Thursday, December 31, 2009

Our Best Reads of 2009

This year, at Reading for Sanity, we have read and reviewed over 250 books!
Here we have compiled a post featuring our 20 favorites. It was a difficult task to narrow it down, but you won't go wrong picking up these reads in the coming year.

Adult Fiction

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

You know this one has to be good,
it was chosen by three of us:
Mindy, Kari and Heather

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

"This book will be a classic,"
according to Kim

The Help - Kathryn Stockett

Mindy claims
"You'll love this book."
Heather wholeheartedly agrees

Rainwater - Sandra Brown

Picked by Kim
You could win a copy of this book.
Hurry it's the last day to enter this drawing!

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

Heather calls this one
"A timeless classic"

Ahab's Wife - Sena Jeter Naslund

Picked by Emily
"Thought provoking and delicious writing"

Still Alice - Lisa Genova

"An unforgettable tale"
declares Heather

The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory

Kim calls this
"An enthralling novel"

The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton

Heather found this to be
"A magical mystery"

Wicked - Gregory Maguire

Kim found this one to be
"A much darker, much more sensual, much more "grown up" take on the classic story."

Adult Non-fiction

Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Emily declares this one to be

The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls

Emily thought this one was

The Gift of Fear - Gavin De Becker

Mindy said this one
"should be at the top of your books I MUST read list"

Into the Mind of Babes - Lisa Guernsey

Emily says,
"I think of something from this book at least once a week, it has influenced how I spend my time every day"

Bitter is the New Black - Jen Lancaster

This is Kari's pick.
"Insanely witty, brutally honest, a bit crass, but overall entertaining read."

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver

Mindy calls this book
"Some tasty food for thought."

Young Adult Fiction

The Host - Stephanie Meyer

Emily found this book to be
"A fun read"

Graceling - Kristin Cashore

Kari says this novel is
"Adventure mixed with a woman's lib touch"

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

Kari picked this one.
Mindy and Heather also enjoyed reading it in 2008.

Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins

The sequel to The Hunger Games
Both Mindy and Kari have this book among their favorite 2009 reads.

What was the best book you read in 2009? Certainly there are one or two that you're dying to tell everyone about. Let us know here. We'd hate to miss out on a great read.

HAPPY 2010!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Silverfin : A James Bond Adventure - Charlie Higson

Summary: The dark waters around a Scottish castle hold a sinister secret...SilverFin. SilverFin is deadly. SilverFin is the future. One man with a thirst for power will use it, whatever the cost. One boy stands in the way. His name is Bond, JAMES BOND. (Image from and summary from back of the book.)

My Review: First off, this book came highly recommended by a bright 8th grade student of mine. He was dying for me to read it and give him my opinion. It's been sitting on my stack since October and I'm just now getting to it. I'll admit, I didn't go into the book with high hopes. I just hoped it was palatable. After speaking with my father (an avid James Bond movie buff) I learned that if it has the name James Bond on the cover it should/must be authorized by the family. This book is sanctioned by the family and knowing that I could then deduce that it shouldn't be a total flop.

In a way, this book takes the mysterious out of James Bond. Whether you like that or not is subjective. It starts with James going to a prep-boarding school for boys. It gives the back log of what happened to his parents and what family he has left. It also gives a peek into just how James Bond ends up with his impeccable physique. That much I felt was educational for boys reading about any secret agent and pining to become one. Knowing ahead of time the amount of work it takes to get your body physically fit might sway one from dreams maybe not logical for some temperaments.

Predictable the way a James Bond movie runs but on a young adult scale, this was a fun book to read. The details given are all important and build up to the final events with a massive climax and fairly well tied-up falling action and conclusion. The climax and falling action seemed unbelievable in parts, but what scrape that James Bond gets himself out of isn't? It felt a bit long, in that there were, within the last 100 pages, a handful of times you are sure the story will be over or his misery finally ended. It doesn't. He just keeps trucking along through grueling experience after experience. Still, it was a pretty quick read and fun. I'd definitely recommend this action/adventure book to my middle school boys and even the girls. It might just get some of my reticent male readers to pick up reading. Maybe.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Sum it up: A fun action adventure book geared to pulling in male readers.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Evidence of Angels - Suza Scalora & Francesca Lia Block

Yet another guest review from Daniel Nighting, father of the cutest little baby girl (till my own is born, of course) on the West Coast.

Summary: Evidence of Angels, a beautiful and colorful photographic journey into the world of the angels who exist just beyond our vision, began with the questions: "Do angels exist? Or are we alone? What happens after we die and leave this earth?" From there, Suza Scalora, bestselling author of Fairies, began a project, hanging her photographs of angels throughout New York City, on walls and lampposts and fences, along with her email address. Three days later her first letter arrived. Evidence of Angels . . . captures onto each page the responses to those photographs and the world of unseen guardians who offer hope and comfort in times of need--beginning with Suza's reflections in the wake of a loved one's death--and explores her feelings of hopelessness after suffering such a profound loss. (Summary and image from Vision On)

My Review: For those of you who didn't get your fill of sticky-sweet confections over the holidays, Evidence of Angels is certain to speak to your cravings. The "photographs" of the angels, as well as the text, are suffused with a delicate, hazy light that suggests that everything is going to be ok. But like the holiday season's sugarplums, this book is short on substance--which is perhaps to be expected, dealing as it does with things angelic and ephemeral.

I suspect that consumers of this book fall into two camps. The first consists of those who already believe--or want to believe--in the sort of nondenominational, benevolent beings of spiritual energy that Scalora and co-author Francesca Lia Block describe. For these readers, this book is a beautiful, heartfelt affirmation that we are never alone--that the universe is teeming with beauty and love, if we can just open our hearts and eyes and let go of fear and doubt.

The second camp consists of everyone else. These readers, while appreciating the message, may find the artwork more blurry than ethereal, the angels' teachings more trite than touching, and may perhaps feel nostalgia for the grand, vengeful, uncompromising angels of the Apocrypha.

My Rating: 3, plus or minus 1 depending on whether heartwarming messages of hope delivered by glowing metaphysical messengers are your thing.

Sum it up: A sugarcoated dessert composed of equal parts Sylvia Brown and Photoshop. Enjoy after a hearty meal of Edgar Cayce, and don't forget to floss.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbary

Also reviewed by Heather.

Summary: We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence.

Then there's Paloma, a 12-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the 16th of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter. (Summary taken from

My Review: If ever there was a book club I hated missing it was the one where we discussed this book. The content of the book was ripe with discussion topics. Class, potential and mediocrity, intelligence, fear, Art, Beauty, culture. Also up for discussion is the writing style as the interesting use of two narrators with above average intelligence begs the question "is what they say intelligent and grammatically correct?? Finally, there is the plot, and the characters themselves, to discuss.

