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A book about Alzheimer’s for tween readers


Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip, by Jordan Sonnenblick, is one of the funniest, sweetest books I’ve read all year. Yeah, it’s only February, but I bet if you ask me again in December I’ll say the same thing. If you know and love anyone with Alzheimer’s Disease, you’ve got to read this book!

The hook is that fourteen-year-old Peter is reinventing himself after a devastating baseball injury. His freshman year seems to hold promise after he teams up with a pretty girl named Angelika in photography. But at home, Peter watches his grandpa lose his memory bit by bit, and feels powerless to help.

I don’t know anything about photography so I can’t tell if those parts of the book were accurate or not, but the way the author portrayed Alzheimer’s Disease was spot on. It was perfect, absolutely perfect.

Thank you, Jordan, for writing this book, and thank you to Scholastic for publishing it.

For moms who don’t have time to read

Got a teen in your home? Got a child capable of reading at a high school level? It’s darn near impossible to keep up with what your kids read.

Over on my other site, The YA Gal, I review books as fast as I can get them. And yet…I’m still behind. Here are three books I’ve read recently that parents might want know about–even if you don’t have time to read them:

All last year I felt guilty for not having read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. How could I call myself a YA fan and not have read such a popular book? Well, today I remedied that situation. Start to finish. Cover to cover. Quite a lot of Kleenex.

At its heart, The Fault in Our Stars is a teenage love story set against the backdrop of cancer. Hazel drags her oxygen tank everywhere she goes and Augustus has a prosthetic leg. Both are erudite, witty, and converse in a fashion that I’ve never heard teenagers sound like ever–and I’ve been around a lot of smart teens. Like, literally, I’ve never heard teens talk like that. Still, the Gilmore-Girl-esq dialogue is fun to read, although if it doesn’t come across as realistic.

If you enjoy tear-jerkers, this is a great book for you. If you’d rather not put yourself through an emotional wringer, stay away. The only thing that bothered me was Augustus and his unlit cigarette. Hopefully that doesn’t spawn a fad of cigarettes becoming cool again even if they aren’t smoked.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner is another title in the uber-popular genre of YA books about teenagers in dangerous “fight-to-the-death” games. But in this case, the main character, Thomas, is not on television…probably. He doesn’t really know the truth because his memory is wiped.

Thomas, along with the rest of the cast, are stuck in the middle of the Glade. Right next to them is the mysterious Maze with ever changing walls. Somewhere, deep in the Maze are evil Grievers which are half slug, half robots ready to attack.

Will Thomas be able to solve the Maze and lead the other kids to freedom or is he actually their worst enemy?

My nine-year-old son loves, loves, loves The Maze Runner. He read it start to finish in one day. To me as an adult it seemed predictable but fun. I wish there were more female characters but I appreciate Dasher’s brilliance in crafting a book that makes adolescent boys want to read.

The Soulkeepers by G.P. Ching might be on your teen’s e-reader right now because it’s free. Usually free books are hit or miss, but this book is amazing.

The last place fifteen-year-old Jacob Lau wants to be is living with his Uncle John in the middle of nowhere. But in the wake of his mother’s disappearance, Jacob has no place else to go. The kids at Jacob’s school act like they’ve never met an Asian American before, and make mixed-race Jacob feel like a freak. His only source of comfort is Malini, a bright and beautiful transplant from India.

Meanwhile, Jacob is seriously spooked by Dr. Silvia, the ghostly pale women who lives in the Gothic Victorian next door. When Jacob breaks one of her stained glass windows he’s forced into her servitude, scooping compost and working in the garden. Jacob can’t figure out if Dr. Silvia is a witch or a trusted mentor–which is too bad because some strange things have been happening to Jacob recently, and he needs all the help he can get to figure out what the heck is going on.

The pacing of this book is perfect. The characters suck you in right away and make you care about them. The suspense makes you want to turn pages as fast as possible. But under all of it, is a deep heart. The Soulkeepers is a book that makes you think.

