June 27, 2013

Lily and Taylor

by Elise Moser
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-334-6 (hc)
978-1-55498-336-0 (ePub)
224 pp.
Ages 14+
September, 2013
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy

Lily and Taylor is not for the faint of heart.  It is raw and brutal, just as is Taylor's reality.  Seventeen-year-old Taylor had been living with her older sister Tannis and her young nephew Mason when Tannis' boyfriend Bracken beats her to death in just one of his many episodes of physical abuse.  In fact, Lily and Taylor opens with Taylor witnessing her sister's autopsy, compelled to view the finality for her sister's body.

Though Taylor and Mason go to live with their Gram and her partner Douglas, and start at new schools, their old life has not been set aside.   Taylor's boyfriend Devon continues to call her, determined for her to see him.  Of course, it's not like they broke up; Taylor had just moved away.  But for Taylor, the physical space she now has away from Devon gives her an opportunity to let down some of the fear upon which their relationship is based.
She loved Devon but she'd been beginning to feel stuck with him, had begun to gaze jealously at the dork girls with no boyfriends.  The constant gnawing fear -- would he be mad if she said this, would he hate it if she wore that -- had been wearing her down. (pg.18)
Never confident about meeting new people and never having had any friends with whom she could shop or hang out, something that would make Devon angry ("You better not be lying to me." pg. 26), Taylor does eventually meet Lily, a tall lanky girl who has her own domestic secrets.  Lily lives with her mom after her parents' marriage ended.  Though her mother claims it was her father's drunkenness that was the cause, her father explains that it was after her mom's car accident that left her with a brain injury that made her volatile and unpredictable.  Sadly, Lily has been left to deal with her mother's unpredictability, and then her drinking, on her own.  But, just as Taylor notices at school, Lily is very good as deescalating conflict with lightness and humour.  Too bad that Lily sees herself through other people, even dying her bangs purple as "a sign that she had surrendered to her freak status." (pg. 44)

The brutality of Taylor's emotional, physical and sexual relationship with Devon, spiked with the profanities of their vernacular, is magnified when Devon drops by one night before Christmas and forces Taylor to go for a ride with him.  Though definitely unwanted, Lily jumps into the passenger seat and begins to chat up the driver, a stoic guy named Conor.  He drives them to cabin where Devon's controlling and violent nature has him brandishing a rifle to ensure compliance, even from Conor.  As Lily tries to find the means to escape and help Taylor, she draws on a multitude of memories to help her cope and survive.  Likewise, Taylor is rehashing all her experiences with Devon, and with Tannis, Mason and Bracken, and plotting how to help Lily.

The cycles of domestic abuse, from Tannis and Bracken, Taylor and Devon, Devon and his father, and even Lily's mom and her intermittent boyfriends, seem endless, even compounded, with Taylor and Mason.  Elise Moser makes it very clear that one cycle begets another.  The horror of these lives is derived from a normalcy of school, work, groceries, TV, and Christmas, overlain with pervasive abuse and its juxtaposition with caring.  Even Lily recognizes that Devon has Taylor so twisted about her feelings for him that she can't make rational decisions about her own safety.  Not surprising that Lily acknowledges that, "She hated them.  Devon and Connor most of all, but Taylor, too." (pg. 157)

Lily and Taylor brings together the cleverness of perspective and the confusion of the heart as they merge to become a stronger entity that can subdue, if not surmount, abuse, and it all happens because of the strength of friendship.  Brutal, honest, and hopeful, Lily and Taylor speaks for those weakened by abuse who cannot always voice their needs.  It is incumbent upon us to listen to their words.

June 25, 2013

Book Launch: Skink on the Brink (Toronto)


author Lisa Dalrymple and illustrator Suzanne Del Rizzo

to launch Stewie the Skink 
Skink on the Brink 
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
July 6, 2013

1 - 3 p.m.


Story Planet and Intergalactic Travel Authority
1165 Bloor Street West

The author and illustrator promise
plasticine fun for children, 
allergy-aware treats, 
books to buy 
lots of FUN!

June 24, 2013

The Sinking of the Wiley Bean

by Margaret J. McMaster
Mansbridge Dunn Publishers
50 pp.
Ages 7-9

It's very difficult to find engaging reads for children, usually ages 5 to 7, who want to move out of picture books and onto the novels of the older kids.  Although large-format picture books can be just as challenging as lengthier reads, many children see moving up to "chapter books" as a rite of passage.  But too often, they select titles about which they've heard e.g., The Hobbit and Twilight (but totally age-inappropriate) or with recognizable elements e.g., movie, TV or game tie-ins (which can be of questionable quality). A more appropriate choice for a transition book between juvenile picture books and novel-length fiction would be the length of a short-story, with age-appropriate vocabulary and a linear plot.  Margaret J. McMaster's Babysitter Out of Control series would fit well on this bookshelf.

In this fifth book of the Babysitter Out of Control series, our young narrator Stewart is in Mongo Tongo with his care-giver, Mrs. Alice Chairbottom, and Colonel Alfred Peabody to organize the seniors' wedding.  While Mrs. Chairbottom spends endless time with the wedding co-ordinator, Colonel Peabody and Stewart go beachcombing, finding a frightening ship's figurehead which Stewart takes back to his room.  Shortly thereafter, Stewart begins having vivid nightmares of being aboard a ship during a terrible storm in which the ship breaks apart.  And, in his waking life, everything for Mrs. Chairbottom's wedding seems to be falling apart just as easily: the weather is stormy; the airport gets closed; the clothes she's selected for her husband-to-be and best man are unavailable; and her wedding cake is ruined during an earthquake.  Without giving too much more away, the story lines are resolved happily and the premise for the next volume of Babysitter Out of Control is established.

