Book Review: Even Ninjas have Nightmares by J.C. Rouses

Even Ninjas have Nightmares is a picturebook by J.C. Rouses.When a young ninja is confronted by a monster that hides under his bed, the boy must battle his own fears in order to understand that even the strongest people can get scared sometimes. He denies his fears, and wakes the house in his fierce denial even as he wakes up with nightmares and scares. Finally our ninja admits those fears and realizes that not only is he not alone, but he can still be a brave ninja even if he has nightmares.
Even Ninjas have Nightmares is a picturebook that takes the common fears, and attempted denial of them, and shows young readers that it is okay to be afraid. It is the admission of fear and facing them, and helping others face their fears, that makes you brave. I love the illustrations and the repeated awakens of the young ninja. The artwork is a perfect pairing to the story and offer extra bits of humor and details to the larger story. I think my favorite part was the end when the ninja comforts and helps his little sister face her own fears and nightmares. I think that added a special value to the lesson and might help young readers with understanding and empathy if they do not have nightmare problems of their own.

Early Book Review: Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence

Star Scouts is a children's graphic novel by Mike Lawrence, and is currently scheduled for release on March 21 2017. Avani is the new kid in town, and she’s not happy about it. Everyone in school thinks she’s weird, especially the girls in her Flower Scouts troop. Is it so weird to think scouting should be about fun and adventure, not about makeovers and boys, boys, boys? But everything changes when Avani is “accidentally” abducted by a spunky alien named Mabel. Mabel is a scout too, a Star Scout. Collecting alien specimens (like Avani) goes with the territory, along with teleportation and jetpack racing. Avani might be weird, but in the Star Scouts she fits right in. If she can just survive Camp Andromeda, and keep her dad from discovering that she’s left planet Earth, she’s in for the adventure of a lifetime.

Star Scouts is a wonderful graphic novel about a young girl named Avani. She is not into boys and the popular music, she is different and stuck in the rut of wallowing in her unhappiness, so much so that she does not notice other peoples unhappiness. Then she meets Mabel and her group of Star Scouts she finds a great group of friends, and a fellow outsider in Mabel. They face challenges, including the classic battle with a bully in a fresh form, and find out a lot about themselves and friendship on the way. I think readers of all ages can empathize with Avani and Mabel, with the way they feel left out or not good enough. Even adults still face these feelings, and seeing others going through it in books and movies helps us all feel a little less odd. I also enjoyed the artwork very much. I think readers that will identify with the characters, and even those that feel more confident and comfortable in their own skin, can get a lot out of that part of the story. Oh, the adventure and danger portions of the story was awesome to, but I just identified so much with the emotional aspect that it is what stayed with me the longest. It was bright and colorful, and very detailed. 

Star Scouts is a well drawn comic about adventure, finding yourself, and friendship. I really enjoyed the book and think that it will hit the sweet spot with many readers. 

Book Review: Renegade Dragon by Lolita Lopez

Renegade Dragon is the fourth book in the Dragon Heat series by Lolita Lopez. I have read two of the three previous books, but think newcomers could enjoy the read without the full back story, but as always knowing a bit more of the mythology and about the main players always helps. The previous books are Dead Sexy Dragon, Red Hot Dragon, and Wicked Dark Dragon

When her best friend goes missing during Spring Break, bio-engineering student Eris Jones refuses to believe Ivy is dead and follows the trail of clues to a mysterious, secluded estate. Locked away in the lair beneath his home, dragon shifter Niko Drakon suffers terribly from a massive overdose of a synthetic drug that forces his body into the mating heat. When her sweet, alluring scent hits him, Niko's dragon overtakes him and he breaks free from his bonds. Captured by the snarling, winged creature, Eris thinks she must be hallucinating when her touch transforms him into a human male-a dangerously sexy and highly seductive male. After one taste of Eris, Niko realizes a single week will never be enough. He wants her forever by his side and in his bed. But convincing the human to take a chance on a dragon won't be easy and suddenly Niko is faced with the hardest choice in his centuries of life.

