Book Review: A Monster Calls

Oh my goodness, what to say about this book!

Firstly, I can say I loved it. And secondly, I can’t stop thinking about it.

This is actually a review of a specific edition…the newly released Special Collectors’ Edition and it is, in a word, stunning!

A Monster Calls was first published in 2011, but I only recently heard about it. I read a review on a blog I follow, and I was about to purchase a copy when the opportunity to get a review copy came up. It really seemed like it was meant to be 🙂

In anticipation of the upcoming motion picture release, the Special Collectors’ Edition combines the original novel with bonus material including interviews with Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones and Lewis MacDougall.

There is also additional material from Patrick Ness, Jim Kay and director J.A. Bayona.

The story behind the novel is as fascinating as the novel itself and I loved all the bonus material as well as learning more about Siobhan Dowd who drafted the original idea for this story but passed away before she could write it.

Drawing from Siobhan Dowd’s original idea and outline, Patrick Ness wrote A Monster Calls. Writing a book from another’s notes presented a daunting task and he worried about doing her idea justice. His goal with A Monster Calls was both to stay true to Siobhan’s original idea but not try to imitate her and instead write a story he felt she would enjoy.

I’m curious to read her books after learning more about her, and while I have no idea what type of book she would like, I feel A Monster Calls is a beautiful work and a moving tribute to her life.

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls: Special Collectors’ Edition (2016, Candlewick Press, Middle-Grade Magical Realism)


The monster arrives outside Conor’s window just after midnight. He’s just awoken from his nightmare, so he can’t possibly be dreaming, and this is definitely not the monster from his nightmares. That monster has tormented his dreams each night since his mother started her treatments, but now this new monster arrives and though it is huge and wild, Conor finds himself drawn to it. But the monster wants something from Conor. It wants something terrible and real, and Conor doesn’t want to give what the monster wants.

A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay, will draw the reader into Conor’s world with the very first line.

“The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.”

Patrick Ness writes beautifully, and every passage breathes magic. From the monster’s first words, to his last, he is a rich and developed character. This is magical realism at its best.

Conor is easy to relate to and sympathize with as he struggles with his mother’s illness. The interactions between him and the monster are moving, amusing, and at times heart breaking. Stubborn, willful, but at his core a very good child, the reader will suffer as Conor suffers.

There are not enough words to capture the magic felt while reading this book, and I think part of this feeling stems from the incredible illustrations. In this special edition, the illustrations are discussed in detail and I gained an even greater appreciation for the thought and time that went into the production of this work of art. For it truly is a masterpiece.  monster-calls-inside-page

I highly recommend reading this book, however I do not recommend reading it on an airplane, at the bus station, at work, ummm… pretty much anywhere you wouldn’t want to be observed having a good, ugly cry. Because if you read this book, that’s what will happen.

This edition would make a beautiful and treasured gift for any book lover in your life.

5 stars and more to fill the midnight sky

A Monster Calls. Patrick Ness.

The Movie


The movie released in Spain early in October, and in the U.S., a limited release of the movie is scheduled for sometime in December of this year.

The movie stars Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones and Lewis MacDougall. And the screenplay was written by Patrick Ness.


Thank you to Candlewick Press for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Reviews! Fantastic Picture Books

Can you believe there are only 38 days until Christmas?

I love Christmas so much and this year it’s even more fun because I have a blog where I can share books that would be perfect for….GIFTS!

I might be biased, but books are the best gifts 🙂

If you want to give your child the world, give them a book.

Is that an exaggeration? I think not.

I will be sharing lots of books leading into the gift-giving season and some books in particular that make good gifts (collector’s editions, activity books, etc.)

And today I have three new picture books to share with you. They are all fun but two of them are simply outstanding!

Happy Reading!

Also An Octopus (2016, Candlewick Press, Picture Book)


Every story starts with the same thing….nothing. But a story about nothing isn’t very interesting. A story can be about anything and what happens next is up to you!

In, Also An Octopus, written by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and illustrated by Benji Davies, an Octopus plays a ukulele and attempts to build a rocket ship, but that is not really what this story is about. This story is about writing and creating tales of your own. Breaking down the mechanics of writing a story through the adventure of an octopus, is a fantastically fun way to spark imagination and creativity in children (and adults). While this is a great book to share with children who may struggle with creating stories, this is also an instructive text for older children, teens, and even adults who might overthink the writing process. This whimsical book reminds us that stories can be about anything if you follow some basic guidelines, and that every story starts from something we all have…nothing.

