Early Book Review: The Highland Dragon's Lady (Highland Dragon, #2) by Isabel Cooper

The Highland Dragon's Lady is the second book in the Highland Dragon series by Isabel Cooper. This historical romance is currently schedule for release on December 2nd 2014. Regina Talbot-Jones is an unconventional girl, whose family has fairly recently moved into a home with rumors of hauntings and curses. Her family has planned a rather ill-conceived séance, and her brother has invited one of his friends. She did not count on that friend being so handsome, or a dragon. Scottish Highlander Colin MacAlasdair has hidden his true nature for his entire life, but Regina has secrets of her own and soon he knows he has to have her. When everything goes wrong with the séance the pair will need to work together to save the group, and to discover is their attraction can withstand the initial spark and flame.

The Highland Dragon's Lady is a nice follow up to Legend of the Highland Dragon, made even better that while knowing the mythology and character set up from the first book made this one better- it is not necessary to read the books as a series, or even in order, to fully enjoy the characters and storyline. Regina is an unusual girl, which Colin knows on his first meeting with her- which is far from expected. She has a bit of a psychic gift of her own, which makes he understanding and rather accepting of Colins abilities. Colin and Reggie were both smart and adventurous characters, caring only about what others thought about them when it would effect those they care for. This makes them people I would want to hang out with. I liked their practicality and smarts, and their humor about the less that pleasant situation they find themselves in as a vengeful spirit, or something, is causing trouble. I really enjoyed the combination, and hope that we get to see Reggie’s brother find his own peace and relationship in a later book, even if it is as a background plot or small mention at some point in the future.

The Highland Dragon's Lady is a solid historical and paranormal romance. It is highly character and action driven, and I found myself putting off dinner making and hair brushing for my daughter a couple times so that I could read just a wee bit further. I am looking forward to seeing more from Cooper.

Book Review: Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger

Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger is the third book in the Finishing School series. I would recommend starting at the beginning of the series, as there is a growing storyline that requires the build up to fully enjoy the character interaction. Sophronia continues her second year at finishing school in style and with a steel-bladed fan secreted in the folds of her ball gown. Such a fashionable choice of weapon comes in handy when Sophronia, her best friend Dimity, sweet sootie Soap, and the charming Lord Felix Mersey stowaway on a train to return their classmate Sidheag to her werewolf pack in Scotland. No one suspected what--or who--they would find aboard that suspiciously empty train. Sophronia uncovers a plot that threatens to throw all of London into chaos and she must decide where her loyalties lie, once and for all. 

Waistcoats & Weaponry has the action and character development that I have come to expect from this series. There are twists and turns to the tale, and some surprises along the way. I liked the discoveries of strengths and weaknesses in their group, and their opponents. Sophronia continues to be a fun heroine, and is working hard to discover what she wants from life in the long run, and just what is going on in the world around them. Tension between Sophronia, Soap, and Felix is ramping up, and decisions need to be made. While I liked the high action and drama, I felt like the series has lost a little momentum and that this book is just the filler to string us all along to read the fourth book in the series. Although, I must admit that it does do that job admirably and I am now chomping at the bit for Manners & Mutiny, which should be released in November of 2015.  

If you have enjoyed the Finishing School series thus far then you need to read Waistcoats & Weaponry. I do not this it continues with the same quality of the two previous books, but it does hold some necessary story lines, sub plots, and precursors to the expected conclusion of the series. 

Book Review: Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

Curtsies & Conspiracies is the second book in the Finishing School series by Gail Carriger. Finishing school has been very different from what Sophronia expected. While she is learning how to act in society and be a lady, she is also learning how to be a spy. To make things even more interesting, Sophronia got mixed up in an intrigue over a stolen device and had a cheese pie thrown at her in a most horrid display of poor manners. Now, as she sneaks around the dirigible school, eavesdropping on the teachers' quarters and making clandestine climbs to the ship's boiler room, she learns that there is much more to a field trip to London than is apparent at first. Another conspiracy is afoot, one with dire implications for both supernaturals and humans. Sophronia must rely on her training to discover who is behind the dangerous plot, and survive the London Season with a full dance card.

Curtsies & Conspiracies is a pretty perfect follow up to Etiquette & Espionage. Sophronia and her fellow students are learning more about being a lady, vision, and more that just might be crucial to keep them alive and well suited for espionage. Sophronia continues making friends with an small group, and furthering the divide between herself and Monique. I love her silliness to put herself on the line for information and what she deems the greater good. I loved the verbal sparing and the underlaying tensions that really take off during the story. Her adventures made my breath catch a couple times, and the wit and humor woven through the story just made me laugh. If you enjoyed the first book, you need to keep on reading. 

