Friday, June 14, 2019

SUMMER BREAK in 3....2.....1!

School's out for summer! 

It's that time of year where we here at Reading For Sanity worry a little less about making review deadlines and a little more about keeping up with our family's fun summer plans.  We hope you have a great summer break and will see you in September!  You can still contact us on FB if you have any questions!  Until then, stay sane and read on! 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

10 Fantastic Read-Aloud Children's Books to Help Build Self-Esteem and Encourage Kindness

One of my favorite memories as a kid is of my mother reading to me and now that I am a parent I try to carry on that tradition with my four darling daughters.  I have found that some of my favorite children's books (and some of my children's favorite books) are the ones that also help build self-confidence and promote kindness.  

I decided it might be a good idea to pass some of those titles on to you, in case you think a little extra confidence and kindness is something your kiddos need.  Here are 10 titles, in no particular order, that we feel fit the bill quite nicely.  (Pssst...if we have reviewed them, we linked title.)

You are Special by Max Lucado

The Crayon Box that Talked by Shane Derolf

Remarkably You by Pat Zietlow Miller

I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont

The Porcupine Named Fluffy by Helen Lester

Chrysanthemum - Kevin Henkes

Oh, the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss

Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud

A Bad Case of Stripes - David Shannon

"The more that you read, the more things you will know.  
The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." - Dr. Seuss

We hope you found something here to love!  Happy READING!!

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Mother-in-Law - Sally Hepworth

Summary: Someone once told me that you have two families in your life - the one you are born into and the one you choose. Yes, you may get to choose your partner, but you don't choose your mother-in-law. The cackling mercenaries of fate determine it all.

From the moment Lucy met Diana, she was kept at arm's length. Diana is exquisitely polite, but Lucy knows, even after marrying Oliver, that they'll never have the closeness she'd been hoping for.

But who could fault Diana? She was a pillar of the community, an advocate for social justice, the matriarch of a loving family. Lucy had wanted so much to please her new mother-in-law.

That was ten years ago. Now, Diana has been found dead, leaving a suicide note. But the autopsy reveals evidence of suffocation. And everyone in the family is hiding something...

From the bestselling author of The Family Next Door comes a new page-turner about that trickiest of relationships. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I think one of the most fascinating things to read about is complex family relationships. I myself don’t have particularly complex family relationships. I mean, every family is complex in its own way, but I feel like that mine is pretty standard as far as complex relationships go. However, I do have some extended family relationships on both sides (not directly involving me) that are very complicated, and although I totally agonize and sympathize with these people, it’s also fascinating to watch. When I meet someone I consider to be a little unstable in my life, I can’t help but think that that person is someone’s family and they’re having to deal with them all of the time, whereas I can just choose to keep them on the periphery or, if forced to, only interact with them as needed. But if you’re family, it’s kind of hard not to be deeply engaged in all the fiascos that one unstable person can bring. So after that long preamble, you can see why this book would be an interesting read for me.

There is perhaps no greater difficulty than learning to adjust to getting along with in-laws. Even people with great in-laws (like me) go through some sort of adjustment phase because the family comes with baggage—they’re already a family, and all of a sudden they’re your family and are deeply ingrained in your life in all sorts of ways. Depending on the people, this can go smoothly or it can be pretty rough. I would say that the characters in this book had it pretty rough. Here is one thing that I really liked about the book, though, and that is that the chapters were written for different characters, and that made for a particularly fascinating insight into the family relationships and difficulties. It’s one thing to see things from one narrator; it’s completely different to see it from the sides of all involved. It certainly gives a depth to the situation that only one narrator can’t offer. Although this book wasn’t deeply intellectual or anything, I did appreciate the awareness it brought to a situation when more than one narrator was weighing in on what happened. It reminded me that in my own life, there’s always more than one side to the story. That’s trite and obvious, but it’s true, and yet so easily forgettable (even though everyone is always saying it).

I always love a good murder mystery. This one had the benefit of having a good mystery without all the blood and gore that sometimes goes with the murder. That was nice, because although I do enjoy a good murder mystery, sometimes I also enjoy skipping over the extreme details of the violence that occurred or what the people had to endure at the end. I may like murder, but I’m no monster. If you also like murder mysteries but want something a little less intense than some of the serious blood and gore that is out there, this is a good book to check out.

I read this book quickly. The writing style was effortless and easy to read. It wasn’t remarkable in that it was literary genius or anything, but was pleasant and helped the story move right along. I didn’t feel like the characters were super developed or really complex (it is not a very long book, really) but there was enough substance there that I cared about them and what happened in the story. There were also enough nuances in the characters’ peripheral lives that it kept things interesting and the plot moving right along. I quite enjoyed it.

If you are into books that deal with family drama and relationships, or into clean murder mysteries, this is one you might enjoy. It will be a nice summer read as it’s not too long and not too complex. You could read it while enjoying a vacation or just relaxing.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and brief and mild discussions of sex.

Friday, June 7, 2019

I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban - Malala Yousafzi with Christina Lamb

Summary: When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out.  Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.  In October 2012, when she was fifteen, Malala almost paid the ultimate price.  She was shot in the head while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.  Instead, Malala's heroic recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistanto the halls of the United Nations in New York.  At sixteen, she emerged as a global symbol of peaceful protest.  A year later she became the youngest recipient ever of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Hailed by the Associated Press for its "arresting detail," I am Malala will make readers believe in the power of one person's voice to inspire change in the world.  (Summary from back of book - Image from

My Review:  At face value, I am Malala is about a young Pakistani girl named Malala Yousafzai and her life before and after she is shot in the head by the Taliban.  That, by itself, would be a rather compelling tale (and it was), but I am Malala covers so much more ground.  Aside from her story, it is also an impassioned treatise on the importance of education and women's rights and an appeal to speak out in the face of injustice, regardless of the consequence.  

