Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mile 21 - Sarah Dunster

Summary: The singles ward is the last place Abish wants to be. But after the unexpected death of her husband (and after being kicked out of her mom’s place), she has to move into single-student housing to finish up her schooling. Maybe training for a marathon and winning the heart of the handsome executive secretary are exactly what Abish needs to get a personal best.  (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I was provided a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  Abish Miller is a mess.  She's barely survived the last year, hardly making it to work, failing in her commitments to her family, her school, and everything else around her.  The only times she feels, well, anything is when she's playing Halo with not-so-great-guy, but good buddy, Pen or when she's running.  However, everything changes when her mom kicks her out, her in-laws sever contact in an effort to move on, and her boss strong arms her into finding a new place to live.  

I really enjoyed this book!  I can completely understand Abish's frustrations and fears of moving forward with her life.  She's not a very tactful gal to start with, but then to deal with the heartache (which is so much greater than just losing her husband) and the isolation that came with it on top of it, I totally understood her behavior.  Does she make good decisions?  Ha! No.  Not really one bit.  That's part of the fun.  Does she grow?  Slowly, painfully, and rewardingly, yes.

There were times I thought that the descriptions of the Singles' Ward activities and drama were a little too -- well, I couldn't decide.  They were either too painfully accurate or too stereotypical.  (It's been a while since I've been in that situation.)  Either way, I completely and fully understood where Abish was coming from.  The phrase "humiliations galore" ran through my head more than once.  However, I laughed out loud definitely more often than I cringed for her.

My Rating:  3.75 stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  There's one fairly aggressive and unwelcome kiss.  But Abish packs a wicked right hook.  There's also characters struggling with personal issues (past rape, eating disorders, etc.).  

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Monuments Men - Robert Edsel

Summary:  At the same time Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. The Führer had begun cataloguing the art he planned to collect as well as the art he would destroy: "degenerate" works he despised.

In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Monuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture. 

Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world's great art from the Nazis. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)


My Review:  There is so much more to the history of World War II than I ever realized.  I feel I have a pretty good understanding of the war itself.  I've spent years studying the Jewish Holocaust.  But Hitler's other aim--to rebuild Linz as the Heart of Culture, furnishing it and bedecking it with every priceless piece of art he could find--is a newer field for me.  It's a shame that it's taken this long for the story to be told.

I spent about a year and a half living in Austria and Southern Germany, and my first area was Linz.  I knew it had been razed during the War (Allied revenge), but the artistic component  was new to me.  This connection to the locations in the book riveted me.  It made the urgency and the drive so much more real.  The obstacles that the Monuments Men had to overcome, the fear and very real danger that missing art had been destroyed or otherwise lost forever to the world, and the games of intrigue these poor men had to play fascinated me.  I really had a hard time putting the book down!

This isn't your typical action-on-every-page war book.  The MFAA were constricted by an astounding amount of red tape - not only from their end, but from the provisional governments they were working with.  Don't forget some of the worst offenders passing themselves off as unwilling or conscripted workers in this facet of the Nazi Machine.  My poor husband kept getting elbowed and facts thrown his way - I think he honestly appreciates that I finished the book!  

It should come as no surprise that while there is no longer an MFAA branch, the work of these men is ongoing.  Art stolen or looted by the Nazis is still displaced - either in a basement, hidden away, or hanging on the wall of a museum who doesn't care to trace the ownership.  I'd love to hear more in the future how the work is going.

My Review:  Four and a half stars


For the Sensitive Reader:  The only thing that greatly offended me was the recounting of masterpieces lost to the flames because they didn't please Hitler.  However, if you can swallow the artistic loss, pick this book up.  Soon.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: Dad is Fat - Jim Gaffigan

Please join me in welcoming guest reviewer Shannon Blockburger.  Welcome!