Curtsies & Conspiracies was a great continuation to a fantastic series. I will admit that I enjoyed the first book more, since it involved more of the world building and growing work, but the character development and story growth made me so eager to read the next installment that I did so nearly immediately after finishing this book.

Three Series of Books Full of Allusions And Are Great, Fun Reads

I get a kick out of reading a book, watching a movie or television show, or reading an article when I get to use my mind more than expected. Literary or pop culture references that make me stop and smile or think really can increase my enjoyment of something if it is done correctly. Here are some books that use references to myths and literature in ways that made me enjoy the book even more. 

Here, There Be Dragons
 by James A. Owen is the first book in the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series. These series is full to the brim of references to authors, literature and myths. The main characters are three men from attached to Oxford University. The murder of an Oxford professor and the interference of a very strange man named Bert bind the three together and set them onto a path of adventure of mythic proportions. I do not want to tell you who the three main characters are, but I will say that they are all well known authors of their day, and it isn't said exactly who they are until near the end of the book, so I don't want to spoil it for you if you haven't already guessed. Through out this series there are allusions to Greek Mythology, Arthurian legends, Narnia, Oz and Pythia.

Michael Buckley has gifted us with The Sisters Grimm series of books, which begins with Fairy Tale Detectives. This book is marketed to children, but I honestly think anyone interested in the evolution of fairy tales will enjoy this series, I know that I do. In this series, we see two young girls who have bounced around in the foster care system since their parents disappeared. A grandmother the girls did not know still lived claims custody of the girls, and then their adventures really begin. Grandmother Grimm just happens to live in Ferryport, a town for fairy tale characters whether they are willing or not. The variety and depth to the fairy tale characters is fantastic, and worth the read. We see Prince Charming, the Big Bad Wolf, Snow White, and Peter Pan all trying to survive in today's world. The series is also honestly funny for children and adults without resorting to childish humor, it is witty and clever.

Another series heavy with literary references is Cornelia Funke's Inkheart and the two books that follow. Even though some of the allusions self referential to this series, much like in William Goldman's The Princess Bride, there are also allusions to actual books and legends. We see a major player come into the story line from Arabian Nights and references to several mythological creatures throughout the series. Even though the amount of references to known literary works is less in this series than in the ones I mentioned previously, it has the same feel to it.

There are of course several other workers that touch on mythology or commonly known literature to deepen their own plot and enrich their own stories. I think these authors did more than that, they expanded on the original works rather than simply borrowing from them.

Book Review: Lug, Dawn of the Ice Age by David Zeltser

Lug, Dawn of the Ice Age is a middle grade novel by David Zeltser. Lug is a caveboy who would rather paint than hit other people or animals with rocks. When Lug and another caveboy are banished for failing to catch a jungle llama, he thinks he is alone. Soon Lug finds others who believe in him; his clanmate Stony and a new friend, Echo, a girl from a rival clan who can talk to animals and just may be prehistory's first vegetarian/animal rights activist. Together they face even bigger challenges. Lug discovers the Ice Age is coming and he has to bring the warring clans together to save them not only from the freeze but also from a particularly unpleasant migrating pride of saber-toothed tigers.

Lug, Dawn of the Ice Age is a wild ride, with social commentary on the side. In a world where hitting someone in the head with a rock is the height of social discourse. Everyone needs to follow the rules of the ‘Big Man’ who leads their tribe or risk death or banishment. Lug had to hide his love of art, since brute force is the only thing that gained acceptance, he is bullied and an outsider even before being banished. Failing to capture a jungle llama for a competition against another clan was the trigger to get him banished, but even before that he really did not fit in. Lug is a thinker, dealing with bullies and being different. In his journey with Stony after being banished he discovers that his differences are not necessarily bad. His observations and art are what make him special, just like the odd things about his new friends are in truth their strengths. So while readers are entertained by kids fighting for survival and humor winding its way through the tale, they also get encouragement to be themselves and follow their own convictions. 

Lug, Dawn of the Ice Age is a great survival tale, full of adventure and humor. There is also a great deal about coming of age and being treat yourself. I think readers with a variety of interests will greatly appreciate the book, and come away from it both excited and feeling ready to face their own challenges. 

Book Review: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

Etiquette &Espionage is the first book in the Finishing School series for young adults by Gail Carriger. Fourteen-year-old Sophronia Temminnick is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Quickly Sophronia realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine's, young ladies learn to finish everything. They do learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette; but the also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage, but politely, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year's education.

