Saturday, December 22, 2012

Taken (The Quest for Truth)

Reviewed by Shawna Williams
Title: Taken (Quest for Truth)
Author: Brock Eastman
Primary Audience/age group: 11+
Genre: Christian Science Fiction
# Of pages: 315
Publisher: A Focus on the Family Resource published by P&R Publishing
Year of Release: 2011
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 4
Rating: 5 View Scale
Recommend? Yes

 Description: Seventeen-year-old Oliver Wikk returns home from his Federation training to find his parents being abducted by the menacing Captain Vedrick. Oliver has to put his training to the test as he flies their parent’s spaceship on a long and often dangerous quest to save his three younger siblings and rescue their parents. Along their quest, the Wikk children discover their parents had found an artifact, a book that holds the truth about human origin and may even hold the secrets to eternal life. But, the rogue group Ubel, led by Vedrick, wants to misuse it for their advantage. Will the Wikks survive and save humanity from these evil villians?

Review: Taken by Brock Eastman is an exciting, fast-paced adventure that will keep tweens and teens reading for hours. From the start, Eastman thrusts the Wikks into one dangerous scenario after another as they trek the galaxy unlocking the mysteries of their parent’s quest for truth and meeting a strange tribe of blue-colored people. The illustrated Visual Glossary Eastman included adds even more intrigue to the book with fascinating descriptions of all the futuristic gadgets the Wikk kids wield.

Positive: Oliver, being the oldest, steps by and takes on the responsibility of keeping his other siblings safe while trying to find their parents. The children are able to work though conflict in order to become a team and focus on the rescue. They learn how to rely on each other with every one doing their parts, and they learn to take responsibility for their own actions.

Spiritual Elements: none

Violence: The violence is very mild. Elliot Wick, the father, is tazered during his abduction. The children are relentlessly chased by Vedrick’s soldiers who mean them harm. During a fast-paced chase scene, a couple of ships crash but the pilots eject and are not killed. The younger teens experience a couple of injuries while fighting with each other and then run into a new tribe of blue people who capture then with spears flying.

Language: none

Sexual Content: none

Other: none

Recommendation: The book is most appropriate for children ages 11 and up. I think the importance of taking responsibility for your own actions and stepping up to be a responsible leader would be some great subjects to discuss with children after they have read the book.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Interview with Melody Carlson

I am very excited to present our first author interview on Teen Lit Review. Melody Carlson is a well-established author of Christian women's, young adult and teen fiction. She writes realistic books that deal with pertinent topics many teenages deal with today. Some of her titles we have reviewed here on Teen Lit Review are The Jerk Magnet as well as Mixed Bags (The Carter House Girls Series), Bad Connection (The Secret Life of Samantha McGregor), and Harsh Pink: Color Me Burned (True Colors Series).  Here is my interview with her:

1. What inspires you to write books tailored to teens?

I know that the teen years are challenging at best. And because I went from atheist to believer during my teens, I experienced some strange and interesting things—consequently my adolescence remains strangely vivid to me. I also worked in youth ministry and I guess I’ve always had a heart for teens. It’s such a vital and impressionable time—I try to write books that help my readers to navigate through.

2. Are there any teen characters that you have created that you have really connected with and why?

There are so many...perhaps my Diary of a Teenage Girl characters stand out the most. Because there are four books about each girl, I got to know them well. Also, I felt like there was a big piece of me in each of those characters. But I feel like that about most of my characters. If I can’t relate to them, how can I expect the reader to relate? That’s why I try to keep characters realistic and relevant.

3. On that same note, are there any teen-related topics that you have written about that have been things you have dealt with yourself and what have you learned from those experiences?

All the general topics (like relationships, peer pressure, romance, faith...) are probably things I’ve extracted from my own life—and then developed and adapted as needed. But the heavier issues (like cutting, suicide, drugs, rape...) are issues I pulled out of headlines because I felt they were stories that needed to be told—in hopes of protecting or preventing or encouraging the readers. Anyone who’s read my TrueColors series knows that I don’t shy away from any topics. I feel like if it’s happening in the teen world, let’s talk about it. Everything is less scary and easier to deal with when brought out into the light.

4. Where did you get the idea to write The Jerk Magnet, and what is one thing you would want teens to walk away with after reading the book?

This story was actually inspired by a real person. About ten years ago a friend got a massive makeover (going from cute-girl-next-door to hot babe) and she started a new job and was surprised at all the male attention she was getting. However, it seemed the males had only one thing in mind and that was not a serious relationship. Plus the women were acting pretty chilly. I told my friend that I thought she’d turned herself into a “jerk magnet.” Her new appearance (and wardrobe) were sending the wrong messages and getting the wrong results. Later on I realized how many young women fall into this trap and I thought, why not write about it?

5The mission of our blog is to encourage teenagers to make wise choices concerning the books they read. What advice would you give a teen about choosing books wisely?

As a teen, shortly after I became a believer, I learned a valuable lesson about music. I discovered that certain kinds of songs could really change my thinking and attitude in negative ways. I realized I needed to stop listening to the kinds of songs that depressed me or distracted me from honoring God. I think books (and anything of influence) is like that. Short and simple: If a book changes you in a negative way, it’s not a good thing.

6. We have several aspiring authors (including teens) that write reviews for Teen Lit Review. What advice would you give them about becoming an author?

