31 January 2013

Quickie Movie Review: "The Book of Ruth: Journey of Faith"

Rating: Not Rated
Starring: Sherry Morris, Carman, and Eleese Lester
Studio: Pure Flix
Released: December 15, 2009   
Synopsis: Young David just doesn't feel like he can "cut the mustard." Though he believes in God, he is simply unsure that He can help him through the challenges of life.  To show him God's power, David's grandfather Obed shares with him a story: the story of Ruth, Obed's mother, which is recorded in the Biblical book of Ruth.  It starts out with Ruth and Orpah, who are both married to one of Naomi's sons and childless.  First Naomi's husband dies, then Ruth's and Orpah's soon after, which leaves all the remaining family members very shaken.  Naomi then decides to go back to Israel, her homeland, and, despite Naomi's pleas, Ruth insists on following her, saying that line we often hear at weddings: "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried." However, Ruth doesn't know anyone in Israel, and she is disliked for being a foreigner.  Will God work things out for good? Will Ruth ever marry and have children?
(Most of you reading this probably already know the answer, because you've read the Biblical account.)

Review: I found this DVD at my local LifeWay Christian Store on sale for five bucks, and bought it along with some other items so I could use my "$5 off a purchase of $20 or more" coupon.  Now, I wish I had bought something else and just borrowed The Book of Ruth from the library.  The film has its good moments; the death scenes at the beginning are appropriately heart-wrenching, and the oft-quoted line mentioned above is tearfully delivered, which is really how it should be.  However, the starkness of the film (why the lack of background music in many of the scenes?)and an overall lackluster feel, along with tiny, lagging SDHs (if you have hearing problems, either turn the volume way up or have an ASL interpreter ready!) and poor production values (one sunset looks like a gradient created in AppleWorks!) ruined this for me.  If you're a church librarian, you might want to watch this to decide whether or not to add it to your church's library, but everyone else other than Ruth fanatics should probably skip this one.  If you're looking for a good Biblically-themed drama, check out Apostle Peter and the Last Supper, the three-hour telefilm In the Beginning, or any of the Visual Bible flicks, especially The Gospel of John.   Ruth's story is such a good one, but, unfortunately, this one doesn't do it justice.

Score: 1.75/5

Book Review: "Nevermore" ("Maximum Ride," No. 8) by James Patterson

Author: James Patterson
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Originally Published: August 2012
Synopsis: Maximum Ride and her flock of mutant bird kids have been through a lot, but this (allegedly) final adventure brings some crazy twists. A love triangle starts when Max's significant other Dylan clashes with her old flame Fang. Worse yet, Ari, an old nemesis from the past, is on a rampage to kill Fang! However, the worst part is that some unfortunate individuals are on the warpath to annihilate all non-mutants, which amounts to ninety-nine percent of the population.  With her little sister Angel imprisoned, Max and crew are being attacked from all sides.  Can they rescue Angel and Fang, and stop humankind from becoming largely extinct?
(If the above doesn't make sense to you, you obviously aren't a fan of the series.)

Story: 4/5
For the most part, this has an engrossing, exciting, edge-of-your-seat story.  There are quite a few twists and turns, so you don't really know what will happen next.  Where it falters a bit is the ending, which seemed a bit too "pat" and unclear.

Writing: 4.5/5
What James Patterson has done well previously in his Maximum Ride novels, he continues to do excel at in this final volume.  Max's humorous narration, as well as the comic-book-esque action sequences, are just as good as they have been since The Angel Experiment.

Moral Content: 3.5/5
Patterson has kept it clean throughout this series, and this mostly stays true to that trend.  No sexual content, save for kissing and two teens sharing a bed in a non-sexual way.  Profanity is limited to about three or four--if that--misuses of God's name, and euphemisms such as "freakin'" and "mofo".  The violence is mostly non-graphic, though one scene features someone being impaled through the neck, which revolts the mutant bird kids so much that one of them becomes ill.  Though evolution is mentioned, there is also talk of meeting God after dying, which makes this a religious mishmash, though neither school of thought gets too much talk.

Conclusion: As Maximum Ride, which I have been following for over half a decade, draws to an end, I have to say that it feels slightly lackluster...but only slightly.  Though this isn't a grand finale like Percy Jackson and the Olympians had, it also isn't anywhere near the dreck that was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  Fans of James' Patterson's mutant bird kid saga should definitely read this; Nevermore brings the saga to a mostly satisfying conclusion.

Score: 3.75/5

30 January 2013

Quickie Book Review: "Lethal Mercy" by Harry Lee Kraus, Jr.

Author: Harry Lee Kraus, Jr.
Publisher: Crossway
Originally Published: 1997
Synopsis: Jake Hampton's wife Sarah was expecting, and the two of them couldn't have been happier...until she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Out of desperation, she went to Ocean Sands, an alternative care facility, even though Jake was a licensed M.D. with his own practice.  During delivery, Sarah dies, and the evidence makes it look like Jake performed a "physician-assisted suicide" out of mercy.  Jake isn't a fan of such a practice, and he would be willing to prove his innocence...if only he hadn't blacked out when it happened!  Did Jake really kill his wife, or is someone trying to frame him? If so, who--or what--could be behind such a thing?

Review: I'll be honest: Dr. Kraus' books are usually absorbing medical thrillers, but this one is definitely the worst of his that I've read.  Not only is the novel overly long, but the out-of-order chronology goes from tolerable to annoying as the book progresses.  If you are new to the works of Dr. Harry Kraus, I would suggest starting with The Stain, which blew me away in many ways.  It's still passable; I've read much worse, but this isn't what I've come to expect from Christian fiction's resident M.D.

Score: 2.5/5

27 January 2013

Quickie Book Review: "'Star Wars': Death Troopers" by Joe Schreiber

Author: Joe Schreiber
Publisher: Lucas Books
Originally Published: October 2009
Synopsis: When the Imperial prison barge Purge—temporary home to five hundred of the galaxy's most ruthless killers, rebels, scoundrels and thieves—breaks down in a distant, uninhabited part of space, its only hope seems to lie with a Star Destroyer found drifting, derelict, and seemingly abandoned. But when a boarding party is sent to scavenge for parts, only half of them come back—bringing with them a horrific disease so lethal that within hours, nearly all aboard the Purge will die in ways too hideous to imagine.

And death is only the beginning.

