Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 - A Year in Review

Oh, my goodness, the year goes fast when you spend so much time recovering!  We've read some amazing books this year, some interesting ones, and some real stinkers.  But since it's New Year's Eve and all, let's just focus on the good, in no particular order, of course!

Also, have you checked out your Year in Review?  So much fun!  I wish I could link it as an infograph!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt - Kara Cooney

Summary: An engrossing biography of the longest-reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt and the story of her audacious rise to power in a man’s world.

Hatshepsut, the daughter of a general who took Egypt's throne without status as a king’s son and a mother with ties to the previous dynasty, was born into a privileged position of the royal household. Married to her brother, she was expected to bear the sons who would legitimize the reign of her father’s family. Her failure to produce a male heir was ultimately the twist of fate that paved the way for her inconceivable rule as a cross-dressing king. At just twenty, Hatshepsut ascended to the rank of king in an elaborate coronation ceremony that set the tone for her spectacular twenty-two year reign as co-regent with Thutmose III, the infant king whose mother Hatshepsut out-maneuvered for a seat on the throne. Hatshepsut was a master strategist, cloaking her political power plays with the veil of piety and sexual expression. Just as women today face obstacles from a society that equates authority with masculinity, Hatshepsut had to shrewdly operate the levers of a patriarchal system to emerge as Egypt's second female pharaoh.

Hatshepsut had successfully negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority, and her reign saw one of Ancient Egypt’s most prolific building periods. Scholars have long speculated as to why her images were destroyed within a few decades of her death, all but erasing evidence of her rule. Constructing a rich narrative history using the artifacts that remain, noted Egyptologist Kara Cooney offers a remarkable interpretation of how Hatshepsut rapidly but methodically consolidated power—and why she fell from public favor just as quickly. The Woman Who Would Be King traces the unconventional life of an almost-forgotten pharaoh and explores our complicated reactions to women in power.

(Summary and Pic from

I received a free copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: I am a sucker for learning about awesome, strong women. I am not a rabid feminist who thinks we should rewrite history and forget all the men, but I certainly appreciate that we’re now entering a time where women are more celebrated and talked about. I love that there are so many resources now to learn about women who were great and educated and daring and bold and brave at a time when women were not expected to be so. In fact, they were looked down on if they were. I have a master’s degree, and although I wasn’t a trailblazer per se when I received my degree, there were only a few other women in my program and I could see that it wasn’t necessarily the norm for a woman to go into my graduate field. Now…that was a decade and some odd years ago, and things have changed even since then. We are quickly moving into a world where ideally we will all have the same opportunities. This has been a long time coming, really, and it has come to where we are now by many other women trailblazers. This sermon has a point, and that point is that Hatshepsut (pronounced Hat-shep-sut) was just one of those awesome trailblazing women.

I first heard about this book when the author, KaraCooney, was interviewed on the podcast Stuff Mom Never Told You. And in fact, I listened to the podcast again after I finished the book just so that I could have some more information from Cooney. I’ve read quite a few historical fiction books about ancient Egypt, and have even read a few biographies including those of Cleopatra and Nefertiti. But I’d never heard of Hatshepsut, and I feel that it is high time that there is a book about her. She was arguably the most powerful woman of the ancient world, let alone Egypt.

One of the things I found most interesting about this book was its discussion of the religious ceremonies and aspects of Egyptian life. Hatshepsut was the God’s Wife of Amen, and so starting at a young age she was performing all of the rituals for the God’s rebirth each day, and this dedication and knowledge of religion and religious ceremony was one of the great sources of power she drew upon to become king. The ceremonies were most interesting and shockingly sexual (this is certainly not a bedtime read for your little tots), and I loved the cultural image Cooney was able to paint through her descriptions and writing.

Hatshepsut did many things in her life—she was extremely powerful not just as a woman, but as a king. Of course, becoming a female king was an impressive political maneuver of an intelligent and resourceful woman. One of the amazing things about this, however, is that she did it with grace, skill, and poise. She was able to accomplish a lot and didn’t need to exploit her sexuality to get there, nor become the bad woman and kill a bunch of people (hello Cleopatra!) to get where she was. She really was remarkable. I loved this paragraph in the concluding chapter: “Through all of antiquity, however, history records only one female ruler who successfully negotiated a systematic rise to power—without assassinations or coups—during a time of peace, who formally labeled herself with the highest position known in government, and who ruled for a significant stretch of time: Hatshepsut.”

So why don’t we hear more about Hatshepsut? Why is it Cleopatra who has everything from old school movies to Halloween costumes dedicated to her? Well, the answer is complicated, and includes the obvious answer of many of her histories and buildings being destroyed by kings that came after, but Cooney addresses it a lot and I’m just going to leave you hanging because Hatshepsut is important enough that you should read this book and learn more about her.

This book was well-written and well-researched. My only complaint is that I wished there had been more about the personal life of Hatshepsut. Because of the destruction of records and her buildings and the limited personal life record keeping of the Eypgtians we don’t know much, but Cooney has covered what we do. Hatshepsut was a remarkable woman and this book brought her alive.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Due to the sexual nature of many of the Egyptian religious practices, this book has quite a bit of discussion of sex. It is not gratuitous but it is at times graphic due to the explanations of the rituals.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Christmas time is a busy, busy time of year, filled with parties, get-togethers, recitals, performances, concerts, plays, and altogether too little reading time!

