Friday, December 31, 2010

Favorite Reads of 2010

Can you believe 2010 is over?! 
I can't wrap my mind around tomorrow being 2011. 
It's just nuts. 

In case you missed any of the over 200 reviews we've posted this year,
here are some of our favorites reads of 2010 
(listed alphabetically by genre w/ title, author,
and the reviewers initials)

Adult Fiction
A Dirty Job - Christopher Moore (D)
The Alleluia Files (Archangel series, #3) - Sharon Shinn  (M)
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury (M)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson  (H)
The Girl Who Played with Fire - Stieg Larrson (H)
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows (M/KC)
The Help - Kathryn Stockett (M/KC)
Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino (D)
Jovah's Angel (Archangel series, #2) - Sharon Shinn (M) 
 The Moonflower Vine - Jetta Carleton (H)
Pattern Recognition - William Gibson (D)
The Persian Pickle Club - Sandra Dallas (KC)
The Reapers are the Angels - Alden Bell (D/M)
Room - Emma Donoghue (H/M)
The Scarlet Pimpernel - Baroness Emmuska Orczy (E)
Shutter Island - Dennis Lehane (H)

Adult Non-Fiction

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind - William Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer (M)
The Five Love Languages of Children - Gary Chapman, Ph.D & Ross Campbell, M.D. (KC)
Outliers: The Story of Success - Malcolm Gladwell (KC)
Perfect One-Dish Dinners - Pam Anderson (M)

Tween & Young Adult

The Battle of the Labyrinth (Olympians #4) - Rick Riordan (KC)
 Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy (G.G. #2) - Ally Carter (M)
Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover (G.G. #3) - Ally Carter (M)
Extra-Ordinary Princess - Carolyn Q. Ebbitt (M)
Fire (Graceling #2) - Kristin Cashore (KC/KR)
Graceling - Kristin Cashore (KR)
Gregor the Overlander - Suzanne Collins (H)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (#6) - J.K. Rowling (M)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (#7) - J.K. Rowling (M)
The Last Olympian (Olympians #5) - Rick Riordan (KC/M)
The Lightning Thief (Olympians #1) - Rick Riordan (KC/M)
Mockingjay (Hunger Games #3) - Suzanne Collins (H/KC/KR/M)
Princess Academy - Shannon Hale (KC)
The Reluctant Heiress - Eva Ibbotson (M)Stargirl - Jerry Spinelli (H)
The Sea of Monsters (Olympians #2) - Rick Riordan (KC/M)
The Titan's Curse (Olympians #3) - Rick Riordan (KC/M)
What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know - Sonya Sones (KC)

Young Children

Little House in the Big Woods - Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Relatives Came - Cynthia Rylant
Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon - Patty Lovell

~~~~~~~~~~~

*Just in case you were thinking.  Wow, this would have been better with cover images...you're right.  It would have.  And it did have a ton.  But then it went all wonky and wouldn't format right and I had to take them all out.  Sorry.  I'm not that great with computers.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Dark Divine - Bree Despain

Summary:  Grace Divine -- daughter of the local pastor -- always knew something terrible happened the night Daniel Kalbi disappeared and her brother Jude came home covered in his own blood.

Now that Daniel's returned, Grace must choose between her growing attraction to him and her loyalty to her brother.

As Grace gets closer to Daniel, she learned the truth about that mysterious night and how to save the ones she loves, but it might cost her the one thing she cherishes most: her soul.

My Review:  Bree Despain’s The Dark Divine is a clean and entertaining paranormal romance, with an ending that was better than I expected. Despite this semi-success, the basic plot—a young girl, torn between her love for two very different boys—is exceedingly overdone. I mean, how many teen vamp/wolf/witch/ fairy/dragon/wraith romances does a bookstore really need?  I can usually handle a cliché plot as long as something in the book surprises me enough to read into the wee hours of the morning. There were moments where a character channeled one of the Twilight Trinity, but towards the end, I caught an inkling of something interesting that grabbed my attention.  I did finish the book in record time and, for that reason, I’ll probably read the next one (The Lost Saint, releasing 12/28) if it ever falls into my lap.

Grace Divine is a faithful pastor’s daughter and, consequently, the story touches on topics of charity, forgiveness, selflessness, and grace. Over all, I thought Despain put forth a good effort, but has a long way to go to counter the increasingly affected world of modern YA fiction. Clean YA paranormal romances are no longer a dime a dozen, so if you aren’t terribly picky about plot originality or character depth, The Dark Divine would be a good one time read.  And try to ignore the last line.  It's an eye-roller.  I know.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars   For the sensitive reader: I was surprised by some swearing (mostly biblical, but not entirely) and an attempted, but ultimately unsuccessful, sexual assault.

Sum it up: An entertaining, but mostly ordinary YA paranormal romance. I’m not entirely opposed to reading the sequel, but I won’t be hunting it down.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Quilter's Apprentice - Jennifer Chiaverini

Summary:  When Sarah McClure and her husband, Matt, move to Waterford, Pennsylvania, she hopes to make a fresh start in the small college town.  Unable to find a job both practical and fulfilling, she takes a temporary position at Elm Creek Manor helping its reclusive owner, Sylvia Compson, prepare her family estate for sale after the death of her estranged sister.  Sylvia is also a master quilter and , as part of Sarah's compensation, offers to share the secrets of her creative gifts with the younger woman.

During their lessons, the intricate, varied threads of Sylvia's life begin to emerge.  It is the story of a young wife living through the hardships and agonies of the World War II home front; of a family torn apart by jealousy and betrayal; of misunderstandings, loss, and a tragedy that can never be undone.  As the bond between them deepens, Sarah resolves to help Sylvia free herself from remembered sorrows and restore her life--and her home--to its former glory.  In the process, she confronts painful truths about her own family, even as she creates new dreams for the future.

