Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series

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I discovered the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series last year and found myself enjoying it a lot more than I anticipated.  In a young adult market saturated with "angel" stories, this series brings a fresh approach to the topic.  Instead of angels, fallen or not, living among the humans, this series is about angels that live in their own world.  The angels are only half of the story though.  The main character, Karou, belongs to another world entirely.  She is part of the world of the chimaera.  As far as she knows, she is a human girl raised by the beasts.  In the first book she is just starting to learn the truth about who she is and the world she is from.  She has a near deadly encounter with a vengeful angel, Akiva, that leaves her little human life turned upside down.  Her people have been at war with the angels for centuries.  They are bitter rivals.  In a past long forgotten (or locked away), Karou and Akiva dared to fall in love and dream of a world where the two sides could find peace.  What resulted was death and betrayal.  Books two and three take place almost entirely in the worlds of the angels and chimaera.  There aren't a lot of humans in them except Karou's feisty best friend, Zuzana and her boyfriend, Mik.  We dive into the politics and powers of the two worlds.  Bloodshed is constant and war is inevitable.  Can Karou and Akiva find that common ground once again and can they bring their people to see each other as anything but the enemy?  These books are just awesome.  They are classified as young adult, but in reality all the characters are adults.  If you are opposed to YA books, but like fantasy, you will like this series.  There are awesome characters all around.  The evil/bad characters are truly horrific.  All the characters are far from perfect and each has a distinct personality.  There are a lot of characters, both angels and chimaera that you come to love and hate.  Zuzana is probably my favorite character.  You'll just love her too.  She refuses to be left behind and insinuates herself into the chimaera world.  She is exactly what Karou needs.  This series has a good mix of action, suspense, romance, friendship, humor and despair.  It is a dark world these creatures live in and if they can't work together all the worlds might just end.  I highly recommend giving this series a try.  Happy reading!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Gluten Free on a Shoestring Bakes Bread

17836507I was first turned on to this book when I stumbled upon a post of one of her recipes on my favorite food/cooking blog (Mel's Kitchen Cafe).  From there I decided to check out Nicole Hunn's cookbooks and blog.  I am so glad I found her.  Ever since my husband was diagnose with Celiac, life has not been easy for him.  Bread is one of his favorite things.  I have tried a lot of different recipes for sandwich bread, pizza crust, etc. and none of them were very good until I tried her recipes.  Now I am not a master chef, so some of the recipes didn't turn out the first time (you are not required to be a master chef for her recipes), but I have been able to find success.  Being able to eat pizza that doesn't have a cardboard tasting crust has been amazing.  I love being able to make bread that actually tastes good.  I can't wait to try out more of her recipes.  She has a lot in this book that I haven't been brave enough for yet, but I love being able to add breads back into my husbands diet.  He is probably a lot happier than I am about this discovery.  If you have to eat gluten-free, or just choose to, I highly recommend checking these cookbooks out.  This has been my number one favorite book discovery in months, which saying something with how much I read.  The first three chapters are strictly informational.  They are dedicated to flour blends, equipment, what to expect with GF bread, and shaping the dough.  My only major complaint is that she uses specific ingredients/brands that I have only been able to find online.  The cost is about normal, but the shipping fees are exorbitant.  For example, for $32 worth of product, it costs $20 to ship.  When I already have to pay more for gluten free products, I really don't want to have to pay to have them delivered to me.  I have just gone without those those brands and used the closest ingredients I can find.  So far it has worked out fine, but I haven't made a lot of different recipes yet.  She has a whole chapter dedicated to sour dough recipes I am eager to try.  Sour dough is the number one thing my husband misses, so he is also excited for that opportunity again.  If you are looking for some good gluten free breads, or just for some education on gluten free baking, definitely give this cookbook a try.  I also recommend her first two cookbooks.  Happy reading (and cooking)!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Percy Jackson

