Monday, January 21, 2019

The Katurran Odyssey - Terryl Whitlatch & David Michael Wieger

Summary: "The Katurran Odyssey" is a remarkable visual achievement, filled with spectacle, fantasy, and wonder on every page. This epic tale of faith, hope, and selfless heroism is illuminated by the stunning illustrations of Terryl Whitlatch, the principal creature designer for the Star Wars prequels, and is brought to dynamic life by the storytelling of screenwriter and author David Michael Wieger.Bo-hibba is a remote island in a faraway time and place that is populated by animals who are at once fantastic and startlingly real. The island's survival is threatened by the Long Winter, and not even the High Priest's ancient ceremony of renewal can put an end to the suffering from the hunger and the cold.

Katook, a small but courageous young lemur, lives in the village of Kattakuk. When he dares to enter a forbidden area on the island and witnesses a shocking act, the outraged priests banish him from the island forever. Forced to journey across the vast sea in search of a new home, Katook encounters great perils and marvels on his quest and undergoes profound tests of trust and friendship. At last, he finds the place where the secret of the Long Winter is revealed and where he must confront his greatest fear if he is to save his family and his island home.

Like such classic works of fantasy as Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings," Rien Poortvliet's "Gnomes," C. S. Lewis's "Chronicles of Narnia," Brian Jacques's "Redwall" series, and Brian Froud's "Faeries," "The Katurran Odyssey" creates a mythic world imbued with beauty, adventure, and transcendent imagination. (image and summary from goodreads.com)


My Review: I've had this book for years, and it has also been years since I last read it, and I found myself wanting to delve into this unique world again and see if it held up to when I first read it.  I love original worlds with their own cultures and gods, and I also love following the story of little outcast lemur Katook, and his friendship with the very vain quagga, Quigga.

What really makes this book is the art.  Terryl Whitlach is a masterful animal artist, and has worked on several movies (including Star Wars, of which I have another book of hers detailing all her creature art for that world), and Brother Bear, another favorite of mine.  She has a fantastic knowledge of animals (and even made up creatures) that is so inherent in her artwork that you just can't help but adore, the fluid motion and poses and the sheer number of animals she illustrated for this world.

And that's another cool thing about this book.  Every animal in it (except one or two that are fantasy-related) are real animals, whether they are alive now or extinct.  You can have extinct fare like thylacines, moas, and quagga aside much lesser known currently existing animals such as sables and gerenuks and fossah.  It's truly a feast for animal lovers, and Terryl's art is just spectacular.

The story itself is fine.  It's enjoyable, but it's not stellar.  I do really like the world that was crafted, a world inhabited entirely by animals (and mostly in their animal states too, meaning four legged animals walk around on four legs.  Some do wear clothes, but it's mainly the monkeys, as they fill the human niche of this land, writing books, riding larger animals as steeds, crafting buildings, etc).  It's a typical hero's journey story, which I have no qualms with, but I think the art outshines the actual writing.

It did bring into question several things I didn't feel were fully addressed.  Back to the monkeys riding other animals--is this slavery?  Because we know these animals are cognizant, even our main character's friend, a quagga, explicitly tells Katook he will not be ridden.  Another question I was left with was where is the predator/prey line drawn?  Both were included in this world, but I couldn't tell if the predator animals were able to communicate/if they were seen as equals?  In some scenes you see them walking about in the market with prey animals, in others, they are the attack dogs for royalty. It was just something that, for a world that went into as much detail as it did with the monkey cultures, I felt a little more of a solid line could have been drawn on some of these other important facets of worldbuilding.

But overall, the Katurran Odyssey is well worth the time as we go with Katook on his journey in this world filled with strange gods and cultures, masterful art and design, and a unique look at different animal species.

My Rating: Four Stars


For the sensitive reader: the priests in Katook's village are pretty threatening and scary, and along his journey, Katook is thrown into peril after peril, kidnapped, enslaved, and hunted.

   

Friday, January 18, 2019

Bird Box - Josh Malerman

Summary: Something is out there...something terrifying that must not be seen.  One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence.  No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remain, including Malorie and her two young children.  Living in an abandoned house near the river, Malorie has long dreamed of fleeing to a place where her family might be safe.  But the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat--blindfolded.  One wrong choice and they will die.  And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster?