The Purge's half-dozen survivors—two teenage brothers, a sadistic captain of the guards, a couple of rogue smugglers and the chief medical officer, the lone woman on board—will do whatever it takes to stay alive. But nothing can prepare them for what lies waiting onboard the Star Destroyer amid its vast creaking emptiness that isn't really empty at all. The dead are rising, soulless, unstoppable, and unspeakably hungry. (Taken from Wookieepedia's article on the novel)

Review: For the first time ever, I didn't come up with my own synopsis just because I didn't know how to discuss this travesty of a novel without sounding negative.  A Star Wars horror novel doesn't just sound like a bad idea, it is! Granted, Han Solo and Chewie may appear in this book, but, if Victoria Justice acted and sang in the next Saw flick, would it be an episode of VICTORiOUS? Definitely not!  The best thing I can say is that, though it is decidedly creepy, Death Troopers keeps things relatively restrained content-wise; however, even those old enough to not be seriously frightened by it should read another Star Wars novel, such as Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn or I, Jedi by Michael A. Stackpole, just because of how terrible this one is artistically.  Avoid this one.

Score: 1.5/5

25 January 2013

Movie Review: "Apostle Peter and the Last Supper"

Rated: Not Rated
Starring: Robert Loggia, Bruce Marchiano, and Laurence Fuller 
Released: April 2012
Synopsis: Simon Peter, one of Jesus' closest friends, is imprisoned for being a follower of "The Way."  His execution is imminent...but Martinian, a prison guard, wants to know more about Peter, and so does his wife.  Peter proceeds to tell Martinian about Jesus: his life, his ministry, his death, and his resurrection.  Will Martinian believe him?

Story: 4.5/5
The Gospel is known as "the greatest story ever told," and this one does a great job of telling it.  We see Jesus teaching, healing the sick, and at the Last Supper; the last part is the most poignant.  When Christ says that someone will betray him, several of the apostles' inner thoughts are shown, which is a powerful storytelling device that really brings home the film's message.  Also great is when a demon is shown taunting Peter, trying to get him away from Christ, and Peter is completely steadfast and absolutely refuses.  I did have one quibble: The crucifixion and resurrection are discussed instead shown, and those were the most important parts of Christ's life; that may have been because of budget constraints, though.  (More on that later.)

Production Values: 3.5/5
The acting is great, but this definitely wasn't a big-budget production.  The "exterior shots" of ancient buildings were obviously created with computer animation, as pretty much anyone over the age of ten could tell.  Still, the sets seemed real enough, especially when you consider that it was shot in a building in California rather than on location in the Middle East.  Every scene with the aforementioned demon is appropriately creepy, and the Last Supper sequence is quite dramatic.  If you are deaf or hard-of-hearing, though, either turn the volume up or have an ASL interpreter handy, because, though there are closed captions on the disc, they seriously lag, to the point of being quite an annoyance to me, and I'm used to watching movies and TV shows with captions and SDHs.

Special Features: 3/5
There aren't too many special features on the disc, but it provides four deleted scenes and six previews of other films, such as What If...? and Jerusalem Countdown.  The one problematic feature is "Behind the Scenes," which has some great testimonies, but suffers from poor audio--music overpowering the dialogue--and has two women wearing outfits that show a little too much, though one is only seen from the back.

Moral Content: The scary scenes with the demon would likely frighten younger kids, but those over the age of ten should be okay.  Apostle Peter and the Last Supper has no profanity, zero sexual content, and only slight violence, such as a guard being hit and Malchus' ear being sliced off, the latter of which is mentioned in the Bible (Matthew 26:51; Mark 14:57; Luke 22:50).  This film may not be for the very young, but it's definitely not as hard-edged as To Save a Life (not that it is any better or worse of a film.)

Conclusion: This may not be The Passion of the Christ, but it tells the story of Apostle Peter and Jesus amazingly well.  Fans of the Visual Bible series or the Kendricks' films will definitely enjoy this one.  Like an old-school Biblical epic, this one tells the world's best story quite well.

Score: 4.5/5

23 January 2013

Quickie Book Review: "California Crazy" ("Holly's Heart," No. 5) by Beverly Lewis

Author: Beverly Lewis
Publisher: Bethany House
Originally Published: 1994 (as California Christmas)
Synopsis: Holly-Heart is going insane! Her new younger stepbrothers and stepsister are driving her nuts, and their house isn't big enough to contain all of them.  To get away, she and her younger sister Carrie are visiting their father in California.  Before she leaves, though, formerly girl-crazy Danny, who has a bit of a relationship with Holly, is seen exchanging presents with another girl.  Worse yet, Holly's stepmother seems to be as wicked as the one in Cinderella.  What's a girl to do?

Review: Holiday stories are usually fun, and this one is no exception.  It's still standard fare for the Holly's Heart series, but that's not a bad thing.

Score: 4/5

Book Review: "Hidden in Time" by Michael Phillips

Author: Michael Phillips
Publisher: Tyndale
Published: August 2000
Synopsis: Adam Livingstone, a modern-day "Indiana Jones," and his friends are hot on the trail of the well-known Biblical artifact, the Ark of the Covenant. What he doesn't know is that there are forces of evil who will stop at nothing to ruin him, whether by murdering him or making him claims look like a hoax! Worse yet, upon finding what seems to be the Ark, it turns out to be a replica! Will Adam and friends ever find the real Ark of the Covenant, or will the forces of evil prevail in disproving both him and the Bible?

Story: 4.5/5
This novel reads like an action flick, which is a feat in of itself. Despite its length, it's one of those books that will grip you until the last page. Plenty of suspense, adventure, and peril await you in this book.

Writing: 4/5
What Michael Phillips did well in his previous novel, Rift of Time, he does well again in this sequel. The formatting was a bit choppy--seriously, a prologue before every section?--but it still drew me in.

Conclusion: Michael Phillips is best-known for his historical fiction, but this book proves that he is not a one-trick pony. Those who like reading about Biblical archaeology will definitely enjoy this, though it would help to read the previous novel, Rift of Time, first.

