Monday, December 29, 2008

Giveaway Winner

Congratulations AmandaSue! You won December's book giveaway! We've sent you an email to get your address!
If you didn't win, "It's Not About Me (Second Glances Series #1)" by Michelle Sutton is a great book for your teen daughters - I encourage you to read our review and give it a try!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Our 5 Minutes for Mom Interview


Angi and I are proud to announce that our interview about Teen Lit Review has been posted at 5 Minutes for Mom, one of the most popular Mom Blogs around. We don't always get the chance to go into detail about how and why we started our site, but this interview has allowed us to do so. Please click on the button above to read it. Thank you 5 Minutes for Mom!



Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Book Giveaway!


This month's book giveaway is a book we reviewed back in August. It's Not About Me (Second Glances Series #1) by Michelle Sutton is a great book for teen girls, ages 16 and up. You can go HERE to read our review of the book. To enter, please leave a comment with an email address that we can notify you at if you win. IF, you post an entry about our giveaway, on your website/blog you will get 5 additional entries! Be sure to let us know if you do, so we can enter you the 5 extra times!
Drawing will be held 12/29/08 at noon!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Choices

By Reviewer Angi
Title: Choices
Author: Katrina L. Burchett
Primary Audience/age group: 16+
Genre: Young Adult
# Of pages: 328
Publisher: Kapri Books
Year of Release: 2007
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes, With Reservations!

Description: Choices is a thought-provoking story about five teenage girls in the city of York, Pennsylvania and how the issue of teen sex affects each of their lives..... Shauntice Johnston has faith in God but the world of domestic abuse she lives in has left her with very little faith in the male gender. And then comes Terry, and her obedience to God's Word (flee fornication) is tested. Angel Nichols doesn't know her earthly father, doesn't care about the heavenly Father and feels neglected by her workaholic mother. She has had numerous sex partners since she was thirteen, trying to fill the void inside of her. LaKeeta Wilson is a Christian, but instead of doing it God's way and waiting for marriage she purposefully became pregnant out of wedlock. Bridgette Anderson practices abstinence in obedience to God, and, no matter what, she will not compromise her beliefs. But this saint still has her flaws. Hope Patterson is a plain dressing, soft-spoken timid Christian girl who lives a sheltered life because of her strict mother. Rebellion puts her in a dangerous situation.

Review: Choices is a very intense book. It deals with issues that few Christian books do. The story is graphic and hard hitting. The writing is excellent, and shed light on a reality that I was not very familiar with. I was rooting for all the girls and shed quite a few tears as I read about the tough choices they made. Issues such as rape, domestic abuse, premarital sex, teen pregnancy, abstinence, and death are all addressed.

Rating: 3, for adult situations and detailed description of intense situations.

Positive: All the situations presented in Choices are ones that happen everyday in Christian and non-Christian households. I like how the consequences of poor decision making are shown. Often times teens don’t consider the consequences before they do something, and this book is a great avenue to have them consider that bad choices have bad consequences. Shauntice is very loving and dedicated to her mother, during a time when it would be easy to be angry and resentful to her. All the characters have redeeming qualities, that leave you rooting for them.

Spiritual Elements: What is special about this book is that all these situations are presented in such a manner to lead the reader to Christ. We all have choices to make in how we lead our life, it’s up to us to make the choice that honors God. There is a clear presentation of salvation and the author invites all readers to accept Jesus as their personal Savior.

Violence: There is quite a bit of violence in this book. Details are given when Shauntice’s Mom is abused by her husband, and when one of the characters is raped.

Language: The d*** word is mentioned, I believe twice, and the b**** word is mentioned.

Sexual Content: Very frank talk about sex, relationships and intense details of rape are all a part of the story.

Other: Some of the teens drank alcohol.

Recommendation: I would recommend you read this book before letting your daughter read it. What I liked about the book was how it dealt with the issues and brought it all back to Christ. Unlike other books for this age group, it does not glamorize pre-marital sex - it deals with it honestly. Getting to the core reasons of why do teenage girls have sex, does he really love you, and ultimately - who does love you no matter what you’ve done? No matter all our bad choices and mistakes, Christ is waiting for you to seek His forgiveness and invite Him to live in your heart. If you have a daughter ready for a very realistic, frank book then this a great one to read!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Meet Our Newest Teen Reviewer

Rachel DiBacco, 17, is one of our teen reviewers who loves reading and writing. She hopes to be able to have a career in writing and is presently working on writing a book.

She was drawn to our site because of her personal struggle of "reading books that [weren't] pleasing to God." She used to use the excuse of, "It was too good. I couldn't put it down. I can't do everything right," she states. She feels now she is reaping the consequences of those choices, and she hopes to inspire other teens to not make the same mistakes. She has written her personal testimony and wants to share more about her struggle along with some sound advice for other teens about making good choices in regard to books. Here is her testimony:

"My parents have been in the same church since I was born. They have always been full fledged Christians, giving their all for the Lord. Unfortunately, I thought that this was enough to keep my life one that is pleasing to the Lord. At the age of 15, I started to tread some worldly territory that I shouldn't have even thought of walking on. It started with music, books, and movies. Then I found myself denying that Christ was my Savior.