Just as the darker sections of a quilt can enhance the brighter ones, the mistakes of the past can strengthen understanding and lead the way to new beginnings.  The powerful debut novel by a gifted storyteller, The Quilter's Apprentice tells a timeless tale of family, friendship, and forgiveness as two women weave the disparate pieces of their lives into a bountiful and harmonious whole.  (Summary from back of the book and image from  http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/)

My Review:  For the purpose of this review, I feel that I must mention that I am not a quilter and have never been exposed to the world of quilting besides a quick jaunt through the State Fair buildings.  Although, I have always admired quilts and have "peice and sew my own quilt" on my bucket list of things to do before I die.  I think quilt makers/lovers would probably eat this book up.  I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of the quilting process, even if at times it was hard to picture.  The author kindly put pictures of the quilt squares Sarah worked on for her sampler quilt at the beginning of the book and I referenced them regularly while reading.  I also enjoyed the camaraderie the ladies shared in their quilting group.  The way Chiaverini describes the friendship it makes you want to take up quilting just to have the good friends and treats.  This is a good, clean read, one I wouldn't mind recommending to any age based on content.

The reason I couldn't give this book a higher rating was because, time and again, I had to force myself to pick up the book and finish.  It wasn't that it was a bad book, or that the characters are unrelatable.  I just didn't have a hard time putting it down.  It might have been from the sadness that hovers around Sylvia's life and my hesitation to learn more of the ghosts that haunt her.  Maybe it was because I read this just before and during the Thanksgiving break from school and my mind was on other things.  Regardless, I wasn't so wrapped up in the story that I couldn't put it down and therefore I could not give it quite a 4 star rating.

Rating:  3.75 stars

Sum it up: A charming tale of personal growth, forgiveness, and the love of quilting.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas from Reading For Sanity

Merry Christmas!


John 3:16
"For God so loved the world,
 that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in him should not perish,
but have everlasting life."

- From a really good book.

~~~~

 
Helamen 5:12
"Remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds...and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall."

- From another really good book. 
(click here for a free copy)

~~~

"God bless us every one!"
- From yet another really good book.
(Read our review here)

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

Summary: This novella by English author Charles Dickens was first published by Chapman & Hall on 19 December 1843. The story tells of sour and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge's ideological, ethical, and emotional transformation after the supernatural visitations of Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come. The novella met with instant success and critical acclaim. 

The tale has been viewed as an indictment of nineteenth century industrial capitalism and was adapted several times to the stage, and has been credited with restoring the holiday to one of merriment and festivity in Britain and America after a period of sobriety and sombreness. A Christmas Carol remains popular, has never been out of print, and has been adapted to film, opera, and other media.  (image from virgin media and summary from Wikipedia)

My Review:  Not only is this A Christmas Carol, it is THE Christmas Carol...a story that most Americans have seen in multiple movie recreations or plays and one referred to at Christmas time as often as any bible story or tale of reindeer.  But, have you read it?  I hadn't until it was the book club pick for December.  If you haven't read it, forget about picking up this year's NYT bestselling holiday tearjerker - get this instead.

At 100 pages this book is easily adapted into a movie.  The script is generally taken directly from Dicken's words and you will probably find no surprise plot twists.  It is simply the act of reading that gives this story a greater depth.  In fact, because the visual "imagination" of reading it is unnecessary (I pictured a cross between Mickey's Christmas Carol and Muppet's Christmas Carol...judge me as you may) as I read my mind wandered instead to the whys of the story.  Why did Dickens include certain details?  Why did the ghost of Christmas Present phrase it that way?  And of course the most interesting question of all...how does this apply to me?

The book club discussion was an excellent way to start to the holiday season.  Our discussion focused less on the caricature of hard hearted Scrooge and more on the reasons that young Scrooge turned away from life and towards money.  You see, not many of us are extremely wealthy and frugal business men.  If we are wealthy we spend the money, mostly on ourselves and family, and if we are poor...well, we may be frugal, or we may just be envious and equally self-serving.  And so we talked about how to avoid becoming obsessed with money and about how incredibly blessed we are to live in our luxurious 1st world homes (I say this with no sense of irony as I sit in my 850 sf condo after two years of my husband being partially employed).  We talked about how giving a gift gives you more dopamine than getting a gift.  We talked about wealth as a curse...or not.  We discussed the merits of Santa verses parents as the prime gift giver.  We talked about a lot more questions.  All of this, from 100 pages; from a story I've heard at least thirty times in my life.

This is a story you should READ once in your life...if not every year.  And then discuss it. 

Merry Christmas.

My rating: 5 Stars

Sum it up:  Discuss it over the Thanksgiving table next year in order to influence your gift giving and general Christmasy attitude in 2011.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling

Summary:  Readers beware. The brilliant, breathtaking conclusion to J.K. Rowling's spellbinding series is not for the faint of heart--such revelations, battles, and betrayals await...that no fan will make it to the end unscathed....The heart of Book 7 is a hero's mission--not just in Harry's quest for the Horcruxes, but in his journey from boy to man--and Harry faces more danger than that found in all six books combined, from the direct threat of the Death Eaters and you-know-who, to the subtle perils of losing faith in himself.  (Image and summary from amazon.com)

My Review:  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows picks up where Half-Blood Prince leaves off – with Harry immersed in the search for Voldemort’s mysterious Horcruxes. As the Chosen One, Harry is determined to go it alone and Hermione and Ron are just as determined to come along. The ministry has been infiltrated. People are being cursed, kidnapped, tortured, and killed, left, right and center, and things are finally heating up between Ron and Hermione. As Harry, Ron, and Hermione set out to find and destroy the Horcruxes, they discover more than they ever thought possible about their mission, Albus Dumbledore's secret past, and the legend of the Deathly Hallows.

This book is the darkest and most suspenseful book in the Harry Potter series. Evil walks the streets and many of the scenes in this book feel as if they come from a horror movie. As her previous book proved, Rowling isn’t afraid to kill off major characters, a quality that I both love and loathe, but one which made this book extremely painful to read. At the same time, Rowling offers more light-hearted, humorous, and romantic moments to help strike a balance within the book. It may be cliché, but the term “roller coaster of emotions” is an apt description of the author's ability to take full control of your feelings and yank them around with ferocity.

