Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rash - Pete Hautman

Summary:  Consumption of alcohol: Illegal.
Football and other "violent" sports: Illegal.
Ownership of guns, chainsaws, and/or large dogs:  Illegal.
Body piercings, tattoos: Illegal.

It's late in the twenty-first century, and the United Safer States of America (USSA) has become a nation obsessed with safety.  For Bo Marsten, a teenager who grew up in the USSA, it's all good.  He knows the harsh laws were created to protect the people.  But when Bo's temper flares out of control and he's sentenced to three years of manual labor, he's not so down with the law anymore.

Bo's forced to live and work in a factory in the Canadian tundra.  The warden running the place is totally out of his mind, and cares little for his inmates' safety.  Bo will have to decide what is worse: a society that locks people up for road rage, or a prison where the wrong move could make you polar bear food.  (Summary from book - Image from www.petehautman.com)

My Review:  “What good is freedom if you’re dead?” That is the unofficial motto of the United Safer States of America. 

Bo Marsten can run the 100 meter dash in under 14 seconds. Sure, his grandpa could run it in eleven, but that was before the Child Safety Act required every high school runner to wear a full set of protective gear (including safety shoes, knee and elbow pads, neck brace, tooth guard, wrist monitor, and a FDHHSS-certified sports helmet). Bo’s grandfather remembers a time when things were different. When children could run free, and men played tackle football. His character provides an essential contrast between how the world used to be and what happens when people lose all good sense. As Grandpa so succinctly puts it, “This country went to h*ll the day we decided we’d rather be safe than free.”

When Bo is accused of intentionally spreading a contagious disease, only to learn he was set up by his archenemy, he flies off the handle and gets sentenced to the McDonald’s Rehabilitation and Manufacturing Center for his rash behavior. There he is forced to make frozen pizzas day in and day out until he is given an opportunity to “improve” his situation. Despite all odds, it is among convicts that Bo makes friends and learns that he can control himself, and his own destiny. When a chance encounter with a quirky character from his past turns into an early release from the program, Bo learns that sometimes you have to run without safety gear.

I enjoyed this story. It was such a quick and easy read that, if it weren’t for some of the language, I would recommend it for any age group. The world Hautman created, with all its safety regulations, raised issues about the dangers of securing public safety at the cost of personal freedoms. I feel like that specific topic is very relevant, that our world could be sliding towards a similar ideology, and that this book could provide a lot of opportunities for discussion in a classroom or casual book club setting.

My Rating: 3.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Mild crass language and profanity. With a teenage boy as a main character it’s difficult to escape some of the boy humor (e.g. farts, dog’s behinds, etc.) that comes with the territory. However, I was a little disappointed with some of the grandfather’s language. I understand that he is supposed to be a “rebellious” character, and profanity was one of the best ways to convey that, but I could have lived with out the swearing and occasionally crass language.

Sum it up: An interesting commentary on the issue of sacrificing personal freedoms to secure public safety and the dangers big government…or just a story about a kid who learns that being “safe” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Blank Slate - Heather Justesen

Summary:  Adrianna Mueller may be a world-renowned concert pianist, but when she wakes from a coma after a serious car accident, her ability to perform has disappeared as completely as her memories.  As she recovers from her injuries, she struggles with the expectations of her family, friends, and fiance, Brock-who all want everything to go back to the way it was.

Everyone except Gavin, her brother's business partner, who finds himself drawn to the woman she is now.  But he has his own problems.  As he tries to recover from a former employee's embezzelement, he fights his growing feelings for Adrianna.

And then a trip to the emergency room shakes everything up, leaving her to stumble as she tries to regain her footing all over again.  (Summary from back of the book and image from  http://heatherjustesen.blogspot.com/.  Book given free for review.)

My Review:  I was pleasantly surprised by Blank Slate.  This is the second book I've accepted for review since the end of the school year, at which time I had almost completely sworn off reviewing books by proposition.  The premise caught my attention and I thought it would be a fun, light read.  It was and I'm glad I accepted it.  I haven't read anything like it before which added to the enjoyment.

There are twists, but I'm afraid I have to say that I saw the main one coming.  Like I've mentioned before, maybe it was my years of watching Miss Marple with my dad or other mysteries on OPB.  Regardless, it was still fun to see if my predictions were correct.  What I wasn't expecting were the layers of conflict Justesen weaved in to make the situation realistic.  I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to wake up and have people expect you to be a world-renowned concert pianist when you look at music and can't even read the notes.  Not recognizing anyone who is supposed to be your family would be devastating as well.  Combine all that with the twists at the end, and it would be enough to stress out the most centered person.  I don't dare write more.  Part of the fun of this book is reading it without any knowledge beforehand and letting the author take you on an event-packed ride.

To learn more, you can visit the author’s blog or her website

If you'd like to purchase Blank Slate, you can choose from either a print copy, the Kindle version, or the Smashwords version.


My Rating: 3.75 stars

Sum it up:  A story that twists just enough to keep you guessing and real enough to make you pray it never happens to you.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mothers & Daughters - Rae Meadows

Summary:   Samantha is lost in the joys of new motherhood—the softness of her eight-month-old daughter’s skin, the lovely weight of her child in her arms—but in trading her artistic dreams to care for her child, Sam worries she’s lost something of herself. And she is still mourning another loss: her mother, Iris, died just one year ago. 

When a box of Iris’s belongings arrives on Sam’s doorstep, she discovers links to pieces of her family history but is puzzled by much of the information the box contains. She learns that her grandmother Violet left New York City as an eleven-year-old girl, traveling by herself to the Midwest in search of a better life. But what was Violet’s real reason for leaving? And how could she have made that trip alone at such a tender age?

