Early Book Review: Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King is the second book in the Mighty Jack series by Ben Hatke. This middle grade graphic novel is currently scheduled for release on September 5 2017. I would highly recommend reading this series in order, as you will have no idea how Maddy was stolen, how the garden grew, or what crazy adventures brought together Jack and Lilly.

Jack's little sister Maddy is gone, carried into another realm by an ogre. When Jack and Lilly follow Maddy’s captor through the portal, they are ready for anything, except what they find waiting for them in the floating crossroads between worlds. Even the power of their magic plants may not be enough to get them back to earth alive. Alone and injured, Jack and Lilly must each face their own monsters—as well as giants who grind the bones of human children to feed their “beast” and a fearsome goblin king in the sewers down below. But when Jack finds himself in a tough spot, help comes from the most unlikely person: the goblin king!

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King is a continuation of the first graphic novel, and carries over even an unexpected character. Maddy has been stolen by and ogre and Jack is willing to do anything to save her, anything. Together Jack and Lilly face huge obstacles, apart the face even bigger challenges. Crazy characters and situations keep the characters and readers guessing, and the story moving at a quick pace. I enjoyed the art style, as usual with Hatke, and the fun twists and turns the story took. The use of different creatures with characteristics that do not always fit expectations made the story engaging. I liked that Lilly continued to be more than expected, as did young Maddy. There is plenty of room for more adventures in this series, but was glad to see a satisfying conclusion to this two part adventure. I look forward to what ever Hatke offers readers next.

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King is another winner from Ben Hatke. He has been a favorite of mine for children's graphic novels for awhile now, and I was glad to see this one reinforce that feeling- especially since  remember being a little disappointed with the ending of the first instalment of Mighty Jack. Fans of adventure and graphic novels will want to explore this series, just read the volumes one right after another and you will find yourself quite satisfied.

Book Review: Falling Hard (Colorado High Country) by Pamela Clare

Falling Hard is the third Colorado High Country book by Pamela Clare. I have not read the previous books in the series, and while I can see where some of the characters must cross over from book to book, I was able to fully enjoy this read without having read the other books. 

Ellie Meeks promised her pilot husband that if anything happened to him, she would live her life to the fullest. Three years later, she is still alone, raising the twins he never met. She has no interest in dating or meeting men—until one snowy night when a stranger helps her get her sick kids safely home. That stranger turns out to be a former Army Ranger and a member of the elite Rocky Mountain Search & Rescue Team.  Jesse Moretti came to Colorado to get Iraq out of his head, using the adrenaline of extreme sports and high-risk mountain rescues to keep his mind off the past. But getting involved with Ellie might be the riskiest thing he’s ever done. It’s not just their explosive chemistry. There’s something about Ellie that gets inside him, opening him to feelings he’s tried hard to ignore. Ellie feels alive in Jesse’s arms and happier than she ever thought she’d feel again. But their relationship comes at a price for him, and soon Ellie sees that she must help Jesse fight the demons of his past to protect the love of a lifetime—and save the heart of a hero.

Falling Hard is a romance that deals with loss, risk, grief, and moving on. Ellie lost her husband before her twins were even born. She has struggled but thankfully has the support of family. She is smart, compassionate, and resilient. Jesse is still reeling from the loss and horror that he faced as an Army Ranger. Now working in a high risk job and volunteering on a rescue team he is doing everything he can to save others. Neither is looking for any kind of relationship, and yet after a chance meeting they cannot seem to stay away from each other. I enjoyed the slow growth of their relationship, and how Jesse is aware of his faults and emotional scars. I think the honest of both characters, and the struggles they have with emotions and connecting make to book poignant and relatable to readers. I loved that the act of moving on was not about forgetting, but in honoring those we've lost and living life as best we can.

Falling Hard is a solid romance, with complex characters and emotion. If you enjoy realistic characters and struggles combined with a slow-burn romance, then you are going to enjoy this read.

Early Book Review: Stinker by David Zeltser, Julia Patton

Stinker is a picturebook written by David Zeltser and illustrated by Julia Patton which is currently scheduled for release on September 1 2017.  Stinker is a puppy stuck in the pound. He's playful and loving and wants more than anything to be adopted. Unfortunately, little Stinker is always making big smells. As family after family return the ever-patient pooch back to the shelter, even he begins to lose hope. That is, until Stinker meets a snarky tomcat who can wriggle his way out of any situation. Together they stage a great escape in order to find just the right home, where Stinker will be loved in spite of his smells.
Stinker is a fun story about a dog with a serious flatulence problem. All he wants is a home and to be loved, but most people cannot get past the stink. I loved that the narrator of the little stinker's tale is a snarky cat who promises a happy ending. The cat tells about the failed adoption, and then Stinker's search outside the pound. I liked that the failed opportunities are told, not just the final solution, which is charming. This makes the story not just about accepting others despite faults and accepting yourself, but also about persistence and that failing is part of the process. This is an all around cute and engaging story that will bring on the giggles and perhaps teach a lesson or two along the way.

