Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Wednesday Wars - Gary D. Schmidt

Summary:  Holling Hoodhood is really in for it.

He's just started seventh grade with Mrs. Baker, a teacher he knows is out to get him.  Why else would she make him read Shakespeare...outside of class?

The year is 1967, and everyone else has bigger things to worry about.  There's Vietnam for one thing, and then there's the family business.  As far as Holling's father is concerned, nothing is more important than the family business.  In fact, all the Hoodhoods must be on their best behavior at all times.  The success of Hoodhood and Associates depends on it.  But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has Mrs. Baker to contend with? (Summary from back of the book and image from http://www.sonlight.com/)

My Review:  First of all, Holling?  Holling Hoodhood?  Weirdest name ever.  The Wednesday Wars has a paradoxical feel: disjointed yet fluid.  The writing is superb, especially for the level it's written.  The character is relatable and yet not.  He pulls off some amazing feats and somehow manages to get himself in the worst situations (like having the 8th grade bullies after him or having to wear a fairy costume with yellow feathers on the rear) and comes out unscathed.  What makes Holling so relatable is his family, the pressures he feels there, his humanity, and his humility.

As a former seventh grade teacher (eighth grade isn't that different from seventh), I thought his teacher was fantastic!  I covet her situation, in that I'd love to have students who could grasp Shakespeare on their own.  She was strict, hard, but compassionate.  I loved how he started out thinking she hated him, but then grew to understand her, and even got to the point where he could talk to her more easily than other adults in his life.  From the perspective of a teacher I know this to be true.  Many times students at this age come in thinking teachers are the devil, and then as the year progresses they learn to trust you and even think of you as more than a robot who sleeps in her closet at the school each night.

There are plenty of conflicts which drive the story; man vs. man, with his father; man vs. self, with his innter turmoil; man vs. world, with the 8th grade bullies, and the list goes on.  Much of Holling's life revolves around his ability to get through difficult situations--a fantastic message for the middle level reader.  And Schmidt does an eloquent job of creating compassion in the reader, rooting for Holling to succeed.

Lastly, I should mention how much Shakespeare was woven in.  The reader isn't expected to have read Shakespeare, but if you have, it adds another rich dimension.  I'd highly recommend this to anyone.

Rating: 4 Stars

Sum it up:  A seventh grade boy's journey through the turmoil that is middle school with the backdrop of the Vietnam war.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Maranatha - C. Wood

Summary:  The Holy Spear of Destiny has been removed from its display in the Vienna Hofburg Museum, and strangely vandalised.

When she is called upon by the Hofburg authorities to test the authenticity of the spear, metallurgist Vanessa Descartes quickly realises she is involved in a horrific murder case.  The severed head of a museum security guard has been left upon a silver plate, and grotesque and baffling mutilations carried out upon the body.

She is joined in the investigation by eccentric Oxford scholar Dr. Emmanuel Khalamanga, who is convinced of a connection to ancient Holy Grail legends and Professor Tomas de Carranza, a best-selling author of radical Biblical histories.

This diverse trio find themselves in a race against time with the Vienna police department to solve the growing mystery.  But as they interpret the symbols left at the scene, and discover more pieces of the puzzle, a greater and even more terrifying reality reveals itself; the existence of an invisible 'holy war' that has been fought since the Middle Ages, and is about to end in blood and death on the streets of Vienna.

And should the wrong side claim victory with the power of the holy relics, an unthinkable holocaust will be unleashed, driven by dark mysticism and insane genetic science...  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com - Book given free for review )

My Review:  Maranatha begins with a murder, a rape, another murder, and then a gruesome ritualistic slaying. I knew that there was some violence in this book, but I wasn’t prepared to be smacked with high velocity spatter within the first few pages. After the initial slaughter, things die down a bit (ha!) while the main characters try to piece together a frighteningly complex puzzle and prevent further casualties. This was the part of the book that I felt most lost. To be honest, much of the deeper theorizing went soaring over my head. Way over. As in, spaceships had a better view.  This continued on for a while, but once the characters understood what they were facing, I became more interested in the story and was delighted by some of the twists and turns in the plot.

It is impossible to read Maranatha without comparing it to The Da Vinci Code – a comparison that is sure to delight (or infuriate) the author of this book. Both begin with brutal ritualistic killings laden with symbolism that send the main characters on a frantic quest for answers. They both have deeply religious themes and equal amounts of what might be considered blasphemous and radical historical and religious theories. While Maranatha had a similar feel to The Da Vinci Code, the latter was easier to understand and did a better job relating to the average reader. I think this book would fare better with someone who had a basic knowledge or passing interest in religious mythology, radical Christain beliefs, gnostic mysticism, alchemy, and esoteric Christianity.

Maranatha has some delicious surprises and raises some interesting ideas about the duality of faith (with its destructive and sustaining powers), but ultimately it just wasn’t my bag. I didn’t like the illustrations, had a hard time understanding many of the references, and I never felt pulled to read it when I was doing other things.

For those who want a teensy spoiler: While the book never flat-out explains how the title, Maranatha, relates to the story, a quick Wikipedia search hints at certain aspects of the plot.

My Rating: 2.75 Stars

For the sensitive reader: As with The Da Vinci Code, there is the possibility that some might find this book extremely offensive. I consider myself a conservative Christian, but I also recognize fiction when I see it and usually let a lot of things slide. There is violence (murder/rape), the occasional profanity, a great deal of radical religious theorizing, and a particularly disturbing drug-induced fantasy involving Christ.

