Friday, December 23, 2011

The Help

Reviewed by Nadine
Title: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Primary Audience/Age Group: Adult (recommended for 17+)
Genre: Historical Fiction
# of Pages: 464
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
Year of Release: 2009
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 2 View Scale
Recommend? Yes with Reservations

Description: The story follows the point-of-view of three women in the early 1960's--two black women who work as "help" for white families and one white woman, Skeeter Phelan, whose eyes are opened more than any other respectable lady's about the state of the Help. She also stands a good 4 inches taller than any other lady in Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter's dream is to be a writer and finds herself with a novel idea filled with passion--write about the point of view of the Help. She wants to hear the real opinions of women like Aibileen and Minny who've grown up serving white families, raising white babies, and cooking for helpless white women. What's it like doing all the work, but acting invisible?

When black women finally start opening up, Skeeter and her "anonymous" Help ladies find themselves facing dangers they never thought would touch their lives. One day, a black boy is beaten until he's blind for using a white person's toilet.
The next could be Skeeter for even conversing with black women. What started out as a simple book idea turns into a life-threatening stand. Will Skeeter keep standing to spread this eye-opening view to white families? Will she stand to give the Help a voice? Can they stand the pressure and threats?

Review: I loved The Help. Stockett has unmarked skill in writing each character's voice in a clear and distinct manner. I can read one sentence and know who's talking. I've never been to the south, I never lived in the 60's, and I don't know much history (despite the endless years of school I've attended). Some people say that Stockett's information is inaccurate with the time line or her characters aren't believable. Well, I learned more about black culture, southern culture, and 60's culture than I ever dreamed I could through a novel.
The Help stole my hours of sleep, and I stayed up until 2am reading it more nights in a row than I care to admit. It's an excellent and real read. That being said, it's certainly geared toward and appropriate for adults. Adult situations/topics like violent racism, murder, miscarriages, rape, sex outside of marriage, physical abuse, etc. are touched upon and, in some cases, addressed in detail. Please see the recommendation below.

Rating: 2 for adult topics and language

Positive: So. Many. This novel presents a wonderful view of harmony between the black and white cultures. It is very balanced between Skeeter and the Help in the novel. Though many of the rich white ladies are presented as rich snobs who hate their Help, there are still mentions of the sweet ones who appreciate the Help as real people.

Spiritual Elements: Aibileen, one of the main characters goes to church and says her prayers. She trusts in the Lord and knows that he has a purpose for things. She is the one people go to for prayers and an inspiration in pushing through the hard times, which coat every bit of life.

Violence: There is some violence mentioned and seen throughout this novel that are strongly associated with the culture and political/racial events of that time. There are mentions of black boys being murdered and thrown carelessly to the side. There are stories of mistreatment of the Help and their families. One woman gets beaten by her husband often.

Language: d***, s***, h***, racial slurs like n****r are used often.

Sexual Content: Sexual Content is remarkably low on the romance front, but there is a situation partway through the book of a naked man trying to break and enter a house. There is description of him touching himself and other forms of flaunting his cloth-less state. It's not a pleasant picture, and I encourage the readers to take caution.

Other: None

Recommendation: I recommend this book for adults and older teens. The incident with the naked man has the potential to be very disturbing to teens. The matter is resolved without any of the protagonists getting hurt, though the man is knocked unconscious. The idea of a man trying to break and enter in his crazed state was slightly disturbing to me, and I believe it can negatively affect a younger reader. It does open the door for parents to discuss with teens what they might do if a stranger ever tried to come in the house. The book is extremely well-written, heart-warming, heart-wrenching, and eye-opening. I can't say enough good things about it and I hope that you find yourself determined to live life with the right view and mindset of life, love, and people.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Triple Dog Dare: One Year of Dynamic Devotions for Boys

Reviewed by: Shawna
Title: Triple Dog Dare
Author: Jeremy V. Jones
Primary Audience/age group: ages 9-12
Genre: Devotions, Non-fiction
# of pages 432
Publisher: David C. Cook
Year of Release: 2011
Part of a series No (but there is a version for girls: Truth or Dare)
Rating: 5 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description/Review: Have you ever taken a triple dog dare, the kind of dare you cannot turn down or be labeled a coward? Jeremy V. Jones has taken this challenge and put it to task in this daily set of devotions entitled Triple Dog Dare. Each day verses or passages from the Bible are given to be read along with a short devotion. Then, three Triple Dog Dare challenges are given to encourage boys to put what they have learned into action. Weekend devotions have even more ways to put faith into action by challenging boys to do certain creative tasks like making a movie or writing a comic strip. Boys ages 9-12 will find this a thought-provoking, faith-building and overall fun read.

Rating: 5

Positive: The book is filled with positive aspects. Each day deals with a new subject that encourages boys to set goals, do good deeds and have the right priorities. Many of the devotions deal with relationships such as needing to have close friends to rely on and treating women and girls with respect. Several focus on money encouraging boys to put it in its place with God always being first, using money wisely and avoiding greed. The book also encourages boys to set good examples for others, show humility and have respect for parents and other authority figures. Making wise decisions concerning media is another positive along with many others.

Spiritual Elements: The subjects of the devotions are based on Scripture. Many of the weekend devotions go into detail about courageous men from the Bible and how boys can look to them as examples. The challenges encourage memorizing Scripture, praying for enemies, forgiving others, and avoiding temptation. Many devotions teach about relying on God, being changed for the better through God, and using God-given abilities to serve. Jesus’ love for humanity is also discussed as well as His sacrifice for sins.

Violence: none

Language: none

Sexual Content: More than one devotion deals with sexual temptation and remaining pure in mind and body. At least one discusses the dangers of p*rnography and several encourage waiting for physical intimacy until marriage.

Other: The book also teaches having self-control to resist drugs and alcohol and goes into detail about setting a plan on what to do if offered these things. It also encourages learning what things tempt you and thinking of ways to avoid those temptations.

Recommendation: I think the book is appropriate for the recommended ages of 9-12. Some parents might be concerned that younger boys may not understand or be ready for the parts about sexual temptation, but the author discusses those subjects in such a way that they are age-appropriate. I would recommend father and son doing these devotions together.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment

Reviewer: Kerin
Title: Maximum Ride
Author: James Patterson
Primary Audience/Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Thriller/Young Adult, Science Fiction
# of Pages: 422
Publisher: Little, Brown
Year of Release: 2005
Part of a Series: Yes, 1 of 8
Rating: 4 View Scale
Recommend: Yes


