Friday, March 29, 2013

Spring Break

Happy Spring Break!



Anyone "vacationing" anywhere (or anywhen) in particular?  I'm visiting D.C. - circa 1860s!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton

Summary: According to Ponyboy, there are two kinds of people in the world: greasers and socs. A soc (short for "social") has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. Ponyboy is a greaser, and he's always been proud of it, even willing to rumble against a gang of socs for the sake of his fellow greasers--until one terrible night when his friend Johnny kills a soc. The murder gets under Ponyboy's skin, causing his world to crumble and teaching him that pain feels the same whether a soc or a greaser.
(Cover image from Wikipedia, summary from author's website, www.sehinton.com)


My Review: Ponyboy, age fourteen, has lost both his parents and is now growing up in the care of his older brothers, Darry and Soda. This poor makeshift family lives on the rough side of town and is part of the greaser gang, a group of troubled boys living under similar conditions. This gang membership is not a choice but an expectation. The greasers continually feud with the socs, a gang of high society rich kids. Ponyboy is a smart kid and has a hard time coming to terms with the disparity between the expectations set upon him by society and the desires he has for his own future. Things come to a head when one of his fellow gang members, Johnny, kills a soc while saving Ponyboy’s life. Ponyboy and Johnny flee town searching for a way out of the life they are leading and in the process pondering the meaning to life overall.

This book was written in the 1960’s and yet many of the themes such as coming-to-age, belonging, and defining one’s own identity are relevant today. Because there remains a divide in social-economic classes and rivalries play a large role in growing up, this book could still resonate with today’s youth. The story is interesting and proceeds at a quick pace. Ponyboy’s character was not entirely believable but still likable and easy to empathize with, an important characteristic for the protagonist in young adult literature. Though some situations feel a bit over-dramatized and a few characters remain underdeveloped, the book has a refreshing sense of honesty and the author’s message is clear. Additionally, the fact that this was written by a sixteen-year-old girl may provide inspiration to young aspiring writers.

My Rating: 4 Stars

To Sum it up: A coming-of-age story that will resonate on some level with most young adults.

Sensitive readers: This book was controversial when it was written and it remains controversial today. I would recommend this one to ages 12 and up, but you may want to be aware that there is some offensive language, violence, and alcohol use.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling

 I'm a little worried I may lose friends over this.  (Mindy, don't hate me!)

You know those books that you should have read?  That everyone read?  That you wanted to read, but for whatever reason, it just didn't happen?  The Harry Potter series was that for me.  It came out while I was just finishing high school, was going strong while I was in the throes of college English classes, and the series finished when I was pregnant with my first, in my second year of teaching, and was finishing my masters degree--yes, I was a bit psychotic to take all that on.  And then baby number 2 came along.  And then baby number 3.  While pregnant with number 3 I decided I really needed to read the Harry Potter series.  It was, after all, the entire reason my youngest sibling, despite my mother's amazing strivings to create readers of all four of her children, became a reader.  He read the books like a true fanboy.  I have always felt that any childrens book that can create readers of the most struggling reading students is something of value.

And here's where I fear I'll lose friends.  It was ok.  I liked certain books better than others.  My favorite books were #1, #3 (by far my favorite) and #7.  Books 4-6 made me want to throw the books against the walls at times--where was her editor?!  Seriously, cut out some of the blatherings and reminders of previous book events and get to the point!  Overall, I did get sucked into the world of Harry Potter.  I enjoyed the magic, the culture, the creativity of the other-worldly aspect.  And I grew to love the characters.  I believe Hermoine is one of the BEST female characters for any girl to look up to: smart, solid morals, determined, and loyal. 

I'm afraid some of the controversy that others felt while reading was lost on me because I read it so long after the fact.  I already knew about certain deaths because it had been so widely talked about.  I already knew which characters were innately good or bad, therefore not allowing the shock and surprise that most experienced from reading as the books came out. 

Am I glad I read the books?  Yes.  Am I a die-hard Harry Potter fan?  Not really.  Would I recommend the books to others?  Yes.  But, no, I won't try those crazy jelly beans that taste like horrible things.  I think some things you just have to jump on the bandwagon as they're going.  I'm afraid I missed out on a wild ride by reading the books so late. 

Rating: It ranges from 3-5 stars for me depending on the book.

