Tuesday, April 29, 2014

House of Purple Cedar - Tim Tingle

Summary:  "The hour has come to speak of troubled times. It is time we spoke of Skullyville." Thus begins Rose Goode's story of her growing up in Indian Territory in pre-statehood Oklahoma. Skullyville, a once-thriving Choctaw community, was destroyed by land-grabbers, culminating in the arson on New Year's Eve, 1896, of New Hope Academy for Girls. Twenty Choctaw girls died, but Rose escaped. She is blessed by the presence of her grandmother Pokoni and her grandfather Amafo, both respected elders who understand the old ways. Soon after the fire, the white sheriff beats Amafo in front of the town's people, humiliating him. Instead of asking the Choctaw community to avenge the beating, her grandfather decides to follow the path of forgiveness. And so unwinds this tale of mystery, Indian-style magical realism, and deep wisdom. It's a world where backwoods spiritualism and Bible-thumping Christianity mix with bad guys; a one-legged woman shop-keeper, her oaf of a husband, herbal potions, and shape-shifting panthers rendering justice. Tim Tingle—a scholar of his nation's language, culture, and spirituality—tells Rose's story of good and evil with understanding and even laugh-out-loud Choctaw humor.  (Image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Stop.  Right now, before you read any more, go request this book.  Now.  I mean it!

Okay, book requested? Good.  Now I can review it.

The problem, however, with trying to review this book is that there just aren't the right words.  It was beautiful.  The events of the story were difficult, but Tim Tingle is a master storyteller.  His writing is stunningly perfect, the story he's created here had me glued to my book, and within the first few pages, when the first tragedy strikes, I felt as though I had lost my loved one as well.  During the night of terror--that culmination of all the last few months' events--not only did I feel the fear of Rose, our main character, but the comfort and the wonder she feels throughout it.  I felt cold.  I could feel the ice forming under my feet.  I could almost see the panther and hear her screams.

Underlying the story is the message to be a better you.  Among the prejudice and the hurt that the Choctaw suffered, their faith and their ability to rise above it, to take the higher ground and emerge victorious was so inspiring.  It was beautiful.  Juxtaposed with the image of the perfect town, Tingle takes the time to strip those facades away, painting the townsfolk as what they really are.  It was impossible to not feel empathy for them, even the smelliest, meanest, sorriest.  

I can tell that this book is one that's going to stay with me for a long time.  It's definitely one of my favorites this year.  Tingle has crafted a story that makes me want to become better.

My Rating:  Five stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Domestic violence is a key theme in the book.  The book opens with an act of arson, resulting in the deaths of twenty girls.  There are also two murders.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Johnstown Flood - David McCullough

Summary:  The stunning story of one of America's great disasters, a preventable tragedy of Gilded Age America, brilliantly told by master historian David McCullough.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was a booming coal-and-steel town filled with hardworking families striving for a piece of the nation's burgeoning industrial prosperity. In the mountains above Johnstown, an old earth dam had been hastily rebuilt to create a lake for an exclusive summer resort patronized by the tycoons of that same industrial prosperity, among them Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew Mellon. Despite repeated warnings of possible danger, nothing was done about the dam. Then came May 31, 1889, when the dam burst, sending a wall of water thundering down the mountain, smashing through Johnstown, and killing more than 2,000 people. It was a tragedy that became a national scandal. 

Graced by David McCullough's remarkable gift for writing richly textured, sympathetic social history, The Johnstown Flood is an absorbing, classic portrait of life in nineteenth-century America, of overweening confidence, of energy, and of tragedy. It also offers a powerful historical lesson for our century and all times: the danger of assuming that because people are in positions of responsibility they are necessarily behaving responsibly. (Summary and cover from goodreads.com)

My Review: I read David McCullough's book, John Adams, a few years ago for a book club. I was so impressed with his writing and research and knowledge of the topic that I really wanted to read another of his. I wasn’t aware of his book The Johnstown Flood until I heard a podcast about the flood, so when the podcast referenced it, I was really excited.