I am Malala unveils a very different Pakistan from the one I have seen on television or read about on the news.  Through Malala's perspective, I discovered a magnificent country with a rich culture, vibrant population, and turbulent history.  She adores her Swat valley with an intensity and pride that rivals most New Yorkers' attachment to the Big Apple and, like most people, just wants to live in peace in the land of her ancestors with the same rights and freedoms to which we are all entitled.  Throughout the book, Malala speaks longingly of the beauty of her homeland and the horror of watching it become ravaged by war.  She also gave interesting insight into the traditions of her Pashtun culture, local history, and the complexities of regional politics.  Malala's story clarifies the experience of everyday people simply trying to live their lives, caught in the middle of a brawl between a militant faction of their own religion, a generally corrupt government, and the might of the US military.  As such, it brought the brutality of the Taliban and the casualties of the war on terror into focus in a way that is hard to ignore or forget.

Malala is a force of nature -- fierce, determined, independent, intelligent, and wise beyond her years.  Sure, she fights with her brothers and obsesses over Twilight, but she was also was reading Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time at age eleven while standing up to the Taliban.  So, clearly, she's amazing.  I think Malala can credit at least a small part of her fearlessness and tenacity to her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, who always fostered those qualities and respected and believed in her regardless of her gender/age.  In a culture that is sometimes accused of not valuing it's women, Malala's father never expected less from her, and I truly admire him for it.  

Malala's spirituality was especially meaningful to me.  I learned a lot about the Muslim religion from this book and gained new understanding regarding the beliefs of everyday Muslims and how they differ from the extremist factions of the faith that proclaim jihad and manufacture terror.  I appreciate that clarification and wish more people understood it.  Though we come from different faiths, it became clear that what we had in common was what really mattered.  One of my favorite aspects of this book was the snippets of wisdom (some spiritual, others secular) scattered throughout.  Here are a few examples:  
  • One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.
  • Don't accept good things from bad people.
  • If people were silent, nothing would change.
  • You must speak the truth.  The truth will abolish fear.
  • Don't be afraid.  If you're afraid you can't move forward.
  • At night our fear is strong...but in the morning, in the light we find our courage again.

Here are a few longer ones as well:
  • In my heart was the belief that God would protect me.  If I am speaking for my rights, for the rights of girls, I am not doing anything wrong.  It's my duty to do so.  God wants to see how we behave in such situations. ...If one man...can destroy everything, why can't one girl change it?... I prayed to God every night to give me strength.
  • My father used to say the people of Swat and the teachers would continue to educate our children until the last room, the last teacher and the last student was alive.  My parents never once suggested I should withdraw from school, ever.  Though we loved school, we hadn't realized how important education was until the Taliban tried to stop us.  Going to school, reading, and doing our homework wasn't just a way of passing time, it was our future. 
  • I began to see that the pen and the words that come from it can be much more powerful than machine guns, tanks or helicopters.  We were learning how to struggle.  And we were learning how powerful we are when we speak.
  • Once I had asked God for one or two extra inches in height, but instead he made me as tall as the sky, so high that I could not measure myself. giving me this height to reach people, he has also given me great responsibilities.  Peace in every home, every street, every village, every country -- this is my dream.  
I am Malala is a fervent plea for education on behalf of the world's women, a fascinating historical account, and a useful guide on standing for what's right, overcoming trials, and finding gratitude in unexpected places.  Ultimately, this not just Malala's story (however well told).  It is also is the story of everyday people who, in their own ways, stood up for what's right and said ENOUGH.  I highly recommend it.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Some descriptions of atrocities committed by the Taliban, ruling government of Pakistan, and US military.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Department of Sensitive Crimes - Alexander McCall Smith

Summary: In the Swedish criminal justice system, certain cases are considered especially strange and difficult, in Malm�, the dedicated detectives who investigate these crimes are members of an elite squad known as the Sensitive Crimes Division. 

These are their stories.

The first case: the small matter of a man stabbed in the back of the knee. Who would perpetrate such a crime and why? Next: a young woman's imaginary boyfriend goes missing. But how on earth do you search for someone who doesn't exist? And in the final investigation: eerie secrets that are revealed under a full moon may not seem so supernatural in the light of day. No case is too unusual, too complicated, or too, well insignificant for this squad to solve.

The team: Ulf 'the Wolf" Varg, the top dog, thoughtful and diligent; Anna Bengsdotter, who's in love with Varg's car (and possibly Varg too); Carl Holgersson, who likes nothing more than filling out paperwork; and Erik Nykvist, who is deeply committed to fly fishing.

With the help of a rather verbose local police officer, this crack team gets to the bottom of cases other detectives can't or won't bother to handle. Equal parts hilarious and heartening, The Department of Sensitive Crimes is a tour de farce from a true master. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I really love Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe series. The first book in that series (and by this point there are 19 out, and #20 is on the way so you know I’m not the only one who likes them) is the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. It takes place in Botswana for the most part and features the lovely and infinitely wise Precious Ramotswe. She is a treat to read about and I love the books. They are so warm and just lovely. McCall Smith as several other series that are also very popular, but I haven’t read them yet. When I saw that he had this new series coming out featuring Detective Varg, I thought I would try it out.

One of my fave things about McCall Smith is he really seems to have the pulse on human nature. I find that his insights are spot on and often written about in a way that I hadn’t thought of before. They’re rarely earth-shattering, but more like a quiet gem of wisdom that leaves me feeling like maybe I’m not alone in thinking or doing what I do. He really is magical that way. There was quite a bit of that in this book, as I would assume is also par for the course in his other books. It certainly is in the Precious Ramotswe series, but since that’s the only series I’ve read, I wasn’t sure. Now I’m thinking that knowing the human psyche better than it knows itself is one of his specialties.

