Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book Review: The Lens and the Looker by Lory S. Kaufman

Title: The Lens and the Looker
Author: Lory S. Kaufman
Publisher: Fiction Studio
Series: The Verona Trilogy, Book 1
Paperback: 336 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
It’s the 24th century and humans, with the help of artificial intelligences (A.I.s), have finally created the perfect post-dystopian society. To make equally perfect citizens for this world, the elders have created History Camps, full sized recreations of cities from Earth’s distant pasts. Here teens live the way their ancestors did, doing the same dirty jobs and experiencing the same degradations. History Camps teach youths not to repeat the mistakes that almost caused the planet to die. But not everything goes to plan. 
In this first of a trilogy, we meet three spoiled teens in the year 2347. Hansum almost 17, is good looking and athletic. Shamira, 15, is sassy, independent and an artistic genius. Lincoln, 14, is the smart-aleck. But you don’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface to find his insecurities. 
These three “hard cases” refuse the valuable lessons History Camps teach. But when they are kidnapped and taken back in time to 1347 Verona, Italy, they only have two choices; adapt to the harsh medieval ways or die. The dangers are many, their enemies are powerful, and safety is a long way away. It’s hardly the ideal environment to fall in love – but that’s exactly what happens. In an attempt to survive, the trio risks introducing technology from the future. It could save them – or it could change history.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

The Lens and the Looker is a very interesting, creatively written and detail-oriented story. The author delivers a wonderful, well thought-out original storyline about three trouble-making youths in the 24th century who are sent to History Camp for rehabilitation. These youths, who are known as hard cases, are ultimately sent to 14th century Italy, where they learn to live without the luxuries they always took for granted.

In the beginning of the book, I struggled to understand the behavior of the three protagonists since there was very little background to glean from. Yet, as the story evolved, I grew to appreciate and love what each character offered. I have to say, my favorite character is Shamira because she is quiet, observes the world around her, and transforms it onto paper as a portrait.

I was mesmerized with the author’s description of Verona in 1347. I felt as though I were transported back in time. This book was so carefully crafted that it was easy to engulf oneself into the characters. When the family ate rations, I felt their hunger. When the family ate plenty, I felt their joy. I really thought this was a wonderful book. I had a hard time putting the book down once I got invested in the storyline.

*I received this book free from the Fiction Studio as a part of the Pump Up Your Book tour, for my honest review.*

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book Review: Killing Kennedy - The End of Camelot by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

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It's available in audio too! Click 
here for a clip from the audiobook, 
read by Bill O'Reilly!
Title: Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelet
Authors: Bill O'Reilly, Martin Dugard
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Hardcover: 325 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
The anchor of The O'Reilly Factor recounts in gripping detail the brutal murder of John Fitzgerald Kennedy—and how a sequence of gunshots on a Dallas afternoon not only killed a beloved president but also sent the nation into the cataclysmic division of the Vietnam War and its culture-changing aftermath. 
In January 1961, as the Cold War escalates, John F. Kennedy struggles to contain the growth of Communism while he learns the hardships, solitude, and temptations of what it means to be president of the United States. Along the way he acquires a number of formidable enemies, among them Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and Alan Dulles, director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  In addition, powerful elements of organized crime have begun to talk about targeting the president and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy. 
In the midst of a 1963 campaign trip to Texas, Kennedy is gunned down by an erratic young drifter named Lee Harvey Oswald. The former Marine Corps sharpshooter escapes the scene, only to be caught and shot dead while in police custody.
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

When I bought this book, I wasn’t sure what to expect, considering I have never been a fan of Bill O’Reilly. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading Killing Kennedy. It was engaging, simple and very easy to read. Bill O’Reilly offered a fresh, concise story neatly wrapped up and delivered so that even high school students could understand and appreciate the contribution of the Kennedy family in shaping current American history.

This book offered a humanistic view of a flawed man who would ultimately become one of the most popular presidents of all time. Killing Kennedy transcends generational gaps and gives readers a chance to understand that John F. Kennedy was just a man who had a taste for extramarital affairs, relied on his brother Bobby Kennedy for advice, wavered in his decisions, and knew what it took to keep the American people happy. In other words, Kennedy was a politician for the new age. JFK was popular, but the author reveals Kennedy's true political driving force and most trusted confidante: Bobby Kennedy.

