Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Earth Is Not Alone

Reviewed By: Angi
Title: Earth Is Not Alone
Author: John Knapp II
Primary Audience/age group: Ages 13+
Genre: Science Fiction
# Of pages: 500
Publisher: Ephemeron Press
Year of Release: 2009
Part of a Series? Yes, part of The Emryss Chronicles
Rating: 5 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: After a terrible tragedy, a parent-teacher-student confrontation leads to the discovery of two new worlds. This occurs in the "Susquehanna Territory" in northeastern PA in a future time in the 21st century when EMP has mysteriously destroyed all electrical power--presumably worldwide. To survive, with circumstances much better in a rural area, a "wall" has been built to keep away outsiders as mayhem occurs everywhere. There's a strong suspicion of some encounter with another world. Atheistic honor vies against Christian honor in the P-T-S confrontation, and the role Christian faith plays, and the "missionary" responsibility (if any is appropriate) has to be carefully considered. Curious old stories must be investigated and set alongside the Bible. Several young romances occur, and life-and-death decisions can't be avoided. The possibility of a one-way trip to another world looms. If you could go, would you? And what would you say? What would you do? Such affect the choices that two high school seniors must make.

Review: I love the premise of this book, EMP destroys life as we know it and life goes on in a much different way. Earth Is Not Alone is a clean read for teens and adults who like science fiction and stories of other worlds, or the possibility there of. There is much to consider when reading the story and possibilities are far-fetched, but being science fiction – I find it allowable and thought provoking.

Rating: 5

Positive: Good morals and Christian ideals are promoted throughout the book.

Spiritual Elements: The author is a Christian whose desire is that you daily read the Bible and follow God in every part of your life. Jesus as God’s Son is spoken about frequently and a few of the main characters try to get one skeptic to take a step of faith and believe.

Violence: None

Language: None

Sexual Content: None

Recommendation: Earth Is Not alone is an interesting and clean book that I can recommend to all readers. I feel that it is better suited, due to the complexity of the material to those 13 and older. It is a creative book and was very interesting and full of adventure. However, I did not particularly enjoy the authors writing style. I found it to bogged down with excessive details, choppy writing going back and forth from back story to current time often, with the author even having to write notes to the reader to explain what is going on.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Saffy's Angel

Reviewed by: Emily, 16
Title: Saffy's Angel
Author: Hilary McKay
Primary Audience/age group: 8-12
Genre: realistic fiction
# Of pages: 152
Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks
Year of Release: 2003
Part of a Series?: yes (but it can stand alone)
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes, but with reservations

Description: The Casson children, Caddy, Saffy, Indigo, and Rose, live a exciting, somewhat eccentric life with their artist parents. When Saffy (the third Casson) makes a startling discovery, her life is changed. She feels lost, unsure of whom she is. After the death of her grandfather, who she was very close to, Saffy, with the help of her new friend Sarah, sets out to find "her angel" Grandad left her in his will. On her quest for her angel, Saffy also finds herself.

Review: I loved reading this book. The characters are endearing and kept me laughing throughout the book. The story flows well and keeps the reader interested. Overall, I thought it was excellently written and an enjoyable read.

Rating: 4

Positive: Family is portrayed as very important in the book. Caddy, Indigo, and Rose are supportive of their brothers and sisters always encouraging, helping, and looking out for each other. Many of the characters go to great lengths to help one another. Saffyís friend, Sarah and her family try not to be limited by Sarah's physical disability. Indigo courageously attempts to overcome his fears. Caddy starts to take school seriously and works very hard.

Spiritual Elements: Spirituality is at a minimum. Saffy is on a search for her mysterious angel, left to her by her grandfather. Her mother suggests it could be a real angel, her guardian angel. One character mentions that someone told her squirrels go to heaven. A funeral is held in a church.

Violence: Mild. Most of the violence in the book comes from Caddy, who is struggling with learning how to drive. Saffy is also run over by a wheel chair, but is not seriously injured. Saffy throws sandwiches at a taxi. Small arguments provide the only other violent content.

Language: One use of "Crikey" (euphemism for Christ)

Sexual Content: Saffy's 18 year old sister Caddy and Caddy's driving instructor are romantically attracted to each other. Their relationship never gets physical. They don't go beyond calling each other "darling" and Michael admiring Caddy's looks. However, it is mentioned that Caddy buys a very tight and very, very short dress to wear to her driving lessons. Briefly touched on is the fact that no one knows who one of the character's father is, implying an inappropriate relationship. Another character's father teaches them to play an inappropriate game involving rating backsides on a scale from one to ten, but this game is labeled as inappropriate in the text.

