Early Book Review: Cursed by Fire by Jacquelyn Frank

Cursed by Fire is the first book in the Immortal Brothers series by Jacquelyn Frank. It is currently scheduled for release on February 24 2015.  Dethan has been facing a punishment by fire for two hundred years, trapped in a fiery inferno for defying the gods and snatching the power of immortality only to heal and suffer the agony again. He has lost all hope, until the Goddess of Conflict appears. She releases him from his shackles as long as he promises to use his power and strength as a warrior to raise an army and defeat a fierce enemy faction of gods. Free with a nightly return to fire and flames Dethan sets out to fulfill his promise. Betrothed to a cruel, calculating powermonger, Selinda needs a champion. Dethan enters into another bargain in order to win a city and slack his desires. If Selinda will share herself with him, Dethan will save her city from destructive forces within and without. As the lovers ignite a searing passion, Dethan will risk all, even the wrath of the Goddess of Conflict, for a chance to make Selinda his forever.

Cursed by Fire is a good start to another powerful series from Frank. As usual, her mythology is strong and unique and her characters are strong despite (or because of) the troubles they face. Bethan’s troubles are fairly obvious, walking into a world and facing it down with nothing after spending two hundred years burning and healing in a seemingly endless cycle makes for a hard day. However, he is smart and cunning, and quickly has the late of the land. Selinda suffers the hardship only women seem to face. Her intelligence is ignored and she is set to marry an abusive and controlling man because it is best for her. Of course, nothing is that cut and dry, but it gives you a good feel for the world. I really liked Dethan, he is smart and powerful in the right way, looking to protect those with less strength or power than himself. A hero always gets extra points for respecting a woman’s mind and will rather than just pushing for her to agree with him. His faith in Selinda, even when she lacks faith in herself, was great. I did think that the wrap up was a little too- ‘oh we have to get this done and set up the next book’ rather than feeling natural. However, it worked with the larger story arc even if it did not wow me.

I would recommend Cursed by Fire to all fans of Frank. I fully admit to loving most of what I have read from Frank, but I seem to lose track of her series. I start offering each on strong, then as the series progress become less proactive in finding the next book. Perhaps I am just too interested in what is coming next to actually complete a series. 

Early Book Review: Shadow Study by Maria V. Snyder

Shadow Study by Maria V. Snyder is the first book in the Soulfinders series, or you could consider it The Chronicles of Ixia number 7 or book number four in the Study series. each sequence is correct, it is just dependent on how far and which Snyder books you have read. It is currently scheduled for release on February 24 2015. As a disclaimer; I am a fangirl for Snyder and the Study series in particular. I did a little dance when I saw this book was under contract- and feel the same way after reading it and knowing that more is coming!

Yelena was much happier as a poison taster, when only her life was dependent of her choices. But she has become a vital part of the balance of power between rival countries Ixia and Sitia, using her magic to keep the peace in both lands while protecting her relationship with Valek. Suddenly, she is beset on all sides by those vying for power through politics and intrigue. Valek's job and his life are in danger as he returns to the castle where the Commander is keeping secrets and a young hotshot is looking to take his place. As Yelena tries to uncover the scope of these plots, she faces a new challenge: her magic is blocked. She must keep that a secret, or her enemies will discover just how vulnerable she really is, while searching for who or what is responsible for neutralizing her powers.

Shadow Study returns to the pace and quality that fans will remember from the book that started it all, Poison Study. Readers get to see the world through the alternating viewpoints of Yelena, Valek, and Janco. Yelena and Valek are expecting some quality alone time, instead Yelena is attacked and Valek needs to return to the commander asap. This begins each of their hard times. Yelena loses her magic, and her connection to the world around her. she is vulnerable and does not know who she can trust and how she might put others at risk. She needs to find out what has blocked her magic, who attacked her, and what larger plots put her and those she cares about at risk. Meanwhile Valek discovers that the Commander is keeping secrets and that many things have changed. He needs to protect himself, his position, and try not to let his worry over Yelena overcome him. Janco and crew need to deal with new recruits and trying to do their own jobs. Each journey is intertwined in complex pattern, and it is only when we see all the parts that the characters and readers can get an idea of the big picture.  I really enjoyed getting into Janco's head, and in the backstory that we get for Valek through his memories. my only issue here is that I need to wait until 2016 to get my hands on the next book Night Study.

Okay, after reading this I am an even bigger fan of Snyder because Yelena and Valek are still one of my favorite book couples, and we get a glimpse of Valek's training. Shadow Study is one of her great books, and I hope Night Study continues the trend. I consider this book a must read for Snyder fans, but recommend starting at the beginning with Poison Study for all newcomers. Snyder is up at the top of my recommended authors to readers, next to Tamora Pierce, for a great fantasy read with action, suspense, and romance that is still accessible and acceptable reading for mature middle grade, young adult, and adult readers.