I do love the stories in the two Babysitter Out of Control books that I've read, as they have some intrigue, some humour, and some real-life issues. The Sinking of the Wiley Bean will keep the young readers engaged with the shipwreck scenario, Stewart's nightmares, and the ill-timed troubles impacting the wedding.  I don't know if they will be as concerned as I was wondering who Ronald is, a character who keeps driving Mrs. Chairbottom here and there. Without any reminders or explanations as to his relationship to the other characters in the story, Ronald is a black hole to me, not something you want in a book which should be able to stand alone.

Don't let the triviality of my unease, however, sway you from giving this story a try.  Mrs. Chairbottom is the babysitter with whom most young children would enjoy spending time, as Stewart obviously does, leading him into unusual situations and providing atypical adult responses to most circumstances.  Stewart's parents both trust Mrs. Chairbottom to care and nurture his young mind.  I think you can safely do the same.

June 22, 2013

Read Me A Story, Stella

by Marie-Louise Gay
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 2-6
August, 2013

Imaginative, inquisitive and compassionate Stella, our youngest Canadian red-haired delight, courtesy of author-illustrator Marie-Louise Gay, has re-emerged as the brilliant reader and sharer of knowledge in Read Me a Story, Stella.  (Many children will recognize Stella and her younger brother Sam and his sidekick dog, Fred, from the television series, but, as all good readers know, great movies and shows always come from books, and such is the case with Stella and her brother.)

As Sam endeavours to create a doghouse for Fred from branches that he has collected, Stella is enjoying the humour of a book that might cover the stories of Stone Soup, Caramba and The Three Little Pigs or versions thereof.  But Sam, knowing that Stella has all the answers, is sweetly relentless in his questioning.  "Are there crocodiles in the pond?" "Caterpillars become butterflies? How do they do that?" "Will the kite get caught on a cloud?"  And Stella does not disappoint, drawing from her vast reading of fiction -- "But there is a big old toad wearing a velvet jacket." -- and non-fiction -- "Here's a picture of a caterpillar in my insect book."  Even after a bountiful day and evening of exploring, sharing, learning and reading, when Fred can't sleep, Stella draws upon her stories to create a personalized one for a little boy and his dog.

Marie-Louise Gay has taken young readers from Stella's first steps (When Stella was Very, Very Small) to her poetic explorations of the forest, sky, sea and snow, and now she shares the endless possibilities and wonder of reading.  With a light touch in her text and watercolour and pencil illustrations, Marie-Louise Gay easily melds childhood romps and sibling exploits together in a world of natural wonder and of enlightening literature.  There's no more cherished place to be a child.

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If you haven't enjoyed Marie-Louise Gay's Stella and Sam stories in print, definitely the best way to appreciate them, check them out.

Other Stella books:
  • Stella, Star of the Sea (Groundwood, 1992)
  • Stella, Queen of the Snow (Groundwood, 2000)
  • Stella, Fairy of the Forest (Groundwood, 2002)
  • Stella, Princess of the Sky (Groundwood, 2004)
  • When Stella Was Very, Very Small (Groundwood, 2009)

Sam's books:
  • Good Morning Sam (Groundwood, 2003)
  • Good Night Sam (Groundwood, 2003)
  • What Are You Doing, Sam? (Groundwood, 2006)

June 18, 2013

New Cover Reveal: STAINED

On October 1, 2013, 
the newest young adult novel
 from author Cheryl Rainfield 
and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
will be released.  

Cheryl Rainfield,
author of the Scars, Hunted and Parallel Visions

brings readers another compelling read


Sometimes you have to be your own hero

The book's tag-line should be the mantra for Sarah, who is targeted for abduction because of her facial port-wine stain and must find a way to rescue herself.
With a new book cover and a new release date, I thought it would be a great idea to share a bit more about Cheryl Rainfield's upcoming YA book, STAINED, including this excerpt (p. 2):

Today is the day I’ve been waiting for my entire life—the beginning of normal.

I reach for the latest Seventeen and flip through its glossy pages until I find the perfect face. The girl is pretty, with wide green eyes, hollow cheekbones, and full, pouty lips. But what I notice most is her smooth, unblemished skin. It’s perfect. I cut the photo out and stick it above my bed, in the last of the space. Now I can’t even see the sunlight yellow of my walls—but the confidence that shines in these faces is even brighter. And today I’m going to get so much closer to that. I don’t care how much the treatments hurt; it’ll be worth it. It can’t hurt as much as the stares and rude comments I get every day.

I know I shouldn’t let people’s ignorance get to me. Mom’s always telling me I’m beautiful; that it’s what’s inside that counts. But she’s not living in the real world. Sure, whether you’re kind or good matters. But pretty people automatically get better treatment. Ugly people get ignored ... if they’re lucky. And me, I get stares, taunts, or people going out of their way to pretend they don’t see me.

I try to think of it as fuel for my comic scripts. All heroes have to go through personal trauma before they find their true strength—and most of them feel like outsiders even after they do.
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Here's what others are saying about STAINED:

"Powerful. I raced through it, wanting to know if Sarah would find a way to escape both her captor and her self-doubts. A real nail-biter!"
- April Henry, NY Times-best selling author of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

"A compelling, gutting, and ultimately triumphant read. You won't want to stop turning pages -- Or blink. Or breathe. -- until you reach the very last one."

-Jennifer Brown, award-winning author of Hate List

"STAINED is dark, tense and gripping; a triumph of one girl's heart, soul and will to survive. Sarah's strength during her descent into terror kept me reading way past bedtime!"
-Laura Wiess, critically acclaimed author of Such a Pretty Girl

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Today, Cheryl Rainfield uploaded a YouTube video about writing STAINED. It is a thoughtful sharing about her own experiences and the courage and strength she found to help her survive and escape abuse.
Uploaded on June 18, 2013 by Cheryl Rainfield on YouTube 

And, if you missed it in January, this is the book trailer that she uploaded before the cover and release date had been change.
Uploaded on January 21, 2013 by Cheryl Rainfield on YouTube 
at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sr0a8pw-csQ

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To celebrate this cover reveal, Cheryl will be giving away her YA paranormal fantasy, Parallel Visions, as a free Kindle ebook on Amazon, today only.

