Young Jane Young, by Gabrielle Zevin (2017)

Young Jane Young, by Gabrielle ZevinWhatever happened to Monica Lewinsky? Those of us who remember the scandal that broke exactly 20 years ago this month are likely bemoaning the fact so little has changed, as police officers, movie producers, journalists and others across every industry face allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour in the workplace. But at least now victims’ stories are being heard – 20 years ago, interviews with Lewinsky were done not to understand her side of the story but to broadcast one salacious detail after another. And that’s where this story stands out and shines. Zevin, author of the brilliant and delightful The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, has reimagined the Clinton-Lewinsky affair into a sparkling novel that explores what happens when boundaries are crossed, decisions can’t be reversed, and lives are forever impacted. Read more of this post


Duck Soup, by Jackie Urbanovic (2008)

Picture Book
Duck Soup, by Jackie UrbanovicThis delightful and comical picture book is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and is still in print – it’s easy to see why! The book was first published in 2008, when it earned a starred review from Kirkus. I recently discovered it on my library’s bookshelves and immediately fell hard for this funny and silly story that will appeal to young children. Max the Duck likes making soup and has had both hits and misses, from the yummy-sounding squash gumbo to the Cracker Barrel Cheese and Marshmallow soup. But this time, this time Max is about to create his culinary masterpiece. Read more of this post

Life on Mars, by Jon Agee (2017)

Picture Book
Life on Mars by Jon AgeeI really enjoy Jon Agee’s humour, first discovered while browsing picture books at Vancouver’s beloved Kidsbooks store. The book was called Terrific and I immediately bought a copy for a grandchild and ordered a copy for my library’s storytime collection. It was a stalwart title for elementary school visits to the library, fun to read aloud and giving us a chance to convey great emotional range in a readaloud. This one has less range but is a surefire winner for storytime sessions and lapsharing. An astronaut visits Mars in search of life, and finds a desolate planet devoid of any living thing. Or so he thinks. Children won’t be able to resist pointing out the giant alien our astronaut doesn’t see. Read more of this post

The Best Medicine, by Christine Hamill (2016, 2017)

The Best Medicine by Christine HamillPhilip Wright dreams of becoming a comedian like his real-life hero Harry Hill. Philip is dealing with typical middle school problems – too much homework, a demanding bully Philip calls The Yeti, and the heartbreak of unrequited love for a classmate. But Philip relies on getting laughs from his close friend Ang and his mum, known as his biggest fan. So when she cries instead of laughing, Philip knows something is wrong. It turns out she has cancer. And it’s an embarrassing one too. Humour abounds, sprinkled with honest tender moments that strike just the right note for young readers. it’s also full of information about cancer, delivered in a way that feels natural and will inform young readers whether or not they are dealing with this themselves. Read more of this post

Dewey Fairchild, Parent Problem Solver, by Lorri Horn (2017)

Contemporary Fiction
Dewey Fairchild, Parent Problem Solver, by Lorri HornWherever there are parents, there will be problems for their kids. Bedtime too early; overprotective mums, embarrassing dads – whatever the issue, Dewey Fairchild can help. When Dewey finds success solving his friend Seraphina’s problem, he opens a business helping his Grade 5 classmates with a gamut of grown-up griefs. Things get so busy he recruits his neighbour and long-time (really, really long-time!) family friend Clara to help as an assistant. She is organized and bakes the best cookies, which she shares generously with clients and staff alike. Young readers will laugh out loud at the problems Dewey gets to solve, and enjoy his research-intensive approach to figuring out how to resolve matters for his friends. Read more of this post

Chemistry, by Weike Wang (2017)

Contemporary Fiction
Chemistry, by Weike WangMy work at UBC included time advising graduate students, a small number of whom were pursuing PhDs. I can attest they are (obvs) brilliant, thoughtful, and dedicated to their research. Frequently they are also full of self-doubt, exhausted, and terrified of what the future will bring (or not, in the case of tenured job prospects). This book is a tragi-comedie about the struggle and breakdown of one PhD student at a Boston university. You’d think humour would be scarce in a story of a mental breakdown, but Wang finds plenty of ways to make the reader burst out laughing. Told in the first person, the story has only one named character – Eric, who like our protagonist, is completing a PhD in chemistry. Read more of this post

The Animators, by Kayla Rae Whitaker (2016)

The Animators by Kayla Rae WhitakerIn The Animators, two young women meet in a drawing class at a posh upper New York college and discover a shared background of what one character calls their “white trashiness.” Mel Vaught is outgoing, brash, and fearless, and wants to be a cartoonist. Sharon Kisses is quiet and talented, but oh so full of doubt. But both are fiercely ambitious, and by graduation they are not only best friends but business partners in creating animation. They also share troubled childhoods; Mel draws to understand her past, and Sharon draws to escape it. Ten years later, now living in New York City, Mel and Sharon find critical success with their first full-length feature, based on Mel’s difficult childhood with a hooker mother and a series of misbehaving “stepdads.” Read more of this post