Other: I greatly enjoyed reading this book and recommend it, with some reservations. While a beautifully written and hilarious book with a number of positive themes, Saffy's Angel has two major drawbacks. The character of Saffy's father loves his family, but is portrayed as somewhat insensitive and often absent. Additionally, deception is common amongst the characters, mostly the children, but also some of the adults. This deception is not always marked as a wrong. These issues are subtle (younger readers may not pick up on some of them), but they are there. (In some of the books companion novels, the negative themes are more obvious). Although it is recommended for 8-12 year olds, I think it can be enjoyed by, and indeed may be more appropriate for children on the higher end of this age group, as well as teenagers.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood

By Reviewer: Dianne
Author: Jame Richards
Primary Audience/age group: Middle School + up
Genre: Historical Fiction
# Of pages: 289
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Year of Release: 2010
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes!

Description: (From the book cover) Sixteen-year-old Celestia vacations with her family at the elite resort at Lake Conemaugh, a shimmering Allegheny Mountain reservoir held in place by an earthen dam. Tired of the superficial cheer and sly judgments of the society crowd, she much prefers to swim and fish with Peter, the hotel’s hired boy. It’s a friendship she must keep secret - her parents would never approve- and when companionship turns to romance, it’s a love that could get Celestia disowned.

These affairs of the heart become all the more wrenching on a single, tragic day in May, 1889. After days of heavy rain, the dam fails, unleashing twenty million tons of water onto Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in the valley below – the town where Peter lives with his father.

Told by multiple narrators, Jame Richards’s searing novel in poems explores a cross-class romance, the random hand of disaster, and a tragic and indelible event in American history.

Review: This is a gem of a book. Written in verse, this historical fiction captures the feeling of the times as well as the emotions of the characters. I came to care about each and every one of them.

High society tended to be a snobbish lot and spent a lot of time looking down their noses at anyone that did not have the credentials and deportment that they deemed necessary to fit into their social class. Thus Celestia’s family was on the lower fringe of their acceptable list, and was always susceptible to gossip mongering and condescending looks. Celestia compounded the problem by not caring about being accepted into their clique. She found the company of Peter, a hired hand at the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club, much more intriguing than the members of polite society that regularly vacationed there. A romance ensues that is promptly nipped in the bud by her parents, but not before tongues start wagging. A greater tragedy tears this family apart and yet brings it closer as a failing dam wreaks a disaster of devastating proportions on an unsuspecting valley below.

Rating: 4

Positive: Although Celestia’s family appears to be solely interested in maintaining outward appearances, it becomes evident that the welfare of their daughters is really the most important consideration in their lives. Celestia has a deep love for her sister, even though they are very different.

The folks in the valley are hard working, family loving characters that go out of their way to lend a helping hand to others.

Spiritual Elements: None

Violence: The violence in this book is that wrought by the flood.

Language: None

Sexual Content: Celestia’s sister, Estrella becomes pregnant by a high society scoundrel who frequents the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club. There is no elaboration of their relationship, but her pregnancy is an integral part of the story.

Other: Whiskey is mentioned in passing.

Recommendation: This book was a gentle and fascinating look at a difficult time, intertwined with a winning romance story. I would recommend it to any fan of historical fiction, especially if you are also a fan of poetry. It is entirely appropriate for middle school and up. 12+

Friday, August 6, 2010

Boyfriends, Burriotos, & an Ocean of Trouble

By Reviewer Carol
Author: Nancy Rue
Primary Audience/age group: 13-17
Genre: Realistic fiction
# Of pages: 222 p.
Publisher: Zondervan
Year of Release: 2010
Part of a Series? Yes, 2 of 4 (Real Life series)
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Taken from the review published in Christian Library Journal, August 2010

Description: In Boyfriends, Burritos, & an Ocean of Trouble, Bryn has been good at keeping secrets, even about her boyfriend’s abusive behavior. When a car accident reveals the truth and unleashes trouble as her friends don’t believe her, her world unravels. Her grandmother arrives to help her live through the process of going to court and teaches her how to surf and make Mexican cuisine. She also finds a mysterious book that could hold the secret to riding out the tidal wave her life has become since the car accident

Review: I liked the book. The author presents a teen series dealing with real-life issues while providing a wholesome alternative to popular literature. Realistic dialogue and narrative help the reader empathize with Bryn’s struggles. She starts as a lonely teen, because she has presented a façade to the world around her. The other characters are also flawed, facing their own personal troubles. She loses some “friends” when she decides to tell the truth about her boyfriend but gains a new life. This is the second book in the series, and I have enjoyed passing them onto several girls, both middle school and high school age.