Sum it up: A mystery/thriller for someone with a basic knowledge of (or desire to learn about) gnostic mysticism, esoteric Christianity, alchemy, and other radical theories.

Friday, May 27, 2011

So Sexy So Soon : The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids - Diane E. Levin, Ph.D & Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D

Summary:  Thong panties, padded bras, and risque Halloween costumes for young girls. T-shirts that boast "Chick Magnet" for toddler boys.  Sexy content on almost every television channel, as well as in books, movies, video games, and even cartoons.  Hot young female pop stars wearing provocative clothing and dancing suggestively while singing songs with sexual and sometimes violent lyrics.  These products are marketed aggressively to our children; these stars are held up for our young daughter to emulate--and for our sons to see as objects of desire.

Popular culture and technology inundate our children with an onslaught of mixed messages at earlier ages than ever before.  Corporations capitalize on this disturbing trend, and without the emotional sophistication to understand what they are doing and seeing, kids are getting into increasing trouble emotionally and socially; some may even engage in precocious sexual behavior.  Parents are left shaking their heads wondering: How did this happen?  What can we do?

So Sexy So Soon is an invaluable and practical guide for parents who are fed up, confused, and even scared by what their kids--or their kids' friends--do and say.  Diane E. Levin, Ph.D., and Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., internationally recognized experts on early childhood development and the impact of the media on children and teens, understand that saying no to commercial culture -- TV, movies, toys, Internet access, and video games -- isn't a realistic or viable option for most families.  Instead, they offer parents essential, age-appropriate strategies to counter the assault.

Filled with savvy suggestions, helpful sample dialogues, and poignant true stories from families dealing with these issues, So Sexy So Soon provides parents with the information, skills, and confidence they need to discuss sensitive topics openly and effectively so their kids can just be kids.  (Summary from book - Image from www.dianeelevin.com )

My Review:  “Beth” usually wears a skintight top and low slung jeans. Like most girls, she worries about her weight and wonders whether boys find her attractive. She wants to be a superstar, like Lady Gaga, and loves singing along with I Like it Rough, while swaying her hips to the music. Beth isn’t 18, or 14, or even twelve-years-old. She’s seven. She wants to be “sexy,” and she has no idea what that means.

In recent years, a startling number of children, tweens, and teens have demonstrated signs of “early sexualization.” These children show an alarming interest in sexual behavior, language, and the exploration of sexual relationships, long before such behavior is considered developmentally appropriate. This sexualized childhood manifests in a variety of ways but is easily visible in the way young children dress, speak, and interact.

If you’re like me, and this trend scares you senseless, then So Sexy So Soon might be one of the most important parenting books you’ve ever read. Without proper guidance, children of all ages and genders can become confused by subtle and not-so-subtle messages found in popular culture (e.g. books, magazines, movies, television, the internet, music, music videos, video games, etc.). Through a series of unsettling examples and well-researched studies, this book shows the negative effects that early exposure to inappropriate imagery can have on our children. It also serves as a scathing indictment of industries that value profit over principle, targeting children through advertisement and spreading the idea that appearance determines an individual’s worth or personal happiness.

While we can and should control the flow of media into our own homes, our children will still receive mixed messages while standing in the checkout line, on the playground, from friends, or even older siblings. So Sexy So Soon alerts parents to possible dangers, but also provides useful ways to counteract harmful messages that slip through the cracks and promote healthy, age appropriate sexual development. For example, the authors describe how to establish relationships where children will feel comfortable asking questions or voicing concerns. They also provide tips for dealing with teenagers, combating negative stereotypes, teaching children how to evaluate images they encounter, and much more.

I read So Sexy So Soon with my three young daughters in mind, but there was plenty of information for families blessed with Y chromosomes. The authors’ explain how media and the early sexualization of young girls can negatively influence the perspective of young males. They also show how unrealistic standards of masculinity are established and maintained through early exposure to violent video games, music videos, toys, books, and other social media.

This book was a brutal wake-up call – the smack you in your face kind. It wasn’t always an easy read and occasionally blew things out of proportion, but it validated many of my concerns, helped identify other areas that need special attention, and offered reasonable solutions to problems I might encounter. I recommend this book as a compelling and invaluable resource to every parent who is concerned with the current trend towards sexualized childhood and looking for ways to limit media influence in the home.

My Rating: 5 Stars.  *I feel like I should qualify my rating because I'm wavering between 4 and 5 stars, depending on the day*  Occasionally this book slides into the sensational and scary.  In other words, it tries to scare the pants off you and most likely will succeed.  I gave this book five stars because I feel this book does a reasonably good job of addressing a subject that every parent should consider, NOT because every solution is perfect or the writing is amazing.

For the sensitive reader: Some frank discussion of sexual topics and media that kids might encounter. Some of the language used could be considered offensive, but I really felt it was necessary to illustrate the problems our children are likely to encounter.

Sum it up: A must read for any parent.

