Early Book Review: Centaur Rising by Jane Yolen

Centaur Rising is a middle grade to young adult novel by Jane Yolen. It is currently scheduled for release on October 21, 2014. Arianne has always wished for magic in her life, a meteor shower and some team work might just make that reality. During the Perseid meteor shower, Arianne thinks she sees a shooting star land in the fields surrounding her family’s horse farm. About a year later, one of their horses gives birth to a baby centaur. The family wants to protect the young boy and has had enough attention already. Arianne’s six-year-old brother was born with birth defects caused by an experimental drug, and their rock-star father has deserted them. They do not want the limelight, but soon the horse farm's clients growing suspicious. How long can they keep their secret and everyone safe? What will happen if the world learns about the miracle on the farm?

Centaur Rising keeps with the record of Yolan never disappointing me. I really enjoyed the characters, the setting, and the premise. Arianne is a girl that has grown up faster than she should, and is still both compassionate and weary. Her father left the family when her younger brother was born with birth defects. Her outlook was realistic with still a wistful hope for magic and better things. I loved her younger brother's determination and resilience, and her mothers efforts to protect them both.  I will say that my favorite character is still Martha, a employee that is more of a family member on the horse farm. I think that the description of the centaur foal and his development was key to the story. It kept the wonder of his very existence, but also dealt with the practicalities and truth that made him much more human and real than most people here in reality, This is much more than a fantasy, more than a coming of age story, this is a look at how real people facing extraordinary circumstances still have to keep moving forward and dealing with the minute details that are often left out of books and television.

I really enjoyed Centaur Rising. Yolan, as usual, brings her characters to life. She leaves readers with a feeling that this family, this farm, could really be out there somewhere. Her characters are so real. Like in real life, there are funny moments, moments that make you want to scream, and moments that make it all worth while.

Book Tour Review: The Magic of Maxwell and His Tail by Maureen Stolar Kanefield

The Magic of Maxwell and His Tail by Maureen Stolar Kanefield is a cute picturebook about a young mouse facing growing pains. Maxwell is smart, and has a curiosity that draws him to study everything. The trouble starts when he discovers his tail is growing much too long. Soon he being teased about the long tail, and how clumsy he feels with it. Maxwell soon discovers that his biggest problem can also be his biggest asset and explores the good in his tail.

The Magic of Maxwell and His Tail has something that everyone can relate to. When growing up just about everyone has something that makes them feel awkward, clumsy, silly, or anything else that makes them feel like they could be teased about. In many cases it is the awkwardness that come with growth spurts, braces, a haircut, needing glasses, speech or attention issues; but can take any form. I really enjoyed how the illustrations and words came together here to make every reader relate to Maxwell, and understand that like the little mouse whatever they are feeling bad about could also be an asset once they take the time to explore it. Maxwell thinks about all the great things he could do with his tail; paint, play music, cook, and so on. A young person could take the message of this book and find the fun or strength in their 'weakness' as well. 

The Magic of Maxwell and His Tail is a well told and illustrated tale about finding the good in yourself, and about accepting others as they come. we all have our own something different about ourselves, but like Maxwell children and adults alike are unable to harness that difference for anything worthwhile until they accept it and test it. Readers of all ages will want to encourage and  cheer for Maxwell as he finds that being different is not only okay, but part of the wonder of the world.

Early Book Review: In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang is a young adult graphic novel currently scheduled for release on October 14 2014. Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role playing game that she spends most of her free time on. It's a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It's a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends. Gaming is, for Anda, entirely a good thing. Things become more complicated when Anda befriends a gold farmer, a poor Chinese kid whose real life job is acting in game to collect valuable objects to be sold to other players. While against the rules in Coarsegold, but Anda realizes that questions of right and wrong are a lot less straightforward when a real person's real livelihood is at stake. 

In Real Life is a graphic novel that really tackles some tough topics. It tackles the lack of respect women and girls get in gaming, the technicalities of what is right and wrong in game,  how goos some of us have it, how bad other people’s live can be, and how game life and real life can effect each other. Right and wrong is rarely as cut and dry as we would like to believe. There are shades of grey, even in fictional worlds. Anda is a girl that is great with computers and offered a chance to take part in a new game, in an all girl guild. While trying to make a name for herself she has the chance to help eliminate gold farmer, only to see that doing something that removes players breaking the rules is still not always the right thing to do. Taking the time to talk and learn about another gamer brings about great understanding, but also causes trouble that is not easily resolved. The art work was a perfect pairing with the story and dialogue, resulting in a perfect glimpse of how complicated life can be. 

In Real Life is a sensitive, thoughtful look at adolescence, gaming, poverty, and culture-clash. I think every computer savvy reader, and every gamer, will get something remarkable from this book. Readers that are neither internet or game savvy should still give this graphic novel a chance, it does a good job of explaining why some people love gaming so much as well as how complex the ties of the internet and economy are.

