Saturday, September 29, 2012

And the winner is...

Congratulations Heather!
You've won a beautiful autographed copy of
by Mark S. Nielsen
We'll contact you soon to arrange shipping!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Weelicious: One Family. One Meal - Catherine McCord

Summary: After her son was born in 2007, Catherine McCord sought out resources to teach her how to prepare fresh, healthy, appealing meals for young kids -- but she came up empty. With culinary school under her belt and a hungry baby to feed, Catherine started, a website that has since grown into a comprehensive offering of kid-friendly family meals.

Complete with beautiful color photos, tips and tools, lists of pantry staples, feeding plans, and more than seventy new recipes never before seen on, Weelicious makes it easy to get kids eating healthy foods from their first bite. Catherine teaches parents how to turn their kids into great eaters who appreciate food and are open to exciting new flavors. (Summary from book, image from

My Review: This may be the cutest cookbook in my collection. It's bright, colorful, and has recipes that promise to have your kids cleaning their plates. A few of the intro topics include handling picky eaters, frugal (yet healthy) grocery shopping, and getting your kids involved in the kitchen. There's even a section about feeding infants and recipes for making baby purees! As I read, I mentally high-fived the author because she shares many of my opinions about feeding children -- starting good habits in the beginning and not turning into a short order cook.

As much as I loved her philosophy, I have to say the recipes disappointed me somewhat. It seemed that most of the recipes (in the breakfast, dinner, & sides categories) were very dependent on starches. Too dependent for my taste -- lots of pasta and refined white flour and not enough vegetables. I try to make our meals vegetable-based, and although she included a few recipes with decent produce, I saw white potatoes and corn way more than I would have liked.

That being said, I think this would be an excellent book for someone who is trying to transition from a processed diet to one filled with whole foods -- especially if picky children are involved. Mac 'n' cheese from scratch is definitely a step up from opening a box.

I steered clear of the carbs and tried her Turkey Pesto Meatballs, Veggie Nuggets (vegetarian version of chicken nuggets), and Spinach Ricotta Bites. The Veggie Nuggets were strange, perhaps because I did some substituting, but the other two got great reviews from my kids, which is the most important thing!

With (or without) a bit of tweaking to the recipes, I think this book would be a fantastic resource for families!
My Rating: 4 stars

Sum it up: A must-have book for picky eaters!

Want a free copy of this book? Go over to Perry's Plate and enter to win! Giveaway closes October 2nd.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Out of Sight, Out of Time - Ally Carter

Out of Sight, Out of Time is the fifth book in the Gallagher Girls Series.  Click to read our reviews of books 1-4:  I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, Don't Judge a Girl by her Cover, and Only the Good Spy Young)

Summary:  The last thing Cammie Morgan remembers is leaving the Gallagher Academy to protect her friends and family from the Circle of Cavan -- an ancient terrorist organization that has been hunting her for over a year.  But when Cammie wakes up in an Alpine convent and discovers that months have passed, she must face the fact that her memory is now a black hole.  The only traces left of Cammie's summer vacation are the bruises on her body and dirty under her nails, and all she wants is to go home.

Once she returns to school, however, Cammie realizes that the Gallagher Academy now holds more questions than answers.  Cammie, her friends, and mysterious spy-guy Zach must face their most difficult challenge yet as they travel to the other side of the world, hoping to piece together the clues that Cammie left behind.  It's a race against time.  The Circle is hot on their trail and will stop at nothing to prevent Cammie from remembering what she did last summer. (Summary from book - Image from )

My Review:  When Cammie wakes up battered, bruised, and missing four months of her life, the last thing she remembers was leaving school to protect her friends and family the Circle of Cavan, a vicious terrorist organization determined to capture her at all cost.  Now she's regained consciousness in a convent in the Swiss Alps with no memory, a wicked headache, and some bizarre new talents?!  That can't be good.  One sat-phone call later and Cammie is on her way home, but quickly discovers that the Circle of Cavan doesn't want to catch her anymore -- they want to kill her.

I am smitten by this series.  Like the four novels that came before it, Out of Sight, Out of Time was an amusing afternoon read and so dang cute I could have eaten it for breakfast.  However, it had a slightly different feel than some of Carter's other novels, primarily because of Cammie's memory loss.  The story focused less on her spy training and more on using it as the Gallagher girls go on an often unsanctioned mission to uncover what happened to her over the summer.

I've probably said this before, but it bares repeating:  One of my favorite aspects of the Gallagher Girls series are the Gallagher Girls themselves.  Cammie and her friends are wonderfully strong, supportive female characters whose unique voices and sarcastic humor will likely captivate older tweens, YA readers, and the occasional needs-to-read-to-stay-sane adult (that's me).

Be warned!!  I really enjoyed this book, but it will definitely leave you with questions if you haven't read the previous novels (why would you even do that?!).  Go ahead and pick them up at your local bookstore or library.  They are adorable!   I will definitely be reading the sixth and final book in the series when it is released (and then I'll move on to the first book in her most recent series, Heist Society.).

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Things get a little more serious between Zach and Cammie.  Not "bedroom" serious, mind you.  More the "hold her while she cries and they fall asleep on a floor mat" serious.

Sum it up:  When is the next book coming out!!!?!??

For more information on this series, visit Ally's website.

