Monday, July 30, 2012

I Am So Ashamed (aka Books I'm Embarassed I Haven't Read Yet)

As a book reviewer, there are certain books that I've heard about for years that I have never gotten around to reading.    People bring them up in conversation and I nod my head along with the group and just pray they don't ask me what I thought of the book.  It's a little embarrassing.

So, in the interest of full disclosure (I can't have you thinking I'm too cool *snort*), here's just a few book I'm mortified I haven't read yet.  All of them are allegedly amazing and are sitting in my stack of to-reads right now so, who knows, maybe by the end of this reviewing hiatus I might have actually read a few of them.

 (I know, right?)

I'd keep going, but I think that's all the shame I can take for one day.  

Do you have any books that you feel guilty you haven't read yet?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Girl, Stolen - April Henry

Summary:  Sixteen-year-old Cheyenne Wilder is sleeping in the back of a car while her stepmom fills a prescription for antibiotics.  Before Cheyenne realizes what's happening, the car is being stolen.  Griffin hadn't meant to kidnap Cheyenne, but once his dad finds out that Cheyenne's father is the president of a powerful corporation, everything changes--now there's a reason to keep her.  How will Cheyenne survive this nightmare because she's not only sick with pneumonia--she's blind.  (Summary from back of the book and image from

My Review:  This was not the best read I've had, nor was it the worst.  The writing was ok, the characters were fairly well-developed, and the storyline was unique enough to pull you along for 200 pages.  I loved the insight into the world of someone blind.  I enjoyed seeing it through the eyes of someone who's had her vision taken away part-way through her life.  I learned quite a bit about guide dogs, walking with a stick, how people interact with you, and even little details about how hard it would be to communicate with people when you're so used to using visual cues.

My favorite aspects to the book were the parts where I learned more about the characters' backgrounds.  Griffin and Cheyenne made the story, because without their history I think I would have grown bored with the premise.  It was also interesting how Henry painted both sides of the socio-economic spectrum--both see the people from the other world they don't live in as non-human, non-relatable.  On top of it all, Cheyenne was incredibly smart, and incredibly brave.  I can't imagine trying to live through a kidnapping experience.

I would recommend this to my students, but I do think it's written with a YA slant--meaning not much sophistication overall.

Rating:  3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader:  Violence is mentioned, but nothing gross or too detailed.

Sum it up:  An interesting twist on an accidental abduction turned ransom.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Laugh-out-loud Picture Books

Couldn't we all use a good laugh once in a while? Here are a few picture books that leave my kids and myself in giggles. Please share other humorous titles as I am always on the look out for funny picture books.

Watch Out! Big Bro's Coming! by Jez Alborough

 Parts By Tedd Arnold

More Bears by Kenn Nesbitt

Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner


Chester by Melanie Watt (& Chester!)

The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone

Amelia Bedelia books by Peggy Parish

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

If You Liked "The Hunger Games"...

Just found this super cool chart 
on what book Hunger Games fans 
should read next!  
I had to share it with you...

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dovekeepers - Alice Hoffman

Summary: Over five years in the writing, The Dovekeepers is Alice Hoffman’s most ambitious and mesmerizing novel, a tour de force of imagination and research, set in ancient Israel.

In 70 C.E., nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman’s novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father, an expert assassin, never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by what they have witnessed. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and an expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow soldier. Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power.

The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets—about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love. The Dovekeepers is Alice Hoffman’s masterpiece.
Summary and cover image from

My Review: This powerful novel tells the story of four women who find themselves working side by side within the dovecotes of Masada. The story begins in 70 C.E. and spans a total of four years. This was during the time when the Romans took over Jerusalem and waged war against the Jewish. A group of 900 escaped the Romans and found themselves a safe hold at Masada in Herod's deserted mighty empire.

The novel is based on historical events and does a wonderful job of accounting life during these times. The story is rich in detail and emotion. Much insight is gained into the religious beliefs of this time as well as the lifestyle. All this information is presented in an entertaining manner which flows perfectly with the storyline.