My favorite aspect of this book is that, as the story unfolds, heroes emerge that have long stood in the background, to fight alongside Harry as he wages war with the Dark Lord. I love, love, loved the parts that they played, and it was wonderful to see true intentions revealed, and to watch so many people take their place in the spotlight. Ultimately, the final book in one of the world’s most popular fantasy series comes down to a gigantic magical death match, full of astonishing twists and unexpected casualties, as J.K. Rowling skillfully weaves a compelling plot, fascinating characters, and long forgotten detail into a seamless and spectacular conclusion. I am so sad it’s over.

(Disclaimer) At this point, JK Rowling can do no wrong in my eyes -- and, let's be honest, I hit that point about four books ago. Wait! Let me qualify that. If she writes another book and decides to impregnate Hermione with a sparkly baby named Ronnesme, I’m going to have to ditch the whole series and start a hate mail campaign. Other than that lingering fear, I’m too far gone to see any flaws that aren’t glaringly obvious. Deal with it.

My Rating: 5 Stars (more if I could)     For the sensitive reader: This book probably contains more swearing (biblical and otherwise) than the last several books combined. There is liberal application of the word “effing” (no, literally, that’s what they say) which might be offensive to some, given its most likely meaning. I wasn’t bothered by it, but did notice the increase in profanity.

Sum it up: A complex and compelling masterpiece of fantasy fiction and the perfect way to end this stunning series!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

101 Things Husbands Do to Annoy Their Wives - Ray Comfort

Summary:  This book gives rational explanations to one of life's great mysteries: why men do the (annoying) things they do.  It helps both spouses understand, among other things, why men:
  • Dream while driving
  • Forget  people's names
  • Don't listen when wives speak
  • Rattle keys
  • Dominate the remote control
As this publication shows, we all do dumb things at times--some more than others.  Two of the keys to a happy marriage are understanding and forgiveness.  Not only will discovering our common idiosyncrasies help you feel better about your marriage, the special chapter "How to Make Your Marriage Blossom" will help you truly bring your relationship to life.  (Summary from back of the book and image from  http://images.amazon.com/)

My Review:  This is a one sitting read. While only a third of his 'annoyances' applied to my marriage, the ones that did got a chuckle out of me.  (And boy am I glad only a third apply--some of the others would make me batty!)  One of my favorites was "He won't turn on the windshield wipers until he can't see a thing in front of him." It's one of those tiny annoyances that I hardly notice, but after reading the book realized it does bother me! Another favorite was " He leaves the plastic ties off the bread," His explanation is so funny. While this is all in jest, it's a fun experiment in couple relationships. I'd recommend this book to all couples who have made it to and past the 7 year itch.

There is a section at the back of the book where the author gives ways to help your relationship. I mention this because it has a religious message. While I enjoyed the message, I realize not all will. 

Rating: 3.75 stars

Sum it up:  A good laugh for any couple that can laugh at their relationship and what drives them batty.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Eat Cake - Jeanne Ray

Summary: With her suddenly unemployed husband, her elderly mother, and a petulant teenage daughter sharing space under her roof, Ruth has enough stress already. Then she gets the phone call saying her father, a bar-hopping piano player, has broken both wrists and needs someone to take care of him. Since dear old Dad and Ruth’s mother are sworn enemies, it looks like stormy territory ahead.

Ruth reverts to her favorite stress-reduction technique, visualizing herself sitting in the warm, safe haven in the center of a bundt cake. She feels protected there, open to the universe but safe from it. Ruth’s husband Sam, a former hospital administrator, thinks he needs a career change and dreams of buying old sailboats, refurbishing them, and selling them for profit. Jarred by the risk-taking and potential for financial ruin, Ruth wonders if she could launch a mid-life career as a cake baker. She bakes all the time anyway, why not do it for profit?

The whole family gets into the act. Daughter Camille makes business cards that say “Eat Cake”, and thus a name is chosen. Ruth’s father contacts old cronies in fine restaurant service and offers them samples. Ruth’s mother sews elaborate presentation boxes for the cakes. Even Sam is enlisted into service on the production end. When Ruth loses the nerve to approach businesses to buy her cakes, Camille steps in, asking for double the price her mother had contemplated. Business takes off, and family happiness ensues.  (Summary from http://www.enotes.com/ and image from http://1.bp.blogspot.com/.)

My Review:  I feel a bit guilty giving this book only a 2.5 star rating.  It's not that it's that bad.  It just did not call to me.  Reading about how someone finds solace in the midst of a enormous cake doesn't make any sense to me.  I have a hard time understanding how cake could make everything all better--it just doesn't do that for me.  Even eating chocolate (my true vice in life aside from shoes) doesn't take me to a happy oasis where my problems don't exist, nor do I believe would it be able to do that for my family.  It might scratch the itch I'm having for chocolate, but it does not make me feel better.

There were parts to the book that I enjoyed: the happy perspective the characters give despite their difficult situation, the healthy relationship of the Ruth and Sam, some of the anecdotes about Ruth's father and his trials of having two broken wrists.  Where it fell flat for me was how everything was somehow magically fixed by Ruth being able to sell her cakes at a price unrealistically high.  That this pulls her family together as well detracts from the believability.  In a rose-colored-glasses world, yes this could exist.  Reality?  No. 

I have to agree with a friend of mine who said this seems to be a trend in books for middle-aged women: somehow making good money by doing something they love, particularly baking or cooking amidst a mid-life crisis.  Maybe Eat Cake was the first to start that trend (I wouldn't know because I don't read this type of book much), but regardless it still feels like a trend and one that I'm not about to join, let alone understand. 

Don't take my review as the end all be all for this book.  If you're a foodie, if you like to bake or cook, if you are going through a difficult trial and need an optimistic lens to look through, this just might be your fix.  It definitely wasn't mine and be sure to understand that is because cooking and baking are not that important to me.  Overall it's a good, clean book and I'm sure there's an audience out there for it.

Rating: 2.5 Stars

Sum it up:  A book about trials where cake makes everything better.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling

Summary:  The War against Voldemort is not going well; even Muggle governments are noticing.  Ron scans the obituary pages of the Daily Prophet, looking for familiar names.  Dumbledore is absent from Hogwarts for long stretches of time, and the Order of the Phoenix has already suffered losses.

