Book Review: Courting the Countess by Jenny Frame

Courting the Countess by Jenny Frame is a contemporary romance. Professor of Archeology Henrietta “Harry” Knight becomes Countess of Axedale upon her father’s death and takes a sabbatical from Cambridge University to begin refurbishing the long-neglected and run-down Axedale Hall. The child of a loveless marriage, witness to her father’s infidelities and her mother’s pain, Harry has no intention of ever falling in love. Annie Brannigan is a survivor, remaining positive through hardships. As an agency housekeeper, she moves from post to post with her daughter Riley, taking care of people who have everything she will never have. Annie’s greatest wish is to find her happy ever after. Can love restore the countess’s heart and the crumbling Axedale Hall, or will the first foundations of love turn to dust?

Courting the Countess is a realistic, contemporary romance novel. I will admit that it took me a bit to get into the story, and to decide that it was contemporary. The use of Countess and the responsibilities of such a role in modern times was unusual for me. I liked the character building and thought Harry was a well defined, fairly realistic character. I really loved Anne's character- and the tension between the two. I did enjoy the relationship that grew between Harry and Anne's daughter, and felt like that was one of the things that helped Harry the most, and was just solid story writing. I think there was a lot more build up than there was actual movement in the relationship between Harry and Anne, and I know that most of it was necessary to impart the growth that Harry had to make and to reveal the unhappy past for Anne, but there were moments where I just wanted to hit fast forward and get to a confrontation, realization, or conversation that would significantly move things along. It did happen, it just took longer than I wanted. Some of this was my own impatience rather than somethi9ng wrong with the book- it just was not the kind of read I was looking for at the moment. It all came together well, but it was just a little slower paced than I was looking for. However, I can think of many readers that would absolutely love the story and writing style.

Courting the Countess is a solid story, with well defined characters and an interesting premise. My main complaint is that there was more of the characters worrying to them selves and other people talking about them than there was actual conflict or action between them. However, the characters were portrayed realistically, which can atone for many faults.

Book Review: Lord Sebastian's Secret by Jane Ashford

Lord Sebastian's Secret is the third book in the Duke’s Sons historical romance series by Jane Ashford. I have not read the previous books, which might explain some of the issues I had with the book, but perhaps not.
Lord Sebastian Gresham is a battle-tested soldier and brilliant strategist. Yet all his life he’s had to hide his complete failure to decipher letters. In his own mind, he’s just stupid. What a miracle it is that he’s found the perfect bride. Lady Georgina Stane is beautiful, witty, and brilliantly intelligent. Sebastian is head over heels in love, proud as a peacock, and terrified. If she finds out his secret, will he lose her love forever?

Lord Sebastian's Secret begins with Sebastian coming to stay with his fiancee's family to get to know them and prep for the wedding. Perhaps their meeting and initial courtship was in one of the previous books, but it is not here. I feel like I was missing something, or the pair was missing a real connection, when the action began. I like that Georgiana's family is unorthodox, however I think that was occasionally overstated in the narrative. Sebastian is a practical man, a soldier with what would be dubbed street smarts and an ability to memorize things because of his secret. As usual, the internal doubt of worthiness that could be solved with a conversation is the cause of a distance between the pair- but since I never really believed in their closeness I just kept mentally telling him to speak up. I did like the bit of action and activity at the end, but found that I never really connected to the characters or felt like they connected to each other. I do not plan on going back to read the previous books in hopes to catch up to what I missed.

Lord Sebastian's Secret held a lot of promise to me, and I was excited to read it after reading the blurb. Unfortunately, I felt that too much background was missing and the bulk of the book somehow also had me wishing it would get to the point. So much potential, but I feel like it missed the mark for the most part.

Early Book Review: The Fearless Traveler’s Guide to Wicked Places by Peter Begler

The Fearless Traveler’s Guide to Wicked Places by Peter Begler is a middle grade novel currently scheduled for release in March of 2017. Twelve-year-old Nell Perkins knows there is magic at work that she can’t yet understand. Her mother has been taken by witches and turned into a bird. Nell must journey to get her mother back, even if it takes her deep into the Wicked Places, the frightening realm where Nightmares resides. There she must break the spell and stop the witches from turning our world into a living nightmare.

