Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chocolate Fever - Robert Kimmel Smith

Summary:  Henry Green was a boy who loved chocolate.  He liked it bitter, sweet, dark, light, and daily; for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks; in cakes, candy bars, milk, and every other form you could possibly imagine.  Henry probably loved chocolate more than any boy in the history of the world.

One day -- it started off like any other day -- Henry found that strange things were happening to him.  First, he made medical history with the only case of Chocolate Fever ever.  Then he found himself caught up in a wild and hilarious chase, climaxed by a very unusual hijacking!  (Summary from book - Image from betterworldbooks.com )

My Review:  I have been spending a lot of time reading to my kids this summer.  Most recently we’ve read the entire Percy Jackson and the Olympian series and the first Harry Potter book.  My oldest daughter was in heaven, but my five year old struggled to follow along.  So, when it came time to start a new book, I was looking for something that would entertain my oldest daughter while still being simple and engaging for the one who still likes to look at pictures.  This book wasn’t too long or complex and had pictures every couple of pages.  Perfect.  Besides, how could I resist a book called Chocolate Fever?

I enjoyed reading about Henry’s love of chocolate.  Obviously it was easy to relate, but I liked that the author took it to the extreme with Henry’s love of mashed potatoes with chocolate syrup and buttered noodles with chocolate sprinkles on top.   My children were delighted with all the silliness and amazed that his parents would allow all that chocolate.  I could just see their little minds whirring with “what if’s”.  When Henry develops chocolate fever and goes on the run, he ends up hitching a ride with a trucker.  Um, what?!   Guess it’s time to have a little chat with the kids about stranger danger. 

My favorite part of the book was the last two chapters.  The possibility of “Cinnamon Fever” had my kids excited and I loved the message that “we can’t have everything we want every time we want it!”  I really hope my kids were listening.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go find a candy bar.

My kids' thoughts:  "Don’t run away! Don’t eat too much chocolate!" (Sophie)
"Not the best book ever, but it’s a good book." (Kaisa)

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  At one point, Henry gets a ride from a trucker.  I'd just mention to your kids that they shouldn't do that, and keep on truckin'.

Sum it up:  A sweet little read.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Turn of the Screw - Henry James

Summary:  An inexperienced young governess, in love with her employer on a secluded estate, comes to realize that her tow young charges are possessed of the evil ghosts of two former employees.  Her attempt to wage a moral battle of sorts for the souls of the lost children, culminates in unspeakable tragedy.  For sheer terror, for the spectral power to fasten itself upon the imagination, stirring and tormenting it, The Turn of the Screw is the apotheosis of macabre literature.  It arouses the senses and numbs them, clutches at the heart and makes it beat faster, while it unfolds one of the greatest ghost stories of all time.  (Summary from back of the book and image from http://photo.goodreads.com/books/)

My Review:  What a creepy, short, and convoluted read.  I say convoluted because of the way in which it is written.  There were so many details, asides, and afterthoughts thrown in that each sentence seemed to take half a page.  It wasn't that bad, but many in my book club found it slow reading and sometimes halting to read.  If you struggle with the older Victorian way of writing/speaking, this may be a frustrating read.

There were so many fun things to discuss with this book, many of which I cannot go into without ruining the story here, despite its short length.  James leaves some questions unanswered, but just enough answered to satisfy the ghostly tale.  Was the young governess crazy or was she really possessed by the ghosts that haunt the house?  Were the children really so innocent, or was that another effect of the ghosts' possession?  Were there really sinister things at hand or was it all in her head?  What really killed any of the characters spoken about?  Why is the governess only able to see the ghosts, or do the rest of them see the ghosts, but refuse to tell?  What did Miles do to get himself expelled and why? 

James does a fantastic job of making the ordinary seem skin-tinglingly scary.  While there are no frightful screams, or horribly grotesque scenes, you will still leave the book feeling altered and disturbed.  Definitely worth the read!

My Rating:  4.5 stars  Only a half a star taken off for the difficult reading style.

Sum it up: A pretty freaky ride into a haunted world.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lydia - Wanda Luce

Summary:  At six and twenty, Lydia Hathaway has endured years of heartbreak, longing for a love that never came.  Her deceased father's foolhardiness has left her family bankrupt, and Lydia is eventually left no alternative but to take a position as the governess to Susan Ashcroft of Danbury Park in Surrey. Anxious for peace, Lydia rambles early one morning across the muddy wilds of the Ashcroft estate, where she has a most unimaginable encounter with the notorious Lord Connor Denton.