I'd deem this a excellent book club book (which as I consider it is probably one of my highest recommendations) simply because it wasn't written to be. It lacked some of the bubbly feel good nature of the books that land solidly on certain "book club" lists and it avoided being overly emotional in a way that sucks you in and then leaves you feeling (the dreaded word) manipulated.

Ah yes - the ending...well, it has a twist. But it didn't effect the book for me. The point of the story was not for A to lead to B to lead to C, the point was an examination of the above listed concepts. So regardless of the plot I was satisfied by the discussion within the pages.

Finally, lest the above comments sound stuffy and snooty, this book danced with humor, emotion, and moments that were enjoyably school girl-ish (the boy asks the girl out, their first date, etc.).

My Rating: Ugh...4.5 or 5? I can't decide...4.75 but I'm rounding up in the categories listing.

Sum it up: The best book club in Massachusetts gives this book two thumbs up.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Archangel - Sharon Shinn

Summary: And so it came to pass...Through science, faith and force of will, the Harmonics carved out for themselves a society that they perceived as perfect. Diverse peoples held together by respect for each other and the prospect of swift punishment if their laws were disobeyed. Fertile land that embraced a variety of climates and seasons. Angels to guard the mortals, and mystics to guard the forbidden knowledge. Jehovah to watch over them all.

Generations later, the armed space cruiser Jehovah still looms over the planet Samaria, programmed to unleash its arsenal if peace is not sustained. But an age of corruption has come to the land, threatening that peace and placing the Samarians in grave danger. Their only hope lies in the crowning of a new Archangel. The oracles have chose for this honor the angel named Gabriel, and further decreed that he must first wed a mortal woman named Rachel.

It is his destiny and hers. And Gabriel is certain that she will greet the news of her betrothal with enthusiasm, and a devotion to duty equal to his own.

Rachel, however, has other ideas... (Image from - summary from back of book)

My review: Over the holidays I decided that it was high time I read a book that I wanted to read instead of one I’d been meaning to. I’ve stopped in the middle of several books recently, because I just couldn’t seem to give them the attention they deserved. They were, quite simply, not where I wanted to be. Where I wanted to be was deeply immersed in one of my favorite romantic novels – Archangel.

Archangel is an award-winning novel and the beginning of a wonderful series of stand-alones written by Sharon Shinn. I discovered it for the first time in college and fell instantly in love with the characters, world, and turbulent love story held within its pages. It was so very different from anything I’d read before – a fascinating blend of romance, fantasy, science fiction, music, religious mythology, and a dash of middle eastern culture and geography. I enjoyed the time the time I got to spend in her world and, obviously, love to go back from time to time and visit.

Initially, I was worried about how I’d feel about the whole “angel” thing but surprisingly, the religious aspects of the book didn’t bother me at all. They blended well with the story. These angels aren’t the pious celestial beings that you might expect, but more fallible and human than you can image—though they do have wings, oh, and the ability to control the weather. I wish the summary hadn’t given quite so much of the back story away, as it's way more fun to read this series without knowing exactly what is going on. For that reason, I'm not going to say much about the storyline. If you can help it (and trust me), just open and start reading without reading the back of the book.

The fact that the main characters are both attracted to and repelled by each other is thrilling and fun to read--think Pride & Prejudice style hatred w/ angels and a lot more singing. Gabriel and Rachel are irretrievably stubborn and frustrating, which sometimes makes you want to smack them around a bit, but leads to a great deal of sparks and conflict between the two of them . I can’t pretend that this book is a literary classic – but it was a highly entertaining, romantic and CLEAN read, which we all know, are incredibly hard to come by now. Everyone I’ve recommended this series to has loved them, but be forewarned, though the main plot is resolved not all questions are answered at the end of this book. You’ll want to run for the next one.

Oh, and while this series is made up of mostly stand-alone novels, it is best to read them in the following order.
Archangel (Samaria, Book 1)
Jovah’s Angel (Samaria, Book 2) - RFS Review
Alleluia Files
(Samaria, Book 3) - RFS Review
Angelica (a prequel that should be read post trilogy)
Angel-Seeker (a novel of Samaria)

My rating: 5 Stars. Can’t wait to continue re-reading the series.

Sum it up: Exactly what you want to read when you don’t want to think- but escape. If you liked Countess Below Stairs (reviewed here and here), you’ll love Archangel.

Friday, December 25, 2009


Here at Reading For Sanity we we wish all of you
who might be celebrating with us a
Merry Christmas!!!
Although I recognize that not everyone may share my personal beliefs, I couldn't let this Christmas go by without sharing my thoughts and feelings on the Savior.

I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe that He was sent to this earth by a loving Heavenly Father, to provide the perfect example for us and show us the way back to our heavenly home. I believe that He Atoned for my sins (and all of ours) in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary, enduring unimaginable physical pain and emotional anguish. I can't even imagine the kind of love that must take. It shakes me to my very core to even think about losing a child this way. How our Heavenly Father must have trembled watching the pain of His Son. I believe that Jesus Christ was resurrected, as a final example of God's power and our ability to attain eternal life. He is MY Savior. I am so grateful for His gift to me and for the power, purpose, and direction that the gospel gives me in this live.

On a more site-appropriate note, I'd like to share the two most important books that I have read in my life. I believe that we have been given two essential books of scripture - my favorite books, if you will - that can guide us on our way back to our Father in Heaven. They are the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon (see below)- each testify of Christ, of His divinity, life and mission on this earth. I have provided links below for any who might be interested in reading them for yourselves. I believe that we are all entitled to personal inspiration and heavenly revelation in our lives. I have read these books and felt the profound spirit and inescapable peace that they bring with them. I invite you all to do the same.

Have a wonderful Christmas,

Mindy Oja (Blog Administrator of Reading For Sanity)


The Holy Bible (KJV) - click here to request a FREE copy


The Book of Mormon - click here to request a FREE copy

Additional links:

....yes, Mormons believe in the Bible. See. is the most amazing testimony of the Atonement that I have ever heard. learn more about my personal beliefs as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, click here.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wishin' and Hopin' - Wally Lamb

Summary: It's 1964 and ten-year-old Felix is sure of a few things: the birds and the bees are puzzling, television is magical, and this is one Christmas he'll never forget.

LBJ and Lady Bird are in the White House, Meet the Beatles is on everyone's turntable, and Felix Funicello (distant cousin of the iconic Annette!) is doing his best to navigate fifth grade—easier said than done when scary movies still give you nightmares and you bear a striking resemblance to a certain adorable cartoon boy.

Back in his beloved fictional town of Three Rivers, Connecticut, with a new cast of endearing characters, Wally Lamb takes his readers straight into the halls of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School—where Mother Filomina's word is law and goody-two-shoes Rosalie Twerski is sure to be minding everyone's business. But grammar and arithmetic move to the back burner this holiday season with the sudden arrivals of substitute teacher Madame Frechette, straight from Québec, and feisty Russian student Zhenya Kabakova. While Felix learns the meaning of French kissing, cultural misunderstanding, and tableaux vivants, Wishin' and Hopin' barrels toward one outrageous Christmas.

