Tuesday, May 29, 2018

New Adult Fantasy review of Rock-A-Bye Baby (The Sand Maiden Prequel) by L.R.W. Lee

Rock-A-Bye Baby (The Sand Maiden Prequel) by L.R.W. Lee
Format:  E ARC
Publisher: Woodgate Publishing
Number of Pages:  238
Publishing:  June 4th, 2018
Source:   Author in exchange for an honest review. 

Caution: This book will empower those who say #MeToo but contains mature content including sexual abuse. Recommended for 18+. 

Opening Line:  "Father headed to Wake realm like every night to do his duty making humans dream."

Winds Blowing. Boughs Breaking. A Cradle Falling. Can the Sand Maiden Prevent Disaster?

Alissandra, an immortal Sand Maiden, and daughter of the king, she has always been close to her father despite being one of twenty-two children. She’s put him on a pedestal and sought to make him proud of her as she weaves the dreams of her many mortal charges helping them make sense of thoughts that need refinement, problems that need solutions, worries that beg for action, and things they should or shouldn’t have said.

But with her latest charge, she starts to sense that her father isn't all she dreams he is. It's hard to accept that the parent you love isn't perfect, but how do you do it when he's a god? How far do you let him push before you say no? And how far do you go to push back?

The Sand Maiden is a four-book NA Epic Fantasy Paranormal Romance series with YA appeal. If you loved Sarah J. Maas' A Court of Thorns and Roses, Elise Kova's Air Awakens, and/or Rachel E. Carter's The Black Mage you'll definitely love this.

My Thoughts:  Rock-A-Bye Baby is the Prequel to Lullaby.  The first book of the sand maiden series which centered on  Alissandra "Ali" and her ability to weave humans dreams.  Ali's father wanted to use her unique bond with Prince Kovis to control him and to take control of Wake realm for himself.  When Ali refused to help him, her sister devised a plan to transport her from Dream realm to Wake.  Once in Wake, Ali came face to face with Kovis, who was unaware of Dream realm but was intrigued by Ali's story and her special gifts.  The two develop this magical bond that was delightful to read about. 

Rock-A-Bye Baby begins the story about four hundred years before the events in the first book.  It is separated into three parts, Wake, REM, and Nightmare.  Each chapter reflects different periods of time, in annums (years), sometimes moons (months), and suns (days) shifting from the past to present time.   Alissandra is a part of a huge family consisting of multiple siblings, grandparents and a father who is a force not to be reckoned with.  Kovis and Ali's backstories are rounded out and the world of Dream and Wake are further explained.  We learn how Ali received her training as a sand maiden and what each human charge she's had means to her.  At the same time, the family dynamics that exist between Ali and her siblings and the destructive path their father takes as he tries to claim the seven nations of Dream to become Emperor was further explored.   So many of the things that I was curious about after reading Lullaby really came together in the prequel.  Most shockingly was Ali and her father's relationship.  The highs and lows that they experienced, I really came to loathe his volatile temper and the way that he manipulated Ali.  It's no wonder Ali feared for her life and made her escape from Dream to Wake realm. 

Oh and the lovely backstory about Kovis, how Ali became his sand maiden, the development of her feelings for him.  The problems that she helped him with through weaving his dreams and the insights into his relationship with his siblings.    All the difficulties he experienced growing up, his past romantic relationships and how those things impacted him.  The politics of Wake realm and how both Kovis and Ali's fathers were on a quest for power.  Everything seemed to provide a deeper understanding of the characters, their motivations and like I said before, it really rounds out the story thus far.  Yet at the same time added an interesting new element, Ali's aunts, who resemble the three fates from Greek mythology.  They were quite the characters and I'm hoping that somehow they will feature in a future book in the series.  Again, I must caution that this book is New Adult, there is mature content including sexual abuse, putting this in the 18+ realm for me.  