Summary:  In Dad is Fat, stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan, who’s best known for his legendary riffs on Hot Pockets, bacon, manatees, and McDonald's, expresses all the joys and horrors of life with five young children—everything from cousins ("celebrities for little kids") to toddlers’ communication skills (“they always sound like they have traveled by horseback for hours to deliver important news”), to the eating habits of four year olds (“there is no difference between a four year old eating a taco and throwing a taco on the floor”). Reminiscent of Bill Cosby’s Fatherhood, Dad is Fat is sharply observed, explosively funny, and a cry for help from a man who has realized he and his wife are outnumbered in their own home.  (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

My Review: Jim Gaffigan is a funny man. I love his stand up comedy. The man has a gift for talking about food.  And this book had some funny moments, but certainly not enough for 270 pages worth of material. I was of hoping for more "laugh-out- loud" moments, and they just weren't there. It had more of a "small smirk to myself" kind of feel.

I obviously related to the material, being a parent and all.  Except I only have two kids, as opposed to five, and I live in Suburbia instead of Manhattan.  (Time out.  Who raises five kids in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City?  That sounds like a nightmare!  I don’t think we’d ever go anywhere, because you have to keep track of five kids in New York City.  And yet I’d have to go somewhere, because just thinking about that many people in a two-bedroom apartment makes me hyperventilate.  End rant.)  But even though I completely understood many of his parenting woes, at times I had to do a quick flip to the end and ask, "HOW many more pages?" Not the page-turner I had hoped for.  For what it’s worth, I think the second half was better than the first half.  So you should start in the middle, and then it will probably be just the right length.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter about being pale.  My enjoyment had very little to do with being a parent, and everything to do with being pale myself.  I, too, have spent hours applying sunscreen, and dread going outside in the summer.  Right on, Mr. Gaffigan.  Right on.

Also, I'm not sure I could ever take my kids to Disney World after reading his assessment of the place. Long lines, exhausted children, excessive heat, and highly expensive.  No, thank you.  Except I just watched a Disney commercial, and now I really want to go there.  Perhaps I should give that chapter a quick re-read anytime I feel the Disney itch.  It’d save me a boatload of money.

Overall, I liked the book, I just didn’t love it.  Which was disappointing, as I had higher expectations.

My Rating: 3 stars

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Old Man River - Paul Schneider

Summary:  In Old Man River, Paul Schneider tells the story of the river at the center of America’s rich history—the Mississippi. Some fifteen thousand years ago, the majestic river provided Paleolithic humans with the routes by which early man began to explore the continent’s interior. Since then, the river has been the site of historical significance, from the arrival of Spanish and French explorers in the 16th century to the Civil War. George Washington fought his first battle near the river, and Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman both came to President Lincoln’s attention after their spectacular victories on the lower Mississippi.

In the 19th century, home-grown folk heroes such as Daniel Boone and the half-alligator, half-horse, Mike Fink, were creatures of the river. Mark Twain and Herman Melville led their characters down its stream in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Confidence-Man. A conduit of real-life American prowess, the Mississippi is also a river of stories and myth.


Schneider traces the history of the Mississippi from its origins in the deep geologic past to the present. Though the busiest waterway on the planet today, the Mississippi remains a paradox—a devastated product of American ingenuity, and a magnificent natural wonder. (Image and Summary from goodreads.com.  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  Paul Schneider has taken one of America's greatest iconic features and unravelled the mysteries surrounding it.  Interspersed with his own experiences on the river, the result is a friendly, comprehensive history of the mighty Mississippi.

Schneider doesn't leave anything out.  Starting with prehistory and the Mississippi's role in not only animal development but in its role of shaping and assisting human society develop, I was completely fascinated.  I loved how his own anecdotes added to the story and gave me some clue about where in history we would be headed. Further, that much history can be heavy.  Let's be honest, the entire history of a river, especially one that dissects a nation, has an extreme potential to be quite plodding.  I don't know if another author could as perfectly balanced the subject manner with an accessible, light writing style that feels nice and easy to read, but accurately and succinctly delivers so much information.  Chock full of interesting facts and historical anecdotes, I was quite taken by the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed Old Man River. It helped that while I was in the midst of reading about the prehistory, I was listening to a series of podcasts that happened to be covering the same tribes and formations.  (Aside:  I love, love the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcasts.  They're so much fun!)  I enjoyed Schneider's feelings about the river, and it definitely made me want to go pick up a canoe and float on down.  

