Book Review: Of Shadow and Stone by Michelle Muto

Of Shadow and Stone by Michelle Muto is a gothic or paranormal fantasy. Gargoyles were created centuries ago to protect mankind but something went horribly wrong. Now only the sentinel, a mortal chosen to control the stone beasts, stands between them and their human prey. Kate Mercer is destined to be the next sentinel. But she has a skyrocketing film career, a delusional ex-boyfriend, and a crazed stalker who will stop at nothing to get to her. However, Kate is transported to Shadow Wood, a mysterious castle that serves as a sanctuary for the supernatural. Shadow Wood is beautiful but no safe place for a mere mortal. Yet Kate is drawn not only to the gargoyles but also to Ian McGuire, a charming novelist who might be in the greatest danger of all.
Of Shadow and Stone is a novel with a little bit of everything. There is a gothic feel to the whole story, with mysterious people and creatures that have even more mysterious intentions. Readers first meet Declan, the Lord of the Netherworld looking fore a replacement sentential. He thought his friends and author Ian might be the perfect candidate- but he has a different fate in store for him. Kate is the chosen sentinel, if she will accept the responsibility. Throw in some supernatural creatures running around Shadow Wood, a stalker, and a delusional ex boyfriend and you have a good idea of what this book holds in its pages. Despite the number of intense things happening, and the variety of viewpoints the story is told from, you still get characters that are multidimensional and some serious suspense. It was an intriguing read, and one I was afraid to look away from because I might miss something. I still feel a bit like if I go back and read it again I will get more from the book, and perhaps a completely different story.

I would highly recommend Of Shadow and Stone to readers that enjoy paranormal fiction and gothic stories. While there is a romance tied up in the story, it does not over shadow the suspense and supernatural aspects of the story. A great read for those that feel like they are trapped in a rut, or keep reading the same basic story over and over. This is something different and unique. 

What Should You Read Next? Great Resources to Help Decide

I am often looking to read book by new authors or on new topics. Reviews and suggestions help, as does stopping in a library or local bookstore and browsing the shelves or asking the staff for suggestions, but sometimes I still feel at a loss. Here are some resources to help you decide what to read next.

NoveList is a resource available through public libraries to help readers find authors, titles, award winners, and author biographies. There is an author read alike search feature that allows you to search their database for authors that have similar writing styles to authors you already know and enjoy. Other services offered include book discussion guides, genre outlines to help you read more great books in your favorite genre and a popular fiction list, which gives suggested titles for just about ever genre.
BookBrowse is another reader's advisory website available for use by patrons of subscribing libraries free. Readers can search for new reads by genre, age group, geographical setting, theme and time period. Like NoveList, there is a way to search for authors that you might like based on your previous reads. 
No matter what you are looking for, be it something very specific or a vague desire for anything good, you will find suggests that meet your needs.
Overbooked is a website for readers. It specializes in literary, genre fiction information, and readable non-fiction. The site offers booklists by genre, starred review lists, author connections, and a social space for readers that often have overflowing piles of books to read but still can not stop looking for more, myself included. What I love about this website is that it is run completely by volunteers, so all reviews and suggestions come from people that truly love books and reading.

If none of these sites have helped, you find another book to read then there are still several options. Websites like Good ReadsLibrary Thing and Visual Bookshelf on Facebook can also help you decide what to read next based on you reading habits. Book clubs, librarians and random browsing in a library or bookstore can also yield good results. In the end, only you can decide what you like, but here are some tools to help you choose your next book, or bookshelf in my case.

Book Review: The Emperor, His Bride and the Dragon Robe by Lisa Sankar-Zhu

The Emperor, His Bride and the Dragon Robe by Lisa Sankar-Zhu is a wonderful fairy tale set in ancient China. It is the story of a honorable emperor and the two beautiful women that hope to be his bride. One is greedy and resorts to trickery in her attempts, while the other is kind and gracious even when it is detrimental to her cause. There are unexpected challenges and a grand battle to determine the outcome.

The Emperor, His Bride and the Dragon Robe is a fairy tale that feels just like the classic tales from ancient China. The theme is heavy in the tradition of honor and kindness, perfectly executed and illustrated to continue the tone and feel. The challenges of the potential brides flowed well, and the outcome was expected (because good should always win in a fairy tale) but the climactic battle was interesting and added an extra oomph to the tale.  I really enjoyed the illustrations and story. 

The Emperor, His Bride and the Dragon Robe would be a stunning and valuable addition to every school library.  It tells a classic story of good overcoming evil, and does it with charm. While I would class it as an older picturebook, I think many age groups could enoy it in the right setting.

The author was inspired by her two sons, who were born in China, to write the story. She also credits writing the book to having lived in China for many years and being warmly embraced by the Chinese people who have willingly shared their rich culture with her. 

