Oxblood by Grant

OXBLOODVictoria Asher and her older brother are untimely orphans when their parents die in a plane crash.

Oxblood
The Victoria Asher Novels
by AnnaLisa Grant
Open Road Media Teen & Tween
September 2016

After a settlement and after her brother is old enough to take custody of her, Victoria finds herself on her own for a summer while her brother is on a work assignment. When she receives a package with his journal and the word “oxblood” she comes to believe he’s in trouble. When she calls around looking for him she can’t find him anywhere – it’s clear he hasn’t been honest about what he was doing in Italy.

Victoria travels to Italy to find her brother [SPOILER] only to find herself in front of a man who works for interpol, where apparently her brother was working to combat sex trafficking. She joins the team to find her brother and stop the criminals. [END SPOILERS]

There are a lot of plot twists to keep the young reader interested. Comedy and a little bit of romance as well. Victoria Asher is a good heroine – fearless, smart and tenacious. Only a few minor cuss words are spoken by the bad guys.

Overall a fun, clean novel for middle schoolers aged 14 and up.


Freckles is a long suffering wife of twenty years and mother of four children in every stage of adolescence who enjoys coffee and silence. She gets coffee sometimes.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Family Christian Store Giveaway

familyFamily Christian Store is a nonprofit online and physical store that sells Christian and family books, music, movies, decor and apparel. If you’ve visited a local Christian book store you’ve seen the types of products for sale. I was invited to try out the online store and to share my experience. Normally this kind of post is not a good match for this site’s readers. However, because of the mission of this organization (and their offer of a chance to win a gift card for our readers!) I made an exception.

The first thing you notice when visiting us that there seem to always be discounts: 20% off of you receive email or text alerts, BOGO 50%, $10 off $50 with code all shoe in the first page. You’ll value those as the process of products tend to be priced higher than non-Christian Stores.

I looked through knickknacks and books and noticed a trend to focus highly on current movie tie ins. It’s what sells are what people want so it makes sense even if those things are not something I personally like. There is a lot to like, though, for anyone who enjoys Christian music or books.

After checking out the store I looked at the most important page on the site: the about page. It’s incredibly impressive. From donating bibles to people in countries that don’t have access or can’t afford to supporting orphans, like in Haiti, and adoptions to supporting missions trips to provide shoes, fix homes, install stoves and more to storm clean up Family Christian Stores is making a difference.

This is a small site with a limited selection that costs more than Amazon or Walmart. When you know that the additional price you’re paying for a book goes to communities in need, however, it makes it easier to pay.

Win a $25 gift certificate! Simply reply on the comments on this review or on the Facebook page for a chance to win. Note: winners cannot have won any prize from BookGateway.com or Family Christian Stores within the last 60 days. Prize will be selected by BookGateway.com by an online random number generator. It will ship directly from Family Christian. BookGateway.com is not responsible for lost gift certificate.
Even if you don’t win, go check them out and consider supporting them if their mission resonates with you.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This post was sponsored by Family Christian store.

Agent to the Stars by Scalzi

agentTom Stein is an agent about to make his first big splash, but it’s not when he gets an incredible contract for his beautiful, but ditzy beach blonde star Michelle. No. It’s when he becomes the exclusive agent to the Yherajk, space aliens who are intent on introducing themselves to the Earth via Hollywood.

Agent to the Stars
By John Scalzi
Read by Wil Wheaton
Tor / Audible
December 2010

The Yherajk have learned everything they know about Earth from television. So they know all about sitcoms, dramas, and comedies. They also know about science fiction, especially how aliens that aren’t bipedal humanoids are almost always bad guys. They don’t want to be bad guys or perceived as bad guys. Hence, Tom.

The biggest problems that the Yherajk have is their appearance – as see through blobs – and their incredibly foul smell – they communicate naturally through smell, not sight or speech. Tom’s job is to find a way to get the humans of Earth to accept the Yherajk in spite of the differences.

I won’t spoil this odd plot with the solution. It is solved, one way or another, but that’s not even the point of this story, which peters out and ends pretty quickly. The silliness and spoofiness of the story are what compels the reader, or listener, to continue and finish. It is fun!