We value that reading time here at Reading for Sanity, but there's something that I value something even more. Christmas itself, the chance to celebrate the birth of the Savior.

Every year my family gathers to read the beautiful, and arguably the most important chapter in the Bible, Luke 2.  It is such a beautiful recount of such a beautiful moment, and it truly brings our minds to where I feel they need to be.

Don't get me wrong, the festivities are fun, but without my knowledge of the Savior, I don't think my enjoyment in them would be as great.  This incredible video has touched me every time I've watched it. Whether I'm feeling Christmassy or Grinch-y, it brings to life why I'm here, why I believe what I do, and gives me so much joy.

This Christmas season, I want to give you a gift.  As I mentioned, reading is important in our family.  But there's one book we strive to read every day.

This Christmas, I want to share this book with you.  If you're curious about what we believe, and if you want to read this incredible book of scripture for yourself, please leave a comment with your email address.  I'll send one to you.  It means that much to me.

We at Reading for Sanity want to wish you all a merry, merry Christmas.  This is such a special time of year, and we hope it's a joyful one for you!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever - Barbara Robinson

Summary: The Herdman kids lie, and steal, and smoke cigars (even the girls). They also talk dirty, cuss their teachers, and take the name of the Lord in vain. The last place anyone expects to see them is in a church. 

So no one is prepared when the Herdmans storm Sunday school and take over the annual Christmas pageant. Before anyone can stop them, they're plotting revenge on Herod, frightening the angels, and burping the baby Jesus. They've got the whole town up in arms. 

How the Herdmans turn a series of disasters into what everyone agrees is the best Christmas pageant ever, is a hilarious, touching, and unforgettable tale from a beloved storyteller. (Summary and image from

Review: The Herdmans are the worst.  Lazy, liars, cheaters, thieves, master pranksters ... whenever they walk in, so does Fear.  Imagine everyone's fear, then, when the lot of them show up for the annual Christmas Pageant tryouts.  Intimidation tactics work wonders, and the Herdmans end up with all the key roles.  As you'd expect, Mayhem ensues.

This is a modern-day classic children's tale.  While the whole book deals with everyone's fear of the Herdmans and their reluctance to allow them to take part in this annual tradition, their simple, albeit naughty, pure hearts shine through.  So what if the Wise Men forego the traditional gold, frankincense, and myrrh for a ham?  It's the thought that counts, right?  And wait, what is that on Imogene's face?!  She's the worst of them all!

I have loved this book for years, and it's still one of my favorites.  Simple, funny, well-writtten, and a fast read ... this is the perfect bedtime story to pull out this time of year.

Merry Christmas.  And HEY! FEAR NOT!!

Rating: 4.5 stars

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Ally's Kitchen - Alice Phillips

Summary: Great flavor knows no boundaries. 

After years traveling the globe, popular food blogger Ally Phillips has tasted almost everything. Now she’s bringing you the best eats the world can offer in a one-of-a-kind cookbook that shares recipes, meal ideas, and entire cultures. 

Whether you’re in the mood for something tantalizingly unique, like Jerusalem Eggs with Forbidden Rice & Quinoa, or comfortingly familiar, like Picasso Belgian Waffles, this book lets you wander the world without ever leaving your kitchen 

Take your taste buds traveling through the exotic flavors and textures of 

Lemon & Almond Basbousa 
Avocado Radicchio Wasabi Salsa 
Jamaican Jerk Caramelized Onion Burgers 
Makai Paka 
With ingredients you can find anywhere and easy-to-follow instructions, these recipes will bring the world’s favorite foods to your dining table so you can impress all your friends and family. Fresh, vibrant, and full of life, this inspiring collection of global recipes is guaranteed to turn your ordinary meals into memorable masterpieces.

Summary and Pic from

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: You know what? I actually really loved this cookbook. First of all, it had a really fun premise. When I first opened it I was a little skeptical because I’m a very orderly (boring? NO!) person, and so having random recipes from random places could have potentially really bugged me. I’m all about focus. I was, however, happily surprised. I liked the idea that Ally had traveled around a lot and had brought back her favorite recipes and ideas. Like I said—I was surprised. I thought I would have wanted more focus but actually I liked having a smattering of faves. It’s like someone had gone out and done all the legwork for many of the major types of ethnic foods and just picked out some of the really good ones and brought them back and compiled them. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what she did. So that’s fun, right? Wanting to try things from different areas in the world but not wanting to try them ALL for fear of getting something really gross? And then you’ve spent all this money and time on something random that is really gross and weird and you’ll never use those ingredients again. Obviously I’ve had this experience.

Secondly, the presentation was great. The pictures were pretty. It’s a really pretty book, actually. I loved that its hardbound and l loved the little snippets about her life and travels. Although I’m not really about the word “boholicious,” which she uses a lot, I liked the theme that she had going with it and I loved the little stories that went with the recipes and how to change them up and present them. I’ve read a lot of cookbooks that have personal stories in them, but Ally was obviously a more experienced, comfortable person. She’s older than the typical bloggers and YouTubers, but I liked that, actually. I felt like she had something different to offer than the standard I’ve-just-found-myself-and-I-have-five-kids-and-now-I-blog-and-am-recreating-my-life kinda jive. (Did I just say jive? I’m old, too, I guess). She is comfortable in her own skin. She’s fine with who she is. She’s traveled a lot, she’s educated, she’s found a space of tranquility and she’s embracing it and sharing it. She’s like a boholicious mother earth.