In confronting secrets from her family’s past, Sam comes to terms with deep secrets from her own. Moving back and forth in time between the stories of Sam, Violet, and Iris, Mothers and Daughters is the spellbinding tale of three remarkable women connected across a century by the complex wonder of motherhood. 
(Summary from http://www.raemeadows.com/ - Image from http://www.tower.com/ - Book given free for review)

Disclaimer: I have writer’s block. Big time. I read this book about four weeks ago and have been sitting on this review ever since. Please don’t let the quality of my review influence your thoughts on this book. It was really good.

My Review:  Mothers & Daughters delves into the fascinating lives of three generations of women: Sam, a new mother, dealing with the anxiety leaving her infant daughter to return to her art studio; Iris, her mother, who is struggling through the final stages of her fight with breast cancer; and finally, Violet, the grandmother Sam never really knew who lived in the slums of New York City before being shipped west on an orphan train. One day, Sam receives a package filled with her late mother’s possessions and as she sifts through the box, uncovers a hidden history and reflects on the secrets buried in her own past.

Mothers & Daughters is an emotionally evocative, thought-provoking novel that explores the various phases, joys, and sorrows of the mother/daughter relationship. Each character’s story echoes throughout the others, with stunning parallels between their lives. While I didn’t always agree with some of the characters’ choices (I’m going to let them off the hook because they’re fictional), I identified with pieces of all of them – Sam’s fierce love for her daughter, Iris’s longing for solitude, and and Violet’s desperate desire for family.

My only complaint is the story ended rather abruptly. I read the last page and then turned another one, expecting more to follow.  Nothing. Whaaat?!  I was very caught up in the character’s lives (especially Violet’s) and I wanted to have several more chapters with them. Instead I was left to wonder about the rest of their story.

Rae Meadows has written a book that will resonate with most women. As I read, I considered my relationships with my three daughters, my own mother, and how my perspective shifted when I became a parent. When I was young, my mother was my mom, not a person. I couldn’t fathom her existence outside of that role. Then I grew up, became a parent, and realized that my mother had a life long before I came along – and I knew nothing about it. One of my favorite quotes from the book was:
“She wondered on some level if all mothers were cyphers to their children. She wondered if having children was a way to try and understand one’s own mother, to bridge the unknowability.  How she wished she could know her mother now.”
I think at some point in our lives, we all feel that way.  We can only hope that it's not too late.

Mothers & Daughters isn’t always an easy read, and some of the character’s experiences and choices were less than ideal, but I enjoyed the story and the feelings it inspired. I would recommend this book to most of the mothers and daughters in my life and as an intriguing book club selection.

My Rating: 4.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Some swearing, especially when dealing with rough characters (although not exclusively), discussion of abortion, and euthanasia.

Sum it up: An emotionally evocative and thought provoking novel.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods - Suzanne Collins

Summary:  With two prophecies fulfilled, Gregor is now focused on the Prophecy of Blood, which calls for Gregor and Boots to return to the Underland to help ward off a plague.  But this time, his mother refuses to let him go...until Ripred the rat convinces her that Gregor and Boots need to stay for only a brief meeting.  Finally, Gregor's mom relents, provided she is allowed to travel with them.

When they arrive in the subterranean city, the plague is spreading--and it has claimed one of his closest companions.  Only then does Gregor start to understand how the illness plays with the fate of all warmblooded creatures, but he still doesn't know how he can help combat it.  (Summary from back of the book and image from http://upload.wikimedia.org/)

My Review:  Gregor and Boots are growing up.  It is so nice to have a male protagonist who has such a great heart and tries in every way to be true to himself.  For that reason alone I would recommend this book. 

So far, this book is one of the most conflict filled books in the series (i.e. man vs. man, man vs. world, man vs. himself, etc.)   I probably shouldn't be surprised after reading The Hunger Games series. There is so much darkness, pain, loss, death (some unnecessary), and tragic-irony to make this book very heavy for the audience for which it's aimed.   While I've known many kids who've read The Giver and not caught half of the older messages it contains, the issues Collins introduces to such young minds does cause some concern.

The end of the book does not bring resolution.  Yes, I do realize it's a series, so I was not expecting full resolution but I was expecting a little more.  The ending leaves you discontent (I'm sure this is Collins' purpose) but, regardless, I can see kids questioning the ending or rushing to pick up the next to find out what happens.

Regardless of the darkness and lack of resolution, Collins writing rarely disappoints.  She manages to pull you right in and makes a 350+ page Children's book feel like a 100 pager.  I definitely recommend this series to those who like Collins' writing and this genre.

Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Despite its roughly 5th grade reading level, the content and messages are quite mature.

Sum it up: Gregor is fighting something he feel he cannot win, but desperately must if he hopes to save his family.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Beatrice Munson

Summary: In Vista Heights, the women of the neighborhood have started to look like their homes, varying shades of beige.

Lost in this world of suburbia, Marissa Lyons learns her high school nemesis has bought the house right across the street from her. Afraid that her arch enemy, Beatrice Munson, will arrive with Marissa’s high school crush as her husband and cause Marissa to relive the insecurity of high school in her forties she decides to face the music and heads to Beatrice’s house with warm cupcakes. But what Marissa finds is something she never expected.

How will Marissa and the rest of the women of San Martino deal with someone like Beatrice Munson, whose defining moment in her life was to get a boob job or go on a trip to Egypt.

