Monday, October 5, 2015

World Teachers' Day

Happy World Teachers' Day!!!
A HUGE Thank You to all my kids' teachers and all my teacher friends, you are all wonderful!!!

World Teacher Day

Image from our friends at (

Westly: A Spider's Tale

Westly: A Spider's Tale by Bryan Beus


"This is the tale of a caterpillar named Westly, destined to become a Monarch butterfly--and the next king. But sometimes things don't turn out the way we plan. When Westly emerges from his cocoon, not as a beautiful butterfly, but as a spider, he is rejected by the butterfly kingdom and undertakes a journey to discover who he really is. Adopted by the other bugs, the 'dirt eaters,' Westly is determined to make a difference, to belong, to be loved, and most importantly, to become who he was born to be. Delightfully illustrated by the author, Westly: A Spider's Tale is a story about discovering one's true potential, learning that being different is not a bad thing, and that even misfits can grow up to be heroes."

My Review:

Move over Aesop, here comes Westly! This is a modern-day fable; it is a fast, easy read, and has many great lessons in it. Westly is so surprised when he emerges from his cocoon, and so is everyone else. He doesn't know what to think, and neither does anyone else. He runs away from his lifetime home, and while he is out and about, he learns a lot about himself. Westly is a good, real character. He isn't perfect, but he tries really hard. He has realistic emotions and reactions to different situations. The other characters around him are also well developed. You can easily picture all the different personalities and stereotypes, and you can almost pick someone out from your past to play all the parts in the story. The book is well written. It has an interesting story line with some surprises along the way. I love all the different lessons that Westly learns along his journey. It's ok to be different. Being different gives you individual strengths and weaknesses, which is a good thing. You won't always fit in, and that's ok; don't let that bring you down. Bloom where you are planted. Do the best you can wherever you are. Family is important. Be wary of those around you who want to deceive you. (You know, the wolves in sheep's clothing.)  Have a positive attitude. Do your best. Sometimes we make mistakes, and that's ok; what is important is learning from those mistakes and doing better next time. Take responsibility for your actions, even if it's hard. I liked the book and think my kids will enjoy it. I'd say it a good middle-grader read. This book would elicit a great discussion in a classroom. 

This story does get a little scary in a few parts. It doesn't have any profanity or "intimacy," (thank you!), but it does have some minor violence. There is a "bad guy," and there are some characters that are lost (killed). There is some fighting against the bad guy.  

Rating: PG+ (No profanity or "intimacy," but there is some violence with fighting and the death of some characters.)

Recommendation: 4th grade and up.

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Caretaker's Guide to Fablehaven

The Caretaker's Guide to Fablehaven by Brandon Mull


They existed only in your imagination …. Until now!

With over 3 million copies in print, the Fablehaven series by New York Times best-selling author Brandon Mull is one of the most popular middle-grade fantasy series to date. Now, first time ever, The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven provides a visual discovery of the series, and is loaded with insider’s knowledge and hand-scrawled notes. Readers can actually see the mystical creatures from the series like dragons – each one has a name, a special power, and looks distinctly different from the others, but until this book there was no illustrated guide. The book is also a springboard to the Fablehaven sequel series, Dragonwatch (releasing Fall 2016) and features clues to the characters and creatures fans will find in the upcoming books.
My Review:

What is a KArKADAnn you ask? Well, let me tell you. "A creature of Living Mirage, the karkadann is a formidable animal resembling a rhinoceros with one sentient horn. It is known for its fearsome roar and its speed in charging opponents." And what is a THylACine? Well, I know that one too! "Also known as Tasmanian tigers, thylacines look like large, striped greyhounds with long tails. Some of these creatures are gifted with the power of speech. Many thylacines reside at Obsidian Waste."And how do I know about these creatures, you ask? Well, let me tell you. I just finished reading The Caretaker's Guide to Fablehaven. It is a book written over time by all the different caretakers at Fablehaven. In it you will find descriptions of just about every creature or living thing that you will find at the preserves around the world. These descriptions usually include a picture (Done by the amazing Brandon Dorman!) and anything you would need to know about this creature, demon, or plant. This will help prepare you for your future caretaking job, or it will help you as a visitor to a preserve to know what is friendly and what is not. These descriptions are well written and very informative. Here is a quote from Grandma Sorenson that is in the guide:

 "Running toward danger is foolhardy....But so is closing your 
eyes to it. Many perils become less dangerous once you 
understand their potential hazards."

