Friday, September 20, 2019

Freeform Friday: Raise Awareness for Banned Books (and do it in STYLE)

This Freeform Friday, I've decided to highlight the plight of the Banned Book.  
Psst, Banned Books Week is coming up Sept 22-28!  

As an American citizen and anti-censorship advocate, I fully support the 1st Amendment which allows freedom of expression through words spoken or written.  I may not like what someone has to say.  I may, in fact, loathe it.  However, in the words of Noam Chomsky "If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all." 

In honor of Banned Books Week and in celebration of the freedom that I have to read and write whatever the shmell I want, I'd like highlight some fairly cool banned book goodies I have found after some careful combing of the interwebs (and don't worry...there's some book recs at the end).

NOTE: This post does NOT contain affiliate links.  
None.  Zip.  Zilch.  Zero.  
I don't make a single penny off posting the stuff I find. 
I just like to share cool book stuff with the world.

Click here to take a closer look.................................................................or here.

I want this quote from Ray Bradbury on EVERYTHING... 
Ray Bradbury Medium Dystopian Sci Fi Literary Quote Poster image 0

Or how about this poster of the entire banned book, The Giver, for your dorm room wall?
The Giver

And I loved these glow-in-the-dark buttons that discourage censorship!
Censorship Leaves Us in the Dark Buttons 12

This button referencing George Orwell's banned book 1984 needs to be mine. 
It also comes in red hat form, but I'm trying to keep things focused on books...
....and I don't wear hats.

And lastly, the Noam Chomsky quote I love in book bag form. *Swoon*

Now, just in case you are a little short on funds this week, I don't want to leave you high and dry.  Here are ten of my favorite banned or challenged books or series, in no particular order (except F451...cuz dang), that I'm sure you could find at the library.  Oh, and I've linked to our reviews if we have them.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
1984 by George Orwell
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriquez
The Giver by Lois Lowry

Need more?  Click here to read all of our past posts about banned books!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Red Queen - Victoria Aveyard

Summary: Mare Barrow's world is divided by blood -- those with red and those with silver. Mare and her family are lowly Reds, destined to serve the Silver elite whose supernatural abilities make them nearly gods. Mare steals what she can to help her family survive, but a twist of fate leaders her to the royal palace itself where, in front of the king and all his nobles,she discovers and ability she didn't know she had.  Except...her blood is Red.

To hide this impossibility, the king forces her into the role of the lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, her actions put into a motion a deadly and violent dance, pitting prince against prince and Mare against her own heart.

From debut author Victoria Aveyard comes a lush, vivid fantasy series where loyalty and desire can tear you apart and the only certainty is betrayal.  (Summary from back of book - Image from

My Review:  This is not the first time Red Queen has graced this blog with its presence.  Elizabeth reviewed it several years ago (and luuurved it).  In fact, she has already reviewed the first three books in the series (you can read them here, here, and here if you don't want to wait for me and my two cents).  I completely missed the review when it came out, but thankfully we seem to have ended up on the same page.  Read on if you'd like to hear my thoughts...

Mare Darrow has Red blood, which means she'll spend her life in servitude, fighting and dying for the Silver elite.  When Mare picks the wrong pocket one evening, it sets in motion a series of events that will change everything.  Thrust into close proximity with the ruling class, Mare finds kindness in unexpected places and must decide who she can trust in a society where one wrong turn can lead to her death.   Aaaand, that's pretty much the book in the tiniest of nutshells.  The good news?  It's a pretty good nut.  But I'll get to that in a minute....

In some super-obvious ways, Red Queen bears a passing likeness to another book series I have been reading recently - Red Rising by Pierce Brown, which was published a year earlier.  The similarities are pretty hard to miss. First, there's the title (Red Rising vs Red Queen); then, the rhyming main characters (Darrow vs Mare Barrow); and finally, the color/class system (Red/Gold vs Red/Silver).  I'll admit this made me wary and worried I might just be getting carbon copy of another book but that didn't end up being the case.  Red Queen offers plenty of original material, but I'll let you discover the details for yourself.  Sufficed to say, they may look the same on the surface but there the similarities end.

Mare Darrow is a lot of things -- thief, sister, daughter, friend, princess, rebel -- but perfect isn't one of them.  Sometimes she makes the right call and other times she fails in epic fashion.  It wasn't all 'win' with her and that felt more authentic.  It was incredibly hard to tell friend from foe in this book, and that made it delightfully unpredictable.  Mare is torn between her feelings for two characters for much of the book...and so was I.  They were hard to pin down, but I found that I liked not knowing who to 'root' for and where Mare's affections might land.  Frankly, it was all rather delicious.

Red Queen moved on at a pretty good clip throughout and I was thoroughly enjoying myself thinking it was a toying with a 4-star rating, but the last 50 or so pages...well...Holy. Crap. Talk about white-knuckled reading!  I shushed my kids till I could shush them no more and finally just up and locked myself in the bedroom so I could read without interruption.  Of course my husband got home, wanting to change his clothes, when I was on the last two pages (why is it always the last two pages?) and he had to wait.  I wasn't unlocking that door till I read those final, heart-pounding final pages! 