150 Years of Stats Canada! A Guide to Canada’s Greatest Country, by Andrew Bondy, et al (2017)

150 Years of Stats Canada! A Guide to Canada's Greatest CountryHappiest birthday wishes to the best country on our planet, imho, celebrating just 150 years of giving the world lumberjack shirts, playoff beards, top curlers and hockey for both men AND women, timbits and a hungry market for cheese from all over the world, to name just a few things. I’m so grateful to live here, and wish the rest of the world could adopt a bit more Canadian outlook, including a healthy dose of self-deprecating humour. Which brings me to today’s timely review, from the brilliant satirical team behind the Canadian Twitter sensation @stats_canada, whose hilarious tweets have ill-informed thousands of followers for some five years now. Read more of this post

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

See You in the Cosmos, by Jack Cheng (2017)

See You in the Cosmos, by Jack ChengI cheerfully admit to being a low-level space geek, and I can pinpoint my interest precisely to September 1977, when Voyager II and Voyage I (yup, in that order) were launched into space in search of interstellar pals. Each spacecraft carried a Golden Record intended to introduce any intelligent life to life on Earth. Eleven-year-old Alex Petroski has decided to launch Voyager III, complete with a Golden iPod filled with his own recordings for aliens to discover. Overtly a transcript of his recordings, this creative heart-filled novel tells the story of Alex’s remarkable journey over several days, both literally and figuratively. Literally, he and his beloved pup Carl Sagan travel from his home in Colorado to the Southwest High Altitude Rocket Festival in Albuquerque where Alex will launch his homemade rocket into space. Read more of this post

All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai (2017)

Science Fiction
All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan MastaiWhat a lot of fun this first novel turned out to be! Tom Barren lives in Toronto in a version of 2016 that is the future as it was envisioned in the 1950s – flying cars that rely on clean and unlimited energy, food replicators, disposable clothes that fit perfectly and are recycled into new ones, robots and peace. Oh, this world isn’t without its troubles, of course. His dad is a jerk, and his beloved mother was killed by a runaway hover car. (The robot that entered the programming error was dismantled.) Tom struggles with relationships and despite being 32 and the son of one of the smartest physicists around, who happens to invent a time travel device, he has not yet found his vocation. Read more of this post

On Turpentine Lane, by Elinor Lipman (2017)

On Turpentine Lane by Elinor LipmanI’ve read only one other book by Elinor Lipman, The Inn at Lake Devine, years before I started this blog, but I’ve never forgotten it. That says a lot about her writing, and I happily dove into this new offering. It doesn’t quite measure up to Lake Devine, in my view, but it’s a lovely choice for a bit of escapism in a winter that is sticking around longer than it should! The book opens with 30-something Faith Frankel deciding to buy a little house on, you guessed it, Turpentine Lane. Smitten by the two-storey home complete with a delightful pineapple newel post, Faith soon negotiates the buy from the owner’s distant daughter, as the actual owner, Mrs. Lavoie, is in hospital, having tried to commit suicide. Faith then finds out the woman’s first, second, and third husbands all died in the house. Read more of this post

Best. State. Ever. by Dave Barry (2016)

Best. State. Ever. by Dave BarryIt’s getting harder to find humour in what’s happening across the line, so I turned to an old stand-by who delivers exactly what I needed in his latest offering, subtitled A Florida Man Defends his Homeland. Humourist Barry, formerly known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columns, now publishes a series of children’s novels, as well as continuing to write books for adults like this one. In Best. State. Ever., Barry rejects the idea that Floridians are dumb, but accepts that it’s definitely the state of weird, starting with, natch, the 2000 election and its hanging chads. Read more of this post

Fishbowl, by Bradley Somer (2015)

Contemporary Fiction
Fishbowl, by Bradley SomerIan is a goldfish longing for adventure. Life in a fishbowl can be tedious, after all, though Ian’s very poor memory and tiny brain relieve him of the burden of knowing just how boring his life is. But when opportunity presents, he makes a great leap out of the bowl. Over the balcony railing. And down the side of a 27-storey New York City apartment building. As he plunges toward the pavement, where the flashing lights of two ambulances are silently screaming an alarm, his gills forced closed as his velocity increases, Ian flashes past the windows of his fellow residents. And thus we are introduced to eight delightful characters Read more of this post

The Boy Who Knew Too Much, by Commander S.T. Bolivar, III (2016)

The Boy Who Knew Too Much, Munchem Academy 1, by Commander S.T. Bolivar, IIIWhen Mattie Larimore accidentally steals a train (the only time he is caught in his entire criminal career), his father decides the 11-year-old is following too closely in his brother Carter’s footsteps, and sends him to the same reform school, Munchem Academy. As soon as he arrives, Mattie makes it his mission to get back home. He tries being good, but fails miserably when he reacts to a bully who is also his dorm-mate. Carter ignores his pleas for guidance. Mattie finds help in a pair of squabbling siblings, Caroline and Eliot. The three discover that beneath Munchem Academy is a lab that is taking the school’s reform mission to a whole new level. Read more of this post