Write, write, write. The more you do it, the better you get at it. But at the same time, give yourself permission to write badly—and throw (or file) the bad writing away. Nothing is lost because you still learned something. Also, you should be willing to take constructive criticism and some good writing classes. And finally read, read, read...because that’s part of learning.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Jerk Magnet

Reviewed by Shawna
Title: Jerk Magnet, The (Life at Kingston High)
Author: Melody Carlson
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult, 13+
Genre: Christian Chick Lit
# Of pages: 224
Publisher: Revell
Year of Release: 2012
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: Chelsea is not very happy when her dad announces he is engaged, but her new step-mom turns out to be pretty cool. She even helps Chelsea transform from the painfully shy, geeky girl at her old high school to the most popular fashionista at her new one. Chelsea loves the attention she gets, at first, until she realizes all the guys giving the attention are jerks and the girls seem to hate her. Finally, the only guy Chelsea might be interested in is the only one that does not seem to notice her at all. Will her new plan to win the guy and prove nice girls can be good looking change things, or will she go too far and lose everything she’s worked for?

Review: This fun and witty tale of ugly duckling Chelsea transforming into gorgeous popular guy magnet is a must read for teenage girls. Carlson has created an enduring character through Chelsea with her quirky personality and real-to-life situations. Chelsea’s struggles with wanting to look good versus making good choices with her clothing are lessons every girl deals with at some point. Chelsea must learn how to handle all the new attention she is getting with her brand new look, especially when she gets into several uncomfortable situations with guys. Good thing she has made a true friend along the way who watches out for her on more than one occasion. If you enjoy Christian Chick Lit, this book will not disappoint. It’s a very light read with an upbeat storyline that shares some valuable lessons on modesty along the way.

Rating: 4 for some mature themes

Positive: Chelsea stills seems to be the same humble, kind girl that she was before her transformation. She makes a new friend, Janelle, who always looks out for her. They are honest with each other even to the point of hurting each other’s’ feelings. Janelle especially is quick to forgive explaining to Chelsea how God forgives us, so we should forgive others. Chelsea learns some major lessons on being herself.

Chelsea knows that what is on the inside is more important than what is on the outside. Although she struggles some with making modest choices concerning her clothes, in the end she sees she can still be stylish and modest.

Spiritual Elements: Chelsea used to go to a church youth group in middle school, where she was betrayed by friends and has not been to church since. She throws up a few prayers here and there, but does not pray much beyond that. Then, Chelsea attends a youth group party with her new friend Janelle, where she hears Nicholas give an inspirational testimony about how God changed his life. Chelsea has a spiritual transformation of her own after she attends a Christian worship concert. Her friend Janelle mentors her some about what it means to be a Christian.

Violence: Dayton, a guy who Chelsea is not really interested in but is not sure how to turn away, gets a bit rough with her – forcefully pulling her away from the crowd wanting more than she wants to give. He thinks Chelsea has led him on and becomes angry but storms away before anything happens. He does not approach Chelsea after that.

Language: none

Sexual Content: The only kiss is between Chelsea’s dad and step-mom.

Some of the items Chelsea chooses to wear attract the wrong kind of attention. First, Chelsea’s step-mom buys her a string bikini. Chelsea wears it to a motel pool ignoring her gut feeling that the suit makes her uncomfortable. She attracts the attention of a very good-looking older guy, who seems to only be interested in her looks. He starts to get a little pushy with Chelsea until her dad, not knowing she went to the pool in something he would not approve of, steps in.

Chelsea receives attention from the drama teacher with a questionable reputation. He is very flirty and touchy-feely with her. He asks her to go over scenes privately, which she does. He makes Chelsea very uncomfortable but her friend Janelle steps in before anything happens.

Other: Chelsea searches magazines for advice on boys.

Recommendation: The story of Chelsea’s transformation highlights the struggles teenage girls and women face with choosing modest clothing. The media encourages dressing in revealing clothing, and portrays the attention received from it as positive. But, as the author shows through Chelsea, the clothing you choose can give others, especially guys, the wrong impression. You can attract the attention of guys who are only interested in you physically and not in what is on the inside.

Also, the Bible mentions on several occasions how God is more concerned about our internal selves than outward appearances. “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.” As 1 Peter 3:3-4 EVS says, do not make such a fuss over your appearance. Worry more about your inward self because a gentle and quiet spirit is more precious to God than outward beauty. However, we can still be stylish without being immodest. Here are some links on modesty from Clash Entertainment and

Another important aspect of the book that deserves in-depth attention is when Chelsea slides into a couple of sketchy situations. More than one guy made her uncomfortable and others stepped in to prevent anything from happening. Being cautious and setting up safety precautions when it comes to dating is a must. Listen to your God-given intuition. If something does not feel right, get out of the situation as soon as possible. Also, never go off alone with someone you do not really know to prevent getting into a questionable situation. This book is most suitable for ages 13 and up.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Future of Us

Reviewer: Kerin
Title: The Future of Us
Author: Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler
Primary Audience/Age Group: 13 and up
Genre: Young Adult
# of pages: 356
Publisher: Penguin Group
Year of Release: 2011
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 2  (View Scale)
Recommend? No