And she'll be holding a contest on her website http://cherylrainfield.com/blog/ for a signed advanced reading copy of STAINED (old cover), gift card and great book swag (including purple wristbands with the tagline for the book).

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So time to mark your calendar:
 October 1, 2013
by Cheryl Rainfield

Young adult suspense is just a few months away

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June 17, 2013

Parallel Visions: A Teen Psychic Novel, Book 1

by Cheryl Rainfield
Rain and Sun Press
ASIN: B00A8763K6
146 pp.
Ages 13+

Having your breath taken away by something incredibly beautiful or by love seems so serene and captivating. But when Kate, 16, loses her breath regularly because of her severe asthma, it is a life-threatening, fear-inducing situation.  She knows she could die when her body reacts to cigarette smoke, pollution, perfumes, aerosols, hair products and such, but she is especially disturbed by the visions she has when she has a severe episode.  Worse yet is that no one seems to believe her about what she sees in her visions, usually horrific events that was destined to happen.  Sharing those visions just brings confusion, suspicion, interrogations. and overwhelming despair for what she cannot change.  Her parents try to be supportive but they're obviously pulling back from believing her.  Her older sister Jenna, married right out of high school, may be close to Kate but she too doesn't accept Kate's visions as reality. 

This is especially problematic when Kate has a vision of Jenna's husband, Mason, beating her up.  More surprising is that during that same asthmatic attack, Kate also has a vision of a girl attempting suicide. Although she doesn't know the girl exactly, Kate knows she is connected to Gil, the boy to whom she was speaking when the attack came on. Kate's biggest fear at this point is wondering how she can help save both of them when she has already failed to save a single person.

Fortunately, Gil believes her when she tells him about her vision, as his Nana is a medium.  He confirms that his older sister, Inez, has been having a hard time with their mom leaving last year but Kate also knows the girl has been harassed by other students for acknowledging her homosexuality.  He goes home to check on Inez and later confirms with Kate that Inez had been contemplating taking an overdose but was now talking to him and their Nana, and hoping to meet Kate.

Things don't go so well for Kate at her sister's apartment. Jenna, who still feels animosity towards her sister for getting the greater share of her parents' attention and preventing her from enjoying many teenage-girl accoutrements (e.g., makeup, perfumes, etc.), denies that Mason has ever hit her.  But, when Kate spies a framed photograph, minus the glass, that she had seen get broken during Mason's beating of Jenna, Kate is convinced that Jenna is lying.  Sadly, their parents don't believe Kate either.

With the number of severe asthma attacks escalating, perhaps due to her own desire for clarifying visions, Kate continues to have horrifying images of Mason trying to discredit Kate by talking to a doctor, of Mason murdering Jenna and of Mason spying on his wife through her cell phone.  Gil, her only support, insists Kate let him accompany her or she text him as needed and introduces her to his Nana and sister, who confirm that her visions are real and offer their love and support.

Author Cheryl Rainfield is no stranger to trauma, identifying herself as a survivor of horrifying abuse.  But the focus for her characters is not on the trauma but on the survival -- to retain a sense of self while finding the physical and emotional strength and courage to endure and recover.  Regardless of her sister's denials, Mason's arrogance and aggression, her parents' lack of support, and her debilitating asthma, Kate perseveres, even knowing that her physical and emotional struggles could lead to her own death.  Ensuring the survival of another is what drives her, and ultimately she must find the means to do the same for herself.  And even though there will never be a fairy tale ending when the likes of abusers such as Mason are present, Parallel Visions' resolution is satisfying, hopeful and encouraging that the abuse is not the whole story.  

•   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •   •

Special Announcement!
Check back tomorrow as I'll be revealing the new cover of Cheryl Rainfield's upcoming release, STAINED.  To celebrate, she'll be giving away tomorrow only Parallel Visions as a free Kindle ebook on Amazon.

June 16, 2013

Once Upon a Northern Night

by Jean E. Pendziwol
Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Groundwood Books
36 pp.
Ages 4-7
August, 2013

Think of those cold Canadian winter nights, when the fallen snow has us cocooned inside and a quiet stillness blankets the land.  A confetti of snow flakes drift beyond the windows, mounding on branches, railings, and the hidden promises of spring.  If you can place yourself in this divine winter scene and know of a child with whom you may share this, Once Upon a Northern Night will be a lovely addition to your lullaby collection.

I may be reviewing this in June, and it may be the hot summer of August when Once Upon a Northern Night will be released by Groundwood Books, but those are only dates and seasons.  Jean E. Pendziwol's text will transport you beyond a calendar to a darkened night lit by falling snow, taking a path through the pines and birches, sprinkled with flakes, to a garden and frozen apples.  You'll see the deer, owl, hares, fox and mouse but never hear them as their scampers and play are buffered by the snow.  And the glimmering sky of colours and shapes!  Perfection needs no other words.  And Isabelle Arsenault's gentle and reassuring drawings lighten the night-time fears of darkness and warm the winter's cold, creating a soft shelter of wonder and innocence, life and love.  No meditation or relaxation exercise could ever bring the serenity and adoration the infuses Once Upon a Northern Night, soothing all readers, young and old alike.

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This lovely book trailer was just uploaded to YouTube from House of Anansi and it's just too precious not to share.

Once Upon a Northern Night

Uploaded by House of Anansi on July 17, 2013 to YouTube

June 12, 2013

Every Never After

by Lesley Livingston
242 pp.
Ages 12+

Since curses are the order of the day in Every Never After, and in its prequel Once Every Never (Puffin, 2011), I would like to serve up my own.  OK, not really but Lesley Livingston: Why? Why? Why? Why would you drop readers cliffside, or at least Glastonbury Tor-side, with the last four sentences of your newest book?  And no respite until when? 2014? Not fair!

