Book Review: A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean (Secrets of Topsea) by Kir Fox, M. Shelley Coats, Rachel Sanson

A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean is a middle grade novel written by Kir Fox, M. Shelley Coats. It was illustrated by Rachel Sanson. In Topsea the coves are bottomless and the pier has no end in sight. There's a high tide and a low tide and a vanishing tide. Dogs are a myth, but mermaids are totally real. And seaweed is the main ingredient in every meal-watch out, it might just start chewing you back!

New kid Davy definitely thinks Topsea is strange. His mom keeps saying they'll get used to life in their new town-it's just the way things are on the coast! But after his first day at Topsea School, Davy finds himself wondering: Why is his locker all the way at the bottom of the school swimming pool? Why can't anyone remember his name? (It's Davy!) And why does everyone act like all of this is normal?! Through newspaper articles, stories, surveys, notifications, and more, follow Davy and the rest of Ms. Grimalkin's fifth grade class through the weird world of Topsea. (Whatever you do, don't make eye contact with the rubber ducks.)

A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean is a story that is not only about a very strange town, and the unusual activity in it. It is also about finding your interests and yourself. I like that Davy seems like a perfectly normal boy, just trying to deal with all the recent changes in his life and move forward. He needs to deal with the loss of his father, and moving to a new town- something that many will be able to relate to in one way or another. However, to make settling in a bit harder the town and school are more than a little odd. A school locker at the bottom of the swimming pool, creepy cats, odd classes, and dogs being a myth are only the start of the oddities. Normal problems like being heard when you are small and friends with bigger personalities, being believed when you like to exaggerate, and other friendship dynamics are all within the pages as well. The balance of mundane and ridiculous keep the story fun and forward moving while still getting to the heart of the matter with fitting in and friendships. The artwork adds an extra layer of fun and details to the story, engaging readers even further in the story. I think this will be a great read, and think it might appeal to struggling or reluctant readers as well as more advanced readers.

A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean is a fun and quirky read. I enjoyed the odd little town and unique characters. I think I need to explore this series further.

Book Review: You've Got Tail (Peculiar Mysteries) by Renee George

You've Got Tail is the first book in the Peculiar Mysteries series by Renee George. Sunny Haddock, an animal-loving vegetarian psychic, is stoked to leave California behind to start a new life in the Ozark town of Peculiar with her best friend Chavvah Trimmel. She ups the moving date when Chav goes missing, and Sunny high tails it to the small town. What Sunny doesn’t realize is that she’s moving into a tight knit community that does not want another resident. When the gorgeous Babel Trimmel, Chav's younger brother, (along with the sheriff, the mayor, and some other nice folk) suggests Sunny haul her U-haul and butt back out of town, she’s undeterred. Her psychic abilities might be out-of-whack, and blood makes her faint, but she’s not a quitter. Besides, she's not about to go anywhere until she finds out what happened to Chavvah. But Sunny has more to deal with than unfriendly townsfolk, like disturbing killer visions and the dog-like animal no one else sees that seems to be stalking her every move. To make matters worse, she is finding Babel to be more irresistible than crack on a donut. Sunny needs to get her ability and her hormones under control if she wants to solve the mystery and save her best friend.
You've Got Tail is quirky and fun- pretty much what I expected from the cover and blurb. Sunny is a character with a lot of heart, but not always a stable train of thought. I liked Sunny's determination and some of her observations. I enjoyed Babel, but felt like I could have gotten more of his character through the story, I liked what I saw I just wanted more depth. I found the mystery about the town and Chav's disappearance was well done, and I enjoyed the characters of the strange little town and the layers to all the secrets they hid. I found some of Sunny's mental tangents highly entertaining, and others less amusing. However, I think it worked for the story. I did not really connect with the characters, partially because of Sunny's distracted way of thinking, but I died enjoy the ride and am more than a little curious to see where the series goes from here. 
You've Got Tail is a fun romance with a good touch or suspense and mystery. I enjoyed the read and look forward to catching up with the following books.

