Friday, November 30, 2012

Sideways Stories from Wayside School - Louis Sachar

Summary:   There'd been a terrible mistake.  Wayside School was supposed to be built with thirty classrooms all next to each other in a row.   Instead, they built the classrooms one on top of the other...thirty stories tall! (The builder said he was very sorry.)

That may be why all kinds of funny things happen at Wayside School...especially on the thirtieth floor.  You'll meet Mrs. Gorf, the meanest teacher of all, terrible Todd, who always gets sent home early, and John who can read only upside down -- along with all the other kids in the crazy mixed-up school that came out sideways.  But you'll never guess the truth about Sammy, the new kid...or what's in store for Wayside School on Halloween.

My Review:   Each chapter of Sideways Stories From Wayside School tells about a student or teacher at a wacky school for the exceptionally peculiar. It all sounds great on paper, except it wasn't...great on paper, that is.  It was a veritable torture chamber of words; to say I hated it would be an epic understatement.

Sachar's attempt at off-the-wall humor was annoying and difficult to follow.  His silly just didn't make sense.  I thought, perhaps, that it was my adult-sized brain just being picky, or not getting something that was clearly aimed at children, but I kept an eye on my kids while reading to them  and most of the time they either looked confused or bored.  Their most telling reaction came on nights when we didn't have time to read it -- they didn't seem to notice or care.

Frankly, I expected much much much better from the guy who wrote Holes.  Apparently this is one of his earlier works and there are two books that follow it in the series, but I have no plans to read them or mention their existence to my children.  Ever.

My Rating: 1 Star.

For the sensitive reader:  My biggest complaints, beyond my general loathing of this book, was that it occasionally used words like "stupid" and the like.  Not "bad words," per se, but not polite either.

Sum it up:  Read Holes instead.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook - Deb Perelman + GIVEAWAY

Summary: Deb Perelman loves to cook. She isn't a chef or a restaurant owner -- she's never even waitressed. Cooking in her tiny Manhattan kitchen was, at least at first, for special occasions -- and, too often, un unnecessarily daunting venture. Deb found herself overwhelmed by the number of recipes available to her. Have you every searched for the perfect birthday cake on Google? You'll get more than three million results. Where do you start? What if you pick a recipe that's downright bad?

Deb founded her award-winning blog, Smitten Kitchen, on the premise that cooking should be a pleasure, and that the results of your labor can -- and should-- be delicious. . . every time. Deb is a firm believer that there are no bad cooks, just bad recipes. She has dedicated herself to finding the best of the best and adapting the recipes for the everyday cook -- the person with little time to spare, little money to burn on unpronounceable ingredients, and little help in the kitchen.

And now, with the same warmth, candor, and can-do spirit her blog is known for, Deb presents her first cookbook: more than 100 recipes -- almost entirely new, plus a few favorites from the site -- all gorgeously illustrated with hundreds of her beautiful color photographs. (Image from smittenkitchen.com, summary from book)

My Review: Smitten Kitchen was one of the very first blogs I started reading, back when food blogs were still a novelty. I love Deb's recipes. Deb does everything she can to help you be successful in the kitchen. And I didn't need to pick up this book, look at it, or try out any recipes in order to tell you it's an outstanding book.

But, I did. Boy, did I look at it. I took it on two road trips as reading material, scribbled down a lengthly "to-do" list from its contents, baked Deb's S'more Layer Cake for my four-year-old's birthday, and had an after-Thanksgiving detox meal of her Spaghetti Squash and Black Bean Tacos and Vinegar Slaw with Cucumbers and Dill. Each one of those are recipes that I will definitely make again, and that's coming from a girl who's antsy to try new things and seldom makes the same thing twice.

Yes, her recipes are great, but I also love her personal anecdotes that accompany each recipe as well as her beautiful photos. Her black-speckled countertops are somewhat of a trademark, and I was tickled to see those speckled marks on the spine of the book.

This is a book I will turn to for meal planning, entertaining, spur-of-the-moment sweets, and special breakfasts. It's earned its spot on my "favorite cookbook" shelf.

My Rating: 5 stars

Sum it Up: This cookbook is going to get very, very dirty.

WOULD YOU LIKE A COPY OF THIS BOOK?