Book Review: The Case of the Stolen Sixpence (The Mysteries of Maisie Hitchins) by Holly Webband Marion Lindsay

The Case of the Stolen Sixpence (The Mysteries of Maisie Hitchins) by Holly Webb and Marion Lindsay is a children’s chapter book in the tradition of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Maisie Hitchins is twelve years old, and is fascinated with detecting. She takes the time to notice things, which leads her to believe that she would be a great detective if she only had the chance. However, she spends most of her time helping her grandmother run a boarding house and running related errands. When Maisie has the chance to solve the mystery of who would toss a puppy into a canal and who has been stealing money from the nearby butcher shop she is on the case!

The Case of the Stolen Sixpence is the great start to a series. While introducing a varied cast of characters, it never felt like the characters were being explained only to set up the rest of the series, which sometimes happens. Maisie is a smart, well intentioned girl with an eye for detail. Her actions occasionally have less than wonderful consequences, but she is a character that steps up and tries to right any wrong, especially those that she has had a hand in. I really liked her spunk, honest, and willingness to look for the truth even if she might not like the answer. The black and white illustrations compliment the action and mood of the story and its characters perfectly. The action is fast and the book holds many surprises and quirks to keep readers turning the pages. 

The Case of the Stolen Sixpence is a delightful mystery complete with tricks, disguises, danger, and a little dog too! Readers that like action and mystery will dive into this book and might not come up for air right away.

Book Review: Nancy Knows by Cybele Young

Nancy Knows is a picturebook by Cybele Young. Nancy the elephant knows she has forgotten something, something important. While she walks around trying to remember, she thinks of all sorts of other things instead. It is only after she stops thinking so hard that Nancy remembers what should should be doing.

Nancy Knows is a delightful picturebook. Elephants are supposed to remember everything, right. Well, Nancy cannot remember. She knows there is something she needs to remember, and now. She is struggling with something we have all done, even the young audience for picture books. We have all had that moment when we cannot remember a name, the last item on the shopping list, or the reason we went into a room. For children it might be the way they are supposed to solve a math problem, or how to spell a word; although we adults can have those lapses too. I love that while Nancy is trying to remember she comes up with all sorts of other things in her mind- which are shown in delightful paper sculptures and bright colors on each page. I do the same thing, as I am trying to go through my to do list for the day, I remember something I tried to remember yesterday. The book is splendid and charming, something everyone can find enjoyment in. 

I would recommend Nancy Knows to readers of all ages that have ever forgotten something, anyone that has had a thought or name on the tip of their tongue but evading recollection, and frankly that is all of us right? The are is colorful, charming, and a wonderful pairing to the story of an elephant that sometimes forgets.

Early Book Review: A Highland Wolf Christmas by Terry Spear

A Highland Wolf Christmas is part of the Heart of the Wolf series  by Terry Spear. This paranormal romance is currently scheduled for release on October 7 2014. Guthrie MacNeill is the financial adviser for his clan and werewolf pack. He is worried for the safety of a party planner who is staying with them to avoid an ex that will not take no for an answer, while trying to fight his attraction to her. What he cannot seem to reconcile the fact that his job is to save the clan's money, and hers seems to be to spend it. Calla Stewart has never had a more difficult client. The laird and lady of the castle are delightful, but the handsome Highlander holding the purse strings is quite impossible. When Guthrie takes on the role of Highland warrior to protect her the holidays take a turn for the passionate. 

A Highland Wolf Christmas is another entry in the heart of the Wolf series. Like the rest, it can stand on its own merit, but knowing what has happened in some of the most recent books can definitely add to the tension and investment in the characters. Guthrie has been around for awhile, and seen prosperous and painfully poor times. This is why he is so careful with the pack's money. When Calla is hired to throw a holiday party he is put at odds because even though he likes her more than he wants to admit, and worries for her safety in more ways than one, he is protective of the clan's finances and does not like to see them spent wastefully. Calla is a party planner with an ex fiance that just cannot except her rejection. While Guthrie might think she spends money like water, she is actually as mindful and forward thinking with finances as him. When danger comes, and hits them from several sides, it will take trust and teamwork to help them find the way to success and love.

A Highland Wolf Christmas is another solid book in the series. I was glad to see Calla's story be told since she was introduced as a character a few books ago. This was not my favorite in the series, that would most likely be Hero of a Highland Wolf, but it is still a solid read with some humor and great tension to keep the pages turning. 

Early Book Review: The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth by Ian Lendler and Zack Giallongo

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth is a graphic novel by Ian Lendler and Zack Giallongo. It is currently scheduled for release on September 30, 2014. The Stratford Zoo might look like a normal zoo, but when the zoo closes for the night the animals perform, and watch, Shakespeare's greatest works. While they are not all great actors, or audience members, the have heart and the basic gist of Macbeth complete with murder, madness, and plenty of ketchup. 