Book Review: The Graveyard Girl and The Boneyard Boy by Martin Matthews

The Graveyard Girl and The Boneyard Boy by Martin Matthews is a young adult novel. 16-year-old albino Drake Stevenson lives a life alone in his world of video games and comic books, dreaming of one day saving a real princess. But fantasy becomes reality when his lawyer father suffers a heart attack, and the Stevensons are forced to move to flyover country in order to take up the family business: Stewardship of the oldest and largest cemetery in the state. There, among the weeping angels and willows of Centralia Cemetery, Drake meets Scarlet, an unusual girl who needs his help to find her killer. Complicated by his albinism, a mentally unstable sister bent on high school domination at any cost, and a jock with a deadly secret, Drake sets out to find the shattering truth about a murder no one will speak of, to help a girl no one can see.
The Graveyard Girl and The Boneyard Boy captured my attention right away, and kept me guessing through the entire book. Drake has a self effacing sense of humor. while dealing with his own issues and the family issues around him he keeps his feet fairly well grounded while still able to laugh at himself and wonder how things could be better. I liked the introduction of setting and characters, it was faced well and worked perfectly in the story. I did not care for some of the love triangle hints, thought it was unnecessary. Why couldn't he just be friends with Sasha or Scarlett, or both for that matter. Why would he pursue both, and why would Scarlett pursue Drake when she was in a happy relationship before all this began? I just do not understand the need for all relationships to include a romantic component when sometimes a good friend is much more important. Love triangle rant over, because that was really the only fault I could find with the book. I adored Drake's character, while sometimes he felt really young and I did not always agree with his decisions, I think he was a well built character. His parents and sister were important to the arch of the story, and the way Drake connected with others.The dichotomy of his sister's personality, the way everyone viewed her, and the way everyone viewed him was realistic and still hit me right in the feels, because doesn't everyone sometimes feel like they have gotten the short end of the stick socially, in the family, or in some other way.  I like how thorough and well planned that built up the family and personal dramas were. Even the secondary characters had plenty of family or personal information shared to make them dynamic and explain them. The mystery surrounding Scarlet, the car accident, and more had me at the edge of my seat and turning pages well past my bedtime. 
The Graveyard Girl and The Boneyard Boy is a well done young adult novel with complex characters, compelling mystery and coming of age drama, and a solid resolution. Although, I admit that I would love to see a follow up about our characters in five or ten years to see just how things end up in the long term. 

Book Review: Seafurrers: The Ships' Cats Who Lapped and Mapped the World by Philipa Sandall, Ad Long

Seafurrers: The Ships' Cats Who Lapped and Mapped the World, written by Philipa Sandall and illustrated by Ad Long, explores the history of the cats that explored the world alongside seafarring souls over the years. People remember the bold seafarers of yore, from Magellan to Shackleton, for their extraordinary exploits: new lands discovered, storms weathered, and battles won. But somehow history has neglected the stalwart, hardworking species who made it all possible, the noble cat! Here readers can learn the stories of sea cats such as Trim (who circumnavigated Australia), Tom (the sole feline survivor of the sinking of the USS Maine), celebrity cat Simon (a veteran of the Yangtze Incident), and other furry heroes. There are thirty eight stories of cats that proved to indispensable at sea—both as pest controllers and as beloved mascots, all told from the voice of Bart- a cat eager to explain the missing histories of seafaring felines. The book is filled with nautical trivia, rare photographs, and whimsical illustrations, this deft genealogy of human–feline friendship will stir your regard for the incomparable cat.

Seafurrers: The Ships' Cats Who Lapped and Mapped the World is less about the individual cats and the sailors that befriended and made use of them, it is more about the benefits and uses of cats on ships and in the world in general. The information about the benefits of cats for pest control and the calculations of just how useful they were. I think I was expecting more stories than science and math, but that is on me rather than the author. The information given is well presented and the illustrations and photographs added to the narrative. I will admit to being bored with some of the facts, and doing a little skimming. My biggest issue was the fact that the author cited Wikipedia. I am trying to teach research to school children, and how to verify sources. Wikipedia does not count, but can be a good starting point as long as you follow it to reputable primary sources. It is not in itself such a source, and that an author would use it as one made me less than happy. 

Early Book Review: The Dam Keeper: World Without Darkness by Robert Kondo, Dice Tsutsumi

The Dam Keeper: World Without Darkness is a graphic novel written by Robert Kondo and illustrated by Dice Tsutsumi. It is currently scheduled for release on July 10 2018. It is the second book in the series, and I have not read the first. I think that reading the series in order is recommended, but if the art draws you in, most readers could pick up the story to a certain degree. However- those that have read the first volume or watched the short animation it was based on will get much more from it than those of us that jumped in here.

Beyond the dam lies certain death—this is something every citizen of Sunrise Valley knows well. Yet, when a poisonous black tidal wave carries Pig, Fox, and Hippo over the dam and into the wastelands, they don’t find death. Instead they find bustling cities, each with their own dams. Pig can't help but wonder, who is the mysterious dam keeper behind it all? But he doesn't have time to unravel this mystery. The wave of deadly black fog will return to Sunrise Valley in four days, and its dam can't withstand another assault. In a stolen truck and with a deranged lizard leading the way, Pig and his friends are in a race against the clock. but can they reach home in time?

