Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Here at Reading For Sanity, we don't seem to be big on the horror genre
-- unless you count sparkly vampires, which I really really don't.

However, I did manage to dig up a few spooky recommendations. 

For some zombified horror, try

or the slightly less graphic, more romantic

If it's vampires you're into...well, there is the Twilight Series. 
I mean, Breaking Dawn was pretty darn scary.
But I refuse to link it because no one
should ever be called Renesme
So there.

Your children might also like this a bunny with vampiric tendencies

If that isn't enough for you, then I suggest you head on over to AbeBooks and check out their list of Gothic Horror recommendations.

PS.  Today is the last day to enter our Twilight: Love it or LOATHE it Giveaway.   Better hurry up!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Snowman's Revenge - Mark Smythe

Summary:  If you were left out in the cold snow all by yourself, would you be mad?  Of course you would!  Well, this snowman is out for revenge, especially after he sees those kids in the nice warm house, eating cookies and drinking hot chocolate!  So, let's see whay happens in this delightful story, nicely flowing with rhymed verse, beautifully illustrated and quite humorous indeed.  So loveable, it's sure to be an instant favorite and a timeless classic with "kids" of all ages.  (Summary from book - Image from - Book given free for an honest review)

My Review:  When I was contacted to review The Snowman's Revenge, I accepted right away.  My children love the idea of snowmen coming to life.  This particular Snowman doesn't appreciate being stuck out in the cold when the kids are inside having cookies and drinking hot chocolate, so he decides to get his revenge by sneaking into the house and, eventually, up to the children's bedrooms.  Thankfully he melts before he is able to do any serious damage. 

So.  Kind of creepy.  At least that's what I thought.  My children didn't seem to be bothered by it.

Personally, since a snowman is made out of snow, you'd think he would be perfectly happy out in the cold.  Apparently this snowman isn't very self-aware.  I don't think I would have minded the overall creepiness of the story, except that it ended rather abruptly.  He just melts.

My biggest complaint with The Snowman's Revenge was that the rhythm felt the slightest bit off, especially towards the end, as though some sections had too many syllables and others not enough.  The prose wasn't bad, but I wasn't impressed either.  Rhyming books should do more than just rhyme -  they should flow smoothly, with words that enhance that flow, and this one just felt awkward.

While this book is colorfully illustrated and creative, when it comes to snowman stories, I'm going stick with the rhythmical, imaginative, and decidedly uncreepy Snowmen at Night.

My Kids' Thoughts:  (Kaisa, age 7) "It was good, but it didn't have a happy ending like I thought it would.  I wanted the snowman to scare the children!"  (Sophie, age 5) "I loved it so much I could poop my pants!" (Seriously.  That's what she said! )

Our Rating:  2.75 Stars (3.5 Stars from my kids.  2 Stars from me.)

Sum It Up:  Creative but creepy.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The School of Night - Louis Bayard

Summary: In the late sixteenth century, five brilliant scholars gather under cloak of darkness to discuss God, politics, astronomy, and the black arts.  Known as the School of Night, they meet in secret to avoid the wrath of Queen Elizabeth.  But one of the men, a scientist named Thomas Harriot, has secrets of his own.

In modern-day Washington D.C., disgraced Elizabethan scholar Henry Cavendish has been hired by the ruthless antiquities collector Bernard Styles to find a letter stolen by Henry's closest friend, the late Alonzo Wax.  Dating from the 1600s, the missing letter just may hold the clue to a hidden treasure.

Joining Henry in his search is Clarissa Dale, a mysterious woman who suffers from visions that only Henry can understand.  In short order, the pair find themselves stumbling through a secretive world of ancient perils, caught up in a deadly plot and ensnared in the tragic legacy of a forgotten genius.  (Summary from book - Image from  - Book given free for an honest review)

My Review:  The School of Night begins as two stories, separated by nearly four hundred years, that slowly intertwine as the tale progresses.  It is adorned with an interesting array of characters that span the centuries:  Henry Cavendish, the disgraced academic; Clarissa Dale, a beautiful woman consumed by visions of the past; Thomas Harriot, an unrenowned but brilliant philosopher, Margaret Crookenshanks, a servant turned research assistant with a keen mind and a thirst for knowledge; Bernard Styles, a ruthless antiquities collector determined to retrieve his property regardless of cost, and a few other characters that I don't intend to spoil for you.

I enjoyed delving into Bayard's world of intrigue, antiquities, and Elizabethan scholars.  His story was fairly engaging to the average reader, but I do think it would be better appreciated by someone more versed in philosophy, 17th century history, Shakespearian poetry, and alchemy.  Although some of the subject matter felt past my depth, I didn't mind wading through the intellectual bits to reach the story's shallower, more adventurous waters.

The School of Night reminded me ever so faintly of The Da Vinci Code; it used a variety of academic disciplines -- history, archaeology, philosophy, science, religion, etc. -- to create a deeply scintillating blend of mystery, romance, danger, and intrigue.  While I wouldn't say that I was equally captivated by all parts of the story, there were several shocking developments towards the end of the this book that I am delighted to say I did not see coming.  Personally, I think the ones that leave you reeling are the best.  Consider me "reeled."

