Early Book Review: The Dam Keeper: World Without Darkness by Robert Kondo, Dice Tsutsumi

The Dam Keeper: World Without Darkness is a graphic novel written by Robert Kondo and illustrated by Dice Tsutsumi. It is currently scheduled for release on July 10 2018. It is the second book in the series, and I have not read the first. I think that reading the series in order is recommended, but if the art draws you in, most readers could pick up the story to a certain degree. However- those that have read the first volume or watched the short animation it was based on will get much more from it than those of us that jumped in here.

Beyond the dam lies certain death—this is something every citizen of Sunrise Valley knows well. Yet, when a poisonous black tidal wave carries Pig, Fox, and Hippo over the dam and into the wastelands, they don’t find death. Instead they find bustling cities, each with their own dams. Pig can't help but wonder, who is the mysterious dam keeper behind it all? But he doesn't have time to unravel this mystery. The wave of deadly black fog will return to Sunrise Valley in four days, and its dam can't withstand another assault. In a stolen truck and with a deranged lizard leading the way, Pig and his friends are in a race against the clock. but can they reach home in time?

The Dam Keeper: World Without Darkness is a graphic novel that I was tempted into reading because of the art. Even when I had no idea whatsoever about what was happening I fully enjoyed the artwork. The story lost me more than once, there were flashbacks and references to the past, which mostly went over my head because I missed the first book. However, the majority of this book felt like a buddy or roadtrip movie with some interesting twists and turns, some suggestions of secrets, and meeting new characters. As the group tries to make it home, assuredly to save their families and friends, they find themselves in some very weird situations with stranger characters, but I never really felt like I got to the meat of the story. There is a good climax, and hints to what is next for Pig, but since I was so uncertain about what was going on I never got invested in the characters or the story.

The Dam Keeper: World Without Darkness is  a well drawn and colored graphic novel for middle grade, and perhaps younger and older, readers. I think readers that have read the first volume and enjoyed it will definitely want to pick this one up. I prefer series with a more complete feel to each of the installments, but that is jusyt my personal preference and I know others are not as bothered by this. 

Book Review: It's All About the Duke (The Rakes of St. James) by Amelia Grey

It's All About the Duke is the third book in The Rakes of St. James series by Amelia Grey. I have not read the previous books in the series, but I could still fully enjoy the read. There are some references that will make more sense to those that have been following the series, but newcomers will catch on. 
Nearing thirty, the Duke of Rathburne is finally ready to make amends for the wager that caused him and his best friends such scandal―but taking on a ward who needs a husband is a feat he’s not sure he can manage. The last he saw of Miss Marlena Fast, she was a spirited little ruffian, not the sort of bride most bachelors on the marriage mart sought. But one glance at the lovely lady she has become is enough to convince him otherwise. Orphaned young and shuffled from family to family, Marlena counts on her fierce independence and quick wits to keep herself content. Being the responsibility of a notoriously wicked duke who upended so many lives is an unexpected challenge when she realizes he arouses her decidedly feminine desires. Marlena must be careful. She has her own scandalous secret to protect. If he finds out, will it shatter her chances of a happily-ever-after with the notorious rake?
It's All About the Duke was a mixed bag for me. I liked Marlena's character in some ways, she is independent and resourceful, but naive and foolish. I liked her spunk and willingness to stand up for herself, but sometimes her willingness to overlook some people's faults and failings, but unwillingness to think beyond them for others was a little bothersome- but also completely human and believable. Rath feels bad about how the actions his group made years ago has effected others, but never really looked too deeply to see past the surface to see if they had any lingering negative affects on those involved. I liked the banter between Rath and Marlena, but found them a bit quick and easy with the physical side of the relationship, and considering all the secrets and hard feelings floating around I found it a little off putting. I found some of the reactions of each to alternate between over the top, and dismissive depending on the moment. I still enjoyed the read, but I was not invested in the characters or action- rather felt like I was eavesdropping or watching someone's personal drama unfold in public, with all the dramatic flare of someone looking for attention rather than heartfelt emotion. I usually enjoy this author's work more, and wonder if I was just not in the mood for this style of romance when I picked it up. 
It's All About the Duke is a historical romance with plenty of drama and some quirky characters. I really enjoyed some of the dialogue and interactions, but it fell short of my expectations.

