Focus on the Family


An Echo in the Darkness

A book review for parents

This historical fiction book is the second in the "Mark of the Lion" series by Francine Rivers and is published by Tyndale House Publishers.

An Echo in the Darkness is written for kids ages 18 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


After being thrown to lions in a Roman arena, Hadassah's life is miraculously spared by a young physician named Alexander. Though the doctor nurses her back to health, Hadassah has deep scars on her face and body from the lions' attacks, so she wears veils to cover the scars. Hadassah begins helping Alexander with his medical practice, and because she ministers to both people's bodies and soul, she quickly becomes known as Rapha, a Hebrew word for healer. In the meantime, Marcus Valerian believes Hadassah has been dead for a year, and he is troubled by the memories of her faith in God that led to her death. Searching for answers, Marcus leaves Ephesus on a trip to Hadassah's homeland of Judea. Back in Ephesus, Julia Valerian faces a terminal illness, and when Julia calls for Alexander and his infamous Rapha, Hadassah finds herself back in the Valerian household. Without revealing her true identity, Hadassah feels called to return to her former mistress, and she offers to serve Julia until her death. Eventually, Marcus returns home from his travels as a new believer in Christ, and now Hadassah must decide whether or not she will reveal her identity — and her scars — to the man she loves.



Christian Beliefs


The message of forgiveness is central to the novel. While Hadassah could be angry about her scars, she believes in God's faithfulness and forgives Julia Valerian for sending her to the lions, even humbly serving Julia in her illness. Hadassah shares her faith with all of Alexander's patients, and she gives God glory for any physical or spiritual healing that results. Phoebe Valerian, a new Christian, also shares the love of Christ by tirelessly providing for the poor and needy of Ephesus. When Phoebe is eventually struck with paralysis, she prays earnestly for the salvation of her children. As an answer to Hadassah and Phoebe's prayers, Marcus meets Christ on his journey to Judea through the Bible stories of a Jewish family and the realization that his soul yearns for God above all else.



Authority Roles


Before trusting in Christ, Marcus claims that Rome "shows the world that life is what man makes of it" and believes that the Roman Empire has ultimate authority. Julia Valerian consistently rebels against authority and longs to regain control of her own life, stating that no one has the right to tell her what to do. Hadassah, on the other hand, believes that God has ultimate authority, and she refuses to accept any praise for herself, instead directing others to turn to the Lord. When Hadassah feels God asking her to return as a servant to Julia Valerian, she humbly submits to the call and tirelessly serves her dying mistress.



Other Belief Systems


The belief in Greek and Roman gods and goddesses can be seen throughout the book. Marcus' friend Antigonus worships Fortuna, the god of fortune, while the entire city of Ephesus devotes itself to the Greek god Artemis and his temple, the Artemision. Julia visits the temple of the god Asklepios and pays a fee to bathe in the healing waters, trying to rid herself of illness. Calabah tells Julia that she is her own god and must not be trying hard enough, or she would simply heal herself. Julia recants by saying she has been to every temple and prayed to every god possible. Judaism is also explained in the book, and some of the Jewish characters face the choice of going against their Jewish faith to accept Christ as the Messiah. Finally, an Arab man who works with Alexander and Hadassah worships Siva.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The word whore appears once and harlot appears twice, while profanity is implied but not stated in other instances. D--nable is used once. Drunkenness is depicted in several scenes, and during one drunken stupor, Julia hurls insults and accusations at other characters.

In the Roman arena, lions kill and eat people for sport, including a little girl. The practice of vivisection, or medically operating on barely living people, is described, and a doctor recommends euthanasia when Phoebe suffers a stroke and ends up with paralysis. When Hadassah's friend Rashid suspects that Marcus had a part in Hadassah's being thrown to the lions, he attacks Marcus in the street as a threat and punishment. Marcus also is robbed, stripped and left for dead on the side of the road on his way to Judea.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


The sensuality of Roman culture is accurately depicted when Antigonus kisses a dancing girl and then tries to forcibly make love to her. There are several references to nakedness, promiscuity and temple prostitution. Homosexuality is implied when Calabah kisses Julia on the mouth, and Julia claims that Calabah is her lover. The word "catamite" appears, in reference to one young boy who was formerly the lover of an older man. Abortion is mentioned when Alexander thinks he must kill a baby in order to save the mother's life, but Hadassah's intervention spares the operation and the baby is born healthy and alive.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Note:
Francine Rivers is the winner of the Rita Award, the Christy Award, the Holt Medallion in honor of literary talent, and the ECPA Gold Medallion. She has been inducted into the Romance Writers' of America Hall of Fame. An Echo in the Darkness is a bestseller.


