Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book Review: Streamline by Jennifer Lane

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Title: Streamline
Author: Jennifer Lane
Publisher: Omnific Publishing
Paperback: 460 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Seems like Leo Scott has it all: looks, brains, and athletic talent. He's captain of his high school swim team with a bright future in college and beyond. But Leo has secrets. His mother's crippling car accident has devastated his family and left Leo to deal with his father's abuse, battered and alone.  
Leo's girlfriend Audrey Rose is poised for her own share of success. As one of Florida's top high school swimmers, Audrey dreams of college swimming stardom. But there's an obstacle to her glorious rise to the top. Her number-one supporter--her father--is in prison for murder.  
Part murder mystery, part tale of young love in a military family, this gripping story takes readers on a journey from Pensacola to Annapolis. Leo and Audrey must band together to rise above the adversity they encounter and find their true selves in the process. When everything's on the line . . . streamline.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

When I finished Streamline, I immediately marked it as five stars. Jennifer Lane masterfully tackles themes such as physical abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction, anger, murder, cover-up, pregnancy, redemption and forgiveness in a very compassionate way. It’s wonderful how Lane is able to wrap all those themes into a solid book and deliver it in such a way that young adults can relate.

The story is mainly told though the eyes of Leo Scott, a 17-year-old high school swim star who hides and compartmentalizes his emotions. He is the son of Navy Commander Scott, who insists that his son strive for perfection in everything. His mother is disabled and silently allows her husband to physically abuse Leo. While growing up, Leo’s older brother, Jason Scott bore the majority of their father’s abuse, but left home unexpectedly and returns the same way. Leo has a wonderful girlfriend named Audrey, who lives with her mother, but stays alone most nights because her mother works out-of-state and her father is in prison for a murder he does not remember committing.

Commander Scott, or CS as his boys call him, wants to instill discipline in his children and feels that beating them is the only way to do it. I enjoyed hating this man: he personifies everything that I dislike. There were moments when I understood why he felt the need to strive for perfection, but his control was demon-like and I felt creepy just being in his presence.

I love that the author intertwined a murder mystery within the depths of the story. It kept me focused on a larger picture when at times I felt the deep despair within the characters. Although I enjoyed this book, I felt like I was on an emotional rollercoaster. Some days, I couldn’t pick up the book, other days, I couldn’t put it down, but in the end…it was worth the ride.

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

Monday, February 25, 2013

Book Review: The Dragon of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen

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Title: The Dragon of Trelian
Author: Michelle Knudsen
Series: Trelian, Book 1
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Hardcover: 416 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Calen, a lonely young mage-to-be, never dreamed that Princess Meglynne would become his friend. And impulsive Meg never imagined that secretly tending a baby dragon would cause her to be "linked" to the winged beast — for life. Being attuned to a dragon’s thoughts and feelings is exciting but scary, especially when their destinies are tied (for better or worse). And now Meg’s sister is about to marry a prince to end a war between kingdoms, a celebration that only Meg and Calen know is endangered by a murderous plot. How can a girl, a boy, and a dragon merge their magic and strength to bring down a powerful traitor before it’s too late? 

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The Dragon of Trelian focuses on a mage's apprentice named Calen and a princess named Meg. The dragon is less central to the story than I would have liked, but that will probably shift as the series continues. In this novel, Knudsen has created an incredible, complex fantasy world that people of all ages will love to delve into. I had my doubts at the beginning, but the characters are so easy to relate to and I was immediately sucked into their world.

The plot had some issues for me, but I really loved the characters and their relationship with each other. Both Meg and Calen are fantastically well-rounded, and I could see both boys and girls loving this story because of the dual points of view. Once the action and adventure got started (it did take a very long time for it to start), the pace really picked up and I was hooked. The black winged creatures (shown on cover) are described in horrific detail, which I loved -- a good fantasy isn't complete without at least one frightening creature.

What I didn't like, and what seems to be a problem for a lot of middle grade works, is that a lot of conflicts are resolved within a few pages of being introduced. There are some problems that take longer, but for the most part, a seemingly huge obstacle is thrown in the characters' way, and then it magically disappears within moments. This makes it really frustrating when they can't figure out an obvious solution to a problem that takes them chapters to solve. Yes, it's middle grade and should be less complex, but I like it when the characters are pushed and have to work for a happy ending.

