Thursday, July 31, 2014

TBT: First Family Vacation

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In light of returning from a quick family trip to Oregon late last night, I thought I'd post a few pics from our first "just us" family vacation to Disneyland 3 years ago.

Our first family vacation was a quick one, too, but we had so much fun!!! Day 2 got completely rained out - it poured all day long. Plus it was chilly. We made a good decision not to spend the $ on tickets that day, but it was still quite a bummer. Not enough to totally dampen our spirits, though. We were able to spend 2 wonderful days riding rides and eating fun food!

* It's crazy to look back and see Mullin standing so much shorter than me! In 3 years, he's passed me by about 3 inches. Too bad I can't clip the wings of time.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Journal of Thanks

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Since March 17th of this year, I've been keeping a journal of thanks. It's my personal record of my own journey to 1000 gifts inspired by Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.

If you haven't yet read her book, I can't recommend it enough.

It's no secret. I've always struggled with having a positive outlook on life. Love Jesus? Yes. Joy down in my heart? Yes. But my inherent nature tends toward the negative side of things. I like to call myself a "realist." ;)

Keeping an ongoing record of blessings and things I am thankful for has made a difference in my disposition. It helps me notice the little things. It helps me see, really see, how truly blessed I am.

Even if you don't read Ann Voskamp's book, I recommend that you, too, start a journal of thanks. Let it strictly be a place in which you number your blessings. I am so glad I started one, and as of right now, I've written down 167 "gifts" in my journal. (Thanks to my friend for blessing me with this journal. It's definitely being put to good use!)

I'm randomly sharing 15 of the blessings I've recorded:

Need a journal? Check out these Inspirational Journals.

Here's the one that I have:

And I absolutely love it! There's a different Bible verse at the bottom of every page.

Linked to Tell It To Me Tuesdays, Thoughtful Thursdays

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Awkward Family Photo 1

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So fun looking through old family photos. I remember going shopping for all those matching turquoise and purple tops. ;)

I'm not sure what's more awkward here - my hand reaching from a mile away and resting on my mom's shoulder or the girl mullet I'm sporting?

I'll let you decide.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hot Wheel Magnets

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If you have boys, chances are you've got Hot Wheels. Hot Wheels and boys just go together, don't they? My brother played with them when he was little (and so did I), and my own two boys played with them when they were cute little things.

A few months ago, my daughter needed a couple of cars for a science experiment that involved magnets. Lincoln, one of her older brothers, generously shared what I believe are the last two Hot Wheels left from my boys' childhood. (Um, they sort of demolished their car collection by lining them up in the street in our old neighborhood and waiting for unsuspecting vehicles to run them over. I am not recommending this as a productive childhood activity, just so you know.)

Anyway, doing this project made me think of how fun this would be for little boys. It might be fun for bigger boys to do this with some of their old cars, too. As you probably can already tell, it's a super easy project.

What You'll need:  Hot Wheels or other type of car, heavy duty magnets, and a hot glue gun.

I used a mini hot glue gun sort of like the one pictured above.

As far as magnets go, I used the circle kind that come in a little package at Wal-Mart. The magnets I used work great as long as I don't use the car magnets to hold up any artwork or other paper. If you want functional magnets that serve as a paper-holding device, you may want to check into purchasing the kind of magnets pictured below:

I haven't ever used these kinds of magnets but have heard that they are pretty powerful. I think I remember our science book saying so. ;)

What You'll Do: Turn Hot Wheels upside down and hot glue the magnets of your choice onto the bottoms of the cars. In a few seconds, they're ready to hang on the fridge!

Warning: Probably not a good project to do if you're afraid that your little ones might swallow the magnets. I can't imagine that being a pleasant experience.

Sharing on WFMW, Funtastic Friday

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms {Schoolhouse Review}

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I'll admit, I'm always extra excited when I get to review a product that is just for me. I love to read and try to read even more during the summer, so I was thrilled to be chosen to review Mary Jo Tate's latest book, Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms from Apologia Educational Ministries.