But the best part about this is that the food was delicious. Like freaking delicious. I was skeptical and thought that it would be pretty good, but the stuff we’ve tried (and there are still recipes to go! This cookbook is huge) is amazing. Our favorite and one that we still talk about and fantasize about, is the lemon pepper grilled steak with warm butter herb sauce. It is on page 51 in the “charming European flavors” section. People, it was amazing. Some of the recipes do have ingredients that are not necessarily carried in small grocery stores, but so far I’ve been able to find everything at either my normal big box grocery store or at a more farmer’s markety store like Sprouts.  Other sections include boholicious sauces & spice mixtures, the stunning Mediterranean, Middle Eastern allure, an African excursion, exploring exotic Asia, Caribbean island eats, and side trip escapades.

If you are into cookbooks and would like something a little different than your standard kitchen bibles, this is it. Its fun, it’s pretty, and it is goooooood food.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This cookbook is clean.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Nightingale - Kristin Hannah

Summary: In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can...completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real--and deadly--consequences.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah takes her talented pen to the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France--a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

Summary and pic from

My Review: I don’t know if you saw it or not, but this year’s word of the year was not a word. It was an emoji. An emoji! Seriously, people. What are we coming to? In case you were wondering, this is the emoji that won:
  . It is used to replace LOL. So. For all you old skoolers out there still texting LOL when something particularly funny comes up, you need to stop. STOP! Instead, you can be like all the kool kids and start using emojis.

Speaking of which, since this is a review (and a review of an excellent book, by the way), if I were to describe this book I would use this emoji: 

I promise you that you will find yourself like this in this book—mouth open, tears streaming down, face round and Fitzpatrick Scale default yellow. Okay, maybe not that. But I’m telling you that this book is sad.

One of my favorite genres right now is historical fiction. I love me some historical fiction. I feel like I can learn and experience history while reading about people who experienced it (even if they are just fictional). Really good historical fiction puts you right in the moment—you understand the culture, you feel like you’re part of it, and all of a sudden these parts of the past come alive. This is a book that does this beautifully. The story itself is really touching. It’s heartbreaking, actually (see above emoji), and that alone is enough to trigger steady streams of digital tears. However, one of the things I loved most about this book is that it is World War II on the home front (and in this case, the home front is France), and that home front was basically fought by women. Although these women were not necessarily out traipsing around in uniform and carrying guns, they were fighting the real fight—how do you feed your children with no food? How do you deal with an occupying army? How do you make due with the little that is left? How do you pick up the pieces from your broken men and survivors of the front-line atrocities? This book addresses these situations in a way I haven’t felt since two of my favorite books Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire.

I loved this book because it exposed me to heroism in WWII I didn’t know much about. The story itself is incredible. Hannah is a good writer, too, which makes it all the better. But be warned—as with the war itself, although the Allies won, it was not without loss and sadness. This book explores that (cue emoji).

I rarely give five stars, but I think this book is deserving. It has to be more than just well-written or a good, exciting read. I don’t just hand out five stars because I laughed or cried to an emoji-like state. To get five stars, a book needs to mean something—to change my life in some way. I would say that this book is completely worth the read. I highly recommend it. It also recently won the best historical fiction of 2015 by If you’re working your way down that reading list, be sure to add this one to it.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is about WWII and is therefore violent and sad in a lot of ways. It is not gratuitously or offensively so, however, and is on par with others in its genre.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Attachments - Rainbow Rowell

Summary: "Hi, I'm the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you . . . "

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It's company policy.) But they can't quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.

Meanwhile, Lincoln O'Neill can't believe this is his job now- reading other people's e-mail. When he applied to be "internet security officer," he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers- not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke.

When Lincoln comes across Beth's and Jennifer's messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can't help being entertained-and captivated-by their stories.

By the time Lincoln realizes he's falling for Beth, it's way too late to introduce himself.

What would he say . . . ?
  (Summary and image from

Review:  There are no secrets in the newsroom.  There are fewer secrets when your paranoid bosses employ someone to read any email they deem "inappropriate".  Sometimes, however, friends need to talk, and the risks outweigh the benefits.

Jen and Beth are best friends at work and otherwise.  Jen is trying to decide whether she is ready to be a mother -- her husband is all in.  Beth is desperately waiting for her musician boyfriend to propose, but doesn't know if he ever will. Lincoln is the poor guy, lost in his own right, who's tasked to read their emails and issue whatever warnings are needed  -- but there's a problem.  Lincoln finds himself starting to care about Jen and Beth.  He starts falling in love with Beth - but how do you meet someone you already know?  And how do you do that without scaring them off!?

This is the first book I've ever read by Rowell and I was so happy with it.  I giggled.  I sniffed.  I avoided all grown up responsibility to read, and even my daughter wanted to know the outcome (she's  seven).  I was half expecting dark-and-twisty, brilliant writing because of the hype I'd heard about Eleanor and Park, but that wasn't the case.  This was lighthearted.  This was fun.  It was fun to get back to pre-Y2K literature and the emerging use of emails in people's lives.  It reminded me of You've Got Mail in a way, but at the same time it was entirely original.  

