Monday, September 30, 2013

Scarlet - Marissa Meyer

Summary:  The fates of Cinder and Scarlet collide as a Lunar threat spreads across the Earth...

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles.  She's trying to break out of prison--even though if she succeeds, she'll be the Commonwealth's most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit's grandmother is missing.  When Scarlett encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information about her grandmother's whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her.  As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder.  Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.  (Summary from book jacket and image from

My Review:  I am LOVING this series!  Admittedly, I wanted this next book to be solely about Cinder when it started.  That quickly changed as I was drawn into Scarlet's story and how it parallels Little Red Riding Hood's fairy tale.  And, as a bonus, Meyer weaves to the two stories together masterfully.  That's like getting a milkshake and french fries; I'll take it!

Scarlet is another strong female protagonist.  She knows her mind, provides for herself, and adores her grandmother--these qualities are ones I want my daughters to emulate and strive for and as such I appreciate Meyer's writing all the more.  She does have an interesting relationship with Wolf, as the story plays out, but I won't give anything away here.  Scarlet is so passionate about finding and helping her grandmother she'll do anything in her power to do it.  She beats the odds, she trusts her own instincts, she accomplishes goals in otherwise impossible circumstances; what's not to like?  While I do think it's a great discussion about her recklessly putting her own life in harm's way, she has noble intent and is intelligent enough to realize the danger she's putting herself in but is selfless in her pursuit anyway.  (Can you tell I like the way Meyer depicts females?)

I can't forget to talk about Cinder in my review. Cinder's character is developed a little further as well.  She has some major decisions to make, many people's characters to question, and a whole lot of guilt that if she doesn't come to terms with making a decision her actions will effect an entire world.  I had to remind myself while reading that Cinder has just learned quite a bit of life altering information, information that changes how she sees herself and how people have treated her for years.  These are things that take time to sort through.  And while I have the luxury of knowing her back story, what her fate is, and where she should go, she's still figuring all that out.  I had to remind myself to be patient, just like you would when you're dealing with a real person accepting change.  We also meet a new, somewhat shallow character on Cinder's path to freedom, but despite his shallowness, he proves an endearing character with time.  I hate giving things away, ruining stories, so I'm afraid this review is leaving out detail that would delve deeper into the story and give a richer review.  Sorry about that.  My conscience wins and you'll have to read the book yourself.

I wish the next book in the series was already out.  I dislike waiting and waiting, and that's what I'll be doing.  You end this book knowing there is much that still needs to be told.  Needless to say, I'll be buying each of the books in this series!

For the sensitive reader:  There are a couple different alcohol references, depictions of Ultimate-Fighting violence, and a few steamy kissing scenes.  Otherwise, clean.

Rating: 4.5 Stars--it's not literature in the sense that it changed me for a better person, therefore I can't give it 5 stars, but it's a great read!

Sum it up: Another great installment in the Cinder series--I'm really loving these!

Also reviewed by Elizabeth here.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Banned Books - an Authorial Perspective

Thank you for joining us this week.  I love any excuse to talk about books, to focus on literature and its impact, and to hear others' opinions!  To end the week off, I asked a few of my author friends their thoughts on Banned Books Week.  Check our their answers, and if you have any more questions, leave a comment!  

Please join me in welcoming Jodi Milner and David Powers King, authors who agreed to answer a few questions about banned books.  

Jodi L. Milner is a full-time mom by day and a fantasy writer by naptime, she hates writing bios and wishes that someone would do it for her. Until then, she is cringing at the blatant use of forced third person and will go hunt down some chocolate chips the second this about page is posted. 

Non-stop author, connoisseur of crullers, and a reviewer of books and movies, David Powers King presently resides in the Mountain West with his wife and two kidlets.

What’s your take on calling attention to banned books?
David:  When books are banned by whoever has the position and the disposition to do so, the natural response for many hearing of this news may begin to wonder why the book was banned, and this gives more attention to the book than it otherwise would have received—from what I’ve seen.