If you're a homeschooler, chances are you've already heard of Apologia. They've become a well-known and trustworthy resource in the homeschooling community and in my own homeschool as well. They strive to provide quality science, history, language arts, and biblical worldview curriculum for homeschooled students and other materials for parents in order to assist families in cultivating a biblical worldview, in defending their faith, and in speaking the truth in love. I love Apologia and would probably be willing to review anything from this company!

I wasn't familiar with the author, Mary Jo Tate, until this review, but I'm glad I am now because her book has truly been an inspiration! For those of you who aren't yet familiar with her, she's a veteran homeschool mom of four boys plus quite the successful business woman. She's an international editor, a book coach, author of several books, and is the host of the "Flourish at Home" show on the Ultimate Radio Network. I think she has a pretty good idea of what it means to be busy, but she's managed to find and maintain balance. By God's grace, she is flourishing, and she wants to help other homeschool moms flourish, too.

In her book, Flourish: Balance for Homeschool moms, she shares in a very personable way what has worked for her, yet she constantly reminds us moms that it's important to find what works best for our own individual families and unique situations. What she offers is wisdom, practical advice, and planning tools to help us live productive lives and "find peace in the space between the ideal and reality."

Her book is about learning how to enjoy life as a homeschool mom and avoiding the temptation to simply endure it. She inspires us to change our mindsets from "I can't" to "How can I?" She also encourages us to realistically prioritize responsibilities, to establish a routine that works for us, and to evaluate our progress on a weekly basis.

She gives sound advice on everything from organizing your home, establishing a routine or schedule, and changing your behavior with the FREEDOM strategy to nourishing your spiritual life, training your children, and managing a home business. As a single mom herself, she even devotes a chapter to helping other single homeschooling moms flourish.

Details At A Glance

Book: Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms (Paperback)

Page count: Including Forward by Tina Farewell, about 300

Chapters: 16
  1. An Invitation to Flourish
  2. Change Your Mind to Change Your Time
  3. The FREEDOM Toolbox
  4. Where Did My Time Go?
  5. Aim High: Setting Goals
  6. What Do I Do Next? Seven Essential Planning Tools
  7. We Interrupt This Program
  8. It's Time for an Attitude Adjustment
  9. Oxygen Masks and Monkey Bread Days
  10. Training Your Children
  11. Making Memories
  12. Managing Your Home
  13. All of Life is Learning
  14. Solo Act: Flourishing as a Single Mom
  15. Home Business
  16. Moving Ahead
Special Features:
  • Take Action! exercises at the end of each chapter
  • Inspirational quotes throughout from various sources - authors, speakers, artists, presidents, Scripture, moms, etc.
  • List of recommended resources on the topics of Life Management, Family Life, Homemaking, Education, Reading, Single Parents, and Home Business 
  • Planning Forms in the back of the book (customizable versions can be downloaded from the website)
Cost: $15.00

* If you'd like, you can view the Table of Contents and a sample of the book on the website.

Personal Review

Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms has been very helpful to me because I have entered that older kids phase of life. I need to get back into the routine of being a more careful planner so that I can't make the most of my "extra" time.

When my kids were younger, I nixed the habit of writing major to-do lists and lesson plans because I felt it had actually become a time waster. Not to mention, it's all too easy for me to slip into the slave-to-tasks mode. At that time, I knew I needed to exercise more freedom and flexibility. Overall, we had a smooth-running schedule, and all of the important things in that phase of life were getting done. Though personal, long-term dreams were being put on hold for a while, I was at peace with daily life as a homeschool mom.

Now, with some extra time on my hands that comes from not having little ones who need help with every single thing, I am ready to get a handle on some areas that have always given me trouble. I've never really had a problem with keeping my house neat and clean or staying on task with homeschooling. My struggles have always come with keeping track of lists (oh, I am good at making them, though) and organizing miscellaneous papers, computer files, and all of those amazing ideas in my head. Mary Jo Tate has convinced me that I need to get back in the habit of setting more specific goals, thinking bigger, and utilizing her seven essential planning tools from chapter 6. With her help, I hope to get more organized on the inside this year in order to make my long-term dreams and goals a reality!

As I read this book, I kept a highlighter with me at all times. So many good tips that I want to go back and re-read. I also love the inspiring quotes from various sources that stand out on almost every page. Chapters 3-8 are my favorites and contain so many tips and tools that I can apply to my current phase of life. I don't think I will be lending this book out anytime soon!

