Monday, January 31, 2011

Three Black Swans

By Reviewer: Dianne
Title: Three Black Swans
Author: Caroline B. Cooney
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
Genre: Realistic Fiction
# Of pages: 276
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Year of Release: 2010
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 5 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: From Book Jacket:
“Black Swans: events that are hugely important, rare and unpredictable, and explainable only after the fact.

When Missy hears an expert discussing newborn babies on the radio, it makes her wonder about her family. She and her cousin Claire are best friends who finish each other’s sentences and practically read each other’s minds. It’s an eerie connection – so eerie that Missy has questions she wants to put to her parents. But she’s afraid to ask.

Still, Missy can’t let go of those nagging questions, so she decides to use a school project about scientific hoaxes to try to uncover the answers, and she enlists Claire to help. As part of the project, they perform a dramatic scene that is captured on video at school."

After the video is posted on You Tube, Missy and Claire realize that they’ve opened Pandora’s box. Not only are their identities called into question, but so is the future of everyone involved. In this riveting, heartrending story by beloved author Caroline B. Cooney, the truth changes the lives of three families – but the bonds of blood withstand the strains of long-hidden secrets that are at last revealed.”

Review: This fascinating story about family relationships keeps you enthralled even if though there are so many improbabilities that the story often strains credulity. Almost anything I say will be a tip off as to the direction the story takes…and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for the reader who will surely determine what is happening before knowing the outcome…but that is part of the charm of the story. Suspend your disbelief for a little while and just enjoy the book.

Rating: 5

Positive: Claire and Missy are cousins, have a wonderfully close relationship, and are part of solid families that care deeply about each other. They become even more aware of the importance of keeping family relationships strong as the story moves along.

The girls find there are unintended consequences to their rash actions and that words hastily spoken cannot be recalled.

Spiritual Elements: Church attendance was mentioned in an offhand way, but was not an integral part of the story.

Violence: Allegra threatens to cut her wrist with a kitchen knife.

Language: None

Sexual Content: None

Other: There was dishonesty as the girls concoct a scheme to complete a “project” that was a hoax to begin with.

Recommendation: Yes. I would recommend this book for girls 13+.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Heart's Blood

By Reviewer: Amy Jane
Title: Heart’s Blood
Author: Juliet Marillier
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult (16+)
Genre: Fantasy
# Of pages: 402
Publisher: ROC
Year of Release: 2009
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 2 for sexuality
Recommend? Yes but with Reservations

Description: Despite the rumors surrounding Whistling Tor, Caitrin is determined to stay and do the scribing work offered. Not only is it a rare honest living for a young woman, Whistling Tor is enough cut off from the world she hope she will be safe from the abusive relatives she ran from. Anluan, the master of the house, is palsied, and the forth in a line of feared lords who take their tributes without leading their people. Caitrin learns that Anluan is doing more than the people guess to keep them safe—at great personal cost.

Review: I was glad I read the book, but disappointed too. The author got so many things *close* to right: the power (and necessity) of hope, the nature of regret and the scarring power of words. But the emphasis on goodness as a means to atonement, and sex before marriage should both be red flags for Christian parents.

Rating: 2—a man lusts after a girl (without acting on it) and a couple engages in premarital sex. Also, magical hordes are described as dismembering victims, but only with as much detail as I just used.

Positive: Caitrin is diligent in her work, thinks the best of nearly everyone, and is source of needed encouragement. She is careful of appearances (avoiding "even the appearance of evil" for much of the story) and stands by the codes she sets for herself, largely following her head and good advice rather than impulses or the accusing voices in the haunted place.

Thinking of others above themselves, both Anluan and Caitrin confront huge fears in their lives.

Despite their challenging situations Caitrin and Anluan find themselves surrounded by good and helpful people, loyal friends who help them become more whole.

Children are valued.

Spiritual Elements: This is where things start to get tricky. We have two pentagram-centered rituals with muttered Latin. They aren’t particularly creepy in themselves. There is also the plot-centric “horde” of individuals trapped in between life and death. Much talk is given to why they might be still hanging around and how they may get a chance to atone for the deeds that kept them from going straight to heaven.

