The Big Bad Fox, by Benjamin Renner (2015, 2017)

Animal Fiction
The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin RennerInitially thinking this was a picture book and attracted by the cover, I obtained a digital galley from the publisher. Much to my delight, it turned out to be a graphic novel, numbering about 200 pages. Our protagonist is a hapless fox who is seen as no threat at all by either hens or a lazy guard dog. Frustrated and hungry the fox joins forces with a wolf, agreeing to steal eggs and raise the chicks to a tasty size. But the chicks imprint on the fox and he becomes quite attached while they in turn come to believe they are foxes. Given how evil those hens are, this isn’t a bad thing. The plot is enjoyable as the fox struggles to resolve the situation, and schemes his way to a solution. Read more of this post


The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge (2014, 2016)

The Lie Tree, by Frances HardingeAs embarrassing as it is to admit, I often find myself at odds with the selections for literary awards. I read them because a) everyone asks me if I’ve read it and b) expert readers have judged this a top contribution. But at least half the time, I’m left scratching my head, mystified as to why this book made the list. It’s happened again. Fourteen-year-old Faith is quietly seething under the Victorian constraints imposed by everyone from strangers to her adored father, the Rev. Erasmus Sunderly, who is also a natural scientist. Faith is a brilliant young scholar whose ambitions appear impossible to fulfill. Girls don’t know anything about the moon, her little brother informs her with sober sincerity. Read more of this post

I Crawl Through It, by A.S. King (2015)

Surrealist Fiction
I Crawl Through ItDefinitely weird, often confusing, but ultimately fascinating and rewarding, this is a surreal psychological exploration of the minds and lives of four deeply troubled teens in suburban Pennsylvania who face gruelling test weeks even while their school receives daily bomb threats. Brilliant Stansi wears a lab coat everywhere, even on her family’s “vacations” to school shooting sites. Gustav is building an invisible helicopter. Lansdale is a modern-day Pinocchio except it’s her hair that grows with every lie. And China is a poet so damaged she has turned herself inside out. Their parents are absent and self-absorbed, blind to their sons’ and daughters’ pain and anxiety. Read more of this post

The Visitors, by Simon Sylvester (2014, 2015)

16 to Adult
The VisitorsHave a few days off and looking for something different? How about a spooky story set in the fog-limned Scottish isles? Few people visit the remote island of Bancree where 17-year-old Flora Cannon lives with her mother, stepdad and baby brother Jamie. The tapwater is dark with peat, and most folks work for the distillery, including Flo’s stepdad. Her boyfriend is a year older, and has just escaped Bancree for his first year at university. As expected, he dumps her forthwith. She’s not angry; she’s jealous. She has no friends her age on the island, and intends to slog through Grade 12 until she too can leave the island. Bancree is so small, she takes a ferry to attend high school (not unlike some Gulf Island kids here in B.C.). Read more of this post

Tales from Christmas Wood, by Suzy Senior (2015)

Christmas Fiction
Tales from Christmas WoodIt’s Christmas Eve, and Christmas Wood looks lovely in the snow. But so much is happening behind the scenes! Badger stumbles across the lovely village and decides on the spot to move in. But her scary teeth make it hard to make new friends. Tiny Mouse is making gingerbread cookies, but his penchant for tasting creates a problem. Rosie Rabbit’s brothers are so noisy they drive their sister out the door, and she becomes lost. Robin wants to grow up to be a hero, and discovers something about himself. Fidgety Fox is looking for adventure and instead finds something scary in the barn! Read more of this post

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye, by Tania Del Rio and Will Staele (2015)

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing EyeMeet Warren, who lives in a hotel. He is the 13th Warren to be heir to the Warren Hotel, though his current role is as errand boy, bellhop, room-service valet, handyman and responsibility for pretty much any task that needs doing at the Warren Hotel. Truthfully, his job is mostly upkeep, or trying to keep it from falling down. Warren the 12th (his dad) died when Warren the 13th was just seven years old, too young to take the reins. His lazy Uncle Rupert took over, but things soon went downhill, and it’s been five years since the last guest left. Hence Warren’s astonishment when, as he is on the roof clearing the ravens’ nest from the chimney (again), he hears an automobile approaching. Read more of this post

Took: A Ghost Story, by Mary Downing Hahn (2015)

Ages 10-14
Took: A Ghost StoryThis latest offering from master storyteller Mary Downing Hahn delivers all the chills and shivers young fans of creepy horror stories are looking for. This isn’t for everyone – it may induce nightmares, so if your youngster likes the idea of scary stories better than the reality, read it yourself first. Daniel and his sister Erica are uprooted from their comfortable Connecticut existence when their parents buy a home in West Virgina. It’s a dilapidated fixer-upper, made irresistible to the adults by Old Auntie who is watching the scene unfold. She is a 200-year-old conjure woman who “lives” in the woods and is seeking a new Girl to do her chores, as she does every 50 years. Erica is seven, and just perfect for Old Auntie’s needs. Read more of this post

Oscar and the Amazing Gravity Repellent, by Tina Peterson (2015)