Description:  Max, a 14-year-old girl, is anything but a normal teenager. She's a mother to her friends, tough as nails, and a supreme fighter. And did I mention she has wings? Yes, wings. Max and her friends (Fang, Iggy, Nudge, Gasman, and Angel) are all part human, part bird. Created and raised most of their lives by scientists, they have been genetically enhanced with the ability to fly,  extra strength and super  raptor vision, and other..... powers.
Having been rescued by one of the scientists from the lab years ago, the kids are on their own, living a good life. That is, until their old "school" comes back to haunt them. When Angel is kidnapped by a group of Erasers (another group of genetically altered subjects), Max and her flock journey to find and save Angel before it's too late.
Oh, and did I mention that she also has to save the world along the way?
Life is never dull for Maximum Ride.
Review: A very fun book. The chapters are short and tightly written and a real thrill to read. There's never a dull moment; the action just keeps coming, hit after hit and jaw-dropping surprise after jaw-dropping surprise.
The characters are very enjoyable. They're each so unique and solid on their own, and when they're together, it creates a really great dynamic. They play off of one another very well and are so much fun to read about. Though few words are spoken between them, it's very easy to see the depth of the character's relationship.
The plot is pretty easy to follow, and definitely easy to get sucked into it. And even when one goal or point ends, there's another right there to pick up where it left off, and something else for the character's to pursue.
Patterson's writing is really fun to read. I'm usually pretty good at picking out how a book will end. There's a general formula to most stories and after a while, you start to notice a pattern. You notice who will end up with who, the type of ending it will close with, how they'll concur the bad guy, and which good guy is really a bad guy.
But Maximum Ride is one of the few series that has left me in suspense.  Just when I think I have it figured out, Patterson drops another bomb-shell or reveals another mystery that blows my mind and I'm back to wondering again, which, honestly, I love. It's nice not to be able to pick out the pattern for once and be surprised with everything he brings out in his story.
And lastly, the humor was an added bonus. There were plenty of laugh out loud moments included through the book.
I devoured this book in a matter of days and quickly looked for the rest of the series. Personally, one of my favorite books.
Rating: 4 for violence and very minor language.
Positive: There is an emphasis on friendship/family. Max and her friends are a very loyal group. They risk life and limb when the youngest, Angel, is kidnapped, willing to do anything to get her back. Though Angel and Gasman are the only two biological siblings in the group, these friends have bonded and grown together and become a family. Though perhaps they did start as simply friends with their differences being many, these kids love and look after one another as a true family should.
Not so much friends, but more of family to one another.
Max is leader of the flock, but like a mother to most all of the rest of the flock members. She looks after them and tends to them as children - even referring to Angel as "Her baby".
Max is a very brave character and a good example when it comes to taking on responsibility. Though only 14, she acts as leader and mother, taking care of the others and making the tough decisions when they need to be made.
Spiritual Elements: None that I can think of.
Violence: The violence is the main reason I gave this book a 4. The characters are continually having to battle the bad guys at one turn or another. Aside from an explosion or two, the main characters never use actual weapons, but instead use their fighting skills and literally fight hand-to-hand with their opponents. The bad guys, however, do sometimes use guns and other weapons.
The fighting, and their following injuries, can sometimes get pretty descriptive. I wouldn't go as far to say 'gory', but you get a clear picture of the fight that's taking place and the injuries they come away from these fights with.
Language: Small things, such as "Oh my G**" and just plain G**". Words like "freakin" pop up occasionally. But most actual cuss words aren't told. (Example: At one point Max uses - "Holy insert swear word here." to block out actual swearing.
Sexual Content: One kiss.
Other: My only main concern other than the violence is the 'experiments'. Max, her flock, and the Erasers aren't the only ones the scientists have experimented with. However, they are the only ones that have been successful so far. We read very briefly about these other experiments - some of which were successful, some not - and some of the unsuccessful experiments are a tad...creepy. Now not in horror movie kind of way where the experiments gone wrong are grotesque monsters, but in a slightly unnerving way when you hear what they've become.
It's really rather sad because you realize that these experiments are humans who have had this done to them by these lab techs and the torture they've likely had to endure.
My one other concern are the bad guys in this story. They are a tad more frightening than an evil witch or an ugly old troll, mainly because they're realistic. There are, sadly, people out there who don't care who they hurt or what lives they take in their pursuit of power, money, or discovery.
Some parents might also wish to know that Max and her friends are very distrusting of adults, though with good reason. Therefore, they are generally very rebellious against adults even when they appear to be trying to help.
Recommendation: I would recommend this book for ages 13 or maybe 14 and up. It is a very good book and very enjoyable with a good sense of friendship and how to face trials, but with the violence involved, I think it should be read by teens rather than preteens.



Friday, December 2, 2011

Truth or Dare: One Year of Dynamic Devotions for Girls

Reviewed by: Shawna 
Title: Truth and Dare: One Year of Dynamic Devotions for Girls
Author: Ann-Margret Hovsepian
Primary Audience/age group: ages 9-12
Genre: Devotions, Non-fiction
# of pages: 432
Publisher: David C. Cook
Year of Release: 2011
Part of a series No (But, there is a boy's version: Triple Dog Dare)
Rating: 5 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description/Review: The book title and theme are a take on the classic Truth or Dare party game where players are challenged to give a personal truth or take an embarrassing dare. The book, however, uses the concept in a positive way by giving a truth from God’s word then three challenges to encourage girls to apply those truths to their lives each day for a full year. The weekend devotions are filled with quizzes and other fun activities like art projects and puzzles that help girls to take even more steps to put God’s word into action. This fun and unique set of devotions is choked full of God’s truth. They are short; the challenges are easily applicable and can be done individually or as a group. I highly recommend this book to any pre-teen girl wanting to not only be a hearer of God’s word but a doer as well.

Rating: 5

Positive: I cannot say enough about the positive aspects of these devotions. From putting God’s word into action to praying to making spiritual resolutions, each day encourages a new and inspiring way to grow in God’s word. Other topics covered are having a good attitude, changing bad habits, having a pure heart and body, avoiding gossip, choosing friends wisely, avoiding the occult, keeping promises, thinking of others above ourselves, respecting parents, modesty, and handling conflict in a godly manner, all of which are supported by God’s word.

Spiritual Elements: Each devotion encourages the girls to read verses or passages from the Bible that deal with the topic for the day. The devotions talk about the fruits of the Spirit, having an enthusiasm for God’s word, growing in faith through difficult circumstances, finding good role models, faithfully serving, recognizing God’s truths and dispelling lies, giving God the glory, dealing with doubts and confusion in faith and many others. With so many things vying for a teens attention, the book reinforces making Jesus the priority and not putting the focus on others like friends and celebrities. With the right focus, you are much less likely to be led astray into sin. Many of the challenges also dare the girls to memorize Scripture.

Violence: none

Language: none

Sexual Content: none

Other: none

Recommendation: Truth and Dare is an excellent resource for girls age 9-12 that are wanting not only to know what the Bible says but to take action in applying Scripture to their daily lives. I think it would be great if the girls took the initiative to start their own Bible study using this set of devotions as a guide.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Beyond the Mask: The Grassland Trilogy

Reviewed by: Shawna 
Title: Beyond the Mask: The Grassland Trilogy: Book Three
Author: David Ward
Primary Audience/age group: 13 and up
Genre: Fantasy/Christian Fantasy
# of pages 227
Publisher: Amulet Books
Year of Release: 2008
Part of a series If yes, 3 of 3 (The Grassland Trilogy)
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes but with reservations

Read the reviews of Escape the Mask (Bk 1) and Beneath the Mask (Bk 2)

Description: Pippa, Coriko and their small band of Diggers have finally escaped the clutches of the Spears. With Pippa in the lead, they go in search of a new home, a place where they can live in peace, a place Pippa remembers as a child. Safety seems just in their grasp, but the band soon discovers that Grassland is not the only place where evil lurks. Sometimes, in order to have peace you have to fight for it.

