Early Book Review: The Adventures of Kung Fu Robot: How to Make a Peanut Butter, Jelly, and Kung Fu Sandwich by Jason Bays

The Adventures of Kung Fu Robot: How to Make a Peanut Butter, Jelly, and Kung Fu Sandwich by Jason Bays is a middle grade novel with plenty of illustrations and silly humor. It is currently scheduled for release on March 28 2017. Kung Fu Robot is an international machine of mystery and the savior of all things awesome and cool. He's the world record holder for ice cream sandwiches eaten in one sitting, the reigning champion of continuous nunchucking, and once won a bronze medal for the simultaneous stomach rubbing and head patting. Together with his 9-year old sidekick, Marvin, he faces his arch-nemesis, Kung Pow Chicken: a robotically-enhanced, foul fowl bent on destroying the city's peanut butter and jelly supply. Kung Fu Robot and Marvin must save the day, and their lunches!

The Adventures of Kung Fu Robot was a fast paced and silly read. The robot is absurdly excited, messy, and destructive while Marvin is the voice of reason and caution. I did like that contrast, and think the words of caution from Marvin might do some readers good to read and hopefully heed. The story did get a little repetitive for my taste, but the story was wacky enough that some readers will enjoy it.

I think The Adventures of Kung Fu Robot will appeal to reluctant or struggling readers because of its repetitive nature, and the crazy nature of the story. As an added incentive to those that enjoy the reader, there is a free interactive companion app for an innovative, augmented reading experience.

Book Review: Deader Homes and Gardens by Angie Fox

Deader Homes and Gardens by Angie Fox is the fourth book in the Southern Ghost Hunter Mystery series. The previous books, in order, were Southern Spirits, The Skeleton in the Closet, and The Haunted Heist with novellas between each book. I think the previous stories help to understand Verity's powers and some character dynamics. However, I think newcomers could catch up quickly and enjoy the story.

Southern belle Verity Long is back in business—as a ghost hunter. Now all she has to do is visit the town's creepiest mansion and exorcise a family of vengeful spirits. Piece of cake. After all, ghosts love her and need her...that is until she meets the ghosts of Rock Fall mansion. They'll do anything to keep their murderous secrets hidden within the cliff-side fortress—even if that means getting rid of one meddling ghost hunter. With the entire town skeptical and scrutinizing her every move, Verity struggles to uncover the century-old mystery behind the house. And when she stumbles upon a very fresh, very dead body, she realizes there’s more to it than she ever imagined. With the help of her sexy cop boyfriend, Ellis, and her ghostly gangster sidekick, Frankie, she braves the overgrown gardens, the desolate family cemetery, and the haunted mansion that have been locked away for generations.

Deader Homes and Gardens puts Verity and her ghostly partner Frankie back in the thick of a mystery. This time there are angry ghosts (yes again), Egyptian artifacts, and the possibility of an ancient curse. As Verity tries to solve the murders of an entire family, and avoid being killed by those same ghosts, Frankie is looking for more independence and Verity and Ellis are still trying to find their feet as a happy couple. I like that romance between Verity and Ellis is part of the story, and her character development, it does not overwhelm the story around the mystery or Frankie's own troubles. I liked the complication involved in the mystery- long assumed haunted house steeped in tragedy and odd happenings is the main focus of the story. Verity, Ellis, and Frankie all have their roles to play and I like that they each give each other the trust and space to do what they need to while being true to themselves. I will admit to seeing some of the final climax coming, but the journey was good fun and I enjoyed the read.

Deader Homes and Gardens is another fun, fast read by Fox. While it was not something that will stick with me after moving onto the next read, it certainly made what was hopefully the last snow day of the year more entertaining than expected.

