Jay Fitger is in a terrible place. In his mid-50s, he cannot escape his tenured position at a so-so college in the Midwest. He has grown tired of teaching creative writing and English to the latest crop of blood-crazed, vampire- and zombie-loving undergraduates, his own writing career is best described as in a slump, his love life is worse, and the new Engli_h (according to the sign) department chair is a flippin’ sociologist, for gawd’s sake. The Economics faculty are getting shiny new digs, but the English faculty, what few remain, are dealing with windows that won’t shut, toilets that smell, constant cuts in funding, and a knuckle-dragging troglodyte called “Tech Help”. Jay finds pleasure in exactly one part of his job – writing vicious letters of reference. This is an epistolary novel – told entirely through letters that are that are truly brilliant – biting, occasionally vitriolic, painfully honest, underhanded, but always laugh-out-loud hilarious. OMG.
Keep the tissue box handy for this one! Wowza. Terry lives a good if not exceptional life in Ireland with her husband Brendan, raising two daughters who are now grown-up though they still need their mum. She bakes, she washes, she cleans – boy, she cleans. She is also about to look after her father, who has dementia, for a week, while the nursing home deals with vermin. (We never find out precisely what vermin.) On the day she picks up her dad, Terry discovers her best friend Iris, who lives with multiple sclerosis, has decided she’s had enough of the disease’s steady progress, and has made plans for an assisted suicide in Switzerland. Terry is determined to get Iris to change her mind, and with dad in tow, rashly jumps on the ferry with Iris, headed to London as the first stop on a funny, sad, and touching road trip with three characters you’ll be cheering all the way. Think Thelma & Louise, with Alan Arkin in the back seat.
I don’t know how I feel about the need for a picture book that helps little ones learn to distinguish fake news. Sigh. Okay, I exaggerate. This timely informational picture book is intended to help youngsters differentiate between what is factual (this robot is red) and what is opinion (green is the best colour for a robot), and how to talk respectfully to people with different opinions. I am grateful that intelligent writers, illustrators, and publishers, are recognizing the desperate need for as much help as possible to turn our world around. I am grateful I am grateful. And that libraries (like the Grand Forks & District Public Library) are choosing these titles for their collections. So – this is actually pretty good. The premise is simple – help readers understand the difference between fact and opinion, get them to distinguish the two in a story, and then learn how to respect others’ opinions.
Rocky is a bad dog. He won’t come when called, he won’t sit or fetch. He scratches the furniture, is terrified of other dogs, won’t go for a walk, and generally disappoints his eager owner. She was SO excited to get a dog for her birthday! Children will instantly recognize the problem – Rocky is a cat, and will chortle at the young narrator’s struggles to train her “dog,” until finally she figures out a way to resolve the issue. The colourful and simple illustrations highlight the duality between reality and the unnamed protagonist’s desire, and add to the hilarity of the simple text. This is an excellent choice as a read-aloud for storytime or for lapsharing. Canadian Boldt is both author and illustrator, using digitally created images that emotionally develop the characters of both girl and cat to hilarious success. This simple premise is a top notch success – a joy for youngsters who will quickly get the joke. My thanks to the Grand Forks & District Public Library for including this title in its children’s picture book collection. More discussion and reviews of this book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42176504
There’s nothing like an alien life form gone crazy viral as a plot premise. Hollywood screenwriter Koepp (of Jurassic Park fame) has probably already sold the movie rights to this hilarious roller-coaster ride of a sci-fi thriller. An alien fungus hitches a ride on Skylab’s exterior as it falls to Earth, landing in Australia in 1979 and breaking loose 10 years later. It is impossibly fast and deadly, but thanks to Pentagon bioterror operative Roberto Diaz, it’s quickly contained. A tiny sample remains in the hands of the U.S. government, and is entombed in an underground cold storage bunker somewhere in the Midwest. Thirty years later, the fungus roars back to life, escaping the bunker which has since been sold and now serves as a self-storage facility. Diaz is called out of retirement to stop the organism, and races against time to save the world, with only a pair of hapless security guards to help him.
You have to enjoy the pickle that astronomers have put themselves in, demoting poor Pluto from its planetary status. But imagine how Pluto feels! Rex has devised an interesting scenario in which Pluto gets a phone call advising him of the change in his status. Join him on his journey through the solar system (and from disbelief to acceptance) as he visits all the other planets, a couple of moons and even an asteroid, on his way to talk to the Chief Cheese itself, the Sun. Along the way, youngsters learn all about the solar system, including the make-up of Saturn’s rings, the reason for Jupiter’s red spot, and the sticky issue of Ceres the round asteroid that isn’t a planet either.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 »
Whatever 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 »
This 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 »
I 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 »
Philip 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 »