Book Review: Grimbeard: Tales of the Last Dwarf by Samwise Didier

Grimbeard: Tales of the Last Dwarf by Samwise Didier is a collection of six short stories featuring an elf hating dwarf. These bawdy and boisterous stories featuring all original artwork by legendary Blizzard Entertainment art director Samwise Didier, this tome follows Captain Grimbeard as he organizes underground fight clubs, boxes elven bounty hunters, ducks amorous giants, and most important—searches for a place to empty his beer-filled bladder. 
Grimbeard: Tales of the Last Dwarf is an entertaining read, but I will admit that I found the cover and artwork that can be found throughout the book better than the narrative. The adventures of Grimbeard were insane, in a fun and entertaining way, but his chatty style occasionally irritated me more than I expected it to. I liked the idea, come on who would not want to read about a dwarf pirate with a deep seated hatred of silly elves? The plot lines and illustrations lived up to my hopes completely, it was only the narrative style that distracted me and kept me from getting lost in the adventures.

Book Review: The Wizard's Dog by Eric Kahn Gale

The Wizard's Dog by Eric Kahn Gale is a children's fantasy that gives a fresh twist to Arthurian legends. Nosewise is spunky, curious, and just so happens to be a dog.  He cannot understand why his pack mates Merlin and Morgana spend all day practicing magic tricks. If it’s a trick they want, he’s the dog to ask! He can already Sit!, Stay!, and Roll Over! But there’s no way Nosewise is Stay!ing when his master and best friend, Merlin, is kidnapped. There’s nothing Nosewise won’t do to get Merlin back, even if it means facing the strange Fae people and their magic-eating worms, or tangling with the mysterious Sword in the Stone. But it may take more than sniffing out a spell to do it! Nosewise’s hilarious escapades and steadfast loyalty get him and his companions through King Arthur’s Dark Ages.
The Wizard's Dog is a grand magical adventure featuring some of my favorite classic characters, all from a dog's point of view. I loved Nosewise's character, and the illustrations and cover image of him just made him even more endearing. The danger, deception, and magic are well written, and engaging without being so dire that more sensitive readers will be turned off the book. I think the character development of Morgana and Arthur was very well done. The only thing that could have made it better was more depth for Merlin, but since he is such a iconic character I can let that go.

I have always been a fan of Arthurian legends, and The Wizard's Dog gives my favorite story a fun new twist. I absolutely loved the canine point of view and will be adding this to my school library's collect as soon as possible. I only wish I had opened this digital galley and read it much earlier! I hope to find the time to go back and read the author's other two books to see if they entertain me as much.

Early Book Review: Santa Please Bring Me a Gnome by An Swerts, Eline Lindenhuizen

Santa Please Bring Me a Gnome is a picturebook written by An Swerts and illustrated by Eline Lindenhuizen. It is currently scheduled for release on September 1 2017. This year Tess does not want toys, instead she wants a gnome. A real, living gnome to be her friend to take everywhere and share everything with. She gets everything ready for her new friend, including little furniture and bedding. When Christmas comes will she get her wish? 
Santa Please Bring Me a Gnome is a sweet and delightful picturebook. I loved the illustrations, they really brought Tess's plans and hopes to life, and I loved how helpful Tess's grandparents were through her endeavor to get ready for Santa to deliver her friend. I think the conclusion, with note from Santa and all, was a perfect answer and one that parents, caregivers, and children will enjoy on different levels. This might be a Christmas book, but I fully expect some will be requesting this book year round. 

Book Review: Antisocial by Heidi Cullinan

Antisocial by Heidi Cullinan is a wonderful contemporary romance that made me happy on multiple levels. Xander Fairchild can’t stand people in general and frat boys in particular, so when he’s forced to spend his summer working on his senior project with Skylar Stone, a silver-tongued Delta Sig with a trust fund who wants to make Xander over into a shiny new image, Xander is determined to resist. He came to idyllic, Japanese culture-soaked Benten College to hide and make manga, not to be transformed into a corporate clone in the eleventh hour.  Skylar’s life has been laid out for him since before he was born, but all it takes is one look at Xander’s artwork, and the veneer around him begins to crack. Xander himself does plenty of damage too. There’s something about the antisocial artist’s refusal to yield that forces Skylar to acknowledge how much his own orchestrated future is killing him slowly…as is the truth about his gray-spectrum sexuality, which he hasn’t dared to speak aloud, even to himself. Through a summer of art and friendship, Xander and Skylar learn more about each other, themselves, and their feelings for one another. But as their senior year begins, they must decide if they will part ways and return to the dull futures they had planned, or if they will take a risk and leap into a brightly colored future—together.
Antisocial is so much more than I expected. It is a romance, it is a coming of age story, and it is a wonderful study of the shades of the spectrum when it comes to sexual identity.Xander is an artist, and is as closed off and moody as any stereotype you might image. Skylar is a golden boy, being groomed for a life as a corporate lawyer. Each has their wounds and secrets. I loved the development of friendship between these two unlikely partners, and how the one that seemed the most in need of saving at the start was the one that offered the most encouragement and support through the entire story. I found the open communication between Xander and Skylar was so important, and something that happens too rarely in real life and romance novels alike. The inclusion of a friend group, and the struggles with parents and finances were important and valuable parts of the story- making it more real and engaging. My only sticking point was just how perfect their happy ending was, I think some of the parental resolution was left hanging. However, as this is my only issue with the book, I still want to highly recommend the read to anyone even vaguely interested.

