Review: Small Things by Mel Tregonning

Review: Small Things by Mel Tregonning
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Pajama Press. Thank you!
Publication: March 1, 2018 (as per publisher site; first published 2016 by Allen & Unwin)
Book Description:

A stunning graphic picture book about childhood anxiety from an extraordinarily talented illustrator. On the cusp of having everything slip from his grasp, a young boy has to find a way to rebuild his sense of self.

In this short, wordless graphic picture book, a young boy feels alone with his anxiety. He isn’t fitting in well at school. His grades are slipping. He’s even lashing out at those who love him.

Talented Australian artist Mel Tregonning created Small Things in the final year of her life. In her emotionally rich illustrations, the boy’s worries manifest as tiny beings that crowd around him constantly, overwhelming him and even gnawing away at his very self. The striking imagery is all the more powerful when, overcoming his isolation at last, the boy discovers that the tiny demons of worry surround everyone, even those who seem to have it all together.

This short but hard-hitting wordless graphic picture book gets to the heart of childhood anxiety and opens the way for dialogue about acceptance, vulnerability, and the universal experience of worry.

Small Things is one of those tremendous reads that is an experience…the same potent feelings reading and poring over the work of incredible artists/creators like Julie Morstad and Shaun Tan is what I experienced during my reading of Tregonning’s work. Mel Tregonning‘s Small Things, a wordless graphic picture book, is all at once superbly illustrated, unforgettable, extremely emotionally resonant, beautiful, heartbreaking, and hopeful all at once. Far too often I have had conversations with a parent or caregiver at the library who does not see merit in wordless books; an adult who tries to dissuade their child from reading a wordless picture book as ‘there are no words in it, why would you read it’. I find this crushing and a total disservice to the potent, consequential nature of wordless graphic books like Small Things.

In Small Things, readers follow the story of a young boy who we learn is dealing with snowballing stress and anxiety. He tries to fit in with a group at school that rejects him; he gets chosen last for teams in gym class; and his marks for exams are not at the A level we understand he wants them to be. We see anxiety building in the young boy, illustrated by otherworldly creatures (floating objects in abstract, graphic shapes and patterns) hovering around the young boy, swelling in size and numbers as his anxiety grows. As anxiety bleeds with anger and lashing out at his sister and those that are kind to him at school, cracks appear on the boy’s body…metaphorically and literally, the boy’s body is fracturing and falling apart. Tregonning does, however, allow for flashes of hope and the possibility of healing towards the end of the story as the young boy opens up to his family…the last few panels also offer an auspicious and weighty ending to the story when the boy goes to school the next day and sees that anxiety, stress and isolation is all around him, even with his compassionate friend.

Overall, I highly, highly recommend this title for readers young and old. The initial thoughts I had when I added Small Things to my must-read list (not knowing anything about the creator or her body of work) was how stunning it looked and how much it reminded me of Shaun Tan’s exceptional work. If you are interested in reading further, there is an article in The Guardian that discusses how Shaun Tan actually helped bring Small Things to completion and posthumous publication after the death of Tregonning. An exceptional, stand-out piece that opens the way for discourse on mental health, I hope Small Things is a title that gets shared, talked about and appreciated.

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

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Picture Book Review: The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan & Tom Knight

9780374301231Review: The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan, illus. Tom Knight
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: February 6, 2018 by Farrar Straus & Giroux
Book Description:

From the creator of the Honest Toddler blog, The Big Bed is a humorous picture book about a girl who doesn’t want to sleep in her little bed, so she presents her dad with his own bed – a camping cot! – in order to move herself into her parents’ big bed in his place. A twist on the classic parental struggle of not letting kids sleep in their bed.

Bunmi Laditan and Tom Knight’s The Big Bed is a witty and funny story about a savvy young girl who attempts to- not so subtly!- move her dad out of the ‘big bed’ so she can sleep with her mom. As a mom with a three year old who would often like nothing more than to sleep in our ‘big bed’, I could absolutely relate and happily giggled my way through the picture book.