As their paths continue to cross, Lydia falls ever deeper in love with the charming rogue while battling against his growing assault on her heart.  In spite of his forward attentions, she considers his behavior toward her as nothing less than idle flirtation.  And why should she think otherwise?  As the wealthy son of an earl, Lord Denton may choose from among the most beautiful women of England's first circles.  Tormented in a relentless battle to suppress a love she cannot overcome, Lydia resolves to leave the Ashcrofts and Danbury Park forever.  After all, she is nothing to Denton -- isn't she? (Summary from book - Image from wandaluce.blogspot.com)

Summary:  When my mother came to visit recently, she left behind this clean romance novel with a recommendation that catapulted it to the top of my to-read pile: It’s like Pride and Prejudice. Ding. Ding. Ding.  We have a winner! I don’t know about you, but I’ll take a little P & P however I can get it.

Star-crossed lovers are not exclusive to Jane Austen novels, but Lydia did have enough similarities in setting, plot, and character behavior to call it a loosely based retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Don’t expect a Darcy to show up, because I didn’t see him, but there is definitely a Lydia (the Pride and Prejudice one), a Charlotte Lucas, and a Wickham.

Lydia was cute, romantic, and entertaining, but not particularly well written (translation: it didn’t knock my socks off). When the moment wasn’t about Connor and Lydia together, it felt like the author rushed through the story to get to their next encounter. When Connor and Lydia were together, the story often became very long winded. I think I might have received whiplash from the changes in pace. With all that rushing, I didn’t feel like I got to know any of the other characters. They felt like mere props for the story instead of fully developed characters. The upside to this novel is that, despite its flaws, it was entertaining and squeeeeky clean. I think that fans of the clean romance genre will enjoy this variation of a classic favorite.

My Rating: 3.25 Stars

Sum it up:  Cute, romantic, and entertaining, but not particularly well written.

Friday, August 26, 2011

To Ad or Not to Ad?

Hey all.  I don't know if you noticed,
but there is a little something something over here --------->
in the sidebar.  I'd love to hear your opinion. 
If you have more to say, please leave it in the comments section.

PS.  I do actually know that "ad" has only one "d". 
I just didn't notice my typo until it was too late to edit it,
because someone had already voted.  *Sigh* 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Savvy - Ingrid Law

Also reviewed by Heather.

Summary:  Mibs is about to turn thirteen, and in her remarkable family, becoming a teenager means finally discovering your extra-special ability--

your savvy.

Will Mib's savvy be strong enough to guide her through the journey of a lifetime?  (Summary from back of the book and image from http://egb63.wordpress.com/)

My Review:  There is so much to love about this book.  I loved the overall idea of this book: a family with abilities that are out of the norm, ones they have to learn to curb, control, and use.  I also liked the explanation that everyone has a type of savvy, they just aren't as pronounced as the ones the Beaumonts have.   The overall story is great, the ideas, the savvy's, the relationships, the plot development, all of it is great.

In fact, this book is really so good I could almost give it 5 stars.  But, I couldn't.  And you might be surprised why.  While I love the imagery, the descriptions, etc., the made-up words and use of repeating words got old fast.  I started skimming whenever she'd use another one of the "shy as shy" or "red as red" phrases.  I think it was overdone to the point of being distracting.  I'd forget about the storyline and start thinking how annoying it was.  While I realize this is what English teachers look for in good writing, and that when writing for early young adults or kids graduating out of the children's fiction section writers are striving to introduce kids to more descriptive language, this book pushed that limit beyond what I could enjoy. It became flowery language for flowery language's sake.

Overall, I'll still be recommending this to my students and even to adults who like YA fiction.  I just can't give it the 5 star rating that I've seen so many others give it.

Rating: 4 stars

Sum it up:  A creative and fun, though not realistic, early young adult read.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Off the Grid - Nick Rosen

Summary:  The grid is everywhere, sending power to the light switch on the wall and water to the faucet in the kitchen.  But is it essential?  Must one depend on it and the giant corporate and government infrastructure behind it?  With energy prices soaring, the housing market in shambles, the financial institutions collapsing, and unemployment looming, more and more Americans are choosing to free themselves from dependence on the grid.