I was unfamiliar with G.P. Ching until I read The Soulkeepers and since then I’ve cyber stalked her in the most friendly way. I’ve also signed up for her newsletter. I’m pretty darned convinced that Genevieve is a brilliant writer and marketer. I can see why traditionally published authors would be jealous. But this woman is also a class act. G.P. Ching is full of grace and friendly advice for writers and teens alike.

“The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong” by L. Tam Holland

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I’ve been excited to read The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong, by debut author L. Tam Holland, ever since I saw it listed in the Stanford alumni magazine. You might even say I had outrageously high expectations for the book. Luckily, Holland did not disappoint! The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong is hysterically funny, tense in all of the right moments, and poignant, especially at the end.

Vee Crawford-Wong is half Texan, half Chinese, and that’s about as much as he knows about his personal identity. His mom and dad refuse to tell him one tidbit of information about where they come from. On the rare occasions when his dad does say something about China, it’s usually something about American Chinese food. Vee’s mom tells him more about their 2005 Toyota named Fanny, then about her aging parents in Ding Dong Texas.

When Vee’s history teacher makes the class write a five page paper about their ancestry, Vee makes a bunch of stuff up. One lie leads to another and soon the Crawford-Wong family is headed towards China and a truth that nobody wants to reveal.

This book is rich enough for a ninth grade English class–if the parents don’t complain about all the almost-sex scene. The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong also has something missing from a lot of YA bookshelves these days, a non-white main character.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks!

“Rebels” by Jill Williamson

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Rebels is book three of The Safe Lands series by Jill Williamson. (You can read my review of Outcasts, here.) The novels take place in a dystopian future where pleasure is promoted at the expense of real relationships and ethics. The heroes of the story are religious people from a patriarchal family where the men are always in charge and the women stay home to do laundry and homeschool children. The few instances where women step out on their own, something bad happens like they get captured. It’s like the antithesis of girl-power.

Instead of a central protagonist, Rebels jumps around between three brothers: Levi, Mason and Omar, as well as two sisters: Jemma and Shaylinn. There are also a bunch of kids, kindred folk, city people, bad guys, criminals, medics and other characters to keep track of. Even though I was already familiar with the series, it was really hard to remember who everyone was. To add to the confusion, a few of the characters have two different names.

On the plus side, Jill Williamson deserves a lot of credit for managing a very complex plot and tying up the threads neatly together at the end. At the two thirds mark of Rebels, I was wondering how the heck she was going to pull it off, and yet she did. The ending answers all questions, and provides a satisfactory conclusion. The only lingering concern I have is the book’s message that husbands are usually right and wives should do almost all of the housework. That type of future truly qualifies as dystopian!

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

“Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” by Eric Metaxas


Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas is a deeply thought-provoking look into the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But it’s also more than that, because it tells the story of how Bonhoeffer’s entire family was effected by the tumultuous years between World War I and World War II. His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a famous psychiatrist and outspoken opponent of Freud. Dietrich’s twin sister, Sabine, married a man of Jewish decent and fled Germany to escape persecution. The Bonhoeffers were elite intellectuals, but neither money nor power was able to protect them from Hitler.

The heart of this book is how so many Germans risked and sometimes forfeited their lives to speak up against evil. Before I read Bonhoeffer Abridged, I did not know about the German Confessional Church which broke away from the National Church and objected to the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer was a leader in this movement. As a spiritual thinker he was very ecumenical in nature. Bonhoeffer believed that Christians could benefit from spiritual practices from many denominations, including the Catholic church. I feel like he could preach at my United Methodist Church tomorrow, and fit right in.

As Hitler consolidated his power, the Bonhoeffer family was privy to information about SS atrocities that was still hidden from the rest of the world because there were so many Bonhoeffer relatives in high places. Dietrich was a committed pacifist, but as time wore on he joined the anti-Hitler resistance movement.

Tragically, Dietrich was killed at Flossenburg concentration camp, which my grandfather helped liberate two weeks later as part of the 741st Tank Battalion. So for me, this book had personal significance because I knew my grandpa was coming to help, but would not get there in time to save Dietrch’s life.