If you're interested in purchasing this series, you can find a FABULOUS deal on all the books here.  Not a paid advertisement -- just me trying to hook you up with a great series.  You can thank me later.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Reliable Wife - Robert Goolrick

Summary:  He placed a notice in a Chicago paper, an advertisement for a "reliable wife."  She responded, saying that she was "an simple, honest woman."  She was, of course, anything but honest, and the only simple thing about her was her single-minded determination to marry this man and then kill him, slowly, and carefully, leaving herself his wealthy widow.  What Catherine Land did not realize was that the enigmatic and lonely Ralph Truitt had a plan of his own. (Summary from book - Image from 

My Review:  Well, then.  This book was nothing like I expected.  For the record, I expected a light romantic read with a slightly psychotic twist.  I got the twist, to be sure, but truthfully it was more sociopathic than psychotic.  I suppose that's what I get for not reading the review quotes on the back cover.   I think that my expectations of this book, and my disappointment in not having them met, have colored my review, so bear that in mind.

A Reliable Wife is rife with darkness, desperation, and it's fair share of thoroughly unlikeable characters: Ralph Truitt, an affluent, but lonely, landowner who is convinced that the misdeeds of his past doom him to a life of solitude and unslaked lust; his rakishly repulsive son, Antonio who hates his father with every fiber of his slovenly being; and Catherine, his beautiful, intelligent, and secretly homicidal mail-order bride.  Each character was unique but they all shared a similar penchant for destructive behavior that was hard to endure.

While Goolrick's writing had a certain pull -- an enticingly quiet, emotive style -- the plot was very sexually driven and more graphic than I felt was strictly necessary; hardly a page turned without delving into the topic in one way or another and the characters just couldn't seem to get past it.   I was engaged enough in the story that I wanted to know how it ended, but couldn't stomach reading one more word about anyone's sex drive, so I resorted to skimming about three-quarters of the way through.  Overall, I felt that too much of the focus of this book was on characters reminiscing about their sex lives, both past and present, and that it pulled away from the part of the story I was really interested in -- would she really kill him?  You'll have to read it to find out, but I don't recommend it.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  If you were to take out the pages of this book that contained sexual content (both mild and graphic) this book would be significantly shorter -- likely the size of a child's early reader.

Sum it up:  Unsettling.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Modelland -- Tyra Banks (I'm so embarrassed)

Book Summary: No one gets in without being asked. And with her untamable hair, large forehead, and gawky body, Tookie De La Crème isn’t expecting an invitation. Modelland—the exclusive, mysterious place on top of the mountain—never dares to make an appearance in her dreams.

But someone has plans for Tookie. Before she can blink her mismatched eyes, Tookie finds herself in the very place every girl in the world obsesses about. And three unlikely girls have joined her.

Only seven extraordinary young women become Intoxibellas each year. Famous. Worshipped. Magical. What happens to those who don’t make it? Well, no one really speaks of that. Some things are better left unsaid.

Thrown into a world where she doesn’t seem to belong, Tookie glimpses a future that could be hers—if she survives the beastly Catwalk Corridor and terrifying Thigh-High Boot Camp. Or could it? Dark rumors like silken threads swirl around the question of why Tookie and her new friends were selected . . . and the shadows around Modelland hide sinister secrets.

Are you ready? Modelland is waiting for you. . . . (image and summary from

My Review:  Recently, I came to the conclusion that anything can get published in this day and age.  It’s a testament to Tyra’s, um, tenacity that when I was recently asked which book I had ever read was the worst, this wasn’t the first that came to mind.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s atrocious.  But the feeling is “We embrace the atrocity of this book and revel in it!  Poke fun with us!”  With that mindset, it’s nearly bearable. 

That being said, it’s a truly atrocious chunk (569 pages!!) of paper, with words like fabulosity, thirty-nevers, and splenderous peppering the pages.  Set in the land of Metopia, a land obsessed with fashion, it’s clear that the heroine, Tookie, is a reimagination of Tyra herself, coupled with all the complexes Tyra apparently still carries.  If you’re a closet wannabe ANTM and watch the show religiously like my friend, you’ll totally get this book.  Oh!  Break out of Modelland and your face gets old, but your body stays awesome?  I saw that in the Carnival Shoot!  I mean, I heard about that shoot.  From the friend.  (Same friend, I’m pretty sure, that the Pioneer Woman is always blaming … she’s certainly got questionable taste, this mutual friend of ours.) 

Banks certainly has a vivid and overactive imagination, and many times I had to reread passages to verify that yes, indeed, the heroine just sailed out of an ear.  It’s creepy weird -- Alice in Wonderland weird, but without the literary significance, or the opium excuse. 

I was in hysterics within the first few pages, and not from the wit.  The writing was so juvenile (my husband kept incredulously questioning Harvard’s acceptance policies as I read him paragraphs), that I believe I reached for Twilight after reading it to re-up my IQ. It’s also one I’m very, very ashamed of admitting that I read!  Even worse, it was so terrible, I may have to read the second one in order to see how much worse it can get!

My rating: Half a star.
For the Sensitive Reader: Mentions of infidelity, hormones (there are a few pretty promiscuous characters, but it’s all talk), and remember that Tyra really, really likes the “B” word.