Engulfed in darkness, surrounded by sounds both familiar and frightening, Malorie embarks on a harrowing odyssey -- a trip that takes her into an unseen world and back into the past, to the companions who once saved her.  Interweaving past and present, Josh Malerman's breathtaking debut is a horrific and gripping snapshot of a world unraveled that will have you racing to the final page.

My Review:  I don't know if you are Netflix fans, but just before Christmas, Netflix released a film called Bird Box that I really wanted to watch.  This is unusual for me, since I don't generally watch or read anything that falls into the horror/thriller category.  It's just not my bag; I like being able to sleep at night.  Eventually, I decide not to watch it, but imagine my surprise when, a few days later, I stumbled upon the book version sitting on one of my own bookshelves.  I didn't even know there was a book version, let alone remember I owned a copy!  It seemed meant to be, so I crossed my fingers and dove in.

Bird Box (the book) is a nerve-wracking, pulse-pounding, nail-biting, hand-wringing, edge-of-your-seat-the-entire-time kind of book.  Not sure what I mean?  Think The Walking Dead meets The Reapers Are the Angels meets The Quiet Place, with an unquantifiable foe that incites brutal, homicidal madness in anyone who sees it. 

The story itself alternates between past and present perspectives.  In the present, a woman named Malorie is desperate to survive, as nearly everyone she loves has been killed.  The only way out of her current situation is to escape down river in a rowboat in search of a rumored safe haven.  As if that weren't hard enough, she does so with two young children. Oh, and everyone is blindfolded.  On a river. And did I mention they were BLINDFOLDED!! Yikes, right?!

In flashbacks to the past, a little more of Malorie's backstory comes to light -- the early days of "the problem," societal degeneration, her harrowing journey to the house that would become her home until she was forced to flee, and several things that happen in the interim.  Thanks to the author's narrative technique, I understood little more than the characters themselves, and nearly nothing about the pressing threat, and served more as a silent spectator, pressed against the wall, in a truly frightening nightmare.  As you can imagine, that is a pretty terrifying place to be.  But also kind of deliciously so. 

For me the most nerve-wracking part of the book was the obvious differences between past an the present.  In the past viewpoint, Malorie shared a house with more than a half dozen people -- healthy ones, with a good stockpile of food. They should have been their four years later when, in the present, it's just Malorie and her children.  Obviously something happened.  But what?  WHAAAT!??!  I read this book cover to cover in around 5 hours and it seemed like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop the entire time.  Drop it does and it's a doozy -- a veritable pelting of shoes, so be ready.

I won't say more, because to do so would be giving too much away, but I thoroughly enjoyed getting scared senseless while reading this book.   I'd recommend this book to anyone with a strong stomach for suspense who isn't bothered by some cursing or violence, and likes any or all of the following: The Walking Dead (tv show), The Quiet Place (movie), and/or The Reapers are the Angels (book).  
   
My Rating:  4 Stars.

For the sensitive reader:  Some swearing and fair amount of violence.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster - Jonathan Auxier

Summary: For nearly a century, Victorian London relied on "climbing boys"--orphans owned by chimney sweeps--to clean flues and protect homes from fire. The work was hard, thankless and brutally dangerous. Eleven-year-old Nan Sparrow is quite possibly the best climber who ever lived--and a girl. With her wits and will, she's managed to beat the deadly odds time and time again. 

But when Nan gets stuck in a deadly chimney fire, she fears her time has come. Instead, she wakes to find herself in an abandoned attic. And she is not alone. Huddled in the corner is a mysterious creature--a golem--made from ash and coal. This is the creature that saved her from the fire. 


Sweep is the story of a girl and her monster. Together, these two outcasts carve out a life together--saving one another in the process. (image and summary from goodreads.com)



My Review: Call me strange, but several years ago I did some research on chimney sweeps for a book I wanted to write.  Ever since then, sweeps have been on my radar, so when I heard about Auxier's book that had both a sweep AND a monster, well.  There you go, I was sold.

This book was so tight.  Auxier is a masterful storyteller, especially with his historical fiction.  I read another of his books, The Night Gardener, and felt the same way.  He is able to capture the history and feel of the past that makes it accessible and also understandable.  In the circumstances for this book, it's 1800s London, and the vast use of climbing boys and girls to clean out chimneys.