Score: 4.5/5

DVD Season Set Review: "VICTORiOUS": Season One, Volume One

Rated: TV-G
Starring: Victoria Justice, Avan Jogia, and Leon Thomas III
Released: July 2011
Synopsis: Tori Vega's life has changed, big time.  After her sister Trina, who goes to the performing arts high school Hollywood Arts, is unable to perform during a showcase, Tori steps in and floors everyone, and is quickly asked to enroll at her sister's school.  Much to Tori's surprise, both the students and the atmosphere are different from what she is used to.  Not only do students get to decorate their lockers and perform in the hallways, but her classmates are an interesting bunch: the insane redhead, Cat Valentine; the talented performer, André Harris; Miss Negativity, Jade West; her beleaguered significant other, Beck Oliver; the guy who is attached to his puppet, Robbie Shapiro; and all-around weirdo Sinjin.  Together, they get into some crazy adventures, from Beck being cast in a movie with a diva actress, to Robbie's puppet getting accosted, to Tori performing in a play while wearing a zombie mask thanks to Cat's makeup mishap.

Stories: 4.5/5
The stories here are typical for sitcoms of this kind, which usually involve rather unrealistic situations, but are good fun nonetheless.  Still, it seems that the storylines take a back seat to the performances at times.

Production Values: 5/5
Everything in this area is impressive.  Great singing, great acting, great sets...what's not to like? Though there are serious moments, the show mostly aspires to be funny, and it is.

Moral Content: 3.75/5
You'd probably expect this to be squeaky-clean, since it is a Nickelodeon show, but this one isn't quite that way.  There's no profanity, save for one or two misuses of God's name per episode, plus usage of terms such as "sucks," "blows," and "butt."  Sexual content is minimal--the jokes about it are both rare and subtle, not to mention "PG"-level--though some of the outfits (short skirts, off-the-shoulder or low-cut tops, and even a bikini in some of the opening sequences) worn by the young ladies could have been more modest.  Violence is purely slapstick.  On the plus side, the episodes do teach moral points--the wrongness of enacting revenge, looking out for your friends, appreciating who you have in your life, etc.--and that is a very good thing.  Compared to much of what's on the major networks, this one is a winner.

Conclusion: Everyone knows I'm a Victoria Justice fan, but what I'm about to say will surprise you: Upon watching these episodes--mostly for the second or even third time--I realized that they don't hold up to repeat viewings that well.  Sure, everything about them is at least passable, but it just felt slightly lackluster.  If you're new to the world of Tori and friends, I would suggest borrowing this from the library or purchasing an episode or two from iTunes, if you're not able to watch Nickelodeon, before plunking down money to buy this.  Fans will find plenty to like, what with the special features and all, but others should try it out first before buying a whole set of episodes, unless you see it at a yard sale for only a dollar or two.

Score: 3.75/5

22 January 2013

DVD Review: "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes: Volume One: Heroes Assemble!"

Rated: TV-Y7 for fantasy violence
Starring: Eric Loomis, Brian Bloom, and Colleen O'Shaughnessey
Released: 2012
Synopsis: Tony Stark has become Iron Man thanks to advanced technology. Dr. Bruce Banner is now the monstrous Hulk after an experiment gone wrong. Captain America, a hero of the past, is brought back to life through time travel.  Thor hails from the distant world of Asgard.  Hank Pym the entomologist, and his assistant Janet Van Dyne, are now Ant-Man and The Wasp as a result of Pym's scientific smarts.  Despite their different backgrounds and abilities, the world needs them to come together, because forces of evil bent on world destruction can't be stopped by anyone else...

Stories: 4/5
The superhero yarns spun in this set are mostly amazing; they're definitely more convoluted than I expected for a half-hour Saturday morning cartoon.  I can't comment on how true they are to the comics, but, from the first episode, it had me hooked.  Where it falters a bit is the "Meet Captain America" episode, which had by far the poorest storyline in the set.

Production Values: 5/5
The animation and action are spot-on! I was surprised how intense these episodes were.  When I watched "Breakout: Part Two," I was saying, "Dang!" every minute or so because of the sheer intensity.  Even the character of Tony Stark looks and sounds just like Robert Downey, Jr., though he does not reprise his blockbuster role here.  This is definitely a treat for superhero fans such as myself.

Moral Content: 3.5/5
This is where this set falters a bit.  Some of the moral problems that plagued last year's top-grossing film--profanity, drug references, blood--are nowhere to be seen here, which is a good thing.  Unfortunately, the violence is quite intense, possibly too much for those around eight or nine years old.  One scene shows Thor using his hammer to knock a monster's tooth out.  Another implies insects tearing up people, though no blood, gore, or carnage is seen.  Also, some of the women in this set, including superheroine The Wasp, wear revealing clothing.  Preteens, teens, and adults probably won't have any problems with anything in this set, but anyone younger might be freaked out by certain scenes.

Conclusion: Until recently, I hadn't watched a Saturday morning series since Yu-Gi-Oh! in 2005, but the DVD set of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made me want to check out other animated programs about superheroes.  Though definitely for an older age group than its "TV-Y7" rating would imply, these are well-made, action-packed, decidedly intense cartoons that definitely deserve a look from fans of movies such as The Avengers, Spider-Man 2, and The Dark Knight.  You may avoid it because you think it's "kiddie," but I'll be the first to tell you that, by doing so, you're seriously missing out.

Score: 4.25/5

Quickie Book Review: "The Trouble With Weddings" ("Holly's Heart," No. 4) by Beverly Lewis

Author: Beverly Lewis
Publisher: Bethany House
Published: 1993
Synopsis: Love is in the air for teenager Holly Meredith's mom; Holly's Uncle Jack, the widower of her paternal Aunt Marla, has professed his love to Mommy Meredith, and a wedding is sure to ensue. However, Holly is facing other issues: Her cousin Stan is now her classmate, and all the girls at school, including her BFF Andie, are fawning over him. She has to call it quits with her "boyfriend," Danny. However, most shocking of all is when a jerk from Holly's past has seemingly turned over a new leaf...

Review: Yet another book in the Holly's Heart series, this one brings some surprising developments, and brings back the spirit of the first two novels. There's not much more I can say other than that.

Score: 4/5

19 January 2013

Book Review: "Sealed With a Kiss" ("Holly's Heart," No. 3) by Beverly Lewis

Author: Beverly Lewis
Publisher: Bethany House
Published: 1993
Synopsis: Holly Meredith's life is a huge mess. Her mother wants to marry Mr. Tate, and uproot Holly and her younger sister Carrie in the process. Holly's pen pal Lucas believes that she is an adult and a published author; how will he react if he finds out she is actually a twelve-year-old girl? To complicate matters even further, Holly's mother is getting letters from some admirer, and neither she nor Mr. Tate are too happy about it. There's some very big surprises on the way for Holly-Heart...

