Monday, April 30, 2012

Book Review: Angel-Seeker by Sharon Shinn

Order from The Book Depository
Author: Sharon Shinn
Publisher: Ace
Paperback: 512 pages
Samaria Series: Book 5 (Chronologically: Book 2)
Summary: (Taken from author's website)
Elizabeth has arrived at the new angel hold of Cedar Hills, determined to improve her lot in the world by seducing an angel and bearing his baby. To her surprise, she learns that she might be able to earn her keep instead by becoming a healer. Meanwhile, one of the Cedar Hills angels, Obadiah, has been sent by the Archangel Gabriel to try to make peace with the quarrelsome Jansai tribes. Obadiah unexpectedly meets and falls in love with a rebellious Jansai girl named Rebekah, who would be put to death if her family knew she was seeing an angel. Everything changes one fateful day when Elizabeth, Rebekah, and Obadiah all come together.

Overall Rating: 5/5

This is by far my favorite of the Samaria series. My favorite has always been the first one, so I was very happy to return to the time period in which Archangel is set and reunite with a few familiar characters. Sharon Shinn mentions on her website that Angel-Seeker is also her favorite book of the series, and that is most definitely reflected in the writing. Compared to the others, Angel-Seeker is so full of life. (Not that the others weren't good!) Within pages of meeting Elizabeth, Obadiah, and even Rebekah, I started relating to them.

A lot of my favoritism towards this book is probably due to the fact that it tackles an issue I feel strongly about -- women's rights. Rebekah is a Jansai, a group of people who keep their women hidden from all others. Rebekah isn't allowed to show her face in public; in fact, she's hardly allowed to walk out of the house in front of others who aren't her family. Her entire well-being depends on her stepfather, and the man she will marry. As an independent woman, I felt so sorry for her and really wanted her to break out of her prison. It was doubly intense, since she falls in love with an angel, Obadiah, and secretly meets with him. I thought their love story was the most intense. First of all, because they seemed to love each other so much. Secondly, because of all that was riding on it. If Rebekah was caught, she'd be taken into the desert by her family, stoned within an inch of death, and left to die. So she had to be really good at keeping her relationship and midnight trysts a secret, which added a great deal of suspense and drama to the story.

In stories with multiple points of view, my favorite character usually ends up being the one the book starts off with. That wasn't true for this one. While I loved Elizabeth's coming-of-age story of growth, I really didn't like her at the beginning. She's very whiny and tries to take the easy way out of life. I really respected her by the end, but her story just wasn't as good as Obadiah's and Rebekah because of all the obstacles they had in their way. Elizabeth just made obstacles for herself.

As with most romances, a lot of the draw is from the characters and not the plot line. However, Shinn always does a good job in balancing the two. The individual stories were interesting, and while very much character-driven, this novel made for a good page-turner. Angel-Seeker is 2nd chronologically, but like Shinn, I recommend reading the series by the publishing date. I got a lot more out of this than I would have due to the information I learned in books 2-4.

Overall, a good read. Romance fans, angel fans, science fiction fans, and simply fans of a good story and good characters will love this series, especially this novel. This was the end of the Samaria series, and it did not disappoint.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Review: How Shakespeare Changed Everything by Stephen Marche

Buy from the Book Depository
Author: Stephen Marche
Publisher: Harper
Hardcover: 203 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
In the spirit of Alain de Botton, Marche takes readers on a colorful journey that reveals the hidden influence of William Shakespeare in our culture--from politics to psychotherapy.

Overall Rating: 3/5

Having been accepted into a teaching program, and knowing that I will most likely being teaching high school English in a few years, I have become a little obsessed with reading things about works I'll probably be teaching. Shakespeare is top on that list since I hated studying his plays in high school, and I want my future students to actually enjoy the experience. As the title suggests, How Shakespeare Changed Everything is a collection of anecdotes about  Shakespeare's influence on society.

Most of the stuff presented is quite interesting. Marche goes into how Freud was deeply influenced by Shakespeare, and even takes the time to present some of the many words and phrases Shakespeare coined. Without him, we wouldn't have "bandit, fashionable, lackluster, glow, etc." For those who teach Shakespeare, you definitely should check this out. It will give you quite a few responses to the "Why should we care? This doesn't affect us." attitude that students sometimes have.