In The Big Bed, we meet our young protagonist who has a major issue she needs to discuss with her father: who gets to have Mommy during the night? The young girl presents her father with all the ways he’s great during the daytime, but nighttime is another matter. The little girl wants to sleep in her parents bed- well, in the big bed with her mommy- and cannot fathom why this might be a problem. Why, the girl wonders, can’t her grandma tuck her father in at night? Why does her father mind when she accidentally pees a little in bed? A little pee-pee never hurt anyone- and in fact, readers learn, pee-pee will keep scary bears away! Why can’t her daddy just- maybe, possibly- let her sleep in the big bed along with mom while he sleeps on….a cot? A COT! Yes, the perfect solution for EVERYONE, the girl thinks! We’ll even buy new nice sheets for the cot for daddy to enjoy! As her mom laughs hysterically at the idea and dad smiles (and probably marvels) his way through his daughter’s detailed presentations, readers get to go along for a very entertaining story.

Overall, what a fun read; cleverly written and perfectly matched with bright, wonderfully expressive and lively illustrations! Parents with young kids who are facing sleeping issues might especially relate and find great humour in Laditan and Knight’s story, but The Big Bed stands on its own as a genuinely witty 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.

Blog Tour Stop: Flower Moon by Gina Linko

Welcome to one of the blog tour stops for Gina Linko‘s Flower Moon, a children’s novel full of charm and magic!

Review: Flower Moon by Gina Linko
Source: ARC courtesy of Thomas Allen & Son. Thank you!
Publication: January 2, 2018 by Sky Pony Press
Book Description:

Tempest and Tally Jo Trimble are mirror twins—so alike they were almost born the same person—and they’ve been inseparable since birth. But it’s the summer they turn thirteen, and it seems like everyone can tell something is changing between them.

Pa Charlie, whose traveling carnival is the best part of every summer, is watching them closer than ever. Digger, who sneaks poor kids onto the carnival rides for free and smiles faster than anyone, seems to be fixing for a fight. Even Mama is acting different, refusing to travel with the carnival this year even though her own twin, who she hasn’t seen since childhood, will be there.

And Tally and Tempest are the most different of all. There’s a strangeness between them, a thickness to the air, an unseen push and pull, and it’s getting stronger. It starts as a feeling, but soon it’s sputtering and sparking, hurling them backwards, threatening to explode.

When Tally learns that she and Tempest may not be the first twins in their family to be separated by whatever this force is, she realizes she’ll have to find a way to stop it—or she might lose not only her sister, but everyone she loves.

Gina Linko’s Flower Moon is a contemporary children’s fiction title that hums and sings with elements of magic, intense familial bonds and friendship.

In Flower Moon, readers follow the emotive first-person narrative of twelve year old Tally Jo Trimble. The story begins when we’re taken into a classroom where we witness the friction and complicated love between Tally and her twin sister- her mirror, her other half- Tempest. As Tally makes a decision to deflect one of Tempest’s many scientific experiments that may lead students to ridicule Tempest, Tally finds herself at the beginning of a strange cycle of growing distance and strangely potent energy that seems to be physically pulling her apart and keeping her away from Tempest. But why? Why is the world- or magic in the world- trying to keep Tally and Tempest apart?

As Tally and Tempest begin their usual summer journey with their grandpa’s traveling carnival, more and more peculiar events- dangerous, electric moments that physically hurt- spark and flicker between the twins, leading Tally to believe that there really is some bizarre, inexplicable force in the universe growing to keep Tally and Tempest apart. With the help of her wonderful and kind carnival friend Digger, Tally starts investigating her family’s history- specifically into her mother’s unexplained broken relationship with her own twin sister. The closer Tally comes to discovering just how incredibly strong the magic of her twin bond is, the closer Tally and Tempest get to discovering a way that might allow them to stay together. Linko writes an affecting story here; you can feel the intense, inextricable bond and love between Tally and Tempest almost vibrate off the page. The elements of magic (as well as exploration into the earth’s rhythm and moon cycles) that tie the mystery of the twins’ bond is an intriguing one; one that is written well, though I found myself wishing for even more explication into the reveals of ‘why’, as well as the big denouement and resolution.

Give yourself a little bit of time for the tone and pace of the story to settle and allow for the magic and unknown to makes its home; once the essence of story seeps in, you’ll be rather taken in with Tally and Tempest’s story. Overall, Flower Moon is a charming, warm story that will likely appeal to readers who like a little bit (or a lot!) of supernatural elements blended in with contemporary, family-oriented coming-of-age stories.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Thomas Allen & Son in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

And Now For Something Completely Different: Tea Time with Adagio Teas!

