Book Review: The Cranky Ballerina by Elise Gravel

The Cranky Ballerina is a picturebook written and illustrated by Elise Gravel. Ada hates everything about ballet class, yet she still has to go! Then one Saturday, Ada pliĆ©s right out the door and into the hallway, smacking into someone who thinks her ungraceful moves are great! Her mistake might just lead to a wonderful new adventure for Ada.

The Cranky Ballerina is another winner from Gravel. The illustrations are wonderful, and the thought bubbles keep the flow and energy of the book at a constant level. Ada is an energetic and plucky young girl who wants to go her own way. she does not like ballet, and does not feel like she is good at it despite the rehearsals she is dragged to. I like that Ada dislikes ballet, not because of what it is, but because she just does not feel like it is right for her. She pits in an honest effort, and it just does not click with her. when she stumbles into the perfect solution I was delighted on several levels. I like that her new activity is not necessarily a 'girl' activity, but something that she takes to right away with no thought to gender roles. i have to admit that I see a bt of myself, and my daughter, in Ada's stubbornness and love for something other than what is the suggested activity for her.

The Cranky Ballerina offers readers a book in which the author clearly understands how her youngest readers feel, and offers them understanding and support through fun books that just might help their adults understand them a little bit better as well, and remember how they felt when they were younger themselves.

Early Book Review: The Fairy’s Assistant by Sasha L. Miller

The Fairy’s Assistant by Sasha L. Miller is currently scheduled for release on November 2 1016. Hayden typically enjoys his life, he gets to travel, he has a fairy in his pocket, and he helps her bring happiness to people who would otherwise go overlooked and continue suffering. The only problem is that magic is illegal and there's a certain stubborn, handsome knight determined to prove that Hayden deserves to be locked up. Between dodging the stubborn knight and the odious nobles he's currently working for, helping his fairy get a woman to a ball is going to be more difficult than their missions usually are.

The Fairy’s Assistant is a fun twist on the Cinderella style fairy tale. It started a little slow for me, but quickly captured and held my interest. Hayden is an all-around good guy. He is not afraid of hard work, does his best to stay out of trouble, and does everything he can to help the fairy Lily help others- even though he cannot understand a word she says. Sir Sydney, a very determined knight of the realm is on his trail in search of illegal magic users. Hayden gets a sable hand job in order to assist Lily's plan to help a woman named Renee find happiness. Everything is more than it seems, and so are the characters. I liked the personalities and depth of the characters, and the way that the romances happened very naturally, and if I was unaware of the LGBTQ label on the description I might have guessed the final pairings of differently. The major wins here were the complexity of the plot twists and the well written characters. The one thing I think I was missing was some world building. I wanted a little bit more information about the why's of magic being illegal and so on. However, the story over rode those issues enough that I was still a happy reader.

The Fairy’s Assistant is a wonderful novel, that I enjoyed more than I was expecting after a slow start. I am inspired to read more by the author, and hope that this world is revisited in other books they have either already written or that are yet to come. miller has a new fan. 

Book Review: Storm Watcher by Maria V. Snyder

Storm Watcher by Maria V. Snyder is a middle grade novel. It was published back in 2013, and I am not sure how I missed it since she is one of my favorite authors. I am beyond thrilled that it came to Netgalley recently for me to find!

Luke Riley is lost. His mother's recent death has set Luke and his family adrift. Even though his father, twin brothers, and their three Bloodhounds are search and rescue volunteers, they have been unable to rescue themselves and become a family again. The summer after sixth grade looms in Luke's mind as a long, lonely three months where the only thing he can look forward to is watching The Weather Channel. Luke is fascinated with the weather, but since his mother's death in a storm, he is also terrified. Even the promised 13th birthday present of a Bloodhound puppy fails to lift Luke's spirits. He would rather have a different breed - a petite Papillon, but his father insists he get a Bloodhound. When Luke decides to get the Bloodhound from Willajean, a dog breeder who owns Storm Watcher Kennel, he works out a deal to help at her kennel in exchange for the expensive dog. Thrilled to have a summer with a purpose, Luke befriends Willajean's daughter, Megan and together they plan how Luke can get a Papillon puppy instead of a Bloodhound. But nothing seems to work as they struggle with stubborn fathers, summer storms, unhelpful siblings, and hidden guilt. Can one little white dog really save both families?

