Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ella Enchanted

Title: Ella Enchanted
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Primary Audience/age group: 8 and up
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale
# Of pages: 232
Year of Release: 1997
Part of a Series? no
Rating: 3 (View Scale)

Description: Ella was given the gift of obedience. But the gift bestowed on her at birth by the flighty fairy Lucinda wasn’t a gift at all but a curse. Ella must obey every command, big or small, which always puts her at great risk. She is commanded to never reveal her secret for her own safety but when it’s found out she has to find a way to end the spell she is under before it’s too late.

Review: The story of Ella is a magical one of hope and inner strength with an inventive twist to the plot. The creativity and originality of the author shine through in this retelling of a classic tale. Cinderella has a new name and a new set of rules, but will the shoe still fit?

Rating: 3 for mentions of underage drinking (please read the recommendation below)

Positive: The story of Ella yields messages of hope, inner strength, and forgiveness. Some of the characters learn very valuable lessons and others hold strong values.

Spiritual Elements: none

Violence: Ella punches a girl in the nose because she is being too bossy, but Ella’s mother reprimands her.

Ogres eat Ella’s pony leaving only the bones then threaten to eat her.

Later, Ella bites into her tongue to stop herself from obeying and ends up tasting blood and bile.

Language: none

Sexual Content: a couple of kisses

Other: Ella’s father is not fond of her at all and only sees her as getting in the way. He forces her to eat enchanted mushrooms that cause her to have an overly positive view on any request (or order in Ella’s case), even the request that she marry an older man for his wealth.

On three different occasions Ella is offered a glass of wine or brandy by her elders. One scene is when her father wants her to appear to be more mature for the older gentleman he would like Ella to marry.

Recommendation: My biggest concerns were the scenes of Ella being offered a strong drink. For the most part, the instances were done in good taste and seem to show the customs of the land and period and not to condone underage drinking, but some parents may take offense. As well the scene where the pony has been eaten by the ogre may be a bit too much for some children. I would recommend ages 10 and up but would probably discuss my views of alcohol intake with my child.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Eric Liddell: Running for a Higher Prize

Title: Eric Liddell: Running for a Higher Prize
Author: Renee Taft Meloche
Illustrator: Bryan Pollard
Primary Audience/age group: 10 and up
Genre: Inspirational, Biography, Poetry
# Of pages: 32
Year of Release: 2001
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 17 in the Heroes for Young Readers Series
Rating: 5 (View Scale)

Description: Scottish born Eric Liddell was gifted with great athletic ability and earned at place on Great Britain’s 1924 Olympic Team. Eric loved God and chose to serve and honor him in all that he did even to the point of giving up his dream because of his beliefs. This is the story of how God kept His promise to Eric.

Review: The story of Eric was
a lesson in integrity
that the author so impressively
wrote in poetry.
It was Eric’s true story
of how he served the Lord
and chose to live honorably
in God’s perfect accord.
The story was inspiring
yet unique with its rhyme
as it touched my heart
with the messages that transcend time.

Rating: 5 for good moral values

Positive: Eric believed God should come first in everything and followed through with his beliefs even though others disapproved. He became very popular because of his talent and when given the opportunity to speak, he always spoke of God and His Son. As well he attributed all his awards to God.

Spiritual Elements: Eric knew his athletic ability was a gift from God and chose to serve Him with it.

Violence: none

Language: none

Sexual Content: none

Other: none

Recommendation: Eric Liddell lived a life to be admired because he chose to devote it to God. I think all ages would be able to enjoy the tale and gleam God-inspired messages from it. The story would be a great teaching tool to be read aloud.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The House at the End of the Tracks

Title: The House at the End of the Tracks
Author: Marc Richard Elliott
Primary Audience/age group: 10 and up
Genre: Short Story
# Of pages: 46
Year of Release: 2007
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 4 (View Scale)

Description: Miss Phoebe Finn was born and raised in the house at the end of the tracks. She lived a quiet, isolated life for years until Micah appeared outside her door. With no possessions and no last name, Micah was the least of which to leave an impression on anyone. But God saw fit to touch the life of Miss Phoebe that day with an unexpected friend.