From the Funicello family's bus-station lunch counter to the elementary school playground (with an uproarious stop at the Pillsbury Bake-Off), Wishin' and Hopin' is a vivid slice of 1960s life, a wise and witty holiday tale that celebrates where we've been—and how far we've come.
Summary from book, cover photo from

My Review: Ten-year-old Felix Funicello leads a fairly normal life, with the expectation that his cousin (whom he has never met) is the famous Annette Funicello - think original Mickey Mouse club. Growing up the youngest child with two older sisters he is taunted on a regular basis. His parents love him and each other. Felix attends a catholic school and this story takes place in the months leading up to his school's Christmas program.

Set during the sixties at a time when Felix is attempting to navigate girls while still being quite confused with the birds and the bees, this tale is sure to bring a smile. Befriended by the outspoken older boy and the new Russian student this story is filled with true to life scenarios. The combination of innocent confusion leading to embarrassing moments brings a comical aspect to the book.

In true Wally Lamb fashion, the characters within this story are well-developed, easy to relate to and likable. Within these pages you'll encounter the know-it-all goody two-shoes, the class clown, the trouble making twins, and the older kid who provides a little too much information (some misinformed) to his younger classmates. We all attended school with similar characters. However the story differs from Lamb's other novels as it is much lighter. You won't find any difficult, thought-provoking situations in this tale. This is a totally enjoyable, upbeat book making it the perfect Christmas read.

My Rating: 4 Stars

To sum it up in one phrase: A heartwarming, sweet, and utterly delightful Christmas read.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Selling the Lite of Heaven - Suzanne Strempek Shea

Summary: There it was in The Pennysaver--nestled among the other classified ads bravely singing out their romantic wares--each cleverly written heading masking a story of broken dreams. But who would believe hers? Who in her small western Massachusetts town would believe that the dutiful only daughter of Stanislaus and Edna, having against all odds and her mother's expectations finally found true love, has not only been left at the altar but for it? That she's a woman who has been left for God?

Fittingly, her holy alliance with Eddie Balicki had begun in church, just after he mysteriously abandoned the big city and moved back to his boyhood town. One glimpse is all it took.

His hands were folded in a way you only see in First Communion photos or in portraits of the Pope--fingers meeting exactly and pointing toward heaven, thumbs crossed and locked...With his eyes closed, he looked like he should have been a statue up on the altar, reeling in the ecstasy of what he already knew about heaven.

But now the worst has happened. In one ghastly moment on Good Friday, her brightly lit future, her technicolor dreams, have turned to black and white. She has died and he has gone to heaven. (Summary from book and image from

My Review: Where to begin? It read like a first novel that needed a good editor. So many sentences were convoluted or just plain wordy. Words were used incorrectly and not just occasionally. My first complaint about this book revolves around the fluency, or lack thereof.

My second issue deals with the style. I don't mind flashbacks or baiting the reader, but this book went beyond that. There were points in the story where I wasn't sure if it was present time or a flashback because it jumped around so much. Sadly, by the time this was a regular occurrence I didn't care to find out.

My third issue deals with the descriptions. I do not care what kind of leather finish is on the inside of his car. I do not care the color of her hideous sweater. I do not care about the multitude of descriptions that within 30 pages I started blasting past in an attempt to keep my interest in the book. It's one thing to describe objects that matter or characters. It's a totally different thing to describe the minute details of everyday objects, especially ones that have nothing to do with the storyline.

My last and final issue revolves around plot. What a pathetic character. What a boring life. How much more like a teenager could she behave at the ripe old age of 30+. She internally swoons over Eddie, noticing the craziest little things and obsesses about him: his bed that he slept in as a child, his uber-clean car, his hands as he prays. She has these crazy little daydreams or fantasies (depending on the situation) where she lives this false life or pretends to watch Eddie grow up. Not only is it annoying to read, it's totally weird.

She's a woman living at home with her parents--who are incredibly insensitive and curt with her--working at the local photo shop, with no goals, no hobbies besides TV and knitting, and has no desire to change a thing. That is, except to somehow get her ex-fiance's attention back now that he's left her at the altar to become a priest. And no, I didn't just give away the entire story. She tells you that at the beginning of the book. Frankly, with how depressing, monotonous, and lacking in story line it is, I'm not sure what makes a reader want to finish this book.  You already know how it ends from her confession in the first pages, so why bother?

Don't waste your time. Halfway through, I didn't.

My Rating: 1 Star

Sum it up: One long, pathetic story about a pathetic girl.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance : A Memoir - Elna Baker

This review comes to us from guest contributor, Melissa Mc., over at Gerbera Daisy Diaries. Melissa Mc (aka Gerbera Daisy Mom) is a mother of 3; wife of 1; daughter, sister, friend, aunt; lover of football, politics, food, travel, walking, theatre and all things literary. She’s without talent in most normal Mormon activities – she doesn’t paint, sew, craft, scrapbook or quilt. She can be found in front of the TV during every March Madness college basketball tournament and on every Saturday during college football season. Her youngest was born with a congenital heart defect and had open heart surgery at 5 weeks. She knows more about Children’s Hospitals than she ever wanted too. And when she grows up, she wants to be the first female commissioner of the NFL.

Summary: It's lonely being a Mormon in New York City. So once again, Elna Baker attends the New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance-a virgin in a room full of virgins doing the Macarena. Her Queen Bee costume, which involves a black funnel stuck to her butt for a stinger, isn't attracting the attention she'd anticipated. So once again, Elna is alone at the punch bowl, stocking up on generic Oreos, exactly where you'd expect to find a single Mormon who's also a Big Girl. But loneliness is nothing compared to what happens when she loses eighty pounds. . . . and falls in love with an atheist.The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance is the memoir of a girl who distresses her family when she chooses NYU over BYU. A girl who's cultivating an oxymoronic identity as a bold, educated, modern, funny, proper, abstinent, religious stand-up comic, equal parts wholesome and hot. As Elna test-drives her identity, she finds herself in the strangest scenarios including selling creepy, overpriced dolls to petulant children at FAO Schwarz and dressing a head wound with a maxi pad while on a date. (summary from - image from

My review: For anyone who has experienced an LDS (Latter-day Saint) church dance, they are on the spectrum of the cheesiest thing you have ever participated in to the most magical experience of your life (however, I’ve only experienced the former and I really don’t think the latter exists). Elna Baker uses the reality of church dances as the framework for her memoir, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance. This infamous dance is now probably the single most popular activity in all the church!

