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

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.

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.

Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2)

Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2) by Suzanne Collins
(Summary taken from the book jacket) “Against all odds, Katniss has won the Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and her longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol–a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create. Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she’s afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her even more is that she’s not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol’s cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can’t prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.”
Wow. That’s all I have to say….wow. This book is VERY intense! It doesn’t start out as intense, but at the end….wow. The last fifty pages go so fast and there is so much happening I had to reread a couple of paragraphs because I wasn’t sure who was doing what, and there was action everywhere. And the ending…..may I say, “What ending?????” She leaves you hanging on for dear life at the end. I hate it when the book doesn’t end…I kept turning the empty pages at the end begging for more. There are so many twists and turns it’s crazy. And I have to wait until WHEN for the next book??? AAAAHHHHHH! It’s going to be a long couple of months. But I digress….I have to give it to Ms. Collins, she did a very good job on this second book. The characters are much more developed and it is very well written. I felt a lot more as if I were there with the people of District 12, as if I were afraid of the Capitol myself, and as if I too had emotions running wild. Once again, how can you love a book full of death and destruction?? I don’t know, but Ms. Collins’ writing just pulls you in and keeps you there. If you were depressed after the first book I would say definitely read the second one. It is still depressing, but the intensity of it overrides the depressing factor. You still have no idea between Gale and Peeta, and NOTHING is finalized, in fact, on the last page there are more questions that haven’t been answered than have, but it is worth reading because there might be a smidgeon of hope??? You’ll have to decide for yourself on that one.
Rating: R (Remember, this rating does not follow the movie ratings. An R rating simply means there are adult themes that I don’t think are appropriate for younger children.)  There is little to no language. Peeta and Katniss kiss and sleep in the same bed for comfort, but nothing inappropriate happens. It is the violence and death that make this book inappropriate for young readers. The themes are very mature and would be hard for a younger reader to understand and deal with.
Recommendation: Senior year of high school and up. Also, I would only recommend it to adults with the above precautions. As with the first book, death and despair are abundant……but I liked it??? Hmmm. Hopefully the third book brings some happiness!

My Prison, My Home

My Prison, My Home by Haleh Esfandiari
(Summary taken from the book jacket) “This stunning arrest was the culmination of a chain of events set into motion in the early-morning hours of December 31, 2006–a day that began like any other but presaged the end of Esfandiari’s regular visits to her elderly mother in Iran, and her return to the United States. That morning, the driver arrived on time. Her mother held the Quran over her head for blessing and luck. From the car, Haleh waved good-bye. She checked for her passport and plane ticket. But as the taxi neared the airport, a sedan forced them to pull over. Three men, armed with knives, threatened her and her driver while going through her pockets and stealing her belongings–including her travel documents. She was left unharmed but would not fly home to the States that day. “An ordinary robbery,” Esfandiari insisted to friends and family. She took steps to secure a new passport and book a new flight. But it would not be until eight months later that she would leave Iran. Esfandiari became the victim of the far-fetched belief on the part of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry that she, a scholar with the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C., was part of an American conspiracy for “regime change” in Iran. In haunting prose and vivid detail, Esfandiari recounts how the Intelligence Ministry subsequently ordered a search of her mother’s apartment; put her through hours, then weeks, of interrogation; tapped her phone calls, forcing her to speak in code to her husband and mother; and finally detained her at the notorious Even Prison, where she would spend 105 days in solitary confinement.”

To start off, I am so thankful for our country and the freedoms we enjoy. Our government is not perfect, but we are so blessed to be here with a government that at least follows the rule of law. This book is well written and compelling.  I learned a lot about Iran and it’s history and government. At times it was difficult to keep track of all the different Iranian leaders and what purpose they have in the government, but Esfandiari writes so well that even though I wasn’t 100% sure of who was who, I understood what was going on. She has led a very exciting life, compared to mine. She has lived in Austria, Iran, and the United States. Unfortunately, I do not remember hearing her story when it happened, but I am glad I read the book. It helped me to learn more about world affairs and how different countries rule. It also gave me a personal side to Iran. To me Iran has always been about Ahmadinejad and not allowing him to have nuclear weapons. I have been one to suggest using every option to stop him. After reading this book I still believe, now even more, that Iran should not be allowed to have nuclear weapons, but I worry more about the citizens of Iran and how they will be affected either way. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to be more aware of what can happen in our world, who wants to learn more about Iran and it’s history, and who wants to become more grateful for the country we live in and the freedoms we enjoy.

Rating: PG-13  The only reason I added the “13” was because it is difficult to understand and her interrogation and prison life are not happy. She was not physically harmed, but I think it would be too much for younger teens. There is little to no language and no “physical intimacy,” but it is about prison life.

Recommendation: I think it would be a great book for high school seniors to read while they learn about world history. I don’t know if I would go younger than that. So high school senior and up would benefit from reading this book.

