated, poor and a woman, but her life’s work of fossil hunting led her to make many discoveries that influenced our understanding of prehistoric creatures and the age of the Earth. In 2010, Mary was named among the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science. Charles Darwin even cited Mary’s fossilized creatures as evidence in his book On the Origin of Species.

In this triumphant novel about scientific discovery, Monica Kulling brings Mary Anning and her world to life for young readers.

 

To think, a mere lass, with little schooling, did what those great scientists do all the time- and all of them big men, mind. It boggles my mind, it does. I can’t help but wonder what else you are destined to do.

An out of the ordinary, gorgeous treasure of a book, Mary Anning’s Curiosity is one of the few books I’ve read so far this year in one sitting. Written by Canadian author Monica Kulling, with marvelous illustrations by Melissa Castrillon, Mary Anning’s Curiosity gives readers a look into the earlier life of groundbreaking, celebrated fossilist Mary Anning and her earlier fossil discoveries in and around her place of birth of Lyme Regis, England.

Mary Anning’s Curiosity mostly focuses upon Mary and the year in which she, and her brother Joe, discover, dig and excavate an incredible fossil that was later named the Ichthyosaurus. Before we dive into that time, though, readers are taken into a bit of introduction to Mary and the Anning household. Kulling concisely and candidly describes the serious hardships faced by Mary’s Ma and Pa and their constant struggle with making enough to survive. We learn that Mary’s Ma wants more for her daughter than this life- the life of following in her father’s footsteps as an eccentric fossil hunter, forever in danger by the cliffs. And while Mary does indeed like school and learning “new words, fancy words”- the things that make her Ma happy- her life is the shoreline, the cliffs and beaches, carefully digging for curiosities- just like her Pa and brother. When Mary and Joe’s dad becomes incapacitated after a fall, though, Mary’s drive to hunt fossils, to make money and help her family, completely becomes her life from the age of eleven. In 1811, Mary and Joe’s dig that would lead to the finding of the Ichthyosaurus, begins. Kulling fascinatingly describes Mary’s intensity, focus, fervor and patience in her excavation; her tremendous and natural skills as a fossil hunter; as well as her and Joe’s attempts to thwart the attention of a seemingly greedy, fossil-hungry Captain.

Overall, an excellent, unusual read, providing readers of all ages tremendous insight into the life of an incredible woman of science and discovery. The growing number of books in children’s fiction and non-fiction titles that are delving into the lives of lesser-known trailblazers, staggering minds and discoveries is a joy to see and experience. With Mary Anning’s Curiosity, Monica Kulling has provided a stellar entry into children’s literature: one that not only excels as a fascinating shorter novel on its own accord, but also one that stands as a successful and awe-inspiring fictionalized biography. I do hope readers both young and old get a chance to pick this gem up!

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.

Picture Book Review: Shark Lady by Jess Keating & Marta Álvarez Miguéns

Review: Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating, illus. Marta Álvarez Miguéns
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: June 6, 2017 by Sourcebooks
Book Description:

This is the story of a woman who dared to dive, defy, discover, and inspire. This is the story of Shark Lady.

Eugenie Clark fell in love with sharks from the first moment she saw them at the aquarium. She couldn’t imagine anything more exciting than studying these graceful creatures. But Eugenie quickly discovered that many people believed sharks to be ugly and scary-and they didn’t think women should be scientists.

Determined to prove them wrong, Eugenie devoted her life to learning about sharks. After earning several college degrees and making countless discoveries, Eugenie wrote herself into the history of science, earning the nickname Shark Lady.” Through her accomplishments, she taught the world that sharks were to be admired rather than feared and that women can do anything they set their minds to.

Canadian author and zoologist Jess Keating and artist Marta Álvarez Miguéns join forces to present the incredible story of fearless, trailblazing scientist, teacher, and marine conservationist Eugenie Clark. Known popularly around the world as Shark Lady– due to her incredible depth of face-to-face research with sharks!- Eugenie Clark’s life and work is fantastically, bouyantly, and respectfully brought to a younger generation of readers with the informational/non-fiction picture book Shark Lady.