This was my first book read of John Scalzi. It won’t be my last. While the plot wasn’t much more than a set up for an odd buddy adventure, the characters shine. Thomas Stein is well developed. His boss and secretary are both interesting. The main alien Joshua is sarcastic. The highest praise I can give this book is that it held my attention from start to finish. That’s high praise in a world with so many uninteresting books out there.

A NOTE ABOUT THE AUDIO VERSION: Wil Wheaton is one of my favorite readers. This is my second book with his narration and both have been very well done. He does a great job with fast paced, witty scripts. I’m not sure if he does anything outside of science fiction, but if he doesn’t I’ll be happy to continue to listen to him in just this genre. He makes it work.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Isis Orb by Anthony

IsisOrbI really, really loved Xanth. Loved.

Isis Orb
Xanth 40
by Pierce Anthony
Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy
October 2016

Hapless, a man who’s Talent is to conjure any instrument and make others play them perfectly but cannot play them himself, is minding his own business when he is visited by the Magician Humfrey and invited to go on a Quest. Deciding that he has nothing to lose and a lot to gain he goes to the castle and starts the Quest. Along the way he meets several seemingly (ahem) hapless characters who help. Their job: capture the five elemental Totems and confront the demoness Isis over the Orb she controls. He can then use the Orb to gain what he wants most.

The same puns I remember from my childhood and young adult years are on full display. The exact same ones. Twenty five years later. Some changes are clear though. There are non-stop references to nudity, sex, and [SPOILERS] a goal of losing his virginity to one of the two good girlfriends and one bad girlfriend Hapless will find along the way. [END SPOILERS]. The Adult Conspiracy was introduced in Crewel Lye (1984), which is the 8th book. I only read through the 19th book, where sex wasn’t the sole focus of the books, when I was last in the world of Xanth so maybe this is the norm now. It seemed like the whole point of this story was for the females to show (and allow touching of) their breasts and naked bodies to Hapless and ultimately to fulfil his sexual desires. The Quest is derivative and boring. The whole story seemed (ahem, now it’s my turn) hapless.

Anthony has published at least one Xanth book a year since 1986, mostly every year prior back to 1977, and two books in 1993 and 2013 – and even another scheduled this year! I have very fond memories of the books I read in High School and college, but after the long gap in my reading of the Xanth novels, from 1995’s Roc and a Hard Place to this book, I’m surprised by the quality of the story. I’m left wondering if 1) the books were never very good and I just didn’t know better, 2) Anthony is getting more derivative in his work product as time goes on or 3) the gap may have given me some perspective, like seeing someone for the first time in 21 years and noticing differences that someone who was there the whole time slowly grew accustomed to. Whatever the case, this book is simply not very good.

It didn’t help my enjoyment of the book to read the Afterward first. Anthony actually tells the story of how a young girl sent him almost the whole plot of this book asking him to write it for her. It mirrors so closely what he says she sent that it seems like she should have been credited as co-author! He also mentions, and I remember this from earlier books, he lists all the puns that readers sent in to him. After finishing the book, unlike in my memories of previous stories, it seems like most of the fan puns are simply throw away jokes inserted where he can fit them in regardless of relevance to the story. This whole book is like fan fiction but with the actual author doing it for you.

(Interestingly, Anthony admits in his notes that the change to Open Road Media was prompted because his old publisher, not sure if he means Tor, Avon or Del Rey, didn’t like the fact that he using so much of his fan’s ideas in his novels.)

In the end, I’m moving on from Xanth. I have my memories. There are a lot of really great, funny authors out there. this book, unfortunately, is, in my opinion, at best a pastiche of Anthony’s own prior work.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Origins of a D-List Supervillain by Bernheimer

OriginsOfDListSupervillainSupervillainy was forced on Cal Stringel. Just ask him.

