Winter ShadowsWinter Shadows
Casey Bond
Tate Publishing

The day Claire’s father warned her about has finally arrived. Armed with few provisions, Claire and her father join friends and church members fleeing from government mandated confinement in quarantine camps. At first the camps may have been necessary to prevent a deadly pandemic from decimating the entire population, but surely the threat has passed, and the government may be using fear of this disease to round up the remaining citizens and control them. Determined to live free, Claire’s father has created a living space off the government grid, and he’s taking anyone willing to come along.

At first Claire isn’t too thrilled about leaving her life at home behind, but there seems to be little choice. Despite her apprehension, she throws herself into her new way of life, learning to fish and hunt along with the others. As a deep bond forms between her and Ethan, his feelings bloom into love, something Claire isn’t sure she’s ready to handle. Then, when a mysterious boy appears at the river, Claire feels her heart stirred in a new way. Can this be love? But the boy has secrets of his own, and they may destroy everything Claire’s family has worked to preserve.

In an interesting take on dystopian stories, Bond creates a story world in which characters choose to hide and be free rather than live within the constructs of a crippling government. As Claire learns what it means to be part of a community and contribute, she finds courage, loyalty and strength of heart. While some elements of the story seem a little disjointed, the development of the romance is gentle and sweet. Readers interested in Christian dystopian romance may find this one to their liking. Parents looking for a clean alternative to Dashner’s The Kill Order may be interested in giving this one a try.

Language Content
None.

Sexual Content
In a brief scene, a young man begins undressing an unconscious girl with the intent of taking advantage of her.

Spiritual Content
Since her mother’s death, Claire has been angry at God. As she learns to be a part of a close-knit community and forms deep bonds with its members, she begins to re-explore the foundations of her former faith and to reconnect with her spiritual life. She even finds a way to encourage others to do the same.

Violence
One young man hits another over the head, causing grave injury. Two teen boys engage in a fistfight. One boy is shot with an arrow.

Drug Content
A young man slips a sedative into a girl’s tea without her knowledge or consent.

Exile by Rebecca LimExile

Rebecca Lim

As punishment for crimes she can’t remember, Mercy is exiled from the angel world, forced to live human lives, driven from one life to another in an endless cycle of suffering. This time, Mercy finds herself within the life of Lela, a dedicated young girl whose life revolves around caring for her terminally ill mother.

Mercy weaves through the day-to-day commitments of Lela’s small life, but her focus remains turned to the limited fragments she can piece together from the past. In dreams, Luc visits her, telling her of their great love for one another, begging her to find him, or to find the man who can lead Luc to her. This man, Ryan, also loved Mercy, but she struggles to fathom why anyone besides Luc would stir her heart the way Ryan seems to do. Could it be that Luc isn’t telling her the whole truth?

Finding Ryan turns out to be a relatively simple task thanks to the technology available in Lela’s world. He promises to meet Lela in a few days, and her heart soars. But to meet Ryan, Mercy must first survive the onslaught of evil that surrounds her.

The second book in Lim’s Mercy Series would be better enjoyed by readers who’ve experienced the first book. Without that foundation, it may be difficult to connect to Mercy’s struggle and to understand her somewhat calculated indifference to the life of the human whose body she inhabits. While this novel is based on a fascinating premise, much of this story seems to be devoted to setting the stage for the final scenes.

Language Content
Profanities appear about a half-dozen times or so.

Sexual Content
None.

Spiritual Content
Mercy is an angel who has been exiled to the human world, however, God is not really mentioned in conjunction to either world – human or angel.

Violence
One character briefly discusses her career as an exotic dancer which is obviously part of a very difficult life for her. A woman is dragged through the street by her dangerous and abusive ex-boyfriend. Another man intervenes, saving her. Two hostage situations occur in which victims are threatened at gunpoint. One gunman commits a murder/suicide. Some details are given through the course of the scene.

Drug Content
Lela’s mother has advanced stage cancer and is very close to dying. Her palliative care team provide morphine and other medications to her.

Alpha GeneAlpha Gene
Angel M. Huerta
White Goblin

After being unjustly accused of murdering his friend and partner, Dr. Lucas McKenna relocates to a small town in Maine to live a quiet life pursuing his passion: genetics. When he is mistaken for an obstetrics physician and delivers a child who mysteriously flickers in and out of his visibility, the doctor believes he may have stumbled onto the next great evolutionary leap in humanity. He follows the girl’s progression and soon discovers several more children who seem to possess extraordinary gifts. While the doctor’s actions may seem creepy, he assures the reader he is only pursuing the science and intends no harm to the kids.

