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.