Friday, August 28, 2015

The Elite (The Selection Book #2)


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

Blurb:

"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

Blurb:

"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


Monday, August 17, 2015

Will My Child Be Ready?


Will My Child Be Ready? by Emily Freeman and Merrilee Boyack

Blurb:

"A missionary's training does not begin when he or she enters the doors of the MTC. Well before that, each missionary's mother can begin laying the groundwork that will prepare her child to diligently and wholeheartedly serve the Lord and His children. Mothers have an immeasurable influence and a significant responsibility in raising up young men and women who are prepared to do the work of the Lord. The good news: that responsibility can begin wherever you and your child are on the path of preparation. Whether your child is two, eight, or eighteen, this unique resource written by mothers who have sent children on missions (and some who have also served as mission presidents' wives) will help you build the foundation of faith, endurance, and hard work that every missionary needs."

My Review:

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (you may have heard of it as the Mormon Church or LDS Church). When our young men turn 18 they are encouraged to serve  a two year mission. When our young women turn 19 they may also serve a mission, but it is up to each young woman to decide if she would like to go. Young women serve for eighteen months. Missionaries go out across the world to teach people about our church. They pay their own way. Missionaries serve because they love God and His Son Jesus Christ, and they want to share the message of our church. I don't always review church books because I don't want it to seem like my blog is too churchy or preachy. However, I have two sons and two daughters, and some of them may choose to serve  missions someday, and I want them to be ready if they do. So, I decided to review this one. 

At first as I was reading this book I began to get overwhelmed and stressed over everything I wasn't doing that they said I should be doing. I didn't serve a mission when I was younger, so I sometimes feel like I don't know what I need to prepare my children for. I talked to my husband about some of it, and he calmed my fears. He let me know that it's okay. This is a great guideline, and can be a huge help, but not to get too worried about it because look at what we are doing. We are doing a lot of things right. It made me feel a lot better, and I enjoyed reading the rest of the book. It is written by different women who are mothers, mission presidents' wives, and some who have served missions of their own. It's well written, easy to understand, and is full of real-life examples. I loved reading their stories. When you think about it, a lot of what they suggest is stuff we should be doing anyway: saying daily individual and family prayers, family and individual scripture reading, weekly Family Home Evening (Monday nights are set aside as family time where we spend time as a family having fun and learning about the Gospel), church attendance, and teaching our children how to cook, do laundry, etc. A lot of what they say is to make sure our children know how to live on their own by knowing how to cook, how to do their own laundry, how to handle finances, how to work hard, and even how to ride a bike (a lot of missionaries ride bikes around). One of their main points is teaching our children how to live without their technology, which is difficult for many youth today. In the end, I found this to be a really good resource. If I try and check off every box I will make myself crazy, but I'm glad to have a framework and an idea of what I need to do. In some areas I could pat myself on the back, and then on others I have major work to do. This book is well written, with lots of personal stories and examples, and I enjoyed it. I may not be perfect (I know you're all shocked, right.....I am not perfect??? What??), but at least I have an idea of what I need to work on. I would recommend this book to any mother who may someday have a child serve a mission. 

Rating: G (Clean!)

Recommendation: 13 and up. It's written for mothers, but I don't think it would hurt for future missionaries themselves to read it. 

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



*If you would like to learn more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church) then you may click the link on the left sidebar or visit: www.mormon.org.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Middle Ages


The Middle Ages by Jeffrey L. Singman

Blurb:

"How were homes furnished during the medieval period? What did the fashionable aristocracy wear? What types of money were exchanged? What were the daily routines inside a typical monastery? How did most people travel? Filled with a wealth of information on every aspect of medieval times, this fascinating and informative book answers these questions and many more You'll explore all aspects of life: childhood, health and disease, entertainment, knights and other soldiers, medieval minds, and more." 


My Review:

This book is packed full of information! Everything you want to know about the middle ages, plus some you didn't even know you wanted to know! It discusses aspects of everyday life for all classes of people plus the monks living in the monasteries. I didn't know that there were a couple different kinds of monks and that monasteries were not all the same. I also didn't know that people other than kings lived in castles. What? I know, right? Who knew? Many castles were occupied by feudal lords. Castles were one way that the lord would be able to protect himself and those living under him from raids and wars. Kings would use the different castles as they traveled around their lands. The knights would use the castle as a "home base" in which to defend themselves and the land. They could retreat there if needed. Castles also served as a "reminder of the lord's authority." The castle would also hold supplies "to arm his troops in case of war." He used the example of Dover Castle, in England.
 