Like the Precious Ramotswe series, these are big mysteries that are made to feel small in the grand scheme of things. That isn’t to say that McCall Smith is belittling to people’s problems, but he is able to step back and see that these are big problems with big consequences, but address them in a way that makes the reader feel like even a most hopeless situation is not a lost cause. It doesn’t always end up really well for everyone, but there is a certain point of resolution that feels satisfying, even if it isn’t necessarily the way the reader thought it would end.

My biggest complaint about this book is that it is very similar to the Precious Ramotswe series. It didn’t feel new at all. Yes, the main character is a man (and so I’m thinking maybe this is the Precious Ramotswe series for men?) and it takes place in Sweden and in an official government capacity (whereas Precious is a private detective) but other than that, it felt very similar. In fact, I would say that Detective Varg is a very similar personality to Precious. Now, is this bad? Not necessarily. I love Precious Ramotswe. It just wasn’t original, and also, the fact that it was new means that I didn’t feel as connected or the stories as developed as the ones in No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. I wouldn’t say the book was boring, but the quiet manner in which McCall Smith writes is such that a rich history over, say, 20 books, really adds to the characters and the stories, whereas this is new and didn’t have a lot to add in that department. That being said, that doesn’t mean that this series doesn’t have places to go that will be very different from the other series. It is entirely possible that this is a gateway book to hook readers like me who love Precious into a new series. We shall see.

If you are a fan of Alexander McCall Smith, I think you should certainly check this out. If you’ve never read anything he’s done, I definitely think you should. He’s a truly great author with a really unique, insightful writing style that I find delightful.

My Review: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some very mild and vague discussion of adult topics, but it is clean.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Order of the Majestic - Matt Myklusch

Disclaimer: The only writing I've done since January have been emails home. The only reading I've done has been curriculum or assigned reading. And I'm sorry, no one should have to read 1984 or Hamlet four times in two weeks!! It fries the brain.

Hug your ELA teachers. And please forgive this review - I'm finding my review feet again!

SummaryFans of Brandon Mull and James Riley will love this action-packed, accessible fantasy story about one kid’s journey to discover magic as he’s caught up in an epic battle between two powerful ancient orders.

Twelve-year-old daydreamer Joey Kopecky’s life has been turned upside down. After acing a series of tests, he’s declared a genius and awarded a full scholarship at a special (year-round!) school. He’s understandably devastated, until he takes one last test, and the room around him disappears, replaced by the interior of an old theater.

There, Joey meets the washed-up magician, Redondo the Magnificent, and makes a shocking discovery…magic is real, but sadly, there isn’t much left in the world. It may be too late to save what little remains, but for the first time in his life Joey wants to try—really try—to do something big. Soon he’s swept up into a centuries-old conflict between two rival societies of magicians—the Order of the Majestic, who fights to keep magic alive and free for all, and the dark magicians of the Invisible Hand, who hoard magic for their own evil ends.

The endless battle for control of magic itself has reached a tipping point. For Redondo and the Order to survive, Joey must inherit the lost legacy of Harry Houdini. Will he prove himself worthy, or will the Invisible Hand strike him down? The answer will depend on Joey’s ability to believe, not just in magic, but in himself. (Summary and image from I was provided a book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Why is it that the ones who don't want to be seen as geniuses are typically the ones who are? Such is the case with Joey - he swears he's not that smart, he's just cracked the code to answering questions. That being said, he does recognize that he sees things differently. That ability to see things differently is what sets him apart, both in his real life and in the magical battlefield he finds himself.

This is a fun book. Magic is hard to take too seriously, and Myklush doesn't fall into the trap of attempting to do so. His characters have growing room (and growing pains) despite their age and ability, and it's refreshing to see that development. Further, I can't begin to sing the praises of having involved and caring parents in a book. Could they be more involved? Yes. But it's the Max and Ruby type of involvement -- they're probably very involved, but our middle grade kids totally don't see that! 

I really haven't had the opportunity to read books since January (part of the perils of teaching school), so I had to be very selective of what I did choose to read for leisure. This was the perfect vacation book. I flew through it on a plane ride, thoroughly enjoyed my reading experience, and didn't feel cheated by the story or the characters. Joey is a good kid. His friends are real and any one of them is fully capable of being the hero if needed. His mentor is acerbic, gruff, and real.  He honestly reminded me of the teachers we all had - the ones we were convinced hated us, but who we learned more from in a week than years with any other. 

Rating: Four stars

For the sensitive reader: Magic. And a few deaths.  

Friday, May 31, 2019

The Weight of a Thousand Feathers -

Summary: Child experts will tell you that I'm way too young to carry such a burden of responsibility on my tender shoulders. But really, what do they know?' Who is Bobby Seed? He's just your average sixteen-year-old - same wants, same fears, same hang-ups. Dull, dull, dull. But then there's the Bobby Seed who's a world away from average. The Bobby Seed who has to wipe his mum's backside, sponge her clean three times a week, try to soothe her pain. The Bobby Seed whose job it is to provide for his younger brother, Danny, to rub his back when he's stressed and can only groan and rock instead of speak. That's Bobby Seed. Same, same, same, yet different, different, different ... (Summary and pic from

My Review:  One of the things I have enjoyed about listening to the podcast by Kirkus Reviews, “Fully Booked,” is that that they feature books that are from a wide variety of points of view from around the world—diverse authors, books that address experiences that are not common or if they are common, are not always addressed, etc. The Weight of a Thousand Feathers is just such a book. The story features an older teenage boy who is the caregiver to his mother who is struggling with advanced MS. He is also the caregiver of his younger brother. As with many sad and progressive illnesses such as MS, the situation is not going to get any better. We know the outcome. It is inevitable. How it comes about and how soon is, of course, the unknown, but the outcome is not unknown.

