Book Review: A Sure Thing (Donnigans) by Marie Harte

A Sure Thing is the first book in the Donnigans series by Marie Harte. It is set in the same area as the McCauley Brothers and Bad Boys Body Shop series. Those that have read all the series will get a little bit more from the read, but it is not necessary to have that background to fully enjoy the read.

The Marine Corps was everything Landon Donnigan ever wanted in life, until a bullet sent him home with a medical discharge. Teaching a self-defense class at the gym is old-hat for a marine, but when he meets sexy Ava Rosenthal, his combat skills are useless for protecting his heart. Ava can take care of herself and likes quiet, bookish men-not muscular warriors who think women need to be coddled. But Landon is more than he seems, and when they come together, the results are explosive.

A Sure Thing is another read from Harte that offers characters with realistic problems and traumas, and the family issues that are just as varied as we find in the real world. Ava is not looking to date anyone that she cannot defend herself against, emotionally or physically. Landon is one of those men, and his arrogant yet sweet pursuit is unexpected for both of them. I like that both characters go into everything with their eyes open, and despite the bumps alone the way tend to talk things out rather than letting misconceptions lie. I really like that they push each other to overcome their issues and take steps in the right direction- but not necessarily pushing each other in ways to benefit themselves. I enjoy the community, and the realistic nature of the relationships- and problems involved. While some of the harder, more traumatic moments, were not fun to read the story and characters were so real and the resolution so satisfying that it just left me eager to see what was in store for the other characters in future books.

A Sure Thing is a quick but emotional read. It fits into the larger picture of the world and families Harte has built in her books. Emotional connections, dealing with traumas, and facing our own anxieties make for heartfelt and realistic stories that stick with the reader long after the book is over. 

Early Book Review: Dan the Biggest Dump Truck by Chris Adams, James Donahower

Dan the Biggest Dump Truck is a picture book written by Chris Adams and illustrated by James Donahower. It is currently scheduled for release on February 1 2017. Dan is the biggest dump truck in the whole wide world. He can fit one hundred elephants in his tipper, and his horn is louder than thunder! Dan wants more than anything to be helpful and work on a construction site, but he’s far too big to help build houses, and he’s even too big to build a bridge. Come ride with Dan in search of new friends and his perfect job. 

Dan the Biggest Dump Truck is a picture book with a story about finding your place and your strengths. Dan is a giant dump trunk, too big for most construction jobs that he finds. However, his persistence pays off and he saves the day wen a big project goes wrong. I think most children, and adults, know what it is like not to fit in, or to be too something to be accepted. Dan feels bad about it, but he does not give up the search for the perfect job. I do not like that he really cannot work at any of the jobs he is turned down for, rather than trying and just not being good at it. I think this gives the idea that it might be okay to exclude someone because they are too something, rather than letting them try, but we are talking construction rather than playground games so hopefully that will not carry over. 

  Dan the Biggest Dump Truck did a good job getting its story across, and the illustrations are nicely matched to the story. However, it did not blow me it. It was good, and will definitely appeal to many young readers, it just did not stand out as spectacular in a market that has been increasingly populated with great picture books.

Book Review: Race the Darkness (Fatal Dreams) by Abbie Roads

Race the Darkness is the first book in the Fatal Dreams series by Abbie Roads. Criminal investigator Xander Stone doesn't have to question you—he can hear your thoughts. Scarred by lightning, burdened with a power that gives him no peace, Xander struggles to maintain his sanity against the voice that haunts him day and night—the voice of a woman begging him to save her. Isleen Walker has long since given up hope of escape from the nightmare of captivity and torture that is draining her life, her mind, and her soul. Except...there is the man in her feverish dreams, the strangely beautiful man who beckons her to freedom and wholeness. And when he comes, if he comes, it will take all their combined fury and faith to overcome a madman bent on fulfilling a deadly prophecy.