To learn more, visit the So Sexy So Soon website at http://www.sosexysosoon.com/ or click here to read the introduction.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

These Happy Golden Years - Laura Ingalls Wilder

Summary:  Laura, not yet sixteen, takes a job teaching school in a drafty shanty twelve miles from home.  It's a terrifying job.  Most of her pupils are taller than she is -- and she has to board with a hateful, crazed lady.  Laura is miserable, but she must help to keep her blind sister Mary in school.  And every Friday, when the school week is over, Almanzo arrives in his sleigh -- come all twelve miles across the desolate icy slough to take her home to her family  for the weekend.  Could it be love?  (Summary from book - Image from openlibrary.org )

My Review:  These Happy Golden Years has a different feel than the novels that precede it. With Laura grown up, by De Smet standards, the story focuses more on her life outside of the Ingalls household -- teaching school, studying for exams, and living in the homes of strangers. A homesick Laura is delighted by fleeting weekends with her family and regular Sunday drives with Almanzo. I enjoyed Almanzo’s attention to Laura, and her bewilderment by it, but found that I missed the pleasures of daily life in the Ingalls home and wished for more detail sprinkled between the weekdays and carriage rides.

As with Little Town on the Praire, this book paid excessive attention to fashion, much to my disappointment and disinterest, but Laura’s budding relationship with Almanzo more than made up for it. My seven-year-old daughter loved it as well, which was a little disturbing, and she kept giggling each time Almanzo showed up to take Laura for a buggy ride. She was aghast at life with the Brewsters, which only served to highlight the love and warmth of Laura’s childhood home.

My youngest daughter made the occasional appearance while reading, but my eldest constantly pestered me to read “just one more!” This book ends in the expected wedding and Laura’s bittersweet journey from the Ingalls homestead to her new home with Almanzo.

We finished this book in around four days and Kaisa bolted downstairs to get the final book (or the follow-up, depending on your perspective), The First Four Years.

My Rating: 4 Stars
Sum it Up:  Laura gets a life, and love, of her own. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cinderella : Ninja Warrior - Maureen McGowan

Cinderella: Ninja Warrior is part of the Twisted Tales series by Maureen McGowan. Also in the series? Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer.

Summary:  In this fast-paced story full of adventure and romance, Cinderella is more than just a servant girl waiting for her prince -- she's a tough, fearless girl who is capable of taking charge in a dangerous situation.  Seeking to escape the clutches of her evil stepmother, Cinderella perfects her ninja skills and magic talents in secret, waiting for the day when she can break free and live happily ever after.  In a special twist, you will have the opportunity to make key decisions for Cinderella and decide where she goes next -- but no matter the choice, the result is unlike any fairy tale you've ever read.  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review: The second I saw the title of this book I knew my daughters would love it. Like most young girls ages five and seven, they enjoy dressing as princesses, but mine like to roam around the house as pirates, jedis, and ninjas, as well.

Whether you like this book or not will probably depend on your age. From an early tween or YA perspective, this book will likely register as a fast paced, unique, and innocently romantic story of a much more assertive Cinderella. As an adult, I found it all a bit melodramatic, disconnected, and silly, but enjoyed the choose-your-own adventure aspect and think most twelve-year-old girls will eat it up.

My girls certainly loved the addition of Cinderella’s spectacularly acquired ninja skills and magical abilities. That having been said, I quit reading it (to them) because I felt that the romantic aspect of the story was a bit over their heads – nothing inappropriate mind you – just more gushy and wistful than I’m ready for them to be reading. They threw a fit. Perhaps I should have paid closer attention to the 12 and up recommendation.

While this book wasn’t necessarily to my tastes, I applaud the author’s attempt to infuse traditional fairytale with an inventive plot and an empowering heroine. I love that the reader can choose how Cinderella will act without cutting the story short, and I do plan to save this book for my girls to read when they are a bit older.

My Rating: 3 Stars for an adult, 3.5 for an older tween or YA reader.

For the sensitive reader: One use of “breasts” when “chest” would have worked just fine. Other than that, you’re home free.

Sum it up: An interesting twist on a well-known fairytale.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Wiretap - Valerie Biamonte

Summary:  Amanda Stephens creates business plans to help companies in trouble--but she's the one in trouble now.

Her firm gathers information through interviews and on-site surveillance then suggest new directions for management.  But her newest client--Moyer Metals--has a different problem: one of their employees was just murdered on their property.

Homicide Detective Lou Mason shows up at Amanda's firm with a warrant for her surveillance footage.  He also asks for a date.

Amanda and business partner Julio continue their work for Moyer.  Reviewing surveillance audio, Amanda overhears a second worker die a terrible death.  She calls Lou and their date becomes an investigation.

Police arrest a Moyer employee whose brother is a high-powered defense attorney--and Amanda's old flame.  He's determined to win his brother's case, and Amanda's heart.

But when Julio goes missing, and the killer hunts Amanda--Can she come up with a plan to save herself?  (Summary from the back of the book and image from author.  This book was given free for review.)

My Review:  Wiretap was a fun and fast read  The characters were well developed, the plot was fast-paced and engaging, and the ending had a nice twist.   I'm sure my father would have known who the killer was after watching so many Miss. Maple episodes, but I could not.  I can honestly say I wasn't sure who the murderer was until it was right upon me.

I do enjoy a book that can surprise me and make me go back to see if I was catching the clues correctly or missing them.  Biamonte does a nice job of surprising the reader, abruptly and in a good way.  The twist in the plot did have me flipping backwards to re-evaluate my guess.  I also enjoyed the author's use of a variety of characters and personality types and the equal acceptance of all types of people regardless of race. 

While the overall writing would have benefitted from a bit closer inspection (by an editor), the story was not affected by it.  Besides the few missing words or typos -- which really weren't many -- my only other gripe was that the story had a lot of interweaving lives and coincidences.  It works great for the story, but in a city so close to Chicago it was a little far-fetched.  I wouldn't call Wiretap classic literature, but I will say it's a book I'd recommend to friends.