Description: Josh and Emma are best friends. Well, at least they were until six months ago when things started getting awkward. But when Emma gets her first computer, a gift from her father, and Josh gives her an AOL CD-ROM, things change quickly.
Once Emma logs onto the internet, she's taken to a site called Facebook. The problem? The year is 1996, and Facebook hasn't been invented yet. Josh and Emma get to glimpse into their future by reading their profiles that were written fifteen years into the future. But things haven't turned out for them as they had hoped or even planned.
And, as they are soon to discover, everything in the present affects their future. What they do and say, now that they are allowed a window to the future, causes their profiles to change with every refresh of the page. But before Josh and Emma can worry about their futures, they'll need to understand how to handle their present first.
Review: When I heard about this book, I was so excited to read it. The story and the plot sounded really interesting and different. And it is. But that's about all the good I can say.
The idea and plot in itself is good, but I had such a hard time enjoying the story with all the swearing, sexual content, and the way the characters acted. It just drove me crazy.
And when I heard about 'two friends discovering Facebook in 1996', I was intrigued at the idea of reading about them discovering their future and seeing the future through past eyes. (Considering I'm a 90s' kid, I have to admit I was excited to read all the 90s' references and also to finally read a book about teenagers that didn't always have an i-Phone, i-Pod, or laptop.)But what little time the characters actually spend reading about Facebook or dealing with it wouldn't cover a fourth of the book, which I could handle. But, it seemed that most of the book was about Emma dealing with boys and trying to figure out who she was married too and how to manipulate the future to work out the way she wanted. The concept was really good, but I'm afraid the story was just a huge letdown.
Rating: I give this book a very firm 2. The language was horrible, and the sexual content of the story went way beyond what I ever expected. There's a line between what's appropriate and not, and this book crossed that line.
Positive: Though I like the plot/story-line of this book, it is really hard to find anything positive to say. Friendship is one value that was stressed in this book though there are some moments those friendships are taken for granted and used. But on the plus side, the characters often realize they are out of line and apologize.
The characters realize their mistakes on several other issues as well at different points in the story and attempt to make up for some of them.
The only other thing I can think of is the moral (what little there is) of the story - and that is that we shouldn't worry ourselves with things in our future. It hasn't happened yet, and we need to enjoy the present and the friends and things we have now because you don't know how things will change. Also, that the things we do and say now will affect our future.
Spiritual Elements: None.
Violence: There really isn't any violence.
Language: The language was horrible; I've never seen the need for cussing. I can tolerate it most times, but the terms were very over-used. There didn't need to be that much swearing to make the story, it was very unnecessary.
Words used: A**, s***, h***, d***, da****. And if I remember right, b**** was used as well. Also, one word that I'm not quite sure is a cuss word but certainly was not nice and needs to be mentioned is sk****.
Sexual Content: Something else that was very overused and completely unnecessary to make this story. Kissing is frequent and talking about sex it seems is casual conversation. In one scene Emma's boyfriend (whom she doesn't even like anymore) keeps trying to stick his hand up her shirt and after a while she lets him (getting 'felt up' as they described it.) In another scene she gives another boy (whom she has a crush on) a neck massage and in turn he offers to do the same, but it's obvious he wants more than that when he starts kissing her neck and shoulders.

One character is in his room in his underwear when Emma walks in, and she makes a comment about his underwear. Boys openly discuss girl's (I will use kinder and more appropriate words) butts and chests and their anatomy. It's commented on about how easy some of the girls are. And likewise, though not as often, the girl's will talk about the boy's anatomy.

Josh's older brother is discovered through a Facebook photo to be in a relationship with a man. Some of the other characters have dated frequently and have been in several relationships that you couldn't even define really as relationships.  A very minor character at one point walks around in the boy’s locker room in the nude. Emma discovers through Facebook one of her friends will end up being a teen mom and, in an attempt to change her future, gives her a condom.

Other: Aside from the language and sexual content, I thought the main characters were pretty bad role models. Actually, scratch that, they weren't even up for the debate of being role models. Emma is so concerned with making sure HER future is happy and she marries the right guy that she pretty much blows it off when she messes up Josh's happy future. And though maybe not intentionally, in the beginning to the middle of the book, she toys with his feelings for her. Then, she gets upset when she has feelings for him and he's dating someone else.
Josh I could tolerate slightly better. He at least tried to do the right thing most of the time though his attitude towards his parents (and Emma's attitude towards her parents for that matter) was pretty mean and unnecessary.
Also, underage drinking and smoking is mentioned several times; and a couple of times the characters made a rude hand gesture.
Recommendation: I would not recommend this book at all, and most especially not for 13 year-olds!
I realize there are teens who would have no problem with the issues in this book, but I for one was pretty appalled. I'm 18, and I felt myself blushing several times during some of the sexual scenes; and while I've heard worse language, that was certainly not something I wanted to read either.
My recommendation? Don't read it. It's just not worth it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The 100 Cupboards, Book 1

Reviewer:  Kerin (age 18)
Title: The 100 Cupboards
Author:  N.D. Wilson
Primary Audience/Age Group: 8 years-old and up.
Genre: Fantasy
# of pages: 289
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers.
Year of Release: 2007
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 3
Rating: 5 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes.

Description: Henry York is on a journey. To Kansas.
Sent to visit with his aunt and uncle, and their daughters, Henry isn't sure what to expect from this small town. But finding a wall full of small, strange cupboard doors on the wall of his attic bedroom certainly aren't what he had in mind. Upon further inspection Henry realizes there's something even more special about these doors than first meets the eye -- they're magic. Each door leads to a spectacular new world.