The Dam Keeper: World Without Darkness is a graphic novel that I was tempted into reading because of the art. Even when I had no idea whatsoever about what was happening I fully enjoyed the artwork. The story lost me more than once, there were flashbacks and references to the past, which mostly went over my head because I missed the first book. However, the majority of this book felt like a buddy or roadtrip movie with some interesting twists and turns, some suggestions of secrets, and meeting new characters. As the group tries to make it home, assuredly to save their families and friends, they find themselves in some very weird situations with stranger characters, but I never really felt like I got to the meat of the story. There is a good climax, and hints to what is next for Pig, but since I was so uncertain about what was going on I never got invested in the characters or the story.

The Dam Keeper: World Without Darkness is  a well drawn and colored graphic novel for middle grade, and perhaps younger and older, readers. I think readers that have read the first volume and enjoyed it will definitely want to pick this one up. I prefer series with a more complete feel to each of the installments, but that is jusyt my personal preference and I know others are not as bothered by this. 

Book Review: It's All About the Duke (The Rakes of St. James) by Amelia Grey

It's All About the Duke is the third book in The Rakes of St. James series by Amelia Grey. I have not read the previous books in the series, but I could still fully enjoy the read. There are some references that will make more sense to those that have been following the series, but newcomers will catch on. 
Nearing thirty, the Duke of Rathburne is finally ready to make amends for the wager that caused him and his best friends such scandal―but taking on a ward who needs a husband is a feat he’s not sure he can manage. The last he saw of Miss Marlena Fast, she was a spirited little ruffian, not the sort of bride most bachelors on the marriage mart sought. But one glance at the lovely lady she has become is enough to convince him otherwise. Orphaned young and shuffled from family to family, Marlena counts on her fierce independence and quick wits to keep herself content. Being the responsibility of a notoriously wicked duke who upended so many lives is an unexpected challenge when she realizes he arouses her decidedly feminine desires. Marlena must be careful. She has her own scandalous secret to protect. If he finds out, will it shatter her chances of a happily-ever-after with the notorious rake?
It's All About the Duke was a mixed bag for me. I liked Marlena's character in some ways, she is independent and resourceful, but naive and foolish. I liked her spunk and willingness to stand up for herself, but sometimes her willingness to overlook some people's faults and failings, but unwillingness to think beyond them for others was a little bothersome- but also completely human and believable. Rath feels bad about how the actions his group made years ago has effected others, but never really looked too deeply to see past the surface to see if they had any lingering negative affects on those involved. I liked the banter between Rath and Marlena, but found them a bit quick and easy with the physical side of the relationship, and considering all the secrets and hard feelings floating around I found it a little off putting. I found some of the reactions of each to alternate between over the top, and dismissive depending on the moment. I still enjoyed the read, but I was not invested in the characters or action- rather felt like I was eavesdropping or watching someone's personal drama unfold in public, with all the dramatic flare of someone looking for attention rather than heartfelt emotion. I usually enjoy this author's work more, and wonder if I was just not in the mood for this style of romance when I picked it up. 
It's All About the Duke is a historical romance with plenty of drama and some quirky characters. I really enjoyed some of the dialogue and interactions, but it fell short of my expectations.

Book Review: The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo by Stephen Bramucci, Arree Chung

The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo is a middle grade novel written by Stephen Bramucci, and illustrated by Arree Chung. Ronald Zupan is a daring master adventurer! But he actually hasn't experienced any grand adventures yet! When his world-traveling parents are kidnapped on his twelfth birthday, Ronald seizes the chance to prove himself with a dazzling, danger-defying rescue operation. Teaming up with his trusty butler Jeeves, his quick-witted fencing nemesis Julianne Sato, and his pet cobra Carter, Ronald sets course for the jungle of Borneo where his parents were last sighted. If they can crash-land a plane and outrun a hungry snow leopard, surely they can find the secret lair of Zeetan Z, the world's most ruthless pirate! But as their adventure becomes more and more dangerous, can Ronald and his companions muster enough courage to see this adventure through?
The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo is a fun adventure for middle grade readers. Ronald is the best adventurer ever, just ask him. With big ideas, grand plans, and an ego bigger than life Ronald is eager to jump in feet first regardless of the consequences. I liked the full blown adventure, and the eagerness the younger adventure goers dive into the mystery and adventure. I think my favorite character was the poor butler, not really named Jeeves, who follows all of Ronald's journal entries with comments and commentary of his own. I will admit that I occasionally lost interest and set the book aside, but always ended up picking it back up. I think my issue was that I have known too many adults like Ronald- people that think their perception of the world is true despite all evidence to the contrary. At first it was fun and made me laugh, but the number of people that live their lives like that made it much less enjoyable for me. However, that's on me rather than an issue with the author and the story. 
The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo is a fun and quirky adventure that I think will be a favorite among many middle grade readers. Just because it did not hit the right chord with me, there is no reason to think it will not resonate with others. 