Friday, May 25, 2018

YA Thriller Review of Surface Tension by Mike Mullin

36548571Surface Tension by Mike Mullen
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher: Tanglewood Publishing
Number of Pages:  420
Published:  May 8th, 2018
Source:  Rebecca Grose from SoCal Public Relations and the Author in exchange for an honest review. 
Opening Line:  "Twenty-five minutes from now a plane will crash."  

Surface Tension alternates between the first-person narratives of  Betsy and Jake.  A style of writing that really puts you in the head of these two characters and makes them very memorable.  Jake is an avid cyclist who on one of his training rides inadvertently witnesses a large group of tanker trucks releasing a chemical that is so horrific it leaves him bent over hurling, causing him to wreck his bike, and renders him unconscious.  When Jake regains consciousness, he's inside one of the trucks where he overhears people discussing their plans for dealing with his body.  Left with no other option, Jake decides to throw himself from the truck to escape.  Sometime later, Jake awakens in a hospital room having lost all his memories.  He has no recollection of the attack that he witnessed at the airport, and in addition to a headache and nausea,  he can't remember his girlfriend or even his own mother.   

Betsy is the teenage girl who's not only looking for her father's approval but also wants to be admitted into his organization, the Sons of Paine, a white nationalist group that has been disguising themselves as terrorists.  On the day the airplane crashed, Betsy was at the airport on one of her missions for her father, and later she is tasked with killing Jake at the hospital.  Betsy's character is slowly revealed through her relationship with her father, through her training with the Sons of Paine, online communications with a forum group of white nationalists and her current plans for the future.  At first, she seems to embrace her father's ideologies, but when she finds out that he hasn't been truthful about why her mother left and becomes abusive toward her, Betsy begins to have doubts and fears what he will do to her if she can't complete her mission. 

The story definitely becomes more complicated when Jake is attacked at the hospital by Betsy, pretending to be his girlfriend, and everyone chalks up the attempt on his life as just a side effect of his head injury, a hallucination.  At first Jake thinks the police, doctors, and his mom are right, but once his actual girlfriend shows up for a visit, he begins to realize that someone really is out to kill him.   I really liked Laurissa, Jake's girlfriend, she is one tough cookie.  She's the only one who really tries to help Jake piece together what he saw and who the mysterious girl was at the hospital.   

I really felt Mullin accurately portrayed the challenges of recovering from a traumatic brain injury, as well as some of the difficulties that can arise.  The spotty memory, physical and balance issues, even how reading is slower to return.  Jake's memories and recall of events were occasionally difficult for me to follow, he shifted in and out of them, so I wasn't always clear about whether he was speaking about the present or past. You also have to be willing to suspend belief over some of the feats and challenges that he endures while evading the killers when they're sent back to finish him off and once the FBI becomes involved in the case.  However, you can tell Mullin did his research to make sure his descriptions were accurate.  

Now, Betsy, she's a girl that I would've liked to understand better.  She seems to have become radicalized by her father, but her reasons for not completing her mission, to kill Jake at the hospital aren't completely explained.  She tries to do it but then stops part way.  Why did she change her mind?  She does explain why she wants another chance, even tries to make a second attempt, but again can't go through with it.  While I appreciate that it wasn't because she suddenly had feelings for Jake, the shift feels a bit unresolved.  It also makes them teaming up later in the story seem less believable.  Despite needing a few more answers, which will hopefully come from another book in the series, Surface Tension does have all the things that you would expect in an action story.  The intrigue about who's the good and bad guys.  How Jake and Laurissa will be able to save themselves and how the trio can stop another planned attack.  The stakes are pretty high and things end in a way that will have you hoping for more, but it's a fun ride if you can handle the tense moments.            

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Burning Magic (Shadow Magic #3) by Joshua Khan

35959941Burning Magic by Joshua Khan
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Number of pages:  336
Publishing:  April 10th, 2018
Source:  Purchased

Opening Line: "Hey! You got any zombies up on deck?"    