Sum it up: Perfect if you’re a closet eleven year old girl with no literary comparison, an obsession with Tyra Banks, and absolutely no moral values, or if you just really, really want to feel better about your own writing abilities.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak - Jean Hatzfield

Book Summary In April-May 1994, 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis were massacred by their Hutu fellow citizens--about 10,000 a day, mostly being hacked to death by machete. In Machete Season, the veteran foreign correspondent Jean Hatzfeld reports on the results of his interviews with nine of the Hutu killers. They were all friends who came from a single region where they helped to kill 50,000 out of their 59,000 Tutsi neighbors, and all of them are now in prison, some awaiting execution. It is usually presumed that killers will not tell the truth about their brutal actions, but Hatzfeld elicited extraordinary testimony from these men about the genocide they had perpetrated. He rightly sees that their account raises as many questions as it answers.

Adabert, Alphonse, Ignace, and the others (most of them farmers) told Hatzfeld how the work was given to them, what they thought about it, how they did it, and what their responses were to the bloodbath. "Killing is easier than farming," one says. "I got into it, no problem," says another. Each describes what it was like the first time he killed someone, what he felt like when he killed a mother and child, how he reacted when he killed a cordial acquaintance, how 'cutting' a person with a machete differed from 'cutting' a calf or a sugarcane. And they had plenty of time to tell Hatzfeld, too, about whether and why they had reconsidered their motives, their moral responsibility, their guilt, remorse, or indifference to the crimes.

Hatzfeld's meditation on the banal, horrific testimony of the genocidaires and what it means is lucid, humane, and wise: he relates the Rwanda horror to war crimes and to other genocidal episodes in human history. Especially since the Holocaust, it has been conventional to presume that only depraved and monstrous evil incarnate could perpetrate such crimes, but it may be, he suggests, that such actions are within the realm of ordinary human conduct. To read this disturbing, enlightening and very brave book is to consider in a new light the foundation of human morality and ethics.  (From

My Review:  I’ve been fascinated with the Jewish Holocaust for as long as I can remember: with the timelines, with trying to comprehend the hows and the whys, with the absence of humanity in the history.  I had the opportunity to visit a small concentration camp in Austria, and it is one of the most singularly haunting experiences of my life.  My husband has never fully understood my need to read everything (and watch every documentary) on the subject, but he has a similar desire to understand the Rwandan Holocaust of 1994.  Although the outside world (read: Western civilization and most of Europe) didn’t know what was going on, the magnitude of that genocide is shocking – in a short few months, what the perpetuators have deemed the Machete Season, five of every six Tutsis were massacred by their neighbors.

When I saw this book on my library’s “Check it Out” shelf, I knew my husband (a true Afriphile) would be interested, and grabbed it, along with the other piles of books waiting for me.  Once I got out to the car, my poor husband was shocked when I handed him his own book to read.  He handed it back, told me to read it to see if it was worthwhile, and he’d get to it.  I was so intrigued with the concept – let’s ask the perpetrators themselves what they were thinking – that I beat him to the punch.

Hatzfield has interviewed nine men, neighbors, all Hutu, who had formed a gang during the Machete Season.  The book switches between the statements of the men, of Hatzfield’s observations and research, and of some supplemental interviews he conducted with the survivors of the marshes.  Hatzfield is very clear about the admission of “zigzags”, slight to total untruths the men told him, whether to save their own face or assuage their own guilt he was unable to determine.  He also writes of the collective mindset … when he asks “What did you (singular) do that first day?” the answer he received was one of coercion and reluctance, but if he asks “What did you (plural) do that first day?” a more realistic and vivid picture was painted.

Hatzfield asked nearly everything, from whether they saw this coming, to how their wives responded to their actions, to what on earth compelled them do to what they did.  He writes candidly of his initial disgust of the men—of anticipating to sit across from nothing but a monster—to his getting to know the men, never fully losing his distrust of them, but of being so curious that he pressed forward with the interviews.  One man, Pio, answered the question how, how they were capable of doing such things in such a poignant way, I immediately typed it out.

Not only had we become criminals, we had become a ferocious species in a barbarous world.  This truth is not believable to someone who has not lived it in his muscles.  Our daily life was unnatural and bloody, and that suited us.

For my part, I offer you an explanation:  it is as if I had let another individual take on my own living appearance, and the habits of my heart, without a single pang in my soul.  This killer was indeed me, as to the offense he committed and the blood he shed, but he is a stranger to me in his ferocity.  I admit and recognize my obedience at that time, my victims, my fault, but I fail to recognize the wickedness of the one who raced through the marshes on my legs, carrying my machete.  That wickedness seems to belong to another self with a heavy heart.  The most serious changes in my body were my invisible parts, such as the soul or the feelings that go with it.  Therefore I alone do not recognize myself in that man.  But perhaps someone outside this situation, like you, cannot have an inkling of that strangeness of mind.
                                                                                                            -Pio, page 48

This book put me through the emotional ringer.   It was horrifying in the extreme, to hear some of these men that talked so nonchalantly, so impudently of what they had done, and to hear how flippantly they expected forgiveness.  A few of the men seemed to understand that forgiveness may never be granted by the survivors in this life to them, others really didn’t care one way or another.  It ripped me apart every time I picked it up, but I was so compelled to keep reading I couldn’t put it down.   The men talked about how their hatred of the Tutsis stemmed from long held slurs, like that the Tutsi women are too delicate and weak to work, that their husbands have to be so wealthy to show off their wives’ height.  The men also fully admitted that such slurs were a joke … that working in the marshes, the Tutsi women worked just as hard and just as steadfastly as any Hutu.  Thanks to Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda, nearly everyone is familiar with the references to “Tutsi cockroaches and snakes”, the dehumanizing of the race to make the genocide easier to swallow (something very backed up by these interviews), and it shocked me to see much of our own culture in the Rwanda leading up to the assassination of their president.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that Americans will ever achieve a level of hatred that fierce, that dividing, and so inflammatory, but how many times do we take the names of the “corporate suits” in vain?  They’re no longer human, they’re just “suits”.  Or the cross-party banter, from both sides: “Liberals never work, they just want everything given to them” to “Republicans just want to get rich off our sweat, they’re so greedy.”  Let’s be honest, people, neither statement is really true, but if we sink to such derogatory statements (and much, much worse), we’re dooming ourselves as assuredly as the Hutus and the Tutsis, and that realization, as a proclaimed political nut, scared me.    