One of the many things I liked about this book: I didn’t have to read another book to find out information on Lee Harvey Oswald. The author alternated between the rise of JFK, and the life of his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. The author allows the readers to delve into the many conspiracy theories that have circulated for years, while finally drawing the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was indeed the assassin of John F. Kennedy.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone. Although many conspiracy theorists would probably find fault with some of the facts in this book, I think it is well worth the read.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review: The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

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Title: The Castle of Otranto
Author: Horace Walpole
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Paperback: 208 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
On the day of his wedding, Conrad, heir to the house of Otranto, is killed in mysterious circumstances. Fearing the end of his dynasty, his father, Manfred, determines to marry Conrad's betrothed, Isabella, until a series of supernatural events stands in his way. . . . 
Set in the time of the crusades, The Castle of Otranto established the Gothic as a literary form in England. With its compelling blend of psychological realism and supernatural terror, guilty secrets and unlawful desires, it has influenced a literary tradition stretching from Ann Radcliffe and Bram Stoker to Daphne Du Maurier and Stephen King.

Overall: 3 out of 5

In The Castle of Otranto, Manfred is determined to keep his family in power, which means he needs an heir. When his engaged son dies by being crushed by a statue's helmet, Manfred resolves to marry his son's betrothed, Isabella, and produce heirs so that his family can live on. Understandably, Isabella doesn't want to marry the man who was going to be her father-in-law and leads Manfred on a merry chase throughout the castle and its surrounding area.

If you take this book seriously, I'm not sure how enjoyable it is. The supernatural elements are a bit out of sync with the plot itself -- they aren't integrated well into the whole story. The characters are more like caricatures, and the end is quickly tied up into a haphazard bow. I know that if I looked at it as a serious piece of fiction, I would have hated it. Luckily, I found it all a bit funny. Yes, it's an important novel since it's considered the first Gothic novel, and yes, it's a "classic" and deals with themes like family, power, gender stereotypes, etc. But that doesn't mean you have to take the plot seriously, and I certainly didn't.

It all started with Conrad being mysteriously crushed by a statue's helmet. Then, bits and pieces of the statue started appearing in the castle for no apparent reason. I just couldn't take it seriously. If you like the overly dramatic, bit of fun Gothic story, I think you'd really enjoy this. It has crazy twists and turns (you can definitely see a Shakespearean influence in this), and without including much character building, internal dialogue or much character self-reflection, the story moves along at a brisk pace. The writing may be a bit hard to understand (it is an eighteenth-century book, after all, and the editors have kept all the weird commas, lack of paragraph breaks, and misspellings), but if you read period lit, it shouldn't be too much of a problem. All in all, fun if you want to see what supposedly started the whole Gothic thing, but not something I'd want to enjoy a glass of wine and relax with.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Book Review: Still Lolo - A Spinning Propeller, a Horrific Accident, and a Family's Journey of Hope

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Title: Still Lolo: A Spinning Propeller, a Horrific Accident, and a Family's Journey of Hope
Authors: Lauren Scruggs, Scruggs Family, with Marcus Brotherton
Publisher: Tyndale Momentum
Hardcover: 248 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
In December 2011, Lauren ("LoLo") Scruggs, a 23-year-old fashion journalist, suffered a sudden injury that made headlines around the world. She had been on a short flight to look at Christmas lights and, upon exiting the small plane, was hit by the still-moving propeller blade. A frantic 911 call, several major surgeries, and thousands of prayers later: Lauren lived. But she lost her left hand and left eye. And she had to face some incredibly difficult questions: "What kind of future will I have? Where is God in all this pain? Will anyone ever be able to love me now?" In "Still LoLo," Lauren speaks out for the first time since her accident. She and her family reveal what really happened that night, what Lauren's life is like today, what got them through their journey toward healing, and how they conquered all odds to persevere as a family. It's a compelling and fiercely beautiful story of faith, determination, and staying true to who you are--no matter what.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Still LoLo is one of the most authentic books I have ever read. It was heartfelt, sincere and absolutely inspiring. The Scruggs family shared their life story so beautifully that I felt as though it were my friends and family going through this horrific journey.

I hadn’t heard about Lauren’s story, so when I saw this book advertised, I was curious how it would be written, since the accident just happened in December 2011. I felt as though there hadn’t been enough time for her to heal from a traumatic brain injury, let alone tell her version of what she was going through. As I started reading and got to know Lauren and her family, I became immersed in the details of the their lives. I felt a genuine love for the Scruggs and a sincere appreciation for their support system. I am in awe of their love for God.

The writing style is fabulous. The story is written from four different perspectives: Lauren’s mother, father, twin sister, and Lauren herself. They don't retell the same story; rather, each person’s perspective furthers the storyline in a unique and engaging way. This isn’t a book that focuses on a tragic accident; it focuses on the character of a family and the strength it took to start to heal and move forward.