I started out using the planning forms in the back of the book to take the Pre-Book Self-Evaluation, to keep a time log for an entire week, and to answer the Big Dream questions. I also used a small notebook I had on hand to answer many of the Take Action! questions at the end of each chapter. Taking time to answer the questions is a great way to focus on how you can bring balance to your life. You can really see how you are spending your time so that you can make the changes you need in order to truly flourish in your calling as a homeschool mom.

I did decide to print off some the pretty customizable forms - Yearly Goals, Yearly Review, Big Dream, Post-Book Progress Check, Time Log, and Weekly Plan - from the website to keep in my 3-Ring binder. I really think I need to do the Time Log again once our school year starts in a couple of weeks. My time spent in the summer is a little different than my time spent during the homeschool year! You can access these forms, too, once you purchase the book.

Aside from filling out planning forms and answering questions at the end of each chapter, I was inspired to write down what one of my days was really like after reading chapter 13. In that chapter Mary Jo Tate shares her response to a challenge to write a blog post on the topic called "Fly on the Wall." She had to write down exactly what her day was like - not what she wished it had been or had planned for it to be. I thought it would be fun to do the same thing, but I have to warn you, a typical day in the summer is NOT what a typical day looks like during the school year. ;)

Final Thoughts

My goal is to truly get back into the habit of detailed planning, writing down goals, and actually assessing my progress on a regular basis so that I can make the most of my time. Thank you, Mary Jo, for taking the time to share all of your wonderful tips!

I truly believe all homeschool moms will benefit from this book. Mary Jo Tate speaks to moms in all phases and situations in life and always encourages us to find what works best for own families, to have realistic expectations, and to not get caught up in false guilt. She just gives us the tools to make that happen.

Find out how this book helped other homeschooling moms in all walks of life by clicking the banner below!

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Fly on the Wall: Summer Day at Brandi Raae

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Inspired by the book that I am currently reviewing, Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms, I decided to write a Day-In-the-Life-Of post. I guess this will make more sense if you read the book or read my review that I am posting tomorrow
Anyway, since it is toward the end of summer at the moment, a typical day in my stay-at-home-mom life looks quite different from a typical day during my homeschool year. ;) So, here it is: just an ordinary summer day from last Tuesday July 15, 2014. The rules I am following for this post are simple - I am sharing what my day was really like, not necessarily how I planned it to be or how I wanted it to be. Beware, it's pretty boring. Nothing spectacular in the least.
Well, I got up around 6 a.m. which is typical for me since I don't like to sleep in, and I read my daily devotion in my NIV Homeschool Mom's Bible: Daily Personal Encouragement. I made my bed which I also do every single day right after I get up, and even though I didn't write it down, I know I checked my email, Facebook, and other social media because I usually do that bright and early, too.
After that, I did some stretching in order to prepare for a brief time of exercise. My usual exercise routine consists of running up and down the stairs, doing push-ups, calf raises, sit-ups, and a few other things. I don't do all of those techniques every day, and honestly, I only exercise about 4 times a week for about 30 minutes at a time. When it's not so hot outside, my hubby and I also take evening walks, but right now it's pretty much too hot for that in the Arizona desert!
Feeling energized, I quickly posted a recipe on my blog before heading out to the backyard to water my basil and flower garden boxes. I came back inside to take a shower and put on some makeup so I could run some errands with my daughter. We went to Wal-Greens (I had an unhealthy craving for Vanilla Coke), Wal-Mart, and the library.
After we came home, I immediately got to work cleaning up our loft. We're in the middle of transitioning where we keep homeschool stuff, and the day before, I'd moved our main homeschool bookshelf/cabinet into my oldest son's room. So, the loft still had a big mess on the floor that I needed out of there!
Once the mess was out of the loft (and in my room), I read a chapter in the book I mentioned above, vacuumed and cleaned my middle son's mini blinds and window, and then finally sat down and relaxed with a game of Plants vs. Zombies - Vase Breaker Endless.
My kids were getting hungry for lunch, so I whipped up some eggs and sausage with a side of fruit. After cleaning up the kitchen, I did piano lessons with my daughter, started working on a Schoolhouse review, and watched an economics lesson with my oldest son.
I worked some more on a review before taking another break to play a Plants vs. Zombies co op with my daughter, which we won by the way. :) I squeezed in some dinner prep by scrubbing potatoes and putting them in the oven to bake. While the potatoes were baking, I worked on my review again. About 45 minutes later, I stopped to fix a salad and to finish getting dinner ready.
Dad came home from work, and we ate dinner together as a family. We cleaned up the kitchen, and yet again, I went back to my laptop to work on that review.
I've been reading through the Bible with my kids this year, and over the summer, we switched from reading in the morning to reading at night. We gathered in the loft and read from the Psalms and Isaiah, the two books we've been working through for the past couple of months. We talked and prayed, and then before calling it a night, I hate to admit it, but I played one last game of Plants vs. Zombies.
It's very unusual that I didn't spend some time reading fiction that day, but I've been saving some books for a very long upcoming 17 hour drive. Yikes.
If you've made it to the end of this post without falling asleep or exiting out, congratulations, you now know how I spent one of my summer days. :)
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Friday, July 18, 2014