Jodi: Calling attention to banned books is the best kind of marketing an author can get.  Starting a controversy about a book's subject matter tends to push more people towards reading it than it does to dissuade them.  

How frequently do we as readers take offense at something that you as authors never meant to be offensive?
Jodi: All the time.  It's so common that most authors shrug it off and move on.  In my circle of writers there are very few who intend to offend their readers, it's a bad move to turn people away from what you write. An offended reader doesn't come back for more.   

David: I can’t speak for the readers, but I can for myself as a reader, and I can’t say that I’ve ever been offended by something I’ve read in a book. I may not have liked elements of it or agreed with the message that an author was trying to make (and at times I thought their ideas and perceptions on things were humorous), I expect them same from whoever decided to give my words a read. If you find something offensive, from a book or elsewhere, ask yourself, why does this offend me?

Could you ever make a cause for banning books?
David:  Not really. Books will either be read or they won’t. There’s plenty of material out there that I likely wouldn’t read—more because it doesn’t interest me—rather than because it offends me.

Jodi: There are certain subjects that are universally wrong, those that have to do with glorifying the causing of harm to others, either physically or emotionally, and should never see the light of day.  Sadly, with the event of the eBook, it's easier than ever to get this type of material out into the mainstream.  Banning these books however, is still not the answer.  It only causes sensationalism, which in turn gets more people interested.  A better solution would be to encourage publishers and distributors to raise their standards, making it harder to get those books out there.

Do you think the action of banning books may backfire?
Jodi:  In the same way that calling attention to banned books draws attention, the very act of banning a book sets that book apart.  It puts it on the watch lists and tongues of hundreds if not thousands of community groups. In effect it makes more people aware that the book even exists.  The more people who know, the more people who can read it for themselves and see what all the shouting is about. 

David: Absolutely! In a lot of ways, banning a book will give the book more attention. If you want a book to make it onto school reading lists, ban it. I recall a few books, considered classics, which I had to read in school (with a mixed reaction in most cases), and yet the books that really got me into reading, and then writing, weren’t from the reading list, but from book fairs and peers.  

Are there any other thoughts you have about censorship or banning books?
David: The real reason anyone wants to ban or censor any literature is fear. If the work is in contrast to their lifestyle, religion, politics, etc, or if there is a perceived harm that erroneous thinking or brainwashing may occur in other readers, it shakes their static foundations, their view of what’s right and their view of what everyone else ought to be thinking, is threatened. Having a publisher drop one of my books over a matter of censorship on their part, I experienced this first hand.

Jodi:  The best lecture about banning and censorship that I've ever heard was given by this year's keynote speaker for the "Life, the Universe, and Everything" writer's conference, Megan Whalen Turner.  She emphatically states that it is not the responsibility of the public to determine what people should and should not read, but the responsibility of each individual to have the moral fiber to decide for themselves if the material they are reading is appropriate or not.  Our children should raised in such a way that when they read something that makes them uncomfortable, they are welcome to shut the book, make decisions for themselves, and have a safe haven to discuss the issue.  When the opportunity to make these decisions is taken away from people, it does not make them stronger, is weakens their ability to use this discretion, simply because they are not accustomed to using it.

How does banning books – or the firsthand experience of having a book banned – affect you as an author?
David:  The initial reaction isn't exactly a positive one, I'll be honest. And this is normal. Healthy even, but anything that authors do beyond that point, who had their work banned for whatever reason, is a choice. There are more stories to write and other opportunities to pursue. Chin up. Be proud of your work. Letting a book ban to affect us negatively does nothing but weigh down our creativity. Ban all you'd like, but it won't make me a hostage. 

Jodi: I'm still new enough to the game that I don't yet have any real first hand experience with having a book banned. However, it is one of those possibilities along with hate mail and trolling that most authors must one day face.  Part of me would love to get popular enough to have people debating the issues I raise in my books, the other part of me wonders if I'll be able to take the heat. 