Despite that, however, I found this to be a charming fantasy with incredibly lovable characters. I can't wait to see what the next books have in store, and I've already added the sequel to my to-read list.

*I was given a free copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.*

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book Review: The Loved and the Lost by Lory S. Kaufman

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Title: The Loved and the Lost
Author: Lory S. Kaufman
Series: The Verona Trilogy, Book 3
Publisher: Fiction Studio
Paperback: 332 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
They are three time travelers desperate to return to 14th-century Verona to reclaim their medieval family s shattered lives. It is a mission fraught with danger and the risk of unexpected consequences for themselves and for their worlds. For all three, it is a matter of the heart. For one, though, it is truly the only thing that matters, as the fate of his eternal love and the life of their unborn child is the prize to be won or lost forever. In this, the final book of THE VERONA TRILOGY, Hansum, Shamira and Lincoln go on the boldest adventure of their lives. They will face hardship, tragedy, and threats from sources they couldn't have imagined all in an effort to wrestle a future from the steely grip of an unforgiving past.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

In the third and final book of the Verona Trilogy, author Lory Kaufman astounds me again! The Loved and the Lost is fast-paced, exciting and very hard to put down. I read this book twice in less than a week and will definitely recommend that anyone, middle school and above, read this series!

If you read my other reviews on this trilogy, you will know that I am completely smitten with this series. I love Kaufman’s writing style. The storyline is interesting and unique. The details are so true to life that I felt transported back in time. The characters are very well developed but more importantly, the author knows how to captivate an audience.

My favorite types of books are ones that are neatly wrapped up with a happy ending. The thing I enjoyed the most about this trilogy is that although the storyline is wrapped up, the author does it in a unique way so that I was not able to guess the end.

I was so deeply invested with these characters and fell in love with the history, that I didn’t want this series to end. With Kaufman’s writing style, I believe that he could write a series of books covering major historical events that will leave young readers begging for more.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Book Review: The Bronze and the Brimstone by Lory S. Kaufman

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Title: The Bronze and the Brimstone
Author: Lory S. Kaufman
Publisher: Fiction Studio
Series: The Verona Trilogy, Book 2
Paperback: 336 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Book #2 of The Verona Trilogy
What could go wrong in the 14th-century for three time-traveling teens How about – EVERYTHING!
Hansum, Shamira and Lincoln, three teens from the 24th-century, are trapped in 14th-century Verona, Italy. They’ve survived many deadly experiences by keeping their wits about them and by introducing futuristic technology into the past. Principal among these inventions is the telescope, which brought them to the attention to the rich and powerful.
But standing out can get you into unexpected and dangerous situations. The nobles of Verona now believe Hansum is a savant, a genius inventor, especially after he brings them plans for advanced cannons and black powder. Being the center of attention is great, but the potential for trouble is now exponentially greater because people are watching Hansum’s every move.
Meanwhile, artistic genius Shamira has fallen for a Florentine artist with bloody and disasterous consequences. Lincoln, considered an incompetent back home in the 24th-century, has blossomed – at least until he’s shot in the head with an arrow. And Hansum, after secretly marrying his new master’s beautiful daughter, Guilietta, is offered the hand in marriage of lady Beatrice, daughter of the ruler of Verona. To refuse could mean calamity for all the teens.
Amazingly, none of this is their biggest challenge. Because a rash illness is spreading across Verona – and it is threatening to consume everyone.
Do they have a future in this past?

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

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

After reading The Lens and the Looker, I couldn't wait to start this book. I must say, I was not disappointed. It was fascinating and true-to-life. I had a hard time putting it down and when I did, I looked forward to the moment I could pick it up again. The author, Lory Kaufman does not let readers down with his brilliant story telling ability and penchant for details. The historical facts are captivating and easy to understand since they are woven into a good story.

The three protagonists, Hansum, Shamira and Lincoln, who were known as “hard-cases” because of their behavior were transported back to 14th Century Verona is the first book, The Lens and the Looker.

I felt again as if I were transported back in time. I was inside "Master della Cappa's house" when they ate dinner and toasted to their families’ good fortune. I sympathized, agonized, and schemed with Hansum. I rooted, cheered, and cried for Guillete. I loved and hated Ugliano. I appreciated, supported, and kicked-butt with Shamira but mostly I laughed and felt "zippy" with Lincoln.

