Friday, August 19, 2016

Mixing Up Drinks & Danger

It seems appropriate that Quirk books publishes this novel with a plot like nothing else with which I am familiar with. Imagine: the real guardians of your neighborhood are the local bartenders who use their special talents of mixology to keep the supernatural beasts and demons at bay, thus protecting humanity and those particularly vulnerable folks who imbibe, make merry or drown their sorrows.

The idea was so novel, it drew me right in. Paul Krueger's book, Last Call At the Nightshade Lounge, has been deemed "a novel for new adults"--which is to say it is intended to bridge the gap between YA readers and "adult" readers. Think millennials I guess.

You can read the plot synopsis form the publisher below. As a work of paranormal fantasy, I enjoyed Kruger's lot as something new and fresh. The bar scene is not, and never really has been, a part of my life, so I had to rely on the pop culture images of neighborhood pubs and local watering holes one gathers from television and movies to imagine many of the settings in the book.

I tried to figure out how I would feel about the characters if I were the 20-something age of Bailey, Zane, and their fellow barkeeps. From the perspective of a 50 year old, they seem like the worst cliches attributed to their generation: at best, not ambitious, at worst, lazy; unsure of what to do with their education yet having some sense of entitlement; unable to leave behind their college or even high school days and meet the adult expectations of society (so looking a bit spoiled).

I really enjoyed the bartender notes and drink recipes interspersed throughout. It was fun information and added to the sense that different liquors provide different magical properties. The inclusion of this material added depth to the plot that this magical know-how could perhaps be the ancient knowledge of a secret fellowship passed down through the centuries.

My thanks to the publisher for the ARC I received in exchange for this honest review.

From the Publisher . . .

In this sharp and funny urban fantasy novel, booze is magic, demons are real, and millennial Bailey Chen joins a band of monster-fighting Chicago bartenders instead of finding a “real” post-college job.

Bailey Chen is fresh out of college with all the usual new-adult demons: no cash, no job offers, and an awkward relationship with Zane, the old friend she kinda-sorta hooked up with during high school.

But when Zane introduces Bailey to his monster-fighting bartender friends, her demons become a lot more literal. It turns out that evil creatures stalk the city streets after hours, and they can be hunted only with the help of magically mixed cocktails: vodka grants super-strength, whiskey offers the power of telekinesis, and rum lets its drinker fire blasts of elemental energy. But will all these powers be enough for Bailey to halt a mysterious rash of gruesome deaths? And what will she do when the safety of a “real world” job beckons?

This sharp and funny urban fantasy is perfect for fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, and grown-up readers of Harry Potter. Includes 14 recipes from a book of ancient cocktail lore.

About the Author . . .

Paul Krueger is, down to the very bottom of his black little heart, a city rat. Raised in and around Chicago, he got his learning on in New York before scuttling off to Los Angeles, where he lives now.

His short fiction has appeared in the anthologies SWORD & LASER and NOIR RIOT. His debut novel, LAST CALL AT THE NIGHTSHADE LOUNGE, is due out in June of 2016 from Quirk Books. It’s about a secret society of bartenders who fight demons with alcohol-magic, and yes, it’s very much autobiographical.*

His non-writing hobbies include cooking, playing ukulele, Pathfinder, and boring strangers with long, involved stories about his cat. He’s also a musician, singing lead for the Adventure Time-themed punk band Lemonbadd.

If found, Paul should be returned to Ms. Jennie Goloboy of Red Sofa Literary, who is very patient with him.

*for a very loose/nonexistent value of “autobiographical”

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Tales From the Scaremaster

If your middle grade reader likes a mystery or books with a frightful edge, they are going to enjoy the latest from B. A. Frade (great pen name, no?). Werewolf Weekend introduces readers to Emma and Sam, twelve year old besties. Sam is about to have the best weekend ever with her parents away and her 16 year old cousin, Cassie, in charge. Emma, on the other hand, is about to have the worst weekend ever, staying with her elderly neighbor while her mom is away for work.