Now that I've got my Mercer-esque rant out, I can surprisingly and honestly inform the reader that I was so captivated by Every Never After, and every nuance of every interaction between familiar and new characters, that I was devastated by its ending.  So, if Lesley Livingston had not created yet another fantasy of such richness and emotional quality, I would not have yelled out, "NO!" upon reading those last words.  So, Lesley Livingston, it's your fault.

Wow.  That rant does seem to go on, doesn't it?  

Every Never After begins shortly after Once Every Never (reviewed here) resolves itself with 17-year-old Clare Reid's successful return from her "shimmering" time slip into the first century AD when Boudicca, Queen of the British Iceni tribe, fought the advances of the Romans.  Now, Clare and her best friend, Allie McAllister, have been accepted to help out on an archaeological dig at Glastonbury Tor, a distinctive hill with known historical significance and claims of faery and Arthurian connections.  Along with the other "trowel monkeys" excavating under the direction of Dr. Nicky Ashbourne, the girls will be recording a video blog of their work. And Allie's cousin, Milo McAllister, who Clare is dating, is joining them to put his computer and mapping skills to work developing a virtual dig-site app for the museum. 

Clare's relationship with Milo is making Allie feel a bit like a third-wheel so she is happy to continue working one day when Clare and Milo go off early for lunch.  Videotaping it on her iPad for the blog, Allie excavates a skull and disappears in a flashes and waves of darkness and colours before dropping into the midst of violent clashes between Roman cavalry soldiers and berserking Druidesses.  Though rescued by a Roman legionnaire, Marcus Donatus, Allie is manacled and kept with the other prisoners until her status is clarified and her fate determined by the ailing Praefect Postumus.  And who should she discover in the prisoners' tent but Stuart Morholt, the same "ass-hat" who'd grabbed the torc from Clare (in Once Every Never), resulting in his deliverance to the first century AD.

Meanwhile, once realizing that Allie has disappeared by some very unlike "shimmering" episode, Clare and Milo are desperate to locate her.  Destiny has them making the acquaintance of Piper Gimble, snidely nicknamed Goggles by Clare.  Piper is in possession of a family "heirloom" that has been passed from generation to generation -- a tin box scratched with instructions from Stuart Morholt that it only be opened by Clarinet Reid.  Seems the pompous Stuart Morholt (yes, a man from the present) is an ancestor of Piper's having had a dalliance with Boudicca's sister centuries before he is/was actually born. 

(Temporally it might be difficult to keep straight what happened first and then what arose from that point. Maybe it's a chicken-egg argument.  Just remember: this is fantasy.  It doesn't have to make sense in our world.  Just believe that Lesley Livingston capably keeps the plot lines synced.)

Clare and Allie may have been sympathetic to the Celts whose land is/was being annexed violently by the Romans but, through the eyes of Marcus Donatus, Allie begins to see the Romans, or at least some of them, in a different light.  It seems Marcus Donatus is actually teen Mark O'Donnell who disappeared from Glastonbury Tor in the 1980's when Stuart Morholt and several of his devotees, including Clare's Aunt Maggie, performed some mystic ritual.  Twenty-five years may have passed in our world but it has only been four years in Marcus' new one.  And geeky Mark O'Donnell is/was now a hunky Roman legionnaire whose loyalty to Postumus and concern for Allie has her crushing on him. 

Confused yet?  Well, it's just the way I tell it, because from Lesley Livingston's pen, it is all handled beautifully.  The subplots of the two different time periods (or are there three?) merge courtesy of Clare and Milo's actions bringing them to the Roman camp of Allie's current circumstances. (OK, that's definitely an oxymoron.  How can the past be current?)  I won't tell you how it ends, though you might recall my earlier rant.  Suffice it to say that Every Never After climaxes with a maelstrom of ancient battles, romantic revelations, sacrifice, and mystic time-slips that will leave the reader reassured that Clare has accomplished her "mission" but, if the readers are anything like me, desperately awaiting the third book in the series, ever hopeful for a happy ending.

June 11, 2013

Summer Days, Starry Nights

by Vikki VanSickle
Scholastic Canada
219 pp.
Ages 10-14
June 2013

What a perfect time for Vikki VanSickle to launch her newest book, Summer Days, Starry Nights which takes middle grade readers to the lake, cabins and beach of Sandy Shores, the Starr family summer resort outside of Orillia, Ontario. The narrator of this 1962 coming-of-age story is the middle Starr child, Reenie, 13, who adores her home, the resort, but still doesn’t always feel like she belongs.  After all, her six-year-old sister, Scarlett, is so much like their mother, affectionately called Mimi, who likes pretty things and getting attention. Her brother Bo is 16 and, although he is obsessed with music and his band, the Wide Mouth Bass, he is still more likely to be asked to do work with his dad around the resort and will probably inherit it. But Reenie loves Sandy Shores. She can’t think of a better place to live or grow up.

So it’s perplexing to Reenie that Mimi becomes so melancholy about her past as a dancer and actress before she married and moved to the boondocks. And more surprising that Dad allows Mimi to implement a variety of ideas she has to bring a little class and hopefully more guests to the resort. In the summer of 1962, her idea is to bring in some entertainment and dancing, asking Gwendolyn, the daughter of her friend Grace Cates, to work for them. Gwen, almost 18, has grown up drastically from the lovely, ethereal girl attending ballet school who Reenie remembers; now she’s brash and more interested in singing than dance, especially not ballet, spending lots of time alone in her room when not teaching.

Reenie is determined to reacquaint herself with Gwen, hanging around her, taking dance lessons, talking about being a teenager. So it's not surprising that Reenie notices that, after Gwen gets letters from someone whose name begins with J or G, she is more grumpy and that there are times when it’s obvious she’s been crying. When Reenie is working in the office and answers a call from a rock and roller called Johnny Skins, looking to speak with Gwen, Reenie begins to hatch a plan that would bring some much-needed attention to Sandy Shores and lift her mother's mood; give her brother a chance to showcase his band and his music; and take away Gwen's blahs.  Reenie is convinced that she can pull together a special concert/dance and amaze everyone, especially Gwen, with a surprise appearance by Johnny Skins. But even plans laid upon the best of intentions will go awry when secrets are being kept by everyone.