Do you remember my review of Cured by Fire? Well, it is release week, and time for a blog tour to celebrate! My review for the second book in the series, Cursed by Ice is coming soon, and I think this series is going to be great!

Cursed by Fire is the first book in the Immortal Brothers series by Jacquelyn Frank.  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.

Early Book Review: The Pirates Bed by Nicola Winstanley

The Pirates Bed is a picturebook by Nicola Winstanley. It is currently scheduled for release on March 10 2015. A pirate is sleeping snug in his bed when a great storm comes up at sea. The pirate sleeps on, but his bed is awake and scared of the thunder and the angry waves. Tossed this way and that, the ship finally crashes, sending the pirate to a tropical island and his bed off to sea.  At first, the bed is happy and enjoying its freedom. no more smelly feet, snoring or scratchy wool. It floats in the now peaceful water, meeting friendly gulls and playful dolphins and basking in the sun. But soon the little bed begins to feel like something is missing.

The Pirates Bed is the story of a bed lost at sea. I think it will capture the hearts of little pirates everywhere. The travels of the bed tell a great story, the ocean and the world is an awesome and sometimes frightening place. This story captures both sides of that coin. The story is not only a fun adventure, with illustrations that do a great job of capturing the adventure of the bed and the mood of the story, but it also is heartwarming. No matter how much people, or beds, think they do not need someone or something in their lives to care about, they do. Even small pirate cabin sized beds need someone to depend on, and to depend on them. 

The Pirates Bed is both a sweet bedtime or storytime book to share, there is another much deeper meaning that can reach the adults and children alike. I loved the story for both the story and its layers of meaning below the surface.

Best Parodies of Nonfiction Materials Five Great Parodies

Tired of the seemingly endless supply of how to and self help manuals on every conceivable subject? It seems like for every best selling non fiction book that is worthwhile other immediately follow in its wake with the same information or worse, misinformation. These parodies take those books and entertain us while making the subject new again.

The Self-Destruction Handbook: 8 Simple Steps to an Unhealthier You by Adam Wasson and Jessica Stamen is a parody of all the self help books intended to help the reader live a healthier life. In this handbook you can learn how to lose weight too quickly, start a drinking problem, which drugs are right for you and so much more. The book is a fun, entertaining read that does not mock those looking to better themselves, but laughs openly at the advise that those individuals often receive.
Releasing the Imbecile within: An Incomplete Idiot's Guide by Paul Livingston is another self help parody. This book focuses more on the genre of books that attempt to make the reader a more effective individual in business and friendships rather than personal health. It begins with a test to show how unintelligent you are, and goes on from there.
Hardly Working: The Overachieving Underperformer's Guide to Doing as Little as Possible in the Office by Chris Morran makes fun of the office and business administration books. Instead of learning to be an effective worker or leader this book shows readers how to do as little as possible at work. Learn the art of looking hard at work as you play solitaire or shop on the internet. A perfect parody for anyone forced to read materials or attend workshops intended to increase their workplace moral and productivity.
101 Places Not to Visit: Your Essential Guide to the World's Most Miserable, Ugly, Boring and Inbred Destinations by Adam Russ is the answer for travel lovers that are tired of reading guides that refuse to say anything negative about listed locales as well as those who simply dislike traveling. Every continent is featured in the book including Antarctica. Destination descriptions are laden with stereotypes and disinformation. It is an entertaining parody of travel guides, tourists and some highly traveled locations.
Homeland Insecurity: The Onion Complete News Archives, Volume 17 (Onion Ad Nauseam) by Scott Dikkers is a collection of parody news stories from The Onion. Each article is a parody of our media companies and the publics urge to believe what it is told. Anyone that enjoys The Onion or is simply fed up with traditional media will enjoy this highly entertaining collection.

Book Review: The Spider by Elise Gravel

The Spider by Elise Gravel is part of a nonfiction series that combines facts about the creepy crawly critters of the world with humor. The book covers topics like a spider's habitats (pretty much everywhere), the silk it spins (it can trap prey and makes a nifty bowtie), and its parenting practice (female spiders carry around their eggs in a silk purse). While each page is pretty silly The Spider also contains real information in a format that can both amuse and teach.

The Spider is a delightfully silly nonfiction book about spiders. The text is a mix of facts and silly twists on those facts to make both young and older readers laugh while learning. The illustrations are key to the giggle factor, and do a great job. I think readers that are just starting to branch out and read a larger variety of book on their own, but are either intimidated or bored by some of the books for their reading level with love this book. more advanced readers will still enjoy the sneaky learning that is woven between silliness.