Race the Darkness is the start of a new series, but many parts of the world building and even character set up felt like there was much more going on, and that readers are not aware of. I often felt like perhaps there was a prequel of related series that I missed. Xander is a complicated character- serious family issue that I feel like I never got a full understanding of- are a major part of the story, as is the fact that getting struck with lightning at some point gave him the ability to hear other's thoughts.  Using the ability hurts, but he tries to use it for good more than for selfish uses. Isleen has been held captive for a long time, along with her grandmother she has faced torture and pain and has to deal with the psychological damage that has done, along with the implications of who and why. When Xander rescues Isleen and brings her home the story gets more complicated, and family life more bizarre. Conflicts abound, as does confusion. Xander is the only character that I really felt like I knew by the end of the story, and so much back ground still feels out of reach to me. I found the read interesting, but a little to esoteric for my tastes.

Race the Darkness is an interesting read, and there were parts that I really enjoyed. However, I never really connected with the characters or felt fully invested in the story. I know there are people that will love this, it just was not for me.

Book Review: Jarek (Dragons of Preor) by Celia Kyle as Erin Tate

Jarek (Dragons of Preor) by Celia Kyle as Erin Tate is the first book in a romance series. I am not sure if I should dub this or the previous related series science fiction or paranormal romance. The males in this series are dragon shifters from space and it tales place in the future... so call it what ever you want.

At 457 Preor years old, Jarek sen Claron is a dragon ready for his final flight into the skies. This voyage to Earth as the War Master of the third fleet will be his final assignment. Once he has helped his fellow Preors secure human mates, he will return to Preor before the madness of loneliness overtakes his mind. That all changes when he meets Melissa. Human Melissa with her sparkling eyes, bright smile, and body that would make any hot-blooded male drool. Unfortunately, she never registered as a Preor mate hopeful. No matter, the Knowing stretches between them and there is no way she can resist him. Until she does. Jarek wishes to give her the choice to mate him, while everything inside him screams to take Melissa beneath his wing, now. No choosing necessary.  But should he draw her to his side when his enemies are circling? Many males do not believe the son of a Preor mass murderer deserves to have a mate. Can he survive the coming battles? Or will he die without tasting sweet Melissa’s lips?

Jarek was a fast, fun read. I liked that Jarek and Melissa work through their issues in their own time. They have several cultural and personal issues to work through- especially personal doubts and worries about worthiness. I really like that they do work things out, and actually discuss those issues rather than just throwing their hands in the air and blindly following the Knowing. I hate when the "mate" factor comes into play and magically all other problems magically disappear. I also liked that in this series opener the couple does not hop into bed until those issues are discussed and resolved. It made everything a little more real.

Jarek was not great literature, but it was a fun read and kept me warm on a winter holiday weekend. I will admit to having quickly binge read the next three books in the series in the same long weekend. All of the books offer a variety of emotional issues and a different time frame for the physical and emotional attachment between the main couple. They each offer just enough of a hint about the couple that will appear in the next book that curiosity kept me reading the series long after I should have moved on to something else.

Book Review: Deadly Dog Days (Dog Days Mystery) by Jamie M. Blair

Deadly Dog Days is the first book in the Dog Days Mystery series by  Jamie M. Blair.
New to the historic town of Metamora, Indiana, Cameron Cripps-Hayman is looking to make friends with her neighbors. What she isn’t looking for is one of their bodies floating in the canal. When she and her estranged husband, the town sheriff, are both named suspects for the murder, Cameron takes solving the crime into her own hands, teaming up with her eccentric co-workers who dub themselves The Metamora Action Agency. As if hunting for a murderer with two high school geniuses, the town drunk, and an elderly kleptomaniac isn’t hard enough, Cameron adopts the five mangy guard dogs of her deceased neighbor. But maybe a stint at playing gatekeeper is just what she needs to come face-to-face with the killer and save another neighbor from being the next victim.
Deadly Dog Days is a cozy mystery with all the expected elements. There is a small town with plenty of eccentric characters, a main character with relationship troubles and a penchant for getting into trouble, and of course a dead body. Cameron is our amateur sleuth, who stumbles across the dead body or a younger lady- who is rumored to be dating her estranged husband. I like that Cameron is around my age- approaching 40 aware of her limitations and her skill set. she is not in the stage of trying to figure out who she is, but is still working on where she fits into a town that is still fairly new to her. Her not quite ex-husband Ben does not get much play in the story- even though he is important to it. Readers get glimpses at the backstory of Cam and Ben, but there is plenty of missing information to be filled in later. I did like that the relationship issues had there role to play in the story but did not overwhelm the murder mystery and character information readers get about the secondary characters. The author did a good job of balancing priorities in a reasonably realistic way. I thought the personalities of the animals- both dogs and mysterious cat, were fun and well done. It added an extra layer of fun to the story that I appreciated. I think the Mother in law being crazy aspect was fairly well done, though a little trite. It worked, but could have been a little less expected.