The plot of Summer Days, Starry Nights draws attention to the sparkling promise of summer: new relationships, freedom, opportunities, spending time outdoors. But sometimes, like stars, that promise can be overwhelming, brighter than justified, blinding to the eyes. When the stars align, however, they paint a picture of a fragile family, held together by shimmering connections that waver, weakening and strengthening with different circumstances. With Gwen added to the big picture, all the Starrs begin to see themselves relative to her, moving within her pull, positive or negative, rather than as a stable system irrespective of her. But those pesky secrets shake the foundation of the Starrs forcing them to re-examine their ideas about themselves and each other so that they may rebuild those connections.

Characteristically, Vikki VanSickle pens a story that is like a classic rock-and-roll song: there is a familiarity to its melody, of a family working together, with harmonies and some dissonance (especially feared in the 1950s and 1960s music!) but together it is a pleasing sound that resonates with all.  Summer Days, Starry Nights is sure to be a summer hit on the youngCanLit charts.

June 08, 2013

Dying to Go Viral

by Sylvia McNicoll
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
251 pp.
Ages 12+
June, 2013

When fourteen-year-old Jade dies as a result of a skateboarding accident, dying becomes the least of her worries.  Nothing will undo that, no matter how much she chastizes herself about her carelessness and stupidity.  Let's face it: skateboarding without a helmet while hanging onto a car just so your eighteen-year-old crush can film it is pretty stupid.  And, like most stupid choices, there are unwanted consequences.  Jade's is her death.  But a lovely welcome from her mother on "the other side" has Jade wishing she hadn't caused so much more grief for her brother Devon and her dad and asking if she could return to the land of the living, just temporarily, to mitigate their guilt in her death.  Jade is given the opportunity to go back one week before her accident, and although she cannot change anything (it's that whole one-small-change-could-affect-all-history scenario), she can set things up so that her dad and brother accept no blame for her death.

But, when she returns just at the moment her best friend Scratch is about to attempt a grind on his skateboard which she knows will result in a broken wrist, Jade cannot help but try to step in.  Of course he still injures himself in a similar manoeuver but shortly after that and with more serious consequences, teaching Jade to heed her mother's advice that she shouldn't make any changes to the larger destiny.
"We can't know whether some change you make will drive destiny down a worse or a better path.  That's what makes reliving this week so dangerous." (pg.37)
So, Jade draws up a list of intentions, mostly centred on getting her dad a girlfriend and backing off on insisting Devon go to university (something he isn't at all interested in but willing to do but then quit), and allowing the three of them to spend more quality time together as a family.  But two things continue to thwart her plans:  Dad's workaholism with respect to his graphics company, and Devon's reluctance to interact with his father, knowing Dad just refuses to see Devon's perspective.  Luckily, her seven-day deadline puts enough impetus behind Jade to propel her into action.

By making casual suggestions, Jade is able to manipulate a few more family dinners, more discussions and appreciation of sunsets and such, even getting Dad to agree to attending the high school orientation BBQ with her and taking a day off work to spend a special day together with Devon and some friends.  Surprisingly, it's the changes in Jade's general outlook that have the greatest impact.  It's as if she can see the big picture while experiencing all the intimate details. Seeing Scratch's injuries as a parent might, watching their elderly cat Oreo as he deals with ravages of aging, appreciating her favourite dish, finally learning how to make fudge - Jade recognizes them for more than just what they appear to be.  Similarly, her one personal wish, to be kissed by Aiden, finally has her recognizing him as someone who looks to her, and everyone else, simply as sources of footage for his film-making.  Sadly, one realization has her proclaiming, even if only to herself,
"Mom, I can't die now.  I just fell in love." (pg. 219)
With that heart-breaking line, Jade seamlessly transforms from the instigator of change to the subject of destiny, good and bad, no longer making things happen, just reacting without deliberating.

I may have been astonished that Sylvia McNicoll would begin Dying to Go Viral with the main character's death but I should have trusted her expertise, the same skills that have made her an award-winning writer.  While I was apprehensive that the storyline would follow that of the play/movie Heaven Can Wait or TV shows like Twice in a Lifetime, I should have trusted Sylvia McNicoll to never write the easy plot, ending with a happily-ever-after.  Her plot has Jade trying to make things right and not always succeeding (hmm, sounds like real life) and learning a lot about herself and others when she takes the time to experience her life.  Her death and her return to her corporeal body allow her to make lemonade out of lemons for herself and others. Her story proves that lemonade can be sour but there is sweetness to be had if you make it right.  Jade did, courtesy of Sylvia McNicoll.

~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

If you'd like to attend the book's launch and you're around Burlington, Ontario at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 9, 2013, check out her mother-daughter book launch Or you could watch Sylvia McNicoll's virtual book launch below or at http://youtu.be/ZNfM6FpkqPU in which she speaks about her new book, including the originating idea of Dying to Go Viral.

Dying to Go Viral Online Book Launch
Published by Sylvia McNicoll on June 6, 2013 on YouTube.

June 07, 2013

Little Jane and the Nameless Isle

by Adira Rotstein
260 pp.
Ages 9-12

When I reviewed Adira Rotstein's first book in her A Little Jane Silver Adventure series, Little Jane Silver (Dundurn, 2011), I pictured Little Jane akin to Astrid Lindgren's famous Pippi Longstocking, a buccaneer's confident daughter who enjoys adventures and mocking authority or at least nasty adults.  But I was wrong.  I did Little Jane a great disservice.  She may dream about having the sorts of adventures that her father, Long John Silver the Second a.k.a. Jim, speaks of so descriptively (!) but she is always anchored to her family and the pirates with whom they sail.  She may be determined but she is never self-serving, often thinking of others first and charitably considering others' pride before her own.  If she happens to have an adventure or two along the way, even better, because she is really tired of the "Little" moniker she has been stuck with for so long. Luckily for her, in Little Jane and the Nameless Isle, Jane comes into her own, organizing a ship, crew and rescue, all without her parents' help because they're the ones who need rescuing.

