Book Review: Under Dogs by Andrius Burba

Under Dogs by Andrius Burba is a book of dog photography showing our furry friends from an unexpected perspective--from underneath. In the vein of bestsellers like Underwater Dogs and Shake; Under Dogs is an unique look at man's best friend. The images of dogs taken from below are by turns surprising and hilarious—providing readers with a little-seen view of the pets we love.
Under Dogs is a book of dog photographs like none you have ever seen before. I like that there were a variety of breeds, and often the dogs are just being cute, goofy, or weird- not always perfectly posed and behaved. The images are crisp and clean, and the constancy of the background and set up made the similarities and differences of the different dogs stand out. It was interesting to see some breeds that I had never even heard of before, and some more popular dogs. My daughter (animal obsessed third grader) and I flipped through the book together a few times, enjoying the images. If you love animals, dogs in particular, and want a unique view of them this is a delightful book to take some time and enjoy. 

Early Book Review: Must Love Babies (Must Love Babies) by Lynnette Austin

Must Love Babies is the first book in the Must Love Babies series, a spin off of the Magnolia Brides series,  by Lynnette Austin. I have not read the previous series, in fact I believe this is the first book I have read by the author. The book stood up well on its own, but I think those that have read the previous series will have a better understanding of the small town, and those that live there, but I was able to pick up the important bits quickly and fully enjoy the read. This book is currently scheduled for release on June 5 2018.

Brant Wylder is a bachelor and loving it, although he would not mind a few more dances with a certain bridesmaid. He's in Misty Bottoms, Georgia, property-hunting for his vintage car repair shop and acting as groomsman in a wedding when he gets the call. His sister's been in an accident, and Brant has to drop everything and take care of his seven-month-old nephew. That's the end of the bachelor lifestyle. Bridal boutique owner Molly Stiles is all business all the time, until she sees that Brant's in trouble. In this Southern town, nobody ever has to go it alone. And besides, how can she resist that beautiful baby in the arms of a beautiful man, even though romance is not in her plan.

Must Love Babies is a great contemporary romance about finding love when you are not looking for it. Molly has a plan, and love is not on her list for a few more years. She needs to concentrate on her new business, and maybe her trust issues. Brant is loving his life, but when his little sister goes off the rails he steps up and takes care of his nephew. There were a few really funny moments, and plenty of moments parents will relate to, as he learns quickly how to handle caring for a baby. I fell in love with the caring community of Misty Bottoms, and how hard Brant works to do the right thing and take care of others, even when they do not ask. The connection, attraction, and miscommunication between Molly and Brant is all understandable- Molly is too in her head and Brant is trying to do too much. I really enjoyed seeing them come together, and fully enjoyed the ride even when molly was being stubborn and Brant was overstepping. I might have wanted to shake them a couple times, but I was glad to be along for the ride as they found their way. 

Must Love Babies is a sweet story about a small town, and people with big hearts. I loved watching the town come to life and the characters grow and come together. I will be taking a look at the other books from this author. 

Book Review: The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match by Elizabeth Eulberg

The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match by Elizabeth Eulberg is the second book in the Shelby Holmes series. The first book sets up the characters and relationship between Shelby and the world, however I think most readers would be able to catch on to the series ideas pretty quickly, even if starting with the second book. 

Being friends with a super sleuth isn't easy, especially when she's nine years old and four feet tall, and full of attitude. But for eleven-year-old aspiring writer John Watson, being friends with Shelby Holmes is just the adventure he's looking for.In the few weeks since moving to Harlem with his mom, Shelby has been training John in the art of observation-a skill that comes in handy on the first day of school. John's new teacher, Mr. Crosby, is acting suspiciously, and Shelby knows this is a mystery worth investigating. But as Shelby and John dig deeper, they discover that there may be someone unexpected involved--someone who may have Shelby beat.

