Posts Tagged ‘Book Review’

On a trip to Chicago, Kingsley took a set of mythology books with her. The stories she read from Jason and the Golden Fleece to The Trolls of Norway were so vivid and beautiful that they inspired her. On New Year’s Day of 2004, she sat down to collect her thoughts of what became Erec Rex. As she plotted the series, bits of mythology wove their way into her ideas, and, on April 7, 2009, the first book was published.

Story overview:
Twelve-year-old Erec Rex lives as one of several adopted children–moving from one place to the next–supported by a woman (who he calls his mother) with little income. His biggest problem is a strange voice that makes him do odd things. Thankfully, so far, the things have all been good.

Shortly after the story begins, the voice sends him out to seek for his mother, who had been missing since the morning. After meeting a strange girl, Bethany, he is lead down a mysterious stairway and into a magical world.

Coming across unusual characters, Erec is directed to a meeting place where a large group of children are preparing to complete in a set of games. The games are being held to determine who will replace the current rulers of Alypium, Ashona, and Aorth. As Erec searches for his mother, he finds himself caught up in the events of this magical world.

My thoughts:
I absolutely loved this book. I know it’s dreadful to say, but I liked it better than Harry Potter. There were a few things borrowed from the Potter world, such as the games (particularly the one which requires an underwater goal), but as many experts say, imitation produces great results. Then again, since the author heavily researched mythology before writing this tale, there’s a good chance she didn’t borrow from Potter at all. Regardless, I highly recommend this story. So far, it’s my best read of the year.

Things to consider:
No sexual or romantic scenes. No foul language that I remember. The action violence is fitting and non-gory. For those who are sensitive to chiromancy, there is an old woman who reads the protagonist’s palm. Personally, I found nothing offensive–it’s a wonderfully creative world. Great for ages 12 and up.

Opportunities for discussion:
It’s easy to doubt the ones you love when it appears as if they have been misleading you. But sometimes trusting family is more important than knowing all the facts–Erec learned this lesson when his mother was held captive. On the flip side, sometimes parents need to be more open with their children. Ask your youth if they ever felt like Erec, not knowing certain truths about their lives. If so, ask them what they’d like to know, and then make a decision to share if that’s the right thing to do.

Jeff Hirsch’s debut novel, The Eleventh Plague, was published on September 1, 2011. He spent his school days writing poems, short stories, and directing plays. After that he went to college to study acting and then, eventually, playwriting. Learn more about the author at http://www.jeff-hirsch.com.

Story overview:
In a world mostly destroyed in a past war (World War III), survival became the new way of life. For fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn, this was all he ever knew.

With his mother dead and his grandfather’s recent passing, Stephen and his father continue their lives as scavengers, but not before a group of slavers trap them at the back of an airplane carcass.

After escaping the slavers, Stephen’s father becomes seriously injured. It isn’t until a small group of men find them that they get the help they need. To Stephen’s surprise, he is led into a secret town (Settler’s Landing) where people live as if the war never happened. But when Stephen’s premonition becomes reality, a new war begins, and his life changes forever.

My thoughts:
I was amazed by this book. A page turner all the way. Kept me wanting to find out what happened next. The characters are believable and the story plot captivating. It has a slight flavor of Stephen King’s The Stand, but for a younger audience, much younger. Would highly recommend this to those who like post-apocalyptic tales.

Things to consider:
There are some usages of foul language, mostly in the beginning, and some romantic scenes, but nothing sexual. Action violence, death, and disturbing injuries, but, in my opinion, all these elements contributed to the realism of the story. Even though the reading level is listed at age 12 and up, my best advice is to keep it on an older teen level, 15 or so. The story is geared somewhat more toward boys, but there’s a spirited girl with attitude that is sure to intrigue a female audience.

Opportunities for discussion:
Having lived only to survive for so long, Stephen didn’t know how to react to kindness, but the longer he stayed in the town, the more he saw the good side of humanity. Even then, some of the people there were filled with blind hatred, which he knew was destined to repeat the same mistakes of the past. Ask your youth if they ever saw friends fighting. Then ask them how they felt about it. Who was right and who was wrong? Or did each person contain a mixture of both? Sometimes trying to see multiple perspectives is difficult, but giving a soft word can help to clear up the argument–and in some cases, avoid a war.