Book Review: Poison Dart Frogs Up Close by Carmen Bredeson

Poison Dart Frogs Up Close by Carmen Bredeson is an easy non fiction book for children. This book explains why are the little frogs are called poison dart frogs, why they are so colorful and much more. There are colorful, up-close photos of these beautiful, tiny frogs in their native habitats give readers a stunning view of these fascinating creatures.

Poison Dart Frogs Up Close is formatted with bright colorful photographs that are paired with easy sentences in a nice large font. The youngest independent readers will enjoy learning about the poison dart frog and love the big, bight photos. There is a good amount of information in the book, with a fact or two that I did not know before reading this book. I would not recommend for more advanced readers, only because the phrasing is very simplistic and they might become bored.

Poison Dart Frogs Up Close is the perfect book chose for young readers that are obsessed with animals. The information and photographs are perfectly pair to keep the attention. Adults and older children might still learn something (I know I did) but will not really enjoy the read as much because of the reading level the book is written for.

How to Encourage and Interest Beginning Readers

When children first discover books some parents and educators push hard to keep that interest high, which others just seem to let it fade. I find that many kids will dig their heels in and avoid what ever is being pushed at them, while others need that encouragement. I think the best thing we can all do is set a good example, and show that reading can be enjoyable. Another key in promoting reading is to offer a variety of books that are reading level and age appropriate. It is also good to have a wide variety of formats and topics, however if your young reader is obsessed with a particular topic (like my daughter with animals) than picking books at least vaguely related to the topic might be the perfect lure.

Here are some suggestions for emergent and beginning readers that just might place them on the path to be book lovers.

Mo Willems’ Who is That, Cat the Cat? and frankly just about anything he writes, are wonderful books for young readers. His use of rhyme, repetition and humor make the inevitable rereading fun for the adults that might be read the book as well as for the young readers. The Cat series, Elephant and Piggie Series, as well as the Pigeon series are all hits with readers of all ages in my house. 

Like my man Mo, I find that James Dean's Pete the Cat series is consistently great reading for this group. From I Love my White Shoes to the more recent Pet the Cat and the New Guy there is rhyming, humor, and a song like quality to all of the books. Some of the Pete books are in classic picturebook format while others are easyreaders, but they are all great fun.
Another all around winner is Jane O'Connor's Fancy Nancy series. I have not had much time exploring this series, as neither my son or daughter are interested in anything that could be considered fancy, or most days even neat, but they are hugely popular in the library.
Getting through those authors will take a good chunk of time, but variety is the spice of life. 

So in the effort to mix things up and keeping a variety of different reading options available I would also suggest:  Patricia MacLachlan, is another author you can count on. White Fur Flying is an great book for this group, but has no illustrations. Fly Away and  Once I Ate a Pie are other good options. For the readers that are more determined and advanced they might want to step up to her more sophisticated book: The Truth of Me: About a Boy, his Grandmother, and a Very Good Dog, Hilary McKay’s Lulu series, which so far includes Lulu and the Duck in the ParkLulu and the Dog from the SeaLulu and the Cat in the Bag, Lulu and the Rabbit Next Door, Lulu and the Hedgehog in the Rain, and Lulu and the Hamster in the Night.
I also suggest Kate Messner’s Marty McGuire Has Too Many Pets, Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series, Jeff Brown's Flat Stanley series, Annie Burrow's Ivy & Bean series, Kate DiCamillo's Mercy Watson or Blink & Gollie series,  and any books published under Scholastic's new Branches imprint which are specifically targeted to this group of growing readers to capture their interest and get them to love reading.

Thankfully there are a large number of books with the large print, quick pace, and simple wording that will satisfy even the most reluctant of new readers. To whet the appetite, do not forget that most of these books are also available on audiobook. I hooked my young readers on the Magic Tree House series by playing the audio books in the car and then offering the books in the house. That made the harder words and ideas more accessible to them, and kept them interested and reading!

Did I miss one of your favorites? If so, share your suggestions in the comments so others can add them to their reading lists.

Book Review: Bone Deep by Gina McMurchy-Barber

Bone Deep by Gina McMurchy-Barber is a middle grade novel, and the third book in the Peggy Henderson adventure series. I have not read the previous books, and while I suspect they offer a broader knowledge of the characters it does not seem absolutely necessary to read the series in order.

