Friday, January 31, 2014

A Peek into my Inbox - or How to Automatically Disqualify Your Novel for Review

I admit, I was a little naive when I agreed to be the blog administrator during Mindy's sabbatical.  Mindy did such an amazing job administrating the blog and prepping me, but there were some things that I don't think I'd have believed had she even tried to explain them to me.

Case in point:


Elizabeth,


Heyyyy! So glad u are reading my book 4 a review!!!! I hope u totes like it  Let me know if ya have any awsome questions. Catch ya on the flip side!



Thanks,



Unknown author*


I shudder to recall how many identical emails like this I receive, almost daily.  Don't get me wrong, we love it when authors and publishers contact us, either via email or Facebook.  We love hearing that people would like us to review their books, and we love connecting with people who have the same love of words that we do.  But.

But.

We love books.  We love the written word.  We love well-written books!  It just so happens that more than one of the amazing reviewers on this blog happen to be in education (and it makes our editing, red-pen wielding fingers itch for a crack at those emails!!), and an email is often the first contact or the first mention of an author we ever receive.

We would love to consider your book for review, really!  However - in an email like my lovely little satirical example above, what kind of message does that send about the caliber of your book?

There are times that I worry that I may have missed the next Old Man and the Sea or Grapes of Wrath, simply because the emailed request was so unprofessional I automatically hit delete.  And yet, I have no guilt.  As a self-professed grammar** nerd, I appreciate a well-written correspondence.  It shows me that, as an author, my correspondent is detail-oriented enough to show me I can expect the same caliber of writing in the book being presented.

Authors, we couldn't do this job without you!  You are amazing, and the stories you have to share are ones we may just be waiting for.  But, please, best foot forward!


*Unknown author, in this case, is actually a good friend of mine who thought he was joking about the worst case scenario … little did he know his hyperbole was spot on!  Reused with his permission. 

** Yes, I have an opinion on the Oxford comma.  I also am a staunch believer in the two spaces after a period -- it just looks nicer, and I will defend my grammatical decisions to the death!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Eterna - D.P. Davidson

Summary:  What would you do if you had all the time in the world? In the beginning it might seem like a dream come true, but Jetta Hart knows better. What good is eternal life when everyone around you dies.

As the plague destroyed her village, she caught the eye of a rogue monk who offered her protection from the death around her, but when she refused him, his protection became a curse.

More than six centuries later she has closed herself off from the world to save herself from the loss of loved ones who inevitably go where she cannot follow. She spends her days in a bookstore coffee shop biding her time, waiting for an end that will never come when she meets a kindred spirit. 

In the aftermath of a terrible accident she finally shares her secret in the hopes of easing her loneliness, but there is more to her curse than she realizes. (Image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Tucker has fallen in love, and it doesn't even matter that he's never worked up the gumption to speak to her.  When the stunning Jetta leaves a very special book behind, he chases after her, only to see her hit by a car and possibly killed ... until a doctor whispers to her and brings her back to life.  Intrigued, he follows her to the hospital and determines to get to the bottom of things.

Jetta has lived longer than she ever imagined, or desired, and in that time she has seen more than  her fair share of sorrow.  When she realizes that Tucker is truly interested in why, she decides to take one more chance and let him in.

I picked this book up in the midst of post-flu recovery, and it was the perfect book for the circumstance.  Suspenseful enough to keep my silly little sick brain from falling asleep, but not so taxing that I dreaded reading it.  As a matter of fact, I was quite happy I was sick so that I could indulge and finish this book in one or two sittings!  

Davidson has crafted another wonderful world to delve into.  Her characters ring true, and although there is magic and supernatural phenomena, it's delicately woven into our own world so as to be completely believable.  An added bonus - there is a cameo at the end of the book that made me want to revisit the Push series.  

Sometimes, books are meant to be an escape, and Eterna is a great little escape in the midst of all of the busy!

My Rating:  Four Stars

For the sensitive reader:  There is an evil monk obsessed with Jetta and he's not the best example of a man of the cloth.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Best Books of the 21st Century Infographic

We'd like to welcome Erika Phyall from the USC Rossier School of Education today.  She has the most wonderful infographic -- but I'll let her do the talking!   

Jorge Luis Borger once said, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” On the contrary, some individuals feel intimidated by finding a great book to read and are uncertain about what book would pique their interest. 