We finally find ourselves at the end of Paolini’s Inheritance series. What started as a self-published novel written by a homeschooled teenager–with a love for reading–ended up as one of the most widely read fantasies of our age. Received with a fair amount of criticism (some I agree with, some I do not), the three-book series turned into four, and a poor interpretation of a movie had been released. Regardless of the different opinions regarding this tale, one thing holds true: the Inheritance Cycle made a signification impact on the world of fantasy.

Story overview:
Now older, and a little wiser, Eragon and his dragon Saphira continue their quest alongside the Varden (a rebel alliance) to overthrow the wicket king, Galbatorix, and turn around his tyrannical Empire. Eragon’s cousin, Roran, also fights alongside the Varden in an attempt to keep his family safe, and in the process, he makes a name for himself along with a few enemies.

The closer they get to Urû’baen (the King’s fortress), the more apparent it becomes that Eragon doesn’t have a chance against the King in his current state. With the aid of the elf Arya (Eragon’s unrequited love), and dragon Glaedr (now living as a soul in his heart of hearts), Eragon works on improving his skills, yet he knows it still isn’t enough.

When a memory of something the werecat, Solembum, said to him in the past arises, Eragon follows up with the disgruntled feline only to uncover a larger mystery. He seeks for an answer that might give him the leverage he needs, and ultimately a way to save both Alagaesia and his half-brother, Murtagh, while removing Galbatorix from his seat of power.

My thoughts:
I quite enjoyed this final book. In fact, I thought it was the best one of the series. I really liked the first book, Eragon, and was somewhat disappointed with the middle two (Eldest, Brisingr). If Paolini had stuck to his original plan and written a trilogy, I think he would have done better. Though, instead of combining books 3 and 4, I would have merged 2 and 3 into a single volume. My biggest complaint with those books was that they were too long, and could easily have been cut down. That said, I still really enjoyed the series as a whole, and, one day, will probably read it again.

Things to consider:
I didn’t come across any foul language or sexual situations, but there was a fair amount of action violence and some gory scenes. Personally, I didn’t see anything inappropriate for this type of story. However, I was hoping that Eragon would have come to have a relationship with God, or at least an understanding of His existence, but in the end that wasn’t the case. The Elves are atheists, Saphira (Eraon’s dragon) thinks dragons are better than any god, and the Dwarfs believe in multiple deities (polytheists). Where Eragon didn’t refute the possibility of there being a deity, he did take the stance that relying on his own morality and conscience was enough. Perhaps a reflection of Paolini’s own struggles?

Opportunities for discussion:
One thing that stood out to me was the process of finding one’s true name. It required an individual to perform a great deal of soul searching. Not only would they have to perceive the good parts of themselves, but the negative ones too. In doing so, they got to know who they truly were. I think this is a good lesson to share with our youth. More often than not, teens seek out odd–sometimes dangerous–things in an attempt to form an identity. In the end, they are not really being themselves, but looking for acceptance from others. We should not shy away from who we really are, and who we were created to be. If we only ever focus on our positives, then we will never find growth. If we focus only on our negatives, then we will find ourselves in a state of depression. Coming to terms with who we really are is the first step to approaching the throne of God and allowing Him to form us into the people we were meant to be. And thus, ultimately, receive a new name (Revelation 2:17) as did a few characters in the story.

Past reviews in this series:
1) Eragon (Inhertitance, Book 1)
2) Eldest (Inheritance, Book 2)
3) Brisingr (Inheritance, Book 3)

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)

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.

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)

I came across this book on Amazon and thought, wow, a cool looking Graphic Novel that isn’t a manga produced by Japan. After doing a little more research on it, I had to laugh. Where it is true that it was written as an American graphic novel, the author was born in Tokyo.

Note: There also looks to be a Warner Brothers movie adaptation coming in 2012.

Story overview:
Two years after having witnessed the death of her father, Emily, along with her mother and brother (Navin), move to a small town and into a broken-down house (once owned by her great-grandfather). Still dealing with emotions from her father’s death, Emily finds that her mother is also doing all she can to hold herself together.

When rummaging in her great-grandfather’s old room, Emily comes across a mystical-looking amulet. Shortly after putting it around her neck, an otherworldly intruder enters their home and captures her mother. When Emily and Navin chase after the creature, they find themselves transported to a different world.