Book Review: The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo by Stephen Bramucci, Arree Chung

The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo is a middle grade novel written by Stephen Bramucci, and illustrated by Arree Chung. Ronald Zupan is a daring master adventurer! But he actually hasn't experienced any grand adventures yet! When his world-traveling parents are kidnapped on his twelfth birthday, Ronald seizes the chance to prove himself with a dazzling, danger-defying rescue operation. Teaming up with his trusty butler Jeeves, his quick-witted fencing nemesis Julianne Sato, and his pet cobra Carter, Ronald sets course for the jungle of Borneo where his parents were last sighted. If they can crash-land a plane and outrun a hungry snow leopard, surely they can find the secret lair of Zeetan Z, the world's most ruthless pirate! But as their adventure becomes more and more dangerous, can Ronald and his companions muster enough courage to see this adventure through?
The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo is a fun adventure for middle grade readers. Ronald is the best adventurer ever, just ask him. With big ideas, grand plans, and an ego bigger than life Ronald is eager to jump in feet first regardless of the consequences. I liked the full blown adventure, and the eagerness the younger adventure goers dive into the mystery and adventure. I think my favorite character was the poor butler, not really named Jeeves, who follows all of Ronald's journal entries with comments and commentary of his own. I will admit that I occasionally lost interest and set the book aside, but always ended up picking it back up. I think my issue was that I have known too many adults like Ronald- people that think their perception of the world is true despite all evidence to the contrary. At first it was fun and made me laugh, but the number of people that live their lives like that made it much less enjoyable for me. However, that's on me rather than an issue with the author and the story. 
The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo is a fun and quirky adventure that I think will be a favorite among many middle grade readers. Just because it did not hit the right chord with me, there is no reason to think it will not resonate with others. 

Book Review: Choice by Andrea Loredo

Choice by Andrea Loredo is a novella length fantasy. It feels like the second book in a series, but I can find no information on previous, or later, books. 
Ser Mirele Heine is a Guardian, sworn to protect the royal family. One night, after being oddly called away to slay a dragon in another province, Mirele and hir companions are ambushed. They rush back to the castle to find a coup is underway. Mirele manages to escape with hir charge, Princess Shahira de Granius. As the two go into hiding and move from town to town, Shahira grapples with her conflicting feelings over the slaughter of her family, and Mirele struggles with the dark secret ze harbors and hir own affections for the princess. 
Choice is a story that I enjoyed, but was also a little disappointed with at the same time. I was glad that I got a good deal of the backstory I wanted in the beginning towards the end of the book. I liked the characters, but felt like I could have gotten a little more development even in the short book. I will admit that I was distracted by the alternate pronouns, although once I figured out it was because Mirele was non binary rather than it being a part of the fantasy setting it made more sense to me. I liked the story, but think it would be better served as part of a larger work- because I felt like there as so much more that could be done with the characters, setting, and conflicts that ran as the backdrop.

Book Review: The Yark by Bertrand Santini

The Yark by Bertrand Santini is a subversive chapter book about a monster who eats children--until one day he makes a friend. The Yark loves children with the love of a gourmet! This hairy monster dreams of child buffets--ham of boy, orphan gratin, breaded babies, and so on. But he has a problem: his delicate stomach can only tolerate nice children; liars give him heartburn and savages spoil his teeth. There are not nearly enough good, edible children around to keep him from starvation. Then the Yark finds sweet Madeleine. Will he gobble her up? Or will she survive long enough to change his life?
The Yark is not for the sensitive reader, because it does start of with how much the Yark like to eat children, and how he goes about it. There are some illustrations through the book, all in black and white pencil work, and they do a good job of drawing the reader in more, and helping them picture exactly what the author intends. The exploits of our Yark, who is a softie but quite hungry, are fantastic and silly, with a few moments that will scare some. Stealing the nice list from Santa gives him a road map to find tasty children to eat, but it never goes quite he was. He is tricked, accidentally eats a bad child- resulting in extreme distress. That is until Madeleine cares for him and they become the best of friends despite all odds. It is love that the Yark attempts to leave, only to suffer horribly but lose the need to eat good children and start on the path to change, with Madeleine's support of course. There is a life lesson to be had, and plenty to think about. It is not quite what I was expecting- although I am not sure what I was expecting anyway. It was interesting, and a little harsher than I expected in some ways. 
The Yark is not necessarily for just children, and is certainly not for those that do not like some horror or mayhem in their reading. Like the original fairy tales, there is plenty of darkness here, and a higher level read that I was really expecting. I would think middle grade readers with a liking for horror, and older readers, will get much more out of this read than younger children. 