And yet...

As in all wars, life goes on.  Sixth-year students learn to Apparate--and lose a few eyebrows in the process.  The Weasley twins expand their business.  Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love.  Classes are never straightforward, though Harry receives some extraordinary help from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince.

So it's the home front that takes center stage in the multilayered sixth installment of the story of Harry Potter.  Here at Hogwarts, Harry will search for the full and complex story of the boy who became Lord Voldemort--and thereby find what may be his only vulnerability. (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  If you’ve read this far in the Harry Potter series, you are either a fan, or a seriously devoted hater. Regardless of which stance you take, I’m not fool enough to think anything I say will change your mind. That’s okay though, because I’m too deeply in love with this series to review this book with any kind of objectivity.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince has both a light and dark side. It is in this book that Harry finally discovers what he must do to kill Lord Voldemort and the task is anything but easy. In between private lessons with Dumbledore, classes with a new professor, and a special assignment of the utmost importance, Harry shadows Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape, desperate to prove they are working for Voldemort. One of my favorite parts of this book – surprise, surprise – was all the teenage drama. Harry struggles to hide his increasing attraction to Ginny from his best-friend, Ron. Meanwhile, Ron is busy being thoroughly snogged by Lavendar Brown, to the dismay of a distraught Hermione. The ensuing dialogue is inexpressibly hysterical and, much to my listening husband’s amusement, I dissolved into gasping giggles on more than one occasion and was unable to read out loud.

This book stirred up loads of persnickety parental complaints about a well-known character dying. I do not intend to name the character, but will defend the author by saying that this particular death, while heart wrenching, is unquestionably necessary for the story. It isn’t graphic, but it is intensely emotional, and I couldn’t read it the first or second time without crying at the loss.

Book after book, JK Rowling makes me re-evaluate my expectations of YA novels. Many teen reads overflow with characters that lay listlessly on the page, while her creations are animated without being overly dramatic. They are flawed. They are funny. They can even be annoying. In short, they are real—except, you know, with magical abilities. It’s really not fair to all the other books in the young adult department.

Each chapter added a new dimension to Harry’s story and all I could do was turn the page and enjoy the ride. As in most of her later books, Rowling gathered seemingly insignificant details from previous books and used them to turn out amazing twists. When past plot threads collided with this one, and more fully illuminated the story, I couldn’t help but stop and marvel at the author’s foresight. (To give a vague example without spoiling the book, something that is very important to this book, first came into play in book two, though you would never know it.)

This book is by no means the end of an exceptional series. If it was, I’d be writing JK Rowling some serious hate mail. While some things begin to come together, far more questions are left unanswered than in previous books. Brace yourself for a rip-your-heart-out ending and make sure you have Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows handy.

My Rating: 5 Stars.   For the sensitive reader: This book is significantly darker (in spots) than the first five books, as Harry comes to realize just how far Voldemort has gone to obtain immortality. There are a few instances of cursing, though I think there was less in this book, than in the fifth book.

Sum it up: Another amazing book in the Harry Potter Series. It’s getting to the end and things are starting to come together, for better or for worse. Deathly Hallows, here I come!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Naked Gardener - L.B. Gschwandtner

Summary: In a remote forest of northern Vermont, Katelyn Cross takes five women on a wilderness canoe trip where they hope to come up with ideas for saving their dying town. Although the river is not always what it seems and the women have not left their problems behind, a painting ritual creates a new way to look at the world - and themselves.

Artist Katelyn Cross loves Greg Mazur and he loves her. He wants to be married but a previous relationship that went sour has made Katelyn overly cautious about any permanent commitment. And what about Greg's first wife? He lost her to cancer and Katelyn worries that he's only looking for a replacement. What's a girl to do? Canoe down a river with five gal pals, camp out, catch fish, talk about life and men. The problem is, a river can be as unpredictable as any relationship and just as hard to manage. On their last day, when the river turns wild, the women face the challenge of a lifetime and find that staying alive means saving themselves first while being open to help from a most unlikely source. As Katelyn navigates the raging water, she learns how to overcome her fear of change in a world where nothing stays the same. When Katelyn returns to her garden, she'll face one more obstacle and the naked gardener will meet the real Greg Mazur. What readers are saying about The Naked Gardener: Lyrical ... Scandalous ... Empowering ... Exhilarating ... Honest ... Sensual ... Fun ... Gentle ... Pleasurable ... Transporting ... Timeless In her first novel, award winning writer L B Gschwandtner explores the push and pull of love, a woman's need to maintain her individuality within marriage, and the bonds that can make women stronger even when the world feels as if it's breaking apart
.
Cover photo from goodreads.com, summary from book, book received free for review

My Review: This book arrived beautifully packaged with a matching packet of seeds tied with ribbon around the front cover. Truth be told, I was worried that what I would find inside the cover would not live up to the outer beauty. I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case. This is a light, easy flowing novel with gorgeous characters and a pleasant story line.

Katelyn Cross and her partner Greg have carved out a little piece of heaven to spend their summers. The two of them spend the school year working at a university in the south and then take life back to a simpler time by heading north each summer. They bought a run down farm and live inside the chicken coop. This summer is a bit different as Kate ponders a big decision...take a year-long fellowship in Europe or finally buckle down and marry Greg. The result of this dilemma is a canoe trip with five other women allowing time for Katelyn to ponder over her life.

There is an odd mix of women on this trip; from the rich man's wife to the obese happily married baker, the religious virgin to the man-loving marriage-hating self dependent. These ladies come alive within the pages of this novel, each with her individual struggles. Through laughter and tears, Katelyn finds that her dilemma is not so monumental after all.

The trip is a pleasant one full of humorous moments. There is a bit of drama at the end but nothing that shakes the novel up too much. While the novel began with a focus on Katelyn and Maze's relationship it quickly turned more towards a theme of female empowerment. Mostly this is just a laid back float on the river among friends, where each woman discovers a bit more of herself. This is a perfect light read, yet could also make for some interesting conversation at a book club.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

To Sum it up: A novel that will leave you longing for a leisurely weekend among girlfriends.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Shiver - Maggie Stiefvater

Also reviewed by Mindy

Summary: The cold.  Grace has spent years watching the wolves in the woods behind her house.  One yellow-eyed wolf--her wolf--watches back.  He feels deeply familiar to her, but she doesn't know why.

