Book Review: Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm (Phoebe and Her Unicorn) by Dana Simpson

Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm is the sixth graphic novel in the Phoebe and Her Unicorn Series by Dana Simpson. I have not read this series in order, but I have seen the first three books. I think newcomers and those that might have missed some books along the way will still be able to enjoy the read.

Phoebe and Marigold decide to investigate a powerful storm that is wreaking havoc with the electricity in their town. The adults think it’s just winter weather, but Phoebe and Marigold soon discover that all is not what it seems to be, and that the storm may have a magical cause. To solve the case, they team up with Max, who is desperate for the electricity to return so he can play video games, and frenemy Dakota, who is aided by her goblin minions. Together, they must get to the bottom of the mystery and save the town from the magic storm.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm is a story about magic, friends, and bravery. I like that Phoebe cares very little about what others, including Dakota, think of her. She just goes on doing things she loves, and being a good friend to those around her. I wish more kids (and adults) focused more on their own friendships and activities than what others are doing. The mystery and conflict behind the storm and power drain was creative and fun, with an extra layer about friendship and making new friends. Even while the action was in high gear, there were aspects of the story that was still focused on character and relationship development. And, as always, I found the artwork to be charming and a meaningful part of the story.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm is just what readers of this series, and readers that like fantasy and graphic novels, will enjoy. I think this will be a hit among the target audience, and with any reader looking for a story about friendship and magic. 

Book Review: Shacking Up by Helena Hunting

Shacking Up by Helena Hunting is a contemporary romance. Ruby Scott is months behind on rent and can’t seem to land a steady job. She has one chance to turn things around with a big audition. But instead of getting her big break, she gets sick as a dog and completely bombs it in the most humiliating fashion. All thanks to a mysterious, gorgeous guy who kissed—and then coughed on—her at a party the night before. Luckily, her best friend might have found the perfect opportunity; a job staying at the lavish penthouse apartment of hotel magnate Bancroft Mills while he’s out of town, taking care of his exotic pets. But when the newly-evicted Ruby arrives to meet her new employer, it turns out Bane is the same guy who got her sick. Seeing his role in Ruby’s dilemma, Bane offers her a permanent job as his live-in pet sitter until she can get back on her feet. 
Shacking Up is a romance that made me laugh and cringe in all the right places. There were funny, awkward, and endearing moments through the book. I loved Ruby's character, she wants to be able to prove herself and stand on her own two feet. I can understand her need, as can most adults that might still feel like they are faking it until they make it. I like that while eager to stand on her own feet, is willing and able to laugh at herself along the way. Bancroft is another character doing the best he can in a situation that is not exactly what he was hoping for, and working to make it better. I loved the banter between the two, and the conflicts that they have. I think the larger conflicts about dealing with the expectations of society in general, and parents in particular, made the story more engaging. I found myself smiling or cringing, depending on the action, as I read the book- completely into the story and empathizing with Ruby as she worked through the story. 

Shacking Up is a fun romance with plenty or gloriously awkward moments, and characters that are realistic and engaging. I will be reading more from Hunting.

Book Review: Benji and the 24 Pound Banana Squash by Alan C. Fox

Benji and the 24 Pound Banana Squash by Alan C. Fox is a story for anyone who has ever had a dream of doing something really, really big. Benji wants to grow the biggest banana squash ever. In spring, when the soil is soft, he plants the seeds he has saved from the previous summer. He waters and waits, anxiously watching over the plant as the tiny squash begins to grow. Each day he lovingly measures its progress. On harvest day, the squash has grown so gigantic from all his love and attention that Benji can barely carry it. When the squash is cooked up with butter and brown sugar, everyone in the family enjoys a mouth-watering, homegrown treat. This charming garden-to-table story not only teaches children where food comes from, but also that patience and nurturing pay off with delicious rewards. 

Benji and the 24 Pound Banana Squash is a story about patience, and how caring for something makes the reward all the sweeter. Benji is eager to grow the biggest banana squash ever, but he needs to be patient because nature is not always quick. I love that the story shows him being taught persistence and responsibility for the plant, rather than him just being that way. His eagerness, and occasional frustration with the time and effort involved is honest and real. I thought the illustrations were lovely, and added an extra layer to the story. 

Benji and the 24 Pound Banana Squash is a perfect pick for families, story times, and classrooms that are gardening with children or trying to show the effort that goes into growing our food. I can think of many great classroom or homeschooling projects that would go well with this book, although it does work wonderfully as a simple, fun read to share as well. 

Book Review: Pressed to Death (Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum) by Kirsten Weiss

Pressed to Death is the second book in the Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum series by Kirsten Weiss. I think that those that have read the first book,  The Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum, will have a head start with character and location details. However, it has been so long since I read the first one that I forgot some of the relationship particulars. So, I think newcomers will be able to catch up pretty quickly and not miss out on much. Weiss does a good job of including reminders and details that are important in the story.
Paranormal museum owner Maddie Kosloski has the perfect exhibit for the harvest festival—a haunted grape press. But when she’s accused of stealing the press, and her accuser is murdered, all eyes turn to Maddie. Knowing the perils of amateur sleuthing as she does, Maddie is reluctant to get involved, at least until her mother insists she investigate. Does her mom have a secret agenda? Or is she somehow connected to the murder? Facing down danger and her own overactive imagination, Maddie must unearth the killer before she becomes the next ghost to haunt her museum.

