Book Review: Schooling the Viscount by Maggie Robinson

Schooling the Viscount by Maggie Robinson is the first book in the Cotswold Confidential series. Captain Lord Henry Challoner is a young viscount who’s left his ambition on the plains of South Africa. Wounded in the First Boer War, he’s come home and wishes he were anywhere else, until his desperate father sends him to Puddling-on-the-Wold to rusticate and recalibrate. How can Henry have any fun without any alcohol, or worse yet, any women? Kept under house arrest under the watchful eye of his draconian housekeeper and earnest local vicar, he’s bored enough to begin speaking to sheep until he literally stumbles across schoolteacher Rachel Everett. Rachel knows she’s not on Henry’s improvement plan, but can’t seem to avoid or repel him no matter what she does to keep him at arm’s length. Could it be that she quite enjoys being in his arms, even if it’s against all the Puddling Rehabilitation Rules? Can Rachel circumvent the town fathers and Henry escape his personal jailers and demons.

Schooling the Viscount is a historical romance that takes a route different than any I have read before, which was a nice change. However, I found the set up to be a little too contrived. Not that I doubt titled families doing this sort of thing to each other, whether out of caring and concern or less honorable reasons nor do I doubt that people (even today) would be willing to make a dollar from this sort of enterprise. It just seemed a little much to me, although some of that was because this as the first book in a new series, and there needed to be some groundwork laid down. I did like Rachel's character for the most part, but hated to see her simpering and whatnot to the town's leaders. I also liked that Henry's troubles were realistic, and that he was just as upset with the way Rachel was treated and so on as I was. I did like the romance portion of the story, although some moments seemed a little off in the grand scheme of things. I also liked Henry's perspective and how he grew as a person, his reactions and thoughts were on point, and occasionally highly entertaining.

Schooling the Viscount was an interesting read, and I greatly enjoyed some of it, but was a little put off by other moments. It balanced out to be a good, but not wonderful read. Perhaps I will pick up the next in the series to see if it is better, but I will not be seeking it out. 

Book Review: Nick Newton is not a Genius by S.E.M. Ishida

Nick Newton is not a Genius by S.E.M. Ishida is a children's book about a boy from a family of geniuses. Nick is not a genius, he is a merely average boy from the country of Thauma. He may not be brilliant like his mom and dad or a child prodigy like his sister, but he won’t let that stop him from uncovering the mysteries of a clockwork factory or revealing a war hero’s greatest secret. With help from two new friends and his butler named Jude, Nick embarks on an adventure that will change his life forever.
Nick Newton is not a Genius is a good story about Nick Newton, trying to live up to his family name while still using his unique perspective and interest to be happy. I like that his skill set is still outstanding, but not considered on par with his family's based on standard measures. However, his intelligence just takes a different path. Sometimes being different, and thinking differently, is the key to being happy. I was glad to see Nick's journey being one that highlights this idea rather than him suddenly wowing the world by really being who they wanted him to be. I liked that most characters ended up being different than the perceptions others had about them.  I would have liked a little more information on the world the story was taking place in, and its particulars. I feel like we were kind of dropped into a story and missing an introduction, and then we were missing a bit of an ending. While there was a conclusion, there was just way too much unanswered to make me happy. I really wanted more, on both ends of the story. Part of this was because I liked the world and the characters and honestly wanted to know more about them all, and part of it was that I do not feel like I got the whole picture.

Nick Newton is not a Genius held my interest and told a story about finding yourself, and being happy with your own gifts. My only biggest issue with the book is the ending. It was left open ended, with clear paths of continuation. I felt more like I was missing the last chapter than there was a sequel to come.

Book Review: If You Were the Moon by Laura Purdie Salas, Jaime Kim

If You Were the Moon is a picturebook by Laura Purdie Salas and Jaime Kim. If you were the moon, what would you do? You'd spin like a twilight ballerina and play dodgeball with space rocks! A blend of ideas about what a moon does that is perfect for bedtime reading is paired with information about the real science and facts about the moon.
If You Were the Moon is a lovely book, with illustrations that are detailed and in colors that catch the eye. This book could be approached two ways, and in that way can also grow with your child. On one hand, you could just read the larger print and have a lovely bedtime story, a quick and light read. Thgis text is well shaped for reading aloud, and the illustrations are somehow soothing even with the pops of color and details. The bracketed information offers accessible facts about the moon, that can inspire research or further conversations about science and the moon in particular.  I really liked that there was a glossary and resources for further information and exploration at the end of the book.

