Recently Read: A Murder for the Books (A Blue Ridge Library Mystery #1) by Victoria Gilbert

Review: A Murder for the Books (A Blue Ridge Library Mystery #1) by Victoria Gilbert
Source: ARC courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: December 12, 2017 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

Fleeing a disastrous love affair, university librarian Amy Webber moves in with her aunt in a quiet, historic mountain town in Virginia. She quickly busies herself with managing a charming public library that requires all her attention with its severe lack of funds and overabundance of eccentric patrons. The last thing she needs is a new, available neighbor whose charm lures her into trouble.

Dancer-turned-teacher and choreographer Richard Muir inherited the farmhouse next door from his great-uncle, Paul Dassin. But town folklore claims the house’s original owner was poisoned by his wife, who was an outsider. It quickly became water under the bridge, until she vanished after her sensational 1925 murder trial. Determined to clear the name of the woman his great-uncle loved, Richard implores Amy to help him investigate the case. Amy is skeptical until their research raises questions about the culpability of the town’s leading families… including her own.

When inexplicable murders plunge the quiet town into chaos, Amy and Richard must crack open the books to reveal a cruel conspiracy and lay a turbulent past to rest in A Murder for the Books, the first installment of Victoria Gilbert’s Blue Ridge Library mysteries.

I have to admit: when I saw that the protagonist in A Murder for the Books is a librarian, I was very curious! Representations of librarians in literature (from children’s book to adult fiction, comic strips, etc.) are…varied. Putting it mildly, sometimes librarians are not so accurately (or kindly!) represented. Author Victoria Gilbert, as I learned, is herself a librarian, so I felt like my reading experience would be in better hands…and it was! A Murder for the Books– featuring intelligent, accomplished yet self-effacing librarian Amy Webber- is a well-written, absorbing, intriguingly plotted mystery.

Gilbert has done a terrific job with this debut in laying out a strong foundation of characters (both primary and secondary), and in establishing the town of Blue Ridge. Through the first-person narrative of Amy, readers are taken into the small community of Blue Ridge, Virginia and its inhabitants. Amy, now living with her aunt Lydia in her beautiful stately home, hopes to live a more quiet life (free of relationship messes) as the new manager of the town public library. As we know from the book description, however, Amy’s life does not stay quiet for long. When elderly community member Doris is found dead- from a bullet wound- in the library archives, the supposed tranquility of Blue Ridge upends. Along with their new neighbor Richard- a talented dancer/choreographer who is exploring his own complicated family history in Blue Ridge- Amy takes research into her hands to investigate who could’ve murdered Doris- and why. As Amy unearths one piece of the town’s shadier history after another- some shocking and sad, some that surprisingly involve her own family as well as Richard’s- things slowly fall into place to make for some weighty and fascinating reveals. Gilbert balances the mix of murder mystery, detailed backstory, as well as the fairly crackling spark between Amy and Richard very well, giving attention to each facet as needed to propel the story (which is, at times, quite involved) along at a good pace.

Overall, A Murder for the Books is a very solid series start; a well-done mystery that will likely appeal to readers who are interested in more intricate amateur sleuth mysteries. In the last few months, I have had the opportunity to read some delightful cozy mysteries– if you’ve had a chance to enjoy any of those titles, or enjoy the work of authors such as Margaret Mizushima, Jenn McKinlay, Joanne Fluke, or Janet Evanovich, you might especially like A Murder for the Books. There is a second book in the series, Shelved Under Murder, coming out this summer, so readers can look forward to more of Amy and Richard!

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.

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Blog Tour Stop: Amy Spalding’s The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles)!

Welcome to one of the stops on the Thomas Allen & Son’s blog tour for Amy Spalding latest contemporary young adult title, The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles)!

Read on for my thoughts on the book, my thoughts about burgers (yes!), more about Amy, and …the link to The Jordi Perez Prize Pack giveaway! The giveaway closes in about two days, so Canadian residents, enter away!

