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.

Technically, this is not speculative fiction, but I decided to make a rare exception in this case. As a former childcare teacher and children’s pastor, Holly Howard extends her passion for helping young girls by writing a book that addresses some of the issues they face on a daily basis.

Story overview:
Jan may have a large and loving family, but it comes with a price; they don’t have a lot of money to go around. Jan is forced to wear less than ideal clothing, which paints a target on her. Three snobby rich girls, who attend the same 5th grade class as Jan, make it their personal hobby to find ways to put her down.

When a new girl shows up, Jan is surprised to find that she (Mindy) is even less fortunate. Not only are her clothes ratty, but she smells like a skunk. It doesn’t take long for the bullies to give Mindy the nickname Skunk Girl. Pretending to befriend her, they use Mindy as leverage to make Jan feel even worse.

When Jan learns that the bullies have a weakness, she finds the courage to challenge the leader to a battle of the wits. In doing so, Jan grows closer to Mindy and realizes just how good her own life really is.

My thoughts:
The characters are well constructed and I enjoyed the internal monolog of Jan (the protagonist), particularly when she was addressing her invisible diary. There were times I could feel the same sense of dread that I experienced back in my own childhood days.

Things to consider:
Skunk Girl is a good story for young girls, particularly ones that deal with bullies. Written by a Christian author, there is a message of salvation worked into the plot. No foul language or sexual situations. Especially good for ages 9-12.

Opportunities for discussion:
A good item of discussion comes from Jan’s refusal to be mean to the ones being mean to her. She exercises the commandment, Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” In the process, she learns how to become stronger, and shows a good turn to someone who had always put her down. Ask your children if they have ever experienced a time when they returned evil with evil. If they say yes, ask them how it made them feel in the end, then suggest they try an alternative path the next time, as Jan did.

I am pleased to announce Book For Youth’s first official book release. From the author of The Cat That Made Nothing Something Again comes a new and magical journey.

Story overview:
As the son of a great wizard, Traphis doesn’t understand why his mother and father have forbidden him from learning magic. Raised to tend fields, he often dreams of a bigger life–one in which he performs in front of an awe-stricken crowd.

A year after the death of his father, Traphis, now fifteen years old, spies his mother tossing a collection of magic books into a nearby creek. Unbeknownst to her, he is able to rescue them and read their contents hidden within his secret cave.

Opening himself up to the world of magic, a dark presence surfaces–one which has been seeking to track him down for years. Hidden secrets of the past unfold as Traphis joins with other trainees in hopes of learning the skills necessary to survive. The more answers he uncovers the more mysteries arise, sending him down the path of a true wizard, which is far more dangerous than he ever imagined.

My thoughts:
Ever since I can remember, I have loved the Narnia series, which was read to me at a young age. As I grew older, I was surprised at how little Christian Fantasies there were out there; the Christian bookstores had little to nothing of them. It was disappointing to say the least. Traphis, with a subtle/non-preachy Christian angle, targets fans of series like Narnia as well as secular ones like Harry Potter and Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle). It is not meant to compete with them, but to provide a new fantastical world in which youths can follow and come back holding onto messages of faith, hope, forgiveness, and redemption.

Things to consider:
Since this was written to appeal to teens and young adults, there are a few places that may be considered disturbing to younger children. No foul language or sexual situations, but there is action violence–done to enhance the story rather than shock the reader with sensationalism. Nothing inappropriate for the right ages (preteen and older). This should appeal to boys and girls; there are strong characters representing both genders–though the protagonist is a boy.

Opportunities for discussion:
Forgiveness is one of the leading elements in this story. Traphis’ need to forgive God for taking his father away, and his need to forgive his own failures. Skinny Jack learns he needs to forgive his abusive father, and Falin offers grace to his brother who rebelled many years ago. One thing this story also shows is the difference between forgiving and forgetting. Forgiveness is about releasing the power for vengeance and setting it into the hands of God, but one should not forget the past; we can learn from it and grow stronger as a result. Christians are not blind, they just learn to see with different eyes.

Availability:
Traphis: A Wizard’s Tale is currently available on the Kindle and Nook for $2.99 (which is a good price for a 155k word novel). If you don’t have either a Kindle or Nook eReader, don’t worry, you can download the story and read it on your computer, smartphone, or tablet using the free Kindle software.