This story is about friendship, love, learning to look at things differently, and great parties.

Step into the world of Vista Heights where you might recognize the women, or you might be one of them.

Cover image and summary from Goodreads.com, Book provided free for review

My Review: Marissa Lyons feels a looming sense of dread when she discovers that her new neighbor is Beatrice Munson, the perfect beauty Marissa envied during high school. As a divorced single mom of two with no job prospects, Marissa's life is not exactly what she hoped to protray when she reunites with a high school peer. When curiousity overcomes self-doubt, Marissa heads over to welcome her new neighbor only to discover Beatrice is anything but intimidating. In fact, Beatrice Munson's move turns out to be a blessing in disguise for all the neighborhood women.

Beatrice Munson is a tale of friendship, learning to trust and reclaiming self-esteem. It is a story about women becoming empowered as they find the courage to follow their dreams.  Though the characters may be a bit sterotypical, many SAHMs will identify with the struggle to balance the needs of the children and household with personal fullfillmant. 

With a Desperate Housewives flare, the woman within these pages tend to find themselves in some absurd situations and the solutions come a bit too conveniently. Yet the read never ceases to entertain. I found myself giggling over the gals blunders and heartstrings were tugged during their perils. While this isn't exactly a novel to gush over, it is a fun, uplifting read perfect for the lazy days of summer.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Sensitive readers: This one is pretty safe, mild language here and there and a love scene that is not overly detailed.

To Sum it up: A light, entertaining soap opera of a story full of amusing characters.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pigeon Book Series - Mo Willems

This post contains reviews for Mo Willems' Pigeon Books:  Don't Let Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Don't Let Pigeon Stay Up Late!, Pigeon Wants a Puppy!, and Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!

Summary:  Finally, a book you can say "no" to! [Hey, can I drive the bus?  Please? C'mon!]  Will you let him drive? (Image from  http://4.bp.blogspot.com/ and summary from the back of the book.)

My Review:  Have you discovered Mo Willems yet?  If not, I'm pleased to introduce to you the fun that are the pigeon books.  While I don't own all of them, I do own the following four and have read them more times than their paperback structures can sustain.  One of my favorite aspects to the Pigeon books is the voice.  You can hear the personality loud and clear and he's so easy to relate to.  In fact, the voice of the pigeon reminds me very strongly of an eighth grade student I had this year.  I've attached an extra image below of the Drive the Bus book so you can see what I'm talking about.  If you have children, I know you'll enjoy the  humor and if your children are like mine, they'll love the pigeon and his impatience.

My Rating: 5 stars.

Sum it up:  You really shouldn't let him drive the bus, because he's only a pigeon -- beware his manipulations!


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Summary: It's getting dark, but the pigeon won't go to bed!  Will you let him stay up late? (Image from  http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/ and summary from back of the book.)

My Review: Do you have a night owl in your family?  Is it one of your children?  If so, this book is definitely for your family.  My daughter is one of those night-loving people who would rather stay up until 11pm than shut her pretty eyes and let sleep take her to that wonderful place that all parents crave.  This has to be my favorite Pigeon book.  I love the pigeon's reactions when caught yawning.  My daughter has said the exact same words when tired and in denial.  Because really, what's another 5 minutes in the grand scheme of things?

My Rating:  5 stars.

Sum it up:  He may be very convincing, but this pigeon really needs to go to bed.
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Summary: The Pigeon really, really REALLY wants a puppy.   Do you think it's a good idea? (Image from  http://4.bp.blogspot.com/ and summary from back of the book.)

My Review:  This was my first pigeon purchase and while it's not my favorite of the pigeon books, it's the book that got me hooked.  How many of us have had something we craved as a child, wanted so badly, and when we finally got it after what felt like years (and which was probably only months) that present just wasn't what we thought it would be?  I can still remember that item for me.  It was a Play Dough Hairdresser pack.  It sure looked enticing on the commercials, but in real life, it lacked luster.  My girls are like this too.  They both love dogs, puppies, kitties, animals in general.  Up until it's up close and personal and then it's a run for mom or high tail it home event.  And honestly, don't we all really want a walrus?

My Rating:  5 stars

Sum it up:  Have you ever really, REALLY wanted something?  And then found out it wasn't what you thought it was?  This pigeon has!
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Summary:  Pigeon's back!

When Pigeon finds a delicious hot dog, he can hardly wait to shove the entire thing into his beak.  But then...a very sly and hungry duckling enters the scene and wants a bite.  Who will be the more clever bird?  (Summary from back of the book and image from http://ecx.images-amazon.com/)

My Review:  Overall, I just don't find this book as engaging.  The Pigeon finds the hot dog, is about to consume, but is interrupted.  A guest star, Duckling, wants to know what a hot dog tastes like.  In the end, (yes, I am ruining it for you) the Duckling suggests they share it.  And thankfully as a positive influence for my children, the Pigeon has a positive response.  He's still his impatient self, but I couldn't quite relate as easily to his reactions as I could with the other books.  It's a fun book and my girls still loved it, so I can't lower the rating by much.  But, it wasn't quite 5 stars for me.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Sum it up:  The pigeon finds a hotdog and also learns how to share.
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And for a personal touch, here we are in pajamas before bedtime reading
 Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Red Tent - Anita Diamant

Summary:  Her name is Dinah.  In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons in the book of Genesis.

Told in Dinah's voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoil of ancient womanhood--the world of the red tent.  It begins with the story of her mothers--Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah--the four wives of Jacob.  They love Dinah and give her gifts that are to sustain her through a hard-working youth, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land.  Dinah's story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history and creates an intimate, immediate connection.

