Early Book Review: Cryptid Creatures: A Field Guide by Kelly Milner Halls, Rick Spears

Cryptid Creatures: A Field Guide, written by Kelly Milner Halls and illustrated by Rick Spears, is currently scheduled for release on September 24 2019. Cryptozoology is the study of mysterious creatures that fall between the realm of real and imaginary on the scientific spectrum. Cryptid Creatures: A Field Guide offers a closer look at fifty of these amazing creatures, examining the best possible evidence for each, including scientific papers, magazine and newspaper articles, and credible eyewitness accounts. These fifty cryptids are arranged in order alphabetically, and in addition to speculative illustrations, include details like when they were first reported, whether they are terrestrial, aerial, or aquatic, and each have a reality rating of 1 to 6, in which 1 means that the cryptid has been confirmed as a hoax, and 6 means the cryptid has been proven as real. This guide might inspire curious readers to investigate more on their own, and maybe even help to prove if a cryptid is a hoax or is real.

Cryptid Creatures: A Field Guide is a book that I think will be in my house hold as soon as it is released in print, as my children and I love this sort of thing. This book takes a look at some common (and some less known)  creatures of legend and lore. I like that fossil evidence, eye witness accounts, and scientific research is used to really look at whether these cryptid creatures could be real, or could have been in the past. I also like that the probability of these creatures existing is looked at logically to try to understand obstacles and dangers they would face, or could cause, in the areas they are expected to live. I also like how towards the end of the book the creatures are listed again, but by creature types rather than in alphabetical order. It is interesting to see how common some cryptid types are across cultures, while others are very specific to a particular region. The endpages with additional reading will help readers further explore the subject, and information on the creatures that interest them most.  I think this is a well done collection, and it will please many interested readers from a variety of ages and reading levels. 

Cryptid Creatures: A Field Guide is an interesting and well researched look at fifty creatures in cryptozoology. While this only touches the surface of such creatures and legends, it is a great resource and read for those interested. 

Early Book Review: Gone is Gone: Wildlife Under Threat by Isabelle Groc

Gone is Gone: Wildlife Under Threat by Isabelle Groc, with a foreword by Jane Goodall, is currently scheduled for release on September 24 2019. This children's nonfiction book looks at why species become endangered, how scientists are learning about endangered wildlife, what people are doing to conserve species and ways young people can help. It contains unique photos that the author has taken over many years of observing endangered species in the field alongside the people who work to conserve them. Throughout the book the author shares enchanting encounters and personal field stories: watching narwhals socialize in the Canadian Arctic, getting close to a Laysan albatross raising chicks in a remote Hawaiian island, spotting a rhinoceros on safari, and even swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands. It inspires to inform, intrigue and inspire readers to take small steps toward big changes for endangered species around the world.
Gone is Gone does a good job of explaining the ins and outs of how animals become threatened or extinct, how humans play a role, and how to help protect them. The images of the animals and landscapes help show the reality of the situation rather than leaving it as a problem we know about but cannot necessarily grasp beyond theory.  The information starts with the basics- how animals are classified by threat level and who makes those distinctions, then on to what is making the largest negative impact on these populations and the basics of some of the better known endangered species. I found the information on the efforts and scientist involved in studying and conserving wildlife to fascinating. I really enjoyed reading about the successes we have already had in increasing some populations, and how interconnected the habitats and different types of life are. It brought home how much good seemingly small things can have an impact- good or bad- on the larger ecosystem. The simple actions suggested for readers might take a little effort- but they are a place to start and can be done easily I also liked that there was a glossary, list of book and online resources, and index at the end of the book. Not every reader takes advantage of these things, but I find them important in encouraging further reading, research, and action. I found the book as a whole to be well written. It does not talk down to readers, and is accessible at the same time. I found it to be informative and inspiring to read. I think it will be the same for other middle grade and older readers, including adults.
Gone is Gone is an engaging, interesting, and informative read. A great book for middle grade and older readers. It would be a good addition to public, school, and classroom libraries. 

Book Review: Take It Off the Menu (Mile High Matched) by Christina Hovland

Take It Off the Menu is the third book in the Mile High Matched series by Christina Hovland. I have not read the previous books, but this book read well as a stand alone. 