Review: “The House at the End of the Tracks” is a heart-warming tale of an elderly woman who sees God’s hand touch her life through the homeless man she finds outside her door. The story is full of God-inspired treasures that will allow you to see His true character of love and how He still works today even in those who feel their time of purpose has passed. I love the setting of the story and how it is told with Southern dialect. It gives the story even more character and warmth. God-centered lessons abound throughout, and one of the most profound messages I found in the book was that God has given everyone a purpose, if only we would acknowledge it.

Rating: 4 for one mention of the word h*** and for mild violence

Positive: Micah has lived a hard life, losing loved ones, then losing his job and home. He learns to appreciate God for even the smallest things. Even in the worst of situations, Micah has a heart full of thankfulness.

Spiritual Elements: The whole story is interlaced with God’s wisdom.

Violence: Old man Booth lives up the road from Miss Phoebe. Rumor has it that he is so harsh that even his kids tried to throw him on the tracks.

Language: H*** is used once in reference to the place

Sexual Content: none

Other: Micah’s sister, whom he is in search of, is dealing with drug addiction. One of Miss Phoebe’s sisters was killed in a drunk driving accident.

Recommendation: The story is a message of hope and purpose even for those who are considered the least among us. I feel the book would be most appropriate for ages ten and up because it does deal with a couple of more mature situations with brief mentions of drug abuse and drunk driving.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Crispin: At The Edge Of The World

Title: Crispin: Cross of Lead, The (Crispin)
By Reviewer Chappyswife
Author: Avi
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
Genre: Adventure
# Of pages: 245
Year of Release: 2007
Part of a Series? Yes. Sequel to Crispin: The Cross Of Lead
Rating: 3 (View Scale)

Description: From book jacket: He was a nameless orphan marked for death for an unknown crime. Discovering his name only intensified the mystery. Then he met Bear, who helped Crispin learn the secret of his full identity. In Bear, Crispin found a new father and a new world, and the two set off to live as free men. But they don't get far as the past catches up to them.

Review: This is a nice follow-up to the first book, but it is a bit darker. It takes up exactly where the first book left off, which is nice, and the adventure continues. Crispin and Bear still live in bleak and depressing conditions, and encounter some who are even worse off than they are. They do discover kindness where it is least expected only to then face horror. I was anxious to read this second book in the series, but was a bit disappointed with the pure sadness of it.

Rating: 3 for some violence

Positive: Crispin and Bear do find kindness and their love as father/son is further cemented with more love added in. Crispin is able to discover that the world is bigger than he ever imagined.

Spiritual Elements: The book is heavily religious. Bear is constantly talking about and praying to saints. Being fiction, it is based on a number of historical facts which are listed in the back of the book and are interesting. It is there that it is explained that at the end of the fourteenth century, when this account takes place, that Christianity is the established religion, but all kinds of pagan beliefs and practices continued and take place in this book.

Violence: The plot revolves around adventure, and there certainly seems to be more violence in this book, I think. There is an arrow wound, a birth gone bad, and a character violently murdered, and that is not even the end of the violence in this book.

Language: none

Sexual Content: none

Other: While the adventuresome spirit of the book can be fun, it is still a darker book and not for the faint of heart or depressed.

