Book Review: You Belong to Me by Mamoru Suzuki

You Belong to Me by Mamoru Suzuki is a picturebook about the love between parents and their children, including human and animal families. The text is simple, showing examples of the care and protection parents offer their young. The illustrations are simple and cute, and when combined with the repetitive text make for a basic but enjoyable bedtime story.

 You Belong to Me is not a new idea, or done with any illustrations or idea that wowed me or broke the mold. It is sweet and simple, but an idea that has been done before. There is nothing wrong with the book. it is adequate, but it just does not stand out for me. I thought it was just nice, not anything that makes me think it will be a requested repeat.

Book Review: Meet My Best Friend by Shelia Walsh, Sarah Horne

Meet My Best Friend is a picturebook written by Shelia Walsh and illustrated Sarah Horne. The McDougal twins are excited to meet their new neighbor, Abby, who has just moved in next door. Poor Abby is sad that she had to leave her friends behind when she moved. To cheer her up, the twins lead Abby on a crazy hunt to meet their best friend, one that can go anywhere they go. But first Abby has to find it!

Meet My Best Friend starts off fairly well, with Abby trying to find her place in a new home and dealing with leaving behind her friends and everything familiar. The McDougal twins want to help her, and want to be friends. So far so good, with decent illustrations that are reminiscent of Dr. Suess and text. I like the idea so far, and it seems like it is going to be a sweet book. Then the twins take Abby on a wild game of hide and seek in search of their best friend. I like that they want to play with Abby and become her friend. That is good. Then the twins announce that their best friend is the bible. Silly me, I was expecting a pet or maybe even a tree or other more earthly answer. The bible is a book, an object. while I have loved and appreciated books, and escaped into them when the world is less than hospitable, it is not a friend. I would have had less of an issue if they had claimed God, Jesus, or any other religious figure rather than the bible. It just rubbed me the wrong way on several levels.

I was not paying attention when requesting the book, because I normally do not read religious fiction. Totally my fault for not looking, but I tend to get easily annoyed at books that push an agenda, any agenda, even one I might personally agree with. I am a practicing christian, but often find religious fiction to be too heavy handed to be realistic or enjoyable to read. This happened as soon as the twins announce that the bible is their best friend. I think this might be a good read in a Sunday School setting, or in a very religious household. I just found it over the top and a little unrealistic. For those that are looking for this style of book, I have discovered that this in the first in a series titled, The Bible Is My Best Friend.

Book Review: The Marvelous Magic of Miss Mabel by Natasha Lowe

The Marvelous Magic of Miss Mabel by Natasha Lowe is a middle grade novel. It is the third book in the Power of Poppy Pendle series. While I have not read any of the previous books, I think that each must stand well on its own, because I was not even aware that is was part of a series until I went to Goodreads to get a cover image for this review.

The morning Nora Ratcliff finds a baby in the flowerpot on her front steps her life changes forever. She had always wanted a child, but after her husband passed away, Nora never thought she would have one, but her flowerpot child was a miracle and she decided to name her Mabel. As Mabel grew up, she showed a distinct talent for magic. When Mabel is accepted to the prestigious witch school, Ruthersfield Academy, she excels at the magic curriculum but is constantly in trouble for experimenting and inventing her own potions. One day she is asked to write a paper on her magical roots and discovers the truth about her birth after a mean classmate blurts out what everyone seems to know except Mabel. Mabel is shocked but the revelation does explain a lot. In rebellion, Mabel changes her name to Magnolia and tries to understand why she was left in the flowerpot and who her birth family might be. Will Mabel find the answers she’s looking for—or will she discover that families are people who love each other and look after each other and that’s most important of all.

The Marvelous Magic of Miss Mabel is not quite what I expected. Based on the cover (I know) and he blurb I was expecting a fun, magical romp with some emotional conflict about Mabel’s origins. I did get all of the elements, but not in the way I was prepared for. Mabel certainly has some adventures, but fun and some a little more dangerous. She has a curious and adventurous spirit, as in the case of any  inquisitive soul knows, will get you into all kinds of mischief. However, the story also dove into how Nora felt, gender roles, empathy, bullying, and so much more. I loved Mabel’s desire for more, and for trying new things. I found her character, and the majority of other characters, to be more complex than one might think at first glance. Once Mabel’s adventures really started at the school I was deeply involved in the book. However, I feel like it took some time to build up steam. Although, I did like that the author offered readers information on what happened after the story to most of the characters. That was an unexpected bit of closure that I often wish for. 

The Marvelous Magic of Miss Mabel left me with mixed feelings. I really enjoyed parts of the book and the themes in it, however, when it was over it felt a little lacking to me. Although, I think this is because of my expectations of constant madcap adventures rather than a blend that included more serious ideas than I was prepared for.  