Early Book Review: Eat Up: An Infographic Exploration of Food by Paula Ayer, Antonia Banyard, Belle Wuthrich

Eat Up: An Infographic Exploration of Food by Paula Ayer, Antonia Banyard, and Belle Wuthrich is currently scheduled for release on April 11 2017. This middle grade non fiction book is a colorful infographic look at the many surprising and fascinating facts about food. Information is presented in easy-to-understand graphics and clear explanations. Each spread explores a different aspect of the topic. Readers will find answers to a wide range of questions, including: Who grows our food? Where does our meat and fish come from? How does it get to us? What’s the difference between a hybrid and a genetically-modified crop? How do companies advertise to children? Who are the “Big 10” food companies? How much farmland is there across the world? Weightier topics (for example, farming and pollution, or child labor in agriculture), are balanced out by fun facts, such as “extreme foods” and how our sense of taste works (and sometimes deceives us). Other topics include how food production has an impact on the local and global economy, access to food and food insecurity around the world, and conventional vs. organic farming. Vibrant, dynamic illustrations, diagrams and photos and small chunks of text make this book ideal for reluctant or struggling readers.
Eat Up: An Infographic Exploration of Food was an interesting read with graphics that caught the eye, and a good combination of thought provoking facts and fun or surprising information that is a little lighter. I knew a good portion of the information, but there were still bits of information and ideas that made me stop and think a little more about the food in my house. I found the organization and graphics of the book to be very understandable and accessible by readers in elementary school, but not boring or too easy for more advanced readers. This book hits that sweet spot of interesting and engaging for readers from a variety of ages and skill levels.

Book Review: The Sacred Hunt by Michelle West

The Sacred Hunt is the first time the duology Hunter's Oath and Hunter's Death, by bestselling author Michelle West, has been available as a single volume. This author has also published under the names Michelle Sagara and Michelle Sagara West.

HUNTER'S OATH: When the covenant was made with the Hunter God, it ensured that the Hunter Lords, their land, and their people would prosper. But in payment, once a year the Sacred Hunt must be called, in which the God's prey would be one of the Lords or his huntbrother. This was the Hunter's Oath, sworn to by each Lord and his huntbrother. It was the Oath taken by Gilliam of Elseth and the orphan boy Stephen--and the fulfillment of their Oath would prove the kind of destiny from which legends were made.
HUNTER'S DEATH: The Hunter Lord Gilliam and his huntbrother Stephen must travel to Averalaan, a city once ruled by the Lord of Hell himself, the Dark Lord who once again seeks to impose his reign over the mortal lands. And only Stephen, Gilliam, Espere, and the seer Evayne stand any chance of saving the world from this most evil of fates.

The Sacred Hunt is a solid and complete story. The world, the characters, and the mythology are all well written and interesting. I enjoyed the personalities, and their imperfection, that made the characters real despite the obvious fact they they are fictional. The relationship between Stephen and Gilliam, and those in similar positions, is well built and described with plenty of growth and change- as real personalities and relationships grow. The only thing that I really did not like were the interludes when Evayne's point of view came through. As the story progressed her importance was clear, but in the beginning I just found it disruptive, bringing me out of the story for a bit. I understand the importance of what readers gained there- but while I was reading the first portion of the doulogy, even though I knew there would be a good reason for it, it just did not help the flow of the book for me. I did find the pacing a little slow, but that could have been my eagerness to get to the action, and to see where West was going to take us.

The Sacred Hunt is a reminder for me of what I enjoy from a favorite author. I am a fan of her books writen as Michelle Sagara, and know that this douolgy was originally written much earlier. I can see the dedicated world and character building, as well as a slower pace and some pitfalls that showed me how much the author has grown. A solid fantasy series, but a less engaging story than I had hoped for.

Book Review: Liam Takes a Stand by Troy Wilson, Josh Holinaty

Liam Takes a Stand is written by Troy Wilson and illustrated by Josh Holinaty. It is a children's book about family, business, and doing things your own way. Lister and Lester are identical twins who do identical things. But their constant striving to outdo each other means their little brother, Liam, is always left out. When Lester’s Lemonade Universe and Lister’s Lemonade Multiverse open for business, there’s no role for Liam. He does odd jobs around the neighborhood while Lister and Lester’s competition spirals into overdrive and their lemonade stands get increasingly, outrageously out of hand. But then Liam takes a stand with his own business venture — a simple model based on his observations of what not to do — and gives the twins a run for their money. Illustrated with lively cartoon-style art highlighting the hilarious one-upmanship, this is a spirited underdog story about siblings and strategic thinking.

Liam Takes a Stand was a read that entertained while giving some lessons in business and teamwork. All Liam really wants is to spend time with his brothers, but they are too busy competing to pay him any attention. I like that Liam took steps, working hard to earn his own money, in his own way, and plan for the long run rather than chasing the fast dollar like his brothers. I think that the little brother, using sound and fair business practices, out performs his brothers and gets what he wants in the end- not due to trickery but through working hard. While there is a strong sense of teaching a lesson throughout the book, there is a nice balance of story and wonderful illustrations that keep the story from crossing the line that many books intent on teaching something to kids cross. It stayed fun and enjoyable, and never felt like I was being forcefully taught, which often turns me off with strongly thematic writing.