Journalist and documentary filmmaker Nick Rosen traveled across the United States meeting some of these people.  They are millionaires and foreclosure victims, paranoid survivalists and saintly environmentalists, retirees and marijuana growers, and plenty of ordinary families -- all chasing their off-grid dreams.  As varied as this collection of characters is, they all share the belief that the grid -- and everything it represents -- has let them down, that they're better off taking care of themselves.  As Rosen reveals, it takes tremendous dedication and determination to live off the grid, but for them, it's worth it.  This is essential reading for anyone who's ever thought about going off the grid. (Summary from book - Image from www.greenwala.com)

My Review:  When I picked up Off the Grid I was excited to experience life "off the grid" in America.  I expected to read about a varity of people , with different backgrounds, philosophies, and motivations for living off grid.  At the same time, I wanted to be inspired and learn how to live a simpler, more economically freeing and environmentally conscious lifestyle. 

The first few chapters almost put me to sleep.  Instead of teasing me with tales of the off-the-grid lifestyle, the author focused on the greedy, corrupt, and monopolistic nature of the utility companies and the unnecessary nature of the grid.  While that might all be true… ZZZzzzzzzzzz….boring.  I was more interested in the people he encountered, their stories, and their lives, than in the history of the grid and the machinations of the utility companies.  I am one of those people who doesn't like to give up on books too quickly, so although the first few chapters made me want to drink a Monster, I persevered.  Unfortunately, things did not improve.  

While I loved the concept of one man exploring all the different levels of off-grid society, Off the Grid was the definition of poor execution.  The entire book was full of bias, tangents, irrelevant details, incomplete interviews, and half, um, hearted research.  Many times the author would go into great detail about a person living a certain off-grid lifestyle and simply “not have time” to visit them or decide to go to a hot springs and watch naked people make out instead.  This didn't stop him from blathering on about insignficant details in an attempt to mask his lack of genuine, useful information.  It was beyond irritating.   

I found it odd that while the author was obviously anti-grid, almost every person he interviewed was portrayed in a negative or patronizing manner.  Not only did he make most people living off the grid seem miserable/stupid/desperate/crazy, he failed to give any real information on how to live off the grid and didn't inspire me to unplug at all.  

In the end, I gave this book 178 pages of my life before calling it quits.  Not bad considering that is more than half the book and 158 pages longer than I wanted to read.  I still have plans to read more on this topic, but perhaps The Self Sufficient Life and How to Live It by John Seymour would be a better choice.  Ultimately, life is too short to read boring books and I have a million more waiting in the wings.  This one is history.

My Rating: 1 Star

For the sensitive reader:  If you read this book after that rating, you get what you deserve. 

Sum it up:  A great concept with dismal excecution.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Alias - Mandi Tucker Slack

Summary:  Jacey's eyes narrowed.  What were these men trying to imply?  She felt sick with shock.  "No, I never really--John and I never discussed work.  He never felt a need to include me in his business affairs."  Jacey's heart thumped as the agents eyed one another.

Jacey Grayson is an average, young, divorced mother struggling to build a new life for her son, Blaze.  But when the FBI...discloses some disturbing information about her ex-husband, Jacey's life becomes anything but average.  At the risk of losing her identity, her future, and her heart, Jacey and Blaze flee to Utah, hoping to hide and start over once again.  But no matter how far she runs or who she pretends to be, her past is always lurking nearby, bringing old fears with it.  Thrilling action and a suspenseful plot make this novel an edge-of-your-seat read.  (Book given free for review.  Summary from back of the book and image from http://thealiasbook.com/)

My Review:  I normally avoid books that could give me nightmares -- on the run from someone you can't get away from fits that profile for me -- yet I could hardly put this book down.  LDS literature isn't typically gritty or terribly realistic in its portrayals of violence, but this one broke that mold.  Domestic abuse was captured as accurately as I can imagine it really is.  Jacey is a believable battered wife struggling to break free; the only fuel firing her struggle is her son.  The contrasts between her life with John and her life staying with the Jackman's made the horror of the domestic violence that much more disturbing. Jacey's self-doubt and timidness felt real and her son's fear of the unknown and his father did also.  My only gripe with the book was that there was a lot of inward sighing.  I could almost predict that Jacey would sigh to herself when she realized, yet again, that she was lying to good people and she didn't like doing it.

Kale was a fun and slightly confusing character.  While I do believe the relationship between Jacey and Kale was rushed, it made for a satisfying, happy ending.  And yes, I do like those.  I loved learning about the horses, the farm, the cooking, and the geology.  Those were aspects to the book that I wasn't expecting, but definitely enjoyed.

There is the aspect of the LDS religion thrown in, and definitely portrayed in a positive light, but it wasn't preachy or overdone. In fact, if I weren't LDS I would find this kind of a portrayal easier to digest than just asking a member for details. 