If you are at all interested in World War I or World War II history, you will love Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. I received a free copy from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

 

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Exciting News!

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Dear Teaching My Baby to Read followers,

I’ve waited years to write this post. Today, Publishers Marketplace announced my two book deal with Georgia McBride at Month9Books. BLANK SLATE will release in 2016 and is about an 18 year-old girl whose lack of a virtual footprint makes her so valuable that she is auctioned off to the highest bidder. The sequel will come out in 2017.

Here’s the link to my brand new author page at Month9Books: http://month9booksblog.com/authors/jennifer-bardsley/, my new Facebook page: The YA Gal, and my new homepage: http://jenniferbardsley.net.

I’ve got so many people to thank that my acknowledgement page will be a mile long. But none of this would be possible without the incredible dedication of my literary agent, Liza Fleissig, of the Liza Royce Agency.

I've wanted to be an author since I was 11 years old.

I’ve wanted to be an author since I was 11 years old.

On this blog I’ve talked about the importance of empowering our kids to become resilient. This is a lesson I hope to teach my own children by example. Three blogs, five manuscripts, 100+ “I Brake for Moms” columns in The Everett Daily Herald; I’ve put in 10,000 hours of writing and my family knows what this dream has cost.

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But it’s worth it.

In 2016 there will be an author box in our family library with my name on it.

I hope when 2016 comes, you’re still with me. I hope you love my book and write glowing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I hope you tweet about it to all your friends!

In the meantime, my mission for Teaching My Baby to Read remains unchanged. My dream is to spark a national conversation about how massive parental involvement is the key to high quality education. Resiliency will make it happen.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your readership.

Jennifer Bardsley

 

 

“Muse” by Erin Mcfadden

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“Clean” YA can be hard to come by so I was especially excited to read  Muse (Descended From Myth Book 1), by debut author Erin McFadden.

Anna is unaware that she is a Talent, capable of impressing her will upon other people and inspiring them to greatness, until a Guardian named Daniel explains her powers. As their two fates intertwine, Anna and Daniel face danger, darkness, and the irresistible draw to each other, even though Talent/Guardian relationships never work out.

At 181 pages,  Muse is an enjoyable read. I found the story engaging and the characters likeable. The way McFadden alternates between Daniel and Anna POV chapters keeps the pace moving.

The author also peppers her novel with a lot of good lines. A favorite was from page 53: “I’m a very mature nineteen year old. People tell me that all the time! Of course it’s usually when they’re trying to get me to babysit their kids.”

This book is definitely a keeper, and I look forward to reading the second title in the series, TALENT.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

“Call Me Grim” by Elizabeth Holloway

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Call Me Grim by Elizabeth Holloway is the perfect book for a misty October night.

Libi should be dead right now, except for creepy-stalker-guy Aaron saved her moments before a truck would have ended her teenage life. The catch is that Aaron is a local Grim Reaper and he wants Libi to take over his job.

As the clock ticks Libi has a multitude of decisions to make. Quick death or immortal discord? Best friend Kyle or Mr. Aaron RIP?

I was really impressed by how the story’s premise held together so well. There were lots of parts where I found myself thinking “Wow! That is sooooo cool!”

As YA books go, Call Me Grim is PG in terms of cleanness. It’s not too scary or too racy but it is definitely “I’ve-got-to-read-this-in-one-day!” material. I look forward to reading more books from Elizabeth Holloway in the future.

P.S. For the #YABookCook version of this post, head on over to JenniferBardsley.Net.

Q and A with Darlene Beck Jacobson, author of “Wheels of Change”

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Darlene Beck Jacobson

Do you love a great historical fiction book for kids as much as I do? Then check out my previous review of Wheels of Change by Darlene Beck Jacobson. Today I’m excited to share a bit more about this fabulous new book. Darlene graciously accepted my offer to interview her!


Wheels of Change

Jenny: Was your protagonist Emily Soper based on a historical person in real life or is she purely a work of fiction?