The four main women characters, whose voices disclose this tale, are absolutely fascinating. They each come from very different backgrounds yet a common thread connects them. Several supporting characters also add to the story and it is difficult to discern the good from the evil. Bitterness and anger can be felt toward one character only to have this turn to admiration a short time later. Likewise characters that are easy to love reveal a more complicated, undesirable side as the story continues. In the end though all that can be felt is amazement at the courage portrayed by this group of rebels overall, particularly by the women focused upon in the story.

This would make an amazing book club read as there is so many different facets to discuss. It is a beautiful story told by a very talented author. I closed the book completed satisfied but with a deep desire to learn more about this time period.

My Rating: 5 Stars

**Sensitive readers should know that the story does contain sexual relations, though not in detail. Also, as can be assumed by the time period, there is quite a bit of violence. I also did not feel these were overly embellished but did burn images into my mind that will be difficult to forget.

To Sum it up: A beautifully written tale of a time period not often discussed. This book will leave you pondering how the courage of these people altered the course of history.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Teaching Books I Swear By

Over my eight years of teaching I've been exposed to some WONDERFUL resources, both in my Ed program and then at the school I now teach.  Some of these are aimed more for Elementary or Middle or High school, but all of them can be adapted by an astute learner (teacher) to whatever grade level needed.  I've gained much by these books; I hope that any teachers out there seeking answers to difficult questions will also find them helpful.  Teaching can be a thankless profession, one where parents, administrators, and even other teachers are callous to the daily stress and constant balancing act that effective teachers implement.  If there is one thing I believe about teaching, it is that we need to support and share all the strategies, skills, and resources that can make the job easier and ensures that students can and will learn.

Specifically Language Arts Focused:
Books Focused on Entire School Effective Strategies:

Monday, July 16, 2012

My Students Favorite Books List

There are some books I just cannot keep on my shelves--or in my classroom for that matter--while others just sit there hardly touched.  I wanted to share some of those books that magically walk out of my classroom with Reading For Sanity followers.  My students ages range from 12-14 and come from high poverty homes.  There is quite a bit of diversity as well--this information may change how you view the lists.  These are their favorite books in no particular order:

  1. Hunger Games series  RFS Review #1 & #2
  2. Tears of a Tiger        RFS Review
  3. If I Stay and Where She Went   RFS Review #1 & #2 WSW Review
  4. Hush Hush  RFS Review #1 & #2
  5. Dead Girls Don't Write Letters   RFS Review
  6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid series  RFS Review
  7. Matched and Crossed     RFS Review
  8. Crank--the entire series  RFS Review
  9. What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know     RFS Review
  10. What My Mother Doesn't Know      RFS Review
  11. 13 Reasons Why     RFS Review
  12. Savvy and Scumble     RFS Review
  13. Fablehaven series          RFS Review
  14. Graceling,series  RFS Review #1 & #2 & #3
  15. The Giver (well, they either love it or hate it)  RFS Review
  16. Tunnels series  RFS Review
  17. Speak        RFS Review
  18. Cut          RFS Review
  19. Go Ask Alice
  20. Uglies series  RFS Review
  21. The Outsiders    RFS Review
  22. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series
  23. How Angel Peterson Got His Name
  24. Twilight series (although this is falling out of popularity of late)  RFS Review
  25. Night
  26. Flowers for Algernon
  27. A Child Called It series
  28. Are You There God?  It's Me Margaret        RFS Review
  29. The Maze Runner series  RFS Review
  30. Among the Hidden series  RFS Review
  31. Thunder Cave       RFS Review
  32. The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck
  33. Eat This, Not That (all of the books)
  34. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and Darth Paper Strikes Back
  35. Harry Potter series (although this is falling out of popularity as well)  RFS Review
  36. Manga Books--there are hundreds, or at least it seems that way to me!  This is just one
  37. Phobiapedia
  38. Why Is Snot Green?
  39. Guiness Book of World Records--any of them
  40. Ripley's Believe It Or Not--any of them
  41. Touching Spirit Bear
  42. The Lightning Thief series  RFS Review
  43. Divergent       RFS Review
  44. Monster
  45. Artemis Fowl series
  46. Calvin and Hobbes--they're all fav's
  47. Sarah Dessen books--almost all of them--this is just one & RFS Review
  48. Where the Sidewalk Ends
  49. Vladimir Todd series
  50. 39 Clues series