Little Jane and the Nameless Isle begins with Jane and the crew's cook, Ishiro, being the only two who escaped when her parents' ship Pieces of Eight was attacked and destroyed by the pirate hunter, Captain Fetzcaro Madsea.  Madsea has been aided by her parents' villainous former bosun, Ned Ronk, for the purpose of leading them to hidden treasure on the Nameless Isle.  On board Madsea's ship Panacea, Long Jim has been left crippled from the attack and, knowing that he isn't in a position to fight when Mary is threatened, gives up some information about the treasure.  But, not to worry.  In addition to still being in love and caring deeply for their daughter, Jane's parents are formidable pirates and they have plans of their own for Madsea and his crew, none of which require giving up their gold.

As Ishiro is gravely ill, Jane takes it upon herself to request the help of the local magistrate, Villienne, who is Britain's representative on the island and understandably opposed to piracy.  However, Villienne is a man who prides himself on taking responsibility for all the people of the island and states that "...it was quite bad form for someone to take my citizens' ship by force!" (pg. 13) Moreover, Villienne is a man of great wisdom,
"Personally, I believe violence is only the province of the impatient, the incompetent, and the seriously-out-of-options" (pg.13)
and scientific curiosity, investigating all flora and fauna and even concocting a remedy for Ishiro.  Consequently, Villienne is enthusiastic about helping Jane procure a ship, even insisting on joining the crew.  This is quite fortunate as the magistrate helps Jane decipher a code on her wooden sword, MELVIN, which points their way to the treasure on Nameless Isle.

Through encounters with tasty (though digestively-challenging) orange birds and other spiteful avian species, a moat of dangerous creatures, treacherous terrain and old friends, all the characters attempt to "hold fast", Jim's perennial message, though some are better than others at it, especially when unencumbered by faulty knock-off arms.  Jane ultimately rescues her parents, though not as straightforwardly as might have been possible.  But it doesn't matter.  Those who made fun of her are those who never mattered anyway.  And any glitches in the rescue simply open other doors to further growth and learning, which are always welcome.

In her Little Jane Silver Adventures, Adira Rotstein has created a gutsy girl protagonist, a Katniss Everdeen for the middle-grade readers.  She can stand up to nasty pirates and inflexible bureaucrats, with a sense of humour, without needing a romance to fulfill her destiny; after all, she is only twelve.  As for Little Jane's resemblance to Pippi, it is limited to their spirit and exuberance for adventures, and perhaps their southern seas locales.  But Little Jane should be every pirate-parent's daughter and every child's friend, respectfully leading only when others insist on accompanying her, aware of everyone's need to accept their own challenges, though a little push sometimes doesn't hurt. I look forward to Little Jane's next adventure, hopeful that she will continue to create stories from which her own implausible yarns may be told.

June 05, 2013

New Summer and Fall Releases for 2013

These posts I do for upcoming releases always garner tons of attention and page views.  Seems everyone wants to know if their favourite youngCanLit author or illustrator has a new volume coming out.  No one wants to miss out on anything, apparently.  I suspect that there are quite a few of us with complete collections of particular authors' or illustrators' works on our shelves.  And rightly so!

Before I start listing those titles that are slated for release during the summer and fall, let me clarify that some books may be available before the public releases listed here.  For example, tomorrow, June 6th, Adrienne Kress is having a book launch for her newest book, Outcast, which Lesley Livingston, author of the Wondrous Strange series, calls,  
"a refreshingly different take on angel mythology with a funny, gutsy, shotgun-toting heroine and a rivetingly sexy hero. Set in an eerie deep south town, OUTCAST is a spooky, spirited, compulsively readable story—charged with wit, wisdom, and bittersweet romance."
Definitely a book on my radar.  But below, you will see Outcast listed as a July release.  After catalogues go to print, sometimes release dates change, earlier or later, or have multiple release dates, with launches in between.  So, please accept the dates provided below for releases as approximate, based on information available when posted.

Enjoy creating your own TBR (to be read) lists.

Picture Books
  • Anna Carries the Water by Olive Senior, Illus. by Laura James (Tradewind Books)
  • The Best Thing about Kindergarten by Jennifer Lloyd, Illus. by Qin Leng (Simply Read Books)
  • From the Lands of the Night by Tololwa Mollel, Illus. by Darrell McCalla (Red Deer Press)
  • King Pig by Nick Bland (Scholastic Canada)
  • Pakwa Che Menisu by Julie Flett (Simple Read Books) >>> in the Cree language

  • The Power of Harmony: A Novel by Jan L. Coates (Red Deer Press)
  • Summer Days, Starry Nights by Vikki VanSickle (Scholastic Canada)

Young Adult
  • Burning from the Inside by Christine Walde (Dancing Cat Books)
  • Compliance by Maureen McGowan (Skyscape) >>> The Dust Chronicles, Book Two; sequel to Deviants
  • The Outbreaker's Shadow by Amy McCulloch (Doubleday Canada/Random House)
  • Running on Empty by Don Aker (HarperCollins)


Picture Books
  • Emily and the Mighty Om by Sarah Lolley and Sleepless Kao (Simply Read Books)
  • Kenta and the Big Wave by Ruth Ohi (Annick Press)
  • Noni is Nervous by Heather Hartt-Sussmann (Tundra) >>> follow-up to Noni Says No

  • Beautiful Goodbye by Nancy Runstedler (Dundurn) 
  • Smokescreen by Nancy Hartry (Tundra)
  • So Much Potential by Margaret J. McMaster (Mansbridge Dunn) 

Young Adult
  • The Feros by Wesley King (Razorbill) >>  sequel to Red Maple award-winning The Vindico
  • Membrane by Carol Moreira (Fierce Ink Press) 
  • Outcast by Adrienne Kress (Diversion Books)
  • Undercurrent by Paul Blackwell (Doubleday)