I think this book is one that can grow with young readers, can inspire interest and conversations, and will stand up to multiple reads. A win on encouraging science and information seeking, as well as offering a sweetly flowing bedtime story.

Early Book Review: The Adventures of Kung Fu Robot: How to Make a Peanut Butter, Jelly, and Kung Fu Sandwich by Jason Bays

The Adventures of Kung Fu Robot: How to Make a Peanut Butter, Jelly, and Kung Fu Sandwich by Jason Bays is a middle grade novel with plenty of illustrations and silly humor. It is currently scheduled for release on March 28 2017. Kung Fu Robot is an international machine of mystery and the savior of all things awesome and cool. He's the world record holder for ice cream sandwiches eaten in one sitting, the reigning champion of continuous nunchucking, and once won a bronze medal for the simultaneous stomach rubbing and head patting. Together with his 9-year old sidekick, Marvin, he faces his arch-nemesis, Kung Pow Chicken: a robotically-enhanced, foul fowl bent on destroying the city's peanut butter and jelly supply. Kung Fu Robot and Marvin must save the day, and their lunches!

The Adventures of Kung Fu Robot was a fast paced and silly read. The robot is absurdly excited, messy, and destructive while Marvin is the voice of reason and caution. I did like that contrast, and think the words of caution from Marvin might do some readers good to read and hopefully heed. The story did get a little repetitive for my taste, but the story was wacky enough that some readers will enjoy it.

I think The Adventures of Kung Fu Robot will appeal to reluctant or struggling readers because of its repetitive nature, and the crazy nature of the story. As an added incentive to those that enjoy the reader, there is a free interactive companion app for an innovative, augmented reading experience.

Book Review: Deader Homes and Gardens by Angie Fox

Deader Homes and Gardens by Angie Fox is the fourth book in the Southern Ghost Hunter Mystery series. The previous books, in order, were Southern Spirits, The Skeleton in the Closet, and The Haunted Heist with novellas between each book. I think the previous stories help to understand Verity's powers and some character dynamics. However, I think newcomers could catch up quickly and enjoy the story.

Southern belle Verity Long is back in business—as a ghost hunter. Now all she has to do is visit the town's creepiest mansion and exorcise a family of vengeful spirits. Piece of cake. After all, ghosts love her and need her...that is until she meets the ghosts of Rock Fall mansion. They'll do anything to keep their murderous secrets hidden within the cliff-side fortress—even if that means getting rid of one meddling ghost hunter. With the entire town skeptical and scrutinizing her every move, Verity struggles to uncover the century-old mystery behind the house. And when she stumbles upon a very fresh, very dead body, she realizes there’s more to it than she ever imagined. With the help of her sexy cop boyfriend, Ellis, and her ghostly gangster sidekick, Frankie, she braves the overgrown gardens, the desolate family cemetery, and the haunted mansion that have been locked away for generations.

Deader Homes and Gardens puts Verity and her ghostly partner Frankie back in the thick of a mystery. This time there are angry ghosts (yes again), Egyptian artifacts, and the possibility of an ancient curse. As Verity tries to solve the murders of an entire family, and avoid being killed by those same ghosts, Frankie is looking for more independence and Verity and Ellis are still trying to find their feet as a happy couple. I like that romance between Verity and Ellis is part of the story, and her character development, it does not overwhelm the story around the mystery or Frankie's own troubles. I liked the complication involved in the mystery- long assumed haunted house steeped in tragedy and odd happenings is the main focus of the story. Verity, Ellis, and Frankie all have their roles to play and I like that they each give each other the trust and space to do what they need to while being true to themselves. I will admit to seeing some of the final climax coming, but the journey was good fun and I enjoyed the read.

Deader Homes and Gardens is another fun, fast read by Fox. While it was not something that will stick with me after moving onto the next read, it certainly made what was hopefully the last snow day of the year more entertaining than expected.

