Monday, May 31, 2010

Marked

Reviewed by: Angi Harris
Title: Marked: A House of Night Novel (House of Night Novels)
Author: P. C. Cast and Kristen Cast
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
Genre: Fiction
# Of pages: 320 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Year of Release: 2009
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 6
Rating: 1 (View Scale)
Recommend? No

Description: From Back Cover:
Enter the dark, magical world of The House of Night, a world very much like our own, except here vampyres have always existed. Sixteen-year-old Zoey Redbird has just been Marked as a fledgling vampyre and joins the House of Night, a school where she will train to become an adult vampire. That is, if she makes it through the Change--and not all of those who are Marked do. It sucks to begin a new life, especially away from her friends, and on top of that, Zoey is no average fledgling. She has been chosen as special by the vampyre Goddess Nyx. Zoey discovers she has amazing powers, but along with her powers come bloodlust and an unfortunate ability to Imprint her human ex-boyfriend. To add to her stress, she is not the only fledgling at the House of Night with special powers: When she discovers that the leader of the Dark Daughters, the school's most elite group, is misusing her Goddess-given gifts, Zoey must look deep within herself for the courage to embrace her destiny--with a little help from her new vampyre friends.

Review:With the current craze and obsession of vampire books I decided to read the first book in this popular series. I knew after the first few pages that it was a book that should be avoided and was wholly inappropriate for teen readers.

Rating: 1 for reference to sexual situations and a large amount of bad language.

Positive: Zoey is a champion for the mis-fits and underdogs, the vampyres who aren't "cheerleader" types.

Spiritual Elements: In this series the Vampyres worship the goddess Nyx, and appear to practice many rituals that include blood, pentagrams, human sacrifice and a lot of other creepiness. It is anti “People of Faith” and the faith of her parents is mocked. Zoey visits her grandmother who is Indian has a weird spiritual out-of-body experience.

Violence: There is general vampire gore, sucking of blood, drinking of blood, getting blood out of people so they can drink it. I don’t recall anything too graphic, but do remember feeling grossed out and uncomfortable.

Language: The swearing was frequent and at times, silly. The bad language includes the “f” word, sh**, dam*, b*tch, sl*t, the Lord’s name taken in vain, and Zoey’s favorite word h*ll.

Sexual Content: When Zoey first arrives at the school she sees a couple engaging in oral sex in the hallway. This act s referred to often, and there are scenes in which various characters are “making out”.

Other: There is talk of some of the teens smoking pot, getting drunk, and stealing boyfriends. Many of the characters are not nice to each other and are quite mean and manipulative. Zoey is glad to be rid of her old family and friends and adopts her new Vampyre friends as her family.

Recommendation: There is really nothing redeeming about Marked. I found it disgusting that a mother and daughter wrote this book together. How could a mother and daughter write a book with such bad language and sexual content? Please, don’t subject yourself to this book and it’s disturbing content. In addition to the bad language, and sexual promiscuity the book was not very well written with a weak plot and an over zealous effort to use teen speak/slang.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Masquerade (Becoming Beka Series)

Reviewed by: Shawna Williams
Title: The Masquerade
Author: Sarah Anne Sumpolec
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
Genre: Christian Contemporary Fiction
# Of pages: 224
Publisher: Moody Publishers
Year of Release: 2003
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 5 of the Becoming Beka Series
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes!

Description: From book jacket: “Beka has been trying to move on with her life since her mother's tragic accident, but it feels like she's going nowhere fast. In some ways, things are looking up. Gretchen, the most popular girl in the junior class, talks Beka into auditioning for the school musical. Lori, the new girl with a mysterious past, seems like she might turn out to be a good friend. And Mark, the cutest and nicest guy Beka knows, suddenly starts noticing her. But things are not so good at home. Beka's brother and sisters won't leave her alone. Her scary dreams keep coming back. Her dad's new female friend starts showing up. And worst of all, Beka has a secret she can't share with anyone, especially not her family. As it turns out, Beka's not the only person with secrets. But before she can get a new start on life, she'll have to be honest about who she is. Will Beka face up to the truth before something drastic happens?”