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Eclipse

A book review for parents

This fantasy/romance book is the third in the "Twilight Saga" by Stephenie Meyer and is published by Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers, an imprint of the Hachette Book Group.

Eclipse is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

PluggedIn.com, an entertainment and media ministry of Focus on the Family, has written an article that offers an overview of the whole "Twilight" series: Darkness Falls After Twilight.


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Edge of Apocalypse

A book review for parents

This action/thriller book is the first in the "The End Series" by Tim LaHaye and Craig Parshall and is published by Zondervan.

Edge of Apocalypse is written for readers 17 years old and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


A North Korean ship in the Atlantic Ocean launches two nuclear missiles at Manhattan. A missile defense system called Return to Sender, which was created by American ex-special forces soldier and spy hero Joshua Jordan, deflects the missiles. They explode on the North Korean ship, killing all aboard. The United States government, fearing international retribution, publicly paints Joshua as a renegade and then demands that he turn over the Return to Sender specs. Fearing that the plans will eventually be leaked to enemy nations, Joshua refuses. He evades U.S. marshals sent to arrest him and learns that his college-aged son, Cal, has been kidnapped by a ruthless terrorist hit man nicknamed the Algerian. The Algerian sets up a swap in New York's Central Station: Joshua will hand over the Return to Sender specs, and Cal will be set free. Joshua tricks the Algerian and gives him a set of incomplete specs. Cal is rigged to a bomb but is rescued by Joshua with the help of FBI agent John Gallagher, who has been tracking the Algerian for years. A bomb goes off in the train yard, and the Algerian manages to escape. Joshua and his group of pro-American patriots then learn that North Korea, with the help of Russia, is about to attack the United States and Israel.



Christian Beliefs


Abigail Jordan is a strong Christian woman. She prays about everything before making any decisions. She repeatedly tries to get her husband, Joshua, to come to church with her, and finally he acquiesces. The pastor's sermon is presented almost in its entirety in the text of the story, and the Gospel is clearly presented. Abigail refers one of her friends to a Christian drug rehabilitation center. While there, the woman gives her life to Christ during a counseling session.



Authority Roles


Abigail is presented as an almost ideal Christian wife and mother. She has wonderful relationships with both her adult children. Joshua, on the other hand, is hard on his son, Cal, pushing him further away nearly every time the two speak with one another. When Cal is almost killed by a terrorist, Joshua is shaken to the core, and he pledges to do everything in his power to restore his relationship with Cal and become a better father.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


A ship's captain is shot in the head by an admiral whose order he refused. Blood and brain matter splatter the wall. A taxi is driven on a sidewalk, toppling pedestrians in its path. A homeless man is hit by a van and flies over the top of it. A mob of people crush a woman on a subway platform. The aforementioned admiral commits suicide by placing a gun barrel in his mouth. The Algerian strangles and kills a Romanian spy. A protester smashes another man on the forehead with a boot. The Algerian karate chops a victim on the side of the neck, then ties him up and covers his mouth with duct tape. Police dig up a rotting corpse in a burlap bag and discover all the teeth have been removed. A man is shot in both legs and then thrown into the sea where sharks kill him. Cal is struck in the face and blood runs down his nose.

During a teleconference meeting, a member of Jordan's patriot group exclaims that they should screw caring whether it's a conflict of interest that Abigail is acting as their legal counsel. During another meeting, a member says that whatever the White House claims about a particular issue is "bull . . . "



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Joshua and Abigail kiss passionately in a hotel suite foyer upon seeing each other for the first time in a couple days. It's mentioned that a radio shock jock plays a tape recording consisting of a prominent governor having sex with a prostitute.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Elijah of Buxton

A book review for parents

This historical fiction novel by Christopher Paul Curtis is an Apple Signature book published by Scholastic, Inc., and written for kids ages 9 to 10. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Eleven-year-old Elijah Freeman lives in Canada's Buxton settlement, a refuge for freed slaves and their families. As the first free-born child, Elijah has heard about, but never experienced, slavery. He enjoys a peaceful life attending church and school under the guidance of wise, loving parents and kind community members. After school, he works alongside Mr. Leroy, a man saving to buy his wife and children out of slavery. Elijah's parents consider the boy "fra-gile," so he constantly struggles to prove himself and understand the "growned up" world.

