Book Review: Archipelago New York by Thomas Halaczinsky

Archipelago New York by Thomas Halaczinsky is a photographic and literary log book unravels the mysteries of more than seventy islands dotting the sea from New York Harbor at the mouth of the Hudson to Fishers Island Sound. Documentary filmmaker and writer Thomas Halaczinsky's course follows the route of Adriaen Block, the first European who in 1614 sailed and mapped this area. On old marine charts, these islands have curious-sounding names such as Money Island, Pot Island, and Rats Island, while names such as Rockaway, Jamaica Bay, and Montauk speak of the indigenous people who once inhabited the land. Rooted in history, local tales are interwoven with current themes such as climate change and wrapped in the narrative of sailing in quest of a sense of place.

Archipelago New York is a stunning travel log of the waters and islands of New York Harbor, which so few people in New York City seem to forget exist. I loved that he used more than just his photographs and thoughts on his travels. He also used maps and information on the history of the area to enhance the journey. I loved getting a look at islands that I might never have the chance to go see myself, and to learn about the history. Halaczinsky's insights were interesting to read, and added a personal touch to the book. I think my favorite part of the book was the photography. Some of the images were stunning, other calm and soothing to my eye. I enjoy getting to play armchair tourist, and while exploring New York Harbor by boat is something I am not likely to ever do in person, I was very glad to have the chance to experience it second hand. 

Early Book Review: Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall by Drew Weing

Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall by Drew Weing is a children's graphic novel currently scheduled for release on September 11 2018. It is the second book in a series, but I have not read the first. I feel like I caught on to the story pretty quickly, and think that while those that are reading in order will get more out of the series, newcomers will be able to enjoy the story as well.
Charles Thompson meets a lot of monsters in his line of work. While assisting Margo Maloo on her assignments, he’s had close encounters with trolls, ghosts, imps, and ogres. And lately, they’re all saying the same thing: living in Echo City is getting harder. As the human population of the city is grows, monsters are being forced to abandon their homes. Teenagers are creeping into their territory, smartphones in hand, eager to photograph paranormal activity. Some monsters are tired of hiding and ready to fight. How can Margo and Charles keep Echo City’s monster community a secret, when it’s teetering in the brink of war?

The Monster Mall is a monster story with a twist. The monsters' very existence is in danger as teenagers,  modern world of technology, and progress creeps into all the places they used to live and hide. Margo teams up with Thompson to inform kids about monsters and to save both people and monsters from a war that would impact everyone negatively. 

The Monster Mall is not quite all I hoped for. I liked the concept, kid trying to solve the monster and human issues and keep everyone safe in her own creepy and mysterious ways. Almost goofy, a little naive friend trying to do his part and still a little excited by the whole thing. While that was good, and the introductions to imps, vampires, and some of the other monsters hidden almost in plain sight, with impending crisis, is well done I was hoping for more. No part of this story really gets a conclusion, it is all just building towards something bigger. While I get that this is part of a series, there should still be some small resolutions to make the reader feel like the issue has a complete story, even with larger story arches still looming. I really liked what was here- but I want more rather than just teasers about what will come in later issues. 

Book Review: Laird of the Black Isle (The MacGregors: Highland Heirs) by Paula Quinn

Laird of the Black Isle is the seventh book in The MacGregors: Highland Heirs series by Paula Quinn. I think I have read some of the other books in this series, but not all of them. I think having read the series will help with some character information, each book can largely stand on their own and be enjoyed in their own right. 

Lachlan MacKenzie has nothing left to lose since his wife and daughter were killed. But when a shadowy figure reveals his little girl might still be alive, Lachlan will do whatever it takes to find hereven abduct a lass from the MacGregor clan for an exchange. But the laird of the Black Isle won't let anything interfere with his mission, not even his beautiful, stubborn captive. All Mailie MacGregor wants is to return home to her family. And the Highland beast who captured her can go to the devil. Her plan: to thwart him at any cost and win her freedom. But she never expected to be so drawn to the fierce warrior and the desire in his eyes. 
Laird of the Black Isle is a nice historical novel about redemption for someone that has faced war, done and seen horrible things, and faced terrible losses. Lachlan has nothing to lose, is willing to go against honor to kidnap an innocent woman for the slim hope of finding his daughter. Mallie is smart, kind, and independent with plenty of strong and honorable men in her family so she has high expectations. Despite being kidnapped, she softens towards Lachlan as she learns more about him, and he grows and softens as she forces him to face his losses and how his past has changed him. I enjoyed both characters, as well as the secondary characters that cropped up in the village and through Mallie's family. I like that there was no instant love, but rather a slow getting to know and understand each other. I also liked the extra dash of danger, but thought that could have come about a little sooner, I just kept expecting the man behind all the bad things in the story to pop around the corner at any moment, and I felt like it took forever for it to finally happen. I will admit that I was glad to get such a complete happy ending. 
Laird of the Black Isle is a historical romance with a good dash of danger and plenty of sweetness. I liked the balance, and think that fans of the genre, and this author in particular, will enjoy the read.

