Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Goose Girl - Shannon Hale

Summary:  "Ani shuddered.  The city was as beautiful as a birthday cake from afar.  It was not so friendly when one was out of luck.  She glanced out the window toward her little room.  It had never felt like home, but it felt safer than any place she had known.  Maybe after I return to Kildenree and all is set to right, she though, I'll come back here again and be queen after all.(Excerpt from back of the book and image from  http://aprilpameticky.files.wordpress.com)

My Review:  Ani's tale is captivating; I truly enjoyed the overall storyline.  My biggest gripe was the pacing.  That's why I couldn't quite give it 4 stars or higher as many people I know have.  There were many aspects to this book that I thoroughly enjoyed: Ani's relationship with animals, the twists the story throws you, the time travel back to when kingdoms reigned, the realistic portrayal of power, deception, and greed, the list goes on.  The one thing that kept hanging me up from losing myself in the novel was the pacing.  There were sections that dragged--not for a long time, but they still dragged.  Maybe that's Hale's way of depicting real life, because in all honesty real life does have periods of time that drag between the exciting parts.  I guess what got to me is that when I read a book I'm not looking for it to reflect real life with lag at times and racing to finish at others.  The stopping-starting feeling got old.  Take that as you will--that's why I rated this book as I did.

Ani was a great character, one I could believe and could understand why she felt so inadequate--her mother's austere footsteps would be hard to follow.  One of my favorite aspects of the story was watching her come into her own and grow.  The experiences she's forced to work through enrich her character and create growth I don't think her life would have had in any other way.  I also loved her animal skills--how great would it be to speak with animals?  The love story, although brief, was sweet and perfect for the age this book is aimed. 

I would definitely recommend this to girls without hesitation that a parent would find fault with it.  I wish I could say boys would enjoy it, but truly only sections would captivate them at the age this book is written for.

For the sensitive reader:  Clean although violence at the end.  The only racy section would be where a character sees Ani's leg from the knee down--if you can call that racy.

Rating:  3.75 Stars

Sum it up:  A adventuresome twist on a princess tale.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hallowed - Cynthia Hand

Summary: For months Clara Gardner trained to face the fire from her visions, but she wasn't prepared for the choice she had to make that day.  And in the aftermath, she discovered that nothing about being part angel is as straightforward as she though.

Now, torn between her love for Tucker and her complicated feelings about the roles she and Christian seem destined to play in a world that is both dangerous and beautiful, Clara struggles with a shocking revelation:  Someone she loves will die in a matter of months.  With her future uncertain, the only thing Clara knows for sure is that the fire was just the beginning.

In this compelling sequel to Unearthly, Cynthia Hand captures the joy of first love, the anguish of loss, and the confusion of becoming who you are.  (Summary from book - Image from www.goodreads.com)

My Review: If this review posts when I think it's going to post (and it should, because I'm scheduling it that way), then I probably already have a new baby to coo over and cuddle with.  I bet she's cute and I'm exhausted.  I also have to move out of my house tomorrow.  Ugh.  As you can see, my plate runneth over.  Anyway, feel free to take this review with a grain of salt because even though I'm writing this about two weeks ahead of time, mentally and emotionally speaking, I'm not at my best right now.  

Hallowed is the sequel to Unearthly, a paranormal romance we recently reviewed by author Cynthia Hand.  Both books tell the story of Clara Gardner, a lovely young lady who just happens to be part-angel.  I was fairly entertained by Unearthly, in an I-need-something-easy-and-romantic-to-read kind of way, and picked up the next book soon after.   In Hallowed, Clara uncovers more about her powers and what it means to be an angel blood.  Plagued and bewildered by ominous dreams, Clara spends a great deal of time trying to understand what happened the day of the fire.  Did she do the right thing?  Clara isn't certain, but one thing is for sure -- her mother is keeping quite a few secrets.  One of them is about to show up on her doorstep.

For those of you who fancy a good love triangle, Hallowed does not disappoint.  Tucker and Christian both have their good points and the increased tension between them is rather amusing at times.  I can see why Clara is torn; even now, having finished the book, I'm still not quite sure whose "team" I'm on.  I also have to give Cynthia Hand props for her not-so-subtle digs at Twilight, namely Edward Cullen's incredibly creepy tendency to watch Bella while she sleeps.  She cracks me up!

Overall, this was a fun, light read.  It's romantic but not too romantic and it provided a few hours escape from the insanity of my life. At this point, that is an absolutely miracle.  As long as the author doesn't take too long, I'll probably pick up the next book when she gets finished writing it.

My Rating: 3.75 Stars.

For the sensitive reader:  One instance of biblical profanity (think donkey).  This book is slightly more sensual than the first.  There is some making out and both shirts do come off. However, what happens next puts the kibosh on things and so it doesn't progress much further.  It also made me laugh.

Sum it up:  A fun, light paranormal romance.  It didn't knock my socks off, but it did allow me to escape reality for a while and just enjoy myself.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Inquisitor - Mark Allen Smith

Summary:  Geiger has a gift: he knows a lie the instant he hears it.  And in his business -- called "information retrieval" by its practitioners -- that gift is invaluable, because truth is the hottest thing on the market.