Marlee Medford just got dumped. Yes, things have become ho-hum in her longtime relationship, but she was two days away from walking down the aisle with the man she thought was her forever when he called it off.  Marlee needs to regain control of her life, and a weekend away with her friends is a solid first step. One of Denver’s best up-and-coming chefs, perpetual bachelor Eli Howard, isn’t into serious relationships—especially the kind that ends in marriage. Feeling oddly protective of the jilted bride—his little sister’s best friend—his weekend plans now involve a trip to Sin City with her group of friends. But it looks like he had a bit too much fun in Vegas when he wakes up married, wedding night included. Marlee’s attempts at getting her life back together are failing miserably. Her ex-fiancĂ© is taking the house, her chihuahua is intent on a love affair with Eli’s sneakers, and she’s now accidentally hitched to the guy who can't even say the word marriage. With their quickie annulment denied, Eli and Marlee just have to hang tight until the divorce goes through. It’s just a little divorce amongst friends, what’s the worst that could happen? 
Take It Off the Menu is a contemporary romance with a lot going on. There is the best friend's brother aspect, the afraid of commitment element, and the interfering parents and sucky ex bit. However, the book managed to balance all of these elements with humor. I loved the regular intervals of a horny chihuahua and the wonderful circle of friends that both Eli and Marlee have helping them through every hurdle. Marlee is a sweetheart with a soft heart that often falls into doing whatever other expect from her- I would have liked to see a bit more backbone from her, but I think that if she had stood up for herself more she would not have ended up in the situation that brought this all about. Eli is a sweet and strong guy- he is always there to help everyone else but has trouble accepting help from anyone else. That is something I could relate to- and I was glad to see that he had to come to terms with that as well as his commitment issues. There were times when I thought there was much more to his commitment issue than readers were told- but that might have just been me. The secondary characters, and dog, stole the show for me. I loved the extended circle of friends and family even more than the rest. I think I want a story just about Babushka! As a whole I really enjoyed the read.
Take It Off the Menu is a romance that has a good balance of heart and humor. I enjoyed the read and will be reading more from the author.

Book Review: Whisked Away (Paradise Bay) by Melanie Summers

Whisked Away is the second book in the Paradise Bay series by Melanie Summers. I did not read the first book in the series and think they can each stand on their own.

At twenty-seven years old, Emma Banks has big plans for her life. After graduating from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, she's ready to take her place as head chef at one of her family’s resort restaurants. But upon arrival at Paradise Bay, she’s shuffled off to the resort’s new private island getaway, where she’ll be stuck catering to the rich and shameless. Her first assignment is to serve Pierce Davenport, an infuriatingly arrogant writer with a palate that’s about as adventurous as a plain boiled potato.Pierce Davenport is living every author’s dream—his critically-acclaimed Clash of Crowns books have been turned into one of the world’s most-watched television series. The only problem is, he has no idea how to end the epic fantasy tale. After two long years, his fans are turning on him, his publisher is panicking, and the network executives have announced they’re hiring a team of scriptwriters to finish (a.k.a. ruin) his legacy for him.In dire need of solitude, he escapes to the Island of Eden for two distraction-free months so he can pull off the impossible—write an entire novel from start to finish. All he wants is peace and quiet, but when disaster strikes, he’s forced to rely on irritating-but-beautiful Emma to deliver more than just three meals a day. Putting Pierce and Emma together is like combining orange juice and toothpaste. Will their differences be their ruin or will they be the secret ingredient to each other’s success?

Whisked Away is a romance that I loved the humor of. The awkwardness, self awareness, and occasional klutziness were my favorite moments of the book. Emma wants to be a head chef, but she wants to earn it. Pierce is an author that has a hard time with the right words in real life- even though he gets it right on paper. he coming together of our couple is well done, and I thought their conflicts were well chosen. I did start to lose interest waiting for the couple to find their way to a happy ending, but there were some really good interactions along the way. I liked the characters, I greatly enjoyed some of the banter and family drama/helping. I liked some of the secondary characters and the settings. I did think that the vague pop culture references- with some changes- were a little over done and result in the story not aging well. Granted some of the references were slight enough that something resent will fit the bill, but I just thought there was too much of it. However, I never really got lost in the book or over eager to read the previous or next book. It was good, an enjoyable weekend read, but it was not a stand out for me.  