Early Book Review: Gardening Under Lights: The Complete Guide for Indoor Growers by Leslie F Halleck

Gardening Under Lights: The Complete Guide for Indoor Growers by Leslie F Halleck is currently scheduled for release on July 11 2018. This book is a resource that gives information on just about everything a gardener or hobbyist needs to know to garden indoors. Part One of the book starts with the basics of photosynthesis, the science of light, and how to accurately measure how much light a plant needs. Part Two gives an overview of the most up-to-date tools and gear available. Parts Three and Four offer tips and tools for growing popular ornamental and edible plants independent of the constraints of volatile outdoor conditions.
Gardening Under Lights: The Complete Guide for Indoor Growers is an extremely detailed and informative book. As someone who has had terrible luck with indoor growing, but much better results with outdoor growing. I thought some of the information was a little overkill- like the full explanation of photosynthesis, which I remember quite well from previous science classes- but I understand that knowing the whys make implementing the strategies much easier to understand. There is a lot to take in, and I think that readers that are looking for quick answers to questions like "how can I best grow this inside" and "why did this plat die" will be a little overwhelmed or frustrated. However, readers that are more interested in the science and technical reasons for the hows and whys of growing plants inside will be very happy. I would suggest tackling this book like any serious non fiction book or reference guide, giving yourself time to process the information and digest it rather than just quickly flipping through the pages looking for a specific hint to help you, or simply worded answer or solution.

Gardening Under Lights: The Complete Guide for Indoor Growers is a well organized and helpful resource to new and experienced gardeners alike. It is very dense with facts, and not really for those looking for a quick read. 

Early Book Review: Pop! by Jason Carter Eaton, Matt Rockefeller

Pop! is a picturebook written by Jason Carter Eaton and illustrated by Matt Rockefeller. It is currently scheduled for release on July 3 2018. A quiet afternoon of blowing bubbles and popping them turns into a Planes, Trains, & Automobiles-style adventure, as our young protagonist Dewey struggles to pop that one last bubble, The Bubble That Got Away.
Pop! is a fun story about determination and imagination. I enjoyed Dewey's efforts to pop an elusive bubble, and the way the story took a lonely kid on a grand adventure. I really liked that Dewey showed the ability to entertain himself, determination to finish what he started, and the imagination to make the well loved task of blowing and popping bubbles. Dewey took something that is so basic to childhood, and made it his own grand adventure, when other kids might have spent the day watching television alone or pouting that there was no one to play with, or that others did not invite him to play with them. He did not get mad, he made his own fun, and enjoyed his day. The conclusion of long distance companionship in bubble popping added a little heart twist at the end. I thought the illustrations were lovely, and they had the soft, dream like quality that matched the theme and action of the story, while not being washed out or boring at any point. 

Book Review: Betting the Scot (The Highlanders of Balforss) by Jennifer Trethewey

Betting the Scot is the second book in The Highlanders of Balforss series by Jennifer Trethewey. I did read and enjoy the first book in this series, Tying the Scot, but think that each book can be enjoyed on its own. 

Declan Sinclair is a Highlander who believes his dreams never lie. When he spots Caya at a public house, he knows instantly she is the woman in his dreams—his future wife. Though her brother had promised never to gamble again, he engages Declan in a card game—and the prize is the lovely Caya.  Caya Pendarvis has no time for childish things like dreams or fairy-tales or love. She’s the sacrificial lamb on her way to the far north of Scotland to wed a wealthy merchant in exchange for settling her brother’s gambling debts.  Winning at cards is one of the many things Declan Sinclair does well. Unfortunately, the ability to court a woman—a talent he lacks—is the only skill he desperately needs to win Caya’s heart.
Betting the Scot is a multi layered romance that catches the attention, and keeps it through out the entire read. I liked the set up with Caya, and her brother. I also like that while Declan is far from poor, neither Declan or Caya are gentry, which is a nice change of pace in historical romance. So often the main players are Dukes, or other lords and ladies, so while Declan is related to the head of his clan he is not exactly royalty. I like that Declan is certain Caya is to be his wife, but is so lost and uncertain about how to go about making it happen. Caya is at a loss after her brother sells her, them gambles her away. She still loves him, and wants to help him, but knows that he has greed and weaknesses that are dangerous. I enjoyed getting Declan's side of the story for most of the book, and liked his honor and kindness, that is not always obvious to those around him. I will admit that I was annoyed with Caya for trusting her brother after all he had done, and for not fully confiding in Declan.I though Declan was a complex and sympathetic character, and I was rooting for him through the entire book. I found Caya to be a little less likable, she often annoyed me in her own way, but I never hated her. I think if she had trusted Declan more, and her brother less, I would have enjoyed the book even more. The danger was well done, and the drama crafted with a satisfying conclusion. I loved getting to see Peter in action again, after loving his character in the previous book, although those that did not already know him will still find this young secondary characters to be fabulous. I also liked getting a hint as to who might be next while not leaving so many open questions that I was frustrated. 
Betting the Scot is a well written historical romance with plenty of twists and turns. I enjoyed the characters and their depth, and my only complaint is that sometimes I feel like there might be one too many twists that could be replaced with conversation to ease communication issues rather than life or death danger turning the tide.