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Occasionally crass language with a bit more profanity and sexual situations (sometimes glossed over) than I am comfortable reading.  Also, some people might be offended by the atheistic undertones, though I was not.

Sum it up:  An interesting tale of intrigue.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Pout-Pout Fish - Deborah Diesen

Summary:  The Pout-Pout Fish tells the tale of Mr. Fish, who spends his days with his fish-face stuck in a permanent pout. Though his pals try to cheer him up, they have little success. But as the story swims along, an unexpected friend arrives on the scene and helps Mr. Fish to discover that glum isn't really his destiny.  (Summary and Image from

My Review:  I loved The Pout-Pout Fish –  a book about a pouty little fish who thinks because his mouth is pouty that he’s made to sulk his life away.  He mopes around, spreading his dreary-wearies all over the ocean until he meets a fish whose surprise kiss gives him a different perspective.   

The Pout-Pout Fish is the perfect read aloud children’s book.  It’s a rhythmic, rhyming, and adorable read, with creative, colorful illustrations and surprise humor that will fascinate children and entertain adults.  It’s a book I don’t mind reading again and again and my children certainly take advantage.

My Kids’ Thoughts:  Sophie said, “It’s my very favorite book in the whole entire world!!! BLUB BLUUUUB BLUUUUUUB!!!!” 

Kaisa said, “When the fish gets kissed by the other fish it is weird.   He’s probably a pout-pout fish because he doesn’t have a girlfriend. My favorite part was when he thought he had a pout-pout face but it was actually a kiss-kiss face.  I liked it, but it’s a kid book --  not for my age.”  (She's eight.)

My Rating: 5 Stars (for a children's book)

Sum it up:  Adorable, creative, colorful and fun to read.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken - Mari Passananti

Summary:  Zoe Clark thinks her world will implode when her fiance dumps her on the eve of their splashy wedding.  After nearly a decade with her college sweetheart, Zoe feels like a teenager about to be eaten alive by the New York dating scene.  And her problems don't end there.  Zoe works a less-than-ideal job, managing other people's careers while her own ambitions wither.

Enter Oscar Thornton.  He's handsome, charming, attentive, and rich--the perfect boyfriend.  But does he harbor a dark secret?  Or will Zoe torpedo her newfound happiness by indulging a far fetched suspicion?

The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken tells a story of a young woman who sets out to find a man to solve her problems.  Instead she finds herself facing her own shortcomings, testing her oldest friendships and realizing that she has the power to make herself happy.

Packed with snappy dialogue and playful wit, The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken will strike a chord with any woman who's ever allowed herself to think, My life would be perfect, if I could just meet the right guy.  (Summary from back of the book and image from  Book given free for review.)

My Review: The writing was done well.  The plot was developed thoroughly.  The characters were explored and given real depth.  I just had a hard time wanting to keep reading.   I don't know if it's because I honestly couldn't relate to Zoe, or if it's that I have a drastically different view on relationships and intimacy.  I had this impending doom feeling all the way until the end.  The climax was definitely worth finishing the book, but I could have done without the constant sexual references. 

To me, Zoe was amazingly naive when it came to relationships -- at least she was in the beginning.  She does grow up and mature by the end of the story, which is refreshing, but it seemed so unbelievable that the red flags she saw going up weren't more of a deterrent.  Oscar Thornton was very scary to me, a man I would have dismissed quickly, although maybe that's simply my cautious personality or the way I was raised.  Either way, I was incredibly worried she was going to end up dead in the trunk of his car.  I left the story glad it was over and relieved with the outcome. 

I'm sure there is quite an audience for this book, plenty of people who relate to the dating world she describes, but it's just not mine.  If anything, this book did confirm to me that I made the right choice by not going to New York to try out my wings.  It is not a world I would have been happy in.

Rating:  3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader:  This is definitely an adult book: there are quite a few sections that allude to sex scenes.  While it was more than I wanted, it wasn't crass or detailed by any stretch.

Sum it up:  What I can only imagine love life in the Big Apple is now days.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer - Michelle Hodkin

Summary:  Mara Dyer doesn't think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.  It can.

She believes there must e more to the accident she can't remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed.  There is.

