Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Book of Essie - Meghan McLean Weir

Summary: A debut novel of family, fame, and religion that tells the emotionally stirring, wildly captivating story of the seventeen-year-old daughter of an evangelical preacher, star of the family's hit reality show, and the secret pregnancy that threatens to blow their entire world apart.

Esther Ann Hicks--Essie--is the youngest child on Six for Hicks,a reality television phenomenon. She's grown up in the spotlight, both idolized and despised for her family's fire-and-brimstone brand of faith. When Essie's mother, Celia, discovers that Essie is pregnant, she arranges an emergency meeting with the show's producers: Do they sneak Essie out of the country for an abortion? Do they pass the child off as Celia's? Or do they try to arrange a marriage--and a ratings-blockbuster wedding? Meanwhile, Essie is quietly pairing herself up with Roarke Richards, a senior at her school with a secret of his own to protect. As the newly formed couple attempt to sell their fabricated love story to the media--through exclusive interviews with an infamously conservative reporter named Liberty Bell--Essie finds she has questions of her own: What was the real reason for her older sister leaving home? Who can she trust with the truth about her family? And how much is she willing to sacrifice to win her own freedom? (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I think the cover of this book actually does a really good job of summing up what the book is like. I’m assuming that you’re looking at the pic of this cover as you’re reading this review, but what you can’t see is that yes, there’s that fundamentalist-looking girl, but the writing of the title is written in this cheesy, sparkly, pop-culture font. It’s the absolute dichotomy. Like I said, it’s a really clever and subtle way to pretty much sum it all up.

I think we can all agree that although there is some reality TV that is fun and entertaining (and we all have our faves, even though some of it is borderline “reality,”) some is downright disturbing. The Book of Essie is basically an over-exaggeration of reality TV and the plugged-in generation of people who want to watch other people’s lives, no matter how real or not real that TV may be.

This book is written with a subtle exaggeration in that you can tell it’s all a little over the top, but that it’s that way for a reason. The situations are just a little too much, the characters are just a little too smart or things work out just a little too well, but in the end this is obviously for a reason. Now don’t get me wrong, despite the over-the-top nature of much of the book, it is still very disturbing. We’ve all read about and experienced reality people or fame-seeking people who are willing to do pretty much anything to be famous, and this family, especially the mom, has paid every price. It feels even a little ickier because the father is a TV preacher, and although I don’t think anyone considers those dudes to be the epitome of humility, it still feels weird to have all of the deception and lies and blatant disregard for their children all be done in the name of religion. However, this is another part of the book that seems very apropos to the current climate.

The situations in this book can’t help but be heartbreaking. You can see it coming from a mile away, and it is no surprise when the actual reveal comes about, although it is still really tragic. The author obviously had some messages she wanted to get across, and although she was able to do that, I would have liked the characters and situations fleshed out more. There were some really great moments of suspense and bravery, but there was also a fair amount of just day-to-day waiting that didn’t go anywhere specific. I think the tragedy could have been more explored in this space (because the book is a decent length as it is) and also the resolution a little more fleshed out. However, the author wanted readers to be disturbed and challenge the culture of media, reality culture, and social media, and I assure you it did just this.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language as well as sex and incest.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Wires and Nerve: Gone Rogue (#2) - Marissa Meyer (Art by Stephen Gilpin)

Summary:  The world of the Lunar Chronicles comes alive in this thrilling continuation of Wires and Nerve.  Iko -- an audacious android and the best friend to the Lunar Queen Cinder -- has been tasked with hunting down Alpha Lysander Steele, the leader of a rogue band of bio-engineered wolf-soldiers who threaten to undo the tenuous peace agreement between Earth and Luna.  Unless Cinder can reverse the mutations that were forced on them years before, Steele and his soldiers plan to satisfy their monstrous appetites with a massacre of the innocent people of Earth.  And to show he's serious, Steele is taking hostages.

Cinder and Kai, Scarlet and Wolf, Cress and Thorne, and Winter and Jacin all feature into this epic new battle.  But it is Iko who must face her deepest fears when she uncovers the truth about her own unusual programming.  Questions of love, friendship, and mortality take Iko on an emotional journey that will satisfy and delight fans of this bestselling series.  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)



My Review:  I reviewed the first novel in this series last week, so if you haven't read the original Wires and Nerve, I suggest you start there.