I mostly had a problem with books, and after I came back to the Lord I found it hard to decipher what I should read and what i should not. I will tell you something simple, but very important: what you allow in your mind, stays there, and if you allow unrighteous things to come in, the devil can use them to make you stray from the Lord.

I would suggest when you start reading a book to first see if the content is clean. If there is a lot of language or suggestive content put it down even if it is at the beginning. Don't say to yourself, "Maybe the book will get cleaner" because it probably will become worse, and it will be harder to put down. Also, be careful about the darkness in a book (demonic activity and magic). Some magic is fantasy, but most is real. We have to remember that the devil is real and powerful, and his minions are also powerful.

In summary, don't compromise. It is so easy to do. *The Lord hates [when we] are lukewarm, and He says in His Word that He will spit those people out of His mouth. It hurts me to know that I was in that place. Let's be hot for the Lord!"

*God says this about being lukewarm: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. Since you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to spit you out of my mouth." Revelation 3: 15, 16 NIV.

Thanks, Rachel! Please visit here to see Rachel's reviews.

Hangman's Curse

By Teen Reviewer Rachel
Title: Hangman's Curse: Book 1 in The Veritas Project
Author: Frank Peretti
Primary Audience/age group: 13+
Genre: Christian Science Fiction
# Of pages: 288
Publisher: Thomas Nelson Publishers
Year of Release: 2001
Part of a Series? Yes, Veritas Project series; 1 of 2
Rating: 4 View Scale
Recommend? Yes

Description: Nate and Sarah Springfield and their teenage children, Elijah and Elisha, are undercover investigators. They are chosen to inspect some strange occurrences at Bakers High School. Many of the students have suddenly become sickened with a deadly disease that seems to have no cure. Rumor has it that its because of a "curse". The Springfield's are determined to find the truth behind these strange events.

Review: Hangman's Curse: Book 1 in The Veritas Project is one of those keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat books. It is an intriguing story!!!!

Rating: 4 for some violence.

Positive: Peretti keeps this book clean and wholesome. The Springfield's are caring people, and they have good morals, which they stand on.

Spiritual Elements: Throughout the entire book spirituality is prevalent. The Springfield's stand up for their beliefs in God. Elijah and Elisha become students at Bakers High School, and at one point their science teacher talks about evolution. They say that evolution is wrong, and that God created man. There are many times when they stand up for their beliefs in a higher power, one being a conversation on humanism which they have with some of the students. They also pray to God, asking him for his strength and guidance.

Violence: There is some violence, but not much. Peretti creates suspense without putting "gore" into this book.

Language: none

Sexual Content: none

Other: Some of the kids in the high school are mean to the "weird" students. There are a group of teens that are constantly made fun of and mocked;
hwever, it is clearly stated that this is wrong.

Recommendation: I totally recommend this book. It will keep you interested. However, it might be scary for younger children.

Please read Rachel's personal testimony on choosing moral books for teens.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase



This is the 7th review in our Fall Into Reading Challenge. To see the complete list of books click here.
By reviewer Greta Marlow
Title: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (The Wolves Chronicles)
Author: Joan Aiken
Primary Audience/age group: 11+ (because of vocabulary)
Genre: Adventure/"Gothic"
# Of pages: 168
Publisher: Bantam Doubleday
Year of Release: 1962
Part of a Series? Yes, the Wolves Chronicles
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend: Yes

Description: (from book jacket) “Wicked wolves without and a grim governess within threaten Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia when Bonnie’s parents leave Willoughby Chase for a sea voyage. Left in the care of the cruel Miss Slighcarp, the girls can hardly believe what is happening to their lovely, once happy home. The servants are dismissed, the furniture is sold and, dressed in rags, Bonnie and Sylvia are sent to a prisonlike orphan school. It seems as if the endless hours of drudgery will never cease. With the help of Simon the gooseboy and his flock, they escape. But where will they go? And how will they ever get Willoughby Chase free from the clutches of the evil Miss Slighcarp?”

Review: What is the saying – “Everything old is new again”? About halfway through this book, I realized why it seemed so familiar – it is a precursor, thirty years ago, for the Series of Unfortunate Events books that were so popular a few years ago. It’s all there – the bright children; the tall, evil villain; the supposed death of the parents in an accident; the impossibly cruel and seemingly hopeless situations the children find themselves in; the clueless family lawyer; even the high-flying vocabulary (although this book doesn’t define the words in the text the way the Unfortunate Events books do). The biggest difference is that this story wraps up in a happy ending instead of leading into the next hopeless installment.

Rating: 4 for mild language and mild to moderate violence

Recommend: Yes

Positive: In contrast to the cruelty of the villains, there are several characters who are kind and thoughtful to others. Bonnie, the rich little girl, is kind to the servants. She keeps a promise at the end to rescue the orphans from their miserable school.