She doesn't believe that after everything she's been through, she can fall in love.  She's wrong.   (Summary from book - Image from )

My Review:  Mara Dyer’s friends are all dead, crushed beneath a crumbling building.  Only she knows what happened that night – a night she can’t remember.  Mara and her family move to Miami looking for a fresh start. and there she meets Noah Shaw and, even though sparks fly, she’s determined to go it alone -- to play sane and hide the grisly hallucinations she’s been having.  Only her delusions get worse, and with them come flickers of memory  -- pieces of what really happened – and Mara discovers a deadly secret.  Little does she know, Noah has secrets of his own.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer seethes with darkness, tension, and an intriguing storyline.  This plot has not been done.  At least, I haven’t read it yet.  I was fascinated by Mara’s intense hallucinations, the unexplained deaths, threatening phone calls, and mysterious time loss.  Some books are pretty transparent, but with this one I couldn’t predict what was going to happen next and I found that I enjoyed not knowing. It didn’t take me long to finish this book.  Hodkin’s plot and well-time delivery held my attention even when other aspects of the book threatened to ruin it. 
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer was not without its flaws (and by flaws, I mean things that annoyed me).  I had difficulty connecting with the characters, mostly because I didn’t really like them.  Mara was traumatized, no doubt, and I’ll cut her some slack for that, but she’s also abrasive, angry, ungrateful, and six kinds of crazy.  I’ll give her props for resisting Noah’s wiles for as long as is conceivably possible in a YA novel, but it only made me like her a little bit. 

As for Noah -- he is an insanely attractive, lanky limbed, pale-skinned,  messy-haired, and unconcernedly stylish control freak with a taste for classical music.  Sound familiar?  Hodkins might as well have called him Nedward.  This might have some of you running for the shelves, but hold on a second, because I’m not done.  He wears skinny jeans.  He’s a man whore.  And he smokes.  Ugh. For the first half of the book, the only thing Noah had going for him was his stubble and his British accent.   It wasn’t until the latter half the book that he gained more than a smidgen of my interest – right around the time Mara begins to realize there is more to Noah than meets the eye.   So, while Noah improves upon acquaintance, even with all his devotion to Mara, his accent, and his stubble, I’m still not sure if I liked the rest of him.
This book also has a shboatload of profanity, and not the Biblical kind.  Sometimes I am so stuck in a story that I barely even register the language, or I choose to ignore it because of the importance of the subject matter.  However, there was enough of it in this novel that it was distracting.  Each F/A/S/D/B word was one more was a nail in the coffin of you’ll-never-be-able-to-recommend-this-to-your-mother.
So.  Long story short.  I was captivated by the unique plot, and loved the cliffhanger ending, but was annoyed by the somewhat aggravating characters and unneccesary profanity.  It became quite clear in the final pages that The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is only the beginning of a much larger story.  I’m just not sure if I’ll be reading it.   
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Quite a bit of profanity – and not the kind you find in the Bible either.  Occasionally crass language and subject matter.  A few graphic (violent) hallucinations.
Sum it up:  A hauntingly dark novel, with a killer plot (and language most unbecoming).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - Beverly Cleary

Summary:   Ramona likes being big enough to be counted on, but must everything depend on her?  If Mrs. Kemp didn't look after Ramona, her mother couldn't work full time.  If Ramona's mother didn't work, her father couldn't return to college.  Ramona does get to ride the school bus by herself this year.  And despite teasing by Danny the Yard Ape, she's determined to enjoy the third grade; her new teacher, Mrs. Whaley; and learning to read and write.  If only Mother would not remind Ramona every morning to be nice to Willa Jean Kemp.  If only her parents wouldn't quarrel at home.  If only Ramona didn't get sick one horrible day and throw up -- at school.  But being a patient has its advantages.  Even book reports and rainy Sundays have a bright side.  In Ramona's world, being eight isn't easy, but it's never dull!  ( Summary from book - Image from )

My Review:  I adore Ramona Quimby.  She’s moody, mischievous, smart, curious, and quite the handful. In short, Ramona is a bit of every girl and she is definitely the literary equivalent of my middle daughter Sophie.  Down to the hair cut.  Seriously, they could be twins. 

When reading to my daughters, I try to find books that will appeal both of them -- my five-year-old, who still likes picture books, and my seven-year-old, who has moved into advanced chapter ooks.  The Ramona series is perfect because it mixes engaging chapters with really cute illustrations.  I read these books a long time ago, and had forgotten that Ramona Quimby, Age 8 is not the first book in the series.  It’s the third, preceded by Ramona the Pest and Ramona the Brave.  Oh well.  I didn’t feel the loss.  This book can stand on its own.

I didn’t realize how many of my favorite “Ramona moments” came from this book -- the egg debacle, the improvised dinner, the book report, and many more.   I’ve had these moments mulling around in the back of my head since I was little and can still remember my youthful fascination with Ramona’s brand new pink pearl eraser.  Although this book is written for children, I found it thoroughly amusing and loved that I could sincerely empathize with Sophie's Ramona’s parents.   I recommend this book as a wonderful read aloud (or read alone) novel for children.
My Kids’ Thoughts:  Sophie said, “I sort of like it and I sort of don’t.  I liked the egg story and the throw up story.”

Kaisa said, “Ramona is funny and it’s a really good book. My favorite story was where Beezus and Ramona had to cook dinner, because I like to cook and I kind of wish I could make up my own recipes.” 
My Rating: 5 Stars

Sum it up:  Read this book or I will punch you in the nose!