I loved our main character, Nan.  She is a climbing girl, and as such, is always going up chimneys for her job.  This was a dangerous position to be in, however, and many young children were seriously injured or died.  But Nan is a tough girl, and despite the danger, she loves her job, particularly when she can be on a roof and see all of London.  I love how Auxier told her story and crafted her character, she felt very real to me.

Auxier weaves in memories of Nan when she was younger and in the care of a gentle, loving Sweep. Before he left, he gave her a gift to watch over her, a small piece of char, or coal, which we later discover is our monster--Charlie.

Charlie was adorable.  He's a golem, a creature from Jewish mythology, that Nan works to protect and teach as he grows up much like a child.  I loved his view of the world and how he saw things.  I called him a monster earlier, the title calls him a monster, but he is not a monster in the sense most people see the word. He is gentle, childlike and caring.  Nan and Charlie's friendship was so pure and so true and it tied this story together so well.

I also loved the quiet pacing of this story.  There was still danger and high stakes as well as harsh circumstances, but the story was able to weave its way along in this almost old fashioned telling that I found very appealing.  A very well deserving book that explores friendship, chimney sweeps, Jewish culture, and change.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: Nan live in a harsh world, and she and other climbers are put in dangerous situations.  This story also deals with death.   

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Winters - Lisa Gabriele

Summary: Inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, a spellbindingly suspenseful novel set in the moneyed world of the Hamptons, about secrets that refuse to remain buried and consequences that can’t be escaped

After a whirlwind romance, a young woman returns to the opulent, secluded Long Island mansion of her new fiancé Max Winter—a wealthy politician and recent widower—and a life of luxury she’s never known. But all is not as it appears at the Asherley estate. The house is steeped in the memory of Max’s beautiful first wife Rebekah, who haunts the young woman’s imagination and feeds her uncertainties, while his very alive teenage daughter Dani makes her life a living hell. She soon realizes there is no clear place for her in this twisted little family: Max and Dani circle each other like cats, a dynamic that both repels and fascinates her, and he harbors political ambitions with which he will allow no woman—alive or dead—to interfere.

As the soon-to-be second Mrs. Winter grows more in love with Max, and more afraid of Dani, she is drawn deeper into the family’s dark secrets—the kind of secrets that could kill her, too. The Winters is a riveting story about what happens when a family’s ghosts resurface and threaten to upend everything. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I was immediately interested in this book because I loved Rebecca, and it is a retelling of that story. I don’t know if you’ve read Rebecca, but if you haven’t, you should. It’s so creepy and well-written and well-told. I first read it when I was a very young high schooler, maybe even junior high, and it was a completely different book to me than when I read it as an adult. I really enjoyed it both times. I had hoped for that experience with this book. I have read another retelling of Rebecca in the past, as well as the sequel to the original (not written by du Maurier), so I have read quite a few retellings and feel like although I may enjoy the books on their own merits, there is nothing that can beat the original. This book was no exception.

There were some things I really liked about this book—it definitely had some of its own story and charm that separated it from the original story. The introduction of the male protagonist having a daughter was a nice addition, and she provided for some good tension and misunderstanding. It was a natural fit for a second-marriage-with-problems kind of situation. Also, the female protagonist was a lot younger, and that gave her a naiveté that was also interesting. She was not to be underestimated, however, and she had some wiliness that also added to the story.

The house, of course, is also a great character in Rebecca. This house definitely has some interesting things about it, but it wasn’t the same creepy old mansion I imagined in the original story. To be fair, that one would be hard to beat.

In the end, I just don’t think the storytelling was as good, nor the story as compelling. The ending was interesting, but wasn’t as shocking as I think the author thought it would be. It definitely had some shocking and maybe surprising elements, but it just can’t compete with the original. I also found the female protagonist (who is unnamed, which is interesting) to be weak at times, which is fine, but it seemed out of character. She was a strong and independent person who had lived on her own for a long time, and so when she would react in ways that made her look weaker than I think she really was, it felt contrived. I also hate love stories that make the woman look like an idiot around the man, especially if it seems out of character for the woman before the man came around.