Whisked Away is a contemporary romance with a nice blend of humor and moments that make you want to kick the characters. I am glad I read it.

Early Book Review: Max's Box: Letting Go of Negative Feelings by Brian Wray, Shiloh Penfield

Max's Box: Letting Go of Negative Feelings was written  by Brian Wray and illustrated by Shiloh Penfield. It is currently scheduled for release on September 28 2019. Max's parents give him a very special gift: a tiny, magical box that will hold everything, from his toys to his feelings. Max learns, however, that feelings can't be put away as easily as toys. Each negative emotion he feels—anger, embarrassment, sadness, loneliness—gets added to the box, which grows and grows. Eventually it is so large that it keeps him from doing what he loves, like riding his bike and climbing trees. With some help from his friends and family, Max is able to turn the box into something beautiful and let it go. A parents' guide explains how well-intentioned adults often encourage children, especially young boys, to ignore and “put away” their feelings instead of learning to fully live with them. This simple but powerful story not only teaches children how to “control” their emotions but discourages suppressing them, the illustrations becoming more colorful and vibrant as Max moves out from his box’s shadow.
Max's Box: Letting Go of Negative Feelings is a book about emotions and how to deal with the negative feelings that can grow and linger if not dealt with. I like that there is a parent's guide, because just reading a story and talking about this subject and reading a book once is not enough. Sometimes we parents need to help children process and express their emotions, including negative ones, so that they can be let go and move on. I thought the image of the box growing larger and getting heavier with each upsetting emotion is very accessible to young children and I think they will be able to recognize how that feels in their own life. I loved the turning point when an act of kindness and some good emotions lead to the release of all the emotional baggage Max had been carrying around. I think the simplicity and subtle colors of the illustrations further the understanding and make the book that much more enjoyable to read.

Max's Box: Letting Go of Negative Feelings is a wonderful book for young children and their caregivers to explore alone and together. I could see it also being useful in schools and day cares to help the youngest students on the path to emotional life skills.

Book Review: Cuddly Crochet Critters 26 Animal Patterns by Megan Kreiner

Cuddly Crochet Critters: 26 Animal Patterns by Megan Kreiner introduces 26 soft, huggable, pillow-like animals that are easy projects for beginners and will be loved by children and adults of all ages. Fashioned from super-bulky, machine-washable, chenille-style yarn, the stuffed animals can be completed in just a few hours. These cuddly critters make great pillows for a child's nap time, homey accessories for a dorm room, comfy companions for travel, and great gifts, too! Based on the popular Japanese "tsum tsum" style, each project starts with a standard body shape and requires just some basic crochet stitches. As an added bonus, there are 12 additional "critter combinations" to make! Mix and match pattern pieces to create a koala, a zebra, a narwhal, and more. 

Cuddly Crochet Critters offers readers clear and accessible patterns and instructions for reasonably large crochet stuffed animals. I like the idea of the blanket yarn used in these patterns- it makes for faster work and larger projects, and less hand cramps than smaller works. With this in mind- I liked that the book offers tips and tricks for working with the special yarn, but I think they could have gone one step further and made the stitch instructions in the front of the book with the yarn readers would be using. This is done in the project instructions- but not the stitch tutorials in the very beginning. Having worked with both I have to say that there is a big difference in working in such different weights and it will take some getting used to for those that have never worked with it before. With all that said- the patterns are well written, and I think they will offer readers plenty guidance to complete these projects along with room further customization as they continue to create. The book offers a good starting point and clear instructions, but it is not something I can see adding to my permanent collection- rather I would borrow it from a library and return for the next happy crafter.

Cuddly Crochet Critters is a good introduction for fairly quick working amigurumi. 