Something else he discusses in depth is Cluny Abbey in France. If there is anything you want to know about it, this is your book!


This book also goes in depth about clothing, money, soldiers, knights, leisure time, the women in the middle ages, the family, and many more. For instance, the average family had around "two or three living children." However, the mother would give birth to five or more. There was a very high rate of child mortality. It wasn't uncommon for extended families to live together. I learned some new words too: Partible inheritance was when all the male children in the family could inherit "part of the family's wealth." And if there were not any sons then the daughters would split it. Primogeniture inheritance was when the family's wealth went to the eldest son. 

This book had some really good information in it. Seriously. If you want to learn about the middle ages then this is your book! I did find it a little dry and slow in many parts. It is packed with information, and it reads like it does. It reads like a text book, which is good, but not always that engaging or captivating. I learned a lot, and I'm glad I read it. 

Rating: PG+ (It does discuss marriage and some of the things that go along with that......it doesn't go into detail, but it does mention it.)

Recommendation: 12-13 years-old and up. Younger children won't be interested in this book anyway, and they won't be able to understand it. 

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


Monday, August 3, 2015

The Selection (Book #1)


The Selection by Kiera Cass

Blurb:

"The opportunity to be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon. But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her, and leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she begins to realize that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined."

My Review:

As I subbed at my kids' elementary school last school year, I often saw this book on the fifth and sixth grade girls' desks. Consequently, I wanted to see what all the excitement was about. So I was happy when my book group decided to read it this month. I love the cover photo. That dress is gorgeous! Who wouldn't want to wear that, right?? As I started reading I was at first shocked that fifth and sixth grade girls were reading this book. There is a scene right off the bat that is pretty much an "intimacy" scene. I read it twice because I wanted to make sure that I read it correctly. They end up not actually going all the way; but it's all but. Wow. I would not want my fifth or sixth grade girl reading that! So I wasn't quite sure what to expect the rest of the way. There were some good elements to the book. I liked the characters and thought the character development was good. I liked America, for the most part. She did drive me crazy in some instances. I didn't really know what to think of Aspen. Sometimes I liked him and sometimes I did not like him at all. There were some of the girls later on that were well developed. I liked Marlee. Even though I didn't like Celeste at all, I thought she was very well developed and could picture her exactly. I liked Prince Maxon too. I thought he was down to earth and real. The whole bit about the caste system was interesting. This book was just ok for me though; I seriously felt like I had already read it. Between Matched and Princess Academy, I really didn't see anything new. Maybe it's because I just read Princess Academy, but a lot of it was so similar that it felt like almost the same story, just set in a different time and place. The circumstances are a little different, but the similarities are uncanny. Towards the end I got a little more into it, but it never really became its own book in my mind. This book is written for a little bit of an older girl than Princess Academy is. 

The reason I would say that this book is written for an older girl is because there is some profanity; not a lot, but enough to make it more of a YA book than a middle-grader book. There are also a few scenes like the one I described above. They never go all the way, but almost, and they do everything except that. Also, it is a crime to actually be "intimate" with someone before you are married; consequently, they discuss this and use words and descriptions that I wouldn't want my middle-grader reading, even if she's had the birds and the bees discussion.

I liked the book; it was okay. I think I would have liked it a lot more if I hadn't just read Princess Academy, because they are so similar. It just seemed like I had already read the book, even though I hadn't.

Rating: PG -13 (Some profanity, a few almost "intimacy" scenes, kissing, discussions about "intimacy," and some violence with rebel attacks.)

Recommendation: Young Adult: 13 years-old and up

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Bitter Greens


Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Blurb: 

"Novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by Louis XIV. An old nun comforts her with the tale of a young girl sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens.... Taken from her beloved parents, Margherita is given to the courtesan Selena Leonelli. The famous red-haired beauty lives at the center of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of seduction and betrayal. Locked away in a tower, Margherita sings in the hope that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does. Award-winning author Kate Forsyth braids together the stories of Margherita, Selena, and Charlotte-Rose, the woman who penned Rapunzel as we now know it, to create an enchanting fairy tale retelling, and a loving tribute to the imagination of one remarkable woman."