Rating: 3.5 stars 

For the sensitive reader:  Occasional swearing and one F-bomb. 
Sum it up: A fast paced, engaging murder mystery.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Facing Forward : A Life Reclaimed - Reba D + GIVEAWAY

I will be giving this book to someone who really needs it.  See the bottom of this post for details.

Summary:  Like so many women, I wanted a home, children, a loving husband, and a pet.  When life didn't work out the way I'd hoped by the time I was 30, I started to panic.  I was actively looking for love when I met a man who would ultimately change my life and the lives of those closest to me.

This story has a happy ending.  Unfortunately, not all victims of domestic violence are so fortunate.  There are steps you can take to free yourself or help free someone you know.  Through my story, you'll find out how.  You will walk away with a better understanding of how someone can lose everything to an abuser -- and when she is ready, reclaim her life.

What would ever make a woman settle for someone she knew in her heart wasn't right?  Worse, what would make her stay in an abusive marriage or relationship once she realized the truth?  A lot of things, among them, shame and fear.  Shame of leaving, shame of failure, fear of his retaliation, fear of personal marital details becoming public in a divorce proceeding -- and fear of suffering socially or financially by a divorce.  For some, there's the fear of being alone.  If you're unable to understand this, be thankful.  But also be careful.  Prior to my marriage to the pastor, I would never have tolerated anyone treating me this way.  (Summary from book - Image from www.mondialbooks.com  - Book given free for review)

My Review:  Facing Forward is a heartbreaking account of one woman's struggle to endure nearly two years of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of her husband. I warn you, this story is both compelling and disturbing. Once I picked it up, I could think of little else. I read it all in a day because I could not go to sleep without seeing the author safely out of her marriage.

Reba’s husband Philip is a seemingly dedicated Lutheran pastor, affectionate and attentive when he has an audience, but frightfully domineering and vindictive behind closed doors. Almost immediately after the wedding (and to be perfectly honest, even before it), Philip begins to insult Reba and berate her for the smallest of perceived offenses. To make matters worse, Philip's parents – who are, quite possibly, the most offensive, psychotic, and dysfunctional parents I have ever heard, seen, or read about – visit frequently and only uphold their son’s treatment of his wife. At first, Reba tries to stand up for herself, but when the verbal abuse escalates to the occasional physical confrontation, she discovers it is far easier to walk on eggshells and give in to her husband’s demands in order to keep the peace.

In Facing Forward, Reba acknowledges the red flags she missed, and those she simply ignored or rationalized away. From a outsider's perspective, it would be easy to see the same warning signs and say, "She's such an idiot. She should have seen it coming” or “There is no way I would have put up with that behavior. I would have left right away." However, the reality of abuse is always more complicated than it seems. Reba states "living in an abusive relationship can turn the most confident, secure, independent person into someone she never would have previously believed possible." Nowhere is this more evident than in Reba's own brief marriage as she transforms from an assertive, passionate woman to a fearful, desensitized submissive. Although Reba's situation deteriorated more quickly than most, such abuse is not uncommon. Her husband exhibited behavior typical of an abusive partner and it wasn’t long before she showed all the signs of being abused. It was only through her own determination and the loving support of family and friends that Reba was finally able to leave her husband and regain her sense of self-worth.

If I've learned anything from James Frey, Milli Vanilli, and the allegations currently swirling around Greg Mortenson, it is that sometimes people embellish the truth, pay lip service, or outright lie to make themselves look better. While it is true that there are always two people in a marriage and two sides to every story, I felt that Reba gave an honest portrayal of her marital woes. She was upfront about her own, relatively microscopic, failings in the marriage and accepted the blame for times when she erred, regardless of her husband's inexcusable behavior.

Facing Foward is a riveting narrative, but the author did not write it to entertain. She shared her story in the hope that it could serve as a wake-up call for someone currently living in an abusive relationship or lend some perspective to those trying to support a love one who is being abused. I recommend this book to everyone. Read it and you might recognize the signs. Read it and you might find the strength to leave.

My Rating: 4.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There were a handful of times in this book when the couple's sex life came into play. While I understand its relevance to their relationship and this book, I would have been okay with a little less detail. The pastor is also quite fond of profanity-laced tirades.

Sum it up: A compelling memoir of abuse and a life reclaimed.

A Note from Reba:

For too long, domestic violence was something no one talked about in polite circles. But that didn't mean it didn't exist. Today, few people haven't been touched by it personally or known someone who has.  Today, we know longer accept it the way things have to be. We know we have choices, options and that help is available. As we continue to raise our social consciousness, we learn that it's only by facing this openly together that we can bring about the awareness that ultimately leads to change. If you know someone in need of help anywhere in the US, download a free state-by-state resource guide at http://www.facingforward-alifereclaimed.com/ 


As of right now, this book has been claimed. 
You can buy your own copy of Facing Forward here or the Kindle edition (for $4.99) here.  

GIVEAWAY:  Because I feel that more people could benefit from this book, I will ship my copy to the first person* who contacts me at mindyoja AT hotmail DOT com.  Please only write if you are currently involved in or know someone who is involved in an abusive relationship.  Read it and, when you're through, pass it on.