Review: The death of Beka’s mother brings on many obstacles for her. For one Beka is not able to cope with her grief. She is also hiding a secret from her family that makes her feel isolated. In response, Beka lashes out at them. She feels bad about the way she treats them but does not know how to turn things around. She makes bad choices in friends and then begins to spiral down a wrong path.

The author very much pinpointed the emotional roller coaster of a teenage girls mind in The Masquerade. Was she looking into my head at age 17? I believed many lies then; therefore, I am glad the author was able to share the inner thought process of a teenager struggling with peer pressure, her faith, and the loss of a parent. By giving these struggles voices in the book, I believe the author will be able to minister to many teens.

Rating: 4 for teenage drinking and mention of suicide contemplation

Positive: Even though Beka tries to distance herself from her family, they still love and support her. Her dad loves her enough to make a hard choice concerning her health. Beka is able to share her struggles with a friend and finds a Christian role model who helps answer the many questions she has about living life as a Christian. She is able to reconnect with her dad and siblings.

Spiritual Elements: Beka’s dad and siblings are Christians and attend church on a regular basis. Beka used to attend but stopped after her mother passed away. She is confused about what it means to be a Christian but along the way finds a mentor to answer her questions about becoming a Christian.

Violence: Beka’s mother was killed in a car accident, and Beka has many nightmares about it.

Language: none

Sexual Content: none

Other: Beka sneaks out of the house to attend a party where she and several of her friends become drunk. One friend, Mark, tries to dissuade Beka from making poor choices concerning her friendships and alcohol use.

Spoiler Beka refuses to open up to her father about her struggles and he feels the best way to help her is to seek counsel for her at the hospital. Beka briefly contemplates overdosing on medication.

Recommendation: This is a good recommend for any teen trying to find themselves in this world of difficult choices. The book is appropriate for ages 12 and up.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tangerine

By Reviewer Leeann Cronk
Title: Tangerine
Author: Edward Bloor
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
# Of pages: 303
Publisher: Harcourt
Year of Release: 2006 (original release 1997)
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 3 View Scale
Recommend? Yes.

Description: It was the summer before his kindergarten year when Paul first started wearing glasses. His vision is actually so bad that he is considered legally blind. He's been told that his eyes were damaged when he stared at the sun during an eclipse – yet Paul (now a seventh grader) silently questions the truthfulness of this story. Despite his poor eyesight, Paul clearly sees everything that goes on around him – often noticing truths that others miss. Paul is usually too afraid to share these truths with others, but as his memory of what really happened to his eyes slowly comes into focus, Paul is finally forced to confront his fears.

Review: I originally picked up this book because of the awards it received that were listed on the back cover. I wondered if it really deserved all of those awards and decided to find out for myself if it was a great book.

It is.

In this unique, coming-of-age story, author Edward Bloor creates a realistic tale that is at once engaging, humorous and filled with great twists.

Paul Fisher wants just one thing – to play soccer – and he's not about to let anything stop him. Not the fact that he is legally blind, not the fact that his father only supports older brother Erik's football dream (while all but ignoring Paul), and not even the fact that he must suddenly play on a team where the majority is the minority and his teammates are a rough bunch.

Older brother Erik has always tormented Paul, but their parents don't see it . . . or they refuse to see it. As a reader, I was angered at what Erik gets away with, but Paul quietly accepts it – just as he quietly accepts the fact that he wears the Coke-bottle glasses that make him so different from everyone else. Another thing that only Paul seems to realize is that Tangerine County, Florida, (to where they have just moved) isn't well suited for human habitation. Not only do they now live in the lightning-strike capital of the United States, they are also plagued with sinkholes, muck fires and swarms of mosquitoes. As long as he's able to play soccer though, Paul will put up with a lot.

Naturally, when Paul's opportunity to play soccer is yanked away, Paul is devastated, but then a sudden twist of fate presents Paul with a new chance to play – and a whole new set of challenges. As Paul bravely confronts the obstacles that come his way, his older brother's increasingly disturbing behavior causes events around Paul to slowly spiral out of control. Eventually Paul must find the courage to stop quietly accepting things and show others the truth that they have refused to see all along.