While Slack's writing isn't delectable--you know, the type of writing that makes you sigh with pleasure (yes, that play off her book was intended)--it was solid and engaging.  I will definitely recommend this book to my friends and those who like a good suspenseful read.

Rating: 4 stars

Sum it up:  Realistic and gripping combines with homey and comforting: a surprising mix that reveals an engaging story.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys

Summary: Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously - and at great risk - documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.
Summary and cover art from indiebound.org

My Review: Lina is only fifteen when the NKVD take her away from her Lithuanian home, along with her younger brother and her mother. Lina's father is no where to be seen as the family arrives at the train station. They are herded onto a cattle car headed for an unknown destination cramped full of other deportees and the situation continues to get bleaker. As the miles pass Lina is not only separated from her home but also from her dreams. She is forced into hours upon hours of hard labor day after day which is rewarded a mere 3 ounces of bread each day.

Lina recounts her harrowing tale in first person. She is a strong willed, courageous character with the many hopes and dreams of a fifteen year old girl. The story contains not only Lina's present but her memories as well, allowing the reader to become better acquainted with her. A wide array other memorable characters adorn these pages in various degrees of likableness giving the story a well-rounded feel. The relationships between Lina's family and the other deportees give the book depth.

This novel was obviously well researched and an appropriate amount of detail is given to each scene. The cold, inhumane conditions are deeply felt. The mental and physical abuse are present yet not overly explored, leaving the material appropriate for an adolescent audience. Lina's fatigue, hunger and fear emanate from the pages, but in the end it is the triumph of human spirit that will be remembered. My only complaint was that the book was not longer. There were some loose ends left behind and Lina was an incredibly hard character to say goodbye to.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Sum it up: Powerful and heartbreaking, Between Shades of Gray  acquaints readers with the events that took place during WWII in the Soviet Union.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Forest of Hands and Teeth - Carrie Ryan

Summary:  In Mary's world there are simple truths.  The Sisterhood always knows best.  The Guardians will protect and serve.  The Unconsecrated will never relent.  And you must always mind the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth

But, slowly, Mary's truths are failing her.  She's learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness.  When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future -- between the one she loves and the one who loves her.

And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth.  Could there be life outside a world surrounded by so much death?  (Summary from book - Image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Mary has lost her father and mother to the Unconsecrated that live in the unending forest, that press against the village fence with their rotted flesh.  The Sisterhood tells them their village is all that is left since The Return, that it is the only safe place in a sea of the undead, but Mary remembers her mother’s stories of the Ocean and wonders if there could be people left and a place that is safe.  Then an Outsider comes to town using a long forbidden path, and just as mysteriously disappears.  When the Unconsecrated breach the carefully guarded village walls, Mary flees with a few others, back the way the stranger had come, deep into the Forest of Hands and Teeth, where danger lurks on all sides and safety is an illusion.   

I loved every second of this emotionally charged and suspenseful story.  It started out slowly, rife with tension, and then plunged into a rushing, roaring, hold on to your seats kind of ride.  I mourned with Mary when loved ones were lost and white-knuckled the pages whenever the Unconsecrated were near.  I shared the group’s desperation, wondering if they would ever really be safe.
  
At times gruesome and callous, The Forest of Hands and Teeth is not your happily-ever-after love story.  It’s about the choices we make to survive, the sacrifices we make for love, and the consequences of pursuing your dreams.  I really didn’t want to put it down. My two oldest watched a movie during my baby’s nap time, I almost throttled my husband for interrupting me during the last few chapters, and when I finished all I could think was “Why did I wait so long to read this?!”

My Rating: 5 Stars (for a YA novel)

For the sensitive reader: No sex or language, but there were a lot of gruesome descriptions of death and some atheistic undertones that ended up being resolved towards the end of the book.   I’d say this was a lighter (read less lyrical, complex, and gory, more PG13) version of The Reapers are the Angels.
  
Sum it up:  M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village meets Alden Bell’s The Reapers are the Angels in The Forest of Hands and Teeth.  My kind of book.  

Mockingbird + The Absolute Value of Mike GIVEAWAY WINNER

Congratulations to the winners of our latest book giveaway!
Susie Bookworm
who won Mockingbird
by Kathryn Erskine

and
Gayle Humphreys 
who won The Absolute Value of Mike
 by Kathryn Erskine

We'll be contacting you soon to arrange shipping!

