Fablehaven #4 Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary

Fablehaven #4 Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary by Brandon Mull
(Summary taken from the back of the book) “Two hidden artifacts have been found. More preserves face destruction as the Society of the Evening Star relentlessly pursues new talismans. Desperate to stop them, Kendra discovers the location of the key to a vault housing one of the artifacts in Patton’s Journal of Secrets. In order to retrieve the key, the Knights of the Dawn must enter a death trap–a dragon sanctuary called Wyrmroost. Will anyone who enters the sanctuary make it out alive? Or have Kendra and Seth finally gotten in too deep?”
Brandon Mull keeps getting better. His writing is advancing and so are his twists and turns. I am hooked. This book has been my favorite (did I say that about the last one?) so far. Seth drives me crazy. Seriously. I am way too much like Kendra…a rule follower….I go crazy every time Seth moves or speaks. Ahhhhh. But I digress. I really liked this book. It actually surprised me a couple of times. I did not predict the twist at the end. There is action and romance and suspense. There are dragons and giants and all sorts of other magical creatures. I definitely recommend this book, especially if you have read the previous three and enjoyed them. Now my only problem is finding a copy of #5 to read!
Rating: PG-PG 13 (Dark, some gruesome and gory parts, and there is a death of a main character)
Recommendation: I will still allow my third grader to read this book, but it is a little more gory and dark than the previous books. There are some scary parts and some gruesome parts as well. One of the main characters dies, which I didn’t like. I guess there was a death in the previous book as well, but it wasn’t a character you felt as close to. I’ll definitely talk to my son about what happened and hopefully debrief him a bit. 8-9 and up, depending on the child and his maturity.

Plain Truth

Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult
(Summary taken from inside the book jacket) “The discovery of a dead infant shakes Lancaster County to its core. But the police investigation leads to a more shocking disclosure: Circumstantial evidence suggests that 18-year-old Katie Fisher, an unmarried Amish woman believed to be the mother, took the newborn’s life. When Ellie Hathaway, a big-city attorney, comes to Paradise, Pennsylvania, to defend Katie, two cultures collide–and for the first time in her career, Ellie faces a system of justice very different from her own. Delving deep inside the world of those who live “plain,” Ellie must find a way to reach Katie. And as she unravels a tangled murder case, Ellie also looks deep within–to confront  her own fears and desires when a man from her past reenters her life.”
I found this book very interesting. It is different from what I thought it would be, and it pulls at many different emotions. On the one hand, I believed what Katie said had happened, and on the other I didn’t. Haha. I just couldn’t decide. I liked the characters in the book, except for Katie’s father. I think Ms. Picoult did a good job of creating the characters and making you feel like you know them. I thought she did a good job developing the story and it did have a few twists that I didn’t expect. I did, in the end, figure out the mystery, but (I’m not going to give anything away here so this may be kind of vague) I couldn’t decide how I wanted to take it. I don’t think I can believe this person capable of murder, so I want to believe that what Ellie’s case showed was truly the case, but that this person was……ohhhh I guess I can’t say this without giving it away. Bummer. If you want to know, email me…. Anyway, I liked this book. It was a fairly easy read and it was entertaining and thoughtful. There was a little too much language in it for me, I think she used the “f” word at least once, maybe twice. She also took the Lord’s name in vain a couple of times. If that’s not okay with you then I would say don’t read it. I could have also done without some of the “physical intimacy” scenes. The whole plot revolves around premarital and unprotected relations, but there are only one or two times where it is described.
Rating: R (Remember, the R rating does not follow a movie’s R rating, it just means it is not appropriate for anyone younger than college). Language and physical intimacy.
Recommendation: College and up (The language mostly, but also the physical intimacy scenes, make this inappropriate for anyone younger than college. It’s sad because it could be used to show teenagers the consequences of their actions, but I think it is just too much.)