Those who have already taken the deep dive into the Lunar Chronicles (and associated novels), will likely enjoy this second volume of the Wires and Nerve graphic novels, Gone Rogue.   It should be noted that although each book has a different illustrator, there doesn't seem to be much of a difference between their two styles, so readers won't have to adjust to a new look on their favorite characters.

In this volume, android Iko is saddled with a new partner, Liam Kinney, as she tries to stop Lysander Steele from carrying out his nefarious plans to bring down Cinder, the Lunar Queen.  Kinney is equally determined to find the rogue wolf and protect his sovereign, but makes no effort to disguise his contempt for Iko's human-like programming at every available opportunity.  Meanwhile, Steele sets out to exact revenge on the Lunar leader by tracking down her friends and soon everyone she loves is in jeopardy.  Iko is determined to save them all, at her own peril.

I enjoyed this book and blazed through it in a couple of sittings.  Iko a strong female lead (be she android, or not) and it's always fun to get to see my favorite Lunar characters and get to read a little more of their story line.  However...it did kinda feel like just more of the same.  Still totally enjoyable, but not something that I'm going to write an epic poem about.  I enjoyed the introduction of Liam Kinney, even if he did start out as a pompous windbag.  It was fairly obvious from the get-go what was going to happen with that particular plot thread, so the only thing surprising about it was the quick-as-a-light-switch transition.  *Flip*

So, long story short:  Fun.  Nothing surprising.  Still something that I think Lunar fans will enjoy.  Not something I think any old Joe will care for if they haven't read the series. 

My Rating:  3.5 Stars.

For the sensitive reader: Some serious android dismemberment.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Bob - Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

Summary: A classic middle-grade tale of magic and friendship, about a girl who helps an old friend find home, by two New York Times–bestselling authors Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead.

It’s been five years since Livy and her family have visited Livy’s grandmother in Australia. Now that she’s back, Livy has the feeling she’s forgotten something really, really important about Gran’s house.

It turns out she’s right.

Bob, a short, greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit, didn’t forget Livy, or her promise. He’s been waiting five years for her to come back, hiding in a closet like she told him to. He can’t remember who—or what—he is, where he came from, or if he even has a family. But five years ago Livy promised she would help him find his way back home. Now it’s time to keep that promise.

Clue by clue, Livy and Bob will unravel the mystery of where Bob comes from, and discover the kind of magic that lasts forever.

Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, two masterminds of classic, middle-grade fiction come together to craft this magical story about the enduring power of friendship. (Summary and picture from goodreads.com)


My Review: Bob was a really sweet, really quick read.  I loved the way the story unfolded, the pacing worked well and the characters were lovable.  

The crux of the book revolves around figuring out what Bob is and where he belongs.  Is he an imaginary friend?  A zombie?  Something else entirely?  His childlike devotion and sometimes childish reactions make him a lovable, relatable character as he and human Livy attempt to solve the mystery of where he belongs.

Also crucial to the tale is Livy herself, a girl trying to figure things out as she is staying with her grandmother in Australia, after meeting the woman only once before when she was much younger.  In helping Bob, she's trying to remember a foggy past and just how things are supposed to work in her life, especially in her new role of big sister.

I loved how folkloric the atmosphere felt, set in a drought-stricken area of Australia, and how stories themselves played a critical part in Livy and Bob's original and continuing friendship. Their banter and reactions to each other feel genuine, and Bob's hurt feelings that Livy had forgotten him for five years.

Overall this was a quick, fun read that carries nostalgia and friendship in its pages.  A good read for any age.
 
My rating: 4 stars
 
For the sensitive reader: nothing of note.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

There There - Tommy Orange

Summary: Fierce, angry, funny, heartbreaking—Tommy Orange’s first novel is a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen, and it introduces a brilliant new author at the start of a major career. 

There There is a relentlessly paced multigenerational story about violence and recovery, memory and identity, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. It tells the story of twelve characters, each of whom have private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and has come to the powwow to dance in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and unspeakable loss.