Spiritual Elements: The cruel orphanage owner reads the Bible or a sermon to the children while they are doing their evening chores.

Violence: Violence comes in the form of mistreatment (like being locked in a closet and deprived of meals and warmth) administered by the cruel governess and the owner of the orphanage where the girls are sent. Early in the book, a wolf breaks through a train window and is stabbed with a fragment of the window. Although the wolves are built up as a big threat in the beginning of the book, they never really do anything.

Language: At the end of the book, Bonnie’s father says “d**n” a couple of times when he discovers what has happened to his home during his absence.

Sexual Content: None

Other: The parents in this book are clueless!

Recommendation: As I said earlier, this book is very much like the Unfortunate Events books (but it came first!). However, it is a little less cynical and does have a happy ending. If a child seems interested in the “Gothic/horror” genre (I use those terms loosely!) of children’s literature, parents might suggest this book as an alternative or supplement to the Unfortunate Events series.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Girl Named Disaster


This is the 6th review in our Fall Into Reading Challenge. To see the complete list of books click here.
By reviewer Greta Marlow
Title: A Girl Named Disaster
Author: Nancy Farmer
Primary Audience/age group: 14+
Genre: Adventure/”Coming of Age” story/Multicultural
# Of pages: 293
Publisher: Orchard Books
Year of Release: 1996
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend: Yes, with reservation

Description: (from book jacket) “Her grandmother said, ‘The journey will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but it will be worth it. Just think of finding your father….’ And so Nhamo, fleeing an impending marriage to a cruel man with three wives, sets out for Zimbabwe, alone on the Musengezi River. She is not yet twelve. Soon, strong currents sweep her canoe to the uncharted heart of Lake Cabora Bassa in Mozambique. As she struggles to escape drowning and starvation, she comes close to the luminous world of the African spirits. Loneliness drives her to join a baboon troop on an island, with near-deadly results. But Nhamo is bold and resourceful – and discovers in conversations with her dead mother and the Ancestors how to survive the terrors that seem to rise around her from all sides. Yet the greatest terror is still to come – after she again reaches civilization. Nhamo’s journey – of spirit as well as body – will keep readers enthralled to the very last page.”

Review: Well, it didn’t keep me enthralled to the very last page, but I have to admit, I felt compelled to continue reading this book until the end. I’ve never been a big fan of the “girl facing the dangers of nature alone with animal friends” genre (as in Julie of the Wolves or Island of the Blue Dolphins, which this book resembles). Several times I found myself feeling somewhat impatient when the narrative came to a stop so Nhamo could tell a story about the African spirits, and sometimes I wanted to shake her and say, “Quit letting yourself starve! Have some common sense and get off that island!” However, Nhamo is a sympathetic enough character that I wanted to see how her story ended.

Rating: 3 for more intense sequences of violence

Recommend: Yes, with reservation

Positive: Nhamo is resourceful and self-reliant. She works hard and manages to survive a journey one would think would be impossible for a young girl. The book also is a good example of multicultural literature, describing life in a primitive African village and set against the background of the civil wars in the history of southern Africa.

Spiritual Elements: Spiritual elements are at the heart of this book. It is because of a ngozi (angry, revengeful spirit) who is revealed by a muvuki (what we would call a witch doctor) that she has to leave her home. During her journey, Nhamo converses on a regular basis with the spirits of her dead mother and a dead villager whose boat she has taken to escape the village. She also gets advice from the njuzu, the water spirits, and makes sure she makes appropriate sacrifices to thank them and the Ancestors. One of the most disturbing parts of the book is when she encounters the spirit of a witch, who later possesses her and has to be exorcised by the Vapostori (a sect of Christians that was formed in Africa in 1932). The book also gives Nhamo’s reactions to Christianity, which may disturb some readers, since she interprets it through the lens of her spirit religion.

Violence: Although the violence isn’t glorified, there is quite a bit of it inherent in the story. It’s taken for granted that people have the right to beat other people who displease them. Nhamo has to kill animals to provide food for herself, and the grossest scene of violence comes with her first experience of hunting. The most disturbing scenes of violence, though, come when Nhamo is possessed by the witch and kills a dog that is chasing her away from white people’s houses, and then again later when she attacks another dog who reminds her of the first one.

Language: It seems that I remember a few offensive words, but a very few. The most offensive thing I remember is the witch’s name (Long Teats).

Sexual Content: The sexual content of the book is centered around menstruation as a sign of womanhood. The story describes the rituals that Nhamo’s family undertakes when her cousin has her first period and becomes a marriageable young woman. Later, when Nhamo is on her journey, she reaches the same milestone. It’s not a major theme in the book, but it is mentioned now and then. At the end of the book, Nhamo finds out her mother was already pregnant when she married Nhamo’s father.

