Book Review: Flare Up (Boston Fire) by Shannon Stacey

Flare Up is part of the Boston Fire series by Shannon Stacey. While fans of the series will know more about the characters and relationships going in than new readers, I think the book stands up well on its own as well.

Nursing a broken heart while everybody around him seems to be drowning in happiness has Grant Cutter wondering whether staying with Engine 59—or even Boston Fire—is in his future. It’s tempting as hell to pack up what fits in his Jeep and hit the road. But then a 911 call brings the woman who shattered his heart back into his life, and he knows he won’t ever be able to fully leave her in his rearview mirror. For a few months, Wren Everett had thought the nightmare of her past was behind her and she might live happily ever after with Grant. Until she got the phone call letting her know the time her ex had spent in jail for assault hadn’t cooled his temper or determination that she belonged with him. Cutting ties with Grant was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do, but it was also the only way to keep him safe. Now that Grant is back, he’s not letting Wren push him away again. And even with the trust issues between them, Wren dares to hope she and Grant might have a future together after all…if they’re willing to fight for it.

Flare Up is a well written story. Even though I had not read the previous books, and know I missed some of the character and world building, I felt like I was well introduced the the main characters and how they relate to the others. I liked both characters, and felt like I could understand their fears and choices, even when I might not agree with them. They were real, flawed people that felt like I could meet them out and about rather than characters in a book. I thought that Wren's doubts and worries were very realistic, the results of living through a controlling and abusive relationship were represented very accurately. I liked that Wren and Grant actually talked about their problems and concerns, with each other and friends. They acted like adults rather than ignoring the problems and avoiding them (for the most part). I love when book characters actually do this instead of things magically being all better with no work done to fix things. I will say that I was expecting one more big confrontation or action scene, and the solution with the ex seemed a little anticlamatic. It was real, and realistic, but I think I was just expected a big dramatic moment after all the problems he caused. 

Flare Up is a solid contemporary romance, with plenty of action and emotion- and a nice dash of steam. 

Early Book Review: The Wolf in Underpants by Wilfrid Lupano, Mayana Itoïz, Paul Cauuet

The Wolf in Underpants is a children's graphic novel written by Wilfrid Lupano and illustrated by Mayana Itoïz and Paul Cauuet. It is currently scheduled for release on March 5 2019. A community of forest animals trades scary rumors about a nearby wolf. Some critters have even gone into business selling wolf traps and anti-wolf fences. But when the wolf appears in a pair of striped underpants, everyone rethinks their fears. This is a heartwarming story about understanding differences, told with an oddball sense of humor.

The Wolf in Underpants is a young readers graphic novel, that could be read as a picturebook. I loved the story, and the twists. Close readers will see clue through the story that relate to the couple surprises they will run across, and there are lots of small details to find on each page. I think readers could go through the book several times and still find something they had missed before. The forest creatures being in a panic over a wolf, and spending all their time and resources on the fear, and talking about it, parallels the news and adult world far too well. I like how simple and rational the explanation for the wolf's past appearance and current state are, and how one simple act of kindness helped make it happen. I really liked the giggle I got at the end, which might bother some sensitive readers, to the remaining mystery of missing pigs. 

The Wolf in Underpants is an entertaining read, and I think it will work for a large range of reading ages and abilities. I really enjoyed the read and will be looking for more like this from the team.

Book Review: Fifth Grave Past the Light (Charley Davidson) by Darynda Jones

Fifth Grave Past the Light is part of the Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones, which I am currently binge reading and sharing about more slowly here on the blog. Please read it in order, it will be much more enjoyable and fun that way.

Charley Davidson isn't your everyday, run-of-the-mill grim reaper. She's more of a paranormal private eye/grim reaper extraordinaire. However, she gets sidetracked when the sexy, sultry son of Satan, Reyes Farrow, moves in next door. To further complicate matters, Reyes is her main suspect in an arson case. Charley has vowed to stay away from him until she can find out the truth...but then dead women start appearing in her apartment, one after another, each lost, confused, and terrified beyond reason. When it becomes apparent that her own sister, Gemma is the serial killer's next target, Charley has no choice but to ask for Reyes's help. Arsonist or not, he's the one man alive who could protect Gemma no matter who or what came at her. But he wants something in return. Charley. All of her, body and soul. And to keep her sister safe, it is a price she is willing to pay.