Storm Watcher is a wonderful realist fiction novel that imparts all sorts of lessons without ever feeling preachy- a tough balance to hit. Luke is struggling to come to terms with the loss of his mother, and the related guilt he feels about her death. He loves his family’s dogs, but wants something a little different and will do just about anything to make it happen. He works at a nearby dog breeders to earn his puppy- though weather he gets the dog he wants or the bloodhound his father insists on is up for debate. Responsibility and perseverance are the name of the game as he works his way through the summer. Willajean and Luke’s father might not always seem nice, but through the story even when you disagree with their stance or actions you can tell they really care and are trying to do the right thing. All of the characters have moments of good and bad, including Luke and Wiglsjean’s daughter Megan. The complex and growing characters make everything so real that I was really engaged in their story, and still am long after finishing the book. The layer’s of Luke’s thoughts and fears bring everything home, his fear and fascination of the weather, his guilt and sadness in the loss of his mother, and his struggles relating to what is left of his family and the community he had pulled away from. Even when you think you know what another character is thinking, or how something must turn out, there are still some surprises and so much heart to this book that it stays with the reader.

Storm Watcher is a wonderful story about family, lose, and finding what really matters. Issues of guilt and fear are dealt with and can help children understand what others might be going through, and that they are not alone. Heartwarming, and heart wrenching, it brought tears to this stoic reader’s eyes.

Book Review: Isis Orb (Xanth) by Piers Anthony

Isis Orb is the 40th! novel in the Xanth series by Piers Anthony. While I read this series like candy in the 1990’s, I have not read one in a long time, and can attest to the fact that some things are carried over across the entire series, each book can be enjoyed on its own as well.

In Xanth, everyone has a talent. But that does not mean everyone loves his talent, and no one understands that better than Hapless. Endowed with the ability to conjure any instrument he wants, Hapless could be an extraordinary musician if only he could play a tune that did not fall ear-piercingly flat. His one desire is to find an instrument he can play and maybe a girlfriend or three. But like music, women have never been his forte. When the Good Magician hears about Hapless's desperate desire, he sends the young man on a quest to find the elusive Isis Orb, a magical talisman that could fulfill his wish. But the mysterious Egyptian goddess for whom the orb is named guards the enchanted object and won t let anyone see it let alone use it. Setting out to achieve the impossible, Hapless meets an eclectic mix of creatures that join him on his journey. Like the musically challenged Hapless, they all have wishes they hope the Isis Orb will grant. But the only way they can control the orb is to capture the five totems from the regions of Xanth: Fire, Earth, Air, Water, and the Void. Together, this motley crew will heroically fight dragons, a six-headed griffin, and even a beautiful, seductive water gorgon who tries to rain on Hapless's parade.

Isis Orb is a good addition to the Xanth series. The puns and power of cleverness and hard work over power and greed runs as strong here as it did in the books I fondly remember reader. The characters are complex and well developed, even those we only see for a chapter or so. I like the idea of the stubborn and transparent Hapless leading the way. The puzzles, quest, and personality conflicts are very entertaining and kept the story moving while keeping the reader thinking. The collection of companions and the challenges they face were unique and well done, but after awhile the puns and word play (the point of the series) did begin to wear a little thin. I was surprised with a few twists, but the majority of enjoyment I got from the book was from the characters (particularly Hapless) and the interplay between the main players.

I think fans of the series will enjoy Isis Orb, and those that enjoy wordplay and logic puzzles will particularly enjoy it. I do have to admit that the book did not hold up to my remembered love of the series. This could be because my tastes have changed, because after 40 books even the brilliant Piers Anthony can fade a little, or because of a number of other reasons.

Book Review: You Belong to Me by Mamoru Suzuki

You Belong to Me by Mamoru Suzuki is a picturebook about the love between parents and their children, including human and animal families. The text is simple, showing examples of the care and protection parents offer their young. The illustrations are simple and cute, and when combined with the repetitive text make for a basic but enjoyable bedtime story.

 You Belong to Me is not a new idea, or done with any illustrations or idea that wowed me or broke the mold. It is sweet and simple, but an idea that has been done before. There is nothing wrong with the book. it is adequate, but it just does not stand out for me. I thought it was just nice, not anything that makes me think it will be a requested repeat.

Book Review: Meet My Best Friend by Shelia Walsh, Sarah Horne

Meet My Best Friend is a picturebook written by Shelia Walsh and illustrated Sarah Horne. The McDougal twins are excited to meet their new neighbor, Abby, who has just moved in next door. Poor Abby is sad that she had to leave her friends behind when she moved. To cheer her up, the twins lead Abby on a crazy hunt to meet their best friend, one that can go anywhere they go. But first Abby has to find it!

Meet My Best Friend starts off fairly well, with Abby trying to find her place in a new home and dealing with leaving behind her friends and everything familiar. The McDougal twins want to help her, and want to be friends. So far so good, with decent illustrations that are reminiscent of Dr. Suess and text. I like the idea so far, and it seems like it is going to be a sweet book. Then the twins take Abby on a wild game of hide and seek in search of their best friend. I like that they want to play with Abby and become her friend. That is good. Then the twins announce that their best friend is the bible. Silly me, I was expecting a pet or maybe even a tree or other more earthly answer. The bible is a book, an object. while I have loved and appreciated books, and escaped into them when the world is less than hospitable, it is not a friend. I would have had less of an issue if they had claimed God, Jesus, or any other religious figure rather than the bible. It just rubbed me the wrong way on several levels.

