Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best Reads of 2011

The votes are in!
We've look backed through our book reviews for the year,
and here are Reading For Sanity's choices for
Best Reads of 2011! 
(in alphabetical order by genre)

Click the titles to read our reviews!

Adult Fiction

Before I Go to Sleep - S.J. Watson
Black and Blue - Anna Quindlen
The Dry Grass of August - Anna Jean Mayhew
Every Last One - Anna Quindlen
Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck
Rebecca - Daphne DuMaurier
The Turn of the Screw - Henry James
The Winter Sea - Susanna Kearsley
 
Adult Non-Fiction

Farmers' Market Desserts - Jennie Schacht
The Roasted Vegetable - Andrea Chessman
Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand
 
Young Adult 

Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys 
Crank - Ellen Hopkins
Dairy Queen - Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Delirium - Lauren Oliver
Geek Girl - Cindy C. Bennett
Hourglass - Myra McEntire
Hush, Hush - Becca Fitzpatrick
Mockingbird - Kathryn Erskine
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Mildred D. Taylor
Savvy & Scumble - Ingrid Law
Wednesday Wars - Gary D. Schmidt

Children's Fiction
The BusyBook Series - Trish Kuffner

Gregor the Overlander - Suzanne Collins
The Pigeon Book Series - Mo Willems

The Pout-Pout Fish - Deborah Diesen
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - Beverly Cleary
The Tiger Rising - Kate DiCamillo


That's it for 2011!
I can't wait to see what 2012 will bring.
In case you missed the last few years,

Happy New Year
and be sure to purchase, borrow, or check out
some of these fabulous books! 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cold River - Liz Adair

Summary: Someone wants Mandy dead...

Mandy Steenburg thinks her doctorate in education has prepared her to run any school district--until she tangles with the moonshine-making, coon-dog-owning denizens of a tiny district in the Pacific Northwest timber country.  She's determined to  make a difference, but the local populace still looks to the former superintendent for leadership.  When Mandy lands in the middle of an old feud and someone keeps trying to kill her, instinct tells her to run.  And though she has to literally swim through perilous waters, she finds a reason to stay and chance the odds.  (Summary from back of the book, book given free for review and image from http://marytrimble.blogspot.com/)

My Review:  When I finished this book, I set it aside for nearly a week before writing my review.  Even though I read it quickly and had a vested interest in both the setting and the subject matter, I was afraid if I reviewed it too soon after reading I might not give it a fair rating.  I had to let things sit a while.

There were several aspects of the story that I enjoyed.  The beginning chapters caught my attention right away, and although the next few started to wane, it picked right back up and I finished much quicker than I'd expected.  I loved the setting of the backwoods Pacific Northwest.  The author's depiction of the community is quite believable -- the clothing, weather, relaxed attitudes, innumerable family connections, the secrets and information people just expect you to somehow know because everyone else knows -- spot on really, especially if you've ever spent time in the Pacific Northwest.  As a teacher, my interest was piqued by the issues of how state and national regulations are putting pressure on everyone, small districts included, and how it is being addressed.  Not that it went into too much detail here, but it kept the storyline running. 

I had three main qualms about this story. First, I figured out what was going on early on -- before I was even halfway through the book. Second, the romance wasn't that believable. After all, how can you really develop a relationship without interaction? And finally, the writing wasn't bad, but it also wasn't amazing. 

Despite my reservations about the story, I was surprised that I left this book still thinking about the characters.  I didn't realize I'd become that vested in Mandy until I closed the book, but was happy to know she'd found a place on my imaginary list of 'book friends.'

My Rating: 3.75 stars

For the sensitive reader:  Nothing here but a few benign kisses.  Read freely.

Sum it up:  A somewhat predictable mystery, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

If I Stay - Gayle Forman

Also reviewed by Heather.

Summary:  On a day that started like any other...

Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, adoring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices.  Then, in an instant, almost all of that is taken from her.  Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the only decision she has left--the most important decision she'll ever make.

Simultaneously tragic and hopeful, this is a romantic, riveting, and ultimately uplifting story about memory, living, dying, loving.  (Summary from back of the book and image from  http://ebookstore.sony.com/ )

My Review:  I'm conflicted on this review.  I read the book like swallowing a glass of water, but I did have a few issues with it. My biggest gripes were the racier material (teenage drinking, swearing, and hints of an underage sexual relationship) and choppy writing.   Periodically, I had to re-read sentences because the fluency was off.