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Today I want to talk about one of my absolute favorite series for kids (actually it is two series, but one is a sequel of sorts).  After Harry Potter, Percy Jackson is the second must read kid's series, in my opinion.  I think every kid, and adult alike, should read these books.  They are just awesome.  The first five books (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) follow young Percy as he learns the truth of who he really is and embraces his destiny.  He is a demigod, son of one of the Olympic gods .  The monsters and gods from Greek Mythology are real and he is a key figure in their world, whether he wants to be or not.  In each book he finds himself on some seemingly impossible quest, relying on friends, guts and ingenuity to survive.  The five books are tied together by a prophesy that says when one of the demigods turns 16, he or she will either save or destroy Olympus.  The Titan lord Kronos is the big bad in this series.  As he gains power and starts to break free from his prison in Tartarus, Percy and the other demigods must do whatever they can to stop his army.  Obviously a lot of adventures take place over the course of the series.  They happen over the span of five years, culminating in the dreaded birthday and ensuing battle.  My favorite thing about these books is getting to know the modern day aspects of the gods.  They are quite entertaining.  The characters, not just the gods, but the demigods and other mythical creature, are all extremely fun and very likable.  Percy Jackson is a great hero, full of flaws but loyal to the end.  I can't say enough about this series.  If you haven't read it yet, start it immediately.  The second series, Heroes of Olympus, is still in progress.  It has mostly new characters, sons and daughters of the Roman aspects of the gods.  There are a handful of characters from the Greek side, including Percy, that are also in the series.  The trouble is, the Greek and Roman sides of the gods have always been at war with each other.  The two sides must learn to fight together if they are going to stop the Earth Mother, Gaea, from rising.  So far I am enjoying this series almost as much as the first.  They are well written and full of adventure.  I've always preferred Greek Mythology to Roman, so that is why the first series is a little better, in my opinion.  Still, I am loving this sequel series.  I can't wait until October when book five comes out.  Seriously, if you haven't read this series yet, pick up a copy of The Lightning Thief TODAY and get started.  I promise you won't be sorry.  Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Guardians

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Last Easter we watched Rise of the Guardians, and I was intrigued with the characters.  I wanted to read the series that inspired the movie.  In each book, the title character is recruited by the Man in the Moon to become a Guardian (of Childhood).  These are their origin stories so to speak.  The movie isn't exactly based on the books themselves.  It is more on the characters after they have been Guardians for awhile, once again battling Pitch.  If you liked the movie, you will definitely enjoy getting to know the characters back stories more.  Each adventure is filled with wonder and amazement.  They are also filled with danger as the growing group battles Pitch Dark (usually just called Pitch).  He is determined to fill the world with fear and turn children into Fearlings.  The books are so much fun.   The group is searching for all the missing pieces of the Moonclipper.  When assembled, they can stop Pitch once and for all.  If you are looking for long, deep stories, these are not for you.  They are short and fun books aimed at young children.  The first book sets up the series and then the story continues into each, as St. North and the Man in the Moon gather up/recruit the Guardians.  There is a smattering of artwork throughout the books, helping you see what the author had in mind when describing characters and creatures.  Over all, I had a lot of fun with the books and look forward to the series continuing.  As far as I know, there are at least two more planned.  If you are looking for a less fluffy Easter story this year, try this version of the Easter Bunny.  Happy reading!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Flipped