Rating: 4 due to mild language, some drinking by teens (not Bryn), and some violence (abuse)

Positive: The books end on a hopeful note for Bryn as she gains a new maturity and spiritual grounding through the discovery of Yeshua (Jesus).

Spiritual Elements: The spiritual tone is a gentle one, and readers will not find themselves being preached at as they follow along in the girls’ journey.

Violence: None, except Bryn has been abused by her boyfriend in the recent past. She ends up in the hospital (opening chapter) and decides to bring charges.

Language: None

Sexual Content: None. The dating relationship was essentially over when the accident happened.

Other: Tough issues are mentioned in these books: abusive relationships. It is presented in a matter-of-fact way, allowing the reader to put themselves in their shoes.

Recommendation: for 13-17 year olds to read and pass on to their friends. Recommended for all middle school and high school teens, ages 13 to 18.

Motorcyles, Sushi, & One Strange Book


By Reviewer Carol
Title: Motorcycles, Sushi, & One Strange Book
Author: Nancy Rue
Primary Audience/age group: 13-17
Genre: Realistic fiction
# Of pages: 222
Publisher: Zondervan
Year of Release: 2010
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 4 (Real Life Series)
Rating: 5 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Taken from the review published in Christian Library Journal, August 2010

Description: In Motorcycles, Sushi, & One Strange Book, fifteen year old Jessie deals with her own ADHD and her mother’s bipolar disorder while trying to determine how her long-lost father now fits in her life. He wants to be a part of her life, and her mother is seeking treatment and unable to care for her. So she has to make new friends while adjusting to life with her father who lives in another state. She also finds a mysterious book that seems to echo her thoughts and helps her sort through the issues of her life.

Review: I liked the book. The author presents a teen series dealing with real-life issues while providing a wholesome alternative to popular literature. Realistic dialogue and narrative help the reader empathize with Jessie’s struggles. She starts as a lonely teen, because she has presented a façade to the world around her. The other characters are also flawed, facing their own personal demons.

Rating: 5

Positive: The books end on a hopeful note for Jessie as she gains a new maturity and spiritual grounding through the discovery of Yeshua (Jesus). Tough issues mentioned in these books: unwed pregnancy, mental illness, ADHD, and abuse. They are presented in a matter-of-fact way, allowing the reader to put themselves in their shoes.

Spiritual Elements: The spiritual tone is a gentle one, and readers will not find themselves being preached at, as they follow along in the girls’ journey.

Violence: None

Language: None

Sexual Content: None. Jessie starts to date a boy but it is a more slow-moving friendship than a romantic relationship, which is appropriate as she works through things.

Other: Tough issues mentioned in these books: unwed pregnancy, mental illness, and ADHD. They are presented in a matter-of-fact way, allowing the reader to put themselves in their shoes.

Recommendation: for 13-17 year olds to read and pass on to their friends.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Beast

By Reviewer Sarah, 18
Title: Beast
Author: Donna Jo Napoli
Primary Audience/age group: 14+
Genre: Fantasy
# Of pages: 260
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Year of Release: 2000
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend? No

Description: (from book jacket) Orasmyn is the prince of Persia and heir to the throne. His religion fills his heart and his mind, and he strives for the knowledge and leadership his father demonstrates. But on the day of the Feast of Sacrifices, Orasmyn makes a foolish choice that results in a fairy's wretched punishment: He is turned into a beast, a curse to be undone only by the love of a woman.

Thus begins Orasmyn's journey through the exotic Middle East and sensuous France as he struggles to learn the way of the beast, while also preserving the mind of the man. This is the story of his search, not only for a woman courageous enough to love him, but also for his own redemption.

Rating: 3 for violence and sexual content

Positive: Although Prince Orasmyn becomes well, animal-like, once he becomes a lion, we are able to see from the beginning of the book that he does have a kind heart. The “foolish choice” he makes is only to save a stable boy from punishment. When a spirit comes to punish Orasmyn, he takes the punishment willing, only wanting to save the stable boy’s innocent oversight from being discovered. Orasmyn’s parents are devastated when their son disappears and prepare a room for his return in Persian fashion. Their care for him is touching. Belle has a very kind and patient heart and enjoys giving things to others – even the wild beast who took her from her home.

