Friday, June 14, 2019

SUMMER BREAK in 3....2.....1!

School's out for summer! 

It's that time of year where we here at Reading For Sanity worry a little less about making review deadlines and a little more about keeping up with our family's fun summer plans.  We hope you have a great summer break and will see you in September!  You can still contact us on FB if you have any questions!  Until then, stay sane and read on! 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

10 Fantastic Read-Aloud Children's Books to Help Build Self-Esteem and Encourage Kindness

One of my favorite memories as a kid is of my mother reading to me and now that I am a parent I try to carry on that tradition with my four darling daughters.  I have found that some of my favorite children's books (and some of my children's favorite books) are the ones that also help build self-confidence and promote kindness.  

I decided it might be a good idea to pass some of those titles on to you, in case you think a little extra confidence and kindness is something your kiddos need.  Here are 10 titles, in no particular order, that we feel fit the bill quite nicely.  (Pssst...if we have reviewed them, we linked title.)

You are Special by Max Lucado

The Crayon Box that Talked by Shane Derolf

Remarkably You by Pat Zietlow Miller

I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont

The Porcupine Named Fluffy by Helen Lester

Chrysanthemum - Kevin Henkes

Oh, the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss

Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud

A Bad Case of Stripes - David Shannon

"The more that you read, the more things you will know.  
The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." - Dr. Seuss

We hope you found something here to love!  Happy READING!!

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Mother-in-Law - Sally Hepworth

Summary: Someone once told me that you have two families in your life - the one you are born into and the one you choose. Yes, you may get to choose your partner, but you don't choose your mother-in-law. The cackling mercenaries of fate determine it all.

From the moment Lucy met Diana, she was kept at arm's length. Diana is exquisitely polite, but Lucy knows, even after marrying Oliver, that they'll never have the closeness she'd been hoping for.

But who could fault Diana? She was a pillar of the community, an advocate for social justice, the matriarch of a loving family. Lucy had wanted so much to please her new mother-in-law.

That was ten years ago. Now, Diana has been found dead, leaving a suicide note. But the autopsy reveals evidence of suffocation. And everyone in the family is hiding something...

From the bestselling author of The Family Next Door comes a new page-turner about that trickiest of relationships. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I think one of the most fascinating things to read about is complex family relationships. I myself don’t have particularly complex family relationships. I mean, every family is complex in its own way, but I feel like that mine is pretty standard as far as complex relationships go. However, I do have some extended family relationships on both sides (not directly involving me) that are very complicated, and although I totally agonize and sympathize with these people, it’s also fascinating to watch. When I meet someone I consider to be a little unstable in my life, I can’t help but think that that person is someone’s family and they’re having to deal with them all of the time, whereas I can just choose to keep them on the periphery or, if forced to, only interact with them as needed. But if you’re family, it’s kind of hard not to be deeply engaged in all the fiascos that one unstable person can bring. So after that long preamble, you can see why this book would be an interesting read for me.

There is perhaps no greater difficulty than learning to adjust to getting along with in-laws. Even people with great in-laws (like me) go through some sort of adjustment phase because the family comes with baggage—they’re already a family, and all of a sudden they’re your family and are deeply ingrained in your life in all sorts of ways. Depending on the people, this can go smoothly or it can be pretty rough. I would say that the characters in this book had it pretty rough. Here is one thing that I really liked about the book, though, and that is that the chapters were written for different characters, and that made for a particularly fascinating insight into the family relationships and difficulties. It’s one thing to see things from one narrator; it’s completely different to see it from the sides of all involved. It certainly gives a depth to the situation that only one narrator can’t offer. Although this book wasn’t deeply intellectual or anything, I did appreciate the awareness it brought to a situation when more than one narrator was weighing in on what happened. It reminded me that in my own life, there’s always more than one side to the story. That’s trite and obvious, but it’s true, and yet so easily forgettable (even though everyone is always saying it).