The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding
Publication date: April 3, 2018
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Available in Canada through Thomas Allen & Son
Goodreads link

Description:

Seventeen, fashion-obsessed, and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people’s lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby’s been happy to focus on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a great internship at her favorite boutique, she’s thrilled to take the first step toward her dream career. Then she falls for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Hard. And now she’s competing against the girl she’s kissing to win the coveted paid job at the end of the internship.

But really, nothing this summer is going as planned. She also unwittingly becomes friends with Jax, a lacrosse playing bro-type who wants her help finding the best burger in Los Angeles, and she’s struggling to prove to her mother—the city’s celebrity health nut—that she’s perfectly content with who she is. Just as Abby starts to feel like she’s no longer the sidekick in her own life, Jordi’s photography surprisingly puts her in the spotlight. Instead of feeling like she’s landed a starring role, Abby feels betrayed. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image others have of her?

 

Sometimes (or perhaps a lot of the time!), you need a true confectionary, romantic, delight of a book. Happily, Amy Spalding’s recent YA release, more than met my need for that kind of read. In The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles), we follow the first person narrative of seventeen year old Abby Ives as she steers her way through a summer of a busy internship at clothing boutique, balancing new and old friends, issues with her health-obsessed mom and oh yes, a romance (and first relationship!) with fellow intern, Jordi Perez.

There are numerous focal points in The Summer of Jordi Perez as we can read from the book description, and Spalding navigates them all well. At the core of the story, however, we have the focus on Abby’s internship at fashion boutique Lemonberry and how her relationship with co-intern Jordi (who also goes to Abby’s high school) grows into a significant relationship. As readers get to know Abby, we hear about her history of romance, or lack thereof. While her friends have been dating or attracting attention and in relationships, Abby confesses to feeling like that sidekick in a rom-com- the best friend who proffers dating advice, quippy comments, is cute but definitely not the star. While her best friend Maliah, her sister Rachel, and new friend Jax claim Abby to be delusional about that fact- Abby is supremely stylish, fashionable, runs a talented and popular plus size fashion blog +style, and beautiful- Abby is pretty adamant about her sidekick status being permanent. If she’s a star, then where is her love interest? We learn that the one girl that Abby had really ever been interested in (but just quietly), is actually in a relationship with a boy; that leads to Abby basically writing off the idea of crushing on or dating any girl in real life. But then, along comes fellow intern Jordi Perez, talented photographer, casually stylish, adorable, and very much interested in Abby. I pretty much fell immediately in love with Abby and her narrative voice, her candor, as well as reading about her growing friendship with Jax. And perhaps most importantly of all, the relationship and romance between Abby and Jordi? It is is so beautifully and warmly written, one cannot help but feel a heartfelt connection with how Spalding writes about both glorious and devastating moments in getting to know and love someone- and being able to come to terms with their unintentional mistakes.

Overall, The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) is a genuine treat of a novel. Featuring an array of bright and funny characters, including a fantastic lead narrator, and a bustling yet focused story that flows from beginning to end, there is so much to appreciate about this YA title. Readers who enjoy the work of authors such as Becky Albertalli, Julie Murphy, Jenny Han, Nina LaCour, or more unique contemporary YA might especially love this wonderful, lovely read.

Burger Talk
One of the plot lines in the book involves Abby and Jax trying to decide on the best burger in LA for a new app…and as part of the tour, us lucky participants get to share a little bit about our love of burgers and what our favourite burger is! Now, I have to admit, I love a GOOD tasty burger that hits the spot- though I don’t consider myself too picky or any kind of burger connaisseur! I was torn between the Five Guys bacon cheeseburger with everything (minus mushrooms) and the California Burger at Milestones which has been a fave for years. In the end, I went with the California Burger! Mmmm…I think it might be the toasted bun and the avocado on the burger which makes it all WORK…so good. Also, many moons ago, when Mr. Fab and I were in the earlier stages of dating, I introduced him to Milestones and we had many an awesome brunch and lunch dates happily munching away on California burgers and fries. Happy memories there as well! Some pics below of the burger taken on a recent lunch outing with Mr. Fab!

