Book Review: Not Quite a Narwhal by Jessie Sima

Not Quite a Narwhal by Jessie Sima is a picturebook about being different. Growing up in the ocean, Kelp has always assumed that he was a narwhal like the rest of his family. Sure, he’s always been a little bit different—his tusk isn’t as long, he’s not as good of a swimmer, and he really doesn’t enjoy the cuisine. Then one night, an extra strong current sweeps Kelp to the surface, where he spots a mysterious creature that looks just like him! Kelp discovers that he and the creature are actually unicorns. The revelation leaves him torn: is he a land narwhal or a sea unicorn? But perhaps, if Kelp is clever, he may find a way to have the best of both worlds.

Not Quite a Narwhal is a fun, delightful picturebook. A young unicorn raised by Narwhals, never quite as good of a swimmer as his family. When he finds unicorns and discovers the joys of land and their culture. Having two groups of people that are kind of like you, and love you, but are a little different is something many children experience. Kelp's discover of how not fitting in well in either place can led to two group of people to love and enjoy. This story will resonate with readers of all ages that have felt too different or stuck between worlds. This will also help children facing family changes and a whole host of challenges that  they might have to face. It is also a fun and sweet book that everyone can enjoy. 

Book Review: White Christmas by Rebecca York

White Christmas by Rebecca York is a novella with paranormal; aspects and abundant holiday cheer. The snow is coming down so fast, Amelia Parsons doesn't see the speeding car until it's too late. One moment she’s crossing an ice-rutted street in St. Stephens, Maryland. In the next, she's flying into the air, and the world goes black. She wakes, confused, in what appears to be Santa’s workshop during the holiday rush. If that’s not strange enough, a hunky FBI agent named Daniel is there, demanding to know why she’s involved in a plot to ruin Christmas. Can she convince him she's not the villain and then work with him to find the real saboteur?

White Christmas is a short story, which means need to happen quickly. Amelia is not allowed to freak about about the existence of Santa and all the trappings when she wakes up in the North Pole after getting hit by a car. The mystery of who is sabotaging the workshop is dealt with fairly quickly- though the why is never really answered for me. Similarly how Daniel ended up on assignment there, and how Amelia lands there, and how things all come together in the end, are equally glossed over. Sadly I felt like the attraction between Amelia and Daniel was weak, and their coming together did not feel real or right to me. I don't know. I was prepared to really love it, even if I waited to after Christmas to get around to it, but it was not what I was looking for. I expect much more character and relationship development from York, even in a novella.

Book Review: It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot

It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot explores the highs and lows of modern life through the sharp, dark wit of Ruby Elliot—creator of the massively popular Tumblr account, Rubyetc, which has over 210k followers and growing. Ruby’s simple drawings of not-so-simple issues capture the humor and melancholy of everyday life. Her comics appeal to both new adults who are beginning to explore these subjects and to battle-tested veterans of the daily struggles of life with mental illness. It’s All Absolutely Fine is an honest and unapologetic account of day-to-day life as a groaning, crying, laughing sentient potato being for whom things are often absolutely not fine. Through simple, humorous drawings and a few short narratives, the book encompasses everything from mood disorders, anxiety, and issues with body image through to existential conversations with dogs and some unusually articulate birds. Through the drawings, the reader is shown that it is okay to struggle, and that it is okay to talk about struggling, to not undermine oneself by yelling ‘it’s fine’ when it isn’t, and while all this is going on to know that it is absolutely possible to hold on to hope, and of course humor. 
It’s All Absolutely Fine is a collection of art and words that can shown readers that they are not alone. Anyone dealing with anxiety, feeling lost or alone, or battling any mental illness can find bits of their struggle on these pages while offering support and encouragement to keep on moving forward. I found the read made me smile, cry, and feel more empowered in dealing with the world around me and moving toward the future. Fans of Rubyetc's huge online presence will find more of what they love here, and I think the book will foster new fans as well.