Recommendation: Even though the story was appealing and the adventure intriguing, I didn’t really like the book based on the constant praying to saints, bleak circumstances, lack of hope, and violence. I realize this is just fiction, but I do think a child too young could get attached to the characters and become upset at the outcome.
I would not recommend it to children under 12 at all due to the violence portrayed throughout and the degree of vile details.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Beyond The Deepwoods - The Edge Chronicles

Title: The Edge Chronicles 1: Beyond the Deep Woods
Author: Paul Stewart & Chris Riddel
Primary Audience/age group: 9 - 12
Genre: Fantasy
# of pages: 288
Part of a Series? Yes, 1st of 9 in The Edge Chronicles
Rating: 2 (View Scale) for violence

Description: Young Twig lives in the Deepwoods, among the Woodtrolls, but he isn’t one of them. In a brave attempt to find out where he belongs, Twig wanders into the mysterious, dangerous world beyond the Deepwoods. He meets a collection of odd companions, such as his wise guardian, the Caterbird; the Slaughterers, a peaceful race who butcher animals for their livelihood; and the vicious, bile-swilling Rotsucker. Always watching out for the horrible Gloamglozer, whose presence haunts the thoughts of all the inhabitants of The Edge, Twig steadfastly pursues his quest until he discovers his roots, not among the trees, but in the skies. . .

Review: Beyond the Deepwoods was a gross book, but interesting as well. I liked the adventure, meeting the different species that live in the Deepwoods. I like Twig, the main character - who like many 13 year olds, is trying to find how he fits into the world around him. Twig goes from one adventure to the next, from one difficult situation to the next - without end. I felt like this book was an introduction to the adventure to come - in the next 8 books. These books are not for the easily grossed out - some scenes are quite disgusting.

Rating: 2 (View Scale) for constant, intense adventure and action, and a lot of grotesque characters/scenes

Positive: Twig is a very likable fellow, who keeps trudging on, looking for that place he belongs. Sure, he complains a bit when he gets hungry or scared, but not much and it doesn't come across as whining. He is loyal to his friends, and quite polite.

Spiritual Elements: Negative - the word Sky is used throughout the book as a reference for their higher power or God. It is not used except in a way where Twig take's Sky's name "in vain".

Violence: Very gory, gross, and disgusting - in childish ways. The characters are just these disgusting sounding creatures, and the way Twig escapes from them sometimes involves using his knife. However, for some reason, this book did not offend me the way The Spiderwick Chronicles did. The violence/action was for survival and against "evil" creatures - not against helpless cats and cows by the evil creatures (like in Spiderwick).

Language: Taking a "higher power"'s name in vain many times, use of the word "d**n" once.

Sexual Content: None

Recommendation: I did find the use of the name Sky (example: pg. 161 - Twig screams at the cocoon "Break, Sky d**n you") and the one curse word - unnecessary and disappointing. And it causes me concern about the direction that future books take. Because of that concern I can not give my recommendation to what is otherwise a book that most 9 - 12yr. old boys would enjoy.

Monday, April 7, 2008


Author: Gail Carson Levine
Primary Audience/age group: 8 and up
Genre: Fantasy
# Of pages: 336
Year of Release: 2006
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 3 for violence (View Scale)

Description: From book: In the kingdom of Ayortha, who is the fairest of them all? Certainly not Aza. She is thoroughly convinced that she is ugly. What she may lack in looks, though, she makes up for with a kind heart, and with something no one else has–a magical voice. Her vocal talents captivate all who hear them, and in Ontio Castle they attract the attention of a handsome prince – and a dangerous new queen. In this masterful novel filled with humor, adventure, romance, and song, Newbery Honor author Gail Carson Levine invites you to join Aza as she discovers how exquisite she truly is.

Review: Aza could represent every teenage girl in this society that promotes beauty as the most sought-after characteristic. At first, she doesn’t see her heart and her talents as prized possessions. But, through dire circumstances Aza learns that what’s inside is the most important after all. Fairest is my top choice above Ella Enchanted in the two books I’ve read by Levine. It was fast-paced and exciting with both adventure and romance. Plus, I love a book that teaches a lesson along the way.

Rating: 3 for moderate violence and a scene where a character considers killing herself

The prince is so enamored with Aza’s tender spirit and enchanting voice he falls in love with her. He sees her heart above her appearance. He as well as a couple of other characters help Aza find her strength and true beauty along the way.