As a LDS member who has chosen NYU over BYU, Elna tries to balance two worlds: One of devout Latter-day Saint member, the other of artistic, educated, attractive young woman. Throughout the memoir we are given intimate access to Elna’s struggles: her struggles with weight, her struggles with faith, her struggles with morality and her struggles with employment. Along the ride we meet her atheist boyfriend and love of her life, “Matt,” her member boyfriend and almost fiancé, “Hayes,” and “Warren Beatty” with whom she almost has a one night stand.

Elna is an extremely talented writer. Her personal vignettes are tragic and hysterical all at the same time. She is an unexpected missionary – discussing sometimes difficult church doctrine with ease and straightforwardness and recognizes the “elephant in the room” when talking about doctrine that may seem weird to others. She is truly brave by allowing so many millions to read about her moral trespasses. I probably shouldn’t air my dirty laundry in a book review – but at times, this was a very painful book to read – I had similar experiences as a single adult (and sometimes inactive) member of the church. It was often a difficult process. I wish I could recreate my single years in such a humorous and redemptive fashion!

Thank you Elna, for sharing your life, knowledge, maturation and discoveries with us. And thank you for giving me back my reading mojo!

My Rating: 4 stars. Language and mild sexual situations.

A warning for the reader: Elna is very descriptive when describing her “flings.” She doesn’t mince words and doesn’t sugar coat her internal battles. Nor does she shy away from language that some might find inappropriate – especially for a member of the church. I, however, appreciated her candor and felt she was being true to herself. Others may not feel the same way.

Sum it up: Funny LDS woman and her search for balance and faith.

Monday, December 21, 2009

RFS Last-Minute Gift Giving Guide

I'm guessing that most of you out there have finished your Christmas shopping.
Maybe you finished it off before Thanksgiving (to you, I bow in awe).
Maybe you just found the perfect scarf for Uncle Ray 50% off at the crowded mall.

But maybe there is one person to whom you just don't know what to give.

I think you know what we'd suggest. A book of course!

For Little Girls:
Pinkalicious - Victoria Kahn

Christmas (any age):
Polar Express - Chris Van Allsberg 
The Grinch Who Stole Christmas - Dr. Suess

For the Foodie:
The School of Essential Ingredients - Erica Bauermeister
Like Water for Chocolate - Laura Esquivel

For the Health Conscious Foodie:
In Defense of Food - Michael Pollan
For the Dog Lover:
The Art of Racing in the Rain - Garth Stein

For your Mom (although really - you should have bought her gift already...don't get me started on the womb for 9 months and 17 hours of back labor!):
Still Alice - Lisa Genova

For the Fiction addict:
The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield (also here, here and here)
The Help - Kathryn Stockett (also here)

For a YA Enthusiast:
Hunger Games (also here) and Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins

For the Literary:
Night - Elie Wiesel
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Life of Pi - Yann Martel (also here)
Ella Minnow Pea - Mark Dunn
Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver

For your Brother-in-Law/Dad/Husband:
Tell No One - Harlan Coben (also here and here)
A Walk in the Woods - Bill Bryson
Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid - Bill Bryson

If you are wondering if we'll add your gift suggestion the answer is YES!
Comment here and upon review I'll add it! 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Diary of a Wimpy Kid : Dog Days - Jeff Kinney

Summary: It's summer vacation, the weather's great, and all the kids are having fun outside. So where's Greg Heffley? Inside his house, playing video games with the shades drawn.

Greg, a self-confessed "indoor person," is living out his ultimate summer fantasy: no responsibilities and no rules. But Greg's mom has a different vision for an ideal summer... one packed with outdoor activities and "family togetherness." Whose vision will win out? Or will a new addition to the Heffley family change everything? (Summary and image from

My Review: I actually had higher hopes for this book after reading the 3rd. And it started off making me believe that might be true. That didn't last long. After the first 50 pages the series turned back to the usual 'Greg is better than everyone and no one has figured it out yet' monologue. I was hoping the same humor from book 3 would continue. Nope. It was self-centered middle school thinking again. There are some scenes where it's almost painful to witness Greg's attempts to fulfill his dreams. Maybe people enjoy that kind of humor; I just don't. That said, I believe the author left it open for a couple more books. We may be seeing more Wimpy Kid books in the future.

My Rating: 3 Stars. These ratings are what I think of the books with the slant of a middle school teacher thrown in. For middle school students the rating would probably be higher.

Sum it up: The Wimpy Kid does summer vacation...which was kind of lame.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid : The Last Straw - Jeff Kinney

Summary: Lets face it: Greg Heffley will never change his wimpy ways. Somebody just needs to explain that to Greg's father. You see, Frank Heffley actually thinks he can get his son to toughen up, and he enlists Greg in organized sports and other “manly” endeavors. Of course, Greg is able to easily sidestep his fathers efforts to change him. But when Greg's dad threatens to send him to military academy, Greg realizes he has to shape up ... or get shipped out. (Image and summary from

My Review: This is probably my favorite of all the Wimpy Kid series. His humor in this one is more situational and self-deprecating. In the other books he is more self-centered and his viewpoint as such is supposed to be funny. And for me, it's just not. There were actually a couple spots I laughed. I can't say that for the first two books.

My Rating: 4 Stars.

Sum it up: The funniest in the Wimpy Kid series.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid : Rodrick Rules - Jeff Kinney

Summary: Whatever you do, don't ask Greg Heffley how he spent his summer vacation, because he definitely doesn't want to talk about it.
As Greg enters the new school year, he's eager to put the past three months behind him...and one event in particular.

Unfortunately for Greg, his older brother, Rodrick, knows all about the incident Greg wants to keep under wraps. But secrets have a way of getting out...especially when a diary is involved. (Summary from back of the book and image from

My Review: Greg's relationship with his older brother Rodrick is caustic to say the least. His parents don't seem to have a clue where their bias lies, nor does Greg do a very good job of explaining his perspective. It's another quick read, but I have to say that I find them frustrating on a communication level. Maybe that's supposed to make them funny. I'm not sure. It just feels inane to me that the entire family has such issues with treating each other decently, fairly, or even just kind. Is this really what the American family has become? If so, I'm not impressed. I know middle school students might find this accurate, but only because of a distorted view of the world that is the tween years. This could be just my taste in humor--which obviously doesn't mesh with the Wimpy Kid series.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Sum it up: A lot of build up for a rather weak embarrassing moment.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Death Mill Mansion - Will Hartzell-Baird

This review comes from our awesome guest reviewer and my friend Daniel Nighting, now father of TWO children (one of them a new-born baby girl). I can't believe he managed to actually read a book, let alone review it, on the 30 minutes of sleep a night he is likely getting.