Though it was never explicitly stated, there seemed to be little hints that the story itself was set in a ruined, future Earth, covered with crumbling, irradiated cities, built over long-forgotten transit systems. Even a few of the 'old' names were reminiscent of current metropolises. I can't be certain I'm correct, but I am interested to see how that plays out in future books. And speaking of future books...I am thrilled that I already have the next book Glass Sword sitting on my shelf.  I do believe I'll go start it

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: A few brief kisses and some violence.  No language that I can recall.

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Great Alone - Kristin Hannah

Summary: Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I don’t know what it is about Kristin Hannah, but her books are like all the cry emojis in the land. Seriously. This woman could rip real tears out of a crocodile. But let’s back up.

I first picked this book up for two reasons: 1) Kristin Hannah wrote one of my fave books of all time, The Nightingale. If you haven’t read it, you should go do that right. Now. I’m serious. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I’m not the only one who thinks that. Anyway, since I loved that book so much, I knew I wanted to read her newest book, The Great Alone. 2) I am fascinated with Alaska. I have been to Alaska once, but that was when I was 14. That’s a completely other story, as you might imagine, but I remember Alaska as being this wild place that was nothing like I had ever seen before or have ever seen since. I went to Vancouver Island a few years ago, and although there were some similarities as far as landscape and wildlife and weather, I’m telling you, Alaska was uniquely its own. My dad has told me many stories about Alaska. Some of them are downright wild, some are scary, and some are just…I don’t know. It’s a place unlike any other. I definitely plan on going back there someday. So I was fascinated by this book because I am fascinated by Alaska.

This book delivered in so many ways. First off—Kristin Hannah is a fantastic writer. She is intelligent and deep and creates characters that are realistic. They are flawed but also gifted, and although not all characters are treated with the same flaws as others, they all have something that makes them feel very real. The story also feels very real. It is so, so sad. I have only read one other Hannah book, but it was also very, very sad, so I’m thinking that’s a thing. Hannah has a way of taking reality and just making it so, so real. Also, so, so tragic. Really. It’s almost too much to take at some points. That’s how real life is, though, right? Sometimes life is so hard and so sad and so tragic that it’s just more than we can take. I think Hannah does a remarkable job of creating a reality that is real and heartbreaking and also heartwarming. It’s quite the talent.

Hannah really drilled down on the Alaska part of this book. Alaska was a living, breathing character. Possibly the main character, actually. I love books that include places as a character. So much of who we are—our jobs, the weather, the people, the homes, the lifestyle are created because of the place we live. Alaska is such a place. The descriptions of the people who lived there and the environment itself was so tangible that I can’t think of this book without just imagining the cold Alaska winter nights and the preparations for winter. It’s one thing to plan for winter by putting away shorts and getting your sweaters out of their Tupperware under the bed. It’s an entirely different thing to have to prepare for a winter that is all-encompassing—there are no supplies if you don’t make them or hunt them or fish them, and there is no one coming if you don’t prepare yourself. Man. Alaska. Seriously.

The Great Alone has a complexity that was handled beautifully by Hannah. There is a lot going on in this book. Just when you think it’s about one thing, it becomes about another thing. There were so many “things” at the end that you can’t help but be impressed by the way that Hannah is able to handle and create such a nuanced and complex story with so many layers. She’s an artist, really.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language and instances of abuse in this book, many of which might be triggering, especially for women who have experienced domestic abuse.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Free Form Friday - Guest Review with RFS's Fave English Teacher, Sandra Bybee!

In case you're just tuning in, it's Free Form Friday! Monday and Wednesday will have our normal reviews but Fridays are a bit more free form-- guest reviews, author interviews, info graphics, never know what fun we'll be posting on Free Form Friday!

Today we have a guest review from RFS's favorite English Teacher! (Yes, Mindy and I went to high school together, as did a few other past RFS reviewers.) I have to admit--Mindy and I are a little bit giddy and feeling starstruck that we actually got this to happen. #feelinglegit We LOVED Mrs. Bybee in high school. She taught English and Honor's English and not only is she an exceptional teacher, but she is hilarious and fun and EVERYBODY loved her.  Seriously. She taught us so many things, but three things we'll never forget:

1. College-level English? Easy compared to Bybee.
2. Thesis-making. She was serious about it. You better have a thesis or you redo.
3. "Cutting out the dead wood." Don't just say crap to say it. You better write things that matter, and it better be tight (and there better be a thesis).

There is narry a soul who graduated from ye 'olde HHS that didn't love Mrs. Bybee. She has since moved on from our alma mater to teach at a private university, and although we are now adults (she probably still thinks we're hooligans), the fact that she agreed to do this guest review for us is just...awesome. Seriously. Maybe she'll do it again, maybe she won't, but either way, today is an exceptional day for RFS. We hope you make you proud, Mrs. Bybee! Thank you for your review.

Review: Stolen from their parents by a black market baby trafficker, twelve-year-old Rill Foss tries hard to keep her four siblings together. This gripping historical story is told from the viewpoint of Rill as she and her siblings are stolen and adopted out by the real-life “Baby thief,” Georgia Tann. The story begins with Rill and her three sisters and one brother happily sailing the backwoods of Tennessee and Georgia with their parents on their houseboat.   The time period is the early 1939. The family is poor, but happy.  Rill’s mother goes into labor with twins and is taken to a local hospital.  Rill is left in charge of the boat and the younger children.  The children and Rill are taken by the police and placed in the Tennessee Children’s Home Society under the direction of Georgia Tann. She adopts the children to older, wealthy childless couples. Meantime, Rill’s mother has given birth to twin, a boy and a girl.  She is told that they died during childbirth and the twins are also given out for adoption.  The parents return to their boat and learn that their children have been taken and there is nothing they can do.  The mother dies of a broken heart.  All the children, except one little girl, are adopted by different families. Their names are changed and there are no record kept.

