Early Book Review: Gnome-a-geddon by K.A. Holt

Gnome-a-geddon by K.A. Holt is currently scheduled for release on May 2 2017. Buck is a super fan of the book series, The Triumphant Gnome Syndicate. He knows all the trivia. The properties of the Troll Vanquishing Mace, and even what kind of snack Custard, the Gnome of the West, prefers. But when the book’s author disappears in a cloud of smoke at the release party for book three, and Buck’s little sister disappears into a bottomless dumpster, Buck realizes that the world of gnomes and trolls might really exist. What the heck? As it turns out, the real Custard (don’t call him that) needs Buck’s help to find the Troll Vanquishing Mace. And Buck needs to find his sister. So Buck and his best friend Lizzie set off on an adventure that would make any fan’s head spin. But not everything is as Buck expected—it seems the books did not tell the whole truth about this not-so-make-believe world. Buck soon discovers that real life doesn’t work like a story, and the heroes and villains might not be who they seem. Holy trolls! What’s a super fan to do? Buck is about to fulfill the ultimate fantasy: going on adventures with his favorite characters, and getting the chance to save the world. Assuming he can figure out whose side he’s really on.

Gnome-a-geddon is a book with a fairly unique concept. While there have been a few books that share a few characteristics, I really felt like this book took it in a slightly different direction. I liked that our main characters change and grow, both in self awareness and in ability to look at things differently. Buck is a good kid, who cares about those around him but with the natural craving to be special and a hero like his favorite book and game characters. He tries to be a good person, even while dealing with his craving to be more. Lizzie is a smart, strong, and independent girl with a good instinct about people and situations. They make a good team, especially when they listen to each others and those around them. I liked that the good guys and the "bad" guys are all ambiguous. No one character is all good or bad, and the idea of moving past prejudice and generalizations about any person is key in the entire story. I think the idea of unexpected heroes and strengths was very well done and just might have younger readers open to accepting help and seeing skills in others that they might otherwise dismiss. I am very interested in seeing more from the author, maybe in this same world, in the future.

Gnome-a-geddon is an entertaining and enjoyable read with a fun concept. I think there is a wide range of middle grade readers that will enjoy this read and be looking for more.

Book Review: Elephi; the Cat with the High IQ by Jean Stafford, Erik Bledvad

Elephi: the Cat with the HIgh IQ is a children's book written by Jean Stafford and illustrated by Erik Bledvad. It was originally published in 1968. Elephi Pelephi Well Known Cat Formerly Kitten lives in a city apartment with a nice but slightly boring couple. Desperate for a playmate and some intelligent conversation, he manages to smuggle in a small foreign car which had been stuck in a snowdrift. When Elephi's new companion is discovered in the storeroom, there is a lots of confusion, and some good fun.
Elephi: the Cat with the HIgh IQ is a cute story that features a smart but bored cat, and the abandoned car that he has claimed as a friend. Elephi's scheming and thought process is entertaining for children and adults alike. The idea of a car and cat chatting takes some imagination, but as a cat owner (or servant) I often wonder what goes on in those furry little heads and this story did not ease my mind at all. It is not hard to imagine a cat considering these actions or the destruction that Elephi considers part of his daily routine. The illustrations and story are slightly dated, but not in a way that makes it no longer relevant or entertaining. I thought the read was amusing, charming, and something I might share with my children at home or school library.

Book Review: Knock Knock Moo Who (and other silly animal jokes) by Brenda Ponnay

Knock Knock Moo Who (and other silly animal jokes) by Brenda Ponnay is a collection of fun and silly jokes for young readers. Such as the classic "Knock Knock. Who's there? An interrupting cow. Interrupting Cow-- Moo!" Knock knock jokes are matched with bright illustrations in this wacky, funny picture book for preschoolers and up.

Knock Knock Moo Who is exactly what you would expect from the title. The jokes are simple, silly, and fun, Sadly most of them were far from new to me since my two kids are older and well versed in jokes of all kinds so I have heard way too many. With the digital preview I read there were some formatting issues, which made the jokes and images not lines up quite right- but I fully expect that to be a non-issue in the final product.  It was a cute collection, but nothing that stood out as a must have for me.