Didn't win?  Don't worry. 
We've got another giveaway coming up in the next few weeks.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Stuart Little - E.B. White

This review comes from two of the most adorable readers and their mother (that's me, Mindy).  Kaisa and Sophie aren't quite ready to write full reviews on their own, so we did a little Q & A instead.

Summary:  Stuart Little is no ordinary mouse.  Born to a family of humans, he lives in New York City with his parents, his older brother George, and Snowbell the cat.  Though he's shy and thoughtful, he's also a true lover of adventure. 

Stuart's greatest adventure comes when his best friend, a beautiful little bird named Margalo, disappears from her next.  Determined to track her down, Stuart ventures away from home for a very first time in his life.  He finds adventure aplenty.  But will he find his friend?  (Summary from book - Image from www.fantasticfiction.co.uk)

Q & A with Kaisa, age seven:

What did you think about this book?
At the beginning it was kind of fun. I liked Margalo escaped from the cat and how Stuart went down the bathtub drain. It’s kind of sad at the ending because Stuart doesn’t find the bird.

What did you like about Stuart Little, the mouse.
I think mouses are cute, so I like mouses.

What do you think it would be like to be a mouse in a house full of humans?
I think it would be cool because you don’t have to deal with other mouses.

What was your favorite part of the book?
How the doctor showed him the invisible car and the car ran all over the room and got crunched.

Would you recommend this book to other kids?
Um. It depends on how old they are.

If they were your age(seven)?
Well, a teeny bit younger than me because there are pictures but not on every page.

Did you like the illustrations?
Yeah, I like black and white pictures instead of colored, but not on movies.

If you could change one thing about this book, what would you change?
I would make it a teeny bit longer so that he could find Margalo, the bird.

Which E.B. White book do you like better, Stuart Little or Charlotte’s Web?
Stuart Little because Charlotte’s Web is boring.

My five-year-old, Sophie, didn't want to be left out, but clammed up halfway through her Q &a A:

How did you feel about this book?
A little happy a little sad.

Did you like the book?
A little and a little not.

What did you like about it?
I don’t remember.

What didn’t you like about it?
I didn’t like when the bird had to go away. That’s all I have to say.

My Review:  E.B. White's Charlotte's Web is one of my favorite children's books, so I really expected something spectacular when I opened Stuart Little.  Unfortunately, I didn't get it, and I'm left wondering why people rave about this book.  Yes, Stuart is small and mousey, but that doesn't equate to a super-duper interesting storyline. Each chapter felt like another in a series of dull, disconnected mini-adventures that never led anywhere.  The plot only became (mildly) focused when Stuart decided to search for his feathered friend, Margalo.  While he's on the road he meets a variety of (un)interesting friends, but the story ends before he finds Margalo.  My girls were devastated and it ruined their view of the book.  My only hope is to shuffle them along to the next book and hope they forget.
 
My Rating: 2.75 Stars
 
Sum it up:  A disappointing and unfinished book.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Torment - Lauren Kate

Read our reviews of the first book, Fallen, here and here.

Summary:  Hell on earth.

That's what it's like for Luce to be apart from her fallen angel boyfriend, Daniel.

It took them an eternity to find one another, but now he has told her he must go away.  Just long enough to hunt down the Outcasts--immortals who want to kill Luce.  Daniel hides Luce at Shoreline, a school on the rocky California coast with unusually gifted students: Nephilim, the off-spring of fallen angels and humans.

At Shoreline, Luce learns what the Shadows are, and how she can use them as windows to her previous lives.  Yet the more Luce learns, the more she suspects Daniel hasn't told her everything.  He's hiding something--something dangerous.

What is Daniel's version of the past isn't actually true?  What if Luce is really meant to be with someone else?

The second novel in the addictive FALLEN series...where love never dies.  (Summary from book jacket and image from http://laurenkatebooks.net/)

My Review:  My biggest gripe about this book is that it's confusing and choppy.  I believe some of the confusion and choppiness was intentional, making the book seem confusing because Luce is confused and left in the dark.  Sometimes I'd have to stop and reread sections to make sure I didn't miss something.  I didn't, it was simply unclear.  For me, it was to the point of annoying and frustrating.  If I didn't want to know the outcome I would have put the book down because honestly, 450 pages is a long time to wait to find out you're not getting any real answers but will have to wait for Passion before understanding even a fraction of what is really going on.

Another aspect that bothered me was how Luce's character seemed to change.  In the first book she was a good-girl-who-follows-the-rules.  This book she pushed every envelope given to her.  She was still essentially a good girl, but the way she seemed so dumb in regards to her own safety after so many warnings was irritating. 