I always love a good murder mystery. This one had the benefit of having a good mystery without all the blood and gore that sometimes goes with the murder. That was nice, because although I do enjoy a good murder mystery, sometimes I also enjoy skipping over the extreme details of the violence that occurred or what the people had to endure at the end. I may like murder, but I’m no monster. If you also like murder mysteries but want something a little less intense than some of the serious blood and gore that is out there, this is a good book to check out.

I read this book quickly. The writing style was effortless and easy to read. It wasn’t remarkable in that it was literary genius or anything, but was pleasant and helped the story move right along. I didn’t feel like the characters were super developed or really complex (it is not a very long book, really) but there was enough substance there that I cared about them and what happened in the story. There were also enough nuances in the characters’ peripheral lives that it kept things interesting and the plot moving right along. I quite enjoyed it.

If you are into books that deal with family drama and relationships, or into clean murder mysteries, this is one you might enjoy. It will be a nice summer read as it’s not too long and not too complex. You could read it while enjoying a vacation or just relaxing.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and brief and mild discussions of sex.

Friday, June 7, 2019

I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban - Malala Yousafzi with Christina Lamb

Summary: When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out.  Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.  In October 2012, when she was fifteen, Malala almost paid the ultimate price.  She was shot in the head while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.  Instead, Malala's heroic recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistanto the halls of the United Nations in New York.  At sixteen, she emerged as a global symbol of peaceful protest.  A year later she became the youngest recipient ever of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Hailed by the Associated Press for its "arresting detail," I am Malala will make readers believe in the power of one person's voice to inspire change in the world.  (Summary from back of book - Image from

My Review:  At face value, I am Malala is about a young Pakistani girl named Malala Yousafzai and her life before and after she is shot in the head by the Taliban.  That, by itself, would be a rather compelling tale (and it was), but I am Malala covers so much more ground.  Aside from her story, it is also an impassioned treatise on the importance of education and women's rights and an appeal to speak out in the face of injustice, regardless of the consequence.  

I am Malala unveils a very different Pakistan from the one I have seen on television or read about on the news.  Through Malala's perspective, I discovered a magnificent country with a rich culture, vibrant population, and turbulent history.  She adores her Swat valley with an intensity and pride that rivals most New Yorkers' attachment to the Big Apple and, like most people, just wants to live in peace in the land of her ancestors with the same rights and freedoms to which we are all entitled.  Throughout the book, Malala speaks longingly of the beauty of her homeland and the horror of watching it become ravaged by war.  She also gave interesting insight into the traditions of her Pashtun culture, local history, and the complexities of regional politics.  Malala's story clarifies the experience of everyday people simply trying to live their lives, caught in the middle of a brawl between a militant faction of their own religion, a generally corrupt government, and the might of the US military.  As such, it brought the brutality of the Taliban and the casualties of the war on terror into focus in a way that is hard to ignore or forget.

Malala is a force of nature -- fierce, determined, independent, intelligent, and wise beyond her years.  Sure, she fights with her brothers and obsesses over Twilight, but she was also was reading Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time at age eleven while standing up to the Taliban.  So, clearly, she's amazing.  I think Malala can credit at least a small part of her fearlessness and tenacity to her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, who always fostered those qualities and respected and believed in her regardless of her gender/age.  In a culture that is sometimes accused of not valuing it's women, Malala's father never expected less from her, and I truly admire him for it.  

Malala's spirituality was especially meaningful to me.  I learned a lot about the Muslim religion from this book and gained new understanding regarding the beliefs of everyday Muslims and how they differ from the extremist factions of the faith that proclaim jihad and manufacture terror.  I appreciate that clarification and wish more people understood it.  Though we come from different faiths, it became clear that what we had in common was what really mattered.  One of my favorite aspects of this book was the snippets of wisdom (some spiritual, others secular) scattered throughout.  Here are a few examples:  
  • One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.
  • Don't accept good things from bad people.
  • If people were silent, nothing would change.
  • You must speak the truth.  The truth will abolish fear.
  • Don't be afraid.  If you're afraid you can't move forward.
  • At night our fear is strong...but in the morning, in the light we find our courage again.

