Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 8,800 times in 2010. That’s about 21 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 19 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 78 posts. There were 22 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 615kb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was June 6th with 89 views. The most popular post that day was Inkheart (Book 1), by Cornelia Funke.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were booksforyouth.com, en.wordpress.com, facebook.com, mangablog.net, and search.aol.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for inkheart, inkheart book, books for youth, youth book reviews, and star wars the force unleashed novel.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Inkheart (Book 1), by Cornelia Funke January 2009
7 comments

2

The Capture (Guardians of Ga’hoole, Book 1), by Kathryn Lasky August 2009
1 comment

3

Mirror in the Mirror, by Michael Ende September 2009

4

The Alchemyst (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Book 1), by Michael Scott January 2010
1 comment

5

The White Mountains (The Tripods, Book 1), by John Christopher March 2009
2 comments

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Dragon Eye v1It’s my pleasure to introduce a new manga series called Dragon Eye. It was first released in 2007 and we’re coming up to Volume 8, which should be out Sep 29, 2009.

Here’s a brief history of what’s going on it the story. Humanity was close to becoming extinct when a virus called the “D Virus” infected the majority of the populace; including animals. Those infected turned into vicious beasts called “Dracules,” which quickly lose their mind and go on murderous rampages.

Those who survived the virus were ones who posed strong antibodies; they were able escape infection 99% of the time. They developed an anti-Dracule civil organization and built cities to protect all future citizens (ones who do not have the high-level of antibodies.)  This group also gathered super-warriors called “VIUS,” who use techniques incorporating sorcery and martial arts. Their purpose is to fight off Dracules and protect those not infected. Those who become infected have only one cure: death.
 
Story overview:

Forty years or so after the infection, in the city of Mikuni, candidates go on a hunt for Dracule in order to pass their final test to become a VIUS. There’s an unexpected turn as high-level Dracules show up. These creatues attack the candidates in order to prevent future, potential enemies, but thankfully there was a hidden enlistment exam inspector named Issa Kazuma.

Issa reviles the secret Dragon Eye (hidden in the center of his forehead) to one of the candidates, Leila Mikami, who said it was her life’s mission to possess one in order to avenge her parent’s death. Easily defeating the foes, Issa tests Leila and finds that her motives may one day be genuine.  He tells her that, in the future, he will give her his eye if she has a good reason (other than revenge) to use it.

Leila finds herself as part of the dreaded Squad Zero, only to learn that Issa is the leader. Since the old Squad Zero had been disbanded, she is the only member. Because of the small group, volunteers join Squad Zero on a mission. In the process one of the volunteers named Sōsei Yukimura attacks Issa. We learn that he was waiting for an opportunity to face Issa so that he could kill him. He claims that Issa killed his twin sister many years ago. Rather than be mad about the accusation, Issa convinces Sōsei to join his squad. The young man agrees as a way of getting more info from Issa and an easier way to fulfill his revenge. On their first mission together as a team, Squad Zero discovers that an extremely powerful Dracule was able to get into the city limits and it’s up to them to work together to stop it.

My thoughts:

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I love the casual personality of the main character, Issa, who has a serious side he covers up. The other characters are very dynamic as well and a pleasure to watch interact. I also liked the chart of Japanese Honorifics at the beginning which explains the different indications of relationship/status when characters speak to each other. For example -san is similar to “Mr. or Ms.” and can be used like Isaa-san (name first, then the honorific).

Things to consider:

This is targeted more towards boys at around the age of thirteen. Older ages can easily enjoy it too, and Mom and Dad can feel safe that it’s pretty clean in the area of sexuality and foul language. There is a considerable amount of action violence and blood though: great for thirteen-year-old boys 😉

Opportunities for discussion:

There is a strong theme of revenge. We learn that Issa is not an advocate of revenge; instead, he is extremely unbinding. That’s an ironic comment, since we learn that Issa is actually bound by fetters that restrict his powers. But when it comes to Sōsei wanting to kill Issa for revenge, Issa does not refute the accusation, nor does he offer up an excuse. One might expect Issa to jump right in and defend himself, or want to have nothing to do with his accuser. Rather, he takes a hit and offers the young man a position in his team. This is a great example of how we should respond when we feel someone accusing us. Obviously it’s good to defend one’s self and not allow ourselves to be walked on, but if we offer grace for wrath, forgiveness for blame, kindness for hostility, then perhaps, as the Bible says: Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Talk to your kids and ask them when the last time it was that someone accused them of wrongdoing. Ask them how they responded and offer up this solution to them for future incidents.