As the title of the post suggests (thank you, Monty Python!), this post does indeed feature something a little bit different for this site. I was recently contacted by the very kind and generous folks at Adagio Teas, asking if I was interested in sampling, trying, and putting something together about TEA!

As someone who drinks tea daily (at home, while reading, while writing, while working at the library, the list goes on…), I was delighted to have the chance to try out a brand of teas all new to me… from a company, I should add, that features some very cool literary and fandom blends! So stay along for a picture-heavy post all about some truly unique- and delicious- teas. Lovers of reading and lovers of tea, this just might be a perfect mix for you…

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I had the great chance to get to pick a variety of teas of my choosing. Those totally new to tea might be overwhelmed by the scope of selection online; but as someone who has been picking and choosing teas for years (from multiple brands and stores), I was in a bit of a heaven here. I decided to try a little bit from personal tea favourites and personal literary favourites…and one astrological-sign tea for good measure! I ended up choosing a sampler of Earl Grey loose teas; two Pride & Prejudice-inspired teas (Lizzy Bennett and Mr. Darcy!); a Gemini tea blend; and last but definitely not least, Harry Potter-inspired teas including BeerButter Tea, and three different blends from Riddle’s Tea ShoppeSherbet Lemon, Cauldron Cakes, and For the Wise Wisdom House Blend.

Let’s take a closer look!

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Any readers here interested in exploring unique gift ideas for the tea (and/or literary/fandom) aficionado in their life? Or if you’re looking for a new brand of teas to try out for yourself, Adagio Teas stocks everything from English Breakfast, Matcha, Jasmine Phoenix Pearls, to Peppermint and much, much more (loose leaf, tea bags, collections, accessories, etc.). I personally adore Earl Grey teas and have been enjoying every one of the loose teas in the Earl Grey Gift Sampler. I am still working my way through the Harry Potter fandom teas, though the ones I’ve tried so far (mmm, BeerButter and For the Wise Wisdom House Blend…) are unique and tasty. I’ve had a tough time cracking into the Lizzy Bennett and Mr. Darcy teas from this Pride and Prejudice collection – the tins and teas are so pretty!– but the Mr. Darcy blend (highly caffeinated with Earl Grey Bravo, Cream & Chestnut) is delicious and strong (can you tell I am kind of obsessed with anything Earl Grey?). Everything I have have received from Adagio Teas is- as you can see- beautifully presented and packaged so nicely; how could you not be delighted by such lovely treats?

 

I received a gift voucher courtesy of Adagio Teas in exchange for honest reviews and a post about the items. All opinions and comments regarding the items are my own. The Harry Potter books featured in the photo were gifted courtesy of Raincoast Books and are in no way affiliated with Adagio Teas. I received no monetary compensation for this post.

Picture Book Review: Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow by Michelle Cuevas & Sydney Smith

Review: Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow by Michelle Cuevas, illus. Sydney Smith
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Tundra Books, imprint of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: September 12, 2017 by Tundra Books.
Book Description:

Smoot the shadow has been living a yawn-filled life for years. His boy never laughs and never leaps, so Smoot never does either . . . until the day he pops free, and decides to hit the road in search of the life he dreams about. And as he enjoys his first colorful day–singing, dancing and playing–other shadows watch him, and they become brave too. The frog’s shadow takes the shape of a prince, the dragonfly’s shadow that of a dragon. Even the rock’s shadow gets in on the excitement. But what will become of the timid beings their shadows have left behind? Will they finally be inspired to find their own daring?

Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow comes from the writing talent of Beyond the Laughing Sky author Michelle Cuevas, and award-winning Sidewalk Flowers illustrator Sydney Smith. A wondrous and fable-like tale of a shadow wanting to live a bright, dancing, laughter-filled life beyond his shy, timid boy, Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow is a fantastic read.

