Early Book Review: A Loud Winters Nap by Katy Hudson

A Loud Winters Nap by Katy Hudson is a charming picturebook. Every year Tortoise sleeps through winter. He assumes he isn't missing much. However, his friends are determined to prove otherwise! Will Tortoise sleep through another winter, or will his friends convince him to stay awake and experience the frosty fun of winter? Best-selling author Katy Hudson's charming picture book will have everyone excited for winter.
A Loud Winters Nap is a fun story about a tortoise that just wants to hibernate. He thinks winter is nothing but cold and snow, but in his attempts to find a quiet place to sleep his friends show him some of the fun to be had in the winter months. I like that tortoise and his friends have fun together, and that none of the waking tortoise is done maliciously or teasingly, rather it is by accident or with good intent. However, as someone that sleeps little and never gets to nap when I want- I do rather wish that his friends would respect his wishes and let him have his rest. However, then there would be no story. 

Book Review: The Wingsnatchers (Carmer and Grit, #1) by Sarah Jean Horwitz

The Wingsnatchers is the first book in the Carmer and Grit series for middle grade readers by Sarah Jean Horwitz. Aspiring inventor and magician’s apprentice Felix Carmer III would rather be tinkering with his latest experiments than sawing girls in half on stage, but with Antoine the Amazifier’s show a tomato’s throw away from going under, Carmer is determined to win the cash prize in the biggest magic competition in Skemantis. When fate throws Carmer across the path of fiery, flightless faerie princess Grit (do not call her Grettifrida), they strike a deal. If Carmer will help Grit investigate a string of faerie disappearances, she’ll use her very real magic to give his mechanical illusions a much-needed boost against the competition. But Carmer and Grit soon discover they’re not the only duo trying to pair magic with machine – and the combination can be deadly.

The Wingsnatchers is a nice start to a series, unfortunately I found that the first couple chapters started off slowly, and some readers might not make it to where Carmer and Grit meet- which is when the story really picks up interest and speed. I liked the premise, and the characters once I got fully involved in the story. I thought Carmer was clever, but in the focused way of inventors and scholars that sometimes miss the obvious. Grit was my favorite character, she has a missing wing, and has lived her life as actively and dangerously as she could. She was occasionally a little bratty- but what do you want from a fairy princess? Sadly some oft he twists I figured out a little sooner than I would have liked, but the ride for Carmer to come to the same realization was entertaining- although he frustrated me often. Some of the secondary characters caught my imagination, and I want more past and future information about some of them. I enjoyed the adventure and the idea of the story, but despite some great moments, I was not blown away by the read. 

The Wingsnatchers is a good fantasy novel, but it took awhile to grab my attention. I will admit to picking it up and putting down a few times- but in the end I think that this book will find a large audience that will enjoy it.

Book Review: Reese (Rock Creek 6) by Lori Handeland

Reese is the first book in the Rock Creek 6 series by Lori Handeland. I have read other romance from Handeland, but this is my first historical and non-paranormal romance of hers that I have read. I read and enjoyed most of her Nightcreature series before I started recording and blogging my reviews. 

Six elite Confederate soldiers band together after the War Between the States, hiring out their guns to protect lawless towns. Violence is all they know, until they make their way to Rock Creek, Texas. Mary McKendrick, a headstrong schoolteacher who wants nothing more than to find a home, takes charge when a band of ruffians attempts to destroy Rock Creek. With very few men left in town after the war, Mary travels to Dallas to hire Reese, the mysterious and reluctant leader of a band of guns for hire. Reese is haunted by the war and all he did during it. The only constant in his life are the five men willing to come whenever he calls them. They will do anything for each other; they are all they have left. Though Mary prides herself on managing everyone and anything, she can't manage Reese or her feelings for him. Reese doesn't believe he is worthy of loyalty and devotion; he certainly isn't worthy of love. In Rock Creek, Mary McKendrick teaches him differently. 