Book Review: Scooby Apocalypse Vol. 1 by Keith Griffen, Jim Lee, Howard Potter

Scooby Apocalypse Vol. 1 collects issues 1-6 of a graphic novel by Keith Griffen, Jim Lee, and Howard Potter.  Fred. Daphne. Velma. Shaggy. Scooby-Doo. Roaming the globe in their lime-green Mystery Machine, they've solved countless crimes and debunked dozens of sketchy supernatural shenanigans. But what if the horror was real? Something terrible has transformed our world, turning millions of people into mindless zombie hordes. And only five people well, four people and one mangy mutt have the smarts, the skills and the sheer crazy courage to stare down doomsday.  Can these pesky kids and their canine companion using every incredible contraption in their arsenal defeat the evil that has overwhelmed planet Earth? 

Scooby Apocalypse is a complete new look and origin story for the Scooby gang. I have seen so many different takes, that I was fine with that. I liked that the story started completely fresh, and that it is much more complex than what most expect from Scooby and friends. I liked the use of Daphne's television show and connection with Fred, which has been a tool in previous incarnations- but not to this degree, and not without the rest of the crew already connecting. I liked the twists on Shaggy and Scooby as well, making them more than the comic relief that they often get used for. Shaggy is a much more complicated and compassionate character than I was used to, and not nearly as goofy. Velma is also much more defined in this story, I do not think I ever got more of a backstory for her than her being very smart and isolated- here readers get a multidimensional look at her. The action and story lines are unique and very well done. I will admit that it took me a bit to get used to the gangs new look, and I still wonder why Daphne and Fred still insist on wearing those scarves. I think that the harsh lines and dramatic look are very suited to the story, even if it is not my normal preference.

I will definitely be looking for the second volume of Scooby Apocalypse. I am honestly intrigued and want to see where this is going. I have a feeling that I will be buying the full run and saving it for my son. He is a huge Scooby fan, but is not quite ready for this version. However, he is really close so I am pretty sure that when the run is complete he will be ready for dive on in.

Early Book Review: I Love Science: A Journal for Self Discovery and Big Ideas by Rachel Ignotofsky

I Love Science: A Journal for Self Discovery and Big Ideas by Rachel Ignotofsky is currently scheduled for release on March 7 2017. This is a guided journal for young women and girls based the author's illustrated book Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World.Both books encourage young women and girls to ponder the world and the daily ins and outs of their
lives. Opening with a short reference section that contains basic equations, the periodic table, basic HTML codes, and a measurement converter, the journal then invites the user to write and dream through writing prompts like, "What is a challenge you've overcome recently?" and inspirational quotes from notable women who've achieved greatness in the science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEM) fields, such as famous primatologist Jane Goodall's, "Only when our clever brain and our human heart work together can we reach our full potential."

I Love Science: A Journal for Self Discovery and Big Ideas is a great journal and source of inspiration for those interested in science. I like that it offers interesting quotes and prompting questions to encourage the reader/writer to think about things in new ways and to keep on exploring the world around them. My daughter is a little to unfocused for this yet, but I think this would be a great thing for her to use and enjoy. I think exploring and experimenting with his book by her side would be a great thing for summer break. This could also be a great tool for organizations or classroom sessions that are focused on getting girls and women interested in STEM or STEAM- like perhaps a Girl Scout troop or summer science session through a school, library. or camp.

I think I Love Science: A Journal for Self Discovery and Big Ideas would be a great gift for anyone interested in science and exploring the world around them. I think artists and those that consider themselves more observers than scientist would also benefit from and enjoy the book. 

Early Book Review: Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Bone Witch is the first book in a new series by Rin Chupeco and is currently scheduled for release on March 7 2017. When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training. In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha, one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles and make a powerful choice.