Here is a voice we have never heard—a voice full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with stunning urgency and force. Tommy Orange writes of the plight of the urban Native American, the Native American in the city, in a stunning novel that grapples with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and profound spirituality, and with a plague of addiction, abuse, and suicide. An unforgettable debut, destined to become required reading in schools and universities across the country. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: Have you ever walked into a room and there is a conversation going on and it’s very animated. The person is, like, seriously passionate about what’s going on. They’re angry, they’re fed up, they’ve had enough. It’s not like what their saying isn’t true—it definitely is—but you think that maybe if you had heard it from the beginning or had been a part of the conversation early it would have been easier to connect and understand? Walking into a conversation like that is exactly how it felt to open up There There. Tommy Orange is angry. Super angry. The Native American people and indigenous people of the world have obviously been through a lot—are still going through a lot—and he is no longer letting this go on without saying something about it. I really appreciated that, actually. I like honest people. The way this book begins, though, is like going for a drink of water at a drinking fountain and instead you get a fire hose.

I’ve thought a lot about the beginning of this book. I read it several months ago, and I was aware that it would be strong and decisive. It absolutely made an impression on me and although the beginning was a fire hose, I’m not sure that it could have been done any differently and had the same impact. There are a few other sections of the book that are like this as well. They tell the story of the Native American peoples and the injustices they have faced over the years, and while it is not directly relevant to the story going on in the book, it is absolutely relevant to the story in the book. It’s a really interesting dichotomy, actually, like reading history and also reading the outcome of that history. This history was not unfamiliar to me. I have several Native American friends (who come from all different tribes)and we’ve  talked about these issues and how they have affected their lives on a personal level. So I’m not na├»ve. Still. It was intense.

To say I enjoyed the book seems like that doesn’t really give it the gravitas that it deserves. It was fierce, and the stories are really difficult. The chapters are broken up into different characters, many of whom are either related or weave in and out of each other’s lives. They are all present for one event that has led to the author telling about each one individually. Because there were so many characters, it was difficult at times to keep track of who was who. The names were distinctive so that helped, but when you have 12 or so characters, and you only meet them for a chapter or two, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of every little detail when the next chapter just launches into something completely different. And that was my complaint about this book, really. These were some really interesting characters, and I think their lives told a lot about the modern struggles of an ancient people, and what history has done to them and what they have done with it. Because of that, though, I think the book was too short. It certainly ends abruptly, almost unsatisfying so, and I would have liked more in-depth story for each of them, as well as the story overall. I felt like the book was almost an outline it was so short. Orange is a talented writer with an interesting voice, and I think that this story would have been better served had it been fleshed out more. That being said, I think it was a really interesting read and one that college students should read for sure—it would certainly be eye-opening. Many of these things I didn’t learn until much later. Also, I think it’s a good read for people to understand what it’s like to be Native American in this country, with its history and its current issues and triumphs.

My Rating: 3.5 stars.

For the sensitive reader: This book has language, violence, and some sex.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

On this day...

For all those who lost their lives...we remember.


Monday, September 10, 2018

Wires and Nerve - Marissa Meyer (Art by Doug Holgate)

Summary:  In her first graphic novel, Marissa Meyer extends the world of the Lunar Chronicles with a brand-new action-packed story about Iko, the android with a heart of (mechanized) gold.  When rogue packs of wolf-hybrid soldiers threaten the tenuous peace alliance between Earth and Luna, Iko takes it upon herself to hunt down the soldiers' leader. She is soon working with a handsome royal guard who forces her question everything she knows about love, loyalty, and her own humanity.  With appearances by Cinder, Cress, Scarlet, Winter, and the rest of the Rampion crew, this is a must-have for fans of the bestselling series. (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com

My Review:  Wires and Nerve is a graphic novel set in the same world as the bestselling Lunar Chronicles series (see my rave review of Cinder here).  In general, I don't often read graphic novels, but for Cinder and her pals I will always make an exception.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the Lunar Chronicles series, it is composed of the following seven books: Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Winter, Fairest (a novella),Stars Above (a collection of short stories), and two Wires and Nerve graphic novels**.  Each book offers up a refreshing blend of science fiction, fairy tales, romance, and adventure, where four once-familiar folk heroines are instead a mechanically-inclined cyborg, a hot-headed tomato farmer, an imprisoned hacker, and a scarred alien princess.  Obviously, I can't say enough good things about this unique series but that isn't why were are here.