Purchase the eBook at:
Amazon (Kindle – $2.99)
Barnes & Noble (Nook – $2.99)

What is an eBook? It’s an electronic book format that can be read on digital devices, removing the need for paper. Learn more about the story at: http://awizardstale.com.

Story overview:
After becoming an official Letter Bee, Lag Seeing learns that Gauche Suede has disappeared. Since Gauche was the reason that Lag sought to become a Bee, this news devastates him.

Remembering images from Gauche’s heart, Lag seeks out Gauche’s sister, Sylvette. Being the same age as Lag–after a rough start–the two of them form a bond with one main goal: to find out what happened to Gauche.

In the meantime, Lag leans the ropes of being a Letter Bee while helping Sylvette to pay rent by becoming her roommate. In the process, Lag learns more about Aria (the woman who Gauche was supposedly in love with) and how Gauche lost a part of his heart during the “day of the flicker,” where his mother was taken from his memory.

My thoughts:     
After reading Volume 2, I was a little worried that the story would become overly cheesy, but, even though Lag is often seen as a crybaby, it has become apparent that he has a good heart. I continue to enjoy this series and hope others will give it a try.

Things to consider:
Rated for teens, I see very little that’s inappropriate for that audience. Even the violent scenes are without gore. I would recommend this for boys and girls in their preteens and older.

Opportunities for discussion:
In the “Special Chapter: A Bee and His Dingo” we learn that even in death close bonds cannot be broken. Discuss what it means to develop a close bond and why such things are important.

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

In book one, Into the Wild, a house cat finds adventure when he enters the woods. Joining ThunderClan, he (Firepaw) finds it difficult to make friends, including with Tigerclaw, the #2 in command. However, Bluestar (the head of the clan) takes him in under her wing. It isn’t until Firepaw proves himself that he finds more acceptance, yet Tigerclaw still isn’t one of them. Firepaw learns that the vicious warrior murdered Redtail (another ThunderClan warrior) and is waiting for the right time, and cat, to share this news with.

Story overview:
Having been promoted to a warrior, Firepaw takes on the responsibilities of his new name, Fireheart. Keeping one eye on Tigerclaw, he begins to question the validity of the claim against the warrior. In the meantime, Fireheart is given charge over his own apprentice.

Longing for his old life, Fireheart sneaks back to his old neighborhood. In doing so, he comes across a familiar cat. After sneaking back for countless visits, he begins to question his new lifestyle in the clan.

When his best friend, Graystripe, becomes infatuated with a female cat from another clan, Fireheart wonders about his friend’s loyalty. Yet this problem only escalates when RiverClan teams up with ShadowClan in order to take out the weakened WindClan. Conflicted between his friend, old life, duty as a warrior, and suspicions over Tigerclaw, Fireheart battles to live up to his name and protect that which is most important to him.

My thoughts:
Like the last book, this one was easy to read and pulled me into the pages. I enjoyed continuing along with the characters and experiencing the situations they were put into. My biggest complaint was the ending, which didn’t feel like an ending at all–it left too much unexplained. Of course, that was done on purpose–so the reader would be suckered into getting the next book in the series. Well, it worked. I will be obtaining a copy in the near future and write a review of it here once I have completed the reading.

Things to consider:
There is a ferocity that accompanies this tale as would be appropriate for a nature show. I can see this being disturbing for younger children. No sexual situations or foul language. I would age appropriate this to preteens and older. Also enjoyable for adults who like fantasy stories such as Redwall.

Opportunities for discussion:
Loyalty. That is one of the biggest themes I recognized in this tale. We all know that loyalty is a good trait, yet sometimes, in life, we struggle to know what exactly it is we should be loyal to. This is a part of the growing process as we learn who we really are. Ask your children what they devote themselves to the most, and then share with them this verse: Proverbs 21:21 (ESV), “Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor.” If their loyalty doesn’t follow along this path, perhaps it’s time to do a little redirecting.

Past reviews in this series:

1) Into the Wild (Warriors, Book 1)

In the first two novels, Emily and Navin lose their father and are forced to move to a mysterious house in a distant town. Emily comes across a magical amulet that opens a door to a new and unusual world. Having taken on the responsibility of the amulet, Emily finds that this new world is in need of her help as a powerful and tyrannical Elf King seeks to make life miserable for the residence of Alledia.