Someone once said, “Those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it”, and this is a chapter in the world’s recent history that many would prefer to forget.  Hatzfield has done a phenomenal job focusing an intense beam of light onto a dark, dank period of the 90s, and it makes me determined to learn from it.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  This makes Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy look like Dick and Jane.  Nothing is off limits, from the massacres, the hunting, brief mentions are made of brutalizing women and husband/wife relations (although both are just mentioned).  Given the nature of the book, it is definitely violent.

Sum it Up:  A unique, sometimes disturbing, in-depth look into the minds of the perpetrators of one of the worst genocides in history.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Caddie Woodlawn - Carol Ryrie Brink

Summary:  Caddie Woodlawn's mother wants Caddie to be a perfect little lady.  Caddie has different ideas.  No knitting and cooking and fine manners for her!  The Wisconsin frontier of the 1860s is too ripe with excitement to sit at home.  With her two brothers Tom and Warren, Caddie makes life a constant adventure, swimming and exploring and generally causing a ruckus.  And despite all her mother's objections, she even makes friends with the neighboring Indians.

You've never met a girl like Caddie! (Summary from book - Image from )

M:y Review  I haven't read a book (for myself) in over two weeks.  TWO WEEKS!  I"m about to shrivel up and die. Right before that, though, I'm planning a catastrophic mental breakdown.  But I digress...

Caddie Woodlawn is the charming almost-true story of a spirited young girl who doesn't quite fit in with societal expectations.  Instead of growing up a demure young lady, Caddie's been allowed to run wild and free with her brothers and her adventures with them are the stuff of legend.

I liked this book well enough.  It was based off the life of a real person -- one of the author's ancestors -- and had a strong moral message, which is always a plus, but it didn't blow me away.  However, since it really doesn't matter what I think (and because I'm exhausted and not a little bit nuts right now) I'm going to let the girls finish girls loved Caddie's adventures and everyday life on the family farm and were usually clamoring for more after the end of each chapter.

Kaisa, age 8, says: Baby Island was good, but then when Caddie Woodlawn came along, it fell to the bottom of the sea.  Caddie Woodlawn was a good book.  I liked the part about when they were in the field picking those berries and one of the brothers found a rattlesnake skeleton and when he shook the rattle the rattle sound didn’t stop and they turned around and saw a rattlesnake and then they ran down the hill.  I also liked the part when they were showing the scalp belt.  I thought that Caddie was a nice girl because she helped the little half-breed boys, but we don’t call them that anymore. 

Sophie, age six, says: I like Baby Island better because it's cool and they get shipwrecked and they find a place to live until someone picks them up...but I still like it how (SPOILER) Caddie finds her dog.  And I also like it because it is a good book.  And it’s really fun to read (Sophie claims to be on chapter 10…which I doubt.)  I like the pictures and illustrations even if it’s black and white, it’s still a pretty book.  If people try and make me not like it, I’ll still like it.  (That's my girl...standing up to literary peer pressure).

My Rating:  4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Stereotyping of Native Americans and use of terms like "half-breed", etc. -- pretty typical for the time that this book was written.  In general, Caddie's family were on friendly term with the local Native American tribe.

Sum it up:  A Newbery medal winner that my girls really enjoyed.  Think Little House on the Prairie meets....something else cool.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Sugar Queen - Sarah Addison Allen

Summary:  Josey Cirrini is sure of three things:  winter is her favorite season, she's a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her closet.  For a while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother's house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night... Until she finds her closet harboring Della Lee Baker, a local waitress who is one part nemesis -- and two parts fairy godmother.  With Della Lee's tough love, Josey'snarrow existence quickly expands.  She even bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who is hounded by books that inexplicably appear when she needs them -- and who has a close connection to Josey's long-time crush.  Soon Josey is living in a world where the color red has startling powers, and passion can make eggs fry in their cartons.  And that's just for starters.

Brimming with warmth, wit, and a sprinkling of magic, here is a spellbinding tale of friendship, love -- and the enchanting possibilities of every new day.  (Summary from book - Image from )

My Review:  In The Sugar Queen, Sarah Addison Allen weaves together the lives of fascinating characters in an an engaging tale of romance, mystery, and everyday magic.   Josey Cirrini is a virtual shut in, forced by a guilty conscience to stay home and care for her aging mother.  Her life is pretty dull, until, one day, she finds Della Lee Baker hiding in her closet.  This simple discovery sets in  motion a series of events and chance encounters that will change the lives of several townspeople, including Josey.  

I was hooked  by the end of the second page and head over heels for The Sugar Queen in a matter of chapters.   With a touch of romance, a touch of drama, and whimsy in all the right places, it reminded my of some of my favorite novels (Chocolate by Joanne Harris and Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel).  Whether I was reading about a passion that could boil water, a family that could never break a promise, or a girl stalked by books, the story only got better the further I read and ended with a lovely twist that left me grinning with goosebumps.