Pressed to Death is a good mystery, and offered more twists than I was prepared for. I think knowing some of the previous relationships I was almost at a disadvantage, because some of the things I needed fleshed out or expanded on from the first book were almost ignored, and the coverage they had was not very deep. I liked the book, and the writing style, but the characters did not really grab me as much as they did in the first book. Although, some of the secondary characters were even more interesting than I was quite prepared for. While I was not overjoyed with the read, I do plan on continuing the series, because it has a lot of potential and I think it could get even better.

Pressed to Death is not as good as I was hoping, but it was still a fun read with plenty of adventure. I think the mystery and danger part of the book were on point, but I was distracted by all the side plots and felt like some of them could have been fleshed out in their own short story or book. 

Book Review: May's Wild Walk (The Whisker Sisters) by Miss Paty

May's Wild Walk is the first book in The Whisker Sisters series of graphic novels by Miss Paty. A letter from Mrs. Owl, the Whiskers Sisters' mail carrier, prompts Mia and Maya to plan a celebration. But their little sister, May, has been swept up in Mrs. Owl's mailbag! Soon May is in the woods having a wild afternoon. But will she make it home in time for the party? 
May's Wild Walk is a graphic novel for young readers. Poor May, the youngest of the sisters, is left out of discussions because she cannot read and her sisters cannot understand her when she talks. Luckily, when her adventures begin and she is out in the world she discovers that the creatures of the forest are much better able to understand her than her siblings. Together May and and animals work to save the girl's party- and does even better than that. I love the connection between May and the animals, and how hard the animals work to make things right. I think the art was well done, and very cute. My only sticking point is that I would have liked more from the older sisters than an apology then going right back to laughing. 

Book Review: Dark Hero (Reluctant Hero) by Lily Silver

Dark Hero is the first book in the Reluctant Hero series by Lily Silver. Elizabeth is a survivor. Her existence has balanced on the edge of a knife for much of her life--a knife held by her cruel stepfather. Betrayed, kidnapped and more, she awakens on a ship bound for the Indies, in the bed of a stranger claiming to be her husband. Soon the gift of the seer emerges; the ability to see and speak with the dead. A descendant of druids, Elizabeth knows she must hide her strange gifts as her new husband could claim she's insane and commit her to a madhouse. Can Elizabeth trust this Dark Hero conjured from the Gothic romances she once devoured? Donovan survived betrayal, imprisonment and torture. Deception and subterfuge are the weapons used to keep people at a distance. He maintains separate identities--the terrifying Count Rochembeau, a reclusive nobleman rumored to disfigured, and the amiable Mr. O’Rourke, the count's servant. Donovan’s penchant for deception may be his undoing when his bride awakens after her rescue and doesn't know him. As he struggles to rekindle their love, he fears he may be locked in a prison of a different kind; a loveless marriage to a woman who fears him and cannot abide his touch. 

Dark Hero is a Gothic romance with all the expected tropes. There is the abused heroine, who has survived much but is still naive. There is the tortured hero, still hurting but loving and over protective to his lady. There are siblings, secrets, betrayal, and of coarse some ghosts and magic to make things more dramatic and dangerous. My only problem with the book is that sometimes there is just too much. Readers get the complete background of the courtship between Elizabeth and Donovan, so there is no wondering if he is lying. I also felt like there was a little too much focus on Elizabeth being weak or ill as she recovers from the trauma she endures (that you need to read the book to discover). Yes, she has issues, but did she need so many? With seeing ghosts and leaving family, and all else that she had to face did she really need to be so "ill". I did like some of the twists and turns that the story took, but others made me cringe a bit- which were mostly choices Donovan makes in order to protect Elizabeth. In the end, I found myself eager to get back to the book when ever I had to put it down, but occasionally frustrated with the pace and what I saw as unnecessary complications. 

Dark Hero is a solid Gothic romance. It offers everything a fan of the genre is looking for, and then some. I think it also does a good job of introducing the characters that will be the focus of the next two books in the series. I think it just tried to do too much in one book.  

Book Review: Wait Till It Gets Dark by Anita Sanchez and George Steele, Illustrated by John Himmelman

Wait Till It Gets Dark is a children's non fiction book written by Anita Sanchez and George Steele, and Illustrated by John Himmelman. It’s night. It’s dark. It’s time to go indoors—or is it? The outdoors at night can be a scary place, but this book will help young readers investigate the mysterious nature of night. To explore the night, it would be great to have eyes like an owl, the sensitive nose of a deer, and feet that can move as silently as a fox. Humans aren’t quite as good as nocturnal animals at navigating the darkness, but we can come surprisingly close. Our senses are much sharper than we realize, if we learn how to use them. Some scientists are even researching the sensory abilities of human hair!
Wait Till It Gets Dark is a fun and interesting look at what happens outside after dark. I like that the book is broken up into chapters which each focus on a different animals. Readers get a detailed look at how the creature uses its senses and adaptions to explore the night time. The book also explores the senses and abilities of humans, and invites young readers to explore their own abilities. I enjoyed the experiments, and the focus on animal senses, and the colors used in the accompanying artwork. The art work was good, but there were some pieces that just did not meet my expectations, but that could have been more a matter of personal style than anything else. I think the book was geared towards younger kids than I expected, so it would be useful for discussing why you do not need to be afraid of the dark, in preparation of a nighttime walk or camp out for the younger set, as well as the senses and animal skills. 