A man who calls himself Right Reverend Deacon Doctor Zephariah Connerly the Third takes advantage of Elijah's desire to appear grown up. He praises the boy's precise rock chucking abilities and tells Elijah that Jesus has given him a gift he must use for the good of the community. He invites Elijah to sneak out with him one night to watch a traveling carnival. Zephariah makes Elijah demonstrate his chucking skills to the show's owner and nearly sells the boy to the carnival.

When a neighbor, Mrs. Holton, gets a letter saying her husband was beaten to death, the town grieves with her. She gives Mr. Leroy all the money she had been saving to free her husband. Overwhelmed and excited, Mr. Leroy allows Zephariah to transport the large sum to someone who can retrieve his family. Zephariah steals the money, and a distraught Mr. Leroy asks Elijah to sneak off to America with him to find Zephariah. Mr. Leroy dies on the way, making Elijah promise to avenge him. Elijah finds Zephariah hanged in a barn, killed by white slave traders. He also finds four slaves and a baby, naked and in chains. His first real experience with slavery jars him, and he's devastated to realize he can't save these people. The slave woman urges him to take her child to safety. As he crosses into Canada with the baby girl, he whispers the warm welcoming speech Pa always gives to newly-freed slaves.



Christian Beliefs


Elijah and his family attend church and Sabbath school. Elijah lists chores he'd rather do than sit through church. White women in America write to tell Mrs. Holton her husband has gone to "the loving arms of our Savior." The letter mentions God's mercy, wisdom and providence and says the man received a Christian burial. Mr. Leroy says if God is just, like he knows He is, the "N" word will be buried with all the cruel white people who used it. People use phrases like "Lord have Mercy," "What on God's earth" and "Sweet Baby Jesus." The community believes in God, so these exclamations are not said in mockery of God. Elijah says a girl in his class lets the sin of envy choke her heart.

Zephariah, a preacher without a church, proclaims he's the smartest man around. He tricks Elijah out of some fish by convincing the boy to tithe. He praises Elijah's stone-throwing accuracy, first saying the left-handed throwing looks like the work of the Devil and then deciding it is a gift from Jesus. Zephariah likens Elijah's fishing skills to Jesus feeding the 5,000.



Authority Roles


Ma and Pa, former slaves, are loving parents with a sense of humor. They offer Elijah wise principles for living. Both are concerned that Elijah is too "fra-gile" and try to instill an ability to be brave in him. Pa helps bring other slaves to freedom and ensures they enjoy a warm reception when they arrive in Buxton. Zephariah pretends to befriend Elijah whenever he wants something from the boy. He steals and gambles with Mr. Leroy's money and shoots a man. Mr. Leroy slaps Elijah when the boy uses a racial slur. He lectures Elijah about the word's legacy of hate. He later tells Elijah he can't be timid about what he does but should approach situations expecting good to happen. Mr. Leroy is the first adult who treats Elijah as an adult. Mr. Travis often gets visibly frustrated, teaching the same kids for school and Sabbath school. He affirms Elijah's efforts when the boy helps compose a memorial plaque for Mrs. Holton.



Other Belief Systems


Elijah sometimes talks about spells or "conjures." He calls the show folks at the carnival "conjurers." A carnival actress says heathen magic has left her blind. When someone acts out, such as when Mr. Travis gets angry while at school, Elijah says it's like he's been taken over by Satan.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


A slave trying to curse without saying the word spells out "d-a-m." Several white people refer to black people as pickaninnies. Elijah starts to say the n-word, but Mr. Leroy angrily stops him before he can get it out.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


A slave woman kisses Elijah and her baby on their heads.



Awards


Newberry Award, 2008; Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, 2008; Coretta Scott King Award, 2008 and others.



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Notes:
Parents or teachers could use this book as a springboard for studying slavery and the Underground Railroad.

Lying/Deception: Elijah lies to his parents and others so he and Mr. Leroy can go looking for Zephariah. He sometimes sneaks out of the house at night to roam around the forest. Though his parents have forbidden him to go to a traveling show, he sneaks out and attends it with Zephariah. Elijah says once you start lying, it's not hard to keep going.

Nudity: The slaves Elijah finds in America are naked. He averts his eyes.