Early Book Review: Cast in Flight (Chronicles of Elantra) by Michelle Sagara

Cast in Flight is the twelfth book in the Chronicles of Elantra series by Michelle Sagara. It is currently scheduled for release on October 26 2016. This is a series that you need to read in order, because the amount of world building and character work that has happened thus far would leave newcomers more than a little lost. However, I do highly recommend this series, with the knowledge that thus far (12 books in) quality has not diminished at all. In my opinion, each book only gets better.

Private Kaylin Neya already has Dragons and Barrani as roommates. Adding one injured, flightless Aerian to her household should be trivial. Sure, the Aerian is Sergeant Moran dar Carafel, but Kaylin’s own sergeant is a Leontine, the definition of growly and fanged. She can handle one Aerian. But when a walk to the Halls of Law becomes a street-shattering magical assassination attempt on the sergeant, Kaylin discovers that it’s not the guest who’s going to be the problem: it’s all of the people who suddenly want Moran dar Carafel dead. And though Moran refuses to tell her why she’s being targeted, Kaylin is determined to discover her secret and protect her at all costs, even if keeping Moran safe means dealing with Aerian politics, angry dragons and something far more sinister.

Cast in Flight offers fans of the series a better look at a number of long standing characters that have not gotten much time previously. We get to learn so much about Moran, more about both the dragons and newly returned Barrani. Again we get to see Kaylin grown, and she puzzles through the connections and politics in a way that brings readers along for the ride without making her appear stupid, or readers feel foolish for not understanding. I love the self deprecating humor and her ability to admit and work on her failings and lack of understanding through the book, and the series in general. My only issue with the book, and the series in general, is that the crisis keep getting bigger and more complicated. I want to see where it will all lead and fully expect that in one of these book to see a huge coming together of all these past problems, and the ripples the left behind, and have a huge grand conclusion. I am both eager for it, because I am so curious, and dreading it because that would mean the story that I have loved so much will be over.

Cast in Flight is another fantastic addition to the series. Do not start reading here, go to the very beginning with Cast in Shadow and make your way through the entire series. The world and character building is complex, and you honestly need the entire picture to fully enjoy the series. It is well worth the effort if you like fantasy with complex characters and conflicts. 

Book Review: The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman is a middle grade novel. When twelve-year-old Nick runs away from his uncle’s in the middle of a blizzard, he stumbles onto a very opinionated bookstore. He also meets its guardian, the self-proclaimed Evil Wizard Smallbone, who calls Nick his apprentice and won’t let him leave, but won’t teach him magic, either. It’s a good thing the bookstore takes Nick’s magical education in hand, because Smallbone’s nemesis—the Evil Wizard Fidelou—and his pack of shape-shifting bikers are howling at the borders. Smallbone might call himself evil, but compared to Fidelou, he’s practically a puppy. And he can’t handle Fidelou alone. 

The Evil Wizard Smallbone has complex characters and situations that kept me guessing for a bit, even with the amount of science fiction, fantasy, and mythology i have read. Nick has finally escaped a abusive house only to stumble into the care of the evil wizard Smallbone. He is made an apprentice and put to work doing all the menial tasks you might expect. However, there is much more the the wizard he works for than any might expect. the small town he lords over, and all its inhabitants are in his debt- but no one remembers why. Secrets and magic at at the heart of it all- including the wolves, coyotes, and bikers that want to destroy it all. Nick is not a simple boy, nor is Smallbones a simple wizard. They are much more than the stereotypical figures one might expect after the classic set up, and the other characters that play large roles in the excitement are all multidimensional as well. This includes the villagers, the bad guys, and even the pets and farm animals kept by Smallbones. I enjoyed the use of several creatures and ideas from mythology and fairy tales were used with different twists than normally seen. I also liked that I was genuinely surprised at a twist or two, but even when I expected an outcome it was done in a way that was completely enjoyable and worth the read.

The Evil Wizard Smallbone was so much more than I expected. The time between requesting a book from Netgalley and me reading it is sometimes long enough that I remember nothing of the initial blurb when I start to read, and this was the case here. I was very happy to discover a middle grade novel with complex characters, plot twists, and adventure. I can think of many readers, including reluctant readers that I will gladly recommend it too. I was so impressed with the character and world building that I am not ready to let go of this story at all. I am inspired to go back and read the previous books by the author. 