Review: Beyond the Mask continues the Grassland Trilogy with this final exciting installment. The story of Pippa and Coriko carries on with a balance of hope for the future and treachery that cannot be avoided as they meet new friends and rediscover old ones, fight new battles and end others. Christian undertones only hinted at in the first two books are now brought to light as Pippa finally puts a name to the One she has had faith in all along, God. With the addition of two new characters, churchman, the book delves deeper in their faith with many mentions of prayer and encouragement through God. With Pippa and Coriko growing in maturity and faith, this coming-of-age tale is a definite read for teens age 13 and up.

Rating: 3 for violence

Positive: Pippa is as always a positive influence on Coriko. She does not condone killing and encourages Coriko to avoid it if at all possible. The gang finds care and aid from two churchmen who insist that God is on control of the situation. There is always a remnant of hope in the books even for Coriko who is unsure about God. The ways of the Spears are changing from slave labor to sharing the wealth. Loyalty, forgiveness, faith, peace, and God’s timing are all positive aspects as well.

Spiritual Elements: God’s name is mentioned for the first time as Pippa’s beliefs in a Creator are explained. The crew befriends men of the church who help them on their quest and who also share Pippa’s faith. They offer encouragement and support to the young warriors, often praying for them and teaching them the things of God. An opposing army believes in other gods.

Violence: Raiders attack several villages, one in which Coriko and his friends are staying in. Coriko stops the raiders from burning the church with most of the villagers inside by killing two men. Thief kills a third. After this battle, Coriko shares that he is not a soldier, that he was forced into becoming one and despises the skills he has for killing. He hopes he never has to use them but realizes he will have to again.

Under the wishes of Pippa, Coriko tries his best not kill more than he has to, but many lose their lives in the final battle. There are several mentions of blood. Pippa sees the dead bodies in the courtyard after the battle.

Language: none

Sexual Content: Pippa and Coriko share an extended kiss. Their love for each other is beginning to grow now that they have some moments of rest in the new village they are staying in. They are about another year older, around the age of fourteen. Pippa and Coriko talk of getting a place of their own and starting a family once they find peace. They have made the decision to spend their lives together, but their love is still young and innocent. They share a couple more kisses in the book.

Other: There are a few mentions of ale. Coriko tastes some but doesn’t really care for it. Bran and Thief enjoy a glass of ale at a celebration, and Coriko warns them not to drink too much.

Recommendation: The violence, although not overly descriptive, may be too much for more sensitive readers. Coriko, however, does try to avoid killing if at all possible. He doesn’t want to but does so to defend others.

With the romance between Pippa and Coriko written in such a way as to maintain the characters innocence as well as the revelation of Pippa’s faith in God, Coriko’s growing faith, and other positive messages like forgiveness and hope all make this series an excellent read for teens.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Teen Lit Review Needs You!

Soon Teen Lit Review will be celebrating our fourth year of reviewing books. With our number of book reviews growing, we are in need of an upgrade to our blog design. We need help in raising money to cover the costs of the design, and all we need from you is an extra  CLICK.

TLR is partnered with Amazon to get a small percentage of the sales we generate through our site. If you are shopping at Amazon anyway for the holiday season would you mind adding us to your favorites and clicking on one of our links to enter the Amazon website?

Here's how it works:
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Friday, October 21, 2011

Ship Breaker

By Reviewer NadineTitle: Ship Breaker
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Primary Audience/Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Speculative Fiction (dystopian)
# of Pages: 352
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Year of Release: 2010
Part of a Series? Yes (1 of 2 so far)
Rating: 2 View Scale
Recommend? No

Description: Nailer's job is to strip the inside of abandoned ships and oil tankers for what metal, copper, or worthwhile materials can be salvaged before other scavenger groups get it. He's small and lithe but not for long. In the futuristic dystopian America, scavenging is a common job that anyone would give their left lung for (and often do give thanks to the fumes). He and his crew live every day hoping for a "Lucky Strike"--a precious find of oil or materials that will pay their way to a new and
better life....or just a guarantee of food every day (which might as well be a new and better life). When Nailer's "Lucky Strike" finally comes in the form of a beautiful shipwreck , it's not as easy as he hoped to just cash in the chips. Tests of character and morals threaten to deprive him of any profit at all.

Review: I've never nearly drowned in oil and, after reading the first few chapters of Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker, I decided I'd rather melt like a wicked witch a hundred times instead. My lungs burned, my eyes stung, and I felt exhausted after fighting a pool of oil for freedom alongside the ship scavenger, Nailer.

I enjoyed this novel more than I expected to. Bacigalupi did an excellent job pulling the reader into Nailer's culture and time period without bogging down the story with too many details. I felt Nailer's desire to be free of this ship-breaking life he's trapped in. When he had a chance for an out, I cheered right beside him, urging him on.

The only downside to this novel for a reader might be the excessive swearing. Depending on your background or comfort level, it will affect you differently. For those wishing to steer clear of foul language, I wouldn't recommend this book. It also has some other adult themes such as drug-use, intoxication, and mentions of prostitution.

Though there is a sequel to Ship Breaker being released in 2012 (The Drowned Cities), I thought that Ship Breaker ended well as a single novel. It tied up all loose ends, and I closed the back cover with a content sigh. I enjoyed it. I may read it again, but I can't say it blew my socks off.

Rating: 2 for language

Positive: Nailer is very focused on doing what’s right even if he’s risking his own survival. Even though his father is abusive and a drunkard, Nailer still cares about saving him when a hurricane hits. When Nailer finds a big break with his scavenger friend, his morals stop him from taking what he wants and leaving someone to die. It’s neat to see the morals in his character even though he’s grown up in a horrible family situation, and he’s just hoping for enough food to survive until the next day.

Spiritual Elements: No Christian ones. Nailer's culture focuses a lot on luck and the "Luck God". There are dark spiritual rituals with some of the "religions" mentioned, alluding to things like cutting off body parts and/or human sacrifices. The author doesn't go in-depth, but I think it was interesting insight into what may happen to our culture in the future.

Violence: There are instances of knife killing, half-wolf men, physical abuse, bombs, guns, etc. There are events of murder and also someone getting ground up in ship gears. It gets a teensy graphic.

Language: b*****d, s**t, b***h, d***, SOB

Sexual Content: One kiss and a few mentions of prostitution.

Other: None

Recommendation: It’s hard with this book because I enjoyed getting into the albeit fictional culture, but the swearing is much too excessive for anyone who’s not prepared or able to skim over it. Another reviewer actually counted—203 swear words over the course of 352 pages. That’s a lot. Basically, I read it and enjoyed it when I finished, but I can’t say I’d ever hand it to anyone and say, “Read this!”

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Grandma's Attic Series

Reviewed by: Shawna
Title: Still More Stories from Grandma's Attic (Grandma's Attic Series);
Treasures from Grandma's Attic (Grandma's Attic Series)
Author: Arleta Richardson
Primary Audience/age group: 8-12
Genre: Christian Historical Fiction
# of pages 159
Publisher: David C. Cook
Year of Release: 2011
Part of a series Yes, books 3 and 4 of 4 (Grandma’s Attic Series)
Rating: 5 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description/Review: The late Arleta Richardson grew up in a hotel in Chicago overlooking Lake Michigan. Underneath the care of her grandmother, Arleta would sit and listen to her share story upon story of when she was a girl in the late 1800’s. Based on her grandmother’s stories, Richardson wrote the Grandma’s Attic series. The latest two books, Still More Stories from Grandma’s Attic and Treasures from Grandma’s Attic continue the refreshed classic series. The stories may be from a different era but are still appealing to adolescent girls today.