Years later, when Peter, a new, strangely gifted teenaged boy arrives in town with his family, he meets up with the other teens with special abilities. As he emerges as the leader of the group, he begins to try to convince the others to challenge local bullies and stand up for themselves. His efforts go awry, and the bullies are quick to take advantage, but Peter is not giving up so easily. He will need all his tenacity, too, when a bigger, darker threat emerges and threatens the life of the only person who truly understands the abilities the kids possess. It will take the whole team of kids working together to save the doctor before it’s too late.

The story begins with an interesting, birds-eye perspective from the elderly genetics doctor, the man who later discovers the emergence of new abilities in humans. As he tells his tale, he often pauses to relate other stories, from his marriage to his late wife to his coffee pot, to how Peter’s family dog came to live with them. While at times charming, sometimes this chops into the forward motion of the story, creating a little bit of confusion. When Peter’s point-of-view is introduced, the narrative evens out a little more. Prickly at first, Peter soon grows into the leader of the group of misfit teens and begins to inspire them to be more than they currently are. Readers who enjoyed Unleashed by Jennifer L. Hartz may also enjoy this story.

Language Content
Moderate.

Sexual Content
None.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violence
Some brief physical confrontations. No graphic details or violence.

Drug Content
None.

 

City on FireCity on Fire: A Novel of Pompeii
Tracy L. Higley
Thomas Nelson

Ariella, a slave girl in service to a lustful, vicious master, finds her chance for escape during a secret celebration to honor Bacchus. Before she can flee the city, however, she is drawn to a young slave boy in a troupe of gladiators. His resemblance to her missing younger brother moves her heart, and she takes his place among the troupe members, setting him free. As a gladiator, she conceals her gender and hopes to make a name for herself, winning enough favor among the people to be rewarded with freedom.

Young Roman nobleman Cato escapes Rome following a bitter political defeat. He hopes to begin a new life in Pompeii as a wine merchant, but he finds his new home steeped in corruption. His determination to remain apart from politics is shattered when the vile city leader sets his eyes on Cato’s married sister and intends to take her as his mistress. Cato vows to protect her, and when he discovers the identity of a fierce young girl masquerading as a boy gladiator, he longs to keep her safe as well. An injured man and an urgent errand bring Cato and Ariella to the home and meeting place of a group of Christians. At first both are reluctant to become involved with the strange faith, but neither can deny the genuine warmth and peace the group’s members possess and how deeply they hunger for such peace. Before either of them can understand the spiritual hunger or find a way to pursue it, a powerful volcano reigns terror on Pompeii and its citizens, and Cato and Ariella must overcome great obstacles to find one another and their families and escape the city.

Higley has clearly done a monumental amount of research on Pompeii and her people, and many interesting cultural or historical tidbits are woven throughout the story, intermingled with fascinating characters and a beautiful landscape. For the most part, the plot is powerful and well-constructed, with only one weak spot: when Ariella has freedom within her grasp and she instead takes the place of a gladiator slave, it was hard to grasp why she would do this thing. The boy was not her brother, and surely if her deepest motivation was to find him, wouldn’t she have had a better chance to do so with her freedom? Despite this, City on Fire is a rich retelling of the story of a volcano and its wrath upon an ancient city, and a great pick for historical fiction fans. See Tracy Higley’s web site for more information on the research she used in her novel about Pompeii.

Language Content
None.

Sexual Content
References to aberrant sexual practices perpetrated by members of a cult who worship Bacchus. Descriptions are brief but creepy.

Spiritual Content
Ariella was captured and enslaved in Jerusalem, and after experiencing cruelty and abuse at the hands of her perverse master, she abandoned any hope or faith in God. The wealthy Roman Cato has always gone through the motions of worship to the Roman gods. When the two cross paths with a secret Christian group, their hearts are drawn to the strange, kind ways of the people and the whispers of a Presence to which they can’t deny being drawn.

Violence
As a slave, Ariella knew a cruel master. As a gladiator, she knows only violence as a means of survival. Details are brief, and she is usually spared from having to end the life of her opponent by the mercy of the games’ host. Some descriptions during the volcanic eruption are a little bit intense as well.

Drug Content
During cult celebrations, participants drink wine laced with an opiate.

 

Of PoseidonOf Poseidon

Anna Banks

After surviving a devastating shark attack, the last person Emma wants to see haunting the halls of her high school is the mysterious boy she met on her beach vacation. But try as she might, Emma can’t seem to escape Galen, nor can she find an explanation for the powerful connection she feels when she’s around him.

When Galen finally explains his reasons for following Emma across the country, she can’t – or doesn’t want to – believe him. But neither can she deny the inexplicable gift she possesses, a gift Galen says holds the key to saving his people from war. If Emma accepts Galen’s story, it will change everything and put everything she wanted and almost had squarely out of reach.

Despite the heaviness of the opening scenes, this is a fun, often humorous story about forbidden love with a bit of a new spin on mermaid – or Syrena – myths. Emma, a pure soul with a tragic past, and Galen, a duty-bound prince of a hidden realm, make perfect star-crossed lovers. Of Poseidon has recently been nominated for the 2013 YALSA Top Ten award.