The heat.  Same has lived two lives.  As a wolf, he keeps the silent company of the girl he loves.  And then, for a short time each year, he is human, never daring to talk to Grace...until now.

The shiver.  For Grace and Sam, love has always been kept at a distance.  But once it's spoken, it cannot be denied.  Sam must fight to stay human--and Grace must fight to keep him--even if it means taking on the scars of the past, the fragility of the present, and the impossibility of the future.  (Summary from back of the book and image from http://darkfaerietales.com/.)

My Review:  Shiver was not my favorite book by far. According to the author, she'd written her draft of Shiver long before the Twilight Series was published, and I feel for her if that is the case.  It is so similar to Twilight that it was hard to enjoy and I am sure anyone reading it will have to make the comparison between the two series -- high school girl, living with oblivious parents, in love with a paranormal boy/wolf, and the whole story gives off a feeling of cold (whereas Twilight gave off the ever present rain). Twilight has a feeling that grabs you and sucks you in. Shiver has all the same plot elements except that pull. 

The writing was a bit better than Twilight, but it definitely didn't captivate me, therefore I don't think I can say it's a better novel. I forced myself to get through the first half. The second half was better and had more depth of plot, but it still didn't have the draw that Twilight did. Shiver, as I'm sure it's been compared before, is the Jacob-fan version of Twilight

There were several aspects I didn't like about Shiver:  I didn't care for how the author painted Grace's parents.   Despite their obvious lacking parenting skills, they loved their daughter and believed their hands-off approach was a positive way to parent.  Not that I agree with it, but you would think that Grace could see their point of view even a little. Too much of the book made adults seem vapid--a word that is specifically used for both Grace's and Sam's parents.  I also didn't like the swearing and constant taking the name of God in vain.  The losing-her-virginity scene was also disturbing to me.  Girls drawn to this book, in my eyes, would be vulnerable to the perspective that hiding something so big from her parents is okay.  I'm also afraid many girls would think losing their virginity when the passion was 'so right' and the circumstance too dire (he might never come back, oh my!), and then fall prey to the insecurities that this book doesn't even begin to scratch the surface.  Sexual decisions are too important to paint with such a broad stroke for a young adult reader--especially a middle school one.  Overall, I think I could have skipped reading this book. I might pass on Linger because if it's anything like Shiver, it was too much of the same thing.

My Rating: 2.5 stars  (For the sensitive reader: occasional swearing, and a scene where she loses her virginity although it's mostly implied.)


Sum it up:  Bubble gum for the Twilight-loving-themed reader.  It could easily envelope a young mind prone to extreme relationships.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

The House of the Scorpion - Nancy Farmer

Summary:  Matteo Alacran was not born; he was harvested.  His DNA came from El Patron, lord of a country called Opium--a strip of poppy fields lying between the Unites States and what was once called Mexico.  Matt's first cell split and divided inside a petri dish.  Then he was placed in the womb of a cow, where he continued the miraculous journey from embryo to fetus to baby.  He is a boy now, but most consider him a monster--except for El Patron.  El Patron loves Matt as he loves himself, because Matt is himself.

As Matt struggles to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister cast of characters, including El Patron's power-hungry family, and he is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards.  Escape is the only chance Matt has to survive.  But escape from the Alacran Estate is no guarantee of freedom, because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn't even suspect.  (Summary from book - Image from www.kdl.org)
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Mindy's Review:  The House of the Scorpion is a twisted, but brilliantly written, futuristic tale set in Opium, a strip of land between the US and Aztlan, the country formerly known as Mexico. It centers on a young boy named Matteo who discovers he is, in fact, the clone of El Patron, a sadistic drug lord and Opium’s despotic ruler. Treated first as a prisoner, then an animal, and finally an outcast prince, Matteo eventually realizes the horrifying reason for his existence. He was made to be a walking, talking, breathing, feeling, organ donor and there is nothing he can do or say to escape it. If you have ever read The Giver by Lois Lowry or watched The Island with Ewan McGregor, you will understand what I mean when I say that this book is a close cross between the two of them -- with a Hispanic flair.

This novel has won twelve awards*, most notable among them, the National Book Award, the Newberry Honor Award, and the Michael L. Printz Honor Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. If that isn’t enough to persuade you to read it, then maybe the fact that I devoured it will.

Nancy Farmer writes a variety of characters with remarkable ease. Matteo’s controversial creation makes him a target of hatred and suspicion for most of El Patron’s household, but his innocence and determination to survive make it easy to connect with him as a character. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book with a male protagonist that pulled me so strongly into the story. In addition to a wonderful cast of supporting characters (good and evil), Farmer creates an exceptional villain, El Patron, with enough kindness to make you feel his betrayal, and a dark side that is black as pitch.

The House of the Scorpion touches on serious themes – the value of human life, the ethical implications of cloning, illegal immigration, addiction, and familial relationships. Farmer takes many of the concerns that are prevalent in today’s society and pushes them to the next level. Basically, this book is answers the question “what would happen if…?”.

My only real complaint about this book was that one of the character’s feelings seemed to swing rather abruptly with little or no explanation. It happened far too easily considering the circumstances, and I wasn’t satisfied with the author’s attempt to move the story past this obvious flaw.

When I read a book with the intention of reviewing it for this blog, I usually keep a pen and paper handy to jot down a note or two and keep track of my thoughts and impressions while reading. This time I was too engrossed to pick up a pen until the story drew to its’ unpredictable and satisfying conclusion.

Her Rating: 4.5 Stars (for a YA)     For the sensitive reader: While this book does contain darker themes of murder, mind control, drug addiction, and slavery, they are always portrayed in a negative light.  There is very little, if any, profanity (though there is some of the made-up variety).

Sum it up: A riveting, futuristic thriller with interesting characters and a great pace.

*According to Wikipedia.