Starting the last book of series is always that sort of bittersweet moment, knowing that it's the last book, but also wanting to leave it on the TBR pile just a bit longer.   It's like that first sip of coffee for me in the morning, I wanted to savor it slowly.  Before I get started with my review here's a brief summary thus far.  In book one we met Thorn, a young boy who was sold into slavery to the executioner of Gehenna, a kingdom that is full of dark magic and ruled by Lilith "Lily" Shadow.  Lily came to power after her parents and brother were killed under mysterious circumstances and she rules as the queen of the undead.  Lily is both loved and feared by her people because women are forbidden to perform magic under penalty of death.  In Dream Magic (Book 2), Lily used her magic to save Thorn and together they pieced together the identity of a mysterious Dreamweaver and vanquished his jewel spiders before they could do any further harm.  

Book three has a whole new setting, the Sultanate of Fire, K'leef's home.  Compared to Gehenna, it's extravagant, bright, filled with fire and a few efreets.  Like in Gehenna, however, women are also not allowed to perform magic.  Lily and Thorn have come to pay their respects following the death of the Sultan and to witness the coronation of K'leef's brother.  What was to be a happy occasion with one of their closest friends, suddenly turns tragic when K'leef's brother's magic seems to fail him resulting in his death.  Lily is concerned that without a ruler the Sultanate leaves themselves open for invasion.  The rules of succession state that the next person in the royal family who possess the most powerful magic will gain the throne, the most likely person is K'leef's brother Jambiya.  However, K'leef doesn't trust his brother and challenges his succession.  Thorn then get's involved in a dispute with Jambiya over prisoners that are about to be executed for practicing witchcraft and Thorn releases them by blowing up an ancient structure called The Candle landing Thorn in shackles about to be their replacement.  To save both Thorn and the Sultanate, K'leef, Gabriel and Thorn go on a quest to the Shardlands to retrieve a phoenix.  Meanwhile, Lily is left behind with K'leef's sisters who have a few secrets of their own and Lily uncovers that K'leef's brother's magic did not fail him, he was instead murdered.

I so enjoy the worlds that Khan's has created in the Shadow Magic series.   Gehenna will forever be my favorite for its darkness, home to Castle Gloom, the assortment of zombies and ghosts, and one of the most adorable ghost puppies I've ever seen.  How can you not love a character like Lily, "the ruler of Gehenna, descendant of the Prince of Darkness, the mistress of nightmares, the troll friend, the witch queen, whose very name is feared by the seven dukes of hell."    Each book highlights different types of magic, how the Twilight that Lily describes as "holding regret and longing" is this mysterious in-between realm.   And now we have K'leef's home.  The imagery Khan creates with descriptions like this one, "Radiant light beamed from the twin dragons' eyes, and smoke rippled from their nostrils and partially parted jaws.  The evening sun cast red light over their golden scales and the silver wings curled close to their sinewy tails and hind claws, poised to launch into the clouds."   The ways that the magical system's and cultures may be different, but there are still rules that govern each of them that were similar.  The humorous moments, like when Lily comments about how amusing it is that "the rule of law is women who are caught performing magic face death by fire, and here she was in a city of fire."    

I also really love Lily and Thorn.  Lily is the ruler of her kingdom and has all these rules imposed on her, but above all, she cares for her people and wants to protect her kingdom.  Where Lily might have protocols to follow, Thorn isn't inhibited in that way.  Being a squire doesn't stand in his way from saying and doing what he wants.  I love his loyalty to Lily and sarcasm but most of all will miss their adventures together and friendship.  I can't forget Hades the bat, Thorn's friend and most definitely not his pet.  I very much liked that it was the three of them for the final moments of the story, in my version Custard is tucked under Lily's arm too.  I remember Khan saying somewhere that the best sort of ending is one that leaves you wanting more or something to that effect.  Despite the wonderful way that things ended and the beautiful acknowledgment at the back of the book, I can't help being a bit sad, but also hopeful for more books from Khan in the future.  I guess if anything maybe I need to start an annual tradition of reading the Shadow Magic series in October paired with Jonathan Stroud's Lockwood & Company.   