When archaeologists discover a two-hundred-year-old shipwreck, Peggy Henderson decides she’ll do whatever it takes to take part in the expedition. But first she needs to convince her mom to let her go, and to pay for scuba diving lessons. To complicate matters even more, Peggy’s Great Aunt Beatrix comes to stay, and she’s bent on changing Peggy from a twelve-year-old adventure-seeking tomboy to a proper young lady. Help comes in the most unlikely of places when Peggy gets her hands on a copy of the captain’s log from the doomed ship, which holds the key to navigating stormy relationships.

Bone Deep is one of those great middle grade novels that are high on adventure and understanding the mind of the young characters while also teaching. Peggy is a tomboy, always wearing her favorite jersey and nonchalant about her hair. she is more interested in hanging out with her best friend and archeology than anything ladylike. so when her great Aunt Beatrix come to stay with them, just as she has engineered an opportunity to take part in an underwater excavation she thinks everything is ruined. Readers get to join Peggy as she conspires to get her SCUBA certification, goes through cl;asses, and dives. We get to read along as she explores the diary of a sea captain and negotiates family relationships and personal responsibility. I felt like Peggy was a very realistic character, and the things she learns and explores throughout her adventure will stick with readers, because you never know what small piece of information would be useful later in the story.

I would recommend Bone Deep for middle grade readers that enjoy adventure, mystery, and/or science. The combination of a head strong main character and real history and science make for an engrossing tale that will have even reluctant readers turning pages happily.

Book Review: The Possible Police by Wylde Scott

The Possible Police by Wylde Scott is a picturebook about inspiring big dreams and imagination in children. In this book a young child encounters The Possible Police. They will do whatever it takes to stop children from believing. In this picture book, Wylde takes your child into his boundless imagination as he fights off the possible police. Join him as he inspires children to truly believe, and teaches them that no one can stop them from doing what they dream.

It is important that we teach our children about hard work, but it is just as important that we teach them to dream, and sometimes to dream big, and crazy, and wonderful. The Possible Police is a book that shows kids how important it can be to dream the big crazy dream no matter how naysayers and others might try to stifle them. The illustrations are beautiful and colorful with a watercolor cartoon feel. I really enjoyed the book, and think it could really hit home with many families.

I would recommend The Possible Police as a classroom or shared reading book to start with. I think it is important for younger readers to have the adults in their lives, that may act as unintentional possible police on occasion, share these ideas and be reminded themselves that the creativity and imagination of childhood is wonderful. 

Book Review: The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian

The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian is a unique book that will appeal to a variety of readers. Zoe Faust is an herbalist, alchemist, and recent transplant to Portland, Oregon. As she starts unpacking she discovers a stow away. She finds a living, breathing, three-and-half-foot gargoyle in a box she has shipped from her store in France. Dorian Robert-Houdin, the gargoyle, he needs Zoe's help to decipher a centuries-old text that explains exactly what he is and why he is having health troubles. Zoe, who is still weary of her alchemical life, isn't so sure she can help. But when she finds her handy man murdered on her front porch, Zoe realized she's tangled up in ancient intrigue that can't be ignored.

The Accidental Alchemist has elements of the cookbook mystery (with wonderful recipes included), a new age or paranormal mystery, some romance, and some suspense and action to boot. I liked the character of Zoe, a intelligent and long lived women that still looks to be in her 20's despite her white hair. she is an herbalist and will versed in alchemy even though she has avoided practicing it for years because of painful events in her past.  Brixton is a young teen that has broken into Zoe's house on a dare, and discovered more about her secrets that she wanted. he ind his three friends offer some youthful indiscretions and risk to Zoe and Dorian, while the local police officer Max carries a different kind of danger with him. Blue, Olivia, Sam, Heather, and Ivan round out the town's eccentric but well intentioned crew. Be prepared to be hungry after reading because the descriptions of Dorian’s cooking had me eager to cook up some winter veggies and have at it even though I am an omnivore. There is just so much going on here, but at no time does the book become overwhelming or lose a thread of the larger story. 

Readers of the adult, new adult, and young adult persuasion will all find something in The Accidental Alchemist that appeals to them. There are many thread of mystery and character growth going on through the book, and at no point did any of those threads get dropped. I am eager to see where this new series goes. The writing style and layering has me interested in the other’s other works, and I plan on checking out her previous series, Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt.

Book Review: Stroke of Love by Melissa Foster

Stroke of Love is the eleventh book in the Love in Bloom series and the second book in The Remingtons subseries by Melissa Foster. You do not need to read these books as a series, they can each stand well on their own. Kate Parello runs a volunteer program in Belize for Artists for International Aid, where she deals with self-centered artists who use the program for good PR. She loves the country, the people, and what AIA stands for, but too many diva volunteers have turned her off to press-seeking celebrities altogether and left her questioning the value of the volunteer program. Laid-back artist Sage Remington escapes his wealthy lifestyle in the Big Apple for a two-week journey of self-discovery to figure out how a guy who has so much can feel so empty. When he meets ultra-organized Kate, who lives her life the way he's always dreamed of living his, the attraction is too hot to ignore, but Sage is there to figure out what’s missing in his life, not to find a woman. The pair find a closeness and attraction they cannot deny, but can they find their way to a life together?

