Book Review: Otis Grows by Kathryn Hast, M.L. Phang

Otis Grows is a picture book written by Kathryn Hast, M.L. Phang. Young Otis is forced to question his origin and allegiances, given that his mom, a yellow chicken, is part of the Nuh-Uhs, and his dad, a blue flower, stems from the Yes-Chums. Struggling to find answers, Otis runs away, only to encounter more colors (and cultures) than he could ever imagine, including a giant portrait full of possibilities.
Otis Grows is a picturebook with wonderful illustrations, and great intentions- but it requires a lot of shrugging off the impossible. Otis is an onion, and the child of an flower and a chicken- how is that even a thing? I think the culture and acceptance theme could have been served just as well- and less disturbingly to this avid gardener-if the parents were plants from opposite ends of the garden bed. But, that is just me. I did like how Otis explored and discovered how different- and yet the same- everyone is. I also liked the exploration of how we each change- although I am not sure the target audience really has to worry about the 'odor of growing older' quite yet. I loved the theme and the message of the book, and the life lessons that it is intent on teaching.

Otis Grows is an interesting tale- I loved that love and acceptance wins out and is show to be so important, but fort he book to be esoteric enough that I think many will get so caught up in the oddity that they will miss the beauty of the artwork and the intent behind the story. 

Book Review: Red Winter (Red Winter Trilogy) by Annette Marie

Red Winter  is the first book in the Red Winter Trilogy by Annette Marie. Emi is the kamigakari. In a few short months, her life as a mortal will end and her new existence as the human host of a goddess will begin. Carefully hidden from those who would destroy her, she has prepared her mind, body, and soul to unite with the goddess, and not once has she doubted her chosen fate. Shiro is a yokai, a spirit of the earth, an enemy of the goddess Emi will soon host. Mystery shrouds his every move and his ruby eyes shine with cunning she can’t match and dares not trust. But she saved his life, and until his debt is paid, he is hers to command, whether she wants him or not. On the day they meet, everything Emi believes comes undone, swept away like snow upon the winter wind. For the first time, she wants to change her fate, but how can she erase a destiny already wrought in stone? Against the power of the gods, Shiro is her only hope  and hope is all she has left.

Red Winter  starts out slow, but once you get about a quarter of the way through the book it becomes much more engaging. While Emi is sheltered and a little naive- she is also smart and strong. I will admit to not liking her at all in the beginning, part of why I had a hard time getting into the story, but as the action kicked in she grew on me.  I liked that Katsuo is more than a protector- and acts as a friend and support in a variety of ways.  Shiro might be a late entry into the story, but his character is what really sets things into motion and makes the story come alive.  Then comes Yumei, making things more complicated and challenging for Emi. Once things start getting intense there are fantastic fight scenes, romance, and significant character growth. I loved the research that must have been done to achieve this level of accuracy about Japanese mythology and culture, and that there was wonderful artwork included.  The artwork is extremely well done, and captures the atmosphere and emotion of the book perfectly. 

Red Winter  is a book I thought I would adore, but had a hard time getting into. I am not sure if I was not in the right place to read it- or if it was something about the writing style. I tried a few times before forcing myself to stick with it, and I am glad I did. Once I got a good way into the story it took hold and I could not put it down. 

Book Review: Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn

Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn is a stand alone science fiction novel for young adult. I have read the Kitty Norville series from Vaughn, but it has been awhile, so I was not sure quite what to expect. I came in with pretty high hopes, which might have colored my reaction to what I found.

Polly Newton has one single-minded dream, to be a starship pilot and travel the galaxy. Her mother, the director of the Mars Colony, derails Polly's plans when she sends Polly and her genius twin brother, Charles, to Galileo Academy on Earth—the one planet Polly has no desire to visit. Homesick and cut off from her desired future, Polly cannot seem to fit into the constraints of life on Earth, unlike Charles, who deftly maneuvers around people and sees through their behavior to their true motives. Strange, unexplained, dangerous coincidences centered on their high-profile classmates begin piling up. Charles may be right—there's more going on than would appear, and the stakes are high. With the help of Charles, Polly is determined to find the truth, no matter the cost.