Reese is a historical romance in America, which I have not read much of in the last few years. However, it caught my attention quickly and did not let me go until the book was complete. Reese is the leader of a group of guns for hire, ones that solve problems that linger in the aftermath of the civil war. He has some serious guilt and self doubt, keeping himself emotionally distant from everyone- even his team. Mary is a school teacher that has finally found a home, a job, and a community. She will do anything to save Rock Creek- even pay this group all of her money in order to have them protect the town. We have former soldiers with the emotional wounds the try to hide, and a town of women, children, and misogynistic cowards. In the midst of all this Reese and Mary come together to face their attraction, and the danger that El Diablo and his bandits bring to Rock Creek. I like that Reese and Mary actually talked things out, once the walls came down of course, and that Reese's past was revealed. I also liked that Reese respected the ideas and opinions of Mary and the other women, which many other characters did not. I am not exactly thrilled with the resolution for Mary when she and Reese find their happy ending- however I have hope that as the series continues the might change.

Reese is a book that grabbed my attention and has me looking for more. I am now looking to keep reading the series, because I need to see what happens next. I was glad to be reminded of why I binge read Handeland's book in my preblogging days.

Book Review: How To Be A Scientist by Steve Mould

How To Be A Scientist by Steve Mould offers readers a bold and playful approach to science that makes the subject relevant to kids and encourages them to discover it in the real world with more than 40 fun questions, science games, and real-life scenarios. It tackles questions that children have such as; Why does mold grow? Why is the sea salty? and What makes day and night? The book helps them learn how to think like a scientist and look at the world to figure out how science works. More than 40 simple activities have undetermined answers, encouraging curious young readers to find new ways to test ideas, and fun questions, games, and real-life scenarios make scientific concepts fun and relevant. The stories of the great scientists and their discoveries—and failures—are told in an entertaining way to provide even further inspiration for little budding scientists.

How To Be A Scientist is exactly what I expect from DK. It is well written and organized, accessible to young readers and with bright, colorful images that enhance the text. THe diagrams, photographs, and varied page layouts keep readers from getting bored, and if everything goes right, will get them a little more excited about science. While the book does list facts about famous scientists, it pairs that information with experiments to balance out the learning experience with some hands on options. There is plenty of information within these pages, but it is well balanced with the photographs, diagrams, and info boxes in a way that is engaging and easy to understand. It hits the balance of learning, fun, and activities pretty much perfectly. The book is well organized, allowing readers to focus on a single subject at a time if that is what they want.  The beginning of the book features instructions on how to use the book, the types of tools and materials you may need, and then breaking down the concepts explored into categories such as the Natural world, chemistry, and so on. 

How To Be A Scientist is a book that will appeal to a wide age range, and will encourage children (and their parents and teachers) to do some more research and some science on their own. 

Book Review: The Spinster and the Rake by Anne Stuart

The Spinster and the Rake is a historical romance by Anne Stuart. This romance was originally published in 1982, but was re released in the summer of 2016 with some added material. I have not read the first version, so I do not know what is new, and how the two editions compare. Aside from the two covers that is.

As a maiden aunt, Gillian Redfern lives as an unpaid servant to her demanding family. Little wonder she finds the attentions of a rake distracting, and even less wonder that her usual good sense begins to unravel when Lord Marlow takes her in his arms. Ronan Patrick Blakely, Lord Marlow, is a man of great charm and little moral character, a gambler, a womanizer, and handsome as sin to boot. He has no qualms about placing a wager on the virtue of one small, shy spinster. But Lord Marlow is about to discover that Miss Redfern is more siren than spinster. She amuses him, arouses him, and, much to his dismay, makes him a better man. Gillian will discover, in turn, that Lord Marlow possesses the power to turn her into a very wicked woman. The rake and the spinster are poised to find a love that neither could have imagined. If only someone weren't out to destroy them both.
The Spinster and the Rake is a fun and entertaining historical novel. I enjoyed the characters and thought the relationships of family and friends added an additional depth to the story, although I would have liked to have seen some background of Gillian that led her to a life of taking care of her sibling's families and accepting the title of spinster. I kept hoping there was a story there, but it never really happened. However, we got a good bit of Ronan's backstory through the book. I did like that Gillian was smart, capable, and well loved by those that took the time to know her rather than the role she was cast in. I think the development of Gillian's character and her learning to stand up for herself is good- but I was still looking for more. I did think that Ronan's character was better developed, and I liked his attitude and how he thought about the world in general. The conflicts he had, and his integrity was well done- but I could have stood for more story surrounding his unconventional life and staff.  