The Fearless Traveler’s Guide to Wicked Places has a wonderful concept with a consistent amount of fantasy and imagination woven through the tale. The concept of the two realms and the threat the witches pose to all were very well done. I liked the characters of Nell and her brothers, as well as the complexity of the set up and major players. I thought the characters were complex enough not to fall flat, but the sheer volume of craziness happening and the danger brewing go to be a little overwhelming at times. I was often flipping pages eagerly and holding my breath, but I feel like I lost steam part way through. The magic and world building felt complete, and the information shared at a good pace, so that there was a limited amount of that information dump feel. A good pick for a middle grade reader looking for a complex fantasy with a good combination of adventure and coming of age. Nell's growth and self awareness was one of my favorite parts of the story, although the family relationships were another high point as far as I am concerned.

The Fearless Traveler’s Guide to Wicked Places was an interesting and entertaining read. I found it to be a great idea, but a bit long for my current reading mood. 

Book Review: Not Quite a Narwhal by Jessie Sima

Not Quite a Narwhal by Jessie Sima is a picturebook about being different. Growing up in the ocean, Kelp has always assumed that he was a narwhal like the rest of his family. Sure, he’s always been a little bit different—his tusk isn’t as long, he’s not as good of a swimmer, and he really doesn’t enjoy the cuisine. Then one night, an extra strong current sweeps Kelp to the surface, where he spots a mysterious creature that looks just like him! Kelp discovers that he and the creature are actually unicorns. The revelation leaves him torn: is he a land narwhal or a sea unicorn? But perhaps, if Kelp is clever, he may find a way to have the best of both worlds.

Not Quite a Narwhal is a fun, delightful picturebook. A young unicorn raised by Narwhals, never quite as good of a swimmer as his family. When he finds unicorns and discovers the joys of land and their culture. Having two groups of people that are kind of like you, and love you, but are a little different is something many children experience. Kelp's discover of how not fitting in well in either place can led to two group of people to love and enjoy. This story will resonate with readers of all ages that have felt too different or stuck between worlds. This will also help children facing family changes and a whole host of challenges that  they might have to face. It is also a fun and sweet book that everyone can enjoy. 

Book Review: White Christmas by Rebecca York

White Christmas by Rebecca York is a novella with paranormal; aspects and abundant holiday cheer. The snow is coming down so fast, Amelia Parsons doesn't see the speeding car until it's too late. One moment she’s crossing an ice-rutted street in St. Stephens, Maryland. In the next, she's flying into the air, and the world goes black. She wakes, confused, in what appears to be Santa’s workshop during the holiday rush. If that’s not strange enough, a hunky FBI agent named Daniel is there, demanding to know why she’s involved in a plot to ruin Christmas. Can she convince him she's not the villain and then work with him to find the real saboteur?

White Christmas is a short story, which means need to happen quickly. Amelia is not allowed to freak about about the existence of Santa and all the trappings when she wakes up in the North Pole after getting hit by a car. The mystery of who is sabotaging the workshop is dealt with fairly quickly- though the why is never really answered for me. Similarly how Daniel ended up on assignment there, and how Amelia lands there, and how things all come together in the end, are equally glossed over. Sadly I felt like the attraction between Amelia and Daniel was weak, and their coming together did not feel real or right to me. I don't know. I was prepared to really love it, even if I waited to after Christmas to get around to it, but it was not what I was looking for. I expect much more character and relationship development from York, even in a novella.