A recently released infographic by USC Rossier is a great tool that helps guide the novice and experienced reader. The Best Books of the 21st Century infographic offers various genres of books to select from. This flowchart does more than break down fiction and non-fiction. It also offers subcategories like magical realism and new culture. Are you are ready to lean in and learn something new about yourself? Take a moment and select one of the books from this list. Enjoy the top 100 picks of the 21st Century and let us know which ones are your favorites.

Best Books
Brought to you by USC Rossier’s masters of art in teaching

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Happy Birthday, Heather!!

Join me in wishing our own Heather a very happy birthday!


We hope you have a magical day filled with amazing books (and the peace to read them!)!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Guest Post - Your LDS Blog



Guess what? Wednesday, we were over at yourldsblog.com to share our favorite LDS authors of 2013.  Head on over here and check it out!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Not A Box - Antoinette Portis

Summary: A box is just a box . . . unless it's not a box. From mountain to rocket ship, a small rabbit shows that a box will go as far as the imagination allows.

Inspired by a memory of sitting in a box on her driveway with her sister, Antoinette Portis captures the thrill when pretend feels so real that it actually becomes real—when the imagination takes over and inside a cardboard box, a child is transported to a world where anything is possible.  (Summary and image from Amazon.com.)

My Review:  I adore this book.  I tend to like books that have strong voice, and this one does not disappoint.  Simple yet elaborately creative is a perfect way to depict how a child's mind works when they see a cardboard box; this book mimics that in both illustrations and prose.  My children's first reaction while I was reading was confusion--it is just a box, you know.  But when we turned the page and you could see what the bunny saw while playing with the box, their eyes brightened with understanding and joy.  They know this feeling.  They know what it's like to make-believe something into being.  They connected to the book and the box.  I hope all children know this feeling and know how to create a world that is hidden from the naked eye.  This is worth the read as it connects to people of all ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds.  Imagination does that.

Rating: 5 Stars

Sum it up:  How a child's imagination works when you give him/her a box.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Series Spotlight - The Kane Chronicles

Occasionally, we stumble upon a book series that we just love, but there are either too many books to review them one by one, or (in my case) we are currently reading a later book in the series and don't want to review them out of order.  However, these series are wonderful and deserve to be shared - hence the Series Spotlights!

I am a huge fan of anything by Rick Riordan.  Both the Percy Jackson series and the Heroes of Olympus series have delighted me and are currently delighting my boy.  However, how familiar are you with his series, the Kane Chronicles?




Instead of revisiting the Greek and Roman mythologies we've come to expect, this time Riordan dives into the Egyptian myths, bringing to life the gods and goddesses whose names we know, but with whom we're not as familiar.

I loved this series.  I'm fascinated by Egypt, and having always wanted to know more of their mythology, this was a fun series.  It certainly made me more curious about ancient Egypt, their beliefs and customs, and whether magic was as prominent as it is in this series.

This series is a little more mature than the Percy Jackson series - more in line with the Heroes of Olympus.  However, if you have a middle schooler who is itching for some good books, this is a great series to throw their way!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Giraffes Can't Dance - Giles Andrede

Summary:  The bestselling Giraffes Can't Dance is now a board book!

Giraffes Can't Dance is a touching tale of Gerald the giraffe, who wants nothing more than to dance. With crooked knees and thin legs, it's harder for a giraffe than you would think. Gerald is finally able to dance to his own tune when he gets some encouraging words from an unlikely friend.

With light-footed rhymes and high-stepping illustrations, this tale is gentle inspiration for every child with dreams of greatness.  (Summary from Amazon.com and image from http://www.perma-bound.com)

My Review:  Sometimes we don't fit in.  Sometimes we are different in all the ways that stand out.  And we need to realize that that's ok.  We have our own way of moving through the world and we don't have to be like everybody else.  That, to me, is the message or this story.  Children need to hear this message at an early age and have it reinforced regularly, because in a society that puts pressure from every angle to be 'air-brushed perfect' we need messages of reassurance, originality, and honesty.  While I have 3 daughters and I feel this message is aptly focused for their well-being, this is a gender neutral book.  It's written in a rhyming fashion with vibrant illustrations.  My girls loved this book and ask to have to read repeatedly. 

Rating: 4 Stars

Sum it up: A cute story about finding your own style.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Allegiant - Veronica Roth

Summary:  The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered--fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal.  So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she's known, Tris is ready.  Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris's new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind.  Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless.  Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves.  And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature--and of herself--while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent(Summary from book jacket cover and image from http://annerileybooks.com/.)