Wires and Nerve is a continuation of the story set forth in the Lunar Chronicles and centers around Iko, a sassy little service android whose personality chip has recently been transferred from a low-tech bot to a high-quality humanoid body.  Now highly skilled and able to blend in with the rest of society, Iko has been tasked with rounding up the last of the LSOP soldiers hiding on Earth.  The mission reunites her with all her old friends in some new and exciting adventures.  Initially, I wasn't taken with the artist's interpretation of some of the characters, but I warmed quickly to them once I got into the story. Iko is just as snarky as ever and it was fun (and satisfying) to see her get to be the gorgeous, amazing, kick-butt woman she's always wanted to be.  A few new characters pop up as well, and, since this is book is part of its own graphic novel series, I'm interested to see where Meyer takes them.

My favorite part of the book was getting a little more backstory (and/or the rest-of-the-story) on some of the series biggest players.   It was fun to peek a little into their past and see how they were doing now.  There.  Do you see how I'm talking about them like they are actual people and not just book characters?! That should tell you something about the world Marissa Meyer has created.  Overall, this graphic novel was enjoyable and ridiculously easy to read.  It's not the be-all-end-all of everything literary, but if you're a fan of the series and looking for something to devour in a single sitting, look no further.  This be it.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  There are a few subtle innuendos (thanks, Carswell!) but nothing a kid should pick up on.

**If you haven't read the Lunar Chronicles series, I highly recommend that you do so before you read this book.  It might not make sense otherwise and it will completely spoil everything.  I also recommend that you read them in this order: Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Fairest, Winter, Stars Above, and then the Wires and  Nerve graphic novels.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Endling: The Last - Katherine Applegate

Summary: Bix, the youngest member and only survivor of her pack of mythical doglike creatures, dairnes, sets out to find safe haven and, perhaps, more of her kind, aided by allies, both animal and human. (summary and picture from goodreads.com)

My Review: I spotted this on a list of new books this year, and it already had two things going for it--a fantasy with a humanoid dog, and written by Katherine Applegate, who wrote such a beautiful story about animals in The One and Only Ivan.

Unlike other Applegate stories I've read which were in a contemporary setting, this one is full fantasy, which was a lot of fun.  The way she crafted her world, with its governing species, fauna and flora, as well as the political standings and turmoil, were well built, and it felt like a real place (can I just say, I love when you open a book and there's a map in the endpapers).    

I love our protagonist, a dairne (humanoid dog creature) named Byx who is troubled and stubborn, and goes on a quest to discover just who she is as possibly the last of her species, a daunting thought.  


The twists and turns we're taken on are fun while also being stressful (in a good, exciting way), and the interactions between the different characters who are brought together are genuine and relatable--these were good, fleshed out characters, a mix of humans and other fantasy creatures (Tobble, a small creature called a wobbyk, was a particular treasure of a character with a big heart).  

I sense that this is going to be a series, but I felt this book ended on a really good note that it could also very well be read as a standalone.  Though if it does become a series, I will definitely want to read them to know what will happen in this fascinating, new world.

My rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: this world does not shy away from death and bloodshed, though it is tactfully done.  Characters are in constant peril, which could frighten younger readers.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Legendary (Caraval #2) - Stephanie Garber

Summary: A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.


The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister's. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.


Welcome, welcome to Caraval...the games have only just begun. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)


My Review: I don’t know if you read Caraval yet or not, but if you have, you know that it was a fun story in a very unique and magical world. I always love me some fun YA Fic with really good world building. When I heard Legendary was coming out, I was super excited and got right on the library’s [very long] waiting list. I’m always a little nervous for sequels. You never know if it’s going to be as epic as the first one. Sometimes I love a book so much that I’m almost protective about it; I don’t want it ruined by a bad or even not-as-good second book. A really good book is hard to live up to, ya know? Sometimes I don’t even share my book recommendations that are near and dear to me because I can’t trust others to understand the awesomeness. I try not to be so selfish, but you hear me, right? You recommend a book that really meant something to you and your friend/family member/random stranger is all “Oh. Yeah. I read it. It was okay.” Or, “Yeah, I couldn’t really get into it so I just stopped.” All the mad emojis should go right here! I mean. What?! Anyway.

