Book Review: Creature Files Dragons: Encounter 20 Mythical Monsters by L J Tracosas

Creature Files Dragons: Encounter 20 Mythical Monsters by L J Tracosas is a children's book that blends fact and fiction. Do you believe dragons are simply the scaly stuff of myths? Or do you think they really existed? Whatever side you're on, this collection of twenty fascinating creatures is sure to spark your imagination.  In Creature Files: Dragons, you’ll take a tour through the world of fire-breathing, gold-hoarding, three-headed monsters and discover where and how these magical creatures came to be. Learn the unique folklore of cultures around the globe, from China to Russia to Eastern Africa, and see how people envisioned these otherworldly beasts through lush and evocative illustrations. Included are many meaty facts to gnaw on—like which dragon had too many teeth to count, and which dragon had teeth as big as a man’s arm—along with a realistic dragon-tooth necklace! And science lovers will also find something to sink their teeth into: facts about real-life dragons that exist today. These dragons may not breathe fire, but they share some of the same traits as their mythical brethren.

Creature Files Dragons: Encounter 20 Mythical Monsters is a nice exploration of how myths about creatures share certain traits across the world, but also differ in some ways. Dragon lore, and other legends, has always been one of my favorite topics.. I like that pronunciation is included for the different types of dragons from around the world, and the roles that dinosaur fossils played in the legends. I enjoyed the illustrations, especially how they detailed the features of the different dragon legends. I was very interested to see how the heads of some resembled well know animals- snakes, warthogs, fish, birds, and so on. I also liked that maps showing where the countries of origin for each type of dragon legend is included on the page with the information. I also like the inclusion of some creatures that I never considered to be part of dragon lore, but share similar features and traits- such as the hydra and cockatrice. I always considered them their own kind of creature, rather than part of a larger classification, but the little bit of lore given does explain these inclusions. My only two complains are that the font chosen for some of the text makes it hard to read, particularly in digital file, and that there are many different creatures included, the information offered about each is minimal, although well worded and interesting. 

Creature Files Dragons is an attractive and interesting read for those interested in mythical creatures in general, and dragons in particular. It is far from comprehensive, but offers some good bits of legends, lore, and information. The artwork is very eye catching and well done, and I found myself studying the art much more intently that the text. I can think of many middle grade readers that will read, enjoy and likely re read this book- but at a fan of the topic I was hoping for a little bit more. 

Book Review: Dark, Witch & Creamy (Bewitched by Chocolate #1) by H.Y. Hanna

Dark, Witch & Creamy is the first book in the Bewitched by Chocolate series by H.Y. Hanna. Caitlyn is used to being the ugly duckling in her glamorous showbiz family, until the day she learns that she was adopted as an abandoned baby. Now, her search for answers takes her to the tiny English village of Tillyhenge where a man has been murdered by witchcraft - and where a mysterious shop selling enchanted chocolates is home to the "local witch". Soon Caitlyn finds herself fending off a toothless old vampire, rescuing an adorable kitten and meeting handsome aristocrat Lord James Fitzroy and discovering that she herself might have magical blood in her veins! When she's dragged into the murder investigation and realizes that dark magic is involved, Caitlyn is forced to choose. Can she embrace her witchy powers in time to solve the mystery and save those she loves?
Dark, Witch & Creamy is a fun story with mystery, self discovery, and a hint of possible romance. Caitlyn is a independent woman that has just lost her mother, only to discover that she is adopted. So, she follows the story of her beginning to discover who her birth family might be. I liked the way the secondary characters were introduced and built up though the story. I found the Widow Mags to be my favorite character, and despite my lack of magic, the one I related to most through the story. I liked that the encounters with James were varied, and that the idea of romance between the pair is written as a possibility, it in no way became the major point of the book. The book is mostly Caitlyn's self discovery, introduction of the towns people, and the murder mystery.

I really enjoyed the read, and my only issue with the book is more something in my headspace than anything that might bother other readers. She is independently wealthy, and I have to admit that I was occasionally distracted by the fact that Caitlyn and her cousin have no responsibilities and no care for what things cost, or even mentioning the payment for much of anything they do- however this is a work of fiction and I have to laugh at myself for having more trouble getting over the lack of monetary discretion than the amount of magic and odd happenings that make the book so entertaining. 

Dark, Witch & Creamy is a wonderful start to a series, and I am glad that the next three books are available for my immediate enjoyment. I will be continuing this series happily.

