Book Review: Oxblood by Annalisa Grant

oxblood by annalisa grant.jpg
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Title: Oxblood
Author: Annalisa Grant
Series: Victoria Asher, Book 1
Publisher: Open Road Media Teen & Tween
Paperback: 300 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

How far would you go to save the only family you have left? Victoria “Vic” Asher is finally finding some balance in her life. Though she’s still reeling from her parents’ death in a plane crash, she’s content with waiting tables at the Clock; window shopping with her best friend, Tiffany; and hanging out with her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Chad. But when she receives a mysterious package in the mail from her brother, Gil–a law student doing research in Italy–she knows immediately that he’s in danger. Vic isn’t about to risk losing her only brother, so she sets off for Italy to find him. But when she runs into Ian, the gorgeous leader of Interpol’s secret Rogue division, who’s also searching for Gil, she quickly realizes that her brother is in much deeper trouble than she ever could have imagined. Vic will stop at nothing to locate Gil, but doing so could cost her her life–and her heart.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I love YA thrillers and strong female characters, so when I saw this on NetGalley, I knew I had to take a look and see what it was about.

Let’s go through the bad stuff first. There were a few things that bothered me about this story. The first is that a lot of the conflicts were made overly simplistic by the fact that they were resolved so quickly. The second is that most of the action and exposition takes place through dialogue. This is a huge pet peeve of mine — if you wanted to write what people say — write a screenplay. If you want to write through description and exposition, write a novel. Overall, it’s a not a huge deal, but it really does bother me when the whole novel basically takes place through conversations.

With that said, I enjoyed the story overall. I think it had a good amount of suspense and a few twists that I didn’t see coming, which was fun. Victoria is such a cool character, with her ability to adapt to situations, and I like that her skill in observation came in handy in her search for her brother. I hope that she grows more as the series continues and is able to get past the aren’t-I-such-a-sad-baby thing, because while she certainly has it tough, she also certainly loves lamenting over the fact that her life is tough. This one wasn’t a must-read for me, but I definitely can see people loving it for its constant stream of surprises.

Fun, quick read if you’re interested in a YA thriller. It certainly delivers on intrigue!

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Audiobook Review: The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial by Peter Goodchild

The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial.jpgTitle: The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial
Author: Peter Goodchild
Publisher: LA Theatre Works
Running Time: 1 h 55 min
Source: Audiobook Sync
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The Scopes Trial, over the right to teach evolution in public schools, reaffirmed the importance of intellectual freedom as codified in the Bill of Rights. The trial, in a small-town Tennessee courtroom in 1925, set the stage for ongoing debates over the separation of Church and State in a democratic society – debates that continue to this day.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Edward Asner, Bill Brochtrup, Kyle Colerider-Krugh, Matthew Patrick Davis, John de Lancie, James Gleason, Harry Groener, Jerry Hardin, Geoffrey Lower, Marnie Mosiman and Kenneth Alan Williams.

The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial is part of L.A. Theatre Works’ Relativity Series featuring science-themed plays. Major funding for the Relativity Series is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to enhance public understanding of science and technology in the modern world.

©2006 L.A. Theatre Works (P)2006 L.A. Theatre Works

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

I’m not really sure how I feel about this play, to be quite honest. It’s an interesting subject, and full cast audios are the best, especially when they’re by LA Theatre Works and the actors are actually performing. However, simply based on the fact that it’s supposed to represent a historical event, I just didn’t like that I wasn’t sure which parts were dramatized and which were truly taken from the court records, especially when it came to dialogue. There were some parts that I feel like might have been added simply for entertainment/humor value, but if they weren’t, then that would have interested me in a completely different way, but I was never sure if any/all of it was true or made up.

Besides that, it’s an interesting case that’s worth further study and thought. Since Andrew’s a teacher, and I studied education for my Master’s, the way law and social norms influence how and what we teach is incredibly interesting to me, so that helped a lot for pulling me into the story in general. This case also foreshadows a lot of the textbook wars we have present-day, so it’s fascinating to hear some of these first arguments for/against teaching evolution/religion. Very cool.

However, I think it’d be better to actually see the play or read the book. It was hard for me to keep all the characters straight, and within the trial, I think it’s important to know who is speaking and who is making what argument (even though after a while, you can figure it out). Admittedly, I’m not the best when it comes to remembering details when I’m only getting information through audio, so if audio is your strong suit, then it might not be a problem for you.