To enter to win you must:


  • Leave a comment on this post with your contact information and tell us what you love to eat during the holidays!

Eligibility:  This giveaway is open to US/CAN residents only.  It will run from November 28th, 2012 to December 5th, 2012 at 8:00 PM, PST.  The winner will be chosen randomly, posted publicly, and contacted swiftly to arrange shipping. Reading For Sanity reserves the write to disqualify any entrant for not following the rules or just being a giant pain in the tush.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cooking for Harry: A Low-Carbohydrate Novel - Kay-Marie James

Cooking for Harry: A Low Carbohydrate Novel by Kay-Marie James - Will love be enough to keep a marriage together, or will the Atkins Diet ultimately tear Harry and Francie apart? Pop a pan of cookies into the oven and put up your feet. Cooking for Harry is a deliciously good time. (Bilbary Town Library: Good for Readers, Good for Libraries)Summary:  Harry became a fabulous cook.   It began with a simple indulgence: secret bowls of buttery popcorn that he and his wife, Francie, would share after the children were tucked into bed.  The aroma of melting butter, the hot kernels on their tongues, the salt crystals sticking to their lips -- it was their ow private romantic feast, imbuing their marriage with a new kind of passion.  Soon, Harry began to dazzle Francie with luscious bisques and brioches, delectable souffles, rich rissotos, and classic versions of coq au vin that left her breathless.

Their family life came to revolve around the dinner table, where each night Harry's cooking brought Francie and their four children together for an awe-inspiring and mouthwatering meal.  But inevitably the years slip by, and when all but one child has left the house, Harry wins a digital scale in his company's Holiday Raffle and their happy bubble bursts in a single instant.  Harry's cooking has finally caught up with him.  His doctor confirms it:  He desperately needs to lose weight.

Terrified of losing him, Francie puts Harry on a strict diet, leaving him eternally frustrated at the table and in the kitchen.  When they both realize that he has to take a break from his culinary passions if this diet is to work, Francie begins to cook.  Eventually a younger-looking, leaner, and more driven Harry emerges -- one so newly committed to his job and his low-carb support group that not only is he no longer in the kitchen, he's hardly ever at home.  Feeling confused by the dynamics of their new relationship, Francie must contend with her need to keep Harry on his diet, and also with the women who have suddenly begun to eye her truly attractive husband.  The question now becomes:  Will love be enough to keep this marriage together, or will the Atkins Diet ultimately tear Harry and Francie apart?

Pop a pan of cookies in the oven and put up your feet.  Cooking for Harry is a deliciously good time.  (Summary from book - Image from www.pinterest.com)

My Review:  It doesn't take a genius to figure out why I picked up Cooking for Harry.  All anyone has to do is read the above summary, heck, the first paragraph of the above summary and my motivations become crystal clear.  Food.  Luscious, delectable, totally devourable food.  And Kay-Marie James can write it.  Boy, howdy.  Her pre-diet descriptions of Harry's lavish meals were enough to have the pickiest eater salivating.  It's probably a good thing that I read this book on Thanksgiving day and into the days following, since there were plenty of leftovers to satisfy any cravings this book inspired.

Cooking for Harry was published in 2004 -- the height of the low-carb diet craze.  It was obvious from the "a low carbohydrate novel" portion of the title that this book would have an anti-carb theme, but I was surprised by how much of it felt like a sales pitch for the Atkins diet.   Honestly, I was disappointed when Harry went on a diet so soon into the book.  I missed the old Harry -- the one  who cooked and consumed carbs and proteins alike with reckless abandon.  Oh sure, there was bacon, eggs, and avocado galore post-diet, but it just wasn't the same.  Who can live without chocolate?  

As far as stories goes, this one was fine.  Nothing above and beyond, but definitely an okay read.  When Francie and Harry decide to diet together, they have difficulty adjusting to the unexpected side effects of Harry's lost weight and newly found purpose, eventually growing apart and questioning their relationship.   They cook, eat, fight, stray, and hash things out over gobs of protein.  This book is worth the read if you're in it for the food descriptions and some relationship turbulence and growth, but if you want a giant literary revelation -- look elsewhere.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  I don't remember any profanity but there were some vague sexual references, and passing mention of their marital sex life.