Bone Witch is a book with a fantastic premise and well defined characters. Tea is a strong character with plenty of insecurity, but always trying to be the best she can. She does occasionally do things that are not right, but it only serves to make her more realistic. Her brother, the older as has, and characters she meet are also well fleshed out. The world, its mythology, and dangers were very well done and I liked the magic and social construct aspects of the story, and thought the political machinations were very well done and believable. I also like that there were moments that completely took me by surprise. Appearances and actions lead readers and characters alike to assumptions that are far from true. 

What I did not like was the flipping between two timeframes. While the changes were clearly noted, the future or present depending on how you want to thinks about it is in italics. So it is not confusing, but I found that it broke my reading rhythm and made it harder to get lost in the story. My other problem, which might be deeply connected, is that the book felt very long. There were some very important things that could not, and should not, be left out but I felt like some of the descriptions could have been less wordy, or something. I just found myself looking at the hours or percentage of the book left to read several times and being surprised how much more there was to go.

Bone Witch is a entertaining read with a wonderful premise and serous world building. Those that like full visual descriptions and detailed explanations will love it. Readers that need a faster pace and prefer to use their imagination for more of the little details might get frustrated with the read. It was very well done, but just did not fit what I was looking for while reading.  

Book Review: The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg

The Great Shelby Holmes is a middle grade book by Elizabeth Eulberg. Meet spunky sleuth Shelby and her sports loving sidekick Watson, as they take on a dog-napper in this fresh twist on Sherlock Holmes. Shelby Holmes is not your average sixth grader. She's nine years old, barely four feet tall, and the best detective her Harlem neighborhood has ever seen-always using logic and a bit of pluck (which yes, some might call “bossiness”) to solve the toughest crimes. When eleven-year-old John Watson moves downstairs, Shelby finds something that's eluded her up till now: a friend. The easy-going John isn't sure of what to make of Shelby, but he soon finds himself her most-trusted (read: only) partner in a dog-napping case that will take both their talents to crack.

The Great Shelby Holmes is a wonderful new take on the Sherlock style character. John is used to moving around and is good at finding a new group of friends with school and sports. But, the first other kid he meets in his new home is the quirky Shelby Holmes. She is smart and typically off-putting as most versions of Sherlock you might see- and her friendship with Watson might start off as uneasy, but blossoms into something essential for both of them. Shelby has the memory and deductive skills, John has the more practical knowledge that one needs in daily life. Together they have everything they need. I liked the slow growth of friendship, and the way the mystery is explored and solved. The oddities of Shelby's personality were very well balanced, her reluctance to trust combined with her intelligence made her a tough friend to make, and John's need to fit in and be accepted was a realistic conflict that so many readers might be able to relate to. Hopefully they can be strong enough to stand up and be friends with the outsiders like John. I really enjoyed the changes that were made to the characters, and think it makes the characters much more relateable to young readers from all walks of life. It is important that readers can see something of themselves in the characters of the books they read, and this book delivers. What makes it even better is that at no point is gender or diversity the main focus of the book, so everything is organic rather than feeling like a gimmick to drawn in any particular group of readers.  It all just works perfectly.

The Great Shelby Holmes is a great start to a new series, and one I plan on following. The second book, The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match, is scheduled to be released on September 12 2017, and I am not sure I want to wait that long. I think this might be a new fun, challenging, yet accessible series for many readers. 

Early Book Review: Weird Dinosaurs: The Strange New Fossils Challenging Everything We Thought We Knew by John Pickrell