Shark Lady begins with an introduction to a young Eugenie Clark visiting the aquarium, imagining what it might be like to swim with sharks and breath underwater with gills. From there, we see Clark’s booming interest in sea life; particularly with sharks who Clark believes to be beautiful- not ugly and scary as many think them to be. Keating and Miguéns take readers through turning moments in Clark’s education (and perseverance as a female in a male-dominated field), and to some of Clark’s staggering discoveries and research on sharks and sea life. The tremendous significance of Clark’s work in marine life and sharks might arguably be difficult to convey in a more restricted page count, however, Keating and Miguéns do a formidable job in introducing and emphasizing Clark’s remarkable life and work. Miguéns’s beautiful, vibrant, eye-catching illustrations work perfectly with Keating’s conversational, straightforward and informative storytelling: never overshadowing or taking over from the story but perfectly highlighting and drawing attention to key moments in Eugenie’s life and research. Reading Shark Lady, one major factor struck me and that is how particularly heartening and hopeful it is to see continued movement in publishing pictorial biographies of a much broader, richer, more inclusive scope of innovators, pioneers and leaders in various fields. Furthermore, I find it can sometimes be tricky to refer to a children’s book as inspirational or strictly educational- sometimes those words equate with tedious for kids- but Shark Lady and numerous other fantastic, well-thought out educational picture books as of late are truly awe-inspiring and educative in the most positive sense.

Overall, Shark Lady is an excellent read that attests to the importance of the informational picture book and of bringing biographies of significant- but perhaps not previously as focused upon- trailblazers to younger readers. Not only a terrific read to suggest to any shark or marine life enthusiastic (and there are a lot of those readers!), Shark Lady would also make for a great read aloud for any sea-life themed storytime; in all, a must-add to any non-fiction collection. A bonus: Shark Lady also includes ‘Shark Bites’ facts about sharks; an easy-to-follow Eugenie Clark timeline; as well as an Author’s Note and bibliography of further sources.

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 at Cozy Classics: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Jack & Holman Wang

Cozy Classics: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Jack & Holman Wang
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: May 9, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

Cuddle up with a classic! In twelve needle-felted scenes and twelve child-friendly words, each book in this ingenious series captures the essence of a literary masterpiece. Simple words, sturdy pages, and a beloved story make these books the perfect vehicle for early learning with an erudite twist. Budding bookworms will delight in this clever retelling of the classics made just for them!

In L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a storm transports Dorothy to the magical Land of Oz. Can she defeat the Wicked Witch and find her way home ? It’s a first words primer for your literary little one!

It is perhaps no secret that I quite adore the needle-felted Cozy Classics and Star Wars: Epic Yarns from Canadian authors Jack and Holman Wang! I have featured the brothers’ adorable, thoughtful and awe-inspiring work here a few times; now I have another wonderful new one to talk about!

In their take on L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Jack and Holman use twelve words- everything from ‘storm’ to ‘home’- to tell a version of this classic tale . As with other Cozy Classics titles, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz features, per page spread, one highlighted word with an incredibly detailed needle-felted scene on the facing page. As you can see from a few of the photos I took, the Wang brothers are nothing if not painstaking in their care and attention to detail- in both selection of the ten words and in how they bring specific (and some famous!) characters and scenes to life. As someone who has had the great honour to meet Holman in person and see some needle-felt characters up close, I can speak to their utter artistry.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz seems another very tricky title to pull off as a Cozy Classic, as we might often think not only the classic novel but also of the iconic Judy Garland film as a comparison! How can Cozy Classics faithfully represent Dorothy, Toto…the Emerald City? What about the Wicked Witch of the West? As a child who both strangely adored and was terrified of The Wizard of Oz film, I wondered how Jack and Holman would adapt this story- without making it too scary for wee ones! I give full kudos to Jack and Holman for including some of the scarier aspects of the story (we do see felts and scenes with the Wicked Witch of the West and a winged monkey!); but those images are tempered by brighter felts of Dorothy, Toto, the yellow brick road, and other major characters like Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion.

Overall, another fantastical creation from Jack and Holman Wang- I think any fans of Cozy Classics and L. Frank Baum’s work might want to get their hands on this one! I’ve had the utter joy of sharing my home library collection of Cozy Classics (and Epic Yarns!) with my daughter, and they are ones that she has slowly grown into. Initially, the experience was all about the simple child-friendly words and looking at the pictures, but now the meaning of the words and stories have grown as she herself has grown! She actually discovered The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on my shelf before I had even perused it, so we sat down to explore the book together. Now, she sits down with it and chatters away, telling her own short version of the story as she turns the pages- and it is one of the best things I have ever seen.

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

Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.