Book Review: Blood Brothers by Colleen Nelson

Title: Blood Brothers
Author: Colleen Nelson
Publisher: Dundurn
Paperback: 240 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Fifteen-year-old Jakub Kaminsky is the son of Polish immigrants, a good Catholic boy, and a graffiti artist. While his father sleeps, Jakub and his best friend, Lincoln, sneak out with spray paint to make their mark as Morf and Skar.

When Jakub gets a scholarship to an elite private school, he knows it s his chance for a better life. But it means leaving Lincoln and the neighbourhood he calls home.

While Jakub s future is looking bright, Lincoln s gets shady as he is lured into his brother s gang. Jakub watches helplessly as Lincoln gets pulled deeper into the violent world of the Red Bloodz. The Red Bloodz find out Jakub knows more than he should about a murder and want him silenced for good. Lincoln has to either save his friend, or embrace life as one of the Red Bloodz.

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

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Alright so I had a tough time with this one.  On the one hand I tore through this book.  It took me about 24 hours to get through the whole thing which usually indicates to me that I really liked a book.  And to an extent I did.  However, something just felt off about this book.  After thinking about it for a while I’m still not entirely sure, but I think my issue with it is that it just does not “follow through” in any of the areas that I found interesting.  I thought that the Jakub’s graffiti story lines were really interesting and fairly well developed early on, but this was not really explored as much as I would have wanted.  Catholicism seemed to play a pretty important part of Jakub’s life, but only when convenient.  Lincoln had a really unique relationship with his family, but despite having some conflict he seemed to consistently default to the most simplistic answer (this point I will concede could be somewhat realistic).

I think that at the end of the day this book just felt a little too paint by the numbers young adult/gang story.  There were flashes of brilliance. For example, at one point Lincoln’s brother mentions that the system is set up against them unlike Jakub, but this is never explored and I can’t remember if there is even a reference to what their background is throughout the rest of the book.  That one wrinkle could have made this book infinitely more interesting.  Furthermore, this book seemed to want to have it both ways by being super realistic, but also not wanting to be too harsh.  I still cannot fully place why this book stuck in my craw so much, but it did.

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Book Review: Baby-Sitting is a Dangerous Job by Willo Davis Roberts

Title: Baby-Sitting is a Dangerous Job
Author: Willo Davis Roberts
Publisher: Aladdin
Paperback: 161 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

From the moment she set eyes on the three Foster kids, Darcy knew being their baby-sitter would be no picnic. But the pay was twice her usual rate, and the job was only for a few hours a day – surely an experienced baby-sitter like her could handle it.

But Darcy hadn’t counted on the mysterious things that started happening at the Fosters’ home after she took the job. She did everything a good baby-sitter was supposed to do: she didn’t let the stranger claiming to be from the gas company into the house and she called the police when the burglar alarm went off in the middle of the afternoon. But that wasn’t enough to prevent a baby-sitter’s worst nightmare from coming true. Now it’s up to Darcy to rescue the Foster kids – and herself – from three ruthless kidnappers.

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Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

This was a book that somehow ended up in my family’s bookshelves when I was a kid and I never got around to reading it, but the title stuck around with me, so I finally decided to request it from the library.

Overall, it was fine. It’s a children’s thriller about a young teenage girl named Darcy who baby-sits to earn herself a little extra money. She decides to take on the Foster job, even though she knows the kids are going to be bratty, but she’s getting a lot of money out of it, so why not? Right from the start, weird things start happening in the book — she and her brother seem to be followed by a black car on their way back from the Foster home to their home; and later, while walking with her friend, Darcy sees the same black car. At the same time, her friend has run away from home to escape her father’s abuse, so she tries to help her out. The main conflict of the story, though, is that Darcy and the Foster kids get kidnapped to earn a ransom and they want to figure out a way to escape from the kidnappers before they get hurt, or worse.

Basically, there’s a lot going on in this book and I’m not sure it holds up. It was written in the 80’s, and a lot of stuff is thrown out that isn’t taken very seriously. And yes, this is a thriller and not a Judy Blume book, but it’s troubling to see abuse get thrown out and not really addressed properly. It seems like the book’s message is: no, don’t talk to the proper authorities, running away is a good option sometimes, which isn’t a great message for kids. Even later, when the kidnapping is resolved, Darcy talks about it like she just had a daring adventure, calling her friend late at night to fill her in on all the “drama.” No mention of trauma? No parental check-ups? They hug her, give her an extra dessert, and let her talk on the phone. It’s all very strange.

With that said, it’s a fairly enjoyable story if you don’t think about it too much, which pretty much fits into the thriller genre overall, in my opinion. It’s nice to see Darcy realize that the kids she watches are more than burdens, so her character growth is interesting in that she starts actually caring for the kids she baby-sits rather than inwardly complain about how spoiled they are. And it’s nice to see the kids go through a change with how they treat her. This is an entertaining story, but not one I think kids today would enjoy, and not something I’d recommend as a “good read” to anyone, but it’s not bad either.