Book Review: Benched by Abigail Graham

Benched by Abigail Graham is a contemporary romance. Mr. Right has never been so wrong. 
Phoebe is a single mom and a cop. When some arrogant superstar thinks he can speed through my town and smirk and charm his way out of a ticket, he’s wrong. She wrote the ticket and impounded his car. Alex is the football superstar in question, while he hates being stuck in the small town, it does not stop him from flirting with Phoebe every chance he gets. As if strutting around in boxers with his abs and chest on display is enough to make me forget his snide comments and wisecracks. That would make a great story, bagging the cop that gave him the ticket- but Phoebe does not have time to fool around.  The closer we get, the more she thinks she misjudged him. Somewhere beneath that arrogant smirk is a good man, maybe even the right man, but her past threatens to shatter them both.

Benched is a fun combination of bad boy makes good and bad girl gone straight. Phoebe is doing her best, she fights to be respected as the only female officer in a small town while raising her daughter on her own. Alex is a football star that is getting sick of the life but is being pushed by his management to beat the charge and keep playing despite his willingness to take the consequences of his actions. When Alex rents the house right next to Phoebe's, life gets more interesting and complicated. They each have issues to work out, and are thrown together in unexpected ways. I liked the way the love/hate relationship between Phoebe and Alex changed and grew. I like that neither are exactly what you expect as the book opens, and only become more interesting as the story progresses. I really liked Alex as a character, and the way he is a nurture under his bad boy shell really endeared himself to me. I also liked the twists that were tossed in for additional drama, but did not feel like they were actually needed. The emotional rollercoaster of real life might have been enough. The only thing that bothered me as I read was Phoebe's daughter, her actions and reactions seemed much older than the 5 to 6 year old that she is described to be. I understand that some kids are more mature than others, and that life sometimes makes children older than their years, but she just seemed to be closer to 10 than her described age.

Benched is a fast, fun read with plenty of feels and hot moments. Great read for a chilly night curled up on the couch with your hot beverage of choice.

Book Review: Kudzu for Christmas by Emilie Eklin Khair

Kudzu for Christmas is a picturebook by Emilie Eklin Khair.  The Kudzu game was created during a long drive to school, but now everyone wants to play. Join Sam and Andy and the rest of the gang as they search for cool creatures, friendly beasts, and even their favorite pets in the twisted Kudzu vines. And when winter weather takes the green away, maybe the crazy creatures YOU find will end up hiding in your OWN Christmas tree!

Kudzu for Christmas is an interesting picture book. Kudzu is a vine that is very invasive and grows quickly. While the vines climb trees, utility poles, and buildings they create shapes and shadows that can frighten, or become part of shape finding games. When the winter months come the vines disappear from the normal spots and are missed by those that have included the vines in their games and routines. However, their mother has saves some of the greens and created Christmas ornaments to continue the games in the tree. A sweet and interesting story, but one that I think children that have the vine, or a similar one, in their area will understand most. It was a good story, with artwork to match, but I think it was just okay. 

Early Book Review: A Whole Latte Murder (Java Jive Mystery) by Caroline Fardig

A Whole Latte Murder is the third book in the Java Jive Mystery series by Caroline Fardig and is currently scheduled for release on November 8 2016. While the character and personality dynamics are laid down in the previous books, I think the actual mystery portion of this book will be accessible to readers weather or not that are up to date with the series. If you want to understand the love lives of the main players, then you will need to read the books in order. The first book is Death Before Decaf and the second book is Mug Shot.

Juliet's personal and professional lives have recently received an extra jolt of energy. Her romance with the hunky detective Ryder Hamilton continues to simmer, and business at Java Jive has never been better. But her good mood quickly turns as stale as day-old espresso when she finds out that Ryder has been promoted to his precinct's homicide division. With him risking his life to catch the worst kind of criminals, Juliet's growing sense of unease ignites when a local college student goes missing. Suddenly every Nashville resident is on high alert, especially Juliet's neighbor Chelsea. Juliet does her best to calm the girl's nerves, but her worst fears are confirmed when she finds Chelsea dead. Even though she tries her best to stay out of it, Juliet's involvement puts a strain on Ryder's first homicide case. The situation soon becomes even more personal for Juliet and her best friend Pete Bennett when one of their employees disappears during her shift. As a killer lurks in the shadows, Juliet, Pete, and Ryder seek out a double shot of justice.

A Whole Latte Murder is quick moving with lots of changes for Juliet. Once again Juliet stumbles across a dead body, investigates with well meaning friends, irritates or beguiles the police, and gets herself in a whole pile of trouble. I like that Juliet continues to grow and change as a character, getting more mindful of how her investigation might effect those around her- and fearing for the safety of others more than for herself. I liked that several relationship questions are raised, examined, and dealt with during the book- although there is plenty of room for further changes in that front. I like that despite the danger, and general insanity that seems to surrounds Juliet, she talks to people and hashes out problems rather than just letting them fester or magically disappear. There are some exceptions, but she seems to be taking more and more responsibility for her actions and relationships. She is just as flawed and imperfect as the rest of us, but she is willing to admit it- even if she does not want to. As a bonus, I did not guess the full extent of the final twists, and was glad to be somewhat surprised by the big reveal, and then a few more times as everyone had to survive the ordeal. A fast, fun, and exciting read.