Early Book Review: Eat Up: An Infographic Exploration of Food by Paula Ayer, Antonia Banyard, Belle Wuthrich

Eat Up: An Infographic Exploration of Food by Paula Ayer, Antonia Banyard, and Belle Wuthrich is currently scheduled for release on April 11 2017. This middle grade non fiction book is a colorful infographic look at the many surprising and fascinating facts about food. Information is presented in easy-to-understand graphics and clear explanations. Each spread explores a different aspect of the topic. Readers will find answers to a wide range of questions, including: Who grows our food? Where does our meat and fish come from? How does it get to us? What’s the difference between a hybrid and a genetically-modified crop? How do companies advertise to children? Who are the “Big 10” food companies? How much farmland is there across the world? Weightier topics (for example, farming and pollution, or child labor in agriculture), are balanced out by fun facts, such as “extreme foods” and how our sense of taste works (and sometimes deceives us). Other topics include how food production has an impact on the local and global economy, access to food and food insecurity around the world, and conventional vs. organic farming. Vibrant, dynamic illustrations, diagrams and photos and small chunks of text make this book ideal for reluctant or struggling readers.
Eat Up: An Infographic Exploration of Food was an interesting read with graphics that caught the eye, and a good combination of thought provoking facts and fun or surprising information that is a little lighter. I knew a good portion of the information, but there were still bits of information and ideas that made me stop and think a little more about the food in my house. I found the organization and graphics of the book to be very understandable and accessible by readers in elementary school, but not boring or too easy for more advanced readers. This book hits that sweet spot of interesting and engaging for readers from a variety of ages and skill levels.

Book Review: The Sacred Hunt by Michelle West

The Sacred Hunt is the first time the duology Hunter's Oath and Hunter's Death, by bestselling author Michelle West, has been available as a single volume. This author has also published under the names Michelle Sagara and Michelle Sagara West.

HUNTER'S OATH: When the covenant was made with the Hunter God, it ensured that the Hunter Lords, their land, and their people would prosper. But in payment, once a year the Sacred Hunt must be called, in which the God's prey would be one of the Lords or his huntbrother. This was the Hunter's Oath, sworn to by each Lord and his huntbrother. It was the Oath taken by Gilliam of Elseth and the orphan boy Stephen--and the fulfillment of their Oath would prove the kind of destiny from which legends were made.
HUNTER'S DEATH: The Hunter Lord Gilliam and his huntbrother Stephen must travel to Averalaan, a city once ruled by the Lord of Hell himself, the Dark Lord who once again seeks to impose his reign over the mortal lands. And only Stephen, Gilliam, Espere, and the seer Evayne stand any chance of saving the world from this most evil of fates.

The Sacred Hunt is a solid and complete story. The world, the characters, and the mythology are all well written and interesting. I enjoyed the personalities, and their imperfection, that made the characters real despite the obvious fact they they are fictional. The relationship between Stephen and Gilliam, and those in similar positions, is well built and described with plenty of growth and change- as real personalities and relationships grow. The only thing that I really did not like were the interludes when Evayne's point of view came through. As the story progressed her importance was clear, but in the beginning I just found it disruptive, bringing me out of the story for a bit. I understand the importance of what readers gained there- but while I was reading the first portion of the doulogy, even though I knew there would be a good reason for it, it just did not help the flow of the book for me. I did find the pacing a little slow, but that could have been my eagerness to get to the action, and to see where West was going to take us.

The Sacred Hunt is a reminder for me of what I enjoy from a favorite author. I am a fan of her books writen as Michelle Sagara, and know that this douolgy was originally written much earlier. I can see the dedicated world and character building, as well as a slower pace and some pitfalls that showed me how much the author has grown. A solid fantasy series, but a less engaging story than I had hoped for.

Book Review: Liam Takes a Stand by Troy Wilson, Josh Holinaty

Liam Takes a Stand is written by Troy Wilson and illustrated by Josh Holinaty. It is a children's book about family, business, and doing things your own way. Lister and Lester are identical twins who do identical things. But their constant striving to outdo each other means their little brother, Liam, is always left out. When Lester’s Lemonade Universe and Lister’s Lemonade Multiverse open for business, there’s no role for Liam. He does odd jobs around the neighborhood while Lister and Lester’s competition spirals into overdrive and their lemonade stands get increasingly, outrageously out of hand. But then Liam takes a stand with his own business venture — a simple model based on his observations of what not to do — and gives the twins a run for their money. Illustrated with lively cartoon-style art highlighting the hilarious one-upmanship, this is a spirited underdog story about siblings and strategic thinking.