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
(Summary taken from the book jacket) “In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before–and suvival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.”
Wow. Where to start with this book? Interesting idea, right? And depressing? Yes to both. I like Suzanne Collins’ style of writing. It is an easy read, more like a young adult book, but the ideas, the themes, and the events are very mature and not for young audiences. Younger children would be able to read the words but they would not be able to comprehend and handle all that happens. Some of it traumatized me, as an adult, and I do not want my children reading it. The book definitely draws you in. The story is very compelling and you have to know what happens to this girl. This book really made me think about my life. It made me thankful for our country and our freedoms. It made me thankful for food to eat and a very supportive family, and a good job. It also made me take a harder look at reality TV and my reactions to it. Overall I liked the book. I will read the second one. I was very depressed at the end, so don’t read it if you don’t like depressing. Also, there are some very graphic death scenes, so don’t read it if you don’t think you could handle that. I didn’t like that it sucked me in, that I became the person rubber-necking on the freeway to get a glimpse of the accident. I didn’t like that it had that power over me, but it definitely did. But yes, I did like the book and would recommend it with the above precautions.
Rating: R (Remember, this rating does not follow the movie ratings. An R rating simply means there are adult themes that I don’t think are appropriate for younger children.) There is none to very little language. There are no “physical intimacy” scenes, but they do talk about being naked. There are very mature themes and some very graphic death scenes. A lot of people die. (Happy, right???)
Recommendation: Senior year of high school and up. Also, I would only recommend it to adults with the above precautions. See, death and despair……but I liked it??? It kind of makes you think…..what does that say about me????

The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
(Summary taken from the back cover) “Falsely accused of treason, the young sailor Edmond Dantes is arrested on his wedding day and imprisoned in the island fortress of the Chateau d’If. After staging a dramatic escape, he sets out to discover the fabulous treasure of Monte Cristo and catch up with his enemies. A novel of enormous tension and excitement, Monte Cristo is also a tale of obsession and revenge. Believing himself to be an ‘Angel of Providence’, Dantes pursues his vengeance to the bitter end, only then realizing that he himself is a victim of fate.”
I LOVE this book!!! I have read it (the 1,100 page version) at least twice, and I will definitely read it again! This is another of my all-time favorite books!!! I could go on and on about how much I love this book. There is an abridged version for those who do not like 1,100 page books, and I’ve heard it’s good, but I haven’t read it. Also, do not watch the movie and think you will get the whole picture. I don’t even know why they called the movie by the same name because they are completely different. The movie is good, yes….but it’s not the same story at all. I love Alexandre Dumas’s writing style. I love the description, the attention to detail, the feeling he portrays, the emotion. I love the characters (well, some of them), I love how he describes them and how everything fits together perfectly. It is a little harder of a read because it was written in the 1800’s. I love that language but some people find it hard to get into. There are also a lot of characters to remember, but it’s worth every minute of time spent reading. Okay, hopefully I don’t get your expectations too high!
Rating: PG-13: (Prison talk, revenge, but mostly you have to be a little more mature to read it just to get into the language and really understand the feelings.)
Recommendation: I read it in high school so I would say high school and up. It’s not a good read-aloud. I would recommend it to anyone 17+ who loves  a good read with love, revenge, hate, suffering, remorse, action…it has something for everyone!

The Host

The Host by Stephanie Meyer
(Summary taken from the book jacket) “Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. Our world has been invaded by an unseen enemy. Humans become hosts for these invaders, their minds taken over while their bodies remain intact and continue their lives apparentlhy unchanged. Most of humanity has succumbed. When Melanie, one of the few remaining “wild” humans, is captured, she is certain it is her end. Wanderer, the invading “soul” who has been given Melanie’s body, was warned about the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, the glut of senses, the too-vivid memories. But there was one difficulty Wanderer didn’t expect: the former tenant of her body refusing to relinquish possession of her mind. Wanderer probes Melanie’s thoughts, hoping to discover the whereabouts of the remaining human resistance. Instead, Melanie fills Wanderer’s mind with visions of the man Melanie loves–Jared, a human who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from her body’s desires, Wanderer begins to yearn for a man she has been tasked with exposing. When outside forces make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, the set off on a dangerous and uncertain search for the man they both love.”
This book really took me by surprise. It takes awhile to get into, to figure out what is happening, but it is so interesting. Stephanie Meyer has outdone herself this time. This book is on a much higher intellectual level than the Twilight series. It really makes you think, and look at those all around you. I really liked this book! Up until the end I had no idea how she would end it, and it is surprising, but it is so good! It is worth the 600+ pages to delve into the lives of Wanderer and Melanie. How would I act in this situation? Would I give up? How do I treat those around me who may be different? My enemies? Could I survive? It is a captivating story. It takes a little bit longer to read at the beginning because you have to figure out what is going on. Meyer has a way of ending her chapters at the right time so you have to keep reading. It was a great read!
Rated: PG-13 (Some violence, death ) It is too much for younger minds to digest, I think. There are a few swear words here and there, but not too bad.
Recommendation: High School and up.