When readers meet Smoot, we see that the shadow is aching to break out from his boy’s quiet, quiet life. Smoot longs so much to laugh, dance, take risks, and do something beyond the still life of his young boy. So when Smoot manages to break free from his boy- with a surprising ‘pop!’- Smoot thinks ‘This is my chance!’. So Smoot packs a few things including ‘some shade, some moonlight, a change of underpants’ and goes forth. Through full-page, glorious, detailed and loose ink and watercolour illustrations, we see Smoot experience exciting, vibrant activities: climbing trees, jumping rope, going on a merry-go round, and more. Then, something seemingly small but significant happens: a dandelion’s shadow- so inspired from watching Smoot- flies away from its flower, followed by the shadows of a grasshopper, cricket and frog. As Smoot watches more and more- and larger, intimidating shadows break free- he wonders how out of hand or dangerous uncontrolled shadows might make things for living beings… so Smoot very cleverly puts together a plan that leads the shadows to contentedly return to their old lives. Without spoiling the lovely culmination, I will say that even Smoot and his boy find a way to make wishes old and new meet in an exciting middle.

Overall, Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow is a beautiful and unexpected story that shines due to Cuevas’ penchant for fantastical storytelling and Smith’s stunning art. The combination here of Cuevas’ magical, unusual, Norton Juster-like writing with that of Smith’s incredible, unique style and use of vivid colour and contrast makes for something noteworthy here. The essence of the story- that of dreaming of a life beyond the quiet shadows- may be something we have read before, but Cuevas and Smith truly create something marvelous and out of the ordinary here with their combined exceptional writing and illustrative efforts.

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

Picture Book Review: Wild One by Jane Whittingham & Noel Tuazon

Review: Wild One by Jane Whittingham, illus. Noel Tuazon
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Pajama Press. Thank you!
Publication:
Book Description:

Can you stretch like a cat or hang like a bat? This little one can do those things and so much more as she bounds energetically through her day. Author Jane Whittingham‘s sprightly couplets take her from the park to the pool, to dinner and bed, while Noel Tuazon cleverly illustrates the animal companions of a child’s imagination.

Published in a sturdy format with a padded cover, rounded corners, and extra-heavy paper, this picture book is perfect for sharing with wiggly, little wild ones of your own. And as the last pages are turned, the story’s final, sweet “goodnight” will leave the liveliest listeners ready to snuggle like a bear at bedtime.

Canadian librarian and writer Jane Whittingham (who you might know from the terrific review blog Raincity Jane) and Canadian illustrator Noel Tuazon have teamed up to bring readers the exuberant, fun and all-around winning picture book Wild One. Written in rhyming couplets- a form in picture books I absolutely adore when done fittingly – Wild One tells the story of a young girl’s very busy, very active day, with actions mirroring those of animals. Accompanied by Noel Tuazon’s soft yet sunny and bright illustrations, Wild One is a lovely treat.

When we meet the young heroine of our story, she is “in the park, stretching like a cat”, then moving on to monkey bars, “hanging like a bat”. From the park to the pool, to supper time and snuggling in bed, we follow the little wild one about her dynamic day- well mostly all dynamic! When she has to leave her play time fun and head home with her mom, wild one slows down considerably…but not for long! Wild one goes through her mightily busy day with highlighted actions and activities accompanied by corresponding animal actions (energetically and sweetly brought to life by Tuazon’s drawings). In a sweet closing spread, after snuggling down in her bed “like a bear”, Wild One ends on a loving and continued happy tone, with the young (now sleeping) girl being wished a good night from her parents.

Overall, a joyful, fun and charming picture book. Perfect for a preschool age and under crowd, I think Wild One would go over tremendously well as a read aloud with busy, wiggly and active toddlers. It could even be used by a willing reader to facilitate an action/movement read aloud with everyone acting out the animal movements in the story! Wild One is a picture book that begs for reading aloud and having fun with, due its ideal compact length, clarity, perfectly fun rhymes, and complementary (adorable) illustrations.

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

Review: Nine Lessons by Nicola Upson

Review: Nine Lessons (A Josephine Tey Mystery #7) by Nicola Upson
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: October 10, 2017 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

Called to the peaceful wooded churchyard of St-John’s-at-Hampstead, Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose faces one of the most audacious and unusual murders of his career. The body of the church’s organist is found in an opened grave, together with a photograph of a manor house and a cryptic note. The image leads Archie to Cambridge, where the crisp autumn air has brought with it bustling life to the ancient university and town.