I wasn’t nearly as committed to Caraval as all that, but I really did enjoy the book. It’s been awhile since I read it, though, so when it turned out that Legendary was written from a different perspective, it was a little confusing at first. It took me going back and re-reading the summary to figure out what was happening. Once I got over that, though, I was thoroughly plummeted right back in to that fun world of intrigue and magic. Garber does an awesome job of creating a very tangible, real place. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in real life, and yet I can see it and feel it all around me when I read. That is one of the things I love about this series—that I am transported immediately to that very foreign place. It’s like Marie Antoinette meets STEAM punk. What’s not to love about that? My only gripe is that stylistically, sometimes Garber’s very extensive descriptions of everything are a little weird, like she took random things and put them together to describe something. And everything is described extensively and with the same amount of descriptive words, so it almost feels formulaic  i.e. “But when Tella held the opal up toward the light, the stone sparked, covering the room in embers of luminescent cherry, gold, and lavender that hinted at magic curses and rebel pixie dust.” It’s beautiful and descriptive, right? And this pattern is used for every. Single. Thing. It’s okay. I’m just noting that it got extensive and kind of tiresome at times.

As far as the story goes, I wasn’t as surprised by this story as I was by the first one, and I think that’s because I was so taken aback and enamored by what was going on in Caraval that I couldn’t help but not be as shocked in this book. It’s hard to recreate the first feelings of being so intrigued by everything. That being said, there were some fun twists and differences in this book that I really enjoyed. I liked how the world building extended out (I’m being intentionally vague here) and involved characters not necessarily part of the first one. There was also some behind-the-scenes story telling that I enjoyed, and this is obviously possible because I was aware of the what the world was like from the first book. So although you don’t HAVE to have read the first book to get into this one, I would definitely recommend it.

So will I read the third one? You betcha! I can’t wait to see what happens. The story was left on somewhat of a cliffhanger, as many good books are, so I have to know what happens next! Who will the narrator be? What will happen to the people and the game of Caraval? I guess we’ll all have to wait!

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some light romance and some mild language.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Sky in the Deep - Adrienne Young

This review is based on the audiobook version of Sky in the Deep

Summary: OND ELDR. BREATHE FIRE.

Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield — her brother, fighting with the enemy — the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother's betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki, in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan thought to be a legend, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.

She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend, who sees her as a threat. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and family while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  There are two things I hate doing.  Okay, there are actually more than two things I hate doing, but for the purposes of this review, I'm limiting it to just two -- painting ceilings and running.  Painting ceilings while running is most certainly my definition of hell.  Anyhow, I've recently turned to audio books to take the sting out of doing things I hate and Sky in the Deep got me through several leg-burning running sessions and arm-burning painting sessions.  It really helped to distract me from my gripes and was actually a strong motivational tool, as I wouldn't let myself listen to it unless I was running or painting and I was able to keep going a lot further than I would have otherwise, because the part of my brain in charge of whining was engaged elsewhere.

On to narration, something I don't typically have to talk about in my reviews.  I have a thing with narrators.  They have to be a certain way and if they aren't that way then I can't listen to them.  If they are monotone or overly expressive, I'm done.  A guy reading in a high falsetto every time a girl character utters a line?  DONE.  Suuuuuper slooooow talkers?  You guessed it!  I'm done.   Thankfully, it only takes about 20 seconds of listening to the book to know whether I'll be able to stomach them or not.  Sky in the Deep's narrator was neither monotone nor overly expressive and she didn't exaggerate the characters to the point of distraction.  She just read in a normal voice, giving inflection or tone where needed without going over the top, which let the story take center stage.  A story that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Sky in the Deep is set in territory that will seem quite familiar to fans of The History Channel's Vikings series (think coastal Scandinavia in 800-1066 AD), with warring clans that worship a series of deity common in Norse mythology, each with it's own rites and rituals.  With the help of the author, it was easy to visualize the icy fjords, fertile valleys, dense forests, glaciated mountain ranges, and small fishing villages common to the area.  Though I didn't read the words myself, I felt the author did a phenomenal job of setting the scene and made the world come alive while I listened.

Eelyn is an amazing Aska warrior - fierce, determined, and devoted to those she loves.  She lives a simply life on the fjord, fishing and training to fight their enemy, the Riki, whom she loathes, having lost her mother and brother at their hands.  When she is gravely injured and taken prisoner in battle, Eelyn soon finds that her brother is not only alive, but fighting for the enemy.  As a captive, Eelyn is forced to serve Riki family and, in doing so, begins to question all she has been taught and finds her loyalty to the Aska tested.

