Posts Tagged ‘Book Reviews’

First of all, unlike the Amulet series, it’s important to note that this book isn’t written by Kazu Kibuishi. He is the editor, not the author (although one of the stories is his). Explorer follows the style of his Flight graphic novel project, which is a collection of short stories written by different authors.

Story overview:
With box as the theme, seven different stories are compiled into this one book. The first (Under the Floorboards, by Emily Carroll) is about a young girl who finds a clay doll in a box that comes to life. The second (Spring Cleaning, by Dave Roman & Raina Telgemeier) is about a mysterious cube found in a boy’s closet that is apparently coveted by every wizard. The third (The Keeper’s Treasure, by Jason Caffoe) is about a young explorer who seeks for lost treasure.

Then we have The Butter Theif, by Rad Sechrist, which tells the tale of a spirit that tries to capture the thusela–otherwise known as butter–from the house of a young girl. Next is The Soldier’s Daughter (by Stuart Livingston with Stephanie Ramirez): after her father dies, Clara goes after the evil Captain Vaal to exact revenge.

The sixth story, Watzit (by Johane Matte with Saymone Phanekham) is about a young alien who sorts a group of boxes containing a complete solar system, but in the process he is ambushed by a dark and troublesome creature. The final story is by Kibuishi (The Escape Option), where a young man is abducted by an alien who says the earth will end someday. He is offered the chance to leave and live on the alien’s home planet or to stay and wait for the destruction of the world.

My thoughts:  
I thought this was much better than Flight. The stories were less works of art and more focused on the tales themselves. The drawings were more cartoonish as well, which better fits the style of the Amulet. I wouldn’t call this a must read for Amulet fans, but it’s a lot closer to it than the Flight books are, and well worth a look.

Things to consider:
This collection is a lot more age appropriate than Flight. No sexual situations, extreme violence, or foul language. I’d recommend it for preteens and older. For those sensitive to references of evolution, in Kibuishi’s story, there is mention of the earth being billions of years old, but otherwise, I didn’t see anything questionable.

Opportunities for discussion:
It’s hard to come up with a single point, as each story is very different. But since the theme here is boxes, one can easily relate them to secrets. Boxes can be used for many things, such as transportation and storage, but they can also be used to hide things. Ask your youth if they have ever hidden something in a box, and if so, what. Better yet, tell them if you have ever hidden anything before you ask them (be honest). Share the difference between hiding good things and bad things. Good things like praying to the father in secret (Matthew 6:6) or giving to the needy without recognition (Matthew 6:3-4). Or bad things like hiding sins and lying to cover them up (Proverbs 12:22). God sees everything done in secret, as Ecclesiastes 12:14 (NIV) says, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

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In the world of fantasy comes another series targeted towards youth. First published in 2002, the Pendragon Series totaled ten books; the last one published March of last year (2009).

Story overview:

14-year-old Bobby Pendragon is one of those boys who is skilled in sports, outgoing, and known well among his peers. His life is what some would call a boy’s dream. Not only is he the top star of his school’s basketball team, but he recently received a kiss from the beautiful Courtney Chetwynde.

Mark Dimond on the other hand is on the opposite end of the spectrum. He’s nerdy and gets picked on, but remains one of Bobby’s best and closest friends. A friendship that gets put to the test when one day, Bobby disappears. Not only did Bobby miss the basketball semi-finals, but his entire family vanished. Including his house and family pet.

Mark receives a mysterious ring which teleports a journal, written by Bobby, from an entirely different world. It entails Bobby’s adventure into this world with his uncle, Press. Bobby tells Mark that he has to help his uncle escape the clutched of a traveler named Saint Dane, who captured the man and sentenced him to die. In the process Bobby learns that he too is a traveler and with the help of some unlikely allies, the boy seeks to save both his uncle and the territory which is threatened with war.

My thoughts
:

There is a good balance of humor, action, and originality. I particularly liked the modern and realistic way the main character thinks; nothing seemed forced or out of place. The way the author bounced back and forth with POV (First person and Third person) was interesting too. I recommend reading this one if you get a chance.

Things to consider:

There are no sexual situations or cursing. There is some action violence with a few gory descriptions, but nothing overly offensive. There was a comment about David killing Goliath as being, “just a story,” but keep in mind that is coming from the head of the main character; which is just how he thinks. There is also mention of something called Halla (sounds like a play on the name Allah), which is supposedly the power behind all life. Not sure where the author intends to go with this, but keep in mind, I only read the first book in the series of ten. I would suggest this for teens; both boys and girls.