Book Review: Choice by Andrea Loredo

Choice by Andrea Loredo is a novella length fantasy. It feels like the second book in a series, but I can find no information on previous, or later, books. 
Ser Mirele Heine is a Guardian, sworn to protect the royal family. One night, after being oddly called away to slay a dragon in another province, Mirele and hir companions are ambushed. They rush back to the castle to find a coup is underway. Mirele manages to escape with hir charge, Princess Shahira de Granius. As the two go into hiding and move from town to town, Shahira grapples with her conflicting feelings over the slaughter of her family, and Mirele struggles with the dark secret ze harbors and hir own affections for the princess. 
Choice is a story that I enjoyed, but was also a little disappointed with at the same time. I was glad that I got a good deal of the backstory I wanted in the beginning towards the end of the book. I liked the characters, but felt like I could have gotten a little more development even in the short book. I will admit that I was distracted by the alternate pronouns, although once I figured out it was because Mirele was non binary rather than it being a part of the fantasy setting it made more sense to me. I liked the story, but think it would be better served as part of a larger work- because I felt like there as so much more that could be done with the characters, setting, and conflicts that ran as the backdrop.

Book Review: The Yark by Bertrand Santini

The Yark by Bertrand Santini is a subversive chapter book about a monster who eats children--until one day he makes a friend. The Yark loves children with the love of a gourmet! This hairy monster dreams of child buffets--ham of boy, orphan gratin, breaded babies, and so on. But he has a problem: his delicate stomach can only tolerate nice children; liars give him heartburn and savages spoil his teeth. There are not nearly enough good, edible children around to keep him from starvation. Then the Yark finds sweet Madeleine. Will he gobble her up? Or will she survive long enough to change his life?
The Yark is not for the sensitive reader, because it does start of with how much the Yark like to eat children, and how he goes about it. There are some illustrations through the book, all in black and white pencil work, and they do a good job of drawing the reader in more, and helping them picture exactly what the author intends. The exploits of our Yark, who is a softie but quite hungry, are fantastic and silly, with a few moments that will scare some. Stealing the nice list from Santa gives him a road map to find tasty children to eat, but it never goes quite he was. He is tricked, accidentally eats a bad child- resulting in extreme distress. That is until Madeleine cares for him and they become the best of friends despite all odds. It is love that the Yark attempts to leave, only to suffer horribly but lose the need to eat good children and start on the path to change, with Madeleine's support of course. There is a life lesson to be had, and plenty to think about. It is not quite what I was expecting- although I am not sure what I was expecting anyway. It was interesting, and a little harsher than I expected in some ways. 
The Yark is not necessarily for just children, and is certainly not for those that do not like some horror or mayhem in their reading. Like the original fairy tales, there is plenty of darkness here, and a higher level read that I was really expecting. I would think middle grade readers with a liking for horror, and older readers, will get much more out of this read than younger children. 

Early Book Review: Gardening Under Lights: The Complete Guide for Indoor Growers by Leslie F Halleck

Gardening Under Lights: The Complete Guide for Indoor Growers by Leslie F Halleck is currently scheduled for release on July 11 2018. This book is a resource that gives information on just about everything a gardener or hobbyist needs to know to garden indoors. Part One of the book starts with the basics of photosynthesis, the science of light, and how to accurately measure how much light a plant needs. Part Two gives an overview of the most up-to-date tools and gear available. Parts Three and Four offer tips and tools for growing popular ornamental and edible plants independent of the constraints of volatile outdoor conditions.
Gardening Under Lights: The Complete Guide for Indoor Growers is an extremely detailed and informative book. As someone who has had terrible luck with indoor growing, but much better results with outdoor growing. I thought some of the information was a little overkill- like the full explanation of photosynthesis, which I remember quite well from previous science classes- but I understand that knowing the whys make implementing the strategies much easier to understand. There is a lot to take in, and I think that readers that are looking for quick answers to questions like "how can I best grow this inside" and "why did this plat die" will be a little overwhelmed or frustrated. However, readers that are more interested in the science and technical reasons for the hows and whys of growing plants inside will be very happy. I would suggest tackling this book like any serious non fiction book or reference guide, giving yourself time to process the information and digest it rather than just quickly flipping through the pages looking for a specific hint to help you, or simply worded answer or solution.

Gardening Under Lights: The Complete Guide for Indoor Growers is a well organized and helpful resource to new and experienced gardeners alike. It is very dense with facts, and not really for those looking for a quick read.