Origins of a D-List Supervillain
Written by Jim Bernheimer
Narrated by Jeffrey Kafer
Self Published
July 2014

Stringel is an engineer at Promethia Corporation, the home of Ultraweapon, an Iron Man like battle suit worn by the rich CEO. He becomes disgruntled when his work product is copyrighted by the corporation instead of giving him credit. (Never mind that the reason is actually pretty good: do you really want the bad guys to know you were the inventor of the weapons that stopped them?) Stringel decides he will quit Promethia and get another job where he is better recognized for his genius. The only problem is that Promethia has the ability to stop him from getting any job at any other company as an engineer. In fact, since so many engineers have left Promethia recently, the lawyers at the corporation decide to use Stringel as an example of what happens to quitters.

Blacklisted and ostracized from any good paying company in engineering, Stringel gets jobs wherever he can, like a strip club and a small auto shop. When the rich owner of a car he is working on dies, he decides that fate (and Promethia) have given him no choice. He will have to build his own suit of armor and get back at the evil (good guy) corporation. Never mind that he is an incredibly inept genius.

The rest of the novel is over the top hilarity, ala Mr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog, where Stringel does his best to get back to Promethia while also trying to perfect his own battle suit. Bernheimer writes a very funny loveable loser and it can be very easy to forget that Stringel is the bad guy and to start to root for him. There are laugh out loud and also cringe worthy moments.

This book, Origins of a D-List Supervillain, is written after 2011’s first book, Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, which would be the second in a trilogy, and before the newest entry, the third in the trilogy, 2015’s Secrets of a D-List Supervillain. Normally the first book written in a series works as a jump off point, but Origins is the right one to start with because Origins doesn’t so much as end as stop. Having not read Confessions I can only assume that it starts immediately after the cliff hanger ending.

In the end, I am definitely looking forward to the second and third books in the series. This is the second book I’ve read of Bernheimer’s, after Prime Suspects, and both have been very enjoyable reads. The narrator Kafer does an excellent job maneuvering between the silliness, melodrama and pomp of the characters in this book.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Prime Suspects by Bernheimer

primeA fun hard boiled whodunit with a protagonist who plays the part well while waiting to wake up from the nightmare he finds himself in: he’s a clone. The 42nd clone in his line. His “Prime” or the human who he and his brothers are cloned from has been killed. By one of his brothers. Since he was literally born today, he’s the only non-suspect among them.

Prime Suspects
A Clone Detective Mystery
EJB Networking
by Jim Bernheimer
read by Jeffrey Kafer
August 2012

While there is some interesting world building going on here, the main thing that sets this book apart from so many other sci fi novels is that it is fun! Not kitschy or corny fun. It’s solidly rooted in Maltese Falcon-esque detective stories but constant references to Hitchikers, in jokes and the extremely fast pace had me hooked from the start. I’m actually reading another science fiction suspense story by an author that I really enjoy – I’m enjoying that book as well – but when I had to make time for one of them I chose this one. In fact, I chose this one and listened to the whole audio in only a couple days.

I don’t know if there are other books in this series or world, but it is ripe for others. The clone economy is something I haven’t read before and was well done. I’ll definitely check out more books from this author.

A note about the audio version: Jeffrey Kafer was great! His quick, flat and sometimes monotone detective voice fit the mold of how I expected 42 to speak. The one thing I would have liked is a slightly longer pause when moving through a break. Chapter breaks were clear, but internal breaks (where you’d see a couple of blank lines in the text allowing the story to quickly progress or change to another location or character) weren’t. So occasionally, I’d find the story going in a new direction and not understand what was happening at first. One more beat of silence would have been perfect.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Emperor’s Railroad by Haley

emperorA slow moving novella that leaves the reader wanting more.

The Emperor’s Railroad
by Guy Haley
read by Tim Gerard Reynolds
Macmillan Audio / Tor
April 2016

UPDATE: The previous version of this review was based on a copy where there were parts of the audio book missing from the recording. The whole fight with the [SPOILERS] dragon was MIA. [END SPOILERS] It turns out there was a glitch in the audio book format causing a large, important portion to be cut out. If you are missing the fight then delete and redownload your Audible book to fix. Trust me, this new (full) version makes a huge difference in the story and enjoyment thereof.