Both Josephine Tey and Archie’s lover Bridget have recently settled in Cambridge, though both women are not equally happy to see him. One has concealed an important secret from Archie which now threatens to come to light. Meanwhile, the change of seasons has also brought with it a series of vicious attacks against women in town, spreading fear and suspicion through the community.

Soon, another body is revealed, and in the shadow of King’s College Chapel, Archie uncovers a connection twenty-five years old which haunted both victims—as well as some of their living companions. As Archie and Josephine each grapple with savage malefactors intent on making their victims pay, they must race to stop another attack in this beautifully written, intricately plotted mystery.

 

Curling up with a compelling, detailed and surprising historical mystery is one of my great reading pleasures, so imagine my delight to have been introduced to a new, terrifically written historical mystery series! Nicola Upson’s well-reviewed Nine Lessons is the seventh entry in the critically acclaimed Josephine Tey Mystery 1930s-set series, though the first one I have had the pleasure of reading. Beautifully, elegantly written with a subtle darker edge at its core and rounded out by terrific, engrossing characters, I found Nine Lessons to be quite a standout historical mystery title.

Nine Lessons begins in a churchyard with the discovery of a body in an open grave. Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose, as readers can surmise, has seen his fair share of crime scenes and death; but this, the finding of the church organist’s body is something…different. Penrose, with the aid of his police colleagues, finds out almost incomprehensibly disturbing details about how the deceased, former Cambridge student Dr. Stephen Laxborough, might have been killed. As Penrose begins piecing together strange and frustratingly vague clues left on the deceased person, more murders- all linked, somehow, to Dr. Laxborough and a group of Cambridge classmates- occur. While Penrose focuses most of his time and attention on the Laxborough murder and connected crimes in and around Cambridge, a string of heinous, violent sexual crimes against women are happening in the same city. As the two crime threads intersect at intervals, readers are introduced (or re-introduced) to Penrose’s friend, mystery author and amateur sleuth Josephine Tey (a character Upson has based on the highly-regarded Scottish author). As Tey finds herself exploring in both crime threads to aid Penrose and women in the Cambridge area, readers are proffered glimpses into Tey and Penrose’s somewhat delicate history and how they have come to be with their current romantic partners. How the crime threads are investigated and culminate is pretty terrific- meticulously plotted and presented. Moreover, there is another related piece to Nine Lessons that I want to bring up: just how much substance and critical weight to the subject matter Upson covers in Nine Lessons. Everything from police and public response to sexual assault, victim (female) blaming and shaming after rape, historical and public conceptions and intolerance regarding same-sex partnerships, and more. You might be wondering, with such an incredible scope, just how does everything tie together and wrap itself up by the end of 300 pages? Lest you worry, I can say that Upson does a superb job with making Nine Lessons read cohesively- never overwhelming or burdening the reader.

Overall, an excellent, complicated mystery that leaves the reader satisfied: polished, interesting and compelling from start to finish with tremendous depth. I was so intrigued by the main characters of Archie and Josephine- and their clearly complex history- during my reading, that I have now made it a goal to go back and read the series from the beginning. While I don’t think any curious readers diving into the series at this entry point will have any issues following along, my interest has definitely been piqued and I am aiming to go back and gain more insight into Archie and Josephine’s separate and joint histories. For any readers who adore this sub-genre of mystery/suspense, I highly recommend this title and series; if you’re not yet convinced, Nine Lessons has made Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2017 in the mystery/thriller category!

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.

Picture Book Reviews: Professional Crocodile & Lines

Two glorious wordless picture books on the review docket! But first, a slight preamble:

I think I have previously reflected that authors and illustrators perform incredible feats in carrying out wordless picture books: plotting and mapping a story, holding interest, moving from beginning, middle, climax/reveal, to end, all without words to propel and prompt. Wordless picture books can be somewhat of a misunderstood/under-read category of picture books, and when I read treasures like Professional Crocodile and Lines, it pains me to think readers might miss out on so much! In my time so far as a children’s librarian I have heard kids being discouraged from checking out wordless picture books by adults saying they’re “too easy” or “not challenging enough”– essentially, boiling down to the argument of ‘without words to test you, what’s the point?’ Well, as someone who advocates and adores the category, I would like make the case that there is indeed marvel, challenge, curiosity and joy in sharing and experiencing wordless picture books! Let’s take a closer look now at two stellar examples:

 

Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli illus. by Mariachiara Di Giorgio
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: August 1, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

Mr. Crocodile loves his job. Every morning he gets up with an alarm. He brushes his teeth. He chooses the right tie to match his outfit, eats a quick slice of toast, and heads off to work on a crowded train. But what exactly is his job? The answer may surprise you! Readers will want to pore over this witty, wordless book again and again, finding new details and fresh stories with every reading.