Deeply affecting, The Red Tent combines rich story-telling with a valuable achievement in modern fiction: a new view of biblical women's society.  (Summary from back of the book and image from http://www.thejcconline.com/)

My Review:   If you can ignore the fact that (for some) this is a sacred story, you can let go and enjoy an interpretation of Jacob's family through the eyes of his only mentioned daughter in Genesis.  I'm afraid that because the author took liberties with much of the details in the story I didn't enjoy it as much as I'd have liked to.  It has a heavy 21st century spin.

There are multiple aspects to the story that I struggled with. Most of it centers on the embellishments Diamant made to create her story.  Since it is historical fiction, she has this right, but I had a hard time with some of these embellishments.  I'm afraid to delve into those for this review, in case it would either spoil the book or be irrelevant, and pointless, for those who haven't read it.

One of my favorite aspects of the book was the relationship between the sisters or Dinah's mothers.  The Bible makes it clear that Rachel was the favored of the sisters and that because of this the sisters had a rivalry.  This part of the story that Diamant embellished was the part that I accepted without contest.  I cannot imagine what it would have been like to be the daughter your father tricked into marrying the man who wants your sister.  And then, to know that for the rest of your life you'll always be playing second fiddle.  Rachel's struggle for a son and Leah's ability to have them must have been a huge strain, a matter of contention until old age.  That, and knowing that your husband knows (biblically knows) your sister like he knows you, has got to be repulsive, and more so because your father forced the result.  I cannot even fathom this.
  
For some readers the prolific nature of sex and the sexual relationships in the book may turn them off.  The majority of the encounters are vaguely written and mostly sweet encounters, but there are some accounts that are disturbing or simply more information that some would want to read (e.g bestiality, masturbation, etc).

Diamant's writing is beautiful.  She draws in the reader and makes you feel like you're actually watching people of those times and places.  There are times you actually feel like you're smelling and tasting the herbs and spices the people used.  All of this I could appreciate.  It was just laced with so many unnecessary imaginations of the author and infused with the mindset of our time that I couldn't give it my stamp of approval.  I can't say I'll recommend this to other readers.  While it is well written, I feel it is misleading and at times simply wrong.

My Rating: 2.75 stars--almost 3 stars for the writing, but not quite.

For the sensitive reader:  There is quite a bit of content that is offensive: bestiality, rape, masturbation, abuse, and sex scenes that although they aren't detail ridden, they are abrupt and disturbing.

Sum it up: A historical fiction--heavy on the fiction--account of Jacob's family and twelve sons through the perspective of the only daughter.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County - Tiffany Baker

Summary:  Meet Truly Plaice -- part behemoth, part witch, part Cinderella.  Born larger than life into a small-minded town, Truly breaks her family into smithereens.  Her mother dies during Truly's birth, and when her father follows shortly afterward, Truly and her dainty sister, Serena Jane, are destined for very different fates.  As Truly grows larger and larger on a rundown farm, she watches lovely Serena Jane become the towns adored May Queen and the obsession of a local boy, Bob Bob Morgan -- the youngest in a line of Aberdeen's doctors, who for generations wove their influence among the town's citizens.  Yet no matter how far apart life propels them, Truly and her sister are forever linked.  And Truly will find her future shaped by Serena Jane's relationships, a centuries-old antique of Dr. Morgan's, and the reality that love cannot be ordered to size.  (Summary from book - Image from blogs.kcls.org)

My Review:  Truly Plaice is a woman of truly remarkable proportions.  Since the day of her birth – the day she killed her mother and broke her father’s heart, Truly has grown at an astonishingly abnormal rate.  When her father dies years later, Truly is outcast by the narrow-minded people of Aberdeen County, and sent to live with a family of dirt-poor farmers while her beloved sister, Serena Jane, lives pampered and admired in town.  Despite these hardships and her increasing estrangement from her sister, Truly manages to carves out a life for herself, makes unlikely friendships, and begins to come to terms with her unusual girth.  Then Serena Jane makes a decision that forces Truly to uproot herself and move back into town -- back to the staring, the jokes, and the cruelty.  It is there that Truly stumbles across a mysterious family secret and she discovers that she has the power to give life...and to take it away.   

The highlight of this book is its characters:  Priscilla, the strict school marm; Robert and Amelia, who share a devastating secret; Amanda Pickerton, with her vicious cruelty; Marcus, the lovelorn school chum; Bobbie, a child too pretty for his own good; Serena Jane, the chosen one who lost everything; and last of all, Truly, a woman whose story is so fascinating, I could not put it down.  Each character was brilliantly constructed to enhance the story, giving it dimension, depth, and emotion with feeling fake or stereotypical.   I loved them and hated them, and just when I thought I had them all figured out, something would happen to flip my emotions entirely.   Without giving too much away about the book, this might make for an interesting book club discussion about intolerance, the ethics of certain medical procedures,  and the bonds of family vs. the bonds of friendship. 
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County is one of those books that I read as much as I could, as fast as I could, whenever I could, and then thought about it the rest of the time.  With a bittersweet ending and charming epilogue, this book will stick with me for a while.  