Deadly Dog Days is the start of an intriguing cozy mystery series. I am interested to see where is goes, and to watching the characters in the small town interact more in future books. There is no information on when this might happen on Goodreads or Amazon yet.

Book Review: Miles McHale, Tattletale by Christine C. Jones, Elina Ellis

Miles McHale, Tattletale is a picturebook written by Christine C. Jones and illustrated by Elina Ellis.Miles McHale is a tattletale. And everybody knows it. But he's not the only one who needs help, so his teacher decides: it's time to fight the Tattle Battle! But will Miles figure out the right time to tell a grown-up about another person's behavior, or is he doomed to be a tattletale forever?

Miles McHale, Tattletale is a good look at tattling for young children. Miles tattles about everything- but he is not the only one. If you have a child that tattle- at home or in the classroom, you know how quickly this can become an issue. I thought the teacher's attempt to curtail the problem and teach when telling an adult about another's activities is well done. The book shows the struggles even the smartest children can have in drawing the line between being helpful and being a tattle tale, it is a process breaking the habit and learning when to cross that line. In fact, there are some adults out in the world that have not seemed to grasp the concept yet. The teacher's rule, the patience shown, and the lesson learned are very well done and the art work is well matched to the story. i liked the bright and somehow sweet illustrations

Miles McHale, Tattletale is a cute picturebook that could be helpful in school and home environments to help teach this lesson. It would read well in a preschool or kindergarten storytime. 

Early Book Review: Zero to Sixty (Body Shop Bad Boys) by Marie Harte

Zero to Sixty is the third book in the Body Shop Bad Boys series by Marie Harte. It is currently scheduled for release on February 7 2017. The first two books were Test Drive and Roadside Assistance. While the previous books add to the character development, you will be able to enjoy the heart of the story without the previous books. However, they are great reads, so you might as well read them in order. If you don’t, the quality of this book will have you going back to see what you missed anyway. 

After her last relationship bombed, Ivy Stephens is doing her best to put her life back together. She's enjoying her job, her apartment, and the cute little puppy she's seen hanging around. In the search for the puppy she encounters a big, burly, devastatingly handsome man. Sam Hamilton is lonelier than he's ever been after his best friend's engagement. To give himself a sense of purpose, he takes in a puppy that keeps showing up around the garage where he works. The puppy has another suitor though, one who happens to be blond and beautiful. Can two wounded souls find happiness together?

Zero to Sixty is another solid contemporary romance by Harte, with characters that are scarred and scared to love. Ivy is tired of being used, and wants to start fresh. She has a good job that she loves, and now a stray puppy to love. She is not sure she is ready to dive into a new relationship, but she cannot help herself with the gentle giant, even if she is a little nervous. Sam is used to being seen as scary and worthless except by a few. He does not want to scare Ivy, but is drawn to her and wants nothing more than to be a part of her life. His scars run deep, and he worries about his self worth and hurting Ivy more than he cares about his own well being. I could picture the sheepish look on his face several times throughout the book as he struggled to communicate and find his way with Ivy. The characters were each complex, but so well written that I felt like I really knew them. Honestly, by the end I wanted to give poor Sam a hug and knock a few heads myself. The ride was emotional, funny, and heartwarming. I loved that Ivy and Sam took the time to communicate and explain their faults, fears, and pasts even as they each worried that it would drive the other away. This was another great story from Harte, and one that has me wondering what is in store for Lou and his love life next.

Zero to Sixty is a fast and fun ride, that includes a good deal of self reflection and healing for a couple. If you have enjoyed the earlier books in the series, you will enjoy this one as well. 

Early Book Review: The Queen is Coming to Tea by Linda Ravin Lodding

The Queen is Coming to Tea is a picture book by Linda Ravin Lodding which is currently scheduled for release on February 1 2017. When Ellie finds out the Queen is coming to tea, she snaps to attention! But will the Queen patiently wait? And what exactly will be waiting for the queen? Ellie enlists the help of all of her stuffed animal friends to make it a memorable affair. Together they travel to Paris, China, Italy, and New York to gather everything they need.

