Must Read Monday (66): Titles from Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Sara Crowe, Caroline Carlson & 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! The titles featured this week are incredible-sounding and looking titles with a wide-range of genre- everything from magical realism, mystery, fantasy and more. Some favourite authors are here, including forthcoming titles from Laurel Snyder and Julie Berry. The other three authors featured here are new-to-me, and all with very well-received titles. There is Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s award-winning and fascinatingly described The Girl of Ink and Stars; Sara Crowe‘s dark and magical Bone Jack; and Caroline Carlson‘s delightfully described mystery, The World’s Greatest Detective.


The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Publication: May 5, 2016 by Chicken House
Book Description:

Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella Riosse dreams of the faraway lands her father once mapped.When her closest friend disappears into the island’s Forgotten Territories, she volunteers to guide the search. As a cartographer’s daughter, she’s equipped with elaborate ink maps and knowledge of the stars, and is eager to navigate the island’s forgotten heart.

But the world beyond the walls is a monster-filled wasteland – and beneath the dry rivers and smoking mountains, a legendary fire demon is stirring from its sleep. Soon, following her map, her heart and an ancient myth, Isabella discovers the true end of her journey: to save the island itself.


Bone Jack by Sara Crowe
Publication: February 7, 2017 by Philomel Books
Book Description:

Times have been tough for Ash lately, and all he wants is for everything to go back to the way it used to be. Back before drought ruined the land and disease killed off the livestock. Before Ash’s father went off to war and returned carrying psychological scars. Before his best friend, Mark, started acting strangely. As Ash trains for his town’s annual Stag Chase–a race rooted in violent, ancient lore–he’s certain that if he can win and make his father proud, life will return to normal. But the line between reality and illusion is rapidly blurring, and the past has a way of threatening the present.

When a run in the mountains brings Ash face-to-face with Bone Jack–a figure that guards the boundary between the living world and the dead–everything changes once more. As dark energies take root and the world as he knows it is upended, it’s up to Ash to restore things to their proper order and literally run for his life.


The World’s Greatest Detective by Caroline Carlson
Expected publication: May 16, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

Detectives’ Row is full of talented investigators, but Toby Montrose isn’t one of them. He’s only an assistant at his uncle’s detective agency, and he’s not sure he’s even very good at that. Toby’s friend Ivy is the best sleuth around—or at least she thinks so. They both see their chance to prove themselves when the famed Hugh Abernathy announces a contest to choose the World’s Greatest Detective. But when what was supposed to be a game turns into a real-life murder mystery, can Toby and Ivy crack the case?


Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder
Expected publication: May 30, 2017 by Walden Pond Press
Book Description:

On the island, everything is perfect. The sun rises in a sky filled with dancing shapes; the wind, water, and trees shelter and protect those who live there; when the nine children go to sleep in their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joy in their hearts. And only one thing ever changes: on that day, each year, when a boat appears from the mist upon the ocean carrying one young child to join them—and taking the eldest one away, never to be seen again.

Today’s Changing is no different. The boat arrives, taking away Jinny’s best friend, Deen, replacing him with a new little girl named Ess, and leaving Jinny as the new Elder. Jinny knows her responsibility now—to teach Ess everything she needs to know about the island, to keep things as they’ve always been. But will she be ready for the inevitable day when the boat will come back—and take her away forever from the only home she’s known?


The Emperor’s Ostrich by Julie Berry
Expected publication: July 18, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
Book Description:

Young dairymaid Begonia has lost her cow, Alfalfa. So she has set off on a search across the countryside even though she has nothing but a magical map to guide her. Along the way she meets a mother and baby, a woodcutter, a very dirty young man, and an eight-foot ostrich.

Meanwhile, the Emperor has gone missing from the royal palace in a most mysterious manner. Was it murder? Was it magic? It will take all of Begonia’s wits to save the empire and get Alfalfa home safely.


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Must Read Monday (60): YA from Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, Paula Stokes, Simon Mason & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

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

This week is all about young adult fiction! Even whittled down, there are piles of tremendous-sounding YA titles on my TBR list! Here is a selection of eight: some have been waiting a while (I am sorry, dear books), others are new and forthcoming, some from authors I adore, and some I have read rave reviews for:


25733927The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Publication: February 23, 2016 by Wendy Lamb Books
Book Description:

Alaska: Growing up here isn’t like growing up anywhere else.

Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck suddenly comes her way. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger.

Four very different lives are about to become entangled. This is a book about people who try to save each other—and how sometimes, when they least expect it, they succeed.


26156199Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes
Publication: May 17, 2016 by HarperTeen
Book Description:

No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the roller coaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.

It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away may be harder than she thought.


28691938Running Girl (The Garvie Smith Mysteries #1) by Simon Mason
Publication: August 30, 2016 by David Fickling Books (first published 2014)
Book Description:

Meet Garvie Smith. Highest IQ ever recorded at Marsh Academy. Lowest ever grades. What’s the point? Life sucks. Nothing surprising ever happens. Until Chloe Dow’s body is pulled from a pond. Garvie’s ex-girlfriend.

Inspector Singh is already on the case. Ambitious, uptight, methodical, he’s determined to solve the mystery–and get promoted. He doesn’t need any “assistance” from a notorious slacker. Or does he?

Smart, stylish, and packed with twists and turns from start to finish, Running Girl introduces an unforgettable new character to the world of crime fiction–so lazy he’d only get out of bed for murder.


27414423Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig
Publication: October 4, 2016 by Feiwel & Friends
Book Description:

Flynn’s girlfriend has disappeared. How can he uncover her secrets without revealing his own?

Flynn’s girlfriend, January, is missing. The cops are asking questions he can’t answer, and her friends are telling stories that don’t add up. All eyes are on Flynn—as January’s boyfriend, he must know something.

But Flynn has a secret of his own. And as he struggles to uncover the truth about January’s disappearance, he must also face the truth about himself.


28954189Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1) by Neal Shusterman
Publication: November 22, 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Book Descsription:

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.


32075671The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Publication: February 28, 2017 by Balzer + Bray
Book Description:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, Khalil’s death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr’s best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr’s neighborhood becomes a war zone. What everyone wants to know is: What really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could destroy her community. It could also endanger her life.


23447923The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Expected publication: March 7, 2017 by Clarion Books
Book Description:

From the multi-award-winning author of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe comes a gorgeous new story about love, identity, and families lost and found.

Sal used to know his place with his adoptive gay father, their loving Mexican-American family, and his best friend, Samantha. But it’s senior year, and suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and realizing he no longer knows himself. If Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he?

This humor-infused, warmly humane look at universal questions of belonging is a triumph.


30653853The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
Expected publication: April 11, 2017 by Balzer + Bray
Book Description:

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.



Coming up: Blog Tour for Fish Girl by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli!

Next week, I am participating in the Raincoast Books organized tour for Fish Girl, a graphic novel by multiple Caldecott winner David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli! I am delighted to be taking part as I am a huge fan of David Wiesner’s illustrative work (Sector 7, Flotsam, Mr. Wuffles) and Donna Jo Napoli’s work (Zel, Sirena, and many more!). Take a look below to check out the terrific lineup of bloggers; the tour stops here on Friday, March 3.

Look forward to the Fish Girl tour coming up as well as some new reviews!



Must Read Monday (55): Children’s Fiction from Kara LaReau, Sage Blackwood & 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! New and upcoming titles from Kara LaReau, Sage Blackwood, Cary Fagan and Elise Gravel. These titles have come to my attention through a few different means- publisher’s journals, Goodreads browsing, and via the Twitterverse- and all have very unusual and intriguing-sounding descriptions (and awesome covers…). Read on for a bit more on each of the picks!


jollyregina28818338The Jolly Regina (The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters #1) by Kara LaReau, illus. Jen Hill
Publication: January 10, 2017 by Amulet Books
Book Description:

In the spirit of A Series of Unfortunate Events and the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters will captivate middle-grade readers looking for humor, hijinks, and a swashbuckling good time. Meet Jaundice and Kale Bland, two sisters who avoid excitement at any cost. Together, they patiently await the return of their parents, who left on an errand years ago and have never returned.