Book Review: Pennybaker School is Headed for Disaster by Jennifer Brown

Pennybaker School is Headed for Disaster is the start of a new middle grade series by Jennifer Brown. Thomas Fallgrout always thought of himself as a regular kid until the day he accidentally creates a little big of magic using his grandpa's old potions. Suddenly, he's pulled from public school and enrolled in Pennybaker Academy for the Uniquely Gifted, where kids are busy perfecting their chainsaw juggling, unicycling feats, and didgeridoo playing. Pennybaker is full of spirit thanks to its most beloved teacher: the late, great Helen Heirmauser. The school has even erected a statue of her head on a pedestal. Then, life is uprooted when the statue goes missing -- and everyone thinks Thomas is behind its disappearance. Now his head is on the line. As his new friends turn on him, Thomas finds himself pairing up with the only person who will associate with him: his oddball next door neighbor Chip Mason. Together they work to hunt down the missing statue, only to discover that maybe what they've both needed to find all along was true friendship.

Pennybaker School is Headed for Disaster has a little bit of everything. Our main character is an earnest middle school boy starting a new school and wanting to fit in, but the people in that new school are more like his grandmother and willing to stand out. Thomas just wants to be seen as normal, and he is having trouble finding his footing. The family dynamics of Thomas, with a controlling mother and daring grandmother at odds with each other, as well as the younger sister and easy going dad was both realistic on some levels but over the top funny in others. I like that Thomas was a sympathetic character, and while I might not have always agreed with his choices, his reasoning and thought process we very relatable and I think will hit a cord with a wind range of readers. I like that there was a touch of mystery, as Thomas tries to solve the theft of the head, but also a strong focus on the friendships and development of self that carried the story forward. I also like that there was a good amount of new vocabulary for readers to learn as they enjoy the series. I also found the occasional pencil drawings to be charming and a nice tough to the book. 

Pennybaker School is Headed for Disaster is a middle grade novel with heart, action, and plenty of angst. I liked the characters and the story, the balance between completely believable and wacky was perfect for me. I am looking forward to checking out the second book in this series, which is scheduled for release the summer of 2018.

Book Review: Bent For His Will by KyAnn Waters

Bent For His Will by KyAnn Waters is a m/m/f erotic romance. Logan Sawin and Will Pennington have been friends for years. They attend the same university and live together in a great loft apartment. Their friendship can withstand anything, except Renna Polo. Logan has never questioned his sexuality until he sees Renna, his girlfriend, in Will's arms. Will is gay. But what bothers Logan more, Will's hands on Renna...or Renna's hands on Will? Will has a dirty little secret...he's in love with his best friend. Yet, Logan isn't gay and Will isn't willing to risk their friendship to discover if Logan isn't quite straight, but may be a little bent. Renna is in love with Logan and is intrigued by Will. She accepts what Logan and Will can't...they belong together. But if Logan and Will take a chance on more, where does that leave her? Right where she wants to be, with Logan and the man he loves.

Bent For His Will is the first romance of this style that I have read, and I was pleasantly surprise. I will admit to starting the book and feeling a bit like it was going to erotica with very little character development since it started off with a sex scene. However, there was a great deal of relationship and personal growth. I loved that Logan, Will, and Renna all struggled, but were committed to be honest and open with each other about what they wanted and what they needed- something that is not always the case in romance novels or real life. The conversations, realizations, and personal struggles of all involved was very detailed and well done. I also like that it does not happen in a vacuum- they each had support systems in place to help them work out the individual issues they needed to come to terms with. I really love that while they had a solution, and everyone was content in the end, readers finished the book knowing while there might be issues or problems that come up in the future the trio would talk and work them through together. That openness and honesty is what really made me happy and enjoy the read. 

Bent For His Will is different from anything I have read before, in many ways. However, the honest character writing and their efforts to discuss and work out any problems impressed me. If only more real and fictional people would do the same.