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Tiger in the Kitchen : A Memoir of Food and Family - Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Summary:  After growing up in Singapore, the most food-obsessed city in the world, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan left home and family at eighteen for America -- proof of the rebelliousness of daughters born in the Year of the Tiger.  But as a thirtysomething fashion writer in New York, she felt the dishes that defined her childhood calling her back.  Was it too late to learn the secrets of her grandmothers' and aunties' kitchens?  In her quest to recreate the dishes of Singapore by cooking with her femal erelatives, Tan learned not only cherished recipes but long-buried family stories.

A Tiger in the Kitchen, which includes ten recipes for Singaporean classics such as pineapple tarts and Teochew braised duck, is the charming story of a Chinese-Singaporean ex-pat who learns to infuse her New York lifestyle with rich kitchen lessons that reconnect her with her family and herself.  (Summary from book - Image from )

My Review:  I found A Tiger in the Kitchen while helping my husband catch a sexual predator.  Yes, you read that right.  There was a wanted creeper at our local library and so I called my DH who, it just so happens, funds my book habit by working as a police detective. Anyhoo, while I waited for a him to arrive, I forced myself to “browse” our library’s new arrivals while keeping an eye on said creeper and, though I didn't register many of the titles, this one caught my attention.  You can pretty much count on me to snap up any food and travel books, even in the direst of circumstances.  Both genres, especially when put together,  temporarily satisfy my fervent desire to travel the world and eat copious amounts of ethnic food.  

A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family follows New York resident and fashion writer, Cheryl Tan, as she travels to Singapore in an attempt to reconnect with her family, rediscover her heritage, and recreate the food from her childhood.  It also tells of her life in New York, and explores aspects of her family history and her memories of growing up in a Singapore.    

As far as memoirs go, Tiger was an interesting read but nothing spectacular.   At first, I was disappointed with Cheryl’s lack of commitment to her own mission: to learn how to cook the dishes of her childhood from the legendary women that made them.  I expected her to dive right in, but instead she hung back and watched, showing up late, and appeared hesitant to do any real work.  I almost gave up reading because I couldn’t reading an entire book that showcased such little effort.  However, as Cheryl became more comfortable with her surroundings and with the women in her family, she started to become more involved in the kitchen and more dedicated to her objective.    

Even though I inhaled Cheryl’s descriptions her successes and foibles in the kitchen, the endearing moments spent with family and friends, and the RECIPES at the end, this book never had that quality that made me really want to finish it.  Quite frankly, I went days without reading it, and only picked it up again because I knew I needed to finish it before I could start another one.  In short, it was an okay read (and it made me hungry for Chinese food), but is not a book I’m likely to recommend highly or read again.
My Rating: 3.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  I can't think of anything objectionable.  Except perhaps the consumption of seaworms.  Blech.

Sum it up:  A mildly flavorful mixture of culture and cuisine.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dairy Queen - Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Summary:  When you don't talk, there's a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.

Harsh words indeed, from Brian Nelson of all people.  But D.J. Schwenk can't help admitting to herself that maybe he's right.  Because it's obvious that no one is talking about why D.J.'s best friend, Amber, isn't so friendly anymore. Or why her little brother, Curtis, never opens his mouth.  Or why her mom has two jobs and a big secret, or why her college-football-star brothers won't even call home nowadays.  And certainly no one is talking about how D.J.'s dad would go ballistic on her if she tried out for the football team.  There's definitely a lot not being said.  And that's not even mentioning the many reasons Brian Nelson is so out of D.J.'s league.

Welcome to the summer that fifteen-year-old D.J. Schwenk of Red Bend, Wisconsin, learns to talk, and ends up having an awful lot of stuff to say.   (Summary from back of the book and image from

My Review:  I think this might be my favorite read of the summer.  It took me by surprise and left me so happy to have picked it up--and glad there's two more to come!  If you were to look at this book based solely on its subject matter, I don't think I would have ever guessed I'd like it.  Farm life, cows, milking, football, training, dung, an introverted girl who doesn't know what she thinks about things until a good day or so after the conversation occurred, all don't add up to my interests.  All that aside, this book is fantastic!  I loved D.J.'s perspective.  She wasn't annoying, or selfish, just supremely oblivious.  I don't have a lot of experience with the mid-west, so I didn't know how authentic the book came across.  After speaking with a co-worker from the mid-west she said it was delightfully authentic.  She said the voice of the character was exactly how people speak from the mid-west and she loved having such an authentic portrayal.

The are many aspects of conflict, which makes this book so easy to slurp up.  D.J. is conflicted within herself, with her family, with her best friend, with life.  And how she solves these conflicts is what drives the story.  I loved watching her grow into her confidence and realize what she really wants to do.  I also loved her dedication and work ethic, her willingness to do what it took to keep her family afloat during a very difficult time.  Despite all her family's communication issues, you could really tell that underneath is all they were great people going through a tough time.