The Spider is a great choice for young readers that love to learn about nature, and those that just love to laugh. As an easy picturebook it also lends itself to reading at story times or just reading together as a family or for bedtime. It is a great way to make learning fun for everyone. Now I amk going to have to get my hands on the whole series. 

Early Book Review: Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs

Dead Heat is the forth book in the Alpha & Omega series by Patricia Briggs. It is currently schedule for release on March 3 2015. For once, mated werewolves Charles and Anna are not traveling because of Charles’s role as his father’s enforcer. Their trip to Arizona is purely personal, with Charles planning to buy Anna a horse for her birthday and to spend some time with an old friend. Charles and Anna soon discover that a dangerous Fae being is on the loose, replacing human children with simulacrums. The Fae’s cold war with humanity is about to heat up; and Charles and Anna are in the cross fire.

Dead Heat is another fantastic installment of the Alpha & Omega series. Yes, I am a huge Briggs fan, and am thrilled when the book I am reading meets or exceeds my exceptions, which this book does. Anna and Charles have a great connection and relationship, and I love that each character and the relationship grows so much during this story. Oftentimes established characters and pairings get stagnant in series because they just stay the same and face different outside forces. this is not the case here. While Anna and Charles have to solve a mystery and face a really evil big bad here, they also have to deal with personal issues and grow together. It just makes me so happy to see them continue their journey rather than leaving their relationship and personal growth behind in light of danger.

Dead Heat is not a book to pick up without having read the previous books in the series. Anna and Charles are unique characters with a powerful backstory and mythology that is important to understand how far they have come before, and the monumental movement that happens here. fans of Briggs and this series will not be disappointed with this new addition to their addiction.

Early Book Review: Highland Guard by Hannah Howell

Highland Guard is the 20th(!) book in the Murray Family by Hannah Howell. This historical romance is currently scheduled for release on March 3 2015. Lady Annys MacQueen has not had an easy life. Her parents were less than perfect, her fiance died in battle, and her husband has recently died as well. To shield her young son from the sword and her people from devastation, she must turn to the one man she could never forget. Sir Harcourt Murray lives by a strict code of honor. The only way he could repay the laird who saved his life was to agree to father a child with Sir MacQueen's wife, Lady AnnysNow he needs to balance his attraction for the widow with the need to secure her home from greedy relatives. Convincing her that his love is real means confronting her most wrenching fears, and putting everything they treasure most at stake.

While Highland Guard is the twentieth book in a series, this happens to be a series that you can pick up any book of and enjoy as a stand alone. The story line has a great build up- wife loyal to her husband but not ready to give up her son's inheritance to greedy and ruthless relatives despite him not being her husband's biological son. Betrayal, poisoning, and a attraction that lasted five years between Annys and Harcourt make for a great start. Benet, was an awesome little kid and really made parts of the story. Harcourt was a perfect blend of guy lusting after one woman and practical warrior looking after the long game. Annys was my least favorite character, but still had some great qualities. She was strong and pragmatic, although a romantic at heart which lead to the majority of inner dialogue about the relationship which left me a wee bit cold. On the other hand, her friend Jane was by far my favorite character. she was so honest, strong, and thoughtful that I want to see more. the final resolution was a little too predictable, and perfect. i rather saw it coming and it lost some of the shine because of that.

I would recommend Highland Guard to readers that already enjoy the work of Howell, and those that enjoy historical romance. The book still a solid read, one that will not have anyone throwing the book across the room for good or bad reasons. It worked, but just did not meet my high expectations. 

Book Review: Big Billy and the Ice Cream Truck That Wouldn't Stop! by Joe Consiglio

Big Billy and the Ice Cream Truck That Wouldn't Stop! by Joe Consiglio is a picturebook about the world's most evil, sinister, and wicked ice cream truck driver. He races past the children of Sweet Street every day. Armed with bikes, bravery, and a cunning plan, the children turn the wheels on the driver, creating delicious havoc. The confrontation escalates until a dripping pile of ice cream and an unexpected act of kindness changes everything.

Big Billy and the Ice Cream Truck That Wouldn't Stop! is a picturebook with bright colors and a message about making good choices. The ice cream, truck driver speeds by the children everyday, teasing them with his song and refusing to stop. It is only when the childr4en come together with a slightly destructive plan of action. It is only when the ice cream truck driver is stopped, and ice cream is strewn through the streets, that we see big Billy standing still and silent. His choice, completely unexpected and generous, is what turns everything around. One good choice made a significant impact and brought the neighborhood drama to an end.

Big Billy and the Ice Cream Truck That Wouldn't Stop! is not the best picturebook that I have read. it has bright, colorful illustrations which catch the eyes and silly moments. There is also a strong message that seems a little lost to me in the amount of destroyed ice cream. The book had several good points, and did the job, but I felt like it was lacking a few important pieces.