Stroke of Love
follows in the footsteps of Game of Love in offering me some really great moments and some repetitive inner dialogue and self pity that had be frustrated. Sage is a pretty perfect guy. He is strong, smart, artistic, and insanely caring about those around him. His only fault is that he gets lost in his work, but frankly I could have dealt with that especially since that work has made him independently wealthy.  Kate has grown up putting others first and volunteering in a big way. She does not like the diva notions and wants to make a big difference in the lives of others. She is intelligent and independent with a strong work ethic. Both characters are great and I enjoyed  the back and forth as Sage worked to get past her defenses. It was only after they made their initial commitment and the worrying about the future started that I started to get annoyed. I do not have much patience for the self pity and doubt, particularly when we are talking about a possible short term separation. Thankfully the tail end of the book made up for that. Again, I still found myself eager to see what happens with the next Remington sibling and am ready to keep on reading.

Stroke of Love is a great read that lost a bit of momentum and oomph towards the end, but  then redeemed itself a bit. Still not a perfect read, but I am definitely hooked! I am now a Foster fan and am making my way through the backlist of her books. I am really looking forward to the next book in the Remington arch.

Book Review: Everything I Need To Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow

Everything I Need To Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow is a humorous and sweet "guide to life" for grown-ups! Muldrow's tips for getting the most out of life ("Don't forget to enjoy your wedding!", "Be a hugger.", "Sweatpants are bad for morale.") are drawn from more than 60 stories, are paired with the images from these best-loved children's books of all time. The images are pulled from stories like The Poky Little Puppy, Pantaloon, Mister Dog, Nurse Nancy, We Help Mommy, Five Pennies to Spend, and The Little Red Hen. The Golden greats of children's illustration are represented here as well: Richard Scarry, Garth Williams, Eloise Wilkin, J. P. Miller, and Mary Blair, among many others.

Everything I Need To Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book is a book that I honestly picked up because of the title and cover. I saw it come into my library on hold for a patron, and quickly put myself on hold for it as well. Thankfully the book gave me the exact warm fuzzies that I expected. I love the familiar golden foil spine and the images that I remember from my childhood pair with advise that might seem trite, but when combined with these particular images made me smile, and I will admit to misty eyes.

I think all book lovers, from every generation, need to look at Everything I Need To Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book. It is sweet, quirky, and nostalgic for so many of us that grew up with the classic golden book, and those of us that have carried that tradition on with our own children and  grandchildren. 

Early Book Review: Just in Time for a Highlander by Gwyn Cready

Just in Time for a Highlander is the first book in the Sirens of the Scottish Borderlands series by Gwyn Cready.  It is currently schedule for publication on February 3 2015. It's tough being a woman in a man's profession, especially for Abby Kerr, the unexpected chieftess of Clan Kerr. Loathe to marry but in need of a strong arm, Abby wishes for a Scots warrior and gets Duncan, the historical reenactment hobbyist. Wall Street Impresario Duncan MacHarg isn't bad with a fencing foil, but he's no Highlander. When a misdirected spell plucks him from the 21st century, he lands in 1705 Scotland at the feet of the fiercest woman he's ever laid eyes on. The English are on the border and the fiscal affairs are far from being in order. The independent Abby needs help, but could the strange man brought to her possibly by more help than hindrance?

I really wanted to love Just in Time for a Highlander, and to start with I did. I like Abby’s character and her friends. The conflict she faces, trying to lead her clan when so many men are against women having any kind of power. She is a strong and is working very hard to balance everything she needs to do to help her clan thrive. Duncan is intelligent and honorable. He wants to help Abby, but is unsure as to when in the history of Scotland he has landed and how he can be helpful. The attraction between the two is strong, and there is a suitor waiting for Abby in the wings, in a bunch or other complications. The characters are all pretty strong, and I really liked some of the side characters. However, it got to about a third of the way through the book and instead of moving towards a resolution more complications. When I got about halfway through the book the trend was still the same and I was starting to get a little anxious to finish. I liked the final resolution, and most of the complications were fine and made perfect sense in the book. I just felt like the book could have been more cohesive and faster paced without a few of the issues included. I can think of two or three complications that could have been excluded entirely with no loss to the drama and plot of the book.

Just in Time for a Highlander was a solid time travel romance. It was a little long and involved for my tastes, but I can see why some others might enjoy it more than I did. The characters and history are well done however.