Monday, October 15, 2018

Zombie Abbey - Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Summary: 1920, England

And the three teenage Clarke sisters thought what they’d wear to dinner was their biggest problem…

Lady Kate, the entitled eldest.
Lady Grace, lost in the middle and wishing she were braver.
Lady Lizzy, so endlessly sunny, it’s easy to underestimate her.

Then there’s Will Harvey, the proud, to-die-for—and possibly die with!—stable boy; Daniel Murray, the resourceful second footman with a secret; Raymond Allen, the unfortunate-looking young duke; and Fanny Rogers, the unsinkable kitchen maid.

Upstairs! Downstairs! Toss in some farmers and villagers!

None of them ever expected to work together for any reason.

But none of them had ever seen anything like this. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

Review: How do you feel about this new trend of reworking classics to include zombies? I’m torn - but I’m also curious enough that when I saw this pop up on our library feed, I really wanted to give it a shot. My expectations were LOW. Like, bordering nonexistent low. I loved Downton Abbey, and I love the zombie genre when it’s properly done, and I really needed brain fluff. Sometimes, you just need brain fluff, you just do!

I’m still surprised at how pleasantly surprised I was.Okay, let’s get the expected stuff out of the way. The characters are fairly one-dimensional. They’re extremely trope-y. There’s not a ton of character development, and when there was any, it was like “oh, this character has hormones! That’s development, right?” Uh, no. The characters are likable enough when they’re supposed to be, but don’t expect to find your newest literary dreamboat. But, again, I don’t expect massive development from brain fluff. 

That being said, the story is intriguing. This isn’t like most zombie “in medias res” stories, which I greatly appreciated. One of the under explored facets of this genre are the beginnings. How does a zombie outbreak start?How long does it take to figure it out? What is the first warning, and what do people actually do? Zombie Abbey does actually delve into that. It’s fascinating, and quite fun, to see the characters come to the realization that something unnatural is happening, how they come to that realization, and then to see them try to fix it and fit this new knowledge into their rigid and rapidly outdated thinking.

Look, high literature this is not. However, if you’re looking for some fun zombie-lit to get you in the Halloween spirit, this may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Rating: Three and a half stars


For the Sensitive Reader: It’s fluffy. And as for zombie lit, it’s clean!

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Seven Rules of Elvira Carr (A Novel) - Frances Maynard

Summary: Elvira Carr believes in rules.  She also strongly believes in crisp schedules, clear guidelines, and taking people at face value.  Not that the twenty-seven-year-old sees many people.  After several unfortunate incidents, her overbearing mother keeps her at home.  But when her mother has a stroke, Elvira is suddenly on her own.  To help her navigate a world that is often puzzling, she draws up seven ironclad rules.  Armed with these, a notebook full of questions, and guidance from a helpful neighbor, she takes charge of herself, and realizes that something isn't quite right about the life she thought she new.  She'll need all the courage, perseverance, and curious charm she can muster to unravel the mystery of what happened to her family and to manage her own life, her way.  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  I am often drawn to stories told from the perspective of those who are frequently misunderstood by society at large, people that for one reason or another don't quite fit into the perfect little box the world has constructed for them.  I feel that seeing life through a different set of eyes, however briefly, helps me be more sensitive to the needs of others and more compassionate about the challenges they may face in their daily lives.  The Seven Rules of Elvira Carr offered a compelling glimpse into the difficulties someone with an autism spectrum disorder might face as they attempt to venture out into society.

In The Seven Rules, the main character, Elvira (Ellie), has her own way of doing things and a mind that works differently than most.  While Ellie is a capable caregiver for her controlling, but elderly, mother, she struggles to relate to the outside world.  She has a Condition that thrives on detail, predictability, and absolutes, but struggles to interpret social cues, sarcasm, figures of speech, and the unwritten rules of behavior that everyone else seems to understand implicitly.  When her mother suffers a stroke and is moved to a nursing home, Ellie is forced to become more independent and adapt to life on her own terms or risk being taken away herself .  To cope, she develops a set of seven rules for behavior designed to help her fit in with the "NeuroTypicals" in her life -- absolutes she can cling to in a world she finds confusing and chaotic.  These rules are developed fairly early on in the book so that most of the story has to do with Ellie applying the rules (with varied results) and learning that personal interaction isn't as easy as following a set of rules.  Overtime, the rules change and grow to incorporate the things that she has learned and Ellie gains the confidence to embrace a world she had once feared.