Smoking: Some of the circus people smoke cigars.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Elsie's Endless Wait

A book review for parents

This first historical fiction book in the "Life of Faith" series by Martha Finley is published by Zonderkidz.

Elsie's Endless Wait is written for kids ages 10 to 14. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Elsie Dinsmore, a gentle 8-year-old girl, lives on her grandfather's plantation. The genteel life of a plantation owner in the 1830s, when this book takes place, is supported by the institution of slavery. Elsie's mother died when she was born, and Elsie has waited all her life to meet her father, who does not desire to have a relationship with his daughter. She stirs up painful memories of his wife. When Elsie's father finally does come home, his pride and resentment have prejudiced him against loving his little daughter. Elsie must struggle to win her father's love without help from her relatives and schoolteacher, who do not treat her as a family member. Elsie clings to her strong faith in God, taking comfort in the love of Jesus and God's Word as she faces her own fears and weaknesses, as well as those of her father. In time, Horace learns to treat Elsie as a father should.



Christian Beliefs


Elsie has been taught to love Jesus by her nursemaid and former teacher, so she knows the Bible well. She goes to God's Word to find comfort and wisdom to carry her through her struggles. She has a pure belief in God's love for her. Her faith sustains her even when she is lonely and mistreated. The family she lives with goes to church, but they do not have a relationship with God. Elsie eventually leads her aunt to God, and other believers befriend Elsie in the story.



Authority Roles


Elsie's father, Horace, struggles to understand how a good father should treat his child. He misuses his authority at times, becoming harsh, cold and even cruel in his treatment of Elsie. Eventually, he is able to show tenderness and love to his daughter. Elders expect to be obeyed without question and corporal punishment is used to discipline the children.



Other Belief Systems


The Dinsmore family attends church out of tradition and to show others that they are God-fearing people.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Elsie's Impossible Choice

A book review for parents

This second historical fiction book in the "Life of Faith" series based on the best-selling classic by Martha Finley is published by Zonderkidz.

Elsie's Impossible Choice is written for kids ages 10 to 14. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Elsie Dinsmore, a gentle 9-year-old, lives on her grandfather's plantation during the height of Southern affluence in the 1840s. She has recently been reunited with her father, Horace, who left Elsie in the care of nursemaids after the tragic death of his wife. Elsie loves her father but longs for him to experience the love of Jesus. Horace has good intentions but little understanding. He demands that Elsie submit to his authority, even above that of God. The resulting conflict endangers Elsie's life as she struggles to maintain her faith in God within an unfriendly household. In the end, her father accepts Jesus as Savior, which brings Elsie much joy.



Christian Beliefs


Elsie's pure faith and obedience to God are unshakable. Her aunts talk about their growing faith in God due to Elsie's witness. In the end, Horace submits his life to Jesus.



Authority Roles


Horace has a distorted view of his authority over his daughter. He has good intentions, but cannot understand how God has ultimate authority over his daughter's life.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Emily Climbs

A book review for parents

This second drama book in the "Emily Novels" by L.M. Montgomery is published by Starfire, an imprint of Random House Children's Books and is written for kids 10 to 13. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Around 1925, 13-year-old Emily Byrd Starr is an orphan living on a farm with her Aunt Elizabeth Murray. Emily is obsessed with words, which extends to reading the dictionary and endlessly writing in notebooks she calls Jimmy-books because her cousin Jimmy gives them to her. Cousin Jimmy is mentally challenged, but he is Emily's staunchest supporter and offers her valuable insights and guidance. The story spans about four years as Emily has various experiences and develops friendships with schoolmates, Perry and Teddy. Her best friend is Ilse. Emily champions Teddy's artistic ability so he can attend Shrewsbury, a school. In the end, Ilse, Perry and Emily also go to Shrewsbury, although Emily must live with Aunt Ruth. After graduation, Emily is given a chance to go to New York to develop her writing career. Instead, she chooses to return home.



Christian Beliefs


The book expresses a Christian worldview and mentions God. Some ideas are quirky, though, such as when Emily's Aunt Janey vows never to wear a silk dress until all the world's heathens are converted to Christianity. Emily goes to prayer meetings but says she doesn't agree with Aunt Ruth's view of God because Aunt Ruth thinks God punishes her enemies. Aunt Janey walks every day in God's light and shines because of it. Emily becomes discouraged with her writing and thinks about quitting. She says that the Bible expresses everything so well, there is no need for her to write anything. On a beautiful night, Emily is moved by nature and prays to God to make her worthy of the beauty.



