Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Caster Chronicles by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

  The Caster Chronicles is one of the many series I have started, but took a while to finish. I read the first book, Beautiful Creatures, a few years ago, loved it, but got so sidetracked with book review requests, book club books, talked-about New York Times Bestsellers, and more, I never got a chance to continue on in the series.
  Until now.
  A much-needed reading lull made its appearance into my TBR list pretty recently, and I decided to do a binge-read of the rest of Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's Caster Chronicles.
  The plot for the Caster Chronicles series is pretty basic, but intriguing enough to pick up. Typical southern boy in a typical southern town becomes increasingly drawn to a mysterious girl in his class. Ethan becomes so enthralled with Lena Duchannes, he unknowingly gets sucked into her magical world of Casters, Sirens, Incubi, and more magical beings hell-bent on destroying life as we know it.
  I fell in love with book one, where Ethan first meets Lena. I loved how the book was told in his perspective, I love that the romance was kept to a minimum (thank you, Kami and Margaret for that), I loved the plot, and I loved that the author built up this world that readers of YA books have never delved into before.
  I became pretty intrigued with the series, enough to buy all four books, and read on to see what was going to happen next in Ethan and Lena's world.
  Book two, Beautiful Darkness, had the same effect on me. I LOVED the plot, I was deep into the story line by this point, and was very content with how the story continued.
  Also, a female character named Liv was introduced in book two, and she was so much fun and so refreshing to read about, I almost grew tired of Ethan and Lena's story, and wanted the book to focus more on Liv. Not quite, but almost. She was a wonderful addition to the story. She remains, to this day, my favorite character from the series. I can't actually ever recall a time when I walked away from a series with my favorite character being a girl/woman. That's a first for me, I think.
  Now, on to book three and book four, Beautiful Chaos, and Beautiful Redemption. I'm sorry to say that this is where my love affair with the series started to feel like a drag. In all honesty, I grew a little tired of the recurring characters, their "charm," and their, in my opinion, immaturity. By book three, I wanted a book about Liv and Marion, because those were the only characters I looked forward to reading about.
  There was a big turning point at the very end of book three that made me itching to get my hands on book four, and that lasted quite a while into book four (enough for me to rate it four stars, not three), but it still had a lingering aftertaste of disappointment.
  Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy the series and care about the characters, but I'm... I just feel like, by this point, I'm just waiting for my happily ever after, and an ending, so I can move on.
  This may sound confusing, because the Caster Chronicles is over, but in a way it's not. Now I'm in the middle of (Lena's cousin) Ridley's series, and I'm ready to move on. (Same characters, similar plot lines, etc.) I hate to say that, I really do. But honestly, I just want what's best for my characters. A happily ever after, a ride into the sunset, and no more unnecessary problems.
  Whatever Caster Chronicles-related books come from Kami and Margaret, I will read. You bet your book loving, sweet patootie, I will read them. I want to know what happens. And when my characters' stories are (finally) over, I will miss "hearing from them." But when their story is over, I know I will be satisfied, and relieved, when it is tied up in a neat little bow.
  Overall, the Caster Chronicles series, for me, is riding the fine line of 3.5 stars.

Try the first book in the series...

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Or binge-read the entire Caster Chronicles...


Monday, August 17, 2015

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

  I've read many incredible books in my lifetime. Many have left a lasting impression on me, some are just very satisfying reads, but only a chosen few are books I would consider "life-altering."
  The Kite Runner is one of those books.
  I went into this reading experience expecting to be bored to tears. I didn't know anything about the plot of The Kite Runner, but I did know- in all honesty- it was about a time and part of the world I have never read about before. This wasn't intentional, I had just never picked it up to read.
  So when I finally did pick it up, I was hesitant to delve into it. I'm not an adventurous person when it comes to literature, and I'm always hesitant to try new plot lines and genres... But, boy am I glad I decided to venture outside of my reading comfort zone.
  Amir is a privileged youth growing up in 1970s Kabul, Afghanistan. Hassan is Amir's polar opposite. He grew up poor, unprivileged, uneducated, and a Shi'a, as opposed to Amir, who is a Sunni. Despite their differences, they were born a year apart, grew up together, live on the same land, and are best friends.
  All is well in Afghanistan, until there are signs of the blossoming of the Soviet-Afghan war.
  In The Kite Runner, we follow Amir's life through war, poverty, escapism, love, loss, friendship, and ultimate sacrifices.
  Sometimes when you read a book that is so well-talked about, you hesitate to read it, thinking in the end you'll be disappointed. I can't say that's exactly how I felt with The Kite Runner. I'm not even sure if I had any pre-conceived notions before actually going into this book, but I will tell you that there is a reason why this book is so talked about. It's a New York Times, international, award-winning bestseller for a very good reason. This book is exceptional. Mind-blowing. Beautiful. Melancholy. Frightening. Intimidating. The Kite Runner should be the bar aspiring authors devote their lives to reaching.
  Khaled Hosseini paints such a powerful picture with The Kite Runner. He shows us the beauty of life growing up in Afghanistan, as well as the twisted dystopian truth that comes with growing up in a time of war.
  In fact, typing about this stunning book is much easier than actually explaining why I love it so much, in person. When I try to speak about it, my throat closes up and tears fill my eyes.
  I understand that this book does not appeal to everyone, and that's okay. Different books appeal to different people. But when fellow readers, or new readers ask me about some of the best books I've ever read, I will jump at the chance to suggest Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Farmer's Market Cookbook: From Broccoli to Zucchini Recipes to Make You Fall in Love with Vegetables by Lucy Leigh Hendry