Living in Europe enhanced my appreciation for history.  I don't know what it is, but it's as though the very earth there is older, as though it has so many stories to divulge that it can't help but let them seep through the soil.  I remember feeling something similar the first time I actually saw the Mississippi River.  We used to drive over it multiple times a year on our way to and from Utah, and I wish I had had this book to read on one of those drives.  

My Rating:  Four stars 

For the Sensitive Reader:  The Mississippi river's history is unfortunately quite the bloody one.  Battles between Native American tribes and Europeans, and between the North and the South are discussed.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Hangman's Daughter - Oliver Pötzsch

Summary:  Germany, 1660: When a dying boy is pulled from the river with a mark crudely tattooed on his shoulder, hangman Jakob Kuisl is called upon to investigate whether witchcraft is at play. So begins The Hangman's Daughter--the chillingly detailed, fast-paced historical thriller from German television screenwriter, Oliver Pötzsch—a descendent of the Kuisls, a famous Bavarian executioner clan.


My Review:  Set in a small Bavarian village in 1660—a setting not common in many historical fiction novels—Jacob Kuisl is the local hangman. It’s a job that every medieval European village needs, yet Jacob is a pariah, forced to live outside town and viewed as a demon by the god-fearing villagers. Yet this reputation couldn’t be more contrasting to Jacob’s compassionate, altruistic nature.

When the corpse of a young boy with a tattoo on his shoulder–a sure sign of witchcraft—is pulled from the river, the town leaders instantly blame the midwife. They charge Jacob with the task of torturing a confession out of the midwife so they can legally execute her before the town turns into a frenzy of witchcraft accusations.

However, Jacob is absolutely convinced that he midwife is innocent. As more children turn up mysteriously marked and dead, Jacob and Simon—the doctor’s son who seems to be the only townsperson to recognize and respect Jacob’s wisdom and understanding of anatomy and medicine—must work together to find the true murderer, prevent more children from dying, and save the life of the innocent midwife.

Oh, and there’s a minor plot about how Jacob’s beautiful and spirited daughter Magdalena is an outcast because of her father’s profession but Simon falls in love with her anyway. It's a very minor plot line considering the title of the book.

As a historical fiction fan, I found this book very fascinating. The setting and setup seemed very unique—a heroic hangman in 17th century Bavaria. The plot was well-paced and read like a modern murder mystery. There was little characterization and character development and the prose was choppy and sometimes seemed juvenile—something that could be attributed to poor translation from the native German—but the compelling story and fascinating premise made this a swift read despite those flaws.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Descriptions of executions and torture, though not graphic, shouldn’t take you by surprise considering the plot and source of the book.

Sum it Up: A compassionate hangman in 17th century Bavaria must solve the mystery of several murdered children to save the life the wrongly accused midwife. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Announcement: An Addition to the RFS Team

This newest introduction has been a long time coming.  We are happy to introduce Lara Zierke as our newest Reading for Sanity reviewer!  Lara has been a frequent guest reviewer in the past, and we couldn't be more thrilled she's agreed to join our team.  Check out her reviews here and her favorite books list here.

Without further ado, I'll let her introduce herself!



I don't mean to brag but in second grade we had a reading contest and I won by a landslide. I love reading and make time for it (nearly) every day. My weakness is Y/A. I pretend I'm above all the love triangles, but I'm not kidding anyone. I love a good teenage coming of age story. I also love historical fiction, fantasy, and contemporary Y/A. I'm pretty burned out on dystopian novels. I love a book that makes me cry. My favorite authors are Avi, Lois Lowry, and Neil Gaiman. 