 

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Photo by Robyn Von Swank, from author’s site

About Amy Spalding:
Amy Spalding has a B.A. in advertising and marketing communications from Webster University, and an M.A. in media studies from the New School. Amy studied longform improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. By day, she manages the digital media team for an indie film advertising agency. By later day and night, Amy writes, performs, and pets as many cats as she can. She grew up in St. Louis, but now lives in the better weather of Los Angeles.

Follow Amy:
Website: https://www.theamyspalding.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/theames
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AmySpaldingWrites/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thatames/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5768552.Amy_Spalding

 

Tourwide Giveaway!

The winner will receive:
1. 1 hardcover copy of The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding
2. 1 pack of FujiFilm Instax Mini Film
3. 1 $5 gift card for Five Guys (Canada)

Details:
– Canada Only (full rules found in the T&C on Rafflecopter)
– Giveaway ends Wed. Apr. 11th @ 12AM EST
– Winner will be drawn randomly through Rafflecopter, contacted via email and will have 24 hours to claim their prize

Link to the giveaway on Rafflecopter!

 

I received a digital copy of this title courtesy of Thomas Allen & Son in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog tour. All opinions and comments are my own. Thomas Allen & Son is providing the prize pack for the winner. Publicity information has been provided by the publisher.

Recently Read: Great Picture Books (14)!

A look at some wonderful picture books that I have had the pleasure of reading lately! All are titles I have read and would recommend (and I have noticed that three titles appeared on a recent Must Read Monday!!):

 
 

Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia O’Hara and Lauren O’Hara
The illustrations in this one are truly splendid; Hortense and the Shadow really should be pored over in person, the illustrations are that beautiful and intricate! A fairy tale of a story, with a long ago feel, about a young girl who, after ridding herself of her shadow, finds that her shadow’s constant companionship might not actually be such a bad thing.

 
Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake
This one had me cackling, folks! So simple, so perfectly executed and so perfectly illustrated…This is a story about a child who gets utterly stuck in their shirt and wonders (and worries) about what’s going to happen if they stay forever stuck in said shirt. This a gem with a solid (and also very funny) curve at the end!

 
Buster and the Baby by Amy Hester, illus. Polly Dunbar
‘He waits. And watches. And waits some more. THUMP, goes his heart. THUMP, THUMP, THUMP! Then…CHAAA!’
I do enjoy a picture with good repetition and solid read aloud potential, and Buster and the Baby fits the bill on both those points. An absolutely adorably illustrated tale about a playful doggy and an excited baby that play a bustling game of chase until nighttime comes. A sweet turn comes at the end, bringing everything nicely together.

 
The Forever Garden by Laurel Snyder, illus. Samantha Cotterill
Laurel Snyder (Penny Dreadful, Swan) teams up with artist Samantha Cotterill (Charlotte and the Rock) for a heartfelt and genuine story about the breadth of knowledge a woman named Honey passes along to her keen young neighbor. As the young girl, Laurel, copes with the sudden news of Honey’s moving, we see the beautiful effects of their relationship live out in various ways. An Author’s Note from Snyder indicates that The Forever Garden is loosely based on a Talmudic story of passing “from generation to generation”, of planting multiple kinds of seeds.

 
Florette by Anna Walker
Author and illustrator of the beautiful and clever picture book Peggy, Walker returns with another lovely story, so lush and richly illustrated. Perhaps a storyline done before, but worth it for Walker’s take and presentation: Florette is the tale of a young girl named Mae who moves with her family to a grey city and goes on a quest to find some flora to brighten her surroundings.

 
Sleep Tight, Charlie by Michaël Escoffier, illus. Kris Di Giacomo
The duo behind the very funny Brief Thief and Me First! is back with a tale of going to sleep gone awry. Charlie is a very tired rabbit who just wants a good sleep; unfortunately, noisy and annoying interruptions keep happening! There is great wordplay in this one, so lest you think the repetitions of Charlie’s bedtime rituals are unnecessary- they are definitely not! Readers who enjoyed Greg Pizzoli’s Good Night Owl might especially like this one.