I’ve had the pleasure to read this book for free, thanks to Net Galley, but rest assured that I will buy the hardback copy and place it upon my shelf for inspiration.

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Book Review: How Children Succeed - Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough

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Title: How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
Author: Paul Tough
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover: 256 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Why do some children succeed while others fail? 
The story we usually tell about childhood and success is the one about intelligence: Success comes to those who score highest on tests, from preschool admissions to SATs. 
But in "How Children Succeed," Paul Tough argues for a very different understanding of what makes a successful child. Drawing on groundbreaking research in neuroscience, economics, and psychology, Tough shows that the qualities that matter most have less to do with IQ and more to do with character: skills like grit, curiosity, conscientiousness, and optimism. 
"How Children Succeed" introduces us to a new generation of scientists and educators who are radically changing our understanding of how children develop character, how they learn to think, and how they overcome adversity. It tells the personal stories of young people struggling to say on the right side of the line between success and failure. And it argues for a new way of thinking about how best to steer an individual child – or a whole generation of children – toward a successful future. 
This provocative and profoundly hopeful book will not only inspire and engage readers; it will also change our understanding of childhood itself.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

In the book How Children Succeed, author Paul Tough shares what he believes is needed to make successful children. Drawing from numerous studies and field interviews, the author conveys that character has more to do with success than IQ. 

As a mother of six children, I bought this book hoping for some insight that might radically change my parenting style, or complement my parenting style to ensure success of my kids. That was not the case. This book, although extremely well written and easy to read, did nothing more than cite case studies that showed early intervention of children could propel them to higher levels of learning. Now, that’s not something new. The author states that perseverance, optimism, curiosity and self-discipline are character traits that help a child succeed more so than IQ. Although probably true, why would that be thought-provoking? Most parents would agree that a lazy child with a high IQ is probably not going to succeed as much as a strong-willed child who has self-discipline and has overcome difficulties.

Here’s what this book offered: a theory tested in the field, numerous case studies by credible psychologists and neuroscientists, and a lot of feel-good stories to support the theory. Here's what I liked about the book: in my opinion it’s all true. Yet, I did not get out of the book what I had hoped to find: a clear-cut way to ensure my children succeed. After reading this book, I have not learned anything new that I didn’t already know as a parent. I felt this book was written to motivate educators in the field and not as a helpful tool for parents.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review: Unsolved Mysteries of History by Paul Aron

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Title: Unsolved Mysteries of History
Author: Paul Aron
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons
Paperback: 225 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
* Who built Stonehenge? * Why did the pharaohs build the pyramids? * Did Richard III kill the princes in the tower? * Could the Titanic have been saved? * Did Hitler murder his niece?  
-Praise for Unsolved Mysteries of History- 
"Like a sleuth, Aron pieces together the possible answers . . . It's an engaging way to learn more about history and the new evidence that sheds light on long-standing theories." --Daily Press  
"Aron has produced a fascinating and judicious description of historical mysteries from the Neanderthals to Gorbachev. His entertaining account of historical controversies will leave every reader the wiser about the past." --Jack F. Matlock Jr., former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union 
"With unerring good sense and in well-paced prose, Paul Aron solves as best he can the major who-done-its, did-it-happens, and did-it-have-to-happens of world history. Unsolved Mysteries of History should keep readers engaged well into the night."-- Adam Potkay, author, A Passion for Happiness

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I'm a fan of historical mysteries, and with Stonehenge, the legend of King Arthur, the Easter Island statues, and a whole lot more, this book covers a lot in a short time.

I really like the format of Unsolved Mysteries of History. Aron gives a short description of each topic and then briefly goes into the findings of archaeologists and historians who have tried to explain or solve these mysteries. He keeps it objective, listing arguments for and against various theories of these popular mysteries. What I appreciated is that he doesn't try to solve these mysteries -- don't go into this book looking for concrete resolutions about whether or not King Arthur really existed. Instead, after giving a brief overview of the topic, he gives a list of works for further reading, if you're interested, and explains what each work is about.

This book is well-written, and each entry is relatively short. This means that if you're not so interested in the Easter Island statues, you can still read a few pages on them and learn something new. If you're really interested in Stonehenge, Aron gives you lists of works that will further your knowledge. It's a win-win! For those who are at all interested in historical mysteries, definitely check this book out.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Book Review: All Due Respect by Vicki Hinze

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Title: All Due Respect
Author: Vicki Hinze
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Paperback: 304 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Can a first-grade teacher from Grace, Alabama stop a terrorist group from its deadly mission?  
Can she trust her heart again?  
Former Air Force scientist Dr. Julia Warner-Hyde went into hiding three years ago to escape her abusive ex-husband. Her new life as a small town school teacher is safe and peaceful-until her old lab partner, Dr. Seth Holt, arrives.  
Terrorists have stolen the missile system Seth and Julia designed, and they fully intend to use it. Seth needs Julia's help to find, outwit and halt them, but he and she didn't part on the best of terms. He doesn't know that Julia has a secret enemy who might kill them both. Can she fight that threat and the terrorists-all while keeping Seth in the dark? How can she refuse to try, with millions of lives at stake? 