Other: There is a LOT of information about southern Africa in this book, ranging from the native religion, to the types of plants and animals, to the weather patterns, to the interaction between natives and whites. Although I got annoyed that Nhamo would go into “storytelling” mode and pause the narrative, her stories were interesting. Given that I knew next to nothing about Africa before reading the book, I think it has value as a teaching tool by managing to work all these elements into a book that reads like a story instead of a textbook. There are also sections at the end of the book that provide a glossary of the African words used in the story and an overview of the spirit religion.

Recommendation: I would suggest this book for more mature teens. I think younger kids would be turned off by the frequent use of African words and embarrassed by the frank way the book talks about menstruation. The focus on the spirit world and its differences to Christianity might be something parents and teens could discuss, as well.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Book Giveaway! Outcasts of Skagaray

Congrats to Rachel who won the drawing! Check back soon for another book giveaway!

We are giving away our review copy of Outcasts Of Skagaray by Andrew Clarke. You can read the book review here. I enjoyed the book and recommended it for ages 13+. Leave a comment with an email address that we can reach you at, if we draw your name!

You can go here to see our complete Fall Into Reading 2008 list!

The drawing will be at 4pm on Thursday, November 20th.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Twilight

By Reviewer Shawna (originally posted February 23, 2008)

Title: Twilight
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
Genre: Thriller, Romance
# Of pages: 498
Year of Release: 2005
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 4
Rating: 2 View Scale
Recommend? No (See Below)

Description: The budding romance between Bella and Edward is anything but typical. It’s downright scary. Bella Swan is distinctively average herself until she finds the love of her life Edward in the gloomy little town of Forks. She discovers that he and his family are vampires, but even that doesn’t stop her from falling in love.

Review: Stephenie Meyer brings a new twist to the traditional vampire stories of death and mayhem. She weaves a tale of forbidden love between Edward and Bella that draws you in with utter abandon. The passion between them is so mesmerizing that you forget about the world around you. And that’s the main problem. It leads your mind away - ever so subtlety - down a road you want to take but knowingly will regret later.

Positive: Compared to most other vampire books, this one is much less gory. The Cullen family has chosen to rebel against their inborn desire to kill humans and hunt overpopulated animals instead. Carlisle, Edward’s adoptive father, has even chosen to become a doctor in order to save lives instead of take them. They are truly a family that lives by their convictions.

Spiritual Elements: Carlisle’s father was a Protestant pastor in the early 1600’s. Carlisle was following in his father’s footsteps until he was transformed into a vampire. His deeply-rooted religious beliefs caused him to despise what he had become, but he eventually came to the realization that he could control his blood lust, to a degree. He chose instead to hunt overpopulated animals and start a coven of vampires who would choose to follow his beliefs as well.

The vampires are compared to gods in regards to their remarkable beauty and immortal nature.

Violence: As a young vampire, Emmett, Edward’s brother gives into temptation and kills two unsuspecting women, which he later regrets. Before becoming a vampire, Esme, Edward’s adoptive mother, runs off a cliff and kills herself after her child dies. Carlisle, Edward’s adoptive father, brings her back to life by turning her into a vampire.

Bella is almost attacked by four men who have malice on their minds. She is rescued by Edward.

James, a visiting vampire, is a tracker, which means he hunts (tracks) humans with his senses in order to kill them. He has is sites set on Bella. Spoiler Warning: He traps her by telling her he will kill her mother. Then he attacks her, throwing her into a mirrored wall and breaking her leg. The only way to stop him is for the Cullen family to kill him. It is implied that they rip him to shreds and burn the body in order to succeed. The scene is somewhat bloody.

Language: H*** and different forms of d*** are mentioned a few times. At one point, Bella “internally curs[es] Jessica to the fiery parts of Hades” for telling another student a secret.

Sexual Content: To be perfectly honest, there are no inappropriate love scenes or risqué behavior to mention. But, the book is very intense, passionate, and sensual in regards to the love between Bella and Edward. They are star-crossed lovers, who have a huge obstacle between them. Edward is a vampire, and although he’s very much in love with Bella, he’s always tempted by her blood. He kisses her seductively several times. Edward tells Bella that they will never be able to be totally intimate because of his fear that he may lose control and kill her.

After Bella meets Edward, she begins to dream of him every night. He eventually admits that he watches her through her window every night. He is so afraid of losing her, he wants to protect her at every moment. He even spends the night in her bedroom, holding her until she falls asleep. Her father is unaware or else he would not approve.

The Cullen family consists of a mother and father, three adopted sons and two adopted daughters. They live in this manner as not to draw attention to themselves. The rumor going around school is that the children live as couples, which is true to an extent. Emmett and Rosalie are married, but their façade is that they act as brother and sister. Alice and Jasper are a couple as well, but there is no further mention of their relationship.

Other: Bella’s parents are divorced and her mother has remarried. In order to gain information about the Cullen family, Bella flirts with a younger boy. Bella is so nervous about seeing Edward, she takes cold medicine to fall asleep. There is a crude joke about heroine. Edward can hear others thoughts, and Alice can see the future to a degree. Bella is rude and disrespectful to a concerned adult.