Professional Crocodile is one of those picture books that I am delighted to have read and experienced. Prior to reading this wordless picture book, I had seen snippets of the book from other reviewers, thought the book looked gorgeous and added it my must-read. I was very fortunate to be surprised with a copy of it and can now quite confidently say that it is indeed a marvelous picture book.

We meet Mr. Crocodile as he wakes up to a new day in his dapper pajamas. As we join Mr. Crocodile and follow him about, readers see that by all accounts, he is a careful, elegant, well put together character. We see Mr. Crocodile do everything from taking a crowded train, to enjoying a whiff of food stuff so fragrant and delicious that it begs his purchase, to purchasing lovely flowers to surprise a young woman. But where exactly is Mr. Crocodile’s day taking him? We then get our answer as Mr. Crocodile surprises with a reveal of where he works and what his job is! A straightforward premise told in a supremely innovative and clever way here, Professional Crocodile is one of those reads that begs for multiple reads and studies. I have pored over this book now multiple times beginning to end and have found new facets and details each time that make Professional Crocodiles ending that much more marvelous.

Some of my personal favourites in children’s lit- Shaun Tan, Molly Idle, David Wiesner, Suzy Lee, to name but a few- are masters of the wordless book, and Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachiara Di Giorgio’s work here is on par with that excellence. Professional Crocodile is a truly exceptional, clever, out of the ordinary story and experience for readers of all ages.

 

 

Lines by Suzy Lee
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: September 5, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

It starts with a line. Whether made by the tip of a pencil or the blade of a skate, the magic starts there.

And magic once again flows from the pencil and imagination of internationally acclaimed artist Suzy Lee. With the lightest of touches, this masterwork blurs the lines between real and imagined, reminding us why Lee’s books have been lauded around the world, recognized on New York Times Best Illustrated Books lists and nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest international honor given to children’s book creators. This seemingly simple story about a young skater on a frozen pond will charm the youngest of readers while simultaneously astounding book enthusiasts of any age.

Since first reading (and rereading) Suzy Lee’s award-winning wordless picture books Wave, Mirror, and Shadow in succession, I have been a dedicated fan of the author-illustrator’s work. Sophisticated, experimental yet approachable for all ages of reader, Lee’s work is sublime, surprising and something to behold. In her latest wordless picture book Lines, Suzy Lee starts with the glide of a pencil tip to tell a gently- quietly- ebullient and ingenious tale.

Like a story within a story, Lines has layers and dimensions that draws the reader in and plays with perceptions about a story’s narrative, artwork, interruptions in reader experience, and how artists can turn a supposed slip back into something picture-perfect. Readers fall under the spell of an ice skater, watching as their blade cuts more and more lines of various width, shape, and weight into the ice. As the skater’s moves become more complicated, we see the ice become a patchwork of busier and busier carved lines until the ice skater leaps into a jump, spins in the air and— then– the story stops, restarts, and finishes in wonderful and surprising ways. Lee plays here so well with format and dimension, testing and nudging the reader into experiencing the story as both a journey of an artist working their way through a story and a standalone wintry narrative.

Lee’s work in Lines is terrific, thoughtful and understated brilliance, and I continue to be such a fan of her work. If you haven’t yet had a chance to explore Suzy Lee’s work, I highly recommend taking a look through the artist’s entire oeuvre up to and including this latest treat.

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

Review: Unholy City (A Claire Codella Mystery #3) by Carrie Smith

Review: Unholy City (A Claire Codella Mystery #3) by Carrie Smith
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: November 7, 2017 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

Despite their rocky history, Detective Claire Codella and Precinct Detective Brian Haggerty come together when senior churchwarden Philip Graves’s bloody body is found lying in the herb garden of historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side just two days before Good Friday. Upon first glance, it looks like a random act of big city violence, but it soon becomes clear churchwarden Philip’s death was the result of a meticulously calculated ploy by someone who knew him.