  Have you ever decided to venture out to your local farmer's market, and purchase countless amounts of delicious, plump fruits and crisp vegetables, only to find them withered in the back of your refrigerator a week later? Unlike most genetically modified produce in every corner chain grocery store, locally grown food does not have the shelf life of two months.
  Have you ever bought a half a bushel of apples, saying to yourself that you WILL make a pie this weekend when your folks come over? Or saw a Pinterest recipe that caught your eye, looked good, and you pinned, fully intending to dig out your grandma's old crockpot with its stains and smudges from hundreds of previous recipes that generations of your family have made over the years?
  You don't need motivation or that nagging pressure of having to use the food you have in your fridge to FINALLY get yourself into the kitchen and cook...
  ...all you need is a really good cookbook.
  Now, this is my first ever cookbook review, but when I'm not reading or crocheting, I'm cooking, so I like to think that this is somewhat of a specialty of mine (I say as I'm tooting my own horn).
  I am one of the lucky ducks who's dragged to my local farmer's market every weekend by my mom (thanks, mom). I don't particularly enjoy shopping in the heat, outdoors, with bugs using me as their own personal target, coming from every direction, but there is one huge plus to sucking it up and making the haul to the farmer's market (or local produce stand).
  The Farmers Market Cookbook not only makes long-time experts in the kitchen fall in love again with cooking, it makes those who have never stepped one foot in a kitchen fall in love as well.
  Whether you've professionally baked 100 sweet potato pies for the county fair, or whether you can barely boil pasta without burning it, The Farmer's Market Cookbook will have you preparing deliciously healthy meals all year long.
  From cauliflower to spinach, this cookbook will have you preparing meals that will make even your picky eaters ask for seconds. (I speak from personal experience.)
  In fact, why not make it a family occasion and bring your children into the kitchen to help your prepare dinner? The Farmer's Market Cookbook turns the regular and taxing task of cooking a meal into an exciting adventure.
  *I* am even starting to add vegetables to the weekly "What to Look for at the Produce Stand" list. If there's anything that's going to get you excited about going to the farmer's market, preparing all of your locally (or home) grown ingredients, and pulling together a beautiful and healthy meal, it's this book.


Monday, August 3, 2015

Second Chance Family by Leigh Duncan

  I came across Second Chance Family by Leigh Duncan in a very unique way. 
  One day, when I still lived in Florida, I made a trip to my local post office to mail out some packages. The postal worker behind the counter asked how I was doing and what I was up to (since she has known me since I was very little). I told her that I was reviewing books. She said to me, "That is so ironic! Just now an author came in and told me about her work. She handed me a few bookmarks of hers..." and proceeded to give me a bookmark for Leigh Duncan's Second Chance Family. 
  I thanked her, we chatted a little while more, and I left with my new bookmark. 
  Fast-forward to a few months later, when I was contacted by a local Harlequin Romance author named Leigh Duncan. 
  The connection never crossed my mind.
  I read a few of Leigh Duncan's American Harlequin Romances, fell in love (of course), and accepted review requests for the rest of Ms Duncan's books. 
  That's when I received a copy of Second Chance Family in the mail...and a hundred light bulbs switched on in my head. 
  I had been wanting to read this book for MONTHS! Ever since I saw the cover, I knew one day I had to read this book. (But as a reader, you know that you put a thousand books on your To Be Read list per week, and you soon become somewhat buried alive in your own To Read pile.) 
  I was more than eager to finally read Second Chance Family. 
  It did not disappoint. 
  After a horrible experience with being married to a professional baseball player, Courtney Smith is not only extremely fed up with ex-husbands and baseball, she's fed up with the male species altogether. Courtney has two children to raise and a business to keep afloat. She does not need any sort of male drama in her life. 
  But one male in particular finds his way in to her life anyway. 
  Travis Oak has always dreamed of becoming a professional player in the major leagues, but for now, he is just trying to survive successfully coaching a little league team in his hometown in Florida. Especially since his main focus is trying to keep one of his kids on the straight and narrow and not get expelled. 
  This child just happens to be Courtney's son. 
  Can a little league coach, two children, and a woman who would be more than happy to stay away from baseball as much as possible come together and win the championship game? Or will someone have to take a long break in the dugout for good? 
  My favorite Leigh Duncan book has to be The Daddy Catch (so far), but I would have to say the Second Chance Family follows pretty closely behind along with Rodeo Daughter. (Which are all American Harlequin Fatherhood Romances... I'm starting to see a pattern here.) 
  Second Chance Family was sweet, realistic, and most of all, extremely satisfying. I like to look at this book as a puzzle. When you first start it, you can slightly see the possible outcome of what its finished product is supposed to look like. But when you reach that turning point, that "aha!" moment, the level of satisfaction that settles in your very core is indescribable. 
  Sometimes you just need a really good, happy book to scratch that literary itch, and Leigh Duncan most certainly provides that book. I know that when I'm in a reading lull, I can always rely on Leigh Duncan's books to pull me back out. 

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