However, I loved the overall concept -- Do people in a coma really have a choice over whether to live or die?  I also enjoyed the Pacific Northwest setting (it's close to home), Mia's parents laid back depiction (very Oregon "Keep Portland Weird!"), and the influence of music and how it subtly added mood to the story (you can listen to each song on Gayle Forman's website and playlist).  I especially loved the portrayal of a functional, happy family. 

Even with my "gripes," this was a book I didn't want to put down.  I read it in two days (amidst taking care of two children, teaching, and being quite sick).  I think I'll be careful who I recommend this to in my middle school, but I'm sure high school students will love it as well.

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader:  Although it's in our middle school library, it mentions underage drinking, underage sex, and lots of swearing.  Not that it stopped me reading, but it does have these things.

Sum it up: How much choice does someone really have while in a coma?  To live or die?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

"Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."
  -- Luke 2:10-11

Merry Christmas from all of us at Reading For Sanity!
Now, get off the internet and go spend time with (or call) someone you love!
We'll be back in a couple of days.

If you'd like something to click on, here is a video of the Nativity story called A Gift to the World.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Christmas Crimes At Puzzel Manor - Simon Brett

Summary:  Oh, Holy Fright!

There's a Christmas corpse under the mistletoe this year...and if you can solve each of the nineteen puzzles you can catch the killer!

You are cordially invited to a Christmas holiday at gorgeous Puzzel Manor...all expenses paid.  Except the real cost is a game of murder!

So get ready for the plum pudding and a silent, most unholy night...as a snowstorm cuts you off from the outside world and a mysterious Christmas contest of crime begins.  The rules are dead simple.  Solve the puzzles and a serial killer called The Executive Executioner is nabbed at last.  The first clue is right at hand...next to the shattered body of a corpse.

Here's all you have to do: 

Sit back and enjoy a great Simon Brett mystery.

Be alert for crossword puzzles, anagrams, scrambled words, riddles, and assorted brainteasers in each of the nineteen clues. 

Use your IQ to catch a killer PDQ before your Christmas goose is cooked...in a Yuletide treat for all who know 'tis the season to deduce whodunit!  (Summary from back of the book and image from http://www.bookfever.com/

My Review:  Jack is a retired detective, forced into retirement by a bullet to the hip that has left him wheelchair bound. He is on vacation at Puzzel Manor when his worst nightmare, the person who forced him into retirement makes an appearance yet again, one meant just to torment him. 

Although the book summary makes you think you'll be the protagonist in the story, and you do get to figure things out on your own as you read, you're actually following Jack Tarrant and his girlfriend Maria Lethbury.  I thought I'd figured out whodunit, but I was definitely wrong!  It has a great twist, lots of confusing puzzles, and enough character development to keep me engaged throughout.  It's not your typical Christmas read, but it was fun nonetheless. 

My Rating: 3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: Hinted at intimacy and parts that suggest a sexual relationship between Jack and Maria.  Otherwise, it was fairly clean.

Sum it up: A great mystery with lots of puzzles and twists.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Lucky One - Nicholas Sparks

Summary: After U.S. Marine Logan Thibault finds a photograph of a smiling young woman half-buried in the dirt during his tour of duty in Iraq, he experiences a sudden streak of luck, winning pokers games and even surviving deadly combat.  Only his best friend, Victor, seems to have an explanation for his good fortune: the photograph -- his lucky charm.

Back home in Colorado, Thibault can't seem to get the woman in the photograph out of his mind and he sets out on a journey across the country to find her.  But Thibault is caught off guard by the strong attraction he feels when his search leads him to Elizabeth, a divorced mother in North Carolina with a young son -- and he keeps the story of the photo, and his luck, a secret.  As he and Elizabeth embark upon a passionate love affair, Thibault's secret will soon threaten to tear them apart, destroying not only their love, but also their lives.  (Summary from book - Image from disneydreaming.com)


My Review:  Nicholas Sparks books are what they are – chick flicks in print.  They are predictable, relationship-driven romance novels that appeal to fundamental emotions (e.g. love, loneliness, loss, anger, jealousy, etc.), with the requisite bittersweet ending that usually manages to make women swoon and cry at the same time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sniffle-swooned through the movie version of The NotebookThis book is classic Nicholas Sparks.  If you have read and enjoyed his other books, you’ll probably feel the same away about this one.  