Antisocial is a contemporary romance that explores the shades of sexual identity and the search most of us have for who we want to be, and what makes us happy. Every time I had to step away from reading I found myself eager to get back to the world of Xander and Skylar. I think this is a great read, and that young and new adults should read it particularly if they or anyone they care about is struggling with their own sexuality.

Book Review: Run to Ground (Rocky Mountain K-9 Unit) by Katie Ruggle

Run to Ground is the first book in the Rocky Mountain K-9 Unit series by Katie Ruggle. Grieving the death of his partner, Theo Bosco has no room in his life for distractions. Though his instincts scream that he should avoid Juliet 'Jules' Jackson, he can't seem to stay away. It doesn't help that Theo's new K9 companion has fallen head over paws with Jules's rambunctious family. Or that when he's with her, Theo finally knows peace. When Jules rescued her siblings, whisking them away to the safety of the beautifully rugged Colorado Rockies, she never expected to catch the eye—or the heart—of a cop. Yet as Jules struggles to fight her growing attraction to the brooding K9 officer, another threat lurks much closer to home, and this time, there's no escape.

Run to Ground is a contemporary romance that takes emotional wounded characters and helps them find love, and some peace. Theo lost his K-9 partner, and not long after his human partner. He is struggling with guilt, and trying to connect to the dog that has lost just as must as he has. Jules is trying for a fresh start, siblings in tow. A cop and a fugitive connect despite themselves, and I loved the slow burn and self doubt that is deeply woven into their story. I liked both characters, and adored Jules' younger siblings and the relationship they all had. I liked the connection Theo and Jules built, and how all of the town's regulars looked out for each other. I will admit that there are some important aspects to the ending that really bother me, although I do understand why things were left the way they were. However, overall I thought the balance of emotional and physical danger was nicely done, and I am more than a little eager to see what happens next.

Run to Ground is another engaging romance from Ruggle. It was not perfect, and I had a couple issues with it. However, I am still very much looking forward to the next book in this series and will gladly keep reading anything she publishes at this point.

Book Review: The Sad, Sad Monster by Delores Costello

The Sad, Sad Monster is a picturebook by Delores Costella. A sad monster is sad at school. He is sad because he doesn’t have any friends. Is there someone who can make him happy? 
The Sad, Sad Monster is a a book about friendship. The monster is sad because no one wants to be his friend, but he fails to see one young girl that never seems to be far away. Before long the pair become friends, sharing some of their favorite things and having fun together. The story is simple, with short sentences and basic vocabulary which makes it a good choice for the earliest independent readers, and those starting on the journey there. The illustrations are sweet and cute, with hints to what might be coming next. Monster loving toddlers, and those that just want to read on their own, will enjoy the read. 

Book Review: The Circle by Damon Clark, Alyzia Zherno, Sami Makkonen

The Circle written by Damon Clark, with artwork from Alyzia Zherno and Sami Makkonen is a graphic novel. It follows  Christian, a teenage boy, who moves moves to Shell bay with his single father after his mother dies only to be bullied as the new kid at school. He finds friendship with the "Weird" kids and unknowingly joins them in an occult ritual that allows a darkness to possess each of them. Through the help of his gypsy neighbor, Christian will learn that the only way he can reverse the ritual is by killing off his circle of friends before they kill him, or before the darkness takes over his soul. One by one he will face them all, and in the end he will have to make the hardest decision of his young life.

The Circle takes the typically hard time of moving and starting a new school with more specific issues like grief, loss, and bullying. It takes the non-unexpected route of the occult- and continues with some loosely explained motivations and reactions that did not quite resonate with me. Sadly, like the story, I found the majority of the artwork to fall short of my expectations. The cover art was nicely done, and is most of what had me request the title from Netgalley. However, the bulk of the book did not have the same appeal. It felt a little unpolished, but not in the dark Burton way that would have enhanced the read. There is a decent amount of action, significant gore, and more cursing that I have heard from any teenagers ( even when I was one). I was hoping for something more original and visually stunning based on the cover, but was disappointed. Perhaps readers that are a little younger, and not ones that have seen The Craft and read a large variety of books and graphic novels that have already covered similar ground will enjoy the read more than I.