*US residents only.  I can't afford to ship internationally.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Roasted Vegetable - Andrea Chesman

This was originally intended to be a Natalie Perry guest review, but since we've decided to welcome her on full time I hope you'll enjoy her first official RFS review.  Welcome Natalie!  Check out her food blog at http://www.perrysplate.com/

Summary: Why roast vegetables? Because roasting concentrates vegetables’ natural sweetness, resulting in rich, caramelized flavors that render them -- and the variety of dishes you can prepare with them -- irresistible. In The Roasted Vegetable, Andrea Chesman shows how every vegetable imaginable can be oven-roasted to succulent perfection, and she offers a wide-ranging collection of 150 mouthwatering recipes to please even the fussiest eaters.

Roasting Basics: Techniques and Equipment
Simply Vegetables: Side Dishes
Snacks, Starters, and Soups
Sumptuous Salads
Vegetable Feasts: Main Dishes
Sensational Sandwiches and Wraps
Pleasing Pasta
Tempting Tarts, Pastries, and Pizzas
Tasty Tofu and Tempeh
Great Grains, Nuts, and Seeds

(Summary and table of contents from the the book - Image from www.bookbyte.com)

My Review: My lukewarm feelings toward vegetables changed to a passionate love when I discovered roasting them. I checked this book out from the library and after several weeks of renewing it, I hoped the library would just give it to me when we moved out of state. No such luck. I ended up buying it soon after.

This book contains simple, straight-forward recipes with (mostly) common, easy-to-find ingredients. The recipes are also very adaptable to suit your family's tastes or to experiment with if you happen to be an adventurous cook. You can switch out vegetables for similar ones your family prefers, and although this is a vegetarian cookbook, you can naturally incorporate meat if you have insistent carnivores at the table. Like the summary mentioned, it’s a great way to introduce or re-introduce vegetables to picky eaters. We tried out the Stacked Roasted Vegetable Enchiladas, Black Beans and Rice with Fire-Roasted Vegetables, and Roasted Potato Salad with Parmesan Herb Dressing. (You’ll find moderately adapted versions of these on my recipe blog.) There are very few cookbooks where I'm anxious to try almost everything. This is definitely one of them, and is a perfect source for family-pleasing recipes.

Side Note: For those who insist on having photographs of every recipe in their cookbooks, you may be disappointed. Aside from the photo on the cover, there are no photos within the book, but only simple sketched illustrations of various vegetables. I'm also not into tofu or tempeh (another soy-based meat substitute), so I just skip over that chapter while I'm browsing. That being said, I still love it enough to give it five stars.

My Rating: 5 stars

Sum it up: After roasting vegetables, you'll never look at them the same way again.

For more books by Andrea Chesman, click here.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Our Newest Reviewer : Natalie Perry

Reading For Sanity is so excited to welcome Natalie Perry to our reviewing family! She is an amazing cook (I'm not even exaggerating to be nice) with her own food blog, Perrys' Plate, and we are delighted she has consented to be our specialty reviewer for cookbooks and all things food related (though the rest of us might still choose to dabble).

I emailed Perrys' Plate about a year ago to ask for help with a recipe  and was shocked when the blogger responded and asked "Is this Mindy Irving?"  Um, well, I used to be.  That's creepy.  It wasn't until I visited her "About Me" page that I realized that Natalie Phillips Perry and I knew each other -- from high school.  Small world.

Fast forward to now.  We both have little girls named Sophie.  She makes the best taco seasoning in the world and we are so lucky to have her here at Reading For Sanity!  

Welcome Natalie!


A note from Natalie:

Hey there!  I'm a 30-year-old mom with two little girls and a whole lot more pink in my home than I'd prefer. If I'm not reading a cookbook or an issue of Bon Appetit you can find me either sucked into the latest YA fiction black hole (ahem, Hunger Games) or reading (mostly) non-fiction books to my husband in the car and before bedtime. He prefers me to an audiobook, and we're currently trudging slowly through Atlas, Shrugged. We're aiming to finish around 2014.

I spend most of my free (?) time working on my own sanity project, Perrys' Plate, a recipe blog that dictates what my family eats for dinner and how long they have to wait for said dinner while I photograph it. They're good sports. I'm excited be part of Reading for Sanity and to share my love of cooking with even more people. Thanks for having me!


(Oh, and if you'd like to win Guy Fieri's new cookbook
Today is the last day to enter!)

Look for Natalie's favorite book list, coming soon!  I imagine there will be quite a few cookbooks!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Left Neglected - Lisa Genova

Summary:  Sarah Nickerson is like any other career-driven supermom in Welmont, the affluent Boston suburb where she leads a hectic but charmed life with her husband Bob, faithful nanny, and three children—Lucy, Charlie, and nine-month-old Linus.

Between recruiting the best and brightest minds as the vice president of human resources at Berkley Consulting; shuttling the kids to soccer, day care, and piano lessons; convincing her son’s teacher that he may not, in fact, have ADD; and making it home in time for dinner, it’s a wonder this over-scheduled, over-achieving Harvard graduate has time to breathe.
 A self-confessed balloon about to burst, Sarah miraculously manages every minute of her life like an air traffic controller. Until one fateful day, while driving to work and trying to make a phone call, she looks away from the road for one second too long. In the blink of an eye, all the rapidly moving parts of her jam-packed life come to a screeching halt.
A traumatic brain injury completely erases the left side of her world, and for once, Sarah relinquishes control to those around her, including her formerly absent mother. Without the ability to even floss her own teeth, she struggles to find answers about her past and her uncertain future.