In Still More Stories from Grandma’s Attic, Grandma Mabel relives her childhood growing up on a farm in 1880s Michigan by retelling funny yet memorable stories to her granddaughter Arleta. As young girls, Mabel and her best friend Sarah Jane have mishap after mishap from getting into a sticky situation with face cream to believing Mabel’s childhood companion, a dog named Pep, could spell. All the stories have a valuable lesson to teach her granddaughter Arleta. My own six year old daughter enjoyed hearing how the two friends Mabel and Sarah Jane couldn’t help but get into trouble. She especially enjoyed the face cream disaster.

The follow-up book, Treasures from Grandma’s Attic, has Mabel and Sarah Jane around the ages of thirteen but still as mischievous as always. The adventures continue as the girls find themselves pitted against a new classmate as well as forming a plan to take revenge on Mabel’s brother. It seems the two of them concoct more precarious plans together than by themselves.

The series is a great read-aloud set of books that teach not only about the time period our great-grandmothers grew up in but also how they felt and did some of the same things little girls do today. Timely lessons and loads of laughs make this book a great read for any adolescent girl.

Rating: 5 for promotion of good values

Positive: Each chapter is a different short story that teaches a lesson. Some of the lessons learned are about being deceitful, respecting the elderly, procrastinating as well as forgiveness. On more than one occasion, Mabel wrongly accuses another, but by the end of each story Mabel has learned her lesson and made amends when appropriate.

Spiritual Elements: Mabel lives in a Christian household and learns much from the Bible. Mabel’s mother talks about God to her. Some of the lessons are spiritual lessons: be happy where God has placed you and God will never leave or forsake us. Mabel prays when she is afraid and she memorizes Scripture for a contest. Mabel’s family often uses Scripture to encourage right choices.

Violence: none

Language: none

Sexual Content: none

Other: none

Recommendation: These books are something you can enjoy together with your daughter. The stories are very light-hearted and witty, which make them an ideal way to learn timely lessons. Read them together then discuss the choices Mabel and Sarah Jane made. These books are appropriate for the ages 8-11 but younger girls will find them entertaining as well.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Ale Boy's Feast

By Reviewer Maria Chester

Title: The Ale Boy's Feast
Author: Jeffrey Overstreet
Primary Audience/age group: Adult, 15+
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy
# Of pages: 383
Publisher: Water Brook Press
Year of Release: 2011
Part of a Series? Yes, 4 of 4 (Auralia Thread)
Rating: 3 View Scale
Recommend? Yes with reservations

Description: Book 4 of the Auralia Thread series
The king is missing.
His people are trapped as the woods turn deadly.
Underground, the boy called Rescue has found an escape.

Hopes are failing across The Expanse. The forests, once beautiful, are now haunted and bloodthirsty. House Abascar's persecuted people risk their lives to journey through those predatory trees. They seek a mythic city - Abascar's last, best hope for refuge - where they might find the source of Auralia's colors.

They journey without their king. During a calamitous attempt to rescue some of his subjects from slavery, Cal-raven vanished.

But his helper, the ale boy, falling through a crack in the earth, has discovered a slender thread of hope in the dark. He will dare to lead a desperate company up the secret river.

Meanwhile, with a dragon's help, the wandering mage Scharr ben Fray is uncovering history's biggest lie - a deception that only a miracle can repair.

Time is running out for all those entangled in The Auralia Thread. But hope and miracles flicker wherever Auralia’s colors are found.

Review: Jeffery Overstreet is one of my favorite authors. He writes with poetry and artistry which ignites the imagination and inspires the soul. A brief glance into this fantastic world he has created introduces us to fantastic mystical creatures, and heroic figures that run through the pages like water down a brook. The first three books in this series are extremely compelling and engaging. I found the stories imaginative and the words as vivid and colorful as the title of the first book (Auralia's Colors) suggests. I would wholeheartedly recommend reading the previous books in this series. They are some of the most delightful books I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

In this final book of the Auralia Thread series, the gloves finally come off and you see the villains as they truly are in all their diabolical glory. Heroes long dead are found to be . . . not so dead are we feared! If you have read the previous books you may have guessed some of the surprises. However, the elements come together in an exciting and unpredictable way. I was never sure what would happen next!

That said, I found The Ale Boy's Feast to be most violent book of the series, though still enjoyable. It was somewhat akin to the violence portrayed in the Lord of the Rings movies. There are many battle scenes filled with blood and carnage. Like the movies, many of the potentially gory moments only lasted a second. Unfortunately some of them didn’t (see below).

I think this book would be a very enjoyable read for older teens. However, I would not recommend it for younger children due to the violent nature of some of the scenes.

Rating: 3 for violence.

Positive: A young boy called Rescue overcomes his weaknesses and saves many prisoners from the Cent Regus Core. Cal-Raven strives to build a new home for his people; a place where they can start again after the decimation of their kingdom. There are strong themes of sacrifice, perseverance, and forgiveness, and redemption throughout the book.

Spiritual Elements: The series is richly allegorical, depicting the rebellion of man against his Maker, the craftiness of the devils, and the redemption that is available to those who are willing, even the most unlikely.

Violence: There is a lot of bloodshed, though told in such a way as to avoid being overly gory. People are killed in battle, blown up, and attacked by "vicorclaws" and “deathweed” (mutated trees) which use razor sharp claws to shred and impale their victims, ect. Two young boys are briefly shown killing a beastman. Seers (evil spirit beings) murder people and animals and enter their bodies. There is a group of people in the book believe that suicide is the only way to truly free the soul (this is portrayed in a negative light). A young boy (who can walk through flames without being harmed) sets himself on fire to protect his friends from cannibals who were about to kill them.

Language: Fantasy language such as "kramm", "ballyworms", and "out of tune piece of butterfly dung".

Sexual Content: Sex/premarital sex are briefly implied. A young couple “gets ahead of themselves” resulting in the girl becoming pregnant. However, the man admits the error of his actions and agrees to marry her.

Other: There is some consumption of alcohol. A group of survivors is shown sharing a glass of wine in a celebratory gesture, and the drinking of alcohol is again shown at a banquet. Addiction to the Seer's "potions" (drugs) is shown in a negative light.

Recommendation: I would recommend this book for teens ages 15 and up. I very much wanted to give this book a rating of four because there are many good themes and no swearing. It was a very interesting and enjoyable read. Unfortunately, because of the violence I have to give it a rating of three.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Shiver

By Reviewer: Nadine
Title: Shiver
Author: Maggie Steifvater
Primary Audience/Age Group: Ages 13 and up
Genre: Speculative Fiction (fantasy)
# of Pages: 400
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Year of Release: 2009
Part of a Series? Yes (1 of 3) The Wolves of Mercy Falls
Rating: 3 View Scale
Recommend? No

Description: Grace is obsessed with the wolves hiding in her forest even though they tried to kill her as a child. Actually, she's obsessed with the one grey wolf with striking eyes who saved her from being devoured by his own pack. She stares at them from her swing in the backyard; they stare at her through the trees lining the edge of the wood. But these wolves are more than just wolves--enter the love story. Werewolves. Grace’s wolf is also a handsome mysterious-eyed teenage boy in the summer time. She and Sam are forced to fight for survival against the threat of him turning into a wolf permanently. Can she and Sam do it together? Will she have to do it alone?