Sum it up:  A literary feast for low-carb lovers.  Well, sort of.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Appetite for Life - Stacey Antine


http://www.harpercollins.com/harperimages/isbn/large/3/9780062103703.jpg Summary: From fluorescent yogurt to 100-calorie snack packs, most "kid friendly" food has little nutritional benefit. We've convinced ourselves that in order to get kids to eat it, food needs to be packaged into something fake, colored, and far from its natural source. No wonder kids protest when we ask them to eat their vegetables. They don't come in a box!

Enter Stacey Antine, founder of HealthBarn USA, an organization at the front lines of introducing kids and their families to healthy eating habits and real food. While some parents "sneak" nutritious foods into meals, Antine knows from experience that the key to raising adventurous, wise eaters is to connect kids to the food they eat. Kids are more likely to try new foods and make healthy choices if they understand where ingredients come from, know why certain foods are good for their bodies and minds, and have an active role in preparation, from gathering ingredients to cooking. (Summary and image from publisher's website)

My Review:  There was a lot in this book that I needed and wanted to read.  The first section of this book is a pep talk and parenting lesson on how to involve your kids in the food prep process and what good foods do to help kids' growing bodies.  It also had good lists of snack suggestions with more health value than the fruit snacks my three year old obsesses about all day.

I picked this book up from the non-fiction browsing section of the library during one of my rare but passionate attempts to eat healthier and after dog-earing some pages (okay, actually I tore a receipt to bits to use as book marks because it was a library book!) I headed to the store for ingredients.  The first recipe I tried was the chocolate zucchini cupcakes.  The first recipe in the book.  I baked some up and gathered my taste-testers, my two daughters and a friend.  The book suggests making your kids "food judges" who get to give food a thumbs up, down, or sideways.  This has been a great way for my girls to express their opinions on the food without the blanket "yuck" we are all familiar with.  However, the judging for the zucchini cupcakes revealed the across the board consensus of "thumbs sideways"...which, for the lead recipe in a cookbook promising to get kids to eat vegetables, is not very promising.  And yes, I judged the rest of the book by that one and only recipe I tried.  I had two others I was ready to do but when I compared the ingredient lists with the cupcakes I felt pretty confident that it would be more "thumbs sideways" which translated means - not gross enough to throw out but not good enough to eat. 

My caveat is that they just tasted too healthy.  So, potentially, a family less addicted to white flour and sugar, sugar, sugar might be more interested in these recipes. 

Rating: 3 stars

Sum it up:  Good nutrition info and great advice on parental food attitude (and the very successful thumbs up rating system) but an early judging of the recipes gets a thumbs sideways.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

An AMAZING Choose-Your-Next-Book Chart!

Okay, so it's not summer.  So what!  That doesn't mean this book list (or flowchart thingy) isn't completely awesome!  I found it on Upworth.com, but huge props to the people at Teach.com for putting it together.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Book Spotlight: Oceanswept - Lara Hays

Pirates are my one weakness.  Well, pirates and books.  Okay, pirates and books and chocolate.  Anyway.  Something about the whole bad boys of the sea thing just gets me all fluttery and so I was very excited to hear about Oceanswept by author Lara Hays.  I haven't received my copy of yet (review forthcoming), but I thought I'd put this out there for any historical romantic fiction fans who are looking for something to read during the holidays.  It's adventure, action, and (clean) romance -- the trifecta of reading for entertainment.  I know I'm looking forward to it!  Note to self: Must fix lock on bedroom door, so as not to be disturbed by pesky relatives seeking leftovers.
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Summary:  The sway of playful palm trees and never-ending sunshine seem like a fantasy compared to the smog and filth of 18th century London. Thrilled for a new life in the exotic West Indies, privileged seventeen-year-old Tessa Monroe eagerly embraces her father’s reassignment to the fledgling Caribbean colony of St. Kitts where she can stake her claim as an up-and-coming socialite.

But that dream unravels when a hurricane downs their ship on the passage from England, leaving Tessa as the sole survivor. Rescued by a passing ship, Tessa’s grief soon turns to terror as she realizes she isn’t a passenger—she’s a captive.