Henry and his cousin, Henrietta, set out to learn all they can about this wonderful discovery, but soon come to realize that the doors aren't just fun and games. While one door leads to a wonderful woodland, another leads to a haunted ball room, and yet another leads to a post office. And one, a disturbing black door, leads to a dark world where something mysterious, and quite possibly deadly, lurks.

This once thrilling and always exciting adventure will lead to more than ever could be dreamed of as they continue to open doors, discover worlds, and even uncover an old family secret.
Review: This was yet another book I honestly wasn't sure what to expect when I picked it up, but it turned out to be pretty addicting. I stayed up several nights even to the point of almost falling asleep just to keep reading. I finished it pretty quickly, and it didn't take me long to find the second book in the series and start reading that as well.
The adventure and plot the author created are so very unique and different - he's created different worlds entirely in just one book. And it's just so easy to fall into the story and feel like you're with the characters. That makes it all the more fun to read.
The writing style the author uses is slightly different from what I normally read - but in a very good way. It was new and unique and just added to the quality of the adventure. His words flow in such a way that they seem to be bringing the story to life before your eyes.
Rating: The book is pretty safe for the age listed and above. There really isn't much to worry about, so I feel confident giving this book a 5.
Positive: Henry is what you would probably call an unlikely hero. He has led an extremely sheltered life up until the point of discovering the cupboards. Though he might be afraid, and even down-right terrified at moments, when it counts he swallows his fear and handles the journey head on. For example, when his cousin Henrietta disappears behind one of the cupboard doors, Henry is afraid to travel through after her but forces himself to face his fear and rescue her. You can see how his character comes to grow and change from the sheltered young boy he is at the beginning to a brave, though possibly reluctant, hero later on.
Spiritual Elements: None really, that I can think of.
Violence: The evil witch in the story is my main concern for violence. She injures a couple of characters in her pursuit of the main hero of the story, whom she intends to 'steal his life force' -- not really killing the character per-se, but using his life energy for herself. 
Also, a few of the characters, when defending themselves from the witch, injure her as well -- one even at the last second, swinging a baseball bat. Nothing graphic mind you, but the witch at one point is knocked out. Another character is injured to the point of bleeding briefly. Most of this happens near the climax of the book and is all relatively non-descriptive. The rest of the book is pretty clean from violence.

Language: None
Sexual Content: None.
Other: The main thing to be worried about I think is for younger readers. The evil witch and her pet cat, though only around for a hand-full of chapters, were both pretty creepy and kind of disturbing. There is nothing major. The author doesn't go into gory details by any means. It's just a basic description. But, I just found the character and her pet to be creepy. For some of the younger kids, depending on how well they handle that sort of thing, it might be just a tad much for them. I know some kids have no problem with it (for instance one of friends as a child used to watch and read Goosebumps), while other kids can get easily frightened (like myself when I was younger). So it all depends on how the reader handles those kind of things.

Recommendation: I'd definitely recommend this book. I may have said it before, but I will say it again. It was just so much fun to read. It's so action-packed and filled with mystery and excitement.
And aside from the point I made above about the witch and the slight use of violence, the book is pretty clean. Which, to be honest, is pretty rare anymore - even in some children's books. So, yes, this is definitely something I would recommend.

About the reviewer, Kerin: "I feel truly blessed to be where I am in my life - with loving parents, friends who I would die for, and on the verge of starting college to pursue a career. And though I haven't yet picked a specific path, I know that whatever I choose to do, I want to help people and make a difference. I am a huge bookworm with a passion for both reading and writing in my spare time - though my passion and love for my God outshine both."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Land of Darkness (The Gates of Heaven Bk 3)

Reviewed by: Shawna
Title: The Land of Darkness (The Gates of Heaven Series)
Author: C.S. Lakin
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult, 13+
Genre: Christian Fantasy
# of pages 318
Publisher: Living Ink Books
Year of Release: 2011
Part of a series Yes, 3 of 4 in the Gates of Heaven Series
Rating: ­­­­­3 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: Callen, a master apprentice in woodworking, discovers plans for an exquisite, intricately detailed bridge that is fabled to be the passage between the living world and the afterlife. He sets off the find this mysterious masterpiece and along the way rescues 12-year old Jadiel from the clutches of two impetuous scoundrels. Realizing she is his mentor’s niece, Callen vows to protect her when he discovers she is on a mission herself to find the leaves of an Eternal Tree to save her father’s life from the clutches of her evil step-mother. As they grow closer to discovering the truth behind the legends of the Land of Darkness, a sinister being discovers their plans and will do anything to thwart them from finding the truth.

Review: Author C.S. Lakin intertwines the fantasy of fairy tales with Bible truths in this allegorical story of The Land of Darkness. She tells of twelve-year old Jadiel’s quest to save her father from the clutches of Huldah, his new wife, a sinister witch disguised as a breathtaking beauty. As Jadiel is forced on a dangerous quest to find the leaves of the terebinth tree that are said to give eternal beauty, she is rescued by the brave Callen, a young man on a similar mission obsessed to find the bridge to the Land of Darkness. With their missions now combined into one, they must encourage each other to stay on the right path even as they are tested to their limits.