Book Review: It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot

It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot explores the highs and lows of modern life through the sharp, dark wit of Ruby Elliot—creator of the massively popular Tumblr account, Rubyetc, which has over 210k followers and growing. Ruby’s simple drawings of not-so-simple issues capture the humor and melancholy of everyday life. Her comics appeal to both new adults who are beginning to explore these subjects and to battle-tested veterans of the daily struggles of life with mental illness. It’s All Absolutely Fine is an honest and unapologetic account of day-to-day life as a groaning, crying, laughing sentient potato being for whom things are often absolutely not fine. Through simple, humorous drawings and a few short narratives, the book encompasses everything from mood disorders, anxiety, and issues with body image through to existential conversations with dogs and some unusually articulate birds. Through the drawings, the reader is shown that it is okay to struggle, and that it is okay to talk about struggling, to not undermine oneself by yelling ‘it’s fine’ when it isn’t, and while all this is going on to know that it is absolutely possible to hold on to hope, and of course humor. 
It’s All Absolutely Fine is a collection of art and words that can shown readers that they are not alone. Anyone dealing with anxiety, feeling lost or alone, or battling any mental illness can find bits of their struggle on these pages while offering support and encouragement to keep on moving forward. I found the read made me smile, cry, and feel more empowered in dealing with the world around me and moving toward the future. Fans of Rubyetc's huge online presence will find more of what they love here, and I think the book will foster new fans as well.

Book Review: Scooby Apocalypse Vol. 1 by Keith Griffen, Jim Lee, Howard Potter

Scooby Apocalypse Vol. 1 collects issues 1-6 of a graphic novel by Keith Griffen, Jim Lee, and Howard Potter.  Fred. Daphne. Velma. Shaggy. Scooby-Doo. Roaming the globe in their lime-green Mystery Machine, they've solved countless crimes and debunked dozens of sketchy supernatural shenanigans. But what if the horror was real? Something terrible has transformed our world, turning millions of people into mindless zombie hordes. And only five people well, four people and one mangy mutt have the smarts, the skills and the sheer crazy courage to stare down doomsday.  Can these pesky kids and their canine companion using every incredible contraption in their arsenal defeat the evil that has overwhelmed planet Earth? 

Scooby Apocalypse is a complete new look and origin story for the Scooby gang. I have seen so many different takes, that I was fine with that. I liked that the story started completely fresh, and that it is much more complex than what most expect from Scooby and friends. I liked the use of Daphne's television show and connection with Fred, which has been a tool in previous incarnations- but not to this degree, and not without the rest of the crew already connecting. I liked the twists on Shaggy and Scooby as well, making them more than the comic relief that they often get used for. Shaggy is a much more complicated and compassionate character than I was used to, and not nearly as goofy. Velma is also much more defined in this story, I do not think I ever got more of a backstory for her than her being very smart and isolated- here readers get a multidimensional look at her. The action and story lines are unique and very well done. I will admit that it took me a bit to get used to the gangs new look, and I still wonder why Daphne and Fred still insist on wearing those scarves. I think that the harsh lines and dramatic look are very suited to the story, even if it is not my normal preference.

I will definitely be looking for the second volume of Scooby Apocalypse. I am honestly intrigued and want to see where this is going. I have a feeling that I will be buying the full run and saving it for my son. He is a huge Scooby fan, but is not quite ready for this version. However, he is really close so I am pretty sure that when the run is complete he will be ready for dive on in.

Early Book Review: I Love Science: A Journal for Self Discovery and Big Ideas by Rachel Ignotofsky

I Love Science: A Journal for Self Discovery and Big Ideas by Rachel Ignotofsky is currently scheduled for release on March 7 2017. This is a guided journal for young women and girls based the author's illustrated book Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World.Both books encourage young women and girls to ponder the world and the daily ins and outs of their
lives. Opening with a short reference section that contains basic equations, the periodic table, basic HTML codes, and a measurement converter, the journal then invites the user to write and dream through writing prompts like, "What is a challenge you've overcome recently?" and inspirational quotes from notable women who've achieved greatness in the science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEM) fields, such as famous primatologist Jane Goodall's, "Only when our clever brain and our human heart work together can we reach our full potential."