Etiquette &Espionage is a great start to a new series. The world building is seamlessly woven into the story, a steam punk world with all the trappings of polite society including corsets and stays. Sophronia, her family, and the girls she meets at the school all are like people you could meet anywhere- they have the traits you can find in any crowd, but with a twist of skill in espionage to keep you guessing of everyone's true nature and intent. I liked Sophronia's genuine nature, and interest in most unlady like things, as well as her willingness to go outside of conventions- and to accept others for their own quirks. There is the expected mean girl necessary in every book involving teens, but there is also aerobatic escapes, air battles, a werewolf attack, a vampiric professor, a ball, and some social commentary. There is a fun variety of people and characters, as well as a great layer of mystery and intrigue.

I would recommend Etiquette & Espionage to readers that enjoy spy novels, young adult books, steam punk, historical novels, and good old fashion adventure. I really feel into the world, and have had trouble leaving it behind, thankfully the next two books in the series are waiting for my attention on my Kindle.

Book Review: Grave Witch (Alex Craft) by Kalayna Price

Grave Witch is the first book in the Alex Craft series by Kalayna Price. I listened to the audiobook, which was read by Emily Durante. Not even death can save her now. As a grave witch, Alex Craft is a grave witch, meaning that she can raise shades and speak to the dead. Unlike most, she can even talk to, and is on good terms with, Death himself. She's seen a lot of dark magic, but nothing has prepared her for her latest case. When she's raising a "shade" involved in a high-profile murder, it attacks her, and then someone makes an attempt on her life. Someone really doesn't want her to know what the dead have to say, and she'll have to work with mysterious homicide detective Falin Andrews to figure out why.

Grave Witch was a good beginning to a series, that has me interested in getting my hands on the next book. Alex has the perfect combination of power and vulnerability. She is estranged from her family, but when her sister pleas for her help, Alex cannot refuse, and that help leads her down the rabbit hole to deal with some serious dark magic, the fae, attempts on her life, ghosts, and an attempt at romance. At the end Alex is left with a couple solved cases, and more questions about herself and her love life than before. The trip was entertaining, and I liked the world and the cast of characters. I was ever eager to get plugged back into my iPod to hear more of the story. I will admit that on occasion the narrator sounded a bit mechanical, like Siri, but she regularly redeemed herself with some great voice work when switching between character's thoughts or speech.

I would recommend Grave Witch to readers that enjoy urban fantasy, particularly when witches or the fae are involved. The characters and world felt very well developed and the story answered enough questions to leave me satisfied at the end, while still having enough open possibilities to make me curious about what will happen next. A perfect combination for a series starter.

Novels that Will Make You Nervous

What do you find scary? It is not always the obvious monster in the dark that is truly scary. Sometimes it is the monster in ourselves, people in power, our loved ones, or even that innocent looking child down the street that is the most frightening. Here are some books that might scare you in unexpected ways, and make for a supernatural read at the same time.

Toni Andrews scares us with her Mercy Holling series, which starts with Beg for Mercy. It is not the things that go bump in the night that will make you nervous in this series. It is the abilities of Mercy, whom developed a special ability at puberty to influence people's will. If Mercy is angry and tells you to go jump off a bridge, you will. Imagine that as a teenager, all the implications of losing your temper ad saying something rash. Now imagine trying to control what you say while drunk, angry or joking to be sure that you do not hurt or kill someone. If she can do all of that then what can your next-door neighbor do?

Laurell K. Hamilton writes a more traditionally scary set of novels with her Anita Blake series. Starting with Guilty Pleasures, we are immersed in a world of vampires, shape shifters and power struggles to be in charge or kill those that defy you. Anita is a vampire hunter with some added abilities. She kills the monsters, but on some level, she is not very different from them. As the series progresses lines between human and monster are bent and broken and leave the reader wondering about the true nature of the own self as well as that of those around them. One word of warning, the plot seems to fade and fall away for a few books in the middle of the series and the books tend to revolve around the more intimate moments of the character's lives. Do not read this series if you are offended by sexual situations. Frankly some of what Hamilton writes in that arena might be as scary as her vampire and zombies if it catches you unaware.

I now have to admit it; a teen novel series scared me. Darren Shan, known for a vampire series recently made into a movie, has a series called the Demonata. The first book, Lord Loss, bothered me enough that I have yet to be able to go back and finish the series. The books are all short, but extremely disturbing with visions of our world and that of demons being very close, with only a very thin veil between them. There is gore, more than I usually need in a horror book or movie, but plenty of physiological fear inducers too.