I was impressed with Lakin’s skill in interweaving fiction with Biblical truths, which made the story come to life in more than one way. Since the Bible verses were not referenced until the end of the book, many might not realize they are reading a Christian-based fantasy unless they are familiar with the Bible. Therefore, those who do not typically read Christian fiction might find this book appealing. I also enjoyed her use of parables and how she caused the characters to grow in faith as the story progressed just as Christians grow in faith as they live out their lives for Christ.

Rating: 3 for violence

Positive: One of the main points of the book is beauty is not everything. Jadiel realizes Huldah’s quest for beauty is an empty pursuit that causes her to be miserable. Over and over, Jadiel learns that what is on the inside is more important that what appears on the outside. Along the way the main characters grow and change for the better, especially Callen. Through another character, Callen’s faith in the truth is tested.

Spiritual Elements: Verses from the Bible are used throughout the book although they are not referenced until the end with an added spiritual discussion. “Heaven” is mentioned in several ways (like “heaven bless you”, heaven is watching out for you) to show which characters believe in God. Some characters in the book pray. Jadiel’s name means “may God call to rejoice. She and her family are believers in heaven.

The legend about the Land of Darkness can be compared to the truth in the Bible about God, the Father, sending His Son Jesus into the world to bridge the gap between heaven and earth. The story includes many references to light versus darkness, which are paralleled to Jesus and truth being the light and sin being the darkness.

A big theme in the book is having faith in things that are unseen and eternal. The book used John 20:29 to explain. “Have you believed because you have seen? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” A large part of being a believer in God is the fact that we have not seen Him, but yet we still believe in Him and the truths that are written in the Bible just as Callen and Jadiel must learn to believe in things that are not seen in order to complete their quest and experience the fullness of their faith.

Huldah uses spells and potions to change her appearance, control others, and even kill others.

Violence: Huldah’s character is one of two dark and sinister villains. Huldah is evil and ruthless and is not afraid to take a life to get what she wants. She is cruel to Jadiel often slapping and kicking her. When her schemes for Jadiel’s death are thwarted, she sends Jadiel on a dangerous quest with the threat if she does not return, Huldah will kill her father. When Ka’rel, Jadiel’s father, finds Jadiel missing, Huldah tells him she has been killed and shows him her blood-soaked clothing. But, Huldah had killed a calf and used its blood instead.

Another villain takes the form of a shadow. His presence causes horrible dreams of “great slaughter and screaming victims” in Jadiel. He easily kills people by constricting their hearts.

The legend of the Land of Darkness includes a king building a bridge that spans the gap between the living world and the afterlife. He sends his son to the living world, but his son is rejected, beaten, and nailed to a stake to die like a criminal.

Language: none

Sexual Content: none

Other: Some of the scenes may be scary. In one instance, the ground shakes, and it seems as though blood is seeping up from the ground.

Some mentions of ale, beer, and wine.

Recommendation: I recommend this book for ages 13 and up. Younger children might find a few parts somewhat scary, especially those with the villains. I would encourage teens to read the discussion about the themes and Bible references used in the book for additional insight.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

To Darkness Fled (Blood of Kings, Bk 2)

By Reviewer Nadine
Title: To Darkness Fled
Author: Jill Williamson
Primary Audience/Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy (Christian)
# of Pages: 681
Publisher: Marcher Lord Press
Year of Release: 2010
Part of a Series? Yes (2 of 3 Blood of Kings)
Rating: 3 View Scale
Recommend? YES!

Read review of By Darkness Hid, Book 1

Description: Achan, Vrell, and the Kingsguard Knights flee into Darkness to escape the evil prince. They head for Ice Island—an abandoned prison and frozen wasteland holding what Achan hopes will
be his future army. He’s been called by Arman to lead the world of Er’Rets to freedom—to
light. Both Achan and Vrell learn more about bloodvoicing as they travel. Achan comes to a new
understanding of what kingship entails and grows a deeper relationship with Arman—the One
who called him to be king. Meanwhile, Vrell struggles to keep her gender and identity a secret,
but cannot subdue her growing love for Achan.

The majority of the book covers their travels which, to be honest, I thought would be repetitive
and monotonous (what’s more boring than traveling for weeks on end? Reading about traveling
for weeks on end.), but Williamson’s writing is anything but dull. She throws twists from every
corner and keeps every chapter exciting, unpredictable, and harder to put down.

Review: It’s my second time reading To Darkness Fled and I enjoyed it even more than the first time,
which is surprising. It kept me flipping pages, anxious for answers, and surprised by plot turns.
Reading a well-written Christian fantasy was a new (or at least sorely-missed) experience for
me. And only after reading these first two Blood of Kings novels did I notice what a difference
having a fantasy based on Christ makes. Both during and after the read, I felt uplifted and even
able to focus on God more. I’ve grown closer and closer to the characters—they are very realistic
and believable. Jill Williamson continues to show her skill in writing through making a 600-page
book of mere traveling full of suspense and thrill. I would recommend reading it over the course
of several days—not in one sitting. The characters are traveling through Darkness over a matter
of months and it can get mentally draining for the reader to cover so much ground in a single
day (though I’d love to see someone try! ;)

All the characters in these first two books are convincing, in-depth, and believable. No human
reaction, battle scene, escape attempt, or romantic encounter comes off as sugar coated or
unrealistic. Every character, bad and good, has lifelike motives and desires. Williamson skillfully
emphasizes morals, beliefs, and life priorities through her characters’ eyes. I am also impressed
with her ability to create and describe a new world without bogging down the reader with
explanations, descriptions, or over-the-top details.