The following quote by Coulter is very helpful:

"I tell my secrets only to people I know I can trust. 
Otherwise the secret becomes a rumor just like that."

And one more from Dale:

"Smart people learn from their mistakes.
But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes
of others."

For Fablehaven fans, this is a great addition to the series. It would have been very helpful to have while reading the series, so that at a glance you could figure out what the different creatures are that you  are reading about. So run, don't walk, to get your copy of The Caretaker's Guide to Fablehaven. Don't leave home without never know what you will run into (It's a scary world out there)!

Rating: PG (Clean! Some of the creatures are scary or evil.)

Recommendation: Second to third grade and up. My boys read Fablehaven when they were in second grade, so this follows suit. It may be too difficult for a second grader, so third grade may be more appropriate.

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mysteries of Cove: Fires of Invention

Mysteries of Cove: Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage


"Trenton Coleman is a creative thirteen-year-old boy with a knack for all things mechanical. But his talents are viewed with suspicion in Cove, a steam-powered city build inside a mountain. In Cove, creativity is a crime and "invention" is a curse word. Kallista Babbage is a repair technician and daughter of the notorious Leo Babbage, who died in an explosion--an event the leaders of Cove point to as an example of the danger of creativity. Working together, Trenton and Kallista learn that Leo Babbage was developing a secret project before he perished. Following clues he left behind, they begin to assemble a strange machine that is unlike anything they've ever seen before. They soon discover that what they are building may threaten every truth their city is founded on--and quite possibly their lives"

My Review:

What a fun book! This story just comes to life on the pages. The characters are well developed and really great. I especially liked Trenton, Kallista, and Simoni. Trenton is the main character, and I feel so bad for him! He doesn't end up where he wants to end up, job-wise, and he feels like he's been betrayed and like he is missing a huge part of himself. However, he finds ways to use his......gasp! creativity (creativity is frowned upon in this story), and he might even make an.....gasp! invention or two (the word "invention" is considered profanity in Cove). He's a very likable character who is easy to relate to. He may make me nervous in some situations, because I'm definitely a rule-follower, but he has a cute personality and reminds you of your best friend growing up. Simoni is a cute character as well. She is more like me, a rule-follower, but she is a cute character. Kallista is a little more on the wild side, you may say. She is a bit of a rebel and is.....don't say it! creative. She may bring out a different side of Trenton, but it's not necessarily a bad thing. She is smart and thinks outside of the box, or mountain, in this case. The story line is fun and adventurous, and has enough action to satisfy the boys and enough girly stuff to capture the girls. Both Trenton and Kallista are strong characters, and each have their own abilities that they bring to the table. The history of Cove is interesting, and I enjoyed hearing how the whole city-in-a-mountain works. There's a bit of mystery to the story, and I liked how Trenton and Kallista worked together to solve each of the pieces of the puzzle. This is a fun middle-grader story, that I think both boys and girls will enjoy. I love the message of this book as well. Creativity and invention are wonderful things; learning to think outside of the box is an excellent skill to have.

I love that this is a great story, and it's completely clean! There is no profanity (thank you!!), no "intimacy" except for 13 year-old crushes, and very little violence. It is a fantastic middle-grader story that boys and girls will enjoy. I was hooked from the beginning! It's a fast, easy read, and I recommend it. It would make a great read-aloud as well.

Rating: PG (No profanity or "intimacy," and very little violence.)

Recommendation: 3rd grade and up.

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Tale of Light and Shadow: Secrets of Neverak (Book #2)

A Tale of Light and Shadow: Secrets of Neverak (Book #2) 
                                                                                                            by Jacob Gowans 


"Horrors await Henry and his friends after the disastrous battle at the Iron Pass. Crippled and broken, Henry must rely on his friends more than ever as they travel through strange new lands. New allies and foes find them at every turn, but which are friendly and which are deadly? Isabelle, now a slave in Neverak, finds herself surrounded by enemies, uncertain about the fate of her friends, and must rely on only herself to survive. Meanwhile, the Emperor moves forward with his plans of conquest, spurred on by the Seer's dark prophecy--but he has not forgotten who defied him. Return to the world of Atolas, where swords and daggers extend life or end it, where feuds and friendships influence kingdoms and courtships, and where magic is feared by all but a few." 