 Reading McCullough is an intense experience and The Johnstown Flood is no exception. The book starts out slowly, but McCullough uses those pages to give an incredible back-story, covering everything from the people involved, to the time period, to the political situation, to the history of the town. He doesn't beat around the bush. I admit that it was a little slow-going at first, but by the time things start to pick up, you definitely know all details surrounding the flood. As soon as it starts raining, however, and the imminent danger of the flood becomes apparent, the book gets really exciting. Because here's the great thing: by the time the action really gets going, you know the people, you know the details, you know the history and the politics, and so when the flood actually does happen, you're invested. And that's perhaps the best thing about McCullough—not only does he give you every minute detail, but he writes them in such a way that it’s understandable and thorough and you can't help but understand what it would have been like to experience the Johnstown flood. Even after hearing the podcast, I had no idea of the extent of the flood, let alone the key players who would go on to change American history; knowing those things is the difference between simply having heard about the Johnstown flood to actually knowing about the Johnstown flood.

McCullough, as a writer, is extremely proficient. His language is beautiful and clear without the unnecessary baggage of many other academic writers. Although I set off knowing full well what it would be like to read a another McCullough book, I was impressed again at how easily he incorporates details and facts into his writing. It makes history come alive, and that’s what’s great about this book. I knew what the Johnstown Flood was. I was familiar with McCullough's writing and style, but I was pleasantly surprised again to experience an author who is a master at his craft.

My Rating:  4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: As with many true disaster writings, there is tragedy and loss of life in sometimes horrific ways. This book is not unnecessarily graphic and treats those situations with respect.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A is for Abinadi - Heidi Poelman

Summary:  In this adorably illustrated alphabet book, children will discover stories o the amazing men and women in the scriptures.  Each page features a letter from the alphabet that corresponds to a hero from the Bible or Book of Mormon.  For added fun, readers can search for hidden objects that start with that letter, too.

Use this book to teach your children power examples of courage, obedience, faith, and friendship.  Your children will love learning about spiritual heroes form Abinadi to Zoram, while practicing their ABCs! (Image from goodreads.com, summary from the back of the book.  A copy of the book was provided to me in exchange for my honest review.)

My Review:  It's no secret that getting LDS-based scripture books is a little more difficult in Texas than it was when we lived in Utah.  But with three young ones at home, I had to have this book!  We piled on the couch and had a great time reading it.  The illustrations are hilarious - for example, Daniel and the lions are dancing while one plays the drums and another eats a donut.  The bricks on Captain Moroni's wall each have a "C" theme.  Some angered Nephite was so enraged with Samuel the Lamanite, he threw a skunk.  All three of my kids loved looking for the hidden objects in the illustrations while I read about the highlighted prophet. They continued to fight over the copy long after we were finished reading.

We love having a well-stocked church bag, and this is a welcome and wonderful addition.  Not only are my children learning the basics about the prophets, scripture heroes, and key events in the scriptures, they are wholly engaged by the book.  The descriptions are well-suited for children, not too long, well-written, and geared to pique their interest in the scriptures.  As a mom, I don't think I could ask for more from this book!

My Rating:   Five stars

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Straw into Gold - Gary D. Schmidt

Summary:  What fills a hand fuller than a skein of gold? By order of the king, two boys, Tousle and Innes, must find the answer to this puzzling riddle within seven days or be killed. A former nursemaid to the queen’s child tells the boys that the banished queen may have the answer they seek. Danger presents itself at every turn, for the boys are pursued by the Great Barons, who are secretly plotting against the king. Another pursuer, the greedy King’s Grip, reveals a strange story of a little man who once spun straw into gold of incredible beauty for the queen but then disappeared with her firstborn son. Tousle realizes that the man he calls Da is the strange little man and, even more amazing, that he himself may be the lost prince. Or could it be Innes, who although cruelly blinded can hear the music of the dawn?
This skillful blend of fantasy and adventure reveals what might have happened before the queen makes her third and last guess and the story of Rumpelstiltskin—as we know it—ends. (Image and Summary from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Tousle has lived in the meadow surrounded by forest as long as he can remember.  His Da, a funny little man who seems to have a bit of magic about him, has always been protective and more than a little enigmatic about Tousle's past.  However, as Da says, that which has already been woven is about to pass.  Within minutes of first arriving in the capitol city, Tousle's life, and the lives of numerous "rebels", are at risk.  Worse, Da has disappeared.

Gary D. Schmidt puts his unique telling on a fairy tale we all know and does a masterful job recreating Rumplestiltskin's story to be one of love, protection, and redemption.  This is a short book - under 200 pages - and I didn't want to put it down.  The relationships that the characters develop, the riddles and puzzles and intrigue from multiple sources, the perfect reimagining of Rumplestiltskin's character, I fell in love with the story all over again.  The way that Schmidt crafts his story kept me guessing--not an easy thing to do.