Summary: A dark and stormy night...
As has been documented in any number of movies and books, there is a particular class of mansion that, through some indescribable means, bestows unanticipated engine/tire difficulty upon passing cars, forcing the unsuspecting occupants to knock on the door, asking to use the phone, never to be seen or heard from again. Countless motorists have been lost to these devious abodes, as well as to the mysterious mansion's close relatives, the darkened gas station and the eerily silent farm community looming unassumingly in the distance. Coincidentally, on a dark, stormy night while driving on an unfamiliar country road, Robbie inexplicably experiences car trouble... (summary from the book - image from

My Review: Few authors would like to hear their work described as being patched together from cliches and stock characters. Will Hartzell-Baird, I suspect, is one of those few. Like a sort of literary Frankenstein's monster (who, incidentally, appears in the book, along with werewolves, vampires, serial killers, mad scientists, deranged robots, and... well, pretty much everybody), Death Mill Mansion is sewn together from the hackneyed corpses of every B-movie and pulp thriller ever made.

...and like Frankenstein's monster, it's alive! ALIVE! With wry wit and keen eye for absurdity, this book breathes life into the stale tropes of the sci-fi and horror genres, deconstructing them, turning them inside-out, and piling weirdness on weirdness until the reader is sucked into an alternate dimension, the plaything of the author's warped imagination. What's more, the book does so while dancing blithely over a morass of potential plot holes, inconsistencies, and paradoxes without once falling in.*

The only failing of Death Mill Mansion, as far as I'm concerned, is the complete lack of any law-related humor.** On occasion, Hartzell-Baird seems to get carried away with a scene and lose track of the plot, but he always manages to find a bizarre new crisis (rather, a new twist to the ongoing crisis that is the plot) before the reader has a chance to lose interest. This book was so well paced that it took the birth of my new daughter to make me put it down.

*And it has footnotes, too! More novels should have footnotes.
**Read the book.

My Rating: 5 stars. An excellent book for when your reality is just too boring.

Sum it up: In some parallel universe--one with far more zombies--this is comic Shakespeare.

(this book was given to us for review)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The 3 Secret Pillars of Wealth - James Burns, Esq.


Attorney and ex-Marine recon solider James Burns plans for retirement the way he planned for military campaigns.

While most financial planners overcommit to the stock market, Burns uses his financial and military training and experience to advise his clients against deploying all of their assets to a single objective. Instead, he advocates using three financial pillars that can assure a profitable and secure retirement:
  • Pillar One: Leverage. This means borrowing money against an investment or asset that you own now or will purchase (such as a home, artwork, etc.)
  • Pillar Two: Arbitrage. This refers to finding investments, such as real estate or stock, that will offer greater returns than the money you borrowed through leveraging.
  • Pillar Three: Cash flow: This is the steady income generated from the investment you secured through the leverage and arbitrage pillars - such as rent from tenants in an apartment complex you brought.
Combining detailed and comprehensive information, The 3 Secret Pillars of Wealth is your battle plan for a winning retirement.
Summary from the back of the book, cover photo from

My Review: I received a copy of this book free for review and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not at all what I had expected. This is not one of those get rich quick schemes. In fact, contrary to the title, this book really isn't about making you rich. It's about making the money that you already earn work hard for you in return.

Jame Burns offers a variety of valid reasons why traditional thinking on investments and retirement planning no longer work. He provides enlightenment on new approaches that will have your money earning more. His book will make you consider taxation in ways you probably haven't before. Throughout this book you will be offered tips on beating taxes and fees. Best of all, you don't need to be a financial whiz or a millionaire to make this plan work for you.

This isn't the most exciting book but it is rather thought-provoking. I enjoyed the way that it was set up, with review points at the end of each chapter. I also liked that while it was filled with financial lingo, the information was presented in an easy to understand manner. This was a surprisingly straightforward, not overly detailed, read. The book hits on the key points and then offers additional resources in the form of other books by various authors and websites that you may turn to for more information. I'm glad I read this book. It has provided me with some valuable money management insight and given me a great starting point to investing.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

If I had to sum it up in one phrase: An innovative, yet straightforward approach to investing and retirement planning.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Diary Of A Wimpy Kid - Jeff Kinney

Also reviewed by Mindy.

Summary: The launch of an exciting and innovatively illustrated new series narrated by an unforgettable kid every family can relate to.

It's a new school year, and Greg Heffley finds himself thrust into middle school, where undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, meaner, and already shaving. The hazards of growing up before you’re ready are uniquely revealed through words and drawings as Greg records them in his diary.

In book one of this debut series, Greg is happy to have Rowley, his sidekick, along for the ride. But when Rowley's star starts to rise, Greg tries to use his best friend’s newfound popularity to his own advantage, kicking off a chain of events that will test their friendship in hilarious fashion. (Summary and image from

My Review: I can see why this is fun for middle school kids. You feel like you're a super fast reader, blazing through pages faster than you ever typically do in a 200+ page book. Overall, it's ok. I've been told that people laugh out loud while reading it, but that was not the case for me. It has many situations and themes I'm sure are universal; again, I couldn't quite relate to the character that well. The pictures probably make the book. Without them, the book would fall flat for me. If you're looking for depth, I don't think you'll find it here. Overall, it's fun and easy reading.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars for me--definitely a 4, possibly a 5 for kids.

Sum it up: Comic-book meets novel--a starter series for young (4-5th grade) or struggling readers in middle school.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bitter Is The New Black - Jen Lancaster

Also reviewed by Mindy.

Summary: This is a story of how a haughty former sorority girl went from having a household income of almost a quarter-million dollars to being evicted from a ghetto apartment... It's a modern Greek tragedy, as defined by Roger Dunkle in The Classical Origins of Western Culture: a story in which "the central character, called a tragic protagonist or hero, suffers some serious misfortune which is not accidental and therefore meaningless, but is significant in that the misfortune is logically connected." In other words? [She] had it coming. (Summary from back of the book and image from

My Review: If you don't mind a little profanity, you'll enjoy this book. She is hilarious--profane, but hilarious!

Jen has a transformation in the book, which is what eventually endeared her to the me. In the beginning I was having a hard time feeling connected to her: she has everything. A high rise, modern penthouse, shoes from brand names I've only looked at in New York, purses for every occasion again by designers I've only read about, she sees a hairdresser that is only part of a one-stop pamper yourself shop, a boyfriend who actually agreed to her Jen Commandments, I mean, seriously? This is only possible in fiction from my experience. That and the fact that she gets away with her insults without any repercussions; it's too good to be true.

Then you witness her house of cards go tumbling down. And she's right. At the beginning you think she had it coming. As you read of her dedicated efforts to right her situation you start to feel sincere sympathy for her and for her boyfriend, Fletch. By the end of the book I had a deep respect for her integrity and I could relate to her humbling experience, something I think is a universal human experience.

There were a couple parts in the book I was laughing out loud. 1) The Jen Commandments--seriously she couldn't have described my feelings about cooking better. And 2) The marathon convention she has to attend as a favor for a good friend. Her self-deprecating humor is endearing and her snarky zingers are what I've always wanted to say, but either don't think of at the time or don't have the guts to ever really say to anyone. Be forewarned: don't read this if you don't like swearing--she's a potty-mouthed trucker. Still...SO funny!