Language Content
Mild.

Sexual Content
Emma worries that her mother will assume she and Galen are having sex, though they aren’t sharing more than secrets and a few super-charged kisses.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violence
A bull shark attacks a young girl as she swims at the beach. Details are a bit gruesome. Two girls with super-strength tackle each other in a beach house, destroying furniture, but causing only minor damage to each other.

Drug Content
None.

Broken ForestBroken Forest
Eliza Tilton
Curiosity Quills Press

Since the death of his little brother, Akivar has wanted only to get away and leave family and memories behind. Before he can have his chance, however, savage men kidnap his sister Jeslyn. Akivar and Derrick, his best friend and Jeslyn’s fiancé, pursue the kidnappers, determined to rescue Jeslyn and bring her safely home.

Jeslyn vows to escape her captors, but once she arrives in Daath, a place of legend which she remembers her mother fondly describing, Jeslyn can’t help being intrigued. Her captor, Lucino, seems a wealthy lord, and she is honored by his attention and wants to believe his claims that he had nothing to do with her kidnapping and will contact her family on her behalf.

Though at first she is reluctant to accept his offer of marriage, the longer she spends with him in his magical homeland, the more Jeslyn wants to embrace her role as his wife. She does not know that her brother and lover continue to track her and still plan for her rescue.

Lucino may seem like a stereotypical charming villain at first glance, but as the story unfolds, both his exposure to Jeslyn and something deeper from within his character bring forth conflicting desires, making him one of the most interesting and complex characters in the story. The narrative moves quickly, but sometimes jumps ahead, skipping over transitions and leaving the reader to fill in the blanks, causing some confusion. Still, Tilton creates an interesting fantasy landscape and weaves together the stories of several very different characters, leaving readers anxious to open the second book in her Daath Chronicles series.

Language Content
None.

Sexual Content
The Daath Lord keeps a house full of women, but no specifics are given as to what he does with them. It’s clear women, even Jeslyn, are attracted to him.

Spiritual Content
Akivar and his family worship a Creator god, and their planet’s two suns are cleverly described as the eyes of the god watching them.

Violence
Lucino’s advisor studies humans, sometimes torturing them as part of his “research.” Descriptions are brief.

Drug Content
Lucino poisons wine he offers guests at a ball so that he and other reptilian leaders can draw energy from the debilitated humans. The humans do not survive.

running_leanRunning Lean
Diana L. Sharples
HarperCollins/Blink

Haunted by a cruel playground song, Stacey is determined never to be fat again. With her best friend Zoe, she embarks on a rigid diet, rejecting the high-calorie, deep-fried southern dishes her family seems to thrive on. But just when Stacey has it all under control, a fainting spell alerts her boyfriend Calvin that things aren’t as well-ordered as they seem. Stacey brushes off the event as “female problems” and hopes Calvin will just forget it.

Calvin just wants Stacey to be okay, and he’s willing to pay just about any price to make that so. He endeavors to support her, but his own emotions become increasingly strained as his bike – and through it his way of coping with life – begins to fall apart. Though Calvin wants to believe he can love and encourage Stacey through her insecurities, it becomes impossible to ignore the downward spiral her life is taking. Calvin isn’t sure he can push her into recovery without breaking her.

In her brave debut, Sharples captures the raw driving intensity of emotional insecurity and the terrible tension it places on a relationship, boldly describing a tragic teen issue. The reactions of Stacey’s friends and family, the helplessness Calvin wrestles with all felt very real and true to character and life. Though a message of hope is woven through its pages, the story Running Lean isn’t dominated by its spiritual messages. Rather, each character wrestles with thoughts about and feelings toward God in his or her own timing and way.

Language Content
None.

Sexual Content
Stacey and Calvin share kisses and hold hands, but both have made a commitment to abstinence until marriage. Things get a little hot and heavy between them as Stacey’s emotions spiral further out of control and Calvin tries to reassure her of his love by pressing her physical boundaries further than she’s comfortable with. Clothes stay on, and nothing much ultimately happens before Stacey stops Calvin. There are brief references to a past sexual abuse situation. While the scars of the experience, both physically and emotionally still manifest in the victim, not a lot of detail is given about the events.

Spiritual Content
Since his brother’s death, Calvin has had difficulty thinking about spiritual things. He’s grieving and angry and offers of prayer from his friends and family only frustrate him further. As his relationship with Stacey becomes more and more strained, Calvin begins to rethink his “okay on my own” religious stance and consider asking for God’s help with the situation, since he’s way past knowing what to do on his own.

Violence
None.

Drug Content
Stacey visits a party at which alcohol is present. She doesn’t drink anything, but others around her do.

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