Review: I house a weakness for books with attractive covers. But I hate when a lovely cover is ruined by black sludgy contents. The first few chapters are brilliantly written (the reason behind my buying the book) and the last chapter is perfectly conclusive. The middle, sadly, is lacking.

This is another normal-person-loves-a-freakish-myth novel. There are only so many ways to write about a human in love with a vampire, werewolf, angel, demon, zombie, plant, or faerie, but I must give Steifvater some credit--Shiver at least has some writing talent in it. Her words come together like the chime of an old clock. Toss in a cheesy plotline and her talent alone can keep it ticking. Unfortunately, there seems to be a new teen-book tornado. Contents? Rebellion, selfishness, and sex. Still keeping it at the "appropriate level" (whatever that means), Steifvater indulges in a bit of character-intimacy. I dislike any sort of sex-mention in a novel because of the message it sends to young readers concerning "love" and "standards" (or lack thereof). Also, I didn't like the main characters that much. Grace's obsession with Sam (her wolf-man) is a bit unfounded, and Sam's infatuation with her is borderline creepy.

Rating: 3 for language and sexual situations

Positive: Grace and Sam work very hard to keep their relationship focused so that they can tackle hardships together. Their unity allows for mutual support and encouragement. The author writes two different points of view seamlessly, making it easy for the reader to understand who’s talking. Her writing is excellent.

Spiritual Elements: None

Violence: There is some mention of blood from wolf-fights or wolf-attacks on humans, but nothing graphic.

Language: D***, h***, smart-a**, c*cky b*****d, b***h

Sexual Content: Sam and Grace share a bed several times once Sam is human and doesn’t have a place to stay. They keep this a secret from Grace’s parents. It inevitably leads to sex. No graphic details are given, it’s more of a “fade-the-scene” type of interaction, but there is frequent mention of little touches, passionate kissing, and other sensual interactions.

Other: None

Recommendation: I don’t recommend this book, despite the pleasant wintery name. The characters are shallow and their romantic interaction along with the swearing was enough to deter me. I didn’t gain any benefit from it, and it felt like several hours wasted.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Enclave

By Reviewer: Nadine
Title: Enclave
Author: Ann Aguirre
Primary Audience/Age Group: Ages 12-17 (Young Adult)
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy (Dystopian)
# of Pages: 272
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Year of Release: 2011
Part of a Series? Yes (final # unknown; book 2 to be released 2012)
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes with Reservations

Description: Main character, Deuce, is part of College Enclave—an underground city of people who eat rats, follow rules to the T, and die at (or before) the age of 25. Since Deuce survived to age 15, she’s given a name and a job—a Huntress. As long as she’s remembered, she’s wanted to be a Huntress, which means finding meat, setting traps, and killing Freaks—a feral race of humans with endless appetites for the dead or the living…raw. When she’s paired with Fade—a boy who came from the outside and frightens everyone else with his strange ways—her ideas of grandeur and honor are dashed thanks to his habits of rule breaking and knack for entering unusual situations.

Fade and Deuce are sent on a death-mission as punishment for a particularly unusual stretching of the enclave’s rules. What they discover on this mission is enough to cause Deuce to question the elders of her enclave, the purpose of her life, and the limited knowledge of her world. She and Fade fight starving, manic Freaks, discover hidden tribes, and ultimately face the mysteries and danger of Topside if they don’t keep their acts together in front of the elders.

Review: I found the book well written, enticing, and finished it in a single day. The futuristic America with underground tribes is fascinating and spellbinding. I enjoyed the interaction between Deuce and Fade. It was realistic and remained appropriate (even when a little love interest started to form). The characters were believable, though there were still a few cookie-cutter bad-guys (with no hearts and only want to show all those under them “who’s boss”). The book really pulls you into

Deuce’s mindset and why she is set on following rules and why honor as a Huntress is so important to her. You understand why she believes what she does, which makes it easier to understand her reactions when her world starts to crumble as Freaks grow more cunning and the naivety of the elders becomes more evident.

A few setbacks in this novel include violence and adult sexual issues. The violence is fairly graphic during fights with Freaks, there are injuries and several instances of bloodshed. The enclave consists of Breeders, Builders, and Hunters. The description of the Breeders certainly brings the human race down to an animal level with “breeding” and having “mates”. There’s no love (or mention of marriage) involved with breeding, it’s solely for the preservation of the dwindling population.

Rating: 3 for violence and mature topics

Positive: Deuce has a desire to know and seek out the truth, not just about her world, but about what’s right. It’s nice to see this genuine pursuit of understanding instead of a mindless acceptance of whatever she is told (though that threat is there). Both Fade and Deuce also cling to a hope of something better—that life isn’t just meant to be short and filled with fighting for their lives. They spend the last half of the book seeking this and never giving up on that hope.

Spiritual Elements: None

Violence: The violence is fairly graphic during fights, entering detail of what and where Deuce stabs, the sounds of fighting, and other details. A character dies with slit wrists, alluding to suicide (though in the end, it was caused by an outside source).

Language: None

Sexual Content: Some kissing. There is excessive mention of “breeding” among humans, but it’s seen as a practical way of managing the population of the enclave. There is some mention of the “sounds” of breeding one night as Deuce tries to sleep. Later in the book, when Deuce is in a different environment where gangs are present, there is constant threat of rape and comments by the characters concerning the topic. No mention is explicit and, for the world that Deuce lives in, it’s just a dangerous factor that she learns to be wary of. But some gang members joke about it and fight over “who gets the girl”.

Other: None

Recommendation: Some parents may be concerned with the violence. Though the book is meant for 13 and up, I think it’s more appropriate for 16 and up due to the violence and mature themes. There are no spiritual elements to these books and the benefit of the read would solely be a sense of adventure and entering the mindset of a different (albeit fictional) culture.

Reviewer Bio: Nadine is a graduate student in Speech Therapy with a passion for writing and reading all things adventure and fantasy. Her favorite atmosphere in which to read and/or write is a snowy day next to the fireplace with a hot chai latte and fuzzy socks. Adventurers-at-heart, Nadine and her husband-to-be are trekking faithfully behind God into the many daring and exciting escapades He's planned for them.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Young and in Love: Challenging the Unnecessary Delay of Marriage

Reviewed by: Shawna
Title: Young and in Love: Challenging the Unnecessary Delay of Marriage
Author: Ted Cunningham
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult, 18+
Genre: Christian Non-fiction, Marriage
# of pages 222
Publisher: David C Cook
Year of Release: 2011
Part of a series No
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Descritption/Review: In his book Young and in Love: Challenging the Unnecessary Delay of Marriage Pastor Ted Cunningham writes, “While I am an advocate for marrying young, I’m an even bigger advocate for helping you grow up. …And the Young and in Love message screams, ‘Take personal responsibility for your life.’” Yes, this book promotes marrying at a young age, but does not promote marrying in high school or right thereafter when most lack the maturity to marry. I have to admit, I wasn’t so sure if I agreed with Mr. Cunningham’s ideals, but once taking in the entire book, I found myself agreeing with many of his points.