 Over sixty years later, Avery Stafford, the daughter of a New York politician, is visiting a rest home. She sees a bracelet on one of the residents, and it looks exactly like one her grandmother has had for years.  Avery questions the old woman, and it leads her to discover an adoption in her family that was kept secret for over five decades.  From there, the novel tells the story step-by-step of the evil Georgia Tann and the destruction of Avery’s family.  Once she realizes she does not carry a direct linage to the famous political family, she goes on a quest to discover who her family really was.  At the end of the novel, the family ties are connected and their story is told.  The novel covers three generations of the Foss children who were so harrowingly broken apart and sold to the highest bidder by the notorious Georgia Tann.   Each page of the book leads the reader deeper into the lives of these stolen children. 

Lisa Wingate based much of her novel on the historical Tennessee Children’s Home Society that was operated by Georgia Tann, nicknamed “The Baby Thief.”  Tann stole over 5,000 children between 1924 and 1950, selling them to the highest bidding couples.  The children were taken from parents who were poor or who had little means to care for them. The parents were informed that their children just went missing or died.   Tann placed the children in orphanages that she controlled, giving them little to eat and little to wear.  The orphanage keepers were cruel and many of the children never made it to the adoption stage.  The guess is that about 540 or more died of mysterious causes. The stolen children were sold to wealthy Hollywood couples or politicians.  Joan Crawford and Dick and June Powell were several of the people that adopted Tann’s stolen children. They paid a high fee to Tann, and it was not unusual for Tann to return to the adopted families and ask for more money. Tann was eventually convicted of child trafficking and brought to trial, but she died of cancer in the 1950s before she could be sentenced.   Since she destroyed all records and renamed all of the children, it has been difficult for many of the family members to trace their lost children and siblings. Lisa Wingate has pulled a piece of “forgotten history” from the historical records and woven it into a captivating novel.  Her novel is well researched.  After writing this novel, she spoke at the survivors’ reunion of the Tennessee Children’s Home society.  Many of the people who attended the reunion are still trying to trace their family ties.

However, to me, there seemed to be an unstated motif that is sewn throughout the book.  As the story of each member of the family is revealed, the reader can’t help but wonder, “Did the Foss children have a better life with their adoptive families than they would have had with their real birth parents?”. Maybe that is how Georgia Tann justified stealing the children. She placed them in a much wealthier and more educated environment than the homes of the real birth parents.  Only the reader can answer that question.    The novel is well-written and an easy read.   If the reader wants historical fiction, this is the book.  Before We Were Yours is Lisa Wingate at her best.  It will be hard to craft a better novel than this one.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

We Remember...

On this day, we remember the lives lost, the heroes that emerged, 
and the nation that came together in the wake of a horrific tragedy.  
May we always strive to be that nation, unified, as we move forward.

If you are looking for a something to read, in honor of the men and women
 who survived that day and heroically stayed to help, you can read our review of
by Benjamin J. Luft M.D.

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Island of Sea Women - Lisa See

Summary: Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends that come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger.

Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook’s differences are impossible to ignore. The Island of Sea Women is an epoch set over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, and she will forever be marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that after surviving hundreds of dives and developing the closest of bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children. A classic Lisa See story—one of women’s friendships and the larger forces that shape them—The Island of Sea Womenintroduces readers to the fierce and unforgettable female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I have a distinct memory of reading a story about Japanese pearl divers when I was in grade school. I was so fascinated by it—the idea that people would go under the ocean for extended periods of time and swim to the seabed just stunned me. (This may be because I was from a firmly land-locked state, and had very little experience with the ocean). I have thought about that story off and on for a long time, but it wasn’t until I saw this book that I was aware of how it might be real. The women in this story aren’t pearl divers, and they’re Korean, not Japanese, but it was absolutely fascinating. This was one of those books that led me down a rabbit hole of research—reading extra material online, saving books about it on my to-read list, and watching lots of YouTube videos on these women, whose lifestyle is on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity 2016 for UNESCO.

There were many things I liked about this book. The first one is that revealed a new and interesting culture that I’d been unfamiliar with. This happened to me in my last review as well! What a delight! I love finding new things. I feel like I have a connection to Korea because I had two Korean roommates in college and got to be quite close to them over the two years we lived together. The women in the book were from Jeju Island, which was different than my roommates, but I was somewhat familiar with the foods discussed in this book, as well as some of the lifestyle and culture. Jeju Island is different than anywhere else, and I learned that it is one of the biggest tourist spots in all of Korea. I looked up tons of pics, of course, and it was beautiful. The landscape was fascinating. But what I found really interesting is that this is a culture of women—the women are the main providers, and it has allowed them to create a better life for them and their families. The men stay at home and take care of the children, and the women go out into the sea and make the money. Even when both the man and woman are working, the woman is able to provide things for her children that they would have not had before i.e. a college education, additional schooling, etc. I also appreciated the book didn’t sugar-coat or romanticize the culture. These women did hard, backbreaking work that would lead to some of them losing their hearing over a lifetime due to the water pressure. And many women lost their lives due to the dangers of the sea. There were a myriad of health problems that can come with diving without proper equipment—and even with it—and these women paid the price. However, I was constantly impressed by their tenacity and determination to do what they needed to do. I found their grit to be inspiring. Seriously. These women are tough.