How Shakespeare Changed Everything is an enjoyable, fast read that has a lot of good stories about the influence of Shakespeare. Marche's enthusiasm for the greatness of Shakespeare bursts through every page, which made me excited to read what he had to say. However, I do think it goes a little too far in its claims sometimes. While nobody can ignore the comparison made between Othello and President Obama, I really don't think Obama was elected into office because of our subconscious knowledge of the inner workings of Othello. Still, this is something that all Shakespeare lovers will appreciate.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Giveaways Spotlight (13)

I love free books, and I know you do, too! Here are 5 awesome giveaways going on right now.

1. Hippies Beauty & Books Oh My!
Signed City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare
Open internationally
Ends May 5 at midnight EST

2. Kindle and Me
Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Open to wherever the Book Depository ships. Must be a follower to enter.
Ends May 8

3. drey's library
The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich
Open to US only
Ends May 7

4. Girl Who Reads
Helen Keller in Love by Rosie Sultan
Open to US and Canada
Ends April 28

5. Literary Exploration
Audiobook of The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda
Open to US only
Ends May 8

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Book Review: Heart of Gold by Sharon Shinn

Author: Sharon Shinn
Publisher: Ace
Paperback: 352 pages
Summary: (taken from Sharon Shinn's website)
Two races—the matriarchal indigo and the patriarchal gulden—uneasily co-exist in a single shared metropolis. Nolan, a young indigo male, loves his job working in a biological lab, though he knows he will soon be called home to his family estates to marry his longtime fiancee. Everything in his life changes when he meets Kitrini, a high-caste indigo woman who has defiantly thrown her lot in with the gulden. Issues of class, culture, gender, prejudice, loyalty, and honor shape their choices when Nolan and Kitrini realize that he holds the knowledge that could save the life of the man Kitrini has always loved.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

As I now expect from Shinn's novels, this was brilliant. The world is just what I expect from a good science fiction novel: strange enough to make it feel completely alien, yet familiar enough for me to relate to the problems its society faces. The summary only gives the romantic aspects of the book, I think. While romance plays a big role, this is also a book about impending war between the indigo and gulden. Through this, Shinn is able to explore major issues about discrimination, politics, racism, and biological warfare all the while entertaining us as readers. I like the idea of two races not getting along not just because of their skin color and bad history, but because of fundamental differences about how they believe life should be lived. I really think this would be a good novel to study and analyze because it's able to fit so much in its three hundred fifty pages. As always with Shinn, the characters were interesting and complex; even the minor characters were able to hold my attention.

The one major pitfall of Heart of Gold is the ending. What I particularly loved while reading it was that there were huge internal conflicts and external conflicts that were intricately linked to each other. While the characters' internal conflicts are nicely wrapped up, I felt like the external conflict had just begun to reach its peak at the ending of the novel. In the last few dozen pages, it was building up to be something quite dramatic, but the novel ends before the action can be carried out. That greatly disappointed me, and I know it will frustrate many other readers.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

LA Times Festival of Books Wrap-Up

Who went to the LA Times Festival of Books?! I went on Sunday, and had SO MUCH FUN!

The day started off with a trip to Mrs. Nelson's Book and Toy Shop booth, where I bought:

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

and Legend by Marie Lu

Then, I had them sign their books and I got pictures taken with them. :)

Me and Marie Lu!

Me and Maureen Johnson!

Then I had lunch with my mom and we rushed over to the LA Times stage to get in line for Betty White's signing. And on our way there, we saw a wondrous site:

Judy Blume signing at Mrs. Nelson's Book booth!

I didn't get any books signed, but I was that close to her! Still cool, I think. And after an hour and a half of being 50-ish in line and waiting in the hot sun, we finally met Betty White!

Me and Betty White. She was so sweet!

I had so much fun and we bought a ton of other books for my niece and cousin. Namely, a few books from the Flippy series by John Mese, Dawn Kelsey, and Chanler Holden.

My niece can't get enough of this book.

And a couple of books by Scott Langteau. The illustrations are gorgeous, and the stories are so fun! When we got home, my niece made my mom read Sofa Boy to her twice in a row.

So, I would say, it was a VERY successful day. How did it go for others of you who went?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Book Review: A Thousand Times More Fair by Kenji Yoshino

Buy from the Book Depository
Author: Kenji Yoshino
Publisher: HarperCollins
Hardcover: 320 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