One day, the Bland sisters are kidnapped by an all-female band of pirates. They’re unwillingly swept into a high-seas romp that might just lead to solving the mystery of what happened to their parents. With whimsical illustrations and Roald Dahl–esque wit, The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters is the visually stunning, laugh-out-loud funny start to a new series for readers who are looking for an anything-but-bland adventure.


missellicotts30653902Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood
Expected publication: March 21, 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books
Book Description:

Chantel would much rather focus on her magic than on curtsying, which is why she often finds herself in trouble at Miss Ellicott’s School for Magical Maidens. But when Miss Ellicott mysteriously disappears along with all the other sorceresses in the city, Chantel’s behavior becomes the least of her problems.

Without any magic protecting the city, it is up to Chantel and her friends to save the Kingdom. On a dangerous mission, Chantel will discover a crossbow-wielding boy, a dragon, and a new, fiery magic that burns inside her—but can she find the sorceresses and transform Lightning Pass into the city it was meant to be?


wolfiefly30011006Wolfie and Fly by Cary Fagan, illus. Zoe Si
Publication: January 10, 2017 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

A classic story of imagination, friendship, adventure and speeding through the ocean in a cardboard box. For fans of Ivy & Bean, Judy Moody or Nate the Great. Wolfie and Fly is an early chapter book at its simplest and best. Our heroine, Renata Wolfman (Wolfie) does everything by herself. Friends just get in the way, and she only has time for facts and reading. But friendship finds her in the form of Livingston Flott (Fly), the slightly weird and wordy boy from next door. Before she knows it, Wolfie is motoring through deep water with Fly as her second in command in a submarine made from a cardboard box.
Out on a solo swim to retrieve a baseball vital to the mission, Wolfie is finally by herself again, but for the first time, she finds it a little lonely. Maybe there is something to this friend thing…”


olga30653691Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere by Elise Gravel
Expected publication: March 14, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere is jam-packed with fun: vibrant illustrations, word bubbles, quirky humor, olgamus facts, and plenty of excitement for readers who love making discoveries and meeting new friends. Olga is a charming combination of independent, curious, and smart—making her the coolest girl scientist around—perfect for fans of Dork Diaries and Captain Underpants.

When Olga crosses paths with a weird creature and becomes the first kid to discover the species olgamus ridiculus, she is ecstatic! What does an olgamus eat? How does it poop? Why does its burp sound like the word rubber? With her trusty observation notebook and the help of a librarian, a shopkeeper, and some friends, Olga sets out to do science—learning the facts about her smelly, almost-furry pal and searching for him when he goes missing. The scientific method is the best way to discover anything!

Spotlight & Interview with If I Had a Gryphon Author Vikki VanSickle!


I am delighted to be sharing this very special spotlight post featuring an interview with If I Had A Gryphon author Vikki VanSickle!

Canadian author Vikki VanSickle has published a number of books that I have adored: the Clarissa Delaney middle grade series; the YA standalone Summer Days, Starry Nights; and more recently, the picture book If I Had a Gryphon, illustrated by Cale Atkinson. Please read on for the interview I had the opportunity to do with Vikki, as well as my thoughts on (the perfect for Halloween!) If I Had a Gryphon.



vikkivansicklephoto224828Welcome to Fab Book Reviews, Vikki! I am thrilled to have you here! Let’s get right into the questions I have for you…

Q: You are the author of multiple terrific children’s titles and a YA novel, and I was so delighted and curious when I first read you were going to publish a picture book! Have you had the idea to branch out into picture books for some time now or was If I Had a Gryphon something that started with a particular seed of an idea for a children’s story?

A: I love the range of ages and projects encompassed by the idea of “children’s literature.” Middle grade novels are where I am the most comfortable, but I love the specific challenges of picture books. Writing a picture book is a lot like writing a play, which speaks to my drama background. The beats and pacing are extremely important. Plus, if you’ve written a play, you likely don’t direct, cast, or design the set, costumes, or lighting. Chances are other people take on these roles. In a picture book the illustrator takes on those roles. It’s such a privilege to have an artist interpret your words and build a world with you.

Q: How did your approach to writing If I Had a Gryphon differ- if at all- from writing a middle grade title? Is the process of writing a picture book any shorter than the process of writing a book with a much longer word count?