Confession:  I read precisely nothing this summer.  I joke I'm suffering from Maternal Illiteracy - the inability to read a book without jumping up to fix food, fights, vacuum, do dishes, etc.  The struggle is real, people! I've hated not reading - I've felt the panic raising up as I haven't read (reading is my escape), and this was exactly the book I needed to remind me that yes, I CAN in fact read books!

Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Overall, very clean.  Some F bombs, a few drunken scenes, but otherwise, clean!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

If You're So Smart, How Come You Can't Spell Mississippi? - Barbara Esham

Summary: Katie always thought her dad was smart; he is one of the busiest attorneys in town! People are always asking him for advice! She has been a bit confused since asking him for help with her weekly spelling list. How can her very smart dad struggle with one of her spelling words? This definitely didn't make sense. the word Mississippi has changes everything...  Summary and image from

Review:  This is a book that we grabbed on one of those "We have ten minutes and have to get stuff from the library, ready - GO!" library trips.  Oh, you don't have those?  Hm.

Anyway, my kids needed something for their Reading Bingo charts, so we grabbed it and darted off.  They both read it, expecting something silly and lighthearted.  I read it with the same expectations.  Almost immediately, I could tell this was going to exceed my expectations, but I wasn't sure how.  

Esham has done a wonderful job creating an amazingly bright and relatable little protagonist.  She's observant, she's clever, and throughout the book, she comes to learn about dyslexia.  Finding out that her father (the smartest man she knows) had to learn to live with dyslexia opens her eyes to how a little boy in her class may feel.  But more than that, Esham takes our protagonist on an adventure to not only learn more about dyslexia, but to learn about notable scientists and figures who have overcome their challenges with dyslexia to rise to the tops of their fields.

For a book to introduce what many of us consider a learning disability and cast such a positive outcome on it, I was greatly impressed.  There are more books in this series, and if they all handle challenges with this grace, we'll be bringing them home!

Rating: Five stars

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Ndura: Son of the Forest - Javier Salazar Calle

Summary: Chosen as best young adult fiction novel for 2014 in Spain!

When a common normal person, anyone of us, suddenly finds himself or herself in a life-and-death situation in the middle of the forest, would he or she know how to survive?

This is the simple dilemma that is offered to the protagonist of our story, who, returning from a relaxing holiday in Namibia on a typical photographic safari, is involved in an unexpected extreme survival situation in the Ituri forest, in the Republic of Congo in Africa when the plane he was in gets shot down by rebels. A place where Nature is not the only enemy and where survival is not the only problem.

A classic scented adventure which makes this book the perfect place to escape reality and feel within you, the anguish and despair of the hero while facing the challenges he is presented with. This book smoothly blends emotion and tension when faced with the challenge to survive, but also the psychological degradation of the protagonist throughout the story and an in-depth study on the environment, the animals, the plants as well as the people, that the author carried out. It also teaches us that our perception of where our limits lie are usually wrong, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.

This novel comes highly recommended. (Summary and pic from

My Review:  When I requested this book, it had three things going for it: 1) It was chosen as the best young adult fiction novel for 2014 in Spain 2) It outsold Catching Fire in Spain 3) It sounded really exciting! So, first off, let me say that this was a decent read. With all of the awards and acclaim (I mean, it outsold Catching Fire!) I expected something amazing. Well, it was not amazing, but it did have some fun things about it.
                Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is the level of detail. It is incredibly detailed. The story itself is not super complicated—a man is riding in an airplane that crashes and is stuck in a rainforest in the Congo and must survive. Most of the time the details are based on the actual rainforest and the surviving. I was completely impressed by the level of detail, actually. The plants, the animals, the environment, what was happening was all described in great detail, including footnotes of the scientific names. The premise of this book is that the narrator falls asleep and dreams all of this, and yet it is so detailed and so vivid that it felt like a real-life adventure story. I would not have been surprised at all if this was actually a memoir and that the man had actually lived this, because it was imagined in such incredible detail and with such accuracy. It seems like it was uncommonly developed for a book that was just a dream. I really enjoyed that about it. It had the feel of a realistic story, and in fact I have read a book about an adventure where Teddy Roosevelt was captured and lost among the natives in a rainforest and this was very similar in detail and knowledge. It was very apparent that Calle had done his research and had fleshed out the back story, which made for a rich background and a very believable adventure.
                In regard to the writing, it was written in Spanish and then translated. I would not say that this book had the greatest translation in all of literature. I always knew what was going on, everything was very clear, but there were many minor mistakes that would come from a translator whose native language was not English and wasn’t as perfectly accurate as others might be. For instance, there were a few places where the order of words was mixed up, a few dropped s’s here and there, and some incorrect verb tenses. Like I said, it was very understandable and wasn’t a poor translation, per se, but it was certainly not a perfect translation and these mistakes were obvious.
                Now. Do I think that this book should have outsold Catching Fire? Umm…no. Yes, it was adventurous, yes it was an interesting and imaginative story, but it was not gripping-read-it-till-its-done-you-have-to-know-what-happens-at-all-expenses. I can imagine that in Spain, however, with a local author that this book would do well. Its fun to support your countrymen and it is possible that in Spanish it is very beautiful and poignant, although this was missing somewhat because of the translation.  I’m not sure why it was considered a juvenile fiction read as the main character was an adult, but it would be appropriate for a juvenile audience.
                Overall, I would say this is a pretty standard adventure story with lots of detail and research. If you are into true-life adventure stories, this is something you would enjoy.