Authority Roles


Aunt Elizabeth and Aunt Ruth are Emily's role models. Aunt Elizabeth says God's ways are mysterious. She argues against a sermon she hears, disagreeing that there is good in Buddhism. Cousin Jimmy encourages Emily to get an education and tells her to work things out with her aunts.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


The Encore

A book review for parents

This fifth coming-of-age book in the "Becoming Beka" series by Sarah Anne Sumpolec is published by Moody Publishers.

The Encore is written for kids 13 to 18. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Returning from winter break, Beka finds herself in the principal's office for the song she wrote and performed for the holiday concert. Mr. T, her teacher, defends her right to express herself through music and protests the administration's interference with his music program. The principal relents.

Josh, in college, writes to Beka and wants his friendship with her to continue. Another boy, Mark, calls himself her boyfriend. Beka enjoys being around Mark but is confused over which boy she should be in relationship with. Beka tries to watch out for Lucy, her little sister, but is no match for Mai, who influences Lucy to have sex in order to be popular and cool.

The L.A. producers want to meet with Beka after hearing her demo. Josh asks her to be his girlfriend and transfers from Seattle Pacific to Asuza Pacific in Los Angeles to be near Beka as she starts her singing career. Beka understands that everything in her life is put there by God to make her who He wants her to be. She looks forward to His plan for her life.



Christian Beliefs


Beka and Lori grow in their Christian faith. Beka slowly learns that she can rely on God. Because Beka's relationship with God is getting stronger, she can see that Mark's Christian walk is unfocused. Beka eventually breaks up with him. Josh's beliefs are strong. He is very vocal about believing that God will direct their relationship. He trusts God with his future.



Authority Roles


Beka's dad is the main authority in her life. Even though work problems distract him, he is a positive role model. He cares deeply for his children and seeks God so that he will do what is best for them. Beka's principal is an example of negative authority and seems to be very angry and spiteful. Mr. T is an example of someone who takes a stand for what is right.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Mark and Beka often kiss while dating. Beka feels like Mark is pushing her to be more physical. When Beka is at a party, she is a little disturbed by all of the kids kissing. Beka and Josh kiss a few times, but Beka knows that Josh's kisses will not lead to anything else. Beka's friend, Lori, is troubled because of her dad's problem with pornography. At one of the parties, Beka finds Lucy upset, and Lucy asks to be taken home. Lucy eventually tells Beka that she and Ethan had sex. When she told Ethan to stop, he told her that it was too late, and they ended up having sex. Beka wants Lucy to tell the police, because it sounds like Ethan raped her. Lucy doesn't see it that way and believes it was her fault. Lucy also is afraid because she thinks she might be pregnant.



Awards


unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Eragon

A book review for parents

This first fantasy book in the "Inheritance Cycle" series by Christopher Paolini is published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children's Books.

Eragon is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Eragon, a farm boy, discovers a dragon egg and becomes a dragon rider — the first in many decades. The uncle who raised him and a former dragon rider who trains him are both killed. Eragon wants revenge. Eragon befriends the son of the evil emperor's former right-hand man. After traversing the kingdom and facing many dangerous enemies, Eragon must choose whether to serve the emperor or aid the emperor's enemies. An epic battle of the allied humans and dwarves versus the evil Urgals ends the book.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


The uncle is kind, and the older man who trains the boy acts as a parent. When these two men die, Eragon realizes that being a rider puts him above others, so he doesn't always respect authority.



Other Belief Systems


References are made to gods and "all the gods, known and unknown." A witch reads the main character's fortune and turns up later to aid him in battle and heal his wounds. Magic, including magical healing and mental control over objects, comprises a major part of the book. The most prevalent use of magic appears in the form of people-to-people and people-to-animal mental telepathy.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


A few curse words; vivid description of a pile of dead bodies, including infants; fights; battles against evil creatures with some details about the resulting wounds and deaths; references to torture



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


There is one reference to a light kiss and amused talk of mistresses in one instance.



Awards


The New York Times Best Seller, No. 1; USA Today Best Seller; Publishers Weekly Best Seller; Wall Street Journal Best Seller, 2005 and more.



