Story overview:
After defeating the gaichuu, Lag gets a glimpse of Hunt’s and Sarah’s old memories. Apparently they came across the real “man who could not become spirit,” who had happened to meet up with Gauche during a fight. This man represents the anti-government organization, Reverse, and he wants Gauche to join them.

Having falsely taken this man’s identity, Hunt and Sarah see the horrible results of their crimes. Yet, because of them, Lag was able to get another hint as to the location of his dear friend.

To Lag’s great surprise, his current letter delivery leads him to the source of his quest. Yet what he finds puts him into a deep state of despair.

My thoughts
Because of the time gap between reading volumes 4 and 5, I was a little confused as to what was happening when jumping back in, but after several pages it came back to me. I was pleasantly surprised at the advancement of the plot in this volume–so unlike the filler episodes of the anime. After reading this I’ve determined that I’m pretty much done with the anime; the manga is way better (since it moves forward so much faster). I even thought this volume was better than the last two, and nearly as good as the first.

Things to consider:
I found nothing questionable or unfitting for preteens and older. Good for both girls and boys.

Opportunities for discussion:
When Niche fails to protect Lag, she struggles with feelings of inadequacy. She even goes so far as to run away. Lag, on the other hand, doesn’t care about her failure. He only wants her to come back, and so he searches far and wide to find her, his dear companion. I think so often that we don’t feel we are good enough for God’s love. In one sense, we aren’t, but ultimately God has extended his forgiveness to us anyway, and, like Lag, acts as a Shepherd, searching to bring back His lost sheep.

Past reviews in this series:
1) Tegami Bachi (Volume 1)
2) Tegami Bachi (Volume 2)
3) Tegami Bachi (Volume 3)
4) Tegami Bachi (Volume 4)

Not only is this the first time I’ve read an “interactive” book, but it’s my first time reviewing one. Developed for the Apple iPad and Android, Koto ($2.99 on iTunes and Android Marketplace) takes bedtime storybooks to the next level.

It took me a minute or two to figure out that you don’t click the arrow buttons unless you want to skip ahead (or go back)–the story advances by touching the text, which is then read to you. Once each scene has been fully read, a quality video pops up showing Koto in action. Going through it only takes about ten minutes.

Story overview:
Koto is a dog that wants to sleep, but odd noises throughout the house keep him awake. With an overactive imagination, he puts on his samurai outfit, grabs a broom, and investigates the disturbances.

First, he imagines a group of spirits invading his living room. When he gets there, he finds that it’s only his television, so he turns it off. Then, a noise comes from the basement. A group of monsters digging for diamonds? Nope, just a clothes dryer. But wait, there’s a witch scratching at the window. OK, guess it’s just a squeaky hinge. The real problem is the robot sneaking outside, never mind it’s just moths fluttering against a light. The goblins stomping the yard are the bigger foe. He charges at full speed to chase . . . cats out of his garbage cans. Hold on, a group of ninjas are on the roof. Nope, just a broken weather vane.

By the time he gets to the end, a glass toothed dragon proves to be nothing more than a wind chime. Taking in the soft, pleasing sound, Koto goes back into his house. Content with winning the battle of silence, he slowly drifts to sleep.

My thoughts:
My daughter is in love with this book. She is two and a half years old and goes to bed saying, “Daddy, read dog book?” Where I’m not thrilled about putting my $700 device into her hands, I am confident with holding it and letting her tap the text. She comments on just about every page, asking why the goblin won’t put his foot down, worried that the ninjas will fall, and chomps her mouth like a dragon. She even says, “awwww,” when Koto falls asleep at the end. I have to tell her that he’s sleeping and doesn’t want to be disturbed, otherwise I’d be replaying the book for her all night long.

Things to consider:
This is rated for children 4+, though my two and a half year old finds it quite enjoyable. There is a witch and a few things my daughter points to and says is scary, but I explain that it isn’t real and she seems fine with that. Good for both girls and boys.

