Monday, December 24, 2018

Reading For Sanity's Best Books of 2018


Merry Christmas Eve! 
I hope you all have a fantastic holiday.  On that note, RFS is taking a mini-holiday break until January 7th.  Not surprisingly, this is roughly the equivalent of all our kid's winter breaks.  As such, this will be our last post of 2018.  However, I didn't want to let the year go by without doing a recap of all the great books we've read and reviewed in 2018.  

Here's a list of our 
Best Books (5 Stars) and Runners Up (4.5 Stars) of 2018 

It's always interesting to see what books end up here every year, and this year it's quite an eclectic mix.  Each is linked to our review, so be sure to click through if you want to read why we thought these books were fabulous!

Best Books (5 Stars)









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





RUNNERS UP (4.5 Stars)


Press Here - Hervé Tullet









If you haven't had a chance to take a look at any of 
these great books, now is the perfect time!
Have a happy and safe new year!

Now, bring on 2019!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Moominland Midwinter - Tove Jansson

Summary: Everyone knows the Moomins sleep through the winter. But this year, Moomintroll has woken up early. So while the rest of the family slumber, he decides to visit his favorite summer haunts. But all he finds is this strange white stuff. Even the sun is gone! Moomintroll is angry: whoever Winter is, she has some nerve. Determined to discover the truth about this most mysterious of all seasons, Moomintroll goes where no Moomin has gone before. (image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review:  disclaimer--this is the fifth book in the Moomin series, and while you don't necessarily have to read them in any order, I would suggest doing so in order to fully understand and appreciate the characters.  However, today is midwinter, and I love Moomins, so therefore you get your introduction via Moominland Midwinter.

I love Tove's Moomin books.  Though they have been around for decades, I only discovered them last year and quickly devoured them all, plus the comics (and have read them a few times again since).  There is something so simple, yet so vastly deep about Moomin Valley and its inhabitants that captures one to the very core.  And this is one of my very favorite books of the series.

Moomins are adorable plump trolls that have decided to no longer to live behind stoves as their ancestors did, and live instead in a peaceful land called Moomin Valley.  As stated above, they hibernate all winter (this hearkens to the long and dark winters of the author's home in Finland).  However, our protagonist Moomintroll finds he cannot get back to sleep and decides to go out and discover this new white world.

And this is where, starting from this book, the Moomin series changes a little.  The first books are fun, silly romps that are utterly delightful, but in Moominland Midwinter, we start to get deeper, even existential thoughts.  Moomintroll's feelings throughout this book are something that have been felt by everyone, I think, at some time in their lives.  Moomintroll learns learns loneliness.  He learns anger.  He learns fear.  But then he also learns patience. He learns bravery.  He learns wonder.

Tove's books are filled with such fun, unique characters with species names (that often serve as the character name too) like Mymbles and Hemulens, Creeps and Snufkins, Joxters, Sniffs, Snorks, Whompers, Fillyjonks, and Tofts.  We get to meet a plethora of fun characters in this book, a particular favorite being Too-ticky, a relaxed and chill person who knows what she's doing.  All these characters gather in the wintry landscape, they work together, get on each other's nerves, aspire for greater things, and teach each other how to make it through the darkness.

Tove's illustrations throughout the book add so much life to the already lively text, a little doodle of a character here, and then a full page masterpiece there. I said I discovered Moomins last year, but in truth it was a few years before via a picture on the internet, though I didn't know it was Moomins until reading this book:



Overall I highly recommend this book, along with all the other books of the Moomin series, because there's just something about them that touches the inner core of what it means to be alive.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is the death of a minor character, and this scene also contains The Lady of the Cold who could be scary.  Another character called The Groke has been known to terrify kids for decades, and she has a big part in this book.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Florida - Lauren Groff

Summary: The New York Times-bestselling author of Fates and Furiesreturns, bringing the reader into a physical world that is at once domestic and wild—a place where the hazards of the natural world lie waiting to pounce, yet the greatest threats and mysteries are still of an emotional, psychological nature. A family retreat can be derailed by a prowling panther, or by a sexual secret. Among those navigating this place are a resourceful pair of abandoned sisters; a lonely boy, grown up; a restless, childless couple, a searching, homeless woman; and an unforgettable, recurring character—a steely and conflicted wife and mother. 