I don’t mind ghosts as a literary device, but I have a harder time suspending disbelief when they directly discuss how or why they exist, because that starts to touch on theology and is rarely accurate.
Caitrin frequently encourages others with the hope of atoning for past failings with future valor or virtue—promoting the unbiblical “scales” of good versus evil as the determiner of our eternal destiny.

Violence: The most specific descriptions are of the physical abuse Caitrin endured: teeth jarring slaps, bruises. The horde is the source of much fear and carnage over their century of activity, but the descriptions aren’t vibrant. The deaths of the preceding lords and their ladies come out.

Language: I don’t remember anything specific.

Sexual Content: The other uncomfortable part.

Sisters discuss “the act of love” in a discreet put pointed way.

Like I said earlier, there is a wicked man, lusting after a young woman.
[Spoiler]: One of the Tor’s voices attacks Caitrin with the accusation that her desire for Anluan is just as crude and empty. She resists the accusation. One of the fantasies Anluan conjures in his might-have-been mirror is making love.
One of the things that make this a hard section to comment on is that the author got it so nearly right: sex is an amazingly powerful thing, not to be treated lightly. It is life-giving in more ways than making babies: giving life to husband and wife, and their relationship.

To her credit Caitrin keeps her distance until “she knows,” and her offering herself is treated with respect, but they aren’t married, and I felt a heavy disappointment. Though, not surprise, I suppose, as a secular author would not have the same compunction as someone with a Christian worldview.

Other: Ale and mead are frequently consumed, but only once enough to result in a hangover.

The nearness of (self-centered) love and hate is explored, another topic useful to older teens that may be too intense for the younger set.

Recommendation: This novel was an intriguing take on Beauty and the Beast, particularly since the beauty was broken on her arrival, and the process helped her grow and heal as much as her “beast.” I liked also how Anluan’s transformation took place without it being physical.

This is one I recommend parents read before or after their older teen. If you’re the sort to do so, it would afford useful conversations about the nature of love and relationships.

Because of the sexuality and the skewed perspective on redemption, this isn’t one to turn your younger teen loose with.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Unlikely Angel

Reviewed by: Shawna
Title: Unlikely Angel
Author: Ashley Smith with Stacy Mattingly
Primary Audience/age group: Adult, 14+
Genre: Autobiography
# of pages: 272
Publisher: Zondervan
Year of Release: 2005
Part of a series No
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes with Reservations

Description: Twenty-seven year old Ashley Smith has recently gotten her life back on track after spiraling into a deep depression and drug addiction brought on by the murder of her husband. Working two jobs and going to school to be a medical assistant, she hopes to regain custody of her six-year old daughter. Then, she is taken hostage by Atlanta courtroom killer Brian Nichols. She shares her ordeal how, by relying on God, she convinces her captor to let her go and turn himself in to police.

Review: Ashley Smith’s vivid account of her plight to save her own and other’s lives from Brian Nichol’s murderous rampage is a remarkable story. Only God could have used Ashley to change Brian’s heart as she gives Him credit over and over in the book. Those dealing with drug addiction or other dark places in their lives would benefit from Ashley’s testimony. If God could turn her life around and bring her out of the depths of drug addiction and depression He is sure to do the same for others. Her story of hope and healing is something not to be missed.

Rating: 3 for drug references and violence

Positive: Ashley shares vividly about her drug addiction and the bad choices she made causing her to almost lose her life in addition to losing custody of her daughter. Through sharing her life, she is able to encourage others to choose the path God has destined for them. She shares the insights that God gave her using the book The Purpose Driven Life and how it and this ordeal caused her to re-evaluate her life choices and turn back to the right path.

Spiritual Elements: Ashley prays continuously throughout the ordeal. She talks with Brian Nichols about his relationship with Jesus and encourages him to do the right thing. She is very candid about her relationship with Christ, how she is growing in her faith, and how He is changing her life for the better.

Violence: Ashley talks about how her husband, Mack, was murdered and died in her arms. Brian Nichols had murdered four people earlier that day when he took Ashley hostage, but the killings are not described in detail.