Cunningham explains that as the Baby Boomer generation reached age 17 or 18, they were expected to leave home, get married and work, all usually within a short period of time. While the Boomers parents, raised during the Great Depression and WWII, valued and taught survival to their children, Generation X, the Boomers felt success should be the main importance for their children and put a high price on getting an education and high-paying job before getting married. This cultural shift in values has caused many, young men in particular, to continue their adolescence into their twenties and beyond. Therefore, a good portion of the book is devoted to encouraging young people to grow-up and not prolong adolescence any longer than necessary. In short, he encourages taking responsibility for one’s own actions and thus becoming a responsible adult. Having a higher priority on marriage, may play a role in helping young people do just that.

Is Cunningham’s message for everyone? No. He explains that those who are intentionally single or single and waiting on the right person will not get much benefit from the book. Nor is his book a how-to on dating. It is for the young couple who wants to marry but feels opposition from those around them. He details reasons to marry and not to marry young. He looks more at the maturity level of a young couple and not necessarily their age. He covers many other points including the current statistics and reasons for many divorces today. Even though the book expresses a different way than what is considered a cultural norm nowadays, I would encourage you to read the book in its entirety. You never know, God may change your opinion on marrying young.

Rating: 4 for mature themes dealing with sex in a Christian perspective

Positive: The author discusses the negatives of delaying marriage such as delaying adulthood. Marriage causes you to look at someone else besides yourself and encourages responsibility. Delaying marriage may cause self-centeredness and increase the likelihood of sex outside of marriage. He does not encourage teens to marry in high school or even right after. He goes on to explain that only 2 percent of individuals marry their high school sweetheart. For the few couples that believe they have found the “one” in high school, he recommends proving their readiness to marry through taking on responsibility, having a mature attitude, not “We’re getting married, and no one’s going to stop us” mentality, and proving their ability to provide for a family by getting jobs.

Cunningham also addresses reasons not to marry. Don’t rush into marriage just to save on expenses, escape a bad home life, or just to have sex. He states the importance of not marrying an unbeliever. He encourages young couples to always include parents in decisions to marry. He gives good advice on building your own character and honoring authority, especially if parents want couples to wait. He explains how to respectfully show parents that you are ready to marry.

The author even encourages parents to teach their children responsibility at a young age and challenges young people to have integrity and look for a mate who has it as well. He details specific character qualities that need to be present in a person before even considering marriage.

In the later chapters, he details the importance of marriage in building character. “Marriage is the best tool I know of for making us more like Jesus because marriage builds character through patience and endurance.” He gives advice to young couples on building a lasting marriage and encourages them to work on their character, not their spouses. He encourages them to “resolve to stay” in a marriage through the ups and downs, to find support and accountability through getting involved in a church, and to always have respect for authority and be willing to listen when rebuked.

Spiritual Elements: The author goes through the book of Song of Songs explaining verses one-by-one and how they encourage young love.

Using Song of Songs 2:25, “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom,” throughout the text to encourage young couples to be on the lookout for those people and things that can tear down their desire to marry.

The book is filled with Scripture supporting the authors many points.

Violence: none

Language: none

Sexual Content: Even though the author explains that his book is not another purity talk, one of the reasons he encourages couples to go ahead and marry is to prevent pre-marital sex. He values having a pure marriage. He encourages families to avoid giving the type of purity talk that deems sex as a bad thing but to teach that God created sex as good and to instill in our children that we as believers in Christ should honor marriage.

He encourages young men to guard themselves against pornography and strongly cautions young women against marrying someone that is addicted to it.

Other: none

Recommendation: I think the book is most appropriate for ages 18 and up. I also recommend the book to parents because it does offer some timely advice on preparing young couples for marriage.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

TLR Needs More Reviewers

Avid Readers and Aspiring Writers

Teen Lit Review Needs You!

We are looking for more Christian reviewers. If you share our vision of encouraging children and teens to make wise choices in literature would you consider volunteering to write reviews? We are interested in book reviews from all genres and age ranges from juvenile fiction to young adult, both fiction and non-fiction titles.

If you are 18 years or older, proficient in writing, and a believer in Jesus Christ who wants to serve in our ministry please submit a Reviewer Interview to Shawna at teenlitreview@gmail.com.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Beneath the Mask (The Grassland Trilogy Book 2)

Reviewed by: Shawna
Title: Beneath the Mask: The Grassland Trilogy: Book Two
Author: David Ward
Primary Audience/age group: 13 and up
Genre: Fantasy/Christian Fantasy
# of pages
Publisher: Amulet Books
Year of Release: 2008
Part of a series If yes, 2 of 3 (The Grassland Trilogy)
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes but with reservations

Escape the Mask (The Grassland Trilogy Book 1) Review

Description: Coriko, Pippa, and a small band of other Diggers have escaped the clutches of the Spears only to be caught again. Forced through the Separation Coriko must become what he’s always hated or live a life without his beloved Pippa. Will Coriko ever be free from a horrible life underneath the rule of the Spears or will he risk everything to do what is right?

Review: The second in the Grassland Trilogy, Beneath the Mask, goes deeper into the elusive lives of the Spears. A horrible truth is revealed about how young men become Spears making Coriko’s life even more despairing. The darkening plot leaves you to wonder just how Coriko will ever be able to thrive. But, with Pippa’s positive outlook and her faith in Someone bigger than herself watching over them in kindness, it shows us how even the most devastating situation still has a thread of hope. Due to some violent scenes in the book, the series is probably not appropriate for a younger audience. See my recommendation below.

Rating: 3 for violence

Positive: Pippa is ever the positive influence, encouraging the others in their small band to do what is right. There’s a continuous message about standing up for what is right even if that means giving up what you have.

Spiritual Elements: Pippa remembers being taught about the Maker, the One she prays to help her not hate those who are causing her such pain. She explains to Coriko how the Maker created everything. God’s name is not mentioned in this book because Pippa only knows Him as the Maker. But, the Maker is the One True God. Pippa also has dreams that come true. Later, Coriko prays a desparate prayer.

Violence: Strays, another band of diggers that turn into savages, attack Coriko’s group with stones and sharpened sticks in order to steal food and abduct other Diggers. Coriko and the others defend themselves with rocks. The attacks end up leaving some of the Diggers dead. Once the Spears seize Coriko’s group, they bind the Digger’s hands then force them overboard a ship causing some to drown.

Spoiler: Coriko becomes a Spear in order to remain with Pippa. He is forced to do horrible acts, raiding villages to steal children and killing a little girl’s father with his dagger. Another young boy obtains a life-threatening wound with a sword and lays dying as a horrified Coriko runs from the scene.

There is at least one scene describing the view of Grassland after the battles between the Spears and Outside. Skeletons are scattered about.

Language: none

Sexual Content: Pippa and Coriko’s relationship is growing into a more mature one. They kiss and say they love each other.

Other: none

Recommendation: The violence in the books may be too much for some readers. Many of the scenes weren’t as descriptive as they could have been but there are a few mentions of bloody wounds.

Spoiler: The scene where Coriko is stealing a child and kills the girl’s father is an emotionally distressing scene for the reader. You feel the heaviness of the loss not only for the girl but for Coriko who feels he has no other choice. With Coriko’s young age, around 13, and the fact he carries that guilt with him makes the event all the more heartbreaking.

But, even with Coriko’s harsh and often times heart-wrenching reality, there’s always a hope for a better tomorrow. With that hope, I can better tolerate the violent scenes.