Now Emily is faced with the burden of losing another parent. Only this time there’s something she can do to stop it. Having met some unlikely friends in this new world, Emily and Navin are given the resources necessary for chasing down their mother’s captor. Having activated the amulet’s power, Emily wonders if the cost of such help might end up costing her more in the end.

My thoughts:
At first, I wasn’t sure about the style of drawing. It was, different. But the longer I looked at it, the more it grew on me and I started to appreciate the artistic brilliance, particularly within the scenery–Kibuishi’s use of lighting is clearly his greatest strength. As far as the story goes, it hooked me right away. Heartfelt, mysterious, creative, and gripping are just a few of the words that come to mind. I ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting; couldn’t put it down.

Things to consider:
It’s marked for grades 4-7 (which is basically children aged nine to thirteen). I can see that; there are a few elements that may be considered too scary for younger children. But, I think 13 is too soon to cut it off; teenagers of all ages and many adults would appreciate this as well (I’m in my 30s, and I loved it). No hit of sexual references. No gore or even blood for that matter. There is action violence, some disturbing scenes involving a spider-like bug creature, and a few deaths (including Emil’s father, which practically had me in tears–thinking as a father myself). This should appeal to both boys and girls alike.

Opportunities for discussion:
The voice of the amulet told Emily that there was no time for faith. Yet her great grandfather did tell her there was another way. As a reader, I’m glad she listened to the amulet; I wanted to see the adventure unfold and to see what would happen with the stone. But as a believer I completely understand the temptation to reach for a quick and easy solution rather than listen to the voice of faith. The author shows us that the amulet might not be in the right, but leaves that thought open–likely to resurface in a later book. Since I don’t know the final outcome, I can’t say if choosing the amulet was a good decision. For all I know the amulet might have brought the creature to capture her mother in the first place. Therefore, with the story, we have yet to see, but for our own lives, let us consider this Bible verse Prov 19:2 (NIV) “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.” Ask your children about the last time they rushed into something, and what the outcome was. Challenge them to stop and assess the situation before jumping in next time. Sometimes trusting and having faith avoids worse consequences down the road.

After having read the first three books in The Bartimaeus Trilogy, I just had to check out this recent prequel. I remember reading references to Solomon in the first three books, where Bartimaeus often boasted of his time during Solomon’s reign. Now we get to learn why.

Story overview:
As a slave in Jerusalem (950 BC), Bartimaeus is forced to search for relics for King Solomon. His master is a careless wizard who learns a hard lesson when falling for one of the djinni’s tricks. As punishment, Bartimaeus finds himself under the rule of a more terrible wizard named Khaba.

Forced into a dangerous mission, Bartimaeus comes across a girl named Asmira who was sent by the Queen of Sheba to assassinate Solomon. It wasn’t until later that Bartimaeus learned of the girls mission, but by then it was too late—he was already under her spell.

Being more skillful than the average djinni, Bartimaeus works to bring his new master to her goal. When things begin to unfold, the assassin learns there is more to the story of her mission than originally thought. Including the true powers of the ring (worn by Solomon) and the true colors of the evil wizard, Khaba.

My thoughts:
The Ring of Solomon contains much of the same whit and character twists that The Bartimaeus Trilogy did. It was refreshing to continue in the realm of this fictional world, even if there are only two characters (Bartimaeus and Faquarl) from the original series.

Things to consider:
There are many Christians who will be offended that Solomon was used in this book. At first, even I found offense at the way he was portrayed. I know this is fictional and not meant to be taken literally, but historically he was a man of God (at least, in the beginning). Now, I didn’t give up on the book just because of this and I am glad I didn’t. Without giving away too much of the plot, know that it comes out better in the end. The biggest negative here is that the author made magic the source of Israel’s prosperity (during Solomon’s rein), not God. This, even in a fictional sense, can leave a negative impact on the believer. Still, if you can see past this as I did, you won’t be disappointed. There are no sexual situations or harsh language, however there are some disturbing situations and concepts that were portrayed in a humorous light (such as djinni discussing the best way to eat humans). I would recommend this for teenagers, both boys and girls.

Opportunities for discussion:
A key question proposed in this story is that of slavery. Whether it’s slavery in the traditional sense, or that of a deeper level—often unknown to the person who’s bound. The Bible tells us not to be slaves of this world. Be it addiction, negative habits, insecurities, material goods, money, lust, dependency, or obsession. All these things can end up controlling us, rather than us controlling it.  Read this verse to your children and ask them what it means to be transformed rather than conformed: Romans 12:2 (New American Standard Bible) “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Past reviews in this series:

1) The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1)
2) The Golem’s Eye (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 2)
3) Ptolemy’s Gate (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 3)

After having read several of the Artemis Fowl books, and The Wish List, I decided to dig deeper into Eoin Colfer’s works. That’s where I came across Airman, a standalone novel, published in 2008.