When calamity ensued, I wanted to run and hide. The dark days in Verona felt like dark days to me, because of the minute details that kept me transfixed. Kaufman carefully allows the readers to understand the depth and the bond of each character through their suffering and triumphs. It’s wonderful to watch each character mature as they take on their individual responsibilities and learn that family means everything. 

The Bronze and the Brimstone has something to offer everyone from middle school and up. I would definitely put it on the “must-read” list.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review: Year-Round Slow Cooker - 100 Favorite Recipes for Every Season by Dina Cheney

Title: Year-Round Slow Cooker: 100 Favorite Recipes for Every Season
Author: Dina Cheney
Publisher: Taunton Press
Paperback: 224 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Slow cookers are popular for good reason: They’re the ultimate kitchen problem solvers. If you’re watching your budget, they’re well worth the $30 they cost since they can turn the cheapest cuts of meat into unctuous, mouth-watering results worthy of a five-star restaurant. Slow cookers also do the hard work, cooking for hours while you’re out of the house only to come home to a meal just about ready to eat. And since slow cookers keep food warm, they allow different family members to eat at different times: a practical option in a world of staggered schedules. 
            Yet, slow cookers have an image problem. Most home cooks use them for cold weather meals only, while others think slow cookers can only produce food that’s mushy, bland, and watery or rely solely on shortcut ingredients like spice packets, bouillon cubes, and bottled sauces. 
            No longer does this must-have kitchen tool deserve to be stored away when spring months hit. In Year-Round Slow Cooker, home cooks will find 100 delicious, modern, practical slow cooker recipes featuring seasonal produce. Recipes speak to the home cook whose palate is more sophisticated and who wants to incorporate seasonal produce into all of her meals. 
            Organized by season, Year-Round Slow Cooker features notes about the featured seasonal ingredients as well as invaluable tips throughout to help cooks maximize the power of the slow cooker.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

The description says it all; when I first tried to find recipes for my new slow cooker, they were all for simple stews, soups, pulled pork, or chili. Cheney includes more innovative, different recipes that will give some variety to your meals. There are recipes for things like ribs, puddings, brisket, chicken, and lots of other types of meals and desserts. I've tried a few of these and haven't been disappointed.

The layout is fantastic -- very easy to read and follow. I like the idea of categorizing meals by seasons, though I'm not typically the kind of person who pays attention to seasons when planning a meal. However, for those who buy from local farms, this will be useful because each season includes produce that will actually be available. Also, the author gives great advice for preparing the meals, and provides some awesome lists for common ingredients and basic sauces. I thought this was incredibly helpful, because if you have most of the common ingredients on hand, you know right away that you have most of what you need for the recipes.

Though the preparation time for most of these is longer than I typically like for slow cooker recipes, the time is worth it for delicious meals like these. For those who want to make good use of their slow cooker, definitely check this cookbook out. It's one of the good ones.

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

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Book Review: The War of the Worlds by HG Wells

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Title: The War of the Worlds
Author: HG Wells
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Paperback: 199 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
'For countless centuries Mars has been the star of war'
The night after a shooting star is seen streaking through the sky from Mars, a cylinder is discovered on Horsell Common near London. At first, naive locals approach the cylinder armed just with a white flag - only to be quickly killed by an all-destroying heat-ray as terrifying tentacled invaders emerge. Soon the whole of human civilization is under threat, as powerful Martians build gigantic killing machines, destroy all in their path with black gas and burning rays, and feast on the warm blood of trapped, still-living human prey. The forces of the Earth, however, may prove harder to beat than they at first appear.
The first modern tale of alien invasion, The War of the Worlds remains one of the most influential of all science-fiction works. Part of a brand-new Penguin series of H.G. Wells's works, this edition includes a newly established text, a full biographical essay on Wells, a further reading list and detailed notes. The introduction, by Brian Aldiss, considers the novel's view of religion and society.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

As a science fiction fan, I have always been interested in reading The War of the Worlds, since it's the first of its kind. The modern movie with Tom Cruise put me off a little bit, even though I know it was vastly different than the novel. However, I finally got around to reading it and thought it was pretty good.

Told mostly in first-person narrative, the novel starts off with cylinders landing on Earth. The Martians look like sickly, ungainly creatures barely able to survive on Earth, but then prove otherwise, using their heat rays and gigantic killing machines to wreak havoc on England.