With a future of slavery in the offing, Tessa joins forces with Nicholas Holladay, a charismatic sailor ready to break free from a life of piracy. Mutiny is in the air. Tessa and Nicholas will either win their freedom or earn a spot at the gallows.

Excerpt:  My heart raced at the sound of approaching footsteps. I was eager to get out of the cabin but hated the idea of another long night being judged by the arrogant sailor. As if he had the right to judge me! It would serve him right if I refused him my company tonight.
I sighed and slouched against the door. I was too bored, too hungry, and too anxious to see that through.
A tap sounded on the door.
My hands fluttered as I smoothed my disheveled hair. I quickly pinched my cheeks.  
Why was I so worried about my appearance?  
“Miss Monroe?”
The door creaked as I gingerly opened it. I winced at the sound. Nicholas stood before me wearing a broad smile. My breath caught in my throat.
“Found your dress,” he noticed.
I looked down at the tattered gown and shrugged.
“Ready for your nightly recess?
“My nightly recess?” I repeated indignantly.
“Shh!” He hissed, throwing a stealthy glance over his shoulder.
“Why are you acting so suspicious?”
“I told you. I am protecting you. Now, c’mon. Supper’s ready in the galley.”
I crossed my arms. “No. This isn’t normal. I refuse to leave this cabin until you tell me what you’re hiding from me.”
“All right, luv. If that’s what you want, I won’t force my company on you.” Nicholas began to walk away, his sinewy figure disappearing in the darkness.
I sighed in exasperation and scurried after him.
“First,” I said, “I am not your luv. Second, I am only coming with you because I am famished. And finally, I will discover what you’re hiding from me, even if I have to go to the captain himself.”
Nicholas stopped abruptly. “Don’t do that,” he said darkly without bothering to look at me.
“The idea worries you,” I said proudly. “You know you’ll be punished. Chided, at least. Finally, I have some leverage over you.”
“Listen here, luv,” he emphasized the pet name deliberately as he looked into my eyes, “go to the captain. Be my bloody guest. It’ll actually improve my standing with that codger. I told you once and I’ll tell you again—if you do that, you’ll wish you were dead by morning.”
The warning was so bombastic, I nearly laughed aloud. Nicholas didn’t laugh, though. I stared at him through narrowed eyes, trying to sense a joke. Or at least derision. But I only sensed sincere passion.
“I won’t go to the captain,” I said.
“Thank you,” Nicholas answered with a slight curl of his lip.
“Yet,” I added. “I will find out what you’re hiding from me. You can tell me yourself, or I will find out on my own.”
Nicholas shrugged. “You’re treading in dangerous waters, lass. But do what you must.

For the sensitive reader:  I asked the author and she said this book contains some situational intensity and violence of the pirate variety.

Interested?  Get a 50% discount when you purchase the e-version of Oceanswept from Smashwords.  That's only $1.50, people!  Just use the coupon code  ZJ92X at checkout and enjoy! (code expires 12/23/12)

Or you can get it here (minus the coupon code) for your Kindle.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Inheritance - Louisa May Alcott

Book Summary: Influenced by the melodrama of the contemporary theater and the popular gothic novels of the time, Louisa May Alcott weaves a tale far removed from the reality of her everyday life in Boston. With a charm reminiscent of Jane Austen's novels, "The Inheritance" sets love and courtesy against depravity and dishonor--and with the help of a secret inheritance, allows virtue to prevail.

My Review:  Louisa May Alcott may be the reason I was so determined (for a time) to be an author.  Like many (most?  every?) young ladies, I identified with her wonderful depiction of Jo, and fancied myself to have her same talents.  When I stumbled upon this book, Alcott's first novel (penned at SEVENTEEN), I was convinced I would love it as much as I did Little Women.

I didn't.  

Remember those scenes in Little Women where Jo feels discouraged with her writing, and those around her (Laurie) tease her for her highfaluting language and melodramatic style?  This is that book.  The only thing that kept me reading was remembering that Alcott was seventeen.  I hadn't published anything at seventeen.  It's sappily romantic, completely predictable, and pretty ridiculous.  However, it makes me appreciate how far Alcott came in her writing in a way I couldn't have otherwise. 