Friday, July 13, 2012

Once Upon a Gypsy Moon: A Memoir - Michael C. Hurley

Summary: Michael C. Hurley, a noted trial attorney who once worked as a professional sailor, returns to the sea to give us a thought-provoking memoir of a man’s yearning for redemption and renewal in the wake of infidelity, divorce, and failure. The story begins as Hurley leaves Annapolis, Maryland, aboard an aging, 32-foot sloop, the Gypsy Moon. Three years after his marriage ended in scandal, Hurley is short of money, out of a job, and seeking to salvage a life that has foundered. Woven through Hurley’s compelling prose are gems of insight on such diverse topics as faith and disbelief. As the voyage brightens in surprising and sometimes humorous ways, we are guided to a physical and spiritual destination that seemed unattainable at the start. Once Upon a Gypsy Moon tells a salty, wave-swept tale in the time-honored tradition, but it also offers a message of hope that will resonate with anyone who has had to pick up the pieces after personal failure and loss.

Summary and cover photo from Book received free for review.

My Review: Attempting to come to terms with his divorce and professional hardships, Michael Hurley decides to take his small sailboat on a long, solo journey from the East coast to the shores of Nassau. As his small boat navigates the ocean, Hurley contemplates his own life - both his successes and his failures. Along the way he gains increased spirituality and confidence, as well as a new love.

This memoir is no pity trip, as Hurley openly admits his mistakes, never asking the reader for forgiveness. Instead he seeks to understand the path that brought him to this place in life and to change its course. His honest reflections are refreshing. His determination to follow his dreams and become a better man is admirable. And his ability to relate his physical and emotional journey in storytelling form is remarkable. The tale contains moments of turmoil yet overall has a peaceful aura, reminiscent of the ocean gently lapping at the shore.

Though I have great love for the water, I am not a sailor. Therefore much of the terminology was beyond my grasp. Hurley attempts to provide adequate explanations yet this part of the story was lost for me. However I was able to appreciate the story of personal growth and greatly enjoyed the author's use of metaphors and his ability to find religious meaning in the little things. I would definitely recommend this one as a summer read. 

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

To Sum It Up: An engaging and beautifully written memoir of one man's quest to discover personal happiness.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Where to Find eBook Deals

I, like many of you, adore the feeling of a book in my hands. There is something enticing about flipping the pages, drawing yourself deeper into the story. I also find the cover art most intriguing. However, I have owned a Kindle for the last 18 months and must admit that there is something to be said for having dozens of reading options all on one device that weighs less than a pound. This is especially useful while traveling or taxiing children to and from summer activities. I am a bargain hunter through and through. Therefore today's post will highlight some of the sites I have found useful when searching for inexpensive or, better yet, free ebooks.

Project Gutenberg - A strictly volunteer project with a goal to digitize all books within the public domain. This is a great resource for any eReader owner.

Ereader News Today - This is a wonderful site for Kindle owners. With multiple posts daily you are sure to find some sort of deal on this site.

Pixel of Ink - This site if great for Kindle owners. Each day they sort through the newly offered free Kindle books and highlight the best of them. Many great bargain deals can be found here as well.

Books on the Knob - Features free and bargain books for all different types of eReaders, along with coupon codes in the side bar.

Kindle Review - Large daily list of free ebooks available for Kindle, yet lacks the cover art and detailed summaries provided by other sites.

Daily Cheap Reads - Daily posts featuring free or cheap Kindle books. This site also provides some book reviews on these bargain books. - This site is not the easiest to navigate but does provide links to free ebooks for all different types of eReaders. Mainly features books found within the public domain.

Free - Tons of free books for all eReaders can be found on this site. Free membership registration allows for 5 monthly downloads.

eBooks - Thousands of free ebooks available for download in ePub or PDF format.

Now if I could only find the time to read all these great deals!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Bargain ebooks

A few months ago Reading for Sanity posted a review by the lovely Melissa Paul detailing some very bad bargain ebook purchases (read here). I have certainly had similar experiences but today would like to highlight a few gems I have uncovered in the bargain bin.