Liam Takes a Stand is a book that would be great for classes or families wanting to teach children about working hard, work ethic, business, and persistence. I think this would be a great introduction to raising money for a cause, or for programs that help get young people started in any form of business.

Book Review: Wolf Unleashed by Paige Tyler

Wolf Unleashed by Paige Tyler is the fifth book in the SWAT series. The previous books (in order) are: Hungry Like the Wolf, Wolf Trouble, In the Company of Wolves, and To Love a Wolf. While each book could be read on its own, I think reading them in order will offer more understanding of the paranormal particulars and character personalities- which will make for a more engaging read.

Lacey Barton can't deny her crazy attraction to Alex Trevino, but that doesn't mean she has time for the gorgeous SWAT officer. She's hell-bent on discovering who's behind the brutal dogfights sending countless mauled animals to her veterinarian office. The trail leads Lacey to a ring of vicious drug dealers and suddenly she's in way over her head-right smack in the middle of a SWAT stakeout. With Lacey in danger, Alex's wolf side is unleashed. But when she witnesses Alex shift, she's even more terrified. Now it's up to Alex to crack the case-and earn back Lacey's trust and, ultimately, her heart.

Wolf Unleashed is another fast paced adventure in a world of this SWAT series. I like that the characters are complex. Lacey has some issues to work out and some series trouble pausing to think about self preservation- but is quick to look out for others. I felt like Alex was a little too perfect, but maybe his perfection is what was needed for Lacey to let him in. I liked the larger storyline of crime fighting, and found the suspense very well done. I will admit that I saw trouble coming with Lacey's sister miles away- and actually predicted some of the big surprises and reveals before they happened. Although, I still enjoy Tyler's writing style and enjoyed the read. I did not think this one was as outstanding as some of the other books I have read in the series, but it was still worth a Saturday night's time.

Wolf Unleashed offers exactly what I expected from the author. Characters with depth, issues and danger that need facing, and the ability of those characters to communicate when all is said and done. Fans of the series will need to read it. I would recommend reading the book as part of the larger series, only because of the ground work that has been laid in them for the werewolf information and character development. I have enjoyed the series, so if this looks like something you would enjoy, starting at the beginning will not be a hardship.

Early Book Review: The Stone Heart (Nameless City) by Faith Erin Hicks

The Stone Heart is the second graphic novel in the Nameless City series by Faith Erin Hicks. It is currently scheduled for release on April 4 2017. Kaidu and Rat have only just recovered from the assassination attempt on the General of All Blades when more chaos breaks loose in the Nameless City: deep conflicts within the Dao nation are making it impossible to find a political solution for the disputed territory of the City itself. To complicate things further, Kaidu is fairly certain he's stumbled on a formula for the lost weapon of the mysterious founders of the City. But sharing it with the Dao military would be a complete betrayal of his friendship with Rat. Can Kai find the right solution before the Dao find themselves at war?
The Stone Heart is another great graphic novel from Hicks. The Nameless City is in upheaval. Kaidu's father is trying to broker lasting peace for the city, while some of the soldiers, the Dao in particular, are not exactly supporting the possible change. Murder, mayhem, and past hurts are active motivators in the story. I like that readers get more of a look at what happened when the Dao came to the city, and some of the undercurrents between different factions and groups shaped everything. I like the continued character development of our main and secondary characters as we see a little more of the lives of those that live in the city. As usual, I love the artwork and find the details and facial expressions to add both emotion and information into the story, which would be missed with out that careful attention to detail.

The Stone Heart is a good continuation of the original story. My only complaint is that I was left hanging at the end, and am now far too eager for the next installment so I can see where we go from here. Too many unanswered questions and far too much that I need addressed NOW!

Book Review: Fairly Human by Holly Jacobs

Fairly Human by Holly Jacobs is the fourth book in the Fairy Godmothers series. I thought I had read the previous book when I requested the book, but looking back I apparently did not. I still enjoyed the book, but had less understanding of the backstory and character dynamics that played a large role in this book. It could be read alone, but I do think that readers that have read the other books will enjoy this installment more than a new reader.