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth is a fun look at a piece of classic literature with a twist. While certain plot points and details are not quite what literature majors and scholars remember, it is a fun and entertain entry to the world of Shakespeare for young readers. The fact that is it a graphic novel, with animals and plenty of laughs, will draw in reluctant readers and hopefully get some youngsters interested in Shakespeare. A lion plays the role of Macbeth, and rather than straight murder he devours his victims, with lots and lots of ketchup. Because we all know that ketchup can make just about any meal more appetizing, right?  There are remarks from the audience, and everyone comes out all right in the end despite being eaten earlier. All in all the story is fun, with pictures that offer humorous and important details, while imparting the basic themes and ideas of the original play. 

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth and its story of after-hours animal stagecraft is paired with adorable and accessible artwork. I think that this book just might be the gateway for some reactant readers to develop interest in theater in general, and possibly Shakespeare. I look forward to Romeo and Juliet coming out as book two in this new series of graphic novels for young readers. 

Blog Tour Book Review: Rose and the Magician's Mask by Holly Webb

Rose and the Magician's Mask by Holly Webb is the third book in the Rose series. While it is helpful to have read the previous books for character details, however the author does a good reminder or introduction to the series in the opening of the book, so new readers can catch on pretty quickly. Rose is now a fully fledged magician's apprentice. When a precious mask of unimaginable power is stolen from the royal palace Rose suspects that dark magicians with a grudge against them for past interactions are involved. The race to stop the evil thieves will take Rose to the mysterious city of Venice, where nothing is quite what it seems. Can Rose use her magic to find the terrible mask before its true powers are revealed?
Rose and the Magician's Mask was a fun story and a decent follow up to Rose and the Lost Princess, but was not as good as I hoped. I really enjoyed the character development and the adventure that flows well through the entire story. Rose grows as a person and a magician, and so do the other main players. I really enjoyed getting to see more of Bella and her growth. The exploration of Venice was less than I hoped for, but it was made up for with the action and atmosphere of magic and danger. My main disappointment was the climax, it really did not feel like our heroes had much to do with the conclusion- but the lead in to the rest of the series was well done.

Rose and the Magician's Mask is a book that I would recommend for fans of the series and of Holly Webb. I enjoy the characters and the action for the most part, but am occasionally disappointed with the big climax of good versus evil. The series is still worth the read, but not as good as I expect because of the depth of the rest of the book.

Book Review: This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld

This is a Moose is a great picturebook written by Richard T. Morris and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. When a movie director tries to capture the life of the average moose on film, he is in for a big surprise. The moose has a dream bigger then just being a moose, he wants to be an astronaut and go to the moon. To upset the director further his friends and family come to help, and they are just as unexpected as a moose astronaut. A great story about breaking expectations, following dreams, and accepting others.

I really loved This is a Moose. the illustrations are a perfect match to the text, with small details that you might miss the first read, but will delight on the second or third reading. the director really wants to make a documentary about moose and how they really live in the forest. An astronut moose does not fit this moldn nor does his grandmother moose that plays lacrosse, or a giraffe in the woods, or a superhero chipmunk. However, a slingshot to the moon and the realization that the director is a little different as well has the entire group embracing the moose for his own dreams and quirks. Soon they are all enjoying a new documentary. 

This is a Moose is a great book and conversation starting on a number of topics; like following dreams, people that go against convention, and accepting others. I really loved the illustrations, text, and messages which make the book an all around winner. 

Early Book Review: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

The Whispering Skull is the second book in the Lockwood & Co. series by Jonathan Stroud. It is currently scheduled for release on September 16, 2014. It has been six months since Anthony, Lucy, and George survived a night in the most haunted house in England and Lockwood & Co. hasn't made much progress. A team of Fittes agents always seem to be near, and Anthony challengestheml to a contest: the next time the two agencies compete on a job, the losing side will have to admit defeat in the paper. When Mr. Saunders, hires Lockwood & Co. to be present at the excavation of Edmund Bickerstaff, Saunders needs the coffin sealed with silver to prevent any supernatural trouble. All goes well-until George's curiosity attracts a horrible phantom. When Bickerstaff's coffin is raided and a strange glass object buried with the corpse has vanished. Inspector Barnes believes the relic to be highly dangerous, and he wants it found. The teams go head to head, and there is more at stake than a ad in the paper.

The Whispering Skull is a perfect follow up to The Screaming Staircase. We see more of what makes George, Lucy, and Anthony such real characters, more about their teamwork, and more troubles for each of them to face. I loved that Stroud explores how each of the very different children come together, and how each of their gifts could be great strengths or weaknesses depending on the situation and use. The adventure is high, as is the danger. Every single character is in life threatening situations again, and they each also face situations that have them doubting themselves and each other. the combination had be holding my breath on occasion, and kept me turning pages long after I should have gone to bed or starting doing my household chores. The secondary characters received a bit more depth in this book, and I am very interested to see where stroud takes the world he has created next. 

The Whispering Skull is  amusing, chilling, and ingeniously plotted sequel. The characters are well defined, relatable, and far from perfect. However, they face huge obstacles and come together to use their strengths and friendship to come through in the end. Stroud is definitely a must read author for the middle grade set.