As well Pippa and Coriko’s relationship is beginning to blossom into young love. Their captors, the Spears, knew this would happen since they kept the children in pairs since they were captured. The author still keeps their budding relationship innocent even though they are maturing. They only kiss once in this book. After they are separated, the only thing that keeps Coriko going is the thought that he will be able to reunite with Pippa. I would recommend the book for ages 13 and up. See my review of Escape the Mask, Book 1 in the Grassland Trilogy also.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba

Reviewed by: Emily
Title: The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba
Author: Margarita Engle
Primary Audience/age group: 10+
Genre: historical fiction, poetry
# Of pages: 151
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Year of Release: 2010
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: A historical novel written in poetry rather than prose, The Firefly Letters tells the stories of three women who call Cuba their home. Cecilia is a young African girl, sold into slavery by her father. Elena is Cecilia’s mistress, the daughter of a wealthy Cuban. Despite cultural and social barriers, their lives are irrevocably drawn together with the visit of Fredrika, a progressive Swedish noblewoman. Fredrika, in turn becomes attached to the girls, as well as the beautiful land they call their home. However, Fredrika soon finds that underneath its lush scenery, Cuba is also a land of great cruelty and oppression. Aided by Cecilia and Elena, Fredrika endeavors to fight against the injustice of slavery.

Review: Told with simplicity yet infused with passion and meaning, Engle’s novel proves that one does not need many words to present a rich, complicated story. Switching perspectives throughout the book, the personalities and lives of each of the three main characters shine through. A few chapters are told from the perspective of Cecilia’s husband, providing a male voice to balance the otherwise female dominated story. While the spare poetry requires the reader to use some imagination to fill in the blanks, The Firefly Letters is both refreshing and engaging, skillfully aligning discussion of atrocity with lighthearted descriptions of everyday pleasures and creating a group of likable characters. This brief, unique novel provides a glimpse into 19th century life that will be enjoyed by both the young and the old.

Rating: 4, for maturity of the subject matter

Positive: The three female narrators exhibit great courage and compassion. The forward thinking Fredrika champions freedom and equality for all, not allowing worry of public opinion to stand in the way of doing what she believes is right. Although Elena is initially narrow minded and selfish, she is changed by her interaction with Cecilia and Fredrika. As the book progresses, both Fredrika and Elena use their resources to help address the issue of slavery.

Spiritual Elements: None.

Violence: Violence associated with slavery such as whipping occurs, but it is not described with graphic detail.

Language: No inappropriate language.

Sexual Content: Cecilia is with child–the product of a marriage arranged by her master.

Recommendation: Normally, I find novels written entirely in poetry difficult to get interested in. However, this book quickly grabbed my attention and held it. While at some points I did miss the fuller story telling of prose, over all it was simply beautiful. I would recommend this unique little book to readers 10 and up.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What Are You Waiting For? The One Thing No One Ever Tells You About Sex

Reviewed by: Shawna
Title: What Are You Waiting For?: The One Thing No One Ever Tells You About Sex
Author: Dannah Gresh
Primary Audience/age group: 15+, College Age Women
Genre: Christian Purity, Non-fiction
# of pages 178
Publisher: WaterBrook
Year of Release: 2011
Part of a series No
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: I’m sure as a teen you’ve been told again and again to wait for marriage to have sex. But, sometimes the “why” gets left out of those conversations. Today especially, teens are seeking straightforward answers to their hard questions about sex and waiting. Dannah Gresh has made it her life’s mission to instruct young women in the ways of purity and her newest book, “What Are You Waiting For? The One Thing No One Ever Tells You About Sex” has her going deeper and talking franker about what God’s word says about sex, m*sturbation, same-sex attraction, and more. This book is for those who have waited and need encouragement to remain pure and for those who need sexual healing from their past.

Review: “Purity is not about not having sex. It’s about waiting to have it right,” as Dannah Gresh explains in her book “What Are You Waiting For? The One Thing No One Ever Tells You About Sex” Her candid discourse on the many areas involving sexual relationships is a much needed resource for young women today. Living in a world that promotes sexuality at a young age has created such a confusion about sex among the younger population: “What’s right and what isn’t?” and “What is too far and what isn’t?” The book is saturated in a refreshing truth from God’s word that will answer these questions frankly among many others and also shares new insights into the emotional and physiological sides of sex. If you have a teenage or college-aged daughter, buy this book for her. Neither she nor you will regret it. And if you as a mom are still struggling with choices you made as a teen and are in need of some sexual healing yourself, this book has the answers for you as well. Gresh’s insights and instruction on healing sexual prayer was much needed in my life, and I highly recommend this book.

Rating: 3 for mature themes

Positive: One of the main themes of the book is that waiting to have sex is a good thing but there is hope for healing for those who haven’t waited. Gresh describes the exclusive love of marriage and explains how God gave us this romantic expression as an example to show God’s love for us. We all may know of that one rare couple that continues to show their commitment and passion to each other after many years of marriage. This is the picture God wants to use to reveal the mystery of Christ and his committed love for us.

Gresh also uses Biblical truths to answer questions like “How far is too far?” She takes the next step to explain how those who chose not to wait can have healing from past sexual relationships.

Spiritual Elements: Gresh explains that God created sex. The Hebrew word for sex is yada and means explicitly “to know and be known.” Surprisingly, yada in the Bible is the same word used for committed sex (instead of a “one-night-stand”) as it is for the relationship of how God knows his creation. This may sound strange but obviously our relationship with God is not a sexual one. This is not what God’s word is implying but the fact that sex touches us in a much more meaningful way than just physical gratification. Sex has many aspects, emotional, physiological, spiritual, and physical, and can only be enjoyed to the fullest extent in a committed sexual relationship (marriage). As Gresh states in her book, “Yada is a picture of a relationship with God. It can be experienced only in the context of a male/female relationship.” She goes on to explain this more fully.

Violence: none

Language: Org*sm, m*sturbation

Sexual Content: Gresh discusses sex frankly, not the physical mechanics as much, but the emotional and physiological aspects. She does use some candid words like org*sm and m*turbation. She also discusses same-sex attraction and truths to questions about that from God’s word. She goes into the dangers of pornography and is clear about one thing: sexual activity creates a soul tie between you and the person you have sex with. So, if you have a sexual relationship before you marry and then marry someone else, you will still be “tied” to the other person. This tie can only be broken by God’s intervention, which she explains how to do.

Other: none

Recommendation: Since the book deals with mature topics, I think it’s a good choice for teenage girls age 15 and up. I also recommend that moms read it along side their daughters.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Escape the Mask: The Grassland Trilogy

Reviewed by: Shawna
Title: Escape the Mask
Author: David Ward
Primary Audience/age group: 13+
Genre: Fantasy/Christian Fantasy
# of pages 224
Publisher: Amulet Books
Year of Release: 2008
Part of a series If yes, 1 of 3 (Grassland Trilogy)
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes but with reservations

Beneath the Mask: The Grassland Trilogy Book 2 Review

Description: The only way of life Coriko and Pippa know are as Diggers, slaves to the Spears, a group of warriors that stole them from their families. The Diggers are brought to Grassland when they are young and are given a cellmate of the opposite gender, their only friend, in with they work and bunk. They are forced to collect shards, glasslike pieces from the ground, each day and are then locked in cold, dank cells in the middle of a cave at night. But, things begin to change when Outsiders arrive and bring war to the Spears. Coriko and Pippa escape with a large band of Diggers and find the remains of a Spear village. Will the secrets they discover there overtake them or set them free?