Review: Usually, when I get into a series like this, my reviews say something to the effect of, "If you liked the previous books, you'll like ________...but, if you didn't, then you won't." That's also true with this novel...but it's slightly inferior to the others because of one part. One of the big surprises--hey, I'm not giving it away!--is talked about in a beat-around-the-bush way that sounds silly, even though pretty much anyone reading it would understand the meaning. That, in my opinion, is the lowest point of the series so far...but it's definitely not a "jump the shark" moment. I plan on continuing the series, as it makes for great reading material for a twenty-four-year-old kid like me.

Score: 3.75/5

18 January 2013

Book Review: "Angel" ("Maximum Ride," No. 7) by James Patterson

Author: James Patterson
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
Published: February 2011
Synopsis: Maximum Ride, the leader of a group of mutant bird kids, has been informed of an upcoming apocalypse, and that she and her kind will likely be among the few to survive. Worse yet, a mad scientist from Max's past wants her to lead other surviving genetically mutated kids after it hits. After meeting some of her potential underlings, Max and crew discover that the other kids have been sucked into the propaganda of The Doomsday Group, which has a dangerous hidden agenda. Will Max and her friends be able to stop the Doomsdayers and save the world?

Story: 4.5/5
As usual for James Patterson's Maximum Ride series, this is another hero-versus-villain yarn that works quite well.  Action-packed at times, dramatic at others, it really draws you in, and is a true page-turner.

Writing: 4/5
Much discussion has been made about the writings of James Patterson, who is easily one of today's most prolific authors.  While he has legions of readers, some critics, such as horror writer Stephen King, are not fans of Mr. Patterson's works.  While I can't compare this to Mr. Patterson's Alex Cross or Women's Murder Club series, only because I've never read them, I found the writing great, with a dash of humor thrown in via Max's narration.  It was slightly awkward to switch from a first-person to third-person perspective, but it was also necessary to the story.

Content: 4/5
The violence is very much like that of a comic book movie, with no blood or gore, though there are some implied deaths.  No profanity, save for the usage of the acronym "WTH".  Sexual content is limited to kissing and one stray crude reference.  There is absolutely zero drug or alcohol usage, and only a tiny amount of bathroom humor.  Where the book falters slightly is with the storyline.  The Doomsday Group, who are the main villains in Angel, talk about a world ending event in a few days where "everyone will be in the arms of Mother Earth."  That sounds like a cult, but it could be interpreted as a slam against Christians who have claimed to know the date of Jesus' return, only to be proved wrong.  Not knowing where Mr. Patterson stands religiously, it would be hard to determine his true intent.  If that doesn't bother you, then there's little offensive content, though I wouldn't recommend it to those younger than "tween" age because of the violence.

Conclusion: I first found out about James Patterson's Maximum Ride series thanks to an Amazon.com recommendation after reviewing the first Alex Rider novel.  After reading the premiere book, The Angel Experiment, I devoured every other available entry in the series.  Prior to reading Angel today, I hadn't visited the series in a while, but, now, I am eager to read the finale, Nevermore. Even if you haven't liked other "young adult" novels, this series is a bit different, as far as content goes.

Score: 4/5

15 January 2013

Book Review: "The Spell" ("Forbidden Doors," No. 3) by Bill Myers

Author: Bill Myers
Publisher: Zondervan 
Published: 1995 
Synopsis: Christian teenager Becka Williams has barely returned from an extended stay in the hospital when she gets a mysterious phone call. The person on the other end simply says, "The spell has been cast. Your destiny belongs to me." Becka, her younger brother Scott, and their mother are rather unnerved...but matters go from bad to worse when a local church gets vandalized, and it appears that the vandals were targeting her! Who could be behind such a terrible act? Will Becka and her family stop the attempt on her life before it's too late?

Story: 4.5/5
Now that I'm somewhat well into the series, the characters' identities and backstories have become more familiar. With no need for setup, Bill Myers gets right into the drama and intensity, and, boy, is it riveting, as well as appropriately frightening.

Writing: 4/5
Bill Myers' writing is great, as usual, but this loses at least half of a point because of some rather egregious typos. Still, Mr. Myers has always had a way with words, and it's novels like this that prove it.

Conclusion: Bill Myers has delivered once again. If you've read other books of his and enjoyed them, you should definitely read this, even if you're not in the "young adult" age group. The Forbidden Doors series definitely isn't kid stuff, but, for teens and adults, this is definitely worth reading.

Score: 4/5

14 January 2013

Book Review: "Secret Summer Dreams" ("Holly's Heart", No. 2) by Beverly Lewis

IMPORTANT: Starting with this review, I will no longer be doing an assessment of "moral content" in my reviews of Christian media such as this, unless it has a concern I find significant enough to mention.  I have also changed the format a bit; look at this post compared to the others, and you'll see.  Now, on with the review:

Synopsis: Holly Meredith wants nothing more than to visit her father, whom she hasn't seen since her parents divorced years ago.  Unfortunately, her mother isn't too keen on the idea, and neither is her best friend Andie.  Worse yet, Holly's mom now seems to be romantically involved with a guy named Mr. Tate, whose son Zachary is continually blowing chowder.  Will Holly get to visit Daddy-O? What's wrong with little Zachary? And, more importantly, will Holly-Heart have to get used to a new stepfather?

Story: 4/5
As she did in the first Holly's Heart book, Beverly Lewis spins a good tween-centric yarn about a preteen's struggles.  It's so short that it feels like a television episode, but, as someone who grew up watching more sitcoms than movies, it's right up my alley.

Writing: 4/5
Again, this is right on par with the premiere novel in the series, which isn't a bad thing.  It's easy to read, easy to follow, easy to understand, and appropriate for its audience; those are all the signs of good writing.

Conclusion: As a twenty-four-year-old kid at heart, I am really enjoying this series.  Fans of "tween" entertainment such as Lizzie McGuire or iCarly will definitely find plenty to love about Holly-Heart and her friends and family.

Score: 4/5

13 January 2013

Book Review: "The Deceived" ("Forbidden Doors", No. 2) by Bill Myers

Author: Bill Myers
Publisher: Zondervan
Year Published: 1994 
Synopsis: Rebecca Williams and her new friend Ryan attend a seminar at the library where a guy discusses reincarnation, and claims to be Napoleon Bonaparte resurrected. Worse yet, the guy has a date with her mother! Becka's younger brother Scott knows how much danger they're in--he has experienced it himself--so, it's solely up to him to save them. Will he convince them of their wrongs, or will they simply refuse to listen?