What’s your favorite banned book?
Jodi:  From the ALA's 2012-2013 list of banned/challenged books, my favorites are The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood and Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.  

David:  There’s a lot to pick from, but I absolutely love The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and anything from Mark Twain (I even have a thick volume of his work on my computer desk mantle). And while I’m not exactly a fan of The Catcher in the Rye, I find the psychology of it fascinating.

Reading is definitely a symbiotic experience.  It's so nice to be able to hear the other side of the story!  Thank you, Jodi and David, for joining us today!  Come back anytime!

Friday, September 27, 2013

In Our Mothers' House - Patricia Polacco

Marmee, Meema, and the kids are just like any other family on the block. In their beautiful house, they cook dinner together, they laugh together, and they dance together. But some of the other families don’t accept them. They say they are different. How can a family have two moms and no dad? But Marmee and Meema’s house is full of love. And they teach their children that different doesn’t mean wrong. And no matter how many moms or dads they have, they are everything a family is meant to be.
Cover photo and summary from author's website,

*Book restricted last year in a Utah school district, read article here

My Review: Patricia Polacco fully captures the love felt in one nontraditional family as the eldest daughter recounts her joyous adventures of growing up in a household consisting of two mothers and two ethnically diverse adopted siblings. The story begins with the narrator’s arrival into her new home and continues to the end of her mothers’ lives; radiating love, laughter, and acceptance throughout. This tale also manages to capture the confusion felt by the children as one neighbor repeatedly snubs the family, a situation tactfully handled by the explanation that some fear what they cannot understand.

The multiculturalism doesn’t end with the unique family dynamic as the Italian grandfather cooks an authentic dinner and the culturally diverse neighbors bring native dishes to a block party. These authentic dishes and names provide additional dimension to the tale but may require a brush up on pronunciation before reading aloud. The mixture of the unfamiliar with the familiar, including a bout of the flu and the building of a tree house, makes the story relatable to most. 

Bright, cheerful watercolor illustrations portray happiness, while the slightly blurry edges depict the recollection taking place within the text. The illustrations are rich in detail communicating the chaos of family life and keeping young eyes busy. All the pictures depict many different cultures yet the universal language of love is communicated through a smile on each and every page. 

The book jacket explains that Patricia Polacco has met many children from households such as the one described in this book and discovered a need to “celebrate these children’s wonderful, yet untraditional, families”. With its realistic tone, In Our Mothers’ House accomplishes this and yet goes further to relay the importance acceptance.

My Rating: 5 Stars

To Sum it up: A highly recommended heartwarming title that aids children in the understanding of cultural differences.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Steven Chbosky

Summary:  Charlie is a freshman.

And while he's not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it.

Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But he can't stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

My Review:  I debated about reviewing this book.  It’s gritty and haunting and disturbing, and frankly, the longer I thought about it, the angrier I got at the peripheral characters in the book.

I’ve deleted the paragraph I’ve been trying to type multiple times, because it’s so hard to accurately critique the book.  Chbosky has written his protagonist in an extremely stereotypical way – utterly, sometimes mindlessly, naïve, obnoxiously gullible, apparently incapable of making a sane or rational decision, all to the point that it became grossly offensive.  I had a hard time taking it seriously because it was so overdone.  I remember high school fairly well, and while my naivety was the butt of many jokes, I could grasp right from wrong. 

What has really upset me, however, was how clueless Charlie’s parents are.  Their son develops a habit of chain smoking, comes home high, drunk, experimenting with LSD, and reeking of cigarettes, and the only thing they do is invite the influencers over for dinner?! No words of warning, no trying to parent--truly, how clueless can a parent be?!  It worried me that teenagers wanting to dabble in all things baseless and deadly may view this as perfectly acceptable.  It made me want to hug my own Charlie, never let him out of my sight, and move my family to a personal island completely cut off from society—except for a library, of course.