My Review:

It's always an adventure with Henry, Maggie, Ruther, and James! That Iron Pass must have messed with their values and their minds because they sure started doing some naughty things! I was actually disappointed in how they acted in Borderville. This book picks up and leaves off exactly where the last one ended. It is well written. The descriptions in this book are good. I definitely will not be traveling the Iron Pass any time soon! I like that these characters are not perfect. I like that they struggle with things, because it makes them seem more real. I liked Maggie more at the beginning than I liked Henry, Ruther, or James because she stayed more true to herself. The things that begin happening to her are a little confusing at first. Her first four visions are quite confusing for her and the reader. As bad as I feel for them, I feel equally as bad for Isabelle. She is definitely not in a good spot. Brandol and Atticus surprised me with some of their actions, and the evil Emperor is still just that--evil! I definitely do not want to meet him in a dark alley. If you enjoyed the first book you definitely need to read this one!

There is violence in this book. There are some gruesome fighting scenes, and an execution. Isabelle is a ("intimacy") slave for the Emperor. There isn't any profanity. There are a few value things that are added in this book; for example, gambling and stealing.  

Rating: PG-13 (There is violence in this book, including an execution of a character. There isn't any profanity, but Isabelle is a slave (concubine) to the Emperor, and there are discussions and scenes related to that. There is also gambling and stealing, along with holding someone at knife-point.

Recommendation: Young Adult (13-18)

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.


Light and Shadow (Book #1)

A Tale of Light and Shadow (Book #1) by Jacob Gowans


Enter Atolas, a world where feuds and friendships influence kingdoms and courtships. Henry and Isabelle have secretly sworn to marry despite his lowly station. Though Henry is but a carpenter, his devotion drives him to commit an unthinkable act that may cost both of them their lives. Meanwhile, a secret, dark prophecy has set in motion events that will affect not only them, but the thrones of rulers throughout all of Atolas, threatening to eclipse the world in shadow. But all is not lost while hope remains in the guise of an unlikely hero and the strength of friendship.

My Review:

Sword fighting, love, friendship, adventure, sacrifice, betrayal, and gold are a few words I would use to describe this book. What an adventure! I enjoyed this book. I thought that for the most part it is well written. It isn't a super fast read for some reason; it took me awhile to read it. The character development is done really well, and as you read you find yourself drawn to this new world. Henry and Isabelle are favorite characters; they are flawed, for sure. They are realistic characters that try their hardest to be all they need to be, but they do fail. I liked Maggie a lot too. Ruther is an interesting character, and you never really know if you can trust him or not, so it adds a little bit of tension to the mix. Brandol is a dull character who got annoying. You just want to scream at him to toughen up. The story is unique and creative. There's a hint of fantasy in it, but you never see anything more than just that far away hint. I love the friendship lessons that are taught in this book. Even though they may argue and distrust each other sometimes, you see how strong the bond of friendship can become. Henry, especially, shows how important that is. The evil Emperor is a great villain. You just love to hate him in this book. There are a few cheesy parts in this book, but it's fun and entertaining. I enjoyed it.

There are a few things in this book that make it inappropriate for children younger than 13. One of the characters is meant to be sold into slavery as a "concubine" to the evil Emperor. It doesn't go into a lot of detail, but you know that means that she will be his "intimacy" slave. Also, one of the characters is a drunk. He drinks constantly throughout the whole book, and there is at least one scene where several of them are drunk. There isn't any profanity, which is great. There is also quite a bit of violence in this book as the friends fight for their lives against a massive army. Some of the descriptions are quite graphic and are gruesome. I think the cover art is a little bit cheesy, and it's not my favorite, but I have seen worse.

Rating: PG-13 (There isn't any profanity, but there is talk of a woman character being sold into slavery as one of the Emperor's concubines, It doesn't go into more detail than that, but it is implied that she will be an "intimacy" slave. There is also some domestic violence, the deaths of a few characters, and some fighting. Some of the fight scenes are very detailed and can be gruesome.

Recommendation: Young Adult (13-18) and up

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The One (The Selection Book #3)

The One (The Selection Book #3) by Kiera Cass


"The time has come for one winner to be crowned. When she was chosen to compete in the Selection, America never dreamed she would find herself anywhere close to the crown--or to Prince Maxon's heart. But as the end of the competition approaches, and the threats outside the palace walls grow more vicious, America realizes just how much she stands to lose--and how hard she'll have to fight for the future she wants."