A Series of Unfortunate Events - B1I have heard mixed reviews about the movie version of this story with Jim Carrey. Having not seen it I cannot share any opinions on the film myself. Instead, I decided to read the tale in its original form.
 
The author goes under the name of Lemony Snicket, who supposedly possesses documents about the Baudelaire orphans, using these papers he decided to write their story. This is a nice touch, as it provides a story within a story. However, this is only part of the tale; as the author’s real name is actually Daniel Handler.
 
Snicket/Handler states that, if you are looking for a happy story with a happy ending, don’t read this book. A comment that makes one want to read it all the more. But he is right; this is not a happy tale. Still, there’s a certain amount of charm, and there is a somewhat satisfying ending. Just enough to make the reader want to check out the next book.
 
Story overview:

Violet (fourteen-year-old girl,) Klaus (twelve-year-old boy), and Sunny (infant-girl,) are playing on a beach one day when a man walks up and tells them that their parents just died in a house fire.
 
To add to their good news, they are forced to live with a man named Count Olaf, who is a distant relative (and happens to be an actor.) It becomes obvious that Olaf only wants the children in order to find a way to get at their parent’s fortune. He treats them very poorly, giving them unrealistic chores, terrible sleeping arrangements, and even goes so far as to strike Klaus in the face. Making them call him father, Olaf himself refers to the children as orphans.
 
One day Olaf shows an odd act of kindness, and talks the Baudelaire orphans into taking part of a play called “The Marvelous Marriage.” Klaus finds out that Olaf’s plan is to use a real judge, give guardian consent, and have Violet say “I do.” The play is intended to be a real wedding, which would give Olaf access to the fortune that Violet is too young to access herself. Appalled, both children do what they can to prevent the tragedy while taking care to not let Olaf kill Sunny, who he had taken hostage.
 
My thoughts:

I liked the occasional explanation of words, as they are often provided with a twist. Such as, “… money is an incentive – the word ‘incentive’ here means ‘an offered reward to persuade you to do something you don’t want to do.'” The writing is easy to read, the book not very long, and the personality of the characters is enjoyable to follow.
 
Things to consider:

This book is good for younger children, probably six and older, and for both girls and boys. There are no sexual references, or foul language to speak of, and violence is at a minimum, but the situations may be a little disturbing to some children. Such as Klaus being hit in the face and Sunny being hung out the window in a bird cage. All these things are used to show us how evil the count is.

Opportunities for discussion:

One of the lessons here is that life isn’t always what we want it to be, but we should try and make the best of our situation regardless. Another lesson is that it is an evil act to do ill to others for your own sake, and if someone is being treated unfairly we should do what we can to help them. Finally, one of the themes here is how adults tend to not listen very well to the concerns that children face. If only the adults in this story would have listened, the fate of the Baudelaire orphans could have been avoided. It’s nice to see lessons for parents too, even if they are within a children’s tale.

Iron Wok Jan v.3Getting back to the Iron Wok Jan manga series, we move on to the third volume. So far we’ve learned about a sixteen-year-old named Jan, who was brought up by an abusive grandfather–who just so happened to be a master cook.

Jan’s goal is to become the best Chinese food Chef, even if it means working at the Gobancho Restaurant, owned by his dead grandfather’s archrival.

The arrogant food critic, Nichido Otani, is the mastermind behind a Chinese cuisine cooking contest. His goal is to find a chef that can outdo Jan, and by doing so, fulfill his revenge for being humiliated by the boy.

Story overview:

We start where the last volume left off. Jan faces off with another chef, named Sawada, whose cooking style is very showy. The challenge is to make a meal using Beef. Where Sawada takes the tenderest cuts of a cow, Jan decides to use the toughest: the leg. Amazingly enough it works and Jan moves on to the next round.

Kiriko (the granddaughter of the owner of the Gobancho Restaurant, who works with Jan) also passes her rounds and makes it to the finals. Between rounds, we learn how brutal Jan’s grandfather was to him and we see ghastly scars across his back; put there by the old man’s cane.

Several rounds pass and Jan beats out technology with old fashioned cooking, and his final opponent by using what some would call a nasty trick: getting the judges full and satisfied before trying Ko’s dish. Though Ko was clearly more deserving (by more than just his food,) it was Jan who won. Three contestants go to the final round: Jan, Kiriko, and a girl named Celine Yang (who calls herself Jan’s fan and agrees with his methods.)

My thoughts:

I’ve yet to feel like I need to put this manga down for good. The nasty characters actually give some nice color to the story, and the plot with its interesting recipes still carries me on. So far I can say that I like it, but I have yet to really get into it. I will continue in this venture and share my thoughts with you.