The Queen is Coming to Tea is a sweet picture book about family and imagination. Ellie receives a note that the Queen is coming to tea. She immediately sets off to get the very best of everything for the visit. Along with her favorite toys she gathers the best cakes and tea then dresses in the very best. Spending the afternoon with the Queen is very special- and when she finally gets her one on one time with mom it is a wonderful treat for both. I like that the story stresses the importance of independent play, imagination, and family bonding time. Finding the balance can be hard- but it looks like Ellie's family has it right. Perhaps this will inspire some special tea times with parents, grandparents, or other important people or some other activities. I know i am inspired to do more in this vein, even if my children are older now.

Book Review: More Than Magic by Kathryn Lasky

More Than Magic by Kathryn Lasky is a middle grade novel that combines a Cinderlla style story with a touch of television and computer coding. Ryder Holmsby is the same age as Rory, the popular TV cartoon character her animator parents created. Ryder and Rory are alike—bold and brave! But Ryder is a bit lonely: Mom passed away a couple of years ago, and Dad is dating a woman with snooty teenage daughters. Ryder doesn’t fit in with them at all.  And then: Shazam! Rory jumps out of the TV into Ryder’s bedroom to tell her that the TV studio behind her parents’ show is trying to turn Rory into a dopey princess, no more adventures. She needs Ryder’s help! The two girls team up with a crew of animated and real-life friends to save the day in both worlds

More Than Magic is an interesting take on the Cinderella tale. Ryder's mother was a force larger than life, full of energy and creativity. When she died Ryder and her father lost some of their spark, and her father has fallen prey to a scheming woman looking for fame and fortune for her family. Part of her plan is to change Rory from a brave adventurer that resembles Ryder to a princess that is older, curvy, and more like one of her daughters. Family crisis and changes combined with the fight against those changes has Ryder and her friends journeying between the real world, the television, and the computers that create and store the television show. A variety of characters and adventures keep things interesting, but while we get a reasonably deep look as some of the characters I really never felt fully connected to any of them. The all felt like part of a show rather than the book in my hands. I am not sure what did not click, but while I loved the idea of the story and where it was going I never felt fully engaged.

More Than Magic is a good adventure for those of us who always enjoyed the rough and tumble part of an adventure more than the princess being rescued from the tower and getting married. Readers with a deep love of TV magic and how animation is done will have an extra interest and understanding of some of the adventure Ryder, Rory, and their friends undertake.

Book Review: The Book Club Murders by Leslie Nagel

The Book Club Murders is the first book in the Oakwood Mystery series by Leslie Nagel. Charley Carpenter has poured heart and soul into her clothing store, Old Hat Vintage Fashions. She’ll do anything to make it a success, even join the stuffy Agathas Book Club in order to cultivate customers among Oakwood, Ohio’s wealthy elite. Although mixing with the most influential women in town has its advantages, Charley finds the endless gossip a high price to pay. But after two women with close ties to the Agathas are brutally murdered, everyone falls under threat—and suspicion. When key evidence indicates that both murders are the work of the same hand, Charley realizes that the killer has arranged each corpse in perfect imitation of crime scenes from the Club’s murder mystery reading list. She uses her membership in the Club to convince Detective Marcus Trenault to use her as an inside informant. Not that he could stop her anyway.

The Book Club Murders is a solid opening to a cozy mystery series. I will admit that there were a couple times that I felt like there was a previous book out there, but author quickly gave me the character building that I needed to fill in the blanks. I enjoyed the main characters Charley, partly because we share the distaste for schmoozing and dressing up. She is a smart, witty character and I liked her strong friendships with two important secondary characters. I thought the angst between her and Marcus was a odd though it was eventually explained. I still found it not completely understandable- at least in the path it took. I thought the mystery was very well done, as was the danger to Charley and her friends. There were some real surprises along the way and I enjoyed the majority of the ride. It was not perfect, but it has enough going for it that I will be picking up the second installment, The Antique House Murders, which is schedule for release in May of 2017.

The Book Club Murders is the start of what promises to be a fun cozy mystery series. I like the setting and character build up here, and hope the series only gets better from here.