Renegade Dragon is a high action, and entertaining read. I like that Eris an independent, smart woman. I did not like her immediate acceptance to Nico and all the weird that goes along with having eaten a mythical apple and being chased down by a dragon slash man after having broken into his house in search of her missing best friend. Yes, mates and pheromones, and mystical whatever, but there was no real adjustment or freaking out, or anything. she just kind of goes with it even after all hell breaks loose. That always bothers me. Not that I want a woman (or man for that matter) to freak out and get hysterical, but some actual concerns or safety attempts might be a better option than sleeping with the random dragon guy. Just saying. Niko is a good guy, a bit one dimensional but it has been so long since I have read anything from the series that I have forgotten any previous knowledge of his character and why he had himself locked in a dungeon while pumped full of a synthetic drug that strengthened his urge to mate- which strikes me as a really bad idea-  but I am reasonably certain there must have been a reason. Once you get past logic and desire to survive, the story is a lot of fun. It is high action, with some high drama moments. The inclusion of a bit of mythology was fun, and I liked the touch of science as well. A good read for staying warm on a snow day, which is when I read it.

Renegade Dragon is a good paranormal romance, but the insta-love and acceptance that is so important in getting mates together her, and the shrugging off all the weird is what makes the series less than perfect for me. Great for a hot weekend read, but not a series that I would hunt down or re read. 

Book Review: Courting the Countess by Jenny Frame

Courting the Countess by Jenny Frame is a contemporary romance. Professor of Archeology Henrietta “Harry” Knight becomes Countess of Axedale upon her father’s death and takes a sabbatical from Cambridge University to begin refurbishing the long-neglected and run-down Axedale Hall. The child of a loveless marriage, witness to her father’s infidelities and her mother’s pain, Harry has no intention of ever falling in love. Annie Brannigan is a survivor, remaining positive through hardships. As an agency housekeeper, she moves from post to post with her daughter Riley, taking care of people who have everything she will never have. Annie’s greatest wish is to find her happy ever after. Can love restore the countess’s heart and the crumbling Axedale Hall, or will the first foundations of love turn to dust?

Courting the Countess is a realistic, contemporary romance novel. I will admit that it took me a bit to get into the story, and to decide that it was contemporary. The use of Countess and the responsibilities of such a role in modern times was unusual for me. I liked the character building and thought Harry was a well defined, fairly realistic character. I really loved Anne's character- and the tension between the two. I did enjoy the relationship that grew between Harry and Anne's daughter, and felt like that was one of the things that helped Harry the most, and was just solid story writing. I think there was a lot more build up than there was actual movement in the relationship between Harry and Anne, and I know that most of it was necessary to impart the growth that Harry had to make and to reveal the unhappy past for Anne, but there were moments where I just wanted to hit fast forward and get to a confrontation, realization, or conversation that would significantly move things along. It did happen, it just took longer than I wanted. Some of this was my own impatience rather than somethi9ng wrong with the book- it just was not the kind of read I was looking for at the moment. It all came together well, but it was just a little slower paced than I was looking for. However, I can think of many readers that would absolutely love the story and writing style.

Courting the Countess is a solid story, with well defined characters and an interesting premise. My main complaint is that there was more of the characters worrying to them selves and other people talking about them than there was actual conflict or action between them. However, the characters were portrayed realistically, which can atone for many faults.

Book Review: Lord Sebastian's Secret by Jane Ashford

Lord Sebastian's Secret is the third book in the Duke’s Sons historical romance series by Jane Ashford. I have not read the previous books, which might explain some of the issues I had with the book, but perhaps not.
Lord Sebastian Gresham is a battle-tested soldier and brilliant strategist. Yet all his life he’s had to hide his complete failure to decipher letters. In his own mind, he’s just stupid. What a miracle it is that he’s found the perfect bride. Lady Georgina Stane is beautiful, witty, and brilliantly intelligent. Sebastian is head over heels in love, proud as a peacock, and terrified. If she finds out his secret, will he lose her love forever?