My Rating: 3 stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is clean, although there are some isolated acts of guerilla war violence.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ella - Jessilyn Stewart Peaslee

Summary:  Reserved yet resilient, Ella Blakeley lives with her cruel stepmother and stepsisters, without hope of escape—until the day Prince Kenton announces a ball that changes everything. Even without mice, magic, or fairy godmothers, Ella might discover a life that’s better than she ever dreamed. This intricately woven twist on Cinderella is an enchanting book you won’t be able to put down. (Summary and image from  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review:  I have to apologize.  I was supposed to publish this review a few weeks ago, but due to shipping circumstances, I didn't receive the book in time.  Once it was in my hands, I have to admit I had a poor attitude about it.  That never turns out well.  The last book I had to rush to review, well, it turned into a mudslinging war with the author that spanned numerous social media sites!

However, even going into this book with a completely sour attitude couldn't stop me from loving it.  It's not perfect, there are too many adjectives for my taste, a few of the villains are too perfectly villainous that it makes their existence a little difficult to swallow, and the prince didn't really have a lot of depth to him.  With that out of the way, let's get to the nitty-gritty.

We all know the story of Cinderella, and so many of its iterations.  But what if the shoe fits someone else, too?  What would Ella do?

Peaslee has taken an amazing and enduring fairy tale and injected it with reality.  Ella, our main character, takes an immense amount of pride in caring for her family home as well as she can.  She sacrifices to keep her stepmother (who may be the most evil iteration I've ever encountered) and her vapid stepsisters alive.  She is resourceful, kind, friendly (and she actually has human friends in the story! That always bothered me in other versions.), but she's real.  She has a temper.  She has fears.  She doesn't love her stepfamily or her treatment, but she does worry about their well-being.  She's part of the community, who don't exactly know what's going on, but they do what they can. 

I really don't want to give too much away.  There was a level of redemption not only for Ella but for her stepmother that brought tears to my eyes.  Their coming to an understanding and forgiveness was beautifully written and created a depth to the story I hadn't expected.  Furthermore, her interactions with the prince were exactly how it should be -- I don't know why no one had ever had this ending before.  It was so perfect.

I know I'm one who loves to give books for gifts at every opportunity.  I have five nieces I wish I could give my copy to -- this is perfect for those dreamy, innocent girls on your list!

Rating: Four and a half stars

For the sensitive reader:  There's an unwelcome kiss scene and the character who instigates it is just a slimy character in general.  But he's a minor one.

Little Miss Sure Shot: Annie Oakley's World - Jeffrey Marshall

Summary: Little Miss Sure Shot is a fictionalized account of the life of Annie Oakley, drawing heavily on the real timelines and events of her life. However, the book is not a biography - it invents situations, people she meets, and a myriad of conversations. Moreover, while the book is presented chronologically, apart from the prologue, it skips certain periods and attempts to focus on those that are especially vital, such as the early years Annie spent with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, including the tours through Europe. A special feature of the novel is the framing of Annie's loving marriage to fellow sharpshooter Frank Butler, whom she married at sixteen and remained married to for 50 years until her death. Frank was far more than just her husband - he was her manager (he gave up his own shooting for that role) and her constant companion. The novel closes with an epilogue in Frank's voice, presenting an overview of their lives together and the circumstances of her death in 1926. (Summary and image from  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review:  Annie Oakley embodies the self-made woman in America.  Born in poverty, she turned to shooting to keep her mother and sisters alive after the death of her father.  She recognized straight off that while her skills were formidable, they were a blessing for her family.  It didn't take long before she was shooting competitively, a move that changed her life, the lives of her family, and the face of America forever.

This is Jeffrey Marshall's first novel, and I don't even know if it could be classified as a true novel.  I've actually tried to find a term to more accurately classify this book, and it's about 90% biography with some fictionalized dialog.  The closest I could come was biographical fiction. Don't get me wrong, this is a quick, fun, easy book to read.  I may be biased because of the subject matter -- I was Annie Oakley for multiple Halloweens as a youth.  But this is a book I could easily and happily turn over to my children if they needed a biography.  

Marshall's research is well done.  There were many scenarios he expounded upon, and some I wish he'd further explored.  While I appreciated the thought that went into this book, I was personally confused by whether this was supposed to be a biography or a novel.  Hence my obsession with properly classifying the book!  That confusion aside, I appreciate that this book is simply written, making this an ideal book for a more reluctant reader or a younger reader with a higher reading level.  

Rating: 3.75 stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Annie Oakley fiercely protected her reputation as a chaste, proper maiden of the Midwest.  While she married young, she makes for a squeaky clean biography!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Creativ: Adventure/Art/Culture/Innovation Vol. 2 Issue 7

Summary: We showcase innovators, explorers, artists, cultural pioneers and powerful changemakers, telling their unique stories through our online hub and one of a kind publication, CREATIV magazine.