Darlene: Emily is the name of my grandmother whose father was a carriage maker in DC at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Grandma also attended a reception at the White House and met Theodore Roosevelt. Those are the facts; the rest is fiction.

 

Jenny: You manage to work a surprising amount of vocabulary into your book, making me think you must be a killer Scrabble opponent. Where did you develop a love of big words?

Darlene: My Dad – Emily’s son – was a wordsmith who loved crossword puzzles. He often used big words and never talked down to my sister or me. My sister and I still enjoy competing against each other in word games. Our favorite is PERQUACKY. As far as SCRABBLE goes, my son’s got me beat. He plays online and really kills me with two letter words.

 

Jenny: Ouch! Two letter words are tough.

One of the funniest scenes is when Emily bakes a peach pie under duress. That’s exactly how I feel whenever I encounter pie crust. Do you like to bake? What’s your favorite pie: peach, blackberry or apple?

Darlene: I really enjoy baking. Cookies and muffins are my specialties, but there is something satisfying about a fresh baked pie. Strawberry Rhubarb and Key Lime are my favorites.

 

Jenny: Thinking about the book is making me hungry! Another food related scene revolved around gingerbread. Kids today are likely familiar with gingerbread cookies, but not many have probably tried real gingerbread. Do you have a favorite recipe to share?

Darlene: Have you tried the recipe for Mrs. Jackson’s Gingerbread found in the back of the book? It’s actually a very simple recipe and produces a tasty gingerbread. It’s been adapted from the Fanny Farmer Cookbook of the era. Here it is:

 

Mrs. Jackson’s Gingerbread

¼ lb. butter or shortening                                             

 2 ½C flour

1 C sugar                                               2 tsp baking soda

2 eggs                                                    ½ tsp salt

¾ C boiling water                                2 tsp ginger

¾ C molasses                                       1 TBSP white vinegar

  • Grease and flour a square cake pan. Preheat oven to 350.
  • Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add eggs. Add water, molasses and vinegar. Stir until blended.
  • Add dry ingredients to wet mixture. Pour into prepared pan.
  • Bake 35-45 minutes. If a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out dry, it’s done

 

Jenny: Yum! That sounds good.  Unfortunately, I can’t eat gluten but I bet my family would like that recipe.

A big theme of the book is Emily struggling with her mother and society’s expectations of what it means to be a “proper young lady”. She has to iron, keep clean, bake and stay tidy. When you were a 6th grade girl did you have expectations placed on you that felt like a burden?

Darlene: My parents never told us what we should or should not do. I’ve always been a goal setter. I get a great satisfaction from achieving goals that I’ve set for myself. There was always peer pressure and pop culture telling us girls to look and act a certain way; that still happens today. But then – and now – I choose to march to my own drum and do what feels right for me. I tried to convey that message to my own daughter as well.

All the expectations of my life have been self-imposed. I grew up reading Nancy Drew books. She seemed so cool and confident. It was fun to pretend to be Nancy. I think early seeds of feminism sprouted within me from reading books like that.

 

Jenny: That, and a life-long desire to buy a yellow convertible. Oh, wait. That’s my own reaction to Nancy Drew. 🙂

A very moving scene is when Emily’s family goes to visit their African American friend Henry in the Shaw neighborhood. For those of us who are unfamiliar with D.C., what is Shaw like today? Is it still a predominantly African American part of town?

Darlene: Washington DC is a much more urbanized place than it was 100 years ago. There is a large African American population as well as people of Hispanic, Asian and other cultures and ethnic backgrounds…much like any American city. Shaw suffered during the riots of the late 1960’s, and population declined throughout the district. It has been on the rebound over the last two decades. The Shaw section of the district is a mix of multi-generational professionals who are committed to revitalization of the area. It has become a very fashionable neighborhood.

 

Jenny: Civil rights, both for women and people, of color is a central element in Wheels of Change. When you were a child, did you ever witness a civil rights struggle that made an impression?

Darlene: While I never personally witnessed the struggles that took place, they were a part of the daily landscape of growing up in the 1960’s.

 

Jenny: Any new books in the works?