My Review:  (ATTENTION: SPOILERS!  I'm afraid I can't write this review without giving away little bits and pieces, sometimes unknowingly, about the book.  You've been warned.  The further into the review, the more likely I'll spoil something for you.  Or not.  You decide.)

I've noticed this book is getting quite mixed reviews.  I probably don't stand in the majority with my opinion, but I felt this book was the perfect capstone to the Divergent series.  Dystopian lit is not all flowers and romance.  In fact, flowers and romance are rarely reliable in dystopian lit.  Therefore, those who are disappointed with the ending, I'm afraid, are the those that like everything to end happily without any realism or 'get your hands dirty' real life components.  And that is why I liked the book; it feels real, like what real people experience in this journey on earth.  That's not to say I didn't cry--it's embarrassing to be getting a pedicure, tears streaming down your face because you have to keep reading but it's just so dang sad!  (Side note, and probably not important to most of you, but my husband gifted me with a pedicure and I gifted myself this book for Christmas, thus the combination.)

That right there, me crying, is another indicator that this was a great book with a 'just-right' ending.  I don't cry, hardly ever.  Probably only 3 or 4 times a year tops.  This book had me crying, gulping down huge lumps in my throat as my children watched me devour this in 7 days--it should have been faster, but I do have 3 children.  Their confusion, and my husband's, as I teared up almost every page for the last 50, also reveals Roth's ability to create a real-life romance, real-life heartbreak, real-life sorrow.  There is nothing perfect about Tris and Tobias' love, and yet it is perfect because it's real: full of frustration, miscommunication, hurt, sacrifice, passion, kindness, and forgiveness.  For being teenagers, Tris and Tobias sure act more like adults in their maturity and willingness to work at a single relationship.  And that was refreshing.  In a world of the-next-best-thing and the 'grass is greener on the other side', it was reassuring that there are still those out there that realize that sometimes what you have right now is just right, no, even more than that: the best thing.  A quote from the book that epitomizes this in the book for me: "The person you became with her is worth being."

Is this a literary masterpiece?  Probably not.  As far as eloquent writers go, she isn't up there with Dickens, Fitzgerald, Bronte, etc.  But, in terms of story-telling, realistic and complex characters, and depictions of both the beautiful and ugliness of life, Roth is brilliant.  I finished the book satisfied and heart-broken all at once.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

Here are a couple of my favorite lines:
"I suppose a fire that burns that bright is not meant to last."
"You know, there's a word for big, strong men who attack women, and it's coward."
And my favorite:
 "There are so many ways to be brave in this world.  Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else.  Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.
 But sometimes it doesn't.
 Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.
That is the sort of bravery I must have now."

For the sensitive reader:  Violence and a handful for swear words, one scene that hints at two characters sleeping together, but that is debatable. 

Rating: 5 Stars

Sum it up: The when-it-ends, how-it-ends, to a complicated and spell-binding YA-dystopian story.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Honey Thief - Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman

Summary:  This enchanting novel of interwoven legends burns with both gentle intelligence and human warmth

This extraordinary book, derived from the long oral tradition of storytelling in Afghanistan, presents a mesmerizing portrait of a people who triumph with intelligence and humor over the oppressions of political dictators and an unforgiving landscape.
A musician conjures stones to rise in the air and teaches his art to a mute child. Master Poisoner, Ghoroob of Mashad, has so perfected his craft that it is considered an honor to die from his meals. These are stories of magic and wonder in which ordinary people endure astonishing extremes in a world of bloodshed and brotherhood, miracles and catastrophes.

With lyrical wit and profound simplicity, The Honey Thief reveals an Afghanistan of greater richness and humanity than is conveyed in newspaper headlines; an Afghanistan not of failure and despair, but of resilience and fulfillment. (Summary and book cover from goodreads.com.  I was provided a copy of The Honey Thief in exchange for my honest opinion.)

My Review:  For the life of me, I can't tell you what this book was about.  I can't point to one common thread that ties all of these stories together.  I can tell you, however, that this book is stunning.  The beauty of the stories Mazari retells are captivating.  The portrait he paints of the Hazara, of the Afghani landscape, of their food, customs, and traditions is spellbinding.  