I thought this book was really well-done. It was really sad, of course, but it was also hopeful and inspiring. I am constantly struck by people in very difficult situations and their resilience and selflessness. This is obviously such a book, as the situation warrants difficult discussions and hard topics to read about and discuss. I thought the author did a great job of creating a realistic-feeling situation where a young man would be faced with very difficult but very real situations in the face of being a caregiver, with equal parts of responsibility and also resentment and also love. It’s a strange dichotomy, of course, being a caregiver, and it is magnified when the caregiver is a minor and is taking care of his mother and his little brother.

I appreciated this book because it made the care-giving feel all-encompassing, as I’m assuming it would be, especially for a boy as young as this. It would be a burden and yet, this boy was still faced with normal teenager-like situations: school, friends, love interests, the future. The author was able to create a rich environment that felt both stifling but also really normal for a boy, which would be the dichotomy of being a teenage caregiver.

There were only a few characters in this book that were well-developed, but I think that that helped create the illusion of a closed-in world, such as it would feel if you were a primary caregiver to an ailing parent. You would know a few people and trust a few people, and everyone else would just be kind of peripheral as you tried to deal with your own reality. There wasn’t space and emotional energy for anyone else. I didn’t miss having other well-developed characters. I felt like the ones we knew were in equal proportion to their importance in the life of the main characters.

The most difficult situation, of course, was when the mother asked her son to help her end her life. (This is not a spoiler; this is on the description of the book, FYI). What goes through the mind and thoughts of both sons was hard to read and yet relatable. These situations are never easy, are they? Nothing seems cut and dry when faced with the situation these boys were facing. It certainly complicates everything. There is much dialogue in regard to this, and I feel like the author did a good job of helping the reader understand the impossibility of the issue and yet the obviousness of the answer.

I found this to be a powerful, enlightening, and emotional book. I think that older teens would benefit from reading it. It’s really scary because of a dying parent, but it would create a great degree of empathy in helping the reader understand that we don’t always know what others are going through, and that being kind and understanding and giving people a chance is very important. I feel like my young teen would have a hard time with some of the content, both emotionally and just maturity-wise.

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is discussion of sex, same-sex attraction and some same-sex love scenes, as well as drugs, language, and the dying and death of a parent. I wouldn’t let my young teen read this, although I do think that older high schoolers could benefit from it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Mirage - Somaiya Daud

Summary:  Her own face was the enemy.  In a world dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer.  She dreams of what life was like before the occupation, of writing poetry, of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day she, too, will have adventure and travel beyond her isolated moon.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects.  She is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace where she discovers that she looks nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek princess Maram.  The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double: someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she knows she is a pisoner in all but name.  Even so, she can't help enjoying the palace's beauty -- and her time with the princess's fiance, Idris.  But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear.  If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection...because one wrong move could lead to her death.  (Summary from book flap - Image from

My Review: In Mirage, a young girl named Amani is brutally ripped from her family and home, kidnapped by the vicious race that murdered thousands and stole the throne from her planet's rightful leaders.  Chosen for her uncanny resemblance to the usurper king's heir-apparent, Amani is quickly thrust into her role as body double for the hated Princess Maram.  In time, Amani learns to mimic the princess in every detail, and risks her life often in the royal's place, but still burns with a fierce determination to survive and return home to her family at all costs.

My favorite thing about Mirage was the setting and cultural aspects of the story, which reminded me a great deal of Cinder and the rest of the Lunar Chronicles series (a book series that I loved).  The cultures aren't the same (Cinder has Asian roots, Mirage has more Arabic origins) but they do have the same intrinsic feel -- a blend of ancient, deeply-rooted cultures and futuristic technology woven together to create a beguiling new world.  However, every good story stands on multiple legs, and setting is just one of them.

While the when and where of this story felt deeply resonant, the whowhat and how of it all sped a long a little too quickly.  I liked the characters, but I feel like I barely got to know them and the story line felt glossed over.  Amani's training to impersonate the princess took less than 25 pages and (SPOILER HERE) Maram's evolution from sadistic mistress to sister happened unnaturally fast. (SPOILER ENDS) It's not that there was anything necessarily wrong with bones of the story, I just wanted more time so that the progress of the story felt organic and unrushed.

Overall, I liked the story (not love, but like) and appreciated the wonderful blend of Arabic culture with space-age tech, I wasn't overly blown away.  It was renter not a keeper, if that makes sense.  I was hoping that Mirage would be a light one-and-done kind of story, but the end made it clear there is another book in the works.  Court of Lions is due to hit bookstores in August 2019.  I may read it it.  I may not.  I'll let you know if I do.

My Rating: 3.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  A brief excerpt of lewd poetry (unintentionally given) and one scene where sex is inferred but not described. I can't remember anything else.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Dragons & Monsters - Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda

Summary: Lurking behind this intriguing cover, a Kraken grapples with a ship on the high seas; dragons from Eastern and Western traditions spring to life; and a Medusa, snake-hair twisting and hissing, turns the reader to stone. Deeper inside, an ancient, decrepit vampire rises from his coffin; a lycanthrope is caught in the light of the full moon and transforms; and Bigfoot hides behind a tree, ducking his human pursuer. Master paper engineers Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda unfold the legends and lore of cultures around the world to reveal these stunning creatures and many more. Pop-up fans and fantasy lovers will be equally enthralled by the dynamic creatures depicted in this astonishing volume, the climax of the Encyclopedia Mythologica trilogy. 

In a breathtaking grand finale, the world’s mythical pop-up masters unleash monsters and dragons that have prowled countrysides and imaginations for centuries. (image and summary from

My Review: I love monsters.

I'm always drawing them, writing stories about them, telling people about them, and they're like, 'why are you drawing creepy things?' and 'who are you and why are you telling me about kappas?'