Another thing I appreciated about this book is that it brought to light a part of history that I was not aware of, and this book touched on a lot of different parts of Korea’s history, and much of it was really painful and hard to read about. However, I think it’s important to read about hard things to learn to be more empathetic and to understand different cultures and people and times. Also, we need to be aware of atrocities throughout history “lest we forget,” right?

One of the things that makes Lisa See the kind of author she is is that she is able create layers in a story. This story was a fascinating one about Jeju women divers, but it is also a story of the relationships between men and women, the relationships between women and their children and their daughters, and the relationships between friends and those who are closest to us. Ultimately it is a really sad story, and I wouldn’t recommend it for light-hearted and fun reading. However, I think it’s a book that’s important and fascinating and I am certainly glad that I read it. It was so interesting and thought-provoking. I think it would make an excellent book club book, although it would not be for the faint of heart.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has difficult content. There are atrocities of war and some language and some really sad situations.  

Friday, September 6, 2019

Freeform Friday: How to Get a Book Published

In case you're just tuning in, we've tweaked our format a bit.  Mondays and Wednesdays are dedicated to regular reviews, but on Fridays?  Well, anything goes.

I found this infographic by Zachary Petit over on WritersMarket and, while I've never actually tried to publish a book (those who can't, amiright?), I imagine the process goes a little something like this....

  How to Get a Book Published at Writer's Market shows you How to Get a Book Published

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef - Gabrielle Hamilton

Summary:  Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York Restaurant Prune, she spent twenty fierce, hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life.  Above all she sought family, particularly the thrill and the magnificence of the one from her childhood that, in her adult years, eluded her.  Hamilton's ease and comfort in a kitchen were instilled in her at an early age when her parents hosted grand parties, often for more than one hundred friends and neighbors.  The smells of spit-roasted lamb, apple wood smoke, and rosemary garlic marinade became as necessary to her as her own skin.

Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; the soulless catering factories that helped pay the rent; Hamilton's own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law,who serves as a link between Hamilton's idyllic past and her own future family -- the result of a difficult and prickly marriage that nonetheless yields rich and lasting dividends.

Blood, Bones & Butter is an unflinching and lyrical work.  Gabrielle Hamiltonn's story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion.  By turns epic and intimate, it marks the debut of a tremendous literary talent.  (Summary from book, image from

My Review:  Book flap 'blurbs', like the one above, can be hit or miss.  This one completely hooked me and it's pretty spot on. That might be all you need to hear to throw this book on your TBR list and, if so, have fun!  For those who need to know a little more, I'll continue...

Blood, Bones & Butter is one of those rare books that, curiously, left me both satiated and starving by the time I reached the final page.  I was nearly done in by the first paragraph and reveled in the entire first chapter as she describes growing up in rural Pennsylvania, the children in her family running amok in the forests and fields like a pack of wild dogs while her French mother whipped up tantalizing home-cooked meals for her large brood.  That vision of a carefree childhood, scratch-made food, and aromatic, sizzling, lamb roasts, was so whimsical and romantic, I could hardly stand it.  I was a goner-- thoroughly enchanted and eager for more.

Unfortunately, Gabrielle's happy childhood crumbles to dust with her parents unexpected divorce. Where previously she had reaped the benefits of her mother's culinary abilities, Gabrielle must now forage for her own food in the increasingly empty cabinets and wild, untended gardens of the house her mother fled and to which her father rarely deigns to return.  With surprising skill, she concocts new recipes using her own imagination and the knowledge gleaned from her absentee parents, until necessity forces her to find other ways to get by.  Gabrielle tries her hand at a variety of odd restaurant jobs, educational opportunities, and even travels abroad, sampling the delights of Europe in the off-season.  As she tries to find her footing in the world, things get pretty dark for a while (and by 'dark' I mean illicit and kinda messed up) but each place she visits and job she takes adds to her culinary expertise and brings her a step closer to finding her niche in life.   Each of the Gabrielle's experiences, cobbled together, inform and influence her beliefs about food -- how it should be cooked, served, and consumed -- so that when the opportunity to turn a small, rundown, cockroach infested rental space into a gleaming NYC restaurant falls into her lap unexpectedly, Gabrielle can envision it all clearly, down to the smallest detail. She knows what she wants and, when her mind is made up, sets about doing what she needs to get it.  I loved watching it all come together.

When Gabrielle's dream of opening a restaurant comes to fruition, her journey is far from over.  Blood, Bones & Butter also winds through the early stages of the restaurant, with the hurdles and craziness that comes from managing her own kitchen, and the complexities of maintaining a relationship while running the show.  Eventually, Gabrielle marries an Italian, has a few adorable bambinos, and ends up spending her hard earned vacation days in southern Italy.  I loved the relationships she developed there, learning how to make pasta and other foods from her mother-in-law, observing her new Italian family, and a completely different way of life. I fell head over heels for her descriptions of the countryside, the villas, food, and little old men with their vegetable carts and was fully content to soak up her summers in Italy, even if she didn't always enjoy them herself.