Fifth Grave Past the Light is a heavily packed addition to this series. I think I got so much more about Charley and exactly who and what else might be inhabiting her world in this book than I have so far in the entire series. She is not only facing her issues head on, dealing with relationship changes and challenges, and the changes in how the dead are approaching her all combine with her more mundane cases. I have to fess up that I look like an idiot when I am reading these books, because I find myself randomly grinning or cringing as Charley and crew entertain me. I really like that not all the danger Charley and her circle face are from the supernatural, 'normal' people are just as scary and dangerous as the paranormal and more likely to do serious damage. I liked the interactions between Reyes and Charley, and that they are tackling their relationship on several levels.  I admit that I was fully expecting a particular twist to arise, and still expect it to come up in the near future. Although I was floored with the surprise on the very last page of the book. 

Fifth Grave Past the Light is so much more than I had expected. Even the slightly cliffhanger ending was not the twist that I was expecting. I am diving into book six now!

Book Review: Crossroads of Bones by Luanne Bennett

Crossroads of Bones is the first book in the Katie Bishop series by Luanne Bennett. Katie Bishop would have taken her secret to the grave, but a bunch of fat cat society folks smelled her out and made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. Katie just wants to run her tattoo business quietly under the radar. But when a man walks into her shop and hands her a drawing of the same tattoo she’s been dreaming about for weeks, things start to spin out of control. The last two people who tried to apply that tattoo are dead. Only half human, it’s her other half that an elite group wants to hire—a group of Savannah’s more privileged citizens, including the city’s reigning coven of witches. There’s a rogue god on the loose, and Katie is the only one who can send him back to hell before he breaks open the crossroads and lets the underworld waltz right in—if he manages to get that deadly tattoo inked onto his back.

Crossroads of Bones is a solid urban fantasy, with plenty of character and world building. I have read a lot of this genre, and that left me with mixed feelings. There were moments that felt like I had missed a previous book and others when things seemed a little too familiar. I think I must have read a short story or excerpt from the author before and forgotten. However, that is my personal issue, and not something that is actually wrong with the read, I just want to preface my review so readers will know what colored my take on the story.

I really liked Katie's character. She hit a good blend of badass and vulnerable, and was honest with the people she cared about most. I enjoyed the paranormal world building, and like that there were some new takes and types that I do not remember ever having seen before. I found the cast of characters to be nicely varied, and like that some things were more slowly revealed than others. I think the big bad and layers of conflict and secrecy was fairly well done, although I was almost expecting another layer at some point but that could always come along in a future book. I will admit that I do get a little annoyed with the constant romance and being controlled by the beast or hormones that seems ingrained in the genre. Not everyone needs to be attracted to the main character, and said lead does not need to hop in the sack just because. And, if they are going to, at least make sure they make the pretense having of safe sex and having a mature discussion at some point- regardless of if pregnancy is even a consideration.

Crossroads of Bones is a good start to an urban fantasy series. I am not sure if I am going to keep going, but I think it will be a good choice for many readers.

Early Book Review: Circle of the Moon (Soulwood) by Faith Hunter

Circle of the Moon is the fourth book in the Soulwood series by Faith Hunter. It is currently scheduled for release on February 26 2019. This series is set in the same world as Hunter's Jane Yellowrock series and there is some significant cross over. However, you can enjoy one series without the other. I do recommend reading the Soulwood series in order, as newcomers will be missing quite a bit of important backstory. Those that read all of Hunter's books (like me) will get the most out of the story because of the interrelated characters. 
Nell can draw magic from the land around her, and lately she's been using it to help the Psy-Law Enforcement Division, which solves paranormal crimes. Joining the team at PsyLED has allowed her to learn more about her powers and the world she always shunned--and to find true friends. Head agent Rick LaFleur shifts into a panther when the moon calls him, but this time, something has gone wrong. Rick calls Nell from a riverbank--he's naked, with no memory of how he came to be there, and there's a dead black cat, sacrificed in a witch circle and killed by black magic. Then more animals turn up dead, and team rushes to investigate. A blood-witch is out to kill. But when it seems as if their leader is involved in the crime, the bonds that hold the team together could shatter at any moment.

Circle of the Moon is just as complex and exciting to read as everything else I have read from Hunter. I will admit that it has been long enough since the previous book in the series that I had to go back and look at my thoughts on the previous book to make sure I was up to speed before getting too far into the story, and I wished I have revisited the most recent Yellowrock book as well. There is a lot going on here, and I had to give the book my full attention to take in all the character and story line development. Nell continues to grow into her independence and understanding who and what she can be in the world. Mud, Rick, and Occam are only a few of the secondary characters that I loved getting to know better as the story progressed. The mystery and case that the unit is working on, and the people that become part of the larger story because of it, are very well done, and some are fascinating in their own right, even without the ties to Jane's story. The magic circles, vampires, and magic flying around are complicated and tangled, leaving the characters and most readers puzzled as to the end game, at least until it is almost too late. My only complaint with this book is that at times it felt too complicated and tied in with Jane's story that I think those that for one reason or another have not read those as well will be even more lost in the tangle of stories than those of us who think we are all caught up. That being said, when the book was over, I only wanted more, so I still consider it a must read for fans.