A: For me it’s the opposite- I find it much easier to wade into a nice, long novel and muck about with plot, language, and character. Picture books are more challenging to wrangle in my head. Every word, moment, and decision is deliberate and must be impactful. They are both creative and enjoyable to work on, but use different muscles. I think of it like swimming- novel writing is freestyle and picture book writing is the butterfly.

Q: Rhyming picture books are typically so much fun to read aloud and perform for kids (and adults!). Did you always plan to have If I Had A Gryphon written in rhyme or was the rhyming structure something that evolved organically as you worked through the story? How tricky is it to find or fit just the right words to match?

A: The manuscript has changed a lot, but I always wanted it to be in rhyme. I love reading rhyme and I love how kids respond to it- there is so much delight in the rhythm and the anticipation of the rhyme. For a brief period of time I tried to rewrite the story in prose and it just fell flat. I don’t think all books should be in rhyme, but for this story, perhaps because it’s silly and more than a little whimsical, it just felt right.

Q: Your writing and Cale Atkinson’s illustrations are, in my opinion, a perfect match! How did it come about that Cale would be the illustrator for If I Had a Gryphon? How much say did you have in the matter of choosing an illustrator that might best fit your story?

A: Cale was discovered by my editor, Sam. When she showed me his artwork I loved its vibrancy, sense of movement, and playfulness. Some of the creatures could be quite scary, but in Cale’s hands they were funny and downright cuddly (I’m thinking of that adorable Sasquatch in particular). Cale is a busy artist and I was so thrilled that he agreed to illustrate the book. I can’t imagine it any other way!

Q: Of all the fantastical creatures in If I Had a Gryphon, which one would you pick as your ultimate ‘strange, exotic’ pet?

A: I really love Cale’s interpretation of the hippogriff. He’s so enthusiastic and lovable and would make a great pet.

Q: What are some of your favourite reads (picture books, middle grade, anything!) featuring mythical or strange creatures?

A: I’ve always been interested in magical and mythological creatures and sought them out in the books I read. love Steven Kellogg’s The Mysterious Tadpole, which I borrowed from the library over and over again as a child. The book is about a family who receives a tadpole from Scotland. As the creature gets bigger and bigger they realize they have a sort of Loch Ness Monster on their hands, and they have to figure out the best way to deal with it.

I was also a huge fan of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Catwings series, which is probably the first chapter book series I read independently. I remember ordering the first book from the Scholastic Book Fair and I loved it so much I wore it out and bought it again the next year!

A new favourite is Kallie George’s Magical Animal Adoption Agency series, about a little girl who works at an adoption agency for magical creates. It’s fresh, inventive, and a fantastic family read.

Q: With Halloween upon us, could you tell us some of your favourite spooky or ghostly reads? Any genre is okay!

A: Halloween is my favourite holiday and one day I hope to write a Halloween book. In the meantime, here are some of my favourites:

Hallo-weiner isn’t exactly spooky, but it is probably the funniest Halloween picture book I’ve ever read. Considering it’s written by Dav Pilkey (aka Mr Captain Underpants) I shouldn’t be surprised.

If I’m in the mood for something atmospheric, creepy and more traditionally Halloween-ish, The Dollhouse Murders (Betty Ren Wright) , The Swallow (Charis Cotter) and The Night Gardener (Jonathan Auxier) are very satisfying middle grade reads.

Through the Woods, graphic novelist Emily Carroll’s collection of short horror comics, is a recent favourite. She manages to create stories that are reminiscent of classic tales and therefore feel familiar, but are totally her own invention.

Q: What books have you read this year that you’ve really enjoyed? Again, any genre is okay!

A: There have been so many fantastic books this year! I’m a big Hannah E. Harrison fan, and her latest picture book MY FRIEND MAGGIE is an emotionally resonant story about friendship and bullying that makes me cry and then text my best friends every single time I read it. I loved the wacky world Esta Spalding and Sydney Smith created in LOOK OUT FOR THE FITZGERALD TROUTS, which is a little bit Railway Children, a little bit Lemony Snicket, and a total riot. I am a science fiction fan and Parker Peevyhouse’s YA debut WHERE FUTURES END was unlike anything I had ever read. Lastly, Trilby Kent’s ONCE IN A TOWN CALLED MOTH made me proud to be Canadian. Her prose is gorgeous and her thoughtful, layered, fish-out-of-water story was a pleasure to read.