Opportunities for discussion:

One of the themes here is that power corrupts even the purest of hearts. The village of oppressed minors showed what happens when the balance of power shifts from one direction to another. This is true to life. Humans of all social standings have the same potential of abuse towards their fellow man; the difference is often lack of opportunity, not the presence of goodness. When given the choice, men take advantage of their position without thought of those who are affected by it. Remind your children that they need to always remember where they came from, and never take advantage of others, regardless of opportunity to do so.

Written in the First Person perspective, this is the first book published by Patrick Carman (in 2003). There appears to be five books in the Land of Elyon series, and one of them is a prequel.

Story overview:

A twelve-year-old girl named Alexa Daley lives in a land surrounded by a large, un-scalable wall. She frequently visits a town called Bridewell with her father (who is the mayor of another town), and on this particular occasion—with the help of her mother’s spyglass—she sees something moving outside of the walls.

Of course it is not only forbidden to cross to the other side, but seemingly impossible; it is guarded by the cantankerous Pervis Kotcher and his men. The dark hills and forest of Elyon [on the other side] are dangerous, or at least, that’s what Alexa had been told. Eventually her curiosity outweighs the risks, and with the help of some unforeseen circumstances, she finds a way.

On the outside she meets some talking animals (who can communicate with her by the help of a special gem) who tell her that the wall unintentionally separated many of their families. On top of that, Alexa finds out that the prisoners used to build the walls many years ago are now living free in Elyon. They are plotting to attack Bridewell with the help of someone on the inside. With assistance from a talking rabbit named Malcolm, and a small man named Yipes, Alexa tries to find out who she can trust and warn them of the impending danger.

My thoughts:

I liked this one. Like most fantasy, this borrows some ideas from other novels, but unlike most fantasy, the main plot is fairly unique. Also, there were times I almost forgot I was reading a fantasy and wondered if I was in a mystery. Interesting approach from the author and I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

Things to consider:

This is a pretty clean tale. The worst that could be said are the lies told by the central character, Alexa. But even she admits that she hates telling them. I would propose this for preteens and older. Good for both girls and boys.

Opportunities for discussion:

A wall was built to protect the citizens of the city, but in actuality, all it did was shut them out from the rest of the world. There is much allegory that can be taken from this idea, especially for Christians. It is easy for the modern believer to become comfortable and keep to their own little circle, but it isn’t until we reach beyond this that we actually begin to grow. Ask your children if they are being walled up and how that makes them feel.

Kekkaishi v4Yoshimori and Tokine are the legitimate heirs of their clan. They protect their school from ayakashi, as the creatures try to absorb the hidden power that is buried deep beneath the building.

Yoshimori is the more powerful of the two and he has a hidden love for Tokine. Tokine makes up for the lack of power with skill and precision, but she tends to think of Yoshimori as a younger, annoying brother.

We pickup from the last volume where Yoshimori’s dog, Madarao, battled against an old friend who turned out to be a new enemy.  After the battle, Yoshimori replaced the power-restricting collar on Madarao. It seems that Madarao develops a little more respect for the boy.

Story overview:

We welcome back the ghost of a patissier (pastry chef,) whom Yoshimori had helped out in a prior volume. The ghost seems to be reluctant to leave the living world. He claims that it is because he did not like that his last word was “cabbage,” but there seems to be something else going on. To help out the ghost, Yoshimori works with Yumeko Hananokoji, the Psychic Counselor that he referred the ghost to. Together they find the ghost’s brother and put closure on the thing that was bothering him so that he could finally find peace.

This leads to the introduction of Yoshimori’s own brothers. His younger brother, Toshimori, feels he’s not as talented as Yoshimori. And his older brother, Masamori, came home for a visit. Masamori is a highly skilled, Executive Officer of the Shadow Organization and seems to harbor some unspoken resentment towards Yoshimori for being the one born with the symbol of the legitimate heir. Yoshimori could care less about being the heir, but has a certain amount of animosity towards his older brother.

Masamori puts Yoshimori to the test as he feels the heir needs to use his skills more intelligently. Passing the test in his usual reckless way, Masamori realized his brother’s strength is greater than he thought. Once Yoshimori discovers that his brother is watching him from the sky, he figures out how to use his kekkai to climb up to meet him. At this time he tells his older brother his plans to seal off the Karasumori site forever.

My thoughts:

This one is still currently one of my top three favorite manga series. As always, great character dynamics and a constant page turner. Good humor too.

Things to consider:

Good for ages 13+ and mainly directed towards boys. No questionable content for this age group. Just the typical action violence.