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Note: Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In's movie review.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Escape from the Island of Aquarius

A book review for parents

This second Christian suspense book in the "Cooper Kids Adventure" series by Frank E. Peretti is published by Good News Publishers, Crossway Books.

Escape From the Island of Aquarius is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


A dead man is found floating in the South Pacific with a medallion from the island of Aquarius. The note in his pocket triggers the International Missionary Alliance to hire the Cooper family to investigate the possibility that their missionary to this island is still alive. When the Coopers find the island, they also discover that the missionary, Adam MacKenzie, is no longer a man of God. He tells the investigators that a strange curse or power by the name of Moro-Kunda rules the island. They hear strange chants in the night and see first-hand a man who appears to have been cursed. As the Coopers are making their way back to their boat to leave, they find a pit with altars. MacKenzie finds them on the sacred ground and tells them that they are under the curse. They are put in a hut only to discover that the cause of the curse is not supernatural but rather spiders that have deadly bites. The Coopers escape only to be found by MacKenzie, again. He sends Jay and Dr. Cooper down into a watery whirlpool and puts Lila in a sacrificial pit. Jay and Dr. Cooper are rescued by someone who claims to be the real Adam MacKenzie. He tells them that he lives underground in a cavern and explains that the island is sinking. The quaking and shaking of the island picks up as they make their way back to the sacrificial pit to find Lila. Unbeknownst to them, Lila was saved at the last minute by a native named Candle. Meanwhile, Dr. Cooper finds Lila's necklace and blood in the pit and goes to confront the fake MacKenzie, whose real name is Kelno. As the island starts to break apart, Adam extends an invitation to the villagers to board his boat. The group makes it to the boat only to find the water is too high to leave the cavern. Adam and Dr. Cooper make sure everyone aboard the boat knows Jesus. From where she is, Lila gets the idea to set off explosives to lower the water level inside the cavern so Adam's Ark can escape. The explosives lower the water level, and the ark is able to go out to sea. Lila is saved, as is Candle and various other islanders that are floating in the water. Kelno does not make it, and soon the island is engulfed in water and disappears before their eyes.



Christian Beliefs


The Cooper family displays a strong belief in God. Even though they question God during difficult times, they do not lose faith in Him. As Lila is bound and being lowered into a serpent's pit, she continues to cry out to God, who gives her His peace. When Dr. Cooper believes that Kelno has killed Lila, he attempts to take revenge. In the middle of his anger, he realizes what he is doing and backs off. He tells Kelno and reminds himself that he and his children belong to God. The real Adam MacKenzie also displays strong Christian beliefs. Even though he was thrown into the watery chasm with the thought that he would die, he doesn't and forgives those who have wronged him. Then daily he prays for the salvation and the physical health of the people in the village. He is quick to help and to share the Gospel.



Authority Roles


Dr. Cooper is a strong Christian who continually shows his love to his children. When they are in tough situations, he directs their focus to God. He knows that God is their only resource in any situation. At one point, Dr. Cooper believes that Kelno has killed his daughter, Lila, and is enraged. He finds Kelno and threatens to kill him. As he speaks these words, he hears what he is saying and realizes that he is wrong. He tells Kelno that he has given himself and his children to God. If God chooses to let one of them die, then He can. He then warns Kelno about the danger he and his people are in and offers to help them off the island. Kelno, on the other hand, is a negative role model. Kelno believes that he is a god. He is surprised when the island does not obey his command to stop quaking. He leads the group of villagers with threats and intimidation. If they do not agree with him, they eventually die by his command. He leads the group in pagan rituals, which includes walking on hot coals and offering him homage. His followers follow him blindly until they finally learn that he does not have the power to stop the island from sinking. Kelno also encourages his followers to believe that they can save the island. Kelno has faith in himself up until the moment he dies.



Other Belief Systems


Kelno and his followers' beliefs are Satanic. They believe in such rituals as fire walking and human and animal sacrifices. They use these sacrifices to appease the island gods. Kelno commands the other villagers to bow down to him. While the villagers are confused by the earthquakes and by what the Coopers and Adam are telling them, Kelno reminds them that they can save the island. Their god within is all they need to save themselves and the island. He is convinced of his own deity and is surprised when the island does not obey his command to stop quaking. He is also surprised when a large serpent is not intimidated by his presence.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Evil Star

A book review for parents

This science fiction/fantasy suspense thriller is the second in "The Gatekeepers" series by Anthony Horowitz and is published by Scholastic Publishing.