Online Piano Lessons For All Ages {Schoolhouse Review}

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Since learning piano basics a few months ago, my daughter has been ready to take her skills to the next level. I am beyond grateful to HomeSchoolPiano for offering the Schoolhouse Review Crew the opportunity to review a lifetime subscription to HomeSchoolPiano - Complete Set of Books for up to 5 family members. Is that awesome or what?! 

What is HomeSchoolPiano?

HomeSchoolPiano is a subscription program which gives you access to online piano lessons taught by Willie Myette. Willie is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and has toured America and Europe as a clinician and performer. His music has been played on over 90 radio stations nationwide, and he is also the founder of JAZZEDGE, JazzKids, PianoWithWillie, and more.

HomeSchoolPiano uses a particular method, Prepare - Present - Review, which follows a 6-step cycle for the purpose of ease and mastery for all students. This cycle adheres to the National Standards for Music Education to develop a well-rounded music curriculum that touches all nine NAfME requirements. HomeSchoolPiano's six steps are as follows:

  1. Technique - From the start, proper technique is crucial to learning how to play the piano. Developing speed and dexterity are key goals in this section.
  2. Rhythm - Willie says rhythm is the "engine that drives music" so it is focused on first.
  3. Ear Training - Learning to hear rhythm, melody, and harmony will improve piano playing and improvisation.
  4. Reading - With step-by-step instruction, learning how to read music will make it easier to learn and compose songs.
  5. Song - From the beginning, students play songs that sound like songs rather than exercises.
  6. Improvisation - In this section, students can take what they've learned so far and learn to create their own music.
Each book (1-3) comprises six units and each unit has six lessons following the 6-step cycle above plus a bonus lesson. So, really, there are seven lessons including the bonus lesson. The bonus lessons seem to offer more advanced practice for the student who is eager to go above and beyond.

Each book also comes with downloadable worksheets to use along with each lesson and for practicing rhythms, chords, licks, and songs in between lessons.

Each unit in HomeSchoolPiano gives you an overview of what you will be learning. For example, here's the description of what you will learn in Book 1 Unit 6:

When you click on "View Unit," you will be able to start your lessons in that unit which, as I mentioned above, follow the 6-step cycle.

As you can see in the screenshot above, there is a quiz after the Rhythm lesson. As a matter of fact, there are several quizzes in each unit. Quizzes, so far, have been brief and simple. My daughter has had to listen to rhythms being played on a piano, and then choose the correct multiple choice answer.

You can view your child's scores under the "Records" section. You can also see which lessons have been completed and when. (I am not sure why a couple of the lessons show less than 100% complete because I watched all of them with my daughter.)

Is HomeSchoolPiano For You?

It doesn't matter whether you're a child or an adult; this program is designed for people of all ages and skill levels. Good news for me because I'm a beginner adult who'd like to learn how to play the piano, too, and having a lifetime subscription sure takes the stress out of having to complete a program in a certain amount of time. I need all of the time I can get!