Q: If you can share this information, I’d love to know what are you currently working on! Do you have any more picture books on the horizon? Maybe even another book featuring Sam and her trusty hamster [from If I Had a Gryphon]?

A: I have a middle grade novel in the final editorial stages. It is my love letter to The X Files and was inspired by something a doctor once told me, which is that there is no such thing as side effects, just the affects you didn’t want to happen. I found that revelatory and a bit scary. This novel takes place in an alternate version of our world where that question becomes central to the existence of a whole generation of children. It’s my first foray into sci-fi as a writer and I had so much fun!

As for Sam and her hamster, I won’t say no, but I’m currently wrestling with another picture book idea, although it too involves some unusual creatures…

Thank you for having me!

Thank you so much for your time, Vikki! This was such a pleasure!

…Read on for my thoughts on the book…

Continue reading

Must Read Monday (51): Adult fiction titles on my radar!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

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

This week is all about adult fiction. There have been numerous titles popping up on my radar (everything from contemporary to fantasy) due to recommendations from fellow readers, colleagues, review journals, etc., and I wanted to share out which titles have been added to my must-read!

The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner
Publication: July 12, 2016 by Random House

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Publication: August 9th 2016 by William Morrow Paperbacks

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab
Publication: February 24, 2015 by Tor Books

The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss
Publication: July 7, 2016 by Granta

All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker
Publication: July 12, 2016 by St. Martin’s Press

Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam
Publication: June 7, 2016 by Ecco

Eleven Hours by Pamela Erens
Publication: May 3, 2016 by Tin House Books

The Lauras by Sara Taylor
Publication: August 4, 2016 by William Heinemann

Blog Tour: Everton Miles is Stranger Than Me by Philippa Dowding

Welcome to one of the stops on the Dundurn Press blog tour for Canadian author Philippa Dowding’s Everton Miles is Stranger Than Me!

philippa_dowdingI am delighted to present a detailed interview I had the wonderful chance to do with Philippa, as well as a review of Everton Miles is Stranger Than Me, Philippa’s latest middle grade read!

Welcome to Fab Book Reviews, Philippa! I am so delighted to have you here! Let’s dig right into the questions I have for you…

Q: When you first started creating Gwendolyn’s world and the concept of the Night Flyers for The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden, were you already thinking ahead to the possibility of a follow-up story involving Everton Miles? 

A: The truth is, I really thought that The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden would be a perfect stand-alone book. At the end of the story, I left Gwendolyn sitting on a swing pondering her future, and it was a wonderful ambiguity that I liked. To fly or not to fly? Who knows what we will become when we are fourteen? But once the book was nominated for an OLA Red Maple award in 2015 (thank you!), I met with a lot of readers who really wanted to know what happened next. I started to think about that, and on re-reading the first book, the boy Everton Miles from the Midsummer Party jumped out at me. He was my way into the sequel.

Q. I was absolutely fascinated by the characters of Abilith, the Rogue Flyer and Celestine, the Spirit Flyer. How do you go about creating such unearthly, intangible characters? What kind of research goes into building a character such as a fallen angel or a spirit?

A: Thank you! I’m glad you liked them!

The forces for good are immortal Spirit Flyers, Celestine and her older brothers and sisters, who watch over Gwendolyn and the other human Night Flyers. They’re benevolent overlords, a bit haughty, smart, useful in their way and well-meaning enough, but endearingly clueless most of the time. They were quite fun to write! I’m a lifelong Star Trek fan, so think early Vulcans from Enterprise, with a touch of Karellen from Childhood’s End (without the menace).

The antagonist, the tragic, fallen anti-hero, Abilith the Rogue, has much darker influences. To breathe life into him and his netherworld, I re-read Milton’s Paradise Lost, Dante’s Inferno, and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book for his Silas character, and Bod’s trip to the underworld. I went back to Mary Shelley, and H. P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness for his bleak, alien landscape. I revisited the final chapters of Captain Ahab’s tale, as he tried too late to reconnect with his mutinous crew.