One of Geiger's rules is that he never works with children.  So when his partner former journalist Harry Boddicker, unwittingly brings in a client who demands that he interrogate a twelve-year-old boy, Geiger responds instinctively.  He rescues the boy from his captor, removes him to the safety of his New York City loft, and promises to protect him from further harm.  But if Geiger and Harry cannot quickly discover why the client is so desperate to learn the boy's secret, they themselves will become the victims of an utterly ruthless adversary.

Mesmerizing and heart-in-your-throat compelling, The Inquisitor is a completely unique thriller that introduces both an unforgettable protagonist and a major new talent.  (Summary from book - Image from us.macmillan.com - Book given free for an honest review)


My Review:  The Inquisitor was released in January 2012 and chosen as an Indie Next List selection in March 2012.  I finished it in less that two days, and really enjoyed it, but it is one of those books that I’m hesitant to recommend to everyone.  Mostly, because it would horrify my mother and quite a few of my friends.   If you’re even remotely bothered by profanity, violence, or vulgar sexual references then you might want to skip this one.  If that kind of stuff doesn't phase you, then read on….

The Inquisitor starts off with an intense prologue that reeled me in immediately and never let go, but my favorite part of the novel was its main character.  Gieger is an expert in the field “information retrieval” and interrogation.  Basically, he can tell when someone is lying.  When I picked up this book, I was expecting a character similar to Dr. Cal Lightman character in the popular tv series, Lie to Me – quirky, insightful, and slightly psychotic.  Geiger is all of those things, but it turns out his specialty is extracting information through physical coercion and psychological manipulation.  Some people might call it torture.  They would be right. 

Geiger is a unique and fascinating protagonist – unpredictable, imposing, and a ruthless interrogator – but also slightly fragile and crippled by a past he is only beginning to remember.  I was intrigued by the different aspects of his personality, from his reclusive behavior and calculating manner to his passion for music and carpentry.  Throughout the novel, Geiger toed the line between good and bad guy; obviously his chosen profession was unorthodox (to say the least) but he still followed his own strict code of ethics.   When he betrays a dangerous client to save a young boy, Geiger is forced out of his carefully compartmentalized world into one he has always avoided, where everything begins to unravel and more than his life hangs in the balance.   

The Inquisitor is well-written, with a strong main character and plot that demand attention.  The author skillfully weaves the lives of supporting characters, their storylines, and Geiger’s past into a thrilling novel.  I plan to pass it along to my husband.  Although he’s not a big reader, if he actually listens to me and picks it up, I have no doubt he’ll finish it in a matter of days.    

My Rating: 3.75 Stars.  It would have been 4 stars if it weren’t for that pesky sensitive reader section (see below).

For the sensitive reader:  Pervasive profanity, vulgar language, and violence.

Sum it up:  Not everyone’s cup of tea, but I couldn’t put it down.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Little House - Virginia Lee Burton

Summary: Winner of the Caldecott Medal and in print for more than sixty years, The Little House is an enchanting classic of American children's literature.  (Summary from book -  Image from www.goodreads.com)

My Review:  The little house sits on a beautiful hill in the countryside, surrounded by blossoming apple trees and fertile green fields.  The house loves the little hill, but always wonders about the distant lights of the city and longs to see them one day.  Over the years, as different families come and go, the city grows ever closer to the little house on the hill.  Roads come, and with them, carriages...then cars...then trains.  Before long, the little house is surrounded by sky scrapers, subways, and the hustle and bustle of a city life that doesn't seem quite so appealing.  Now the little house sits abandoned, sad, run-down, and lonely until, one day, a woman sees its potential and changes everything.

The Little House is an absolutely gorgeous children's picture book and well deserving of it's Caldecott Medal.  One of the best things about this book, besides the detailed illustrations, is that it can be read on multiple levels. The story and illustrations  can be read and/or flicked through simply for entertainment, or examined to see how life slowly changes over the seasons and from year to year.

My children were fascinated by this book and spent a lot of time comparing the different pages to see what had changed and what had stayed the same.  My oldest daughter even noted the house's anthropomorphic qualities -- how it seemed to have facial features and expressions that changed throughout the course of the book (Hello?! Can you say Proud Mama!)  Personally, I just loved the author/illustrator's colorful, whimsical illustrations, how they changed with the progression of the story, and how everything ended happily-ever-after for the little house on the hill.  I am determined to own this book so that my children can remember it as one their mom always read to them when they were growing up.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  In one of the pictures you see a very tiny, very naked little boy diving into a pond.  He's minuscule, so there is virtually no detail but my daughters did note his naked bum and dissolved into a fit of giggles.

Sum it up:  Buy this book for your little ones.  Check it out first, if you must, but then go and get your own copy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Harvest to Heat - Darryl Estrine & Kelly Kochendorfer

Summary:  Harvest to Heat is a groundbreaking cookbook celebrating chefs and farmers who are changing the way we think about food. Over 100 of America's best chefs and artisans take on a journey from farm to kitchen as they collaborate on delicious recipes from home cooks, locavores, and food lovers. (Summary from the book and image from http://harvesttoheat.com/. Book received frre for review.)