Overall, however, I think it was a good dramatization of the trial and it presented a lot of interesting factors that (like the description says) we’re still debating today, especially within education. I just think that I would have much preferred to read this than to listen to it, even with the full cast.

Book Review: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon CameronTitle: The Dark Unwinding
Author: Sharon Cameron
Series: The Dark Unwinding, Book 1
Publisher: Scholastic
Hardcover: 318 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

When Katharine Tulman’s inheritance is called into question by the rumor that her eccentric uncle is squandering away the family fortune, she is sent to his estate to have him committed to an asylum. But instead of a lunatic, Katharine discovers a genius inventor with his own set of rules, who employs a village of nine hundred people rescued from the workhouses of London.

Katharine is now torn between protecting her own inheritance and preserving the peculiar community she grows to care for deeply. And her choices are made even more complicated by a handsome apprentice, a secretive student, and fears for her own sanity.

As the mysteries of the estate begin to unravel, it is clear that not only is her uncle’s world at stake, but also the state of England as Katharine knows it.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

I found out about this series when browsing through books from BEA 2013 — where the sequel was being offered as an ARC. For the most part, I just can’t read series out of order (knowingly, at least), so I left it alone and put this book on the to-read list. And yes, 3 years later, I’m just now reading it. Us bibliophiles have a problem with overly long to-read lists, yes?

I have to say that this one gets off to an incredibly slow start. It tries to be too creepy too fast, to the point where I really just didn’t understand what was going on in the first few chapters. Is it trying to be paranormal? Is it trying to be just average-run-of-the-mill creepy? No idea. I think that was the point, but I personally wasn’t into it. By the first 30 pages, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get through it, but I powered on, and it turned out to get better. Yay! It also doesn’t help that there seems to be a wide variety of genres used for this book, but by my judgment, it’s more alternate history/gothic than anything. (Especially steampunk — um, what?!) There are so many creep factors to it that it just feels dark the way only gothic books do. Anyway, once the book figures out what its story is supposed to be, it gets pretty good.

One of my favorite things is how the main character, Katharine grows. It happens a little too suddenly, I think, but it is nice to see. Her uncle seems to be on the spectrum of autism in a time when that wasn’t something that was diagnosed, and she recognizes that while he has some difficulties, he’s a really nice person who cares a lot about his friends and family. I think this is a good thing for a middle grade book to bring up, and it’s done beautifully — incredibly subtle, which I appreciated.

The book skims over some of the issues of factories and poverty during the era it’s supposed to take place — I don’t think it goes in depth enough to be used as a companion to any of those topics in the classroom, but it certainly can’t hurt as an outside reading-for-fun suggestion if students seem interested in the ideas.

Overall, this was a fine read. It interested me enough that I want to see if the sequel gets any better, but it’s not something I’d highly recommend people to read. If you happen by it and have some free time, it’s not terrible and it’s kind of quick. I think middle grade readers would kind of enjoy it, but it’s not super amazing. The sequel is now on my to-read list, so I’ll get back to you on how it develops! (Hopefully sooner than 3 years.)

Book Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

snow flower and the secret fanTitle: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Author: Lisa See
Publisher: RandomHouse
Kindle: 288 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men.

As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

This book has been on my reading list for so long, I’m not even sure why I added it in the first place. It’s available on OverDrive, which is huge for me actually getting some reading done these days, and I think I might have seen that it was a “most popular” book, and added it to my wishlist. So, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into when I started it. I kind of hate reading descriptions, because I feel like they ruin my discovery of the story, so it’s nice that I have such a long to-read list, because it gives me time to forget the book description.

Overall, I would say that Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is solidly entertaining. It’s not too complex, so it’s easy to get through, and the main character is fairly easy to relate to, even if she is a bit judgmental. See does a good job in keeping the plot moving with interesting twists and turns, and the beginning is well developed in terms of detail and the reader is gently led from one conflict to the next. I’m currently reading a book that’s incredibly choppy, where we get one huge conflict that takes a chapter to introduce, followed quickly after by a page-and-a-half resolution, and then another huge conflict again. This book is definitely not like that. The beginning and middle take their time to fully develop, which allowed me to become immersed when it was going on.

While I thoroughly enjoyed most of it, the end was lacking a little bit. Everything about the culture and way of life is incredibly detailed, and I loved learning about the different customs of these people through the eyes of Lily. However, if a book about the cultures and customs of women in the Hunan Province is what I wanted to read, I would have picked up a nonfiction book. What I really wanted from this particular novel was a good story, and the story/plot elements were lacking for me. I understand that the author spent a lot of time researching, which I appreciate in a novel like this, but she spent too much time showing off that research instead of dedicating space to plot and character development near the end. The climax wasn’t as developed as it could have been, which made the resolution fall a bit flat.