Rating: 3 for violence

Positive: The relationships between characters grow strongly through this book. Bonds are
made through travels and hardships. A lot of trust is formed and focus made on faithfulness and

Spiritual Elements: Arman continues to seek out Achan and Achan’s faith is turning into his
own. His belief is deepening and you see it becoming part of his character. He continues to
address difficult questions like “Why does evil have power if Arman is God?” and why are
Arman and his Son both worshipped if there’s only “one” God? It stimulates thinking and
growth in the reader—at least it did for me.

Violence: The violence in this book is appropriate for teens and up. It’s a bit higher than in
the first book. Achan and Vrell both enter several life-threatening battles that often leave them
stabbed, bruised, beaten, or tortured. Again, the author keeps the descriptions at a decent level
while continuing a realistic write-up of events. There is one moment where a character gets an
arm severed. The novel deals with the feelings behind causing such damage to a human being as
well as addressing the feelings that come from killing someone—even if it’s in self defense. The
sacredness of life is emphasized greatly in this novel particularly.

Language: None!

Sexual Content: There are some on-the-mouth kisses and a character who’s a bit brazen with
his attraction to women. Achan is forced to seek a bride as the upcoming leader of Er’Rhets and
encounters love potions, which lead to some passionate kisses. On the more severe side, twice,
women are chased and/or kidnapped by ill-seeking men who want to take advantage of them
physically. Their evil intents are alluded to and never gone into detail—older readers (teens and
up) may understand the insinuations whereas younger readers may miss them. Both instances are
resolved through rescue and strong lessons are learned from them of protection and caution. All
scenes are still appropriate, but I would recommend that these books are only read by teens and

Other: None

Recommendation: I definitely recommend this book. It is well-written, a brilliant continuation
of the first, and encourages the reader grow more in his or her thinking and faith. It’s such an
encouragement to see these strong Christian fantasy novels hitting the electronic bookshelves.
They’re exactly what young Christian readers need.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mimi McGee in Monkey Monday Business

Reviewed by Shawna
Title: Mimi McGee in Monday Monkey Business
Author: Shan Williams Burklow
Primary Audience/age group: 8+
Genre: Humor
# Of pages: 102
Publisher: The Happy Crayon
Year of Release: 2012
Part of a Series? Yes (More to Come)
Rating: 5 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes!

Description: Mimi McGee and her best friend Sam Jenkins have been assigned the most embarrassing part in the school play at the biggest town event of the year, the Hampton Watermelon Festival. They have to find a way to save themselves from the humiliation, but how? Will the quick-witted Mimi and Sam be able to triumph over the watermelon of a mess they have created or become the laughing stock of the town?

Review: Author Shan Williams Burklow has created a clever and amusing tale in Mimi McGee in Monday Monkey Business. Her characters, Mimi and Sam, make quite a riotous team. From secret missions to watermelon bandits, you won’t believe what muddle the pair of friends will find themselves in next. This fast-paced and hilarious tale will keep you kids laughing while teaching them about the importance of being honest.

Rating: 5

Positive: The families presented in the book have strong ties and are all involved within the community. Friendship and honesty are also two very important themes in the book.

Spiritual Elements: The children attend church, particularly choir practice, on a weekly basis.

Violence: A fight breaks out at school.

Language: none

Sexual Content: none

Other:The characters tease each other a lot, especially by assigning nicknames based on certain incidents. Some of the nicknames are not so nice. However, the children have consequences for their unkind behavior.

Recommendation: I highly recommend this book to elementary-aged children and their parents. I think it would be a great teaching tool. The likeability of the characters as well as the humor will draw children in while teaching them the value of being honest. I recommend reading it aloud and discussing the book’s themes together.

Monday, January 23, 2012

By Darkness Hid (Blood of Kings Bk 1)

Reviewed by Nadine
Title: By Darkness Hid (Blood of Kings, book 1)
Author: Jill Williamson
Primary Audience/Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy (Christian)
# of Pages: 352
Publisher: Marcher Lord Press
Year of Release: 2010
Part of a Series? Yes (1 of 3 Blood of Kings)
Rating: 3 for violence (View Scale)
Recommend? YES!

Read the review of To Darkness Fled, Book 2
Description: Achan, a young stray, works in the kitchens of the Sitna Manor. Having no parents, no rank, and a shameful brand marking him as such, his life takes the first of many steps of change when he meets a Kingsguard knight, Sir Gavin. Sir Gavin trains Achan to be his squire. During this time, Achan discovers he can bloodvoice—a type of communication that takes place between minds—though he does not accept or understand it at first.

Three chapters in, the point of view switches to another bloodvoicer, Vrell, a high-ranking daughter of a duchess who’s masquerading as a stray boy to escape an undesired marriage. When her plan takes an unexpected turn (aka. encountering giants, reekats, wars, and underground rivers), she finds herself on a long and trying journey to a strange “master” who only wants to increase her bloodvoicing skills for his own selfish gain.