Sum it up:  A fun ride, a fantastic story, and overall has great messages.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Read-Aloud Handbook - Jim Trelease

Summary:  Every child can become an avid reader, and in The Read-Aloud Handbook Jim Trelease shows how to make it happen.  In his beloved, classic guide, Trelease shares his inspiring message, backed by delightful anecdotes as well as the latest research, and
  • Explains how reading aloud awakens children's imaginations and improves their language skills
  • Shows how to begin reading aloud and which books to choose
  • Discusses the latest research on reading to infants and using chapter books with preschoolers
  • Suggests ways to create reader-friendly home, classroom, and library environments
  • Gives tips on luring children away from the television
  • Shows how to integrate silent reading with read-aloud sessions
  • Includes a brand-new chapter sharing valuable lessons from the phenomena of Oprah's Book Club, the Harry Pottery books, and the Internet
  • Offers an up-to-date Treasury of more than 1,500 children's books that are great for reading aloud--from picture books to novels
This new edition of Trelease's Handbook invites a new generation of parents, teachers, grandparents, and siblings to discover the rewards--and the importance--of reading aloud to children.  (Image from mamagab.blogspot.com and summary from back of the book.)

My Review: The first time I read The Read-Aloud Handbook I was in my education program in college.  It was one of the fastest assigned reads I had.  Knowing that I was going into the profession of teaching, specifically English, it is no surprise that this book spoke to my heart.  What made it even better was the research to back up everything I'd known, believed, experienced, and loved about reading and being read to.  If you had a parent who read to you, you know what I'm talking about.  At the end of the book he cites all his research so if you're curious and want to know where he found all his facts, it's listed there for you.

Some of my favorite fun facts of the book include what to share with At-Risk Families, Success Stories of those whose lives were changed because of the importance of reading, and the statistics of how the number of reading materials in the home correlate to student success.

Besides the validating research behind reading aloud to your children (or students), the second half of the book is a treasury of great read-aloud books.  They're catagorized by book type (wordless books, predictable books, reference books, picture books, short novels, full-length novels, poetry, anthologies, fairy and folk tales, and author-illustrator index).  Once you get into the longer length books, it lists the number of pages, the recommended age group, and a brief, one paragraph summary of the book.

I would recommend this book to ANYONE.  Every parent should (yes, I used that guilt-ridden word) read this.  Every teacher, regardless of subject area should read this.  I don't think there should be a clause allowing people to avoid reading this book.  It really makes that much sense, is that easy of a read, and reinforces such value that I cannot  comprehend the good that would be done if more people understood this information.  (Ok, descending from my platform now.)

For the sensitive reader:  Nothing offensive here.  100% Clean.

Rating: 5 Stars

Sum it up:  A fantastic resource, whether you're a parent or teacher--a must read!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What's in my Stack

Life has a way of creeping up on you, doesn't it?  In my case, it never creeps up ... it hides in the closet until I feel secure and then unleashes millions of those ball-pit balls, immediately burying me up to my neck!

I wouldn't have it any other way.

While I'm digging myself out, enjoy (a select few of) the beauties waiting for me on my nightstand.

 After a steady diet of heavy, a friend recommended this as a go-to, guaranteed to make me laugh.  Just what I need!

 I absolutely adore Flavia de Luce!

Medical dramas intrigue me.  I'm excited about this one. 

 I'm a little embarrassed I've never read this one.  It's time.

Anyone else get into an obsessive streak?  My husband and I got into that BBC series Merlin, and I've been on an Arthurian legend kick ever since!

All images taken from goodreads.com

Monday, March 18, 2013

Appearances and Other Stories - Margo Krasne

Summary:  In this debut collection, Krasne wields insightful irony and cathartic black humor to illuminate her themes of loss, yearning and survival, bringing to it a biting female perspective.

An adept stylist with an ear for dialogue and an eye for personal foibles, Krasne cleverly captures the distinct voices of her characters as they strive to negotiate the subtle and not-so-subtle minefields of family obligation and personal conflict.  She has a knack for getting inside her characters' heads as they strive to keep up appearances.  Readers will most surely recognize themselves, their friends and family members in all of these beautifully rendered stories.  (Summary from back of the book, image from http://www.virtualauthorbooktours.com, and book given free for review.)

My Review:  When I first started reading this book it gave me a feel of what my college readings were like--vague, a bit confusing at times, but challenging, which in turn is exciting.  Sadly, as the book went on, that kind of faded away.  The first story, the longest of the four, started strong.  The ending lacked clarity, as the point of view started shifting.  It flipped between first and third person, creating in the reader confusion as to what you really should know and who's really telling the story.  It confused the message.  The daughter suffers in ways that seem clear and then more description would be given and the true conflict would seem muddled again.  I really did want to like this story.  It just fell short of the mark.