Evil Star is written for kids ages 10 and older. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


In Raven's Gate, the first book in this series, 14-year-old orphan Matthew Freeman is at the mercy of his foster mother and her neighbors — all modern-day witches — who plan to sacrifice him to free evil creatures called the Old Ones from another dimension. Matt is one of five children prophesied to save the world from destruction.

In Evil Star, Matt lives with reporter Richard Cole, who helped him escape the witches. The Nexus, a secret group sworn to protect earth from the Old Ones, provides for them. When an attempt is made on Matt's life, the Nexus tells Matt of a diary containing prophesies about the Old Ones and the five children. The diary has fallen into the hands of a corrupt Peruvian businessman named Diego Salamanda, and the Nexus is convinced that he plans to help the Old Ones escape from a portal in South America. Matt and Richard fly to Peru to meet with Nexus member Fabian. When Richard is kidnapped, Matt flees and meets a street child named Pedro, another of the five children mentioned in the prophesy.

Pedro and Matt go to Salamanda's home to search for Richard. Discovered by Salamanda, the boys are rescued by a driver who tells them to find his brother, Atoc.

The boys travel to Cuzco to find Atoc and call Fabian for help. When the city is flooded with Salamanda's men, Atoc rescues the boys and takes them to a secret Incan village and to Richard. Richard was never kidnapped but taken for his own safety. The Incan sorcerer called an amauta predicts elements of what the boys will experience in the days ahead.

The Incas send Richard, Atoc and the boys to meet Professor Chambers. She studies and writes about a strange set of animal pictures drawn in the sand, which are so large that they can only be seen from the air. She believes these symbols may be a warning about the end of the world.

Salamanda puts a satellite into orbit so he can align the stars and allow the Old Ones to escape near the sand symbols. With the help of a small army of Incas, Matt and the group raid Salamanda's satellite station, where they find Fabian and learn he is a traitor. Matt uses his power to blow up the station, killing Fabian and others, while saving his friends. When Matt attempts to disable the satellite, Salamandra tries to kill him. Matt deflects the bullets with his powers, which kills Salamanda with his own ammunition.

The Old Ones escape, erupting from the ground in the form of massive creatures before shape-shifting into swarms of flies, an army of men, freakish, unrecognizable shapes and then skeletons. The terrifying King of the Old Ones emerges, and it takes all of Matt's and Pedro's supernatural powers to fend off the army. Though they're able to drive the Old Ones from sight, Matt feels with his precognitive powers that they will be back. Matt and Pedro realize they must find the other three children in the prophecy so they can protect the earth together.



Christian Beliefs


Joseph of Cordoba, known as the Mad Monk, writes a diary about an alternate history involving the Old Ones and the five powerful children. Mr. Simmons, head teacher at Matt's school, leads the students in hymns. He's a religious man and likes to think the rest of the school is, too. The Nexus includes representatives from the organized church. Though no denominational affiliation is mentioned, one member wears a collar and crucifix, and Matt thinks he's some kind of priest. As Matt looks at the pictures inside a church, he wonders why religion has to be so dark and cruel. People on Matt's bumpy flight mutter prayers for safety. Chambers refers to a star so far away and so bright, they're actually seeing it as it was in the time of Christ. A news article reports that Matt's passage through a bricked-up door in a church is a sign of the Last Judgment. A spokesperson for the Vatican tries to defuse that rumor.



Authority Roles


Gwenda and Brian, Matt's aunt and her boyfriend, whom he lived with before going into foster care, fought a lot, and Brian drank. They only took Matt in for the money. Sebastian, an English-speaking man with whom Pedro and many other street children live, has the kids peddling and stealing for him. Pedro says Sebastian only hurt him when Sebastian was very drunk and that Sebastian usually apologized the next day. Sebastian puts himself at risk to help Matt and Pedro learn Salamanda's secrets. Richard, though thrust into the role of Matt's guardian, demonstrates concern for Matt's safety and well-being. While he takes care of the boy's basic needs, he does not provide discipline or prevent him from entering dangerous situations.



Other Belief Systems


The Incas believe Matt has great power and will continue to become stronger. An Inca tells Richard that his part in this adventure was written for him before he was born. Richard then asks if that means he has no choice, and the Inca replies that we all have choices, but our decisions are already known. Matt has precognitive abilities. Feelings of cold or the smell of smoke often trigger his precognition. He knew about the car accident that would kill his parents before it happened.