Liam Takes a Stand was a read that entertained while giving some lessons in business and teamwork. All Liam really wants is to spend time with his brothers, but they are too busy competing to pay him any attention. I like that Liam took steps, working hard to earn his own money, in his own way, and plan for the long run rather than chasing the fast dollar like his brothers. I think that the little brother, using sound and fair business practices, out performs his brothers and gets what he wants in the end- not due to trickery but through working hard. While there is a strong sense of teaching a lesson throughout the book, there is a nice balance of story and wonderful illustrations that keep the story from crossing the line that many books intent on teaching something to kids cross. It stayed fun and enjoyable, and never felt like I was being forcefully taught, which often turns me off with strongly thematic writing.

Liam Takes a Stand is a book that would be great for classes or families wanting to teach children about working hard, work ethic, business, and persistence. I think this would be a great introduction to raising money for a cause, or for programs that help get young people started in any form of business.

Book Review: Wolf Unleashed by Paige Tyler

Wolf Unleashed by Paige Tyler is the fifth book in the SWAT series. The previous books (in order) are: Hungry Like the Wolf, Wolf Trouble, In the Company of Wolves, and To Love a Wolf. While each book could be read on its own, I think reading them in order will offer more understanding of the paranormal particulars and character personalities- which will make for a more engaging read.

Lacey Barton can't deny her crazy attraction to Alex Trevino, but that doesn't mean she has time for the gorgeous SWAT officer. She's hell-bent on discovering who's behind the brutal dogfights sending countless mauled animals to her veterinarian office. The trail leads Lacey to a ring of vicious drug dealers and suddenly she's in way over her head-right smack in the middle of a SWAT stakeout. With Lacey in danger, Alex's wolf side is unleashed. But when she witnesses Alex shift, she's even more terrified. Now it's up to Alex to crack the case-and earn back Lacey's trust and, ultimately, her heart.

Wolf Unleashed is another fast paced adventure in a world of this SWAT series. I like that the characters are complex. Lacey has some issues to work out and some series trouble pausing to think about self preservation- but is quick to look out for others. I felt like Alex was a little too perfect, but maybe his perfection is what was needed for Lacey to let him in. I liked the larger storyline of crime fighting, and found the suspense very well done. I will admit that I saw trouble coming with Lacey's sister miles away- and actually predicted some of the big surprises and reveals before they happened. Although, I still enjoy Tyler's writing style and enjoyed the read. I did not think this one was as outstanding as some of the other books I have read in the series, but it was still worth a Saturday night's time.

Wolf Unleashed offers exactly what I expected from the author. Characters with depth, issues and danger that need facing, and the ability of those characters to communicate when all is said and done. Fans of the series will need to read it. I would recommend reading the book as part of the larger series, only because of the ground work that has been laid in them for the werewolf information and character development. I have enjoyed the series, so if this looks like something you would enjoy, starting at the beginning will not be a hardship.

Early Book Review: The Stone Heart (Nameless City) by Faith Erin Hicks

The Stone Heart is the second graphic novel in the Nameless City series by Faith Erin Hicks. It is currently scheduled for release on April 4 2017. Kaidu and Rat have only just recovered from the assassination attempt on the General of All Blades when more chaos breaks loose in the Nameless City: deep conflicts within the Dao nation are making it impossible to find a political solution for the disputed territory of the City itself. To complicate things further, Kaidu is fairly certain he's stumbled on a formula for the lost weapon of the mysterious founders of the City. But sharing it with the Dao military would be a complete betrayal of his friendship with Rat. Can Kai find the right solution before the Dao find themselves at war?
The Stone Heart is another great graphic novel from Hicks. The Nameless City is in upheaval. Kaidu's father is trying to broker lasting peace for the city, while some of the soldiers, the Dao in particular, are not exactly supporting the possible change. Murder, mayhem, and past hurts are active motivators in the story. I like that readers get more of a look at what happened when the Dao came to the city, and some of the undercurrents between different factions and groups shaped everything. I like the continued character development of our main and secondary characters as we see a little more of the lives of those that live in the city. As usual, I love the artwork and find the details and facial expressions to add both emotion and information into the story, which would be missed with out that careful attention to detail.

The Stone Heart is a good continuation of the original story. My only complaint is that I was left hanging at the end, and am now far too eager for the next installment so I can see where we go from here. Too many unanswered questions and far too much that I need addressed NOW!