Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You’ll Never Hear, by Carl Hiaasen, illustrated by Roz Chast (2018)


Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You'll Never Hear, by Carl Hiaasen, illustrated by Roz Chast (2018)

It’s graduation season at colleges and universities, so here’s a suggestion for a new grad in your life. A wee book (it’s just 43 pages, about $20 in hardcover), it is a good one to pair with the Seuss classic Oh, The Places You’ll Go, or if you can find it, H. Jackson Brown’s Life’s Little Instruction Book. This offers a gloomier perspective, and comes with couple of f-bombs along with lots of dark humour. Essentially, the message is that the world is going to hell, and you’ll find greater happiness (worth pursuing) by keeping your expectations low. Hiaasen, one of the few great writers for both kids and adults, begins by tearing apart the usual platitudes found in commencement speeches.

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

Humourous Fiction

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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My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018)

Contemporary Fiction

My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Sisters Korebe and Ayoola could not be more different. Korebe is a responsible nurse, level-headed and thoughtful. The younger Ayoola is beautiful, impulsive, and obsessed with her standing in social media. She’s also a sociopath. When Ayoola calls her sister for help in the middle of the night, Korebe knows what to do – bring gloves and bleach. This is the third boyfriend in a row who has died at Ayoola’s hands, but family comes first for Korebe. Until Ayoola’s next boyfriend is someone Korebe has deep feelings for. Now what? Dark humour abounds in this little novel, about 225 pages, set in modern-day Nigeria. I was reminded of Patrick deWitt’s brilliant The Sisters Brothers – it’s that kind of tongue-in-cheek scenario that will have you laughing when you should be horrified.

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An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good, by Helene Tursten (2018)

Mystery (Short Stories)

An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good, by Helene Tursten

Well, here’s a surprising turn of events. If you are looking for a cosy mystery featuring a sharp-eyed nosy widow who solves the murder, this ain’t it. Eighty-eight-year-old Maud lives rent-free in Gothenburg, Sweden, in a highly coveted apartment, thanks to a decades-old agreement. With no family or friends, she surfs the Internet on a stolen laptop, travels the world drawing on a healthy savings account, and solves pesky problems with deadly precision. In this collection of five stories, Maud gets away with murder, thanks to a deadly combination of misanthropy, a mighty level of self-interest, a sharp intellect, and a ruthless willingness to use people’s assumptions about old ladies any time it suits her.

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The Spaceship Next Door, by Gene Doucette (2018)

Science Fiction 14-Adult
Here’s a great new sci-fi novel for young adults with great crossover appeal for adults. Sixteen-year-old Annie Collins lives in Sorrow Falls, Massachusetts, where a spaceship landed three years ago. It landed, and has been sitting there ever since. Nothing happened. No alien invasion, no first contact, no “bring me to your leader” or space rays. Nothing. Nada. Oh, sure the military arrived, and an Independence Day-type motorhome camp has been set up with nerdy tech pointed at the squat black ship, but that’s it. Except something has changed, and government analyst Ed Somerville arrives, in the clumsy pretense of a reporter, to figure out just what is going on. The top expert on the spaceship, he’s never set foot in Sorrow Falls before, so General Morris tells him to hire uber-socially connected Annie as his local guide and interpreter. Read More »

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 »

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 »