Spiritual Elements: None

Violence: The king is hit in the head and is injured. There is mention of some blood.

Ogres are fierce creatures that lure their prey by enchanting them with their voices. In one scene an ogre is stabbed and a few others along with a couple of horses are buried under an avalanche.

Spoiler Warning: Aza is poisoned and her spirit is drawn into a magic mirror. The plot thickens as Skulni, the mirrors’ murderous host plots to kill Queen Ivi. The queen even considers killing herself because she feels she has lost everything, which to her was her beauty.

Language: The term “h*** cow” is used on one occasion.

Sexual Content: Ava and the prince kiss.

Other: At times, characters are envious of each other. At one point, Aza lies about her commoner status as well as a few other things. Her actions cause the prince to become angry with her. Aza is so desperate to be beautiful she finds a beauty spell that turns her into stone.

Recommendation: Even though the book is intended for ages 8 and up, I would recommend a slightly older audience. I think girls ages 12 and up would appreciate the love story more than younger ages. As well, the brief description of Queen Ivi wanting to kill herself could be handled better by a more mature audience. The plot of the book could help initiate some discussions about loving ourselves for who God made us and on the consequences of jealousy.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Bad Connection

Title:Bad Connection (The Secret Life Samantha McGregor, Book 1)
Author: Melody Carlson
Primary Audience/age group: girls 12-15
Genre: Contemporary Christian Teen-Lit, supernatural fantasy
# of pages: 256
Year of Release: 2006
Part of a Series? Yes, 1st of four in series The Secret Life of Samantha McGregor
Rating: 4
Description: Meet Samantha McGregor - She seems like your average teen, but Samantha is unusually gifted. God gives her visions and dreams that offer unconventional glimpses into other people’s lives and problems. It’s a powerful gift with a lot of responsibility…
Bad Connection: Book One
Kayla Henderson lives on the edge. She likes to break the rules, considers partying an extracurricular activity, and can’t stand her parents. So, most people aren’t surprised when she goes missing. Like everyone else, Samantha McGregor assumes Kayla has run away. But then she has a vision where Kayla is tied up with duct tape over her mouth. Freaked by the image, Samantha wonders, Is Kayla alive or dead? Was the vision real or just a silly dream? Most important, can Kayla be found before it’s too late?
If God Gave You a Vision, Would You Trust It?
Samantha McGregor knows that Kayla Henderson likes to break the rules, considers partying an “extra-curricular” activity, and can’t stand her parents. Fine. That’s Kayla’s thing. Samantha’s not even surprised when Kayla goes missing. Hadn’t she been saying she was going to take off, to go meet her online “boyfriend” in person? It might not be the smartest move in the world, but Kayla would be okay. She always was. Then the vision comes…and reveals that Kayla is far from okay. Samantha freaks. Was her vision from God or just imagined? If Kayla’s really in danger, what can Samantha do? Only one person can help her: Detective Ebony Hamilton, her father’s former colleague.Now this unlikely pair must work against the clock—and the system—to patch together the truth and find Kayla…before it’s too late.
Story Behind the Book
“The secular world has become very interested in ‘supernatural’ gifts. Take, for example, shows like Joan of Arcadia , The Medium, Monk, and Dead Zone . Yet it’s God who gives every good and perfect gift. My guess is that we humans barely tap into the vast variety of gifts that He has to offer. Not only that, but our fast-paced, high-tech culture rarely relies on those good ‘old-fashioned’ character traits like insight, intuition, wisdom, and foresight. My hope is that this series will provide a fun way for teens to explore deeper levels of spirituality and creativity while inspiring them to a greater love for God.” — Melody Carlson