The Sugar Queen isn't sickly sweet chick-lit.  It's chick lit to be sure, but it feels a bit deeper than that, and was far more entertaining. Entertainment Weekly said this book was "like a dessert" and I think that is a perfect description as long as you're thinking of a rich dark chocolate torte and not sticky cotton candy.  My kids seemed to sense that I was onto something good because they kept poking me while I was trying to read. Needless to say, they spent a lot of time playing in the backyard while I devoured page after page.   As soon as I get my bookshelves out of storage, this book will have a place on them.

My Rating: 4.25 Stars
For the sensitive reader:  Some profanity and a few brief sexual situations (some recollected, but mostly vague).

Sum it up:  A book that satisfied my craving for good, easy reading.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I Believe in Jesus Too + GIVEAWAY - Mark Nielsen

Illustrated by Craig Stapley

Keep reading, because we are giving away an autographed copy of this book!

Summary: All around the world, Latter-day Saint children go to church, sing songs, pray, read scriptures, participate in family home evening, and get baptized. We may meet in different types of buildings or speak different languages, but we have a lot in common. Why? Because no matter where we live, we all love and believe in Jesus, and He loves each one of us just the same. Are you like Pablo, Dimitri, Bayani, Junpei, and Shamara? Do you believe in Jesus too?  (Summary/image from - Book given free for an honest review)

My Review:  When I Believe in Jesus Too arrived in my mailbox, my girls were delighted to open a book they felt was written just for them – the “Mormon” kids.  You see, we live in central Washington and my girls are the only members of our church in each of their grades. Sometimes, I think this wears on them and they feel a little alone in their faith. It was touching to watch them pour over the beautiful pages, and discover what life is like for the youth of the church in various parts of the world.  They especially loved the easy-to-read map in the front that allowed them to find where each child lived.

I Believe in Jesus Too shows young Latter-Day Saints that despite the rich diversity of this world-wide religion, they are brought together through their shared beliefs and the gospel of Jesus Christ.   

My Rating: 4.25 Stars

Sum it up:  I Believe in Jesus Too pairs visually striking artwork with a powerful message of unity, diversity, and love and is a wonderful read aloud book for young Latter-day Saint children.  

Kaisa, age 8, says:  I love that book because it was written by an LDS man for LDS kids.  I also liked it because of the pictures – how  they were painted but looked real.  I liked how they talked about different people and how they go to church too.  I’d give it the highest points of stars you can give it!

Sophie, age 6, says:  I like it because it talks about how people pray and read scriptures and go to church on Sunday and get baptized.  My favorite part is the pictures.  It’s really a beautiful book!

( Here's an examples of the gorgeous illustrations they are raving about...  )

Purchase I Believe in Jesus Too at:

Connect with Mark Nielsen on Facebook / Twitter / or his Blog 


Now, to win a a free, autographed copy of this book
simply comment on this review with your contact information.
(ends 11:59pm PST on 9/28/12)

That's it!  

As my six-year old would say,
"It's easy peasy, lemon squeezy!"

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Eligibility:  This giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY!  It will end September 28, 2012 at 11:59PM PST.  The winner will be chosen randomly, posted publicly and contacted swiftly to arrange shipping!  Reading For Sanity reserves the right to eliminate entrants who are not eligible, do not follow the rules, or are just plain rude.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We Remember

Remember this day.

Please take a moment to remember the lives that were lost. 
Be grateful for your family.

Remember the heroic service and incredible courage of the first responders.
Be grateful for the freedoms you enjoy.

Remember how it brought out country together.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Selection - Kiera Cass

Summary: For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in the palace and compete for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

 Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself- and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

(Summary and image from


My Review:  Let me just preface this review by saying first, that I am typing this review with one hand and cradling my nursing baby with the other (marvel away), and second, that this is the first book I was able to finish reading after my most recent daughter was born.  I tried to read a few others -- The Poisonwood Bible and The Omnivore's Dilemma.   From all appearances and from what little I read of them, both books would have been astoundingly better than this one, but I just couldn't do it.  My brain rebelled.  My eyes slammed shut.  The Selection did what the other two could not (at least right now, in my frazzled, sleep-deprived state) -- it held my attention and kept me awake.  Perhaps not the highest praise a book can receive, but at the time it was monumental.

The Selection is is fairly clean, romantic, and amusing YA dystopian novel, but it doesn't have a particularly strong plot or characters.  Obviously, I chose to ignore all that and just read for entertainment.  Sometimes that is the best way to go.   Fans of The Hunger Games and ABC's The Bachelor won't miss some obvious similarities between the two stories, but The Selection skips the violence of the Games, and is more in keeping with a royal version of The Bachelor.   While I loathe the "reality" TV version, I enjoyed reading about fictional characters vying for their Prince Charming.  It was good clean fun.

Unfortunately, I did not get the resolution I wanted to America's story.  I was on a roll and then WHAM "End of Book One".   

Kiera, that was not very nice.

Sidenote:  The Selection has been picked up by the CW.  They shot the pilot episode, decided they didn't like it and are in the process of re-shooting it with a few cast changes.  From what I understand this book will be a "jumping off point" for the series which, I assume, means that they will be changing pretty much everything but basic plot points and a few character names and sexing it up a la Gossip Girl.  