Rating: 2 for intense sensuality/passion

Recommendation: Even though I greatly enjoyed the book, I think that is a bit too intense and that Bella and Edward's relationship could quickly and easily become very physical. It however does not result in premarital sex although their relationship is extremely passionate. Their behavior towards each other seems to be quite obsessive as well. The electricity between Edward and Bella was very mesmerizing. The book drew me in in such a way that my mind took their relationship way beyond what was actually written. This is a subject that hits very close to home for me. I love to read a good love story, but I would prefer a more God-centered tale that teaches about God’s perfect plan of intimacy within the context of marriage. I want to teach my daughter to have a pure heart and mind. Although the book is extremely well written and engaging, I am not able to recommend it to teens under 18.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Rowan of Rin

This is the 5th review in our Fall Into Reading Challenge. To see the complete list of books click here.
By reviewer Greta Marlow
Title:
Rowan of Rin (Rowan of Rin #1)
Author: Emily Rodda
Primary Audience/age group: 9-12
Genre: Fantasy-adventure
# Of pages: 151
Publisher: Scholastic
Year of Release: 1993
Part of a Series? Yes, it’s first of several
Rating: 5 (View Scale)
Recommend: Yes

Description: (from School Library Journal) “The people of Rin are strong and brave, except for young Rowan. He spends his time caring for the bukshah, the gentle beasts that the villagers depend on for their survival. When their stream suddenly stops flowing and the bukshah are in danger of dying, six of the strongest, bravest villagers decide to climb the Mountain, hoping to avoid the Dragon that lives there, to find out what has happened. However, Sheba the Wise Woman is the only one who knows the way, and she has decided that Rowan must accompany the party, so she gives them a magic map that can only be read if he is holding it. Rowan starts off as fragile and a little whiny, but improves steadily, especially as he begins to realize that he plays an important role in the expedition. He is able to succeed through his own efforts, not through magic. The adults are one-dimensional at first, but as Rowan learns more about them, so do readers, and two of them prove to have unexpected depth. Traditional fantasy elements and setting are presented in a fast-moving and enjoyable tale that should be an easy sell to fantasy lovers.”

Review: This is a good story to introduce younger children to the fantasy-adventure genre. It has a character they will be able to identify with – shy Rowan who is always discounted by the adults. Although Rowan starts out as the weakest and most frightened member of the quest team, he keeps striving to do what must be done, motivated by his love and sense of responsibility for the animals in his care. In the end, he proves to be the bravest and strongest member of the team. I think young readers will appreciate the adventures Rowan faces and will get a sense of empowerment from the way Rowan learns to be strong enough to meet the challenges.

Rating: 5

Positive: Rowan learns that his snap judgments of other people aren’t always correct. When faced with a dangerous challenge, he responds with kindness rather than by fighting.

Spiritual Elements: Magic plays a role in the book. An old wise woman goes into a trance to predict the outcome of their quest. Rowan is the only one who can reveal what is on the magical map.

Violence: The story has adventure-related violence, such as fighting off a horde of spiders and facing a dragon. But it’s not presented in a scary way.

Language: No problems.

Sexual Content: None.

Other:
If a child is really perceptive, he/she may pick up on messages about prejudice. One of the characters had one parent who was from Rin and one parent who was a “Traveler.” As a result, that character faced some ridicule from some of the people of Rin. I think children will also relate to the way Rowan feels about the bukshah (which I picture as being like big, nice water buffalo!).

Rating: 5

Recommendation: This book is a kind and gentle story in which a young boy grows to have confidence in himself and to understand that everyone has some kind of fear. But it’s also a really cool adventure story!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Outcasts of Skagaray

This is the 4th review in our Fall Reading Challenge.
By Reviewer Angi
Title: Outcasts Of Skagaray
Author: Andrew Clarke
Primary Audience/age group: 13+
Genre: Fantasy
# Of pages: 240
Publisher: VMI Publishing
Year of Release: 2006
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes!

Description: The world of Skagaray is dark and bleak but there is the possibility of beauty and goodness too. The people of Skagaray respect strength, and hardness, and make gods in their own image to please themselves. They reject those they consider weak, or unworthy, and make outcasts of them. But one among them rejects their cruelty, and will not take part in the brutality they call their Proving. This is Australian Andrew Clarke’s first novel.

Review: Outcasts of Skagaray started out slow, it took me about 50 pages to “get into” the book, but once I did, it was a fun, exciting read. This is a story about change. Tarran, the main character “had never seen a way of life that was not savage and harsh. But something inside him was sure that people could be different”. He musters up the courage to leave Skagaray, where only the strong are honored and the weak are left to die. Once he is an Outcast his fear of the Skagaray ways turns to anger, which eventually yields to love. A foreigner, Ambrand returns to the area and tells Tarran about the One True God, who “was killed but got up from the dead”. This God “does not murder the weak”, He teaches that “love is stronger than hate.” Tarran and Ambrand lead the fight against the evil forces at work in Skagaray. They seek to spread the news that there is a different way to live, a better way, where the citizens are free from the laws of hate, killing, slavery and shame.
I really liked Tarran and rooted for him the entire story. I had a hard time telling many of the characters apart/keeping them straight - I think because they had such different names. The story was about clear good versus evil and how every person must choose to which side they belong.