My Review: If you are in the midst of planting that spring garden you may considering getting a hold of this book before you make your final additions. This book has ideas for starters, salads, soups, main courses, sides, and desserts - many composed of ingredients you will find in your garden. These aren't your everyday recipes, including such things as Crab-Stuffed Zucchini Flowers, Ramp Ravioli with Lemon Zest, and Honey Mango Upside-Down Cake. The easy to follow step-by-step directions will have you longing to take a stab at creating a culinary masterpiece.

If these recipes sound extraordinary you will probably not be surprised to hear the book is anything but ordinary as well. Stories from farmers, food artisans, and chefs can be found throughout the book. These stories detail history, inspiration and techniques and make the book all the more intriguing. Beautiful photos line the pages, making this more a work of art than a cookbook. To hide this work away with your other food-splattered cookbooks would be a shame. This one demands to be properly displayed.

This won't take the place of your daily recipe books as many of the recipes are elaborate. Yet if you have a love for creating unique dishes with natural ingredients this belongs in your collection. As a beautiful, unique coffee table book, this would also make a lovely gift .

Rating:  4 stars

Sum it up:  Harvest to Heat is more of a work of art than a cookbook with the bonus of several scrumptious recipes.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Unearthly - Cynthia Hand

Summary:  Clara Gardner has recently learned that she's part angel.  Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans ( a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do.  Figuring out what that is, though, isn't easy.

Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town.  When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place -- and out of place at the same time.  Because there's another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara's less angelic side.

As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she'd have to make -- between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil.  When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?

Unearthly is a moving tale of love and fate, and the struggle between following the rules and following your heart.  (Summary from book - Image from www.cynthiahandbooks.com)

My Review:  So many YA paranormal romances have become crude – and I do mean crude – reproductions of Twilight that I’ve been hesitant to even bother with the genre until the fervor dies down.  However,  I’m happy that I made an exception for Unearthly.  Set mostly in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Unearthly centers around Clara, a mostly normal teenage girl who just happens to be part angel.  Yes, angel.  Clara and her family have relocated to the Rockies so that she can fulfill her purpose – a sort-of God-given task – and save a mysterious stranger from certain death.  Only, things don’t go quite as planned…

Unearthly was a unique, entertaining twist on angel mythology.   It was incredibly easy to read, requiring little to no mental effort on my part, and was fairly romantic without being over the top, if you know what I mean.   I liked that Clara’s relationships evolved over the course of the book and that I couldn’t anticipate how things were going to end.  The not knowing only made the finding out that much more delicious.  And the kisses!  There is something to be said about steamy kisses and swoon-worthy moments that do not end in the bedroom.  Unearthly has a few of them and they left my heart pounding.   I’m surprised you didn’t hear it!

I have the next book in the trilogy, Hallowed, sitting on my nightstand and I’d be reading it right now if I didn’t have a review deadline to meet for another book.  Unearthly gives some closure, but not enough for my taste.  All I have to say is that the book I read in between Unearthly and Hallowed better be stellar or I’m going to be one unhappy camper.

*SIDENOTE* - Cynthia Hand actually grew up just outside my hometown of Idaho Falls.  So many of the places she references throughout the novel were incredibly easy for me to picture because I've actually been there!  
 
My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  One very brief instance of teen drinking and, eventually, lots of kissing.  Good kissing.  *Sigh*

Sum it up:  This is a sit back, relax, put your feet up, and enjoy kind of book.  It's easy.  It's romantic.  It's fun.    

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Replay - Sharon Creech

Summary:  When a young boy reluctantly becomes involved in his school play, he takes on not just the role of 'the old crone' but also a journey of discovery about his family. As the novel unfolds, a wonderful drama ensues, both in school on the stage and at home as the boy's relationship with his father becomes truer and more honest when some secrets buried in a dusty box in the attic are unveiled. A delightful novel told with the masterly control and calm excitement that we now expect from award-winning Sharon Creech. (Summary from amazon.com and image from http://rschreiber.edublogs.org/)

My Review:  I was disappointed by this book.  I don't know what I expected (there was no summary on the back of the book I own), but after hearing rave reviews of Sharon Creech's writing I do know I was expecting more substance to the plot of this book.  The first two-thirds of the book felt random and completely pointless.  Leo, the main character, was endearing enough, but the book seemed to bounce around as quickly as a 12-year-old mind does in real life.  Maybe that makes it realistic?  For me it was just random and distracting.  Finally, by the last third of the book, you start to see where the family problems, the drama within the other characters, and the maturing process of Leo finally come together and resolve.  If I were a student trying to understand a plot outline, this book would be frustrating.

There are things of value, messages such as 'things aren't always what they seem' or 'some trials are better dealt with than stuffed down deep'.  I think I'll need to give some of Creech's other more famous books a chance before judging her writing too harshly.  I was just not as impressed as I was previously persuaded to be.