When Matt is angry at a classmate, he feels as if he's becoming a channel for some power he can't stop. As he feels flames flowing through him, an enormous chandelier in one of the school buildings explodes. He recognizes it as the same power that allowed him to escape the witches in Raven's Gate. He is initially concerned because he doesn't know how to harness and control the power he possesses. One of the Nexus members with whom Matt has contact is a blind psychic who accurately predicts the future. Matt's English teacher says many in Shakespeare's time believed in witchcraft and black magic. Morton, a bookseller who owns the diary that Matt is seeking, shows Matt the cuts all over his wrists. Morton doesn't know whether he's made them, but he attributes them to the evil found within the diary. He also says he knows the diary's secrets, so it won't let him live. At Morton's request, Matt goes through a door in a church that leads him into another monastery in a far away land. He later learns that doorway was sealed up with bricks long ago.

When Matt sees a sign warning of danger in the Peruvian airport, he wonders if it might be prophetic. Pedro has healing powers and is able to save Matt after a brutal beating by police and his encounter with the Old Ones. Chambers calls Pedro's power thaumaturgy and says cultures like the Incas frequently treated illness using some type of inner psychic ability. Matt and Pedro can communicate fluently with one another when both are asleep and dreaming, though they speak different languages and have a hard time communicating while awake. Matt often thinks back to the words of the Nexus psychic or the Inca amautas when an event occurs as they predicted it would. Pedro's mother used to tell him he was born under an evil star. Pedro says they have to go where the driver told them to go because he died helping them and his ghost would never forgive them.

As Atoc takes the boys through the cloud forest, he wraps a pebble with some leaves and tells the boys to leave it in their mouths because when it mixes with saliva it will give them strength. Magically, the path that brought Atoc and the boys to the secret Incan village disappears. The Inca leader in the village tells Richard and the boys that a new world is on the horizon, and he believes the Incas can once again gain their rightful place in it, if the Old Ones can be stopped. An Incan prince also tells how Viracococha, the father of all things, sent his son, Manco Capac, to earth to teach the people how to live properly and to found the Inca empire. The amauta gives Richard a golden statue of a god that is also a weapon. Chambers says in primitive societies, deformity was something to be feared. It was a bad omen. Matt sees the stars and notes they are falling into the same places dictated for them 26,000 years ago. Salamanda tells Matt that we (humans) belong to the Old Ones.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The headmaster at Matt's school and Professor Chambers use God's name, and the words h--- and d--n each appear once. Gwenda kills Brian with a kitchen knife and leaves his body on the sofa for a long period of time, causing the neighborhood to stink. She also fractures the skull of the driver whose fuel truck she hijacks, and she meets her own demise in a fiery explosion when she runs the truck into Matt's school. Morton dies a bloody death after being stabbed at a church. A number of battles and skirmishes involving modern and ancient Incan weapons leave men dead, strangled, crushed or otherwise wounded and bloody. Giant condors attack Richard, Atoc, Chambers and the boys, ripping into flesh and causing significant bloodshed. The emergence of the Old Ones from the earth is nightmarish and frightening, and Matt describes the King of the Old Ones as too gigantic to be seen and too horrible to be understood. Salamanda's appearance is ghastly and terrifying. His head is twice as long as it should be and horribly deformed. His parents purposely stretched his head, sandwiching it between two wooden planks, in keeping with an old Peruvian custom that was sometimes practiced on children who were considered "special."



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Note:
Alcohol use: Richard orders a beer on the flight to Peru. Sebastian drinks and gets drunk several times. Nexus member Natalie Johnson has a glass of wine. The boys are served an ancient Incan beer at a restaurant. They're given more of this beer in the secret Incan village, but Richard drinks it. At the celebration party, the Incas place glasses of red wine before Richard, Atoc and the boys. The beer and wine flow more freely as the night wears on, and Matt thinks he's probably had more than what's good for him. Dr. Chambers drinks beer at her home. When Matt discovers Fabian in Salamanda's lab, he can tell Fabian has been drinking.

Lying: Matt lies to his teacher about why he's late for class because it's easier than telling the truth.

Smoking: Sebastian almost always has a cigar in his mouth. Dr. Chambers smokes cigars and cigarettes.

Stealing: Pedro and other kids steal for Sebastian, who gives them shelter and food.


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.