This book is chalk-full of monsters, and in all their three dimensional glory.  We get ancient beasts like Medusa, giants, and centaurs, European dragons, Eastern dragons, sea monsters, vampires, werewolves, yetis and Loch Ness Monsters.  So, for someone who loves monsters as much as I do, this book is a real treat.

We get a taste of these different monsters from around the world, and Reinhart fills us in on all the details and history, while Sabuda gives us a visual with his marvelous pop ups.

The great thing with this pop-up book, as with other Sabuda books I've read, is he doesn't stop with just one pop-up per page--there are separate little mini booklets within each page that expand on different monsters, and some have multiple pop-ups within this one little booklet, and some pages have multiple of these.

And Sabuda's pop-ups aren't your run of the mill pop-ups, they are truly these intricate works of art.  I mean, just look at the Eastern Dragon page:

This book is absolutely a must if you love pop-ups or monsters, or, if you're like me, both.  

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: discussions of monsters, which includes some scary imagery and content where monsters are concerned.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Secret Life of Mrs. London - Rebecca Rosenberg

Summary: 2019 Gold Medal IPPY Winner! 

San Francisco, 1915. As America teeters on the brink of world war, Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, wrestle with genius and desire, politics and marital competitiveness. Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own career on hold to support her husband, but Jack doesn’t see it that way…until Charmian is pulled from the audience during a magic show by escape artist Harry Houdini, a man enmeshed in his own complicated marriage. Suddenly, charmed by the attention Houdini pays her and entranced by his sexual magnetism, Charmian’s eyes open to a world of possibilities that could be her escape.

As Charmian grapples with her urge to explore the forbidden, Jack’s increasingly reckless behavior threatens her dedication. Now torn between two of history’s most mysterious and charismatic figures, she must find the courage to forge her own path, even as she fears the loss of everything she holds dear.

(Summary and pic from

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: One of my favorite things about historical fiction, or historical fact-based fiction, is that I learn about connections in history I didn’t know about before. I am, of course, talking about this book in particular, but it seems to happen a lot. Did you know that Jack London’s second wife, Charmian London, had an alleged affair (and I don’t know how extensive it was, the book is fiction) with Harry Houdini? It didn’t even occur to me that Jack London and Harry Houdini lived at the same time, let alone had a relationship, let alone that Harry Houdini would then have an affair with Jack London’s wife. I mean, my mind is blown. Maybe you do a better job of putting history together than I do, but I love finding out these little fun facts. Even though this book embellishes the relationship between Houdini and Charmian, the fact that there was any relationship at all is just fascinating to me.

One thing I really enjoyed about this book was learning more about both Jack London and Harry Houdini. I feel like Harry Houdini is on everybody’s radar—he’s still legendary, even with all of the magic acts that that go on today. He is, without a doubt, a legend. I didn’t know as much about Jack London. I knew he was an author, but I didn’t realize how prolific he was or how popular he was at the time. His books are still popular today, of course, but at the time he was really, really famous. This is something else I love about historical books—they can give you an idea of what was popular then and how it relates to our history in general. Just like we have popular authors today and popular magicians today who have made an impact on our culture, these two made a huge cultural impact on people living at that time.

Another thing I love about historical fiction is that it gives a cultural glimpse into what life was like back then. I am fascinated by how people used to live—what they ate, what they did, where they lived, what they saw, etc. Good historical fiction does a great job of transporting the reader back to time and place. I feel that this book did a good job of that. There were cultural things that existed then that don’t exist now, especially in regard to food and servants and medical treatment. I don’t know about you, but I am forever grateful for modern medicine when I read about historical medical treatments.

Although I found the content of this book to be really interesting, I didn’t always love the execution. It was very much a women’s literature book, and at times it felt like a romance novel. I’m not saying this because there was excessive, descriptive sex or something (although there was some), but the emotional instability of the women and the somewhat cheesy writing in regards to the women’s thoughts and feelings made it feel like a women’s lit book. I know some people really enjoy that, I’m not necessarily one of them. These were strong female characters, don’t get me wrong, and they definitely had some depth to them, I just felt like the writing was a little cheesy at times in regards to them and their relationships with the men. I am not a romance novel reader, however, and I think that this part of the writing could be more on par with romance novel writing, albeit very tame romance novel writing.

If you are interested in history, especially Jack London and Harry Houdini, I think this would be an interesting book for you to check out. As mentioned above, much of it is fiction, although it is based on the real relationships between the men and women in this book, which I found to be fascinating and also really surprising.

My Rating: 3 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and discussion of sex.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Clementine - Sara Pennypacker

Summary: Clementine is having not so good of a week.
-On Monday she's sent to the principal’s office for cutting off Margaret’s hair.
- Tuesday, Margaret's mother is mad at her.
- Wednesday, she's sent to the principal... again.
- Thursday, Margaret stops speaking to her.
- Friday starts with yucky eggs and gets worse.
- And by Saturday, even her mother is mad at her.
Okay, fine. Clementine is having a DISASTROUS week. (image and summary from
My Review: I gave a review earlier in Clarice Bean about how a strong first person voice can carry a story, and Clementine is another great example of this.  Pennypacker, like Lauren Child, has also captured the child voice incredibly well, the mannerisms of how they speak and phrase things, and the inherent humor.  
Clementine is a bit of a troublemaker, but it's truly not her fault, things just tend to happen to her because she has such a vivid way of seeing the world.  She doesn't cut off her friend's hair with malicious intent, no, it's to help fix what her friend already started by trying to cut her own hair--see? Clementine just happens to get caught as the one who instigated it in the first place.
Clementine's family are all great characters too, because they understand her, and know she has a big imagination.  Her dad in particular is a favorite, and he always allows Clementine to help him out with his duties and apartment manager, including a fun escapade known as 'The Great Pigeon War.' 
This is another story that could be seen as mundane--just a kid going to school and dealing with every day things (like her annoying baby brother), but the way Clementine speaks and views the world make it a very charming tale.  It's another of those books that I've read multiple times because the writing is just so clever.  Plus, we have cute illustrations by Marla Frazee that fit Clementine perfectly.
My Rating: 4 Stars
For the sensitive reader: nothing offensive (though kids might get some ideas in the cutting-off-hair department)

Monday, May 20, 2019

Rosie Revere, Engineer - Andrea Beaty & David Roberts (Illus.)