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Some making out and, if I am remembering correctly, one minor instance of profanity.  

Sum it up:  Light romantic reading that won't require a lot of intellectual effort.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Only the Good Spy Young - Ally Carter

Only the Good Spy Young is the fourth book in the Gallagher Girls series.  If you're interested in reading it, you might want to start with our reviews of the first three (I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, and Don't Judge a Girl by her Cover)

Summary:  When Cammie Morgan enrolled at the Gallagher Academy, she knew she was preparing for the dangerous life of a spy.  What she didn't know was that the serious, real-life danger would start as soon as her junior year.  But that's exactly what happened two months ago when she faced off against an ancient terrorist organization dead set on kidnapping her.

Now the danger follows her everywhere, and even Cammie "The Chameleon" can't hide.  When a terrifying encounter in London reveals that one of her most trusted allies is actually a rogue double agent, Cammie no longer knows if she can trust her classmates, her teachers -- or even her own heart.

In this fourth installment of the NYT best-selling series, the Gallagher Girls must hack, spy, steal, and lie their way to the truth as they go searching for answers, recognizing that the key to Cammie's future may lie deep in the past.  (Summary from book - Image from publisher's website)

*It's 1:15am.  I should be asleep but I had to finish this book.  Not because it was particularly amazing (it was pretty good, though) but because I knew that if I went one more day without finishing a book I was going to need to be placed in restraints or thrown in a padded room.  Probably both.  Please take the fact that I am functioning on very little sleep into account*

My Review:  Only the Good Spy Young is the fourth book in an adorable series about a young girl named Cammie who attends an elite boarding school... for spies-in-training.  In this book, Cammie is the mission -- her life is in serious danger as she is hunted by the mysterious Circle of Cavan.  Now the school is on lock down, her mother is mostly MIA, and no one will tell her anything; when a trusted mentor is accused of treason, the Gallagher Girls will stop at nothing to uncover the truth.  They just have to do it without getting caught...or blown up.  That might be a problem.     

Here's the deal.  If you've read this far in the series you probably will keep reading regardless of what I say, so let's just leave this review simple.  I had fun with this one.   Even though I read this book in spurts, I was always longing to go back to it and it was easy to jump right back into the story. Ally Carter has given the Gallagher Girls such delightful, charming voices, that you can't help but love them even if they are teenagers. I also admire the author's ability to create a captivating plot that entertains without venturing into adult entertainment.  It's purely PG, purely fun, and a great continuation of the series.   I look forward to reading the newest addition, Out of Sight Out of Time, as soon as it's my turn at the library.    

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Some smooching.  

Sum it up:  The Gallagher Girls are at it again in a great continuation of the series!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Half Broke Horses: A True Life Novel - Jeannette Walls

Summary:  “Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did.” So begins the story of Lily Casey Smith, Jeannette Walls’s no-nonsense, resourceful, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At fifteen, she left home to teach in a frontier town—riding five hundred miles on her pony, alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car and fly a plane. And, with her husband, Jim, she ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one who is Jeannette’s memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle.

Lily survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy. She bristled at prejudice of all kinds—against women, Native Americans, and anyone else who didn’t fit the mold. Rosemary Smith Walls always told Jeannette that she was like her grandmother, and in this true-life novel, Jeannette Walls channels that kindred spirit. Half Broke Horses is Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults, as riveting and dramatic as Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa or Beryl Markham’s West with the Night. Destined to become a classic, it will transfix readers everywhere. (summary from - image from

My Review:  Lily is a tough old bird from the get-go.  From the very first scene, I knew I was dealing with a force to be reckoned with, and I was enthralled at her descriptions.  Walls has deemed this a “true life novel”, meaning that she’s retold the stories she remembers from her childhood as her grandmother and mother have told them.  Since they’re not all 100% accurate, it is technically a novel, but I forgot that I wasn’t listening to Lily talk to me herself.  Yes, listening.  Walls has captured her voice so completely, I could hear her in my head (but those kind of voices are all right, right?  Right?!), laughing along with me.  Lily’s wisdom is timeless, and I’ve found some of her sayings following me around throughout the day.

Lily’s life certainly was colorful.  She tells of her early childhood living in a dugout in West Texas, being her father’s right hand on the ranch, her schooling, teaching, her first “crumb-bum husband”, and the story of marrying Jim, running a ranch together, and raising their children.  Her story ends, however, before I was ready, at the birth of the author.  There was so much more I wanted to know – I felt like I was bidding everyone’s favorite eccentric, slightly-crazy great aunt goodbye.  To Walls’ credit, she hasn’t glossed over some of the darker parts of her grandmother’s history, and it makes the novel more believable.

I have a pretty strong stomach when I read, but there are few things I can not stand; misrepresentation and child abuse.  Unfortunately, I found both in this novel—Walls writes about her grandmother teaching the “Mormon” kids, and then spends a good page or two (faultily and derogatorily) rambling on about their beliefs and practices.  Why did it rankle me so?  The group she was teaching certainly wasn’t Mormon (rather, an offshoot hiding out in northern Arizona), and I get really defensive when those distinctions aren’t made.  I could kind of understand it, since those distinctions weren’t necessarily clear in the 1920s, especially by people who didn’t care or want to know for certain, but still.  A minute of research would have prevented an unnecessary and faulty explanation.  It seriously didn’t add anything to the story.  Second, Walls details twice that Lily beats a child beyond the point of control.  Once it was her own daughter, and once it was a student of hers.  Both instances were raw, difficult to read, but they served the purpose of showing some growth in Lily.  However, it was really hard to swallow her “they deserved it” attitude.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  The language is mild, although there’s a little (1920s) spice, as the majority of the novel takes place on ranches.  There are two instances of child abuse and a suicide.