The Mill River Recluse - Darcie Chan

This is the story of a woman who spends more than sixty years within the confines of her home. During this time she performs small miracles for the towns people - folk who have never made an effort to get to know her but whom she regards as family. This is an original and touching story with a classic feel to it. There is a hint of mystery that will keep you turning the pages. I'd give it 4 stars.
Paid $0.99

Elizabeth Street - Laurie Fabiano

This tale follows the lives of an Italian immigrant family. A blend of the present and the past are seamlessly combined to divulge the story of the family's struggle to live a life free of fear and harassment in America. The story begins with Giovanna's brave trip to the US alone and continues as her family finds itself wrapped up in a feud with the Black Hand, precursor to the Mafia. I'd give this one 4 stars as well.
Paid $3.99

Alchemy - Mike Wood

This coming-of-age tale is full of humor, mystery, and the romance of first love. Al, age 15, discovers a notebook written by his missing dad and sets out to uncover the secret of his disappearance. During his search he meets up with Cammie, a girl traveling with her marine biologist father. As Al and Cammie work to unravel the mystery within the notebook, they fall for each other. Mike Wood wonderfully depicts these feelings of first love while not losing focus on the main storyline. This one also gets 4 stars.
Paid $2.99

Winter Sea - Susanna Kearsley

While researching a new book Carrie McCelland finds herself renting a small cottage in Cruden Bay. During her stay she uncovers the story of her ancestor, Sophia, a woman who secretly wed the love of her life the day before her was forced to go into battle. This story draws the reader in and traps them within the tale until the last sentence is read. I gave it 4.5 stars. You can read my full review here.
Paid $2.99

The Year She Fell - Alicia Rasley

Secrets surround the four Wakefield sisters, who grew up in a privileged lifestyle encompassed within a community of poverty. When one sister seeks to confront the ghosts of the family's past drama ensues. The characters in this tale are fully developed and keep the reader invested. The entertaining storyline makes up for the somewhat amateurish writing style. I'd give this one 3.5 stars.
Paid $0

Seeing Sky Blue-Pink - Candance Ransom

Maddie's mother remarries, moving the family from the city to the country. Maddie struggles to come to terms with all the changes taking place in her life. I read this one with my son and we were both touched by Maddie's story. My son still refers to the sunset as sky blue-pink. This short, sweet story gets 4 stars.
Paid $1.38

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Trash to Treasure

Variations on a Theme

And that theme is garage sales, thrifting, antiquing, repurposing, etc.

Killer Stuff and Tons of Money - Maureen Stanton

I picked up this book because I had just heard about and was planning to attend Brimfield, an enormous antique show in Central Massachusetts.  This book is serious, as in, will seriously  make you realize how serious real antique dealers are and how seriously ridiculous your own attempts at "antiquing" are.  Not that it will stop you from hoping to find a hidden gem that will make millions.  This book is one that both makes you realize how little you know, and also gives you enough knowledge to be dangerous. 

I Brake for Yard Sales: And Flea Markets, Thrift Shops, Auctions, and the Occaisional Dumpster - Lara Spencer

Just before my fabled trip to Brimfield with a car full of amazing women I realized I was only a few chapters into the above book (its very interesting but pretty dense) and so I picked up this quick read from the non-fiction browsing table at my library.  It was fun and easy to look through.  This one taught me that you can find great stuff at estate sales and others...of course it helps if you have thousands of dollars to burn through.  Some day I will and it will be AWESOME, just like a lot of the room designs and rehabs in this book.  I also really liked that it condoned dumpster diving, one of my regular activities (its really common in New England, okay...don't look at me like that!)

The Repurposed Library - Lisa Occhipinti

I review this book with the utmost trepidation.  Mindy may banish me for life for even suggesting "repurposing" books (ie, mutilation).  However it fits with the theme as well as celebrates the beauty of old books and their printed pages (and is very specific about not using first editions! for said repurposing).  Of the 33 craft projects included only a handful are my taste, but I'd bet a different handful would be your taste.  The projects range from purely decorative (origami mobiles or fan-like wall hangings) to customizable gifts (journals) to useful objects (sewing boxes, lamp stands, shelves).  I find books like this (and "I Brake for Yard Sales") to be great for getting the ideas flowing with the result being a slightly modified version of what is shown.  If you follow Reading for Sanity on Pinterest (and if you don't you should) then you'll see some re purposed book ideas there...with Mindy's permission).