 
Rot, the Cutest in the World! by Ben Clanton
I think we might need more picture books about potatoes, right?! Rot, our spudly protagonist, loves contests, so he enters the “Cutest Contest in the World” to the befuddlement of some rather snooty (and more traditionally “cute”) contestants. Poor Rot starts to feel more than a little down as he sees his “cute” competition but do not fear! The entire story is a treat, as is how the contest and results unfold.
 

Picture Book Reviews: Forever or a Day & The Boy and the Blue Moon

Forever or a Day by Sarah Jacoby
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: March 27, 2018 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

What does time mean to you? Sometimes it feels like it could last Forever or a Day .

The seconds that count in catching the bus;
The idyllic hours that slip by so quickly during a perfect day on the lake;
The summer days that disappear into blissful happiness . . .

Sarah Jacoby’s debut picture book as an author and illustrator is as elegant as a poem and as perfectly paced as a mystery. This beautiful picture books follows an unassuming narrator through a meditation on time through the course of a single day. Inviting comparisons to Virginia Lee Burton and Margaret Wise Brown, this book’s musings on time are at once simple, peaceful, and profound-the work of a truly genius picture book maker.

“The more you try to hold it…the better it hides.”

This is an enchanting picture book, readers! The debut picture book from award-winning artist Sarah Jacoby, Forever or a Day is a wonderfully illustrated and told story about meditations and thoughts about time. A big subject to be sure, but Jacoby writes- much like Sara O’Leary, see below- in a lyrical, hushed sort of fashion that creates this simultaneously poetic and lucid air for the reader/audience. Jacoby takes us through various contemplations about time- how we might perceive it, absorb it, experience it, appreciate it and more. The text is refined, sophisticated and ultimately perfect for a read aloud for a great span of ages (think preschool, kindergarten and elementary grades). Moreover, Jacoby’s artwork is gorgeous and varied. Varied in the sense that for every musing about time the narrator goes through over the course of their day, there is an illustration to reflect it. For example, with the thought ‘Some people pay a lot of attention to it’, we’re taken into a terminal where we see people dressed in charcoal, muted shades standing in lines, watching the information display, or racing around. For the thought ‘It is a drumbeat, ba dum, ba dum, ba dum.’, we’re taken inside a train compartment with the narrator, watching multiple occupants all doing different things as the scenery tick ticks by. Forever or a Day offers much to imagine and think about, and ends rather fittingly with a warmhearted, genuine sentiment. Overall, a terrifically written debut with standout illustrations. A slight side note here- if you have a chance, do take a look through Jacoby’s amazing, out-of-the-ordinary art! I hope we get to read and see much more from this artist in future projects.

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The Boy and the Blue Moon by Sara O’Leary, illus. Ashley Crowley
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: February 13, 2018 by Henry Holt and Co.
Book Description:

On the night of a blue moon, a boy and his cat set out for a walk and find themselves on a magical adventure. Together they travel through fields of flowers, forests of towering trees, and lakes of deep dark blue. Flying through starry blue skies, they reach the blue moon. But the blue planet, Earth, calls the explorers home. Safely back in bed, the boy wonders-was it only a dream?

“The cat and his boy walked through the bluebells toward the forest. A hundred thousand tiny bells were ringing out a song that no one had ever heard before.”

Picture book enthusiasts might recognize Sara O’Leary‘s name immediately- she is the Canadian author behind the brilliant children’s titles This Is Sadie, When I Was Small (illustrated by Julie Morstad), and A Family Is a Family Is a Family (illustrated by Qin Leng). O’Leary has teamed up with English artist Ashley Crowley for a lovely, lulling story about a young boy’s (and his cat’s!) nighttime adventures during a rare blue moon. As ever, O’Leary’s writing is so beautiful: softly, gorgeously poetic and something to be savoured by both children and adults. Readers who have dreamed or wondered about the moon might enjoy following along the journey the boy and his cat take as they somehow find themselves on an incredible yet desolate new place far, far away from the coziness of home. O’Leary has often teamed up with artist (and fellow Canadian) Julie Morstad for her picture books, so having another illustrator collaborate with O’Leary is interesting to experience. Crowley’s illustrations match the tone and subject matter of the story well- the cat, boy and earth-set scenes are so saturated and rich- though I do wonder if an audience might find the colour palette itself a tad unvarying or the space-set scenes towards the end lacking some kind of necessary warmth to fully gel with O’Leary’s writing. Overall, I do recommend taking a read of this title; it is indeed a beautiful story, and one likely to be much appreciated at bedtime!