The relationship was hardly developed between Luce and Daniel in the first book, so I didn't mourn the lack of his character's involvement in this book.  Their passion-filled scenes didn't do it for me either.  They just felt shallow and fake.  While Kate introduced more fun characters to spice up the new school, I can't help but feel some of the characters were repeats of the characters in the first book just named differently.

Overall, I still liked the book because Kate has some crazy ideas mixed with angels and demons (the Shadows or Announcers are a fascinating idea to explore and I hope she does more in Passion).  Kate also touched on the gray line between what is good vs. what is evil with the demons and the angels (this could be a great conflict/resolution plot point for Passion).  She also plants the idea of 'he who wins gets to write history', how that can be skewed according to who won.   I just wish we got more of the lore or history and less of the "Luce is just so in the dark and therefore so are we" theme.  Will I be reading the third book?  Yes.  But mostly because I do want some answers.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Fairly regular swearing, although mostly biblical. 

Sum it up:  Felt like the waiting game before you actually get answers in the third book.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dastardly Deceptions - D. Darlene Sonntag

Summary:  Kara Carmery grew up wondering if she was indeed responsible for her father's death.  Born as a servant on the estate of the wealthy Lord Bolwyn in eighteenth century England, her life is turned upside down when he takes her into his home after the death of both her parents, and raises her as one of the family.  Her rare beauty immediately sets her at odds with the lord's spoiled daughter, Miranda.  When Miranda mysteriously dies at age eighteen, suspicion is cast on Kara, thrusting her into peril and intrigue.  She is forced to dig into the past and unravel a set of lies and deceptions that threaten to destroy her.  At her sister's funeral Kara makes the acquaintance of the handsome Captain Gloutingham.  Will Kara survive the truth, or will it destroy any chance of happiness she might find with the captain?  (Summary from book - Image from www.goodreads.com - Book provided free for an honest review)

My Review:  If you've ever read a romance novel, you know how romance novels are written. As a general rule, they are unrealistic, sappy, and predictable, with embarrassing titles and happy endings.  Sometimes all that makes me roll my eyes, and, you know what, sometimes I just eat it all up.  I think it depends on my mood, or whether or not I’m pregnant.  Anyway, this novel landed a bit on both sides of the fence.  It was cute. It was fun. It ended blisffully.  It was also unrealistic, sappy, and veeery predictable.

The characters, setting, and plot of Dastardly Deceptions were all very run-of-the-mill romance novel, but the one thing it lacked in comparison to most romance novels was the overwhelmingly unrealistic sex (or sex of any kind, for that matter).  All the romance in this novel was limited to kissing and shirtlessness…of the male variety.  Personally I'm a fan of the cleaner romance novels.  I was also impressed by language that was far more sophisticated than what I have encountered in other romance novels. I must congratulate Ms. Sonntag on either her sesquipedalian loquaciousness or the comprehensive nature of her thesaurus (See what I did there?).

As a person who reads more mainstream fiction than clean romance novels, I had a hard time with parts of this book, especially the last 100+ pages. Once Kara went missing, everyone stood around and argued about things instead of getting a move on. Then, the antagonist was revealed (even though a pigeon would have known who it was) and turned out to be a complete nut job. It just didn’t come together for me.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while this book wouldn’t fare so well when compared with some of my favorite mainstream fiction, it definitely fits into a more specific niche market. Readers who actively seek out and devour clean romance novels will probably enjoy this book more than mainstream devotees (as is indicated by its eleven 5-star ratings on B&N). I can think of several people right now who would flip for it. I’m just not one of them.

My Rating:  2.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Have at it.  There is some shirtless and an exorbitant amount of admiration of the male physique, but I think you can handle it.

Sum it up:  Ultimately, this book wasn't my cup of tea but I know several people who would enjoy it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Gregor and the Marks of Secret - Suzanne Collins

Summary:  Now, with the third prophecy fulfilled, Gregor is drawn ever deeper into a brewing crisis.  For generations, rats have run the mice--or "nibblers"--out of whatever lands they've claimed, keeping them constantly on the move.  But now the mice are disappearing, and the young queen Luxa, who credits them with saving her life, is determined to find out why.