I really loved my time with Sky in the Deep, hated tasks notwithstanding.  Eelyn is a fiery female protagonist (gotta love those), who knows what she wants and doesn't take crap from anyone.  She is loyal to a fault, can hold her own in a fight, isn't afraid to cry, and fully capable of throttling an enemy and then ripping out their eyeball to get information*.  She basically kicks butt when necessary, but can show compassion when the situation calls for it.  Through the course of the story, Eelyn embarks on both literal and figurative journeys, and each felt moving and authentic in its own way. She maintains her status as a staunch defender of the Aska people, but has several experiences and realizations that fundamentally change the way she sees the world and her place in it.

Additionally, there is a seemingly star-crossed romantic relationship at play that, while not the entire focus of the book, is quite compelling. Let's just say it starts with fight to the death and quite a lot of vehement loathing.  Eventually, hatred leads to tolerance, tolerance leads to (romantic) tension, and tension leads to some steaminess, but, thankfully, the author opted for a "fade to black" scene that left just enough to the imagination.  Overall, I quite enjoyed this book.  It came out this year (2018) and isn't part of a series, but there is a companion novel coming out in 2019 that I definitely plan to pick up.  I'd recommend this audio book to anyone who either a) loves the Vikings TV series and similar Scandinavian lore, b) enjoys action-based YA stories with a healthy side of romantic tension and a heaping serving of violence, or c) all of the above.

*Yup.  She did.  And it was gross but impressive.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This story is particularly violent and those with a weaker stomach might take issue with it.  We're talking warring clans here, people.  In the course of the fighting, throats are slit, guts ripped out, and eyeballs (well, one) forcibly removed from their sockets.  There are also a few instances of attempted sexual assault.  Not explicit, but possible triggers. I can't remember any profanity but, then again, I wasn't taking notes while reading.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Did you miss us!?!


Hey all!  
The lovely reviewers are Reading For Sanity 
are back from our summer break, and you know what?!?  
We're exhausted!  
Aren't you exhausted?! 
Turns out summer is not always a "break" for the grown-ups. 
Huh.  Who knew? 
Thankfully, we were able to spend some time with our families, 
soak up a little sun, and dig in to a few good books.  

We plan to share our faves with you STARTING MONDAY.  
Now that the kids are in school...
...I need a nap.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Reading For Sanity's Newest Book Club Recommendations (or Summer Reads)

It's summertime folks, and you know what that means.  It's time for the ladies at RFS to hang a proverbial sign on the door and soak up the sun with their families.  Now, don't cry.  We'll miss you too.  Besides, you didn't think we'd leave for the summer without giving you a little something to remember us by, did you?

Here's our newest list of 
Book Club recommendations, 
in no particular order!  
Click the title (not the cover) to read our review! 


The Woman in the Window - A.J. Finn

Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng

Caraval - Stephanie Garber

The Passion of Dolssa - Julie Berry

A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman

Educated: A Memoir - Tara Westover

Leadership & Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box - The Arbinger Institute

The Martian - Andy Weir
(Read and recommended in the classroom edition, but not reviewed by RFS)

Wonder - R.J. Palacio

Like Water for Chocolate - Laura Esquivel
(Read and recommended, but not reviewed by RFS)

The Hundred-Foot Journey - Richard C. Morais
(Read and recommended, but not reviewed by RFS)

The Two-Family House - Lynda Cohen Loigman

The Boys in the Boat - Daniel James Brown

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce

Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein

Rose Under Fire - Elizabeth Wein

The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
(Read and recommended, but not reviewed by RFS)

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln - Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Princess Bride - William Goldman
(Read and recommended, but not reviewed by RFS)

The Hunger Games series - Suzanne Collins
(Yes.  All of it.  Here are our reviews of #1 #2 and #3)


Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine,
and the Murder of a President - Candice Millard

The Devil in the White City - Erik Larson

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking - Susan Cain

The War that Saved my Life - Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
(Read and recommended, but not reviewed by RFS)

The Orphan Keeper - Camron Wright

The Rent Collector - Camron Wright
(Read and recommended, but not reviewed by RFS)

Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier

 Between the World and Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates
(Read and recommended, but not reviewed by RFS)

When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi
(Read and recommended, but not reviewed by RFS)

 Me Before You - Jojo Moyes
(Read and recommended, but not reviewed by RFS)

Dracula - Bram Stoker
(Read and recommended, but not reviewed by RFS)

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint Exupery
(Read and recommended, but not reviewed by RFS)

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley

The Inquisitor's Tale - Adam Gidwitz
(Read and recommended, but not reviewed by RFS)

Boxers & Saints - Gene Luen Yang

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian -Sherman Alexie

Now...take this list and run with it.  