Review: Escape the Mask, the first book in the Grassland series, gives you a taste of the world of Grassland seen through the eyes of two young characters, Pippa and Coriko as they’ve adapted to survival as slaves to the Spears. Coriko has turned to fighting to protect himself and Pippa while Pippa relies more on her childlike faith to encourage and soften Coriko’s behavior. The book is a quick read and gives you just enough storyline to draw you in and cause you to want to dive into the next books in the series . Upon completion, it had me immediately calling the author to request the other two books. Those who enjoy fantasy books won’t be disappointed.

Rating: 3 for violence and mature themes

Positive: The most positive aspect of the book is Pippa’s character with her forgiving nature and hint of a deeper faith in something bigger than herself. She is a positive influence in Corki’s life. His propensity is towards violence, but with Pippa’s voice, he is able to show mercy.

Spiritual Elements: As stated above, there is only a hint of spirituality shown through Pippa’s character. She prays, but God is not really mentioned at this point.

Violence: The Diggers are slaves forced to endure hard labor and are often cruelly punished for breaking the rules although this is not as descriptive as you would think. New Diggers arriving at Grassland are first put into cages inside the cave and are tested physically by the rushing ocean current let into the mouth of the cave. If they survive, they are paired with a cellmate, and the two become a team against the rest of the Diggers, gathering shards. Because the rules are so strict, Diggers often steal from each other, which in turn leads to more violence and possibly death.

Another Digger steals from Pippa and Corki (Coriko’s nickname) while they are swimming. Corki overtakes him and holds him under the water with intent to drown him until Pippa stops him. She doesn’t believe killing is right no matter what a person does. Corki, however, seems to first turn to violence and killing when others have wronged him.

War breaks out in Grassland, and the Spears and Diggers are attacked by arrows. Many are injured or killed and care to the wounded is fairly descriptive.

Language: none

Sexual Content: none

Other: Each Digger has a cellmate of the opposite sex that they are paired with when they arrive at Grassland. Corki and Pippa, now around 12 or 13 years old, have been cellmates from a young age and are very familiar with each other. They are used to seeing each other naked as they are often stripped by the guards in front of each other and go swimming naked together to not get their work clothes wet. While swimming, Corki harmlessly notices that Pippa is growing, and this change means they will soon be separated from the only companion they have ever known. When a new set of Diggers arrive, Corki notices that one female in particular is older than they are because of the size of her chest. However, there is innocence about the way the nudity is written and the scenes are not overtly descriptive.

Recommendation: My first concern with the book was the growing relationship between Coriko and Pippa. I wasn’t quite sure the direction the author was going to take their relationship in the context of this first book. But, after reading the entire series, I did see the reason and sincerity in the author using nudity (in the first book only) to show the innocence of the characters.

Some parents may be concerned with the violence. But, again, taking the series as a whole, the violence shows how desperate Corki’s and the other Diggers’ situation is: stolen from their families, forced into slavery with only their cellmate as a companion, jolted into the middle of a war they do not understand, and all as children without positive adult guidance. The latter books take a more spiritual direction, and you will see positive changes, especially in Corki, in those books. I recommend the series for ages 13 and up. I will be reviewing the other two books in the series as well and will discuss more in detail Corki and Pippa’s relationship in those.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

So Not Happening (The Charmed Life)

Reviewed by: Shawna
Title: So Not Happening
Author: Jenny B. Jones
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult, 14+
Genre: Contemporary Christian, Christian Chick Lit
# of pages 336
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Year of Release: 2009
Part of a series Yes, 1 of 3 (The Charmed Life)
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: Bella Kirkwood lives the life of privilege with her plastic surgeon dad, a swanky New York apartment and a posh high school where being popular is her priority. But when her dad leaves her mom for a younger woman, things take a turn for the worst. Her mom remarries and moves them to the tiny mid-western town of Truman, Oklahoma where Bella is forced to trade her only-child uptown lifestyle in for a country farmhouse and two weird step-brothers. Settling in to her new life proves harder by the minute. Her new classmates soon discover she’s taken her culture shock out on her high profile blog by degrading most everyone at the school. She is then assigned to the school newspaper to pay her penitence but her reporter’s intuition soon has her realizing there’s something to hide at Truman High.

Review: Bella Kirkwood is completely shallow and is clueless about her shallowness. Her beginning attitude tends to annoy not only the other characters in the book but even you the reader. You can’t help but root for her to “get over herself” and soon. But, that makes the story all the more engaging and fun. The story begins light-hearted and surprisingly takes a more serious twist towards the end making it more than just another typical boy meets girl chick lit novel. Even though it’s a Christian book, the religious undertones are subtle making it a good read for even those who don’t care for Christian fiction. Teen girls ages 14 and up will find this a fun and fast read, and their Moms will probably want to borrow it, too.

Rating: 3 for romantic situations and mild violence

Positive: Bella begins as a shallow, judgmental know-it-all who learns a few good lessons on her trek into her new lifestyle. Even though the move from New York to Oklahoma seems a bit extreme, the change in scenery was what Bella needed to get a better grasp on her selfish attitude.

Spiritual Elements: Bella prays often but generally for selfish reasons at first. She begins going to FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) at school where she befriends two other Christian teens. She and her new family attend church. The Youth Pastor speaks on teens having a purpose through Christ. Bella judges Luke, the editor of the high school newspaper, prematurely. She later finds him to be a Christian who encourages her to pray about her assignments.

Violence: The Tiger football team is derailed by several accidents to the players including a suicide.

Spoiler: The football players participate in several dangerous hazing acts including dodging an oncoming train and drag racing. Bella becomes a target when she discovers what’s really going on with the team. She is held hostage at gunpoint.

Language: none

Sexual Content: Bella and her New York boyfriend kiss. Later, she “makes out” with her editor Luke as a rouse to keep from getting caught spying on the football team. Bella attends a party where others are making out.

Other: There’s one joke about a stripper. Bella and a couple of friends attend a non-chaperoned party with alcohol present. They do not drink out of conviction. Later, one friend is seen drinking, in order to loosen up. This is not his usual character. No drunkenness is mentioned as the point of the parties was not to get drunk.

Bella takes her role as investigator a little too seriously when she flirtatiously tries to pull secrets out of one of the football players. She even ends up snooping in his bedroom while he is in the shower. He surprises her by coming out in a towel. His older brother, one of the football coaches, comes in at that point and the scene is redirected to Bella explaining why she was in the bedroom in the first place. Luke, her editor, finds out about this and harshly warns her not to do it again.

Recommendation: Some parents might have concerns with the couple of drinking scenes, which were mild and did not condone underage drinking, and the one romantic scene when Bella’s editor, Luke, kisses her as a rouse. The scene is mildly passionate, and nothing else happens between them. The scene with Bella and the football player in a towel was tame as well. All in all, I think both moms and daughters will enjoy this chick lit novel. It’s also one you can share with friends who don’t normally read Christian fiction. If you enjoy Christian Chick Lit, you will probably like the Hollywood Nobody series by Lisa Samson as well.