My favorite story in the book was the second, called At the Algonquin.  Despite the loss of her first true-love relationship to death--death being a common thread throughout all four stories--Janet had managed to move on.  She's still grappling with the pieces of her past that haunt her, but she's not the completely tortured and at a loss for understanding that the other characters in the rest of the stories are.  She also finds some resolution for which the other protagonists only manage to reach.

The common themes throughout the book are death, sex, conflict in relationships, obligation, and loss.  The summary on the back attributes irony and cathartic black humor to the stories--this I didn't particularly appreciate or agree with. To say this was a quick and easy read would be a lie.  I pushed myself to finish.  It's not a happy read.  All that to say, I did finish, and I'm glad for the resolution of knowing how Krasne resolved the stories.  I would not recommend this to everyone, especially those that value sex as a sacred and very personal experience--it is dealt with very casually in its importance and how it affects people, most especially women; and this probably affected me the most negatively.

For the sensitive reader:  The book is pretty tame until about 1/3 through.  Then the four-letter words take off and continue through the end of the book. A scene where sex is implied--not described much beyond that it happened, although sex is a large topic--and anything related to that is implied--for the last half of the book.

Rating:  3 stars

Sum it up:  A mash of four unrelated stories with a single thread of conflict.  Overall, meh.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Confessions of a Cereal Mother - Rachel McClellan


Summary:  In this humorous memoir you’ll discover several mind-saving rules, which include:
-      Don’t throw your pregnancy test away before the full three minutes is up.
-       Unless there is a rush on the grocery store pending a zombie-virus outbreak, never take your kids shopping.
-       If your toddler is going to chew on a Band-Aid, hope it’s one found inside the community swimming pools chlorinated pool and not one found in their locker room.
-       Never throw up in a cookie sheet.
-       Things can always get worse. You could discover your child playing with a used tampon applicator. It’s not a whistle, sweetie.
-       And most importantly, the moment one of your children is seriously ill, forget about everything else. You have the greatest honor in the world – being a Mom.  (Image taken from rachelmcclellan.com, summary from goodreads.com.  I received a copy in exchange for my honest opinion.)

My Review:  I tore through this book in a couple of hours.  McClellan has a very easy, fun style to read, and it was a great book to escape into.  It really is nice to occasionally be reminded that sometimes, despite my best intentions and preparations, chaos will find a way, that I’m not the only mom who has had to rely on dry cereal in a baggie as a “meal”, and that the allure of detailing Christmas lists in September is a universal trait among all kids-not just mine. More importantly, it was a subtle and welcome reminder that I chose this brand of chaos.  Is there anything better for recharging those mommy-batteries than remembering that?

Funny, relatable, and often poignant, this book would be a perfect one to throw into a summer beach bag, or as a palate-cleanser following a particularly heavy read. 

My Rating:  3.5 stars.

For the Sensitive Reader: McClellan frankly discusses the regimented nature of trying to start a family, of stomach flu viruses (don’t read that section on an uneasy stomach – I’m recovering from a terrible tummy bug and her descriptions nearly did me in!), and of the downsides to diaper changing.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Voracious Readers

We have a new button over on the sidebar - have you seen it?



In March we were informed that Reading For Sanity had been selected as one of the Top Sites for Voracious Readers from Masters in English, a site dedicated to helping graduate students choose the Master's program best suited to them.  This is a great list -- look for us under Book Blogs!

Monday, March 11, 2013

February Challenge - Pygmalion - George Bernard Shaw


Summary:  Written in 1912, Pygmalion quickly became a legend in its own time. The characters, situations, and dialogue George Bernard Shaw supplies are rich, ebullient, and unmatched in wit, as the infamous Henry Higgins prepares to "make a duchess of this draggletailed guttersnipe."

Thus begins this classic tale as Shaw pokes fun at smugness and priggish conventionality. Who can forget either professor Henry Higgins with his passionate interest in the science of phonetics and the improvement of British speech, or of course, poor Eliza Doolittle, who is one of the great heroines of the 20th century?

Get ready to enjoy the greatest Shaw romp of them all as Higgins prepares to transform a common flower girl into a creature "the king of England would accept as royalty."  (goodreads.com)

My Review:  I had the hardest time not reading the dialogue in Rex Harrison’s voice, or in Audrey Hepburn’s, or in any of the other incredible cast’s from My Fair Lady.  It was so neat to read the original version of the play (much shorter than the movie) and to see how much of the dialogue they preserved, as well as notice the changes that they made.