The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match is another great book by Eulberg that makes the Sherlock tropes and themes assesable to the younger generations. I love that the characters are unique, but still share bits of the characteristics of the Sherlock cannon. Shelby is the socially uninterested genius, with a little too much pride and confidence in her abilities. When she works with Watson they become the perfect team, with the book, observational, and social smarts to do just about anything. I got a kick out of the introduction of Shelby's nemesis, and the way they work with Lestrade and Crosby. I loved the twists and turns, and the inclusion of extra bits of struggle, like family issues and John's diabetes, make the story even more relatable to a variety of readers. I think the mystery is well built, and the methods of Shelby and James, and how they interact with each others and those around them, is extremely well done. I love the layers to all the characters, and the combination of real life and Sherlock themes makes for an entertaining and engaging.

The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match is a great middle grade mystery with a diverse group of characters that feels completely organic rather than forced, which is sadly happening with more and more books. I highly enjoy this series and hope to continue it, and add it to my elementary school library as soon as I can. 

Book Review: Make Your Own Ice Cream: Classic Recipes for Ice Cream, Sorbet, Italian Ice, Sherbet, and Other Frozen Desserts by Sarah Tyson Rorer

Make Your Own Ice Cream: Classic Recipes for Ice Cream, Sorbet, Italian Ice, Sherbet, and Other Frozen Desserts by Sarah Tyson Rorer is a reprint of a vintage book. The author passed away in 1937, so this book makes no mention of electric ice cream makers or microwaves, but was slightly updated for more modern kitchens. This book offers recipes for dozens of different types of ice cream and sherbet, the recipes cover frozen puddings, souffl├ęs, parfaits, and mousses as well as tasty toppings. Numerous dairy-free options include sorbets, Italian ices, and fruit ices. It uses easy-to-find ingredients, which include a variety of fruits and nuts to the traditional flavors of chocolate and vanilla. Brief explanations identify the differences between ices, sorbet, and sherbet and offers the general instructions. 
Make Your Own Ice Cream: Classic Recipes for Ice Cream, Sorbet, Italian Ice, Sherbet, and Other Frozen Desserts is a good and varied collection of recipes for frozen treats. I have to admit that I was confused by some of the wording in the instructions, but that was solved when I realized that those instructions were for use with an old fashioned crank ice cream maker, which I am currently lacking. I did like there there is such a wide variety of flavors, and that they are all based on using the best, fresh ingredients. I might test out a few of these recipes this summer with the kids, but I will admit to being a little lazy and find that I enjoy the instant gratification of buying a half gallon of ice cream and having some to often being preferable to cooking and freezing some of these recipes no mater how tempting they sound. 

Book Review: The Jasmine Sneeze by Nadine Kaadan

The Jasmine Sneeze is a picturebook written and illustrated by Nadine Kaadan. Haroun, the cat, likes nothing better than to spend his days sleeping in the sunlit courtyards of Damascus. But one thing always ruins his sleep; jasmine! Haroun can’t stand the sweet-scented flowers. Their pollen sends him into fits of sneezes! So one day, Haroun hatches a plan to fix the problem. But little does he know that in doing so he deeply angers the Jasmine Spirit who plans her revenge in her own crafty and hilarious way.

The Jasmine Sneeze is a story that gives a small insight into the culture of Damascus, at least in relation to jasmine. In lovely illustrations, reader see the silly cat Haroun suffer through the sneezing fits near the jasmine. He hatches a plot to stop the scent of jasmine from making him sneeze- but as expected in a fable from any culture, things do not go as planned. His efforts anger the spirit of the jasmine and suffers the consequences, at least until he makes it right. I love that the author of the work wrote about her own culture. I like that a little more of the culture of Syria was given at the end of the book. My only problem was that I wanted a even more of the folklore and culture. However, the illustrations were wonderful, and I did enjoy the little glimpse that we got. 

Book Review: My Lady Captor by Hannah Howell

My Lady Captor by Hannah Howell is a historical novel that is currently being reprinted, but was originally published in 1996. Lady Sorcha Hay is devastated to learn that English soldiers are holding her young brother captive. Penniless, the only way she can pay for his freedom is by taking a hostage for ransom herself. Her captive--a wounded knight plucked from the battlefield--is furious to be imprisoned by a woman. But nothing will stop Sorcha from keeping Sir Ruari Kerr enslaved, even as the sight of his bronzed body sets her mind and body reeling.  With her dark mane and soft curves, Sorcha is everything Ruari has ever desired in a woman. As she tends to his wounds, Ruari fights the intense attraction that ignites at her very touch. But he can't afford to lose his heart to his tempting captor. For when he's finally rescued by his men, Sorcha will pay dearly for her treachery, and loving her could put both their lives in peril.