Language: none

Sexual Content: none

Other: Ashley and Mack conceived their daughter before they were married. Mack had wanted her to get an abortion, but she refused. I think through her adamant refusal, she changed his heart. They wed to provide a stable home for their daughter and both loved her very much.

Ashley is very candid about her drug use and her drugs of choice. She gives details about how she administered the drugs. She and Mack used drugs before he was murdered. He actually dealt drugs on the side, and she went along with him. He was physcially abusive to her at times, knocking her out and leaving her at a club. After this occurrence, Mack realized he needed to change.

After his death, Ashley wanted nothing more than to check out of life and turned to a more callous drug, meth or ice. She fell harder and harder into her addiction, but eventually decided she wanted her life and her daughter back. She was on the mend when Brian Nichols entered her life.

Recommendation: Ashley’s testimony makes it very clear that God is a loving and forgiving God if we come to Him. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 He also has a purpose for each of our lives, and we do not have to be perfect for Him to use us. Even though her testimony deals with mature topics, I think the book is still appropriate for ages 14 and up.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Touch Blue

By Reviewer: Dianne
Title: Touch Blue
Author: Cynthia Lord
Primary Audience/age group: 9–12
Genre: Realistic Fiction
# Of pages: 186
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Year of Release: 2010
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 5 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: “Touch blue and your wish will come true.” Eleven year old Tess hopes that superstitions, sayings and the lucky objects that she keeps in her pockets will influence her luck and make her wishes come true. Right now her biggest worry is that her family will have to move off the tiny island that has always been her home. When her best friend’s family moved away from the island with their five children, the state of Maine planned to close their school for lack of students. Fortunately, the islanders came up with their own plan to forestall the closing of the school. Enough people on the island agreed to be foster parents that there would be enough students to warrant keeping the school open. Tess and her five year old sister, Libby, are ooking forward to having an older foster brother. Aaron has been bounced from home to home and is certainly not ready to jump into this ready made family. Tess finds that Aaron is not at all what she was expecting, but seeks to make the best of the situation and does everything she can think of to make him feel like a part of their family.

Review: This is an enjoyable story in which Tess learns that you do have some measure of control over situations by the way that you react to them, and that luck doesn’t have a lot of influence over the outcome.

Rating: 5

Positive: Tess truly cares about Aaron as a person instead of viewing him as simply a statistic that will keep the school open.

Spiritual Elements: Reverend Beal and the parish hall hold a central place on the small island and church is an expected part of everyone’s normal activities. Aaron plays the trumpet and Tess sings Peace Like a River and Amazing Grace and agrees to play the organ when the church organist retires.

Tess wonders if God ever makes mistakes. Her dad circumvents the question instead of answering directly.

Violence: Aaron punches the town bully in the face when he calls Aaron an orphan and makes disparaging remarks about his mother.

Language: None

Sexual Content: None

Other: Aaron’s mother had to put him in the foster care system because she had a problem caring for him due to her drinking.

Recommendation: I would recommend this book for ages 9–12. Although this book deals with the difficult and emotional matter of foster care, Cynthia Lord handles the situation in a sensitive manner that should appeal to pre-teens.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Behemoth

Reviewed by: Patricia Jonker
Title: Behemoth
Author: Scott Westerfield
Primary Audience: Middle School and up, 12+
Genre: Historic Fiction/ Science Fiction
(*teens refer to this genre as “Steam Punk”)
Pages: 485
Publisher: Simon and Schuster, Inc
Year of Release: 2010
Part of a Series: The Leviathan Series Book 2
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes but with reservations

Description: The Behemoth is the fiercest creature/Navy ship in the British Navy. It can swallow enemy ships in one bite. Darwinists (Represent the Nazi’s) are at war with the Clankers (Represent the Allies). Deryn, posing as a boy in the British Airforce, and Alec, fleeing heir to the throne of Austria - posing as a peasant, hope to bring the war to a halt after stumbling across the plans of the Darwinists.
 