A Whole Latte Murder is just as intense and action packed as the previous books. I think Juliet got herself into even more danger this time around. An entertaining read that had me turning pages well past my bedtime.

Book Review: Dare You To Run (Unbroken Heroes) by Dawn Ryder

Dare You To Run is the second book in the Unbroken Heroes series by Dawn Ryder. I did not read the first book in the series, Dangerous to Know, but I felt like each book can be read on its own and enjoyed. There is a underlying story arch, but I caught up to that pretty quickly.

For Vitus Hale, only one mission has ever gone wrong. All he had to do was rescue a beautiful woman from her kidnappers. But falling hard into bed—and into love—with the stunning innocent was not part of the game plan, and when she leaves him in the dust, Vitus has nothing but a blemished record and a hardened heart. Now, after three long years, his beauty has finally come back into his life—and this time, failure is not an option. Damascus Ryland knew from their first steamy embrace that stoic warrior Vitus Hale is the only man for her, but when her power-hungry Congressman father offered her an ultimatum—sever ties with Vitus, or he dies—Damascus knew she had to walk away to save the man she loved. But now, three years later, a new threat is closing in on her—and tossing Vitus right back into her life. Damascus needs to keep her love for him locked in her heart if she is to keep him safe, but the old flame that burned between them is still as vibrant and hot as ever. Now, Damascus and Vitus must risk it all to find their freedom, and embrace their love.

Dare You To Run is a high action romance that start off with our main players already well aquatinted. The back story is covered well, as are the motives and emotions of both Vitus and Damascus. The dangerous side of politics and power is very clear, and none of the characters are easily defined or put into a box. Even the bad guys think they are doing things for a good reason, although they most often do not agree with it. The interplay between Damascus and Vitus is very well done. The tension between them is palpable, even when they do not want to let go and let each other in. I think all the intrigue; hiding, rescuing, fighting, and so on is well done- but there were moments when I felt like there was just too much Ryder wanter to cover in the book. There is not much that could be left out and still have the needed ground work to answer all the hows and whys raised by the book, so maybe it was just me not being in the mood for more intrigue after reading too many romantic suspense novels too close together.

Dare You To Run is a entertaining read, but it did not grab me as much as her Rock Band series. It was still a good read, but I was somehow hoping for even better. 

Early Book Review: The Magician’s Key: The Secrets of the Pied Piper 2 by Matthew Cody

The Magician’s Key by Matthew Cody is the second book in the Secrets of the Pied Piper trilogy. It is scheduled for release on November 8 2016. The first book was The Peddler's Road, which I gave four stars. You do need to read the books in order to understand the characters and storyline. There is a third book promised to conclude the series.

On the Summer Isle, siblings Max and Carter discovered the magical land where the villainous Pied Piper led the children of Hamelin centuries ago. But only Max made it back.  Now she is determined to rescue her brother. To do so, she will have to find the one and only key to the Summer Isle. That key is controlled by Vodnik, a dastardly magician and soul stealer who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.  Meanwhile, Carter must overcome his own troubles back on the Summer Isle. He’s been separated from his friends and left with a very untrustworthy companion: the Pied Piper himself.  Struggling desperately to find each other, Max and Carter encounter a bashful trollson, a daring elf, a seafaring hobgoblin, and the ever-loyal kobold Bandybulb. As their paths converge, they prepare for the most important quest yet: to send the children of New Hamelin home.

The Magician’s Key begins shortly after The Peddler's Road ends. Max in back and searching for a way to save Carter and her friends still on the Summer Isle, while those left behind are struggling with a changing world, the Piper, and Baba Yaga. Everyone has dangers and decisions to face, and most of the hardest moments come when least expected. Betrayal and loyalty and major  components to the story, and keep everyone guessing. I felt like I got a much better understanding of the Piper, Carter, and some of the New Hamelin children but felt like Max's adventures did not offer nearly as much insight. There were many satisfying moments, and plenty of excitement. However, this book did not appeal to me quite as much as the first book in the series. I feel like this book was mostly just the set up for a grand conclusion. It was still an enjoyable read, but since I enjoyed the first book so much, and the other books I have read from the author, I felt a little let down. None of this will stop me from reading the next book, and looking forward to it.

The Magician’s Key is a good follow up to The Peddler's Road, but was not as compelling in the story or action. It was still a solid read, and I am glad I read it. However, like many second books in trilogies it felt more like a bridge between books than a full story in itself. I sill plan on reading the third book, and trust this author not to disappoint with the conclusion.