Book Review: Monstrous: The Lore, Gore, and Science behind Your Favorite Monsters by Carlyn Beccia

Monstrous: The Lore, Gore, and Science behind Your Favorite Monsters by Carlyn Beccia is a children's non fiction book. Could Dr. Frankenstein's machine ever animate a body? Why should vampires drink from veins and not arteries? What body parts are best for zombies to eat? (It's not brains.) This fascinating encyclopedia of monsters delves into the history and science behind eight legendary creatures, from Bigfoot and the kraken to zombies and more. Find out each monster's origin story and the real-world history that informed it, and then explore the science of each creature in fun and surprising ways. Tips and infographics—including monster anatomy, how to survive a vampire attack, and real-life giant creatures of the deep sea—make this a highly visual and fun-to-browse book.

Monstrous is well organized and written. The book offers a historic and scientific background to some of the legends of monsters, magic, and more. The text is well written. It is very informative, with bits of humor throughout. Even when the subject gets a little dense or shares what I would consider fairly well known information, the text never feels unaccessible or condescending. I enjoyed that even while I knew a great deal of the information- as I am a fan or folklore and mythology- there were some new things to learn as well as some deep enjoyment in seeing some of my more esoteric knowledge confirmed or expanded on. I also greatly enjoyed the artwork in the illustrations and the the styles for the backgrounds and infographics. It was on point and helped reinforce the information, keep the reader's interest, and entertain. The combination of fact and fun was pretty much perfect. The author even took the time to mention when science has been wrong, I think this is important to remind all readers because it shows that there is always more to learn and more research that can be done. I was very happy to see a bibliography, glossary, and index in the endpages. Too often I see these things neglected or poorly done in children's non fiction- expecting them to ignore it or not notice. In this book the list of sources and citations was very well done and could result in interested readers doing further reading, investigating, and research on their own. This encouragement always makes me happy. 

Monstrous is a well written book that offers the tools of science, history, and a little humor to explain the truth about creatures like vampire, zombie, and more. Good for monster fans, and for giving fact based information that could ease the fears of some that are non so fond of monsters. I just pre ordered this to share with my kids.

Book Review: Wrangling His Best Friend's Sister (Beckett Brothers) by Leslie North

Wrangling His Best Friend's Sister is the first book in the Beckett Brothers series by Leslie North.  Ava Pearson needs a job—yesterday. After her husband's death, her life in the city became impossible, and a crisis with her young son caused her to lose her job as a reporter. Now Ava is living in her childhood home again, without prospects, but not without hope. If she can just get enough money to tide her over while she pitches an article to an even better big-city paper, Ava feels she can get back on track. The only problem is…what jobs are available in her one-horse town? Branson Beckett is successful by most measures of the word. He's the owner of a profitable ranch on the brink of expansion and is now looking for a few good ranch hands to help him out. However, he wasn't thinking of his best friend's little sister when it came to hard labor. No, he'd thought of her in other hard situations, but they usually involved the dark of night and his great big bed. Dreams that had no place in reality. But Ava is convincing. She needs to get out of her parents' house, and Branson needs her help interviewing his ranch hands. It's a win-win. He'll fix his personnel problem, and she'll write an article about it. As personnel issues lead to personal pleasure between them, Ava's big city dream drifts away, replaced by visions of a family in the country. In the end, Branson will have to face tough truths about himself, his ranch, and his relationship. And if he fails to see the light, he's going to lose the love of his life. 

Wrangling His Best Friend's Sister is a multi trope romance. There are bits of the cowboy, single parent, small town, and friend's sibling tropes but they all seem to blend together nicely without any one of them feeling overplayed or less than organic in the story. I liked Ava- she is a strong and practical woman who puts her son first but is not ready to stop doing what she loves, what she is good at. I am a little less enamored of Bran. He is a nice guy, determined to do the right thing and run his ranch the way his father would have. However, the biggest conflict in the book is the same reason I wanted to kick him. He is emotionally stunted and walled off. Yes, many heroes in romance start off this way or act this way because of trauma- but apparently he has been like this for years. Alright, fine, I can understand it to a certain degree- but I get so bothered by a story in which it is only the realization that they love a woman- or the possibility of losing them- that 'fixes' the guy. There were enough other things in the story that could have triggered the realization. However, that is a personal peeve of mine, and might not be as frustrating to other readers, especially since that was my biggest issue with the book. It made it hard for me to connect with Bran's character though. I did like the secondary characters- which made the book more entertaining to read.