A provocative exploration of justice in our time through fresh readings of Shakespeare's greatest plays 
In A Thousand Times More Fair, Yoshino turns his attention to the broad question of what makes a fair and just society, and he delves deep into a surprising source to answer it: Shakespeare's greatest plays. 
A Thousand Times More Fair addresses fundamental questions we ask about our world today: Why is the rule of law better than revenge? How much mercy should we show a wrongdoer? What does it mean to "prove" guilt or innocence? As Yoshino argues, a searching examination of Shakespeare's plays-and the many advocates, judges, criminals, and vigilantes who populate them-can elucidate some of the most troubling issues in contemporary life. 
Yoshino considers how competing models of judging presented in "Measure for Measure" resurfaced around the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; how the revenge cycle of "Titus Andronicus" illuminates the "war on terror" and our military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq; how the white handkerchief in "Othello" and the black glove in the O. J. Simpson trial reflect forms of proof that overwhelm all other evidence; and how the spectacle of an omnipotent ruler voluntarily surrendering power in "The Tempest," as Cincinnatus did before him and George Washington did after him, informs regime change in our own time. 
A Thousand Times More Fair is an altogether original book about Shakespeare and the law, and an ideal starting point to explore the nature of a just society-and our own.

Overall Rating: 5/5

This is by far one of the best analyses of Shakespeare's works that I have ever read. While I have heard many critics applauding Shakespeare's thorough knowledge of the law, I have never read anything that actually goes through his works and analyzes the uses of trials, judging, and ruling. Instead of looking at Shakespeare through the lenses of deconstruction, gender, new criticism, new historicism, etc., Yoshino uses the lens of law and justice. Each chapter focuses on a certain aspect of law, using one play as the main reference. Through the use of present-day analogies, he shows us that society's concerns and ideals of justice haven't much changed since Shakespeare's time.

A Thousand Times More Fair is an incredibly relevant, enlightening look at Shakespeare's works. We deal with law and justice every day. Our sense of justice influences how we act in situations where we feel we've been wronged; the written law is a reflection of our sense of rights and morals; and judging is how we are able to ensure fairness in our society. By looking at how these things are portrayed in literature and our ancestors' thoughts on justice, the law, and judging, we can gain a better understanding of our society and ourselves. Yoshino helps us do just that.

Any fan of Shakespeare will enjoy this book, and I think those who are both familiar with Shakespeare's works and interested in law will also get a lot out of this. Literary criticism isn't for everyone, but for those who like getting different perspectives on what authors are trying to portray through their works, you will find Yoshino's take on Shakespeare very interesting.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Book Review: Generations by Lori Folkman

Author: Lori Folkman
Publisher: Springhill Publishing
Paperback: 310 pages
Series Order: Book 1
Kat is an average teenage girl who is in love with teenage singer Ben Wilder. So when her best friend Jackson wins a competition that allows him to work on her favorite singer's music video, she just has to meet him.
Ben Wilder, son of the late rock star Dan Wilder, has always lived in the limelight, but he instantly falls for the pretty dancer, Kat. In no time, he becomes friends with Jackson and starts to date Kat. They are both thrown out of their comfort zone when Kat experiences the life of a famous person and Ben gets a taste of what it's like to be an average teenager. Drama ensues when the media coverage gets to be too much for the both of them.

Overall Rating: 2/5

Generations has a cute premise. We have all dreamed of somehow having the opportunity to meet our celebrity crush and then somehow magically getting them to fall in love with us and date us. For Kat, this dream becomes a reality and she sees just how difficult dating a celebrity can be. However, while I like the idea, the execution falls flat.

There are many problems that turn this book from prevent this novel from being a decent teen romance, the biggest of which is the completely unnatural reactions and dialogue of the characters. For example, take when Ben meets Kat for the first time:

"Hi, I'm Cat."

As in meow? Was this some sort of pick-up line? Was he the mouse?

I don't know anyone who would actually think this. Kat is a common enough name that I don't see why Ben would be confused by it.

The second biggest problem is how fast conflicts resolve. There is a huge relationship conflict between Ben and Kat introduced about three-quarters of the way through the book that magically disappears. Not only did this leave me unsatisfied, since I expected more of a climax, but it also made me doubt how true Ben and Kat's relationship is (which is especially bad since it's the main focus of the novel). All we really see about their "love" for each other is how they pine away when the other isn't near. Not my idea of a decent relationship. They act more like twelve-year-olds than teenagers on the brink of adulthood.

Other things that bothered me were the pacing, lack of setting detail, and general plot development. However, it wasn't all bad. There were some parts that were truly funny and enjoyable, but overall, I just couldn't get past all problems to enjoy the good parts.