I enjoyed my time with this book.  If I were to look at it strictly from a story perspective (and not an empathy-building one), I would say that it had a good plot and interesting characters, with enough mystery to keep a reader engaged, but that it didn't knock my socks off so much as make them slip down in my shoe a little.    However, there is more to this story than the STORY.  Ellie's perspective is similar to others I have read (see a little further down), but I always appreciate the reminder that everyone's brains function differently and something that seems simple to one person might seem completely foreign to another.  While the author never specifically named Ellie's disorder, calling it only her Condition, it bore a strong resemblance some disorders on the autism spectrum.   For example, Ellie is very direct and literal. Tact just isn't her thing and phrases like "have a fit" or "up to my eyeballs" will "fly right over her head".  Some people are bothered by this behavior and think that she is rude or unintelligent, when it's just her way of seeing the world.  It was hard to see how some people reacted to her differences, but there were other times when you wanted to just reach into the book and hug those who got her.

Nearly everyone I know has been touched by autism in some form or another and while I know that autism disorders manifest differently in each person, I find it particularly helpful to understand how someone with an autism spectrum disorder might think or feel when approached a certain way.  To me, that is where this book has true value.  It gives us a chance at understanding the "Ellie's" of the world and being more sensitive to their particular brand of thinking, being, and doing. I recommend it to anyone who would like to broaden their understanding of the human experience, and perhaps gain a little compassion along the way.

NOTE:  There are a few books, like this one, that I believe can help a reader understand the perspectives of those in our midst who might feel like they don't fit in.  I've gone ahead and linked our reviews so you can dig deeper if you'd like.

Wonder by RJ Palacio
Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
Out of My Mind - Sharon Draper

Have you read any of these books (or ones like them)?  Comment below with your favorite living-thinking-doing-being-outside-the-box kind of books.

My Rating: 3.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Some instances with language (one particular secondary character tends to profanity when angry and another is just a creep).  Two instances of sexual assault/attempted rape.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Ghosts of Manor House - Matt Powers

Summary: Edmund and Mary Wilder are very much in love. But the death of their young son, Tommy, has shattered their family. Edmund is determined to bring them back together, drawing on the only bit of strength he has left—his love for Mary and their daughter, Stephanie. But Mary sinks deeper into depression while little Stephanie’s anger grows. Edmund flounders in his attempts to rescue his family from the brink of collapse and doesn’t know where to turn.

Then Mary receives an invitation for the family to become guests at Manor House, a seemingly quaint Bed and Breakfast. This, she assures her husband, is the answer to all their troubles.

Edmund arrives ahead of his family to spend a couple days working on his long-delayed novel. But his growing curiosity about the old house leads Edmund to an encounter that will change him forever. 

What will you sacrifice for love?

An old fashioned psychological thriller with a nod to Stephen King, Manor House will keep you guessing and compel you to turn the page to the very end. 

A mother will sacrifice anything for her children. A husband will risk everything to save his wife. Manor House will take them all. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: ‘Tis the season for scary ghost stories, AmIRight? It wouldn’t be Halloween without a few. We at Reading for Sanity wouldn’t feel right about you living your Halloween season all non-scary and such, so today I’m bringing you a review of a haunted house book.

Haunted houses are, without a doubt, one of the funnest scary things about Halloween, ya know? I’ve talked about my love for non-human characters in the past, and haunted houses are definitely on my list of Fave Characters that are not human. I’m not saying not living, you see, because there are many lovely books about animals as main characters. There are even books about non-living things as the main character, but for Halloween, the choice du jour is definitely a haunted house. Maybe Dracula, too, but I guess we can debate whether or not vampires are living at a later date.

So imagine my excitement when I was given the opportunity for a book about haunted houses. And ya’ll, this haunted house book is definitely creepy. This house is uber evil. It’s not just that bad things have gone on there, but the very land it is on is cursed. And a tree. A big ol’ scary tree that does very nasty things to people. It has a secret as well, but I’ll let you discover that on your own.

This book was full of fun Halloweeny-type situations—mysterious disappearances, deaths, furnishings that appear and re-appear, not-quite-living and not-quite-dead house staff, a house that is hard to find to outsiders, a deep and troubled past…this haunted house has it all. I really enjoyed the back story of this haunted house. It was a great addition to my Halloween reading.

My complaint about this book is that it was at times confusing. I know that the author had intentions of the mystery surrounding the house to be confusing, but I don’t think the story ended up being confusing in the way he hoped. Instead of there being a delicious mystery about what had happened, I ended up wondering if the editing had been messed up and a chapter replaced. I figured it out and the story marched on just fine, but it did take me a little while to confirm what was going on. I don’t think this is because the author had an unformed story, instead, I think it was just a slight inexperience about how to transition smoothly in a situation where the main character is forgetting and letting the reader in on the secret without ruining the shtick. Don’t worry, though. This particular issue resolves as time goes on and the haunted reading commences!