Martians Abroad has a reasonable premise for a solid science fiction story for middle grade to young adult readers. Teenagers sent to a new world for a tough boarding school where they are bound to face the trials of fitting in, but some kind of adventure or danger in the process. That is all there, although not at the speed I would have liked. I found the start fairly slow, and Polly to be a bit of a brat. She acted more like a petulant ten year old than the teen she is supposed to be, and her brother Charles is pretty much a sociopath. I feel like neither really made an effort to fit in, both rather doing what they wanted. This goes especially for Polly, who I envision stomping her feet and pouting a lot. I also felt that there was not the underlying humor and fun that I seem to remember from the author's other work. I missed that.

Now that that is off my chest, lets talk about what I did like. I enjoyed the amount of world building that was included. Little things like Polly's build and gut bacteria having an impact on her comfort and ability to do things in a different environment. I also liked that while Polly is not my favorite character, she does have a selfless quality to her, and is always willing to jump in to help others. 

Martians Abroad was  a book I really wanted to love, but I kind of fell flat for me. I think part of this was because of my high expectations.

Book Review: Dreadnought (Nemesis) by April Daniels

Dreadnought is the first book in the Nemesis series by April Daniels. It is a young adult novel, and I think teens and adults alike will enjoy it. 

Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, Danny was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But before he expired, Dreadnought passed his mantle to her, and those secondhand superpowers transformed Danny’s body into what she’s always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl. It should be the happiest time of her life, but Danny’s first weeks finally living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined. Between her father’s dangerous obsession with “curing” her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and her fellow superheroes arguing over her place in their ranks, Danny feels like she’s in over her head. She doesn’t have much time to adjust. Dreadnought’s murderer—a cyborg named Utopia—still haunts the streets of New Port City, threatening destruction. If Danny can’t sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.

Dreadnought has so much going for it. From the very beginning I connected with the main character- Danny had all the angst of teen age life with the added pressure of being transgender. Add on witnessing the death of a superhero, getting the gender switch you craved, and suddenly having superpowers and anyone would be overwhelmed. Danny faces everything in a realistic manner, and I found the reactions of others in the book accurate to what a young person in her position would encounter. I found the world building to allow for the superheroes and technology necessary for the story  to be well done. I never felt buried under explanations but never felt like I was lacking any information I wanted either- that can be a hard balance to master. I liked that there was also a good balance between the emotional and mental struggles that Danny was facing and the mystery and action involved in finding Utopia and figuring out what was going on.  I was impressed all around with the book, I was only disappointed in that fact that it was over and the next book has not been released yet.

Dreadnought is a wonderful book on a variety of levels. Danny's story of personal growth and discovering her capabilities is very well done, as is the superhero angle and world building. I think the only people that might not enjoy it are those that need to read it most, those that are so set on the idea of people different than themselves, or those they do not understand, are somehow wrong rather than other people just trying to get through life- just like them. My only complaint with the book, is that know I want the rest of the series- I am terribly curious to see what happens next!

Book Review: Foreverafter: An Odd Adventure (Crash Landers) by KJ. Quint

Foreverafter: An Odd Adventure, Part One: Crash Landers is a middle grade read by KJ. Quint. Audrey (she prefers Odd) lives in a perpetual state of boredom. She tries to keep busy with small jobs around town and by listening to stories of adventure from a boy in the travelling circus—her only friend Kite. But Odd has always had one thought in her head: I want to go on my own adventure. It appears that Odd's wish finally comes true as a flying island appears over the town and whisks Audrey and Kite away to a far-off place, into a forest of the magical Nightlands where mystic creatures and magical folk roam. It’s up to Audrey and Kite to learn how to master the strange workings of this new world in order to find their way home.
Foreverafter is a fun and interesting read. I liked the world and character building- and think that our main characters and their very distinct personalities is what will capture the attention of readers. Kite is a member of a travelling circus, with a unique skill set and way of talking his way around trouble. Odd (or Audrey) has more skills than Kite knows, but has a way of making plans that create a special kind of chaos.  Their adventures, interaction, and quarreling make their friendship something special and great fun to watch. Their adventure is unique and enjoyable, and I think that fans of fantasy and adventure will agree. 