I abhorred the story because it was so overdone, so extreme, so self contradictory it became completely unbelievable.  I loathed the characters, was upset at myself for reading such a morally bankrupt book; however, I must admit that his writing style is beautifully haunting.  It surprised me how quickly I finished this book … or perhaps that was because how many scenes I had to skip.  Hmmm.

Months Later:  I read this at a very dark and trying personal time, and I didn't even think about it being a banned book.  I just wanted to see what all the hype was about.  I can't help but think now that the anger and betrayal I felt toward the characters was perhaps what Chbosky hoped to dredge to the surface - a recognition that we are indeed responsible to help those around us, however uncomfortable that may make us.  As for me, I hope to teach my kids that lesson.  Myself, and now, before they're irreparably damaged by those who are so lost they don't know which way is up.

Sum it up:  A coming-of-age story set in the ‘90s, detailing the perils of high school at the height of the Grunge Era. 

My Rating:  One star.  It's just too stereotypical, so much so it lost the punch and made the whole thing unbelievable. 

For the Sensitive Reader:  Run, run as fast as you can!  Sex, drugs, alcohol, and lots of all of them, anonymous homosexual trysts, and repressed memories of childhood molestation.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Child Called It - Dave Pelzer

Summary:  A Child Called "It" is the unforgettable story of a child whose courage and unyielding determination enabled him to survive extreme life-threatening odds.

As a child, Dave was brutally beaten and starved by his emotionally unstable, alcoholic mother: a mother who played tortuous games--games that left him, Dave nearly dead. With only his willpower to survive, Dave learned how to play his Mother's sinister games in order to survive because she no longer considered Dave a son but a slave, and no longer a boy but an "It."

Although A Child Called "It" contains situations of mistreatment Dave suffered, it is a real life story of the indomitable human spirit. This gripping account is told through the eyes of a child--who will pay any price in order to succeed.

The first part of a trilogy series*, A Child Called "It" is currently translated in nearly forty languages and has been read by millions throughout the world. As stated by Jack Canfield, co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Dave is the living example that all of us have the capability to better ourselves no matter what the odds.

One's life is forever changed after living through the eyes of A Child Called "It."  (Summary from official Dave Pelzer website and image from

My Review:  Working in a low SES (poverty) school, I don't know how you can avoid this book.  It seems to be the one book that draws every struggling child in.  I read this book in one swallow.  One very painful gulp.  It took me an entire evening, crying the entire way through, to inhale the horrible details.  Disturbing doesn't begin to describe Dave's experience.  I wish I could say the situation is so outlandish it couldn't be true, but I've seen this type of abuse.  I've seen the half-starved distrust in the eyes of a child, one who doesn't know whether you're friend or foe, or whether today is the end.  I can't imagine trying to read this over a longer period of time.  It's too awful.  I had to rip it off like a bandaid and move on.  (There are people who are contradicting his story--I'll let you research that yourselves.)

What's fascinating is the intense will to survive.  So much of an abused child's life is trying to figure out the current game they are playing: what are the rules now? what are the next steps of their abuser? when is the next meal? when will they actually be able to rest?  So many of us live lives where this kind of non-stop-vigilance is unfathomable, so much so that it would take reading a book like this to fully wrap our heads around it.  I needed it, that's for sure.  I read this before starting my full-time teaching job in a poverty ridden school, and I've never regreted it.  It raised my awareness for the true motives my students might have for some of their actions (pushing the limits constantly, acting out, lying, stealing, sneaking around, having no friends, etc.), actions I couldn't understand from my own experience.  It also gave me greater empathy for my students.  Instead of making snap judgements, one thing I learned was to sit back and watch to make sure that what I saw was what was really happening.