I Love Science: A Journal for Self Discovery and Big Ideas is a great journal and source of inspiration for those interested in science. I like that it offers interesting quotes and prompting questions to encourage the reader/writer to think about things in new ways and to keep on exploring the world around them. My daughter is a little to unfocused for this yet, but I think this would be a great thing for her to use and enjoy. I think exploring and experimenting with his book by her side would be a great thing for summer break. This could also be a great tool for organizations or classroom sessions that are focused on getting girls and women interested in STEM or STEAM- like perhaps a Girl Scout troop or summer science session through a school, library. or camp.

I think I Love Science: A Journal for Self Discovery and Big Ideas would be a great gift for anyone interested in science and exploring the world around them. I think artists and those that consider themselves more observers than scientist would also benefit from and enjoy the book. 

Early Book Review: Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Bone Witch is the first book in a new series by Rin Chupeco and is currently scheduled for release on March 7 2017. When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training. In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha, one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles and make a powerful choice.

Bone Witch is a book with a fantastic premise and well defined characters. Tea is a strong character with plenty of insecurity, but always trying to be the best she can. She does occasionally do things that are not right, but it only serves to make her more realistic. Her brother, the older as has, and characters she meet are also well fleshed out. The world, its mythology, and dangers were very well done and I liked the magic and social construct aspects of the story, and thought the political machinations were very well done and believable. I also like that there were moments that completely took me by surprise. Appearances and actions lead readers and characters alike to assumptions that are far from true. 

What I did not like was the flipping between two timeframes. While the changes were clearly noted, the future or present depending on how you want to thinks about it is in italics. So it is not confusing, but I found that it broke my reading rhythm and made it harder to get lost in the story. My other problem, which might be deeply connected, is that the book felt very long. There were some very important things that could not, and should not, be left out but I felt like some of the descriptions could have been less wordy, or something. I just found myself looking at the hours or percentage of the book left to read several times and being surprised how much more there was to go.

Bone Witch is a entertaining read with a wonderful premise and serous world building. Those that like full visual descriptions and detailed explanations will love it. Readers that need a faster pace and prefer to use their imagination for more of the little details might get frustrated with the read. It was very well done, but just did not fit what I was looking for while reading.  

Book Review: The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg

The Great Shelby Holmes is a middle grade book by Elizabeth Eulberg. Meet spunky sleuth Shelby and her sports loving sidekick Watson, as they take on a dog-napper in this fresh twist on Sherlock Holmes. Shelby Holmes is not your average sixth grader. She's nine years old, barely four feet tall, and the best detective her Harlem neighborhood has ever seen-always using logic and a bit of pluck (which yes, some might call “bossiness”) to solve the toughest crimes. When eleven-year-old John Watson moves downstairs, Shelby finds something that's eluded her up till now: a friend. The easy-going John isn't sure of what to make of Shelby, but he soon finds himself her most-trusted (read: only) partner in a dog-napping case that will take both their talents to crack.

The Great Shelby Holmes is a wonderful new take on the Sherlock style character. John is used to moving around and is good at finding a new group of friends with school and sports. But, the first other kid he meets in his new home is the quirky Shelby Holmes. She is smart and typically off-putting as most versions of Sherlock you might see- and her friendship with Watson might start off as uneasy, but blossoms into something essential for both of them. Shelby has the memory and deductive skills, John has the more practical knowledge that one needs in daily life. Together they have everything they need. I liked the slow growth of friendship, and the way the mystery is explored and solved. The oddities of Shelby's personality were very well balanced, her reluctance to trust combined with her intelligence made her a tough friend to make, and John's need to fit in and be accepted was a realistic conflict that so many readers might be able to relate to. Hopefully they can be strong enough to stand up and be friends with the outsiders like John. I really enjoyed the changes that were made to the characters, and think it makes the characters much more relateable to young readers from all walks of life. It is important that readers can see something of themselves in the characters of the books they read, and this book delivers. What makes it even better is that at no point is gender or diversity the main focus of the book, so everything is organic rather than feeling like a gimmick to drawn in any particular group of readers.  It all just works perfectly.

The Great Shelby Holmes is a great start to a new series, and one I plan on following. The second book, The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match, is scheduled to be released on September 12 2017, and I am not sure I want to wait that long. I think this might be a new fun, challenging, yet accessible series for many readers.