What made these characters and stories so beguiling? Personally, I think a great antagonist needs a touch of humanity, a quirk or flaw that we can recognize in ourselves. Although Abilith’s actions over time are monstrous and eventually he becomes a bitter, cruel, sociopathic outcast, his descent began with a single mistake: he fell in love with the wrong creature. Tragic!

Q. Everton Miles is Stranger Than Me is quite a bit darker than the first book of Night Flyers: even more fantastical, heartbreaking, with terrifying elements in the last quarter of the novel. I find most of the best children’s literature has those darker, deeper, elements! What works or characters or worlds were you inspired by while working on Everton Miles? Were these inspirations any different from your work on The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden?

A: The short answer is, while I didn’t have a direct road map of inspiration for the series, I think everything an author reads influences them, and I’ve always loved fantasy.

As a child, I had terrific neighbours, a family of creative geniuses, next door. I highly recommend it! They gave me classic children’s books to read for my birthday. I’ll never forget finishing the first book in the Narnia series when I was about nine, The Magician’s Nephew, and thinking, what IS this? But I couldn’t put the series down. Then they handed me The Hobbit (which is still one of my favourite books of all time), then The Lord of the Rings trilogy, then books by Carlos Castaneda, Philip K. Dick and on and on. After that early love of books, I went on to study English at university, and read everything I could.

I learned early in life that I loved fantasy. So if I had to say what books have inspired me, and what you might find hints of in Everton Miles is Stranger than Me, they’d be an eclectic mix of Milton’s Paradise Lost, E.B. White, C.S. Lewis, Neil Gaiman, Tolkien, a little J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, Ian McEwan, plus an unconscious literary stew of other writers.

Q: Given the ages of Gwendolyn and Everton, did you ever consider aiming this series for a teen audience? How might that have- if at all- changed your approach to the story or characters? 

A: Oh, that’s an interesting question. I hadn’t really thought of that, but I did deliberately try to avoid writing really romantic stuff, which seems to be a largish proponent of teen writing. I didn’t want Everton and Gwendolyn’s to necessarily be a love story because there was so much else to cover, although there is a deep friendship and connection there that could one day develop into a romance, which is hinted at.

Also, although Gwendolyn is indeed a little older and wiser than she is in the first book, I couldn’t age her too much. I can tell you, though, that in the first draft of this book, Everton came to life a bit darker than his final self. He smoked, he carried a hip flask, he swore a little. All that had to go in the second draft considering the audience, which was a bit of a shame. I liked that bad boy!

Q: Let’s talk about the genre of magic realism. It is a genre that I often hear about, or read books being described as such but seems a hard genre to define. How would you best describe it in just a few sentences? Beyond Gabriel Garcia Marquez- whose work is widely considered the epitome of magic realism- which authors or works do you think have best captured the magic realism genre in children’s or teen lit?

A: It’s maybe a bit of a literary chameleon. Based purely on my own reading (okay, and a graduate paper on it forever ago), here’s my definition of magic realism: a sub-genre of fantasy, in which one magical element exists in an otherwise completely realistic world, and which does not require further explanation. The magical element simply exists, unquestioned by the characters, and readers must engage in a “willing suspension of disbelief” to read the story.

So to me, magic realism isn’t high fantasy set in a different time and place like Lord of the Rings/Game of Thrones etc, and it’s not an entire fantasy universe like Harry Potter. Magic realism has a realistic, here-and-now setting, with a single magical element that goes unexplained and accepted by the characters and the reader. It’s also the single most important element that moves the story forward.


Folk tales are great at this. Think Jack and the Beanstalk. How on earth did three beans turn into an enormous beanstalk with a giant at the top of it? And why didn’t Jack think twice about that?

If you look at classical literature, I’d say Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has all the elements of magic realism. Big green guy bursts into Camelot on Christmas Eve, gets his head chopped off, then picks it up, and calmly sends Gawain on a quest to find him. Since when did severed heads send knights out on quests? And why didn’t anyone think to ask that?

Moving into more recent children’s literature, I’d say one of the most perfect examples of magic realism might be E.B. White’s Stuart Little. Sure he was adopted, but no one questions the fact that he’s a mouse. Or even Natalie Babbitt’s, Tuck Everlasting, where the fountain of youth exists in a ho-hum little every day town.