Rating: 3 for violence.

Positive: Paul is a very kind, young fellow who appreciates the smell of the citrus growing in the nearby groves. He doesn't care what someone's skin color is – that's not something he sees as important – and it concerns him when a friend does care about this. Paul wants to help others, to be a loyal friend, and to make good decisions. Although it would be easy for Paul to feel sorry for himself, he usually doesn't. Instead, he generally tries to make the best of the situations that he's presented with.

Spiritual Elements: Before a funeral, Paul attends a Catholic visitation where a priest says the rosary. A Catholic school is discussed several times and it is mentioned that nuns are the teachers, students wear uniforms, and 90% of the students who attend are Catholic. When discussing the school, a friend jokingly advises Paul not to tackle the Pope. When Paul is given a second chance to play soccer, Paul refers to it as “the miracle” and tells the reader that “The heavens had opened up for me.”

Violence: There are over half a dozen violent scenes in this book. Most of them are fist fights – some resulting in blood. One scene takes place during a soccer game when the other team plays very unfairly. A blackjack is used in two scenes. SPOILER: There are two deaths – one resulting from a blow with a blackjack and one due to a person being struck by lightning. Paul notices that the body in the casket of the lightning strike victim is missing hair on one side of his body. FURTHER SPOILER: Throughout the book, Paul is trying to remember what caused the damage to his eyes. At the very end, he finally remembers that his older brother and a friend had pinned him down, pried his eyes open, and sprayed paint into them.

Language: OMG*d, h*ll, s*ck, p*ssed are each used one or two times.

Sexual Content: None

Other: Paul's older brother and friend rob houses and commit several violent acts. Several characters exhibit prejudice toward minorities. Paul leaps on the back of a teacher to help his friends escape after they have attacked two seniors in retaliation for an earlier incident that resulted in the death of someone Paul greatly admired. Paul also exhibits disrespect toward his father when he finally discovers what really happened to his eyes and confronts his parents about it. When he wants to help his friends save their citrus crops during a freeze, Paul lies to his mother, telling her that he's going to a sleepover (because he fears she won't let him go if she knows the truth).

Recommendation: I would highly recommend this book for ages 13 and older.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Starlighter (Dragons of Starlight)

By Reviewer Carol
Title: Starlighter (Dragons of Starlight)
Author: Bryan Davis
Primary Audience/age group: 12-18
Genre: Christian Fantasy/Adventure
# of pages: 400
Publisher: Zondervan
Year of Release: 2009
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 4
Rating: 5 View Scale
Recommend? Yes!

Taken from the review published in Christian Library Journal, April-June 2010

Description: In Starlighter, Jason Masters receives a cryptic message from his missing brother. When he tries to investigate it, he enters a world where dragons have enslaved humans. Human and dragon worlds collide as Jason meets Koren, a descendant of humans who is a dragon slave. Jason had doubted the myth -- of people taken through a portal to another world and held in slavery to the dragons – until he begins to uncover the truth. A black egg is the key to the end of the world, and Jason must work fast with Koren if he is going to save the two worlds from destruction and set the human captives free.

Review: Plot twists, action and no concerns about inappropriate language make this another excellent choice for high school students, especially those who like fantasy and adventure.

Davis has done a wonderful job of developing a plot and characters that draw in the reader. If Starlighter, the first in a 4-part series, is any indication The Dragons of Starlight series promises to be another excellent series from an accomplished storyteller whose other series include Dragons in Our Midst, Oracles of Fire, and Echoes from the Edge.

Rating: 5 for some violence

Positive: Jason is an inspiration. When he realizes the legend is true (that dragons have enslaved humans), he sets out to find the portal and his missing brother, and free the human slaves. He works with Koren, a slave girl with a gift that can either save or doom the human race, in a race against time. He is willing to sacrifice himself to save others, making him a noble and inspiring young man.

Spiritual Elements: There are references to the Maker, the Creator, and the Code. While these could be allegorical references, they are not preachy nor developed fully in this first book. One could read this book without feeling the necessity to be a Christian. It is a good story, a struggle of good vs. evil in two worlds.