When a mysterious librarian gives Emma a new journal, however, things magically fall into place for a weekend like none other!

Werewolf Weekend is a quick read. Middle grade readers will likely find the characters easy to relate to. The plot moves right along, keeping interest levels high. I felt there was good resolution to the various story lines too. The epilogue was, I assume, standard protocol for the series and a great teaser. I will be happy to recommend this book to the younger readers I know!

My thanks to the publisher for the ARC I received in exchange for this honest review.

From the Publisher . . .

Twelve-year-old Emma is excited to spend a weekend away at best friend Samantha's house for an epic sleepover with Sam and her out-of-town cousins. But things take a turn for the spooky when Emma's peculiar new book, Tales from the Scaremaster, shows it has a mind of its own-and weaves a story starring Emma and some cousins hiding a very creepy secret!

When the story from the book starts coming to life, and with only hours before the full moon rises, it's up to Emma to figure out the secrets of the Scaremaster. Can she solve this wolfish mystery, find a way to outwit the Scaremaster, and stop a werewolf in its tracks...or will she end up as wolf bait?

Frightfully funny tales come to life in this thrilling new series, perfect for fans of Goosebumps.

About the Author . . .

Growing up on the edge of a graveyard, in a house rumored to be haunted, B.A. Frade seemed destined to write spooky stories. B.A. spent years investigating haunted attics, mysterious creatures, and things that go "boo" in the night to become an authority on all things creepy and scary. B.A. lives and writes in a location we promised to keep a secret (in case any ghouls come asking with mischief in mind).

New York Times bestselling author Stacia Deutsch has written more than a hundred children's books. In addition to her award-winning chapter book series Blast to the Past, Stacia ghostwrites stories in many popular series and has written junior movie novels for blockbusters such as Batman and Ghostbusters. She has an MFA from Western State Colorado University, where she currently teaches fiction writing. Stacia promises that no werewolves or books were harmed (or caused harm) in the writing of this book.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Solve the Mystery Alongside The Nocturnals

A fox, a sugar glider, and a pangolin are "The Brigade"--a group of friends pledged to stick together through thick and thin in order to protect and defend the animals of the valley in which they live. Younger readers will be enthralled by the story of friendship, bravery, and determination when the gang is called into action at the sign and mention of a great beast who's movements shake the earth and spread ash on everything. Older readers will be challenged to make inferences and piece the puzzle together as the three friends sniff out and unearth clues about the true identity of the mysterious beast terrifying the animals all around them.

I enjoyed this book immensely. I found myself coming up with all sorts of discussion questions and I think this book would make a great resource for reading groups or classroom use. Dawn, the fox, shows many examples of restraint which are worthy of further examination. Polyphema's so-called visions and proclamations (and Dawn's skepticism of them) could lead to some interesting discussion. The book asks readers to consider what makes them afraid, why someone might descriminate, the nature of loyalty and friendship, why it is important to get all the facts before jumping to conclusions, etc.

My thanks to the publisher, Fabled Films, for the ARC I received in exchange for this honest review.

From the Publisher . . .

When a violent jolt fractures the earth, the Nocturnal Brigade sets out to investigate its source. Along their journey, Dawn, Bismark, and Tobin meet an unfamiliar reptile—a tuatara—who reveals that a giant beast caused the destruction and will soon strike again. The tuatara, with her special insights, is the only one who can help them stop this fearsome predator… but can she be trusted? With help from an owl, the jerboas and a few kiwis, a trap is set since surrender is not an option against this relentless beast.

Lexile Level 580L — Fountas & Pinnell Level T

About the Author . . .