My Review:

I have to say, if nothing else, this series is entertaining. It's good for a vacation where you put your feet up, grab the sunscreen and a beach chair, and enjoy a few minutes reading. Although it is quite predictable and more of the same, I was entertained for a minute, and that is a good thing. You get to know each of the girls more in this book, and you get to see some of their more creative and skilled sides. You get to hear a few of their ideas for the future, and you get to see quite a bit of kissing (...not quite sure if that's a good thing???) You see a different side of Prince Maxon and his parents, and you get way too much of the Bella Swan (excuse me......America Singer) show; she drives me crazy! Pick already! Make up your mind!!! Seriously. Even though the premise was very predictable, there were a few surprises in the details, which helped. I do love the cover art though! The dresses are gorgeous and definitely catch your eye! If you enjoyed the first two books then you should read this one for sure.

There is some profanity in this book. There are a few innuendos, and an almost-all-but "intimacy" scene. Remember that the law is still that you need to be a virgin when you get married, and it is discussed. There is a lot of violence in this book. Some of the violence is known but not discussed, while other scenes are quite graphic. Several main characters die, and their violent deaths are described in detail.

Rating: PG-13 (Profanity, a lot of graphic and descriptive violence, the death of several main characters, and lots of kissing. There is also an almost-all-but "intimacy" scene.)

Recommendation: 13 and up/Young Adult (This book is not appropriate for middle-graders)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Janitors: Heroes of the Dustbin (Book #5)

Janitors: Heroes of the Dustbin (Book #5) by Tyler Whitesides 


"Although their enemies are powerful, their allies few, Spencer and his team of Rebels are not giving up! But what chance do a handful of kids and one rescued janitor have against the combined evil of the Founding Witches and the Sweepers? Can the Rebels close the source of all Glop and stop the Toxites once and for all--or is the world doomed to fall under the control of the sinister Bureau of Educational Maintenance? This explosive series finale is a gripping ride through conflicted loyalties and daring escapes, unexpected alliances and betrayals, and an ending you'll never forget!"

My Review: boys have been waiting and waiting for this book to come out! From the second the ARC came in the mail they have been drooling over the amazing cover and begging me to finish so they can read it. Brandon Dorman has definitely outdone himself this time; the cover art is fantastic and does a great job of setting the stage for this finale! So does the book live up to all this hype? Yes! I loved it! It is nonstop action from the beginning to the end. Many of our favorite characters are back for round five, and they may find a few new ones along the way. Of course Spencer, Daisy, and Dez return. I won't spoil the fun about who else is there; let's just say I love Mr. Whitesides' character development. I love Spencer and Daisy in this book. They have come so far from the first book, and I have enjoyed watching them grow and progress through the books. They learn some hard lessons in this book, but the lessons of friendship, loyalty, bravery, dedication, hard work, determination, and trust are lessons that the characters and the readers will not forget. It's so good for these middle-graders to see these characters and to learn the lessons along with Spencer, Daisy, and Dez. Spencer and Daisy, especially, are very well done. They never waver. I enjoy Mr. Whitesides' writing style. It's a fast, easy read, and is easy to understand. I just got sucked in and couldn't put it down. The descriptions are so life-like and believable, and you feel like you are in that landfill or at Welcher Elementary School. There really is nonstop action in this book. One thing after another, after another. I hope all the characters went home and slept for a few days. I felt tired just reading about it. It's exciting adventure too. There are witches, sweepers, pluggers, toxites, thingamajunks, lots of glop, monitors, rebels, and one General Clean. If you liked the first four books, you definitely need to read this one! You will not be disappointed!

This book does not have any profanity or "intimacy." Violence, though, is rampant. At least one character dies and there is a lot of fighting. Some of the fighting is against people and some against monsters and other creatures, but it is violent. It is a war to save the world, you know, so it isn't pretty in some parts. My only complaint (that is actually too strong of a word, but it'll have to do...) would be that it did kind of get all wrapped up in a nice, pretty bow at the end. It is a middle-grader book, though, so I really wouldn't expect anything other than that. 

Rating: PG+ (No profanity or "intimacy," but there is quite a lot of violence. They are fighting a war to save the children of the world.)

Recommendation: Middle-Graders: 3rd (for a mature third grader) to 4th grade and up. My eighth grader and seventh grader love this series. 

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

This book comes out Sept. 8th!!!