331920Flipped is one of the first Young Adult books I ever read.  It is classified as that, but in reality it is probably more for middle grade kids.  The main two characters are in eighth grade, but it is a love story at the core, even if it takes place on the playground.  It is also the first book I can remember reading that has alternating chapters( narration switch), something I have come to love in books.  I guess I just enjoy getting to hear different perspectives on the events in a story.  It is not always successful, but Wendelin Van Draanen nailed it in this book.  Unlike most books with alternating chapters, this one mostly retells the exact same events from both perspectives.  It is hilarious.  Our two narrators are Bryce and Julianne.  The two meet in second grade when Bryce's family moves in next door to Julianne's.  She is instantly in love with him, and he of course can't stand her.  Bryce does things to try to dissuade her, like get a girlfriend he doesn't even really like.  Julianne, in turn, feels it is her duty to save him from said girlfriend.  At the heart of it, the two don't actually really know each other at all.  They are locked in a game of cat and mouse.  As they get older and get to know each other a little better, Julianne realizes she doesn't really like who Bryce turns out to be under the surface.  Bryce, on the other hand, starts to think Julianne is quite fabulous.  It is now up to him to prove to her that he is worth liking after all.  This book is just so cute and funny.  I think this author has a talent for mixing humor with real emotion.  She writes funny books that have a depth to them as well.  While this book is a love story, it also touches on family loyalty, friendship, standing up for what you believe and not being afraid to be yourself.  I have read it a handful of times and enjoy it immensely with each reread.  If you haven't given it a try yet, I highly recommend it.  It will bring you plenty of laughs as you see these two neighbors interpret simple events in vastly different ways.  Enjoy and happy reading!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Autism Awareness Month

1618I haven't read a lot of books involving autism, but one that always comes to the forefront of my mind is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  This book is told from the point of view of 15-year-old autistic boy, Christopher.  My favorite part of this book is seeing the world through the eyes of an autistic person.  Getting to see how his brain works, how it perceives the world around his, and how he relates to others.  It was so eyeopening for me to get that better understanding, from the inside instead of from simple observation of autistic individuals in my life.  I read this book before I was even aware there was a spectrum and before I had ever heard of Asperger's Syndrome.  I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who had limited exposure to that world before reading this book.  I've seen Rain Man and various other shows/movies depicting autistic characters, but it wasn't until I was able to glimpse inside the autistic mind that I was truly able to understand their world just a little better.  This book is a work of fiction, but the author had years of working with autistic people as a reference into their minds.  This book shows how one little change in a person's life can really throw everything off balance.  How everyone's reality is different from that of others.  This month is all about becoming more aware of autism.  The prevalence is growing and I bet there is hardly anybody out there anymore who is not affected by autism in someway.  We all know at least one person on the autism spectrum.  If you want to understand them better, this is a great book to start you on that path.  While not every autistic person is the same, I bet at least one of Christopher's traits will hit home for you.  This is a great book to try out this month.  Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Penderwicks

266904April 10th is National Siblings Day in the USA.  It is a day to celebrate siblings.  I think The Penderwicks is the perfect book to highlight such a day.  It is the first book in a series of fun books, although it is my favorite so far.  It introduces us to a very fun cast of characters.  The Penderwick sisters are very different from each other, which at times causes a little drama.  But at the end of the day they are fiercely loyal and love each other very much.  Their mother is dead and they must count on each other to fill that empty role.  Their father is a very loving and wonderful man as well.  Now for the girls, first you have 12 year old Rosalind.  As the oldest, she is thrown into the role of looking after her sisters and therefore is forced to be responsible.  Next comes Skye, who tends to let her temper get the better of her.  Jane is an aspiring author, penning stories following Sabrina Starr on various ridiculous adventures.  She reminds me a bit of Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables).  Finally we have 4 year old Batty.  She loves to wear butterfly/fairy wings and is constantly accompanied by the loyal family dog, Hound.  Batty is an animal lover to the core.  When the Penderwick family rents a cottage on the grounds of Arundel manor for a summer vacation, the girls immediately find adventure and trouble.  To their delight, the snooty owner has a young son, Jeffrey, who is a kindred spirit in many ways.  They instantly become friends, and for Jeffrey and perhaps the girls, life will never be the same.  This book is light and full of fun.  It is a bit of a throw back to the innocent stories of old.  It truly is out of time.  The setting isn't necessary for the innocence of childhood and the adventure we can have when we use our imagination and enjoy the outdoors.  The characters are really entertaining and definitely kept me interested right through the ending.  The plot isn't super complex and the story isn't much more than a summer adventure, but that didn't make it less enjoyable.  After all, it did win the National Book Award in 2005, so obviously the appeal is not just in my head.  It is a great book to read alone or together as a family.  The Penderwick family is truly unforgettable and vastly entertaining.  Happy reading!