However, if you liked Rebecca, I think you should check out this book. Everybody has something they like about the classics, and this book may capture some of that for you. Also, if you are into romance and love stories, this might be a book you enjoy.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language, sex, and some violence in this book. Still, I would say it’s PG rated.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Comet in Moominland - Tove Jansson

Summary: When Moomintroll learns that a comet will be passing by, he and his friend Sniff travel to the Observatory on the Lonely Mountains to consult the Professors. Along the way, they have many adventures, but the greatest adventure of all awaits them when they learn that the comet is headed straight for their beloved Moominvalley. (picture and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: I reviewed the fifth Moomin book in December, so I thought I should write a review of the first book.  (Strictly speaking, this book would be the second, however, packaged as they are now, this falls first. The first Moomin book Tove wrote was called The Moomins and the Great Flood, and is more of a picture book than a novel, and is often considered a prequel.  That being said, while it is a wonderful little story, the saga of the Moomins could be said to truly start in Comet in Moominland, and one doesn't necessarily have to read Flood.)

Moomins are plump little trolls that live in the lovely Moominvalley.  Moomintroll, our hero, lives with his mother and father and best friend Sniff.  When a comet threatens to destroy their fair hamlet, Moomintroll and Sniff set off to discover all they can so they will be prepared when it comes.

Along the way they meet characters that become staple in the Moomin series, Snufkin, Snorkmaiden, and Hemulen.  They all join along for the adventure to the observatory, getting into scrapes and learning how to rely on each other when disaster strikes.

Tove was greatly affected by World War II, and that can be seen in Comet in Moominland as it revolves around an outside force that cannot be controlled by the characters, a terrifying thing that is coming and can easily destroy everything.  Despite that terror, the characters learn to stick together, and when disaster is averted, they see the world with a strong new sense of hope where they can continue to live.

I love this book.  We get to interact with such interesting characters that we can find ourselves relating to, even as they do ridiculous things and go on crazy adventures, like fighting an octopus, walking on stilts across what was once an ocean, and being reunited by a cake made by Moominmamma.  As I've said before, the Moominbooks are a delightful series, with charming characters and unique situations, and I highly recommend them to everyone.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: our heroes are faced with many scary situations, but they bravely come through. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Sisters of the Winter Wood - Rena Rossner

Summary: Raised in a small village surrounded by vast forests, Liba and Laya have lived a peaceful sheltered life - even if they've heard of troubling times for Jews elsewhere. When their parents travel to visit their dying grandfather, the sisters are left behind in their home in the woods.

But before they leave, Liba discovers the secret that their Tati can transform into a bear, and their Mami into a swan. Perhaps, Liba realizes, the old fairy tales are true. She must guard this secret carefully, even from her beloved sister.

Soon a troupe of mysterious men appear in town and Laya falls under their spell-despite their mother's warning to be wary of strangers. And these are not the only dangers lurking in the woods...

The sisters will need each other if they are to become the women they need to be - and save their people from the dark forces that draw closer. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: This is just the kind of book that I‘ve really enjoyed lately. First off, I’m totally digging these fairytale retellings. This one is based on an old Russian fairytale, and I think it’s mixed with a few different fairytales including some cultural lore (according to the afterward), and I think it worked really well. The characters were interesting and mysterious, just as they should be in a good fairytale. I loved the magical realism as well, and I think that’s one of the things that made it really work. So many people who have lived throughout history, due to their lack of scientific knowledge and discovery, basically lived magical realism. Things that we are able to explain away today with science or with natural phenomena would have been magic to them, and I think that is the power behind fairytale—who knows where the natural phenomena or fairytale begins when everything is confusing and new? Some people died from a plague, some did not. Was this just magic or bewitching? Maybe. Fairytales just seem so authentic and real to people who have lived pretty much throughout history without the modern inventions and knowledge we have. And let’s face it—tons of things happen even now that we can’t explain. Is it magic? Is it science?

I enjoyed the writing in this book. Rossner is an adept storyteller and she has organized the book into being told first person by the two sisters. Each of the sisters has a very unique and telling style, and I enjoyed how the writing and the style of prose reflected each of the sisters.

The story is also very compelling. It is full of the age-old troubles of girls falling in love with boys they shouldn’t, family complications of all shapes and sizes, discovering oneself and embracing your destiny without losing sight of your own desires, and cultural strife between different ethnic groups living side by side. Really, this book encompassed a lot of themes and addressed them well. The fact that it was based on actual historical happenings gave it a feeling of authenticity, even though it was well within the realm of fantasy. I found it very interesting and enjoyable.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some cultural strife and mentioned violence.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Golden Son - Pierce Brown

HEY!! We're back!  I hope you had a great Christmas, New Years, winter break, etc.  I know I enjoyed the downtime.  