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Kari's Review:  Gripping from start to finish, this book has a similar feel to the Hunger Games series.  There isn't really a romance, but there are a lot of violent acts and ideas--not that the violent acts are written in grotesque detail, as they're not, but that the ideas themselves are gruesome.

It's hard to fathom, but when you think about the drug world and all its atrocities, you can't help but realize this could actually happen at some future date.  It's something that seems quite possible with all the drug trafficking that exists and the demand between countries for illegal substances.

When I finished reading, I found myself thinking of Matt, his chaotic and painful life, and considering all the ways around the obstacles he faced. I enjoyed the futuristic US and Mexico relationship and the new border between the two created by a drug empire. The idea of clones and brain tampering for making drones was also fascinating. The book has so much to discuss I think I might recommend it for my book club. It's an older YA book. I think many of my students would enjoy this by the end of 8th grade.
Her Rating: 4.5 Stars    For the sensitive reader: There is violence, not detailed, but very realistic. There is also some swearing although most of it is made up swear words (e.g. 'crotting').

Sum it up:  A controversial story, sure to make you think about what the future could hold.
__________________________________

Average Rating: 4.5 Stars
__________________________________

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Moonlight Mile - Dennis Lehane

Summary:  Amanda McCready was four years old when she vanished form a Boston neighborhood twelve years ago.  Desperate please for help from the child's aunt led investigators Kenzie and Gennaro to take on the case.  The pair risk everything to find the young girl--only to orchestrate her return to a neglectful mother and a broken home.

Now Amanda is sixteen--and gone again.  A stellar student, brilliant but aloof, she seemed destined to escape her upbringing.  Yet Amanda's aunt is once more knocking on Patrick Kenzie's door, fearing the worst for the little girl who has blossomed into a striking, clever young woman--a woman who hasn't been seen in weeks. 

Haunted by their consciences, Kenzie and Gennaro revisit the case that troubled them the most.  Their search leads them into a world of identity thieves, methamphetamine dealers, a mentally unstable crime boss and his equally demented wife, a priceless, thousand-year-old cross, and a happily homicidal Russian gangster.  It's a world in which motives and allegiances constantly shift and mistakes are fatal.

In their desperate fight to confront the past and find Amanda McCready, Kenzie and Gennaro will be forced to question if it's possible to do the wrong thing and still be right or to do the right thing and still be wrong.  As they face an evil that goes beyond broken families and broken dreams, they discover that the sins of yesterday don't always stay buried and the crimes of today could end their lives.  (Summary from book - Image from harpercollins.com - Book given free for review)

My Review:  Moonlight Mile graced the Indiebound Next List for November 2010, which ordinarily holds a lot of sway with me and was the reason I freaked when it popped up unexpectedly in my mailbox.

According to Amazon.com, Moonlight Mile is a direct sequel to Prayers for Rain (1999), but is closely linked to the story in Gone Baby Gone (1998). I am going to have to take their word for it, because I haven’t read either. While the main characters and several secondary ones from the previous books reappear in Moonlight Mile, I don’t think it’s entirely necessary to read the previous books to understand this one. However, I did feel like I was missing the immediate connection with the characters that someone would have had who had read them chronologically. I didn’t I know much more about the characters at the end of the story than I did at the beginning. Sure, Kenzie has a dry sense of humor, and Gennaro smokes when she’s nervous, but other than that, I can’t come up with much and felt there was more character development in the last several pages than in the entire book.

I also believe that the above summary is insanely overstated. Sure, those things happened, but it wasn’t as remarkable the book jacket claims. I was interested in the story, but I didn’t have a problem putting this book down when necessary.

While Moonlight Mile sits on several surprises, and Kenzie delivers some hysterical one-liners, he and the rest of the characters, had mouths that could put a sailor to shame. Ordinarily swearing doesn’t bother me in a book unless it becomes excessive. It was irritating by the end of the first chapter and excessive not far beyond that.

I believe this book is designed to attract those readers who loved the previous books and want to revisit the characters (a la Bree Tanner for the Twihards).  Since I've never read a Lehane book before, let alone one with these characters, I'm not sure how this novel will sit with fans.  I don’t know how large a part Gennaro played in the last book, but I suspect fans of her character will be disappointed with her diminished role in this book, and with Moonlight Mile in general.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars. For the sensitive reader: If I could simply ignore the ubiquitous amount of swearing in this book, then I would probably say it was 3 star book (maybe), but I can’t. There was a lot. There were also several descriptions of cold-blooded murder and an accidental (but gory) death.

Sum it up: Not the best first impression. I still love Indiebound, but the next book I read off their list better be a-mazing.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Diary of a Wimpy Kid : The Ugly Truth - Jeff Kinney

Summary:  Greg Heffley has always been in a hurry to grow up.  But is getting older really all it's cracked up to be?  Greg suddenly finds himself dealing with the pressures of boy-girl parties, increased responsibilities, and even the awkward changes that come with getting older--all without his best friend, Rowley, at his side.  Can Greg make it through on his own?  Or will he have to face the "ugly truth"?  (Summary from back of the book and image from http://sandboxworld.com/)

My Review:  Note:  This is the fifth in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  If you aren't familiar with the series, you  might want to go back to the first review and start there.  There is a continuous story for Greg and you watch him evolve through the books.

Talk about a fast read! This book only took me 2 1/2 hours to finish--and that was around telling kids to be quiet while they were supposed to be silently reading. While it wasn't the funniest book I've ever read, I did laugh out loud five separate times, and yes, I counted. It contains the same Kinney humor--Greg's obliviousness to his own selfishness is supposed to be funny and the mix of awkward middle school social experiences. You get watch his illogical mind at work as he tries to contrive every situation to his favor.  Alas,  Greg's not a very accomplished manipulator, nor does he have the foresight to prevent some of his mishaps, which can be quite painful. It's not my typical humor, but I'm glad to say I've read it because now I know what the kids rave about. 