Sum it Up: I’d recommend it as a great camping book, and it reads quickly as well.  I think this would also make a really fun book club read.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Wild - Cheryl Strayed

Summary: A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe -- and built her back up again.

At twenty-two Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything.  In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed.  Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State -- and to do it alone.  She had no experience as a long distance hiker, and the trail was little more than "an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise."  But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone.

Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail.  Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.  (Summary from book - Image from ) 

*Disclaimer*  -  I finished this book in about a week -- then I had a baby, moved, life got crazy, and I forgot to write the review for...oh...a month or so.  This is really more of a mini-review based on my impressions and what I can remember about the book.  Take it with a grain of salt...whatever that means.

My Review:  I hate hiking.  In my family this makes me a virtual pariah.  My three brothers regularly run mountains for fun.  My father has hiked Table Rock (near the Grand Teton) over forty times.  My husband takes our daughters on a week long backpacking trip every year before school starts.  Me?  I hike vicariously.  That’s why I picked up Wild.

Wild follows twenty-something writer Cheryl Strayed’s attempt to solo hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a winding path of desert, ice, and rainforest that stretches from Mexico to the Canadian border.  However, her story really begins long before she sets foot on the trail – in the days and weeks that follow her mother’s diagnosis and sudden death from terminal cancer.  Cheryl’s overwhelming grief propels her into a shadowy world of depression, heroin addiction, and casual sex that ultimately signify the end of her marriage and the dissolution of other family relationships that send her careening towards rock bottom.  Lost and broken, Cheryl quits her job, finalizes her divorce, and sells nearly everything she owns in a slightly psychotic quest to find solace and healing on the Pacific Crest Trail. It is there, in “entirely new terrain,” that this completely unseasoned hiker confronts her own demons, meets a variety of interesting characters, lives on pennies, and occasionally ends up shoeless or covered in frogs.  Yikes.  And EW.

While I enjoyed the opportunity to hike vicariously with Cheryl and experience life on the PCT, I don’t know that I would recommend this book to every reader. Our life experiences were so different, that I didn’t relate as well with Cheryl as I would have liked.  Some of her choices following her mother’s death, though she was entirely entitled to make them,  were so far from those that I at least think I might have made, I had difficulty connecting with her story.  Despite this lack of attachment, I admired Cheryl’s gutsy decisions to hike the PCT and embark on an adventure I know I’d never be woman enough to make. 

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Lots of profanity, some sexual situations and discussion of sexual matters, controversial drug use, and casual reference to an abortion (which reaaaallly bothered me).

Summary:  One woman’s remarkable experience as she struggles to overcome grief, loneliness, and addiction on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Sifting Through Our Stacks

If there is one thing I have learned about having four children it is that you can't do everything-- there is simply not enough time in the day.  However, I've been told you can accomplish at least some of your to-do list if you prioritize.  It's time I put that theory to the test.

In the past, Reading For Sanity has tried to accommodate as many review requests as possible because we wanted to give every author an audience.  However, since Cora turned two and Lola entered our family, my life has jumped to a whole new level of crazy; when I do manage to carve out a slice of alone time, I am desperate to read a book of my own choosing instead of one that I feel kind-of-sort-of obligated to read.

After much deliberation and discussion with other RFS reviewers, we have decided to become much more selective about accepting books for review.  We will no longer accept books that are self-published works or available exclusively as e-books for review.  Instead, we prefer to focus on reviewing books that are at the top of our reading stack because we put them there.  Our hope is that by focusing on the books that we most want to read we will find some that you will love, as well!

Here are a few of the books we've been sent over the years that, despite their best efforts, have never made it off our nightstands.  Some of them are mainstream, others self-published, but we simply haven't had the heart to read them.  We all have different reading preferences, so even though these books didn't make it to the top of our stacks, they might shoot to the top of yours!

Teaser: On behalf of the Interantional Rescue Committee, Ann Jones travled for two years through war-torn countries in AFrica, East Asia, and the Middle East, giving digital cameras to women who had no other means of telling the world what conflict had done to their lives.  The investigation came to encompass the full consequences of modern warfare for the most vulnerable -- the suffering that comes from the destruction of communities and social institutions, and the increasing sexual and domestic violence that often follows official declarations of peace.  Animated by the voice of brave and resourceful women, War Is Not Over When It's Over shines a powerful light on a phenomenon that has long been cast in shadow.

Teaser:  Ben Wilder never really dreamt about becoming a rockstar.  It was more of a given -- his throne to inherit. But the more he walks in his famous father's footsteps, the more Ben sinks into the murky past that left his dad dead.  

Katrina Hayes never dreamt about becoming a rockstar either.  However, she does spend plenty of time dreaming about one particular rockstar.  But when she finally has the chance to meet Ben Wilder, it comes at a cost.  The price?  Sacrificing a friendship that's been in place since birth.  And that's just the finder's fee.