Story: 4/5
What Bill Myers has done in previous novels, he continues to do well here.  Just like The Society, this is a fast-paced novel that delves into spiritual warfare.  Whether or not you agree with Mr. Myers' portrayal, you can't help but be riveted by it.

Writing: 5/5
Excellently written, as usual for Bill Myers.  I felt like I was there.

Moral Content: 3.5/5
Spiritual warfare is a scary thing to even think about, so, it's no surprise that this novel has some frightening moments.  What makes this even scarier than the premiere book in the series is a scene where demonic powers are used to hurt an animal.  Hypnotism is used for evil purposes in this story, but it is mentioned that opinions on such a practice are split; depending on your experiences with it, you may agree or disagree with the book's claims.

Conclusion: Add this to the long list of Bill Myers' masterworks; seriously, he is one of the best Christian authors of our time, and it's books like this that prove it.

Score: 4/5 

Book Review: "Best Friend, Worst Enemy" ("Holly's Heart," No. 1) by Beverly Lewis

Author: Beverly Lewis
Publisher: Bethany House
Published: 1993 (as Holly's First Love), 2001 (retitled edition), 2008  (revised edition)
Synopsis: Holly Meredith, aka Holly-Heart, has fallen in love for the first time...but Andie, her longtime best friend, has fallen for the same guy!  When their mutual crush starts to come between them, Holly begins to notice how friendly the object of her infatuation is with every young lady he meets...but Andie refuses to accept the truth.  Will the two friends ever reconcile matters? Will the casanova be exposed for what he really is?

Story: 4/5
Such a plot has been seen before, but, really, are there any storylines these days that are even close to being new?  The tween drama actually isn't over the top or annoying, as it would be in some cases. (As Told By Ginger, anyone?)  The fact that Christian elements are brought into the mix makes matters even better.

Writing: 4.5/5
Easy to read, easy to understand, easy to follow, and appropriate for its intended audience.  What more could you ask for?

Moral Content: 5/5
This book may be about a girl who is nearly thirteen years of age, but it's as squeaky clean as an episode of Lizzie McGuire; so much so that it would even be appropriate for pretty much anyone who is old enough to read it.  However, I doubt most young guys would enjoy something like this, though I did.

Conclusion: After blowing through the Sierra Jensen and Christy Miller series, I needed another one to enjoy, and, between this one and Bill Myers' Forbidden Doors, I've found two!  Seriously, I'm excited to read all of the following volumes; look for the reviews soon!

Score: 4/5

Book Review: "The Society" ("Forbidden Doors," No. 1) by Bill Myers

Author: Bill Myers
Publisher: Zondervan
Year Published: 1994 
Synopsis: Rebecca and Scott Williams are two Christian teenage siblings who lived in the jungles of Brazil with their mother and missionary pilot father. However, their dad's death--the cause of which still isn't certain--forced them to relocate to California and enroll in a public school, where they are largely treated as outcasts...until Scott meets a group of kids who hang out at a place known as the Bookshop, and happen to be into the Occult and use Ouija boards to communicate with dead people. Scott knows this is wrong...until he tests it out, and ends up "talking" with his father. Will Scott give up his long-held faith, or realize the error of his ways before it's too late?

Story: 4/5
Though I'm not 100% sure spiritual warfare is quite like this book describes it, Bill Myers has crafted a great yarn that reads like the series premiere of a well-made television show.  It wouldn't work as a standalone novel, but, as the first "episode" in a twelve-part series, this is great stuff indeed.

Writing: 5/5
This is where the book really shines.  Sure, the novel is short--only around a hundred pages--but it is very involving; so much so, it kept me on the edge of my seat.  Of course, that's to be expected from Bill Myers, who is one of my favorite writers because of both his command of the art of storytelling and his way with words.

Moral Content: 4/5
Spiritual warfare is a concept that young kids would likely have trouble understanding, which is why the Forbidden Doors series is written for teens.  There are some scary sequences involving demons, which is to be expected, but things never get horribly violent.  Still, über-sensitive teens and adults, or ones who are regularly prone to nightmares, might want to skip this one.

Conclusion: I've read a lot of Bill Myers' works before, from his Fire of Heaven trilogy to Eli to even a few Wally McDoogle books, so you could say that I'm a fan of his.  It's hard to say which one is his best, but The Society is really great.  I'm definitely going to keep reading the series.

Score: 4.5/5

12 January 2013

Book Review: "Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Devil's Heart" by Carmen Carter

Author: Carmen Carter
Publisher: Pocket Books
Year Published: 1993
Synopsis: The Devil's Heart. Some say it is a talisman; others say it is an artifact from an extinct society; still others say it gives its possessor the ability to control others' minds, to amass great wealth, raise the dead, or other miraculous acts.  However, the fabled gem has never been actually seen...until now.  Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise respond to a distress call, only to find a destroyed outpost and a Vulcan archaeologist who says the Devil's Heart has been found just before she dies.  The captain than takes the Heart for his own...but it ends up affecting him for the worse.  Will Picard's crew convince him to rid himself of it, or will he be under the Heart's influence forever?

Story: 4/5
I have to say, the premise is pretty intriguing, and Carmen Carter seems to make it work rather well.  There's really not much else to say other than that.

Writing: 3/5
Though this book has a great storyline, reading it felt a bit lackluster.  I finished it, but I had to push myself slightly to do so.  Since the Star Trek novels are written by countless different authors, some are bound to be inferior in writing style to others, and this happens to be one of them.  Still, it's not as terrible as some other books that I've read.

Moral Content: 4/5
The Star Trek movies aren't as squeaky clean as the Star Wars films--the former usually have more profanity and sexual content than the latter--so, it's only natural that the books would follow suit.  Still, compared to some other Trek novels, this one is a bit restrained.  No sexual content, just a small amount of blood and gore, and only around ten or so profanities.  I'd recommend this to preteens and teens not only because of the content, but because the concepts would be a bit much for younger kids to understand.