Schmidt is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors.  He has a wonderful way with words and such an optimistic way of telling a real story.  This is definitely a story I could hand my eight year, or a reluctant reader, and know they'd be enthralled.

My Rating:  Five stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  This is an incredible story, but Schmidt realizes that not everyone is good.  There are a few battle scenes.  Both boys are shot by either an arrow or a javelin at one point.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Sanity-Saving Announcement

We are absolutely thrilled to introduce the newest addition to the Reading for Sanity team, reviewer Ashley Rayback!  We look forward to getting to know her better, as well as to getting a peek at her bookshelves!

Without further ado, let's meet her!  

I  have always loved reading. Growing up, I read anything and everything, though I almost forgot how to read for fun when I was working on my Masters of Public Administration (MPA). A random book club invitation during that fateful time reminded me of that love and I've never looked back.

Now, I'm a member of two book clubs and am a voracious reader on my own, choosing from a wide range of genres and styles that are almost as varied as the many facets of my private life. I'm a wife and a mother to three little hooligans, a professional harpist, a piano teacher, a mighty huntress with my dad, a somewhat willing member of PTA, and more. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cress - Marissa Meyer

Summary:  In this book in the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow.  Together, they're plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army.

Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl imprisoned on a satellite since childhood who's only ever had her netscreens as company.  All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker.  Unfortunately, she's just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is separated.  Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price.  Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai.  Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up  to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.  (Summary from book jacket and image from http://goodreads.com/)

My Review:  I am thoroughly enjoying how Marissa Meyer is weaving old fashioned fairy tales into a futuristic series.  Cress takes us even deeper into the Lunar Chronicles.  I always fear giving too much away with reviews of series books.  If you're even the slightest bit worried I might spoil it for you, please quit reading.  The last thing I'd want is to ruin this series for someone since it's been so fun to read.

I will start by saying that Cress was far longer than the previous two books.  While this is expected when so many characters are combined and their storylines intertwined, I also think there was probably less editing on this one (similar to how Harry Potter ended up...).  That said, the beginning was a bit slower for me to jump into--it had also been a while since I'd read Scarlet and Cinder, which means the cobwebs were being dusted off in the process as well.  Once the rising action started to build significantly, I had a hard time putting the book down.  Meyer does a nice job of throwing in just enough twists and turns to keep you guessing, but not enough to seem unreasonable.

Her characters are of typical depth for YA lit, but aren't your typical "I'm falling in love at the drop of a hat with a bad boy" that seems to dominate the YA world.  Her characters are dealing with difficult decisions and they take them seriously.  There are even descriptions of the characters feeling shock after traumatic situations--again not something you always see in YA lit.  Is it all believable?  No.  But this is futuristic and fairytale.  I love that I can suspend disbelief and enjoy a world where our previous notions of fairytale stories are shaped into a new form.

There's an aspect to these books that I feel I need to expound upon because I have been so pleased with it. I am loving these strong female protagonists!  The emphasis for all three women (Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress) is not on their beauty, but on their intelligence and what they can do.  How refreshing for today's girls!  It's so, SO important to focus on what girls can do and think, and not just their looks; especially when today's media says otherwise.  Girls are bombarded daily with a perfect image from a very young age.  I'm not immune to wanting to look my best, but I also want my daughters to know that that's not everything.  Thank heavens there are good books to help guide our daughters as well (thank you Hermoine from HP for being a great start amongst many others).  Cinder also brings into play the consideration of not being beautiful by societal standards.  Just because you don't look like what's on the cover of the magazine doesn't mean you're not beautiful and worthwhile.  Additionally, Cinder brings up the comparison of inferiority perceptions based on race.  I truly hope this spurs young readers to consider the implications of prejudice.

I am truly looking forward to the next installment, Winter (2015?!  Really?).  I just hope we don't have to wait too long!

Lastly, I just have to share this last little piece of goodness: Marissa Meyer has a great website.  After searching through it for more information on Winter, I found this little Gem.  The Little Android (a version of The Little Mermaid) that you can read for free online!  Check it out!

For the sensitive reader:  There are a couple kiss scenes, depictions of violence and death (but not graphic), and talk of deception and lies.  