Summary:  This is the story of Rosie Revere, who dreamed of becoming a great engineer.  Where some people see rubbish, Rosie Revere sees inspiration.  Alone in her room at night, shy Rosie constructs great inventions from odds and ends.  Hot dog dispensers, helium pants, python-repelling cheese hats:  Rosie's gizmos would astound -- if she ever let anyone see them. Afraid of failure, she hides sthem away under her bed.  Until a fateful visit from her great-great-aunt Rose, who shows her that a first flop isn't something to fear -- it's something to celebrate. 

Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, the author-illustrator team behind the classic pictures books Iggy Peck, Architect and Ada Twist, Scientist have whipped up another stunning, witty invention that honors pursuing one's passions -- with persistence. 

(Summary from book - Image from

My Review:   I found Rosie Revere, Engineer at the store the other day and, after a quick read- through, it went straight into the cart.  I didn't try to find it elsewhere for less or check if it was available at the local library.  I wanted this one for my permanent collection ASAP. You see, I'm a complete sucker for children's picture books that empower and encourage kids (especially girls, since I have four of 'em) to reach their potential and Rosie Revere, Engineer completely fits the bill.  Here's why...

Rosie Revere loves to make gadgets and gizmos, but when someone laughs at one of her creations she becomes embarrassed and stops sharing her ideas with others.  She tries to suppress her creative talents until her Great-Great-Aunt Rose inspires her to make something new.  When her next invention succeeds briefly then fails spectacularly, Rosie is ready to throw in the towel until her aunt convinces her that failure is just another step on the pathway to success 

Rosie Revere is a a thoroughly relatable character for those young and old.  It's likely we've all struggled with failure and being worried about what others might think of our ideas and efforts.  And we all need someone in our lives who will encourage us to develop our talents and keep trying.  I loved how Rosie's character evolved over the course of the book, from young and self-confident, to slightly older and shy, to hopeful, frustrated, and finally determined.  I appreciated that the author took Rosie through all those feelings, because I think it will allow more children to identify with the story no matter where they are in their emotional development.   

Aunt Rose's character is based off of "Rosie the Riveter," a fictional character whose poster and slogan "We Can Do It!"(see right) was created to inspire women in World War II to tackle tough jobs in a typically male-dominated industry.  While Aunt Rose's history is given only a few lines attention, one of the book's illustrations is dedicated to some of the women who have broken barriers in the aviation industry.  It wasn't part of the actual text but we stopped and talked about the women anyway and their contributions to history. 

As a little sneak peek, here are some of my favorite lines from the book:

  • But questions are tricky, and some hold on tight and this one kept Rosie awake through the night.  (I just loved the imagery there...of clingy questions that won't let us sleep. Been there!)
  • "I failed," said dear Rosie.  "It's just made of trash.  Didn't you see it?  The cheese-copter crashed." "Yes!" said her great aunt."  It crashed.  That is true." But first it did just what it needed to do.  Before it crashed Rosie...before flew! Your brilliant first flop was a raging success!  Come on, let's get busy and on to the next!"
  • Life might have its failures, but this was not it.  The only true failure can come if you quit.

Overall, it's easy to love a book with a bottom line that says (in far more eloquent prose than my own): Embrace our own talents and strengths.  Keep trying.  Don't quit.  It's okay to try new things.  Be proud of who you are.  You can do it!!

You just can't go wrong with a book like Rosie Revere, Engineer.  I look forward to tracking down other books by the same author-illustrator team.
My Rating:  5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  I've got nothing.  Unless your offended by helium pants or snake-repellent hats.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Confessions of an Innocent Man - David R. Dow

Summary: A thrillingly suspenseful debut novel, and a fierce howl of rage that questions the true meaning of justice.

Rafael Zhettah relishes the simplicity and freedom of his life. He is the owner and head chef of a promising Houston restaurant. A pilot with open access to the boundless Texas horizon. A bachelor, content with having few personal or material attachments that ground him. Then, lightning strikes. When he finds Tieresse--billionaire, philanthropist, sophisticate, bombshell--sitting at one of his tables, he also finds his soul mate and his life starts again. And just as fast, when she is brutally murdered in their home, when he is convicted of the crime, when he is sentenced to die, it is all ripped away. But for Rafael Zhettah, death row is not the end. It is only the beginning. Now, with his recaptured freedom, he will stop at nothing to deliver justice to those who stole everything from him.

This is a heart-stoppingly suspenseful, devastating, page-turning debut novel. A thriller with a relentless grip that wants you to read it in one sitting. David R. Dow has dedicated his life to the fight against capital punishment--to righting the horrific injustices of the death penalty regime in Texas. He delivers the perfect modern parable for exploring our complex, uneasy relationships with punishment and reparation in a terribly unjust world. (Summary and pic from

My Review: It’s no surprise that with the uptick in podcasts and TV shows and various other media that focus on wrongfully accused people that a book like this would come to fruition, nor is it a surprise that this book is written by a law professor who has strong views on the subject. I myself have been sucked into this current wave of podcasts and shows that focus on the wrongfully accused, and so this book is right up my alley. I think it’s one of those things that we take for granted—we have a great legal system in a lot of ways, and we feel comfortable letting that legal system “do its job,” per se, but we don’t necessarily think about how that job is done or who it’s taking advantage of. We certainly don’t want to consider that maybe the legal system isn’t doing things the right way. However, I think that I’m not the only one who has had more than a few second thoughts when regarding the legal system and those who are wrongfully accused.