Opportunities for discussion:
Just about every child goes through a stage where they think there’s a monster in the closet, beast hiding under the bed, or boogieman lurking around the corner. This is a good book to show your children that there’s really nothing to be scared of. Their fears are just that, fears, and the story can help to calm them at bedtime. Share 2 Timothy 1:7 [ASV], “For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline.” If your children are old enough, that message might just sink in.

After having finished the first three novels, I anxiously awaited this next release. Each of the first three books pulled me in with great characters, colorful scenes, and suspenseful storylines. The fourth novel was no different, and well worth the wait.

Story overview:
Having finally arrived at the mysterious floating island known as Cielis, Emily becomes anything but relaxed. At first, the expected assembly with the Guardian Council was delayed, and then she’s told that she must first pass a test.

Meanwhile, Miskit and Cogsley are rescued by a mysterious man who has ties to their old master. And back on Cielis, Leon and Enzo investigate the reason for the oddly empty streets.

Things go afoot when Emily learns that she must not only pass a test, but compete with other Stonekeepers. What should have been an open invitation turns into a big ordeal. As she works through the trials, that uneasy feeling from before only intensifies.

My thoughts:
Now I can’t wait for the fifth volume to come out. One of the best graphic novel series out there. Be sure to check them out if you haven’t already.

Things to consider:
No sexual situations, harsh language, gore, or extreme cases of violence. There are a few scenes that could be considered scary to younger children, but otherwise the tale is harmless. Good for preteens and older. Equally good for boys and girls.

Opportunities for discussion:
Without giving away any spoilers, I want to point out that deception is a key factor in this story. No one likes to be deceived, and no one likes to feel used. God also does not like it, as said in Proverbs 12:22 (ESV) “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.” Ask your children to share a time when they had been deceived, and ask them how it made them feel. Help them to understand the difference between being deceived and being the deceiver.

Past reviews in this series:
1) The Stonekeeper (Amulet, Book 1)
2) The Stonekeeper’s Curse (Amulet, Book 2)
3) The Cloud Searchers (Amulet, Book 3)

I came across this book in the library, and it sounded interesting, so I checked it out. There are four books in the original series, followed by another series of four more called The Circle Opens. It finishes off with a standalone named The Will of the Empress.

Born into a hillbilly family, Tamora Pierce understood what it meant to be “American poor.” She fell in love with books at a young age and started writing when she was only 6 years old. It is said that many of her stories contain feminist themes. If you’d like to know more, you can read her Bio at http://www.tamora-pierce.com/bio.html .

Story overview:
Four children with three completely different backgrounds come together at a place known as Discipline Cottage. Other than being troublemakers, the only thing they have in common is the ability to control magic.

Sandry–the book’s namesake–comes from a noble family. She has the ability to work with threads. Tris, a heavyset merchant girl, told from a young age that she had no magical abilities, discovers a dormant power that can manipulate weather conditions. Daja, the lone survivor of a terrible shipwreck, learns how to master metals as a smith. And, finally, Briar, a young street boy and thief, who is given the name of a shrub due to his divinity with plant life.

Under the supervision of Niklaren, and a few other magical users, the four children learn what it means to form unlikely bonds under abnormal circumstances.

My thoughts:
Tamora fans, please understand that I’m only saying how I honestly felt about this book. That doesn’t mean others won’t feel differently. Firstly, I didn’t like how I was thrown into the heads of four different children. It got confusing at times, and I can see how younger children may feel the same way. I also didn’t care that much for the story progression. There was a plot, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t feel mapped out; the story mainly centered on the individual progression and relationships between the characters. I know this isn’t a bad thing, but for me, I became bored not having the supporting goal to pull me along. I wanted to see where I was going. I kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting, then the book was over. I’m sure this was done to introduce the following books in the series, but honestly, the first book didn’t make me desire to continue on to the next. So, this will probably be my only review of the Circle of Magic. I just couldn’t get into it, but I can see others doing so, so don’t take my word for it.