Review: I enjoyed this book. It was quick, easy reading. Dialouge driven. Faith based. The main character, Samantha gives all glory to God and has a close, committed relationship to Him that serves as a great example for our daughters. There are many Scripture quotes/paraphrases (from the Message). The author has included a resource guide and discussion questions in the back of the book.
Positive: Samantha purposefully surrounds herself with other Christians. Her inner-circle of friends share her belief in God. They pray together and care about each other. Samantha is respectful of her mother, even though at times it is difficult. She turns to God with her problems and worries, acknowledging that He is in control.
Spiritual Elements: All elements of this story are spiritual.
Violence: Nothing is overtly gruesome or violent, although one scene that Samantha has a vision of is quite morbid.
Language: None
Sexual Content: None
Recommendation: This book/series addresses an interesting issue - a person's ability to receive dreams and visions from God. There are many theological views of the subject which may influence your opinion of this book. If you don't have a problem with your daughter reading a book that is based on that subject then I can easily recommend this book to you! If she is reading secular books where this happens - definetly get her this series!

No Shame, No Fear

By Reviewer Greta Marlow

Title: No Shame, No Fear
Author: Ann Turnbull
Primary Audience/age group: Upper Young adult
Genre: historical fiction
# Of pages: 293
Year of Release: 2003
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 2
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: (from book jacket) “It is 1662 and England is reeling from the aftereffects of civil war, with its clashes of faith and culture. After completing his studies, seventeen-year-old Will returns home to begin an apprenticeship arranged by his wealthy father. Susanna, a young Quaker girl, leaves her family to become a servant in the same town. Will and Susanna meet and fall in love, but can their bond survive – no matter what? Theirs is a story that speaks across the centuries, telling of love and the fight to stay true to what is most important, in spite of parents, society, and even the law. Ann Turnbull has written a gripping historical novel that captures all the passion and idealism of young love.”

Review: I enjoyed the book. It had a nice balance between the historical elements and the love story. The main characters grew over the course of the book, and in the end made a mature decision that, while it was something of a surprise, was the right one.

Positive: Both Susanna and Will show respect for adults, even when they disagree with the adults (Will less so than Susanna, since he and his father have a strong disagreement over Will’s decision to become a Quaker). Susanna, in particular, shows courage and faithfulness in the face of religious persecution.

Spiritual Elements: A major plot of the book deals with Will’s search for truth in religion, which leads him to reject his family’s church and become a Quaker. Another major plot deals with the persecution the Quakers faced in 1660s England, and Susanna’s fears that she will not be brave enough or strong enough in her faith to face the persecution. There is a lot of emphasis on the power of prayer.

Violence: The book describes the terrible conditions the Quakers face in prison; Susanna suffers ridicule and abuse while locked in the stocks. Will’s father beats him to try to gain Will’s obedience.

Language: Some use of “whore” – otherwise, not much of an issue.

Sexual Content: Will and Susanna are strongly attracted to each other, and the book does a good job of capturing the intensity of infatuation. There is quite a bit of touching and kissing, but always with the awareness that they must not do more until after marriage. They actually plan to run away and marry (spoiler alert!!) but in the end decide it is not right to deceive their friends and family. There is also a brief scene in which Susanna views a naked man as she is caring for his illness.

Other: Beer and ale are the major drinks (historical fact because of poor water quality)

Rating: Although some parents might not be comfortable with the sexual tension between Susanna and Will, I would give the book a 3 because that tension is set within a moral context.

Recommendation: The book is appropriate for older teens. I would recommend it to counterbalance the media’s message that sex is the most important thing in life; in this book, the sexual attraction is always treated in the context of moral and economic concerns.

Reviewer Greta Marlow is a speech teacher at a small, church-related college. She and her husband have been married 18 years and have two pre-teen children, a boy and a girl. She had a passion for children's literature, especially historical fiction for children.