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I received copies of Forever or a Day and The Boy and the Blue Moon courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: A Grave Issue (A Funeral Parlor Mystery #1) by Lillian Bell

A Grave Issue (A Funeral Parlor Mystery #1) by Lillian Bell
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: February 13, 2018 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

After an on-air gaffe goes viral and jeopardizes her career, journalist Desiree Turner retreats home to Verbena, California for some peace and quiet. She begins working one of the quietest jobs around: presiding over funerals for her great-grandfather’s funeral parlor. But the action seems to follow her as a fistfight breaks out between neighbors Rosemarie Brewer and Lola Hansen at one of the first funerals she’s in charge of running. It exposes a nasty dispute and Rosemarie’s husband, Alan, is found murdered shortly after.

Lola’s husband, Kyle, is immediately arrested. Desiree, whose own father’s death was devastating, has always viewed Kyle as a second father. Determined to clear his name, Desiree jumps head first into the investigation and quickly discovers that Alan had several unsavory habits at his job and in his personal life, including putting assets into his mistress’s account to hide them from Rosemarie. People murder for money and love all the time, and there’s no telling who he offended just enough to push them over the edge.

A Grave Issue is the charming and supremely enjoyable Funeral Parlor Mystery series debut from Lillian Bell. The novel centers around Desiree Turner, a now-scandalized journalist who returns to her hometown where her family has long-operated the town’s funeral parlor. A cozy mystery, A Grave Issue mixes family and personal drama, potential romantic entanglements, as well as a few deadly incidents.

Readers follow the first-person narrative of journalist-turned-assistant-funeral-director Desiree as she finds herself in a number of odd predicaments upon her return home. Back in her hometown of Verbena, California, Desiree is unwittingly thrust into the local spotlight (and local newspaper) when a bizarre outburst occurs during funeral events at her family-owned funeral parlor. That incident seeminglyleads to the murder of a rather unpleasant man named Alan Brewer, with the man held for his murder being other than the Turner family’s closest friend- and Alan’s neighbor- Kyle Hansen. Bell weaves a solid, engaging and funny story from beginning to end here, led by the droll and witty narrative from the character of Desiree. While the crux of A Grave Issue focuses upon Desiree’s probe into Alan’s murder and why her family friend seems to have been framed for it, there are a few other crises at play. Bell dives into a few matters: what drove Desiree’s escape from her path toward being an investigative journalist; Desiree’s steps to strengthen the trust and bond between her and her sister Donna; the possible relationships to develop between Desiree and two potential suitors; and perhaps, most intriguingly, a major bombshell regarding Desiree’s and Donna’s presumed-to-be-deceased father- who had gone missing but whose body had never been recovered- drops.

Overall, what a thoroughly entertaining and fun read! I have recently been getting into the cozy mystery genre, and found much to enjoy and appreciate with Bell’s series debut. You have a self-deprecating and clever protagonist facing a puzzling murder mystery, a slightly zany, close knit small town with intriguing characters, and some major personal and familial drama that promises to be further explored in series entries to come. If you are a cozy mystery reader or enjoy armchair/amateur detective series with good doses of humour, then I would recommend giving this series debut a whirl. It looks as though the second entry into the series, If the Coffin Fits is due out in the fall of 2018!

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.

Review: The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray by E. Latimer

Review: The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray by E. Latimer
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: February 13, 2018 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

Bryony Gray is becoming famous as a painter in London art circles. But life isn’t so grand. Her uncle keeps her locked in the attic, forcing her to paint for his rich clients . . . and now her paintings are taking on a life of their own, and customers are going missing under mysterious circumstances.