Rating: 3, for violent/confrontational situations

Positive: Tarran was a great character - he knew that the life he was living was wrong, and left that life. He helped others leave their way of life and once he knew the Truth, he shared that with everyone he could.

Spiritual Elements: As you can read in my review, the people of Skagaray must choose between good and evil. Do they continue to worship the Kirkril as they have been taught their whole lives - or the One True God who they just learned about?

Violence: I found the story to be quite violent. There aren’t any gory details of blood and guts - but just many references to their ways as being slayers, hunters, killers. It is the will of the Skagaray gods that the “strong shall live by killing. Life is a battle and you are to be warriors. The mark of the warrior is blood, the destruction of enemies, prey taken, the defeat of another. The lives you take enlarge you”.

Language: None

Sexual Content: None

Other: Some of the evil elders drank wine.

Recommendation: I would recommend this book to boys (and girls) who like this genre, ages 13+. I know my son will enjoy it! I feel like it is too violent for children under 13

To win a copy of this book - go here to enter!




Thursday, October 23, 2008

At the Sign of the Sugared Plum


This is the 3rd Review from Our Fall Into Reading Challenge!
By reviewer Greta Marlow
Title: At the Sign of the Sugared Plum
Author: Mary Hooper
Primary Audience/age group: 12+ (publisher suggests grades 5-8)
Genre: Historical fiction
# Of pages: 169
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Year of Release: 2003
Part of a Series? Yes, it’s first of two
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend: Yes

Description: (from book cover) “It is 1665 and Hannah is full of excitement at the prospect of her first trip to London. She is going to help her sister, Sarah, in her sweetmeats shop, ‘The Sugared Plum.’ But Hannah does not get the welcoming reception she expected. Sarah is horrified that Hannah did not get her message to stay away: the Plague is threatening to take hold of London. Through Hannah’s eyes, Mary Hooper brilliantly recreates the smells, sounds, and sights of seventeenth century London life. Hannah’s excitement at coming to the big city is vividly evoked, as is the growing terror of a seemingly unstoppable plague that takes hold of the city, street by street, house by house.”

Review: As people get ready to pull out the skeleton costumes and makeup to make themselves look like the dead, I wonder if we ever think about what our world would be like if it weren’t a game. This book does a great job of taking the reader back to the time of the terrible plague that wiped out nearly a third of London’s population in 1665. Hannah’s outlook changes from a carefree girl excited to be on an adventure to that of a young woman troubled by nightmares of the real horror around her. While the plot might be a little thin for more mature readers, the book is definitely worth reading because of the detail Hooper includes that lets the reader feel what it must have been like to live through those times.

Rating: 3, for some gruesome descriptions

Positive: Based on what I’ve said above, you might get the impression this book is depressing. Actually, Hannah and her sister Sarah show great resilience against giving in to the hopelessness that would be so natural in the circumstances they faced. They also show concern for some neighbors struck with the plague when others don’t. In the end, they take a great risk to help someone.

Spiritual Elements: Religion is part of the experience of the characters, especially since the government has ordered everyone to go to church, pray, and fast (sincerely or not) in an effort to turn God’s judgment from the city. However, the book also portrays the sense of futility many people felt toward religion when the praying and fasting seemed to have no effect.

Violence: The violence in the book comes as descriptions of the effects of the plague. Some scenes do seem like something from a horror movie, with plague victims wandering the streets at night, plague carts loaded and overloaded with bodies, bodies being carelessly dumped into huge pits. The descriptions don’t go past what I would consider to be a PG level, but it is disturbing to remember that all of this really happened.

Language: The word “whore” is thrown in a couple of times. Otherwise, no problems.

Sexual Content: Hannah meets a nice young man and longs to be kissed by him. (Spoiler alert!) However, it is not to be. There is also one section that discusses a rumored cure for plague that involves sleeping with a prostitute. But Hannah’s sister is quick to condemn that as ungodly.

Other:
One thing I found sort of alarming about the story was how people treated other people who were stricken with plague. There was such fear that even basic human kindness was abandoned.

Rating: 3, for violence and mild horror

Recommendation: This is another outstanding work of historical fiction, and I would encourage kids to read it (parents might judge how sensitive their children are to scary ideas). I think it provides a good opportunity for parents to talk with kids about how humans react to frightening events that seem completely out of their control – a lesson that could be valuable in even modern times.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn

This is the 2nd review from the Fall Into Reading 2008 challenge.
By reviewer Greta Marlow
Title: The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn (The Samurai Mysteries)
Author: Dorothy & Thomas Hoopler
Primary Audience/age group: 12+
Genre: Historical fiction/mystery
# Of pages: 214
Publisher: Puffin Books
Year of Release: 1999
Part of a Series? Yes, the Hooplers have written several books featuring these characters
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend: Yes

Description: (from book cover) “Fourteen-year-old Seikei dreams of being one of the legendary warriors, a samurai – but samurai are born, not made, and Seikei is a tea merchant’s son. Then a priceless ruby intended for the shogun – the military governor of Japan – is stolen by a ghost, and Seikei finds himself having to display all the courage of a samurai. He is the only person to have seen the thief, and now the famous samurai magistrate, Judge Ooka, needs Seikei’s help to solve the mystery. Soon the two are hot on the trail of the ruby – and an unforgettable adventure.”