This is not a true story. It’s completely fiction, written in first person. This is unlike normal first person fiction, however. The writing felt so personal and so internal that it’s almost like reading a well-kept journal or an autobiography. The narrator didn’t seem to be a particularly unreliable narrator other than the fact that it was first person (which is a big fact, I know), but he seemed to be fairly even-keeled and even-handed in his description of events. He is, of course, very passionate about many things (he didn’t much like being incarcerated wrongfully, as you might imagine), but that only serves to fuel the very intimate feeling of this book. I felt like I was living right alongside him. It’s one of the best, most realistic-feeling ventures into prison that I’ve read. It didn’t just deal with the normal day-to-day dealings of prison and the minutiae of prison life, but also addressed the bigger scale of prison life—relationships, environment, surroundings, etc. These were all viewed through the protagonist’s eyes, which made it feel more authentic because it was more than just a description or a report, it was an actual experience. It felt contained and yet broad; the fact that it could do both was refreshing.

This book is divided into parts, and these parts represent different…well…parts of the main person’s life. I liked the structure. It made sense to me. I like very structured books or books that at least stick to a structure. The first couple parts were really interesting and I felt swept up in what was going on. Although the last two parts were also really interesting, I found them to be less believable. It seemed very out of character for the protagonist, and it left me questioning the whole time whether this is something he would really do (and since I felt like I’d been living in his head for quite some time, I felt at least somewhat knowledgeable on that topic). I don’t want to give anything away because I think it’s quite a surprise, not only what happens but how it all twists and turns to the end. I will say, though, that I have my doubts. That’s not to say it wasn’t interesting or wasn’t compelling, because it certainly was, I just found it to be out of character. At some points I thought it was to invoke a philosophical discussion and allow a space where that would make sense in this book.

If you’re into podcasts/reading/watching about the wrongfully accused, and especially those where issues of race come up, I think you would enjoy this. It’s a very personal-feeling account and yet talks about and addresses issues on a grander scale as well.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has language, violence, and some discussion of sex. I didn’t find it to be overly offensive although the aforementioned adult content does exist in this book.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Iron Gold - Pierce Brown (Red Rising #4)

Some say this is the fourth book in the Red Rising Series.  Others say it is the beginning of a new saga in the Red Rising universe.  Either way, if you're not familiar with the series, I recommend starting with our review of Red Rising (#1) here.  Reading this one first would be too confusing.   And talk about SPOILERS.

Summary:  They call him Father, Liberator, Warlord, Slave King, Reaper.  But he feels a boy as he falls toward the war-torn planet, his armor red, his army vast, his heart heavy.  This is the tenth year of war and the thirty-third of his life.

A decade ago Darrow was the hero of the revolution he believed would break the chains of the Society.  But the Rising has shattered everything:  Instead of peace and freedom, it has brought endless war.  Now he must risk all he has fought for on one last desperate mission.  Darrow still believes he can save everyone, but can he save himself?

And throughout the worlds, other destinies entwine with Darrow's to change his fate forever:

A young Red girl flees tragedy in her refugee camp, and achieves for herself a new life she could never have imagined.

An ex-soldier broken by grief is forced to steal the most valuable thing in the galaxy--or pay with his life.

And Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile to the Sovereign, wanders the stars with his mentor, Cassius, haunted by the loss of the world that Darrow transformed, and dreaming of what will rise from its ashes.

Red Rising was the story of the end of one universe, and Iron Gold is the story of the creation of a new one.  Witness the beginning of a stunning new saga of tragedy and triumph from masterly New York Times bestselling author Pierce Brown.  (Summary from book flap - Image from

My Review:  I took this book with me on a trip to San Diego where I spent a good deal of my trip holed up in my hotel room, under the covers, devouring each page.  It took less than two days of determined (occasionally interrupted) reading to finish this 600-page book.  I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself again in the world that Pierce Brown has created, and have only one true lament...

...I waited too long.

I have had this book for a few months and could have read it at any time, but I really wanted to enjoy it and so I saved it for my trip.  Consequently, some of the details of who-did-what-where in the last book were fuzzy.  It took me a while before I settled back into the book, but I never felt entirely secure that I wasn't missing connections I might have made had I read this book directly after the other one.  That's on me.  That having been said, I really would have liked to see a short paragraph-sized summary of what had happened in the previous book at the beginning of this one (like there was in the last book, Morning Star).  It would have helped refresh my recollection. *sigh*  Thankfully, there was an extensive character glossary and a galaxy map to help clarify a few things and the rest I was able to glean while reading.

As with the other books in the Red Rising series, there is a whole heck of a lot going on in Iron Gold.  It was nuts -- in a good, pulse-accelerating, holy-crap-did-that-just-happen kind of way. In true Pierce Brown style, the story twists and turns on a dime.  You think you know what's going to happen?  How it's all going to end?  Read a few more pages and then tell me that again.  Oh, wait.  You can't! Enemies have become allies and friends turned into foe.  Up is down and left is right.  Everything you thought you knew just got lit on fire and tossed right out the window.  Enjoy!

One of the big changes in the story is that ten years have passed since the close of the last book and a lot has happened in the interim.  Many familiar characters remain, some of whom have become frustratingly distant and/or adorable parents.  Additionally, those who were once young children have now become major players in the story.  I hope you're ready to welcome a whole new generation of awesome.  There are also several entirely new characters that enter the story, namely, a young girl named Lyria and an ex-soldier named Ephraim.  Although the last three books have been told almost exclusively from Darrow's perspective, Iron Gold alternates between several different perspectives that eventually begin to intertwine.  There really was no other way to tell this part of the story without the additional perspectives, so the change didn't really bother me once I got into the swing of it. 