Just to give readers here at Reading For Sanity an idea of how popular the Wimpy Kid series is:  For my classroom I'd bought the entire first four books in May of last year.  Two books were swiped before June even arrived.  I started this year with only two books (I'm aware you can do the math, but I'm just being clear).  They were my most fought over books with male students.  This year I bought another set including the fifth book.  The minute I got them out of the Scholastic box I had boys, who normally don't like reading, clamoring over each other to check out the fifth book and take it home.  They were quite disappointed when I told them I got to read it first.  Good thing it only took me 2 1/2 hours to read.  It's already checked out.

My Rating: 3.25 Stars

Sum it up:  Continuing the painful, and sometimes funny, saga of Greg Heffley's middle school experience.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Calligrapher's Daughter - Eugenia Kim

Summary: In early-twentieth-century Korea, Najin Han, the privileged daughter of a calligrapher, longs to choose her own destiny. Smart and headstrong, she is encouraged by her mother—but her stern father is determined to maintain tradition, especially as the Japanese steadily gain control of his beloved country. When he seeks to marry Najin into an aristocratic family, her mother defies generations of obedient wives and instead sends her to serve in the king’s court as a companion to a young princess. But the king is soon assassinated, and the centuries-old dynastic culture comes to its end.

In the shadow of the dying monarchy, Najin begins a journey through increasing oppression that will forever change her world. As she desperately seeks to continue her education, will the unexpected love she finds along the way be enough to sustain her through the violence and subjugation her country continues to face? Spanning thirty years, The Calligrapher’s Daughter is a richly drawn novel in the tradition of Lisa See and Amy Tan about a country torn between ancient customs and modern possibilities, a family ultimately united by love, and a woman who never gives up her search for freedom.
(summary and cover photo from www.thecalligraphersdaughter.com, book received free for review)

My Review: The Calligrapher's Daughter is set in the early-mid 1900's in Korea at a time when the Japanese were invading Korea. The Korean culture, heritage and individual identities were gravely threatened as the Japanese attempted to control everything from media to education. It is during this struggle that the narrator, at the age of nine, discovers that she does not have a name. She is referred to as the Calligrapher's daughter (her father's profession) or the daughter of the woman from Nim. Thus she grows up without her own identity.

Covering just over two decades, the main thread weaved throughout the story is that of identity. The narrator fights to find a balance between living up to the values of her heritage and surviving and seeking out a life of her own filled with happiness. All the while her basic survival is at stake. Maintaining the image of the family name is the utmost importance regardless of personal sacrifice yet an underlying message of love, though subtle at times, is there throughout the story.

Eugenia Kim does a fantastic job of bringing this era to life. She produces characters to love and some to despise. She brings a large amount of emotion to her tale. It is a historically informative tale, yet enjoyable. It is beautifully written with a poetic feel. This is a moving novel encompassing family bonds and loyalty. Emotions roar loudly throughout yet the novel, against all odds, manages to come to a satisfying close.

My Rating: 4 Stars

To sum it up: A culturally rich work of historical fiction.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Coffee and Fate - R.J. Erbacher

Summary:  Val is just a regular college student, with a unique ability to save people's lives, having a drink in a coffee shop.  Bud is an elderly gentleman who knows certain things that will happen to certain people and he knows something about Val's future.  When he sits down next to her and holds her hands it will start a friendship that both of them are desperate for.  It will also set off a chain of events that will dramatically change both their lives, from the gunshot that's just seconds away to a heroic battle with fate and death.  (Summary from book - Image from buybooksontheweb.com - Book given free for review)

My Review:  Coffee and Fate revolves around two extremely different people, Val and Bud, whose lives intersect at precisely the right moment.  I loved the idea of the two main characters, with unexplainable supernatural powers, working together and using their gifts to change the world.  What can I say?  I'm a Heroes fan.  Well, of the first season anyway.  The types of powers these characters have, however imaginary, and the use of them, brings up all sorts of interesting questions about the ethics of doing so. If you could change the course of someone’s life, and perhaps save them, would you? Should you? Would you choose not to save someone you love, if in doing so you served the greater good? Heavy stuff, and something that the characters wrestle with themselves.

Val and Bud have an unorthodox relationship to begin with – she is 18 years old and he is, well, a great grandpa. It’s not often you see a co-dependent relationship with such a gigantic age difference, and I was apprehensive that their friendship would become more intimate. Something does happen, albeit brief and ever so vague, and, although I understood the author’s rationale behind it, I wasn’t terribly comfortable with the turn of events.

If I could have my way, Coffee and Fate would have been longer, with more characters, more rescues, and possibly a different dynamic in the main characters’ relationship. Regardless of my discomfort at a certain stage, I did enjoy this book’s premise and I felt the ending was beautifully bittersweet.

My Rating: 3 Stars.   For the sensitive reader:  There was a little bit of the vaguish sex at one point, but I can't remember any profanity.

Sum it up: A (kind of) “Heroes” novella where two people change the fate of the world.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Daughters of Freya - Michael Betcherman & David Diamond

Summary:  Journalist Samantha Dempsey never imagined her life would turn out like this. Her 19 year-old son has fallen in love with an older woman. Her mother is a basket case, still haunted by the death of Samantha’s brother in a car accident years ago. Her once-promising career as a journalist has ground to a halt. And the cracks in her marriage are wide and getting wider.

In the midst of all this turmoil, Samantha gets an email from a desperate friend whose 21 year-old daughter has joined The Daughters of Freya, a California cult that believes sex is the solution to the world’s problems. He wants Samantha to write a story that will expose the cult as a fraud.

Samantha pitches the story to Jane Sperry, the editor of a San Francisco magazine and an old college friend. Sperry sends Samantha to Marin County to write a piece on the cult but she soon finds out that there is more to the cult than meets the eye.

She discovers that the cult’s ‘spiritual guide’ has a secret and insidious agenda, and wealthy and powerful partners who will stop at nothing to prevent her from revealing the truth.

As Samantha risks her life in an attempt to penetrate the inner workings of the cult, she must deal with a personal life that is threatening to fall apart and a past she thought she had left far behind.