Book Review: Dragons; Father and Son by Alexander Lacroix, Ronan Badel

Dragons; Father and Son is a picturebook written by Alexander Lacroix, and illustrated by Ronan Badel. Poor little Drake! He doesn’t WANT to be a fire-breathing beast—but his traditional dad insists that he do what dragons have always done: destroy all the houses in town. With no choice but to obey, he reluctantly sets out to the village. Then, he meets a boy, a teacher, and a kind fisherman who show him there’s more than one way to be a good dragon. Filled with humor and compassion, this story will enchant children and encourage them to love themselves for who they are.

Dragons; Father and Son is a wonderful little story. I liked that the dragons are not the cute, cuddly dragons that so often appear in picturebooks. I also like that Drake is open to learning, and that he does not want to hurt anyone, but he does not want to anger his father. I think there are way too many young people with parents like the father in this story at home. Adults that hate or fear another group just because their family always has. I love that Drake got to know the people, and discovered that they are not so different, and that they just want to live their lives. Aside from the that part of the story, which could be seen as political, it is also a story about being true to yourself. Little Drake does not want to hurt anyone, and makes friends with the people. I like that he took that knowledge home, and using smarts and words was able to change his father's mind. 

Book Review: Dreaming of a White Wolf Christmas (White Wolf) by Terry Spear

Dreaming of a White Wolf Christmas is the first book in the White Wolf series by Terry Spear, but is connected to the other paranormal romance series by Spear. Romance writer Candice Mayfair never missed a deadline in her life—until the playful bite of a werewolf puppy accidentally turns her into an Arctic wolf shifter. Talk about a life-changing event! Candice is at the end of her rope with the unpredictable shifting, a strong desire to howl, and the need to vacuum constantly to keep the shedding fur under control. Enter werewolf private investigator Owen Nottingham. Owen has a new mission: convince the pretty she-wolf she needs to join his pack in time for Christmas and be his mate. It’s the only way he can think of to keep her safe.

Dreaming of a White Wolf Christmas is a quick read, and one while very connected to the other books in the series also felt a little more insulated. I liked Candice's character. She is pragmatic and steady- doing what she needs to do to survive without panicking or acting out. Owen is pretty steady and I liked his respect and determination when it came to getting to know Candice. I think the background drama was a little too much, and the developing relationship was almost no longer the focus of the book, although the pair did actually discuss things and act like mature adults for the most part. I felt like the hard stuff (Candice's coming to terms with being a werewolf as an example) and skipped over. It was a good, but not extraordinary or unexpected read. 

Dreaming of a White Wolf Christmas is a better read for me than some of the more recent books in this extended series. It is what fans of the author are looking for and expecting, but nothing more than that. 

Book Review: Miss Feesenschneezen Is Ill by David Parmelee

Miss Feesenschneezen Is Ill by David Parmelee  is a book for middle grade readers. The "Tough Class" in school loves their teacher Miss Feesenschneezen, and no one else is up to the challenger. Principal Armstrong is occupied to a review by the state board and the normal substitute pool has no one to take on the job. A series of unusual substitutes teach the class a variety of interesting things over the week she is out.
Miss Feesenschneezen Is Ill is a fun and entertaining look at being part of a tough class. Everyone that has ever worked in a school knows that there is always a tough class or two. Not bad kids, but ones that are challenging to teach, and paired with the right instructors can go far. I know one of my kids is a tough kid to teach, and working in a school I see tough kids and classes everyday. The teachers that these kids identify with or trust are priceless, and Miss Feesenschneezen is one of those teachers. She falls ill the week the principal is under siege by a review board, and no one really wants to tackle the class. The series of substitutes and volunteers do their best to teach, and some succeeded marvelously but are exhausted by the experience, while others are not up for the task. The results are fun, and I learned some interesting things along with the class. I liked that while everyone seems to fear this class, they are not actually bad- they are not doing anything horrible or being rude. They are curious and have many questions, but will gladly side track class to do less work if possible. Sounds like normal kids to me. To be honest, I was rather expecting the mystery illness to be related to the review the school was under, rather than something real regardless of how simple, just to add another little twist. I am still not convinced that it was not. 

Miss Feesenschneezen Is Ill is a fun book that many middle graders, particularly those considered part of a tough class to teach, or struggling in school will enjoy. Adult readers that work in, or have worked in school will enjoy it as well. 