I recently read Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar. I’d say that’s a teen magic realism title: boy discovers his family has a magical connection to a dangerous, overhanging cliff and no one questions it.

That’s a start, but there are probably a lot more excellent examples.

Now for some slightly shorter questions…

Q: What were some of your most beloved stories or characters growing up?

A: I loved the Narnia series, The Hobbit, all of Lord of the Rings. But my first book love was Charlotte’s Web. When I first read the book at age eight, I finished it, put it in my lap and looked down at the illustration of Wilbur and Fern. I was so transported and moved, that I knew then and there that I wanted to write stories, too.

Q: What have been some of your favourite reads of the year- anything from adult fiction, to YA, to children’s!

A: My reading is always a year or two (or 10) behind everyone else! Here are the five books that made the biggest impression on me this year:

A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki
The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Patrick Ness
The Blackthorn Key, Kevin Sands
The Chrysalids, John Wyndham
The Gargoyle, Andrew Davidson

Q: And I have to ask, will we ever get to visit with Gwendolyn or Everton again?

A: I’ve been toying with a few ideas! My publisher, Dundurn Press, would be happy to have another book in the series, and I’d be happy to write one. So nothing on the screen yet, but stay tuned!

Thanks Michelle, great questions and this was a lot of fun!

Thank you so much for your time, Philippa! This was fantastic and enlightening. I loved hearing all of your answers!

…Read on for my thoughts on the book…

Continue reading

Review: Bera the One-Headed Troll by Eric Orchard

bera25663501Review: Bera the One-Headed Troll by Eric Orchard
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: August 2, 2016 by First Second
Book Description:

Bera doesn’t ask for much in life. She’s a solitary, humble troll, tending her island pumpkin patch in cheerful isolation. She isn’t looking for any trouble.

But when trouble comes to find her, it comes in spades. A human baby has arrived in the realm of the trolls, and nobody knows where it came from, but Bera seems to be the only person who doesn’t want it dead. There’s nothing to it but to return the adorable little thing to its parents.

Like it or not, Bera’s gone and found herself a quest.

Bera the One-Headed Troll is a graphic novel by award-winning Canadian author and illustrator Eric Orchard. Quite unlike anything I have had the pleasure and surprise of reading in graphic novels, Orchard’s storytelling and artwork in Bera the One-Headed Troll is unusual, moody, and mesmerizing.

Bera is a modest, hard-working, one-headed troll who works as a pumpkin gardener for the troll king and royal family. Bera and her owl friend Winslowe have lived a quiet, solitary life on a small island…until they hear the loud and sad wail of a creature being fought over by vicious mermaids, and their lives change forever. When Bera takes in the wailing creature- a tightly wrapped human baby with a tuft of hair- she discovers that a terrifying former head witch of the troll king with nefarious aims will stop at almost nothing to claim the human as her prize. Deeply atmospheric, with palette of almost entirely burnt tones, Bera the One-Headed Troll is a remarkably drawn story with a darker, uncanny edge and memorable, strange creatures.

I had not been familiar with Eric Orchard’s work prior to reading this book and I look forward to read and explore more of his work, which includes the previously published graphic novel Maddy Kettle. There are weighty undercurrents to the author’s work in Bera the One-Headed Troll; you can take a read here at this fascinating and detailed interview Orchard did with Paste where he not only talks about his inspirations and reading loves, but also talks very openly about mental illness and institutionalization. As per the interview with Paste, Bera the One-Headed Troll is, in some measure, an autobiographical story told in ‘fairy-tale form’ about Orchard’s mother, a paranoid schizophrenic, who was able to raise Orchard in spite of multiple obstacles.

Overall, Bera the One-Headed Troll is a contemplative, shadowy, visually arresting graphic novel that I highly recommend. I would recommend Bera the One-Headed Troll to readers who enjoy darker or unvarnished fairy tales or stories, or work by artists such as Shaun Tan, Maurice Sendak, Edward Gorey or Dave McKean. While marketed for the children’s genre, this is one layered, fantastically told and illustrated graphic novel that absolutely crosses over to young adult readers and adults.

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

Back to School Giveaway with Middle Grade Books from Simon & Schuster!