Circle of the Moon is another wonderful read by Hunter. This book had me wanting to go back and reread some Jane Yellowrock, and hoping that the stories written in this world continue on. 

Book Review: Liam Davis and the Raven by Anyta Sunday

Liam Davis and the Raven by Anyta Sunday is a stand alone romance, although I could not stop myself from looking for characters I might recognize and hoping for more on some of the secondary characters as I read. 

Liam Davis is a serious journalist, and he’s good at it. Or at least, he was. Until the chief of Scribe, the campus magazine, makes him give up his politics column to write for the party page —the party page that is problematic for two reasons: One, it threatens Liam’s chance of getting the traineeship with his apathetic father at his prestigious newspaper company, and two, he has no idea what it means to party, let alone how to capture this new audience’s attention! But Liam Davis is no quitter. He’s determined to prove to his father, the chief, and above all himself that he can do it—and do it well. Life doesn’t make it easy. Not when Freddy Krueger comes stalking out of the shadows to attack him. Luckily the Raven, the campus vigilante—the vigilante getting hate mail sent to Scribe’s opinions page—comes to his rescue. Now, between finding the perfect angle for his party page columns and making friends (and perhaps something more?), Liam needs to find this mysterious Raven — not only to thank him, but to warn him to watch his back.
Liam Davis and the Raven made me smile, cringe, and sigh in turn. Liam is a all work and no play kind of guy. He does not do well with emotion, and spends more time working for the college magazine than doing anything else.l When he does not get the paper assignment he wants and an attack makes him much more aware of his loneliness the world starts to shift. I completely related to Liam, as he struggled to understand the social and emotional cues he never really had to deal with before. He is trying to make friends, write a column he is uncomfortable with, and reach the level of success with his writing he needs to reach his long term goals. Watching Liam discover the good and annoying bits of having people involved in your life was enthralling, and his complete honest about what he was feeling and wanting to be sure was sweet and frustrating in turn. I liked how he was both so smart and clueless at the same time. Quinn, Hunter, Sam, and the rest of the secondary characters were fantastic and added a great deal of depth and emotion to the story as a whole. Now I need a story just for Hunter, because I need more of him and want him to get his own happy ever after.

Liam Davis and the Raven hit all the right notes and left me wanting more from the author, and about a few favorite characters from the book. I just love the depth and realistic nature of the characters. 

Early Book Review: Mini Meadows: Grow a Little Patch of Colorful Flowers Anywhere around Your Yard by Mike Lizotte

Mini Meadows: Grow a Little Patch of Colorful Flowers Anywhere around Your Yard by Mike Lizotte is a nonfiction gardening book that is currently scheduled for release on March 5 2019. The word “meadow” conjures images of wide expanses of land, but a mini meadow, a kind of informal flower garden started with seed sown directly into the soil, can be any size. It can also be fun, easy to grow, and good for the planet. With as little as 50 square feet and for less than $20, gardeners can plant a colorful meadow that demands little in the way of space, mowing, or maintenance, uses less water than a traditional lawn, and provides habitat for pollinators, not to mention a natural exploration space for children. From choosing the right variety of seeds, preparing the soil, sowing evenly, and watering well, this book guides readers through the process of successfully creating a miniature meadow that suits their climate, soil, and growing goals, whether planting to beautify a hellstrip, halt erosion, fill a boggy spot, or establish a nesting area for bees and butterflies.

Mini Meadows is detailed and well organized, with a pleasant conversational feel. Towards the end ogf the book there are some regional planting guides that I found particularly helpful. I know my planting zone, but I think the regional breakdown is slightly more accessible.  I liked getting to know a bit about the author and his family as I learned about planting, planting, and caring for meadows. I love the look of fields of flowers, but I never thought my small yard and small gardens could be anything like a meadow.  This book offered me ideas and inspiration to take some of this space and enjoy some mini meadows. The fact that they can be so low maintenance fits in my my increasingly busy life, and how little I have been enjoying the summer heat each year. I like how the author gave additional resources in the endpages, including seed sources, gardens to visit, and further reading. 

Mini Meadows is a book that I will be looking to revisit in the late winter. It has given me many ideas, and I think it will help other gardeners looking for some information and inspiration.