Rating: 3 stars

For the sensitive reader:  Super clean.  Read away and feel free to have younger, more advanced readers give this book a try.

Sum it up:  A pre-teen grows through tough family times and finds himself and his family at the same time.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ketchup is a Vegetable : And Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves - Robin O'Bryant

Summary:  If you don’t have anything nice to say about motherhood, then… read this book. Robin O’Bryant offers a no holds barred look at the day to day life of being a mother to three, running a household and the everyday monotony of parenting.

It’s not always pretty but it’s real. Whether she's stuffing cabbage in her bra… dealing with defiant yet determined daughters… yelling at the F.B.I... or explaining the birds and the bees to her preschooler… you’re sure to find dozens of humorous and relatable situations. 

From the creator of Robin's Chicks, one of the South’s most popular blogs on motherhood, misunderstandings and musings, comes a collection of essays that will not only make you laugh and cry, but realize that you’re not alone in your journey. 

Sit back and relax, pour yourself some “mommy juice,” throw a fresh diaper on your baby and deadbolt the bedroom door to keep your kids out… because once you start reading you'll be too busy wiping away tears of laughter to wipe anybody's butt.  (Summary from book - Image from krittersramblings.com)


My Review:  Oh.  My.  If you don't have kids when you read this book, you might decide to swear them off completely.  If you do have kids, then you'll likely find yourself chuckling, snickering, and all out guffawing in solidarity as the author shares some of her most difficult, humorous, and downright mortifying child-rearing moments. 

In Ketchup is a Vegetable: And Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves, Robin O’ Bryant, popular southern blogger and mother-of-three little angels, provides hilarious insight on issues that most women encounter once they make the leap into motherhood, and she does it all with her characteristically candid, sarcastic, and self-deprecating humor. I laughed out loud on numerous occasions (we’re talking full-on cackle here) as she talked about everything from pregnancy, childbirth, and post-baby boobs, to dreaded PTA sales, hellish road trips, and public meltdowns.  I swear, every time my husband walked into the room I was cracking up about something and then I forced him to listen while I re-read those sections aloud.  *Sigh* Husbands will never understand the “joys” of breastfeeding or having their skirts hiked up over their heads in public.

Here are just a few quotes that showcase Robin’s writing style:  
 “Kids grow up for a reason: if they stayed any one age for too long, it would kill their parents.”

 “The most important reason you need to invest in a relationship with your husband is so you don’t end up in the state penitentiary doing ten to twenty-five hard years for involuntary manslaughter, once you’ve seen all the asinine things he’s going to do to your kid.”

“One thing I know for sure is that you can never appreciate the sacrifices that your own mother made for you until you are a mother yourself and realize what an ungrateful little jerk you were.”

“If sleep deprivation is a form of torture, the CIA needs to unleash my kids on all Al Qaeda suspects in captivity. They are professional nap time terrorists who are very dedicated to their own little jihad.”

Just as misery loves company, reading about someone else’s parenting woes made me feel a little bit better about my own.  While some chapters resonated more than others and I didn’t agree with all her parenting decisions, I couldn’t help but relate to Robin’s stories.  I have three, going on four, little girls of my own and so much of what she said was right on the mark.  Anyone who says otherwise isn’t being entirely honest about their parenting experiences.  Through the course of the book, it became clear that the author comes from a religious background and is trying to promote Christian values in her home.  Since I’m of a similarly religious bent, her references to God’s role in her life made her stories even more relatable for me.

Robin captures the stresses (and blessings) of motherhood completely.  She never pretends to be a perfect parent; she’s honest about her mistakes and I love her for it.  And so, yes, she’s complaining a lot, but in such a riotously hysterical way that I couldn’t help but enjoy it and nod in agreement.  She also stresses how much she love her family, what a blessing it is to be a mother, and concludes with an unbelievably touching chapter on why motherhood is all worth it.  At least someone out there gets it.

Sidenote:  Out of 199 reviews on Amazon, 186 reviewers gave this book 5 stars.  That says something.

My Rating: 4 Stars
 
For the sensitive reader:  A few swear words, some faux cussing (holy chit!), frank discussion of body parts (a la breastfeeding), a birds and the bees discussion, and one very disturbing (and hysterical) image of a pork tenderloin that perfectly resembles a part of the male anatomy. 

Sum it up:  HILARIOUS!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Death Cure - James Dashner

This guest review comes to us from Lara Hays Zierke, a former neighbor and friend of mine who just welcomed a beautiful baby girl into her home!  Seriously.  She's the cutest thing!  Congratulations Lara!