Book Review: Undiscovered (Amoveo Rising) by Sara Humphreys

Undiscovered is the first book in the Amoveo Rising series by Sara Humphreys, which is a spin off and continuation of the Amoveo Legend series. If you have read the previous series you will be at an advantage, but readers new to this world will be able to catch up quickly and enjoy the story.

A long time ago, Zander Lorens was cursed to walk the earth stripped of his Dragon Clan powers. Every night, trapped in a recurring nightmare, Zander relives his darkest moment. He can hardly believe it when the dream changes and a beautiful young woman appears. Zander believes she's the key to ending his torment. Finding her in the real world is one thing, but how will he convince her of who-and what-she really is? Rena McHale uses her unique sensitivity as a private investigator, touting herself as a "human divining rod" and finder of the lost. By day she struggles with sensory overload, and by night her sleep is haunted by a fiery dragon shifter. Nothing in her life makes sense, until the man from her dreams shows up at her door with a proposition.

Undiscovered has a good mix of character and story development. I like that both Zander and Rena have their own issues and stories, and that Rena has some sense of self preservation- even if she does run off with a random guy for a case, money, and answers. Zander's punishing of himself for his role in what has happened gets a little old, and Rena's almost perfection does wear a little thin after awhile. However, I like that they are fairly honest with each other, if not everyone else or themselves. I really liked how they came to terms with their own desires, but found that they came together almost too easily. I did think that the story was likely just the groundwork to start of the new series, and to connect it to the previous stories. However, despite its faults it did make for a diverting read while my kids made the attempt to drive me insane over April vacation.

Undiscovered is an entertaining urban fantasy. It has the balance of good writing, adventure, and romance that I have come to expect from the other books I have read by Humphreys. Not earth shatteringly wonderful, but an engaging read to escape into and enjoy.

Early Book Review: The United States of Absurdity: Untold Stories from American History by Dave Anthony, Gareth Reynolds, Patton Oswalt

The United States of Absurdity: Untold Stories from American History by Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds, with a forward by Patton Oswalt, is currently scheduled for release on May 9 2017. From the creators of the comedy/history podcast "The Dollop," this book presents short but informative stories of the most outlandish (but true) people, events, and more from United States history. Comedians Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds cover the weird stories you didn't learn in history class, such as 10-Cent Beer Night, the Jackson Cheese, and the Kentucky Meat Shower, each accompanied by a full-page illustration that brings these historical "milestones" to life in full-color. Each story is accompanied by tongue-in-cheek trivia and timelines that help place the stories in context with the more well-known historical events that occurred around them.

The United States of Absurdity: Untold Stories from American History was a entertaining and informative read. While I had heard some of the stories before, such as the radium girls and Kentucky meat shower, some were new to me. Each story was short and offered some commentary on the intelligence (or lack there of) of those making decisions. Occasional the humorous commentary got a little profane, so those not interested in that style of humor might want to skip it. However, fans of the podcast or that have seen anything from the writers involved will not be surprised. It did catch me by surprise at first, but fit in with the stories and humor well so was not an issue once I got accustomed to it. Readers that will be too bothered by swearing, jokes about male anatomy, or intelligence levels in our country will want to skip it- but everyone else will laugh and learn at least a little. The short bits of history are organized by commonalities, and make for fun short reads.

The United States of Absurdity: Untold Stories from American History is a fun read for fans of The Dollop podcast, as well as those that enjoy learning about the more unusual bits of history. I normally get this tidbits from History's Mysteries, Mysteries at the Museum, and similar shows- but now I know I need to be listening to this podcast too. If history and humor tied together makes you happy, so will this unique look at American history.