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Picture Book Review: Wild Wild Weasel by Salvo Lavis, James Munn, Illustrated by Dave Leonard

WILD WILD WEASEL cover 1000wWild Wild Weasel by Salvo Lavis,  James Munn, Illustrated by Dave Leonard
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Spitball Studio
Number of Pages:  32
Publishing:  June 15th, 2018
Themes:  Animals and Making Friends 
Source:  Rebecca Grose from SoCal Public Relations and the Authors in exchange for an honest review.   

Wild Wild Weasel is the second book in the World Of The Weasel series about the grand adventures of a young boy and his pet weasel.  In this newest book, the young boy's parents have imposed some new rules for the boy and his pet, mostly because they see the weasel as a wild animal.  No longer can the boy take the pet out of his cage and outside of his room, and he must only play with him once his homework is finished, which makes the young boy very sad.  He misses his friend very much.   

When the boy receives an assignment at school to write about something he learned from a book, he's given the perfect opportunity to research training weasels and show his parents that his weasel is talented, smart and can be trained.   Yet,  finding a book at the library on the subject is much harder than he thought, so the next step is to take his pet to obedience school.  At the Do It Youself Pet Training School, the young boy meets other children with their pet pigs, dogs, lizards and even a snake, all hoping to train their pet to sit, roll over and stay.  Three tasks that once completed will earn their pet's graduation diploma.  While training his pet, the boy envisions the talents his pet weasel has, even imagining they will graduate at the top of their class, but things don't quite go as he expected.  Once again the boy is sad and dejected until he meets a young girl and her pet lizard who comfort him by telling him that they like the boy and his weasel just as they are.  No longer sad, the boy is motivated to write his paper about how wonderful his weasel is.    

I don't normally review picture books for my blog, but every once in awhile a book comes along that is just too adorable to pass up.  Plus, I have such a soft spot for animals.   Wild Wild Weasel is a super cute new picture book series by Salvo Lavis and James Munn about a boy and his pet weasel.  Elementary children will love the full-page illustrations by Dave Leonard, the gorgeous colors that seem to make each page pop, the inclusion of diverse characters and the fantastic illustrations of weasel. (For a sample of book one in the series, check out the video below.)  I loved how the illustrations highlight the imaginative and silly talents and things that the boy thought he could train his pet weasel to do.   Things like having the weasel deep sea diving and then as an artist painting the boy's picture.  Quite humorous and fun.  The illustrations also really captured the boy's facial expressions well, the sadness of being without his friend and delightful things they do together.  Wild Wild Weasel includes wonderful themes and vocabulary words that would make for a fun read aloud, while at the same time children will learn that not all animals are meant to be obedient or trained.      

*Thank you to Rebecca Grose from SoCal Public Relations and the authors for the review copy of the book which will be donated to my public library* 

Picture and Video source  https://www.worldoftheweasel.com/

Find Out More about Wild Wild Weasel at:    

 Website *     Twitter *    GoodReads *    Facebook  * Instagram

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

MG Realistic Fiction Review: Lions & Liars by Kate Beasley, Illustrated by Dan Santat

35791906Lions & Liars by Kate Beasley, Illustrated by Dan Santat 
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux 
Number of pages:  304
Publishing:  June 5th, 2018
Source:  Edelweiss Plus

Opening Line:  "Fredrick Fredrickson was thinking about strawberry daiquiris when the dodgeball slammed into his face."  