My Rating: 4.5 stars. I almost gave it 5 stars, but didn't because the swearing was a bit overboard for me.

Sum it up: Insanely witty, brutally honest, a bit crass, but overall entertaining read.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Christmas Sweater - Glenn Beck

Summary: If you could change your life by reversing your biggest regrets, sorrows, and mistakes...would you?

When Eddie was twelve years old, all he wanted for Christmas was a bike. Although his life had gotten harder--and money tighter--since his father died and the family bakery closed...Eddie dreamed that somehow his mother would find a way to have his dream bike gleaming beside their modest Christmas tree that magical morning.

What he got from her instead was a sweater. "A stupid, handmade, ugly sweater" that young Eddie left in a crumpled ball in the corner of his room.

Scarred deeply by the realization that kids don't always get what they want, and too young to understand that he already owned life's most valuable treasures, that Christmas morning was the beginning of Eddie's dark and painful journey on the road to manhood. It will take wrestling with himself, his faith, and his family--and the guidance of a mysterious neighbor named Russell--to help Eddie find his path through the storm clouds of life and finally see the real significance of that simple gift his mother had crafted by hand with love in her heart. (summary from book - image from

My review: This month for book club we decided to all pick different Christmas stories and then get together and share those stories over cocoa and Christmas goodies. Theoretically, we'd all be uplifted by the condensed versions and leave refreshed and overflowing with Christmas cheer. Gosh, I hope everyone else has better stories or we're all out of luck.

Beck’s writing wasn’t exceedingly wonderful in the beginning, but I was willing to put it aside since the story seemed to be heading in the right direction—a typical Christmas story with a young, self-involved boy, about to learn his lesson—up until the loss of both his parents. After that, the book took a bit of a nosedive. The middle and latter half of the book were so full of Eddie’s unhappiness that it was hard not to feel overwhelmed by all the angst. Though I suppose Beck’s version was probably an accurate picture of what a child suffering the loss of his parents would act like, I got a little tired of Eddie’s griping and taking his anger out on everyone. It went on for so long that I started to lose interest (and Christmas cheer).

Beck also tried way too hard to force his message through the mouths of his characters, instead of letting the story speak for itself. Eddie’s Grandfather and the mysterious Russell (who kinda creeped me out) hardly spoke a word that wasn’t a mini-lecture or symbolic story designed to deliver precious truths to the reader. Truths they may have been (and were), but I was so irritated by the delivery that I tended to skim through their monologues. Still, I was hoping for one whopper of an ending to turn it all around.

At this point, I guess I should have been expecting the ending I got. I’m going to do something here that I rarely do. I’m going to SPOIL THE ENDING. So, if you actually want to read this book, you might want to stop reading here. Okay. I warned you. It was all a dream. Yup, a dream. Eddie’s mom didn’t die and he ended up getting the bike he always wanted. I won’t pretend that I didn’t like the happy ending better – it was the kind of ending you’d expect from a Christmas story--but I was still MAD! I'd read 2/3 of a book about Eddie’s hurt, rage, and a mountain of his convoluted internal (and external) dialogue and it was ALL FOR NOTHING. Grr.

The only thing that saved this book from a full-on 2 star rating was the fact that I felt that the message he was trying to deliver about the Atonement and achieving personal happiness was important. Had the story been about 150+ pages shorter and focused more on telling the story and less on forcing the obviously important message, I think it would have made a much more uplifting Christmas read and, ironically, the message would have been perfectly clear.

PS. In case you're wondering, like Glenn, I'm LDS and I like a lot of what he has to say politically. I feel bad about this review, but it's honestly how I felt. I think he should stick to selling inconvenient books and arguing with idiots.

My rating: 2.75 Stars

Sum it up: Good beginning. Good end. Soul-sucking middle with a good message that gets lost in all the lecturing.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Adventures of Jonny Law - Steve Samsel

Summary: Least likely to succeed, J.L. Hoover, alias Jonny Law, always dreamed of getting into the FBI. When a little physical ailment (spastic colon) appears to have thwarted his dream of joining the elite group, he doesn't just throw in the towel and give up - instead he forms his own agency - the S.A.A.O.A. (Secret Agent Association of America). In this zany comedy/adventure Jonny teams up with his old high school buddy and recovering alcoholic, Frank Miller. Together they are two of the wackiest secret agents on the planet. And when Frank's new neighbors are a little more than suspicious, the two quickly find themselves on the biggest case of their lives that involves saving the President of the United States and perhaps the whole world if the evildoers of Sphere aren't stopped.
(Summary and cover photo from

My Review: While perusing one of my favorite bookstore a few weeks ago I came across Steve Samsel doing a book signing. When he compared his book to Dumb & Dumber I knew I had to pick it up. We all need a good laugh here and there. And Jonny Law is sure to leave one chuckling.

Jonny Law is the typical clueless, clumsy, nice guy protagonist. He has always had the dream of becoming an FBI agent but his general persona, as well as a minor health ailment, makes this aspiration highly unlikely. As the book begins, Jonny is selling insurance out of his inspector gadget-like home on wheels. Unfortunately Jonny is not especially talented at this profession and is dismissed rather quickly.

What Jonny seems to have a knack for is getting himself into (and out of) sticky situations. When he runs across a group planning to kidnap the President he finds himself in just such a bind. Fearlessly he takes charge in bringing these bad guys down, with the help of an old high school buddy, Frank. Together they set to stopping this crime and along the way find themselves in some ludicrous, yet hilarious, predicaments.

This book will have you laughing out loud at Jonny's clumsy attempts to become a hero. Rounding out the book is a bit of an unlikely, yet sweet, romance composed of awkward moments. Jonny's motivational talks to both himself and Frank are pitch-perfect and especially good for a snicker, as is the banter between these two characters. The story builds a surprising amount of suspense and will have you flying through the pages only to enter another hilarious scene.

As the novel concluded I found myself missing the main character. This was originally written as a screen-play and I saw the movie version playing in my head during the entire read. I can just picture the special effects and the stunt men performing in the film. Although this book stands well on it's own, I can imagine a squeal would be a sure hit. Either way, I'm hoping this is not the last we have seen of Jonny Law.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

**For the sensitive reader, this book would be rated PG-13. For a book of this type the language is surprisingly clean, with just a few choice words and a bit of adult humor.

To sum it up in one phrase: A rip-roaring good time.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Enter to Win a hardcover copy of Rainwater
--bestselling author Sandra Brown's
first historical fiction!
We loved it (check out our review) and
we think you will too! Summary
The year is 1934. With the country in the stranglehold of drought and economic depression, Ella Barron runs her Texas boardinghouse with an efficiency that ensures her life will be kept in balance. Between chores of cooking and cleaning for her residents, she cares for her ten-year-old son, Solly, a sweet but challenging child whose misunderstood behavior finds Ella on the receiving end of pity, derision, and suspicion.