My Lady Captor is a fun historical romance with strong characters and the touch of the otherworldly that I expect from Howell. Sorcha and her family have a connection to ghosts, and occasionally get hints of what is to come. Unfortunately they also have very little money and few men left in their clan. When the search for Sorcha's wayward brother (and laird) instead offers up the knowledge that he is captive and will be ransomed she seizes on the opportunity to ransom the two wounded souls she finds on the battlefield in order to pay that ransom. I like that she is strong, resourceful, and willing to do what needs to be done for the good of all rather than focusing on what she wants. She is clever and quick to action, and shows up the men on many occasions. Ruari is strong, but heeds his pride and what he thinks he should far more than he ought. I like that while he falls in the trap of underestimating Sorcha and the women of her clan, he quickly comes to respect their quick wit and strength, even when it bests him. The added danger of a greedy English knight certainly made things interesting, but I was not sure it was completely necessary, and the resolution was a tad anticlimactic for me- although it did the job of forcing the action forward. I enjoyed the ride, but found it evident that it was an earlier work from the author, and noticed how much her style has evolved and grown.

My Lady Captor is exactly what I expect from Howell, but clearly one of her earlier works. The characters and story are engaging, but having read many of her books I can see how much her style and skill has grown over the years. This was a great read while trapped indoors due to bad weather. 

Early Book Review: If a Horse Had Words by Kelly Cooper, Lucy Eldridge

If a Horse Had Words is a picturebook written by Kelly Cooper and illustrated by Lucy Eldridge.  It is currently scheduled for release on June 5 2018. Red Badger is a newborn foal learning to stand when she slips and gets stuck in a muddy badger hole. It is a young boy who frees her, and his kindness and gentleness mark the beginning of their friendship — though she will always be wary of the ground that briefly trapped her. As the seasons pass on the ranch, Red Badger learns more about her world: Fall is leaf rustle and fence posts. Winter is white hills and long nights. The boy is hay, a gentle touch, playing in the snow and the sweet smell of peppermints. If a horse had words, the word would be friend. 
If a Horse Had Words is a picturebook about friendship told from the horse's point of view. It gives a cool perspective that animal loving readers, and horse loving readers in particular, will enjoy and get something special from. The book also felt like it was trying to help readers with learning new words, particularly about seasons. It felt a little overbearing at times, but might make it more useful for helping struggling readers that love horses learn those words. However, it was a little too text heavy to work for those that are really struggling. The artwork is nice, it reminded me of the classic illustrations in Golden Books from my own childhood. All together, I think this book has a niche audience, one that I do not quite fit into.

Book Review: Fake Wife (Crazy Love) by Stacey Lynn

Fake Wife is the first book in the Crazy Love series by Stacey Lynn. Corbin is rich and famous, and grieving for the only family member that every really supported him. He loved his grandmother, and does not want her money- he just wants the home where he felt welcomed rather than letting his father bulldoze it and build a mall. The only way for that to happen is to abide by his grandmother's will by falling in love and getting married within six months. Teagan just lost her job, and in one fell swoop her cheating boyfriend and the home they shared. After packing up her car she rear ends Corbin, Portland's most eligible bachelor. An unbelievable bargain puts everything in motion, a deal that could make everyone's dreams come true. But, attraction, emotion, and misunderstandings are not the easiest to deal with and just might ruin everything.

Fake Wife is a story with a great set up, and characters that really grabbed me. Corbin might be rich, but he has few people he could trust, and the only family that every really showed him unconditional love and support has just passed away. Still reeling from the loss of his grandmother, he discovers that her will stipulates to get the only inheritance he wants, the home and land he loves, he needs to get married within six months and stay married for at least two years. When a beautiful, hot mess rear ends his car he sees the perfect opportunity to help her, and to help himself. Teagan is at a loss with what to do. She has dreams that have been put on hold because of her now ex-boyfriend, and no way to make them come true. Marrying the celebrity that she has been watching on social media, even as part of a contract that will garner her the funds to achieve her dreams, starts off as a dream but quickly becomes clouded as passion and emotion brings on misunderstandings and worries for both of them. Trying to protect themselves lead both Corbin and Teagan to jump to conclusions and make everything more challenging. I loved getting to see the pair get to know each other, and slowly reveal bits of themselves with each other. I enjoyed getting a deeper look at both of them, and liked both characters a lot- they are multilayered and I felt for both of them as I got to know them. I will admit to wanting to throttle them a few times, as they jumped to conclusions rather than talking things out or admitting their emotions to each other- all because they were afraid to get hurt. But, even then I could understand why they had their fears. I liked that there were good friends and secondary characters introduced, and built up, I only hope that we see them find their happily ever after in the books that follow.