Exploring the Connection Between Mormons and Masons

Exploring the Connection Between Mormons and Mason by Matthew B. Brown
(Summary taken from the inside book jacket) “Why did Joseph Smith become a Freemason? Who introduced Freemasonry into Nauvoo, Illinois, in the early 1840’s? Do the Masons really descend from the stonemasons who built King Solomon’s temple? Is there an ancient relationship between the Masonic lodge rites and the Mormon temple ordinances? The subject of Joseph Smith and Freemasonry sparks a wide range of responses among Latter-day Saints, from curiosity to suspicion to outright excitement. In this helpful guide, trusted LDS scholar Matthew B. Brown clearly and skillfully addresses the subject’s history, theology, traditional understanding, and myths. Readers will consider provocative questions as well as meaningful scriptural patterns and interfaith connections. With research ranging from the particular to the panoramic, this volume offers engaging, edifying exploration of the relationship between Freemasonry and the blessings of the House of the Lord, and early Christianity and the practices of biblical times.”
I’m not a crazy conspiratorial person, but the Masons have always intrigued me. I wanted to read this book because it sounded interesting. It actually was. I had no idea that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Hyrum Smith, and other early apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were Masons. My knowledge of the Masons came mostly from the History channel documentaries and Dan Brown’s books. I knew that some of the symbols of both groups were similar, but I didn’t know what they meant to the Masons. This book is very thorough and well researched. It is easy to understand and well-laid out. I found it engaging and informational. I liked it and I learned a lot about Masons and their symbols, their history, and some of their members who were prominent in the early LDS church. I would recommend this book to those of either group who would like to learn more. Yes, I would recommend this book. It dispels many common myths and helps to find the truth.
Rating: PG
Recommendation: High School and Up

Fablehaven #3 Grip of the Shadow Plague

Fablehaven #3 Grip of the Shadow Plague by Brandon Mull
(Summary taken from the back book cover) “Very strange things are afoot at Fablehaven. Someone or something has released a plague that transforms beings of light into creatures of darkness. Seth discovers the problem early, but as the infectious disease spreads, it becomes clear that the preserve cannot hold out for long. In dire need of help, the Sorensons question where to turn. The Sphinx has always given sound advice–but is he a traitor? Inside the Quiet Box, Vanessa might have information that could lead to a cure–but can she be trusted? Meanwhile, Kendra and members of the Knights of the Dawn must journey to a distant preserve and retrieve another hidden artifact. Will the Society of the Evening Star recover it first? Will the plague eclipse all light at Fablehaven?”
Okay, I have to admit…..I think he finally got me. I liked the last book, but this one is much better. I think Mull has finally caught me….dare I say I might be excited about reading #4??? There is still that young adult flair to the book, but it is much better written and is fun. The whole plague thing really got to me….At this point I am glad I stuck with the series. I almost didn’t even read #2, but since my kids wanted to read them I decided I better keep going. Mull’s writing is getting better and there is more of that spark that keeps me reading. It is still really clean and there is enough excitement to keep the younger kids reading, which I love. I definitely recommend this book. It would be a good read-aloud as well.
Rating: PG (My 7 year-old is reading it. It is a stretch for him, so I keep asking him questions to make sure he understands, but he really likes it. My 8 year-old breezed right through and loved it.) There are monsters and some evil creatures and action with those, but it is good, clean fun!
Recommendation: As a read-aloud I would say 6, maybe 5 if you have a more mature 5 year-old. This is great for 2nd, 3rd, and up to read on their own. I recommend any series that is clean and fun and gets kids reading, and this book does that!  I enjoyed it as an adult so I’d recommend it to my friends for a fun, easy read.

The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson Book #1) by Rick Riordan

(Summary taken from the back of the book) “Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school…again. And that’s the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy’s Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he’s angered a few of them. Zeus’s master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect. Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus’s stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warms him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.”