The Death Cure is the third book in the Maze Runner trilogy.  You can also read Lara's guest reviews of the first book, The Maze Runner, and the second book, The Scorch Trials.  Thanks Lara, for giving us your thoughts on this popular series!  
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Summary:  Thomas knows that WICKED can't be trusted, but they say the time for lies is over, that they've collected all they can from the Trials and now must rely on the Gladers, with full memories restored, to help them with their ultimate mission. It's up to the Gladers to complete the blueprint for the cure to the Flare with a final voluntary test. What WICKED doesn't know is that something's happened that no Trial or Variable could have foreseen. Thomas has remembered far more than they think. And he knows that he can't believe a word of what WICKED says. The time for lies is over. But the truth is more dangerous than Thomas could ever imagine. Will anyone survive the Death Cure?  (Summary from book - Image from www.goodreads.com)

My review:  The trials are over. WICKED claims to be closing in on a cure to the Flare—a fatal disease that causes extreme insanity (basically turns people into flesh eating zombies). The Gladers learn they were selected for the trials because they are actually immune to the Flare—besides a few control subjects—so their brain patterns hold the cure. Thomas and his best friend Minho are both immune. Their other best friend Newt is not. While memory restoration is offered, the three boys decide to opt out. They break from the WICKED headquarters and make their way to Denver (how come Denver is always featured in sci-fi/dystopian books?). Thomas and company align with a rebel group called the Right Arm intent on overthrowing WICKED. Thomas is still torn between his past with Teresa and his new friendship with Brenda (again, this love triangle is not developed significantly). The rebel group is more radical than Thomas is comfortable with and he begins to question the morality of both the Right Arm and WICKED. If a few lives could be destroyed to save the human race, wouldn’t it be worth it? Is the Right Arm any better? Could WICKED have been right all along?

The moral questions keep coming. Watching Newt accept with his future as a Crank is heartbreaking and brings a surprising element of sympathy to the frightening fate of the Cranks and the people who love them. While the reader gets closure for all those unanswered questions looming from books one and two, a logical ending is unpredictable until it is upon the reader. The ending depressed many of my friends. There is no deus ex machina that solves all the problems and offers a magical happy ending. The ending is realistic and gritty, and I, for one, was completely satisfied with it.

The writing is fine—nothing spellbinding or noteworthy. I wish the love triangle were developed more. I wish emotions about all these horrible experiences were explored more. Ultimately, I loved The Maze Runner series because it is thought provoking. It’s been over a week since I have flipped over the last page and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Thomas’s world.

My rating: 4.25 

For sensitive readers: PG-13 for violence, teen death, and language—though all the curse words are made up. Some of the deaths in this book were much more emotional.

To sum up: A satisfying ending to an often frustrating trilogy. I spent every spare moment taking in a chapter, wanting to see what would happen next. I pray a future as disturbing as the one in The Death Cure never materializes.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Baby Island - Carol Ryrie Brink


Summary:  Shipwrecked!  For twelve-year-old Mary Wallace and her ten-year-old sister Jean, floating on the sea in a lifeboat seems more like a dream than reality – actually, more like a nightmare.  But they’re not the only survivors of the ocean liner, sunk on its way to Australia.  On board their tiny boat with them are four bouncing babies.  Whether or not any of them will survive, though, is questionable.

Hope comes in the form of a deserted island.  But will this become their home for the rest of their lives?
 
This is the classic tale of courage and dedication by one of the most popular authors of children’s books, Carol Ryrie Brink.  Her other titles include Newberry Medal-winner  Caddie Woodlawn, Magical Melons, and The Bad Times of Irma Baumlein(Summary from book – Image from kittislist.blogspot.com)

My Review:  Reading this book sent me straight back to my childhood.  When I was little (probably older than I’d like to admit, but I’m going to go with “little” to save a little face), I used to lock myself in the bathroom, hike a half-slip up to my armpits, and pretend that I was shipwrecked on a desert island.  I would sprawl in the corner behind the door and imagine myself washed ashore, my clothes tattered and torn into rags by the harsh sea waves.  Eventually, I’d crawl to safety and collapse on the bathmat before hauling myself to the sink for a drink of cool island water and to the shelter of the linen closet to keep out the storm.  Towels transformed into scraps of leftover sail and toothbrushes helped fend off all sorts of imaginary dangers.  I had quite the imagination.  I’m not sure my parents knew about my island exploits, but if they did they never said anything.

Baby Island tells the whimsical story of two young girls shipwrecked on a desert island with four little babies.  The girls, Mary and Jean, are remarkably resourceful as they manage to build a shelter and care for the babies while they await for rescue.  This youthful crew of explorers have all manner of adventures as they traipse around the island and, eventually, discover that their desert island is not as deserted as they thought.  A grumpy old man with a hatred of “meddlesome young’uns” has also taken up residence.  Is he a “savitch” or a pirate?  Will Mary, Jean, and the babies ever get off the island?  Only time will tell!

I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  Not surprising since I didn’t recognize the author *gasp* and completely judged this book by its cover.  However, as the story got rolling, I sincerely enjoyed reading it to my two oldest daughters.  They were in raptures over the plot, which was clever and entertaining, and I could see the little wheels in their heads turning as they made themselves part of the story.   Kaisa declared herself “Mary” and appropriately cast her younger sister Sophie Jean, in the role of Mary’s younger sister “Jean.”   Sophie wasn’t terribly pleased by the casting until Jean got herself a pet monkey.