My Review:

I received a copy of this book from the publishing company and I was so excited to read it! I love the story of Rapunzel, and couldn't wait to see how it all unfolded. This book is well written and well crafted, except that there are a lot of different characters, story lines, and time periods, and it was difficult to keep it all straight. I gave up looking at the dates at the beginning of each chapter because it didn't help. Once I started reading and figured out who it was talking about, then I was fine. The language in this book is beautifully done. The story is captivating and hooks you from the beginning. The character development is well done and it feels like you have known each of the characters for many years. I couldn't put the book down. Well, at the beginning. I was so intrigued. Then I got to the middle of the book and....ugh. It was way too much. This is not "Tangled" people. Think Brothers Grimm: dark, awful, gory, yucky, horrible. Rape, murder, suicide, prostitution, kidnapping, to name a few. The rape scene is....there are no words....disgusting, evil, and horrendous. It was way too much for me. I just about threw the book in the trash. Seriously. But I plugged through. The ending, thankfully, got better, and I found myself right back into it. There were a few surprises, and a few "Ahhhh....now I see."  moments. If you take out the whole middle third of the book then I liked this book. With the middle, it's iffy. Definitely do not go into this book thinking it will be a happy, cute fairy tale. It's too bad, because this could have been really good, it was just too much for me.

There is profanity, a horrible rape scene, prostitution, "intimacy," murder, suicide, kidnapping, and some other creepy, yucky things (why is her hair so long?).

Rating: R (Profanity-including a couple of "f" words, a horrible rape scene, prostitution, "intimacy," murder, suicide, kidnapping, and some other creepy, yucky things.)

Recommendation: Adult. Please do not let children and YA read this book, it is not appropriate for them at all.

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

Monday, July 20, 2015

Peer Pressure vs. True Friends (Surviving Junior High)



Peer Pressure vs. True Friends (Surviving Junior High) 
     by Dr. Orly Katz

Blurb (Taken from an email sent to me by the author):

"The book deals with everyday issues such as: self esteem, peer pressure Vs. true friend, body language intuition & leadership, positive thinking, and more...And include true life stories about growing up with tips, helpful rules, Illustrations, simple to do exercises and fun ‘test yourself’ questionnaires."

My Review:

This is a great book to help teenagers deal with all the pressures of life and school at that age. It is written to help children take control of their environment, to not be victims, to stand up for themselves, and to feel confident about themselves. It does say ages 12-16, but I would recommend that parents read it first to see where if their child is ready. The lessons that are taught in this book are so relevant and so needed today. Every student will benefit from reading this book. I love that it teaches teenagers how to say "no" to bad situations, and I also love how it helps kids learn and understand the consequences of some of their actions. Dr. Katz does have a chapter on the internet and how to use it properly, or what can happen if you use it improperly, and I think this one might be the most important. With the invention of the internet, bullying, spreading lies and rumors, and many other situations are so much worse than they were when I was a teenager. Now those lies can be spread to hundreds of people in a matter of seconds, and they will always be out there. Yes, that internet chapter is very important. I think this book is greatly needed today; it is a great resource for parents and teachers alike. 

There are a couple of examples in this book that may make a few parents uncomfortable with their 12 year-old reading them. I have a soon-to-be seventh and eighth grader, and I thought a lot about it. In the end I decided that I probably will discuss the situations with them. I guess there is a lot of stuff out there and I'd rather them be prepared. I will not have them read the book alone, though, I will be reading and discussing it with them. One of these examples is of a girl who gets asked to prom and her date asks her which hotel she wants to stay at after. They would be spending the rest of the prom night together, alone, in the hotel room. The word is never used, and what they would actually be doing there is never discussed, but kids will know what she is talking about. (At first I did not want my sons reading this, but the more I thought about it, the more I decided that they probably should. The prom is not relevant to them yet, but I know that kids are being "intimate" at very young ages, so I do think it is a lesson that they should hear....very supervised though.) The other situation is when there is a pool party and a very well endowed girl has a huge wardrobe malfunction and her whole, large, breast comes out of her bathing suit for everyone to see. (I was really against my two sons reading this story at first, but we go to the public pool sometimes, and really, it could happen. The lesson taught with the story is very important, and I think it is probably good for them to think about what they would do in a situation like that before it happens.) 

Overall, I think this is book has some valuable lessons in it that teenagers need to hear. It is well written; it is not condescending, but it is written on their level. I think kids will relate to her examples and her writing style. I recommend this book to all young adults.

Rating: PG+ (This book is clean, but discusses some very sensitive topics. "Intimacy" is discussed in a round-about way, and it does talk about a girl's breast hanging out of her bathing suit.

Recommendation: Junior high and up. I do recommend that parents read and discuss it with their children.

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


Friday, July 17, 2015

Peer Pressure vs True Friends (Surviving Primary School)


Peer Pressure vs. True Friends (Surviving Primary School) 
     by Dr. Orly Katz

Blurb (Taken from an email sent to me by the author):

"The book deals with everyday issues such as: self esteem, peer pressure Vs. true friend, body language intuition & leadership, positive thinking, and more...And includes true life stories about growing up with tips, helpful rules, Illustrations, simple to do exercises and fun ‘test yourself’ questionnaires."