I feel I need to mention this, for both parents and teachers.  There is discussion of homosexuality.  And while it's discussed in a real way, with the way teenagers often bluntly and sometimes cruelly refer to it, the overall handling of the subject is well done.

Overall I highly recommend this book and can't wait to get my hands on the next two books!

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  There is swearing littered throughout, but not excessively or, at least to me, offensively.  If you can't handle the random, good-old-fashioned, farm swearing, it may bother you.

Sum it up:  Unique in its perspective, yet deals with issues common to all, Dairy Queen is a  perfect coming of age story.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Heaven is for Real - Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent

Summary:  When Colton Burpo made it through an emergency appendectomy, his family was overjoyed at his miraculous survival.  What they weren't expecting, though, was the story that emerged in the months that followed -- a story as beautiful as it was extraordinary, detailing their little boy's trip to heaven and back.

Colton, not yet four years old, told his parents he left his body during the surgery -- and authenticated that claim by describing exactly what his parents were doing in another part of the hospital while he was being operated on.  He talked of visiting heaven and relayed stories told to him by people he met there whom he had never met in life, sharing events that happened before he was born.  He also astonished his parents with descriptions and obscure details about heaven that matched the Bible exactly, though he had not yet learned to read.

With disarming innocence and the plainspoken boldness of a child, Colton tells of meeting long-departed family members.  He describes Jesus, the angels, and how "really, really big" God is, and how much God loves us.  Retold by his father, but using Colton's uniquely simple words, Heaven is for Real offers a glimpse of the world that awaits us, where as Colton says, "Nobody is old and nobody wears glasses."

Heaven is for Real will forever change the way you think of eternity, offering the chance to see, and believe, like a child.  ( Summary from book - Image from )

My Review:  Heaven is for Real has been calling to me for a while.  I imagine quite a few of you have picked it up while browsing, turned it over, read the back, and wondered if it was a legitimate experience or just another get-rich-quick-because-my-kid-had-a-dream scheme.   So we’re perfectly clear about where I'm coming from in this review --  I’m one of those religious types.  I believe in God.  I believe there is more to this life than what we can see, and I believe that ordinary people can see extraordinary things in extraordinary circumstances.  I also believe there are a lot of nut jobs out there who like to fake it.  I tried to read this book with an open mind but kept my skeptical spectacles on hand, just in case.

The first part of this book, when Colton was hospitalized, was extremely difficult to read from a parental perspective.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to almost lose a child, but I cringe at the thought of having to watch my child or any child in such pain.  I could feel his parents anguish, frustration, terror, and confusion as they waited to see what would happen to their son, Colton.  Todd was very honest about his struggles with understanding and accepting God’s will in regards to his son.  I was moved to tears by these emotional moments, as well as Colton’s miraculous recovery, and the undeniable power of faith and prayer.   
Your feelings about this book likely will depend, first, on if you believe something like this could actually happen and, second, on if you believe it actually did.   I believe this could actually happen – that Colton’s spirit could actually leave his body and visit a more heavenly realm.  I believe that, if God willed it, anyone could talk to Jesus, meet the angels, and see family members he or she had never met.  I believe most of Colton's story.  Most, but not all.  Here’s why…

[Puts on her skeptical spectacles]

I think that Colton tried to describe his experience to his parents in the best way that he could, but ultimately, he’s  still a four-year-old.   I have lived with a few four-year-olds in my time.  While they are innocent, they are also very creative and don’t always distinguish fact from fiction when they are telling stories.  I think that the majority of Colton’s story is accurate and based on his actual experience, but that some of the more extraneous details may have been distorted or imagined for no other reason than that they sounded good to Colton.   
I’m inclined to be skeptical of Todd’s claims that his son hadn’t at least heard of certain widely held Christian beliefs (like about Jesus having nail marks on his hands and feet).  Kids may be little but they have huge ears that pick up far more information than we realize.   Although Colton’s parents  seemed very careful not to ask leading questions, I doubt they successfully hid their reactions to his extraordinary experience.  If Colton realized that his parents were pleased or excited by what he had to say, he might have sought to please them further by telling them more about Heaven than he actually experienced.  That’s it.  I’m done being the cynic.

[Takes off skeptical spectacles]

While there were a few discrepancies between Colton’s descriptions and my own personal beliefs on the nature of God and Heaven, there were other aspects of the book rang true -- things Colton simply could not have known and were more than mere coincidence.  Overall, I enjoyed reading this book, felt uplifted when I finished it, and appreciated the message about faith, family, and the existence of a loving Father in Heaven.   
Sidenote:  There is a book called The Message (by Lance Richardson) that tells of one man’s encounter with heaven from an LDS perspective, for those readers that are interested.  I read it a long time ago (pre-blogging) and remember being very impressed by his experience.