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  A handful or two of swear words, some mild discussion of sex and sexual development, and references to a character’s homosexuality.
To sum it up:  A long lost secret, a mysterious disappearance, and a woman who learns that happiness comes in all sizes.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane - Suzanne Collins

**Warning: Do not read this review if you have not read the first book and plan to, it contains spoilers.**

Summary: Gregor learns of his role in another Underland prophecy, yet he swears he will never return to that place. But his vow crumbles when his little sister, Boots, is snatched. Gregor knows it is a ploy to lure him to the subterranean world, but he gives in and heads back underground, where he is reunited with his bat, Ares, the princess Luxa, and new allies. Together, they descend into the deadly Waterway in search of an ominous rat known as Bane. But Gregor must face the possibility of his greatest loss yet, and make life and death choices that will determine the future of the Underland.
Summary from Google Books and cover photo from suzannecollinsbooks.com
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Heather's Review: Gregor escapes the Underland only to have to return a few months later. This time his baby sister is kidnapped in order to lure Gregor back. The rats threaten to take over the Underland. and when they do Regalia and all those Gregor cares for will vanish. The only way to stop this outcome is to defeat the Bane.

I was very disappointed with this second installment of the Gregor series. Collins began the book by letting her characters off too easy. Gregor had disappeared for weeks with his baby sister in the first book leaving his mother frantic and the entire city searching for him. When Gregor returns safely with his baby sister, he brings with him his father, who has been missing for a couple years. This is how the last book ends. To begin this second book, Collins simply allows Gregor to spin a weak, unbelievable lie that all who were looking for him believe. Talk about some serious eye-rolling.

My other big issue with this book is the gruesome nature of it compared to the last. This time around Gregor is sent on a mission to kill the bane. It just feels a bit too dark and mature for the 8-12 age group the first book fit into. This novel is full of graphic descriptions of blood and guts, completely nightmare inducing.

Although I had some issues with book 2, my son still enjoyed it. There were several times he was laughing out loud due to the antics of Gregor or Ares, his bat. And though the violence left me a bit squeamish he seemed to take it fairly well, although I did wake a few morning with him in my bed. So perhaps I am being too harsh. It just wasn't what I expected. If I were reading this series by myself, this one would have been the end for me but since my son has fallen for quirky Gregor we have continued on.

Her Rating: 3 Stars

To sum it up: A darker, less appealing installation in the Gregor series.
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Kari's Review:  By this point in reading her books, Suzanne Collins is one of my favorite authors. She has a way of drawing you in quickly and holding you suspended in time until you finish her book. I love that about her. Her characters are so relatable and endearing. This book introduces and develops more characters in the Underland giving the underworld a greater depth and atmosphere.

That said, this book is far darker than the others. While Gregor retains his conscience and tender heart, he has to witness more violence and face morale dilemmas most kids his age wouldn't dream of. While this makes for a great plot line, it does make a parent question the level of violence the book presents. As a teacher of middle school students I wouldn't bat an eye, but for an elementary aged student I'd be more selective.

In true Collins' style, the ending is not what you expect and the book reads much faster than the length of pages. I thoroughly enjoy Collins' writing and this book didn't disappoint.

Her Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: Despite being a children's book there is a lot of violence and death, more so than the first book and more graphic.

Sum it up: The second installment of Gregor's Underland adventure.
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Average Rating: 3.5 Stars
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

DELIRIUM SWAG + BOOK GIVEAWAY

Have you caught Delirium?


If not, read our review of this fabulous book!
If you're already infected, enter this giveaway
for two chances to win some swag
and maybe even a book!

1st Place Winner
A copy of Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Delirium t-shirt (size L) signed by Lauren Oliver
Assorted bookplates signed by Lauren Oliver

2nd Place Winner
A Delirium t-shirt (size L)  signed by Lauren Oliver
Assorted bookplates signed by Lauren Oliver

Are you excited?

To enter to win:
  • Simply comment and leave your contact information
For extra chances to win, you must leave separate comments for each entry:
Eligibility:  This giveaway is for US residents only and will run until July 31, 2011 at 11:59 PM.  All winners will be chosen randomly, posted publicly, and contacted swiftly to arrange shipping.  Reading For Sanity reserves the right to exclude entrants who do not follow the rules for entry.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Raising - Laura Kasischke

Summary:  Last year Godwin Honors Hall was draped in black.  The university was mourning the loss of one of its own:  Nicole Werner, a blond, beautiful, straight -- A sorority sister tragically killed in a car accident that left her boyfriend, who was driving, remarkably -- some say suspiciously -- unscathed.

Although a year has passed, as winter begins and the nights darken, obsession with Nicole and her death reignites:  She was so pretty.  So sweet-tempered.  So innocent.  Too young to die.

Unless she didn't.

Because rumor has it that she's back.

(Summary from book - Image from www.indiebound.org - Book given free for review)

My Review:  When I picked up The Raising and read the teaser on the back my mind went straight to zombies. Maybe that speaks more to my messed up psyche than anything else, but as it turns out, this book centers less around zombies and more around a mysterious death, betrayal, revenge, lust, and a truth so horrifying that some are willing to kill to keep it quiet.

The first section of this book focused more on back story and character development than plot progression, but revealed just enough to keep things interesting. I couldn’t quite guess where the book was going and that lack of certainty kept me flipping pages. At the same time, a few of the characters were repulsive, vulgar, and foul-mouthed.  I’m not the most sensitive reader, but even I have my limits, and if I hadn’t been stuck on a six-hour plane ride with no other form of entertainment, I might have put this book down and picked up something lighter.

However, the last third of the book is what kept me from calling it quits. By then, I had my ideas about how things were going to go down. I was fascinated with the progression of the story and had to know how it would end. The conclusion is eery, and while it gives some clarity to the situation, it leaves other things open to interpretation. I kind of loved and hated it.