I really like Gabrielle's style and her taste in both food and atmosphere.  Though I have never been to Prune, her ideas for it seem elegant, without pretense, and utterly inhale-able (a word I might have just made up, but basically means I want to stuff my face with everything on the menu). While I don't agree with every decisions she made to get from Point A to Point B, and so on, in her life, (and I don't have to, as it is not my life) it was nonetheless a frequently riveting, thoroughly mouth-watering, journey.

My absolute favorite thing about Blood, Bones & Butter is Gabrielle's stunning ability to evoke any and all emotions, even physical hunger, with her writing.  She isn't just a supremely talented self-taught chef, people!  She has actual degrees in writing, which she nails with startling efficiency.  For most of the book, I felt like a silent spectator, fully immersed in whatever situation she was in, and thoroughly enjoying just 'being' there.  I'm only sad I didn't actually get to eat the food.  I recommend this book to anyone who loves eating food, reading about food, reading about travel, or reading about other people eating food while they travel.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Swearing sprinkled throughout. There was more than I felt like counting (considerably more than a handful) but it was spaced enough that it didn't feel excessive.  Or maybe I just didn't notice as much because I was too busy drooling. The author engages in some illegal activities as a youth, but eventually outgrows them. She is also a lesbian, though she is married to a man for a good chunk of the book.  Any discussion of her sexual preferences or any sexual activities is only mentioned in passing and without detail.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Someday We Will Fly - Rachel DeWoskin

Summary: Warsaw, Poland. The year is 1940 and Lillia is 15 when her mother, Alenka, disappears and her father flees with Lillia and her younger sister, Naomi, to Shanghai, one of the few places that will accept Jews without visas. There they struggle to make a life; they have no money, there is little work, no decent place to live, a culture that doesn't understand them. And always the worry about Alenka. How will she find them? Is she still alive? 

Meanwhile Lillia is growing up, trying to care for Naomi, whose development is frighteningly slow, in part from malnourishment. Lillia finds an outlet for her artistic talent by making puppets, remembering the happy days in Warsaw when they were circus performers. She attends school sporadically, makes friends with Wei, a Chinese boy, and finds work as a performer at a "gentlemen's club" without her father's knowledge.

But meanwhile the conflict grows more intense as the Americans declare war and the Japanese force the Americans in Shanghai into camps. More bombing, more death. Can they survive, caught in the crossfire? (Summary and pic from

My Review:  This book surprised me a lot. I consider myself as somewhat well-versed in WWII and the history of it. I don’t know everything (and I certainly can’t label all the different planes used in both the Pacific theater and in Europe, like my grandpa), but I feel like I’m not clueless. There has been some absolutely stellar historical fiction that has come out in the past several years about WWII and if you haven’t read any of it, then you are sorely missing out. However, as an educated and intelligent reader of this blog, I’m sure that you have. That all being said, I was not aware of the events depicted in this book—namely, that many Jews fled to Shanghai because they could go without a visa. I mean, how did I not know this? There were Americans there, too, but in the end they were actually put in camps. However, the Jews survived there, although it was really difficult. I just…I’m really glad I read this book because I feel like it is something I didn’t know anything about.

When I first picked up this book, I thought I would be reading about a family of Jewish circus performers. I thought that would be the thing. This does play a huge part, especially for the daughter and main character, Lillia. But really, the story is about this family trying to survive in a country where the culture is so different from theirs and they are forced to take any kind of work just to live. It’s also about the camaraderie and love that come from good people living in difficult situations—they take care of one another, they watch out for one another, and they become a family.

As with all WWII stories, this book is difficult and really sad. There are innumerable losses, and even when sometimes those losses turn out not to be an actual loss, per se, things can never be the same. People die unexpectedly and tragically, they disappear unexpectedly and tragically, and the whole world struggles. Since I haven’t read about Jews in Shanghai I wasn’t aware of the difficulties that the Chinese government imposed on them, as well as the cultural struggles between the Jews and the Chinese, as well as the Americans and other foreigners living in Shanghai.

I enjoyed the story in this book, but I especially liked that everything wasn’t neatly tied in a bow at the end, just like in real life. Although there were many characters I would have liked to know more about, I felt that the author did a good job of creating a story that included many facets of this very difficult and delicate situation.

Sometimes I get tired of reading WWII fiction; the only reason I can give is that sometimes it’s just too hard to read about the struggles and difficulties. I know some people that pretty much only read historical fiction, however. No matter what camp you are in, I think this is a good book to read, if only to give you a perspective on a part of WWII history that I feel is under-covered. In order to round out your knowledge about what was going on, and to get a better picture of how the war affected people who weren’t even in the war, books like this give a much-needed change from the normal literature in the genre.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: As with many WWII books, this has some very difficult descriptions of violence as well as trauma inflicted upon Jews and other sad casualties of war.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Long time, no see!

I hope you all had a great summer, full of fun, family, 
and many many books.  

Starting Monday, we are resuming 
our regular posting schedule with one small change.  

We'll still be posting our regular reviews on Mondays and Wednesdays, but Fridays will be a bit more freeform. You might get a book spotlight on a book we hope to read in the future, a guest review, an author interview, a fun meme or infographic, 
or maybe even a giveaway! 

Friday, June 14, 2019

SUMMER BREAK in 3....2.....1!

School's out for summer! 