Without giving too much away, [BUT SPOILERS ARE POSSIBLE] this story starts out with Abney, our narrator, and his mother on the road fleeing their home city, which was overrun by the dead (zombies, but slightly different.) Their wagon hit a pothole, broke an axle and their driver, a postman, has broken his neck and passed away. Into this dire predicament rides Quinn, a knight of the “dreaming city of Atlantis.” Quinn agrees to take the two survivors to a settlement north of Charleston in the Kingdom of Virginia.

Along the way we run into a few zombies, a railroad with carts that are driven by teams of animals rather than steam, and a town with hydro-electricity. [CLEAR SPOILERS] At the end there is a battle with the dragon – who is the physical embodiment of punishment by the “angels.” We are left with a lot of questions in the end.

Where is Atlantis? What are “Angels?” What exactly is the dragon? How do the Angels control the dead and the dragons? Why are there knights with swords when guns exist? Very little is answered here. And in fact, this novella is one of two (later in 2016) intended, it seems, to whet the appetite of this new fantasy world centered on the exploits of Quinn. Like an old fashioned Western film, the hero rides off at the end, but unlike a Western, there is clearly more to this story. [END SPOILERS]

When I read the description of a post-apocalyptic world with zombies, angels, dragons and knights I was intrigued. It’s more than that though. It’s methodical, slow paced and at worst times prodding and at best wistful. We don’t know much about what happens prior to or after this story, but we get an interesting primer into what to expect going forward. As Abney says in his final words, “I know that out there Quinn carried on his search. What was he looking for? I don’t know. It bothered me for years that I never found out. I guess I made my peace with that. Maybe he found ’em. Maybe he didn’t. Whatever fortune did to Quinn, wherever he went and why I’m sure as the good lord is enthroned in Heaven that someone, somewhere knows what happened to Quinn next… if you find out, stop by my grave and whisper it to the earth when you come home. It will be much appreciated.”

Note about the reader (audio book version): Reynolds does an outstanding job on his Virginia drawl and slow, methodical narration. The complexity of his gravelly and at times gentile voice worked really well as the voice of an older Abney. Very easy to listen to.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

8 Simple Tools for Raising Great Kids by Dr. Cartmell

8SimpleToolsForRaisingGreatKids_3DWe all know how to be great parents, right? That’s why our kids are coming out perfectly and they never have any trouble. Oh, wait…

8 Simple Tools for Raising Great Kids
by Dr. Todd Cartmell
Moody Publishers
January 2015

The title says 8 tools, but in reality the author includes 40 tools in 8 categories. Each of the 40 small chapters is about 3 pages long, many starting with an anecdote from counseling children or his own life and including simple ideas for overcoming the challenge.

In fact, my favorite parts of this book were the stories from his counseling. Listening to children say things that no parent would ever want to hear of themselves is motivating and convicting. Nearly every chapter I found something I should do better.

For that reason and others I highly recommend this ready to read and digest book.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

2015 BookGateway.com Booky Awards

BookyBookGateway.com is pleased to announce its books of the year award, the Bookys, for books published in 2015!

The Booky is awarded annually by the editors of BookGateway.com, a book review website for reviewers and book bloggers founded in 2010 with the express goal of encouraging a lifestyle of continued learning through the love and practice of reading. The Booky awards recognize the best books published and reviewed at BookGateway.com during the preceding year. Each reviewer that submits at least 10 reviews during the calendar year along editors of BookGateway.com can nominate books for Booky award recognition. Final decisions are made by the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com.


Children’s & Teens:
I Am Princess X
by Cherie Priest | Arthur A. Levine Books | May 2015
From the review: “This is an outstanding, tense book! It’s a mystery, drama and young reader novel all in one and the best part is that no fluffy romance muddling up the core story. No love triangles.”


Fantasy:
Hunt for Valamon
by DK Mok | Spence City | April 2015
From the review: “What the reader gets in the end is a fantasy that is fully developed, complicated but approachable, fun and adventurous and overflowing with heart. It will be enjoyable for teens and young adults as well as high fantasy readers. As for this reader, I have to admit that this was the most fun I’ve had reading a fantasy in a really long time.”