Now, as she wills herself to regain her independence and heal, Sarah must learn that her real destiny—her new, true life—may in fact lie far from the world of conference calls and spreadsheets. And that a happiness and peace greater than all the success in the world is close within reach, if only she slows down long enough to notice.
Summary and cover photo from indiebound.org

My Review: "Vice-President of human affairs at Berkley Consulting Firm" are likely the first words to fly from Sarah Nickerson's mouth when asked to define herself. This thirty-something woman is also the wife of a career-driven business professional and the mother of three young children. Then one fateful day Sarah has an accident on her way to work and life as she knows it comes to an abrupt end. The accident results in a brain injury leaving Sarah with Left Neglect, a condition where the patient is entirely unaware of the left-side of any space.

Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice, does a phenomenal job explaining the puzzling condition of Left Neglect. Sarah's struggle to see anything on her left, to realize she still has a left arm, to learn to walk with an unresponsive left leg, to find the food on the left side of her plate, to read a watch after one hand slips past the six is at once both heartbreaking and inspiring. Sarah's plight brings new meaning to her life as she finds that although she can only witness half of the world she is now seeing more than she did in that corner office. Somewhere along the way Sarah comes to the realization that who a person is isn't necessarily defined by what that person does for a living.

This book is a fast-paced read as the reader is invited into the Nickerson family. An intimate relationship with the characters is formed early on. The children are named for Peanuts characters, yes that's right...Charlie, Lucy and Linus, and Sarah's intense work drive over all else was a bit hard to relate to. Yet it's impossible to read this novel and not feel each character's emotion with full force, regardless of if those feelings are justified or not.

As frequently happens with authors of an outstanding first book, this novel didn't quite hold up to expectations. It was good, very good actually but not as amazing as Still Alice. There were points in Still Alice where the Alzheimer disease transposed itself onto the reader. With Left Neglected sympathy is felt for Sarah and her struggle but the line to empathy is only toed, never crossed. That being said, this remains a novel I will be recommending.

My Rating: 4 Stars

To sum it up: An uplifting novel that gives insight into a rarely heard of condition and bestows the miracle of second chances.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Back To Basics: Traditional Kitchen Wisdom - Readers Digest, edited by Andrea Chesman

Summary:  Live on less and still have plenty!  There's something to be said for simpler times, when our way of life seemed more wholesome...when our food was grown with fewer pesticides and growth hormones...when we tended kitchen gardens, kept a flock of chickens, and "put up" beans, pears, and pickles.  So it's easy to see why people across the nation are returning to their roots--and root cellars--and embracing a return to the basics.

With Traditional Kitchen Wisdom you, too, can enjoy the rewards of being more self-reliant by...
  • Growing your own fruits and vegetables in a space as small as a windowsill
  • Turning fresh fruit into jams and jellies
  • Learning safe canning and freezing methods
  • Drying foods and creating your own herbs and spices
  • Making homemade wine, beer, and naturally flavored vodka
  • Raising chickens and honeybees, making your own cheese, and more
Start your own family traditions with Traditional Kitchen Wisdom, and rediscover the pleasure of returning to a greener, healthier, and more self-sufficient lifestyle.   (Image from  http://images.bookcloseouts.com/ and summary from back of the book.)

My Review:  Honestly, I've never been much of a Suzy-Homemaker type.  My mother knew how to can, sew, garden, pickle, and everything in between.  I spent a little time learning the very basics of a couple of these skills--definitely not enough to talk about though.  In the past couple years I've gotten into gardening and consequently canning and maybe someday I'll get into sewing.  This book peaked my interest because it gives the basics on many kitchen tasks I've never fully explored...and allows me to refresh my skills without pestering my mother!

Reader friendly is the best way to describe the format.  It has an easy to follow table of contents, clear headings broken down into steps, has color illustrations depicting what it's describing, tables and charts when the information is best conveyed that way, equipment lists, and recipes.  I can't say I've tried everything in the book because I don't have all the right tools/equipment for each skill. But, I'm excited to try some though.

There's one section of the book that is obsolete for me, but may intrigue other readers: wine and beer brewing.  While I'm sure it's a great skill for some, I have no use for it.

The last section of the book shows ways to have a sustainable home.  I'm not sure I'll ever get to this point in my life, as raising chickens is not my ambition.  Still, I like having the information if I ever do need it.

For a novice like me, this book was informative and inspired me to want to try some of these food preserving techniques.  If you're a domestic diva knowing all the arts of the kitchen, this book is probably too simplistic.

Rating:  4.5 Stars

Sum it up: A book with basics of home preserving techniques for a beginner in the process.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Third - Abel Keogh + GIVEAWAY

Hey guess what!?  We're giving away an
autographed copy of this book! 
See below for details!

Summary:  When Ransom Lawe, a recycler in the Pacific Northwest, finds out his wife is pregnant with their third--and therefore illegal--child, he's forced to choose between the government who proclaims a desire to save the planet and his hope for a place where his family can live in freedom.  But with the Cencus Bureau Sentinels closing in on his wife and unborn child, Ransom's choice will either save his family or tear them apart forever. (Summary from book - Image from abelkeogh.com - Book given free for review)

My Review:  I know what you're thinking.  Another dystopian novel?  Really?  Are you ever going to stop reading these?  Nope.  Never.  I love them.  The seemingly utopian society. The twisted morality. The character's struggle to survive.  They just, well, complete me (or something along those lines).  So, learn to deal with it.