It's that time of year where we here at Reading For Sanity worry a little less about making review deadlines and a little more about keeping up with our family's fun summer plans.  We hope you have a great summer break and will see you in September!  You can still contact us on FB if you have any questions!  Until then, stay sane and read on! 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

10 Fantastic Read-Aloud Children's Books to Help Build Self-Esteem and Encourage Kindness

One of my favorite memories as a kid is of my mother reading to me and now that I am a parent I try to carry on that tradition with my four darling daughters.  I have found that some of my favorite children's books (and some of my children's favorite books) are the ones that also help build self-confidence and promote kindness.  

I decided it might be a good idea to pass some of those titles on to you, in case you think a little extra confidence and kindness is something your kiddos need.  Here are 10 titles, in no particular order, that we feel fit the bill quite nicely.  (Pssst...if we have reviewed them, we linked title.)

You are Special by Max Lucado

The Crayon Box that Talked by Shane Derolf

Remarkably You by Pat Zietlow Miller

I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont

The Porcupine Named Fluffy by Helen Lester

Chrysanthemum - Kevin Henkes

Oh, the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss

Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud

A Bad Case of Stripes - David Shannon

"The more that you read, the more things you will know.  
The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." - Dr. Seuss

We hope you found something here to love!  Happy READING!!

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Mother-in-Law - Sally Hepworth

Summary: Someone once told me that you have two families in your life - the one you are born into and the one you choose. Yes, you may get to choose your partner, but you don't choose your mother-in-law. The cackling mercenaries of fate determine it all.

From the moment Lucy met Diana, she was kept at arm's length. Diana is exquisitely polite, but Lucy knows, even after marrying Oliver, that they'll never have the closeness she'd been hoping for.

But who could fault Diana? She was a pillar of the community, an advocate for social justice, the matriarch of a loving family. Lucy had wanted so much to please her new mother-in-law.

That was ten years ago. Now, Diana has been found dead, leaving a suicide note. But the autopsy reveals evidence of suffocation. And everyone in the family is hiding something...

From the bestselling author of The Family Next Door comes a new page-turner about that trickiest of relationships. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I think one of the most fascinating things to read about is complex family relationships. I myself don’t have particularly complex family relationships. I mean, every family is complex in its own way, but I feel like that mine is pretty standard as far as complex relationships go. However, I do have some extended family relationships on both sides (not directly involving me) that are very complicated, and although I totally agonize and sympathize with these people, it’s also fascinating to watch. When I meet someone I consider to be a little unstable in my life, I can’t help but think that that person is someone’s family and they’re having to deal with them all of the time, whereas I can just choose to keep them on the periphery or, if forced to, only interact with them as needed. But if you’re family, it’s kind of hard not to be deeply engaged in all the fiascos that one unstable person can bring. So after that long preamble, you can see why this book would be an interesting read for me.

There is perhaps no greater difficulty than learning to adjust to getting along with in-laws. Even people with great in-laws (like me) go through some sort of adjustment phase because the family comes with baggage—they’re already a family, and all of a sudden they’re your family and are deeply ingrained in your life in all sorts of ways. Depending on the people, this can go smoothly or it can be pretty rough. I would say that the characters in this book had it pretty rough. Here is one thing that I really liked about the book, though, and that is that the chapters were written for different characters, and that made for a particularly fascinating insight into the family relationships and difficulties. It’s one thing to see things from one narrator; it’s completely different to see it from the sides of all involved. It certainly gives a depth to the situation that only one narrator can’t offer. Although this book wasn’t deeply intellectual or anything, I did appreciate the awareness it brought to a situation when more than one narrator was weighing in on what happened. It reminded me that in my own life, there’s always more than one side to the story. That’s trite and obvious, but it’s true, and yet so easily forgettable (even though everyone is always saying it).

I always love a good murder mystery. This one had the benefit of having a good mystery without all the blood and gore that sometimes goes with the murder. That was nice, because although I do enjoy a good murder mystery, sometimes I also enjoy skipping over the extreme details of the violence that occurred or what the people had to endure at the end. I may like murder, but I’m no monster. If you also like murder mysteries but want something a little less intense than some of the serious blood and gore that is out there, this is a good book to check out.

I read this book quickly. The writing style was effortless and easy to read. It wasn’t remarkable in that it was literary genius or anything, but was pleasant and helped the story move right along. I didn’t feel like the characters were super developed or really complex (it is not a very long book, really) but there was enough substance there that I cared about them and what happened in the story. There were also enough nuances in the characters’ peripheral lives that it kept things interesting and the plot moving right along. I quite enjoyed it.

If you are into books that deal with family drama and relationships, or into clean murder mysteries, this is one you might enjoy. It will be a nice summer read as it’s not too long and not too complex. You could read it while enjoying a vacation or just relaxing.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and brief and mild discussions of sex.

Friday, June 7, 2019

I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban - Malala Yousafzi with Christina Lamb

Summary: When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out.  Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.  In October 2012, when she was fifteen, Malala almost paid the ultimate price.  She was shot in the head while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.  Instead, Malala's heroic recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistanto the halls of the United Nations in New York.  At sixteen, she emerged as a global symbol of peaceful protest.  A year later she became the youngest recipient ever of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Hailed by the Associated Press for its "arresting detail," I am Malala will make readers believe in the power of one person's voice to inspire change in the world.  (Summary from back of book - Image from

My Review:  At face value, I am Malala is about a young Pakistani girl named Malala Yousafzai and her life before and after she is shot in the head by the Taliban.  That, by itself, would be a rather compelling tale (and it was), but I am Malala covers so much more ground.  Aside from her story, it is also an impassioned treatise on the importance of education and women's rights and an appeal to speak out in the face of injustice, regardless of the consequence.  