Ages 7-11
Oscar and the Amazing Gravity RepellentOne of the first “science fiction” books I read as a child was Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint. Written before the age of space travel, the story let young readers’ imaginations fly along with Danny and his friend Joe as they career around the solar system. With that memory in mind, I was pleased to learn of this title from first-time author Peterson, which promises an equal dose of magical adventure. Oscar is a klutz. When he learns about gravity at school, he realizes it’s the cause of his clumsiness, always pulling him downward and causing him to trip, stumble, and knock things over. When he discovers an abandoned caboose covered in vines, he is astonished to see, in a locked glass cabinet, a bottle of Gravity Repellent. Read more of this post

Stranger, by Rachel Manija Brown & Sherwood Smith (2014)

Ages 13-18
The StrangerPicture the wild west, in which a teenage boy is on the run from a bounty hunter after the valuable package he carries on his back. He escapes capture, but is mortally wounded. Luck intervenes in the form of a patrolling sheriff who lifts him effortlessly onto her back and races back to the walled town. On foot, dodging the carnivorous roses and deadly crystal shards along the way. In town, a doctor saves the teen’s life by warping time. Oh yeah, and it gets even better. This first in a series (The Change) can only be described as a genre-bending futuristic fantasy dystopia with a utopian twist. It offers the mindblowing and cool factor of Cowboys Vs Aliens but with much richer results. Read more of this post

Doll Bones, by Holly Black (2013)

Horror (but very mild)
Ages 10-13
Doll BonesThis is the story of three kids who are growing up and aren’t sure they want to. At age 12, Zach, Alice and Poppy know they are getting to old to play out fantasy stories with dolls – Barbies, action figures, and thrift store dolls. But Poppy’s stories are so compelling, and they enjoy the game so much, all are willing to put up with occasional bullying and taunting. Until Zach’s father, recently back in the family home, decides it’s time to end the nonsense. Enraged and hurt, Zach abandons the game without explanation, but Poppy convinces him and Alice to help a restless ghost. Is it another of Poppy’s stories, or is there truly something sinister about the doll Queenie? Read more of this post

Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner (2013)

Genre: Fantasy
Interest Level: 3-8
Mr. WufflesMr. Wuffles is hard to please – he disdains cat toy after cat toy offered by his ever-hopeful owners, until a little metal object that looks like a tea strainer catches his attention. He bats it about until he finally loses interest, settling in to nap next to his newfound toy. Except it’s not a toy – it’s a tiny spaceship filled with miniature aliens. As Mr. Wuffles snoozes, the aliens brush themselves off, bruised but relatively unhurt. Not so for the spaceship – an important device is damaged, and the aliens must brave forth in search of repair materials. Read more of this post

2 a.m at The Cat’s Pajamas, by Marie-Helene Bertino (2014)

Genre: Borderline Fantasy
Interest Level: Adult
2 a.m. at the Cat's PajamasA deftly written genre-bending blend of romance, magic, and gritty realism combine weirdly well to create a surprisingly gripping story. It’s Christmas Eve Eve, and the book opens with nine-year-old Madeleine who is effectively raising herself, and doing a helluva job, if you please. Her father is paralyzed with grief over his wife’s death. While he sleeps away the day, Madeleine eats breakfast at a neighbour’s deli cafe, gets her hair cut by her mother’s stylist, and spends her spare time smoking cigarettes and singing to jazz records. School can only be described as a disaster – Madeleine is a bully without a following who shocks school officials with her mastery of curse words. Read more of this post

The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden, by Philippa Dowding (2014)

Genre: Fantasy
Interest Level: 10-14
The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn GoldenThis sweet and sensitive coming-of-age story introduces readers to Gwendolyn Golden, a Grade 8 student in a small Ontario town where the candy store is fun central for kids. Hot-tempered and a bit lonely, Gwendolyn lives with her widowed mum and twin siblings (Christine and Christopher, or C2 and sometimes The Chrissies), and relies on her best friend Jez for support in all things. Until the day she wakes up bumping her head on the ceiling. Puberty is strange, indeed. We meet a number of great characters in this book, including a mentor for Gwennie as she learns to manage her unexpected ability to fly. I found myself frequently reminded of the 1960s classic A Wrinkle in TimeRead more of this post

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson (2013)

Genre: Historical Fiction
Interest Level: Adult
Life After LifeThis innovative novel explores the life of Ursula Todd, over and over again. Ursula is born during a snowstorm in February 1910. The cord is wrapped around her neck, and she is stillborn. In the next chapter she is born and lives, and we begin learning about her life through two world wars. Atkinson hopscotches through time – back and forth, as Ursula dies in one version and lives in another. She dies from influenza, from falling off a roof, from a bombing, and from starvation. Her brothers and sisters also live and die in various versions, as do others in her life. Always, through, the story moves inexorably toward the Second World War and key events of the 20th century. Read more of this post

The Cowboy and the Vampire, by Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall (1999, 2014)

Genre: Horror
Interest Level: Adult
The Cowboy and the VampireOkay, where to start? This title, subtitled A Very Unusual Romance, was first published 15 years ago, prior to the madness of Twilight, and in the vein of Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire. Tucker is a Wyoming cowboy who loves his horse and his dog, and enjoys living the single life until he falls for Lizzie, a New York City reporter who shows up in LonePine, population 438, to write a story on cowboys. Neither of them realize she’s from a line of vampires, dating back to Jesus, whose purpose in life is to embody evil on earth. And sadly for their romantic plans, it’s time for Lizzie to step up and take her role as vampire queen. Get ready to laugh and cringe – the comedy is great, the horror will make you squirm. Read more of this post