This is a short little read with a creepy vibe. If you’re looking for a fun haunted house story that isn’t a huge time commitment or a big emotional drain, this book is for you!

My Rating: 3 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some slight language and Halloween-esque themes (nothing too gory, although think witch trials-esque). This book is clean.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Hundred Dresses - Eleanor Estes (Illustrated by Louis Slobodkin)

Summary:  Wanda wears the same faded blue dress to school every day -- yet she says she has one hundred beautiful dresses at home, "all lined up." The other girls don't believe it, and when Peggy starts a daily game of teasing Wanda about the hundred dresses, everyone joins in.  Maddie, Peggy's best friend goes along with the game, but secretly wonders whether she can find the courage to speak up in Wanda's defense.

It's not until Wanda fails to come to school one day that her classmates learn the truth about the hundred dresses -- and Maddie and Peggy learn the meaning of kindness and generosity of spirit.  (Summary from book - image from )

My Review: The Hundred Dresses was given to me by my husband's aunt (a former elementary school teacher) with her hearty recommendation. As a Newbery Honor books (and a 80-page one at that), I thought it might be a good read-aloud book for a few of my kiddos, so I decided to sit down and "pre-read" it this week while they are on their end-of-summer backpacking trip with their dad. 

(Yes. A week of  potentially uninterrupted reading = *BLISS*).  But on to the review.

In The Hundred Dresses we meet three young school girls: Peggy, Wanda, and Maddie.  Peggy is a popular, well-to-do student, who isn't always kind.  Wanda, is a rather poor student, whose habit of wearing the same dress to school every day (all while making outrageous claims about the contents of her closet) makes her the target of much teasing.  Maddie follows Peggy's lead in tormenting Wanda, even though she doesn't feel quite right about it, because she doesn't want to become the target of abuse.  Then one day Wanda stops coming to school.  I'll leave it at that, so I don't spoil things, but needless to say, the girls learn a valuable lesson.

I imagine I'm not the only person who has regrets -- moments in life that I desperately wish I could take back.  An unintended slight.  An unkind act.  A flippant or cutting remark.  It makes me wince in shame when I think of who I have hurt with my careless behavior, though in many cases there is nothing I can do to take back what I said or undo what I did.  Well, Eleanor Estes wrote The Hundred Dresses because of her own regrets, and as the only way she could make up for being unkind to someone else in her youth.  I don't know about you, but knowing that, and knowing that this story is in some ways autobiographical, makes it mean so much more.  While I do think The Hundred Dresses will be a nice little read-aloud book for my kiddos when they get back, it is really so much more than that; it's bittersweet, easy to read children's book with a gentle reminder that we can all be a little more compassionate, generous, and forgiving with one another.  And, let's face it, young or old, that is a message we all need to hear.

Oh, and the illustrations are pretty good too.  I'm not an art critic, so I don't have the appropriate words to describe the artist's style, but the faces aren't particularly detailed, which seemed rather intentional so that readers can put themselves in the story.  With that thought in mind, whoever you might have been in the story before.... be an end-of-the-story Maddie today. 

My Rating:  4 Stars.

For the sensitive reader:  This book was written in 1944.  The only thing I can think of that someone would find even remotely "offensive" is that the school had a contest where the boys designed outboard engines and the girls designed dresses.  My more-feminist side wrinkled its nose a little at the disparity, but it's perfectly appropriate within the setting of the story. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Handbook for Dragon Slayers - Merrie Haskell

Summary: Thirteen-year-old Princess Matilda, whose lame foot brings fear of the evil eye, has never given much thought to dragons, attending instead to her endless duties and wishing herself free of a princess's responsibilities.

When a greedy cousin steals Tilda's lands, the young princess goes on the run with two would-be dragon slayers. Before long she is facing down the Wild Hunt, befriending magical horses, and battling flame-spouting dragons. On the adventure of a lifetime, and caught between dreams of freedom and the people who need her, Tilda learns more about dragons—and herself—than she ever imagined.

Merrie Haskell, author of The Princess Curse, presents a magical tale of transformation, danger, and duty, starring a remarkable princess as stubborn as she is brave. (Summary and picture from goodreads.com)


My Review: I heard about this book over at Disability in Kidlit while doing some research for some of my own stories.  This premise grabbed me straightaway--I love children's fantasy stories, and dragons, and the heroine sounded like a good solid character. 