While I read through this book rather quickly and enjoyed the plot, I felt the characters could have used a little work.   They read like stock characters picked out of a catalog: Logan Thibault, a sensitive, gentlemanly former marine who just happens to be everything a woman wants; Keith Clayton, the skeezy ex-husband who can’t seem to let go; Nana, the quirky but wise grandmother; and Elizabeth, the lonely and gaurded single mother who is deeply in need of a knight in shining body armor.  These characters weren’t bad, and I could appreciate them on a superficial level, but they lacked the depth that would have brought them off page.   

My biggest problem with this book came in the final pages when it was fairly obvious the author was stalling, stringing the reader along for dramatic effect.  I don’t appreciate being “written” down to and found it insulting.  Enough said. 
Overall, I’d probably only recommend this book to readers who are already Nicholas Sparks fans.    

My Rating: 3.5 Stars.  It’s not bad.  It’s just not amazing.

For the sensitive reader: Some sexual situations.  I think the phrase “He moved above her” was about as graphic as it got although there were several situations when the phrase could have been used.  I can’t remember any language…but I have prego-brain so please, no hate mail if I missed one.  Also, Clayton is a sexist and a pervert, and that is reflect in his thoughts, words, and actions. 

Sum it up:  Exactly what you’d expect from a Nicholas Sparks novel.  Emotion, romance, and conflict without a lot of character depth. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Power of Six - Pittacus Lore

This book is the sequel to I am Number Four in the Lorien Legacies series.  If you haven't read that one already, you might want to read it (or at least see the movie) before reading this review.

Summary:  I've seen him on the news.  Followed the stories about what happened in Ohio.  John Smith, out there, on the run.  To the world, he's a mystery.  But to me...he's one of us.
Nine of us came here, but sometimes I wonder if time has changed us -- if we all still believe in our mission.  How can I know?   There are six of us left.  We're hiding, blending in, avoiding contact with one another...but our Legacies are developing, and soon we'll be equipped to fight.  Is John Number Four, and is his appearance the sign I've been waiting for?  And what about Number Five and Six?  Could one of them be the raven-haired girl with the stormy eyes from my dreams?  The girl with powers that are beyond anything I could ever imagine?  The girl who may be strong enough to bring the six of us together?

They caught Number One in Malaysia.  Number Two in England.  And Number Three in Kenya.  They tried to catch Number Four in Ohio -- and failed.  I am Number Seven.  One of six still alive.  And I'm ready to fight.  (Summary from book - Image from www.iamnumberfourfans.com )

My Review:  The Power of Six is the sequel to NYT Bestseller I am Number Four of the Lorien Legacies Series.   Even though it has been a while since I read the first book, I had no problem jumping right back into the fray and blew through this one in the better part of an afternoon. 

Narrated by Four (aka John Smith) , and a new character, Seven, The Power of Six ping pongs between their two lives.  I won’t spoil Number Seven’s story, but I thought it was very interesting.  Number Four’s story picks up where I am Number Four left off -- John Smith is on the run with his friend Sam and Six, the member of the Lorien Garde who saved his life back in Paradise, OH.  They are on a desperate search for the remaining Numbers, hopeful that together they will be able to stand against the Mogadorian hordes that are hot on their trail.   
I (not so) secretly wish I had magical powers, so this kind of story always appeals to me when I’m in the mood for some light reading.  Sam has a bigger part to play and Number Seven is not the only new Lorien character to show up.  I enjoyed learning about each Number’s emerging legacies, their back stories, and how their powers would interact and complement each other when they came together.   