This is a young adult book. It is a fun and easy read. I read it to my kids and they LOVED it! They are downstairs right now playing “Percy Jackson.” It’s great and I love it! I love stories that draw kids in and make them enjoy reading. I liked it myself, even. I liked how Riordan brings boring Greek mythology to life in this modern era. Mount Olympus right above New York City??? Awesome! There was suspense, mystery, action, betrayal, sword fighting, and monsters. What could be better???  I would definitely recommend this book. I wouldn’t quite put it up with Harry Potter, but close. Like I said before, I love books that pull kids in, and this one does just that….plus it’s fun for me too!

Rating: PG  (6 and up) My 4 year-old heard bits and pieces and wasn’t too interested. She didn’t understand a lot of it. It is a great read-aloud. There are some parts where I could tell they may have understood it better if they had seen the writing and so I did show them, but for the most part it was a great read-aloud. My 8 year-old could have read it by himself. He would have understood most of it. He would be able to read the words, but complete comprehension??? I don’t know. There were gods’ names that I didn’t know how to pronounce. The mythology is a little over their heads. They had no idea what the River Styx was or the Underworld or even Mount Olympus. For that reason I was glad I read it to them. I think they would have understood most of it but things like those I mentioned above are important pieces to the story so if they don’t know what they are then they won’t grasp the whole meaning. There is some monster violence but no profanity. Great for kids.

Recommendation: Third Grade and Up. If your third grader is reading it alone, a lesson on mythology is a must! Also, help with pronunciation would also be helpful.

No Apology

No Apology: The Case for American Greatness by Mitt Romney
(Summary taken from the inside book jacket) “In No Apology, Mitt Romney asserts that American strength is essential–not just for our own well-being, but for the world’s. Nations such as China and a resurgent Russia threaten to overtake us on many fronts, and violent Islamism continues its dangerous rise. Drawing on history for lessons on why great powers collapse, Romney shows how and why our national advantages have eroded. From the long-term decline of our manufacturing base, our laggard educational system that has left us without enough engineers, scientists, and other skilled professionals, our corrupted financial practices that have led to the current crisis, and the crushing impact of entitlements on our future obligations, America is over-leveraged, overtaxed, and in some respects, overconfident in the face of the challenges we must address.”
This is the first book I have ever read that was written by a politician. And, full disclosure, I voted for Mitt Romney in the 2008 presidential election, and my brother worked for his campaign. I really liked this book. It scared me a lot in some regards, but it was engaging and interesting. I nodded my head in agreement at some points and shook my head in others. The statistics he gives are staggering though. For example, “In the 1960’s, when the War on Poverty was launched, 7 percent of American children were born out of wedlock. Today, almost 40 percent of our children are born to unwed mothers. As noted earlier, among African Americans, that figure is almost 70 percent…” Wow. I like a lot of his ideas to help make us stronger. Whether or not you agree with his politics, the statistics that he gives really make you think.
I would recommend this book. I think it’s good for all of us to start engaging in honest, good discussions (not screaming matches) about what we believe. If we all work together and really listen to each other I bet we agree more than we think we do. There is not enough listening and understanding going on right now. I am glad I read this book because it helps me think of my life in broader terms. I’m not just a mom, wife, sister, daughter, etc., I am an American citizen and I am proud of our country. Okay, there you go…if you don’t want to read his book I would recommend reading a book by a politician you agree with. If we get all these ideas together then we can come up with a solution that is good for all of us.
Rating: PG-13 (No language or violence, but the premise of some of it is too much for younger readers.)
Recommendation:  High School and up (It might be okay for a mature junior high student, it would be a parent’s choice.)

Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
(Summary taken from the back cover of the book) “A fascinating and deeply personal look at the lives of six defectors from the repressive totalitarian regime of the Republic of North Korea…[Barbara Demick] draws out details of daily life that would not otherwise be known to Western eyes…As she reveals, ‘ordinary’ life in North Korea by the 1990’s became a parade of horrors, where famine killed millions, manufacturing and trade virtually ceased, salaries went unpaid, medical care failed, and people became accustomed to stepping over dead bodies lying in the streets. Her terrifying depiction of North Korea from the night sky, where the entire area is blacked out from failure of the electrical grid, contrasts vividly with the propaganda on the ground below urging the country’s worker-citizens to believe that they are the envy of the world…[Her] six characters reveal the emotional and cultural turmoil that finally caused each to make the dangerous choice to leave. As Demick weaves their stories together with the hidden history of the country’s descent into chaos, she skillfully re-creates these captivating and moving personal journeys.”
This book is heart-wrenching. It is eye-opening and heart-wrenching. I have always known about Kim Jong-il and his father and their totalitarian regimes, but I had NO idea the effect on the people there. I knew they had food shortages, but I had no idea how many people died because of lack of food. And NO electricity. The satellite picture she shows of the difference between North and South Korea is very telling. Learning about each of these individuals and their families made me so emotional and  very attached. I cried when she described how the children lived and died. I am very glad, yet not so glad, that I read this book. I like being informed about the world and its happenings so that makes me glad I read it. However, now that I know the plight of the North Korean people I almost feel obligated to help. How can you know this is happening and just continue to look the other way? On the other hand, what in the world would I be able to do about it? This question kept me up all last night. I was so emotional after I finished that I could not sleep, so I thought about this for a long time. I decided that there isn’t much I can do besides maybe writing to my senators and congressmen, or maybe talking to a humanitarian aid program. What I can do, though, is to make sure this never happens here in the United States. I now feel more obligated to give more food to foodbanks and more help to homeless shelters. As a teacher I want to do more to help illiteracy. I would also like to become a bit more involved in politics to keep more of an eye on our government (no matter who is in charge). I hope I can do a little more of this because sometimes I get passionate and then two weeks later I forget. I don’t want to forget.  My husband gets mad at me for always taking on more than I can handle, and I do worry about that because I am already involved with my kids’ school, but I think if we all give just a little we can do a lot of good. Anyway, I got off track. I would definitely recommend reading this book. If nothing else it will give you such a sense of gratitude for whatever your situation may be, because even if you are poor in the U.S. that would make you wealthy in North Korea. I am very thankful to be here in this blessed country. Our government may not be perfect, but we have so much, and we can work to fix what we think is broken.
Rating: PG-13 (It is really hard to read. There is so much death, disease, and emotion. There is poverty and very blunt descriptions of the realities in North Korea.)
Recommendation: 18 and up. I think it would be great for an 18-year-old to read with his or her parents. It would be a good time to discuss our rights and privileges, and also to discuss how we can help those around us.

Believing Christ

Believing Christ by Stephen E. Robinson
(Summary taken from the book jacket) “In Believing Christ, Stephen E. Robinson eloquently discusses the marvelous news of the gospel: what Jesus Christ has done for us. Using examples from people’s lives and modern-day analogies and parables to illustrate scriptural principles, he explains the doctrines of atonement, grace, justification, salvation, and perfection so clearly and understandably one need never be confused by them again. ‘The good news of the gospel is good news to me not because it promises that other people who are better than I am can be saved, but because it promises that I can be saved–wretched, inadequate, and imperfect me. And until I accept that possibility, …I have not really accepted the good news of the gospel.'”

I remember when this book came out and everyone read it and said how good it was….except for me. For some reason I never read it, and I wish I had. This book is amazing! My whole life I have felt guilty about not being able to do everything in the gospel perfectly all the time (let’s just say…family history). After reading this I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I now know that it is okay if I’m not perfect at family history right now as long as I am doing my best. As long as I try my hardest and do my best, and continually stretch myself just a little, then I know I will be okay. Wow. What a relief. I might go so far as to say this book is “life changing.” He puts it in so many ways that if you don’t understand it at first, by the end you will because there is an example that would relate to everyone. I wish I had read it years ago!

Rating: PG (It’s a little deep for younger readers, but I would still let them read it.)