Highly recommended for children of all ages and others who enjoy writing.

5 stars to start your next story

We Found A Hat (2016, Candlewick Press, Picture Book)


When two turtles find a hat they must try it on. The hat looks good on both of them, but there is only one hat. What is a turtle to do?

We Found A Hat, written and illustrated by Jon Klassen, is the third in his trilogy of picture books about animals with hats. Having not read the others, it can only be assumed they are as fantastic and funny as this book. With sparse text and expressive illustrations, We Found A Hat tells a surprisingly powerful story of friendship and sharing. Funny and clever, this book is everything a reader wants from a picture book, and made this reviewer laugh out loud. While the comedic value may be too subtle for very young readers, older readers and adults will enjoy this tale of two turtles.

Highly recommended for children and adults of all ages.

5 stars to put on your hat…or to share with all your friends.

The Bear Who Wasn’t There (2016, Roaring Brook Press, Picture Book)


Bear is missing! He’s supposed to be in this book, but no one has seen him. Will he ever show up? All the animals join in to help search for Bear.

The Bear Who Wasn’t There, written and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, is a playful text about a character who is missing from the book. This book is supposed to be about a bear, but he is nowhere to be found. With a cynical duck narrator, the book proceeds to scour a new location with each page turn, as duck searches for bear but finds every other animal instead. This format of storytelling has been done before, but it is still fun and children will love the style. With comedic illustrations and lots of dialogue bubbles, children will enjoy reading through this book on their own, and it is sure to get lots of giggles.

Recommended for children ages 5 to 8.

4 stars to whoever finds the bear.

Thank you to Candlewick Press and Roaring Brook Press for copies of these books in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday Special: Berenstain Bears Bedtime Devotional

The Berenstain Bears Bedtime Devotional


Once again, I get to review a fun Berenstain Bears book 🙂

Growing up with the Bear family makes me nostalgic every time I review one of these new books from Zonderkidz. I love that there is a whole new series of Bear stories that can be enjoyed by our youngest generation.

As you know from previous reviews, the new Berenstain Bears books have a Christian theme to them. The messages focus on love, kindness, working together, and solving disagreements. All the same messages the original books encouraged, but now with a Bible verse tied in.

The Bedtime Devotional book is a great compilation of 90 devotions to be shared with your child at bedtime. Each page includes a Bible verse, a short Bear family story or reflection, and a small prayer. Some pages also include a paragraph encouraging children to think about something in particular as they fall asleep. Accompanied by an illustration featuring the Berenstain Bears, this book is perfect for short attention spans and for a quick read before bed.

Bound in a small hardback format with an attached ribbon for book marking pages, the size and format is perfect for small hands.

The book opens with a longer bedtime prayer and then the book is divided into nine chapters, each with a specific focus. For example, in the “Be A Good Friend” chapter, each of the devotionals relates in some way to being a good friend to others. If your child has had a trying day, the chapters make it easy to locate a devotion that might resonate particularly well.

Overall, a beautiful book that would make a great gift for little ones.

Thank you to Book Look Bloggers and Zonderkidz for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Reviews!

I am so behind on book reviews.

I have been reviewing books for my column every week, but then the week gets away from me and those reviews don’t make it to the blog. Sad day.

Anyway, I am trying to play catch up by posting a several reviews in one post. This is like a giant food baby book review post. Your head might actually explode, or implode…I’m not really sure.

Also, I went to a writing conference last weekend and it was glorious! I met so many wonderful, wonderful people and I have been feeling INSPIRED!

That is a topic for another day. Today is about books! I did get some good books at the conference too 🙂

Mostly picture book reviews today with a chapter book thrown in. I saved my favorites for the end 🙂  I hope you find something you like or let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you thought.

Happy Reading!


Last-But-Not-Least Lola: Going Green (2013, Boyds Mills Press, Chapter Book)

Lola Zuckerman seems to come in last at everything. Her last name does start with a “Z” after all. But Lola is tired of being last and sets out to win her classroom’s Going Green contest. There’s just one problem, Amanda Anderson, her former best friend, is first in the alphabet and first in most other things. Lola needs to win the contest but she needs to beat Amanda to do it.