Things to consider:
No sexual situations or extreme cases of violence. The most I remember hearing in the way of foul language was a few made-up insults. There are instances of meditation, but I didn’t get anything overly creepy out of it. Good for teens and older, though, as I mentioned above, may be a little confusing to some. Probably targeted more toward girls, but overall is equally acceptable for boys.

Opportunities for discussion:
The children learn to overcome their differences and focus on what they have in common. Whether it is race, gender, ethnicity, wealth, status, age, or whathaveyou, the world has known, and still knows, what happens when people find contention with one another. Where we know that some differences are beyond our control (and in some cases, are good), all humankind is seen as equal in God’s eyes. It is good for us as believers to be reminded that humility was one of the most frequented subjects in the Bible. Loving our fellow men and women should not be restricted by external observations. Just remember, unless you are a Jew, you were not among His original chosen people. Remind your children that God allowed the possibility of all gentiles into His family. No one should consider other human beings as being below him or her. Finding what we have in common, and growing upon that, is sometimes the only way we can really extend God’s love.

As a big fan of the Amulet series, I decided to track down some of Kibuishi’s earlier works. Daisy Kutter came from a sketch he drew of a cowgirl that got posted to an online illustration forum years ago. Her world eventually developed into this graphic novel.

Story overview:
Daisy Kutter–an expert train robber and gunslinger–isn’t as young as she used to be. Leaving her old life of crime, she finds discontentment in her new trade: a storeowner. The old desires for adventure still flow through her veins.

When two strangers show up and ask her to join them on one final mission, she turns them down. It isn’t until she gets beaten in a poker game by the “boss” of these men that she is forced to go along with the job.

The job? To rob the train of the owner himself. Why? Because he wants to test out his new security system. When her close friend, Tom, tags along, Daisy learns that there may be more to the job than was advertised.

My thoughts:
This story combines an interesting mix of Western and SF: revolvers and robots. As an earlier work of Kibuishi, I thought the story was pretty good. Not great, but good–not to the level of Amulet. I like how Kibuishi interwove the Texas Hold’em Poker game into the story as a whole. Good character development. Worth a read, but not mandatory.

Things to consider:
I was surprised by the amount of curse words that were present. Surprised because Kibuishi’s Amulet series has none (that I can remember). There are also a few bloody scenes. Clearly, this is meant for an older audience. I’d suggest this for the age of fifteen at the earliest, or perhaps older depending on the individual–most fitting for Young Adults. Equally balanced for boys and girls.

Opportunities for discussion:
I liked how Daisy’s old partner in crime, Tom, chose to use his skills as a sheriff instead of a criminal. While Daisy tried to become a storeowner, something inside her still burned for her old life. It wasn’t until she took on that role once again that she was able to see its folly. There are times in our lives when we know what’s right, but do the wrong thing anyway. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way (when that’s the only way to extinguish the flame), but it’s always better to follow Tom’s example instead of Daisy’s. Ask your children when the last time it was they did something they knew they should not. Ask them how it made them feel in the end. Remind them that applying a little self-control can help them to avoid a great deal of pain and regret in the future. Self-control is, after all, a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

In our last volume, Lag became an official Letter Bee only to find out that Gauche went missing. Moving in with Gauche’s sister (as a roommate), Lag spent his time learning the ropes while seeking for evidence of his role model’s disappearance.

Story overview:
In continuing his Letter Bee training, Lag learns that not everyone shares his same feeling of heart. Among these is Moc Sullivan; a Bee who believes in not getting involved with the letters or the people associated with them.

Lag also comes across a man named The Corpse Doctor, who takes an interest in Steak (the little creature that sits on Niche’s head). Unfortunately for Steak, the doctor’s interest in him is for dissection. While attempting to rescue Steak, Lag receives additional insight as to Gauche’s possible whereabouts.

Investigating the lead, Lag travels to a town named Honey Waters–a place no Bee has been in a long time. While there, Lag leans why: a large anti-government organization has taken over the town. Lag and his companions find themselves in a mess of lies and confusion, and, as always, Lag seeks to find the heart of the matter.

