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Review: Animal Wise by Virginia Morell

[ 1 ] August 20, 2014

Animal Wise coverReviewed by Melanie Kline

I opened Animal Wise searching for something. I wasn’t sure what exactly, but as the owner of two dogs, a cat, a bearded dragon, and many other various creatures in the past, I was convinced that this book was somehow going to help me understand and communicate with them. I, however, was immensely disappointed.

Animal Wise looks and different species of animals and discusses how these animals, whether pets or wild, communicate with each other and show emotion.

I, personally, was floored that this book basically contained not one iota of information that I did not already know from simply being surrounded by pets at home. It makes perfect sense to me, for example, that when my border collie is chewing a bone and my goldendoodle barks at him, he wants the bone and is about to take it from him. I also know that when my bearded dragon climbs to the top of his “branch” and claws at the top of the tank that he wants me to take him out for a while. These things are common sense, and I certainly didn’t need two-hundred sixty-seven pages of Animal Wise for explanation. Yes, I do not own an elephant or an ape, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that when a momma elephant wraps her trunk around her baby it is either expressing love or protection. The same goes with apes—obviously the bigger stronger apes eat first and “control” the younger ones, and love is expressed by sharing food and “picking” each other.

If you are expecting to learn anything from Animal Wise, you will be sorely mistaken. This is one of the few-and-far-between books that I finished and thought to myself, I can’t believe I spent so much time—that I won’t ever get back—on reading something so useless. Sadly, I don’t recommend this book to anyone who has anything better to do.

Rating: ½☆☆☆☆ 

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Broadway Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Daughters of the Dragon by William Andrews

[ 1 ] August 20, 2014

20925858Reviewed by Vera Pereskokova (Luxury Reading)

While her mother was alive, Anna never gave much thought to her birth parents or her Korean heritage. But her sudden passing made Anna wonder about her other mother that lived thousands of miles away, and drove her across the world to the orphanage that facilitated her adoption.

Anna’s visit to the orphanage takes an unexpected turn and instead of her birth mother she is approached by a woman claiming to be her grandmother. The woman asks Anna to visit her the following day. Initially hesitant, Anna visits the elderly woman and in one afternoon, learns more about her birth family than she could have ever hoped for.

In 1943, Anna’s grandmother, Ja-hee and her older sister were summoned by the Japanese to work in a boot factory. Before they left, the girls’ mother gave them her antique comb with the two-headed dragon and told them that it would protect them as long as it remained in their possession. Unbeknownst to them, the boot factory was just a ruse and they were instead sent to a comfort station to “serve” Japanese soldiers. During World War II, an estimated 200,000 Korean women were forced to be sex slaves or “comfort women” for the occupying soldiers. Fourteen-year-old Ja-Hee was raped by dozens of soldiers every day and when she was finally able to escape at the end of the war, she had to leave her dying sister – a victim of a botched abortion – behind.

In the years that followed, Ja-Hee attempted to rebuild her life but could never quite escape her past. She fell in love with a kind man who was taken away by the Communists while Ja-hee, pregnant, barely escaped to the South. In a country eager to rebuild, Ja-hee found work – first at a brothel of sorts and later as a translator – but was thrown into poverty over a decade later when her past was exposed. In her darkest moments, Ja-Hee considered selling the comb that she held on to all those years and that, in her mind, failed to protect her in any way. However, when she finally learns of the comb’s true meaning and the surprising identity of her ancestors, Ja-Hee finds purpose in ensuring that the legacy of the two-headed dragon lives on.

Daughters of the Dragon is highly readable and engrossing and I flew through it in one sitting. I was instantly invested in Ja-hee’s character and found myself skipping over Anna’s commentary in order to get back to her grandmother’s story. I thought the storyline would have been just as good if not better without the “myth” of the comb but it did not detract from my enjoyment of the book as a whole.

Daughters of the Dragon is a work of fiction but comfort stations were very much a reality for many young Korean girls during World War II. I am fairly well versed in World War II history but have never heard of the atrocious treatment of Korean women by Japanese soldiers before reading this book. I applaud William Andrews for bringing light to this difficult topic and treating it with the dignity that it deserves.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Andrews. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

[ 1 ] August 19, 2014

1397733525000-TheOppositeOfLoneliness-600Reviewed by Jax Kepple

Marina Keegan died in a car accident right after she graduated from Yale, and The Opposite of Loneliness is a collection of both her fiction and non-fiction writings from her high school and college years. While she was still developing as a writer, she produced some sophisticated stories that explored interesting ideas.

The title comes from the now-viral editorial from the Yale Daily News, where she worked. The gist is that they have so much time ahead of them to change their minds and start something new. A great start to the collection but not so much well-written as relatable. Several times she mentions that “we’re so young” which is like a knife in the stomach. Clearly Keegan loved her time at college, and she was able to benefit from all that Yale had to offer with a post-graduate job at The New Yorker. She really looked forward to living her life, and the fact that it was cut short was especially tragic.

Some of the fiction standouts include: “Cold Pastoral,” about a girl whose casual hook up dies and she feels conflicted about it, “Reading Aloud,” where a retired ballet dancer reads to a blind man, “Hail, Full of Grace” about a woman who adopts a daughter and returns to her hometown and “The Emerald City” told in the form of emails from a contract worker in Iraq to a girl he loves who has rejected him back home. Most of Keegan’s fiction work deals with relationships and love, but they have interesting twists and turns and characters who grow, even in a short story. She explores the more unknown life of college hookups and living on the Cape after the season. Some characters are a stretch (i.e., the Iraq contact worker) but they are so well-researched that Keegan is seamlessly able to fully realize each one.