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Thanks to Net Galley I got the privilege to read this book for free, but I must say, I would have bought it anyway. All Due Respect was very entertaining, touching, suspenseful, and intriguing. The relationships that developed between Dr. Julie, Dr Seth and a little abused boy named Jeffrey were entertaining and touching. The dynamics in developing a neutralizing device that could diffuse any rogue bomb and return it back to the original launch site intrigued me.

The main characters were well developed with a strong back story that was interwoven throughout the chapters. I’ve always enjoyed not having all the characters' histories laid out upfront. It gives me a chance to ask myself why a character made a certain decision.

The author includes the answers to all my “whys,” which could make a book very tedious when not explained. There were times that my mind drifted because of all the minute details, but I was able to get back on track with the main storyline. The author had intertwined three stories of abuse, two from a parental figure and one from a spouse. The culmination of these storylines is touching, but lacked any type of true realism. It took Dr. Julia three years to develop the relationship she had with her abused student Jeff. But after one phone call with Dr. Seth, to whom she couldn’t even tell about her past abuse, nor has she talked to him in years, she believed Dr. Seth would take care of Jeff, even though he’s never met him. That didn’t sit well with me.

The book is definitely worth the read due to excellent writing, great strong characters and intriguing storyline but at times it did not hold my attention. In the end, a well developed book.

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

Monday, January 7, 2013

Book Review: Beyond Grimm - Tales Newly Twisted

Title: Beyond Grimm - Tales Newly Twisted
Authors: Various
Publisher: Book View Cafe
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Not your grandmother's fairy tales! From the far-ranging imaginations of Book View Cafe authors comes this delirious collection of classic tales newly twisted into dark, dangerous, and occasionally hilarious re-tellings. From the golden isles of Greece to the frozen north, from fairytale castles to urban slums, join us on an unforgettable journey!
Through Forests Dark and Grimm...
Hair Raising, by Pati Nagle
No Newt Taxes, by Patricia Rice
Rum Pelt Stilt’s Skin, by Alma Alexander
Of Rats and Cats and Teenagers, by Irene Radford
The Tinderbox, by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
Any Brave Boy, by Laura Anne Gilman

Across Golden Seas…
Elfleda, by Vonda N. McIntyre
Harpies Discover Sex, by Deborah J. Ross
To Serve A Prince, by Brenda W. Clough
The Rapture of Ancient Danger, by Sherwood Smith

In Another Part of the Forest...
Mending Souls, by Judith Tarr
Sister Anne, by Sylvia Kelso
Princess Dancer, by Sue Lange
NimuĂ«’s Tale, by Madeleine E. Robins
Ricky Cowlicky, by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
Little Red in the ’Hood, by Irene Radford

Around a Campfire...
Hero/Monster, by Amy Sterling Casil
To Ride Beyond the Wide World’s End, by Judith Tarr
Turnabout, by Deborah J. Ross

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

I am a huge fan of fairy tale retellings and was really looking forward to reading darker versions of the classic fairy tales. As always with short story anthologies, I loved some and disliked others. For Beyond Grimm: Tales Newly Twisted, I found myself enjoying most of the stories, however. As the title suggests, these stories are for those who enjoy more twisted, darker tales. It is even better that many are based off popular children's fairy tales.

Many of these authors are well established and I definitely enjoyed seeing more of their work. I requested this book because of Irene Radford, but I also loved reading stories from Sherwood Smith, Laura Anne Gilman, and Alma Alexander. "Hair Raising" made me want to read more of Pati Nagle, and "Ricky Cowlicky" was also a fun story by an author who was new to me.

I think that the first six stories are the strongest of the anthology, so the later ones were a bit of a disappointment for me. But I do think that there is something for everyone -- while I particularly enjoyed the twists on Rapunzel, Snow White, and Rumpelstiltskin, I think that fans of Arthurian legends will love "Nimue's Tale." I don't think that every single one of these stories will be favorites for one person, but anyone interested in fantasy will find at least one or two stories to love.

*I received a free copy from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program in exchange for my honest review.*