The Daughters of Freya is not a book; it's a 'real-time' email mystery delivered straight to your inbox...Opening your email will never be the same again!  (Summary and image from emailmystery.com - email experience given free for review)

My Review:  Technically, The Daughters of Freya is not a book and it’s not an audio tape. It is a mystery comprised of 115 emails sent straight to your inbox over a period of three weeks.  They appear as emails between fictional characters in which you have been BCC’d. Intrigued? I was too, and decided to review this "email experience" even though it is a bit of a reach from what we normally review.

At first, I was simply curious about the alleged sex cult and what Samantha would uncover, but when her investigations led to a sordid secret and a murder, the story became more intense. By the end of the first week, I was checking my email obsessively, and it was maddening to have to wait for new email to find out what would happen next. Before long, I was kicking myself for asking to experience this email mystery like the rest of humanity instead of all at once (as I was offered).

The authors arranged the emails in each installment so that you read things in the proper order to minimize confusion. I would have loved if the each email could have come separately “real time”, but I think it would have been more confusing if they had. Instead each email installment is timed to achieve maximum suspense and, although they are more detailed than you would find in an actual email, it’s little enough to be forgivable and helps convey the story.

I appreciate Betcherman and Diamond's ingenuity in using emails, but it did create problems that were difficult to resolve within the confines of their chosen medium. One minor conflict arose when they chose to insert links into certain emails to add dimension to the story. Usually these links led to sites that were “in house” and part of the world the authors created. However, a few times, these links led to outside sources without any indication that you were “clicking out” of the story. Until I figured out how to tell the difference, I wasn’t exactly sure how far down the B&D rabbit hole I was supposed to go. I would suggest that in those special cases, they provide a disclaimer or indicator of some kind before taking the reader off site.

While the ending of this story felt a bit lackluster for me, I feel this had more to do with the chosen method of delivery than with the actual story itself. When the characters got into a situation where they no longer had access to the Internet (via computer or phone), the only other way to gain vital information was to read an online newspaper article about what happened during the interim sent from one secondary character to another. I’m sure in a standard book or movie the final scene would have been very intense, but this was where I felt telling a story through a series of emails actually hurt the narrative. It lacked emotional depth and I missed having a traditional conclusion and epilogue.

While The Daughters of Freya did have a few issues, it definitely added more than a little zing to my inbox and I enjoyed the mystery.  At only $3.99, it would make an entertaining, creative, and  inexpensive mini-gift this Christmas. I've already given away THREE of them, so I should have some feedback in about 3 weeks.  Click here to visit the The Daughters of Freya website, here to preview the story, or here to give this unique email mystery as a gift. 

My Rating: 3.75 Stars     For the sensitive reader: A few instances of profanity and some detached discussion of sex within the context of the cult.

Sum it up: An unique way to add a little mystery to your day.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Reading For Sanity's Book Gift Suggestions

If you're anything like me, I'm sure you have quite a few people
on your Christmas who have a big question mark next to their name.
What do you get the person who has everything?
 
Might I suggest a book? 

I mean, besides being a gift that you can tailor to fit the recipient,
they are also incredibly easy to wrap. 

Do me one favor, though.
If you are going to give someone a book, make sure it's a good one. 
don't just pick something up from the bargain bin. 
They are usually there for a reason. 
To help any of you who might be struggling to find
just the right gift for those ???'s on your Christmas list,
here are a few suggestions of books we have enjoyed.

*Think about buying these titles at your local independent bookstore. If that isn't possible, we've linked the titles of all these books to an online independent bookstore where you can buy new or gently used copies.
__________________________________

For the Women (or Book Club) in Your Life 
The Help
by Kathryn Stockett
  
by Kathy Hepinstall
(Not yet reviewed, but one of my favorites)

by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

by Sandra Dallas 

For the Men in Your Life

by Bill Bryson
(Not review, but Emily recommends)

by Harlen Coben

For Every Adult on Your List
(and One for Yourself) 

by Alden Bell

For Anyone Who Loves
a Fast-Paced YA Novel

The Hunger Games (Trilogy)
by Suzanne Collins
by Rick Riordan

by Nancy Farmer
(RFS Review Coming Soon)
When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead
 (RFS Review)

For Anyone Who Loves a
(Clean) Romantic YA Novel

For Anyone Who Loves Classics 

by Jetta Carleton

by Gene Stratton-Porter

For the Tween in Your Life

Stargirl
by Jerry Spinelli
Fablehaven (Series)
by Brandon Mull
Gregor the Overlander
by Suzanne Collins
(RFS Review)

by Shannon Hale

by Ingrid Law

For Your Littler Ones (1-6yrs)

Skippyjon Jones (Series)
by Judy Schachner
(Not reviewed, but my kids love it!)

by Karen Beaumont

(Not reviewed, but my kids love it!)

And now to be a little more specific...

For the Bookworm Who
Longs for a New, Original Read 

by Emma Donoghue

For Anyone Whose Safety You Care About

For the Jodi Picoult Fan
Who Needs A New Author to Love

by Chandra Hoffman
(Review coming soon)

For The Grammar Nazi in Your Life

For the Rich Aunt with the Bad Heart,
Who Just Wrote You into her Will

by William S. Burroughs

For Any of Your Sarcastic Friends
with a Morbid Sense of Humor

by Avery Monsen and Jory John

For the Perennial Hostess

by  Pam Anderson
(RFS Review)

For the Working Mom

Just Let Me Lie Down
by Kristin van Ogtrop
(RFS Review)

For the Health Enthusiast

Green for Life
by Victoria Boutenko
(RFS Review)

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual
by Michael Pollan
(RFS Review)

For the Mom/Friend Who is Rocking
Suburbia But You Think Secretly
Just Might Want to Start Wearing
Homespun Wool and Move to Maine

The Creative Family
by Amanda Blake Soule

For The Romantic Who Longs
for a Little (Clean) Fantasy Romance

Archangel (Series)
by Sharon Shinn
For the Twilight Fan who Needs
a New Vampire Fix

by Claudia Gray
For the WWII enthusiast

by Aldona Sendzikas

________________________________

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! 
Go find something good to read and share it wiht those you love!!

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