Darlene: I am working on a PB titled TOGETHER ON OUR KNEES about the childhood of a little known suffragist named Matilda Joslyn Gage. There is also another historical MG in the editing stage called A SPARROW IN THE HAND. This story takes place in the coal mining area of Pennsylvania during Prohibition.

 

Thank you Darlene! You can find her book, Wheels of Change, on Amazon. The next stop of the Wheels of Change Blog Tour is Live Your Poem.

 

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“Survival Colony 9” Makes Boys Want to Read

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In a post-apocalyptic world turned to dust, Querry Genn’s amnesia is either his greatest strength–or his downfall–depending on whom you ask. That’s the premise between Joshua David Bellin’s brilliant debut novel, Survival Colony 9. I was so excited to read this book that I preordered it from Amazon.

Survival Colony 9 was everything I hoped it would be. Scary, suspenseful and also thought provoking. Even better, it’s “clean” enough for my nine-year-old to read, so he’s pretty stoked.

The descriptive passages in this book were especially well written. I kept picturing the movie “Empire of the Sun” in all its ghastly glory. If Survival Colony 9 ever becomes a movie, John Malkovich should definitely play Querry’s father.

Some of you may recognize Bellin from my blogroll. He’s the creator of YA Guy, a blog that strives to highlight books that would interest teen boys as well as teen girls. As a teacher, reader and parent, I appreciate that mission!

Helping Kids Understand Afghanistan

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What’s behind the veil? Washington author Trent Reedy has crafted a powerful book that gives middle grade readers an inside look into the daily life of Afghan girls.

I don’t want to give any secrets away, but Zulaikha, the main character in Reedy’s book Words in the Dust uses her chador to hide a clef palate, a birth defect that is likely to ruin her life as a young Afghan teenager. Nobody will want to marry her and she’ll be at her stepmother’s mercy for the rest of her life. Zulaikha’s older sister Zeynab seems to have a better fate because she is so beautiful, but both girls are trapped in a society dominated by patriarchy and oppression.

My kids and I have been reading a lot of books about Islam this month and Words in the Dust is one of my favorites.  What makes it even more heart wrenching is that Zulaikha and Zeynab are based on real life people Reedy met while serving in Afghanistan. In the Author’s Note, Reedy describes how National Guardsman pooled their money together to arrange surgery for a young girl named Zulaikha who had a clef palate. Helping her wasn’t even part of their mission, but the Americans did it anyway.

Words in the Dust is a book that is very difficult to put down. My son stayed up until midnight to finish reading it.

I sincerely hope that teachers across America bring this book into their classrooms. It would provide rich text for meaningful discussions.

Merlin’s Nightmare, by Robert Treskillard


Merlin’s Nightmare by Robert Treskillard is the third book in his Merlin Spiral series. (For my review of book #2, Merlin’s shadow, click here. )

The premise of Merlin’s Nightmare is that Arthur is now 18 and just discovering that he is the rightful heir to Britain. Merlin struggles to let his adopted son grow up and make decisions on his own–which might lead everyone to their doom.

Anyone familiar with Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory is going to be in for a shock!

Treskillard has taken the original cast of the Arturian legend and reshuffled it.  Morgana for example, is now Merlin’s sister.

For my part, I read this latest Treskillard installment and thought “Werewolves? He added werewolves?” But I’m not such a traditionalist that it bothered me. In fact, I really think the author has freshened the legends up. Arthur is ready for new YA fans.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

Set up a Sensory Reading Corner

A sensory reading corner

A sensory reading corner

Got a reluctant reader? Try turning reading into a sensory experience. Set up a corner with fidget toys, a cozy blanket, and a warm, weighted lavender pillow. Also works for stressed out moms!

This is a nice alternative to the other reading corner in our house, which is smaller and a bit more intimate.

A $20 net from IKEA makes a big splash!

A $20 net from IKEA makes a big splash!

 

Girl at the End of the World, by Elizabeth Esther

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Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future, by Elizabeth Esther, is so good and so powerful, that in addition to crying and laughing I also feel a little bit ill.