Book Review: Heart Stop (First Responders) by Radclyffe

Heart Stop is the sixth book in the First Responders series by Radclyffe. I have not read any of the other books in the series. While there is a complete story here, and it could be read as a stand alone, I think those that have been following the series will enjoy it much more than newcomers to the series.

Jay (Flash) Reynolds has a brilliant future as a trauma surgeon until an eighteen-wheeler on a rainy night changes her life. Newly appointed chief medical examiner Olivia Price is more at ease with the dead than the living—at least the dead never lie. All she needs to do is listen to their stories. What she doesn't need is a surly new resident who would rather be somewhere else. Two women, one with a damaged body, the other a damaged spirit, challenge each other to dare to live again.

Heart Stop is a story that left me of two minds. I liked the characters, and their banter. I think that they both have huge stories to tell and the bits we get about there past are like teasers, I know there is more to tell, especially with Olivia. I liked the drama of the story going on in the background, but felt like there is much more going on than I understand because I have not read the previous books and found myself confused about who everyone was and how they interconnect. I did enjoy the romance, to a certain point, but then it felt more like they just decided they were in love and no more needed to be said. I think maybe that the resolution for their relationship just felt a little too pat. I think more of them talking and working on their issues and less of the background story in the city would have made me happier. 

Heart Stop is a good story, and I liked the characters. I think those that have read the related books would get much more out of everything that was going on, but since I did not have the background on the larger story arch and who everyone was I felt a little lost. 

Book Review: Stolen Words by Melanie Florence, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

Stolen Words is a children's book written by Melanie Florence, and illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard. It tells the story of the beautiful relationship between a little girl and her grandfather. When she asks her grandfather how to say something in his language – Cree – he admits that his language was stolen from him when he was a boy. The little girl then sets out to help her grandfather find his language again. This sensitive and warmly illustrated picture book explores the inter generational impact of the residential school system that separated young Indigenous children from their families. The story recognizes the pain of those whose culture and language were taken from them, how that pain is passed down, and how healing can also be shared.
Stolen Words is a beautifully illustrated picturebook that points out something from our history that is often forgotten, and shows that some things can be done. We forget that while the Native Americans, and pretty much every indigenous culture around the world, has had more than just land and lives stolen from them. They were striped of language and culture and forced to adopt the language and in many cases religion and/or culture of those pushing them out or putting them in captivity.   It is gently put, in deference to the target audience, but I think the adults sharing this with young readers will be reminded of all that these cultures have lost. I love that the granddaughter, with the help of another trusted adult, made an effort to do what she could to return the stolen words to her grandfather. I only wish that more resources were available to those seeking to regain lost parts of their heritage, and that they were as easy to find as in this book. Some languages are lost completely, or are remembered by only a few and not recorded in any way. Perhaps this book will inspire young people to learn their own culture, and inspire elders or older members of the family to rediscover it as well. I would have loved to see some resources listed at the end of the book to help those seeking to reclaim the language or culture of their ancestors. 

Book Review: SEAL Wolf Undercover (SEAL Wolf) by Terry Spear

SEAL Wolf Undercover is the fifth book in the SEAL Wolf series by Terry Spear is the 22nd book in the Heart of the Wolf series. Even though I have read most, if not all, of this series I still felt a it like I was missing something when I started this book. While parts of the story stand up fine on its own, there are a lot of important bits that only those that have been following the series will fully enjoy. However, even for us, after twenty something books even some of us have forgotten things that were important.

Special wolf agent Jillian Matthews has joined the jaguar-run United Shifter Force to track down a deadly criminal. She’s even willing to work with PI Vaughn Greystroke—until the hot, growly SEAL wolf makes the mistake of getting in her way. Naturally, she shoots him. Who could blame her? Vaughn Greystroke has always worked alone. But when a string of attempted murders puts him in the crosshairs, teaming up with the Shifter Force begins to sound like a good idea. Even if he has to work with alluring—and potentially treacherous—Jillian Matthews. Vaughn is a trained SEAL, after all. He can surely keep his distance from matter how much she’s getting under his skin.

SEAL Wolf Undercover is a romance with lots of action, plenty of detective work and mingling of characters from different storylines, not all of which I remember or felt like I needed. I liked that Jillian is independent and capable, but I do not feel like her or Vaughn were completely fleshed out. There are the trust issue, which was fine, and the shifter instant mate connection thing, which was not unexpected. However, I think there was very little focus on the couple, it was more about the twisted plot that resulted in people getting shot or otherwise injured. I do like that Jillian and Vaughn were both investigators, so they withheld judgement and trust for a good while, but there was very little working things out together, it all just fell together too easily for me. However, I think this might just be my personal burn out due to the number of books I have read from the author, and my apparent inability to stop reading them even when I know I need to take a break. 

SEAL Wolf Undercover is exactly what one expects from this series, however I think I need a break from it, after I finish the one related book I still have in my queue. It is good, but starting to feel too complicated to keep all the interwoven stories straight, and too little about the couple the book is about. 

Book Review: Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes is a children's chapter book all about Beatrice, who does her best thinking upsidedown. Hanging from trees by her knees, doing handstands, what ever. For Beatrice Zinker, upside down works every time. She was definitely upside down when she and her best friend, Lenny, agreed to wear matching ninja suits on the first day of third grade. But when Beatrice shows up at school dressed in black, Lenny arrives with a cool new outfit and a cool new friend. Even worse, she seems to have forgotten all about the top-secret operation they planned! Can Beatrice use her topsy-turvy way of thinking to save the mission, mend their friendship, and flip things sunny-side up?

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker is a fun and relatable book for readers that think differently than those around her. I love that Beatrice is herself, even when she knows that it makes her different. While she does try to curb her impulses to fit the rules of teachers and family, she is still very much her own person. Adding the idea of friends changing and growing, and that we can like more than one kind of play or friendship is important. Kids change so much from year to year, and making it clear that it is normal and okay to change and alright to keep on being the same if that is what is right for you, is extremely important. The story is funny, sweet, and will speak to many children and adults that have never quite fit in the box that others have built for them.

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker is a wonderful children's book that will be a great conversation starter about how people and friendships can change, and how being yourself is always the answer- although accepting others for who they are and become is equally important. I think this would be a great addition to school libraries, and I am putting it on my own wish list for my school.

Early Book Review: A Murder for the Books (Blue Ridge Library Mysteries) by Victoria Gilbert

A Murder for the Books is the first book in the Blue Ridge Library Mysteries series by Victoria Gilbert. It is currently scheduled for release on December 12 2017. Fleeing a disastrous love affair, university librarian Amy Webber moves in with her aunt in a quiet, historic mountain town in Virginia. She quickly busies herself with managing a charming public library that requires all her attention with its severe lack of funds and overabundance of eccentric patrons. The last thing she needs is a new, available neighbor whose charm lures her into trouble. Dancer-turned-teacher and choreographer Richard Muir inherited the farmhouse next door from his great-uncle, Paul Dassin. But town folklore claims the house’s original owner was poisoned by his wife, who was an outsider. It quickly became water under the bridge, until she vanished after her sensational 1925 murder trial. Determined to clear the name of the woman his great-uncle loved, Richard implores Amy to help him investigate the case. Amy is skeptical until their research raises questions about the culpability of the town’s leading families, including her own. When inexplicable murders plunge the quiet town into chaos, Amy and Richard must crack open the books to reveal a cruel conspiracy and lay a turbulent past to rest.

A Murder for the Books is a mystery that both made me happy and frustrated me. As a librarian I was thrilled with the detailed view that was offered of Amy's librarian skills, and path to the career. Her commentary on search skills and research was on point; as was her facing down budget issues, patron issues, and condescending stereotypes. I was not thrilled with the comment "librarians are in demand" because I know far too many great librarians in several fields that have been searching for years for a full time library job- including those willing to move anywhere and are currently juggling multiple part time jobs just to make ends meet.  It happen early in the book, and colored my read for a bit, but thankfully the writing style and story overcame that after a bit.

With that being said, I liked Amy for the most part. She is smart and independent, however her insecurity and body issues irked me. My biggest issue with her was her concern with how others viewed her, but I did like that for the most part she dressed how she wanted rather than always heeding those opinions. I think Richard was a good character, but I found him to be a bit too perfect. I enjoyed Amy's aunt and the quirkier residents of the town to be much more entertaining and interesting. To be perfectly honest, I will admit to expecting a bigger betrayal or twist, but did not see the full extent of the conclusion coming at all. There were just so many twists, and I liked that just when readers think everything is settled more pops up to take it to another level. I think at some point it might have gotten too complicated, but it kept me on my toes and turning pages well past my bedtime.

A Murder for the Books is a great start to a series, although I wonder who might be dead in subsequent books. I liked the characters, and the layers to the mystery, and solution. I think it might have gotten a little too twisty and complicated for readers looking for a more cozy read.