Most of the issues I had with I am Number Four were taken care of in The Power of Six.   My main complaint with the first book was that the Mogadorians felt comic-book scary, which made it difficult to take them seriously.  The Power of Six explained that different types of Mogadorians are able to successfully pass as humans. This revelation made them more intimidating, because I never knew when they were going to pop up in a crowd.  I also felt that John and Sarah's relationship fizzled towards the end of the book, despite their constant protestations of love.  Although John and Sarah’s romance never seems to resonate with me, even in the sequel, it plays a smaller role because they spend much of their time apart.  It also doesn’t hurt that as John spends more time with Six and Sam, some fairly interesting emotions come into play (wink, wink).
Ultimately, The Power of Six was a fun, easy read, and it made me like I am Number Four even more.  While the story wasn’t particularly deep, in either plot or writing style, I was fully entertained.  Beware, it packs a cliffhanger ending and there is still plenty more of the story to come!  I look forward to reading the next book, The Rise of Nine, when it comes out in August 2012.  

For Lorien Legacy fans who can't wait till then -- download  I am Number Four: The Lost Files, an ebook of Six's story. 

My Rating:  4 Stars
For the sensitive reader:  A couple instances of biblical profanity, and plenty of fantasy violence, but that’s it.

Sum it up:  A fun series with a sequel that made me like the first book even more. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ramona the Brave - Beverly Cleary

Summary:  In this touching and funny story, the ebullient Ramona, feeling brave and grown-up, enters the first grade.  Quickly she finds that her new teacher, Mrs. Griggs, appears perplexed by pupils who like to be different.  Since Ramona cannot help being different, clearly the two are incompatible.

Nevertheless, Ramona can be counted on to keep things lively.  Enraged when Susan copies her wise old owl prepared for Parents' Night and receives praise for it, Ramona rebels.  Overcome by guilt and no longer brave, she tries mightily thereafter to please her teacher, but still Mrs. Griggs infuriatingly reports home that Ramona lacks self-control.  Only because she is a girl with spunk, to use her father's word, does Ramona's courage return, earning her at last an uneasy truce with the teacher.  (Summary from book - Image from openlibrary.org)

My Review:  Ramona Quimby is having a hard time in first grade.  Mrs. Griggs isn't nearly as nice as her old teacher, Mrs. Binney.  She made Ramona apologize in front of the entire class for wrecking Susan's owl, is always telling her to keep her eyes on her own paper, and she even she said mean things about her at parent-teacher conference.  At home, Ramona's mother has gone back to work, and Ramona is going to get a new room all of her very own but is afraid to spend the night there by herself.  First grade is tough, but Ramona is determined to be brave. 

Of the three Ramona books we've read so far (Ramona the Pest, Ramona Quimby, Age 8, and this one), Ramona the Brave is my least favorite.  Oh, it was alright and had some funny moments, but it felt more emotionally weighed down than the others with a lot of Ramona feeling angry or bad about herself and doing things that were naughty.  I suppose you could argue that these emotions are realistic, especially when a young girl is trying to understand the world around her, but all I noticed was that my girls just didn't seem to enjoy it as much and weren't begging me to read it, unless you count the chapter called Ramona Says a Bad Word.  It wasn't that this book was bad, it just wasn't as interesting as Ramona Quimby, Age 8.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Don't worry, the bad word is Guts!  

Sum it up:  Not my favorite in the series, but still worth a read.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Star Wars : A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy - Matthew Reinhart


Summary:  A big fat Star Wars pop-up book with lots of interesting Star Wars facts. (Summary - I made it up.  Image from www.craziestgadgets.com)

My Review:  I never buy pop-up books. My kids always mess them up -- they open them wrong, tear them to peices, and in minutes I'm left with a formerly expensive, non-functioning mess of paper that sticks out at odd angles.  So, pop-up books?!  No, thank you.  I have always been perfectly content to walk right by them.  That is, until my daughter saw this one.  Perhaps I should clarify...these are (two of) my daughters...bet you can't guess which one is a Star Wars fan.  

Holy moly!  This is the mother of all pop-up books that not only pops, but also gives information about the heroes, heroines, villains, supporting characters, planets, droids, fighters, etc. from the original series.  It doesn't just have one cool pop-up per page, it has about nine of them!  Each page has one big one and then several medium and smaller pop-ups off to the side.  Like this...





________________________________


I think if I tried to explain this further, I'd probably just mess it up, so if you have any Star Wars fans in your house, just click here for a video on the book and Matthew Reinhart's creative process.  Did you click?  If so, you have got to be slack-jawed in amazement.  