This program will teach you how to become a real pianist if you are willing to put forth the effort to watch lessons and practice what you learn. Also, this program is for you if you want to learn more than the just the basics such as scales and exercises. HomeSchoolPiano goes further by teaching you how to play songs and compose your own music.

According to the website, it usually takes a student 18 months or longer to complete the entire program.

How Much Does It Cost and What Does It Include?

The complete HomeSchoolPiano lifetime subscription costs $299 and includes:
  • Core Piano™ -  (This is a bonus included at no cost and valued at $99.) This is designed for the absolute beginner, and contains 30 lessons that teach the essentials of piano.
  • Book 1 - This is also a level for beginners or for those who are coming back to the piano after some time. Here, you will learn how to read music, improvise, play six original pieces, and create your own music.
  • Book 2 - For beginner to intermediate, this level picks up where Book 1 left off. Here, you will improve your skills and continue with more complicated concepts, songs, and improvisation.
  • Book 3 - For intermediate and up, this level teaches you how to create resonant piano arrangements and helps you become a well-rounded pianist. Concepts such as syncopation, voice leading, and advanced scales are also taught here.
Additional perks:
  • All Online Access benefits
  • Tracking and quizzes for up to 5 students
  • Unlimited lesson streaming to any device
  • Unlimited music downloads
  • Unlimited lesson video downloads
  • Jam Track CD (download version)
There are two payment options for the HomeSchoolPiano lifetime subscription:
  • One-time payment of $299 – no monthly commitment or recurring charges. 
  •  Make three easy payments of $99.97 per month for three months.

What Do You Need?
  • You will need internet access to watch lessons.
  • You also need a piano or keyboard with at least 61 keys.
* It will be helpful to have a keyboard that has keys that can be played soft, loud, and in between since the first unit in Book 1 teaches mezzo-forte and forte. My daughter's keyboard does not have keys like this, and while we are still able to do the lessons, we can't play loud and soft like Willie wants us to.

How We Are Using HomeSchoolPiano

My daughter and I are the only ones in our household using HomeschoolPiano right now. We each have our own accounts, however, I have just been sitting in on my daughter's lessons from Book 1, and we take turns practicing what Willie is teaching.

We chose to skip Core Piano™ since we already learned some basics a few months ago with another program. We did go back and watch one lesson from Core Piano™ to view Willie's particular key-grabbing technique since we had no idea what that was. It's really great that we can go back if and when we need to!

Lessons are usually anywhere from about 8 -15 minutes in length, and my goal was to watch one lesson with my daughter every other day or two to allow for practice time in between lessons. Well, I admit, our summer piano schedule has been a bit more sporadic then I'd like, but we did make it to Unit 3 in Book 1 and have been learning a lot! Once our official school year starts in just a couple of weeks, we will have scheduled lesson time every week and practice time every day.

Here's my daughter, Shiloh, demonstrating "Improvisation" from Book 1 Unit 1:

Our Opinion

What We Like:
  • Willie's personable teaching style
  • Order and predictability of lessons
  • Excellent customer service (I had an issue with being able to access my account that actually ended up being a problem on my end - clearing cache and cookies)
  • Lifetime membership
  • Learning to use both hands early on and playing with drum tracks
  • Brief lessons
  • Keyboard doesn't have to be connected to the computer
  • Opportunity in each lesson to play along with Willie
*The only complaints I have don't have anything to do with the program itself but rather with technical issues. We've experienced problems while watching a lesson a couple of times - video kept stopping for some reason. Eventually everything worked, though. Overall, I am very happy with these online piano lessons and plan to continue until my daughter has completed the course! (And, hopefully, me too.)

HomeSchoolPiano really is an economical solution for providing your family members with quality piano lessons. See what other Crew Members thought by clicking the banner below!

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Sun-In & Merle Norman Makeup

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Wouldn't you know it? The ONE and ONLY school picture that I ever really thought turned out had issues. The film messed up or something, and I had to do a re-take. The re-take didn't look good, so I kept this teeny, tiny negative from the first shoot. (Well, in real life it's tiny - I enlarged it for the post.)