When David Rainwater arrives at the house looking for lodging, he comes recommended by a trusted friend as "a man of impeccable character." But Ella senses that admitting Mr. Rainwater will bring about unsettling changes.

However, times are hard, and in order to make ends meet, Ella's house must remain one hundred percent occupied. So Mr. Rainwater moves into her house...and impacts her life in ways Ella could never have foreseen.

The changes are echoed by the turbulence beyond the house walls. Friends and neighbors who've thus far maintained a tenuous grip on their meager livelihoods now face foreclosure and financial ruin. In an effort to save their families from homelessness and hunger, farmers and cattlemen are forced to make choices that come with heartrending consequences.

The climate of desperation creates a fertile atmosphere for racial tensions and social unrest. Conrad Ellis--privileged and spoiled and Ella's nemesis since childhood--steps into this arena of teeming hostility to exact his vengeance and demonstrate the extent of his blind hatred and unlimited cruelty. He and his gang of hoodlums come to embody the rule of law, and no one in Gilead, Texas, is safe. Particularly Ella and Solly.

In this hotbed of uncertainty, Ella finds Mr. Rainwater a calming presence. She is moved by the kindness he shows other boarders, Solly...and Ella herself. Slowly, she begins to rely on his soft-spokenness, his restraint, and the steely resolve of his convictions. And on the hottest, most violent night of the summer, those principles will be put to the ultimate test.

To enter to win a copy of "Rainwater" by Sandra Brown


1) Follow the blog (see right sidebar) and comment letting us know. If you are already following, just leave a comment about what you are currently reading! Please leave a contact email so that we can get ahold of you if you win.

FOR EXTRA ENTRIES (Please leave separate comments for each entry):

2) Browse our reviews and tell us what book that we've reviewed you are most likely to pick up next.
3) List your top 5 all time favorite books (a series can count as one)
4) Post about this giveaway on facebook, myspace, twitter, or some other social networking site.

This giveaway will end at 11:59 PM on December 31, 2009 and be announced some time on New Year's Day (like when I wake up).

Our thanks to Sandra Brown and the lovely people at Simon & Shuster for agreeing to sponsor this giveaway! (Michelle, you rock!)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rainwater - Sandra Brown (with Author Interview)

Don't forget to check back tomorrow, December 11th, to enter our Rainwater Giveaway!

Summary: The year is 1934. With the country in the stranglehold of drought and economic depression, Ella Barron runs her Texas boarding house with an efficiency that ensures her life will be kept in balance. Between chores of cooking and cleaning for her residents, she cares for her ten-year-old so, Solly, a sweet but challenging child whose misunderstood behavior finds Ella on the receiving end of pity, derision, and suspicion.

When David Rainwater arrives at the house looking for lodging, he comes recommended by a trusted friend as "a man of impeccable character." But Ella senses that admitting Mr. Rainwater will bring about unsettling changes.

However, times are hard, and in order to make ends meet, Ella's house must remain one hundred percent occupied. So Mr. Rainwater moves into her house...and impacts her life in ways Ella could never have foreseen.

The changes are echoed by the turbulence beyond the house walls. Friends and neighbors who've thus far maintained a tenuous grip on their meager livelihoods now face foreclosure and financial ruin. In an effort to save their families from homelessness and hunger, farmers and cattlemen are forced to make choices that come with heartrending consequences.
The climate of desperation creates a fertile atmosphere for racial tensions and social unrest. Conrad Ellis--privileged and spoiled and Ella's nemesis since childhood--steps into this arena of teeming hostility to exact his vengeance and demonstrate the extent of his blind hatred and unlimited cruelty. He and his gang of hoodlums come to embody the rule of law, and no one in Gilead, Texas , is safe. Particularly Ella and Solly.

In this hotbed of uncertainty, Ella finds Mr. Rainwater a calming presence. She is moved by the kindness he shows other boards, Solly...and Ella herself. Slowly, she beings to rely on his soft-spokenness, his restraint, and the steely resolve of his convictions.

And on the hottest most violent night of the summer, those principles will be put to the ultimate test. (Summary from book cover -image from

Mindy's Review: I went into this book a little bit wary. The only Sandra Brown experience I’ve had is when I checked out one of her audio books at the library and was so utterly turned off by the reader that I didn’t make it more than a few chapters in before I gave up entirely. This time, with gorgeous hardcover in hand, it didn’t take long before I was captivated by Ella, a stubborn, and fiercely independent single mother holding it all together for the sake of her young autistic son and increasingly drawn to the utterly charming Mr. Rainwater – a true southern gentleman dying from a terminal disease. I was immersed in the daily lives and hardships of Brown's characters and I frequently imagined myself as a silent occupant in Ella’s boarding house, watching all the goings on with genuine interest and concern. Alternately, I occasionally felt like I wasn’t as deeply entrenched in the book as I should have been. Like I should have been even more horrified by things that were happening, and I wasn't. I'm going to assume that failing probably has more to do with my attempts to read it over the holidays than with the actual storyline.

Rainwater has quite a bit of historical detail without being crusty and boring (hallelujah!). I was pleasantly surprised to find a leisurely-paced romantic novel that conveyed a depth of emotion and character not ordinarily found in your standard romantic fiction. At turns horrifying and tender, this book ultimately ends when one character makes a final, heart-rending sacrifice for another. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say that I held my breath for much of the final pages.

Her rating: 4.25 Stars. For the sensitive reader--There are some scenes of violence in the book, towards both people and animals, that might make you queasy. What sexual situations there were, were more tender than passionate. They didn't bother me, but I'm a desensitized heathen, so you be your own judge....

Sum it up: An emotional and pleasantly surprising historical fiction.

Kims Review: It is rare that I miss a novel that has Sandra Brown's name on it. I have been a fan for a long time and am constantly going back to re-read the books that I enjoyed most. I own nearly all of them and always fall back on them when nothing else holds my attention.
Rainwater is a significant departure from Brown's previous novels. In fact, correct me if I am wrong, but I think this is her first historical fiction. The time period in which it is set was riddled with emotional travesties and heart wrenching decisions for even the most wealthy of society. The factual references to the depressed economy and the racial tensions dividing the country, make it hard to remember that the book is billed as "fiction" especially while the characters scream for you to make them into a reality.

On the brink of the Great Depression, Ella runs her boarding house with strength and rigorous routine. Her and her young son and carved a life out of that routine, Ella depends on it to keep her son on track. Solly is dubbed a "troubled child". Prone to fits and tantrums, he is always a challenge for the single mother.

When she finds one of her rooms vacant she reluctantly takes on a new boarder, after all he is a family member of the towns doctor. Mr David Rainwater moves in. And thus begins the journey.....