Summary from Goodreads:  
"Frederick Frederickson has a food-chain theory about life.  There are lions, like the school bully.  Gazelles, like the bullied kids.  There are meerkats, and the fleas that live on the butts of meerkats.  Frederick's a flea.  Fifth grade is off to a terrible start when Frederick is sent to a disciplinary camp for troublesome boys. His fellow troop mates—Nosebleed, Specs, The Professor, and little-yet-lethal Ant Bite—are terrifying. But in between trust-building exercises and midnight escape attempts, a tenuous friendship grows between them. Which is lucky, because a Category 5 hurricane is coming and everyone will have to work together—lions and fleas alike—to survive!"

 10-year-old Frederick likes hanging out with Raj and Joel, but lately, he's been doubting whether they've ever truly been his friends.  Sometimes, Joel and Raj make Frederick feel like he's a loser, who could blame Freddie for not wanting to be referred to as a "flea on a meerkats butt?"  Just once he'd like to excel at something, even if it's just a stupid dodgeball game with Devin.  Unfortunately, things don't go as expected when he takes a ball to the face.  To make matter's worse, Fredrick's annual Labor Day vacation, a family cruise, has been canceled on account of Hurricane Hernando.   With nothing better to do, Frederick begrudgingly goes to Joel's birthday party, where Joel teases him by offering his dad's motorboat to Frederick as his next cruise ship.  Having had enough of Joel's antics, Freddie hops in the boat and pretends to take off.  Freddie's prank goes a bit too far when he loses the motorboat engine and oars, has to fend off an alligator and then drifts away only to land at camp Omigoshee, a transformative camp for boys.  

Lions and Liars has been described as Holes meets The Goonies, I quite like the comparison it drew me to want to read the story.  Plus that cover, no way could I pass this up.  Yet,  I 'd take the counselor's at Omigoshee over Camp Green Lake any day.  A lot less work and no digging holes.  Well there is swimming and rope climbing, and both head counselors seem to emphasize character and discipline, but at least their methods are different.  Frederick is pretty much a lonely but good kid who follows the rules and listens to his teachers.  Which makes the story quite amusing when he lands at a camp whose main mission is to transform "bad boys," a fact that Freddie somehow overlooked while he was busy eating pancakes.  The first person Freddie encounters while at camp is Benjamin, a counselor who assumes Frederick is Dashiell "Dash" Blackwood, a missing camper.  Dash seems to have a troubling past and most of the other campers fear him based purely on him being notoriously bad.  Ben's mistake gives Freddie the perfect place to hideout until the trouble awaiting him back home blows over, and gives him an opportunity to reinvent himself as Dash.  Freddie doesn't mind his recent popularity and gets along well enough with his cabin mates Nosebleed,  Ant Bite, The Professor, and Specs, that is until the real Dash shows up.  

I really liked Freddie, what he wants most is to have friends who want to hang out with him, who'd call him over to sit with them at lunch.  Freddie's shortfall is that he makes a lot of assumptions about the other boys, that somehow he is the good person among all the bad.  A "minnow amongst sharks."  He's not the kind of kid who would get into trouble by breaking into the head counselor's office, he thinks that's something only kids like Ant Bite would do.  What he comes to eventually realize is that there is the potential for good and bad in everyone, and he never anticipated that he would be the one treating his new friends the same way that his friends back home treated him.  The difference now is that Freddie knows the importance of saying you're sorry and asking his friends for forgiveness.  Overall, this is a delightful story with a lovely message that with true friends you don't need to prove your worth.  I really enjoyed this great
 bunch of boys with their amusing nicknames, they're so entertaining, diverse and unique.   I really wish my review copy had the finished illustrations by Dan Santat, but I will be looking for Lions and Liars after it releases to check them out.   

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

MG Realistic Fiction Review: Boy Bites Bug by Rebecca Petruck

35888422Boy Bites Bug by Rebecca Petruck
Format:  ARC Paperback
Publisher: Amulet Books
Number of pages: 272 
Publishing: May 8th, 2018
Source: Giveaway hosted by Amulet Books on Twitter

Opening Line:  "The intrusion of stinkbugs clumped on the ceiling in a back corner of the library, a splotch like crusty dried mud."