Again, that’s not to say that I disliked this book. I liked it quite a lot — the ending just wasn’t as satisfying as I would have liked. As a quick read, this is perfect. A little gruesome at times (I still can’t get over the foot binding scene. Ah!), but easy to get through and entertaining. There definitely was enough drama to keep me interested the entire time.

Book Review: The Naming by Alison Croggon

the namingTitle: The Naming
Author: Alison Croggon
Series: The Books of Pellinor, Book 1
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Paperback: 492 pages
Source: Purchased
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Maerad is a slave in a desperate and unforgiving settlement, taken there as a child after her family is destroyed in war. She is unaware that she possesses a powerful gift, one that marks her as a member of the School of Pellinor. It is only when she is discovered by Cadvan, one of the great Bards of Lirigon, that her true heritage and extraordinary destiny unfold. Now she and her new teacher must survive a journey through a time and place where the forces they battle stem from the deepest recesses of otherworldly terror.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

This book was way longer than it had to be. For all the pages that I had to go through, not much happened.

The plot itself was pretty good. I’m not a fan of the really-this-is-real fake sort of thing that a lot of people are so fond of, but Andrew would disagree with me on that, so it’s more a matter of preference than actual problems with the story. With that said, since it was supposed to mimic a true history, I wish it could have tied more into the mythologies and ancient worlds that we currently know about. References to already-known things would have made it feel much more like a true story instead of a disjointed mythology/epic that doesn’t fit in with the world as we know it now.

I think what prevented it from being something that’s a must-read is all the backstory and explaining that happened in this first book. It’s necessary that we have those elements, but more showing instead of telling would have been appreciated, or at least maybe more of it could have been added into an appendix so that we could have gotten more story. I wanted actual plot and character development, but things are almost the same in the end as they are in the beginning. Conflicts that could have been interesting were resolved too quickly, probably to make room for more backstory.

Though it might seem like it with all this criticism, I didn’t hate this book. I think it provides a nice set-up to a story that could potentially be interesting if the storytelling itself is kicked up a notch in the subsequent books. The main character has enough of a personality to make her somewhat interesting, but again, I want that to develop more strongly in the next books. It’s good enough that I’m giving this series one more book to hook me in before I give up, but if the second turns out to be similar to the first, then I don’t think this is a series I need to spend my time reading.

Book Review: Shalador’s Lady by Anne Bishop

shaladors-ladyTitle: Shalador’s Lady
Author: Anne Bishop
Series: The Black Jewels, Book 8
Publisher: Roc
Hardcover: 476 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

For years the Shalador people suffered the cruelties of the corrupt Queens who ruled them, forbidding their traditions, punishing those who dared show defiance, and forcing many more into hiding. Now that their land has been cleansed of tainted Blood, the Rose-Jeweled Queen, Lady Cassidy, makes it her duty to restore it and prove her ability to rule.

But even if Lady Cassidy succeeds, other dangers await. For the Black Widows see visions within their tangled webs that something is coming that will change the land-and Lady Cassidy-forever…

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Shalador’s Lady continues the story arc introduced with The Shadow Queen — we pick up where we left off with Lady Cassidy, who is still trying to pull Dena Nehele together while trying to win the people’s hearts and negotiate a reluctant First Escort.

The Black Jewels sequels are nowhere near the quality of the original trilogy, and I’m getting a bit tired of the recycled phrases and situations. We get it: a “too soft” voice and sleepy eyes means that the all-powerful Saadi family is angry. Queens are stubborn and too reckless with their own safety, while the Warlord Princes are overprotective. Nothing new there. With that said, however, these books are fun, easy-reads that are good for a quick fix when you’re craving time in the Black Jewels world.

In this one, I wasn’t so much interested in the story as a whole, but I did like seeing the growth of the two male characters Ranon and Gray. We get to see a much more vulnerable side of Ranon, while Gray turns from vulnerable, broken boy to a strong Warlord Prince who is someone to be feared. I also enjoyed getting to see more Sceltie characters and reading about how they interacted with the other Queens and Princes.

Overall, I would say this is a light read that will appeal to fans of the series, if only to revisit old characters. Other than that, there’s not much to it.