There are five vestry members and a choir director in addition to the ten homeless men asleep in the church basement. Any one of them could have done it, but what did Philip Graves do to warrant such a merciless death? Struggling to share the case and salvage their personal relationship, Claire, Brian and trusted Detective Eduardo Muñoz work around the clock to uncloak the desires, secrets, and resentments that find home through the iron gates and into the hidden beauty of one historic Romanesque church in Unholy City, the haunting third installment in Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella mysteries.

Unholy City is the third entry into Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella Mystery series, behind the debut Silent City and sophomore entry Forgotten City. As with the previous two series entries, Unholy City is a sharply written, highly engaging mystery with another unique criminal investigation at its core.

The focus in Unholy City is somewhat of a departure from the homicide investigations that occurred over the course of books one and two. While the crime itself is no less shocking in terms violence, there is an altogether unusual, perplexing mystery that meets Claire and fellow Detectives Brian Haggerty and Eduardo Muñoz. Their investigation into the death of a churchwarden at an Upper West Side church explodes into an exceedingly thorny examination into the supposedly quieter lives of multiple vestry members and their increasingly convoluted recollections of their time and relationship with the deceased. Unlike the first two Claire Codella novels, it seems as though Unholy City is more primarily focused on the crime and scene at hand; slightly less time is given to Claire and her partnership (professional and now personal) with Detective Haggerty in favour of concentration and detail on the strangely hushed, almost locked-room nature of the church homicide. Smith is meticulous in how the particular details of the major crime(s) committed are studied, examined and played out; more so than the previous series entries, Unholy City‘s major investigation is a case that involves logistics, deductive reasoning, and exhaustive suspect interviews. The third-person narrative also continues to rotate between that of Claire and her team’s work, to that of parties involved on the other side of the police investigation. This alternating viewpoint structure really works in this series to sustain reader’s attention and in this entry especially, works so well in layering and adding surprising character reveals, as well as in smoothly propelling the story toward the climax and reveal.

Overall, another very strong, well-written, well-plotted and well-paced entry into what has become a favourite new mystery/crime series. Now three books into Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella Mystery series and I continue to be hooked: not only by the titular protagonist who continues to engage and evolve, but also by the changing nature and scope of the investigations at the heart of the novels. I have likely mentioned this about the series, but will say it again: I do hope to read and explore many further titles in Carrie Smith’s terrific crime 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.

Halloween Picture Book Giveaway!

Comic by ‘The Little World of Liz Climo‘ author-illustrator Liz Climo

Something fun and not at all too scary for Halloween: a chance to win one of four perfect-for-Halloween picture books! Courtesy of the lovely folks at Raincoast Books, I have four new seasonal spooky reads to share with you, and one lucky reader will have the chance to win their top picture book pick. Halloween Picture Book Giveaway details are at the bottom of the post, so please read on!

Now let’s take a look at the books:

Herbert’s First Halloween by Cynthia Rylant, illus. Stephen Henry
Publication: August 1, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Herbert is deeply doubtful about his first Halloween—but with a little help from his dad and a special tiger costume, Herbert might just find confidence on Halloween night. Together, father and son practice roaring, carve a pumpkin, and venture out in search of candy. And by the end of the night, Herbert finds his doubts have melted away. A sweet introduction to Halloween and to being brave, this book is sure to delight the youngest of trick-or-treaters.

Just right for any child a bit uncertain about Halloween and trick-or-treating, or skeptical about wearing a costume, Herbert’s First Halloween is a gentle and friendly story from beloved children’s author Cynthia Rylant and illustrator Stephen Henry about a young (adorable) piggy named Herbert getting ready for his first experience of Halloween night. With the help of his kind and patient dad- who shares memories of his own Halloween and favourite costume- Herbert discovers much to enjoy about Halloween.

How to Catch a Monster by Adam Wallace, illus. Andy Elkerton
Publication: September 5, 2017 by Sourcebooks
Get ready to laugh as a young ninja heads into the closet to meet the monster that’s been so scary night after night! But what if things aren’t whatthey seem and our monster isn’t scary at all? What if our ninja hero is about to make a friend of strangest sort? Is there a monster living in your closet? Are you brave enough to catch him? Parents and children will love sharing this fun and inventive picture book, which reminds us that things aren’t always as scary as they seem.