Early Book Review: The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do by Ashley Spears

The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do by Ashley Spears is a picturebook currently scheduled for release on May 2 2017. Lou and her friends are BRAVE adventurers. They run FASTER than airplanes. They build MIGHTY fortresses. They rescue WILD animals.” But one day, when they're looking for a ship to play pirates in, Lou's friend has an idea: “Up there! The tree can be our ship!” This is something new. Lou has never climbed a tree before, and she's sure she can't do it. So she tries to convince her friends to play a not-up-a-tree game. When that doesn't work, she comes up with reasons for not joining them --- her arm is sore, her cat needs a walk, you shouldn't climb so soon after eating. Finally, she tells herself she doesn't want to climb the tree. But is that true, or is this brave adventurer just too afraid to try?

The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do is another great picture book from Spears. Lou is a grand adventure, but she has a weakness. She as never climbed a tree before. When her friends scurry up the branches she can only think about how new it is, and how high. She struggles to come up with ways to avoid the need to climb, but ultimately has to face her fears or be left out of the fun. I like that Spears allowed Lou time to waffle about what she was going to do, and actually struggle with facing her fears. I also like that in the end Lou did not just climb the tree like a monkey. She has to learn how to climb the tree. It does not happen instantly, she has to work at it and fall. then she got up and tried again, with plans to keep practicing and trying. I think this is as important of a lesson as the being willing to face your fears or lack of knowledge. she has to learn something, and it is not easy. However, Lou keeps trying and even though she could not master the skill in a single day she is willing to keep working at it. Something that too many children (and adults) give up on learning new things too easily.

Book Review: Sloppy Wants a Hug by Sean Julian

Sloppy Wants a Hug is a picturebook by Sean Julian.  Find out why you should never hug a tree dragon—especially a sloppy one. Sloppy the tree dragon wants a hug, but Dewdrop the sprite isn’t going to give him one, for a very good reason.

Sloppy Wants a Hug is a book seems sweet and with a message about kindness. However, the more I thought about it the more it bothered me. Dewdrop says she will not give Sloppy a hug, and that he knows why. However when Sloppy asks and does not understand, Dewdrop refuses to explain. Then- Sloppy goes for some emotional manipulation to try to get the hug she wants from her 'friend', but Dewdrop is not giving in and instead goes around giving hugs to others- and telling them that they are worthy. It is only when Dewdrop sees Sloppy do a good deed that she deems him worthy of her affection. Then we discover that Sloppy licks when he hugs. Couldn't Dewdrop have just given him a hug and asked him to refrain from the licking? 

I know I am over thinking a picturebook. But, honestly, the emotional black mail and whatnot here is not something I want to encourage. Could we have gone with the message that it is okay not to want to hug, BUT  friends accept each other's faults and find other ways to show they care. The only thing that garnered the book two stars rather than one is the charming artwork.

Book Review: Guarding Mr. Fine by Helen Kay Dimon

Guarding Mr. Fine by Helen Kay Dimon is a contemporary romance novel. As an agent with the CIA’s special activities division, Seth Lang lives for risk, and yet he’s stuck playing bodyguard to the U.S. consul general in Munich. Although Seth’s last assignment nearly killed him, babysitting some desk jockey in a suit sounds way too easy. But when he lays eyes on the new top man, tactical expert Rick Fine, Seth’s thrilled to see just how hard this job is going to get. Mr. Tall, Dark, and Quiet has a body worth guarding, and he requires hands-on attention day and night. Dispatched to a German consulate to expose the murder of his predecessor, Rick finds himself in an extremely vulnerable position. He needs a man like Seth, in so many ways. This mission will inevitably plunge them both into jeopardy, but each new threat only brings them closer. Rick just hopes that he can keep his deepest, darkest secret hidden, or else risk imperiling a relationship they’re both fighting for their lives to protect.

Guarding Mr. Fine is a solid romance, with aspects of danger- both emotional and physical, that keep the reader guessing. I think both Seth and Rick have their issues, and hide away pieces of themselves for protection. I like that they are both capable and complex men, with a significant mystery surrounding the death of the previous consul general and the missing vaccines. I think the solution was a little too expected, as I had my suspicious about that particular character from the very beginning. However, the journey toward the reveal and later the happy ever after, were well worth it. I liked that the characters were open about their faults, even if they were not open about their secrets. I found the give and take, and gradual emotional growth from Seth to be very well done. 