When Gregor joins her on a fact-finding mission, he's relieved that this time, at least, there's no prophecy on the line.  But when the true fate of the mice is revealed, it is something far more sinister than Gregor or Luxa had imagined--and it points the way to the final prophecy he has yet to fulfill.  Gregor's role as warrior and his abilities as a rager are put to the test in this suspenseful, action-packed penultimate installment of Suzanne Collins's thrilling Underland Chronicles.  (Summary from back of the book and image from http://upload.wikimedia.org/)

My Review:  I know these are children's books.  And yet, the content is very adult.  The parallels between the plight of the mice and the Holocaust are undeniable.  I don't dare elaborate for fear of ruining the story further, but I can only imagine a child reading this the first time and being appalled.

All that aside, Collins's messages are spot on.  Having read the Hunger Games series, I'm noticing a theme: war is bad; violence is bad.  And while I agree with this for the most part, I do believe there is a point where you must defend yourself, your family, your freedom.  What I like about Collins is that she sends the message in this book that violence should never be the first course of action.  She stresses thought, planning and collaboration and if necessary violence, but only if absolutely necessary.  Not that all the characters have the same opinion, but if that isn't accurate to life I don't know what is.  As a teacher, this series is choke-full of ways to teach literary devices and literary elements.  Her character development is gradual and so real it is almost like developing the relationship in real life.

While the violence is definitely worth mentioning, especially for cautious parents in this regard, I think the overall value of the book and its message outweigh the reasons against reading it.  Just like the previous three books, this book has death and violence that is sorrowful and I can only assume would be very painful or disturbing to sensitive, young readers.  Use your discretion when reading and recommending this book to a child.  A slight warning: this book leaves with a big cliff-hanger.  I will be starting book five...now.

Rating: 4 Stars

Sum it up: The most moving, disturbing and thought-provoking installment yet in Gregor's Underland experience.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Aimee Bender

Summary: On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the slice.

She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose. Anything can be revealed at any meal. She can't eat her brother Joseph's toast; a cookie at the local bakery is laced with rage; grape jelly is packed with acidic resentment.

Rose's gift forces her to confront the secret knowledge all families keep hidden - truths about her mother's life outside the home, her father's strange detachment, Joseph's clash with the world.

Yet as Rose grows up, she realizes that are some secrets that even her taste buds cannot discern.
Summary from book jacket, cover photo from indie.org

My Review: As Rose turns nine she becomes aware that she is able to taste how people are feeling in the food they make. This happens the first time as she tastes despair in the lemon cake her mother has prepared for her ninth birthday. Despair, longing, anger, sadness, pride, and fear all come calling with each bite Rose takes. As Rose secretly struggles with her power, her family begins to break apart.

The idea for this novel was fantastic. What would it be like to taste secret desires in the food prepared for you? It opened at a comfortable pace allowing the reader to become acquainted with Rose but by midway the story seemed to drift away from Rose and her tasting power. Instead the story began to center around the depression in Rose's family. The book became melancholy and difficult to read.

Then the novel took a drastic turn toward science fiction as it began to focus on Rose's brother, Joseph, who had been a very minor character up until this point. As his magical powers were introduced the tale became just flat out weird. The story managed to recover a bit near the end yet still fell short of it's potential.

The writing style in this book was a bit awkward as it lacked flow and quotation marks. The characters felt one dimensional and superficial, it's not until the last 50 pages that I felt any connection to them and it was a minor one at that. In the end I was left questioning "what was that?". Certainly not what I had expected.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars; a five star idea with two star execution

To sum it up: Not as tasty as one would expect.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Rules of Attraction - Simone Elkeles

Summary:  When Carlos Fuentes returns to America after living in Mexico for a year, he doesn’t want any part of the life his older brother, Alex, has laid out for him at a high school in Colorado . Carlos likes living his life on the edge and wants to carve his own path—just like Alex did. Then he meets Kiara Westford. She doesn’t talk much and is completely intimidated by Carlos’ wild ways. As they get to know one another, Carlos assumes Kiara thinks she’s too good for him, and refuses to admit that she might be getting to him. But he soon realizes that being himself is exactly what Kiara needs right now. ( Summary and Image from www.simoneelkeles.net )

My Review:  To tell you the truth, I’m kind of embarrassed that I read this book. It’s not really the kind of book you want people to see you reading, you know? For all intents and purposes, Rules of Attraction is a teenage romance novel and not much else. The entire plot revolves around Carlos and Kiara’s unlikely relationship, and Carlos transformation from gang banging bad boy to Kiara’s hopelessly smitten (and reformed) love interest.  I read the first book in this series, Perfect Chemistry, cover to cover in 4 hours, so when I was looking for a mindless novel I could read in one sitting, I decided to see if the sequel was any good.