  • Before the World Was Ready: Stories of Daring Genius in Science by Claire Eamer (Annick)
  • Freaking Out: Real-Life Stories about Anxiety by Polly Wells (Annick)
  • It's a Feudal, Feudal World: A Different Medieval History by Stephen Shapiro, Illus. by Ross Kinnaird (Annick)

Picture Books
  • Big Top Otto by Bill Slavin (Kids Can Press) >>> Big City Otto returns!
  • Black and Bittern was Night by Robert Heidbreder (Kids Can Press)
  • Boy Meets Dog by Valerie Wyatt (Kids Can Press)
  • The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson, Illus. by Dušan Petričić (Annick)
  • Once Upon a Northern Night by Jean E. Pendziwol, Illus. by Isabelle Arsenault (Groundwood)
  • Read Me a Story, Stella by Marie-Louise Gay (Groundwood) >>> newest Stella and Sam story
  • Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween by Mélanie Watt (Kids Can Press)
  • Tweezle Into Everything by Stephanie McLellan, Illus. by Dean Griffiths (Pajama Press)
  • Fortuna by Nicholas Maes (Dundurn)
  • Healing the Bruises by Lori Morgan (Formac)
  • The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman (Scholastic) >>> new series
  • Jane, the Fox and Me by Fanny Britt, Illus. by Isabelle Arsenault, Trans. by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou (Groundwood) >>> graphic novel
  • Kid Soldier by Jennifer Maruno (Dundurn) 
  • Lilly Babysits her Brother by Brenda Bellingham  (Formac)
  • Morgan on Ice by Ted Staunton, Illus. by Bill Slavin (Formac)
  • The Spotted Dog Last Seen by Jessica Scott Kerrin (Groundwood)
  • Striker by David Skuy (Lorimer)

Young Adult
  • Creeps by Darren Hynes (Penguin Canada)
  • Descendant: A Starling Novel by Lesley Livingston (HarperCollins Canada) >>> sequel to Starling
  • Graffiti Knight by Karen Bass (Pajama Press)
  • The Night Wanderer: The Graphic Novel by Drew Hayden Taylor, Illus. by Mike Wyatt (Annick)
  • Picture Me by Lori Weber (Lorimer)
  • Pure Fake by Beverly Scudamore (Lorimer)
  • Rush by Eve Silver (Katherine Tegen Books) >>> The Game, Book 1
  • The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten (Doubleday)

    • Chitchat: Celebrating the World's Languages by Jude Isabella (Kids Can Press)
    • History of Just about Everything by Elizabeth Macleod (Kids Can Press)
    • Learn to Speak Film: a Guide to Creating, Promoting, and Screening Your Movies by Michael Glassbourg (Owlkids)
    • Making Contact: Marconi Does Wirelesss by Monica Kulling, Illus. by Richard Rudnicki (Tundra)
    • Pandemic Survival by Ann Love (Tundra)
    • The Road to Afghanistan by Linda Granfield (Scholastic Canada) 

    Picture Books
    • Binky: License to Scratch by Ashley Spires (Kids Can Press) >>> final book in this graphic series
    • The Camel in the Sun by Griffin Ondaatje, Illus. by Linda Wolfsgruber (Groundwood)
    • Fox and Squirrel by Ruth Ohi (Scholastic)
    • Gabby: Drama Queen by Joyce Grant, Illus. by Jan Dolby (Fitzhenry & Whiteside) >>> sequel to Gabby
    • Itty Bitty Bits by Anita Daher, Illus. by Wendy Bailey (Peanut Butter Press)
    • A Hero Named Howe by Mike Leonetti (Scholastic Canada)
    • My Name is Blessing by Eric Walters (Tundra)
    • Nat the Cat Can Sleep Like That by Victoria Allenby, Illus. by Tara Anderson (Pajama Press)
    • Oddrey and the New Kids by Dave Whamond (Owlkids) >>> sequel to Oddrey
    • The Raven and the Loon by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, Illus. by Kim Smith (Inhabit Media)
    • Singily Skipping Along by Sheree Fitch, Illus. by Deanne Fitzpatrick (Nimbus)
    • Sizing Up Winter by Lizann Flatt (Owlkids)
    • Swamp Water by Robert Munsch (Scholastic Canada)
    • Ten Birds Meet a Monster by Cybèle Young (Kids Can Press)
    • The Unkindness of Ravens by J Torres (Kids Can Press)
    • Up the Creek by Nicholas Oldland (Kids Can Press)
    • When Mama Goes to Work by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, Illus. by Jessica Phillips (Fitzhenry & Whiteside)
    • Whimsy’s Heavy Things by Julie Kraulis (Tundra)

    • Curse of the Dream Witch by Allan Stratton (Scholastic)
    • Death of a King by Andrew H. Vanderwal (Tundra)
    • Flying With a Broken Wing by Laura Best (Nimbus)
    • Home Ice Advantage by Tom Earle (HarperCollins Canada)
    • I am Canada: Fire in the Sky by David Ward (Scholastic Canada)
    • The Opposite of Geek by Ria Voros (Scholastic)
    • Search and Rescue: Powderhounds by Heather Kellerhals-Stewart (Lorimer)
    • Seas of South Africa by Philip Roy (Ronsdale) >>> Book 6 in Submarine Outlaw series
    • Touched by Fire by Irene N. Watts (Tundra)
    • Ultra by David Carrol (Scholastic Canada)