Come summer, I have no doubt that many games of Baby Island will be played in the backyard (or bathroom).  I’ll have to keep a close eye on my two youngest girls when they are shanghai’d into playing one of the babies.  Overall, this was a wonderful read-aloud experience.  I’ll be keeping tight hold of it because I’m sure they’ll want to read it again. 

Kaisa’s thoughts (age eight):  There was nothing bad about it! I give that five stars!  My favorite part is when they get shipwrecked on the island and they build their own teepee.  Mr. Peterkin was kind of grumpy at first, but then he turned out actually nice.

Sophie’s thoughts (age six):  I like it when they did Christmas and at the end I like it when the parrot and the monkey eat all the pudding.  Mr Peterkin was good and he was also a seaman.  One thousand stars!  Over a thousand!

My Rating: 4.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Mary and Jean were rather concerned about the possibility of “savitches” inhabiting the island.  I suppose if I really wanted to get picky I could talk about the negative presentation of non-white races in early American literature, but I won't.  This book was written in 1937, so it was bound to happen.

Sum it up:  A book to inspire the imagination!  

Friday, May 11, 2012

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt - Beth Hoffman

Summary: Twelve-year-old CeeCee is in trouble.  For years, she's taken care of her mother, Camille, the town's tiara-wearing, lipstick-smeared laughingstock, a woman who is trapped in her long-ago moment of glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen.  When tragedy strikes, Tootie Caldwell, CeeCee's long-lost great-aunt, comes to the rescue and whisks her away to Savannah.  There, CeeCee is catapulted into a perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricity -- one that appears to be run entirely by strong, wacky women.  Both hilarious and heartbreaking, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt charts the journey of an unforgettable girl who loses one mother, but finds many others in the storybook city of Savannah.  (Summary from book - Image from www.bookcloseouts.com)

My Review:  The last book I read, Push (aka Precious), was so harsh and “realistic,” it left me wanting to scrub my brain.  Since I’m fresh out of soothing brain sponges, I opted for the literary version and picked up Saving CeeCee Honeycutt – a heartwarming, feel good novel that has been sitting in my stack for quite a while.   

CeeCee Honeycutt is only a child when her father leaves her alone to care for her mentally unstable mother.  Frightened and embarassed by her mothers increasingly disturbing behavior, CeeCee tries to focus on her schoolwork and disappears into the world of literature.  When CeeCee’s mother dies suddenly, she is sent to Savannah, Georgia to live with her great-aunt Tootie and is soon surrounded by an array of vibrant women who take to mothering her in different ways.  These wise, lovable, and slightly eccentric women help CeeCee heal and come to terms with her feelings of grief, anger, and loneliness. 
     
Although I read this book sitting on the couch in my stretchy pants, the author’s characters were so irrepressibly, delightfully southern that  I felt like I should be reading it in the shade of a magnolia tree on a lazy summer day, sipping ice cold lemonade, eating cucumber sandwiches, and wearing a big floppy hat.  Each scene evoked images of sweet ice tea, fragrant gardens, historic homes, down-home cooking, and southern hospitality.   I’ve never been to the South, but this book certainly made me want to visit.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt was exactly the story I needed to read to regain my reading equilibrium – sweet, but not syrupy, with moments of sadness and grief that were tempered by tenderness, love, and a message of acceptance.  Overall, I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for a leisurely, feel good novel to read this summer.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Scattered profanity (a couple handfuls) and a little bit of sexuality (a few neighbors who like cavort naked in their private gardens).

Sum it up:  A down-home, feel good kind of novel.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Insurgent - Veronica Roth

Insurgent is the second book in the Divergent trilogy.  Don't  read this review if you haven't read the first book.  Read this instead.

Summary:  One choice can transform you -- or it can destroy you.  But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves -- and herself -- while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors.  War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows.  And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable -- and even more powerful.  Transformed by her own decisions but also haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.  (Summary from book - Image from www.goodreads.com)

My Review:  Insurgent is the much anticipated, heart-stopping sequel to Divergent, a popular YA dystopian novel by Veronica Roth.  I loved Divergent (see my rave review) and snapped up Insurgent the day it was released.  I'd heard rumors that the author chose not to "recap" (drop little hints into the first few chapters to remind the reader of what happened in the previous novel) so before I opened Insurgent I read this so that I could refresh my memory.  If it's been a while since you've read Divergent, I highly recommend you do the same.

Since I am supposed to be "resting" for the latter part of my pregnancy, I took advantage of my supine state and read Insurgent in less than a day -- if you don't count the time spent sleeping, wrangling a two-year-old, fighting reflux, and...um...using the restroom.  It was fabulous!   

In Insurgent, Tris and her friends are wanted rebels, on the run from the Erudite faction and Dauntless traitors.  Over the course of the novel, they spend time in several different factions and Tris comes to better understand the characteristics and customs of the faction members, while at the same time developing the facets of her own Divergence.  As the factions descend into open rebellion, people who wouldn't ordinarily interact are thrown together in unexpected ways with astonishing results.  I was particularly interested in the idiosyncrasies of each group, their beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses, and how characters from different factions interacted.