I was not paying attention when requesting the book, because I normally do not read religious fiction. Totally my fault for not looking, but I tend to get easily annoyed at books that push an agenda, any agenda, even one I might personally agree with. I am a practicing christian, but often find religious fiction to be too heavy handed to be realistic or enjoyable to read. This happened as soon as the twins announce that the bible is their best friend. I think this might be a good read in a Sunday School setting, or in a very religious household. I just found it over the top and a little unrealistic. For those that are looking for this style of book, I have discovered that this in the first in a series titled, The Bible Is My Best Friend.

Book Review: The Marvelous Magic of Miss Mabel by Natasha Lowe

The Marvelous Magic of Miss Mabel by Natasha Lowe is a middle grade novel. It is the third book in the Power of Poppy Pendle series. While I have not read any of the previous books, I think that each must stand well on its own, because I was not even aware that is was part of a series until I went to Goodreads to get a cover image for this review.

The morning Nora Ratcliff finds a baby in the flowerpot on her front steps her life changes forever. She had always wanted a child, but after her husband passed away, Nora never thought she would have one, but her flowerpot child was a miracle and she decided to name her Mabel. As Mabel grew up, she showed a distinct talent for magic. When Mabel is accepted to the prestigious witch school, Ruthersfield Academy, she excels at the magic curriculum but is constantly in trouble for experimenting and inventing her own potions. One day she is asked to write a paper on her magical roots and discovers the truth about her birth after a mean classmate blurts out what everyone seems to know except Mabel. Mabel is shocked but the revelation does explain a lot. In rebellion, Mabel changes her name to Magnolia and tries to understand why she was left in the flowerpot and who her birth family might be. Will Mabel find the answers she’s looking for—or will she discover that families are people who love each other and look after each other and that’s most important of all.

The Marvelous Magic of Miss Mabel is not quite what I expected. Based on the cover (I know) and he blurb I was expecting a fun, magical romp with some emotional conflict about Mabel’s origins. I did get all of the elements, but not in the way I was prepared for. Mabel certainly has some adventures, but fun and some a little more dangerous. She has a curious and adventurous spirit, as in the case of any  inquisitive soul knows, will get you into all kinds of mischief. However, the story also dove into how Nora felt, gender roles, empathy, bullying, and so much more. I loved Mabel’s desire for more, and for trying new things. I found her character, and the majority of other characters, to be more complex than one might think at first glance. Once Mabel’s adventures really started at the school I was deeply involved in the book. However, I feel like it took some time to build up steam. Although, I did like that the author offered readers information on what happened after the story to most of the characters. That was an unexpected bit of closure that I often wish for. 

The Marvelous Magic of Miss Mabel left me with mixed feelings. I really enjoyed parts of the book and the themes in it, however, when it was over it felt a little lacking to me. Although, I think this is because of my expectations of constant madcap adventures rather than a blend that included more serious ideas than I was prepared for.  

Early Book Review: Cast in Flight (Chronicles of Elantra) by Michelle Sagara

Cast in Flight is the twelfth book in the Chronicles of Elantra series by Michelle Sagara. It is currently scheduled for release on October 26 2016. This is a series that you need to read in order, because the amount of world building and character work that has happened thus far would leave newcomers more than a little lost. However, I do highly recommend this series, with the knowledge that thus far (12 books in) quality has not diminished at all. In my opinion, each book only gets better.

Private Kaylin Neya already has Dragons and Barrani as roommates. Adding one injured, flightless Aerian to her household should be trivial. Sure, the Aerian is Sergeant Moran dar Carafel, but Kaylin’s own sergeant is a Leontine, the definition of growly and fanged. She can handle one Aerian. But when a walk to the Halls of Law becomes a street-shattering magical assassination attempt on the sergeant, Kaylin discovers that it’s not the guest who’s going to be the problem: it’s all of the people who suddenly want Moran dar Carafel dead. And though Moran refuses to tell her why she’s being targeted, Kaylin is determined to discover her secret and protect her at all costs, even if keeping Moran safe means dealing with Aerian politics, angry dragons and something far more sinister.