Tracey Hecht is a writer and entrepreneur who has written, directed and produced for film. When she isn’t writing she can be found hiking, reading or spending time with her family. Tracey currently splits her time between New York City and Oquossoc, Maine with her husband, four children and three pets—none of which are a sugar glider.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Mammoth Fun In the Stone Age

This book is a fun read which will engage both girls (they are going to love Lucy's plucky determination and brilliant ideas) and boys (who will get a chuckle from the gross bodily functions that make most elementary lads chortle). It is bound to engage the natural curiosity of elementary learners. The graphic novel has modern day anthropologists interspersed throughout offering readers the latest up-to-date theories based on the latest finds and research. Every kid who enjoys thinking about what life was like in another time or place will find this thought-provoking. Parents beware: if your elementary reader gets their hands on this, you are going to be asked to take them to a museum for further learning!

From the Publisher . . .

For fans of the New York Times bestselling Jedi Academy books comes a hilarious new graphic novel series about two young cave kids living 40,000 years ago.

The laugh-out-loud adventure features Lucy and her goofball brother Andy, as the duo take on a wandering baby sibling, bossy teens, cave paintings, and a mammoth hunt. But what will happen when they encounter a group of humans?

Humorous and entertaining, Jeffrey Brown’s signature comical touch enlivens the scientific and historical content, including a special paleontologist section that helps to dispel common Neanderthal myths.

About the Author . . .

Jeffrey Brown is the author/illustrator of the bestselling Jedi Academy series and Chronicle’s Darth Vader series. He resides in Chicago with his wife and two sons. You can visit him at

Friday, August 5, 2016

Vinegar Girl Breathes New Life Into Shakespearian Classic

One of the reasons I love reading Anne Tyler is her penchant for strong character development and character driven narrative. Vinegar Girl does not disappoint!

Vinegar Girl is Tyler take on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew . This is one of my favorite Shakespearian plays since learning in the 6th grade my grandmother had once won a jingle contest for her entry for the movie Kiss Me Kate . (We were an odd family that spent Saturday nights watching black and white films on PBS.) Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, I appreciated the feminist slant and strong female protagonist. Tyler maintains this in Kate Battista, eldest daughter of Dr. Louis Battista, research fellow for Johns Hopkins. I will let you read below the story synopsis provided by the publisher if you happen to be unfamiliar with this classic work.

Just 237 pages long, the novel is compact and a delightful afternoon read. I enjoy reading a modernization of Shakespeare’s works as it is always interesting to see what settings authors will choose to place the characters into as well as how the writer might tweak the character/s to fit. If you aren’t familiar with the original play, you may not even recognize this is a make-over. (I mean that as a compliment, not a criticism!) I loved the dramatic climax in the final chapter where Kate speaks her mind to the guests present at her wedding feast. She makes such growth throughout the book, I almost stood up to cheer when the classic moment arose.

Fans of Tyler will, I believe, enjoy this latest offering. If you’ve never read Anne Tyler, this is a fun way to discover her writing and style. Your book club will enjoy this too, (especially if you have chance to read the original or see one of the films based on it) there is quite a bit of fodder for discussion!

My thanks to Blogging For Books for the free copy I received in exchange for this honest review.

From the Publisher . . .

Pulitzer Prize winner and American master Anne Tyler brings us an inspired, witty and irresistible contemporary take on one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies.

Kate Battista feels stuck. How did she end up running house and home for her eccentric scientist father and uppity, pretty younger sister Bunny? Plus, she’s always in trouble at work – her pre-school charges adore her, but their parents don’t always appreciate her unusual opinions and forthright manner.

Dr. Battista has other problems. After years out in the academic wilderness, he is on the verge of a breakthrough. His research could help millions. There’s only one problem: his brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. And without Pyotr, all would be lost.

When Dr. Battista cooks up an outrageous plan that will enable Pyotr to stay in the country, he’s relying – as usual – on Kate to help him. Kate is furious: this time he’s really asking too much. But will she be able to resist the two men’s touchingly ludicrous campaign to bring her around?

About the Author . . .

ANNE TYLER was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. This is her twentieth novel; her eleventh, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I had to.

While I didn't get in line at midnight to get my hands on a copy of the eight Harry Potter book, I did pick one up the first day it was out. I have read (and own) a copy of all the other books and simply couldn't pass up adding this one to my collection.