The Spinster and the Rake was a quick and enjoyable read, but I could tell that it was an earlier book from the author, because it just did not meet the standards I have for Stuart.  Fans might want to pick it up just to see the way the writing style and character work has grown.

Book Review: A Horse Named Steve by Kelly Collier

A Horse Named Steve is a picturebook by Kelly Collier  about a horse named Steve who is a fine horse, but who longs to be more. When Steve finds a gold horn in the forest and attaches it to his head, ta-da! Exceptional! His friends are so impressed, they, too, attach objects to their own heads, in an effort to be as exceptional as Steve. So when Steve suddenly realizes his horn has gone missing, he’s devastated! He won’t be exceptional without his horn! Or will he?
A Horse Named Steve is a charming story about a horse wanting to be special, or more special than he already is. This is something everyone can relate to- especially young readers who are still trying to figure out just who they are. I like that Steve did learn the lesson that he is still special with or without the horn, but he still likes to have a special something. This shows him as not perfect, and more relatable to young readers, and makes the story more fun which will keep readers interested and entertain by the story after it is over. The illustrations are as fun and quirky as the story and made me love the book even more.

Book Review: Shadow Born (Shadows of Salem) by Jasmine Walt, Rebecca Hamilton

Shadow Born is the first book in the Shadows of Salem series by Jasmine Walt and Rebecca Hamilton. Brooke is no stranger to the supernatural. In Chicago, vampires are just as prevalent as drug lords, and infinitely more bloodthirsty. So when her partner and fiancĂ© dies in a mysterious fire while chasing down a lead in Salem, she suspects something dark and otherworldly is at play. Blessed with the ability to see into the past by touching inanimate objects, Brooke transfers to the Salem PD, hoping her talent will help her get to the bottom of things. Between dodging assassination attempts and being stonewalled at every turn, the going is tough. Add in a mysterious fae club owner with secrets of his own and a personal grudge against her, and it becomes nearly impossible. If Brooke wants to play in the supernatural sandbox, she’s going to have to roll up her sleeves and get dirty. But how many people will have to die for Brooke to discover the truth about her fiance? And is she even ready to know?

Shadow Born is an urban fantasy that combines the fae and paranormal worlds that I thought I knew and makes it new. The reveal of who and what Brooke is a slow and sometimes frustrating journey, much for her search for what happened to her fiance. There are plenty of twists and turn, and just when I thought I had it all figured out there was another twist or new player in the game. I thought that Brooke had a good balance of strong, capable female lead with a touch of vulnerability and heart. THe balance is well done, and one that is often attempted but not often matched. I liked Maddock's character, and arrogant but ultimately helpful role he plays certainly kept me on my toes. I never really knew who's side he was on, and still think he might have more up his sleeve. This was a read that kept me guessing and interested through the entire book. I just might pick up the next book, Shadow Marked,  but only when I have enough time to read it uninterrupted. 

Shadow Born is a good start to an urban fantasy series. Enough questions are answered to satisfy the reader, while there are enough possibilities for the future that you want to pick up the next book just to see what happens next. A good balance, and I am glad I picked this one up.

Book Review: Face the Flames (Sugarland Blue) by Jo Davis

Face the Flames is the sixth book in the Sugarland Blue series by Jo Davis. I have not tread the previous books in the series, but was still able to fully enjoy the series. Those that have read the other books will likely get more out of the read just because of the prior knowledge about the characters that appear as secondary players in the story. 

A near-fatal accident left firefighter/paramedic Clay Montana with devastating injuries. Now, after a year-long recovery, Clay is focused on one thing: getting his body back to form, so he can return to the job he loves. And then a chance meeting with a fiery redhead changes his life.  Detective Melissa Ryan may be the new cop on the block, but she s no stranger to Sugarland. It is where she lived with her violent, criminal uncle a man she needs to see behind bars. But when she meets Clay at a crime scene, the down-but-far-from-out firefighter makes her rethink her priorities. Getting close to Clay is intoxicating, but Melissa must keep her wits about her if she s to protect them from a man with deadly intentions