Things to consider

Thirteen and up, this volume does have more cursing than the first two, but it’s pretty mild. There’s a scene where Kiriko sees Jan taking a shower and is shocked by the scars on his back. Thankfully the author (or moderator) placed a convenient black-bar over a certain part. Later we catch a quick glimpse of Kiriko in her undergarments, but nothing comes of it. Still pretty tame for manga standards. There’s also scenes with obnoxious violence . . .  kind of hard to explain, you’d have to read to know what I mean.

Opportunities for discussion:

Pride is a consistent theme in this story, yet we also learn there’s more to the characters than how they seem on the outside. Another good area to focus on is: how far should one go to win? Are there moral boundaries? Or is a win a win? Share these thoughts with your teens and ask them if there’s anything in their lives that this can relate to.

Past reviews in this series:

1) Iron Wok Jan (Volume 1)
2) Iron Wok Jan (Volume 2)

Kekkaishi v1The author, Yellow Tanabe (nice name, eh?) mentions that when she was a child, her and her friends would play a game in which they pretended to create invisible walls. Their declaration was, “I stretched the barrier from here to there!” And if someone walked into the area, they would get the cold shoulder, as if breaking the most important law of life.

From this imaginative game comes the making of Kekkaishi. In the first volume, we learn that in order to make a barrier, called a kekkai (“protective ward”), a Kekkaishi must perform three acts: (1) say the word “Hoi” to designate a target, (2) say “Joso” to position the Kekkai, and (3) call out “Ketsu” to create the barrier. Once that is established, the user has the option to either say “Kai” to let their prey go, or “Metsu” to destroy it.

Since the first volume is so filled with content—more so than most manga—my brief overview only covers a little bit. So just keep this in mind.

Story overview:

Where a Junior and Senior High School stands, there once towered a castle. Buried deep below the school is the spirit of the master of that castle, who was from the Karasumori clan. He possessed a power that to this day attracts nasty beings called ayakashi. If they spend any significant amount of time in the school grounds, they will grow bigger, more powerful, and dangerous.

Two children, who have special Kekkaishi powers passed down from generation to generation, are designated the guardians of the school. Since ayakashi are creatures of the night these guardians must lose out on a lot of sleep. If that wasn’t enough, it just so happens that their families are in a feud over who should be the true successor. This puts both Yoshimori (age 14) and Tokine (age 16) in an awkward position, as they so often end up working together.

When Yoshimori was nine years old, his naivety lead to the scars on Tokine’s arm. To this day he has two major goals: (1) never allow someone to get hurt in front of him again, and (2) make a castle cake big enough to live in. His dream to build the cake is constantly being overcome by his crotchety grandfather, lack of money, and fighting off ayakashi. As is the case when he finds out that one of Tokine’s teachers happens to posse inhuman powers, and the two of them must put a stop to it.

My thoughts:

The characters are wonderfully designed, the artwork is top rate, and the story is brilliant. A page turner for sure. This is currently one of my favorite manga series.

Things to consider:

I’d target this for boys at around the age of thirteen. There are a few places with slightly crude humor, and ayakashi are often called demons, but remember that demons to the Japanese are more like monsters to us. There is a lot of action violence too, but it’s done with proper cause.

Opportunities for discussion:

Yoshimori shows us that there are times to give second chances and times not to. We must be discerning of such things ourselves. He also shows us how to put someone else above ourselves. Not without emotional insecurities and flaws, his character is noble and pure underneath it all.

Rave Master 3Here is the next edition of the manga series, Rave Master. One of the Q&As at the back of the book says:

Q: How do you pronounce Plue?
A: It doesn’t really matter. But I pronounce it like “Blue.” It’s a little hard to explain in writing [laughs].

I pretty much figured this out, but what I am unsure of is the pronunciation of Elie. In the Japanese language the letter “E” is pronounced “Eh,” like the ‘e’ in men, but I’ve also heard it sound closer to a hard “A,” making “men” sound more like “main.” Also, the letter “i” comes across as “ee,” as in “see”. So my guess is, in English, it’s either Eh-lee-eh or AleeA? OK, so my Japanese is not great, that’s why I read translations. If anyone knows, please post as it’s driving me bonkers!
 
Story overview:

Haru continues his battle with Lance from the previous volume. Wielding the newly restored Ten Powers sword, Haru fights off the attacks of Lance’s Best Sword, which sends out dog-like creatures to both distract and bite him.