When her newest painting escapes the canvas and rampages through the streets of London, Bryony digs into her family history, discovering some rather scandalous secrets her uncle has been keeping, including a deadly curse she’s inherited from her missing father. Bryony has accidentally unleashed the Gray family curse, and it’s spreading fast.

With a little help from the strange-but-beautiful girl next door and her paranoid brother, Bryony sets out to break the curse, dodging bloodthirsty paintings, angry mobs and her wicked uncle along the way.

When I saw the great cover and read the blurb for E. Latimer‘s The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray I thought it sounded terrifically spooky and added it to my reading list. A gothic historically-set middle grade novel, inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray? Count me in! More sinister and more fantastical than I imagined, Latimer’s novel is a surprising treat.

The novel opens with a prologue that takes us into the extravagant, lush and self-indulgent life of Lady Dashworth, who is eagerly awaiting the delivery of a portrait of herself done by a supposedly odd but extremely talented thirteen year old girl. Upon opening, Lady Dashworth finds the portrait stunning…remarkable…so remarkable in fact, that the portrait seems too life-like. It is then that Latimer takes the already eerie opening and takes the story to its darker core: the portraits being done by that thirteen year old artist- Bryony Gray- are coming to life, ripping from their canvases and causing deadly mayhem in London. As readers meet Bryony and the terrible aunt and uncle who keep her prisoner in their attic, the story takes one fascinating turn after another.

Having planned an escape from her attic confines for some time, Bryony finds herself freed quite suddenly by accident when a portrait she purposely painted to look monstrous tears itself to life off the canvas. It is then, as Bryony escapes into the city slowly being tyrannized by her art, that she meets siblings Mira and Thompson- the next-door neighbors she had only dreamed to meet one day. Latimer weaves multiple elements as the story continues to unfold: Bryony experiencing London, her surroundings, and children her own age for almost the first time in her life; the trio of children having to escape for their lives time after time while attempting to help Bryony stop the madness; and perhaps the biggest thing of all, Bryony finally learning truths about her long-absent father who presumably cursed the Gray family. It is a lot to pack into a tale, but Latimer does a solid job of maintaining all of the elements, adding some bombshell reveals, and threading in some very interesting ties to an imagined incident that lead to The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Overall, The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray is wonderfully unusual and atmospheric, with terrifying and surprising moments. It is written with such precise, intriguing detail that I vividly pictured the story from beginning to end, and even thought to myself how incredible it would be to see this story brought to life on-screen! Readers who enjoy gothic, scary stories or the work of authors such as Claire Legrand, Charis Cotter, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl or Laura Amy Schlitz might especially enjoy this dark tale.

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

Picture Book Review: What’s My Superpower? by Aviaq Johnston & Tim Mack

What’s My Superpower? by Aviaq Johnston, illus. Tim Mack
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Inhabit Media. Thank you!
Publication: August 4, 2017 by Inhabit Media
Book Description:

Nalvana feels like all of her friends have some type of superpower. She has friends with super speed (who always beat her in races), friends with super strength (who can dangle from the monkey bars for hours), and friends who are better than her at a million other things. Nalvana thinks she must be the only kid in town without a superpower. But then her mom shows Nalvana that she is unique and special—and that her superpower was right in front of her all along.

“Nalvana always thought about what it would be like to have superpowers…”

What’s My Superpower?, written by author Aviaq Johnston (Those Who Run in the Sky) and illustrated by Tim Mack, is an utterly charming, wonderfully optimistic story about one young girl’s search for her superpower and what happens along her journey.

The picture book centers around Nalvana who wears “a yellow cape made from a blanket and a pair of snowmobiling goggles resting on her head” everywhere she goes. A seemingly adventurous, buoyant person, Nalvana wonders about the possible answer to a rather big question: what is her superpower? As Nalvana goes about trying to discover her superpower, however, she begins to recognize some of her classmates’ impressive superpowers! For example, one day at the playground, Nalvana sees her friend Maata swinging high on the swing set and suddenly fly to her landing! Maata can fly! On another day, Nalvana sees her cousin Joanasie building an inuksuk at the the top of a hill. While talking to Joanasie about all the things he can make, she tells him that his superpower must be being able to build “whatever he can think of”! Joanasie can build anything in the world! But…what about Nalvana herself? What if she is the only one left without a superpower? As Nalvana recounts Maata’s, Joanasie’s and other encounters and happy discoveries of friends’ superpowers with her mom, a happy realization is made about what Nalvana’s pretty incredible superpower might just be.