Book Review: Siuluk: The Last Tuniq by Nadia Sammurtok, Rob Nix

Siuluk: The Last Tuniq is a picturebook based on on traditional stories from the Chesterfield Inlet area of the Kivalliq region of Nunavut, this tale of Siuluk and his legendary strength will captivate young readers.. It was written by Nadia Sammurtok and illustrated by Rob Nix. Siuluk is a very strong man. He’s so strong that people tell him he must be the last of the Tuniit, friendly giants who once lived in the North. Just like those giants, Siuluk is so strong that he can carry an entire walrus over his shoulder. But not everyone believes that Siuluk is strong. One day, when a group of men tease Siuluk about his size, he has to find a way to prove his strength once and for all—but how? 

Siuluk: The Last Tuniq is a beautifully illustrated tale, and I was glad to learn a story that I had not heard or read previously. I am a big fan of learning about different people, places, and cultures. This story is one that should be relateable to readers of all cultures and ages. I think everyone has felt lonely, outcast, or different. Siuluk is especially so since people either respect him or mock and doubt him because of the stories told about him. I like the additional information about the legend included, but I would have liked more information about the area and culture. I was intrigued enough to go off an do some of my own research, which will hopefully be the case for other readers as well. I think even beyond the legends, I love that the empathy and acceptance of other people, those that are different, is the underlying theme of the story. I think we all need those muscles stretched and strong because there are way too many cases of people not being able to use them.

Book Review: Sit, Stay, Love (Rescue Me) by Debbie Burns

Sit, Stay, Love is the second book in the Rescue Me series by Debbie Burns. I did not read the first book, but found that while some of the characters were introduced in the first book, I think I was still fully able to enjoy the read without having read the previous book, although those who have will likely enjoy it even more.
For devoted no-kill shelter worker Kelsey Sutton, rehabbing a group of rescue dogs is a welcome challenge. Working with a sexy ex-military dog handler who needs some TLC himself? That's a different story. Kurt Crawford keeps his heart locked away from everyone. Well, everyone except the dogs who need his help and always have his back. But as Kurt gets to know the compassionate, beautiful woman he's been assigned to work with, he can't help but feel a little puppy love.
Sit, Stay, Love is a sweet contemporary romance. Kurt has never been good with words, and is just trying to deal with the loss of the grandmother that helped raised him, and reintegrated to civilian life after losing too many friends and dogs during his tour of duty. Kelsey is more than a little gun shy when it comes to men. The last time she put herself out there it did not end well. When they are brought together to help rescued dogs and fix the house that is housing them, they slowly get to know each other and come together. Each has their faults, and struggle with their inner doubts and demons. I like that they actually talk about things, as much as the taciturn Kurt can, and work things out and trust each other even when appearances make it hard. Family, friends, and helping animals are all key to the story, and I came to love the animals as much as the main characters. I found the secondary characters and the personalities and problems of the pups to be just as engaging as the slow burn between Kurt and Kelsey, and think that the combination of feels and great characters really made this book. I am looking forward to the next book in the series, and need to find the time to go back and read the first.
Sit, Stay, Love is a charming contemporary romance, with characters and animals that tug on the heart strings and leave readers looking for more. I know I will be reading more from this author. 

Early Book Review: The Steves by Morag Hood

The Steves is a picturebook written by Morag Hood. It is currently scheduled for release on September 1 2018. When puffin Steve meets puffin Steve, neither can believe it. Surely one of them must be the first Steve, the best Steve, the Stevest of Steves, but is a name really worth fighting over? 
The Steves is a well drawn picturebook with bright, entertaining illustrations of puffins. Steve and Steve are arguing over who is the best Steve, the first Steve. The bickering starts of fun and entertaining, but I have to admit that it crossed a line for me. It started of with simple argument about who introduced themselves first, who was stronger, and so on. But it dissolved into insults that I would not want to introduce to young readers or have them mimic. At one point one Steve makes fun of the other's feet and he retaliates but saying the first Steve smells like poo. Not something I want to model to young readers, even if the two Steves do apologize to each other and make up by the end. I loved the art and the intent, but the insults rather ruined the book for me. 