Just when things look bleak for Haru, the old Musica comes in and bear-hugs Lance, thus giving Haru the chance to attack without hindrance. The pair of them defeats the Demon Card hooligan and escape in time to avoid a confrontation with what looks to be a large and mysterious Imperial army.

While Haru recovers, it becomes evident that old Musica is the grandfather of young Musica, but they both are content playing ignorant to the fact. Elie finds a rid for her, Haru and Plun on a strange horse-like carriage, with an even stranger driver. They head north in search of another Rave, but get sidetracked in a village that oddly has not stopped raining for the last five years.

My thoughts:

Please Haru, stop saying the word “snap!” I continue to question the quality of the artwork and shaky storytelling, but to be fair; Mashima was only 21 when he created this series. The character designs are still good and the events are fun. I will continue to follow the progress.

Things to consider:

There’s a scene where Elie is sitting in a hot spring, and you can see some cleavage, but for manga this is quite tame. Any type of suggestive behavior is done more out of uneasiness rather than haughtiness. Same age group: 13+ and mainly for boys, with a fair amount of action violence.

Opportunities for discussion:

There are a couple good points in this one. First, there’s a slight conflict between Haru and Elie, but they both come to terms and apologize. If you have more than one child, this is a good time to tell them that people who love each other sometimes don’t get along, and even though they fight–like with their brother or sister or friend–in the end they if they discuss the problem, own up to their part, and apologize, then their relationship can be mended. The next thing to share is what happened to the boy, Chino, who lives in the raining village. Even though he knows the frogs are not to blame for the water, he takes it out on them. The lesson here is not to take your pain out on something weaker, but to tackle the true problem no matter how big it seems.
 
Past reviews in this series:
1) Rave Master (Volume 1)
2) Rave Master (Volume 2)

The Nixie's SongOK, so I feel a little stupid about this. I had watched the movie “The Spiderwick Chronicles” with Freddie Highmore, and was actually quite impressed. When at the library, I saw this book on the shelf and decided; since I liked the movie version, why not read the original books?
 
I was halfway through the book and thought, man the book is really, really different from the movie. Can you tell why I felt stupid yet? Yes, this is “Book 1”, but not of “The Spiderwick Chronicles” rather “BeyondThe Spiderwick Chronicles”. Duh! It’s a series that takes place after the original.
 
So, aside from feeling dumb about my mistake, I can actually say that I’m glad I went with this version first. Having the original movie somewhat still in my mind, I was happy to read an entirely new adventure with new characters. Also, I was glad to see several writing mistakes and “hack” no-nos, which made me feel better about missing the few things I did in the first version of my book (the corrected, 2nd edition is soon to be released).
    
Story overview:

Eleven-year-old Nicholas Vargas had his world turned upside down after the death of his mother. Not long after he is forced to welcome a new stepmother and an overly imaginative stepsister (Laurie) of similar age. If that wasn’t bad enough, Laurie takes over his room so that he is forced to share with his older, “surfer” brother.
 
Nick believes that internalizing everything and not bothering anyone is the way to get through life, but he soon finds that ignoring Laurie and her crazy ideas is impossible. After finding a four-leaf clover, Nick soon discovers that he is able to see fantastical creatures and is forced into helping a Nixie called Taloa, who has lost all her sisters.
 
In his journey to find Taloa’s sisters, both him and Laurie discover a giant that has the ability to breathe fire. They learn that three of Taloa’s sisters were killed by the giant. Accidentally leading the beast back to their home,  Taloa is forced to sing to the giant to keep it from killing her and destroying everything else in its path. In the meantime, Nick and Laurie go to a book signing to meet the creators of a book called “Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You,” in hopes of finding an answer to deal with their giant problem (yes, pun intended).   
 
My thoughts:

I enjoyed reading this one. The illustrations are very well done, and the larger font size makes reading this book easier for younger kids. The attitude of Nick (the main character) seems very realistic for a boy of his age. I enjoyed the tensions between characters, their misunderstandings, and the imagination or lack there of.
 
Things to consider:

I would guess this is good for age eight and up. As mentioned, the fonts and illustrations would be appealing to children. Also, there’s really no questionable content that I can think of beyond a few violent scenes.
 
Opportunities for discussion:

You can talk to your children about death, particularly if they have lost a parent like Nick did. Share with them that they are not a bother, but important parts of your life. Another element of discussion is the difference between telling a lie and using imagination, and sometimes doing the right thing may mean displeasing other people. In addition, even though you may not like a person at first, if you give them a chance, they may become a close companion in the end.