Most dystopian novels begin in a outwardly perfect society before events uncover a seemy underbelly, but The Third skips over all that and drops you directly into a horrifying world where children are seen as a nuisance, and worse, expendable.  Ransom Lawe lives in our world, in 2065.  People are near starving, and third children are ripped from their mothers bodies by a tyrannical government bent on saving mother earth and controlling the population. 

I don't want to reveal much, but this story was disturbing and intense.  I am the mother of three young children and rarely find time to read during their waking hours, but after a few chapters I was desperate to read more.  All I can say is thank heavens for preschool...and naps...or I might have gone insane. 

I'd also like to give a nod (or a gigantic round of applause) to the author, who manages to keep this story free from the sex and language that seem to accompany other books.  While there is some violence, it is of the hand-to-hand combat variety and tame enough for an older YA reader. 

The Third tied up some loose ends, but there is much more of the story to be told.  As soon as I finished, I contacted the editor to confirm that there was another book and the author even let me read the first chapter (which is sure to torture me for a while).  I look forward to reading the next two books in the series when they are published.

My Rating:  4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Some hand-to-hand violence between characters, and one scene of violence towards an infant at the beginning (more of a "putting the child in danger" situation).

Sum it up:  An intense and evocative ride.

Read the first chapter or learn more about Abel Keogh here.


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Eligibility: This giveaway is open to US/CAN residents only.  It will end on  May 31st at 11:59 PM.  The winner will be chosen randomly, posted publicly and contacted swiftly to arrange shipping.  Good luck!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Little Town on the Prairie - Laura Ingalls Wilder

Summary:  The long hard winter was over.  The people of De Smet, South Dakota, came outdoors and began to live again.  They held church socials, dances, and "literaries."  In the summer, Laura took a grueling job -- making shirts, through long hard hours.  She wanted the money to help send Mary to the college for the blind in Vinton, Iowa.  Suddenly, Laura was a young lady.  And who but the dashing Almanzo Wilder escorted her home in the evenings!  (Summary from book - Image from www.littlehouse.wikia )

My Review:  After the long winter, the Ingalls family moves back out onto their claim for the summer and Laura spends the time studying for her teachers certificate and working in town to help pay for Mary's education.  In the fall, a plague of blackbird plagues leads to lost crops but ample blackbird pie. 

When winter rolls around again, the claim shanty isn't ready to weather the storm, so the family moves back to town and the girls become "city girls".  Laura is growing up.  Before long, she gets invited to parties and sociables,  and even begins paying attention to fads, fashion, and (gasp) boys.  My girls were particularly interested in the reappearance of mean-spirited Nellie Oleson, and the problems with the new school teacher (who also happens to be Almanzo Wilder's sister).  My eldest thought it was hysterical that Laura got to ride in Almanzo's buggy instead of a certain snobby schoolmate who shall remain nameless.

Despite my love for this series, there were a few things that I didn't like about this book.  Because Laura is more interested in clothing and looking fashionable, there were many times that clothing was described down to the most minute detail.  Bo-ring.  My kids couldn't picture it and didn't much care.   Also, towards the end of the book, the Ingalls family attends a literary where several men paint their faces black, dress up as "darkies" and put on a show.  Definitely not the most P.C. moment in Little House history, as the word "darkies" was used a number of times.  I just substituted the word "performers" and read quickly.  My children also didn't understand the church revival at all and I think were a little distressed by all the yelling. 

My five-year-old has all but detached herself from this series now, choosing instead to look at other books while I read to her older sister.  I suppose that Laura has grown up too fast for her, but my seven-year-old still begs me to read and dissolves into giggles the moment Almanzo's name is mentioned.  When we finished this one (without her sister) she gleefully ran downstairs to get "These Happy Golden Year" proclaiming that "Laura and Almanzo are going to get married in this one."  Should I be worried?  I mean, she's seven.

My Rating: 3.75 Stars

Sum it up:  A welcome reprieve from The Long Winter, with some interesting description of town life.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Across the Universe - Beth Revis

Summary:  Amy is a cryogenically  frozen passenger aboard the spaceship Godspeed.  She has left her boyfriend, friends -- and planet -- behind to join her parents as a member of Project Ark Ship.

Amy and her parents believe they will wake on a new planet, Centauri-Earth, three hundred years in the future.  But fifty years before Godspeed's scheduled landing, cryo chamber 42 is mysteriously unplugged, and Amy is violently woken from her frozen slumber.

Someone tried to murder her.

Now, Amy is caught inside a tiny world where nothing makes sense.  Godspeed's 2,312 passengers have forfeited all control to Eldest, a tyrannical and frightening leader.  And Elder, Eldest's rebellion teenage heir, is both fascinated with Amy and eager to discover whether he has what it takes to lead.

Amy desperately wants to trust Elder.  But should she put her faith in a boy who has never seen life outside the ship's cold metal walls?  All Amy knows is that she and Elder must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets before whoever woke her tries to kill her again.  (Summary from book - Image from bethrevis.com)

My Review:  Let's clear something up right away - this book is in no way based on Beatles lyrics or on the 2007 movie of the same title.  If that's why you're reading this review, you can stop right now.

Anyone left?

Okay.  This Almost the Universe is a fresh and fascinating YA sci-fi romance with a little mystery thrown in.  I loved the unique setting and I read the whole book rather quickly, considering the distractions that three kids can offer, but was not left without some concerns.  From an adult perspective, the writing was fairly basic and nearly every twist was easy to see coming.  A younger reader might not care about those things, but certain aspects of this book (namely the Season which causes everyone but the main characters to exhibit the rutting instincts of animals) left me questioning it's suitability for the YA audience. 