If you're looking for story with a lot of character development, look elsewhere. This is a novel solely focused on its plot. The narrator is basically the same person from beginning to end, just a little bit more jaded from war near the end. However, the plot is fantastic and moves along at a brisk pace. Wells does an excellent job in painting a picture of terror and war. I really enjoyed the suspense and thriller aspects of the novels. Also, it's simply interesting to see how this novel has influenced modern interpretations of science fiction and alien invasions.

There are a lot of moments in this story that seemed convenient or forced; of course the main character would be trapped in a room with a peep hole so that he can observe the Martians and describe them; of course had a brother in London who lived to be able to relate those events, etc. This slightly bothered me, but it did further the story and provide a better picture of what was going on. Though I wish Wells would have used some other methods of conveying this information, I can see the dilemma of wanting to provide a seemingly-real firsthand account while also being able to provide all the details.

Also, the narrator bothered me. He always seemed to know best and know more than everyone else, and I didn't really see justification for those thoughts. But, that's more of a personal issue.

I do think this is best enjoyed when you have some knowledge of the historical context in which its written. It is imbued with the scientific thoughts of its time, as well as political and social ideas. (Namely, the idea of colonialism.) Understanding all of that makes The War of the Worlds a much better and more interesting story.

Overall, I liked this novel. It's interesting to see how our ideas of aliens and alien invasion stories have developed, and it's simply an entertaining, dramatic story -- there were times where I held my breath in anticipation for what would happen next. I would recommend this for fans of science fiction and classics lovers.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Audiobook Review: Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar

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Title: Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie
Author: David Lubar
Narrators: Ryan MacConnell, Daniel Bostick, Bruce Coville, and others
Publisher: Full Cast Audio
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 6 hours, 57 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Starting high school is never easy. Seniors take your lunch money. Girls you've known forever are suddenly beautiful and unattainable. And you can never get enough sleep. Could there be a worse time for Scott's mother to announce she's pregnant? Scott decides high school would be a lot less overwhelming if it came with a survival manual, so he begins to write down tips for his new sibling. Meanwhile, he's trying his best to capture the attention of Julia, the freshman goddess. In the process, Scott manages to become involved in nearly everything the school has to offer. So while he tries to find his place in the confusing world of high school, win Julia's heart, and keep his sanity, Scott will be recording all the details for his sibling's- and your- enjoyment.
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Scott is a high school freshman who has just learned his mother is pregnant. He's also a high school freshman, and he details his life in a sort of how-to-survive-life narrative aimed at his future sibling. Dealing with moving past old friendships, making new friends, and romantic relationships, Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie covers a lot of ground.
I enjoyed this book and think it has something nice to offer teens. It's not anything particularly original, but it's entertaining and interesting. Scott, the main character, is definitely unique, however, in that he loves books and reading and tries hard to share that passion with his friends and family.

As an English language nerd, I loved the wordplay threaded throughout the narrative. I thought that it was clever and interesting, and definitely added to Scott's character. As someone who loves English, it makes sense that Scott would play with point of view, puns, metaphors, etc. when writing these letters/diary entries, and it's obvious that Lubar had a lot of fun with it. Sometimes, it's the little details that count, and this aspect of the story really helped me connect with Scott and envision him as a real person instead of a character.

There were a few problems I had with this novel. For one, it was way too simplistic. I didn't at all agree with the way that suicide is handled here. As a real issue, I think that when it's brought up in a novel, it should be taken seriously. I don't mean that it should be the sole focus of the novel, but it should be handled with care and with full knowledge of the issue. Instead, it was more of a passing thing that I felt was only done to give Scott yet another conflict to deal with, and something less serious could have worked just as well. I don't think that it was handled realistically at all.

Also, this is nitpicky, but why does Scott just give the seniors his lunch money? Because they're bigger? I didn't get this at all, and maybe my high school experience was vastly different from other people's, but this definitely wasn't a problem at my school.

The narration is fantastic, as is to be expected in a Full Cast Audio production. (Seriously, I've never listened to Full Cast Audio that I haven't liked.) Ryan MacConnell does an excellent job in portraying the somewhat-dorky Scott and I loved the rest of the characters. Some of the music seems out of place -- I'm not sure why they picked jazz soundtracks to pair with this novel -- but the voice actors themselves are excellent.

In the end, I liked the overall message against stereotyping. Scott is a hilarious, down-to-earth character who will charm readers, and the book has a hopeful view of high school life that will both entertain teens and teach them valuable lessons.