Lord Sebastian's Secret begins with Sebastian coming to stay with his fiancee's family to get to know them and prep for the wedding. Perhaps their meeting and initial courtship was in one of the previous books, but it is not here. I feel like I was missing something, or the pair was missing a real connection, when the action began. I like that Georgiana's family is unorthodox, however I think that was occasionally overstated in the narrative. Sebastian is a practical man, a soldier with what would be dubbed street smarts and an ability to memorize things because of his secret. As usual, the internal doubt of worthiness that could be solved with a conversation is the cause of a distance between the pair- but since I never really believed in their closeness I just kept mentally telling him to speak up. I did like the bit of action and activity at the end, but found that I never really connected to the characters or felt like they connected to each other. I do not plan on going back to read the previous books in hopes to catch up to what I missed.

Lord Sebastian's Secret held a lot of promise to me, and I was excited to read it after reading the blurb. Unfortunately, I felt that too much background was missing and the bulk of the book somehow also had me wishing it would get to the point. So much potential, but I feel like it missed the mark for the most part.

Early Book Review: The Fearless Traveler’s Guide to Wicked Places by Peter Begler

The Fearless Traveler’s Guide to Wicked Places by Peter Begler is a middle grade novel currently scheduled for release in March of 2017. Twelve-year-old Nell Perkins knows there is magic at work that she can’t yet understand. Her mother has been taken by witches and turned into a bird. Nell must journey to get her mother back, even if it takes her deep into the Wicked Places, the frightening realm where Nightmares resides. There she must break the spell and stop the witches from turning our world into a living nightmare.

The Fearless Traveler’s Guide to Wicked Places has a wonderful concept with a consistent amount of fantasy and imagination woven through the tale. The concept of the two realms and the threat the witches pose to all were very well done. I liked the characters of Nell and her brothers, as well as the complexity of the set up and major players. I thought the characters were complex enough not to fall flat, but the sheer volume of craziness happening and the danger brewing go to be a little overwhelming at times. I was often flipping pages eagerly and holding my breath, but I feel like I lost steam part way through. The magic and world building felt complete, and the information shared at a good pace, so that there was a limited amount of that information dump feel. A good pick for a middle grade reader looking for a complex fantasy with a good combination of adventure and coming of age. Nell's growth and self awareness was one of my favorite parts of the story, although the family relationships were another high point as far as I am concerned.

The Fearless Traveler’s Guide to Wicked Places was an interesting and entertaining read. I found it to be a great idea, but a bit long for my current reading mood. 

Book Review: Not Quite a Narwhal by Jessie Sima

Not Quite a Narwhal by Jessie Sima is a picturebook about being different. Growing up in the ocean, Kelp has always assumed that he was a narwhal like the rest of his family. Sure, he’s always been a little bit different—his tusk isn’t as long, he’s not as good of a swimmer, and he really doesn’t enjoy the cuisine. Then one night, an extra strong current sweeps Kelp to the surface, where he spots a mysterious creature that looks just like him! Kelp discovers that he and the creature are actually unicorns. The revelation leaves him torn: is he a land narwhal or a sea unicorn? But perhaps, if Kelp is clever, he may find a way to have the best of both worlds.

Not Quite a Narwhal is a fun, delightful picturebook. A young unicorn raised by Narwhals, never quite as good of a swimmer as his family. When he finds unicorns and discovers the joys of land and their culture. Having two groups of people that are kind of like you, and love you, but are a little different is something many children experience. Kelp's discover of how not fitting in well in either place can led to two group of people to love and enjoy. This story will resonate with readers of all ages that have felt too different or stuck between worlds. This will also help children facing family changes and a whole host of challenges that  they might have to face. It is also a fun and sweet book that everyone can enjoy. 

Book Review: White Christmas by Rebecca York

White Christmas by Rebecca York is a novella with paranormal; aspects and abundant holiday cheer. The snow is coming down so fast, Amelia Parsons doesn't see the speeding car until it's too late. One moment she’s crossing an ice-rutted street in St. Stephens, Maryland. In the next, she's flying into the air, and the world goes black. She wakes, confused, in what appears to be Santa’s workshop during the holiday rush. If that’s not strange enough, a hunky FBI agent named Daniel is there, demanding to know why she’s involved in a plot to ruin Christmas. Can she convince him she's not the villain and then work with him to find the real saboteur?