Have a great summer and HAPPY READING!  
We'll see you back here on September 1st!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

An American Marriage - Tayari Jones

Summary: Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: This is one of those books that, though I’m giving it a very high rating, I didn’t love. I appreciated the story—it’s heartbreaking, really, and it’s so messy and painful that you can’t help but feel connected. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that these two live a very different life from me and experience things that I will never experience because they are African-American. I will never be able to understand what that’s like, and so I appreciated that I felt like I was given an insight into what it’s like to have to navigate race relations as an African-American in the country today. We’ve come a long way from the beginning, no doubt, but there’s still a long way to go. I appreciated that this book addressed those issues. Celestial and Roy, the two main characters, are living the life in the new South, where things are different but also the same in some ways. It’s hard not to be frustrated about this while reading An American Marriage.


The book is very well-written. I love books that do a good job with changing perspectives each chapter, and this is one of those books. I feel like I am able to connect to the characters when this is well done, and the advantage of seeing the story from different characters is that you have a more holistic view. In a book like this, where it’s very much a he-said she-said kind of story, and where there are complicated relationships going on, I appreciated being able to understand first-hand what each character was thinking.

I also enjoyed the storytelling in this book. I found the story to be very compelling and also realistic, which is part of what made it so painful and heartbreaking. This felt like something that could really happen, and on some levels, happens all the time. I appreciated the layers of relationships and depth of the story; Jones did an incredible job of creating a very complex and varied atmosphere that was equally simplistic in its summary but also very detailed and almost impossible to describe. Because of this, it felt very realistic but this is why I alternatively really enjoyed it but also didn’t really like it.

I’m really glad I read this book. I found it insightful, interesting, and well-written. I definitely understand why it has gotten the accolades it has gotten. I will for sure recommend it to people who are looking for something complex and interesting to read. Will I recommend it to gum-popping teenagers or Christian romance reading women? Probably not. I won’t give away the ending but it really doesn’t matter—this story is deep and hard and raw. I will definitely recommend it to my more thoughtful reading friends, especially those who appreciate how stories can be heartbreaking but also very rewarding and worthwhile.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some language, a vague discussion of rape, and vague discussions of sex. It is on par with other books in the genre.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Book of Polly - Kathy Hepinstall

Summary:  Willow Havens is ten years old and obsessed with the fear that her mother will die.  Her mother, Polly is a cantankerous, take-no-prisoners Southern woman who lives to chase varmints, drink margaritas, and antagonize the neighbors -- and she sticks out like a sore thumb among the young modern mothers of their small conventional Texas town.  She was in her late fifties when Willow was born, so Willow knows she's here by accident, a late-in-life afterthought.  Willow's father died young, and her much older brother and sister are long grown and gone and failing elsewhere.  It's just her and bigger-than-life Polly.

Willow is desperately hungry for clues to the family life that preceded her, and especially Polly's life, pre-Willow.  Why did she leave her hometown of Bethel, Louisiana, fifty years ago and vow never to return?  Who is Garland Jones, her long-ago suitor who possibly killed a man?  And will Polly be able to outrun the Bear, the illness that finally puts her on a collision course with her past?

The Book of Polly has a kick like the best hot sauce, and a great blend of  humor and sadness, pathos and hilarity.  This is a bittersweet novel about the grip of love in a truly quirky family, and you'll come to know one of the most unforgettable mother-daughter duos you've ever met.  (Summary from book - Image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  For those of you who might have been waiting for this review, I'm sorry that it took me so long to get it down on proverbial paper. Sometimes life gets in the way of reading, and it took me nearly three weeks to get through the first half of The Book of Polly.  It's not that I didn't want to read it.  I did.  After all, Kathy Hepinstall is one of my favorite authors. But *sigh* life. So, I read when I could, venturing sporadically into the world of a first precocious, then fiery, young Willow, her equally ornery mother, Polly, and a stunningly odd cast of characters.  Each visit brought unexpected adventures.

Polly is a delightfully sassy southern mama, willing to be all and beat all for her headstrong daughter, though unwilling to relinquish even a small morsel of information about her past.  Her reticence only encourages her daughter, Willow, to become increasingly creative and sneaky in her search for information.  Polly wages war on the weeds, the varmints attempting to raid her garden, the devious neighbor children who sneak in to pee on her plants, and buries her secrets even deeper.  Willow is increasingly worried about her aging mother's health and with good reason.  The Bear is back, an creeping stealthily into her mother's bones.