Tris and Tobias are remarkably strong characters -- stubborn, supportive, independent, and self-sacrificing -- in spite of their separate internal struggles.  In Insurgent, their romantic relationship felt like it had evolved past infatuation and into something deeper. Don't worry, while that part of their relationship was forced to the back burner because of the gravity of their situation, there were still some rather steamy moments amidst all the chaos.

Insurgent is full of surprises, including (but not limited to) a traitor, an ally, a devastating choice, and an ending that I did not see coming.  While Roth does leave readers with some resolution, the final pages of this book form a delicious cliffhanger that left me with more questions than answers.  I loved it! I assure you, come hell or high water, I will be reading the next book.  Just try to stop me.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  There was violence in this novel, and it was often shocking, but I felt it was necessary to the story and so it really didn't bother me.  I have no idea if there was any profanity in this book. I don't remember any and I was too lost in the story for it to even register.  I'd like to think I would have noticed the Big Ones though.  Tris's romantic relationship does become more intimate (think making out in overly large t-shirt, but I never did get the sense that they took their relationship to the next level.  You know, that level.  I suppose they could have, but it was never explicit (or explicit).

Sum it up:  Fans of Divergent probably won't need to be told to pick up this book.  If you haven't read either novel yet (what are you doing reading this review...don't you LISTEN?!), and you're not bothered by anything in my sensitive reader section, I suggest you buy them together.  You can thank me later.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Midnight in Austenland - Shannon Hale

Summary:  When Charlotte Kinder treats herself to a two-week vacation at Austenland, she happily leaves behind her ex-husband and his delightful new wife, her ever-grateful children, and all the rest of her real life in America. She dons a bonnet and stays at a country manor house that provides an immersive Austen experience, complete with gentleman actors who cater to the guests' Austen fantasies.

Everyone at Pembrook Park is playing a role, but increasingly, Charlotte isn't sure where roles end and reality begins. And as the parlor games turn a little bit menacing, she finds she needs more than a good corset to keep herself safe. Is the brooding Mr. Mallery as sinister as he seems? What is Miss Gardenside's mysterious ailment? Was that an actual dead body in the secret attic room? And-perhaps of the most lasting importance-could the stirrings in Charlotte's heart be a sign of real-life love?

The follow-up to reader favorite Austenland provides the same perfectly plotted pleasures, with a feisty new heroine, plenty of fresh and frightening twists, and the possibility of a romance that might just go beyond the proper bounds of Austen's world. How could it not turn out right in the end? (Book image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Summary: What a fun return to Austenland.  Shannon Hale has created a great follow-up to her original novel, and somehow has done it with a completely fresh voice. One of the things I love about Hale is her talent for adapting her voice for each novel—this reads completely differently than her other novels.  Her voice in Midnight in Austenland pulls the reader into a camaraderie, inviting her audience into the slightly ridiculous idea of escaping problems in such an opulent fashion, and acknowledging the silliness (and the desire to do exactly that!) of such an indulgence.  It made for a refreshingly light read.

Midnight in Austenland brings back a few of the fringe characters from the original—the prim proprietress Mrs. Wattlebrook and her lush of a husband, Southern Belle Miss Charming (I think she’s even funnier this time around), and flamboyant Col. Andrews—fleshed them out, and woven a whole new story, complete with a murder mystery!  Our new heroine Charlotte enters Austenland to escape the heartbreak of a failed marriage and two very frustrated teenage kids.  Her “Inner Thoughts” are hilarious, and wholly relatable, and I found myself wanting to hang out with her.  Like the original, Charlotte's two weeks are full of self-discovery and revelation, and they are juxtaposed with the pre-Austenland/pre-divorce Charlotte flashbacks.  However, this time around, our heroine has to realize these things in the midst of mystery – trying to figure out new player Mr. Mallory…is he really Heathcliff and Mr. Darcy combined, or is there something more sinister afoot?  The mystery wasn’t Agatha Christie-level, but I didn’t pick up the book for that kind of story!  I wanted Austenland, and Hale delivered!

My Rating:  3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  There are a few discussions of extramarital affairs, and a few quick sentences that allude to a possible one-night stand.  But it doesn’t get any racier than a kiss.


Sum it up:  I don’t think either of the Austenland books are written for die hard Janeites, but if you (more casually) enjoy Austen’s novels, this really is a fun read.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Elizabeth's Favorite Books


FICTION:
Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
These is my Words, by Nancy E. Turner
The Princess Bride, by S. Morgenstern, as abridge by William Goldman
The Alchemist, by Pablo Coelho
Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown
Bloody Jack (complete series), by L.A. Meyer
The Far Pavillions, by M. M. Kaye
Shadow of the Moon, by M. M. Kaye

YOUNG ADULT FICTION:
Harry Potter (the complete series), by J.K. Rowling
Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt
Anne of Green Gables (complete series), by L.M. Montgomery
The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Divergent, by Veronica Roth

CHILDREN’S:
The Ordinary Princess, by M.M. Kaye


NONFICTION:
Three Against Hitler, by Rudi Wobbe, Jerry Borrowman
The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom
Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl
The Greatest Generation, by Tom Brokaw
Jesus the Christ, by James E. Talmadge

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Our Newest Reviewer

I bet you thought this was going to be a baby announcement, didn't you?  Well, we're not quite there yet (though I think all three of us are ready and willing to give birth at this point).  Now, we have an honest-to-goodness reviewer joining us!  Reading For Sanity is ecstatic to welcome Elizabeth Marsh to our reviewing team!
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Good morning, everyone! 