Spiritual Elements: Orasmyn’s home is Islamic – so the Five Pillars, Qur’an, wudhu, rakat, and other Islam traditions (as well as some ancient Persian beliefs) are frequently mentioned and performed by Orasmyn. There is a small chapel in his castle (where he stays as a lion). Belle’s father prays there in Latin, and Belle follows suit when she comes. After observing Orasmyn, she also performs the rakat with him.

Violence: As a human, Orasmyn despises violence. When he becomes a lion, though, he must hunt to survive. There are several descriptions of taking down prey, tearing them

Sexual Content: After becoming a lion, Orasmyn meets and mates with two lionesses. I understand Napoli wanted to show the stuggle between his human and animal nature, but Belle rides him to town and he mentions how the “heat of her legs” intoxicates him. He knocks her to the ground during a playful water fight but restrains his animal nature. There are several other mentions to his flesh being aroused. A pair of lovers sneaks into his castle to make love, but run away when he roars.

Recommendation: I love fairy tale retellings and was excited when I saw this one. This book is well-written, portraying the struggle that goes on inside Orasmyn. A prince of high character who carefully follows the Islamic religion, he is unsure what to do when his new mind as a lion takes control. This struggle makes the story (and as Christians could be a metaphor for our struggle against our sin nature).

However, since the book is written from Orasmyn’s view we are allowed into his debased thoughts. The sexual references were un-necessary. When he mated with the two lionesses, that was too much for me. There are better fairy tale retellings – as well as “Beauty and the Beast” retellings – out there. I would recommend picking up "Beauty" by Robin McKinley or "Belle" by Cameron Dokey for an enjoyable summer read and as an alternative to this book.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I Would Die for You

By Reviewer Leeann N. Cronk
Title: I Would Die For You: One Student's Story of Passion, Service and Faith
Author: Brent & Deanna Higgins
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adults/Adults
Genre: Biography
# Of pages: 224
Publisher: Revell
Year of Release: 2008
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 4  (View Scale)
Recommend? Absolutely!

Description (From Book Jacket): BJ Higgins loved God with everything he had and worked passionately to bring God's love to the whole world. He believed in using the opportunities God gave him and boldly shared the gospel wherever he went. BJ's life on earth ended after a six-week battle with an infection contracted on the mission field.

He was just fifteen years old.

I Would Die For You tells the extraordinary story of an ordinary young man. BJ's journals and blogs, along with testimony from family and friends, reveal a young man whose short life left an impression on many – including Bart Millard, lead singer of MercyMe, who wrote and recorded a song to honor him.

BJ put the cause of Christ above his own personal comfort. This powerful true story will amaze, inspire and challenge you to live every day making a difference for God.

Review: This is one of the most powerful stories I have ever read. Many stories are “inspiring”, but I found this one actually inspired me to be a better person. Reading about BJ and his heart for God showed me how much further I have to go in my walk with Christ. He was such a young person who had such an exceptional desire to seek and listen to God's will for his life. The book is written by his parents with lots of excerpts from BJ's personal journals (which really showed his heart for Christ), interviews with friends and families, blog posts and even an IM chat. Periodically this format made for slightly choppy reading, but was probably the best way to share the full story with readers. BJ is my favorite kind of person – one who would do anything to bring another person closer to Christ. While he was living, BJ indicated that he would gladly give his life to further the Kingdom of God, and that is exactly what he did. God chose to use this young man in many ways throughout his short life and God is not finished with BJ's story. Through his death, BJ's inspiring faith is shared with the readers of this book. The song by the same name performed by MercyMe was inspired by BJ and has also touched many and encouraged them to - like BJ - really assess what it means to live your life for Christ.

Rating: 4 for violence.

Positive: BJ and his family are such positive, Christian role models. They are not without flaws and openly shared these flaws with others, but their overwhelming desire to bring others to Christ is tremendous.

Spiritual Elements: Most of the members of BJ's family were involved in Christian ministry in one form or another. His grandfather was a pastor, his dad was a deacon and was eventually called into the ministry, his mother taught at a Christian academy and the entire family did a lot of mission work. BJ's most powerful experiences occurred on mission trips to Peru.

Violence: BJ's sickness, time in the hospital, and eventual death may bother sensitive readers, but I thought it was handled very well.

Language: None

Sexual Content: None

Other: None

Recommendation: I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to further their own walk with Christ. It is a very engaging and inspirational story that challenges each one of us to truly live our lives for Christ and put Him first in everything we do.