Anyway, this was taken my freshman year of high school. I'd spent the previous summer spraying an entire bottle of Sun-In (I think that's what it was called) in my hair. It's weird how memories can bring back smells - I can totally smell that stuff in my mind right now! I loved the red and gold highlights it brought out. :)

My 9th grade year was also marked by super thick Merle Norman pancake makeup. Anyone else know what I am talking about? This makeup was like magic, making my freckles completely disappear! I loved the way it made my complexion look flawless, but, goodness, that stuff was heavy and humidity was a constant enemy. Plus, I couldn't ever touch my face for fear of rubbing any makeup off. Such vanity and discontentment. *Sigh*

I gave up on trying to create flawless skin and have mostly come to terms with my freckles and uneven skin tone. I don't even really wear real foundation any more. I sure am looking forward to that heavenly body I'll get one day. I hope freckles will be a thing of the past! ;)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Homemade Pimento Cheese

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When our family moved from the South (Tennessee) to the Southwest (Arizona), I had a difficult time finding Pimento Cheese in the grocery store. And, well, southern folks have got to have some pimento cheese every now and then. Oh, and sweet tea to wash it down!

If you'd like to make your own Pimento Cheese, follow this super easy recipe below.

My hubby was inspired by the Paula Deen recipe, Bobby's Pimento Cheese. We made a few minor changes, but ohhh it is so yummy!! It makes for the perfect summer sandwich. :)

Linked to Try a New Recipe Tuesday, Tasty Tuesdays

Thursday, July 10, 2014

TBT: In Honor of My 20 Year High School Reunion

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So, my 20 year high school reunion is at the end of this month. Doesn't sound quite right at all. Makes me feel so ancient. *Sigh*

Anyway, I won't be able to go since I live on the other side of the country now, so I thought I'd take a trip down memory lane and look for old high school photos. Sadly, I couldn't find as many as I thought I had, and the ones I do have, well, the quality is pretty stinky. (Younger people, we didn't have digital cameras way back then.)

This is what I have for now. Happy Throw Back Thursday. :)

(I hope I didn't offend anyone by posting these pics - not my intent. It brought back fun memories! If you wish I hadn't posted a picture of you, please let me know and I will remove it.)

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Crew Carnival: Summer Reading for Highschool Students {Fantasy Fiction}

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Fantasy fiction has always been a favorite in our household. Dragons, wizards, faeries, elves, dwarves, hobbits . . . you name it, we love it! Well, I guess my kids, at least when they were little, didn't really have a choice in the matter since that was my favorite genre to read by myself and aloud to my children.

I think my oldest son who will be 15 in August loves fantasy fiction as much as I do, but it's getting harder and harder to find good books in this genre. And by good, I mean quality and moral. It's quite the scary feeling when your teen wants to drift away from the youth section in the library to the adult section. *Sigh*

With this particular Crew Carnival going on, I thought it would be a perfect time to share a few fantasy fiction books that my oldest son and I have recently read. My 12 year old has also read some of the books. So, if your kids love fantasy fiction, you might want to give these books a try.

FYI: The first two trilogies are written by Christian authors and are considered Christian fiction. Just know, though, that because they are in the fantasy genre, the names representing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different. The third trilogy I am recommending is not Christian fiction. The main character mentions "gods" and when things go wrong, he blames it on the "devils."  I believe he also  "curses under his breath," but I don't remember any actual curse words. Other than that, I felt they were decent. All three of these trilogies are essentially about good vs. evil. I loved all three and even purchased the ones that my library didn't carry.

My goal here is to just give you a few ideas, not summarize the books. Please click the links to find out more about each book to see if they will be a good fit for your teens, and possibly tweens. :)

The Staff and the Sword Trilogy by Patrick W. Carr

Also available on Kindle: Cast of Stones, A (The Staff and the Sword Book #1), The Hero's Lot (The Staff and the Sword Book #2),Draw of Kings, A (The Staff and the Sword Book #3): Volume 3

Blood of Kings Trilogy by Jill Williamson

Also available on Kindle: By Darkness Hid (Blood of Kings, book 1), To Darkness Fled (Blood of Kings, book 2), From Darkness Won (Blood of Kings, book 3)

The Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Also available on Kindle: The False Prince: Book 1 of the Ascendance Trilogy, The Runaway King: Book 2 of the Ascendance Trilogy, The Shadow Throne (The Ascendance Trilogy)

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