Book Review: Pit Perfect (Barkside of the Moon) by Renee George

Pit Perfect is the first book in the Barkside of the Moon series by Renee George. I downloaded this book immediately after reading the sequel, The Money Pit, because of the writing style and character work. 

When cougar-shifter Lily Mason moves to Moonrise, Missouri, she wishes for only three things from the town and its human population. To find a job, to find a place to live, and to live as a human, not a therianthrope. Lily gets more than she bargains for when a rescue pit bull named Smooshie rescues her from an oncoming car, and it’s love at first sight. Thanks to Smooshie, Lily’s first two wishes are granted by Parker Knowles, the owner of the Pit Bull Rescue center, who offers her a job at the shelter and the room over his garage for rent. Lily’s new life as an integrator is threatened when Smooshie finds Katherine Kapersky, the local church choir leader and head of the town council, dead in the field behind the rescue center. Unfortunately, there are more suspects than mourners for the elderly town leader. Can Lily keep her less-than-human status under wraps? Or will the killer, who has pulled off a nearly Pit Perfect murder, expose her to keep Lily and her dog from digging up the truth?

Pit Perfect is a fast moving and fun mystery. I liked Lily's character and the complications that she brings with her to the small town. I liked her efforts to fit and and to get to know the town inhabitants. Finding her uncle and making friends in the new town started fairly easy, at least until the dead bodies start appearing and throwing suspicion on those that have been helpful. I really enjoyed the character development and the groundwork laid down for the rest of the series. My real complain, read for it, is that the book was too short. It felt way too short. I want more of this set of characters and Moonrise Missouri. A good start to a series, leaving me wanting more.

Early Book Review: Tricky by Kari Rust

Tricky by Kari Rust is a picturebook about the Duke and his dog, Tricky. It is currently scheduled for release on October 15 2017. This pair spend their days making trouble. They cheat, steal, and play pranks on their neighbors, just for fun. But one day, somebody new comes to town and gives Tricky a treat that melts his mischievous heart, and sets him thinking about the effect his actions have on others. Inspired to change his ways, Tricky decides to set things right the only way he knows how with tricks! Tricky’s ploy might just lead The Duke to reconsider his ways.
Tricky is a great picturebook that shows Tricky and his master playing tricks on just about everyone. When someone shows Tricky kindness he starts to question what he has been doing. I like that The Duke shows that while he likes to play tricks he does not respond well to being on the other side, and Tricky learns not to play mean tricks of others. My favorite thing about this book is that it is the act of someone else being kind, rather than a harsh consequence, that helps Tricky see the error of his ways. Readers, even the youngest, will see that sometimes offering a simple kindness to others can make a big difference. They also get to see that more often than not, people that are being unkind can change or will often move on when things change in their lives. The stylized artwork and bold colors make the story pop off the page and feel a little more alive to the audience. I greatly enjoyed the read, and think it is both a fun read and one with a great message to share.

Book Review: Leo Loves Aries by Anyta Sunday

Leo Loves Aries by Anyta Sunday is a lovely new adult romance. Theo Wallace usually laughs at the horoscopes his mom sends. Still hung up on his ex-girlfriend and practically friendless, this one begs him to reconsider. Because a friendship that stuck, that thrived. Well, that would be a reason to leave past pains behind and look to the Bright Future. When his sister Leone challenges him to find her the perfect date for a spring wedding, Theo uses it as a chance to make new friends. Theo’s ex economics tutor and newest roommate Mr. Jamie Cooper seems to be a possible and convenient match. Real convenient. Like written in the stars, convenient. All he has to do is make sure this Jamie is good enough. Could really be The One for her, and the friend for him.

Leo Loves Aries might catch readers by surprise, just like it catches one of the main characters. I loved Theo's journey of self discovery, and the cluelessness he has about the world around him. He is just so good hearted and blind to some aspects of those around him that he constantly made me smile. He is not stupid, far from it, but just does not see everything he should. I know so many people like that, which made the character feel even more real to me. I loved that friendship is so important to the story, and that Leone is such a smart, capable, and strong character. She often sees things he cannot, even is she is blind. Meanwhile, Jamie is a nice balance between them, smart and aware. I loved the developing friendship that happens between all the major players, and how the dynamics between them grew and changed through out the book. I just loved the read, and will be looking for more from the author.

Leo Loves Aries is a new adult romance and coming of age story that had me smiling as I read. I just enjoyed the characters and the read that much. While some readers might not enjoy the story simply because it is a same sex romance, I found the characters and the journey to be charming and enjoyable.