I think many readers will enjoy Guarding Mr. Fine. There is suspense, romance, and an accurate portrayal of gay and bi characters. I would not recommend it to readers that do not enjoy same sex romances with men in the staring roles. However, readers that like contemporary, suspense, and military or undercover agent style romances will enjoy the read.

Early Book Review: Okay Kevin: A Story to Help Children Discover How Everyone Learns Differently by James Dillon

Okay Kevin: A Story to Help Children Discover How Everyone Learns Differently by James Dillon is currently scheduled for release on April 21 2017. Kevin never smiles at school, but he is different at home. He jumps up and down when his favorite football team scores a touchdown, and screams "CANNONBALL!" when he jumps into the swimming pool. But at school he feels that he isn't 'okay.' Other kids in his class are much quicker at putting their hands up and answering the teacher's questions, and Kevin feels that he will never catch up. One day, his reading teacher asks him to help out with the school store, and Kevin slowly begins to realize that he had really been 'a okay' all along.

Okay Kevin is a story that offers a look into the mind and emotions of one student that does not learn the same way as his classmates. He cannot keep up with the pace of reading skills as his classmates. This goes on through several grades in school, leaving Kevin feel like he is not okay, that he is different in a bad way. His mother and reading teacher do thier best to help him understand that there is nothing wrong with him, but Kevin still feels bad about himself. It is only when he is offered the change to work in the school store, and shows off his math skills, that Kevin gets the reinforcement and confidence in himself that he needs. He starts to see that he is okay, and might not learn the same way as his classmates, but he has his own skills and talents that make him smart in his own way.

Okay Kevin is a story that can help those struggling in school see that they are not alone, and that other people understand how they feel. It can also help those that have no problems academically understand and have some empathy for those that might. This is an important book for children of all abilities to be exposed to, in the interest of empathy and self confidence. 

Through providing an insight into Kevin's thoughts, feelings and coping strategies, this picture book for ages 5-8 is a source of support for children who, like Kevin, find school difficult and feel that they are 'behind' their peers. The book, which draws on the author's experiences as the principal of an elementary school, is also the perfect springboard for discussion around difficulties at school, academic ability, self-esteem, confidence and recognizing strengths.

Book Review: Justice Calling (The Twenty-Sided Sorceress) by Annie Bellet

Justice Calling is the first book in The Twenty-Sided Sorceress series by Annie Bellet. Jade Crow lives a quiet life running her comic book and game store in Wylde, Idaho. After twenty-five years fleeing from a powerful sorcerer who wants to eat her heart and take her powers, quiet suits her just fine. Surrounded by friends who are even less human than she is, Jade figures she’s finally safe. As long as she doesn’t use her magic. When dark powers threaten her friends’ lives, a sexy shape-shifter enforcer shows up. He’s the shifter world’s judge, jury, and executioner rolled into one, and he thinks Jade is to blame. To clear her name, save her friends, and stop the villain, she’ll have to use her wits and her sorceress powers. Except Jade knows that as soon as she does, a far deadlier nemesis awaits. 

Justice Calling caught my attention right away. I liked that Jade is not the traditional heroine, never mind the traditional magic user. She has build her own nerdy paradise, and hides her magical nature in an effort to keep it. When Alek shows up she is worried about what his hunt, and the danger that is heading towards her friends. I understood her fear and reluctance- and her determination to protect the people she cares about. I liked the world building and mythology surrounding Jade, although I would have liked more details and backstory about the birth and chosen family that has shaped her life. The tidbits readers are given are very cool, but I wanted more. I hope that is part of the following books. I liked her problem solving efforts to solve the mystery, and how hard she works to keep her humanity while protecting other. I also liked that while Jade's attraction to Alek is very clear in the book, that possibility has nothing to do with the larger story- and nothing happens relationship wise until the immediate danger has been addressed. I enjoyed the writing style and the story, and I greatly look forward to seeing where the series goes from here. 

Justice Calling is an entertaining and enjoyable read. I will be checking out the next book in the series, hopefully I will get the backstory I want so badly.