Opportunities for discussion:

The subject of passing on to another world is brought up. Where this series does not take liberties to share what that world is, I believe this is a good time for parents to. Ask your teens what they think about life after death, and then share with them your beliefs and why you believe them.

Past reviews in this series:

1) Kekkaishi (Volume 1)
2) Kekkaishi (Volume 2)
3) Kekkaishi (Volume 3)

kekkaishi vol3For those of you who have been following this blog on a weekly basis, sorry about the delay in posting. A new addition to the Maxon family has just recently been added. She’s a little young for books and manga, but we’ll get back to some reviews so that we’ll be prepared for when she is.

In the first two volumes of Kekkaishi, we learned about two teens from different families who are guardians by night. They keep creatures (ayakashi) away from their school to prevent them from becoming greater threats; as the beasts absorb the hidden power that’s buried there.

Story overview:

Yoshimori practices his kekkai barrier on a large bolder, but when practicing his “Joso” (positioning) of the kekkai, he struggles to get it where he wants. It seems his powers are enormous, but his control has yet to improve. Tokine on the other hand has the opposite problem: she has complete control but is limited on power. They both secretly envy the other’s abilities and use this as motivation to improve their skills.

They come across a Hiwatari (Ice Blower) ayakashi, and Yoshimori ends up positioning himself in front of Tokine to protect her. Together the two of them join forces (ignoring the family feud) to defeat the foe. We learn of an ability called “Nenshi” (Sense Thread,) which is a kekkai in the form of a string rather than a box. Their job is never done, and soon they face a new enemy for Yoshimori to practice the Nenshi on. Among the group is an old friend of Yoshimori’s magical ghost-like dog, Madarao.

We learn some past history with Madarao and how his/her (I’ll explain later) old friend Koya were both wild dogs living off the land until man came and destroyed it by war, thus forcing the two companions to starve to death. Now it has been five hundred or so years later, and Koya wants to kill humans for revenge. Yoshimori removes Madarao’s collar so that he/she can use full power to defeat Koya. It still turns out to be too hard a task; it takes Yoshimori and Madarao working together, doing the very thing Koya despises (working with humans) to defeat him. Yoshimori then has the difficult task of creating a new collar on the huge beast Madarao has become, and he has to do so before he/she gets totally out of control.

My thoughts:

I continue to enjoy this manga series. There’s a lot of heart in the story and the characters are wonderfully designed (and executed.) It’s interesting to know a little more history about Yoshimor’s helper, and how things work between them. We also get a few more clues into the history of the clans.

Things to consider:

OK, now don’t freak out on me parents. Remember that we use secular books to educate our children, not isolate them. I say this in reference to the his/her comment that I mentioned above in regards to the dog, Madarao. It’s unclear whether the dog is a girl or a boy, and it almost seems like he is a girl now but was a boy back before he first died. At the end of the book the author was asked about this by a fan, to which he replied, “It’s not that important [but] in my mind Madarao was always Gay . . .” Let’s talk about this below, but for now, I keep this the same rating as the other two: mainly for boys and good at around thirteen plus. No inappropriate sexual references or vulgar language, just lots of action violence.

Opportunities for discussion:

Talk to your kids about what it means to be “gay.” Tell them what your thoughts on this whole controversial issue are. Share with them what you believe and why. If you are interested in my opinion, then I suggest you tell them that God loves all his creation and that choosing to be “gay” is considered to be a sin just as much as stealing, telling a lie, or not loving God with all your heart. We all have sin issues to face, no matter what it is. I don’t believe it’s good to promote sin in a positive light, but I do not think we should teach our children to hate their fellow man either. Everyone needs to be shown love and compassion, as we are all fallen creatures. I could say more, but let’s stick to the basics; chose to educate how you best see fit, but do chose to educate, not isolate. Next, another great topic here is bias. When Koya wanted to kill all the humans, he was taking out his revenge for what people who are long dead and gone have done. We should never hate a particular group or race based on something one part of it/them has done. Ask your kids if they have ever done this and what the results where.

Past reviews in this series:

1) Kekkaishi (Volume 1)
2) Kekkaishi (Volume 2)

The White MountainsWhen I was in elementary school, I can remember coming home from school in anticipation of watching a BBC series called “The Tripods.” If I remember correctly, each episode ran for thirty minutes, and they always left me hanging at the end. The music was superb, the effects outstanding (for the day), and the story was spectacular. I just had to see the next episode to find out what was going to happen next; only to be rudely disappointed when the show suddenly stopped airing.

When I was in the sixth grade, my teacher–who was also a fan of the series–was nice enough to show them to the class. We got through two seasons, and like before, I was left hanging at the end. It wasn’t until many years later–after I created the first Yahoo Group Tripods Fanclub–that I learned the show was canceled before they produced the final season–the third book in the series.