Conclusion: It's been a while since I've read a Star Trek novel, but this one did feel slightly lackluster.  Still, Trekkies will find plenty to like about this one.  If you're looking for an introduction to the Trek novels, though, you should start off with something by Diane Carey, Diane Duane, John Vornholt, or Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, who are--in my opinion--the best writers of Gene Roddenberry's space opera.  Experienced Trek readers will enjoy The Devil's Heart.

Score: 3.5/5

Movie Review: "Elle: A Modern Cinderella Tale"

Rated: G for general audiences Starring: Ashlee Hewitt, Sterling Knight, and Kiely Williams
Year Released: 2010
Synopsis: Elle Daniels (Ashlee Hewitt) is living with her Uncle Owen (Thomas Calabro) after her parents died in a plane crash six months ago. However, Owen happens to be an executive at Spun Records, which would be great...if it weren't for their biggest act, Sensation, a female pop trio who use Elle as their slave. Elle herself dreams of having a singing career, and has the talent for it, but lacks the courage to try out for a scholarship at a performing arts college. Mega-star Ty Parker (Sterling Knight, StarStruck) wants a contract with Spun Records, and is offered a duet with British star Kandi Kane (Kiely Williams, The Cheetah Girls)...but, when he meets Elle, who has had a crush on him for years, she pretends to be Kandi! Ty knows that the girl, whoever she is, was meant to be his duet partner...but will he ever find her?

Story: 4/5
The whole Cinderella thing has been done numerous times; even the original Cinderella Story movie with Hilary Duff had two sequels, one with Selena Gomez (Wizards of Waverly Place), the other with Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars).  Still, as King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, "There is nothing new under the sun," so it's not really a problem that many movies take their cue from classic stories, including fairy tales.  It's not very original, but the cast and crew make it work pretty well.

Production Values: 3.5/5
Though this isn't a high-budget production, the cast and crew do pretty well; still, the lack of money is evident at times.  Some of the performances aren't that great; Shawn-Caulin Young's portrayal of the goofy, dimwitted coffee-shop guy was a bit over the top.  Where the movie really shines is the music; there isn't a bad performance to be seen.

Moral Content: 4.5/5
A "G" rating is a good sign of family-friendliness, and this movie definitely has it.  There's little, if any, profane language; no drug use; and, the only violence is slapstick comedy.  However, it foibles a bit in the realm of sexual content...but only a bit.  Some of the outfits worn by female characters--including Kandi, the lead girl from Sensation, and even Elle--show a bit of skin.  Other than that, there's nothing worse than kissing.

Conclusion: Music-based kiddie entertainment is everywhere these days, and Elle is a good example of it.  Frankly, this movie isn't something you or your kids will want to watch again and again; it has a very telefilm feel to it, as if it was meant to be watched only once and then forgotten.  Still, compared to much of the entertainment directed at children and teens these days, Elle is far more morally sound.  This would make a good rental for a family movie night, but that's about it.

Final Score: 3.5/5

11 January 2013

Album Review: "Victorious 2.0: More Music from the Hit TV Show"

Artists Featured: Victoria Justice, Leon Thomas III, Elizabeth Gillies, and Matt Bennett
Number of Tracks: 6 (+1 bonus track on iTunes)
Year Released: 2012 
Synopsis: The kids at Hollywood Arts High School are at it again! Tori Vega and her classmates Jade West, André Harris, and Robbie Shapiro belt out a few more tunes with just as much energy and talent as they had the first go-round.

Production Values: 4/5
Technically, this isn't an album; it's an EP, which stands for "extended play," though it is actually shorter than the previous VICTORiOUS album, so I have no idea how the play time would be extended.  Still, what Victoria and crew did well before, they continue to excel at here.  The catchy pop numbers, especially "Take a Hint," are amazing musically.  Where the EP fails a bit is with the slower songs; "Countdown" isn't that great, and "I Think You're Swell," though not as annoying as Matt Bennett's previous song, is probably the low spot on the album, music-wise.  Still, no song is below mediocre quality.

Moral Content: 4.2/5
Let's do this track by track:
  1. "Make It in America" -- Another song becoming famous, the only offensive part being when Tori sings, "I wanna show some skin!" 3.5/5
  2. "Take a Hint" -- A female empowerment anthem where two young ladies openly refuse to be patronized by jerk guys.  In a time where violence towards women is rampant, such a song is a good thing, though young kids might not understand it.  As explicit as it gets is when Tori and Jade sing, "Stop your staring at my--HEY!" 3.5/5
  3. "Shut Up and Dance" -- Nothing worse than the usage of the phrase "shut up." 4.5/5
  4. "5 Fingas to the Face" -- A silly hip-hop-style track; the title is a reference to being smacked, but the song explains it as being directed towards a jerk who wants to win a woman using money.  Still, the meaning is lost within the presentation of the song. 4/5
  5. "Countdown" -- An honest, clean love song. 5/5
  6. "Don't You Forget About Me" -- A cover of the Simple Minds hit; completely innocuous. 5/5
  7. "I Think You're Swell" -- The guy who sung about broken glass on the last album now tries his hand at a love song, though some of his analogies fail ("You're my mother; I'm your father!").  The closest it comes to offensive territory is when Matt/Robbie sings, "You’re the Father and Ghost; I’m baby Jesus in the manger," which is just as silly as the rest of the song. 4.5/5
Conclusion: The cast of VICTORiOUS is full of talented young people, and this album has some good spots...but it's the worst of the three.  Those unfamiliar with the music of Tori and crew should check out their debut album first, or even their next and final album (VICTORiOUS 3.0 - Even More Music from the Hit TV Show), both of which are better than this one.  Every musical group or artists hits a rough patch at some point; this is theirs.

Final Score: 3.5/5

Album Review: "VICTORiOUS: Music from the Hit TV Show"

Artists Featured: Victoria Justice, Leon Thomas III, Ariana Grande, Elizabeth Gillies, Matt Bennett, and Miranda Cosgrove
Number of Tracks: 12 (+1 bonus track on iTunes)
Year Released: 2011 
Synopsis: VICTORiOUS is a teen sitcom about a bunch of kids at a performing arts high school, so, it's only natural that there would be a soundtrack featuring various members of the cast.  Though frontwoman Victoria Justice, for whom the show was both named and designed, appears in nearly every track, other cast members, as well as iCarly star Miranda Cosgrove, contribute as well.

Production Values: 4.2/5
Many of the songs on here are amazing musically!  However, the album falters a bit sonically when it comes to "Leave It All to Shine" (a mash-up of the VICTORiOUS and iCarly theme songs) and especially Matt Bennett's "Broken Glass," which is an iTunes-only bonus track and by far the worst on the album.  Those missteps aside, the music is great.