Myrtle, Fern, and Blossom have finally stepped over the line. The Fairy Council has sentenced them to live as humans for the next six months and the Council strips away their facades. Rather than the older-lady personas they've grown used to, they revert back to their true forms--super hot women guaranteed to make any man stand up and take notice. The fairies find themselves on independent paths that collide with three different men who teach Myrtle, Fern and Blossom about a magic that has nothing to do with fairies and everything to do with love. Now Myrtle, Fern and Blossom must decide whether to return to Fairyland or throw aside their previous lives and build new ones with the men they love.

Fairly Human was a little disappointing to start with, mainly because I somehow missed the earlier books in the series, even though I thought I had read them. This means that it took me awhile to get into the story and figure out just who was who, and the particulars of each personality. Once I got passed that hurdle I really enjoyed the discovery of true love for each fairy godmother. The fighting, coming into their own, and unfolding love stories were fun and entertaining to read. I was distracted by the good of those storylines every time the narration switch from one of our ladies to deal with Bernie and his plans. It just took me out of the three well told and occasionally highly entertaining tales to something that felt unnecessary. My other issue was the wrap up. All of a sudden everyone just shrugs and figures it all out, a little too easy and convenient with a few lingering questions about just how the trio are going to deal with the future.

Fairly Human is a book that fans of the series will definitely want to read, because i hope it ties up some loose ends and bring the rest of the story together. It was entertaining, and very fun at times, but not something that is going to stick with me or inspire me to read the previous books.

Book Review: Darcy and the Aroona Frogs by Catherine Carvell, Michael S. Parkinson

Darcy and the Aroona Frogs is a children's book written by Catherine Carvell and illustrated by Michael S. Parkinson. Darcy Moon is an ordinary girl with ordinary problems–she’s low on cash and doesn’t fit in with the cool crowd. That is, until she finds out she is an Earth Guardian who has to save the local swamp from disaster. The local swamp frogs are disappearing, and the food chain is broken. When a freaked-out frog asks for help, Darcy’s life is about to take a great leap forward. It’s up to her to fix the food chain, save the swamp, and prove that money can’t buy everything.

Darcy Moon and the Aroona Frogs is story that offers some goofy humor, family issues, and environmental themes. Like most kids, Darcy thinks her parents are weird, and does not particularly want to be seen with them. The thing is, they are actually different, and while being freaked out by our parents is completely normal, I could understand Darcy's worry. I liked the evolution of DArcy's character and how she relates to her family and friends as well as how she sees herself. The environmental warrior bit was well done, as was her scheming to help the local wildlife. There was a lot that went right, though I did feel it veered a little closer to the 'preachy' line and the villainous or useless adult bits than I typically enjoy. However, I can think of some groups that would absolutely love the story, and think there are a few classroom lessons or reading groups that might find this the perfect book for their needs.

Darcy Moon and the Aroona Frogs is a quirky adventure story with fun illustration and environmental themes that will capture the attention and imagination of some young readers. It felt like it was trying a little too hard to inspire at times, but think it might strike the right chord with some readers.

Book Review: Wraithborn Volume 1 by Marcia Chen, Joe Benitez

Wraithborn Volume 1 collects the six issues of the Redux edition of the Wraithborn story. It was written by Marcia Chen and Joe Benitez.Valin, the apprentice warrior, was next in line to receive "the Wraithborn", but Melanie got in the way of the transfer and ended up gifted with that mystical power.  Together only they can stop an ancient evil from rising and enslaving all humankind.

Wraithborn Volume 1 is a well drawn and visually entertaining graphic novel. I enjoyed the artwork and the story, but think the use of the shy, hapless teenage girl suddenly receiving mystical powers and needing a guy around to explain and save her is more than a little over done. I did like that there were a number of strong female characters tossed in the mix, and that hints of Melanie becoming a strong fighter at some point were there. However, the shy dutiful girl unable or willing to stand up for herself or others is not my idea of a hero, no matter what kind of strength her magical powers will give her. As a fairly withdrawn person myself, I think the writers need to meet a few people more like the character they are writing. Most of the people I know that are willing to let themselves by abused, will fight tooth and nail to keep the same from happening to others- including locker room teasing and such. Aside from Melanie's character flaws, I liked the story, but I was not overly thrilled with it overall.