Christian YA


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.

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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.

 

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.

Here’s a peek at the gorgeous cover of the next book in the wonderful Tales of Goldstone Wood series by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. The cover image is accompanied by the back cover copy below:

Goddess Tithe

The Vengeful Goddess

Demands Her Tithe

When a stowaway is discovered aboard the merchant ship Kulap Kanya, Munny, a cabin boy on his first voyage, knows what must be done. All stowaways are sacrificed to Risafeth, the evil goddess of the sea. Such is her right, and the Kulap Kanya’s only hope to return safely home.

Yet, to the horror of his crew, Captain Sunan vows to protect the stowaway, a foreigner in clown’s garb. A curse falls upon the ship and all who sail with her, for Risafeth will stop at nothing to claim her tithe.

Will Munny find the courage to trust his captain and to protect the strange clown who has become his friend?

Anne Elisabeth Stengl talks about the beautiful cover:

I had the fun of designing this cover—finding reference photos, inventing the composition, applying the text, etc.—but the actual artistic work was done by talented cover artist Phatpuppy (www.phatpuppyart.com), whose work I have admired for many years. It was such a thrill for me to contact and commission this artist to create a look for Goddess Tithe that is reminiscent of the original novels but has a style and drama all its own.

The boy on the front was quite a find. I hunted high and low for an image of a boy the right age, the right look, with the right expression on his face. Phatpuppy and I worked with a different model through most of the cover development stage. But then I happened upon this image, and both she and I were delighted with his blend of youth, stubbornness, and strength of character! It wasn’t difficult to switch the original boy for this young man. He simply is Munny, and this cover is a perfect window into the world of my story.

You can’t see it here, but the wrap-around back cover for the print copy contains some of the prettiest work . . . including quite a scary sea monster! Possibly my favorite detail is the inclusion of the ghostly white flowers framing the outer edge. These are an important symbol in the story itself, and when Phatpuppy sent me the first mock-up cover with these included, I nearly jumped out of my skin with excitement!

Goddess Tithe Illustration by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Goddess Tithe Illustration by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

About the Illustration by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

There are eight full-page illustrations in Goddess Tithe featuring various characters and events from the story. This is the first one in the book. I decided to share it with all of you since it depicts my young hero, Munny the cabin boy, under the watchful eye of his mentor, the old sailor Tu Pich. Munny is on his first voyage, and he is determined to learn all there is to know about a life at sea as quickly as possible. Thus we see him utterly intent upon the knot he is learning to tie. Tu Pich is old enough to know that no sailor will ever learn all there is to know about the sea. Thus he looks on, grave, caring, and perhaps a little sad. He might be looking upon his own younger self of many years ago, fumbling through the hundreds of difficult knots his fingers must learn to tie with unconscious ease.
I enjoyed creating all the illustrations for Goddess Tithe, but this one was my favorite. I love the contrasts of light and dark, the contrasts of young and old . . . youthful intensity versus the perspective of age.

AES

About the Author

Anne Elisabeth Stengl makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a kindle of kitties, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. She studied illustration at Grace College and English literature at Campbell University. She is the author of the Tales of Goldstone Wood, including Heartless, Veiled Rose, Moonblood, Starflower, and Dragonwitch. Heartless and Veiled Rose have each been honored with a Christy Award, and Starflower was voted winner of the 2013 Clive Staples Award.

Giveaway:

Visit Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s blog to enter for a chance to win one of two proof copies of Goddess Tithe! U.S. and Canada only, please.

It's ComplicatedIt’s Complicated

Laura L. Smith

When Claire meets a girl looking for a third and fourth college roommate, she takes a chance and accepts. Sharing a room with Hannah and her friends will be awesome. Hannah is bubbly and bright. Palmer, Hannah’s bestie is looking for friends to fill the gap that will be left when she moves away from her long-time boyfriend. Despite her excitement about being on the college soccer team, Kat is thrilled at the possibility of friends off the field. But just as roomie preparations are finally in place, the unthinkable happens, and one of the girls is raped. How can she face her new friends now? Maybe she’s too soiled to fit in with them anymore.

As the four girls juggle classes, homework, living space and boy interest, they learn they have more in common than they initially thought. And they’ll need all their strengths if they are to band together and help each other through the heartaches and hardships of freshman year at college.

When it comes to dating and relationships issues, author Laura L. Smith doesn’t mess around. Hitting heavy topics like date rape and peer pressure, she remains frank but not intensely graphic. The rape victim asks real questions and endures a grieving process. As the characters face peer pressure, they respond with realistic emotional confliction and growth. The spiritual journey by comparison begins deep for each girl, but doesn’t seem to undergo the same beautiful blossoming as the emotional journey of the girls. Spiritual themes may have been strengthened if the girls began their journeys at more varied levels of spirituality. Over all, this first novel in the Status Updates Series is a warm, fun read about having great girl friends.

Language Content
None.

Sexual Content
One of the girls is raped. The scene is brief and only a few graphic details are given. The boyfriend of another girl pressures her to have sex with him. Sexual tension between the two runs high and in a couple scenes, he touches the edges of her underpants before she stops him.

Spiritual Content
Each of the girls is a Christian, but since only two girls have known each other prior to becoming roommates, they don’t at first recognize their shared faith. Once they realize they are four Christians together, they believe God has placed them in each other’s lives to help them work through the issues they each face, particularly issues in their relationships with boys.