To get you started, here are a few ideas from the internet -

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4th

To our readers abroad, please forgive a bit of ethnocentricity...

Happy Fourth of July 

The story of the United States is easily a compilation of millions of history books, pamphlets, newspapers, novels, journals, works of literature, reports, blogs, and tales told at bed-time.

Here at Reading for Sanity we have reviewed an admittedly small portion of this great story - here are some with particular ties to the celebration of our country:

Ahab's Wife - Sena Jeter Nasland - A novel that deftly covers politics, society, literature, art and science of a formative era of our nation. 
Am I Not a Man? The Dred Scott Story - Mark Shurtliff - The story of a pivotal man in our nation's history.  
Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger - A book helped define American Literature.  A frequent visitor to banned book lists.
The Glass Castle - Jeanette Wells - A memoir that traverses both country and class.
Glenn Beck's Common Sense - Glenn Beck - Sigh...the fact that I included this book shows my dedication to "Freedom of Speech."
Gods and Generals - Jeff Shaara - Historical fiction set in the Civil War. 
Harvest to Heat - Darryl Estrine & Kelly Kochendorfer - Explore the best of American eating.
The Help - Kathryn Stockett - Novel set at the cusp of the civil rights movement.
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid - Bill Bryson - Hilarious look at mid - century (the last one) America.  You should also check out another of Bryson's book "I'm a Stranger Here Myself."
Little House on the Prairie - Laura Ingalls Wilder - Undoubtedly a classic American series. 
Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand - The inspiring true story of an Olympian turned POW.
The War on Privacy - Jacqueline Klosek - Truthfully, this didn't get high reviews, but it was reviewed, so I listed it.   
We're Not Leaving: 9/11 Responders Tell Their Stories... - Benjamin J. Luft - Powerful stories from heroes of a tragic day.

What books do you associate with the United States of America?

Monday, July 2, 2012

John Adams - David McCullough  In this powerful, epic biography, David McCullough unfolds the adventurous life journey of John Adams, the brilliant, fiercely independent, often irascible, always honest Yankee patriot who spared nothing in his zeal for the American Revolution; who rose to become the second president of the United States and saved the country from blundering into an unnecessary war; who was learned beyond all but a few and regarded by some as "out of his senses"; and whose marriage to the wise and valiant Abigail Adams is one of the moving love stories in American history.

This is history on a grand scale — a book about politics and war and social issues, but also about human nature, love, religious faith, virtue, ambition, friendship, and betrayal, and the far-reaching consequences of noble ideas. Above all, John Adams is an enthralling, often surprising story of one of the most important and fascinating Americans who ever lived. (Publisher's Comments from 

My Review:  I have a few confessions of the type one should keep to oneself, but hey, this is the internet so why would I do that?

Confession #1 - Before reading this book I did not know that John Adams was the 2nd President of the United States.

Confession #2 - After reading this book I have a crush on John Adams that is pretty obvious when the topic comes up in conversations, which it does, because I like to talk about him.

Confession #3 - I didn't actually read this book, I listened to it on tape, read by Mr. McCullough himself.  It was amazing and 100% the way I would recommend enjoying this book. 

This book told an amazing story of the birth of our country and of the amazing men and women who brought it about.  The main character was, of course, John Adams but it also described the character and motivations of his contemporaries as well.  It follows the course of John Adams' life from birth to death and is remarkably eye-opening in respect to what it took to create a county long before and after shots were fired and documents signed.

As summer is now in full swing I would recommend this book to any who are planning to visit Boston, or Philadelphia.  And if you plan to come to Boston I highly, highly recommend visiting John Adams' birthplace in Quincy, MA, including his burial spot, where two US presidents are buried.

My rating:  5 stars

Sum It Up:  If John Adams' weren't very happily married to an amazing woman, or completely out of my league, or deceased, (and if I weren't also very happily married) then I'd totally go for him.  (In other words, if it were 1776 I'd be a total stalker.)


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