The stories in this collection span characters, towns, decades, even centuries, but Florida—its landscape, climate, history, and state of mind—becomes its gravitational center: an energy, a mood, as much as a place of residence. Groff transports the reader, then jolts us alert with a crackle of wit, a wave of sadness, a flash of cruelty, as she writes about loneliness, rage, family, and the passage of time. With shocking accuracy and effect, she pinpoints the moments and decisions and connections behind human pleasure and pain, hope and despair, love and fury—the moments that make us alive. Startling, precise, and affecting, Florida is a magnificent achievement. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: The premise of this book is that all of the stories are related to Florida. I find this to be fascinating, actually. I love the idea that each state has so much flavor and so much depth to it that a whole book of short stories could be published about it and each of these short stories could showcase a different part of the state. This should be a whole series, right?! Think how many opportunities for short story books this would offer to Groff. Time to get on that, Ms. Groff.

Now. With my previous paragraph you would think that each of these stories takes place in Florida. That is not true. Many of them do, but not all of them. The common thread is that the people are from Florida or heading to Florida or something where Florida is mentioned. Some of them actually have very little to do with Florida, which was somewhat disappointing because of the title and description of the book. It’s not that I was disappointed with the stories, I was just disappointed that the concept didn’t go the way I thought that it should.

The thing I found most interesting about a book with short stories about Florida is that it appears that the author does not, in fact, like Florida. Maybe she had some sort of misadventure there or has relatives she doesn’t like from there or maybe she just feels bad juju when she thinks about it. I would not say this is an ode to Florida, nor would I expect to pick this up in a tourist shop in Disney World.

The stories themselves are well-written, as one might expect from a National Book Award Finalist for Fiction (2018) and a Kirkus Prize for Fiction (2018). They are detailed and rich, and despite the fact that they are short stories, they are well-developed and leave an impression that I normally would only get from a much longer book. I think that it takes many authors a long time to establish a character, setting, and storyline that Groff did in just a short story. It really is a great book that way.

Did I like the stories? Well, sometimes I did. They were dark and as I mentioned before, not very flattering to Florida. I think that with my initial hopes of it discussing different aspects of Florida, I was somewhat disappointed. Having such different stories without the common thread of Florida actually made the stories feel quite disjointed. I would have liked more consistency. That being said, even though I know that my initial dreams of a book called Florida actually being about Florida (Why wasn’t it about different places in Florida? Like people in the Florida Keys who are obviously so different from those who live in the bayou or even the tourists who visit Disney World? I mean. These are some brilliant ideas I’ve got, right?!), I would have liked more consistency in the stories as a whole; something that connected them. Barring this, I would have preferred the stories have nothing to do with each other.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some sex and language in this book, although not much.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Big Book of Paleo Pressure Cooking

Do you have an instant pot?  I don't.  Not yet, anyway, but I am fairly certain I'll be getting one in the coming year.  Because of my lack of pressure cooker, I can't give this book a proper review, but I wanted to spotlight it anyway.

Natalie Perry is the creator of Perry's Plate, the author of another cookbook, The Big Book of Paleo Slow Cooking, and a former Reading For Sanity reviewer!  You can see her reviews here.  Quite simply, she is the bee's knees.  If you haven't visited Perry's Plate highly recommend it.  Her taco seasoning is the only taco seasoning I will ever use.  The same can be said for her tropical fish tacos, her crispy chicken tacos, and her sweet potato foil packet tacos.  Woah.  I just noticed a theme.  She does waaaay more than tacos people...I just think I have a clear food preference.

Anyway, Natalie just released her second cookbook -- The Big Paleo Book of Pressure Cooking.  I've been watching her sneak peeks and it seriously looks so awesome.  If you have an Instant Pot, and even if you are just thinking about it, have a look!

 
PS.  I don't get money if you buy it. It's not an affiliate link. We just love Natalie and think she is brilliant!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Red Rising - Pierce Brown

Summary: "I live for the dream that my children will be born free," she says.  "That they will be what they like.  That they will own the land their father gave them."
"I live for you," I say sadly.
Eo kisses my cheek.
"Then you must live for more."

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future.  Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

Yet he spends his life willingly knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed.  Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago.  Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet.  Darrow -- and Reds like him -- are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity's overloads struggle for power.  He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society's ruling class.  There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies...even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.  (Summary from book - Image from goodreads.com)

My Review: I found Red Rising at my local library.  I'm not sure why, but something about the cover made me think it was going to be a crime novel (not my thing) and I almost put it back without another glance when my eyes landed on the following quote by another author, Scott Sigler:

Ender, Katniss, and now Darrow.  

And, just like that, my interest pendulum swung in a completely different direction.