Along with giant pop-ups of the Millenium Falcon, Mos Eisley, and much more, the piece de resitance is a Darth Vader mask that allows you to glimpse Vader's face before the mask is sealed.  On the same page, and this is Sophie's favorite part, are smaller Luke and Vader pop-ups that hold their own glowing light-sabers.  Here's a picture (for those of you who didn't click on the video):
I'm not even a fan(atic) and I am so impressed by this book.  If you have a Star Wars fan in your house or family, this is a necessary purchase.   If you aren't swimming in Star Wars love, but still impressed by the pop-ups, don't despair!  Matthew Reinhart has quite a few others: 
and more!

My Rating: 5 Stars

Sum it up:  A must have for the young Star Wars fan in your life!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Man Who Couldn't Eat - Jon Reiner

Summary: “I’m a glutton in a greyhound’s body, a walking contradiction, in the grip of the one thing I can’t have—food.”

Food is not just sustenance. It is memories, a lobster roll on the beach in Maine; heritage, hot pastrami club with a half-sour pickle; guilty pleasures, a chocolate rum-soaked Bundt cake; identity, vegetarian or carnivore. Food is the sensuality of a ripe strawberry or a pork chop sizzling on the grill. But what if the very thing that keeps you alive, that bonds us together and marks occasions in our lives, became a toxic substance, an inflammatory invader? In this beautifully written memoir, both gut-wrenching and inspiring, award-winning writer Jon Reiner explores our complex and often contradictory relationship with food as he tells the story of his agonizing battle with Crohn’s disease—and the extraordinary places his hunger and obsession with food took him.

The Man Who Couldn’t Eat is an unvarnished account of a marriage in crisis, children faced with grown-up fears, a man at a life-and-death crossroads sifting through his past and his present. And it shows us a tough, courageous climb out of despair and hopelessness. Aided by the loving kindness of family, friends, and strangers and by a new approach to food, Reiner began a process of healing in body and mind. Most of all, he chose life—and a renewed appetite, any way he could manage it, for the things that truly matter most.
Summary and Cover Photo from Indiebound.org. Book given free for review.


My Review: The Man Who Couldn't Eat is Jon Reiner's personal story about returning home from an uneventful grocery shopping trip only to have his stomach explode. As he struggles to heal after a poorly performed surgery, he is put on TPN. He is sent home to spend months living without eating or drinking - absolutely nothing by mouth. His deep surgical wound is left open and covers his gut. The battle to survive takes Jon on an emotional roller-coaster through denial, anger, depression, and finally acceptance. The book chronicles a full year of medical drama, yet it is so much more than the tale of one man's struggle to survive.

Entering this book allows the reader to journey through Jon's past by means of his taste buds. The delicious descriptions of the food of his past are at such odds with the grotesque descriptions of his present medical procedures. It's the ultimate oxymoron, leaving you salivating and yet nauseated in one swoop.

Much admiration goes to Jon's ability to tell it like it is. He does not play the victim, instead fully admits to his selfish behavior. As his family falls apart, he takes his share of the blame and doe not sugar-coat any of it. Jon's battle becomes not only one to overcome the illness but to also reclaim his family.

In the end, this tale is one of balance - the yin and the yang. The continuous balancing act while juggling the needs of a family, the struggles of a career (or lack there of) and the needs of his health crisis is thoroughly documented. Jon's ability to rediscover what is important in life is inspiring. His tale is laced with religion, but it is his ultimate decision to concur that allows him to reclaim his life. There is no glossing over the facts to bring the story to a neat conclusion. Jon continues to struggle to balance his wants with his needs, especially in terms of food. This conflict leads to a stimulating read.

My Rating: 4 Stars

To Sum It Up: One man's conquest to discover the yin and yang of life through his stomach.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Have You Read These Yet?

I just finished reading this series to my husband.
I've been begging him to let me for a while and he finally caved.


He loved them!

Yet another situation where I was right.
He really should listen to me more often.

And you know what...
I did it all so I could guarantee myself a date to this.

I'm so excited!
 
If you haven't read this best selling series, you better get cracking before the movie comes out in March 2012.  To get you started, here's a link to Heather's review
of the first book in the series,

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