As I read, I could easily imagine myself sitting at the feet of a master storyteller, listening to his voice.  Not only is the talent of Mazari obvious in the writing, but the stories he tells are heartwarming, poignant, and timeless.  I love being able to read a book that transports me through time and space, and if a book can ignite a curiosity in me, so much the better.  The Honey Thief definitely accomplished all of that.

One more thing before I close, the last chapter of The Honey Thief is a collection of Afghani recipes which I would absolutely love to attempt.  Even better, the recipes are passed down the way I learned how to cook (Measure just less than the palm of your hand.  You should have enough flour to fill the bowl you eat your porridge in every morning.).  Even better, the instructions were so homey, including things like "While you let it cook, set it aside and go read a book.  Not a book about werewolves or serial killers, but a good book."  Any recipe that instructs me to read is going to get my recommendation!  I had to read some of the instructions to my husband because they were so perfectly homey they had to be shared.

I had my fears heading into this book.  I read The Kite Runner, and while the writing was so absolutely beautiful, the subject matter was so horrific I feel scarred.  I was mistakenly afraid I'd be heading into the same type of book, but that is definitely not the case.  Please, please hunt down this book!
My Rating:  Five stars.

For the Sensitive Reader:  There are a few murders and deaths depicted during the course of the book.

Happy Birthday, Emily!!

Happy birthday to the amazing Emily




We hope you have an incredible day, filled with uninterrupted reading time!

Friday, January 10, 2014

My Rhinoceros - Jon Agee

Summary:  Watch Jon Agee win over a new flock of fans--the toddler set

If you should ever get a rhinoceros for a pet, you're in for a surprise. It won't chase a ball. Or a stick. Or a frisbee. In fact, according to the experts, a rhinoceros does only two things: pop balloons and poke holes in kites.

But don't be discouraged. As you'll discover in Jon Agee's hilarious picture book, rhinoceroses can do more--so much more--than that!  (Image and summary taken from goodreads.com)

My Review:  According to the rhinoceros expert, pet rhinos are only supposed to do two things: pop balloons and poke holes in kites.  Unfortunately, our protagonist's pet doesn't even do that!  He was walking his pet rhino home, dejectedly, when they spy two robbers escaping in a hot air balloon and a big kite.  Can his rhinoceros rise to the occasion?

This book made me giggle.  It also became a swift favorite of my two year old - not only does it have awesome rhinoceros pictures, but what a rhinoceros!  If you're looking for a great book to read with your toddler, this is definitely one to check out!
My Rating:  Four stars

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

How They Croaked - Georgia Bragg

Summary: Over the course of history men and women have lived and died. In fact, getting sick and dying can be a big, ugly mess-especially before the modern medical care that we all enjoy today. How They Croaked relays all the gory details of how nineteen world figures gave up the ghost. Readers will be fascinated well past the final curtain, and feel lucky to live in a world with painkillers, X-rays, soap, and 911. (Summary from Amazon.com and image from www.wbur.org)

My Review:  Have you ever wanted to know how Cleopatra died?  Pocahontas?  Edgar Allan Poe?  Have you ever wondered what really caused the death of these people, not just old age or assassination?  This book shares it all and more in a reader-friendly format.

I've been wanting to read this for some time, but there was always another book that needed to be read first--book club, returning a book to a friend, etc.  I'm so glad I stopped my flow of the above mentioned excuses and read How They Croaked.  It's been such a fun, fast read!  162 pages with pictures, fun facts, play-on-words, puns, and mini-encyclopedia-like 2-page intermissions between stories.  I needed this break from work and kid-bickering.  It takes quite a bit to convince my husband to read a young-adult book, but without even pitching him the book, with all my constant, "You gotta hear this!" he asked me to quit ruining the book so he could read it for himself.  I love winning people over to reading!

On another note, Kevin O'Malley did a fantastic job of creating the minute details in the artwork that added to the overall story.  To give you a taste of some of the artwork, I've included a couple pages for your viewing pleasure.  If you pay close attention, you can foreshadowing what's coming in the next death biography just from the pictures.

As if you couldn't tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  If all nonfiction reading was this enjoyable, we'd all be a lot more knowledgeable about the world.  I wish my history classes were this fun--I might have liked history if it had been.

For the sensitive reader:  There are some bluntly put, and gruesome words regarding the depiction of death (bloated, oozing, gassy, drunk, diarrhea, etc.), but overall it's tastefully done considering the premise.