(summary and pic from

I was given a free copy of this magazine in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: I think the most noteworthy thing—and therefore the highlight—of this fun little publication is that it is beautiful. The photography is beautiful, the featured stories are beautiful looking and very artistic, and the magazine itself is obviously well put together and very artistic itself. Although it is technically a magazine, I hesitate to call it that because this is not your standard flimsy, gloss-covered publication. This is certainly more of a tabletop book—one that you would leave out for people to browse through and think you’re hip and with it (because you would be, were you to subscribe to this). It certainly lends itself to thumbing through and appreciating the beauty of the photographs and the artistic medium that it is. There are articles to read, but they are short and succinct and it’s definitely the kind of magazine that covers a breadth of information as opposed to delving too deeply into any one topic.

Another thing I really liked about this magazine is that there were very few ads. Those that were there blended in with the publication, and it’s not like I was reading about some-random-drug-and-side-effects alongside the biography of a surfing adventure photographer (an actual article in this magazine!). I understand that magazines have got to pay for themselves and therefore sell ad space, but I was appreciative that this magazine was so streamlined and avoided big coupons for zip-top bags and ads for only-on-TV paraphernalia.

Although I loved reading and looking at this magazine (because I think that it’s strongest point is really its photography—definitely eye candy!) I found it a little unfocused. I understand that it covers a wide variety of creative…erm…creativ topics—adventure/art/culture/innovation—but there was nothing really to tie what was going on together into a cohesive whole. There were people who were artists next to an astronaut girl (probably my favorite) next to a singer next to a climber next to a motivational speaker…all from different countries with different mediums and focuses. These people are awesome and creative—no doubt about it—but I was just wishing for some theme overall. Like maybe this month’s edition would have to do with women adventurers and then go from there. Or have an issue dedicated to creatives from South America. Or an issue dedicated to men who are creating new photography mediums. You get my drift. It just seemed unfocused and like they have a very large file cabinet full of very interesting people and every month they just randomly whip out the files they have on those people, cut them down to very minimal size, jam them all together, and publish. The stories themselves were almost all very short, and left me wanting for more. I would have liked to see more detail about some of the people—their stories, their inspiration, etc. There was some of that in the longer articles, but mostly they were just really short blurbs.

Overall I really enjoyed looking at this magazine. It is beautiful. Even my nine- and seven-year-old boys liked looking through it and talking about the photos. There are some really cool people in here, very few of whom I’d heard about before, so that was fun. If you are looking for a hip tabletop book that looks really cool with a small, low-commitment description of each person and their adventures, but lots of really beautiful, inspiring photos, this is for you.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This particular issue of this magazine was clean. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The BIG Book of Color: An Adventurous Journey into the Magical & Marvelous World of Color! - Walter Foster Jr.

Summary: The Big Book of Color introduces children to the art and science of color through a fun and engaging, easy-to-understand approach. With The Big Book of Color, young artists will be treated to an in-depth exploration of the wonderful world of color through simple step-by-step projects and unique educational content. Commencing with an introduction to color basics, children will learn about the color wheel, complementary colors, warm and cool colors, color mood, and much more. Young artists will also learn how to combine two colors to create new colors. Additionally, they will discover how to use a monochromatic color scheme; pair complementary colors for impact; and all about the various tints, tones, and shades of their favorite colors. The Big Book of Color also invites children to dive into the main color groups and explore the various shades of red, green, blue, yellow, purple, and pink through a range of artwork and a series of colorful, fun step-by-step projects. Myriad creative exercises and projects throughout the book make learning color concepts fun and applicable, while perforated pages make it easy to display new masterpieces. With a plethora of fun projects, easy-to-understand concepts, and pages bursting with color, The Big Book of Color is sure to be a hit for young readers and budding artists everywhere. (Summary and pic from

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: Let me just start off by saying that I have kids. Lots of them. Maybe you have more than I do, but I have four, and I consider that just shy of a small army. Anyway, I am prefacing this whole review with that because I am no kid novice. I know something of children and what they like. I actually do have one kid who is especially talented at art (and yes, I’m completely biased), but the others enjoy it a lot, just like many kids do. So I feel like I’ve been exposed to art and artsy things for kids quite a bit.

So I was ridiculously excited to get this book and guess what? It exceeded my expectations!

First off, it’s beautiful. The cover is really pretty, the colors are bright and fun, and the pictures in the actual book are a vibrant, happy mixture of real photos and drawn. It’s really quite clever and fun. Secondly, this book tackles a lot of information and it does it in a way that I think is both accessible to kids, but is not too basic. For instance, I think it’s too much for my almost-three-year-old, but in a couple of years, I know he’ll love it. My seven-year-old takes art lessons and yet I feel like it had something to teach him even though he’s had quite a bit of exposure to art and color. I read through it first myself, in fact, and although I am no artist, I have been around on this planet for quite a few years and I felt like I still learned some cool things about color while reading it. Foster does a really good job of taking what could possibly be really complex ideas about color and what they can do and how they react with one another and simplifying them to the point that a child can see and understand.

I really liked that this book would teach a concept, show the concept, and then give the kids a chance to try by providing them with places to color or fill in. My only complaint about this book comes here—I wish there was more for them to do at the end of each lesson. I don’t know about your kids, but mine always want to just colorcolorcolor and so when they learn something really cool about color (like they certainly did in this book) they want to colorcolorcolor but there isn’t a lot of places to do that in here.  It is definitely a book that a parent and a child would work on together because it’s more of a teaching than a doing book. That being said, of course they can apply it to other spaces to color outside of this book so it’s not like they’re suffering. Also, this book is pretty substantial so I think it’s a good size and doesn’t really have room for that. My kids were just so inspired! And that, of course, is the point. And a very good thing.