I have been focusing on novels published fairly recently, but if you really want to be scared then I suggest looking into some classics. Stephen King's Misery or The Shining will get to me every time. I cannot even read It because clowns already bother me, if I read the book I would be traumatized at the next child's birthday party sporting a clown. No thank you. Like in the Mercy Holling series, what make these so scary is that the action does not seem too far removed from reality. It feels like it could happen, and the worst things are what you see in your mind rather than what is spelled out for you on the page. I remember reading a couple books by Dean Koontz and Robin Cook in the 1990's that seriously frightened me, and though I can almost picture the covers, I cannot seem to recall the titles. 

To continue in the theme of slightly older material than check out the work of Algernon BlackwoodThe Wendigo and The Willows give me the shivers just thinking about them. H.P. Lovecraft's works are also guaranteed chill inducers and completely disturbing. I am barely even scratching the surface of paranormal stories that can completely freak me out, there are just too many out there to name, but these are my go to materials for when I want a scare from my reading material.

Early Book Review: The Crocheter's Skill-Building Workshop by Dora Ohrenstein

The Crocheter's Skill-Building Workshop by Dora Ohrenstein is a crochet resource that is currently scheduled for release on December 2 2014 in digital and paper formats. This book is a guide that covers all of the basic crochet techniques, from choosing yarns to finishing! It deals with the basic questions that each and every crocheter faces, as well as those that have been hooking for years might never have seen dressed elsewhere. Included are more than 70 stitch-along swatches that each teach and reinforce the skills of a particular technique, along with five projects (a hat, shawl, neck warmer, bag, and scarf) that put those techniques to use. The swatches offer not just a variety of stitch patterns but also a variety of shapes and can serve as the building blocks for sophisticated and creative projects of your own design.

The Crocheter's Skill-Building Workshop is a wonderful resource for crocheters of all skill levels, from beginners through those that consider themselves experts. As someone that supplements her income selling crochet items, I found a few explanations and bits of advice to be invaluable and in some cases answering questions that I have had for years and never found the answer to before. Crochet fans will find some great tools in calculating yarn, including after having made modifications to hook sizes and/or yarn weight. The explanations, detailed pictures, and labeled diagrams do a great job of illustrating the techniques and at no point does the tone come off as conceding, which does sometimes happen with books or videos detailing basic stitches and information.

I highly recommend The Crocheter's Skill-Building Workshop to anyone that enjoys crochet, particularly those of us that are always looking to improve our skills and understanding. I have already preordered my paper copy for myself, because my digital e-galley is wonderful but not quite as useful to me as an actual paper copy with post-it notes and the ability to leave hand written notes and ideas in the margins.

Book Review: The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer is a middle grade to young adult novel. Alistair Cleary is the kid everyone trusts while Fiona Loomis is not the typical girl next door. Alistair hasn't really thought of her since they were little kids until she shows up at his doorstep with a proposition: she wants him to write her biography. What begins as an odd vanity project gradually turns into a frightening glimpse into the mind of a potentially troubled girl. Fiona says that in her basement there is a portal that leads to a magical world where a creature called the Riverman is stealing the souls of children. Fiona’s soul could be next. If Fiona really believes what she’s saying, Alistair fears she may be crazy. But if it’s true, her life could be at risk. Could the story be hiding problems, or are her tales of a the other world real?

The Riverman is a multi layered story about kids finding themselves, facing problems bigger than themselves, and the notion of reality. Alistair is an average kid, with a few friends and the trust of just about everyone around him. He is creative, but not so much to normally attract attention. Fiona has noticed, and wants his to write her story, which she shares with him in bits and pieces. He tales of another world are both wonderful and terrifying as the threat of the Riverman and the possibility of who he might be in the real world become clearer. The build up and execution of the mystery/suspense involved in the story was nearly perfect. There was a good balance of suspicion that the world Fiona spoke about was real versus the possibility that she was hiding from something in her home above all else. The story had me hooked and turning pages quickly. I was a little disappointed in the conclusion, mainly because it was a bit subjective and left in the air. Most of the loose ends were tied up, but there were still some open ended questions.

I would recommend The Riverman to readers that enjoy fantasy, mystery, and coming of age stories. Alistair has much growth within the story and the story is greatly compelling. Readers of the middle grade to young adult persuasions would enjoy this story- as long as they are not easily frustrated by an ambiguous ending.