For the past seven years, Will, Darryl, and Simon have been the best of friends, they always have each other's back.   Then one day while in the library, stink bugs fall from the ceiling onto the desk.  Darryl thinks it would be funny to squash them but Eloy says that'd be crazy, in response Darryl makes a racist comment directed toward Eloy.  Will is really taken aback by Darryl's comment, but at the same time, he feels like he should cover for his friend, so he eats one of the stink bugs.  Unfortunately, from there everything goes downhill.   Will's stunt closes the library because of the smell, his parents ground him and he worries that his wrestling coach might be upset when he gets the news.  It's his first time trying out for the JV wrestling team and he doesn't want anything to interfere with it.  

The next day, Will is pleasantly surprised when the kids at school treat him like a celebrity, playfully teasing him with creative insect-inspired foods he should try next and they even start referring to him as "Bug Boy."  Will embraces his sudden popularity and nickname.  When Will's science teacher assigns a project on insects and their role in the environment, Will asks Eloy for help and together with Eloy's father sets out to create a dish inspired by insects to share with the class.  Will is passionate about his new idea but also takes shortcuts, like not getting the proper permission or listening when Eloy said that the grasshopper project can't be a joke.  Will not only ends up offending Eloy but also upsets Darryl with all of this talk about bugs.  To try and fix things with Eloy and Darryl, Will asks Eloy for help one more time to raise money for cancer, and together they organize a Buck-a-Bug bake sale.  Will this be enough to mend some fences with both Eloy and Darryl? 

Petruck has such a knack for balancing the weightiness of her plot themes (In this case a boy making a racist comment) with humorous moments.  Will knows what Darryl said is wrong and struggles with how to deal with it.   Will's friendship with Simon and Darryl is a part of who he is.  Initially, he reacts by eating a bug, but he's also upset by what Darryl said.  At the same time, he's also concerned about hurting Darryl's feelings. The story really hits those middle-grade feelings of wanting to fit in while also wanting to be true to your friends or loyal.   Knowing they have your back and wanting to reciprocate.  Simon provides much of the comic relief and tries to keep the peace between Will and Darryl.   He seemed to be concerned that Will is pulling away from Darryl over his actions, but also disagree's with what Darryl did.  It's an interesting look at how these boys friendships change with many questions for the reader to ponder.  Like "Shouldn't a real friend not make you feel crappy for trying to be a decent person?  And shouldn't they want to be decent too?"  Also whether it's ok for two friends to call each other "dorks or jerks? " Or is that just perpetuating the same behavior?  The story illustrates the challenges when people outgrow each other or the impacts when two friends beliefs and ideas aren't the same anymore.   

 By nature, I'm not usually a squeamish person. There is that one time that I picked up a dried up earthworm thinking it was a piece of string and almost slipped on the stairs, but that was because I was expecting to have a piece of string in my hand the whole thing just took me by surprise.  Petruck does make entomophagy or using insects as a source of food sound intriguing.  Incorporating Will's presentation to the class into the story really highlights how livestock is becoming a strain on the environment, how other cultures already have their own form of edible insects and the important role that insects can play as an alternative food source.  The details were very interesting to read and really makes you think about the kind of impact that humans are having on the environment.  Plus given the subject, you can only imagine the amusing moments that these three boys can have with insects.     

Aside from entomophagy, Boy Bites Bug also touches on wrestling.  Will and Eloy are going to try out for the wrestling team.  Initially, Will makes a few assumptions about Eloy and his culture and is threatened by how Eloy is more muscular then he is.  But in the end,  Will apologizes and tries to do better each time. They're both nervous about being the youngest two on the team and develop a lovely friendship.  There are many details about them practicing for their first match, the importance of cleaning the mats, performing skin checks and even some of their workout routines, giving me a new appreciation for the sport.   Overall this was a truly thought-provoking book with a very positive message of following your gut.  If you're the adventurous type there are even recipes to try from The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, by David Gordon at the end of the book.