Forged in the Fire

By Reviewer Greta Marlow

Title: Forged in the Fire
Author: Ann Turnbull
Primary Audience/age group: Upper Young adult
Genre: historical fiction
# Of pages: 312
Year of Release: 2007
Part of a Series? Yes, 2 of 2
Rating: 2 (See Recommendation)
Recommend? Yes with reservation

Description: (from book jacket) “London, 1665. Cast out by his father for becoming a Quaker, Will travels to London to earn a living. He and Susanna wait patiently to be reunited and, at last, married. But when Will is thrown into jail for his beliefs, the lovers’ future becomes uncertain. With the plague spreading and the scent of smoke on the wind, will their love bring them together despite the most terrifying twists of fate; Will and Susanna’s romance continues in thes powerful sequel to No Shame, No Fear.”

Review: I was eager to see how the story turned out, and this sequel was certainly satisfying. While No Shame, No Fear seemed to be Susanna’s story, I thought Forged in the Fire was Will’s story. I was a little disappointed that the author missed an opportunity to explore Will’s commitment to his new religion in favor of emphasizing the love story. Again, I like the way the historical events were intertwined with the personal lives of these compelling characters.

Positive: Will is very concerned about being responsible and providing a living so he can take care of Susanna. He’s not willing to marry her until he is settled in a steady job.

Spiritual Elements: Although there is less emphasis on religion than in the first book, this book still shows especially Will’s efforts to be faithful to his faith.

Violence: Again, there is description of persecution. Will suffers greatly in prison for a single angry comment. Two major plot lines involved the black plague and the Great Fire of London, so there is some violence inherent in the story.

Language: Not much of an issue – there are some “earthy” terms.

Sexual Content: Will and Susanna have waited three years to marry. After a brief separation because of a misunderstanding, they are reunited and spend a night together (Susanna makes the decision to go find him, knowing full well what may happen). Although the situation is handled tastefully, it is more detailed than some will think appropriate. However, immediately after that scene, Will finds a home for them and they marry.

Other: Beer and ale are the major drinks (historical fact because of poor water quality).

Rating: Because of the one scene with premarital sex, I would give the book a 2.

Recommendation: Despite the premarital sex, I think the book is appropriate for older teens, especially when read in combination with No Shame, No Fear. Parents could talk to teens about the fact that Will realizes the great responsibility he has to Susanna once they’ve been together, in contrast to the “no consequences” attitude of much of the media geared toward teens.

Reviewer Greta Marlow is a speech teacher at a small, church-related college. She and her husband have been married 18 years and have two pre-teen children, a boy and a girl. She had a passion for children's literature, especially historical fiction for children.

The World According To Humphrey

Title: The World According to Humphrey
Author: Betty G. Birney
Primary audience/age group: 8 and up
Genre: Juvenile Fiction/Humor
# of pages: 122
Year of Release: 2004
Part of a series: Yes
Rating: 5

Description: (from book) You can learn a lot about life by observing another species. That's what Humphrey was told when he was first brought to Room 26. And boy, is it true! In addition to his classroom escapades, each weekend this amazing hamster gets to sleep over with a different student, like Lower-Your-Voice-A.J. and Speak-Up-Sayeh. Soon Humphrey learns to read, write, and even shoot rubber bands (only in self-defense, of course). Humphrey has friends, adventures, and a cage with a lock-that-doesn't-lock. His life would be perfect, if only the teacher, Mrs. Brisbane, wasn't out to get him!

Review: My 9 year old read this out loud to me and I spent most of that time laughing. This is a cute story about life from the perspective of a hamster. The story is cute, funny, and teaches responsibility in caring for pets. The characters in the book dealt with real life situations and did so in a tasteful way. You must keep in mind that the story is told from the perspective of Humphrey, the hamster. After reading the story, you'll find several neat little things in the back of the book. There are discussion questions, crossword puzzles, mazes, jokes, and more. Overall, this is a cute story that we really enjoyed.

Positive: This story teaches children how to care for and be responsible for a pet.