Here are a few longer ones as well:
  • In my heart was the belief that God would protect me.  If I am speaking for my rights, for the rights of girls, I am not doing anything wrong.  It's my duty to do so.  God wants to see how we behave in such situations. ...If one man...can destroy everything, why can't one girl change it?... I prayed to God every night to give me strength.
  • My father used to say the people of Swat and the teachers would continue to educate our children until the last room, the last teacher and the last student was alive.  My parents never once suggested I should withdraw from school, ever.  Though we loved school, we hadn't realized how important education was until the Taliban tried to stop us.  Going to school, reading, and doing our homework wasn't just a way of passing time, it was our future. 
  • I began to see that the pen and the words that come from it can be much more powerful than machine guns, tanks or helicopters.  We were learning how to struggle.  And we were learning how powerful we are when we speak.
  • Once I had asked God for one or two extra inches in height, but instead he made me as tall as the sky, so high that I could not measure myself. giving me this height to reach people, he has also given me great responsibilities.  Peace in every home, every street, every village, every country -- this is my dream.  
I am Malala is a fervent plea for education on behalf of the world's women, a fascinating historical account, and a useful guide on standing for what's right, overcoming trials, and finding gratitude in unexpected places.  Ultimately, this not just Malala's story (however well told).  It is also is the story of everyday people who, in their own ways, stood up for what's right and said ENOUGH.  I highly recommend it.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Some descriptions of atrocities committed by the Taliban, ruling government of Pakistan, and US military.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Department of Sensitive Crimes - Alexander McCall Smith

Summary: In the Swedish criminal justice system, certain cases are considered especially strange and difficult, in Malm�, the dedicated detectives who investigate these crimes are members of an elite squad known as the Sensitive Crimes Division. 

These are their stories.

The first case: the small matter of a man stabbed in the back of the knee. Who would perpetrate such a crime and why? Next: a young woman's imaginary boyfriend goes missing. But how on earth do you search for someone who doesn't exist? And in the final investigation: eerie secrets that are revealed under a full moon may not seem so supernatural in the light of day. No case is too unusual, too complicated, or too, well insignificant for this squad to solve.

The team: Ulf 'the Wolf" Varg, the top dog, thoughtful and diligent; Anna Bengsdotter, who's in love with Varg's car (and possibly Varg too); Carl Holgersson, who likes nothing more than filling out paperwork; and Erik Nykvist, who is deeply committed to fly fishing.

With the help of a rather verbose local police officer, this crack team gets to the bottom of cases other detectives can't or won't bother to handle. Equal parts hilarious and heartening, The Department of Sensitive Crimes is a tour de farce from a true master. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I really love Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe series. The first book in that series (and by this point there are 19 out, and #20 is on the way so you know I’m not the only one who likes them) is the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. It takes place in Botswana for the most part and features the lovely and infinitely wise Precious Ramotswe. She is a treat to read about and I love the books. They are so warm and just lovely. McCall Smith as several other series that are also very popular, but I haven’t read them yet. When I saw that he had this new series coming out featuring Detective Varg, I thought I would try it out.

One of my fave things about McCall Smith is he really seems to have the pulse on human nature. I find that his insights are spot on and often written about in a way that I hadn’t thought of before. They’re rarely earth-shattering, but more like a quiet gem of wisdom that leaves me feeling like maybe I’m not alone in thinking or doing what I do. He really is magical that way. There was quite a bit of that in this book, as I would assume is also par for the course in his other books. It certainly is in the Precious Ramotswe series, but since that’s the only series I’ve read, I wasn’t sure. Now I’m thinking that knowing the human psyche better than it knows itself is one of his specialties.

Like the Precious Ramotswe series, these are big mysteries that are made to feel small in the grand scheme of things. That isn’t to say that McCall Smith is belittling to people’s problems, but he is able to step back and see that these are big problems with big consequences, but address them in a way that makes the reader feel like even a most hopeless situation is not a lost cause. It doesn’t always end up really well for everyone, but there is a certain point of resolution that feels satisfying, even if it isn’t necessarily the way the reader thought it would end.