Moral Content: 4/5
Let's run this down track by track:
  1. "Make It Shine" -- A song about finding fame; pretty much innocuous. 5/5
  2. "Freak the Freak Out" -- A girl wants her boyfriend to pay attention to her.  Contains an euphemism for a profanity, as seen in the title...but that's about as bad as it gets. 4/5
  3. "Best Friend's Brother" -- A girl has a crush on her BFF's sibling; again, pretty much innocuous. 5/5
  4. "Beggin' On Your Knees" -- A young lady is upset because her boyfriend cheated on her; her plans for him are unclear, though she says, "I'll make sure you get what you deserve!" A bit angsty, but less egregious than Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats". 4/5
  5. "All I Want is Everything" -- Depending on how you look at this song, it could be interpreted as an expression of a "gimme, gimme" attitude--"All I want is everything; too much is not enough!"--or a song about living your life to its fullest, a la Bon Jovi's "It's My Life" ("I may not dance like M.J., R.I.P., but I will give the best of me!" "We'll sleep when we're dead, 'cause halfway kinda sucks!"). 3.5/5
  6. "You're the Reason" -- A sweet song dedicated to a certain someone: Best friend? Significant other? Parent? Sibling? Not exactly clear, but, lyrically, one of the high points of the album. 5/5
  7. "Give It Up" -- Probably the album's lowest point lyrics wise.  Two girls talk about whipping a boy into shape, and mention "a game that we play at the end of the night," which borders on innuendo. 2/5
  8. "I Want You Back" -- A cover of the Jackson 5 classic; unless anything related to the King of Pop freaks you out, there's nothing offensive here. 5/5
  9. "Song to You" -- A sweet, innocent love song. 5/5
  10. "Tell Me That You Love Me" -- Same as above. 5/5
  11. "Finally Falling" -- Again, same as above. 5/5
  12. "Leave It All to Shine" -- A bit nonsensical, since two different songs are mixed together, but neither have any moral problems. 5/5
  13. "Broken Glass" (iTunes only) -- A dumb attempt at "Weird Al"-style humor, coming from VICTORiOUS' idiot character, but nothing more offensive than a reference to bleeding after cutting yourself on glass, which is meant as a joke, just like the rest of the song. 4/5
Conclusion: Many of the songs on this Nickelodeon soundtrack are great, but there are times where it falters, both in the sound and the message.  Discerning listeners would probably want to stick to individual downloads from Amazon MP3 or iTunes, if only to avoid the trouble spots.

Final Score: 4/5

10 January 2013

DVD Season Set Review: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fast Forward: The Day of Awakening"

Rated: TV-Y7 for fantasy violence
Starring: Mike Sinterniklaas, Wayne Grayson, and Sam Riegel
Year Released: 2007
Synopsis: Those infamous turtles--Michaelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, and Leonardo--have gotten zapped into the year 2105, but, as the theme song says, "The more things change, the more they stay the same!" Though new technology abounds, the villains are as cunning as ever, and only four mutant reptiles, as well as their new friend Cody and his robot servant Serling, are all that are standing in the way of the bad guys wreaking all sorts of havoc.

Story: 4.5/5
As a superhero lover, I couldn't help but "geek out" with this series.  Sure, we know the Turtles will always win, but each episode's yarn is so involving that I just had to see it through.  The only complaint in that area is that some storylines felt slightly rushed because of the singular-episode time constraint. 

Production Values: 4.9/5
This was really surprising.  After sitting through some badly made modern television cartoons, such as Codename: Kids Next Door and the original version of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, having a modern Saturday morning animated program with animation and graphics this amazing was simply flooring.  Not only that, but the action was very frenetic, even on the small screen of my iPod touch; "Turtle X-Tinction" was especially good on that front.  The voice actors all did a wonderful job, as well.  In fact, the only reason I can't give a perfect rating in this section is because the otherwise wonderful animation had a rough spot or two, which is unfortunate.

Moral Content: 4/5
As Saturday morning fare, you'd probably expect this to be kid-friendly, and it is...for the most part.  Though the "fantasy violence" mentioned in the TV rating is seen throughout every episode, there is zero blood or gore to be seen, and only one character--not a hero--actually dies.  You also won't find one bit of sexual content, and drug use is limited to seeing bad guys hanging out at bars.  However, there is a bit of bathroom humor--which young boys will probably laugh at--and, the biggest caveat, some language issues.  You won't hear any actual profanity, but hearing the Turtles use the word "shell" as an expletive--i.e., "Let's get the shell outta here!"--is rather unnecessary.  Also, some of the monsters might scare younger children; one episode that involves a baddie inflicting a virus that turns people into hideous beings could freak some kids out. On the positive side, certain episodes illustrate positive moral concepts such as loving your enemies, forgiving others, and sacrificing yourself, and Splinter, the Turtles' mutant rat leader, shared some very wise sayings.

Conclusion: Frankly, when I saw this DVD at a local yard sale, I had no idea why I was buying it; now, I believe it was divine intervention, because it has officially made a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan out of me.  The first episode drew me in so much that I finished the series in a mere twenty-two days, even watching it on my iPad and iPod Touch while en route to work and during my breaks to get it finished.  I've really got to find other DVD season sets of this series; my one complaint is that I was missing this amazing series this whole time.

Final Score: 4.6/5

DVD Season Set Review: "Walk on Water": The Complete First Season

Rated: Unrated
Starring: Brianne Blowers, Dustin Dailey, and Jessica Rowe

Year Released: 2009
Synopsis: These kids may have just finished high school, but, boy, does the summer before college have plenty in store for them! Jenna is planning on living with her boyfriend Lance for a while, but his gambling addiction and their personality conflicts cause serious clashes.  Tina's single father has serious problems with alcoholism, and he absolutely refuses to get help.  Lilly, a committed Christian, is trying to help her friends do the right thing, but even she is in for a shock when a guy from her past unveils a disturbing secret...

Story: 4/5
Though the whole "fresh out of high school" plot has been done numerous times before, Walk on Water makes it work well.  Lilly's character--a beleaguered Christian who is trying her hardest to steer her friends in the right direction--is actually pretty admirable, and one to whom many of us can relate.  The predicaments of each character are easy to follow, but it is disappointing that one character doesn't reach redemption or even make much change at all by season's end.