I realize this is on the Banned Book list.  It was challenged regularly at the school I taught at by involved and loving parents.  But, these are the parents of children who don't see this dark side of our society.  I don't believe this book is appropriate for all.  I do think it needs to be something you seriously consider before your child reads it.  That said, sometimes these are the only books that will connect to struggling readers from abusive home lives.  If this validates their lives, how can that be bad?  If this instills in them the love of reading because it is authentic and real, again, how can that be bad?  Just like a certain parenting style is 'right' for you and another is 'right' for another person, doesn't mean either are wrong (think Attachment Parenting vs. Instinctive Parenting).  To me, it is the case with this book.  Additionally, it is incredibly informative for anyone wanting to understand child abuse.

For the sensitive reader:  Parents, please read ahead of time.  Violence towards children, depictions of neglect and profanity.  Definitely disturbing. 

Rating: 4 Stars

Sum it up:  A memoir of an abusive childhood.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Libraries Celebrate Banned Books Week

This week libraries across the country are celebrating Banned Books Week. Displays are put together. Events are hosted.  Staff is readied to answer questions and discuss banned books. All this in the hopes of drawing attention to the attempts of censorship taking place throughout this country - a country that guarantees us freedom of speech, religion, and press.

Flag containing covers from 99 of the most banned books of 2000-2010,
 put together by The East Branch of Dayton Library
As a librarian I am proud to offer open access to a wide range of information and ideas inside the library walls and out in cyberspace. I highly value my right and your right as Americans to seek and find any information of our choosing, whether for education or enjoyment. I value the right of authors to express their own opinions and my right to accept or decline such opinions. Those that seek to ban books are infringing on these basic rights.

As I roamed the shelves pulling books for our library's display I was struck by the impact of banned books on all sections of the library. Can you image your library without Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, or Maurice Sendak? How about a library without Harry Potter, the Ingalls family or Winnie the Pooh? Could a library be complete without classic literature such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the Wind or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? How about a library that doesn’t include a dictionary (banned at one point in California schools due to definitions of sexual terms not deemed appropriate for children)? Katherine Paterson, whose book Bridge to Terabithia has frequently been challenged for a multitude of reasons including that death is a large part of the plot, perhaps says it best in this quote: “All of us can think of a book... that we hope none of our children or any other children have taken off the shelf. But if I have the right to remove that book from the shelf - that work I abhor - then you also have exactly the same right and so does everyone else. And then we have no books left on the shelf for any of us.”

What a sad state libraries would be in if every book found to be offensive in some manner was removed from the shelf. How do we open our minds and the minds of young people without the freedom to express various ideas in books?

"A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone." - Jo Godwin

This week is about generating interest. It is about opposing censorship. It is about getting people to think before they recommend a book be pulled from a library shelf.  Mostly it is about celebrating our freedom to read whatever we choose.

I urge you to support your library and their fight against censorship by visiting it this week and seeing how they are celebrating. You may also enjoy listening to the opinions of  several different authors participating in a virtual readout brought to you by

Monday, September 23, 2013

True Love, Book Fights, and Why Ugly Stories Matter, Linda Holmes

This morning, Kari and Heather published reviews of Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell.  Linda Holmes, of NPR's Monkey See published a phenomenal article on Eleanor and Park and the importance of ugly stories.  It's truly a fascinating read with some wonderful points, and we would love to share it with you.

Check it out here, and then come back and tell us what you think.  Is this a book you'll be adding to your shelf?  Do you see value in stories that are hard to handle?

Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell

Is there any better way to kick off Banned Books Week than by talking about a book that is presently being challenged? Eleanor & Park has been a source of controversy in Minnesota's Anoka-Hennepin school district where the author had been scheduled to come speak. A few parents objected to the book's content stating the all-too-familiar arguments used against banned or challenged books each year – offensive language and adult situations that are too "hot" for teens.  These parents have asked that the book be removed from library shelves and for disciplinary action towards the librarians who chose the book. The Toast has posted a great interview with the author, Rainbow Rowell, detailing this situation.