Cast in Flight offers fans of the series a better look at a number of long standing characters that have not gotten much time previously. We get to learn so much about Moran, more about both the dragons and newly returned Barrani. Again we get to see Kaylin grown, and she puzzles through the connections and politics in a way that brings readers along for the ride without making her appear stupid, or readers feel foolish for not understanding. I love the self deprecating humor and her ability to admit and work on her failings and lack of understanding through the book, and the series in general. My only issue with the book, and the series in general, is that the crisis keep getting bigger and more complicated. I want to see where it will all lead and fully expect that in one of these book to see a huge coming together of all these past problems, and the ripples the left behind, and have a huge grand conclusion. I am both eager for it, because I am so curious, and dreading it because that would mean the story that I have loved so much will be over.

Cast in Flight is another fantastic addition to the series. Do not start reading here, go to the very beginning with Cast in Shadow and make your way through the entire series. The world and character building is complex, and you honestly need the entire picture to fully enjoy the series. It is well worth the effort if you like fantasy with complex characters and conflicts. 

Book Review: The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman is a middle grade novel. When twelve-year-old Nick runs away from his uncle’s in the middle of a blizzard, he stumbles onto a very opinionated bookstore. He also meets its guardian, the self-proclaimed Evil Wizard Smallbone, who calls Nick his apprentice and won’t let him leave, but won’t teach him magic, either. It’s a good thing the bookstore takes Nick’s magical education in hand, because Smallbone’s nemesis—the Evil Wizard Fidelou—and his pack of shape-shifting bikers are howling at the borders. Smallbone might call himself evil, but compared to Fidelou, he’s practically a puppy. And he can’t handle Fidelou alone. 

The Evil Wizard Smallbone has complex characters and situations that kept me guessing for a bit, even with the amount of science fiction, fantasy, and mythology i have read. Nick has finally escaped a abusive house only to stumble into the care of the evil wizard Smallbone. He is made an apprentice and put to work doing all the menial tasks you might expect. However, there is much more the the wizard he works for than any might expect. the small town he lords over, and all its inhabitants are in his debt- but no one remembers why. Secrets and magic at at the heart of it all- including the wolves, coyotes, and bikers that want to destroy it all. Nick is not a simple boy, nor is Smallbones a simple wizard. They are much more than the stereotypical figures one might expect after the classic set up, and the other characters that play large roles in the excitement are all multidimensional as well. This includes the villagers, the bad guys, and even the pets and farm animals kept by Smallbones. I enjoyed the use of several creatures and ideas from mythology and fairy tales were used with different twists than normally seen. I also liked that I was genuinely surprised at a twist or two, but even when I expected an outcome it was done in a way that was completely enjoyable and worth the read.

The Evil Wizard Smallbone was so much more than I expected. The time between requesting a book from Netgalley and me reading it is sometimes long enough that I remember nothing of the initial blurb when I start to read, and this was the case here. I was very happy to discover a middle grade novel with complex characters, plot twists, and adventure. I can think of many readers, including reluctant readers that I will gladly recommend it too. I was so impressed with the character and world building that I am not ready to let go of this story at all. I am inspired to go back and read the previous books by the author. 

Book Review: Benched by Abigail Graham

Benched by Abigail Graham is a contemporary romance. Mr. Right has never been so wrong. 
Phoebe is a single mom and a cop. When some arrogant superstar thinks he can speed through my town and smirk and charm his way out of a ticket, he’s wrong. She wrote the ticket and impounded his car. Alex is the football superstar in question, while he hates being stuck in the small town, it does not stop him from flirting with Phoebe every chance he gets. As if strutting around in boxers with his abs and chest on display is enough to make me forget his snide comments and wisecracks. That would make a great story, bagging the cop that gave him the ticket- but Phoebe does not have time to fool around.  The closer we get, the more she thinks she misjudged him. Somewhere beneath that arrogant smirk is a good man, maybe even the right man, but her past threatens to shatter them both.

Benched is a fun combination of bad boy makes good and bad girl gone straight. Phoebe is doing her best, she fights to be respected as the only female officer in a small town while raising her daughter on her own. Alex is a football star that is getting sick of the life but is being pushed by his management to beat the charge and keep playing despite his willingness to take the consequences of his actions. When Alex rents the house right next to Phoebe's, life gets more interesting and complicated. They each have issues to work out, and are thrown together in unexpected ways. I liked the way the love/hate relationship between Phoebe and Alex changed and grew. I like that neither are exactly what you expect as the book opens, and only become more interesting as the story progresses. I really liked Alex as a character, and the way he is a nurture under his bad boy shell really endeared himself to me. I also liked the twists that were tossed in for additional drama, but did not feel like they were actually needed. The emotional rollercoaster of real life might have been enough. The only thing that bothered me as I read was Phoebe's daughter, her actions and reactions seemed much older than the 5 to 6 year old that she is described to be. I understand that some kids are more mature than others, and that life sometimes makes children older than their years, but she just seemed to be closer to 10 than her described age.

Benched is a fast, fun read with plenty of feels and hot moments. Great read for a chilly night curled up on the couch with your hot beverage of choice.