A goofy and totally fun rhyming picture book, Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton’s How to Catch a Monster is their Halloween offering in their popular ‘How to Catch…’ series. In How to Catch a Monster, a young child who recently got the role of a ninja master in a school play, decides to come face to face with the monster in their closet. Feeling “brave and strong, and full of courage, too”, our young ninja faces down a fuzzy green and blue monster, while discovering some very surprising facts about the possibly not-so-scary (maybe even sweet and fun!) monster!

Tyrannosaurus Rex vs. Edna, The Very First Chicken by Douglas Rees, illus. Jed Henry
Publication: September 26, 2017 by Henry Holt
Tyrannosaurus Rex wants breakfast. He stomps and he roars and he gnashes his teeth―and he scares all the other dinosaurs right out of the forest. Only Edna, the very first chicken, is unafraid. She won’t let that bully T. rex push her around! But will Edna’s mighty beak and terrible flapping wings be a match for T. rex’s mighty claws and terrible jaws? This hilarious tale of bravery will have readers clucking in triumph! Jed Henry’s charming illustrations accompany Douglas Rees’ upROARious tale.

Okay, okay, so Tyrannosaurus Rex vs. Edna, The Very First Chicken might not be Halloween book per se, but it’s got roaring dinosaurs and one very cool, very, very brave chicken facing down a terrifying T-Rex! In this story all about bravery, a cute and ferocious chicken named Edna goes face to face with a monstrous, bossy T-Rex who disturbs the other dinosaurs and yells about wanting breakfast and threatening to eat anyone is his path. Edna commands the T-Rex’s attention and fights her way to teach the T-Rex a few lessons. A tale from Douglas Rees and illustrator Jed Henry all about courage, filled with wackiness and laugh out loud moments, this one would make for a perfectly zany read aloud.

The Pomegranate Witch by Denise Doyen, illus. Eliza Wheeler
Publication: August 1, 2017 by Chronicle Books
When a scary old tree blooms with the most beautiful pomegranates ever seen, the neighborhood kids’ mouths water with anticipation. But the tree isn’t theirs—and it has a protector! So begins the Pomegranate War, a fun, rollicking, rhyming tale of a battle between the sly, plucky young rascals and their wry, witchy neighbor who may have more than one trick up her sleeve. This delectable romp from award-winning children’s poet Denise Doyen and acclaimed illustrator Eliza Wheeler honors classic children’s literature and revels in nostalgia for free-to-roam days full of playful invention.

A perfect-for-Halloween story told in rhyme, Denise Doyen and Eliza Wheeler’s The Pomegranate Witch reads like a modern fairy tale. This is a tale about a haunted pomegranate tree on abandoned farmhouse land; a tree filled with the beautiful and delicious pomegranates ever seen and protected by the terrifying Pomegranate Witch. A group of brave children- and one fast-acting young boy- try to battle the witch for a taste of the elusive fruit. The Pomegranate Witch might make for a great witchy read aloud for elementary age and up students; Denise Doyen’s writing is atmospheric and fun, while Tell Me a Tattoo Story artist Eliza Wheeler continues to delight with her beautiful illustrative style.

Giveaway Info:

The Halloween Picture Book Giveaway is open to Canadian residents, ages 18 and up. The giveaway will run from October 29, 2017 to November 5, 2017. One winner will be randomly selected at the end of giveaway via Rafflecopter. The winner will have 48 hours to respond via Twitter or by emailing me at fabbookreviews[at]gmail[dot]com, confirming their name, their mailing address, and their one picture book prize pick. If the first drawn winner does not contact me within 48 hours, another winner will be chosen.

GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.

Thank you to everyone who entered!

Winning entry drawn via Rafflecopter is:

KIRSTEN N.!

Winner has been notified and has 48 hours to claim the prize or another entry will be drawn.

 

Click here to enter the giveaway via Rafflecopter!

I received copies of the four picture book titles from Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. Opinions and comments regarding the titles are my own. Prizes provided courtesy of Raincoast Books.