My Rating: Two stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Nothing to fear.  I think the most risqué action is a kiss on the hand.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Turning Pages - Tristi Pinkston

Summary:  With his pride and her prejudice, what could possibly go wrong?

When the arrogant Blake Hansen steals Addie Preston's promotion at the library, he pretty much rubs her nose in it.  But Addie, who dreams of being a full-fledged librarian, decides to stick it out.  She loves surrounding herself with books and keeping her father's memory alive in the building where they spent so much time together.

Soon, Addie learns that her beloved library will be torn down to make room for a much larger facility, and she has to make a choice.  Fight, or let go?

To complicate things, she finds herself attracted to Black, who is engaged to someone else.  Will Blake and Addie ever resolve their differences?  (Summary from book -  Image from tristipinkston.blogspot.com   - Book given free for an honest review )

My Review:  Turning Pages had me before I even cracked the book.  How can I turn down a book that casually hints at it's Pride and Prejudice-ness?  Answer:  I can't.  Not now.  Not ever.  If you feel the same, then I think we can be friends.

Addie Preston is a junior librarian with a serious problem.  His name is Blake.  He stole her job, insulted her taste in books, and now he's being instrumental in tearing down her beloved library -- the place that she spent so much time with her late father.   Addie is determined to stop the demolition and if that means she ends up in the pokey after accidentally whacking the mayor with a protest sign, well....oops.  As the story unfolds, Addie begins to see that while her arch nemesis is still infuriating, he's not as stodgy and un-fun as she first thought.  In fact, he might be just the tiniest bit adorable.  Now, if he were only available.

I thought this book was a lovely light read.  It had enough hints of P & P to keep me happy (and a dash of Austen's other novels), but thankfully didn't follow the story line so closely that I could predict every character's next sentence.  Addie and Blake's romance was charming and squeaky clean, without being ridiculously flowery, overly emotional, or just plain annoying.  I could related to Addie on many levels, the foremost being her love of books and libraries, her tendency to love the wrong guy first, and one horrific nightmare of an incident involving a rodent and a very scary book.  I've read books with greater depth, but lately I haven't been able to finish any of them.  This one was cake.

If you're in the market for a light, romantic read, you might want to check out Turning Pages here.

My Rating: 3.75 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Squeaky clean!

Sum it up:  Turning Pages won't win any Pulitzers, but it will win hearts.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cooking with Love - Carla Hall

Summary: Carla Hall is co-host of ABC's daily lifestyle series The Chew. Carla first won the hearts of fans nationwide on Bravo's Top Chef. When she returned for Top Chef All-Stars, she went on to win Fan Favorite with her warmth, enthusiasm, and delicious food. In this book, she serves up more than 100 fantastic recipes that revolutionize comfort food by using fresh ingredients in her twists on tried-and-true classics.

From the Southern staple Down-Home Deviled Eggs with Smoky Bacon to silky and light Spicy Carrot-Ginger Soup to the ultimate Chicken Pot Pie with buttery crust on the bottom to her Granny's unforgettably luscious Five-Flavor Pound Cake, Carla's beautiful, flavorful recipes are so deeply satisfying, they'll become family favorites in your kitchen.

Carla believes that the only way to make truly comforting food is to cook it from the heart. Summary from the book, image from Redbookmag.com.

My Review: Comfort food that "hugs" you, huh? When I received this book I was prepared for oodles of decadent pasta recipes, pastries, mashed potatoes, cream soups, and other things that are usually considered "comforting."

Instead of ooey-gooey, rich, indulgent, carb-loaded stuff that leaves you feeling bloated, tired, and pained with indigestion (is that just me?), her recipes have nice, fresh twists and a sprinkle of Southern charm. To me, "comfort food" is something that I feel good after eating, which is why I love this book so much!

We tried her Rustic Mushroom Tart and her Mixed Greens and Pan-Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette for dinner one night. My kids loved the tart AND the salad. The apple cider vinaigrette is the bomb.

We also tried her Buffalo Wing Burgers (wing sauce-flavored turkey burgers) with Spicy Mayo and Celery and Blue Cheese Slaw (with goat cheese because we do NOT heart blue cheese). We had them bunless with a side of sweet potato fries. Loved it!