Book Review: Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku (Otaku Can't Fall in Love) by Fujita

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku is the first volume in the Otaku Can't Fall in Love manga by Fujita. This series was originally published in 2015, but the English translation was released in April of 2018. 
Narumi and Hirotaka are, by all appearances, a power couple. They're young, good-looking professionals. But they have secrets from everyone but each other: They're serious geeks! Narumi is a fujoshi, and Hirotaka's a hardcore gamer. Their sweet, awkward love story started life as a webcomic before becoming a full-blown manga series by popular demand, and is about to become a major anime series!
Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku is a fun manga series that shows day in the life drama of gamers and geeks that are also friends. They might all have real jobs, and look professional, but they also love anime, games, or cosplay. I liked the story arch about them all trying to find their place in their friend group, and in relationships. It is complicated and sometimes cringe-worthy, just like real life. I liked the story and the characters, but to be honest I wanted more of the secondary couple, I found them to be a little more interesting, but as a whole the story was light and fun. I like that the book offered vocabulary and information for terms that casual readers might not already know or need some clarification on. I think I might follow up with the next book, or maybe I will wait for the anime. 

Early Book Review: A Whale's World by Ian McAllister, Nicholas Read

A Whale's World by Ian McAllister and Nicholas Read is an informational picturebook that is currently scheduled for release on August 28 2018. The story follows a pod of spy-hopping orcas as they explore the ecosystems of the Great Bear Sea while hunting for their next meal. Past rocky shores and through kelp forests, they observe foraging wolves, hungry grizzly bears, curious black bears, graceful fin whales, splashing porpoises, slippery seals and other members of the Pacific coastal food web.
A Whale's World is a visually and informationally interesting book about orcas and the world around them. Other animals that the orcas see in their travels; such as bears, wolves, types of fish, and more are included in the photographs and information. The photographs are well done and lovely to see. The text offers a selection of information about orcas, the world they live in, and the other living creatures that they see and interact with. I thought the book was well done, but not amazing. I think it will entertain and engage young readers, even those that do not take the time to read all of the text. It is a fun introduction to the ways that marine and land animals interact with the environment and with each other.

Book Review: Secret Houses of the Cotswolds by Jeremy Musson, Hugo Rittson Thomas

Secret Houses of the Cotswolds is a nonfiction book written by Jeremy Musson and with photographs by Hugo Rittson Thomas, that takes readers on a personal tour of twenty of the UK’s most beguiling castles, estates, palaces and manor houses in this much-loved area of western England. Estates visited include Daylesford, Stanway, Sudeley Castle and Hilles House. This collection offers privileged access to twenty houses, from castles and manor houses, as well as eighteenth- and nineteenth-century mansions, revealing their history, architecture and interiors, in the company of their devoted owners. Readers will find a series of fascinating country houses of different sizes and atmospheres, which have shaped the English identity. Each house has their own story, but their distinctive honey-colored stone walls, set among rolling hills, in different ways express the ideals of English life. Most of the houses included here are privately owned and not usually open to the public. 
Secret Houses of the Cotswolds is a wonderful book to read if you are a fan of English estates and architecture, or just want to learn more about the styles. The information is well framed in understandable and interesting ways to hold the researcher or curious reader's attention. I will admit that I mostly picked this book up for the photographs. And I was not disappointed. I loved getting a detailed and revealing look at some of these estates. It was just an interesting read, and a visually stunning book that has me going back to glance at my favorite pages again and again. Anyone interested in architecture, decorating, or art will find something to capture their attention in this book. Readers that just love getting an exclusive look at something, or love all things English will also want to take a gander at this beautiful book. 

Book Review: Storytime Astromouse by Steve Smallman

Storytime Astromouse is a picturebook by Steve Smallman. When Pip the mouse learns that the moon is made of stinky cheese, he has a big idea – he's going to be an Astromouse! Pip makes himself a rocket out of an old funnel and some cardboard, and prepares for take-off. But blasting to the moon is harder than he thought and things don't go quite to plan. On his way home Pip sees a huge reflection of the moon in a pond. The moon has come to him! As he reaches down to break off a piece of stinky cheese, the eyes of a large frog appear and a frightened Pip runs all the way back home. He decides the moon is far to scary for a mouse, and he'd much rather live with his mom instead.

Storytime Astromouse is a sweet picturebook about a mouse wanting to get to the moon, because his mother tells him its made of cheese. He tries a variety of approaches until he discovers the reflection of the moon in a pond, and does not like what he finds. The illustrations are cute, and do a good job of expanding on the story. I would have liked it more if it had not started with the myth about the moon being cheese- but rather the mouse wanted to go to the moon to explore instead of eat. Some science or at least hints of it would have been a nice addition. But, I did like that there is are endpapers to guide a parent or teacher to further discussion.