Review: “So honorable! So beautifully innocent!” This is what the jewel thief says about Seikei, and I think it is an apt description of both Seikei and the book that tells his story. In his efforts to be like the samurai he aspires to be, Seikei tries to be honorable in all he does, even when it wouldn’t (I think) be expected of someone so young. In my opinion, that makes Seikei a very likeable character, which is the strength of the book. The mystery itself is not too difficult to unravel, but the reader will enjoy following Seikei along as he figures it out and as he deals with the contradictions between who he is and who he wants to be.

Rating:
3, for violence

Positive: This book does an excellent job in presenting the Edo period of Japanese history, especially the class divisions and cultural achievements. Although there is a lot of history in the book, it is woven into the story in a credible, entertaining way – the reader never feels the author is “lecturing.” On a more personal level, Seikei’s sense of honor and his efforts to live up to it are admirable, especially when contrasted with adult characters who are full-fledged samurai and yet are not as honorable as this merchant’s son.

Spiritual Elements: I was surprised by how much religion played a role in this story. One of the main plotlines centered around a character who is a Christian in the time when it was illegal to be one in Japan. However, that character’s behavior seems to be more heavily influenced by the samurai code of honor. There is a lot of interesting cultural information about Japanese religion, including a chapter that deals with an offering to their goddess Amaterasu.

Violence: I was also surprised by the amount of violence in the book, although I suppose I shouldn’t have been, since it is about samurai. However, the violence is generally not gory or drawn-out (the climatic scene is a bit more violent than scenes in the rest of the book). I wouldn’t have reservations about letting a younger teen read the book. Since Seikei longs to be a samurai, there is quite a bit of “glorification” of the sword as the samurai weapon. There are a number of characters who either commit ritual suicide or are executed with the sword to uphold a sense of honor.

Language: The book doesn’t use any offensive language.

Sexual Content: The book doesn’t really have any sexual content. If there is any, it is so subtle I think it would be a stretch to be offended by it.

Other:
Some characters drink alcohol. Some readers might possibly be offended by the way Christianity is presented, but I think it’s important to remember the story is being told from the viewpoint of a Japanese character who wouldn’t understand the idea of a “suffering servant” god.

Rating: 3, for violence

Recommendation: I would definitely recommend this book, especially for boys who, like my son, are fascinated by Japanese culture thanks to some programs in the mainstream media. I would also recommend it to parents who are looking for a “cool” way to introduce their child to other cultures. It is outstanding historical fiction.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The City of Ember

This is the 1st review from the Fall Into Reading 2008 challenge. Be sure to check out the other great books we'll be reading and reviewing this fall!
By Reviewer Angi
Title: The City of Ember (Books of Ember)
Author: Jeanne DuPrau
Primary Audience/age group: 9 - 12
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction
# Of pages: 270
Publisher: Yearling
Year of Release: 2004
Part of a Series? Yes, 1st in the Books of Embers
Rating: 5 (View Scale)
Recommend?: Yes

Description: The city of Ember was built as a last refuge for the human race. Two hundred years later, the great lamps that light the city are beginning to flicker. When Lina finds part of an ancient message, she’s sure it holds a secret that will save the city. She and her friend Doon must decipher the message before the lights go out on Ember forever! This stunning debut novel offers refreshingly clear writing and fascinating, original characters.

Review: The City of Ember was a fun, easy read. I found myself drawn into Ember, urging Lina and Dune to keep exploring, to continue seeking the answers they know exist but can not find. The ending was a cliffhanger that left me anxious to read the next book of the series.

Rating: 5

Positive: Lina’s mother ingrained in her the value of when confronted with a choice to be made, always choose that which is right. Lina’s family was one that took care of each other and the neighbors were supportive as well. Doon’s father warned him that anger unchecked has unintended consequences. Doon and Lina who at one time did not get along, see their behavior was childish and mend ways.

Spiritual Elements: There is a group of people called “The Believers” who believe that the “Builders” of Ember will return and save them. Lina makes a comment that she does not want to join the Believers and wait around for the Builders to return, she wants to be active and seek the answers herself.

Violence: There is no real violence in the book, only a few intense scenes of action.

Language: None.

Sexual Content: None.

Recommendation: The City of Ember was a fun read that I suggest for kids ages 9 - 12. I am concerned about where the Spiritual Elements are going in future books of the series - does the author continue stressing relying on yourself rather than a higher being to guide you? This book is being made into a movie that comes out in October - I can see the movie being darker and scarier than the book - so be sure to read some reviews before taking little ones to see it.

