Helen

Grumpy Unicorn by Joey Spiotto
Grumpy Unicorn consists of a frowning unicorn doing various things with virtually the same expression on his face in the entire book. It is an extremely simple concept and remarkably funny. There are one-hundred and eleven pages with four parts listed in an illustrated table of contents. Each page is illustrated with a maximum of 7 words per page but most are wordless. There are almost no other characters.
I offer this much detail to give credence to my assertion that this is a perfect book for kids to transition from picture books to early readers. That is, I believe adults should read this book with kids; but, children will really, really want to learn to read it themselves. There are words like topiary, unicycle, and Piñata but most sentences are two words with a maximum of seven.

Reading a book of this length will give little readers immense confidence. 

Juvenile Fiction Paperback pr4672243

Pickles vs. the Zombies by Angela Misri
I admit this awesome title was irresistible to me, which is almost as bad as judging a book by its cover. However, things only improve – if you can imagine - from the title. Pickles the house cat notices her pet (AKA human), 2 year old Connor, is late getting home from daycare. So are Connor’s parents. Also, normal looking pets are being attacked and eaten by shambling looking pets...
An outside cat, Ginger, has learned that all the non-shambling pets have congregated at the hospital. And so Pickles decides to undertake a quest – outside – to the hospital, to save her pet. Eventually, this quest leads further afield, with many cats, a bossy hamster, a raccoon, horses and an owl, all uniting to confront rats, chipmunks, a religious cult of cats, and, of course, the zombie apocalypse. There are some truly hilarious scenes - Pickles as calmly as possible instructing horses how to kick off zombie heads, in the heat of an attack; hostage negotiations with chipmunks; the hamster ferociously fighting zombies, at every turn, etc. The zombie action is fairly tame as none of the good-guys die or become zombies. Also Pickles falls in love with a female cat, which is a small but lovely detail. This relationship and all of the characters are well developed. This book is all one might hope it would be – from the title – and much, much more.

Recommend it to everyone… except dog people. 

Juvenile Fiction Paperback pr2769332

Amber Fang: Hunted by Arthur Slade

Amber Fang studies to be a librarian with enthusiasm. In her spare time she plies her research skills to finding nefarious nearby targets – unrepentant murderers. Then she tracks and neutralizes them with detached precision. She is an enthusiastic student; a reluctant, obsessively ethical vampire; and a brilliant assassin. Her life is ordered and tidy but the research can be tedious. Socially she must keep to herself and discourage romantic entanglements. Also she has to relocate every few years – one can’t murder ALL of one’s nefarious neighbours without the local constabulary getting perturbed.

So, when Amber is offered an international assassination assignment of an infamous arms dealer (AKA unrepentant murderer) she accepts. Social exchanges longer than a few sentences ensue. An unconventional relationship blooms. Beautiful shoes are bought and lost. Amber’s interest in the world and curiosity about people is piqued. Amber Fang is courageous, clever, ethical, funny and Canadian (initially living in Montreal). There are a few Canadian jokes but there are a lot of librarian jokes. This book reads like the author was having a riot. Teenage and grown-up readers will too. I personally cannot wait for book two (Amber Fang: Betrayal) and three (Amber Fang: Revenge), both publishing in the Fall.    

Young Adult Fiction Paperback pr2690746

Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

Heroine is written in first person. Mickey Catalan – an elite catcher whose softball team is positioned to have an historic season – is injured in a car crash. Mickey’s doctors tell her she won’t be able to recover in time for the season. Mickey pushes herself to prove them wrong. She uses her Oxy-Contin pills to push herself harder. Then she uses more than her prescription dictates, to train, to deal with the pressure, to sleep, to get through her first day back at school, and suddenly the pills are gone. Mickey is an outstanding athlete and a role model. She’s a good student, poised to have her choice of scholarships – even though her family doesn’t need them. She doesn’t drink or smoke or lie to her parents or steal... until the pills are gone. She needs more pills to cover her withdrawal symptoms, to get through a game, and then another. She’ll get off the pills, when the season’s over. She just needs the pills to get to that point. Until then, she finds herself doing almost anything to acquire pills.

In the author’s note, McGinnis describes an eye surgery she had. She was given three Oxy-Contin pills to deal with her excruciating pain, as her eyes recovered. The first pill magically took away her pain. It also made her feel amazing. The next day, she looked forward to recapturing how the first pill made her feel. She took the second pill. It took away her pain but she did not feel amazing. Gone was the feeling of lightness and peace from the first pill. The same thing happened the third day with her last pill and so ended her experience with Oxy-Contin. Having read Heroine before the author’s note, I was extremely surprised to learn she’d never had an addiction. Mickey’s perspective is extremely compelling. Mickey is a heroine. If she can become an addict, anyone can.   

Young Adult Fiction Hardcover pr2692302

Love from A to Z by S. K. Ali

Zayneb wears a hijab. As such, she is singled out by one of her teachers. He presents articles, such as Girl Buried Alive in Honor Killing, and characterizes the people in them as “typical Muslims”. (To be clear... they are not. That would be like saying people in the IRA are typical Christians.) Zayneb is an exceptionally articulate, bright student. She’s also brave. Mostly, she counters his arguments with logic. On one occasion, she’s half finished writing a snarky note to a friend in this teacher’s class, and he grabs it. Out of context, it’s grounds for suspension. En route to her spring break – a week early - an adjacent plane passenger dislikes Zayneb on sight, presumably because of her hijab. Also because of her hijab, a cute guy recognizes her as a fellow Muslim and greets her in a traditional manner. This boy, Adam, becomes a recurring ray of sunshine, among negative experiences Zayneb is suffering. Conversely, Zayneb’s strength, honesty, and passion become bright spots as Adam confronts a difficulty. Their relationship grows as pressure for each of them builds. Their romance is subtle, sweet and gradual. Hardships shared are hardships halved. Zayneb and Adam are unlike any characters I’ve met. I encourage you to make their acquaintance and so I'll exclude all spoilers! If you enjoyed Ms. Ali’s Saints and Misfits, you will love this lighter, joyful novel.  

Young Adult Fiction Hardcover pr2750804 

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