The book jumps back and forth by chapter from Achan to Vrell, giving the reader an equal and satisfying dose of both, while keeping the storyline moving. Achan and Vrell are thrown together, forming a connection that winds their paths in a way they never expected. Achan is confused about Arman (God), whereas Vrell has a passion for Arman and seeks to spread the truth. Through their interactions and time spent in their minds, the reader learns more about the true God
through the character’s eyes, which is applicable to every Christian’s life.

Review: When I first started reading By Darkness Hid, I wasn’t hugely impressed. It didn’t start with an explosion or secret plot to destroy the world—it began with the main character milking goats. I wondered what I’d gotten myself into, but I pushed through the first couple chapters and I don’t regret a single moment of it. Jill Williamson beautifully weaves in- depth characters that come to life in your imagination and dreams. She spends the majority of this first book in the series establishing who Achan and Vrell are and why you care about them.

The novel is very well-written and understandable. The idea of “bloodvoicing” was explained so thoroughly I even dreamed I could bloodvoice at one point. I especially loved reading a novel that is Christian-based, yet not a typical romance novel. I found myself thinking more often about why I believe in God and mentally answering different questions that the main characters were asking.

Rating: 3 for violence

Positive: There is a lot of humor in Achan’s character. I laughed out loud several times while reading. Morals like obedience, lying, thievery, etc. are addressed in this book, from both character’s points of view. Achan is treated and raised as a stray, but his characteristics are very wholesome and human-like. He fails and succeeds, but his mind and heart are usually seeking the right place.
Spiritual Elements: The focus on God (Arman) and His interaction with people is a focal point in the story. He is seeking Achan out even though Achan does not necessarily believe in Him yet. The book portrays a very good image of God pursuing us as His children. It also addresses the issues of false gods and why they are not the “true God”—setting God apart as the only living God.

Violence: The violence in this book is appropriate for teens and up. The characters enter battles and wars, sparring matches and life-threatening situations. A lot of this deals with sword fighting, piercing arrows, etc. The author describes the scenes appropriately with description to make it come alive (yet keep it appropriate). I felt Achan’s pain at many points, but I never felt ill or disgusted with the writing. Williamson does a good job of keeping the novel clean yet descriptive. There are moments early in the book of bullying where Achan fights the bullies with a little bit of pride and anger mixed in. It’s not long until he learns what is worth fighting for and where fighting is appropriate.

Language: None! Characters express their surprise through fun phrases like, “Pig snout!”

Sexual Content: There are a couple kisses on the cheek and mouth. There is mention of marriage and consummation of the marriage. The mention of these situations is appropriate, but it does allude to a married couple sealing a marriage on the wedding night.

Other: None

Recommendation: I definitely recommend this book. It is well-written, a brilliant story, and encourages the reader grow more in his or her thinking and faith.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Michael Vey The Prisoner of Cell 25

By Reviewer:  Dianne
Title: Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25
Author:  Richard Paul Evans
Primary Audience/age group: Middle School and upcoming
Genre: Science Fiction
# Of pages:
Simon Pulse/Mercury Ink
Year of Release: 2011
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of ? (Book 2 coming in August, 2012)
4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: (From the Book Jacket) 
“My name is Michael Vey and there’s something you don’t know about me; something that scares people more than you would believe.  It’s my secret – and it’s part of the story I’m about to tell you.”

To everyone at Meridian High School, Michael Vey is just your average, ordinary fourteen-year-old.  But Michael is anything but ordinary – in fact, he is electric.

When Michael’s best friends, Ostin Liss and cheerleader Taylor Ridley, make an accidental discovery, the three of them learn that there are other kids with similar powers – and that someone, or something is hunting them. 

After Michael’s mother is kidnapped, Michael will have to rely on his wits, his unique power, and his friends to combat the hunters, free his mother, and save the others.

Review: Wow, this is a really exciting, fast paced book!  

Only seventeen of the fifty-nine babies born at Pasadena General Hospital during the eleven days of testing of a new method of body imaging survived more than two days, but they did not survive unscathed.  Each one of them had a physical anomaly which imparted to them a unique characteristic that affected their electrical systems.  Michael was able to generate electricity within his body that he could release at will. 

Dr. C. James Hatch, who pioneered the imaging procedure, had hushed up any reference to what had happened at Pasadena General and was now searching for the last two survivors that he had not yet apprehended – Michael Vey and Taylor Ridley.

Dr. Hatch fully intended to use these exceptional children to heighten his power for his own nefarious purposes and would go to any lengths to secure their cooperation.

This novel is a classic example of good vs. evil.

Rating: 4 for mild to moderate violence

Michael shows remarkable courage and restraint in controlling his power, choosing to do the appropriate thing when faced with several bullies.  He does, however get pushed beyond his limit when the bullies tried to strip him of his pants.

It is evident that Michael has a deep love and respect for his mother who has taught him strong morals and character.  He even manages to befriend the bullies who were tormenting him and comes to understand some of the rationale behind their behavior.

After being captured by Dr. Hatch, Michael refused to commit the atrocities planned by Hatch to garner his loyalty. (Who would you choose to destroy – your mother or your friend?)

This book addresses difficulties that teens face – bullying, difficult decisions, peer pressure, teen crushes, less than ideal home situations – and Michael and his friends must learn to deal with each in turn along with a plethora of other problems.  There is much here to initiate discussions about making right choices.