White Christmas is a short story, which means need to happen quickly. Amelia is not allowed to freak about about the existence of Santa and all the trappings when she wakes up in the North Pole after getting hit by a car. The mystery of who is sabotaging the workshop is dealt with fairly quickly- though the why is never really answered for me. Similarly how Daniel ended up on assignment there, and how Amelia lands there, and how things all come together in the end, are equally glossed over. Sadly I felt like the attraction between Amelia and Daniel was weak, and their coming together did not feel real or right to me. I don't know. I was prepared to really love it, even if I waited to after Christmas to get around to it, but it was not what I was looking for. I expect much more character and relationship development from York, even in a novella.

Book Review: It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot

It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot explores the highs and lows of modern life through the sharp, dark wit of Ruby Elliot—creator of the massively popular Tumblr account, Rubyetc, which has over 210k followers and growing. Ruby’s simple drawings of not-so-simple issues capture the humor and melancholy of everyday life. Her comics appeal to both new adults who are beginning to explore these subjects and to battle-tested veterans of the daily struggles of life with mental illness. It’s All Absolutely Fine is an honest and unapologetic account of day-to-day life as a groaning, crying, laughing sentient potato being for whom things are often absolutely not fine. Through simple, humorous drawings and a few short narratives, the book encompasses everything from mood disorders, anxiety, and issues with body image through to existential conversations with dogs and some unusually articulate birds. Through the drawings, the reader is shown that it is okay to struggle, and that it is okay to talk about struggling, to not undermine oneself by yelling ‘it’s fine’ when it isn’t, and while all this is going on to know that it is absolutely possible to hold on to hope, and of course humor. 
It’s All Absolutely Fine is a collection of art and words that can shown readers that they are not alone. Anyone dealing with anxiety, feeling lost or alone, or battling any mental illness can find bits of their struggle on these pages while offering support and encouragement to keep on moving forward. I found the read made me smile, cry, and feel more empowered in dealing with the world around me and moving toward the future. Fans of Rubyetc's huge online presence will find more of what they love here, and I think the book will foster new fans as well.

Book Review: Scooby Apocalypse Vol. 1 by Keith Griffen, Jim Lee, Howard Potter

Scooby Apocalypse Vol. 1 collects issues 1-6 of a graphic novel by Keith Griffen, Jim Lee, and Howard Potter.  Fred. Daphne. Velma. Shaggy. Scooby-Doo. Roaming the globe in their lime-green Mystery Machine, they've solved countless crimes and debunked dozens of sketchy supernatural shenanigans. But what if the horror was real? Something terrible has transformed our world, turning millions of people into mindless zombie hordes. And only five people well, four people and one mangy mutt have the smarts, the skills and the sheer crazy courage to stare down doomsday.  Can these pesky kids and their canine companion using every incredible contraption in their arsenal defeat the evil that has overwhelmed planet Earth? 

Scooby Apocalypse is a complete new look and origin story for the Scooby gang. I have seen so many different takes, that I was fine with that. I liked that the story started completely fresh, and that it is much more complex than what most expect from Scooby and friends. I liked the use of Daphne's television show and connection with Fred, which has been a tool in previous incarnations- but not to this degree, and not without the rest of the crew already connecting. I liked the twists on Shaggy and Scooby as well, making them more than the comic relief that they often get used for. Shaggy is a much more complicated and compassionate character than I was used to, and not nearly as goofy. Velma is also much more defined in this story, I do not think I ever got more of a backstory for her than her being very smart and isolated- here readers get a multidimensional look at her. The action and story lines are unique and very well done. I will admit that it took me a bit to get used to the gangs new look, and I still wonder why Daphne and Fred still insist on wearing those scarves. I think that the harsh lines and dramatic look are very suited to the story, even if it is not my normal preference.

I will definitely be looking for the second volume of Scooby Apocalypse. I am honestly intrigued and want to see where this is going. I have a feeling that I will be buying the full run and saving it for my son. He is a huge Scooby fan, but is not quite ready for this version. However, he is really close so I am pretty sure that when the run is complete he will be ready for dive on in.