And she was.  She totally was.  And I tell you I am not one to normally volunteer picking up princess stories, so that's saying something.  But this did not feel like a princess story at all (sorry if that's what you were looking for.  Though I've not read it in years, I kept thinking of Dealing With Dragons and its unconventional princess).

This book was quite a fun ride.  It felt historical while also being magical, as the characters reference real places and saints and events (which of course overlap with the saints who tame and destroy dragons from medieval folklore).

Basically, Tilda is one fun character.  Though burdened with the job of her status, she longs most of all to write a book of her very own, even daydreaming about running away to a nunnery so that she will have the peace and quiet she needs to do so.  She finally does get the opportunity to start her book, and is thrown into a slew of other adventures along the way.  And even though her club foot can be a bother, she doesn't let it stop her from writing books, from taming horses and meeting dragons.  It's addressed and dealt with while also not being the main problem, which is great. 

I feel like a lot of stories that have a disabled character focus a whole lot on the disability.  Not that this is bad, it's good to know and understand.  But in many stories like that, their disability is the only thing to them, which is untrue.  Why shouldn't characters with disabilities just have a normal story like other characters?  Sure they have different obstacles to overcome and teach us how, but why can't they be the hero, solve mysteries, go on adventures?  I say they should, and we should have more media as such, so thank you, Merrie Haskell.

We get magic, we get adventure, we get dragons, we even get some fantastical metal horses from the Wild Hunt.  We get all sorts of good and exciting and scary stuff.  And I always love when we get to see something from another side, a major case here being the dragons. 

Definitely a must for any fan of fantasy, dragons, and adventure.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: has some scary, adventurous elements--the characters are often in danger from real and magical forces, and get pretty brutally injured at one point.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Hag - Kathleen Kaufman

Summary: At this, the Cailleach would release a single drop of indigo dye onto the topmost layer. See, she would tell her daughter. See? It bleeds through the topmost path and onto the next. In this way, so many things from the next world touch ours, and our world touches the layer beneath.

High above the sea, hidden in the rocky Scottish cliffs, something stirs. An ancient matriarchial power has set the wheels in motion for a long line of descendants. But to what end?

Spanning centuries of human history, these daughters of the lowland hag, the Cailleach, must navigate a world filled with superstition, hatred, violence, pestilence, and death to find their purpose. With pasts half remembered and destinies denied, the daughters of Cailleach are women with uncanny, and often feared, abilities to heal, to see the future and to cause great destruction and pain when threatened. With each passing generation, the waves crash against the shore, and the Cailleach awaits a homecoming that will bring everything full circle. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: You guys! This book just came out yesterday! 

As with everyone else in the Known Universe, I love fall. You know how this goes, and everyone has been writing about it in All The Social Media Places so I’ll just take my comfy sweaters and pumpkin flavors and hot chocolate and move along.  I really love October, actually, because I think that Halloween is awesome and I love all the stuff that goes with it.  Being a book nerd, I LOVE indulging in some spooky literature during October. It seems like the perfect excuse to over-indulge in ghosts and witches and scary things. I read these things all year round, let’s be real, but they seem especially delicious and pertinent during October.

I’m excited to review this book for you because it’s new and just came out and if you’re into time jumps and witchy things and woman power, this is a book for you. It’s perfect for your Halloween season reading!

I felt a particular connection to this book because I am of Scottish descent, and my Granny actually emigrated from Scotland, so the connection to it is close and very real to me. My Granny spoke with a proper British accent, not a Scottish one, as she was from an aristocratic family and attended boarding school. However, I have the family tartan, family crest, etc. I have always felt a strong connection to Scotland and my Granny, so this book resonated with me. I don’t come from a family of witches (or maybe I do?!) but I love strong female characters and women with ancient powers and matriarchal lines.

And really, ancient powers and matriarchal lineage is the strength of this book. I loved how it was mostly about women, and these women were witches. They are powerful, they are from an ancient line of powers, and they are taking exactly NO CRAP from anyone, man or woman, who would stand in their way. I also loved the idea of an ancient matriarch who was lurking and orchestrating. It’s awesome. There’s also a matriarchal tattoo that was really cool.

And get this. The publisher told me that the picture on the cover is actually a picture of the author’s great great grandmother Charlotte. Which is awesome. The picture is captivating and actually one of the things that drew me to the book in the first place. Charlotte is obviously a woman with depth. You can see it on the cover. Although she is not specifically the character in this book, you can tell that Kaufman has a lineage of women to draw from who inspired her.

I really enjoyed this book. I found it to be really interesting and spooky, with a fun story and an interesting vibe. You should definitely check it out this Halloween season!