My biggest complaint about this book is that it is very similar to the Precious Ramotswe series. It didn’t feel new at all. Yes, the main character is a man (and so I’m thinking maybe this is the Precious Ramotswe series for men?) and it takes place in Sweden and in an official government capacity (whereas Precious is a private detective) but other than that, it felt very similar. In fact, I would say that Detective Varg is a very similar personality to Precious. Now, is this bad? Not necessarily. I love Precious Ramotswe. It just wasn’t original, and also, the fact that it was new means that I didn’t feel as connected or the stories as developed as the ones in No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. I wouldn’t say the book was boring, but the quiet manner in which McCall Smith writes is such that a rich history over, say, 20 books, really adds to the characters and the stories, whereas this is new and didn’t have a lot to add in that department. That being said, that doesn’t mean that this series doesn’t have places to go that will be very different from the other series. It is entirely possible that this is a gateway book to hook readers like me who love Precious into a new series. We shall see.

If you are a fan of Alexander McCall Smith, I think you should certainly check this out. If you’ve never read anything he’s done, I definitely think you should. He’s a truly great author with a really unique, insightful writing style that I find delightful.

My Review: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some very mild and vague discussion of adult topics, but it is clean.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Order of the Majestic - Matt Myklusch

Disclaimer: The only writing I've done since January have been emails home. The only reading I've done has been curriculum or assigned reading. And I'm sorry, no one should have to read 1984 or Hamlet four times in two weeks!! It fries the brain.

Hug your ELA teachers. And please forgive this review - I'm finding my review feet again!

SummaryFans of Brandon Mull and James Riley will love this action-packed, accessible fantasy story about one kid’s journey to discover magic as he’s caught up in an epic battle between two powerful ancient orders.

Twelve-year-old daydreamer Joey Kopecky’s life has been turned upside down. After acing a series of tests, he’s declared a genius and awarded a full scholarship at a special (year-round!) school. He’s understandably devastated, until he takes one last test, and the room around him disappears, replaced by the interior of an old theater.

There, Joey meets the washed-up magician, Redondo the Magnificent, and makes a shocking discovery…magic is real, but sadly, there isn’t much left in the world. It may be too late to save what little remains, but for the first time in his life Joey wants to try—really try—to do something big. Soon he’s swept up into a centuries-old conflict between two rival societies of magicians—the Order of the Majestic, who fights to keep magic alive and free for all, and the dark magicians of the Invisible Hand, who hoard magic for their own evil ends.

The endless battle for control of magic itself has reached a tipping point. For Redondo and the Order to survive, Joey must inherit the lost legacy of Harry Houdini. Will he prove himself worthy, or will the Invisible Hand strike him down? The answer will depend on Joey’s ability to believe, not just in magic, but in himself. (Summary and image from I was provided a book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Why is it that the ones who don't want to be seen as geniuses are typically the ones who are? Such is the case with Joey - he swears he's not that smart, he's just cracked the code to answering questions. That being said, he does recognize that he sees things differently. That ability to see things differently is what sets him apart, both in his real life and in the magical battlefield he finds himself.

This is a fun book. Magic is hard to take too seriously, and Myklush doesn't fall into the trap of attempting to do so. His characters have growing room (and growing pains) despite their age and ability, and it's refreshing to see that development. Further, I can't begin to sing the praises of having involved and caring parents in a book. Could they be more involved? Yes. But it's the Max and Ruby type of involvement -- they're probably very involved, but our middle grade kids totally don't see that! 

I really haven't had the opportunity to read books since January (part of the perils of teaching school), so I had to be very selective of what I did choose to read for leisure. This was the perfect vacation book. I flew through it on a plane ride, thoroughly enjoyed my reading experience, and didn't feel cheated by the story or the characters. Joey is a good kid. His friends are real and any one of them is fully capable of being the hero if needed. His mentor is acerbic, gruff, and real.  He honestly reminded me of the teachers we all had - the ones we were convinced hated us, but who we learned more from in a week than years with any other. 

Rating: Four stars

For the sensitive reader: Magic. And a few deaths.  


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