Rating: 5 Stars

Sum it up:  Told more like a narrative than nonfiction, How They Croaked shares how 19 famous historical figures passed.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends - Shannon Hale

Summary:  At Ever After High, an enchanting boarding school, the children of fairytale legends prepare themselves to fulfill their destinies as the next generation of Snow Whites, Prince Charmings and Evil Queens...whether they want to or not. Each year on Legacy Day, students sign the Storybook of Legends to seal their scripted fates. For generations, the Village of Book End has whispered that refusing to sign means The End-both for a story and for a life.

As the daughter of the Evil Queen, Raven Queen's destiny is to follow in her mother's wicked footsteps, but evil is so not Raven's style. She's starting to wonder, what if she rewrote her own story? The royal Apple White, daughter of the Fairest of Them All, has a happy ever after planned for herself, but it depends upon Raven feeding her a poison apple in their future.

What if Raven doesn't sign the Storybook of Legends? It could mean a happily never after for them both.   (Image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: I'm a sucker for a fairy tale, or a retelling/reimagining of one.  I love seeing these old, classic stories given new life.  Shannon Hale has done such a great job with this iteration - the children of the heroes, heroines, villains, and secondary characters we've been familiar with all our lives are about to take on the burden of their parents, stepping into their roles for the next generation.  But, what if they don't want to follow in their parents' footsteps?  What if, like Raven, they want to write their own destiny?

Hale's blog announcing her involvement in this series got me so excited to read it, I've been anxiously awaiting its arrival.  It didn't disappoint.  The characters are almost as you'd expect, with some delightful surprises sprinkled along the way.  It's clear she's tried to modernize the fairy tales, paralleling their world to ours as much as possible.  Students and teachers rely on their mirrorphones.  The students listen to Taylor Quick and songs like "You Don't Know You're Charming".  They have their own updated spin on classic fairy tale fashions.  Robin Hood's son and his friends have a band called "The Merry Men".  Silly?  Yes.  Isn't that what fairy tales are for?

The story reminds me a lot of the Sisters Grimm stories because of the all-encompassing fairy tale characters you'll read about - but the story lines are vastly different.  It's a quick read, but definitely one I'll keep reading!

Also, this would be a fantastic gift for those of you looking for something for your 9-13 year old readers!

My Rating:  Four stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Squeaky clean.  That's just one of the reasons I love Shannon Hale's books!

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Summary: The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald's third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career.  This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers.  The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted "gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession," it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920's.

The Great Gatsby is a true classic of twentieth-century literature. (Summary from back of the book and image from http://www.chicagotribune.com/)

My Review:  I realize that as an English teacher I am supposed to love this book.  But, I don't.  American literature was not my favorite series class in college and reading this book reminded me of why:  American lit is a downer.  The endings are typically depressing, distressing, disturbing, or just dull.  Honestly, The Great Gatsby, for me, was all of these descriptors. I have a very hard time  reading books where I can't respect the characters, their decisions, and often their lack of logic, or caring of others.  Gatsby didn't fail in fulfilling any of these categories, and therefore, overall, was a flop for me.

And yet, I couldn't rate it entirely poorly, because it did have redeeming qualities.  Things I can appreciate:  the writing--it's beautifully crafted and carefully worded.  Unlike many authors, Fitzgerald is concise and deliberate.  I appreciate that.  He also leaves some deducing up to the reader--another aspect I respect.  I also appreciate period pieces.  It's fascinating to see how a specific group of people lived, moved, and expressed themselves during a certain time period.  I find it intriguing to see how the wealthy justified their actions, something we see all too often today in different forms. The 1920's wasn't an era I've ever spent much time researching and after reading this book I am interested to find out more about Jazz.

Here is my favorite quote that I feel epitomizes the book:
"I couldn't forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified.  It was all very careless and confused.  They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then they retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made...  I shook hands with him; it seemed silly not to, for I felt suddenly as though I were talking to a child."
For the sensitive reader:  Open discussion of extramarital affairs, one scene of abuse--between adulterers--and the last piece I won't give away here as it would ruin the ending, although it's probably not that bothersome if you're an adult as it's a tragedy of life that happens.

Rating:  3.5 stars

Sum it up:  A period piece depicting the wealthy of the 1920's.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Happy New Year, Readers, from all of us at Reading for Sanity!


What are your resolutions for the year?  I plan on continuing with my Classic/Nonfiction once a month goal.  I found I really enjoyed broadening my horizons!

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