I am a wife and a mother of two young girls. I work full-time as a marketing copywriter. I'm on the board of directors for my oldest daughter's daycare. I've written and independently published to Y/A historical fiction novels. I take my Kindle with me wherever I go and read as much as I can, often staying up way later than I should. Thank goodness for Diet Coke and a decent eye cream. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle - Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

Summary:  In this third installment of the series, 11-year-old whiz-kids Nick and Tesla discover that someone in the quiet town of Half Moon Bay has placed their beloved Uncle Newt under electronic surveillance—but who is spying on him, and why? To expose the secret agent, Nick and Tesla build all kinds of outrageous contraptions. Throughout the book, the narrative is interrupted by blueprints and instructions so that budding young inventors can follow along. Science and electronics have never been so much fun! (Image and summary from goodreads.com.  I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  It hasn't been more than two days since we last saw Nick and Tesla, worried about their parents, and trying to decipher their mother's cryptic, interrupted message.  Nick is seeing spies everywhere.  Tesla is trying to keep him calm while working out what to do on her own.  Their uncle is no help, he has a new apprentice named Oli from, um, "Australia" who both Nick and Tesla are pretty sure is up to no good.  Add to that the mysterious maids and exterminator working for free, and Nick and Tesla are sure that something is up.

My son and I absolutely love this series, and it just seems to get better and better.  Pflugfelder and Hockensmith have found a perfect balance of mystery and humor,  they've created characters complex enough that I'm still surprised occasionally by their reactions (and simultaneously hitting myself in the head, going "Well, duh, of COURSE that's how they'd react!"), and the three stories are definitely painting a bigger picture that has both my son and me intrigued.  

I love that Nick and Tesla are real.  They're intelligent, close, witty, but they're believable as kids.  They're messy, sometimes naughty, and they don't always make the best decisions.  Even more, I love their curiosity.  I've mentioned in the past how much I appreciate it, since it sparks my son's, but this novel might just take the cake.  He's been pestering me since he finished to start building some of these gadgets -- and as soon as it calms down (is it just me, or is May busier than December?) we're going to have a Nick and Tesla Experiment Day!

My Rating:  Five stars


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: Unraveled - Julie Daines

Join me in giving a warm welcome to Yamile Mendez, today's guest reviewer.  Welcome, Yamile!

Summary:  When sickness swept through Bronwens family, it took the life of her father, brother, and sister, and left her permanently crippled. On the stormy eve of her sixteenth birthday, a faerie-witch gifts her a pair of enchanted shoes. Bronwen slips them on and is healed--but only when the shoes are on her feet. Her grace and beauty catches the eye of the kings son--Urien, a handsome young man who prides himself on having everything perfect.

When Rhys, an old acquaintance and Captain of the Guard, recognizes Bronwen, he threatens to tell Urien her secret. Desperate to keep her deformity hidden and not to lose the love of handsome Urien, Bronwen quickly finds herself tangled in a web of lies and deceit. After all, she can't wear the shoes forever. (photo and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: I love everything fairy tales, myths, and curses with a little bit of romance on the side. From the very first page when I met Bronwen and was immersed in the setting, I knew I was going to love this story. Not very many books make me wish I lived in the time period, place, or was friends with the characters of a book, but Unraveled did!

Ive always loved the rich mythology of the British Isles, especially in the time period the story is set, right when Christianity starts replacing the old traditions. The time period is similar to Disneys Brave or King Arthur and his knights. But Bronwen isnt a Disney princess. Shes a well fleshed character with virtues and flaws that make her relatable even in this day and age. Although sometimes I was furious with her decisions, which have way broader repercussions than Bronwen ever foresaw, I always understood where she was coming from.

I always love a story in which the curse placed on the main character has different consequences than I could have predicted at the beginning. The Gwyllion, a villain at first, becomes a catalyst for Bronwens change, and not only in the physical aspect. Bronwens desire to be perfect makes her forget who she really is. Her quest in the story isnt so much finding true love from others as it is finding it in herself.  Its refreshing that while the media bombards us with its idea of beauty, Julie Daines reminds us that beauty and love go beyond the physical aspect, health, and yes, even a nice pair of shoes.