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Sum it up:  Take Rapunzel, throw her story into a futuristic earth and moon world, combine a version of Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood, and you get this fantastic piece of YA lit.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

If You Were Me and Lived in ... India - Carole P. Roman

Summary:  Let's travel to India! Land of bright colors and delicious spices, If You Were Me and Lived in...India, takes young readers on a road trip to learn about this interesting place. Children will learn how to say mommy and daddy, what type of currency is used, games that youngsters play and a lot of interesting facts about the beautiful land of India. If You Were Me and Lived in...India adds this ethnically diverse country to the growing, award winning series that is out to cover the entire globe, teaching children about culture and customs all over the world. The ForeWord Review, Clarion Review gave "If You Were Me and Lived in...Kenya" a coveted five star ranking. The first book in the series, If You Were Me and Lived in...Mexico" received the Pinnacle Award for Best in Children's Nonfiction 2012. (Image from author, summary from goodreads.com.  A copy of this book, and of Roman's other books in the series was provided in exchange for my honest review.)

My Review:  My children are fascinated with geography and other cultures.  They always love learning about other countries, their customs, foods, and languages.  Carole P. Roman's series "If You Were Me and Lived In ... " is a wonderful series to fuel any child's curiosity about other cultures.

Roman's books are fairly formulaic, which, for a child learning to read is wonderful.  My kids loved reading where they would visit if they lived in India, and got the biggest kick out of calling my husband and me "Paaji" and "Maaji" (daddy and mommy) for days.  They loved the illustrations (I did, as well.  The pages describing Holi are especially vibrant!), the applications to how they would live if they lived in India, and I think they memorized the handy pronunciation guide in the back.  I loved that they were so excited about learning more.  Roman writes in such a way to pique a child's interest, and it left my kids hankering for more information.  In fact, they've been on my case to make curry as soon as possible! 

These are definitely a book worth checking out soon.  I would love to see them in our school library, as the information provided is presented in a timeless manner.  

My Rating:  Five Stars

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Legacy Letters - Carew Papritz

Summary:  From Our Family to You...

Out of the more than two hundred letters written by our father, our family eventually chose over forty for the publication of this particular book.  Our most difficult task was deciding not only which letters to leave in, but which to take out, for many are wise as others are magical, many enlightening, as others are haunting.

Throughout the years, these life letters, love letters, and spiritual letters have instructed us, inspired us, even helped define us.  Many have become family favorites.  Others are personally intimate.  Some are magnificent.  And all are truly revealing.  His words, much like the songs he also left to us, are soulful, curious, provocative, tragic, passionate, and timeless.

Through these letters, a man discovered his life.  In these letters, we found our father.  His final gift, to our mother and to us, changed our lives forever.  Yet we know this gift cannot end with us.  Now this gift must be given to you, the reader, to find your own wisdom, inspiration, and hope within these Legacy Letters - and hopefully and somehow changed forever.  (Book given free for review.  Summary from book jacket cover.  Image from http://www.thelegacyletters.com/)

My Review:  The above summary does a thorough enough job setting up the story, so I won't elaborate further.  Thinking about this though, wouldn't everyone want to have letters of advice from their father?  At least, I would hope you'd want advice from your father if he was a good man.  And even if you didn't have a father that could or would give you solid advice, this is a nice way of getting that kind of advice from another source.  We could all use to have a little perspective added to our lives.  Because it truly isn't until you know you're going to lose everything that you evaluate deeply what matters in life and how you want to spend your time. 

I think this book should be read slowly; for example, a letter a day.  When you're reading it like a novel, it loses its substance.  Each letter is full of imagery and descriptive language.  Surrounding these descriptions are a lifetime's worth of advice.  While I appreciated the advice, I've never been one who has enjoyed long-winded writing.  It's just not my taste. I do know there are many out there who thoroughly enjoy a verbose description of ones surroundings and such.  Therefore, if you're a fan of Dickens, but don't like how much of a downer most of his stories are, this might be the book for you.  If you like Tolkien, but need a break from fantasy, this might be the book for you.  While I enjoyed the idea behind the book and the sentiment, I can't say I thoroughly enjoyed it.
For the sensitive reader:  A few swear words here and there, but mostly of the Biblical sort.

Rating: 3.5 stars--a bit too romantic (not the lovey-dovey romantic, but more of the classic Romeo and Juliet, drawn to intense emotion romantic) and verbose for my tastes.

Sum it up:  A sentimental compilation of letters meant as advice for life.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Book Club Selections

Mindy sent me a list of amazing books if you're looking for a good read for Book Club.  Check it out!  http://www.readinggroupguides.com/features/special-feature/share-your-2013-picks

Thanks to Reading Group Guides for putting it together!!


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