My site runneth over with another incredible giveaway! I am thrilled to be hosting a very special back to school giveaway featuring three new and soon-to-be released children’s fiction titles courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada.

Open to Canadian residents, one lucky person will have the chance to win an amazing prize bundle with ALL THREE of the wonderful middle grade books below! Read on for more information about the books and how to enter!


mark-of-the-plague-9781481446747_lgMark of the Plague (The Blackthorn Key #2) by Kevin Sands
Christopher Rowe is back and there are more puzzles, riddles, and secrets to uncover in this follow-up to the Indie Next pick The Blackthorn Key, which was called a “spectacular debut” by Kirkus Reviews in a starred review.

The Black Death has returned to London, spreading disease and fear through town. A mysterious prophet predicts the city’s ultimate doom—until an unknown apothecary arrives with a cure that actually works. Christopher’s Blackthorn shop is chosen to prepare the remedy. But when an assassin threatens the apothecary’s life, Christopher and his faithful friend Tom are back to hunting down the truth, risking their lives to untangle the heart of a dark conspiracy.

And as the sickness strikes close to home, the stakes are higher than ever before…


the-littlest-bigfoot-9781481470742_lgThe Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner
From New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Weiner comes a laugh-out-loud funny and painstakingly real tale of friendship, furry creatures, and finding the place where you belong.

Alice Mayfair, twelve years old, slips through the world unseen and unnoticed. Ignored by her family and shipped off to her eighth boarding school, Alice would like a friend. And when she rescues Millie Maximus from drowning in a lake one day, she finds one.

But Millie is a Bigfoot, part of a clan who dwells deep in the woods. Most Bigfoots believe that people—NoFurs, as they call them—are dangerous, yet Millie is fascinated with the No-Fur world. She is convinced that humans will appreciate all the things about her that her Bigfoot tribe does not: her fearless nature, her lovely singing voice, and her desire to be a star.

Alice swears to protect Millie’s secret. But a league of Bigfoot hunters is on their trail, led by a lonely kid named Jeremy. And in order to survive, Alice and Millie have to put their trust in each other—and have faith in themselves—above all else.


a-little-taste-of-poison-9781481437745_lgA Little Taste of Poison (Uncommon Magic #2) by R.J. Anderson
Twelve-year-old Isaveth tries to take down the man who framed her father for murder in this lively follow-up to A Pocket Full of Murder, which Kirkus Reviews called “thoroughly entertaining.”

The city of Tarreton is powered by magic, from simple tablets that light lamps to advanced Sagery that can murder a man from afar. Isaveth has a talent for spell-making, but as a girl from a poor neighborhood she never dreamed she could study at the most exclusive magical school in the city. So when she’s offered a chance to attend, she eagerly accepts.

The school is wonderful, but old and new enemies confront Isaveth at every turn, and she begins to suspect her scholarship might be more a trap than a gift. Even her secret meetings with Esmond, her best friend and partner in crime-solving, prove risky—especially once he hatches a plan to sneak her into the biggest society event of the season. It’s their last chance to catch the corrupt politician who once framed her father for murder. How can Isaveth refuse?



One (1) winner will receive a three book prize bundle which will include one (1) copy of each of the following:

  • Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands
  • The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner
  • A Little Taste of Poison by R.J. Anderson

Giveaway open to Canadian addresses only. Book prizes fulfilled by Simon & Schuster Canada.

The giveaway is now closed.

Congratulations to….Lisa B.! You have two days to email (or DM via Twitter!) with a confirmation of Canadian mailing address.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the giveaway!

The giveaway is open to Canadian residents and will run from September 19th to September 26th, 2016. The winning entry will be randomly selected via Rafflecopter. All entries will be verified. Winner has by end of day September 28th, 2016 to respond to me via email at fabbookreviews[at]gmail[dot]com with their mailing address, or a new entry will be drawn. Enter by clicking on the following link to Rafflecopter and follow the instructions to enter!

Click here to enter the giveaway via Rafflecopter!


This post and giveaway has been done in cooperation with Simon & Schuster Canada. Simon & Schuster Canada is providing fulfillment of the prize bundle. All other opinions and comments are my own.