It wasn’t.

Rules of Attraction was an easy read, but it was far too generic and predictable. I wasn’t engaged by the writing or the characters, who all seemed to fall into their stereotypical slots: the nerdy girl who becomes gorgeous once she puts some effort into it, the not-as-bad-as-he-pretends-to-be bad boy, the gay best friend, the hot mean popular girl. It all just felt like a teen movie plot.

Maybe it’s the fact that I have three young daughters, and have started to view books like this from a different perspective, but I wouldn’t recommend this books for teens at all. It gives a highly unrealistic (not to mention overly casual) view of sexual intimacy. Even though the main characters eventually claim to be in a ”serious monogamous relationship,” with an epilogue that reflects that, it doesn’t change the fact that they "fell in love" in a matter of weeks with no discernible basis for that affection.

Overall, this is the kind of book you’ll love if you don’t mind bland writing, stereotypical characters, lots of swearing, and teenage sexual relationships.

My Rating: 2.25 Stars.

For the sensitive reader: Plenty of graphic language, sexual dialog, and sexual situations.

Sum it up: Just another teenage romance distorts reality and sends the wrong message.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mockingbird + The Absolute Value of Mike GIVEAWAY

Would you like to win this book?
 

What about this one?


Well it's your lucky day, because Kathryn Erskine and Reading For Sanity are giving them away.  We will be picking two winners and they will each get one of these fabulous books.  The first winner drawn will have first choice of the books.  The second winner...well, they get the other one.  Honestly, I don't think that you can go wrong with either of them. 

Here are our reviews for The Absolute Value of Mike and Mockingbird.

To enter you must: 
  • Leave a comment w/ your contact information, and let us know which one you are most interested in reading.
For extra entries (PLEASE LEAVE SEPARATE COMMENTS FOR EACH EXTRA ENTRY):
  • Be (or quickly become) a follower us via Google Reader or Blogged (see sidebar)
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  • Grab a button for your blog's sidebar. 
Eligibility:  This giveaway is open to US residents only and will end on August 18th, 2011 at 11:59 PM.  Winners will be chosen randomly, posted publicly, and contacted swiftly to arrange shipping.  Reading For Sanity reserves the right to invalidate entrants that do now follow the rules for entry.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The First Four Years - Laura Ingalls Wilder

Summary:  Laura and Manly Wilder begin married life on their small prairie homestead with high hopes.  The beautiful prairie world seems like paradise: there are wildflowers in the spring, wild geese in autumn, pony rides, and warm times together.  But each year brings unforeseen disasters as well--storms destroy the crops; there is sickness, fire, and always unpaid debts.  The first four years often prove heartbreaking for the Wilders.  But they have each other, and their little daughter Rose, and a fierce determination to succeed.  (Summary from book - Image from inspire4less.com)

My Review:  The manuscript for The First Four Years was found among Laura Ingalls Wilder’s personal possessions. It was never revised or completed, and so it does not have the same descriptive detail or polish as her previous novels, but still offers a glimpse into the early years of Laura and Almanzo Wilder’s life together. Each chapter comprises a year of their lives, with the first year filling almost half of the book. Because The First Four Years was left unrevised, it feels like a rushed summary of those years rather than a detailed account, as if Laura planned to go back and flesh out the story, but never did.

Laura’s true feelings about farming are expressed more freely in this book than in any of the others. Apparently, she hated it, which I did not gather from any of the other books. After reading this book, I don’t blame her. Whether it was ruined crops, overwhelming debt, devastating fires, or the loss of a child, it seems the Wilder family could not catch a break. The book rounds out on a “well, we’ll keep at it” note, but I can’t help but wish that I’d let my girls believe that Laura had lived happily ever after on her farm with Almanzo.

I have loved this reading this series – overall I give it a 4.5 – but I’m also glad to be done with it and to move on to some new characters. Doubtless, we will revisit it in a few years when my one-year-old is ready for it.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Sum it up: Not my favorite, but an okay read if you're looking for more of Laura and Almanzo.

Delirium + Swag Giveaway Winners

Congratulations to

(1) Amandawk and (2) Kristina Shields!

Kristina has won some delightful Lauren Oliver swag
and
Amandawk won the same swag AND a copy of 
Lauren Oliver's dystopian romantic fiction, "Delirium"

We'll contact you in the next few days to arrange shipping.

Didn't win?!  Don't worry
We have some another giveaway posting in the next couple of days!

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