If you are one of those parents who buys activity books for your children (and I’m thinking of the kind that they do over the summer to prepare them for the next grade or for younger children working on learning the alphabet and shapes, etc.), then this is definitely a book I think you would really appreciate. It’s beautiful, it’s educational, and I think it’s really a lot of fun. It seems to be unique in that I haven’t seen another book for teaching kids specifically about color.

My Rating: 5 stars

For the sensitive reader: This is a beautiful, simple, children’s book. It is clean.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Martha Stewart's Appetizers: 200 Recipes for Dips, Spreads, Snacks, Small Plates, and Other Delicious Hors d'Oeuvres, Plus 30 Cocktails - Martha Stewart

Summary: Snacks, Starters, Small Plates, Stylish Bites, and Sips

Hors d’oeuvres made modern: Today’s style of entertaining calls for fuss-free party foods that are easy to make and just as delicious as ever. With more than 200 recipes for tasty pre-dinner bites, substantial small plates, special-occasion finger foods, and quick snacks to enjoy with drinks,Martha Stewart’s Appetizers is the new go-to guide for any type of get-together.

(Summary and pic from

I received a free copy of this book from in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: It’s no surprise to anyone that Martha Stewart knows what she’s doing. I mean, this is not her first rodeo. I firmly believe that Martha has been cooking since she was a wee lass and that she has only gotten better with age. And experience. I mean, really. Have you ever had something of Martha Stewart’s that was terrible? No. She’s pretty much the queen of all things domestic.

This book was pretty much like you’d expect. It was a beautiful hard cover book. I have reviewed quite a few cookbooks and although this one is not as trendy and flashy as some of the others I’ve had, I would say it is definitely classy. Timeless. It’s the kind of book that I may have seen in either the trendiest kitchens or maybe my grandma’s kitchen. And Grandma knew how to cook, peeps. I’m not saying it’s old school. The pictures are nice and descriptive. They’re not bright and vibrant and photo-shopped like a lot of really trendy cookbooks, but I like the timeless look of them. It shows the food, it looks super delicious, and it looks like it’s something I could pull off.

As far as the recipes go, there are lots of classics and then takes on classics. These are appetizers that, without a doubt, will always work. The ones I tried were really good, and the variations were fun and different. The recipes are tried and true favorites, but sometimes it’s fun to have something tried and true with a little twist. People recognize it, it’s nothing shocking, but it’s a fun little twist on what they expected.

I also really enjoyed the little explanations she had before each recipe. I felt like it added to the book without being overly wordy or preachy about a particular appetizer. It also had nice tips about doing things ahead of time and about actually entertaining, which was a nice addition to a book that looks to me like basically the bible of appetizers.

I am giving this book 4.5 stars because it’s beautiful, the food is delicious, and it’s definitely a classic. It loses half a star (so it doesn’t get five stars) because I felt like it was not seriously innovative. It was pretty safe. There were classics, there were twists on classics, and pretty much everything was covered. There was nothing really different or surprising in it. However, I would highly recommend it as a good addition to any cookbook collection. One can only try so many faddy things and then you yearn for something tried and true.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This is yummy, good clean fun. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Where the Red Fern Grows - Wilson Rawls

Summary: For fans of Old Yeller and Shiloh, Where the Red Fern Grows is a beloved classic that captures the powerful bond between man and man’s best friend.
   Billy has long dreamt of owning not one, but two, dogs. So when he’s finally able to save up enough money for two pups to call his own—Old Dan and Little Ann—he’s ecstatic. It doesn’t matter that times are tough; together they’ll roam the hills of the Ozarks.

   Soon Billy and his hounds become the finest hunting team in the valley. Stories of their great achievements spread throughout the region, and the combination of Old Dan’s brawn, Little Ann’s brains, and Billy’s sheer will seems unbeatable. But tragedy awaits these determined hunters—now friends—and Billy learns that hope can grow out of despair, and that the seeds of the future can come from the scars of the past.  (Summary and image from

Review: WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS, is one of the best books I have ever read. I would read it whenever I had free time. By all my free time I mean half of school!
I would recommend it for a person who is wanting a hunting dog. But I'm warning you, the end made me cry.

I would rate this book a full five stars, because of Billy working for two years to get Old Dan and Little Ann by selling minnows, fur, and berries. Also because of his dogs winning many competitions including a beauty contest and a raccoon hunting championship. 

That was my son, Charlie, who recently finished this book.  Since I made him read it, I had to reread it and review it.  

My Review:  I don't care what anyone says, this book is a classic.  It's one of the first books that has ever made me cry (definitely not the last), one of the first books that changed me, and one of the first books I thought I'd shield my son from.  However, we've had a development in our family.  My son recently contracted a serious case of Puppy Fever.   It was bad.  He smuggled the Dog Bible to school and over a few days, he compiled a list of seventeen breeds that interested him.  He researched and researched, narrowed it down, and came to my husband and me with his findings -- he needed a redbone coonhound.  It was a need, not a want.  He started cleaning his room and vacuuming.  He made a bed for his puppy.  We told him that if he wanted to even consider a coonhound, he had to read this book.  So we tried to get it for him. 