Early Book Review: Owling: Enter the World of the Mysterious Birds of the Night by Mark Wilson

Owling: Enter the World of the Mysterious Birds of the Night by Mark Wilson is a children's nonfiction book currently scheduled for release on March 5 2019. Wildlife photojournalist and nature educator Mark Wilson presents a look into the mysterious lives of these distinctive birds. Images of the nineteen owl species of North America nesting, flying, hunting, and catching prey are accompanied by information about the birds’ silent flight, remarkable eyes and ears, haunting calls, and fascinating night life. Kids will learn how to spot owls; identify their calls, plumage, and pellets; and even carry on a hooting conversation with a nearby owl.
Owling is a well written book about owls. The pages are bright and bold, with full color photographs and diagrams. The text is broken into manageable portions, with fun questions and facts scattered through the pages to further engage readers. I really enjoyed seeing the differences and similarities between different kinds of owls. I also found the detailed information about each of the native North American owls to be well organized and written. I found the information on finding owls, and on how to make my yard and the environment in general, more owl friendly to be very helpful and responsibly done. I like getting information like this, which benefits the wildlife I love as much as myself. I also found the chapter on working with owls to be extremely interesting, since animal rehab or working in a zoo environment is likely to be in my daughter's future is current trends continue. The glossary and other resources in the endpapers were useful as well, and I think will help encourage young readers to explore further.

Owling is an interesting and well organized non fiction book for middle grade and older readers. I thought I knew a lot about owls, but I was glad to learn some new information here and will be using resources like to help find owls with my children. 

Book Review: Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet (Charley Davidson) by Darynda Jones

Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet is the fourth book in the Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones. I highly recommend reading the series in order, it is just much more fun that way. Trust me.
Sometimes being the grim reaper really is, well, grim. And since Charley’s last case went so awry, she has taken a couple of months off to wallow in the wonders of self-pity. But when a woman shows up on her doorstep convinced someone is trying to kill her, Charley has to force herself to rise above...or at least get dressed. It becomes clear something is amiss when everyone the woman knows swears she’s insane. But the more they refute the woman’s story, the more Charley believes it. In the meantime, the sexy, sultry son of Satan, Reyes Farrow, is out of prison and out of Charley’s life, as per her wishes and several perfectly timed death threats. But his absence has put a serious crimp in her sex life. While there are other things to consider, like the fact that the city of Albuquerque has been taken hostage by an arsonist, Charley is having a difficult time staying away. Especially when it looks like Reyes may be involved.
Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet is exactly what I was hoping for as a follow up to book four, but still full of surprises. I like that while the heat and attraction between Reyes and CHarley is off the charts, they have not fallen into the trap of insta love and assumed partnership. Just like real relationship, they have to figure things out and deal with other issues. I found CHarley's investigation and dealing with her personal crises to be very well done, and how even when she is scattered and terrified Charley is still fighting to find the perfect come back or quip. I liked the amount of surprises and sub stories that tangled together. Some authors try to have this many storylines in a single book and it gets tangled and confusing, but Jones pulls it off beautifully. Anyone that has read this far in this series is likely to keep going, like myself, to see what befalls Charley next. 

Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet is another highly entertaining book with enough heat and feels to keep me up well past my bedtime. Now on to book five!

Book Review: Rattlesnake Rules by Conrad J. Storad, Nathabiel P. Jensen

Rattlesnake Rules by Conrad J. Storad is a children's non fiction picturebook. Rattlesnakes have rules?! If these babies shake their rattles, you had better pay attention! Misunderstood, rattlesnakes have gotten a bad rap over the years.  This book demystifies the world of rattlesnakes and introduces children to such topics as who, when, and what rattlesnakes eat. It shows readers why rattlesnakes have rattles and what it means if you hear one. You will learn how the snakes forked tongues help them survive. The delightful and colorful illustrations of Nathaniel P. Jensen help bring the story alive.

Rattlesnake Rules is a good introduction to rattlesnakes and their behavior. I like that it offers the rules rattlesnakes live by to survive, and the rules people should follow when exploring the outdoors. The illustrations are cute, and I like the realistic colors used in the snakes and the landscapes, but it did not wow me with detail work. The text of the story is told in rhyme, and is easy to understand and remember. My favorite aspect of the book is the additional information and resources included at the end of the book. There are some interesting facts that were new to me, and some activity and craft ideas for caregivers, parents, or teachers to take part in with young readers to get them more engaged and interested in the story and information. 

Rattlesnake Rules was an informative read, and I think it could be very useful in teaching young children how to behave in rattlesnake territory, and to understand rather than fear them. I found the story itself to be alright, but the picturebook portion did not stand out or wow me in any way.