    Young Adult
    • Apparition by Gail Gallant (Doubleday Canada)
    • Baygirl by Heather Smith (Orca Book Publishers)
    • Destination Human by K. L. Denman (Orca Book Publishers)
    • Jeremy Stone by Lesley Choyce (Red Deer Press)
    • Lily and Taylor by Elise Moser (Groundwood)
    • Little Red Lies by Julie Johnston (Tundra)
    • My Side by Norah McClintock (Orca Book Publishers)
    • The Night Has Claws by Kat Kruger (Fierce Ink Press)
    • Nothing Man and the Purple Zero by Richard Scarsbrook (Dancing Cat Books)
    • Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl by Emily Pohl-Weary (Razorbill)
    • Rachel’s Promise by Shelly Sanders (Second Story Press)
    • So Much It Hurts by Monique Polak (Orca Book Publishers)
    • Tampered by Michele Martin Bossley (Orca Book Publishers)
    • Thornhill by Kathleen Peacock (Katherine Tegen Books) >>> sequel to Hemlock
    • The Tree of Story by Thomas Wiarton (Doubleday)
    • The Unmaking: The Last Days of Tian Di, Book Two by Catherine Egan (Coteau)
    • Until Today by Pam Fluttert (Second Story Press)
    • Whatever by Ann Walsh (Ronsdale Press)

    • Cat Champions: Caring for Our Feline Friends by Rob Laidlaw (Pajama Press)
    • The Great Bear Sea: Exploring the Marine Life of a Pacific Paradise by Ian McAllister and Nicholas Read (Orca Book Publishers)
    • Is This Panama?A Migration Story by Jan Thornhill (Owlkids)
    • Just So Stories Vol. 1 by Rudyard Kipling, Illus. by Ian Wallace (Groundwood)
    • Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Native American and Aboriginal Young People by Deborah Ellis (Groundwood)
    • Northwest Passage by Stan Rogers, Illus. by Matt James (Groundwood) 
    • Ode to Underwear by Helaine Becker (Scholastic)
    • Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs by Jill Bryant (Second Story Press)
    • Real Justice: Branded a Baby Killer, The Story of Brenda Waudby and the Notorious Pathologist Dr Charles Smith by Harold Levy (Lorimer)
    • Why Do We Fight? Conflicts, War and Peace by Niki Walker (Owlkids)

    Picture Books
    • The Best Worst Christmas Present Ever by Budge Wilson (Scholastic)
    • Bluenose Adventure by Jacquline Halse, Illus. by Eric Orchard (Formac)
    • Mr. Got to Go, Where Are You by Lois Simmie (Red Deer Press)
    • Never Let You Go by Patricia Storms (Scholastic Canada)
    • The Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore, Illus. by Barbara Reid (Scholastic Canada)
    • On a Snowy Night by Jean Little (Scholastic Canada) 
    • Spark by Kallie George, Illus. by Geneviève Coté (Simply Read Books)
    • This Little Hamster by Kass Reich (Orca Book Publishers)

      • Ace's Basement by Ted Staunton (Orca Book Publishers)
      • Attitude by Robin Stevenson (Orca Book Publishers)
      • Cut the Lights by Karen Krossing (Orca Book Publishers)
      • The Dead Kid Detective Agency #2: Dial "M" for Morna by Evan Munday (ECW Press) >>> sequel to Silver Birch-nominated The Dead Kid Detective Agency
      • The Four Seasons of Patrick by Susan Hughes (Red Deer Press)
      • The Great Bike Rescue by Hazel Hutchins (Orca Book Publishers)
      • How to Curse in Hieroglyphics by Lesley Livingston and Jonathan Llyr (Puffin)
      • Panic in Pittsburgh by Roy MacGregor (Tundra)
      • Seconds by Sylvia Taekema (Orca Book Publishers)
      • Tag Team by W. C. Mack (Scholastic)
      • Totally Unrelated by Tom Ryan (Orca Book Publishers)
      • Triggered by Vicki Grant (Orca Book Publishers)

      Young Adult
      • Anywhere But Here by Tanya Lloyd Kyi (Pulse/Simon & Schuster)
      • Audacious by Gabrielle Prendergast (Orca Book Publishers)
      • Crash by Lesley Choyce (Orca Book Publishers)
      • A Fool’s Errand by Maureen Fergus (Razorbill Canada) >> The Gypsy King, Book 2
      • If Only by Becky Citra (Orca Book Publishers)
      • The Rule of Thirds by Chantel Guertin (ECW Press)
      • Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow (Scholastic Canada)
      • Tag Along by Tom Ryan (Orca Book Publishers)
      • Who I'm Not by Ted Staunton (Orca Book Publishers)

        • Brilliant!: Shining a Light on Sustainable Energy by Michelle Mulder (Orca Book Publishers)
        • Growing Up, Inside and Out by Kira Vermond, Illus. by Carl Chin (Owlkids) 
        • How to Be Alone by Tanya Davis, Illus. by Andrea Dorfman (Harper) >>> based on spoken-word performance on YouTube
        • Lasso the Wind: Aurélia’s Verses and Other Poems by George Elliott Clarke, Illus. by Susan Tooke (Nimbus) >> middle-grade poetry
        • A Maritime Christmas Treasury (Nimbus)
        • Pay It Forward Kids: Small Kids, Big Change by Nancy Runstedler (Fitzhenry & Whiteside)
        • Shanghai Escape by Kathy Kacer (Second Story Press)

        Picture Books
        • Out the Window by Cybèle Young (Groundwood)

        • Camp X: Enigma by Eric Walters (Puffin Canada)
        • I am Algonquin: An Algonquin Quest Novel by Rick Revelle (Dundurn)
        • Justine McKeen and the Bird Nerd by Sigmund Brouwer (Orca Book Publishers)
        • Messy Miranda by Jeff Szpirglas (Orca Book Publishers)
        • Pirate Island Treasure by Marilyn Helmer (Orca Book Publishers)

        Young Adult
        • Topspin by Sonya Bates (Orca Book Publishers)

        • Righting Canada's Wrongs: The Komagata Maru and Canada's Anti-Indian Immigration Policies in the Twentieth Century by Pamela Hickman (Lorimer)

        When it comes time for my winter 2013-2014 new releases list, I'm sure that the number of November titles will have increased in numbers substantially.  Look for that list in late October.