Violence: battles, man against man, and dragons against humans, and dragons against dragons – axes, spears, fire are the main weapons.

Language: none

Sexual Content: none

Other: Although this is by a well-established Christian author and published by a well-established publisher, it would be welcomed in a public library or school setting – or given to a teen who doesn’t want to be preached at. The spiritual overtones are very subtle.

Recommendation: Yes! This book is Recommended for all middle school and teen collections in public and school libraries, as well as teens, ages 12-18 who like fantasy, time travel, and parallel worlds.

Carol R. Gehringer is a mother of three and a librarian at a Christian School in Raleigh, NC. She loves to read and to recommend good reads to children and parents.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Jellicoe Road


By reviewer Greta Marlow
Title: Jellicoe Road
Author: Melina Marchetta
Primary Audience/age group: 15+
Genre: Realistic fiction
# Of pages: 419
Publisher: Harper Teen
Year of Release: 2006
Part of a Series? No
Michael Printz Award
Rating: 1 (View Scale)
Recommend: no

Description:
(from book cover) ”Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham, now seventeen, is finally being confronted with her past. But as the reluctant leader of her boarding school dorm, there isn’t a lot of time for introspection. And while Hannah, the closest adult Taylor has to family, has disappeared, Jonah Griggs is back in town, moody stares and all….nothing is as it seems and every clue leads to more questions as Taylor tries to work out the connection between her mother dumping her, Hannah finding her then and her sudden departure now, a mysterious stranger who once whispered something in her ear, a boy in her dreams, five kids who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago, and the maddening and magnetic Jonah Griggs, who knows her better than she thinks he does. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future.”

Review: I guess I have officially graduated to being an “old fogey,” but this book just had WAY too much drama for me. Halfway through, I found myself really tired of Taylor and her “I knew if I looked at it, a piece of me would die” attitude.

Rating: 1, for language, violence, and sexual content

Recommend:
no (see below)

Positive: Friends have a powerful sense of loyalty and commitment to each other. Although Taylor is supposed to be the leader of a “war” between the school’s residents, the Townies, and the visiting Cadets, she finds ways to bring the groups together. Toward the end, Taylor is growing into her role as house leader.

Spiritual Elements: Taylor says she doesn’t believe in God and doesn’t want to, yet she is angry at Him for the death of her parents. There are a few mentions of her friends praying and having a Bible.

Violence: There’s quite a bit of violence in this book, of all varieties. The three groups routinely have fights at first, and one of Taylor’s friends is beaten badly by the Cadets. When she was younger, Taylor witnessed a man commit suicide by shooting himself, and there are some graphic details given about her memories of the incident. One of the characters from the past accidentally shoots and kills a friend. Jonah killed his abusive father and was going to commit suicide until he met Taylor. There is a recurring fear of a serial killer who targets teens.

Language: As the book went along and the conflict became more intense, there was more bad language, most frequently variations of s**t and f**k.

Sexual Content: Taylor kisses Jonah several times, and they have sex when they go to find her mother (but it’s not described in detail). Taylor finds out she was a “love child” of two of the teens from the past, and everyone accepts that like it is perfectly normal and acceptable (and even admirable). Although it’s never directly stated, it is implied that Taylor’s mom became a prostitute after losing Taylor’s father, and Taylor finds out one of the kids in her childhood neighborhood was abused by a pedophile.

Other: Taylor’s mother is a drug addict who abandoned Taylor to get her away from the drug lifestyle. There is some mention of alcohol as a way to have fun, but I don’t really remember any actual drinking in the book.

Rating: 1, for language, violence, and sexual content

Recommendation: No. Generally, I’m philosophically opposed to telling people to avoid a book, but in my opinion, this one doesn’t have much to recommend. The main character was angry, self-centered, and self-pitying, mainly because the adults in her life, in trying to protect her, have kept her insulated from knowing the truth about herself and her family. I got tired of her pretty quickly and just kept reading because I wanted to review the book for this site. I’m not going to say the book should be shortlisted, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.