And now we come to today, as I sat down with nearly half the book left and read it a under two hours.  While this book can be read and enjoyed in fits and bursts, I definitely recommend it as captivating binge-read, if your schedule at all permits.  I won't go into too much that happens in the latter half of the book except to say that journeys are taken, secrets revealed, punches thrown, and twists abound, all delivered with the bittersweet, southern flair that Hepinstall manages to nail. every. time.  While I can't recommend this book to every reader (see sensitive reader), I did enjoy it myself and desperately wish I had a Polly (and Willow and Rhea and Dalton and Garland) of my own.

My Rating: 3.75 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is a fair amount of swearing in this book that make it impossible for me to recommend to my sensitive reader friends.  There is a briefly mentioned, non-descript sexual assault of a young girl and an non-descript attempted kidnapping of an older girl.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Boxers & Saints - Gene Luen Yang

Summary: One of the greatest comics storytellers alive brings all his formidable talents to bear in this astonishing new work.

In two volumes, Boxers & Saints tells two parallel stories. The first is of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy whose village is abused and plundered by Westerners claiming the role of missionaries. Little Bao, inspired by visions of the Chinese gods, joins a violent uprising against the Western interlopers. Against all odds, their grass-roots rebellion is successful.

But in the second volume, Yang lays out the opposite side of the conflict. A girl whose village has no place for her is taken in by Christian missionaries and finds, for the first time, a home with them. As the Boxer Rebellion gains momentum, Vibiana must decide whether to abandon her Christian friends or to commit herself fully to Christianity.

Boxers & Saints is one of the most ambitious graphic novels First Second has ever published. It offers a penetrating insight into not only one of the most controversial episodes of modern Chinese history, but into the very core of our human nature. Gene Luen Yang is rightly called a master of the comics form, and this book will cement that reputation. (Summary and picture from goodreads.com)

My Review: The really awesome thing about Boxers & Saints is that it is two separate graphic novels, but they work together as companion pieces.  The main characters in each book make an appearance in the other.  You could easily read one or the other and have a complete story.

Or rather, you actually won't.  

Because what I really, REALLY love about Boxers & Saints, is that there's always another side to every story.

You start with Boxers.  The Boxer Rebellion took place in the late 1800s, when groups of vigilante Chinese people rose up against foreigners, opposing western colonization and religion.  We follow Little Bao, a boy who has seen the darker side of this colonization, how these foreigners (whom they call devils) destroy China's beloved gods, change their culture, and harm their people.  

Then you have Saints, where you follow Four-Girl (later Vibiana) as she converts to Christianity (at first believing she can become a 'true devil' as she believes is her destiny, which is a humorous, if not also heartbreaking, sidestory), with visions of Joan of Arc to help her as she discovers her true path.

Read either one alone, you have a straightforward story.  Read both, you have understanding.

What Yang has been able to so successfully accomplish with Boxers & Saints, is seeing how one side affects the other.  How the Boxers see the conflict vs how the Christians see it.  They both have (what they believe to be) good reasons for their actions.  Yang is able to humanize both sides by following a main character in each that we can root for and love, even despite the horrible things they might do.  While fictional, they become real people that allow us to see into a real conflict that took place.

And that's another thing I love about stories like this--they open your eyes.  Stories in general are a way for us to see and learn things we may not be familiar with, but stories like this, that adequately show both sides, each of which could be equally villainized, teach us that we shouldn't always jump to conclusions, that we should examine everything before we make judgement or condemnation.

The art of both novels is simple, but also defining, and I love the use of color in each volume.  In Boxers, there are bright colors, especially when the ancient gods come, while in Saints, the color palate is more muted, with golds as our highlights.

Where this could easily become a dark, dreary story of bloodshed and hate, Yang is skillfully able to intersperse humor and light into both stories, which is needed and enjoyable, but does not lessen the harsh truths these tales need to tell. 


My Rating: 5 stars

For the sensitive reader: this is the story of a rebellion, a war.  In Boxers particularly there is much bloodshed (many innocent people included) and some minor language and adult talk, though nothing too graphic.  I'd recommend it for an older child audience, though if read with a parent or adult, it would be good to introduce the concept of seeing both sides of a situation for a younger audience.

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