My Rating: 4.25 Stars
Sum it up: The intriguing story of a child's heavenly encounter.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dark Parties - Sara Grant

Summary:  Sixteen-year-old Neva keeps a list of The Missing.  She secretly records each one in a tattered journal hidden in her mattress.  Written records are forbidden, but Neva wants to remember each person, each face.  And she will never forget her first entry -- her grandmother.  But where do they go?  There's no way out of the Protectosphere, the shield that separates Homeland form the rest of the world, and the government insists that everything beyond is an unlivable wasteland.  But as Homeland's population and resources dwindling, Neva suspects that the government is lying: about the outside world, about The Missing, about everything.

Neva and her best friend, Sanna, take action and stage a "dark party" to recruit members for their underground rebellion.  They begin to uncover horrifying truths, but can they succeed in opening the Protectosphere?  Or will they, too, become part of The Missing?  (Summary from book - Image from - Book given free for an honest review)

My Review:  Sixteen-year-old Neva is doomed to marry, have children, and die without ever seeing the world outside the Protectosphere -- a giant dome designed to sheild the citizens of Homeland from the danger that lurks beyond its synthetic border.  But supplies are dwindling along with the population, and many people, including Neva’s grandma, have disappeared without explanation.  In an effort to locate others who are equally dissatisfied, Neva and her bestfriend, Sanna, throw an underground rave – a dark party – that yields unexpected results.  Now Neva is consumed with guilt, passion, and more desperate than ever to uncover the truth about the disappearances.  The question is, will Neva survive or will she disappear as well?

I blew through Dark Parties in under two days.  Honestly, I probably would have finished it in a matter of hours if I didn’t have all those pesky grown-up responsibilities that seem to be constantly plaguing me.    I was hooked in a matter of pages and had to force myself to put. the. book. down. around 3AM so that I wasn’t a complete beast in the morning.   Sometimes being responsible is such a burden.

Dark Parties was reminiscent of some of my favorite YA dystopian novels (The Giver, City of Ember, Delirium) but still had a feel that was all its own.  I enjoyed the world that the author created within the Protectosphere and could feel the tension within Homeland as people began to question authority and govermental control  deteriorated.  The author also captured the depth and changeability of teenage emotion in several of the characters.   Neva’s stubborness, curiousity, and otherwise teenage-y angst felt very genuine and I admired her fierce independence, loyalty and determination. 
Initially I was a little worried about this book’s predictability.  I saw the first twist coming a mile away.  In fact, it was so obvious that I’m not even sure it was supposed to be a twist.  I was a little worried that the rest of the book was going to be that transparent until the next twist blindsided me. TKO.  I loved that twist.  I devoured the sizzly tension between Neva and Braydon, but appreciated that she was torn between her feelings for him and loyalty to her best friend.  In the end, I believe the best side of Neva won out.

Overall, this book was engaging, well-paced, and romantic.   It touches on themes of historical bias, privacy rights, xenophobia, globalization, population control, and cultural assimilation, but in such an interesting way that I wasn’t bored out of my skull.  I wasn’t bored at all!  According to her website, Sara Grant is not working on a sequel to Dark Parties, but she has planted a few seeds so that one could be written.  I would definitely read  a sequel, or any other book by this author, and would recommend this book to any fans of dystopian fiction who are looking for light and entertaining read. 

My Rating: 4.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  In a society where teens are encouraged to engage in sexual activity for the purpose of population growth, you’d think this book would be full of sex, but it wasn’t.  Because of the rebels refusal to bring a child into a world that has no future, the characters restricted themselves to sexually charged adolescent fumbling.  Everything stayed pretty PG-13, with few details and no profanity or graphic violence.  At one point Neva undergoes a forced pelvic exam.  A little awkward…but isn’t it always?

Sum it up:  Definitely a dark party.  Entertaining, romantic, and a little bit dangerous.  

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sizzling Skillets and Other One-Pot Wonders - Emeril Lagasse

Summary: In chef Emeril Lagasse's tribute to one-pot wonders, he shows there's nothing more satisfying than a hearty meal prepared in your most cherished pot or pan. Whether baked in a cast-iron skillet, braised in a Dutch oven, seared in a hot wok, or simmered in a slow cooker, Emeril's Sizzling Skillets and Other One-Pot Wonders serves up delicious meals to fit any pan or palate.

Go beyond your typical soups, stews, and casseroles to indulge in crave-worthy main courses like "BLT" Risotto or New England-Style Fish and Shellfish Chowder, and comforting classics such as Cola-Braised Pot Roast with Vegetables and  Southern-Style Chicken and Dumplings. Emeril also explores the spice trail with his bold twist on some of the world's global traditions -- Indian Karahi Chicken, Korean Kimchi and Beef Stew, and Mexican Pork and Red Chile Posole.

With more than 130 flavorful dishes and beautiful color photos throughout, Emeril's recipes use foolproof techniques and staples from a well-stocked pantry to create filling meals that you'll be proud to bring to your table. The perfect family dinner or star of your next potluck celebration is just one pot away! (Image from Amazon. Summary from book cover.)