Recommendation: 12 and up. And yes, I would have everyone read it! I loved this book!

America’s Prophet

America’s Prophet by Bruce Feiler
(Summary taken from the book jacket) “The pilgrims quoted his story. Franklin and Jefferson proposed he appear on the U.S. seal. Washington and Lincoln were called his incarnations. The Statue of Liberty and Superman were molded in his image. Martin Luther King, Jr., invoked him the night before he died. Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama cited him as inspiration. For four hundred years, one figure inspired more Americans than any other. His name is Moses. In this groundbreaking book, New York Times best-selling author Bruce Feiler travels through touchstones in American history and traces the biblical prophet’s influence from the Mayflower through today. He visits the island where the pilgrims spent their first Sabbath, climbs the bell tower where the Liberty Bell was inscribed with a quote from Moses, retraces the Underground Railroad where “Go Down, Moses” was the national anthem of slaves, and dons the robe Charlton Heston wore in The Ten Commandments. One part adventure story, one part literary detective story, one part exploration of faith in contemporary life, America’s Prophet takes readers through the landmarks of America’s narrative–from Gettysburg to Selma, the Silver Screen to the Oval Office–to understand how Moses has shaped the nation’s character.”
I really enjoyed this book. It reads easily, yet is very informative. He uses a lot of great vocabulary words, some that I had to look up. Feiler brings up things I had no idea happened in America’s past, and I loved it. I love American history, so this book was great for me. I also love the Moses story, so it fit in perfectly with my train of thought. I loved all the little-known details he puts in the book. He did a lot of research and it all comes together very smoothly. I didn’t realize how much our country was influenced by Moses and his story, and I found it interesting and intriguing. Anyway, I would definitely recommend this book. You don’t have to be a believer in Moses to enjoy it because it discusses America’s history, and whether you believe or not, our history was influenced by Moses.
Rating: PG
Recommendation: This would be great for any history class to reference. I think high school students and up would gain a greater understanding of our country’s heritage by reading this book. It is lighter than a text book but is still history. His style of writing is very engaging.

Shattered Silence

Shattered Silence by Melissa G. Moore
(Summary taken from the back cover) “What would you do if, as a teenager, you found out that someone you loved had committed the most horrific of acts? Worse, what if he had done it again and again? Could you ever learn to forgive him? Would you ever want to? In Shattered Silence, Melissa Moore shares the true story of her life as the daughter of the notorious “Happy Face” serial killer. In this inspiring story, Melissa grows from a confused child to an outraged adolescent to an accepting adult. As she slowly connects the dots and realizes the full extent of the terrifying and gruesome crimes her father has committed, Melissa also begins to realize that she cannot change her father–all she has control over is her own life and deciding how she will react to everything that has happened. Told with heartbreaking sincerity, this uplifting story of optimism and discovering joy, even in the face of overwhelming adversity, will inspire you to face your own challenges with a similar attitude of hope.”
Wow. What a story. This woman is amazing. I know people who have had bad things happen to them and they fall apart and decide not to find joy in anything, which is understandable. This woman, Melissa, does not let that happen. She realizes that we are what we make of ourselves, and it is a choice to find joy and happiness. Oh, to have a dad that commits murder, that could destroy you and your future. Her courage to overcome that is heroic. I was skeptical about this book. I didn’t see how it could be uplifting, but it is.  It is well written and surprisingly inspiring. It makes you realize that the problems you have may be hard but are nothing compared to what others deal with. I would definitely recommend this book. There are some parts that are hard to read because of the content, but it is worth finishing.
Rating: PG-13 (She talks about the horrific crimes her father commits, her rape, and domestic violence.) Borderline R.
Recommendation: High School Senior and up. It also depends on the level of maturity of a high school senior. It may be too much for them also. I do recommend reading it though because it puts things in perspective and shows you how you can choose to live your life and not be a victim for the rest of your life.