Weird Dinosaurs: The Strange New Fossils Challenging Everything We Thought We Knew by John Pickrell is a new non fiction book that is currently scheduled for release on March 7 2017. From the outback of Australia to the Gobi Desert of Mongolia and the savanna of Madagascar, award-winning science writer and dinosaur enthusiast John Pickrell embarks on a world tour of new finds, meeting the fossil hunters working at the frontier of discovery. He reveals the dwarf dinosaurs unearthed by an eccentric Transylvanian baron; an aquatic, crocodile-snouted carnivore bigger than T. Rex, which once lurked in North African waterways; a Chinese dinosaur with wings like a bat; and a Patagonian sauropod so enormous it weighed more than two commercial jet airliners.  Other surprising discoveries hail from Alaska, Siberia, Canada, Burma, and South Africa. Why did dinosaurs grow so huge? How did they spread across the world? Did they all have feathers? What do sauropods have in common with 1950s vacuum cleaners? The stuff of adventure movies and scientific revolutions, Weird Dinosaurs examines the latest breakthroughs and new technologies radically transforming our understanding of the distant past. Pickrell opens a vivid portal to a brand new age of fossil discovery, in which fossil hunters are routinely redefining what we know and how we think about prehistory’s most iconic and fascinating creatures.

Weird Dinosaurs is a well researched and written book for readers that have always loved dinosaurs, or have had their interest revived by other dinosaur lovers in their lives, or the news of new information and discoveries in the field. The. book is written with a nice blend of information and narrative text, giving life to the discoveries and the people involved in uncovering them. I was fascinated by the information, but am a reader that likes my non fiction more simply stated than narrative, I found myself wandering a bit.  However, this was an issue with my personal preference and reading style rather than anything the author did wrong. I really enjoyed discovering about the changing and growing knowledge and concepts that surrounds dinosaurs and our planet's history. The new techniques that the scientists are using, and the discoveries they have made possible are simply amazing. 

Weird Dinosaurs is an informative and entertaining text with a nice blend of narrative and scientific fact. Readers that do not like a little narrative to entertain and dramatize the facts a bit might not enjoy this as much as others. However, the facts and information included are simply fascinating. 

Early Book Review: Bless this Mother-Effin Home: Sweet Stitches for Snarky Bitches by Katie Cutthroat

Bless this Mother-Effin Home: Sweet Stitches for Snarky Bitches by Katie Kutthroat is a combination of sugar and spice in cross stitch samplers that is currently scheduled for release on March 7 2017. Laugh out loud fun through crafting is found in these biting yet precious patterns. Katie Kutthroat's warped and witty cross stitch has taken the internet by storm and has been featured on TV shows like HBO's Girls. Cute but snarky, each cross stitch pattern featured in Bless This Mother-effing Home evokes laughter and irony. Perforated pages allow for readers to hang up or share favorite entries, spreading the cross stitched love. 

Bless this Mother-Effin Home: Sweet Stitches for Snarky Bitches is a collection of off color cross stitch work. They are well done and snarky. The combination made this sarcastic crafter’s heart very happy. There are no patterns or charts, but a versatile crafter can figure out how to make their own by following the images, and making them their own a little. Not an in-depth book, but the introduction gives a nice bit of background information and get the reader curious and inspired. I can think of several friends that would really appreciate this style of gift, and I enjoyed flipping through the book.

Early Book Review: Strong is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves by Kate T Parker

Strong is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves by Kate T Parker is a book of photography that is currently scheduled for release on March 7 2017. It is a celebration of strong girls being 100% themselves in 175 gorgeous photographs. The images show girls being strong in every way, being fearless, being silly, being wild, stubborn, and proud. 
Strong is the New Pretty is a wonderful collection of photographs and text. The text is made up of quotes from girls and women about their lives, particularly moments when they had to stand up for themselves and be themselves in the face of other people's expectations. The combination of words and wonderful photographs had me tearing up within the first ten pages. It inspired me to be more of what I want than what other people expect, and to encourage the girls and women in my life to do the same. I hope to show my daughter that being yourself is beautiful, regardless of who that might be, and what pursuits that includes.

Strong is the New Pretty is a perfect gift for anyone that thinks that being true to yourself and following their dreams is beautiful. While it will move many girls and women that have the chance to read it, I think anyone that loves another trapped by the gender or other social expectations of the world will appreciate the message and gain something from taking the take to look and read.