My Review:  Beautiful, versatile cookbook with recipes to please a range of tastes. The photography is decent, the book design is clean and organized, and the book is divided according to the cooking vessel instead of ingredient or meal type. (Skillets, casseroles, Dutch ovens, big pots, woks, and slow cookers.)

Although it's a "one-pot" cookbook, it may give the impression of containing time-saving recipes for busy people. This is very misleading as most of the recipes have long ingredient lists and lots of steps, but as the title of the book suggests, it's all cooked in one pot. It's not a book I'd turn to on a Wednesday night at 5:30 looking for something quick. Nor is it a book from which I'd gather ideas if watching my diet. It's a book I'd turn to if I've got dinner guests on the weekend. Or a family gathering to prep. Or a cozy potluck with friends.

Kind of comes with the territory, though. Emeril isn't known for doing 30-minute meals. However, he is known for knocking socks off. Because Emeril is one of my favorite celebrity chefs I expected to be impressed with this book. I definitely was. We tried Emeril's Mulligatawny and Chicken in the Pot and adored both.

Like the summary says, Emeril explores flavors and types of food from all over the world. He uses a lot of pantry staples and easy-to-find produce, but he also includes a wide range of meat. That may have been my only turn-off in this book. I have a very small comfort zone when it comes to meat (texture issues, mostly), but someday I'll be brave enough to try one of his shellfish, lamb, duck, venison, and... rabbit recipes. *gulp* That being said, I've got a shopping list filled with recipes stuck in this book. I sincerely hope I can get to all of them before I die.

My Rating: 4 stars. (But only because of my personal meat issues.)

Sum it Up: Perfect cookbook for potlucks and dinner party menus. Not for frantic recipe searches at 5PM on a Wednesday.

If you'd like a chance at winning a free copy of this cookbook, visit the review post for Sizzling Skillets and Other One-Pot Wonders on Perry's Plate for details! (Jumping through hoops not required.)

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Santa Club - Kelly Moss

Summary:  A delightful book with captivating illustrations, The Santa Club transitions your child from receiving gifts to experiencing the joy of giving. With sensitivity, faith, and love, The Santa Club tackles the serious question, “Is Santa Claus Real?” To be read with your child, this wonderful book not only answers that sometimes “dreaded” question but it also addresses the questions of why Santa comes at Christmas and who was the first Santa. The Santa Club is a wonderful parenting resource and a stunning children’s book, and is sure to become an annual family favorite.  (Summary from author - Image from The Santa Club Facebook page - Book given free for honest review)

My Review:  My oldest daughter just turned eight years old and for the last several years, her belief in the "magic" of Santa Claus has been waning.  She has asked me a few times if Santa Claus is real and I have always put her off with a "Well, what do you think?" before quickly changing the subject.  I guess I've always been hoping for a good way of explaining why I've been lying to her for the last eight years of her life. 

The Santa Club is designed specifically for children who are old enough and have asked the questions "Is Santa Claus real?" or "Is there a Santa Claus?" Once they get your permission, and on the condition that they not tell other children what they read, your child can open the pages of this book and be welcomed into the Santa Club, where they learn that Santa is real, because we are all Santas who are honoring the tradition of St. Nicholas, a man who loved and followed Jesus Christ.  The Santa Club talks about God's greatest gift to us, His son Jesus Christ, and how we honor that gift every Christmas by giving to those we love and those who are in need.

Every family is different and every parent handles the question "Is Santa real?" in a different way. Some parents leave Santa completely out of the equation and choose to focus on the Christ part of Christmas. For them, this book is irrelevant.  Because of its religious tilt, this book might not be the best fit for families that choose to focus on the more secular aspect of Christmas, although they could certainly still talk about how we can all be "Santa."  This book is most useful for parents who are trying to help their children enjoy both the sacred and secular aspects of Christmas and don't know what to say to older children who are no longer buying that Santa's magic suit helps him fit down all those chimneys.

The only thing that I didn't like about this book was the illustrations, which looked like rough caricatures.  I didn't think they fit with the message; they threw off the feel of the book and might even be a little scary for younger kids.    For that reason, I am not sure if I'll give my child this book.  I might.  Might.  I haven't decided yet.  However, I will definitely be using the concept for the next time my daughter's curiousity gets the better of her.

My Rating: 3.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  While there isn't any offensive content, I wouldn't give this to your child without reading it first -- so that you can get your story straight.

Sum it up:  Don't worry, you haven't been lying to them.  You've just be waiting to tell them until they were old enough to join the Santa Club.  Whew!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bloodborne - Gregg Luke

Summary:  One ordinary afternoon, research specialists Dr. Erin Cross steps into a local deli to get some lunch and nearly takes a bullet instead.  Thanks to timely intervention form a former Marine, she walks away from the seemingly freak incident.  But when she returns to find her lab under security lockdown and her apartment ransacked, she realizes the attack was anything but random.  Erin can't make sense of the threat, given her low profile after a disastrous H1N1 vaccine trial.  She doesn't know that her former colleague has used the virus to develop a potent bio weapon or that her recent research holds a key to his success.  And she doesn't know that his collaborators want her dead before she blows the whistle. 