Spiritual Element: We talked about God's creation and the importance of caring for it. We discussed how pets are dependent on us for everything, just as we are dependent on the Lord.

Violence: I do not remember anything in this story.

Language: There was no use of foul language. There were times in the story when Humphrey referred to a place in his cage as his "poo corner." However, I didn't feel like this was an issue and the context in which it was used was appropriate. He referred to it when the children were cleaning his cage.

Sexual Content: None

Recommendation: This book was a fun read and I would recommend it.

Rating: 5

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

In The Hall Of The Dragon King

Title:In the Hall of the Dragon
Author: Stephen R. Lawhead
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult (12-15)
Genre: Fantasy
# of pages: 384 pages
Year of Release: 2007
Part of a Series? Yes, 1st of 3 in the Dragon King Trilogy
Rating: 3
Description: From the Back Cover: A Kingdom hangs in the balance . . . and a young boy answers the call. Carrying a sealed message from the war-hero Dragon King to the queen, Quentin and his outlaw companion, Theido, plunge headlong into a fantastic odyssey and mystic quest. Danger lurks everywhere: in the brutal terrain, and particularly in the threats from merciless creatures, both human and not-so-human. While at the castle, the wicked Prince Jaspin schemes to secure the crown for himself, and an evil sorcerer concocts his own monstrous plan. A plan that Quentin and Theido could never imagine. In the youth's valiant efforts to save the kingdom, and fulfill his unique destiny, he will cross strange and wondrous lands: encounter brave knights, beautiful maidens, and a mysterious hermit; and battle a giant deadly serpent. In this first book of The Dragon King Trilogy, Stephen R. Lawhead has deftly woven a timeless epic of war, adventure, fantasy, and political intrigue.
Review: This is one of my 13 yr. old son's favorite series of books. It is full of action, suspense, fighting, friendship, and good vs. evil. After having my son tell me how much he liked this book, I expected to finish it more quickly than I did. However, it was slow moving for me. To me, the story started off slowly, picked up speed towards the middle, and was quite enjoyable at the end. The slow start was probably just due to Lawhead going into great detail on the characters, setting, and preparing us for the adventure ahead. As for the story itself, it is a good one, and I do suggest the book for your pre-teen to teen boys. Girls who are passionate fantasy readers would probably enjoy it as well.
The story of Quentin, leaving all he has ever known, to do that which he feels called to do is a noble one. He leaves empty rituals, boring security, and standoffish friends behind to discover a God worth serving, true friends who care about him, and a purpose for his life he never imagined existed.
Positive: Friendship, loyalty, putting others before yourself, and faith in that which we don't or can't see, are qualities woven into the story and offer readers many examples and lessons we can apply to our own lives.
Spiritual Elements: The underlying message of the book is that there is a God who cares. The story takes place during a time where people worship all sorts of gods. It seems each village worships a different god. Through Durwin, the hermit, Quentin and those around him are introduced to the one true God. Durwin took every opportunity to tell others about his God. There is a clear good versus evil - the evil sorcerer uses "magic" frequently.
Violence: The battle scenes are descriptive and somewhat gory at times. Many chase scenes are quite intense.
Language: None (I seem to recall there may have been one or two made up words used in a context that you knew the character was "swearing" - but don't remember the specifics.)
Sexual Content: None
Other: I bought this book at a Christian book store. As I read the first half of the book I was thinking they may have been stocking it by mistake. Thomas Nelson published it - I was confused. It wasn't until about page 162 that a clear explanation of "The Most High God" is given - that He is the One True God. I was a little uncomfortable reading the many references to the other gods that some worshipped - but by the end, I feel direction and glory were given to God, the Father. I didn't pick up on any references or symbolism to Jesus in the story.
Rating: 3 due to violence/intense battle scenes
Recommendation: I would recommend this book for readers who are comfortable with intense fantasy stories and can handle a bit of gore. My 13 yr. old loved the series and read the 3 books in 5 days.