Golden Son is the second book in the Red Rising series. If you haven't yet read the first book book, we highly recommend you read our review here.

Summary:  As a Red, Darrow grew up working the mines deep beneath the surface of Mars enduring backbreaking labor while dreaming of the better future he was building for his descendants.  But the Society he faithfully served was built on lies.  Darrow's kind have been betrayed and denied by their elitist masters, the Golds -- and their only path to liberation is revolution.  And so Darrow sacrifices himself in the name of the greater good for which Eo, his true love and inspiration, laid down her life.  He becomes a Gold, infiltrating their privileged realm so that he can destroy it from within.

A lamb among wolves in a cruel world, Darrow finds friendship, respect, and even love -- but also the wrath of powerful rivals.  To wage and win the war that will change humankind's destiny, Darrow must confront the treachery arrayed against him, overcome his all-too-human desire for retribution -- and strive not for violent revolt but a hopeful rebirth.  Though the road ahead is fraught with danger and deceit, Darrow must choose to follow Eo's principles of love and justice to free his people.  He must live for more.  (Summary from book - Image from Amazon.com)

My Review:  Woah.  I just finished Golden Son a few minutes ago and I feel as if I need to sit here, catch my breath, and maybe look in a mirror to see if my hair looks wind blown.  I also feel an intense need to get some thoughts down on paper, however informal they may come across.  Holy crap what a ride.  I read the first half of this burst in fits and spurts as I tried to ready my home and family for the Christmas holidays.  I read the last half with white-knuckled dedication.  Like it or not, I've become invested in Darrow and his crazy companions.  I might not always like what they do or the reasons they do it, but just now they feel a bit like family.  You put up with them because you care.

Golden Son takes place several years after the events of Red Rising, and finds Darrow in a position of relative power, biding his time and waiting for Ares, the leader of the rebellion to make contact.  When Darrow is tasked with a horrifying act of destruction, he must decide what kind of man he is and how far he is willing to go for the sake of the mission.  At first, Darrow is still loyal to the cause, playing the loyal Gold while scrapping and plotting to bring freedom to the lowColors and destroy their masters.  However, as the story unfolds a new Darrow emerges -- one who recognizes the true value of those who fight alongside him and begins to realize there might something more and another, better, way to live.  I found I liked this new Darrow even more than the old one.  The old one was pretty much a rock star, but new Darrow showed more vulnerability, compassion, willingness to trust, and wisdom than you might expect from a battled-hardened warrior.  It rounded out his character nicely.  As for the other characters, some major players return and new ones emerge but not all survive.  Many of the deaths came as a surprise and I mourned each loss, however necessary for the story.

Where the first book in this series had a Hunger Games vibe, Golden Son definitely had more of an Ender's Game feel, due in large part to much of it being set in space and a variety of planets and moons.  I enjoyed the change in scenery from the first book and the widened scope of the story.  I also believe Game of Thrones fans would feel right at home in this storyline.  To be clear, I've never actually watched GOT, but from what little I hear there is enough subterfuge, back-stabbing, power grabbing, and general mayhem to go around.  (No dragons, though, but there is a griffin.)

As with the first book in this series, success doesn't always come easy for Darrow.  He has his fair share of victories (minor and major) but he also suffers some fairly devastating setbacks, both personally and for the cause.  As hard as it was to board that particular emotional roller coaster, it made the story feel more believable and the struggle more intense.  And boy was it.  Intense, I mean.  Golden Son had more battles, betrayal, intrigue, and surprises, than I ever expected, enough romance to keep things interesting and more moments of Whaaaaaaaaaat, NO WAY?!?! than I would have though possible in one book.  I'm fairly certain I held my breath for much of the latter half, up until the ending, where the author knocked the win right out of me.  (To be read in the voice of your mother) Pierce Brown....that little hanger of cliffs was just plain mean!  As such, I plan to start the third book, Morning Star, in short order, as soon as I manage to get my hands on it.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars.  (Honestly, I'd love to give this book 5 Stars, if it weren't for the things outlined in the sensitive readers section)

For the sensitive reader:  If you are bothered by scenes of intense violence (lots of stabbings, decapitation, limb and eyeball removal), some PG-13 language and innuendo, and one brief, fairly vague sexual encounter, then I'd probably look elsewhere for your book fix.

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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