Review: I liked the story. It gives a loose representation of Nazi Germany and their plans to take over the world. It isn’t factually accurate and isn’t meant to be. This will draw more boys than girls due to all the machines and war story line. There is a strong girl figure, Deryn. I liked the characters and feel that kids will relate to them as well. This is the sequel to Leviathan by Scott Westerfield. The ending indicates there will be more in the series. I haven’t read Leviathan as of yet, my students tell me it is better than Behemoth which I enjoyed.

Rating: 3 for language and a kiss between a boy and a girl, but the boy doesn’t know the girl is a girl

Spiritual Elements: none

Violence: battle scenes

Language: There is some language mostly English swear words. (bloody, etc)

Sexual Content: Deryn disguises herself as a boy. She begins to have feelings for Alec and kisses him. Nothing develops from the kiss as Deryn realizes she needs to conceal her identity even though she is in love with Alec and wants to tell him the truth. This relationship could develop further in future books.

Other: none

Recommendation: A little concerning in that Deryn is disguised as a boy and begins to have feelings for Alec who does not know she is a girl. She actually kisses him at one point and is embarrassed by her actions. The boy doesn’t realize he isn’t being kissed by a boy and doesn’t make a big deal of the situation. The author deals with it more by sharing Deryn’s feelings with the readers. It isn’t dwelt upon but is probably setting you up for a future relationship with the two. There is never any talk of homosexuality. Recommended for ages 12 and up

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Evermore

Reviewed by: Rachel
Title: Evermore
Author: Alyson Noel
Primary Audience/age group: 12 and up
Genre: Fiction
# Of pages: 306
Publisher: Griffin
Year of Release: 2009
Part of a Series?: 1 of 6
Rating: 1 (View Scale)
Recommend? No

Description: After her family dies in a car accident, leaving her as the only survivor Ever has been both blessed and cursed with the ability to see people’s auras and hear people’s thoughts. With physical contact she can also see what has happened in that particular person’s life. Ever hates her new abilities and she wishes for them to disappear. She finds that when she is with the new guy in her high school, Damen Auguste, the random thoughts and auras go away. But why?

Review: I liked the characters and how dynamic their personalities are, but as far as the storyline goes, it is very cliché. It’s the whole “Forbidden Love” theme. I wasn’t very interested in the book and it didn’t capture my attention that much. There were scenes that seemed really childish at points. I did hear that the series gets better as it goes along, but considering the content in this first book I wouldn’t suggest finding out.

Rating: 1 for language and sexual content

Positive: Sadly there really isn’t anything that positive, except that Ever had a really strong genuine relationship with her sister and she shows her aunt some respect at times. But everything, Even down to Ever’s friendships aren’t really positive.

Spiritual Elements: Ever finds out from her sister’s spirit that her parents went to heaven. She later sees her sister leave to go to heaven.

Violence: At the end of the book, it gets a little violent. At one point Ever is hit in the face so hard that her nose is broken. She is beaten up further, but summons her powers to heal herself.

Language: I didn’t count how many where in the book, but there were at least a couple dozen profanities, ranging from God’s name to f***.

Sexual Content: LOTS of kissing ,plenty of make out scenes, and numerous sexual comments. At one point Damen and Ever are making out in a cave and the scene gets very detailed. Ever gets nervous, however, so they don’t follow through with their plans. Ever is mocked for being a virgin and there are plenty of comments about how guys have been trying to get in her pants. One of Ever’s friends is gay and he brings his boyfriend to a party and talks about how “hot” he is. At one point people think that Ever is a lesbian.

Other: Friendship is taken so lightly in this book. Friends hate each other and at the end they don’t really make emends. There is some teenage drinking and partying.

Recommendation: I do not recommend this book. There are way too many profanities and way too much sexual content. There are a lot of great books out there, but this is not one of them.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Healer's Apprentice

Reviewed by: Shawna
Title: The Healer’s Apprentice
Author: Melanie Dickerson
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult – 14+
Genre: Christian Fantasy/Romantic Fantasy
# of pages 272
Publisher: Zondervan
Year of Release: 2010
Part of a series No
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: Rose, raised a woodcutter’s daughter, has been given the opportunity to study under Frau Geruscha’s tutelage to be a healer. Unlike other girls with her same background, she learns to read and is taught the social graces of the upper class although she realizes she will never considered as such. Rose resigns herself to be a healer’s apprentice until she meets the Duke’s two sons, Lord Hamlin and Lord Rupert. Both are drawn to Rose for very different reasons.