Face the Flames is a small town, first responder romance. Clay is towards the end of his recovery after a serious accident that almost killed him and Melissa is a police office a little obsessed with busting the Uncle that runs a huge illegal moonshine operation. When they meet they instantly connect, and almost instantly start dating. I think the getting together was a little too easy, and while sometimes it really does work like that I felt like they never really talked about any issues or expectations they had about their relationship. They only focused on the external or danger related issues. I was a little bothered by a couple things- like how Clay's internal dialogue got all cave man when Melissa was hurt or in danger. She is an officer, it is going to happen- and pretty regularly, even though the circumstances at the time were a little out of the ordinary. I also got a a little frustrated with the lack of concern about Clay and his head injuries. I have known people that have been told to avoid alcohol and change jobs after receiving too many concussions- I would think that Clay would fall in that category by the end of the book. While I enjoyed the read, I was a little annoyed with how little the two discussed anything and how many twists put them in danger and the hospital. 

Face the Flames is a romance that seemed both too easy and too hard to me, but kept me happily reading and entertained for a summer weekend. I think fans of the series will consider this a must read, but those that want more character development might not want to start the series here. 

Book Review: Out of the Box by Jemma Westing

Out of the Box by Jemma Westing includes twenty-five interactive cardboard model projects that will encourage kids' creativity and "out of the box" thinking skills through hands-on learning and the application of science-based principles. Kids can bring old cardboard to life and build recycled creations they can play with, sit in, or wear. From small-scale gifts to large constructions there are clear, step-by-step instructions to show kids how to make dinosaurs, masks, race cars, and so much more. There are also images and ideas to encourage them to make their own unique projects when they feel ready. Each of the projects use recycled materials, including cardboard rolls and boxes, so all the supplies should be easy to find right at home.

Out of the Box is a well written group project instructions and inspirations for making a wide variety of creations with common cardboard objects we all are likely to have around the house. The additional supplies, such as glue sticks, scissors, markers, duct tape and the like are also things that many of us have on hand. Even if you do not have every tool that the instructions use throughout the book, there are certainly some projects that will require no shopping. The projects include games, animals, wearable masks,  ships, a 'cityscape', things for pets, and more. Even though I am an 'adult' I still want to try out some of these projects. So I work in a school and I will find a way to make it about the kids, but I want them for me- they are just a good excuse. I found the instructions to be understandable and easy to follow, although some of the projects are significantly more difficult than others. The photographs that accompany each project are helpful and clear.  One of my favorite things about the book was the inclusion of "Try This" ideas which encourages kids to take their projects to the next level, and to truly make it all their own.

Out of the Box is a wonderful addition to school, public, and personal libraries. While it is a wonderful jumping off point for organized or personal crafts (i.e. makerspace, classroom, storytimes, homeschooling) it would also be a great resource for anyone that likes to build and create. I will be trying to get a copy for my school library for next year.

Book Review: Hard Time (Hard as Nails) by Hope Conrad

Hard Time is the first book in the Hard as Nails contemporary romance series by Hope Conrad. Thomas Street is an ex-con, but before he got out of prison, he locked eyes with her.  The moment Street sees Katie serving food in a hellhole of a prison, he wants her.  Now he’s found her again, working in a bookstore of all places, and she’s just as gorgeous as he remembers. Only Katie thinks he can be redeemed. That there’s a good man underneath his darkness. But then Katie becomes his, Katie and her daughter. And he’ll risk everything, including fighting the devil himself, to protect them.
Hard Time is a contemporary love story and a good start to a series. I liked that Street and Katie face huge, real life problems. While their issues were those that are not part of my reality, I am very aware that some of them are very really to many people. I liked the fact that Katie's daughter did not just become a non issue, but that where she was and how to keep her safe and happier were very much a part of the story. Too often a child in a romance with a single parent just kind of disappears and plays too little of a role. The danger and drama of Katie and Street's romance was real, and I like that it come from both sides of the story- they each had problems that needed to be overcome rather than one being the perfect partner and one in need of redemption. They have both made mistakes and talk out their issues for the most part. The guilt and pain they each feel, and the internal issues they need to overcome are just as important to the story as their attraction and sex that they share. I really liked that emotion and consequences were so important and prevalent in the story. I wonder where the series will go next, and look forward to seeing the friends from Street's past find their way to happiness. 

Hard Time is a great redemption and love story. It is heartening to see people overcoming huge but real problems and work towards happiness.