Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best of 2013 - A Look Back

2013 has been a great year for reading!  We've reviewed many, loved some, and have all added more books to our shelves than we could possibly read in a year ... and yet we're still adding more!

Here are some of the favorites we've added this year - in no particular order.

Review here.  I got completely lost in Goodwin's amazing in-depth biography of Lincoln.

There's nothing like a good mystery to get your blood pumping on a rainy night, and no one can write a mystery like Agatha Christie!  Review here.

Hilarious and poignant, we're coming to expect great things from Markus Zusak!  Review here.

A multi-generational tear-jerker ... whether you like spiders or not.  It's a classic for a reason!  Review here.

This one may not be a literary work of art, but it has a special place in my heart.  Review here.

We're always on the lookout for a great series to recommend to our younger readers.  Review found here.

Families come in all shapes, sizes, and makeups. Heather fell in love with this perfect portrayal! Review here.

This is a life-changing book for introverts everywhere.  Definitely a must-read, with the review found here.

This amazing novel has taken the book world by storm - with good reason.  Review here.

The Giver has been given the perfect conclusion.  Read Kari's review here.

Dubbed a "short story that just wouldn't stop growing" by the author, this is definitely not one to miss!  Review here.

Kari found her teaching kindred spirit in the author of this book - review here.

This is the kind of book you can read in a hammock on an afternoon, but the characters stick around for days!  Review here.

From the author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, this is another quiet novel full of heart that packs quite an emotional punch.  Read Heather's review here.

The only problem my son had with this book was putting it down - it's even inspired him to host a Mad Science birthday party next month!  (HELP!!)  Review here.

This is a great book to remind you how special you really are.  Read our review here.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Great Books of 2013

Is it just me or has 2013 been an exceptional year for books? Though you would never realize it by my reviews (or lack thereof) I have read a great number of titles in 2013 that I enjoyed enormously - some newly released and some that I have been meaning to get to for quite a while. Today I would like to focus on my favorites published within this past year. There are a ton of these lists out there and I am amazed at how well they match up with each other this year. My list includes many of the same titles as well.

Adult Literary Fiction

Jhumpa Lahiri once again demonstrates her abilities as a skilled storyteller in The Lowland. This novel details the lives of two brothers from India and though touches on the political struggles of the country is much more about family, choices, and love. Magnificently told, this one is easy to get lost in. 

Historical Fiction

Fun and yet very powerful, Kate Atkinson's Life after Life plays with the idea of changing destiny by altering choices. The book follows Ursula Todd from birth through death over and over again as her choices and actions differ and thus alter the destinies not only for Ursula but for those around her in varying degrees. This one is absolutely fascinating.

Is there any better word to describe The Valley of Amazement than amazing? Amy Tan's latest work had me absolutely entranced from the opening pages as the lives of Shanghai courtesans in the 1800's were explored. The characters really come to life within these pages. This one is full of intriguing historical facts and additionally explores mother-daughter relationships.


I did manage to publish a review for Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which you can find here. I found this one to be eerie, magical, and all consuming.

Helene wicker does an impressive job of breathing life into her characters in The Golem and the Jinni. The story line is intriguing but it is really the main characters that make this one hauntingly beautiful.

Emerging Author

Hannah Kent proves to be a great storyteller with her first published novel, Burial Rites. In it she tells the story of Agnes, the last woman executed in Iceland. This is a compassionate portrayal of Agnes interlaced with historical fact. The overall effect is mesmerizing.  


I am somewhat ashamed to say that I only made it all the way through one nonfiction title published this year. Yet A House in the Sky: A Memoir by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett definitely comes highly recommended. In it Lindhout cover the time she spent as a hostage in Somalia as well as her life leading up to this situation. It is both haunting and inspiring.

Young Adult Fiction

Fangirl is a fun read detailing Cath's transition to adulthood as she enters her first year of college, which coincidences with her first separation from her twin sister. I was easily able to identify with Cath and thus quickly devoured this one. 

Set in New Orleans in the 1950 Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys combines a mystery with a coming-of-age story. Josie is anxious to make a better life for herself but her mother's choices and deceits come back to haunt her.

Young Adult Fantasy

Even if you are entirely over the vampire fad, Holly Black's Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a must-read. The futuristic setting, dark and yet captivating characters combine with loads of action and a touch of romance to make this a horrifying fantastical read. This one can easily be consumed in a single sitting.

Young Adult Sequels

It is not often that I enjoy the sequel more than the first title in a series but this was the case with Veronica Rossi's Through the Ever Night. The first, Under the Never Sky, was a bit difficult to get into but this was not an issue with the second title in the trilogy. The further character development led to a captivating story. I am excited to see where the final book takes us.

I wasn't too sure about the introduction of another lead character in Scarlet, Marissa Meyer's followup to Cinder. But a strong female character like Scarlet is almost impossible not to love. Furthermore her character and situation add greater depth to the story. I am anxiously awaiting the next installment, Cress, which will release in February. Elizabeth's review and Kari's review back this pick as well. 