Spiritual Elements: None.

Violence: There was a fair amount of violence, much of it connected with the special abilities of these students.  Torture was the word used when students were isolated with the barest of necessities and threatened with electrical shock.  One of these special students followed Hatch’s every request and had the ability to virtually suck the life out of the others, causing excruciating headaches. There was little graphic violence.  Most of the violence was manifested by playing with the minds of these kids, which could be disturbing to young readers.

Language: None.

Sexual Content: Mild kissing once or twice.

Other: There was mention of an adult drinking beer, and one glass of champagne was served to this group of fifteen year olds to celebrate Taylor’s birthday.

Recommendation: I would recommend this book to teens 14 and up mainly because of the emotional turbulence it could cause in younger readers.  The maturity level of younger readers should be used as a guide to determine whether a student could handle the tension. There were many opportunities to choose good over evil even though the choices given were agonizing.  

Friday, January 6, 2012

Found (The Missing Book 1)

Reviewer:  Kerin
Title: Found (The Missing Book 1)
Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix
Primary Audience/Age Group: 9-13
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
# of pages: 314
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Year of Release: 2008
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 4. (The Missing)
Rating: 5 View Scale
Recommend? Yes

Description: Life is pretty normal for thirteen-year-old Jonah and his new friend Chip, school, basketball, annoying little sisters. That is until Jonah gets a mysterious letter in the mail. It has a very simple message: "You are one of the missing."
Convinced he is nothing more than the victim of a prank, Jonah shrugs it off. But when his friend Chip receives a similar letter, leading him to discover a family secret, and then two new letters, this time with a warning, arrive, things take a more sinister turn.

When Jonah and Chip, joined by Jonah's sister Katherine, set out to discover the truth behind the letters and how their pasts of being adopted children are connected, they are thrown headfirst into an adventure that leads to a chilling mystery.
Jonah, Chip and Katherine are determined to find answers, even if this means unearthing an old government cover-up and facing ghost-like opponents that seem to have the ability to literally disappear into thin air.
But they had better be ready for the answers because what they will unearth will not only change their lives, but history as they know it.
Review: When my mom first handed me this book, I honestly wasn't expecting to enjoy it much; she and I have pretty differing tastes when it comes to what we read. But I was desperate for something new to read so I decided to give it a shot. I finished it in two sittings.
There was something so intriguing about the plot and the mystery involved, I just couldn't put it down. It kept me so curious; I wanted to figure out the mystery as badly as the characters in the book itself.
The plot was more different and unique than anything I'd read in quite a while. The change of pace was really refreshing and for the most part, pretty easy to follow. I did get confused during one of the scenes in the book, where the ideas of time-travel (a huge part of the plot) were being explained, but even still, I got the main points of what was being said.
The characters were enjoyable, the plot fleshed out well, and the mystery handled very well.
So, bottom line, it is very good read and a book I would definitely recommend.
Rating: With no language, minimal violence, and virtually no sexual content, I give this book a firm 5.
Positive: The hero of the story, Jonah, is a very positive role model. He is generally a well behaved kid with good morals, especially considering family and friends.
Early on in the series, he promises Chip that he will "do whatever it takes to help him" and even when the situation turns dangerous and they get more than they bargained for, he keeps him promise to Chip. He is also very protective of his little sister. He may become annoyed with her and they may argue from time to time, but he takes his role of big brother very seriously.             
He is also pretty respectful to his parents. Though he thinks they can sometimes be "mushy" and "emotional", he wouldn't ever say that to them. He realizes how lucky he is to have loving parents. He does, however, hide things from them when his adventure turns mysterious but partially in an effort to protect them and partly in fear they wouldn't understand. Still it eats away at him to keep something from them.
There is a heavy emphasis on friendship and loyalty through-out the story.
It is also stressed that you don't have to be blood to be family. Jonah, though adopted, is very firm in believing that they are his parents and Katherine is his sister despite the fact that they are not related in blood -- as are his parents and Katherine.
Spiritual Elements: Jonah mentions his parents taking him to church.
Violence: The violence is kept to a minimum. One of the characters, in an attempt to protect the children, tackles a man that is chasing them. Some punches and kicks are thrown as he tries to hold him off.
Near the climax of the book, one character is tasered and another held a point with the taser. A few characters are restrained and a hit or two is thrown by the bad guys.
Language: I don't remember any at all. There may have been one use of the word 'crap', but it's been a few weeks since I read it, and I can't remember for sure.
Sexual Content: The boys talk of one of them maybe having a crush on a girl.
Other: Perhaps the only thing some parents might want to be warned about is that one of the boys, Chip, can be disrespectful to adults, including his parents.
It is implied that he doesn't have a very good relationship with them, and that his father yells at him, and in return, Chip can be rebellious.
In another scene, when speaking to a woman about their mystery, Chip makes a few disrespectful comments.
Recommendation: I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys science fiction and fast-paced adventure. The age range may be 9-13, but I think it's a highly enjoyable story for any age.
It is very appropriate for the younger generation, but still enjoyable for young adults (like myself) and older adults (like my mother, who recommended the book to me).
To parents, if your kids like fast-paced stories with adventure or you want something exciting to get them interesting in reading but want to avoid all the gore, sexual content, and undue language, this is a perfect book for your kids to read and for you to read with them.