My Review: Eleanor is the new kid at school. After being separated from her mother and siblings for months she is excited for this second chance. Yet as she gets on the bus the first day it quickly becomes clear that fitting in will be difficult. Eleanor has bright red hair and is a larger girl. Add in her eccentric clothing along with the fact her family is extremely poor and her chances of being accepted quickly diminish altogether.  She is ridiculed and bullied. She is called all kinds of vulgar names, and is the victim of humiliating pranks. Unfortunately her stepfather is also a bully at home. Nowhere is peaceful for Eleanor.

Park is a part-Asian kid growing up in a white neighborhood. He has lived his entire life in this small Nebraska town, as did his father and his father’s parents before that. The other kids accept him and yet he doesn’t quite fit in either. Park has some friends and a loving home life, yet he can’t help but feel like a misfit with his small stature and subpar athletic abilities. Park is struggling to find his true identity while pleasing others by pretending to be someone he is not.

Together Eleanor and Park make an unlikely pair. Their friendship, which begins in the most timid manner, quickly turns romantic and the two fall in love. The setup of the story works remarkably well as the reader gets to know Park and Eleanor at the same time the two become more familiar with each other. Secrets appear as together the two gain more security as individuals. They give each other strength and confidence so that in time each is able to address his/her individual struggles.

The story is set in the 1980’s, a time before cell phones and internet. The descriptions of the mixed tapes and the letters Eleanor and Park exchange are delightful. This love language may not resonate with today’s young readers well, yet the feelings the two have for each other are undeniable. The bullying and the difficult life choices the two must make are timeless, easily spanning the generations.

The book does contain offensive language. This is the type of language that can be heard at any school as a teen is bullied and serves to make the story more authentic. Park and Eleanor's budding relationship is also intimately explored. There is some kissing and touching, but the author is light-handed with the detail. The two do briefly contemplate taking their relationship to the next level but do not follow through. Eleanor and Park are bright, funny, articulate kids. The choices they make are respectable in almost every situation. Readers could certainly learn some valuable lessons from this pair.

If I were to complain about one aspect of this book it would be the character of Eleanor’s mother. I despised the selfish choices she makes throughout the story and her weak attempts to make peace with Eleanor. She seems to sense the discourse going on in Eleanor’s life and yet makes no move to lighten it. Her character felt authentic and really was needed to properly depict Eleanor’s tough situation but I still disliked her immensely.

My Rating: 4 stars

To Sum it up: A coming-of-age story that explores those tough choices of adolescence and also provides a trip down memory lane for those of us that grew up in the 80’s and early 90’s.

Sensitive readers: As I have previously pointed out there is some explicit language used, no more than would be heard through the hallways of most high schools. There are also a couple intimate situations but nothing too detailed and it does not go beyond some touching and kissing. I felt both were tasteful done and needed to make the story genuine. 

Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell

Summary:  Two misfits.
One extraordinary love.
Eleanor…Red hair, wrong clothes.
Standing behind him until he turns his head.
Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making
Everyone else seem drabber and flatter
And never good enough…Eleanor.
Park…He knows she’ll love a song before
He plays it for her.  He laughs at her jokes
Before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s
A place on his chest, just below his throat,
That makes her want to keep promises…Park.
Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.  (Summary from cover of book and image from

My Review:  This book came highly recommended.  I'm afraid I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the friend who recommended it though.  There was more colorful language than I prefer.  The nuances that make the story interesting required me to have grown up and listened to the same music as the characters...but I was born about 5 years too late.  So, to start, I was a bit disappointed that I wasn't swept up in the story like I'd been told I would be.