I am Malala unveils a very different Pakistan from the one I have seen on television or read about on the news.  Through Malala's perspective, I discovered a magnificent country with a rich culture, vibrant population, and turbulent history.  She adores her Swat valley with an intensity and pride that rivals most New Yorkers' attachment to the Big Apple and, like most people, just wants to live in peace in the land of her ancestors with the same rights and freedoms to which we are all entitled.  Throughout the book, Malala speaks longingly of the beauty of her homeland and the horror of watching it become ravaged by war.  She also gave interesting insight into the traditions of her Pashtun culture, local history, and the complexities of regional politics.  Malala's story clarifies the experience of everyday people simply trying to live their lives, caught in the middle of a brawl between a militant faction of their own religion, a generally corrupt government, and the might of the US military.  As such, it brought the brutality of the Taliban and the casualties of the war on terror into focus in a way that is hard to ignore or forget.

Malala is a force of nature -- fierce, determined, independent, intelligent, and wise beyond her years.  Sure, she fights with her brothers and obsesses over Twilight, but she was also was reading Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time at age eleven while standing up to the Taliban.  So, clearly, she's amazing.  I think Malala can credit at least a small part of her fearlessness and tenacity to her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, who always fostered those qualities and respected and believed in her regardless of her gender/age.  In a culture that is sometimes accused of not valuing it's women, Malala's father never expected less from her, and I truly admire him for it.  

Malala's spirituality was especially meaningful to me.  I learned a lot about the Muslim religion from this book and gained new understanding regarding the beliefs of everyday Muslims and how they differ from the extremist factions of the faith that proclaim jihad and manufacture terror.  I appreciate that clarification and wish more people understood it.  Though we come from different faiths, it became clear that what we had in common was what really mattered.  One of my favorite aspects of this book was the snippets of wisdom (some spiritual, others secular) scattered throughout.  Here are a few examples:  
  • One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.
  • Don't accept good things from bad people.
  • If people were silent, nothing would change.
  • You must speak the truth.  The truth will abolish fear.
  • Don't be afraid.  If you're afraid you can't move forward.
  • At night our fear is strong...but in the morning, in the light we find our courage again.

Here are a few longer ones as well:
  • In my heart was the belief that God would protect me.  If I am speaking for my rights, for the rights of girls, I am not doing anything wrong.  It's my duty to do so.  God wants to see how we behave in such situations. ...If one man...can destroy everything, why can't one girl change it?... I prayed to God every night to give me strength.
  • My father used to say the people of Swat and the teachers would continue to educate our children until the last room, the last teacher and the last student was alive.  My parents never once suggested I should withdraw from school, ever.  Though we loved school, we hadn't realized how important education was until the Taliban tried to stop us.  Going to school, reading, and doing our homework wasn't just a way of passing time, it was our future. 
  • I began to see that the pen and the words that come from it can be much more powerful than machine guns, tanks or helicopters.  We were learning how to struggle.  And we were learning how powerful we are when we speak.
  • Once I had asked God for one or two extra inches in height, but instead he made me as tall as the sky, so high that I could not measure myself. giving me this height to reach people, he has also given me great responsibilities.  Peace in every home, every street, every village, every country -- this is my dream.  
I am Malala is a fervent plea for education on behalf of the world's women, a fascinating historical account, and a useful guide on standing for what's right, overcoming trials, and finding gratitude in unexpected places.  Ultimately, this not just Malala's story (however well told).  It is also is the story of everyday people who, in their own ways, stood up for what's right and said ENOUGH.  I highly recommend it.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Some descriptions of atrocities committed by the Taliban, ruling government of Pakistan, and US military.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Department of Sensitive Crimes - Alexander McCall Smith

Summary: In the Swedish criminal justice system, certain cases are considered especially strange and difficult, in Malm�, the dedicated detectives who investigate these crimes are members of an elite squad known as the Sensitive Crimes Division. 

These are their stories.

The first case: the small matter of a man stabbed in the back of the knee. Who would perpetrate such a crime and why? Next: a young woman's imaginary boyfriend goes missing. But how on earth do you search for someone who doesn't exist? And in the final investigation: eerie secrets that are revealed under a full moon may not seem so supernatural in the light of day. No case is too unusual, too complicated, or too, well insignificant for this squad to solve.

The team: Ulf 'the Wolf" Varg, the top dog, thoughtful and diligent; Anna Bengsdotter, who's in love with Varg's car (and possibly Varg too); Carl Holgersson, who likes nothing more than filling out paperwork; and Erik Nykvist, who is deeply committed to fly fishing.

With the help of a rather verbose local police officer, this crack team gets to the bottom of cases other detectives can't or won't bother to handle. Equal parts hilarious and heartening, The Department of Sensitive Crimes is a tour de farce from a true master. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I really love Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe series. The first book in that series (and by this point there are 19 out, and #20 is on the way so you know I’m not the only one who likes them) is the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. It takes place in Botswana for the most part and features the lovely and infinitely wise Precious Ramotswe. She is a treat to read about and I love the books. They are so warm and just lovely. McCall Smith as several other series that are also very popular, but I haven’t read them yet. When I saw that he had this new series coming out featuring Detective Varg, I thought I would try it out.