Overall, what a lovely, heart-warming picture book! Nalvana’s story is one of sharing kindness, holding onto one’s own kernels of hopefulness and determination, and the excitement in finding your own happy and cool discovery along the way. Mack’s illustrations are strong and vibrant with their unique yellow and green-focused palette; it is interesting, graphic novel-like artwork that works so well to compliment and enhance Johnston’s winsome, wholly approachable storytelling style. What’s My Superpower? also contains an Inuktitut Glossary at the back, so readers and audiences will be engaging and learning even further as they go!

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

Spotlight: Christopher Silas Neal’s I Won’t Eat That

Welcome to a special post featuring award-winning author and illustrator Christopher Silas Neal and his latest picture book, I Won’t Eat That! Please read on for a closer look at I Won’t Eat That as well as a bonus Author-Illustrator Insight section with some interesting facts and notes from the author himself!

Christopher Silas Neal has worked on such fantastic and well-reviewed picture books like Over and Under the Pond, Over and Under the Snow (written by Kate Messner) and Everyone. His latest picture book I Won’t Eat That is a vibrantly illustrated and entertaining story about a cat who is a very picky eater.

As readers dive into I Won’t Eat That, they meet a bright-coloured cat with a rather displeased if not disbelieving expression on his face. Cat explains his predicament: that while he is indeed a cat, he “will NOT eat cat food”. Other animals like dogs and fish, he claims, may eat the food set out for them, but he will not follow. In the next spread we see Cat as he imperiously kicks his bowl of “dry, dull and not very yummy food” out of the way and simultaneously wonders what he will eat…

We then follow Cat as he navigates his way through conversations with multiple animals as he discovers more and MORE things he does not want to eat. For example, as Cat meets Chimp, he finds out that they eat ants…ants that bite! Cat learns that Lion eats zebras, which is just too large of a creature for Cat to contemplate, and Elephants eat grass which is even “MORE BORING than cat food”. Cat begins to look more than despondent as he leaves Whale and his peculiar, hard-to-pronouce meal of bioluminescent phytoplankton…until he meets Mouse and a short conversation about what to eat turns into a rousing and open-ended finale.

Perfect for reading aloud- and likely to be a hit at preschool-age storytimes- I Won’t Eat That is an enjoyable, amusing read that builds and betters on the basic concept of picky eating with great use of repetition, intriguing word choices, and a surprising- exciting!- ending. Neal’s artwork is appealingly bright and natural in this title; strong, vivid, and as always, refined- to perfectly match the tone and flow of the text. I have had the pleasure of reading this title aloud with my own preschool-age child and it’s been requested multiple times since the first reading! Readers who have enjoyed such titles as A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals, Buddy and the Bunnies: In Don’t Play with Your Food, or the work of authors such as Kevin Sherry, Adam Lehrhaupt or Ame Dyckman might especially adore this title.

Author-Illustrator Insight with Christopher Silas Neal!

  • When I sold my first book idea (Everyone) to Candlewick they asked if I had any other ideas. I didn’t really have anything but quickly jotted down a few rough sketches and words about a cat who doesn’t like cat food and asks other animals what they eat, and I sent those scribbles to my agent. I ended up getting a two book deal. A deal for Everyone which I had spent a year fine tuning, writing, and sketching, and a deal for what would become I Won’t Eat That which was really just a quick sketch done on the spot.
  • The cat in this book is based on my orange tabby named Fabrizio. He’s super picky and has lots of attitude, but he’s also a super lovable mush of a cat.
  • The turtle in this book was originally a bird. Then someone pointed out that the cat might want to eat the bird so I changed it to a turtle which also eats worms on occasion, but whose hard shell would be unappetizing to the cat.
  • In I Won’t Eat That, we meet many animals who fall prey to a hungry, wild animal. I myself have eaten one of the animals in this book. Can you guess which one?
  • I make all of my art in pieces. Everything is done in black and white. I start by creating shapes and silhouettes on one paper. Then textures and details on other papers using paints and brushes and pencils. Each piece or layer is scanned into Photoshop. From there I arrange the pieces and add color on the computer. A single spread will have many, many layers each one made by hand, scanned and then colored on the computer.