Wrangling His Best Friend's Sister is a good contemporary romance, with many well written elements. However I just did not become fully invested in the story. 

Book Review: I've Got You, Babe (Must Love Babies) by Lynnette Austin

I've Got You, Babe is the second book in the Must Love Babies series by Lynnette Austin. I did read the first book in the series, but each book can easily be read as a stand alone.

Former Marine Tucker Wylder wants nothing more than to work with his brothers in their vintage car restoration business and be left alone with his nightmares and regrets. The last thing he needs is to take on someone else’s troubles. Then Elisa Danvers and her young daughter arrive in Misty Bottoms, Georgia. Elisa has reached the end of the line—flat broke, engine trouble, sick in body and spirit. Tucker steps up to the rescue and finds himself reluctantly taking care of a feisty preschooler and her independent mother, who doesn’t seem to want his help. And Tucker isn’t sure he’s ready for the way precocious little Daisy and headstrong, beautiful Elisa herself capture first his bachelor household and finally his carefully guarded heart.
I've Got You, Babe is a sweet contemporary romance with a great deal of heart. Tucker is dealing with survivor's guilt and other after effects of his time in the military. He is trying to hold it all together for his family but everything is weighing on him more than he can admit. Elisa has been struggling all her life, more than ever since losing her job threw one more curveball her way. I love her fierce independence and willingness to do whatever it takes to take care of her daughter. When the chaos of Elisa's life collides with Tucker's forced order the result is thawing and growing trust on both sides. I loves the slow, sweet burm between the two- and how important actual communication and trust is in the story. My heart melted every time Tucker showed his softer side toward Daisy. I also liked the way his emotional wounds and struggles were handled- I thought his internalizing of it and reluctance to share were very realistic. Tucker and Elisa faced huge hurdle on their own, and together. I loved the secondary characters and the way everything was handled for all of their issues. I will admit though that my interest started to waiver after the half way mark in the book, and I cannot put my finger on why. I still wanted to know how everything comes together and how Tucker and Elisa get their happy ending but it was a lot easier to put the book down to cook dinner or go to bed after a certain point. I still enjoyed the read, and I am still glad I read it, but I was not fully engaged through the entire read.

I've Got You, Babe is a sweet romance and I think fans of the author will certainly want to read it. I fully plan on continuing to read the author's work.

Early Book Review: The House at the End of the Road by Kari Rust

The House at the End of the Road by Kari Rust is a picturebook currently scheduled for release on September 17 2019. One summer, while exploring the town during their annual stay at Grandma’s house, two siblings and their cousin come across a creepy old house. The kids poke around, one of them causing mischief and tossing rocks at the window, until they glimpse a ghost through the glass! Later, Grandma reveals the house doesn’t belong to a ghost—just old Mr. Peterson.  After visiting again with better intentions, the kids discover Mr. Peterson’s great sense of humor and that his house is full of fascinating things: old toys, photographs, even a film projector. They become regular visitors, until one day, Mr. Peterson is gone: he has left for a retirement home, and his house sits empty. Using odds, ends, and gifts he gave them, the kids create mementos of Mr. Peterson’s home to give back to him. 

The House at the End of the Road is a picturebook that will appeal to older readers as well as the younger set because of the topic and the graphic novel elements and feel. I thought the story was very realistic, and is something I could see happening very easily. I liked how the kid's behavior is as flawed as you might find in any kid. Making mistakes, but almost as quickly making amends and finding out how they were wrong. I like that the cousin was afraid of owning up to his mistakes, as even adults are at times, but still did the right thing- eventually. I think the full story arc teaches young readers, and adults, important lessons in taking the time to look past the appearance and taking the time to know people. Forging a friendship across generational lines, and not just learning about each other but taking steps to help and care for each other was very well written. I loved the art style, and think it added a great deal of atmosphere and emotion to the story. 

The House at the End of the Road is a wonderful story that I hope inspires readers off all ages to reach out and make new friends  across generational lines (safely of course) and to take a bit more time to look beyond the rumors and appearance to discover the truth. I hope it will also encourage readers to explore graphic novels further.