Teaser:  When sixteen year old Bijou Fitzroy and her nomadic grandmother leave New York city to live in a home in the sleepy town of Sykesville, Maryland, Bijou thinks she will finally be able to live a normal life and be like everyone else....  Moving around and being homeschooled definitely made it difficult to make friends, but there are other reasons for Bijou's solitude.  With eyes that constantly change from grey to green to a honey-coated shade of brown and an ability to feel exactly what other people are feeling, the conept of obtaining closeness is more of a fable than a reality. ... Bijou's premonitions, blackouts, and semi-prophetic dreams of a faceless boy don't help her social musing either.  Regardless, she decides to attend the local high school. Bijou is immediately introduced to Sebastian Sinjin, a quirky and unusually eautiful boy who doesn't seem to belong in a high school in nowhere Maryland....when he shakes Bijou's ahnd something dark and familiar to awaken within her as an electric shock surges through her body. ... Despite the pains of having her first real crush, Bijou makes friends quickly and excels in all her classes...well, all except for Mythology and Mr. Jennings.  Mr. Jenning's class starts off great with endless discussion of djinn and how they conceal themselves from the human eye, but things soon take a turn for the worse when the stories of the mythical creatures begin to take shape in Bijou's life.


Teaser:  Commander Gray Pierce and Sigma Force have only days to solve an apocalyptic puzzle dating back centuries.  Aided by two women form his past -- one his ex-lover, the other his new partner -- Gray must uncover a horrifying secret that threatens America and the world, even if it means sacrificing the life of one of the women at his side.  The race is on -- from the Roman Coliseum to the icy peaks of Norway to the lost tombs of Celtic kings -- and the future hangs in the balance.  For humankind's ultimate nightmare is locked within a talisman buried by a dead saint -- an ancient artifact known as the Doomsday Key.  Read more...

Teaser:  Jenny Fox goes to South America to build a school for her grandfather's country -- but her summer adventure turns into much more than community service when she meets Nelson, the charismatic leader o the project.  enny isn't the only one with her eyes on Nelson.  As she and her flirtatious rival get closer to Nelson, though, she discovers his dark side: and ugly prejudice against his country's enemies across the border.  She doesn't want to lose him, but how can she accept his bigotry?  While love and conscience clash inside her, a real war threatens to break out around her.  This is a summer she'll remember for the rest of her life.   Read more...

Teaser: Nineteen hundred years after the Essene Jews hid their most precious scrolls in the caves at Qumran, a Catholic priest working on the Dead Sea Scrolls Project discovers a text that describes the final edicts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but hides it in fear of the heresy it contains.  When prominent archaeologist Frank Tones unearths a reference to the hidden scroll, he wonders if this scroll could be the long-lost Gospel of James, or even of Jesus himself.  But before he can act, those who know fo the scroll's existence become mysteriously silent or dead, leaving only a father and son team to find the scroll and tell its secrets to the world.  In an epic, multi-generational story that spans the globe, they must outwith the Mossad, the CIA, and the Vatican's secret weapon -- the Italian Mafia -- to bring the truth to light.  No matter the cost.

Teaser: Willow and her friends have a special bond.  They had no idea it was anything exceptional until James joined their group.  Entering a world of daimons and demons, Willow and her friends are forced to flee for their lives in a class of black versus white, with battle lines blurred by grey area.  Read more...
Teaser:  Blood and Silk: The Hidden Love Story of Mary Magdala and Jesus of Nazareth is author Carol McKay's gift to everyone fascinated by the life of Mary Magdala - Mary Magdalene - and her often misunderstood relationship to Jesus of Nazareth.  In this beautifully crafted historical novel, the reader is guided through a time rich with art and architecture, and fraught with change and controversy.  Mary's narration introduces us to first-century Judea, when the atmosphere crackled with fear, and determination of friend or foe was often difficult, if not impossible.  As much as theologians paint the story about Mary and Jesus as straightforward and even simple in nature, the author reminds us that theirs was love weighted down and complicated by the politics of the day.  The story of Mary, and then Mary and Jesus, is intricate and often as perilous as the times in which they lived.  Founded on historical accuracy and an eye for a well-told story, this is a novel that will fascinate and delight.

Teaser:  Imagine a tennis court with no net, or a soccer field without sidelines.  Imagine a card game where you can peek at your opponent's hand, or  around of golf where you can pick up the ball and throw it.  Contests without rules don't work.  Yet when married couples fight, we routinely hit below the belt -- with no one there to blow the whistle.  

In Fight Fair! authors Tim and Joy Downs will show you how to:  Develop your own personal plan for handling conflict, identify your "personal fouls" to avoid in the future, discover the difference between attacks that hurt, and tactics that heal, and use conflict to built intimacy and bring you closer together.

Filled with tips, insights, and suggestions that have worked for thousands of others, Fight Fair! will help you agree on an approact to conflict that will work best for you.  And by going beyond mere rules to address attitudes and objectives, Time and Joy will help you design your own personal plan that can revolutionize your marriage, one conflict at a time.  Your marriage can become richer and stronger than ever -- once you learn to Fight Fair!

Teaser:  Bachner, a Polish Jew, was trapped in Warsaw when the Germans overran the country in September, 1939.  He, his wife, and his parents moved into the Warsaw ghetto.  Speaking fluent German and possessing an engineering degree from a German university.  Bachner posed as an Aryan and was eventually able to get a job heading a crew of construction workers.  He hired dozens of Polish Jews and supplied them with false identity papers, thus saving them from death.

The authors interviewed Bachner in 1983, along with the Jews Bachner saved and their families.  Thier book adds to a growing body of evidence that refutes the idea that Jews went to their deaths without resistance.



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