My Review:

This is a great book for elementary school children. It is written to help children take control of their environment, to not be victims, to stand up for themselves, and to feel confident about themselves.  It says ages 9-13, which is about 3rd to 7th grade; I would feel comfortable reading it with my seven-year-old, who is going into second grade. This book is well written, and is written in a way that kids will relate to. It doesn't talk down to the children, yet it is written on their level so they will understand.  Dr. Katz uses many examples of situations that may occur in elementary school and how to handle them. I love the chapter about saying "no" to things if they will put us in bad situations. I also enjoyed the chapter on Energy Drains. I think it is really good for kids to know the difference between tattling and reporting. When I was teaching I hated the endless, "He did this..." or "She did that..." My students knew I did not like tattling. My kids know the same thing now. However, reporting things like abuse or bullying is a completely different story, and it's so important for children to know the difference. These are just a couple of examples of what is discussed in this book. I think it is a great resource for parents and teachers alike. I will definitely be reading it to my children. It will be a good way to open the door for discussion on each of these topics. I think as parents we sometimes struggle with how to discuss the hard stuff, and this book makes it a lot easier. It could be read silently by the children, but I think it's one that will be more effective if parents read it with their children. There are questions at the end of the chapters for the children to answer to find out where they stand on each issue, and I think it could be eye-opening for some children. I highly recommend this book. 

Rating: PG (Totally clean! It does discuss some difficult topics though.)

Recommendation Second grade (about 7 year-old) and up

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



Thursday, July 9, 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird


To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Blurb (From amazon.com):

"The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.

Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior - to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into forty languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature."

My Review:

This is one of my all time favorite books! It is a classic and still a great read! I read it in school and have reread it several times. I appreciate it more every time I read it. Atticus Finch is a single father raising his two children, Jem and Scout. He has a nanny that cooks and takes care of the children, and she is an African-American woman. Next door to them lives Boo Radley, who never comes out of the house. The story goes through the trials of being a single father, growing up in the 1930's, and the relationships between races at that time. Atticus is a lawyer who is asked to defend an African-American boy accused of raping a white girl. Harper Lee did a very good job in this book. It is very well written. I love the way she writes. I love her descriptions, her character development, and the way she seamlessly traverses difficult subjects. I love the lessons that are taught in this book. It is timeless. The issues brought up in the book are still in the news today; I love books whose messages are relevant to all ages and eras. I wish some of the issues in this book were no longer issues today; however, since they are still issues, books like this are great to help us see beyond the trees and into the forest.

There are some very adult issues discussed in this book that may be too much for younger readers to understand and deal with. (Do I really want to go into rape with my 11 year-old son? No.) There is the rape trial and other racial issues. With that said, older junior high students (9th grade) and high school students will definitely benefit from reading this book.

 Rated: PG-13 (Racial issues and a  rape trial.)

Recommendation: High School and Up. This is a great read for a high school English class. This book may be appropriate for a mature 9th grader as well. As is always the case, I recommend that parents read this book first to determine whether or not their child is mature enough to handle the issues discussed.


   

*This review was originally posted on 4/28/09, but has been updated. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Chocolate Touch


The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling

Blurb: 

"John Midas loves chocolate. He loves it so much that he'll eat it any hour of any day. He doesn't care if he ruins his appetite. He thinks chocolate is better than any other food! But one day, after wandering into a candy store and buying a piece of their best chocolate, John finds out that there might just be such a thing as too much chocolate....."

My Review:

Too much chocolate? No! I don't think so! Or, at least I didn't think so....until I read this book! Unfortunately, John has to learn the hard way that there is such a thing as too much chocolate! Bummer, right? I mean, who wants to eat broccoli instead of chocolate? No one! This is a cute story. It's so fun, and it teaches a good lesson too. It's well written, engaging, has good character development, and my kids loved it (I started reading it to my girls-7 and 9, and my boys, 13 and 11, joined us...they loved it too!). It's a great read-aloud! And, I guess even the big kiddos enjoy it! I loved the descriptions in this book; I could just picture the expressions on the characters' faces, and almost taste that delectable chocolate. And what is even better? This book is totally clean; there is no profanity, violence, or "intimacy" (Yay!).

Rating: G (Totally clean!!!)

Recommendation: Everyone! This book is especially great for all the chocoholics out there..... :)