Graphic Novels:
The City on the Edge of Forever
By Harlan Ellison | IDW Publishing | February 2015
From the review: “Each page is fully painted and visually represents the characters very well. Fans of the original series and science fiction will appreciate and enjoy this excellent graphical version of the original teleplay.”

Darth Vader and Friends
by Jeffrey Brown | Chronicle Books | April 2015
From the review: “This is a whimsical, easy read that makes for a perfect gift book for fans of either humor or Star Wars.”


Literature:
This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!
by Jonathan Evison | Algonquin Books | September 2015
From the review: “No spoilers, but the ending left me floundering. I was expecting something completely different, and Evison threw me for a loop.”


Non-Fiction:
Fragile and Perfectly Cracked
by Sophie Wyndham | Independent Book Publisher’s Association | July 2015
From the review: “Having traveled the same path as Sophie, it’s VERY hard for me to be objective. The fact that she’s willing to open the pain of these moments and share with the world is highly commendable. Sophie doesn’t sugar coat what she endured. It’s a recommended read, but readers should be prepared for graphic details. There are unhappy parts to any journey through loss and infertility, and Sophie doesn’t hold back.”


Thriller & Suspense:
The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die
by Marnie Riches | Harper Collins, Maze | April 2015
From the review: “This novel is AMAZING! This is the first of Riches’ work that I’ve read, and I would quickly grab another! What seems to start out as a simple crime store with religious motivation quickly becomes so much more. Riches throws a plot twist into the novel that is completely unexpected, yet perfectly executed in this fast-paced, exciting novel.”

Under The Sea Holy Bible and Giveaway

undertheseaIn a sea (heh) of Bibles, the Under The Sea Holy Bible is a nice addition to the kid’s section of Bibles.  It’s in an easy to read format designed to help children connect with Biblical concepts.

Under The Sea Holy Bible
Zonderkidz
March 2016

Bright colors and sparkly glitter adorn the cover of this Bible, meant for children.   This is not an ordinary children’s Bible, in that it is the full text from Genesis to Revelation.  Many children’s Bibles are abbreviated stories highlighting the “heroes” of the Old Testament or focusing solely on Christ’s miracles in the New Testament.

This Bible is also written in the New International Reader’s Version.  A foreword discussing this NIrV version mentions that it is an extension of traditional NIV.  Its purpose is to make reading (and understanding) the Bible easier for children, adults learning to read, first time Bible readers, readers whose first language is not English, and those who have trouble understanding what they read.

A cursory glance of verses with which I’m familiar shows the meaning of the verse is virtually unchanged by adapting it from KJV.  The foreword also mentions that the translators worked to reference the Greek New Testament and Hebrew Old Testament as they worked to create the NIrV in an effort to maintain the integrity of this translation.

The remainder of the Bible is just that:  NIrV of the full Bible text.  There is also a dictionary and an index of “Great Bible Stories.”  These two sections could be greatly improved.  The dictionary is only 5 pages long, and the Great Bible Stories section is a list of 92 common Bible stories.  Both of these could be very much extended for referencing.  This would allow the Bible to work for children as they age.

This Bible also has a few inserts related to important concepts:  prayer, the 10 Commandments, love, and important children in the Bible to name a few.  Here’s where I would also like to see an expansion.  There are only 3 of these inserts in the whole Bible.  The last one is the ABC’s of becoming a Christian.   The Bible would appeal much more to children if there were more of these relevant passages included throughout the Under The Sea Holy Bible.

All in all, this is a very nice starter Bible for children.  It has the basics needed for a 3rd or 4th grader.   As a child gets older and begins to explore more, it is a Bible that would need to be replaced with one that has more expansive passages and explanations about concepts throughout.

 

Want a copy of your own?  I have partnered with Fly By Promotions to provide this review AND a chance for you to have a copy of your own!  Just leave a comment below telling me what Bible verse is your favorite to share with children.  I’ll draw a winner on April11th!  The winner will get his/her own copy of the Under The Sea Holy Bible.

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Robin Gwaro is the Young Adult and Women’s Literature Editor at Bookgateway.com. She currently spends her days wrangling her 3rd grade science nerd and toddler aged busy body. You can visit her world of randomness at justwanderingnotlost.net, where there is no spoon.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

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