Last-But-Not-Least Lola: Going Green is the first in a new chapter book series written by Christine Pakkala and illustrated by Paul Hoppe. While the story is cute, Lola’s narration feels a bit immature for her being in second grade. The classroom contest is fun and might give readers some great ideas for going green in their own lives, but Lola comes across as a poor sport and even rude at times. The dynamics with her former friend leave Lola looking like the worst friend in the world, and I don’t know that readers will have much sympathy for her at times. The story does get better toward the end, and nearly redeems itself. While adults will likely not find Lola amusing, first and second grade readers might enjoy Lola’s antics. This would be a fun read for Earth Day or to tie in with some other activity or celebration about caring for the Earth.

3 stars for Lola’s going green idea.

Look for reviews of other books in this series coming soon!


Cat Knit (2016, Fiewel and Friends, Picture Book)

Cat and Girl have always been friends. Then Girl brings home Yarn and Cat has a new friend! Cat and Yarn do everything together but Girl wants to play with Yarn too. Cat doesn’t like this new friendship between Girl and Yarn. He just wants his Yarn back.

Cat Knit, written and illustrated by Jacob Grant, is a cute tale of friendship and change. The crayon and charcoal illustrations are lovely and help move the story forward. The story is absolutely charming until about three quarters of the way through, then the pace suddenly picks up and the story is over just as Cat decides maybe the new Yarn is okay. While the ending is satisfying, and the plot is both slightly predictable while also being clever, the change in pacing really throws off the whole feel of the story. Children will likely enjoy this story and it’s a fun winter tale, but adults may be left feeling a bit let down.

3 stars – one each for Cat and Yarn and Girl


The Night the Stars Went Out (2016, Capstone, Picture Book)

Alien has an important job. He must shine all the stars every night. His job is so important he never has time for fun, but that’s OK because Alien loves his job. Then one night, the unthinkable happens….all the stars go out! Alien tries everything he can think of but the stars stay out. How will Alien ever turn the stars back on?

The Night the Stars Went Out, written and illustrated by Suz Hughes, reiterates the message that all work and no play makes for a dull life. The tale starts out beautifully with the unique world of Alien polishing stars and hilariously trying to fix them, but then Alien leaves for Earth and the story loses a bit of its magic. The story wraps up a bit too neatly after such a brilliant set up and, while the ending is cute, the reader might feel a bit dissatisfied.

4 stars to keep Alien busy


The Quiet Book (2010, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Picture Book)

Whimsical animals quietly come together in this charming book as the reader learns there are many kinds of quiet.

In, The Quiet Book, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Renata Liwska, the reader goes on a wonderfully quiet journey through many everyday activities. With fun twists on kinds of “quiet” the reader will look at the world in a new way. From “Making a wish quiet” to “top of the roller coaster quiet”, adults and children will think of silent moments, and emotions, in new and fun descriptive terms. Brilliant and beautiful, this book is sure to be a favorite at bed time. Gorgeous illustrations add weight and charm to the clever text, creating a book that needs to be read again and again. Highly recommended for children of all ages.

5 stars hanging in the sky quiet


Solutions for Cold Feet and Other Little Problems (2016, Penguin Random House Canada, Picture Book)

A girl and her dog run into all sorts of problems as they go about their day. Luckily they have solutions too! Some solutions are better than others but as long as they are together they can handle cold feet and other little problems.

Solutions for Cold Feet and Other Little Problems, written and illustrated by Carey Sookocheff, is delivered in simple, short sentences and carried by the illustrations. The text is perfect for beginning readers to tackle alone, while the story is engaging enough for parents to enjoy reading it with their children too. This is a great read as winter approaches and the weather gets chilly. The story is soft and lovely, and will warm your heart and your feet.

5 stars to shine on a cold winter night


Books Do Not Have Wings (2016, Sleeping Bear Press, Picture Book)

A book is more than just a book…because books do not have wings. Take a wild ride where anything is possible and climb ladders into the clouds. Sail a ship, see a dragon, and fly high with your imagination. Where will this book take you?

Books Do Not Have Wings, written by Brynne Barnes and illustrated by Rogerio Coelho, is simply stunning in words and in pictures. The text of the story will carry the reader away on a magical journey made even greater by the fantastic and whimsical illustrations. With bold strokes and an incredibly imaginative flair, each spread of this book is breath-taking.

The premise of this book about books, is that a book is just a book until the reader picks it up. Once a book is read, it becomes so much more than just a book. Books are flat objects of paper and ink, but the stories on their pages have wings to carry the reader anywhere. And this book fulfills that promise and will carry the reader far.

Children and adults will linger on every page taking in the elaborate and intricate illustrations or reading the poetic lines again and again.

With nods to fairy tales and traditional characters, this book touches on a multitude of children’s literary staples. If any book could inspire a child to seek out other books, this one will.