I have so much to say about this novel, but I can't say much without some serious spoilers. But what I can say is this: Sandra Brown yet again strikes gold. It is a book that will make you understand the time, the depressed economy, the emotions of the people and the turmoil of not knowing what it will all come to. Rainwater shows Ella lessons of life that we all would do better learning, but cannot until we open ourselves to the possibility of truly unconditional love.

Her Rating: 5 unbelievable stars

Sum it up: A wonderful twist from a wonderful author.
Average Rating : 4.63 Stars

Sandra Brown Interview: Below is Kim's interview with best-selling author Sandra Brown. Beware. This interview DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS.

Rainwater is quite a departure from your thrillers. Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

A vivid memory of my father’s childhood occurred when he was about eight years old. His father, my grandfather, had a showdown with armed federal agents who arrived at his dairy farm demanding that he pour out milk he couldn’t sell because of an over‑supplied market. My grandfather refused to waste good milk when so many families in the area were going hungry. Gun‑toting relatives backed him up, and eventually the agents retreated. No shots were fired, but it was a tense situation that obviously made a lasting memory for my father. My grandfather continued giving away his surplus milk. I also wanted to write about a fiercely independent and unhappy woman who is taught how to live by a man who is dying.

You provide such rich detail regarding life during the Great Depression. How did you conduct your research?

A lot of research was required, particularly into the various government programs – when they went into effect, when they were actively being carried out. The stories that were most wrenching were eyewitness accounts of livestock being shot, not just in Texas but in many plains states. Sometimes it was an entire herd; other times it was the family milk cow. People alive today remember how devastating it was to watch that heart‑wrenching slaughter. I used the Internet for newspaper stories and tapped into various libraries to read journals and printed transcripts of interviews.

One part of the story hinges on a government program to buy cows from farmers. If the cows aren't healthy enough, they’re shot and buried, with no chance for meat or milk to be distributed to the needy. Is this based on an actual depression-era program? How did people react to it at the time?

There were two government programs at the time which were designed to provide economic relief. One was the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation. Its purpose was to remove surplus commodities, among them milk, from the open market in an attempt to create false demands and thereby raise prices. My grandfather ran afoul of that program by refusing to have his surplus “removed.” The other was the Drought Relief Services. This agency purchased dairy and beef cattle for pennies on the dollar. The cows deemed still edible were sent to meat processing plants for canning and distribution to soup kitchens. All others were shot at point of sale. While this provided dairymen and cattlemen immediate relief – with cash – it also eliminated their chance of fiscal recovery because their herds, the source of their livelihoods, were destroyed. I’m sure most grasped the irony of that, and were torn about their decision, as Ollie Thompson was in the book.

The main character, Ella, is in quite a bind in the novel. Despite being better off than some people, she’’s a young woman without much freedom because she’’s tied to the boarding house and her child. Do you see parallels between her situation and difficulties people have in today’’s economy?

Absolutely. Although my timing was coincidental. I began writing RAINWATER before the bottom fell out of our economy in the autumn of 2008. But I think Ella’s struggle, particularly as a single parent, is reflective of what many people are experiencing today. It’s difficult to plan – or even to dream – of a better, happier future when survival is the business of the day. Ella had few choices. Unfortunately a lot of Americans are feeling that same sense of helplessness and entrapment.

What’s most interesting to you about Ella’s relationship with her son Solly?

As a mother, my heart ached for her. I could appreciate how terribly Solly’s rejection of her touch must have hurt. I get my feelings hurt when the kids don’t call! How horrible it must have been for Ella each time her son rebuffed her affections. I also admired her for being so fiercely protective of him. It’s even being debated by book clubs whether or not her protection was detrimental. At that point in time, autism hadn’t been named. Solly was misunderstood and feared. Would he have been safer if confined to an institution? Yet even the thought of that is appalling. One can understand Ella’s dilemma.

What’s your favorite moment in this book?

The scene where Mr. Rainwater gives Ella the copy of A FAREWELL TO ARMS. Each time I worked on it, every time I read that scene now, I get tears in my eyes.

As with most of your work, there’s a twist at the end of the story. Did you think of the twist first, or is this something that you developed along the way?

I had written about four chapters before I went back and wrote the prologue. Not until then did I realize that the story should have a “narrator.” It was while I was writing the prologue that I realized. . .well, you know.

What was the hardest thing about writing a novel in a different (non-thriller) genre?

I wouldn’t say it was harder, just different. Writing Rainwater was a refreshing change of pace . . . a change of everything, in fact. Typically I have a fairly good grip on the plot of a suspense novel before I set about writing it. I must know beforehand how the mystery ultimately will be solved. With Rainwater, I began with Dr. Kincaid bringing David Rainwater to Ella’s door and then let the story unfold on its own. I had to watch myself with Ella’s reactions, not let them be those of a contemporary woman. To any giving situation, I couldn’t allow her to react as, say, I would. I had to keep reminding myself that even though she was an independent, self-supporting woman, she lived in 1934 and that all the mores and mind-sets of that time period applied. She was extremely sensitive to “image,” so I had to take that into account.

Do you plan to write another novel similar in tone to this story or are you going back to writing thrillers after RAINWATER?

I’ve been requested to write another book in the vein of Rainwater. I’m seriously considering it. I’d very much like to if a story compels me the way this one did, and if the timing is right.

When you’re finished writing a book, do you do anything special to celebrate or do you just dive right into the next project?

My husband and I like to travel, by ourselves, with our family, or with friends. I try to plan a trip as a “celebration.” I’ll go to a spa for a day or two as a treat. But after a few weeks of goofing off, I’m eager to get into another project.

Your son Ryan Brown is following in your literary footsteps –– writing a novel to be published in May 2010. Did you give him any special motherly or professional advice?

PLAY DEAD is such a fun read, I have no qualms about his storytelling ability. A zombie football team. Go figure! That must have come from his dad’s side of the family! But, honestly, the best advice I could give Ryan is the same I’d give any starting writer. It’s really a question: “What are you willing to give up in order to do this?” Because writing isn’t just a craft or a profession, it’s a way of life. Be prepared to work your buns off. Be prepared to live with doubt, fear, and exhaustion of every kind. I have no doubt that he’s got the right stuff. He’s got a fantastic imagination, and he’s a hard worker. He applies himself to the WORK. For that I’m very proud.

As stated in my other review, I have read almost all of your books. In Unspeakable I found some content that was a little more graphic than previous books (specifically the scene with the mouse and the scene with the young girl). I also didn't see it as much in novels that came after. Was there something that provoked that in your writing? Or was it as simple as it fitting in the plot as it needed to?

This novel dealt with escaped convicts. Their actions and language were consistent with their characterizations. Some scenes were uncomfortable for me to write, but I felt that in this instance the grittiness was called for.

Thanks for the interview, Sandra!!

This book was given to us for review by Simon & Shuster.


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