Lord Hamlin becomes enamored by her when he cuts his leg in a hunting accident and goes to her for care, but his love for her can never be. He has been betrothed for many years to a young woman he has never met, a woman who he has vowed to protect from the evil conjurer Moncore. Lord Hamlin wrestles with his feelings, but eventually decides to allow his younger, yet less respectable, brother woo Rose.

Lord Rupert is known for his indiscretions and flattering tongue but seems to have changed since meeting Rose. He promises to Lord Hamlin that his feelings are true and that he has every intention of marrying Rose. But, Rose is torn between Lord Rupert’s overwhelming advances and her feelings for Lord Hamlin. Unsure of what her future holds Rose must seek out her own destiny.

Review: The Healer’s Apprentice is a coming of age tale of Rose, a young woman trying to discover who God has called her to be. Like many, she struggles with making the best decisions for her life even with the sound advice of her mentor, Frau Geruscha. But, God is a forgiving and patient God who waits for us to seek Him, which is what Rose eventually does. But, before she does so she allows herself to be led astray by her emotions, her heart. The book does a wonderful job of shedding light on what can happen when you get carried away with your emotions and rush ahead of God. He has a plan for each of our lives as he does for Rose in The Healer’s Apprentice. You will certainly be able to take away the importance of waiting on God’s timing within the book and realize He does give us “the desires of our hearts,” pure and noble desires, if we seek Him first.

Rating: 3 for moderate sexual detail (see rating scale)

Positive: Rose has a wonderful mentor in Frau Geruscha, who offers her godly advice on many occasions. Rose thinks before she acts and decides to remain virtuous. She is cautious at first to the duke’s youngest son’s advances, but then decides to allow him to court her against the advice of her master and mentor, Frau Geruscha. Rose then realizes her mistake in allowing herself to be controlled by her emotions and sees that seeking God should have been her first priority.

We see the difference between a man with honorable intentions who chooses self-control over one who is self-seeking and uses flattery, insincere praise, in order to manipulate others. The Bible cautions us against the use of flattery, “…and a flattering mouth works ruin.” Psalm 26:28b

Spiritual Elements: The healer’s ask their patients to be healed in the name of Jesus. Frau Geruscha and Rose read their bible. Both Rose and Lord Wilhelm seek God through prayer and grow deeper in their relationship with Him as the story progresses. Rose sees a play about Jesus casting out demons.

A dark conjuror had previously been cast out of the region and seeks to destroy Lord Hamlin’s betrothed by using dark magic. He is controlled by demons and his intent is to share his torment with the betrothed.

Violence: Frau Geruscha and Rose take care of several ill patients, some with nasty wounds. Rose is attacked a couple of times and so is her friend Hildy. Hildy’s love interest decides to take matters into his own hands and ends up being sentenced to death.

Language: wench, d***able, d**n

Sexual Content: Lord Rupert is known for his indiscretions and carousing with women. In the past he has used flattery to seduce them. Now, he has set his eyes on Rose, but she is unsure whether his advances are for the right reasons. At first she resists, but he continues to pursue her claiming to both Rose and his brother that he has good intentions. She succumbs to his overwhelming presence and sweet words. This somewhat passionate scene plays out, but Rose doesn’t allow Rupert to kiss her…yet. She does on a later occasion.

(Spoiler) After Lord Rupert feels he has Rose’s heart, he proposes to her but not in the way she expected. Since he will become the new bishop, a position that requires he does not marry, he wants Rose to act the part of his wife without them truly being bound by marriage. She is outraged by his proposition and refuses him.

Other: Drunkeness is mentioned. The young people do drink wine given the time period.

Recommendation: The Healer’s Apprentice has many positive Biblical truths and is especially keen on showing the consequences of not seeking God’s will, especially in relationships. It portrays how easy it is to be controlled by feelings and desires and to be led astray by those who use flattery. It encourages teens to be patient in waiting for the mate that God has planned for them. I would recommend the book for ages 14 and up.