The first thing readers need to understand is that this is not another Harry Potter novel. It is a rehearsal script for the play which opened in London on Harry's birthday, July 31 (the traditional launch day for all things Potter.) As an English major who enjoys Shakespeare and Ibsen (among other playwrights), I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to read a script. But this format may be a challenge for some readers, especially those not used to reading dialogue with a few stage instructions interspersed.

After reading it I went on-line to check out what others were saying about it. If you are the type of Harry Potter fan who disliked the Epilogue of the final book, I suspect you are going to be among those readers who object to this story. Many suggest that it reads like a piece of fan fiction. I can totally understand this. Although J. K. Rowling is listed among the collaborators on the piece, it is clearly heavily influenced by other writers and does not measure up to the same caliber of writing as her novels.

As a reader who was satisfied with the Epilogue I must say that, although I was sad to say good-bye to characters, it felt like a good ending to the story. In that spirit, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was a disappointment. I didn't need to be exposed to the foibles and shortcomings of Harry and the gang as 40-year-old parents. It lead me to wonder about the fact that for me, Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, and Draco still functioned as the main characters while perhaps for younger readers/watchers it might be their offspring--Albus and Scorpius--who serve as the main protagonists. That idea makes the whole thing seem muddled and unclear to me.

I found it to be a quick read, so I don't feel bad about the time I spent reading it. If the play is ever made into a film, I am sure that I will see it. I would be curious to know how some of the staging is pulled off and will, no doubt, read reviews of the play. I wonder if this production will become something used in theater classes? With Harry Potter being such a world-wide phenomenon, I can see this play being a production that could serve that purpose well. In the meantime, I can't wait to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them!

From the Publisher . . .

"The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later."

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places."

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Sherlock Sam's Skills Save the Day

Plucky determination, astute observation and deduction skills, courage under pressure, and a robot side-kick named Watson combine to make Sherlock Sam (Sam Tan Cher Lock) a fun hero for elementary readers in search of a mystery to solve.

In Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong , Sam's Auntie Kim Liang discovers that her cookbook filled with family recipes from several generations has gone missing. Sam and his friend Jimmy, along with Sam's sister Wendy and the robot Sam has built and affectionately named Watson, are happy to take the case and find Auntie'so priceless treasure.

This book is great fun! Aimed at readers in the 7 to 12 year old range, kids will enjoy looking for clues throughout the pages. I enjoyed the fact that readers will also be introduced to elements of a culture that may be different from their own. I love it when books help to expand a reader's perspective and raising their tolerance for diversity! It is great to have a book to recommend to elementary boys with a hero they can aspire to be like.

My thanks to the publisher for the ARC I received in exchange for this honest review!

From the Publisher . . .

An exciting new update of the classic Sherlock Holmes detective stories in which Sherlock is a 10-year-old kid living in Singapore and Watson is his trusty robot companion!

Introducing the Sherlock Sam series by A.J. Low—a fresh, cross-cultural twist on the classic Sherlock Holmes stories, tailored for middle-grade readers. Set in iconic Singapore locations, the series follows the mystery-solving exploits of smart, observant, food-loving 10-year-old Samuel Tan Cher Lock (a.k.a. Sherlock Sam), Watson, his reluctant robot sidekick, and the rest of the Supper Club (a “Scooby Doo gang,” of sorts) as they prove that mysteries are best solved through teamwork.

In Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong, Auntie Kim Lian’s precious Peranakan cookbook disappears, and Sherlock Sam cannot eat her delicious ayam buah keluak anymore! Will Sherlock Sam be able to use his super detective powers to find this lost treasure?

About the Authors . . .

A.J. Low is a multicultural husband-and-wife writing team. Adan Jimenez was born in California to Mexican immigrant parents, then became an immigrant himself when he moved from New York City to Singapore. Felicia Low-Jimenez is a native of Singapore who has worked with books most of her adult life, as a bookseller, book buyer, book marketer, and now, with the Sherlock Sam series, book writer!