Production Values: 3/5
The video quality may not be the best, but Walk on Water is actually somewhat well-acted.  A climactic scene in the penultimate episode nearly made me jump out of my seat, and most of the actors did moderately well.  However, this is definitely not a high-budget production; the cast and crew obviously used their own cars, houses, church building, etc., as the sets.  The lack of high-end production didn't make it unwatchable, though.   Some other minor issues--a humorous parody scene in the first episode that went on too long, for example--only detracted slightly.  The most annoying things are the "coming up" scenes before commercial breaks, which should have been cut for this DVD edition and are strangely absent in the later episodes.

Moral Content: 3.5/5
Since all of the primary characters in Walk on Water are young adults, it's only natural that this drama series would feature issues that real-life rising college freshmen face: premarital sex, unplanned pregnancy, drunkenness, sudden illness, gambling addiction, drug use, and plenty more.  That may sound sinful, but that's exactly the point; those are vilified for the sins that they are.  Still, such themes, and some usage of euphemisms such as "flippin'," "crap," "that bites," not to mention a few misuses of God's name, make this inappropriate for the younger crowd.

Conclusion: I'll admit that this series took me a while to get through; I started it in October while having little to do thanks to renovations going on at our house, but was surprised at how much I liked it...only to have just finished it earlier today, a few months after beginning.  It's pretty enjoyable, despite its flaws, but it's not likely something I'll be watching again.  Fans of Christian-themed television shows will likely enjoy Walk on Water, but probably should only rent it.

Final Score: 3.5/5

09 January 2013

Movie Review: "More Winners: The Journey"

Rated: Unrated
Starring: Christen Cornell, Jim Webb, and John Polson
Year Released: 1990
Synopsis: Another film from a DVD multi-pack, The Journey is an Australian-produced short film where a sorceress entrances a young girl to kill her best friend.  While the two young gal pals are out together, they end up meeting a couple of scalawags and find out a shocking secret that alarms both of them.

Story: 2/5
Though the basic plot is easy to follow, the movie delves into a bit of nonsense in its mere forty-eight minutes; so much so that the "big reveal" at the end simply feels forced.  Other events are simply not explained; they just seem to happen without any rhyme or reason.

Production Values: 2.5/5
The actors are good, no question, and the special effects are decent, considering that this is a telefilm from over two decades ago.  However, the video was a bit fuzzy, and badly needed remastering.

Moral Content: 1.5/5
This is where the movie really fails.  Not only is the main plot device one of murder, but the attempted stabbings and drowning, plus the references to sorcery and fortune telling, make this definitely inappropriate for youngsters.  Also, seeing a witches' brew made out of worms, frogs, and other unappetizing this is just disgusting.

Final Score: 1.5/5
Frankly, I was just thankful this film was only forty-eight minutes.  It's definitely one I won't be watching again, and I can't recommend it unless you're absolutely desperate for a Halloween-themed movie night.  I can only hope that the other films in the multi-packs I got are better than this one.

Movie Review: "Spin"

Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements and some violent images
Starring: Ryan Merriman, Paula Garces, and Stanley Tucci
Year Released: 2003
I stumbled upon this movie as part of a twelve-film "Family Movie Marathon," which had various flicks from the past few decades all in one package.  It's actually the first one from that set that I've watched, and I saw the entire thing on my iPad.  How was it? Well, let's get to the review:

Story: 2.5/5
Though the story was uplifting and full of positive messages--more on that later--it did seem to drag a bit.  The pace picked up slightly in the finale, but it took forever to get to that point.  Still, the movie weaved a good yarn, one that kept me engrossed enough to watch it all in one day, which I rarely do with any movie.

Production Values: 5/5
This is where the movie excels.  The entire cast, from Ryan Merriman (The Luck of the Irish) as the main character, to Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada) as his beleagured uncle, did amazingly well.  The sets and cinematography were also great; I really felt like I was there, with the people on the screen.  A decent soundtrack only augmented the experience.

Moral Content: 3.5/5
Compared to other "PG-13" flicks, this deserves a higher score, but I have to use my own standards, not the MPAA's.  There were about ten or so profanities, and sexual content was limited to passionate kissing and seeing guys shirtless in a locker room, both of which are surprisingly restrained for a film with this rating.  Unfortunately, smoking and especially alcoholism were seen throughout, though the latter was vilified, which is good.  The "violent images" involve blood being used as ink for a message--mostly implied--and a creepy scene implying a suicide, though that was mild compared to the average "M"-rated video game.  However, the themes are definitely not for children, so I'd suggest taking the "PG-13" seriously.

Final Score: 3/5
I probably won't be watching it again, but Spin was a great film for one viewing.  Flight enthusiasts or die-hard fans of teen-centric dramas will likely watch this one again and again, but others should just stick with a rental.  Those looking for some entertainment for a night could do much worse than Spin.

08 January 2013

Review: The "Christy Miller" Series by Robin Jones Gunn

This may not sound like something a guy who is nearly a quarter-century old would normally read, but, I usually enjoy teen-centric entertainment; after all, most of my favorite shows are on Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel.  Robin Jones Gunn has a companion series, Sierra Jensen, that I pretty much blew through last year, so, I figured, why not give this one a try?  What did I think? Well, let's get into the categorical assessment:

Story: 4/5
The title character finds herself in various adventures and predicaments, between friend dramas, relationship issues, and emergency situations, but, like a good television series, it keeps you interested episode after episode.  The only qualm I have with the story is that the ending is a bit pat, but I won't give away the details for those who haven't read it.

Writing: 4.5/5
Mrs. Gunn's writing is, for the most part, superb.  There is an awkward moment here and there, but it doesn't detract from the experience any.

Moral Content: 4/5
Though this is a Christian book series, it deals with some serious issues that teens face, such as drunkenness, abstinence until marriage, etc.  That makes it inappropriate for younger kids, but tweens and teens should be fine.  As you'd expect, there isn't any profanity, and as violent as it gets is a scene where a young man dies as a result of drinking alcohol, which is used as a moral lesson.

Robin Jones Gunn has written a wonderful twelve-book series here.  Aside from the above qualms, there's really nothing that I didn't like about it.  Those who enjoy Christian "young adult" fiction, whether they are within the target age or not, will find plenty to like about the tales of Christy, Katie, Todd, Doug, and friends.

Score: 4.5/5