I wont give away the romance aspect, which was one of my favorite elements of the book. Ill just say that I found myself smiling and re-reading different sections that reminded me what it feels like to be sixteen and falling in love. Daines did a perfect job portraying the fears and dreams of her characters. Their voices and the dialog are always spot on.

I love that in the book Bronwen not only finds true love, but also friendship in Gwenna. Lately, Ive been reading a lot of books in which the heroine cant relate to other girls. I love that in Unraveled, Bronwens friendship with Gwenna isnt just a tool to help advance the plot. It develops organically and shows us that when girls support girls, both of them end up stronger.

One last thing I love about the book are the chapter headings. Theyre all celtic sayings that summarize the chapters perfectly. Some of them I had heard before, but most of them were new to me.

My rating: 5 stars

For the sensitive reader: Perfectly clean story that readers of all ages will enjoy.


To Sum it up: Lovers of Juliette Marillier (Daughter of the Forest) and Marion Zimmer Bradley (Mists of Avalon) will love this one. It has all the elements of mythology, romance and quest, but its clean and wholesome.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Once Enchanted: A Love Story (Rockland Ranch Series) - Jaclyn M. Hawkes

Summary:  What happened to her fairytale life? She's young, she's sharp, she's the hardest working attorney in the whole LA office. Still, when Alexis O'Brien finally gets brutally honest with herself, she has to admit she's nothing more than a glorified workhorse for her boss and his slippery partners. Her dissatisfaction only deepens when she gets sent on a wild goose chase to rural Wyoming to find some elusive gifted architect for a project she thinks is corrupt. Then she meets Sean Rockland. The antithesis of the effeminate manicured types she's used to at work, with his muscles fairly rippling under his button down, Sean ticks her off from the very first moment she lays eyes on him as he's rescuing her from car trouble-which only makes him laugh. Of course that doesn't help. Sean has this way of calmly logically encouraging her to face her issues that makes her even madder. Why does he always have to be right? Why is she drawn to him anyway? What's up with all these crazy fairies appearing? And why can't she find the darned missing architect? When her spitfire meets his steel sparks begin to fly!  (Summary from goodreads.com, image from http://jaclynmhawkes.com, and book given free for review.)

My Review:  I want to mention first that I have not read the previous two novels that start this series.  That said, I didn't realize that I was missing something and as such this can be a stand-alone novel.

I'm not typically a romance reader.  Not that I don't enjoy romance here and there, but it's not something I seek out.  Every once in a while it's fun to pick up a speed read of fun romance.  This hit the spot, as I'd just finished reading quite a few articles for work and needed something light and fun.

There are some aspects to the book that hit me a little funny, but as a romance novel you have to remember that you're not reading reality.  Not everyone is perfectly built, not everyone has their dream job and makes oodles of money all before the age of 40, and not everyone has the luxury of changing schedules to spend endless hours together.  Hawkes did a good job of trying to make some of this believable, but on the whole it's just not.  Go into it with this mindset (just let go) and you'll enjoy the ride.

There was one section that is blatant proselyting for the LDS faith--in some ways it felt like a 'here's what you might experience if you went to church with us!' plug.  If that kind of thing bothers you, don't pick this up.  A major component to this book is the LDS faith and how it changes the decisions of the people who are devout members.  As a member of this faith already, I blew through the section mostly skimming because I already knew what was going to be shared.  In some ways, I felt it detracted from the story.  But I'm guessing the purpose of the author sharing that is for missionary reasons.  One piece I really liked was how women's role in the church is explained--empowering and supportive of women and not belittling or demeaning.  It shows how women should be treated: with respect, kindness, and as equals.

If you want a fun, quick, romantic book where you see a strong man who can take care of a woman without it emasculating him, this is a great read.

For the sensitive reader:  Quite a bit of kissing passionately.  Otherwise, for a romance, this is pretty clean.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Sum it up:  An easy, fun, clean LDS romance.

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