Violence
See sexual content.

Drug Content
A boy from the soccer team smokes something outside a coffee shop which leaves him pretty stoned. He justifies this behavior by telling Kat it’s completely legal and nowhere near as bad as some things other players do. Kat isn’t swayed by this argument. There are other brief references to college parties which include alcohol, but no central characters participate.
Playlist Fiction Sampler

Get the first five chapters free!

Right now (today is the last day) on Amazon.com, Playlist Fiction is offering a summer sampler for free. It includes sample chapters of this book as well as two others I’ve reviewed: Glass Girl by Laura Anderson Kurk and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet by Stephanie Morrill. Click here to see the sampler. Enjoy!

TriskTrisk

Kenny X

Pen and Prayer Publishing

Curtis Powell has one goal, one dream for his life: to be a champion Trisk player. His dream is about to come true.

It’s the year 2151, and baseball is no longer America’s favorite game. Trisk, a game that is equal parts sport and war, is America, and the Massi Corporation is Trisk. As hopefuls like Curtis and his friends graduate from training college, though, a startling event occurs, in which one Trisk team defies the granite arm of Massi and becomes independent. When Curtis signs with the gutsy though underfunded team, he isn’t sure if he’s made the right choice, but as the season progresses and his star begins to shine, Curtis believes he is finally reaching his dream.

Caught up in the high life, Curtis begins taking risks, talking big, taking advantage of the way America swoons over his very name. His ego spirals out of control, and not even his best friend can shake sense into Curtis’s solid gold over-the-top ways. As the inevitable reckoning comes, Curtis struggles to pull back from the abyss of selfishness, but it may be too late to regain what he’s lost. On top of that, as the championship heats up and Curtis and his independent team battle for a place in the final games, Massi turns up the heat, promising destruction if the team doesn’t back down. Curtis talks big, but Massi hits hard. All that remains to be discovered is whose will and whose might are stronger.

Sports fans be warned: Trisk is packed with high-energy, over-the-top action. Non-sports fans: the sharp wit of the author and the high stakes of the game make this debut novel a hard one to put down. While a few passages delve into the techniques and strategy of the game for which the book is titled, much of the story centers around the underdog team and its star member, his struggle to remain honorable and valiant in the face of an amoral country drowning in a sports obsession. The story is told with a sort of wry, intelligent voice, though sometimes it drifts into metaphors which obscure what’s actually happening and become confusing. For the most part, the writing is as entertaining as the story itself.

Language Content
A couple of crude references, but no swearing.

Sexual Content
Curtis has a long-time girlfriend named Priscilla, who he does not sleep with, though it remains unclear whether the couple live together or not. A journalist attempts to seduce a Trisk player, while video-taping the exchange. The scene is a little confusing, but it seems like the couple stop after removing clothing and the player reconsiders his actions.

Spiritual Content
Curtis and his best friend live by higher moral standards than many other Trisk players and are often ridiculed for this stance. Brief references are made to God and Jesus in a spiritual way, but there isn’t a lot of preaching or long explanations.

Violence
One player is severely injured by an explosion. Brief battle violence describes players performing in the game of Trisk.

Drug Content
Trisk players are instructed to use a type of drug to control their emotions. Curtis struggles with whether or not to use this, and it’s hinted that some players have become addicted and trapped by serious side effects. References to alcohol over-indulgence, and some brief scenes showing drinking.

Rock Harbor Search and RescueRock Harbor Search and Rescue

Robin Carroll and Colleen Coble

When fourteen-year-old Emily is accused of stealing a valuable necklace from a local artist, she is determined to prove her innocence. Her dad and step-mom seem to believe Emily is guilty based on comments from two other teen girls, though no one searches Emily’s things. Despite the lack of support at home, Emily and her best friend Olivia decide to list suspects and investigate the case on their own. Before the necklace went missing, Emily’s parents promised her a new puppy she could train as a search and rescue dog, and now the only way Emily is going to get that puppy is to clear her name.

As the girls search for clues, they learn bits and pieces about people in their small town, but nothing seems to indicate the identity of the thief. More often than not, she learns things she ends up wishing she didn’t know. Like the fact that her mother, who has been in prison for the last six years following harm done to Emily’s brother, is eligible for parole. Her worries mounting, Emily busies herself volunteering to help the surf team before the upcoming championship and helping with search and rescue missions. When one mission inadvertently reveals who has possession of the stolen necklace, Emily is shocked and torn. After having suffered through weeks of gossip and accusation, she doesn’t want to rush into telling the sheriff what she knows, but keeping quiet would be wrong, too. Emily resolves to convince the thief to come forward voluntarily, but accomplishing this task turns out to be much harder than she thought.

Carroll and Coble have partnered in creating a pure, heartwarming tale of a young girl in a small town searching for her place in her family and her community, learning about personal and communal responsibility and how to have faith amidst scary situations. This is a nice, light read.

Language Content
None.

Sexual Content
None.

Spiritual Content
Emily battles fear of the legendary Windigo, a monster which supposedly prowls the woods near her home. She prays for protection and peace and is quick to instruct others not to believe in the legend or be frightened by it.

Violence
A boy drags Emily into an alley. Some scenes contain references to a past event in which a mother purposely withholds diabetic meds from her child to make him sick. It’s a little intense, but not precisely violent.

Drug Content
None.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com® <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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