Let me preface this by mentioning  I have only read one published in 2013 so far yet Shards & Ashes edited by Melissa Marr & Kelley Armstrong is certainly good enough to deserve mention. This is a collection of nine dystopian short stories that are sure to entertain. My review will give you greater insight if your interested in this one.

Children's Fiction

There is always something magical about retelling fairy tales and Liesl Shurtliff's Rump is no exception. In this retelling Rumpelstiltskin becomes quite a likable character, though not one without faults. His tale is both sad and humorous. I read this with my 8-year-old daughter and we were both pleased with how well it was done.

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman is absolutely delightful. In it a dad weaves an elaborate tale as he attempts to explain to his two young children why it took so long to fetch milk from a nearby grocer. Short enough to read aloud in one or two sittings, this one will leave both you and your children in giggles. I'd recommend it for ages 7-10.

Children's Picture Books

Devin Scillian makes the mundane day-to-day life of a hamster exciting in Memoirs of a Hamster. When Seymour decides to escape from his cage things get really lively. The pictures in this one are really fantastic, especially the animal expressions.

Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great and I think this title by Bob Shea is pretty great as well. Goat however is a bit jealous of unicorn and it takes an unlikely friendship to bring him around.

Journey is a wordless picture book that is magnificently done. I am sure you have heard the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, Aaron Becker proves this to be true. To escape boredom a young girl draws a door on her bedroom wall. All kinds of wonderful adventures take place once she steps through this magical portal. 

Currently Reading

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
I am only about 100 pages into this hefty 750+ page novel but I can already tell with a fair degree of certainty that it is one that should be included in this Best of 2013 list.

Currently Listening To

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
This one is told from two perspectives - one of a teenage Japanese girl, Nao, and the other of a novelist living in Canada who discovers a letter written by Nao. I am enjoying this one so much that I find myself actually looking forward to home improvement projects that provide listening time.

These promising titles are currently sitting on my shelf waiting to be read. Hope I can get to them all before their due dates:

Now excuse me as I've got some serious reading (and lots of reviews to type up) to do in the next few weeks!

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Most Important Lesson Schools Can Teach Kids

It seems that lately there are articles abounding that support my personal philosophy of reading.  Here's another one about how the most important lesson schools can teach kids is that reading is fun.  I'm a big fan of these authors and love that there's another piece written to support what most English teachers believe: Reading is FUN!  What a fantastic lesson and one that is so easy to instill if you know literature that appeals to kids.  Read on my friends!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from Reading for Sanity

Amidst the hustle and bustle of December, we want to wish you a Merry Christmas on this beautiful, beautiful day.  There are a lot of ideas about what Christmas is all about - it's about family, it's about gratitude, it's about thinking of others, generosity, kindness - and while those are all true, those are add-ons.

Today is about the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Luke 2: 10-11, 14
And the Angel said unto them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord ... Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good well toward men.

I am so grateful for the ability to celebrate His birth, and I wish you all the best today.  May you have a joyful, peaceful, wonderful Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Night Before Christmas - Clement C. Moore and Mary Engelbreit

Originally Published December 24, 2012 

Summary:  Readers young and old are invited into the enchanting world of Mary Engelbreit in this sparkling edition of Clement C. Moore's classic poem. It is the night before Christmas, in a house so cozy and colorful, so filled with expectation, so dusted with Christmas magic that only this beloved illustrator could have created it. Shhh. A mouse is asleep in its snug den and children are dreaming as sugarplum fairies flutter around their bed. Then there's the jingle of bells. . . 

For this merry celebration of Christmas, Mary Engelbreit has filled every page with bewitching details, rich color, and memorable characters. These include a bevy of mischievous elves, an adorable mouse, and a lovable, bespectacled Santa. The images in Mary's joyous vision will bring discovery and delight to generations of readers.  (Summary and image from www.harpercollinschildrens.com)

My Review:  Every Christmas Eve, our family puts on a Christmas program in front of a roaring fire.  First we open our Christmas jammies (well, the kids do), then we read the Christmas Story from Luke, while the girls act it out.  We sing songs.  We drink cocoa.  Then we settle down for one last story before bedtime.  This story.

For the last several years, I've read from a different version of this book -- one that I thought was boring, and more "artsy" than magical, but it was what we had.  Finally, last year I broke down and bought Mary Engelbriet's version.   I am so glad I did.  My children and I adore it!  The change in their demeanor while I read was hard to miss.  Before, they listened but didn't really engage in the story.  This time they sat close to the page and I could see their eyes sparkling with excitement as they took in the gorgeous detail and whimsical illustrations so characteristic of Englebreit's style.   Here's a few sample pages, so you can see what I mean:

Isn't it lovely!?  This is the version I will read to my grandchildren.  It helps even an old adult like me, feel the magic of Christmas.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Santa's smokes a pipe that I can only assume is filled with tobacco.  Seriously, someone needs to inform that jolly old elf about cancer.  

Sum it up:  My favorite version of an old classic.


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