That's not to say it's not worth reading.  Because if you're looking for a sweet romance, this is a nice one.  Eleanor and Park's relationship grows so sweetly, slowly, organically, that is does feel real.  A first love is one that, while memorable and impressionable, I've found isn't the easiest to realistically recreate in a novel.  Rowell does this with ease. Another aspect I liked was how the main characters, Eleanor and Park, are both just normal kids.  I only wish I could understand all the nuances of the songs she strategically placed throughout the novel.

If you lived through the 80's, listened to the radio, recording your favorites and sharing your favorite mixed tapes with friends, this book might appeal to you.  If you had a sweet first love, one where you truly felt loved and understood and want to relive that, this might be the book for you.  If you have ever had a wrong first impression of someone, one where you grew to love someone you didn't expect to love, this may be the right book-fix for you.  Once I got past the first couple chapters, I was hooked and enjoyed the storyline.

For the sensitive reader: There are quite a few f-bombs.  The first couple pages had so many I almost didn't continue.  They are mostly concentrated at the beginning.  There are some depictions of steamy romance scenes--but stopping at 2nd base.  There is also something I can't disclose because it ruins the twist in the story.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Sum it up: A sweet love story, 80's style, with a twist.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Reading for Sanity's Fourth Annual Banned Books Week

"Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too." 
- Voltaire

It's no secret that we at Reading for Sanity love books, all kinds of books.  Our tastes differ from one reviewer to the next, and in the variety we find a wholeness to our reading that we hope to share with you.  Our own experiences, tastes, personalities, and qualms influence what we choose to read and shape who we are.
“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us."
 — Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas
This week, we celebrate Banned Books Week and our right to choose what to read and when to read it.  Please join us as we review banned and challenged books, share 2012's list of most challenged books, and help us possibly find some new favorites.
"Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it." 
- Mark Twain
Not sure where to start?  Join us on Facebook for an ongoing conversation.  Check out our previously reviewed banned books.  Visit the American Library Association and view their "Banned & Challenged Classics" and the complete list of all books banned or challenged from May 2012 - May 2013.  And don't forget to check back with us as we review and discuss our chosen challenged books this week!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Wonder - R.J. Palacio

SummaryI won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.
  (Image from  and summary from

My Review: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be that person, the one who visually isn't typical--actually, more than that, jaw-droppingly atypical?  I can imagine, pretend I know what it would be like.  But, I truly wouldn't know.  I also wouldn't know what it would be like to be his or her parent or sister.  Wonder takes you into this world and does so in a touching, honest way.

Auggie is physically different to say the least.  I liked how Palacio doesn't paint a full picture all at once.  In fact, the first chapter, from August's perspective states it well enough: "I won't describe what I look like.  Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse."  By the middle of the book you have a fairly clear picture, but Palacio allows you to get to know Auggie first.  And, isn't that the way we all wish to be treated?  To be given a fair chance without any preconceived notions, prejudices, or biases?  I love how this allows a young reader to give Auggie a chance as well.

Wonder takes you into Auggie's world, and at a particularly difficult time: moving from homeschooling to middle school. Instead of only showing the vantage point of Auggie, you get to see this transition from the very realistic perspectives of those around him: his sister, his friends, his sister's friend and boyfriend.  Life isn't a vacuum and difficulties aren't isolated to just one person.  Wonder portrays how life is a struggle in different ways for everyone.  Sometimes books about a very specific issue only allow that one character to have difficulties.  I appreciate that Wonder allows more characters to have depth.

Heartwarming, touching, authentic, painful, and endearing, I would recommend this book to anyone.  I would hope that all people, regardless of race, gender, age, doesn't-matter-the-background, read this book and take away a little piece of humanity.  It's told in a simplistic way, so it should be accessible to all.

For the sensitive reader:  There are depictions of bullying, but they are portrayed correctly as offensive and wrong.  There are also depictions of the imperfections of adults and children, but they are realistic, sad as they are.

Rating: 4.5 stars--5 stars for a children's book, but as an adult I was craving just a little more.