Story overview:
In the 19th century (1890s), a ten year old boy named Conor Broekhart is a resident of the Saltee islands (a real place off the Irish coast). A close friend of the young princess, Conor finds himself saving her from a burning building.

Having been knighted and regarded as a hero, Conor trains under a Frenchman named Victor Vigny. For the next four years he learns how to become a brilliant scientist and a great swordsmen.

Unfortunately for Conor, he draws the attention of Marshall Bonvilain. A man who kills the king and frames Conor’s mentor, Victor for the crime—after having killed him too. Bonvilain ships Conor off to the prison island of Little Saltee, while deceiving Conor’s parents into thinking that he was killed protecting the king, and Conor into falsely believing that his parents disowned him because they thought he was involved with the king’s death. Conor spends the next three years living with a new identity and seeking a way to free himself of his terrible fate.

My thoughts:
I thought that the narrator voice was a little heavy in the beginning, but after awhile the story picked up and grabbed my attention. By the end I was anxiously anticipating the outcome. Good read. With a title like Airman, I figured I was going to read a story about a flying boy. Well, there is some of that, but the book closer resembles The Count of Monte Cristo. Prison stories of misunderstanding and identity swamping just never get old.

Things to consider:
Overall, this tale contained no inappropriate content. There’s a few scenes of violence, but nothing that doesn’t fit into the mold of this type of story. No sexual situations or harsh use of language. I recommend for pre-teen and older. Both girls and boys, though, perhaps, slightly more toward boys.

Opportunities for discussion:
Misunderstandings plague the best of us, as it did to Conor. His family believed him to be dead, and he believe that his family didn’t care about him. There are people out there like Bonvilain who are deceptive, but there are also misleading thoughts in our own minds, which can be just as bad. It’s easy to doubt the love of family, but sometimes that has more to do with failing to understand their true feelings. Tell your children that, before they think someone is trying to hurt them (such as a brother or sister), have them take a moment to communicate and try to understand where that person is coming from. In doing so there just might be a change of heart for both parties.

Ghosthunters And The Incredibly Revolting GhostPublished in 2006, Ghosthunters And The Incredibly Revolting Ghost is the first of a four book series by Cornelia Funke. For those of you not aware, this is the same author who wrote the Inkheart Trilogy, The Thief Lord, and Igraine The Brave (all formerly reviewed on this site).

Story overview:

Nine year old Tom lives in an apartment complex. A new resident recently moves in, but unlike the typical occupant who rents an apartment, this one is a ghost (named Hugo) who haunts the cellar. At first Tom is scared away, but his Grandmother’s friend, Hetty Hyssop, tells him that the ghost is just an ASG (Averagely Scary Ghost)—which is mostly harmless.

When Tom confronts Hugo, he finds that the ghost was chased out of his former home by an IRG (Incredibly Revolting Ghost). Thankfully for both Tom and Hugo, Hetty Hyssop is an expert ghost hunter.

After collecting supplies, the three of them set out to chase away the IRG so that Hugo can have his home back. Once they arrive at the old house, Hetty Hyssop quickly discovers that this IRG is the most powerful one she’s ever dealt with.

My thoughts:

I enjoyed the lightheartedness of this story. Funke creatively uses objects to fight against ghosts, such as eggs, graveyard dirt, and mirrors. Keep in mind that unlike her other works [mentioned above], this one is geared to a slightly younger audience.

Things to consider:

There’s no inappropriate language, violence, or sexual situations. However, if taken in the wrong light, situations such as the IRG removing its head might come across as slightly disturbing to some children. Overall I’d say this is a safe read and one good for children ages seven to preteens.

Opportunities for discussion:

Some Christians get overly protective whenever a story contains ghosts. Please remember that this is a work of fiction, and not meant to be taken literally. Explain to your children what the Bible says about ghosts (which, if memory serves, isn’t much, if anything at all), and ask them if they believe ghosts are real. Explain to them your beliefs on the topic, but be careful not to put them down if they say something you don’t agree with.