The Raising had more depth than I expected, but I still have mixed emotions. It was a deliciously suspenseful novel with complex characters that felt real in all the good and not-so-good ways. However, the content was too graphic for my taste, which kept me from staying continually connected to the story or characters. Ultimately, whether you like this book or not will depend a great deal on how sensitive you are to graphic language and sexuality.

My Rating: 3 Stars.

For the sensitive reader:  Find another book. This one isn’t for you. I stopped tracking the things that might offend a sensitive reader less than ¼ of the way through the book.

Sum it up:  A book that was both engaging and repellent.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Winter Sea - Susanna Kearsley

Summary: HISTORY HAS ALL BUT FORGOTTEN...

In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottich soliders nearly succeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.

Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn the story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write.

But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth - the ultimate betrayal - that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her...
Summary from book, Cover Photo from Indiebound.org

My Review: Carrie McClelland is a bestselling novelist in search of information for her latest book. Her search for facts on the characters she has created leads her to a small cottage in Cruden Bay overlooking the ruins of Slains Castle. As she writes Carrie discovers that the story she is telling is not descending from her imagination but is the actual voice of her heroine, Sophia, who happens to be one of her own ancestors.

This novel is actually the combination of two stories. The first being Carrie's life, recounted in first person as she writes her book and uncovers both her past and her future. She learns more about herself than she would have thought possible as she makes friends with some locals in the small village she has come to call home. The second is the story that Carrie is writing, which is woven perfectly into the fabric of her own life. Here she discovers that her ancestor, Sophia, is actually speaking to her through her writing and the only way to hear her story is to finish the book regardless of the heartache the story brings.

Sophia lived in the eighteenth century at a time when James Stewart and his loyal followers were plotting to return him to the thorn. An act of fate finds Sophia at the Slains Castle living with her aunt. Here she falls in love with a solider that must leave to aid in restoring the crown to the rightful king. Before leaving they are secretly married and this is a secret that proves most difficult to keep though both her life and his depend on it.

The Winter Sea is a novel about an author who loses herself in her writing and in the process pulls the reader in with her. It is so well written that it feels you are within the pages with each character, leaping through the centuries to join both Carrie and Sophia on their personal journey for happiness. Both women are fiercely brave and independent yet each has a soft, endearing side making the characters easy to relate to. At times the stories overlap yet each remains it's own tale. As the book progresses the present echoes the past time and time again in the most fascinating fashion.

The last quarter of the book demands to be read at a breath-taking pace, with a tightness in the chest. This is an incredibly romantic story and, yet, is action packed. Tears made the words blur yet somehow in the end I was able to close the book smiling, feeling completely satisfied that both tales were neatly closed up. This novel will spin its way into being a classic.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

To Sum It Up: A historical romance with the perfect blend of action and fantasy.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Absolute Value of Mike - Kathryn Erskine

Summary:  So Dad has shipped me off to relatives I don't even know because he wants me to work on this engineering project and become a genius, like him.  Well, guess what?  I have math learning disabilities!  Besides, what engineering project?  Poppy (my great-uncle) is frozen to his chair and communicates only by throwing slippers.  And Moo (his wife) feeds a cat clock and watches imaginary movies in her car, "Tyrone," which she's too blind to be driving anyway.  And then there's Gladys...she's this amazing, cool, super-gorgeous punk rocker with stage fright...um...where was I?

Oh, right.  I know all Dad cares about is the engineering project, but everyone in town is working on a much more important project: adopting an orphan from Romania.  Now that's my kind of project.  I've got to whip this town into shape and raise like $40,000 in three weeks!  Yup, that means getting Gladys to sing, Poppy to move, and Moo to give up Tyrone.

Just don't tell Dad!  I'll have to deal with him later.  (Summary from  - Image from http://www.kathrynerskine.com/)

My Review:  The Absolute Value of Mike tells the story of Michael Einstein Frost, the not-so-smart son of a scientific genius.  Ever since the death of his wife, Mike's father has retreated into his research while fourteen-year-old Mike takes care of the house, bills, and himself.  When his dad leaves for an extended business trip, he sends Mike to stay with relatives and help with a engineering project that will ensure his placement in a top engineering school.  

When Mike reaches the town of Donover (re-named Do Over by the townspeople) he discovers that the "engineering" project is not what it seems and his relatives are anything but normal.  They're old! And a little bit crazy!  Poppy is glued to the couch, living on scrapple and mourning the not-so-recent loss of his son.  Moo has a big heart, but is blind as a bat and vacuums whenever she cries.  They are dirt poor, with no electricity, and the crazy doesn't stop there.  The entire town is populated by a delightful cast of zany characters:  Past, who lives out of a shopping cart and works on a park bench; Gladys, a tatted up bank teller with vocal aspirations; the town's version of the Three Stooges, Guido, Jerry, and Spud; and many more. 

Most of the time I loved this wacky story and its quirky characters, but occasionally I longed for the story to be a little more believable and take itself a little more seriously (a little more like her previous novel, Mockingbird).  However, as the story started to wind down, I realized that this book goes a lot deeper than its humor or its characters.  I absolutely loved watching the Mike's attempts to goad Poppy into action and his interaction, and eventual reconciliation, with his father. 

Ultimately, The Absolute Value of Mike is a fun, feel-good read, and a story about the many manifestations of love, the importance of family, and finding your individual worth.  It might be a little far-fetched, but I felt it was well worth the time it took to read.