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There was some language and sexual inference but it was very tame and I would say it’s on the lighter side of the normal adult fiction genre.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Things We Haven't Said: Sexual Violence Survivors Speak Out - Edited by Erin Moulton

Summary: Things We Haven't Said is a powerful collection of poems, essays, letters, vignettes and interviews written by a diverse group of impressive adults who survived sexual violence as children and adolescents.  Structured to incorporate creative writing to engage the reader and informative interviews to dig for context, this anthology is a valuable resource of hope, grit and honest conversation that will help teens tackle the topic of sexual violence, upend stigma and maintain hope for a better future.  (Summary from book - image from amazon.com)

Note:  I desperately want to get this review right, but my reviewing skills feel rusty and unequal to the task.  Nevertheless, I persist.  Please forgive my inadequacies in speaking about such a sensitive and important topic!

My Review: I read a lot of books. Not as many as I'd like lately, but on average more than my fair share.  Most books I can read, enjoy, and walk away without looking back. This is not one of those books.  This is a book I will never forget.

I found Things We Haven't Said on a shelf at my local library and opened it to a random page.  What I read was an instantly compelling punch to the face -- a few lines of brutal poetry written by a young woman coping with the resurfacing memories of childhood sexual abuse.  Her harrowing, heart-rending account is one of many others in this compilation, told by women and men who have suffered appalling abuse, frequently at the hands of those most trusted and often before they were old enough to fully understand what was happening.  I know that's hard to read (and it was)....but keep reading.

Each story is told in its own unique way, be it in essay form, poetry, or letter to an abuser, to a mother who failed to protect, or to their younger fractured self, etc.  Some survivors spoke in voices that were angry and/or empowered. Others simply relieved to finally speak, or devastated, raw with grief and the weary exhaustion of pain long suffered. All had something important to say to those willing to listen. After each account, is an brief, unfiltered Q&A session between the survivor and the book's editor, Erin Moulton.  I felt these Q&A sessions were invaluable, as they gave a bit more insight into the writer's circumstances, what has happened since, and why they chose to present their story in a certain way.

I won't go into the details of each story; you'll have to decide if you're willing to open this book and let their voices out.  I will say that in account after account, three aspects consistently stood out to me.
  • The importance of speaking out.  Survivor after survivor stated that their recovery began when they found their voice.  So, when you can.  If you can.  TELL YOUR STORY.  
  • The importance of allies.  If you are one of those fortunate few who have not been victimized yourself, you likely know someone who has been.  Learn to be an ally.  Learn what that means for each individual survivor (what one person needs might not be the same as another).  Learn to listen.  Hear them.  Believe them.  Be there. 
  • The third aspect of this book was one that took me completely by surprise because, while I expected to be horrified by the subject matter, I did not expect to feel uplifted!  And I was!  Nearly every individual's section ended with some type of comfort or encouragement to others who might be living in similar circumstances.  Each story put it a bit differently, and there are too many to quote them all, but the gist was this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  You are stronger than you know!  Keep fighting.  Take your time.  Keep speaking.  YOU CAN DO THIS! 

I devoured this book.  Not in the way I normally do (for pleasure), but because I felt a keen desire to understand and help others who may have experienced similar trauma.  Aside from the moving first-person accounts, this book contains vital information on where to find help, important statistics about sexual assault, a glossary of frequently used terms, and useful online resources.  Those looking for an easy read will not find it, but those hoping to educate themselves and help shine a light on a subject that has been shoved into the shadows for far too long, will find a great resource.

Make no mistake, this is not fluffy chick lit.  It's the ugliest kind of waking nightmare, but a book that I highly encourage you to read if you feel up to it.  In doing so, you honor a survivor's voice and give them an opportunity to tell you their story on their own terms.  I promise, you will come away changed in some way.  You'll definitely understand more about the nature of sexual assault perpetrators and the experiences of their victims. You'll no longer find that rape "joke" funny (hopefully, you never did) and you'll shut it down at take the opportunity to educate others.  You'll speak up when you see someone being harassed.  Maybe, you'll start listening to that voice that's been telling you something is wrong.  Or you'll recognize the signs of abuse in a loved one, hear them, and become the ally they need.  And perhaps, someone reading this, maybe even you, will finally be able to acknowledge your own pain, find your own voice, and tell your own story.

For the sensitive reader:  In general, I don't recommend books that have graphic language, graphic violence, graphic 'sexual' imagery, or alternative sexual partnerships to anyone who pays attention to this section.  This book has all those things in varying degrees.  That having been said, I think this book is important and worth your consideration, if you are of a certain age and think you can manage it.  It's not glorifying anything.  It's just real life and real pain and, in my opinion, worth acknowledging.

My Rating:  5 Stars.


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