My thoughts
Having watched a good part of the anime, I started becoming bored with the story and almost drop both it and the manga. For the most part, I thought the anime followed the manga quite well. At least, in the beginning. It wasn’t until I got further along that I realized the manga and the anime differed quite a bit. From what I can tell, the anime added a ton of filler episodes, which is what caused me to become bored with the story. The book, however, had a much better forward progress. I might give up on the anime altogether and stick with the book, but curiosity will probably keep me viewing both.

Things to consider:
There are a few shots of Niche wearing tight underwear, forced upon her by Sylvette in an attempt to make her more like a girl. Niche prefers to keep Lag’s boxers–as it is the symbol of their bond (read volume 1). Other than this, I found nothing questionable, and even so, this was really quite tame. The age target continues to be fitting for preteens and older. Good for both girls and boys.

Opportunities for discussion:
One of the letters Lag delivers is filled with lies, which, greatly disturbed him. He believed that all letters contained the heart of the person who wrote them. This caused Lag to question the letter’s value, and whether it was worth risking his life to deliver. In the end, he realized that regardless of the content, it was his job to take it to its proper destination. In doing so, Lag discovers that the recipient was already aware of its misgivings, yet because it was written by her son, it’s true heart was still intact. Warn your children that, when they grow up, there will be times when their job seems unfulfilling and meaningless, but in all things, there is cause to be thankful. By fulfilling ones duties to the best of our abilities we may be accomplishing more than we know.

Past reviews in this series:
1) Tegami Bachi (Volume 1)
2) Tegami Bachi (Volume 2)
3) Tegami Bachi (Volume 3)

As one of my all time favorite animes, I figured it was about time I read the manga version. Instead of reviewing all seven volumes individually, I decided to treat this series as a whole.

Story overview:
A gifted young woman named Nausicaä (Na u shi ka) lives in the distant future. The world has long since survived an apocalyptic massacre called the “Seven Days of Fire.” What’s left of modern civilization and technology consists mostly of a few aircrafts, dug up from deep within the earth.

The creatures that are left have been genetically altered, and a poisonous forest spreads across the land, killing mankind in its wake. As the princess of the Valley of the Wind, and the daughter of a man close to death, Nausicaä takes on the responsibility of representing her people.

Called into war under the Torumekian Empire, Nausicaä deviates from her path by seeking to rescue all life, regardless of ancestry, race, creed, or species. She is driven by her love and compassion, yet brings with her a terror and horror like none other.

My thoughts:
I was thrilled to find so much more to this story than what was in the anime. As stated on Wikipedia, “The tale depicted in the film roughly corresponds to only the first quarter of the manga.” It’s like taking your favorite chocolate bar and adding caramel to it, making it even better than before. As a manga, you do lose the illustrious colors and epic music that was in the anime, but if you use your imagination, you can easily put them back into the manga. If you like one (manga or anime), I strongly recommend you look into the other. My only complaint is that, after the finale, the story came to a quick end (I wanted it to close at a more leisurely pace). Overall: Strong, powerful story. Beautiful, brilliant. A+.

Things to consider:
There are no sexual situations or foul language, however there is very graphic and detailed action violence. It’s done in a way that does not glorify the violence. Rather, the story uses it as a strong anti-violence message: showing the bitter results of war and hatred as it really is. Because of this, I would caution some children and age rate this for teens and older. The protagonist is a girl, but I would equally recommend this for both boys and girls.

Opportunities for discussion:
The true heart of this tale is about anger and hatred, and the blindness and death that follows in its wake. Anger begets anger, destruction begets destruction, and violence begets violence. Yet there is one girl who stands against this. She takes no sides with quarrels and wars. She only takes the side of love, kindness, compassion, and sacrifice; turning enemies into friends and allies. It reminds me of the second greatest commandment. Mark 12:31 (NIV) “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Why is this relevant? Because loving your neighbor fulfills all other commandments. If you love them, you won’t manipulate them, steal from them, or cause them harm. Ask your children when the last time it was they showed love in place of hate. If they say never, tell them it’s a feeling unlike any other, and suggest they try it the next time they find themselves in such a situation.