Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School (#1), by Julie Falatko, illus. by Colin Jack (2018)

Humourous Fiction
7-10

Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School, by Julie Falatko, illustrated by Colin Jack (2018)

Sometimes a title just grabs you and says Read Me. This is one of those titles. It’s the first of two reviews I’m doing this week, both of them books for children. There are three books in the “Two Dogs in a Trench Coat” series; this is the first. Sassy and Waldo are two dogs whose lives are devoted to eating food, protecting the household from the evil squirrels, and napping in the sun. Until they realize Stewart, the boy in their house, needs saving from a place called School, a place he goes every day and returns dejected and bored. Thanks to Waldo’s surprising ability to speak English, the two dogs finagle their way into the classroom, where they learn just how exciting school is, and help Stewart make a friend along the way.

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The Clockmaker’s Daughter, by Kate Morton (2018)

Historical Mystery
Adult

The Clockmaker's Daughter, by Kate Morton

Here’s another genre-blending blockbuster from Kate Morton, author of The Lake House and The Forgotten Garden, among others. It’s an historical mystery, a gothic ghost story, and a family saga. Best of all it features an archivist! Londoner Elodie Winslow is in her early 30s, engaged to be married though fed up with the wedding preparations and planning expected by her future mother-in-law. She seizes the opportunity for distraction when she discovers an uncatalogued box of items, including a sketch of a beautiful woman and another of riverside house that seems hauntingly familiar. It turns out to be Birchwood Manor, where a young group of Victorian-era artists spent a month in July 1862, a stay that ended with one woman dead and another missing, the theft of a priceless diamond, and a promising artist’s life is ruined.

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Elevation, by Stephen King (2018)

Fantasy
Adult

Elevation, by Stephen King

Here’s an unexpected novella that meets my criteria for a holiday story as we find ourselves needing a break from the shopping and planning. It’s a wee novel, a novella actually, at just under 150 pages. And let me emphasize that while this is set in familiar King territory, it is definitely not horror fiction. Winter is approaching in Castle Rock, where Scott Carey is a web designer with a couple of problems. His new neighbours’ dogs keep pooping on his lawn as their owners, two married women, set out on their daily run. And he’s losing weight, no matter what he eats. At the outset of the book, he’s lost 28 pounds, and is losing a pound or two every day. Astonishingly, his body isn’t changing. He still looks like a middle-aged potbellied man of 240 pounds.

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Cry, Heart, But Never Break, by Glenn Ringtved (2001, 2016)

Illustrated Book
4-9
Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn RingtvedThis is the second of two books I’m reviewing today on grief and death. They are challenging issues for any of us, and when children are involved, books can offer a way for adults to help kids grasp an understanding of death and accept the pain of loss. This tender and sensitive book offers an honest and gentle approach to an impending loss. Four children are sharing a kitchen table with Death, who has come for their beloved grandmother. Death is presented as a visitor, a kind one, whose heart is surprisingly full of a love for life. The children naturally try to deter Death from his task. Read More »

As You Wish, by Chelsea Sedoti (2018)

Fantasy
14-18
As You Wish, by Chelsea SedotiBe careful what you wish for. That’s the lesson Eldon Wilkes is learning as he approaches his 18th birthday, a big event in the isolated town of Madison, Nevada. That’s when you get to make a wish and – it will happen. Oh, sure, there are rules. You can’t wish for more wishes, and you can’t ask for something that will impact the outside world (like world peace, or being a pro NFL player) but the locals are pretty good at finding ways to get what they want. Money is a common request, as is beauty, and happiness. Some wishes are funny – a truck, or a lifetime supply of pot. Others speak to the desperation in some lives – to be loved, or for transcripts good enough to get into Harvard and away the hell from Madison. Read More »

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

Animal Fiction
3-11
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 »

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

Mystery
12-16
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 »