Book Review: Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik

Title: Things I Should Have Known
Author: Claire LaZebnik
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcout
Paperback: 320 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

From the author of Epic Fail comes the story of Chloe Mitchell, a Los Angeles girl on a quest to find love for her autistic sister, Ivy. Ethan, from Ivy’s class, seems like the perfect match. It’s unfortunate that his older brother, David, is one of Chloe’s least favorite people, but Chloe can deal, especially when she realizes that David is just as devoted to Ethan as she is to Ivy.

Uncommonly honest and refreshingly funny, this is a story about sisterhood, autism, and first love. Chloe, Ivy, David, and Ethan, who form a quirky and lovable circle, will steal readers’ hearts and remind us all that it’s okay to be a different kind of normal.

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

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

We are not supposed to judge books by covers or at least that is how that platitude goes, however, the cover for this book was a large factor as to why I picked it up.  I found the description of the book to be an interesting one, and adding in another element to a typical YA book of having an autistic sibling related to the main character drew me in.  I thought it was clever playing with the title on the cover to change the tense of when the character should have have/did “know” these important things.  I was a little let down by this idea not coming up more in the book itself.

Let me start with what I think is my really positive takeaway from the book.  I think that the autistic characters in the book were written very well and respectfully.  There is some interesting nuance used both in developing those characters themselves and, maybe more strikingly in the book, the way that family members interact with these characters.  Any time the book was focused on these relationships I was really interested, and I think that it did a wonderful job portraying these things.

Unfortunately, I found the rest of the novel to be a bit boring and predictable.  I did not particularly like the main character Chloe and think that although there is some growth throughout the book she starts off in such a ludicrously stereotypical place that this character growth doesn’t feel satisfactory.  The same can be said about her dating life in the book.  Things are not just telegraphed but explicitly stated at times in the book in a way that makes them feel a bit inevitable and like a slog to get through.  I kept hoping that something would happen to subvert this or at least be propelled forward in an interesting way, but at least in my opinion it did not.

That is not to say the book was entirely predictable.  There were a few moments that genuinely seemed to work against the overly simplistic and predictable nature of the majority of the book which were greatly appreciated.  For that reason, I think the book may be one that high school students would enjoy reading.  The more I think about it, the more I feel my criticisms may come from a place of not being the target audience.  Overall I would say it is decent but definitely not something I would go out of my way to read.

Book Review: One Paris Summer by Denise Grover Swank

Title: One Paris Summer
Author: Denise Grover Swank
Publisher: Blink
Paperback: 272 pages
Source: BEA 2016
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Most teens dream of visiting the City of Lights, but it feels more like a nightmare for Sophie Brooks. She and her brother are sent to Paris to spend the summer with their father, who left home a year ago without any explanation. As if his sudden abandonment weren’t betrayal enough, he’s about to remarry, and they’re expected to play nice with his soon-to-be wife and stepdaughter. The stepdaughter, Camille, agrees to show them around the city, but she makes it clear that she will do everything in her power to make Sophie miserable.

Sophie could deal with all the pain and humiliation if only she could practice piano. Her dream is to become a pianist, and she was supposed to spend the summer preparing for a scholarship competition. Even though her father moved to Paris to pursue his own dream, he clearly doesn’t support hers. His promise to provide her with a piano goes unfulfilled.

Still, no one is immune to Paris’s charm. After a few encounters with a gorgeous French boy, Sophie finds herself warming to the city, particularly when she discovers that he can help her practice piano. There’s just one hitch—he’s a friend of Camille’s, and Camille hates Sophie. While the summer Sophie dreaded promises to become best summer of her life, one person could ruin it all.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher from BEA 2016.*

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

When I went to BEA with my husband this past year, my main goal was to find great young adult books that his high school students could fall in love with. So when I saw this cute, fluffy romance book set in Paris, I went for it.

This is a cute book about two teenagers who go to Paris to reconnect with their dad, who left them just about a year before and who is now marrying another woman in Paris — Sophie and her brother, Eric, are sent to Paris to celebrate the wedding and meet their new stepmom and stepsister. Their stepsister is awful to them, and gets Sophie into all sorts of trouble by playing games and manipulating things. So, it becomes really complicated when Sophie ends up falling for Camille’s friend, Mathieu. Hijinks ensue.

One Paris Summer is pretty much what I was expecting. It’s a fast read and it’s fun. Sophie at first got on my nerves, but it made sense within the context of the story and her character evened out within the first few chapters, thank goodness, so I actually ended up enjoying her character and looking forward to reading about her adventures in Paris. My favorite parts were her interactions with her brother and her crush, Mathieu. It was nice to see Sophie realizing that people didn’t hate her and cared about her. My main problems with a lot of this book had to do with logic and drama. Characters’ reactions to things didn’t seem to fit with their personalities and seemed only to serve the purpose of creating conflict that felt melodramatic and fake.

However, aside from that, the romance and Paris aspect were really fun. This is a book you don’t want to think too much about — what I like to think of a beach read. Just breeze through it and enjoy the fun, cute parts. Because of that, this took me very little time to finish once I started focusing on it, and overall, I enjoyed it. I think younger teens would enjoy this a lot, but there isn’t a lot of crossover appeal for older readers simply because what I said earlier about the conflicts feeling overly dramatic.

Side note: I loved that we got some French words thrown in here, so readers might be able to learn a couple of phrases. Nice touch!

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!

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

Title: 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.

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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.