Another thing I love about her book are the personal stories she shares and the catering tips. Carla Hall also ran a catering company, and I think it was a brilliant idea to share her catering wisdom in her book.

I don't know Carla Hall, but I feel like I just spent a week with her. I think if we met in person, we would hug immediately. Sharing good food tends to do that, and I can't wait to dig into more of her recipes.

My Rating: 5 stars

Sum it Up: I feel hugged. And I'm going back for more.

Want to win a copy of this book?  
Go over to Perry's Plate and leave a comment on this post.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination - Helen Fielding

Summary:  Move over 007: a stunning, sexy -- and decidedly female -- new player has entered the world of international espionage armed with her own pocket survival kit, her Rules for Living, her infamous overactive imagination, and a very special underwire bra.

How could a girl not be drawn to the alluring, powerful Pierre Ferramo -- he of the hooded eyes, impeccable taste, unimaginable wealth, exotic international homes, and dubious French accent?  Could Ferramo really be a major terrorist bent on the Western world's destruction, hiding behind a smoke screen of fine wines, yachts, and actresses-slash-models?   Or is it all just a product of Olivia Joules's overactive imagination.  (Summary from book - Image from kobobooks.com )

My Review:  This.  This is the book I chose to read after a month of not reading.  It was written by the same woman who wrote Bridget Jones's Diary, and I hoped it would be light and fluffy with just the right amount of British snark.  It was light and  fluffy with a fair amount of English snarkishness, but I think I can safely say that a blind monkey could have rifled through my bookshelves and still picked a better one.

Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination is supposed to be a chick-lit spy novel.  However, most of the real spy craft didn't happen until the latter half of the book.  Olivia spent the first half of the book trying to decide if her possible love interest was Osama Bin Laden, or one of his lackeys.  It went a little like this:  Is he a terrorist?  I think he must be.  Yes, I am certain!  I better do something about it!  No wait.  He can't be.  He's too cute to be a terrorist!  He couldn't possibly be.  I am out of my mind.  But there is that one thing he does.  It is suspicious.  Very suspicious.  Perhaps I should follow him more just to be sure.  Oh my gosh, he's a terrorist.  No.  Yes.  No.  Yes!   I got a little sick of Olivia's flip-flopping, especially when the answer was so darn obvious.  When she finally picked a side,  Olivia's transition from wannabe to actual spy, and the subsequent story line, felt rushed, unnatural, and rather ridiculous.

The only things that I liked about this book were Fielding's use of the British vernacular, Olivia's take-no-crap attitude, and the surprise twist in the last few chapters that I did not see coming.  I had to re-read portions of the book, to see what foreshadowing I had missed.  Turns out, quite a lot.  Overall, this is a book that I'm glad I finished (so that I can start a new one) but not particularly glad I read.

My Rating: 2 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Much like Bridget Jones's Diary, this book does not want for the F-word.  Seriously. If you are even remotely sensitive to profanity, I'd find another book.

Sum it up:  Meh.  I've read much much better.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Carnival Girl - Sonja Herbert

Summary: The only life little Sonja Francesco has ever known is traveling the carnival circuit and living with her five siblings in a tiny caravan home. The family never stays anywhere long enough for Sonja to make friends or develop roots. The only one in her family, Sonja always believed in God and wants to belong to a church. 

At fourteen, Sonja meets the Mormon missionaries and develops a strong testimony of the truth of the Gospel. But can she live the commandments while traveling with the carnival and running one of the attractions every Sunday? Will it be possible for her to leave her family’s life behind and live the life she has always dreamed of? (from goodreads.com - book given free for an honest review)

My Review:  Reading is always an escape for me, and I must admit that some smallish part of me gets really excited when I'm sick, because it means a reading day.  Hooray for sick days!  Carnival Girl was exactly when I needed on an evening that I was trying to stave off a ghastly migraine along with a beastly cold.  Herbert has crafted her story in  a series of flashbacks to her adolescent life in Germany, as her elderly mother visits her in the United States.  It was well-written, moved quickly, and painted a lovely story of her conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ.  

One thing that irked me, however, is that Herbert felt the need to point out what a good author she is by listing each award each chapter in her book had won.  It's something that's small, but it got on my nerves.  She's a good enough author and talented enough that I didn't need that.