My only real issue with the book is that it is too obviously part one. I have a special dislike for books that end just as the book is getting really interesting, or the most important plot twist that will affect the characters for the rest of their story has been revealed. I get the point of a cliff hanger, and I understand the need to bring readers back, but I just feel like the book got its momentum and just stopped. It did not feel like a cliff hanger, but rather like the next chapter was missing. Yes, the immediate crisis was adverted and tensions are raised perfectly for a cliff hanger- but then that extra little bit was there making me feel like this part of the story was unfinished. 

Book Review: Super Women: Six Scientists Who Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor

Super Women: Six Scientists Who Changed the World  by Laurie Lawlor profiles six amazing women who defied prejudice to succeed in the sciences using genius, ambition, and perseverance. Each of these pioneers refused to take no for an answer, pursuing their passions through fieldwork, observations, laboratories and research vessels in the face of sexism. Lawlor tells the stories of Eugenie Clark, an ichthyologist who swam with sharks; Marie Tharp, a cartographer who mapped the ocean floor; Katherine Coleman Johnson, a mathematician who calculated trajectories for NASA flights; Florence Hawley Ellis, an anthropologist of Pueblo cultures who pioneered tree-ring dating; Gertrude Elion, a pharmacologist who developed treatments for leukemia and AIDS; and Margaret Burbidge, an astrophysicist who formulated a theory of quasars.

Super Women: Six Scientists Who Changed the World  is all about women that have stood out in scientific fields that are still male dominated, and stood out in very important ways. The chosen women are nicely varied, and their stories are important. The hows and whys of each of these women fighting for their place in their fields of choice, and the factors that hindered or helped their progress. I would have liked more of the background history for some of this, but still found the shared information to be interesting and important. I think each of the biographies was long enough to give a good grasp of the woman described, but none were so long or ponderous that it would lose the attention of the children that this book is marketed toward. I did find some of the vocabulary to be a little advanced for some of the younger readers that might be interested in the subject matter, with few context clues to help them figure it out, but I almost expect this in any text dealing with scientists or science history. However, to counter this- if readers take a moment there is a wonderful glossary in the back of the book the help them. I just know must of the students I work with are not likely to check for that glossary on their own. 

Super Women: Six Scientists Who Changed the World is a nice selection of brief biographies of a few of the talented female scientists that have made important contributions over the years. While not a perfect text, it is a good start and can inspire young scientists and start conversations about what has, and has not, changed over the years. 

Book Review: Simone: The Best Monster Ever by Remy Simard

Simone: The Best Monster Ever by Remy Simard is not quite a graphic novel, but rather a collection of short comic strips for young readers. In this comics we see Simone, a sweet, rosy-cheeked little girl. Maurice is a green, googly-eyed monster. When Simone enters Maurice’s world, she strikes terror in monsters’ hearts! Here, the rules are turned upside down—flowers, puppies, and good behavior are the stuff of nightmares, and all things scary and icky are adored.
Simone: The Best Monster Ever is a very colorful and cute comic collection. I was a little disappointed that it was short strips rather than a larger story, but for  readers or those that like to read in short bursts this might be just what they are looking for. I liked the concept of things being reversed, with cute things being scary and so on. However, as a whole I found the humor to be hit or miss- and the short nature oft he individual comics to be a little off-putting. It has some elements that will very much appeal to the youngest independent readers, but some that will only appeal to an older audience. I feel like the balance that would make it appeal to both groups was missed, which made it an imperfect fit for either. I know there is still an audience, and many readers will enjoy the humor and the bright artwork, and it is still worth a read. However, I was just expecting more.

Book Review: Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi by John Scalzi

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi  by John Scalzi collects 25 years of at his briefest and best, and features four never-before-printed stories.  These four stories, along with fourteen other pieces, have one thing in common: they are short, sharp, and to the point—science fiction in miniature, with none of the stories longer than 2,300 words.