Other Reviews:
Minding Spot

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Book Review: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

Buy from The Book Depository
Author: Jasper Fforde
Publisher: Viking Adult
Hardcover: 390 pages
Series Order: Book 1
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Part social satire, part romance, part revolutionary thriller, Shades of Grey tells of a battle against overwhelming odds. In a society where the ability to see the higher end of the color spectrum denotes a better social standing, Eddie Russet belongs to the low-level House of Red and can see his own color—but no other. The sky, the grass, and everything in between are all just shades of grey, and must be colorized by artificial means. 
Eddie's world wasn't always like this. There's evidence of a never-discussed disaster and now, many years later, technology is poor, news sporadic, the notion of change abhorrent, and nighttime is terrifying: no one can see in the dark. Everyone abides by a bizarre regime of rules and regulations, a system of merits and demerits, where punishment can result in permanent expulsion. 
Eddie, who works for the Color Control Agency, might well have lived out his rose-tinted life without a hitch. But that changes when he becomes smitten with Jane, a Grey Nightseer from the dark, unlit side of the village. She shows Eddie that all is not well with the world he thinks is just and good. Together, they engage in dangerous revolutionary talk.
Overall Rating: 4/5

For as entertaining, thought-provoking, hilarious, and downright awesome Fforde's books are, I'm surprised that more people don't know about him. If you are one of those who haven't read any of his books yet, then take note: I have thoroughly enjoyed all the books I've read by him, and while his Thursday Next series is a personal favorite of mine, Shades of Grey is also a nice place to start. For one thing, it's a dystopia (and well-written, which automatically makes it a must-read). For another, I couldn't stop reading it. From start to finish, I was completely enthralled by this strange world ruled by the color spectrum, of all things.

Eddie is an average guy who follows all the rules and who is just about to officially become an adult. Going to one of the outskirt cities to complete a disciplinary assignment, he is faced with corruption on a scale he has never known before. Between trying to solve a mystery involving a Grey (one who sees no color) who was masquerading as a Purple, arranging his marriage with the illustrious Constance Oxblood, and finishing his assignment so he can return home, Eddie finds himself in more trouble than he ever thought possible.

The one thing I love most about Fforde is his ability to mix genres into something completely unique. Shades of Grey is a humorous coming-of-age dystopic mystery that has something for everyone. At first, I had a little trouble adjusting to the strange world Fforde has created, but after the first few chapters, I got the hang of it. Eddie is incredibly easy to relate to, and I thought all the characters were a treat to get to know. There is a great deal of humor mixed in with what are really horrible realities of the world Eddie lives in so that instead of being horrified, I was thoroughly amused throughout the entire book.

It's hard to talk about specific plot points without ruining the rest of the novel, as everything is neatly woven together, but I will say that there is a good deal of intrigue, mystery, and drama. As is expected, this society that is governed by a handbook of rules for pretty much everything (from what to wear while traveling to what items are able to be produced -- spoons, sadly, didn't make the cut), is completely run by underhanded and corrupt dealings of those in power.

While this book is excellent and I think everyone should read it, I will say that it's probably better to wait until a sequel is out for this one. While Shades of Grey doesn't end on a cliffhanger, there are enough unresolved issues at the end to have made me incredibly frustrated.

Other Reviews:
Reading 2011 (and Beyond)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Buy from The Book Depository
Author: Susanna Clarke
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Paperback: 1006 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England's history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England--until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.  
Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell's student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.

Overall Rating:  3.5/5

The biggest strength of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke is that the writing is spectacular, and Clarke obviously did her research. Sometimes, I don't think good writing is stressed enough when it comes to novels, and the author often sacrifices it in order to spend more time on entertainment value and drama. Not so with this book. It is both entertaining, and brilliantly written. Besides that, the plot is incredibly thorough; each character gets his or her time in the spotlight and the end comes together beautifully.

However, this book does tend to be a bit tedious. It reads more like a historical narrative than anything else, which sometimes got in the way of me enjoying it. However, there are some fun parts having to do with magic that had me laughing out loud. (If a book that deals with magic doesn't have a bit of playfulness in it, it's taking itself far too seriously.) But Clarke doesn't make magicking all fun and games --  she strikes a balance between serious and light-hearted. I appreciated the combination of the hard work (the studying, the danger, and all the effort Norrell and Strange put in) and the fun. Norrell and Strange make stones speak, bring the dead back to life, and wander around thousand-year-old magical roads that can take them anywhere in England or Faerie.

This was a perfect book, except for its length and tediousness. A quarter of the way into it, I thought that quite a few chapters and anecdotes could have been cut without making a difference to the rest of the story. There was way too much time spent on some characters (Drawlight, especially), and on describing some events that didn't go anywhere in the end.

Still, I consider this worth a read. It won't be for everyone, but lovers of magic, alternate histories, and lengthy books will find it satisfying.

Other Reviews:
Layers of Thought
Reading 2011 (and Beyond)