Fall Into Reading 2008 - Teen Lit Style!

Katrina at Callipidder Days is hosting Fall Into Reading 2008. This is a fun blog where you can
enter a list of books you plan to read this fall. You can view other's lists and read reviews of the books they have read.
Teen Lit Review is excited to participate! We will be giving away books during the program - often between now and December 20th!
So, check back often to enter and read our reviews! Leave us a comment if you are participating - we'd love to stop by and check out your list!
Happy Reading!
TEEN LIT REVIEW - FALL INTO READING 2008 LIST:
A Girl Named Disaster - Nancy Farmer SEE REVIEW HERE
After the Leaves Fall - Nicole Baart
At the Sign of the Sugared Plum - Mary Hooper SEE REVIEW HERE
The City of Ember (The First Book of Ember) - Jeanne DuPrau SEE REVIEW HERE
Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Jeff Kinney
The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn (The Samurai Mysteries) - Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler SEE REVIEW HERE
Maggie Come Lately (The Pathway Collection #1) - Michelle Buckman
Midnight for Charlie Bone (The Children of the Red King, Book 1) - Jenny Nimmo
Mixed Bags (Carter House Girls, Book 1) - Melody Carlson
My Brother Sam Is Dead (Apple Signature) - James Collier & Christopher Collier
The Mysterious Benedict Society - Trenton Lee Stewart
Outcasts Of Skagaray - Andrew Clarke SEE REVIEW HERE
Penelope
- Marilyn Kaye
Rowan of Rin (Rowan of Rin #1) - Emily Rodda SEE REVIEW HERE
Saving Zoe: A Novel - Alyson Noel
The Sherwood Ring Elizabeth Marie Pope
Thirteen Reasons Why- Jay Asher
Uglies (Uglies Trilogy, Book 1) - Scott Westerfeld
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (The Wolves Chronicles) - Joan Aiken

Monday, September 1, 2008

Bella at Midnight

By reviewer Greta Marlow
Title: Bella at Midnight
Author: Diane Stanley
Primary Audience/age group: 12+
Genre: fantasy/fairy tale
# Of pages: 278
Publisher: Harper Collins
Year of Release: 2006
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 5 (View Scale
Recommend: Yes!

Description: (from book jacket) “In the little village of Castle Down, in a kingdom plagued by war, lives a peasant girl called Bella. Blessed with a kind family and a loving friend, she manages to create her own small patch of sunshine in a dark and dangerous world. Bella is a blacksmith’s daughter; her friend Julian is a prince – yet neither seems to notice the great gulf that divides his world from hers. Suddenly Bella’s world collapses. First Julian betrays her. Then it is revealed that she is not the peasant she believed herself to be: She is Isabel, the daughter of a knight who abandoned her in infancy. Now he wants her back, so Bella is torn from her beloved foster family and sent to live with her deranged father and his resentful new wife. Soon Bella is caught up in a terrible plot that will change her life – and the kingdom – forever. With the help of her godmother and three enchanted gifts, she sets out on a journey in disguise that will lead her to a destiny far greater than any she could have imagined.”

Review: Bella at Midnight is a clever retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale, with some twists on certain characters that help us understand their motivations. I also like the fact that Bella’s transformation at the end is not for as shallow a reason as the original Cinderella’s. The book provides a really good contrast between characters who act in their own selfish interests and those who think of the good of others. Don’t get me wrong, though; this is no dry “morality tale.”

Rating: 5

Positive: Bella is the most pure-hearted and yet still realistic character I’ve come across. She loves without reservation and forgives others who treat her badly. She undertakes a mission to save Julian’s life, even when he has humbled her in front of his highborn friends. For his part, Julian repents of his hypocrisy and tries to change. Bella’s foster family is loving, in stark contrast to her physical family.

Spiritual Elements: Although I don’t think this is necessarily “Christian fiction,” there is much mention of God’s role in people’s lives, including the idea that people may be placed in a certain spot to fulfill God’s purpose.

There is a certain amount of magic in the story, but I was a little unclear as to what was the source of the magic. Sometimes it seemed to be a gift from God, sometimes magic that came from love, and sometimes just “regular” magic.

Violence: Bella’s country is at war with a neighboring kingdom, so there is some war-related violence, such as burning a peasant village and discussion of the number of people who will die in battle. Nothing is graphic or disturbing, though.

Language: The book doesn’t use any offensive language.

Sexual Content: There is no sexual content other than two briefly-mentioned kisses.

Other: Although the book is clearly fantasy, I also thought it has some value as historical fiction, in that it gives an accurate depiction of medieval life, especially the class divisions of the time. Finally, I’m not a terribly sentimental person, but I have to admit I teared up a couple of times when Bella goes to live with her father and stepmother!

Rating: 5

Recommendation: I would definitely recommend this book! Stanley does a fine job of working some pretty substantial themes into an entertaining story.