5 beautiful, brilliant stars to light the reader’s way

Thank you to all the publishers for copies of these books in exchange for my honest review. Each of these reviews also appeared within my newspaper column sometime in the past month.

Throwback Thursday…in words

Hello all,

I finally gained access to some files from my old computer. I had backed them up properly but when I took the files from my external hard drive to my new computer, I didn’t have permission to access them. Sad day. After much hair pulling, googling, and trial and error, I have permission to view them again! Happy day!

And then I found all these old writing files with short stories, free writing, ramblings and such and I thought, maybe my blog is a place for these. I also found some old writings from high school, so that was fun 🙂

So to kick off what I hope might turn into a recurring event…here is my first Thursday Throwback to a story I wrote four or five years ago. I believe it was based off of a prompt I found online, and had to be under a certain word count, but I can’t say for certain. It’s not a piece I would normally write so it must have been a free writing exercise or something and I’m still conflicted about how I feel about it…anyhoo…here it is

Silence of the Rain

She expected no one to acknowledge her interruption. Feeble as it was. The assertion of a woman accustomed to being ignored. But however self-fulfilling this prophecy should have been, someone did notice.

“Do you have something to add, Mrs. Forsythe?”

She froze. A reply had not yet formed in her mind. So sure of her absolute insignificance, she had scarcely thought beyond her first tentative question. Slowly, heads turned and she was thrust to the forefront of everyone’s attentions. She felt a stirring in her breast, a jolt within her gut, and she was acutely aware of the sudden trembling in her hands. There was panic, but something more profound and unnerving alighted within her mind. She felt the blooming sensation of influence….of power.

The wave of anticipation swelled with each tortured second. Such a pressure she had never felt. Expectation…excitement that they believed she might provide something of interest and so opened themselves to her opinion.

These, who had gathered in support of women such as herself, were not only interested in her situation, or, more accurately, her previous situation, they seemed interested in her as an individual. To them, she was a person able to offer something of value, and with a voice worth hearing.

She had arrived in the darkest hour of night, when even nocturnal creatures dare not traipse about. Though haggard and lacking any physical possessions, save the dripping clothes on her tiny frame, they had welcomed her. The gentle smiles and engaging conversation appeared genuine, lacking the softened gaze of pity.

It was never called her new home or even a place for recovery. Always, it was the “Greenhouse,” a place to grow. A secluded haven and open forum with inspiring atmosphere and dialogue. And now, having lodged here for only ten nights and attending even fewer meetings, she was offered the floor.

Standing before them, she became more than a slight woman of thirty-five, disposed to averted gazes and mumbled apologies. She was not dull or lacking in capabilities envied in other women. For once she knew the curious looks were not appraising the fading bruise carefully concealed on her brow or the slow, shuffling way she walked.

Here was a chance to use her voice, so long silenced. And stand, though accustomed to crouching in shadow. A great weight settled upon her thin shoulders. It whispered in her ear of disillusioned dreams and a life of solitude. Surely these people knew more than she, women who had experienced far worse, women who were stronger, braver, and more eloquent. What could she offer that wasn’t already present in their minds?

But is that not why she had come here? As proof to herself that she was, in fact, capable of a life alone. And now, after only days, an audience sat at her disposal. They gazed at her with an interest he had never shown her…at least not in many years. Here an audience of strangers, or very nearly so, seemed enraptured by what she might profess.

Her tongue turned to stone. Her heart fluttered painfully, erratically within the cage of her defeated form. Words fought to tumble from her thinly set lips, but were not granted passage.

It would take but a shake of her head. Nothing more than a tremble, and the attention would shift. The meeting would continue.

She would be forgotten.

She could slip away and slink along the darkened streets. Following a path well known to her, she would cross beneath the white arbor and knock quietly at the door, clean and freshly painted. She would stand demurely, and gaze upon the daffodils she had planted last spring. She would not reach for her key. She would wait for him to grant her entrance…if he would take her back.

But no, she had fled that life, and no road she traveled this night would take her there by morning. Harshly she scolded herself for considering such an ill fated course. It was nothing more than a moment of doubt, fueled by her current uncharacteristic predicament, but extinguished by the room of understanding peers.

She flushed, embarrassed that her musings had caused an obvious pause while awaiting her reply. Only moments had passed, however, and none noticed her conflict.

In such unfamiliar surroundings, she knew not which would disappoint most, her words or her silence.

She breathed deeply, quieted the soft wavering of her form. And, with her gaze lifted, she spoke.