One of the things that I both loved and hated about this book was the author's tendency to drop subtle, seemingly insignificant clues along the way that end up being pivotal plot-twisting details later on.  I don't really want to give away any of these little tidbits, because I think they are tortuously brilliant, but I did spend certain sections of the book flipping back and forth from one spot to another trying to confirm my suspicions about this-that-and-the-other.  I will say that the first small, but gut-wrenching, example of this happens before you even hit Part I.  It was mean, Pierce Brown.  Just plain mean.  And yet, I remain impressed (and paid close attention after that).

It wasn't until a good way through the book that I first heard the titular term "Iron Gold" used to describe a person of gold lineage who seemed particularly honorable, duty-bound, and willing to do anything for the benefit of the people.  There have been several examples of "Iron Gold" characters in this series and, up until this book, I might have said that Darrow was one of them.  Now I am no so sure.  In the first three books, Darrow was the kind of character who did what needed to be done, regardless of the personal cost; he was always willing to sacrifice himself and others for those he loved and for his people.  Till now, that has felt like an admirable thing, but this book shows a new side of Darrow -- a man changed by years of brutal warfare and convinced that only he can bring an end to the violence.  When Darrow makes a call that kills a million people and conceals vital information from newly formed leadership, even some of his fiercest, most loyal supporters begin to question whether his way is the best way to achieve peace.  Darrow's fall from grace was hard to watch.  It made him harder to love and his actions nearly impossible to justify, but made his character feel more human, vulnerable, and authentic.  Ultimately, Darrow faces an impossible choice...and I'm still not sure if he made the right one.  Only time, and the next book, will tell.  Dark Age, the fifth book in the Red Rising series will be released July 30, 2019.

Ugh.  Waiting sucks.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Plenty of violence and swearing, specifically of the F variety but also some others    Some sexual innuendo and mild sexual situations.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Courtney - John Burningham

Summary: When the children bring Courtney home he's just a loveable scruffy old dog. But the-mongrel-that-nobody-wants has the most amazing talents. He can cook! He can juggle! He can even play the violin! Then one day Courtney the wonder dog packs up his trunk and leaves home - but the children find out his helping paw is not far away. . . (image and summary from

My Review: In third or fourth grade, we had an assignment to bring a favorite picture book that we would read to the class.  I very nearly went with my default favorite book, Where the Wild Things Are, but then I went to the library and spotted Courtney (which is also my name), with the titular character being a dog (my favorite), and that was that.

Courtney is a simple story of three children who want a dog, and their parents finally agree, asking them to find a pedigreed hound.  However, the children ask an employee if there's a dog that nobody wants, and he introduces them to Courtney.  The children want him straightaway, and while the parents are at first upset that he's a mutt, they change their mind when Courtney proves to be more than just a regular old dog.

I always loved reading and looking at the art of Courtney's many talents, from juggling, to cooking, to being a hero.  The art itself is fairly simple, but suits the story, and the story is a fun little tale about a friend who will do anything for those he cares for, even when he seemingly isn't around anymore.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: nothing much of note--the house starts on fire at one point with the baby trapped inside, but never fear, Courtney is a noble hero.

Friday, May 10, 2019

On a Highland Shore - Kathleen Givens

Summary:  From acclaimed historical novelist Kathleen Givens comes a magnificently conceived, intricately detailed novel that brings to vivid life the tumult, adventure, and passion of thirteenth-century Scotland, when Norse invaders laid claim to the land and its people -- and an explosive clash of cultures, politics and personal pride changed forever.

1263: On Scotland's western shore, the village of Somerstrath prepares for the joyous wedding celebration of Margaret MacDonald, the laird's daughter.  But a dark storm of bloodshed and betrayal is closing in, as a merciless band of Vikings threatens the Highlands.  Margaret is determined to hold the MacDonald clan together and to locate her abducted younger brother.  But can she trust the noblemen from King Alexander's court, who insist that only by adhering to a betrothal conceived for political gain will she find safety?

My Review:  On a Highland Shore was a bit of a risk for me.  I don't often read romance novels because some end up being what you might descriptive...which is not my cup of tea.  Unfortunately, unless you are familiar with the publisher or it has a semi-explicit cover, it's often hard to discern just what kind of romance novel you're getting into until the clothes go flying off and you suddenly find yourself up to your eyeballs in sexual euphemisms.  Personally, I prefer a little more mystery and a little less detail when reading the romance genre. Thankfully, this book was listed on a book of "clean" romance novels on GoodReads, so I figured it would be a pretty safe bet for a quick and clean romantic read while I was on vacation.  

Mmmmm....Nope.  It's not the worst I've read in terms of sexual content, but On a Highland Shore was not what I would categorize as a "clean romance."  Cleaner, perhaps, than others....but not clean (see For the Sensitive Reader section)However, I can't really blame the author for not meeting my expectations in this sense, as I'm guessing she didn't put it on the GoodReads list.  It wasn't all bad though. I didn't take a lot of notes about this book (vacation!), but I did enjoy the setting, historical, and cultural aspects of this book and really appreciated the research that must have been involved in pulling it all together.  The story was oftentimes quite engaging, but ultimately because of the more descriptive elements I can't recommend it to my friends and family.  Less sensitive readers might disagree with my assessment.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  There was a tiny amount of swearing (at least one F-bomb) and a fair amount of violence.  There is one 'scene' where two lovers are caught having sex (mildly descriptive),  another where a woman exposes herself in an attempted seduction, another where a woman watches (and admires) man get dressed, a rape scene (mildly descriptive), an attempted rape scene (more descriptive), another sex scene (most descriptive in the book, likely would be considered graphic if you weren't a frequent romance reader) and countless times where someone admires so-and-so's breasts or talks about being physically aroused.  It's possibly I've missed a few things, but you get the idea.  


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