Her non-fiction covers a wide range of topics, including how she grew up with a gluten allergy before it was mainstream, an in-depth look at an exterminator’s life, a love letter to her old car, and how a quarter of her fellow graduates will go into finance or consulting because it’s easy and pays well. These articles have more of a conversational tone, but are overall very well-written and meticulously researched. “Stability in Motion,” about her car, really hit home about the bond one has with their first car.

The genius of Keegan is that she was able to get some points across without boring or alienating the reader. It’s so sad that she isn’t able to grow into her writing, but at least there is a very excellent compilation of her work out there so everyone can see how great she was.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Jax is in an accountant at a hedge fund. She resides in NYC with her husband.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Scribner. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Most Creative/Prolific Contributor Award!

[ 2 ] August 19, 2014

As promised, on the 10th of every month, I give away a book of their choice to the most creative/prolific contributor to Luxury Reading!

This month, our fearless contender is…

Colleen Turner!

Kudos to everyone for your great comments! Colleen, p
lease post a comment here with your selection!

The contest started over on August 10th, and I will pick a new winner on the 10th of September. There is no limit to how many times you can win.

Remember, frequency of commenting counts, but so does the quality – a creative and relevant comment will get you more points than something like “sounds great”. Every month, I will pick a winner and post their name, as well as send them an e-mail. The winner can pick any item that is available on

Get commenting!
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Review: Serenade by Emily Kiebel

[ 1 ] August 19, 2014

downloadReviewed by Jennifer Jensen

Debut author Emily Kiebel’s own passion for music played an integral role in Serenade, a thrilling romance in which Lorelei Clark discovers that she is a siren. After her father is struck by a car in front of her and dies, Lorelei receives a mysterious letter from an aunt she never knew she had, inviting her to her seaside home in Cape Cod. With her mother not speaking to her and her grief still fresh, Lorelei accepts the invitation.

Once she arrives, Lorelei is informed of her heritage and begins her schooling as a siren. However, Lorelei finds that she is not comfortable in her role in assisting men in passing on to the afterlife. Though the number one rule that all sirens must abide by is not to interfere with Fate, Lorelei saves a man’s life. Now Lorelei must find him and complete the task to which she was assigned, or there will be consequences. But Lorelei is falling in love with Taylor, and the only way to keep them both safe is to run.

Serenade by Emily Kiebel was a thoroughly enjoyable book with an interesting twist on sirens, a beautiful love story, and plenty of tension to keep me turning the pages as fast as I could. This is definitely a book readers will want to finish in one sitting. It’s been a while since I’ve come across a book that kept me thinking about it when I had to put it aside and do other things. I think it’s pretty likely that there will be a follow-up to Serenade, and I definitely want to read it!

As I was reading, I saw some similarities between Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid and, surprisingly, the Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent. Banshees also play a part in Serenade and I thought the contrast between banshees and sirens was well done.

I will definitely be recommending Serenade to any friends of mine that are looking for books with an oceanside theme, mermaids/sirens, mythology, and a romantic couple worth rooting for.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She occasionally dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by SparkPress. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Irenicon by Aidan Harte

[ 1 ] August 18, 2014

irenicon_jkReviewed by Caleb Shadis

Irenicon is a strange book and it took me some time to get into it. I think part of my problem was the write-up/blurb about it. The question posed was, “What would have happened if Jesus Christ had died as an infant?” Which made me think the author was going try for an alternate history or a big game of “what if?” Well, this is a fantasy based on alternate history and it has plenty of ‘magic’ in it (not sorcerers and witches casting spells–it’s much more subtle but it’s there). So the mention of Christ being slaughtered in a purge as a child is not the meat of the story.

The story is centered around the town Rasenna, Italy. The year is 1347. Rome is no more and Concord is the current power in the region. The ruling class are called the Engineers and at their head are the Apprentices. The engineers were formed by Bernoulli, and he cast down the church and replaced the nobility. A couple decades earlier, the Engineers used a terrible weapon against Rasenna that broke the town.

Sofia Scaligeri is the last of her line, and she is the heir to Rasenna. Her family ruled before the wave and she will inherit when she turns 17, less than a year away. After the Concordians attacked the town with the Wave – killing a large swath of Rasenna including most of the Scaligeri family – the city was never the same. The river divided the town in more ways than one.

Giovanni is an Engineer who is sent to Rasenna to build a bridge across the river before the 12th legion comes in the fall. Spanning the river with iron and stone won’t be his only challenge. Getting the citizens on both sides of the river to cooperate on the project will be an even bigger challenge. Stone and iron are easy to manipulate into the shape you want but stubborn people are much more difficult. The clock is ticking, and Concord isn’t very forgiving of those who hinder its goals.

As I said, it took me a little bit to get into this book mostly because I misunderstood what kind of book it was. However, once I did get into it, I found it to be very interesting and I had a hard time putting it down. There is a lot going on, lots of plots within plots and I think I will be keeping my eye out for the next book in the series.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Caleb is a software engineer and amateur woodworker living in southern Minnesota. He has more hobbies than he has time or money for, and enjoys his quiet time reading.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Jo Fletcher Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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