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Elite (The Selection Book #2)

The Elite (The Selection Book #2)  by Kiera Cass


"The Selection began with thirty-five girls. Now with the group narrowed down to the six Elite, the competition to win Prince Maxon's heart is fiercer than ever--and America is still struggling to decide where her heart truly lies. Is it with Maxon, who could make her life a fairy tale? Or with her first love, Aspen? America is desperate for more time. But the rest of the Elite know exactly what they want--and America's chance to choose is about to slip away."

My Review:

If you liked the first book then you will like this book. It's about the same as the first. I didn't feel like much happened in this book, except that it was narrowed down to six girls. You learn a little bit more about each of the girls, and some of it isn't good. The whole Halloween scene was fun, but the aftermath was not. There is a disturbing scene that follows the festivities, and it's not fun to read about. I guess you learn a little more about America and Maxon in that scene, along with the other characters, but it's hard to read. America drove me crazy in this book....decide already!!!! She's very Bella Swan-esqe, and it's not very becoming. It gets annoying actually. There is a small surprise in this book, and it's a fun one. It tells a lot about Maxon, and that's a good thing. But there are also a few parts where Maxon doesn't look so good. And that about ties it up. It's a lot of the same. I actually liked it better than I liked the first one because I didn't feel like I had read it before (See my review of "The Selection.") The way the society is set up drives me crazy. They have t.v., but only one secret computer. They have phones, but only a few, and they don't use them unless it's urgent. Other than that, they write (which is a good thing). It's hard to see that they're in the future when there are no computers, cell phones, tablets, and they live in castles and wear fancy dresses and not pants. I don't know, it's just a little strange to me. The one thing this book is good for is entertainment. It's a mixture of "The Bachelor" and a little of "The Hunger Games," with a hint of "The Princess Academy." I liked this book, but just because it was a little entertaining.

This is not a middle-grader book. There is some profanity, violence, beatings, abuse, and some all-but "intimacy" scenes. There is a scene, too, where she wants it to go far, dresses and acts the part, but it ends up not happening.

Rating: PG-13 (Some profanity, violence from the rebels, death of characters, beatings, abuse, and some all-but "intimacy" scenes.)

Recommendation: YA and up or 13 years-old and up (I do not think it is appropriate for middle-graders.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Secret Keeper

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton


"During a party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is dreaming of the future when she sees her mother speak to a stranger. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy. Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living in London. She returns to the family farm for Dorothy's ninetieth birthday and finds herself overwhelmed by questions she has not thought about for decades. From pre-WWII England through the Blitz, to the fifties and beyond, she begins to unearth the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds--Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy--who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined. The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams, the lengths people go to fulfill them, and the consequences they can have. It is a spellbinding mix of mystery, thievery, murder, and enduring love told in Morton's signature style."

My Review:

I loved The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, and so I've been excited to read something else by her. Needless to say, I was really happy when my book group decided to read The Secret Keeper this month. I had high expectations, so I hoped this book would live up. Did it? Ummmm....yes, mostly. How's that? Maybe it's because I was reading a large print edition (it's the only copy the library had), but it took me awhile to get into this book. However, as I read it I became more and more intrigued by this story. The characters were well developed and were real. They all had something in their past or present that made them imperfect, and more real-to-life. Each one had a story, and it was fascinating how the story unfolded and their lives became intertwined. Some of it was a little predictable, but there were some surprises and some "Aha!!" moments. I think the character I had the most difficult time relating to was the young Dorothy. Wow. She drove me crazy most of the time; with her fantasies, her vengeance, and her belief that she was so exceptional, I had a hard time with her. The older Dorothy, however, I understood. I can understand the devoted and happy wife and mother. Ms. Morton did a great job of tying it all together, and bringing it to life. Even though it was not a happy time in England, I did enjoy learning a little about WWII England. I wish I could see some of Jimmy's photographs. I didn't love the title of this book. I thought it was bland and could have been a little more creative. Overall, I enjoyed it. I didn't like it as much as I liked The Forgotten Garden, but I enjoyed it and am glad that I read it.

There is some profanity in this book, but not a lot, really. There is some minor war violence, and some characters do die; there is a murder. There is also some domestic violence, and a brutal scene with that. There is an "intimacy" scene, along with some talk about it, and a few innuendos. The scene is a little detailed, but not overly so. Overall, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it with the above warnings.

Rating: R (This book is not appropriate for younger readers. There is war violence, with a murder and the death some characters, along with a domestic violence scene. There is some minor profanity. There is also an "intimacy" scene along with some talk about it and a few innuendos.)

Recommendation: 18 years-old and up