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi is exactly what you expect from the title. This collection of short works from John Scalzi will entertain readers that are long time fans, and give readers that have yet to explore his novels a good idea of the combination of science fiction and humor that they are missing out on. I was crawling through a reading slump and having trouble getting through much of anything, even material from my favorite authors. This book's short, highly entertaining works, help break me out of that slump.  Yogurt taking over the world, Pluto speaking out about its change of status, superheroes with booking agents, alternate histories tells you all the various ways Hitler has died, a lawyer sues an interplanetary union for dangerous working conditions,  and four artificial intelligence's explain, in increasingly worrying detail, how they plan not to destroy humanity- whats not to love?

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi is a great read for fans, and those that are not quite ready to commit to a Scalzi novel yet. I am still thinking about several of the stores, and think I will be for a good time to come. 

Book Review: I Will Love you Forever by Tatsuya Miyanishi

I Will Love you Forever is a picturebook by Tatsuya Miyanishi, which is currently scheduled for release on June 1 2017. A female Maiasaura finds a lost egg in the forest and decides to look after it with her own egg. Surprisingly, a baby Tyrannosaurus hatches from the egg. The greathearted mother accepts and raises him as her own son, Heart. One day, Heart goes to pick berries and comes across another Tyrannosaurus. The foster son of the Maiasaura discovers his real identity. The fourth title in this acclaimed Tyrannosaurus series, I Will Love You Forever delivers a heartwarming story about adoption with vivid, brightly colored illustrations and endearingly drawn characters.

I Will Love you Forever is a book that left me with mixed feelings. I was not fond of the art style, it seems a bit harsh- but the story came across as a little off to me as well. Perhaps something was lost in the translation from the original Japanese? It starts off fine, a dinosaur mom adopting an egg she finds and raising the Tyrannosaurus that hatches from it as her own, teaching him to be kind. Fine so far, but the disparaging of his species and the grieving mother that lost said egg, and the confusion and trauma all around by the end of the book shook me more than a little. I cannot imagine that anyone taking part in adoption (in any capacity) would find this book anything but painful.

I some how missed the fact that I Will Love you Forever is part of a series. I am not a fan of the art or writing style- although some of that could be because of translation problems or cultural differences. While some might enjoy the read, I just was not one of them.

Early Book Review: Wolf Hunt (SWAT) by Paige Tyler

Wolf Hunt is the sixth book in the SWAT series by Paige Tyler and is currently scheduled for release on June 6 2017. Remy Boudreaux is back in his hometown, New Orleans. He's there with three of his fellow Dallas SWAT officers for a week of training with the NOLA PD. On the eve of a tropical storm, Remy and his buddies prowl the French Quarter. One tantalizing scent captures Remy's senses, forcing him to follow until he is face to face with Triana Bellamy, his beautiful high school crush. After reconnecting, Remy and Triana are close, very close. Remy struggles to keep things casual. Ever since his partner, and lover, was killed on the job, he's kept women at a distance. But when a mysterious wolf pendant ropes them both into danger, Remy's protective instincts kick in. He may have to reveal his true self and hope Triana accepts him.

Wolf Hunt opens with the scene that explains how Remy's partner, and lover, was killed in a raid. So readers know right away that he is going to be reluctant to get attached from the very beginning. My only issue with it is that the raid seemed so familiar to me that I had to check and double check to make sure I had not read this book before. I know raids gone wrong are all going to be similar on some level, I started off my read unsure, but was glad that the rest of the story made up for my initial unease. I liked hat Remy reconnects with someone he knew from his past, but that readers still got to know Triana and her mother a little. I think the mother was my favorite character- and I spent a good portion of the book worried that she was going to get killed, because I liked her and her forthright style and stubbornness so much. She was three steps ahead of Remy, Triana, and the  root of the danger haunting them all the whole book. I say some of the twists and connections coming right away, but was happy to see some of the interesting ways they came about. I enjoyed the read, but could have done with less stubborn brooding and more actual conversation between Triana and Remy- but that is something that I find to be a common issue in romance of all sub-genres.

Wolf Hunt is not far off what I was expecting, but was glad to see a few unexpected twists along the way. Fans of the series will want to pick this one up, and since the stage is set off the SWAT home turf I think newcomers to the series will be able to fully enjoy the read as well.