My name is Elizabeth Marsh, and I'm thrilled to be here. I knew my reading “habit” had reached epic proportions when, a million years ago, my fourth grade teacher banned me from reading War and Peace. Despite numerous book club interventions attempting to get my nose out of a book, I’m still reading … to the detriment of my ironing basket. I’m happy reading anything from children’s fiction to political philosophy and theory and everything in between, as long as it’s not self-help.

When I’m pretending to live in the real world, I’m a mother to three amazing kids, who are already showing their genetic weaknesses for a good book, wife to an amazingly understanding non-reader, and I teach R.I.P.P.E.D. and Zumba for fun. Thanks for having me!

Be sure to check out Elizabeth's latest reviews and her favorite books list!
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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Book Lover - Maryann McFadden

Summary: When Lucinda Barret's husband destroys her life in a shocking betrayal, she's left with nothing but one last dream -- to be an author.  Alone and broke, she sets out on a thousand mile journey to get her novel into the hands of readers -- one bookstore at a time.

Ruth Hardaway knows all about shattered dreams.  For the last thirty years she's devoted her life to her store, The Book Lover, trying to bury her painful past.  But now the store is in jeopardy, and the past is catching up with her.

When Ruth discovers Lucy's novel, she takes Lucy under her wing, even offering her the haven of an unused lake cabin.  She asks one small favor in return -- for Lucy to keep an eye on her son, Colin, who's recovering from an injury during the Iraq war.  As the two women grow closer, Lucy begins to think of Ruth as the mother she's always wished for.  For Ruth, Lucy is the one person she can finally confide her secrets.  Or so she thinks.

As each woman begins to face her past, happiness finally seems within their grasp.  But neither has any idea that their toughest decisions lie ahead.  Or that their friendship is about to fall apart because of a little white lie.  (Summary from book - Image from www.maryannmcfadden.com - Book given free for an honest review)

My Review:  I used to work at an independent bookstore when I was in college.  The pay wasn’t fabulous and inventory was a beast, but the books...oh the books!   I adored my job.  Eventually, I moved away and became a full-time stay-at-home mom, but one of the things that I missed most about book selling was the satisfaction of being able to help customers find that perfect book – the one that just knocked their socks off and had them coming back for more.  The Book Lover is a charming novel that will pluck at the heartstrings of writers, booksellers, and book lovers; it is a love letter to the independent bookstore and a message of support to struggling authors everywhere.

It should come as no surprise that I fell deeply in love with the book-selling aspect of this story.  I wanted to crawl into its pages and become an employee at Ruth’s bookstore, The Book Lover, which possessed a welcoming atmosphere, loyal clientele, devoted employees, and even a helpful ghost named Hazel.  Ruth’s passion for books reminded me of my good friend and former boss, Claudia, whose love of reading borders on the psychotic, but endearing.  Someone who isn’t familiar with the joys of book selling might feel overwhelmed by all the book love floating around this novel, but I felt quite comfortably at home. 

As an amateur book reviewer, I’ve had the pleasure of reading some fine self-published works, but I’ve also had the unpleasant task of reviewing some real stinkers.   The writing and publishing processes explored in The Book Lover were intriguing and illuminating.  I will admit that I hadn’t realized how much blood, sweat, and tears were invested in many of the books that get sent my way, or how my reviews might affect the author.  

The one component of this book that felt “off” was the incorporation of bird rehabilitation into the storyline.  I understand that it helped reinforce the metaphor for healing, freedom, etc. but other times I felt the author spent too much time on the insignificant details when I wanted to be back in the bookshop. 

The author successfully depicted the difficulties that aspiring authors and independent booksellers face everyday because of her own personal experiences and additional research.  She understood Lucy’s frustration and the the plight of the self-published author because, not that long ago, she was one.  Her perspective opened my eyes to the struggles writers face as they attempt to break into a difficult industry.  I was impressed by the authenticity of her characters, their motivations, and her portrayal of the book industry.  Overall, this was a book that I read with a sense of quiet contentment; it didn’t arouse me to extreme emotion, but it did send me back and give me a new perspective.

Sidenote/Spoiler:  For those of you who worry about endings (and the happiness of them), I will tell you that this book had a Nicholas Sparks-ish kind of ending – not the super-sad-make-you-want-to-throw-your-book kind, but the happily-ever-after-slightly-melodramatic kind.  I liked it.

My Rating: 3.75 Stars

For the sensitive readers:  Profanity and a few sexual situations, brief and intimate but not terribly graphic.

Sum it up:  A book that will appeal to authors, book sellers, and book lovers.  

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