My Rating:  4 Stars (If this were an adult novel, I'd probably give it somehwere in the high 3's)

For the sensitive reader:  Some biblical profanity (you know that joke about what happens when you "ass-ume" things?) and typically male comments about Gladys' figure.  This is a children's book, so I didn't particularly care for either addition.

Sum it up:  A fun, feel-good read.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What Happens When You Blog Late at Night?

So, what happens when you stay up
till all hours blogging? 
You end up posting your personal blog post
on your very public reading blog. 

Uh.
Oops. 
Sorry about that.  

I guess you got to know my husband and I a little
more than you probably wanted to. 

If you didn't get a chance to read it, don't worry,
it wasn't that exciting (or dirty, you know you were thinking it).
It was about our 10th anniversary trip to Hawaii.
(We haven't gone 10 times.  We've been married 10 years. Yay!)

Anyway, I've taken it down so there's no use looking.

I will, however, give you this.
I did not do enough of this on my vacation.


and now back to our regularly scheduled programing... (tomorrow at least)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Black and Blue - Anna Quindlen

Summary:  For eighteen years, Fran Benedetto kept her secret.  And hid her bruises.  And stayed with Bobby because she wanted her son to have a father.  And because, in spite of everything, she loved him.  Then one night, when she saw the look on her ten-year-old son's face, Fran finally made a choice -- and ran for both their lives. 

Now she is starting over in a city far from home, far from Bobby.  And in this place she uses a name that isn't hers, and cradles her son in her arms, and tries to forget.  For the woman who now calls herself Beth, everyday is a chance to heal, to put together the pieces of her shattered self.  And everyday she waits for Bobby to catch up to her.  Because Bobby always said he would never let her go.  And despite the flawlessness of her escape, Fran Benedetto is certain of one thing:  It is only a matter of time...(Summary from book - Image from bookbyte.com)

My Review:  Black and Blue is the fiercely compelling story of Fran Benedetto, a woman desperate to escape her abusive husband. Not one to leave her child, Robert, behind or allow him to live one more second under the influence of his father, Fran obtains new identities through the help of an underground network for battered women, and the two take refuge in an unknown town while she tries to rebuild their shattered life.

One of my favorite quotes from this book tells how, when their relationship changed from caring to abusive, her husband did not like what he saw in her eyes.

“Things were good there for almost a year. It was my first broken bone; I think maybe that scared him. But I knew he’d try again, and again, and again, and yet again to wipe that look off my face, that reflection of himself in my eyes.”
Some books hit harder than others. They grip tighter because even though the stories aren’t real, they could be. Black and Blue is one of those books. It is real -- for someone. Eloquent and evocative, it perfectly captures the complexities of abusive relationships, why women stay, and why they leave. Those reasons will resonate with any mother.

“That’s why I left when I did, how I did. During the long nights of a Florida winter, alive with wind sounds and whispers, as I imagined that Bobby was on the roof, at the door, jimmying a window open, I had a lot of time to think. And that’s the truth. That’s why I left. I’m a nurse, you know, a Catholic girl, a mother, and the wife of a man who wanted to suck the soul out of me and put it in his pocket. I’m not real good at doing things for myself. But for Robert? That was a different story.”
Even though Black and Blue is fiction, it flawlessly illustrates the catastrophic effect that abuse can have on children, families, and outside relationships. Fran often speaks about her mixed feelings for her husband – how he was two different people – and how it was possible to love and hate, desire and fear, loathe and long for the same person. Women who have lived with abuse will likely identify with Fran’s character, her emotions, and motivations, especially if they have children.

Black and Blue is an Oprah book club pick and New York Times Bestseller. If you even need my stamp of approval after all that, I will most certainly give it to you. I was completely sucked into this story. Knowing that Bobby would eventually find Fran kept me on tenterhooks and gave me the tiniest glimpse of what it must really be like to live in a constant state of fear. I loved and hated and loved this book. It is both beautiful and horrifying. Exhilarating, tender, and sad. It is a thousand different things and with a stunning conclusion that left me breathless and aching for Fran and all the women like her who have had to choose.

I will definitely be reading more books by Anna Quindlen.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: The reason I didn’t give this book 5 stars was because of the high amounts of profanity. The husband in the book has a very foul mouth.  He's just all-around horrible.  Expect swearing whenever he enters the picture (especially if he's mad), be it through his actual presence in the story or any recounted memories.  At a certain point in the story, his profanity skyrockets. The deluge is confined to one chapter, but that chapter is pivotal, so readers sensitive to language might want to steer clear.  There were also a few sexual situations (very little detail), some sexual comments, and some discussion of abortion. 

Sum it up: A fiercely compelling novel that deserves its’ status as a New York Times Bestseller.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Die for Me - Amy Plum

Summary:  Kate Mercier's life changed in an instant when her parents died, and she's still picking up the shattered pieces.  She moves to Paris to live with her grandparents, desperate to start a new life free of heartbreaking memories.  But when she meets the mysterious, charming, and devastatingly handsome Vincent, he threatens to melt the ice around Kate's guarded heart with just his smile.

As she begins to fall for Vincent, Kate discovers that he has a terrifying destiny, one that puts his life in danger every day.  Still trying to rebuild the remnants of her life, Kate isn't sure she can risk losing her heart again.  (Summary from Book - Image from  - Book given free for review)

My Review:  First off, holy cover!  Gorgeous.  Kudos to the designer, Mark Ecob, and illustrator, Johanna Basford, for their amazing work.  Okay, down to business...