Fake Wife is a fast, fun read with plenty of emotion and chemistry. I greatly enjoyed the read and look forward to getting my hands on the second book in this series, Knocked Up, is currently scheduled for release this summer.

Book Review: Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me by David Gutnick, Mathilde Cinq-Mars

Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me is a picturebook written by David Gutnick and illustrated by Mathilde Cinq-Mars. Not long after arriving in North America from China, a young girl and her father bump into a kind old man at their local park. They have no idea that he has been teaching young people music for over fifty years. Mr. Mergler can hear music in a way that most of us can't, and he knows this little girl has a talent that, with encouragement, will grow into something magical. He gives her a gift that will tie them together forever. This story is inspired by events in the life of Daniel Mergler—a wonderful musician who loved to teach and whose generous spirit inspires author and journalist David Gutnick to this day.
Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me is a lovely picturebook about how strangers can make connections through music, and how music can effect people. I like that the story is based on real people, and the relationships that they could have built. I liked seeing the young girl connecting with the music and Mr. Mergler, and how aware she is of the fact that her family could not have afforded the lessons that Mr. Mergler offered them for free because of her love of music. I like that the connection her family made with Mr. Mergler was so real, and it was heartbreaking when he passed away. However, like many teacher of all kinds he had a huge impact on those he works with. I think this book both encourages young readers to take the chance to try to learn new thing, and to remind teachers and families how much of an impact they can have on those they take under their wing. The artwork was classic and smooth. I liked the little details with music, and emotions that shone through the illustrations. 

Book Review: Barking up the Wrong Bakery (Happy Tails Dog Walking) by Stella St. Claire

Barking up the Wrong Bakery is the first book in the Happy Tails Dog Walking series by Stella St. Claire. Some people would kill for coffee, Olivia Rickard would kill to keep everything just the way it is. She’s got a gorgeous boyfriend who loves her, a supportive sister to lean on, and a dog walking business that’s briskly barking away. But just as she’s getting comfortable her sister suddenly wants to buy an entire brownstone with her and her boyfriend looks like he’s going to pop the question at every opportunity. Changing the status quo has always been disastrous for Olivia and now everything is changing at once. What Olivia needs is a distraction and she’s found one in stumbling upon Yvette Dunn dead in her coffee foodtruck—drowned in a vat of fresh coffee. Olivia starts out as an unlucky bystander to the crime, but she’s forced to dig in deeper when it looks like her sister could be involved in Yvette’s death. Olivia is running out of time in regards to the mystery, the mortgage, and the marriage. She’s going to have to solve all three problems—and quick—or face a future most foul.

Barking up the Wrong Bakery grabbed me right off the bat, but sadly I lost momentum quickly. I liked the set up, and initially found Olivia charming and fumblingly adorable. However, it was not long before I found myself wishing Olivia would grow up and actually talk to her boyfriend and sister, like an adult, rather than trying to avoid the future. I liked the mystery set up, and the quirky small town characters. I found the layers of building the town connections and characters that will be appearing later in the series to be handled well. I like that while I had a feeling about who committed the crime, the mystery was very tangled together and finding the path to a solution was entertaining. I liked most everything about the story, except for my gut reaction to Olivia. There were moments when she was amusing and cute, but others when I just wanted to shake her and tell her to use her words- much like I tell my kids and students to use their words if they have a problem or question rather than just ignoring it or running from it.

Barking up the Wrong Bakery is a fun cozy mystery, and the suspense and detective work is well done. The characters and setting were well written as well, I just happen to not click with the main character, but that might be more of a personality thing than anything else.