I love Ender's Game and The Hunger Games trilogy.  I can't explain it.  There is just something about the psychological warfare, fights-to-the-death, shaky alliances, and subjugated classes rebelling against their elite oppressors, that speaks to me on a some kind of molecular level. One courtesy flap-read later and I was totally hooked.  This book was going home with me, come hell or high water.

I like that the author embraced the similarities to these other stories right up front, because it would be pretty hard to miss them, especially in regards to The Hunger Games.  The color-coding of Darrow's world is not unlike the various districts of Panem, with different people serving in different capacities.  Both Katniss and Darrow are in their late teens (sixteen and seventeen, respectively) when their stories begin and forced to fight in ways that seem incongruous to their ages.  I could go into more detail, but to do so would spoil a lot of the story. Suffice to say that while similarities were evident, I didn't mind them or feel like the story was predictable because of them. In truth, I was too deeply involved with Darrow, his frienemies, and the problems at hand to do much more than note their existence and keep reading.  If anything, I was just excited to have a new story in a genre I love.

Like many futuristic dystopian novels, Red Rising is fairly brutal (see sensitive reader section).  After deciding to join other rebels, Darrow assumes the guise of a Gold, is drafted by House Mars, and must endure a secret trial, the Passage, that will allow him to stay at the Institute and continue their plans to take down the Gold elites.  To his horror, Darrow is shoved into a room with another young man and told that only one may emerge alive and claim their place in the Institute.  He does what must be done. The Passage is only the beginning of the trial.  Darrow and his fellow teammates of House Mars are placed in a terraformed valley with twelve different houses each in their own castle.  They must fight the other houses and win at all costs.

The psychological aspects of this book were fascinating, and Darrow comes up against them all.  How do you fight a war you don't believe in? How do you pretend to be someone you are not? Who can you trust?  How do you become a leader people will follow?  How far is too far in war?  Is it even worth the battle? Who are you really fighting?  The questions keep coming as the story progresses and Darrow learns more about the 'game' he has been forced to play -- of the men and women who watch, meddle, and pretend to keep the rules.  It was easy to get swept up in the injustice of it all and feel as if I had a personal stake in the story -- to feel affection for some, hatred for others, and blindsided and betrayed on a regular basis.  So many feels.

Initially, I wasn't sure if I would like this book but the more I read (and even now as I'm writing this review) the more I like it.  It has given me a wee bit of book hangover, and that's not easy to do. Darrow is (for lack of a better word) a complete bad ass, as are a several other characters I won't name because I don't want to spoil things.  I am fascinated by the world Brown created and I am excited to see more of it and watch Darrow's story progress.  I just hope I like who he becomes. I've already ordered the next book in the Red Rising series, Golden Son.

My Rating:  4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  This book contains some swearing and plenty of violence. Lots of people get hurt and many are killed in highly unpleasant ways.  If I had to put a rating on it I would say this book is PG-13 for swearing and R for violence if it were acted out on the big screen. There is a little kissing, some innuendo and some discussion of women getting raped.  The rapes are committed but neither seen through the eyes of the protagonist nor graphically described.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Great Cake Mystery - Alexander McCall Smith

Summary: Have you ever said to yourself, wouldn’t it be nice to be a detective? This is the story of an African girl who says just that. Her name is Precious. When a piece of cake goes missing from her classroom, Precious sets out to find the thief. (image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: I am a big fan of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (plus the very short-lived TV show), and every book I read is like a breath of fresh air.  Precious Ramotswe is one of my favorite literary characters of all time, and for good reason.  She is clever, caring, kind, funny, straightforward, and fights for both justice and mercy. She also sits on violent people until they calm down and she can talk sense to them.  See, awesome lady.

So this book was fun because we got to have a little foray into Precious' life as a child, when she first discovered she both wanted to be a detective, and would be good at it.  The story itself is simple and straightforward, but it has all the aspects we get in Smith's series, a mystery, human nature, suspects, Precious' inherent kindness and goodwill, and finally solving the puzzle.  It's perfect for younger fans of the series, and enjoyable for us older fans too.

I like how Smith speaks to the reader at certain aspects of the story, as if he is having a conversation with them, asking if they've ever thought of being a detective, if they ask a lot of questions and notice things others don't.  It draws the young reader into the world and lets them try to solve the mystery as well.  The illustrations throughout are also a fun touch, they do a fine job of illuminating the tale.
 
Any fan of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency should definitely put this on their list, it's a quick read, it's sweet, and it's pure Precious Ramotswe.

My Rating: Four Stars
 
For the sensitive reader: nothing of note

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