I grew up watching My Fair Lady (I wore out the cassette), and there are some marked differences in the play.  The ending is much more abrupt, and I don’t feel like I got to know Shaw’s Doolittle as well as I know Ms. Hepburn’s version.   But that certainly doesn’t tarnish the magic within the original.

My Rating: Four stars

Sum it Up: The transformation of a crotchety professor and a guttersnipe, in its original form.

For the Sensitive Reader:  Squeaky, squeaky clean!  Unless “blast” offends.  But they only use that word a couple times!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Autobiography of Us - Aria Beth Sloss


Summary: Coming of age in the patrician neighborhood of Pasadena, California during the 1960s, Rebecca Madden and her beautiful, reckless friend Alex dream of lives beyond their mothers' narrow expectations. Their struggle to define themselves against the backdrop of an American cultural revolution unites them early on, until one sweltering evening the summer before their last year of college, when a single act of betrayal changes everything.  Decades later, Rebecca’s haunting meditation on the past reveals the truth about that night, the years that followed, and the friendship that shaped her.

Autobiography of Us is an achingly beautiful portrait of a decades-long bond. A rare and powerful glimpse into the lives of two women caught between repression and revolution, it casts new light on the sacrifices, struggles, victories and defeats of a generation. (Summary and image from goodreads.com, book given free for an honest review)

My Review:  I’m still not sure what I just read.  It was too disjointed, and for most of the important parts of the book, I felt like the author either expected too much of her readers’ abilities to read her mind, depended on scenes that had been cut out (and which she had forgotten that she’d cut), or that she had an overabundance of faith in her storytelling.  That told, the sentences themselves were beautifully constructed.

The two main characters seemed utterly void of redeeming qualities. Sloss tries to paint the picture of an epic friendship; a friendship to last through the ages, despite betrayal, lies, life, the loss of anything in common, and instead left me feeling depressed, emptier, and extraordinarily grateful for the dear friends I have in my life – none of whom would behave as these two women did toward one another.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it takes more than a masterful stroke of the brush to create a masterpiece.  Perhaps in a few novels this is an author I’d revisit.

Sum it Up: The story of two women tied together through their lives.

My rating:  2.25 stars.

For the Sensitive Reader: Some language, a brief description of an assault, and one of the characters chooses to get an abortion.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Young Adult Love


Have you seen this?  If not, enjoy the variety that young adult literature has to offer when vicariously traveling the United States of America.  Pretty cool and I now have new books to add to my stack!The United States of YA map created by Epic Reads.

Monday, March 4, 2013

I Should Have Seen it Coming When the Rabbit Died - Teresa Bloomingdale


Summary:  Hilarious trials and heartwarming joys of big family life by a mother who can still laugh about toddlers sharing ice cream with the dog, first graders who curl their hair with bubble gum, sixteen year olds with goggles for eyes and headphones for ears, the summer the chauffeur (guess who) went on strike and the teenagers had to take walking lessons, and all those priceless moments no mom will ever forget- no matter how hard she tries!

My Review:  You know how there are some books that are as beloved and as treasured as an old friend?  Books that somehow have mood-changing magic contained within the first few pages? 

This is my book buddy.

My mom made me read it during my teenage years during a fit of teenage-induced moodiness, and although I didn’t have kids yet (and wouldn’t for years), I was in tears within the first few pages, and this book has had a treasured place on my bookshelf ever since (yes, I stole it from my mom when the time came for me to leave the nest).

Teresa Bloomingdale is the Catholic mother of ten who writes about the adventures, and sometimes misadventures, of raising her brood.  At her heyday, she was hailed as the local Erma Bombeck, although she prefers to think of Mrs. Bombeck as the national Teresa Bloomingdale.  She writes about breaking in doctors, the dangers of naming children with similar-sounding names (a passage I clearly forgot when naming my own brood!), and the joys as well as the tragedies that strike families.   Although the book is certainly meant to brighten your day, there are moments of wisdom and faith that are so inspiring, I find myself reaching for this book on days where I feel like a maternal dunce, and can recite certain chapters from memory!

My Rating:  Five stars, easily.

Sum it Up:  A collection of short essays detailing the ups, the downs, and the sideways turns motherhood offers.

For the Sensitive Reader:  Squeaky, squeaky clean!  The raciest part is a love letter to Captain Kangaroo.  And really, which mom wouldn’t write a love letter to their child’s favorite TV show?

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