Sum it up:  A heart-warming story about appearance and love.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Beatrice Doesn't Want To - Laura Numeroff

Summary:  Beatrice doesn’t like books, and she doesn’t like tagging along with her brother to the library. She doesn’t want to get books from the shelf. She doesn’t want to let Henry work. And she certainly doesn’t want to sit in a room full of kids during story hour. Is there anything that could possibly change her mind?  (Summary from and image from

My Review:  This is a great book for siblings, and particularly if you have a little one who is stubborn about trying new things.  Beatrice is your typical pestering little sister.  She has to follow Henry around because he's in charge of watching her.  And anything new is NOT Beatrice's idea of fun.  She digs in her heels if it's not her idea--and frankly, not much is her idea.  Finally Beatrice is lured into the wonderful world of literature by a crafty older brother and an artful reading by a local librarian.

I love how Numeroff portrays the stubbornness that is typical of young children.  Change is hard.  Anything new can be frightening.  Why not prevent all scary situations by simply saying no?  But, Beatrice also shows how children can be coaxed into the trying new things, particularly the wonderful world of the library and good books!  I highly recommend this to families with young children.

Rating: 4 Stars

Sum it up:  A great short piece to talk about stubborn tendencies.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Humanity Project - Jean Thompson

Summary:  After surviving a shooting at her high school, Linnea is packed off to live with her estranged father, Art, who doesn’t quite understand how he has suddenly become responsible for raising a sullen adolescent girl. Art’s neighbor, Christie, is a nurse distracted by an eccentric patient, Mrs. Foster, who has given Christie the reins to her Humanity Project, a bizarre and well-endowed charity fund. Just as mysteriously, no one seems to know where Conner, the Fosters’ handyman, goes after work, but he has become the one person Linnea can confide in, perhaps because his own home life is a war zone: his father has suffered an injury and become addicted to painkillers. As these characters and many more hurtle toward their fates, the Humanity Project is born: Can you indeed pay someone to be good? At what price?

Thompson proves herself at the height of her powers in The Humanity Project, crafting emotionally suspenseful and thoroughly entertaining characters, in which we inevitably see ourselves. Set against the backdrop of current events and cultural calamity, it is at once a multifaceted ensemble drama and a deftly observant story of our twenty-first-century society.  (Summary and image taken from I was provided a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  Two teenagers, both with unimaginable burdens foisted upon them, both with parental figures who lean more toward friend than father, all whose lives are intertwined with a nurse searching for good and tranquility and her elderly patient – a chronic do-gooder who asks a life-altering question:  can you pay someone to be good?  Ooh, my imagination ran rampant with this one!  Seriously, so many good, and thought-provoking, and heart-wrenching, and inspirational, and soul-searching stories seemed to lay buried in such a short question.

Ultimately, this book fell victim to my imagination.   Mrs. Foster’s Humanity Project may have linked the characters, but that seemed to be its only purpose in the book.  The question itself was never addressed, never explored. Rather it was asked once and discarded quite rapidly, to my dismay.  Jean Thompson painted a bleak portrait of humanity in this book, as though all humans really only care about the basest of instincts; the rest of the world—or their own personal growth, for that matter—can be hung out to dry.  Her characters’ suffering, be it physical, social, or emotional, was well portrayed, but there was a cavernous lack of growth.  It was depressing.

Honestly, this is a good “don’t be like this” kind of book.  Thompson’s characters were miserable, truly forlorn, and their coping methods only served to further that misery.  It made me want to go do good all over the place, just to avoid that oppressing depression that focusing solely on yourself creates.  It was a good thing I read it on a day where I was surrounded by scores of people going out of their way to help anyone they could!

Overall, though, it was a speedy read.  I hoped for more from the characters, wished they had had the opportunity to grow, and man, did I mourn the loss of the question!

My rating:  Two stars.

For the sensitive reader: There are a lot of incidents of potty language, sexual thoughts of the characters, and a few scenes where characters get high.  I’d definitely rate this an R.


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