One of my fave things about McCall Smith is he really seems to have the pulse on human nature. I find that his insights are spot on and often written about in a way that I hadn’t thought of before. They’re rarely earth-shattering, but more like a quiet gem of wisdom that leaves me feeling like maybe I’m not alone in thinking or doing what I do. He really is magical that way. There was quite a bit of that in this book, as I would assume is also par for the course in his other books. It certainly is in the Precious Ramotswe series, but since that’s the only series I’ve read, I wasn’t sure. Now I’m thinking that knowing the human psyche better than it knows itself is one of his specialties.

Like the Precious Ramotswe series, these are big mysteries that are made to feel small in the grand scheme of things. That isn’t to say that McCall Smith is belittling to people’s problems, but he is able to step back and see that these are big problems with big consequences, but address them in a way that makes the reader feel like even a most hopeless situation is not a lost cause. It doesn’t always end up really well for everyone, but there is a certain point of resolution that feels satisfying, even if it isn’t necessarily the way the reader thought it would end.

My biggest complaint about this book is that it is very similar to the Precious Ramotswe series. It didn’t feel new at all. Yes, the main character is a man (and so I’m thinking maybe this is the Precious Ramotswe series for men?) and it takes place in Sweden and in an official government capacity (whereas Precious is a private detective) but other than that, it felt very similar. In fact, I would say that Detective Varg is a very similar personality to Precious. Now, is this bad? Not necessarily. I love Precious Ramotswe. It just wasn’t original, and also, the fact that it was new means that I didn’t feel as connected or the stories as developed as the ones in No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. I wouldn’t say the book was boring, but the quiet manner in which McCall Smith writes is such that a rich history over, say, 20 books, really adds to the characters and the stories, whereas this is new and didn’t have a lot to add in that department. That being said, that doesn’t mean that this series doesn’t have places to go that will be very different from the other series. It is entirely possible that this is a gateway book to hook readers like me who love Precious into a new series. We shall see.

If you are a fan of Alexander McCall Smith, I think you should certainly check this out. If you’ve never read anything he’s done, I definitely think you should. He’s a truly great author with a really unique, insightful writing style that I find delightful.

My Review: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some very mild and vague discussion of adult topics, but it is clean.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Order of the Majestic - Matt Myklusch

Disclaimer: The only writing I've done since January have been emails home. The only reading I've done has been curriculum or assigned reading. And I'm sorry, no one should have to read 1984 or Hamlet four times in two weeks!! It fries the brain.

Hug your ELA teachers. And please forgive this review - I'm finding my review feet again!

SummaryFans of Brandon Mull and James Riley will love this action-packed, accessible fantasy story about one kid’s journey to discover magic as he’s caught up in an epic battle between two powerful ancient orders.

Twelve-year-old daydreamer Joey Kopecky’s life has been turned upside down. After acing a series of tests, he’s declared a genius and awarded a full scholarship at a special (year-round!) school. He’s understandably devastated, until he takes one last test, and the room around him disappears, replaced by the interior of an old theater.

There, Joey meets the washed-up magician, Redondo the Magnificent, and makes a shocking discovery…magic is real, but sadly, there isn’t much left in the world. It may be too late to save what little remains, but for the first time in his life Joey wants to try—really try—to do something big. Soon he’s swept up into a centuries-old conflict between two rival societies of magicians—the Order of the Majestic, who fights to keep magic alive and free for all, and the dark magicians of the Invisible Hand, who hoard magic for their own evil ends.

The endless battle for control of magic itself has reached a tipping point. For Redondo and the Order to survive, Joey must inherit the lost legacy of Harry Houdini. Will he prove himself worthy, or will the Invisible Hand strike him down? The answer will depend on Joey’s ability to believe, not just in magic, but in himself. (Summary and image from I was provided a book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Why is it that the ones who don't want to be seen as geniuses are typically the ones who are? Such is the case with Joey - he swears he's not that smart, he's just cracked the code to answering questions. That being said, he does recognize that he sees things differently. That ability to see things differently is what sets him apart, both in his real life and in the magical battlefield he finds himself.

This is a fun book. Magic is hard to take too seriously, and Myklush doesn't fall into the trap of attempting to do so. His characters have growing room (and growing pains) despite their age and ability, and it's refreshing to see that development. Further, I can't begin to sing the praises of having involved and caring parents in a book. Could they be more involved? Yes. But it's the Max and Ruby type of involvement -- they're probably very involved, but our middle grade kids totally don't see that! 

I really haven't had the opportunity to read books since January (part of the perils of teaching school), so I had to be very selective of what I did choose to read for leisure. This was the perfect vacation book. I flew through it on a plane ride, thoroughly enjoyed my reading experience, and didn't feel cheated by the story or the characters. Joey is a good kid. His friends are real and any one of them is fully capable of being the hero if needed. His mentor is acerbic, gruff, and real.  He honestly reminded me of the teachers we all had - the ones we were convinced hated us, but who we learned more from in a week than years with any other. 

Rating: Four stars

For the sensitive reader: Magic. And a few deaths.  


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