In the meantime, my husband, who has had Puppy Fever for a while, found a redbone breeder a few hours from us.  She has a good reputation, and we contacted her to see if we could just expose our kids to the breed, since we've never seen one in real life before.  As you may have guessed, I lost my mind on the way to the breeder's and we came home with our own little redbone coonhound puppy.

Charlie devoured Where the Red Fern Grows once it arrived.  He'd smuggle his puppy into his room, cheat on his bedtime, and read.  He was entranced.  Without my knowing, he took it to school. And when he said he cried, he did.  He snuggled his pup, he climbed into my lap and felt all of the emotions that this stupid book inflicts upon its readers.  And then he asked me for another puppy.  (I didn't feel bad saying no.)

Can I just say, this last week has made reading this darn book that much harder?  I sat down to read, and this warm, wiggling little red doggy came and curled up against my leg to chew her bone.  I don't know if it was the presence of a coonhound, or the fact that I'm now a mother, but I cried my makeup off before the final showdown.  I love how simply written this book is.  It is so easy to imagine that I'm sitting next to a roaring fire in a cabin listening to my grandfather tell this story.  And it doesn't matter how many times I read this book, I get choked up when Billy finally gets his pups.  I get excited during their first hunt.  I want to go watch Ol' Dan and Lil' Ann do their thing.  It makes me want to explore the Ozarks.  

There's no denying that this book is a classic.  I don't know anyone who hasn't cried and fallen in love with this trio.  It's heartbreaking, it's uplifting, it's simple and beautiful and holds a more special place in my heart now that we have our own little coonhound running around.  This is a book that will never become outdated.

Rating: Five stars.  I'm with my son on this one.

For the Sensitive Reader:  There is an altercation between two bullies and Billy that ends in the death of one of the boys.  Billy has a run-in with some town kids.  And the last scenes -- you will need tissues.  It's hard to read and never gets easier.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Manhattan Mayhem: New Crime Stories from Mystery Writers of America - various authors

Summary: Best-selling suspense novelist Mary Higgins Clark invites you on a tour of Manhattan’s most iconic neighborhoods in this anthology of all-new stories from the Mystery Writers of America. From the Flatiron District (Lee Child) and Greenwich Village (Jeffery Deaver) to Little Italy (T. Jefferson Parker) and Chinatown (S.J. Rozan), you’ll encounter crimes, mysteries, and riddles large and small. Illustrated with iconic photography of New York City and packaged in a handsome hardcover, Manhattan Mayhem is a delightful read for armchair detectives and armchair travelers alike!

Summary and pic from

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: Back in high school (insert old fogey joke here at your own peril) I loved honors and AP English when we would reach short stories. I loved the compilation textbooks we had. Each story was so interesting and had a really succinct way of capturing life. I still remember reading those stories and occasionally I’ll run in to one of those stories and have one of those happy nostalgic moments that come from encountering something pleasant and familiar.

But somewhere along the way, I lost my passion for most short stories.

You see, I actually really enjoy reading cool short stories. There is an art to being able to say what you need to say in a short amount of time. Anyone can blather on and on about something and eventually get to their point, but there is something about being able to boil a story down to its core and still not lose the magic and the good writing. However, for the most part, I think that most people don’t do that well, and therefore, I don’t read short story compilations very often.

And then I saw this book, saw that it was a mystery writers’ book (‘cause how fun is that!) and that I recognized a lot of the authors (Mary Higgins Clark! Lee Child!) and I was intrigued. I am happy to report that I actually really, really enjoyed it. It was so fun to read all the different stories. And they are all really different, too. The only theme is that they are part of the prestigious Mystery Writers of America, and the stories must take place in New York, so with parameters like that, you know that it will vary from traditional to vintage to super modern to historical and everything in between. Now, as with all compilations, some of the stories are better than others. Some of the authors are better than others (although everyone in this compilation is a best seller and very prolific, so it’s not like I was reading drivel ever). With the shortness of the stories the mysteries couldn’t be too complicated, although some of them were definitely able to get a lot done in a short amount of time. The great thing about reading a book from authors of this caliber is that everyone is able to bring something to the table—the stories were interesting, they were scathing, and it was a really, really fun read. I loved being able to sit down and just enjoy a few minutes of a small little mystery. It wasn’t a huge commitment, I didn’t have to remember lots of details to figure out whodunit, and the writing was good.  I also loved that these stories all took place in New York. They were all really different, and it really showcased the diversity (both in time and place) of New York and the people there.

One of my favorite stories was “Three Little Words” by Nancy Pickard. It had a delicious little twist at the end. But don’t miss Mary Higgins Clark’s story, “The Five Dollar Dress,” either. It’s got a really fun premise. Actually, I really liked all of the stories.

Seriously, it surprised me how much I enjoyed this. I expected to enjoy it, mind you, because I like mysteries and I like many of these authors, but I wasn’t sure about the short story aspect of it. I’m happy to report that it was just a really fun ride and if you like mysteries and mystery authors, you should definitely check it out.

My Rating: 4 stars.

For the sensitive reader: This book would be rated PG. There wasn’t much language, sexual content, or violence, but it isn’t squeaky clean.


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