Story overview:
Having gotten her mother back to her old self, Emily is convinced by her fox companion, Leon, to seek out the lost city of the Guardian Council’s Stonekeepers, Cielis.

Learning that Cielis’ possible whereabouts is in the sky (from a book written by Emily’s great-grandfather), Leon seeks out an airship pilot to take them to the center of an unending storm.

With the Elf King’s son as an unusual companion, our group of adventurers seek to locate Cielis before the Elf King can put a stop to it.

My thoughts:
I enjoyed the Star Wars cantina parody. It was obviously intentional, even the reference to the captain’s ship being small and junky, but fast. At the end of the novel, it says that Kibuis finds inspiration in Star Wars and with Hayao Miyazaki. Perhaps that’s why I like this story so much; I’m a huge fan of both. The worst part is waiting for the next book to come out to see what will happen next.

Things to consider:
This series remains consistent in its rating. Good for preteens and older. Very little can be considered questionable or inappropriate.

Opportunities for discussion:
There’s a scene where the pilot is forced to land and refuel his airship on a platform owned by a woman he has issues with. After landing, it becomes evident that she too doesn’t want to see him. By the end, however they make up and restore a prior bond. We can take a lesson from them. It doesn’t have to be a thing just between men and women. This goes for relationships of all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they suffer for one reason or another, but when given a chance at reconciliation, relationships can be restored and the feelings of relief that follow might surprise you. Consider Matthew 5:23-24 (NIV) “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Ask your children if there is anyone they need to work things out with. From there, try to see if there’s hope of reconciliation. Of course, if the relationship is destructive, then sometimes they are better ended than continued. That’s when Matthew 18:15-17 comes into play.

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

This is the second book to the Amulet Graphic Novel series. I also plan on reading and reviewing the third book soon, so stay tuned. A fourth book is scheduled for release on September 1, 2011, and I have it on my to-acquire list already. How many total books there will be, I have yet to find out.

Be sure to check out my review of the first book (The Stonekeeper) if you have not done so already.

Story overview:
After having rescued her mother, Emily travels in her great-grandfather’s portable house to a local town. Her aim is to find a doctor that can remove the poison, which put her mother into a coma.

Soon after docking in the waterfall town of Kanalis, the elves track down Emily, Navin, and Miskit. Thankfully, for them, a stranger in the form of a human-like fox comes to their rescue. This fox, Leon Redbeard, safely takes them to the best doctor in town. There they learn that the only antidote for the poison is found in the treacherous Demon’s Head Mountain.

Escaping an elf segue against the hospital, our adventurers come across a secret hidden base for a group of rebels. These rebels were put in place for the day she and her brother arrived. As Emily embarks on a journey to find the cure for her mother, Navin takes on his new position as leader of the rebel army and heads out to recover their house from the elves.

My thoughts:
I enjoyed reading this one just as much as the first. Finished it in two sittings, but would have probably done so in one had it not been for the NyQuil I downed an hour before (head cold). I’m looking forward to reading Book 3 in the next week or two.

Things to consider:
Appropriately aged for preteens and older, this book maintains the same standards as the first: no sexual situations, foul language, or gore–there’s no need to shock the audience with these things when there’s enough mystery and adventure to keep the reader going. I can see both girls and boys enjoying this tale.

Opportunities for discussion:
The amulet seeks to consume Emily and take control of her body. It claims that this is for her own good as doing so will give her great power. Yet Emily fights against this desire and demands that she be the one in control, regardless of the consequences. I liken this to anger and rage. There are times where we feel that, if we let go and let our anger take control, it will make us stronger. The problem with this is that, if we do, we more often than not hurt those we care about. Giving in to our rage may provide a temporary satisfaction, but when the dust settles we must face the consequences of our actions. Consider these verses: 1 Corinthians 13:5-7 (NIV) “. . . [love is] not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” And Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV) “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control . . .” Emily understood that she would lose these things if she gave into the amulet. Help your children to understand that they too will compromise their standings if they give into anger.

Past reviews in this series:
1) The Stonekeeper (Amulet, Book 1)