Die for Me is a young adult paranormal romance and the first book in the Revenant series written by Amy Plum, a former college professor who traded her life in Brooklyn for a farmhouse in the French countryside. Die for Me is her first novel and as first efforts go, she did pretty well.

The story revolves around a teenage girl, wrecked by the loss of her parents and looking for solace on the streets of Paris. There she meets a charismatic young man with a startling secret. Don’t worry. He’s not a vampire. Kate's sorrow at the death of her parents was palpable and convincing. It lent a great deal of depth to her character and made her doubts about becoming involved with a Vincent completely understandable. I loved that this book was set in Paris. It created a much more fascinating and romantic atmosphere than if it had been, say, set in a podunk town in Washington.

Unfortunately, things didn’t take off right away. At first, there was far more explanation than action – specifically Vincent and Kate’s frequent chats about the particulars of his big secret. I wanted Kate to find out the details as the story moved along, rather than Vincent just telling her. Once they stopped dishing, things got going, and then I was hooked.

While this book was romantic, it stayed smooch-filled but sex-free. The romance seemed a bit obsessive (par for the course in the YA genre), but I loved that Kate had doubts, expressed them, and actually considered her own well-being when making decisions about the relationship.

Overall, Die For Me was fun. It was good enough that it will likely garner a sizable teenage following, but it wasn’t knock-my-socks-off awesome. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it or that I wasn’t entertained. I was, but I wanted more. I wanted to sink into the story and be dragged kicking and screaming out of it. I wanted lush descriptions that sent me straight to Paris. I desperately wanted to be with Kate (okay, maybe Vincent), reading books at a local cafĂ© or wandering aimlessly down the rue du Bac, and I just never felt like I was there.

Kate’s unique abilities, and a particular fight scene at the end of the novel, open the door to a world of possibilities in the sequel. There are so many places for the story to go and so much room for characters to develop (e.g. Charlotte, Ambrose, Jules). To be perfectly honest, I want to see Katie kick some butt and join the gang on a more permanent basis. If things go the way I hope they will, then it should be a fun ride.

If, however, the author decides to make Kate give birth to a horribly named revenant baby that grows at an alarming rate and ends up falling in love with Jules, I will never forgive her.  Do you hear me Amy Plum?!

My Rating: 3.75 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Amazingly, this book was really clean. It never went past kissing and the only thing you have to worry about was the occasional decapitation.

Sum it up: A promising (and clean) paranormal romance.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Pioneer Woman : From Black Heels to Tractor Wheels ( A Love Story) - Ree Drummond

Summary:  I'll never forget that night.  It was like a romance novel, an old Broadway musical, and a John Wayne western rolled into one.  Out for a quick drink with friends, I wasn't looking to meet anyone, let alone a tall, rugged cowboy who lived on a cattle ranch miles away from my cultured, corporate hometown.  But before I knew it, I'd been struck with a lightning bolt...and I was completely powerless to stop it. 

Read along as I recount the rip-roaring details of my unlikely romance with a chaps-wearing cowboy, from the early days of our courtship (complete with cows, horses, prairie fire, and passion) all the way through the first year of our marriage, which would be filled with more challenge and strive -- and manure -- than I ever could have expected.

This isn't just my love story; it's a universal tale of passion, romance, and all-encompassing love that sweeps us off our feet.  It's the story of a cowboy.  And Wranglers.  And chaps.  And the girl who fell in love with them.  (Summary from book - Image from goodreads.com )

My Review:   Have you ever hung around someone who recently a) fell in love b) became engaged c) got married or d) all of the above, and all they can talk about is absolute and utter amazing-ness of their significant other? It’s thrilling at first (you’re living vicariously, of course), then after a while it’s just cute (like a sweet little puppy), but eventually it’s pretty darn annoying (like a puppy that keeps peeing in your shoe). That is how I felt when I began reading this book. At first, I was grinning like an idiot, soaking up the romance and loving every inch of it. It was like getting to experience the rush of first love all over again, with leading man who was obviously God’s gift to women.  Unfortunately, after a bit I started to notice that the author could not stop singing her man’s praises. Seriously.  Most paragraphs were odes to (insert feature here).  His muscles. His eyes. His voice. His wranglers. How perfect he was in every living way. It was clear that she was smitten, and I couldn’t really blame her, but all that smit got old. Fast.

Thankfully, about mid-way through part two, the 24-hour love fest started to slow. For one reason or another, reality hit the young couple like a ton of bricks, and I finally got a glimpse of the real story – one where the author deals with unexpected illness, doubts, the perils of a new relationship, and her own inner demons. The third part of this book was definitely my favorite. It moved past infatuation and towards a deeper kind of love – the kind based on shared experience, understanding, and the occasional bout of incurable lust. For what it’s worth, and despite all the guy-worship, this book was entertaining and ended well. If you make it past the gushing, you’ll find a charming love story. I’m glad that I read it at least once, even if it did pee in my shoe a few times.

Sidenote: The Pioneer Woman: From Black Heels to Tractor Wheels was originally (at least in part) a series of posts on the popular blog The Pioneer Woman where Ree Drummond talks about pretty much everything…cooking, country life, homeschooling, etc. This book also includes recipes of many of the meals that Ree prepared for her husband during their first years of marriage.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Minimal swearing (mostly biblical).  This couple actually waited until after they were married before they became intimate, so while there was a massive amount of making out, things didn't hit the bedroom till after they were married and, once there, never elaborated.
 
Sum it up:  A double-edged love story and good one time read.

HOURGLASS GIVEAWAY WINNER

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winner of a signed copy of
Hourglass by Myra McEntire

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