Thank you so much for your time, Christopher!

I received a copy of this title courtesy of the author and Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog post. Thank you! All opinions and comments regarding the title are my own. Thanks as well to Christopher Silas Neal who provided the information for the Author-Illustrator Insight section.

Review: Bringing Me Back by Beth Vrabel

Review: Bringing Me Back by Beth Vrabel
Source: ARC courtesy of Sky Pony Press. Thank you!
Publication: February 6, 2018 by Sky Pony Press.
Book Description:

Noah is not having a good year.

His mom is in prison, he’s living with his mom’s boyfriend—who he’s sure is just waiting until his mother’s six month sentence is up to kick him out—and he’s officially hated by everyone at his middle school, including his former best friend. It’s Noah’s fault that the entire football program got shut down after last year.

One day, Noah notices a young bear at the edge of the woods with her head stuck in a bucket. A bucket that was almost certainly left outside as part of a school fundraiser to bring back the football team. As days go by, the bear is still stuck—she’s wasting away and clearly getting weaker, even as she runs from anyone who tries to help. And she’s always alone.

Though Noah ignores the taunts at school and ignores his mother’s phone calls from jail, he can’t ignore the bear. Everyone else has written the bear off as a lost cause—just like they have with Noah. He makes it his mission to help her.

But rescuing the bear means tackling his past—and present—head-on. Could saving the bear ultimately save Noah, too?

Bringing Me Back is the latest contemporary middle grade title from children’s author Beth Vrabel. Having read and enjoyed Vrabel’s well-received and well-reviewed Pack of Dorks series, A Blind Guide to Stinkville and A Blind Guide to Normal, I was looking forward to Vrabel’s newest children’s title immensely.

In Bringing Me Back, we follow the first-person narrative of middle schooler Noah Brickle. Noah, as we learn, is going through a very difficult time. His mom is serving time in prison, he’s become a social pariah at school- almost entirely without any friendly face- and is now under the guardianship of his mom’s boyfriend Jeff. In just a short span of time, Noah’s world has gone from pretty great- having a best friend, playing football at school, and having his mom and Jeff in a stable and good relationship- to just about everything being broken. Readers learn about Noah’s mom’s struggle with alcohol and how one night of relapse- and a dangerous football accident caused by Noah the day after- changed his world. On top of everything Noah is experiencing at home and at school, he also becomes fixated with a lone bear cub seen around the perimeters of the school. Soon Noah becomes determined to save the life of the young bear, especially when the bear is spotted with a bucket stuck on its head and looks to be growing frail. As the prison release date of Noah’s mom grows closer, Noah finds himself at a head with emotions: his remorse for the accident he caused; complicated feelings for his mom and the damage she caused; his growing feelings for his new friend Rina; with how much Jeff really means to him; and for how far he’s willing to go (and why) to save the life of a dying bear cub.

Noah is a terrifically written, interesting young narrator: complicated, open, hurting, and struggling to keep his head above water. The course of his relationships with two supporting characters- his one new and surprising school friend Rina and now-guardian Jeff- are so well-done and at different turns, emotional and heart-wrenching. Vrabel gets the voice of young protagonists spot on and writes them brilliantly; I think Bringing Me Back, with its well-drawn cast of main characters and excellent story, is the strongest of her novels so far. Overall, a strong, beautifully written, affecting middle grade title, with wonderfully drawn characters set in a unique story. Readers who have enjoyed Beth Vrabel’s previous children’s titles or readers who enjoy the work of authors such as Leslie Connor, Kate Messner, or Sarah Weeks might especially enjoy Vrabel’s latest.

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

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.