Elizabeth’s story of growing up in The Assembly, as the granddaughter of church founders, George and Betty Geftakys, is harrowing. Preaching on street corners by age nine, ingrained with the belief she would be Left Behind at any moment, taught that the natural curves of her body were to blame for tempting all men into sin, and spanked every day in the methods of Michael Pearl; no wonder this mom of five has PTSD. Reading about so much awfulness made me start shaking.

Gracefully, Elizabeth lightens her memoir with bits of this-is-so-messed-up-I-can’t-believe-it humor.  For example, when Elizabeth is finally permitted to attend public school, it’s only because her parents commissioned Elizabeth to bring her high school to Jesus.

The most stomach churning moments in this book have to do with child abuse. On page 41 she describes “obedience tests” aka “mat-training” or “blanket training”. Children were placed on mats and then spanked every time they reach off the matt. Elizabeth describes how some mothers would intentionally tempt their children by placing candy all around the mats, and then spank them when they reached for the candy. Pardon my French, but “What the fudge?”

There’s another section in the book where Elizabeth’s father tells her its God’s will (because Dad said so) that she give up her hard-earned position on the school newspaper–that had me in tears.

Thankfully, Elizabeth Ester has found healing. Part of her new life comes from the Catholic church. What I found so interesting about the last chapter of the book, is that Elizabeth is describing what Methodists like me call the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. It’s when we base our faith in God on four things: scripture, church tradition, reason, and our own experience. It took a lot of courage for Elizabeth and her husband Matt to lean on reason and experience, when they had been so spiritually abused by the other two.

Girl at the End of the World is a fabulous, fabulous, fabulous book. It’s a cautionary tale to all Christians. If we believe the Bible is the living word of God, then we need to let the Bible live and breathe. We need to stop letting people use the Bible as a weapon. If we believe God gave us free will, then we need to exercise our own opinions and stop wiping our wills clean.  If we believe Christ died for us so that we may have eternal live, then we need to live.

Live well, Elizabeth Esther. You deserve it!

P.S. You can find more about Elizabeth Esther by reading her blog. Thank you to Convergent publishers for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

Merlin’s Shadow, by Robert Treskillard

I was expecting to be entertained–but not educated when I picked up the YA book Merlin’s Shadow by Robert Treskillard. Lucky for me I got both!

The premise of  Merlin’s Shadow is that Merlin, his fiancé, a baby Arthur, and a few Druid and Christian tagalongs, are on the run from the evil king Vortigern. Their only escape is to head north into the hands of the blue Picti.

This book is a real page-turner, but at the same time Treskillard weaves an extensive amount of Celtic history into his new interpretation of the Arthurian legends.

But (insert evil laughter), I can take Treskillard’s fascination with obscure history, and up the notch of nerdiness. This past fall I studied Celtic Christianity along with the rest of my local United Methodist church. One of the favorite books I read was Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Sprirtuality by J. Philip Newell.

Our Advent spiral from church.

Our Advent spiral, complete with harp music.

After the Romans left the British Isles, Celtic Christianity developed into it’s own culture, without interference from Rome. Whereas Roman Christians revered Peter and believed infants were inherently evil, Celtic Christians looked towards the apostle John and believed that God’s creation was naturally good, but that free will led to sin.

The famous Celtic Christian Pelagius, is either a heretic or a saint, depending upon whom you talk too. He encouraged women to read scripture and think about spiritual things.

The Iona Abbey in Scotland is still active, and people from all over the world travel there to learn about God and ancient spiritual practices that still have meaning today: praying while you work, blessing your children before they walk out the door, and enjoying nature.

If you take all of that history and put it side by side with Merlin’s Shadow, it becomes even more interesting. Treskillard is writing about a world right after the Romans left, when Celtic Christianity is just getting a foothold. Druids like Caygek, have their own sense of morality that will eventually be enveloped into the Celtic Christian church; the Earth is sacred because it is God’s creation.

I’m looking forward to reading the other two books in the Merlin’s Spiral series.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookSneeze®