Thursday, August 20, 2009

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman

By reviewer Greta Marlow
Title:Alex and the Ironic Gentleman
Author: Adrienne Kress
Primary Audience/age group: 10+
Genre: Adventure
# Of pages: 308
Publisher: Weinstein Books
Year of Release: 2007
Part of a Series? No (but possibly may be in future)
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend: Yes, although see “Other” below

Description: (from book cover) ”Often mistaken for a boy because of her haircut and her name, Alex Morningside is an inquisitive girl of ten-and-a-half who attends the prestigious Wigpowder-Steele Academy. Unfortunately, though she loves to learn, Alex just can’t bring herself to enjoy her classes. Her teachers are all old and smelly and don’t seem to know anything that has happened in the world the past thirty years, and her peers…well they are quite simply ridiculous. Luckily for Alex, the new school year brings an exciting new teacher. Mr. Underwood makes lessons fun and teaches her how to fence. But Mr. Underwood has a mysterious family secret—the swashbuckling and buried treasure kind—and not everyone is glad he has come to Wigpowder-Steele. When the infamous pirates of a ship called the Ironic Gentleman kidnap Mr. Underwood, Alex sets off on a journey to rescue him, along the way encountering a case of strange and magical characters, including the dashing and sometimes heroic Captain Magnanimous, Coriander the Conjurer, the Extremely Ginormous Octopus, and the wicked Daughters of the Founding Fathers’ Preservation Society.”

Review: My daughter, my son, and I all enjoyed this book. It had an appealing little heroine, lots of adventure, some clever bits, some sort of scary bits, and some really funny bits. There’s one encounter Alex had with a hotel owner that my daughter and I still laugh about, weeks later. I personally was a little annoyed by the way the plot was pulled together; it was a little too convenient and unbelievable for me. But neither of the kids seemed to have that objection.

Rating: 3, for some implied violence and portrayal of alcohol use

Recommend:
Yes (see “Other” below)

Positive: Alex generally takes a very sensible approach to solving conflict. She is tenacious in her efforts to find and rescue her teacher, Mr. Underwood. (SPOILER!) Although she does go over to the “dark side” temporarily, she realizes in the end that it is a selfish life and she rejects it to do the right thing.

Spiritual Elements: There’s really not much about religion, per se, but there is one chapter that was a little strange that dealt with people’s souls being sucked out of them to create a sort of “elixir of life.”

Violence: There are some rather violent things in the book, although nothing is explicit or graphic. Of course, it has a pirate battle or two. The worst thing, I thought, were a couple of the bad guys. (SPOILER!) One is a really sinister character who is missing most of his facial features, and the other is a “doctor” who specializes in torture. There is one scene where the results of the “doctor’s” treatment are displayed on one of the sympathetic characters which, as an adult with an active imagination, really bothered me. However, there was nothing detailed in the description; it was what I imagined had happened that bothered me. That’s a good technique for suspense or horror, but it may bother sensitive kids. (It didn’t seem to faze my kids – they didn’t mention it.)

Language: I don’t recall any problems.

Sexual Content: None

Other: There’s a lot of alcohol in this book. The little old ladies in the museum drink wine, the people on the train drink champagne (which just happens to be made from other people’s souls!), there is a character who is a friend when he’s sober but who gets drunk just about every night. Although all these characters drink, their behavior is not positive or appealing, so they aren't what raises my red flags to half-mast. The scene that made me wonder about the portrayal of alcohol is the one with the Ginormous Octopus. The Octopus is in a bar, obviously drowning his sorrows at not being respected as an actor (the scene is hilarious in its play on the stereotype of the primadonna actor!). It seemed to me that scene was built on the idea of the “funny drunk” – like the comedy that made Foster Brooks famous. Harmless comedy? Maybe. Or maybe not. I don't know. I thought parents should know it’s there so they can make their own decisions.

I have to say I liked the way some gender stereotypes were turned on their pretty little heads in the story.

Rating: 3, for some implied violence and portrayal of alcohol use

Recommendation: Yes, the story was fun. But see “Other” above.

Monday, August 10, 2009

My Hands Came Away Red

By Reviewer Shawna
Title: My Hands Came Away Red
Author: Lisa McKay
Primary Audience/age group: Adult
Genre: Christian Fiction
# Of pages: 400
Publisher: Moody Publishers
Year of Release: 2007
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 2 for violence (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: From Amazon “Cori signs up to take a mission trip to Indonesia during the summer after her senior year of high school. Inspired by happy visions of building churches and seeing beautiful beaches, she gladly escapes her complicated love life back home. Five weeks after their arrival, a sectarian and religious conflict that has been simmering for years flames to life with deadly results on the nearby island of Ambon. Within days, the church building the team had constructed is in ashes, its pastor and fifty villagers are dead, and the six terrified teenagers are stranded in the mountainous jungle with only the pastor's teenage son to guide them to safety. Ultimately, Cori's emotional quest to rediscover hope proves as arduous as the physical journey home.”

Review: The story of Cori and her mission team is not a true account but is based on the real conflict between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia. I chose this book because the story seemed real and the main characters were teenagers and young adults. Although it is an emotionally distressing read at times, it conveys the differences in reactions of believers who fall into treacherous situations while serving God abroad. McKay’s characters were well-developed and exhibited true emotions. Upon reading the last sentence, I heavily pondered what I would do in the type of situations Cori and her teammates had to face. A book that leaves you thinking is a book worth reading.

Rating: 2 for violence

Positive: We are given glimpses into the lives of several teens and young adults and how coming to Christ had changed them. It is a good reminder that God can and will forgive all sins if we come to Him and repent. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9

The book also shows how we need to trust God in all situations even if we cannot comprehend why He allows certain situations to happen. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6.

Spiritual Elements: All the main characters are Christians, and we are given many details about Cori’s and her teammates beliefs in God. Daniel and his son, Mani, were converted from the Muslim religion to Christianity. The Muslim religion is detailed along with Daniel’s conversion experience. Mani also explains some of the old tribal beliefs of the townspeople.

Violence: The worst violence (why the book has a 2 rating) is the massacre of the pastor and his wife, which was retaliation when the Muslim village heard that the Christians had burned mosques, killed Muslims, and raped women. It is a very heavy and detailed scene but pivotal to the plot. Other scenes in the book that would fall into this category aren’t quite as violent.

Language: none

Sexual Content: There are a couple of mild kisses and the romance in general is mild. Drew, one of Cori’s teammates, has a troubled past that included her turning to alcohol and sleeping with someone she didn’t know as a result. She is very repentant.

Other: Kyle, another teammate, was a runaway who ended up in lots of trouble including smoking pot before becoming a Christian.

Recommendation: Although the plot of the book is very deep and certain scenes are disturbing, McKay gives you a scenario that could very well happen today. We live in a country were we do not fear for our safety because of our religious views. I often forget that there are places in this world were becoming a Christian is a much more dangerous commitment, and yet God still calls us to go. “And He (Jesus) said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.’” Mark 16:15

I recommend the book because it is a good reminder that other Christians do not have the same freedoms we do, and we need to pray for them and the missionaries who are sent to minister to them. It is most appropriate for older teens aged 15 and up.