That said, the grown-up in me still enjoyed the afternoon.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Some sexual language, plenty of "mating" during the Season, and one mildly graphic attempted rape.  Only one use of actual profanity, but several uses of made-up words like frexing, chutz, and shite, that convey a similar message.

Sum it up:  Fun but predictable.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mrs. Bybee, Please Forgive Me

My mother just called and told me she just had a nice conversation with my high school English teacher and told her about this blog.  Eeeek!

I'm understandably nervous.  This is the English teacher that is responsible for introducing me to three of my favorite books:  The Giver, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Alas, Babylon.  She also taught me about voice, cutting out the dead wood, and about having three controlling ideas in any thesis statement. She was my favorite high school teacher and I am going to be single-handedly responsible for putting her in her grave.


She is going to die when she reads my reviews.  She's going to see that I, still, have, a, comma, complex.  I fragment.  I frequently use split infinitives. I generally ignore all the rules of basic grammar.  For shame.  For shame.  For shame.

Please forgive me Mrs. Bybee.  It's not because I didn't listen.  It's not because I've forgotten.  It's because I....Error: 596lxhe...just can't type...aughgh......................................

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Tales of Beedle the Bard - J.K. Rowling

Summary:  The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a Wizarding classic, first came to Muggle readers' attention in the book known as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  Now, thanks to Hermione Granger's new translation from the ancient runes, we present this stunning edition with an introduction, notes, and illustrations by J.K. Rowling, and extensive commentary by Albus Dumbledore.  Never before have Muggles been privy to these richly imaginative tales:  "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot," "The Fountain of Fair Fortune,"  "The Warlock's Hairy Heart," "Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump," and of course, "The Tale of the Three Brothers."  But not only are they the equal of fairy tales we now know and love, reading them gives new insight into the world of Harry Potter. (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  The Tales of Beedle the Bard is an interesting, but relatively unimportant, addition to the Harry Potter series.  I read the fairy tales to my children and the commentary by Albus Dumbledore to myself (since they haven't read the HP series).  The commentary by Albus Dumbledore was not as insightful as I would have liked, but did give some alternate perspective and have moments of Dumbledore's signature humor.

Most of the fairy tales can be read as stand-alone bedtime stories for children, even those who aren't familiar with J.K. Rowling's previous works.  The Wizard and the Hopping Pot, The Fountain of Fair Fortune, and Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump were lighter, more traditional fairytales and my girls loved them.  The Tale of the Three Brothers was significantly darker but I loved the eery feel and its connection with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  However, I wouldn't recommend reading The Warlock's Hairy Heart to your young ones.  Preceded by two sweeter tales, a less discerning parent might end up speechless and scrambling at the paragraph "The maiden lay dead upon the floor, her breast cut open, and beside her crouched the mad warlock, holding in one bloody hand a great, smooth, shining scarlet heart, which he licked and stroked, vowing to exchange it for his own."  Not that that ever happened to me. *awkward pause*  Um.  Anyway. 

Perhaps the best reason to purchase The Tales of Beedle the Bard is that all royalties will be donated to the Children's High Level Group, which works to make a real difference in the lives of many institutionalized and marginalized children.  While it doesn't inspire the same devotion as its thicker counterparts, I'm glad I have my copy to sit alongside the series.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Sum it up: A welcome addendum to the Harry Potter series.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cooking with Food Storage Made Easy - Debbie G. Harman

Summary:  We have been counseled by prophets to keep a long-term supply of food on hand.  But once we have accumulated some food storage, what do we do with it?  Food storage is not just for emergencies; it's meant to help us sustain life today.

In this fun cookbook, Debbie Harman shows you how you can cook delicious meals and tasty treats your family will love with the food supplies that have too often been put away only for a rainy day.  You'll soon discover how to use storage items and other everyday ingredients to make tasty dishes a few times each week, which will keep your food storage in constant rotation--and save you money.  So, should disaster strike, you'll have plenty of usable food on hand--and you'll be an expert on knowing what to do with it.

Along with hundreds of fast and delicious family-tested recipes, you'll find:
  • What you need to store
  • How to use dry foods to add nutrition to everyday dishes
  • How to store meats, beans, vegetables, fruits, grains, water, and more
  • How to sprout your own fresh greens
  • How to put together 72-Hour Emergency Kits for you and your family
Let Cooking with Food Storage Made Easy be your guide for making your food storage a valuable asset your family will enjoy.  (Image from http://www.countryconsultant.com/ and summary from back of the book.)

My Review:  I have been looking for a cook book like this!  Food storage is something we do (something LDS people do anyway) and this book is aimed at that audience.  I try to store food, but I'm not at the point yet where I feel confident using it everyday.  I'd hate to waste what I have, but I also want to use some so that I can  begin rotating my supply.  I want to know what goes in my food, what ingredients make or break a recipe, and if, heaven forbid, a disaster does occur, that I can cook food my family will actually eat.  Part of what drew me to this book was that it gives recipes using dried products you don't normally buy from the grocery store.  This book had those recipes!  It has so much of what I've wanted in a basics cook book: how to make fruit leather, suggested amounts to store more than just the basics, planting and gardening tips, jerky, the list goes on.  While I realize this may not be a cook book for the everyday chef, it's perfect for my needs and for someone interested in cooking with food storage. 

My Rating: 5 Stars

Sum it up:  This cookbook has just about everything you'd want to know about to storing and preserving your own food.


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