Rating:  Three and a half stars.


For the Sensitive Reader:  This is a squeaky clean read!  There is one incident where Sonja leans why not to leave the safety of her carnival with a strange man, but nothing disturbing happens.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

Good Night, Little Sea Otter - Janet Halfmann


illustrated by Wish Williams
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Summary:  Little ones will soon settle down for bedtime just like Little Sea Otter as he snuggles with mama in a cozy bed of sea kelp and calls goodnight to all his ocean friends - sea lions, sea snails, seagulls, seals, and sea urchins.  They all reply.  The gently rocking sea and Mama's loving arms soon send Little Sea Otter to dreamland.  (Summary from starbrightbooks.com - Image from kid-lit-reviews.com - This book was free in exchange for an honest review)

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My Review:  Good Night, Little Sea Otter has become a nightly favorite for my two-and-a-half year old daughter, Cora.   Honestly, I don't blame her; it's pretty cute.  Lovable Little Sea Otter simply must say good night to all the sea creatures in ocean before drifting off to sleep, wrapped up snugly in the anchoring sea kelp.  The adult in me loved the subtle alliteration and, while I could have done with a few less words (we're in the again! again! phase), the kid in me loved looking at pictures like these: 


My favorite aspect of this sweet story is that it inspired my children to all kinds imaginative play.  After we finished reading, Cora cradled her baby doll and rocked her gently, whispering "rock-a-bye, rock-a-bye."   Even my older daughters got in on the act; while I read, they sat quietly nearby pretending not to listen, but soon after wrapped themselves and their little sis up in "sea kelp," (aka a blanket) just like Little Sea Otter.   Frankly, it was rather adorable -- their antics and this book.  I imagine that your little one would love it as well.

Good Night, Little Sea Otter is available in six different languages and in hardback or paperback.  If you'd like to purchase it, or simply take a closer look, click here.  

My Rating: 4.25 Stars

Sum it up:  Simply adorable bed time reading.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein

Summary:  Oct. 11, 1943
A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France.  
It's pilot and passenger are best friends. 
One of the girls has a shot as survival.  The other has lost the game before it's barely begun.

When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance.  As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare.  Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

They'll get the truth out of her.  But it won't be what they expect.  As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane.  On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure, and her desperate hope to make it home.  But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from a merciless and ruthless enemy?

Harrowing and beautifully written, Code Name Verity is the story of an unforgettable friendship forged in the face of the ultimate evil.  (Summary from book - Image from barnesandnoble.com)

My Review:  A book blogging friend of mine recommended Code Name Verity as one of her favorite books this year -- fairly fairly high praise coming from her -- and I reserved a copy from our local library immediately.  While we haven't always been on the same page about books, I was willing to risk it and I'm glad I did.  Or at least I was glad...eventually.

The first third of the book was hard to read.  Besides the difficult subject matter (torture, the mechanics of aviation, etc.), I kept getting yanked out of the story by the various cute little reasons that run around my house and I had trouble connecting with Verity.   I wanted to be in  the book with her and I just wasn't.  Not entirely.  Still, I am nothing if not observant and I had a pretty good sense that the author had a gigantic Ace up her sleeve.  As soon as she played it I was completely hooked.  Everything I thought I knew and understood got flipped on its head; I locked myself in the bedroom the second my husband got home from work and didn't emerge till I had devoured the rest of the book.  Om nom nom.

Code Name Verity weaves an intricate tale of espionage and a fiercely loyal friendship tested during the most horrific circumstances.  If I could pick one word to describe it, it would be powerful.  Reading this book wasn't all sunshine and roses, so don't pick it up expecting happily-ever-after.  Code Name Verity knocked the wind out of me and tore out my heart.  And you know what?  I was okay with it.

My Rating: 4.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Some references to torture and violence, but not as much as you would expect in a book that centers around war.  A fair amount of profanity, especially for a YA novel.  However, I'd have probably mocked a book where people said "freak," "darn it," and "jerk" when they were being tortured.  Read at your own risk.

Sum it up:  A haunting tale of loyalty, love, and lies, told in a frightening landscape.

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