Not only that, but when the first season was put into VHS format, they never released the second season other than what was shown on TV. This made things difficult for a fan who wanted to watch it again. To make a long story short, just this very month there was a release of both seasons on DVD with music from Ken Freeman that would have been used in the final 3rd season. It’s in Region 2, PAL format, which won’t work on US DVD players or televisions, however it will work on your Computer and they hookup nicely to TVs now-a-days.

Story overview:

Thirteen-year-old Will and his cousin, Henry (one month younger than Will) live in a small English village. Will’s other cousin and best friend, Jack Leeper, is “of age” to receive what’s called a “cap”–the boy is raised up into a three-legged alien ship (thus, Tripod) and has a metal cap placed on his head, which is used to control his thoughts. The villagers understand this celebration as a coming of age ceremony. It’s considered a great honor.

Once Jack received his cap, Will became horrified to discover that his friend was no longer what he once was. Being only a year behind “of age” himself, Will happens across a mysterious vagrant who goes by the name of “Ozymandias” (vagrants are supposedly people who had a capping go wrong). He convinces Will to escape to a place where there are “Free Men” living in seclusion at the “White Mountains” (actually the Swiss Alps, literally translated from the French Mont Blanc).

Henry learns of this, but rather than turn Will in, he demands to go along. Even though the two boys never really got along in the past, they go together with a common goal. Sailing to France they meet up with a boy named Beanpole, who becomes the third member of their party. Rummaging through the remains of Paris, hiding from Tripods, getting side tracked at a manor owned by a wealthy French count; they follow through many adventures on their way to the “White Mountains.”

My thoughts:

I had acquired a fondness for these stories ever since I was a kid. The TV show was never completed, but thankfully the books were. The idea of our world in the future, gone downward rather than forward due to aliens enslaving mankind by controlling their thoughts, is one of both intrigue and wonder. The discovery, adventure, and fight for freedom are ones that can spark the imagination of any boy.

Things to consider:

I don’t remember anything questionable in the story, but there are elements that may be a little disturbing to young children. I would say this is a great book for pre-teens (tweens) +, and is mostly targeted toward boys.

Opportunities for discussion:

The main theme in this story is freedom. Let your kids know that there are many people and groups out there that will try and force their opinions on them, sometimes by manipulation and sometimes by force. Tell them to keep their minds sharp and not let anyone else control them. Tell them to never stop questioning, testing, and examining the things in their lives. Share how true freedom is obtained in Christ, and that even though people can live content lives without, deep inside they have become prisoners to the things and ideals of this world. The story also speaks of the struggle to maintain ones own creative faculties.

Iron Wok Jan v.2After reading and reviewing Iron Wok Jan (Volume 1), I decided to continue the series in an attempt to determine whether or not this one is a keeper.

Story overview:

Jan (the obnoxious trainee with great cooking skills) goes on a camping trip with Takao (the not so obnoxious trainee, but without the great cooking skills). After working his magic on some quail (and an old chicken that Takao fond), Jan shares that his desire for cooking comes from a promise he made to his grandfather.

Back at the restaurant, Jan humiliates the arrogant food critic, Nichido Otani, yet again, which causes the man to seek for a way to destroy Jan’s name. An idea occurs to Nichido, and so he assembles “The First National Young Adult Chinese Cuisine Cooking Contest” (whew, can that get any longer??). His hope is that a greater chef will emerge and put Jan in his place. Meanwhile, Kiriko (the granddaughter of the Gobancho Restaurant owner, and trainee), seeks to discover a way to sculpt a radish on her own, determined not to accept help from anyone.

When the cooking contest starts, Jan surprises the judges by drugging them with a soup made from “Magic Mushrooms”. Kiriko thinks this is morally wrong and shows her distain by punching Jan right in the face. Nonetheless, they both make it to the second round of the contest and only Volume 3 will tell us what happens next.

My thoughts:

I’m not ready to call it a keeper, but I can say that it’s starting to grow on me. The characters are not black and white and there’s potential to see a lot more depth in them. Also, the recipes have not ceased to be ever more intriguing.

Things to consider:

Thirteen and up, just as the last one, and geared more towards boys. There are a few shots of Kiriko, wearing a little less than appropriate outfit at her home, but nothing extremely inappropriate.

Opportunities for discussion:

The theme of motivation continues strong, yet I would add that this may be a good time to talk to your kids about drugs, as Jan uses mushrooms for a recipe, and as mentioned, Kiriko thinks this is wrong to the extreme.