Fleeing for safety with her research in hand, Erin unravels the threats with help form the timely Marine, former Special Ops agent Sean Flannery.  But the closer they come to finding answers, the more questionable Sean's behavior becomes.  His erratic moods and suspicious communications are more fitting for an enemy than a friend.  And as the crisis comes to a head, Erin can't be sure who harbors more secrets -- the bio terrorists pursuing her or the one man who can give her protection.  (Summary from book - Image from  - Book given free for an honest review )

My Review:  When my mother saw this book sitting on my counter she said, “Oooh, Gregg Luke!  I’ve read a couple of his books, but they are too tense for me!”  Oh really?  Darn.  That’s right up my alley.  I started reading it that very day.

Bloodborne  doesn’t waste time on pleasantries and dives right into the action.  It begins just as Erin Cross receives a text message telling her "You are about to die," moments before the deli she is in is sprayed with gunfire.  She is saved by the quick actions of Sean Flannery, a former Special Ops Marine turned author.  Erin and Sean spend the next several days trying to escape from a secret society's evil henchman and uncover the secret behind a potentially deadly virus. 

As with most LDS fiction, this novel is free from sexual situations, excessive violence, and profanity.  The closest Erin comes to swearing is the term “Jerk face” and the closest they come to the bedroom is a kiss on the cheek.  It has a few LDS references, but no so many that a non-LDS reader would feel lost or uncomfortable. 

Bloodborne is fast-paced, but occasionally feels contrived, especially in regards to characters, dialog, and certain plot points.  I'm trying to vague this up a bit, because I don't want to spoil things, but several of these areas lacked adequate explanation, background detail, and/or depth.  I really liked the structure of the story, the overall outline of the plot, but felt that the writing could have been better.  Fans of LDS fiction are more likely to enjoy this novel than those who regularly read literary fiction.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  If you’re offended by the term “Jerk face” then this book is not for you.
Sum it up:  A book with unreached potential.

If you're interested, visit Gregg Luke's website or purchase your own copy of Bloodborne. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

You Might Have Missed This...

Two days ago I broke the First Commandment of Blogging
Thou Shalt Not Post Any Giveaways on Saturday
(or Sunday, for that matter). 

In case you missed this giveaway
because you were too busy being an actual human being on Saturday
you can a) scroll down

If you win, you get $80 of YOUR CHOICE of Twilight or Anti-Twilight merchandise from the lovely CafePress.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Post-edit:  I've been told by a few people that they had problems commenting on this giveaway.  
Please let me know if you have an issue with it and I'll make sure
you get entered: mindyoja AT hotmail DOT com.


Whether you LOVE or LOATHE the Twilight Saga,
you are going to love this giveaway!
Reading For Sanity and CafePress
are giving you the chance to win
in website credit to spend on your choice of pro or con
Twilight Saga merchandise* !
If it's Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, or Breaking Dawn
in nature then it can be YOURS!

That means you could get some of these:

Stupid Lamb - Papercut - Switzerland - Unless Jacob is ShirtlessPenguins, Lovely - Kill You - Drive Like a Cullen

Or you could get some of THESE:

So I guess the question is, which team are you?

To enter to win you must:
  • Comment with your contact information and the words LOVE IT or LOATHE IT.

For extra entries (Please leave SEPARATE COMMENTS for each extra entry or you ONLY GET ONE):
  • Be, or quickly become, a RFS follower (via Google Reader or Blogged in the sidebar).
  • Post about this giveaway on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, or some other social networking site.
  • Like Reading For Sanity on Facebook or Follow us on Twitter.
  • Pick your favorite bookbag.  Any of these will do for fans.  Or these for the haters.  This is how I justify this giveaway.  It's about books, dang it.  BOOKS! Comment and *leave the link* to the BOOKbag you would like most. 
  • Head over to the CafePress Twilight & Breaking Dawn merchandise page, poke around a bit, and window shop. Haters can go here or here to find what you'd like.  Let us know what you'd love to have in your bag if you win!  Comment and *leave the link(s)* to your favorite must have item or items.
*DVD's/CD's/Electronics not included.  This is basically for clothing, gift items, bags, etc.  You know what I mean.

Eligibility:  This giveaway is open to US/CAN residents only.  It will run from October 1st, 2011 to October 31st, 2011 at 11:59 PM.  The winner will be chosen randomly, posted publicly, and contacted swiftly to arrange shipping.  Winner can make changes to his/her bag upon winning as long as it's all within the Twilight-ish genre.  Reading For Sanity reserves the write to disqualify any entrant for not following the rules or just being a giant pain in the tush.


Congratulations to
Wendy T.  (aka won)
who won our Banned Books Giveaway!

We'll be contacting you soon to arrange shipping. 
Start thinking about which bag you would like!

Didn't win? 
Don't worry.

Cafepress (and Reading For Sanity) have a doozy coming tomorrow. 


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