July 2005 Reads

Howl’s Moving Castle
by Diana Wynne Jones

fantasy, highly recommended  (4th-7th)

I saw the Miyazaki animated feature film based on this favorite of mine and in between two viewings, I was compelled to quickly re-read Howl. I HAD to re-read it to affirm for myself that Jones’ tone is completely different from that of Miyazaki’s. I much prefer the book’s world… into which I would not mind falling — but I will AVOID the movie’s world at all cost…

Although both book and movie are finely crafted and powerful in their own ways… for some reason, I think the less overtly “anti-war” approach (in the book) commands a depth of human conflicts and the internal struggles of “darkness vs. light” that the movie did not seem to be able to convey convincingly.

So much wise humor, so much gentle and yet deep probing of the human hearts was lost in the movie version.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (HP VI)
by J.K. Rowling

fantasy, series, highly recommended (4th-6th)

Definitely one of the better volumes of the series. It is more tightly written, moves at a neck-breaking pace, draws this reader in and pins her down! There are even a couple of surprising elements/scenes. It has been a fun ride! Although many people say that this one is much DARKER than the rest, I still feel that there is quite a bit of hope and levity. Maybe because I like dark tales and this does not strike me as those that really get into the characters’ psyche in a disturbing way — those tales by Poe or Hawthorn… for example. It does not “disturb” my sense of security. It’s a very imaginative and well thought out yarn. I am pleased!

Saiyuki (vols. 5 – 8)
by Kazuya Minekura

fantasy, manga, graphic narrative, translation (7th and up)

The series remains explosive, intriguing, and GORGEOUS!!! Must keep on reading them….

The Story of the Treasure Seekers
by E. Nesbit

fantasy, classic (3rd-5th)

Umm… I could not finish this book… it got tedious after the first 6 or so chapters. I know that it would have been a really fun book for me as a child… but it seems so dated — the sensibilities just don’t ring true any more. (And I LOVE nostalgic stories.)

by Jhumpa Lahiri

realistic fiction, adult

I found the events too mundane and the telling too tedious toward the end of the story… too many vignettes and descriptive passages. I also found having the death of the father inserted into the story is a tad gratuitous. Over all, it was somewhat enjoyable and intriguing, but not awe-inspiring.

The Amulet of Samarkand (Bartimaeus Trilogy I)
by Jonathan Stroud

fantasy, recommended (5th and up)

This proves that as a reader, I am not entirely consistent… I tried reading this title a year ago and found myself irritated by the tone of the narrative voice of one of the main characters, namely Bartimaeus. This time around, I had more leisure and more patience. Now this story becomes both fascinating, solid, and Bartimaeus has become an endearing character, albeit a conceited one! I can now see why The Amulet of Samarkand is a favorite of so many of my students. I applaud their taste! I must say that as fantasy world-building goes, this story is really successful: it follows impeccable logic and is rich with historical and mythical information. Now I look forward to reading the sequel!

First Boy (galley)
by Gary D. Schmidt

mystery (5th-7th)

There is simply too much concentration on cows and farm businesses to keep my interest up! It MOVES SO SLOWLY… and the pay off was not that great at the end. The sense of suspense is done well but unfortunately I just did not care enough about the characters to be emotionally invested in the outcome of all the “mysteries.” And… the events are both predictable and too coincidental to make this a first (or even second) rate mystery. Too bad…

W Juliet (vols. 1 – 4)
by Emura

realistic fiction, gender bender, manga, graphic narrative, translation (5th-7th)

This gender-bender manga is a lot of fun to read. I enjoyed the relationship between the main characters (the tender love affair is very touching) but found that it drags on a bit — which is common in serialization… one year of their time together is prolonged into FOUR volumes… and I just want a little more and faster development of their predicament… and I want to know exactly what HAPPENS at the end… but alas, that will take maybe another 3 years!

Saiyuki (vols. 1 – 4)
by Kazuya Minekura

fantasy, manga, graphic narrative, translation (7th and up)

This manga series has one of the best artworks in the field… Amazing hair-dos, of course; great personalities — you can actually tell each character apart without having to memorize their hairstyles or clothing! The storyline is pretty wacked but that is not surprising, being Manga. There is solid emotional development for each of the 4 main characters and enough of a coherent storyline that I would recommend this to readers new to this genre/form. Of course, there is a lot of gore (and slight sexual references) that it is not for the very young or faint of heart!

Goblin Wood
by Hilary Bell

fantasy, recommended (5th-7th)

Read this last year but for some reason didn’t record the experience. A solid fantasy from a solid author. I loved how all the characters are drawn with depth and complexity, loved the relationships between the humans and the goblins and between the main characters, and definitely loved the resolution that was not simple or predictable.

The Old Country
by Mordicai Gerstein

historical fiction, fantasy, magical story, highly recommended (4th-7th)

An odd and fascinating tale, with all the right fairy tale touches, and the mysterious ensemble of characters. Couldn’t quite figure out whether very young readers who have not much exposure to the history of the Jewish Holocaust will find this tale intriguing or puzzling… and for those who have been exposed to that part of history, will this tale be too “messagey” or enlightening? For this reader, it was satisfying enough, both as a fairy tale and social commentary. And of course, one does like a surprising ending!

Princess Academy
by Shannon Hale

fantasy, highly recommended (5th-7th)
Shannon Hall Goose Girl delivered again! I was a little put off by the cutsie looking cover.. thinking, oh, no, she sold out!! She’s doing a cute Princess Tale kind of thing… but, no, once again, the situations and the magic are subtle and the skillful presentation of the inter-personal relationships still holds mesmerizing power from this talented storyteller. Magic, boarding school story, romances, friendship, self-discovery, wit… this book has everything!

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
by Suzanna Clarke

fantasy, alternative history, adult

OH MY GOD… this book is SOOOO good! I would have given it 10 stars if I allow myself to break the rating rules! What a strange mixture of the traditional British comic portrayal of class relations, a la Jane Austen, and the dark, supernatural musings of fine writers such as Hawthorne… One can slowly savor this long tale (782 pages with fine print and finer print for footnotes of which many are short stories in disguise…) and never wish to get out of that eerie world of 19th century alternative Britain. So imaginative and lyrical; so humorous and melancholy; so amazing! A book that stole my heart!

The Good Times are Killing Me
by Lynda Barry

mystery, YA (7th and up)

Barry is skilled in presenting the voices of the characters and capturing the senses of the places. However, there is somewhat a disconnect because of the episodic nature of the “story.” I can imagine how this works really well with music, as when it was first presented as a musical one woman play. Without the music, something is definitely lacking.

Day of Tears
by Julius Lester

historical fiction, highly recommended (5th and up)

I couldn’t quite make up my mind whether I enjoyed this or not. The subtitle of a “novel in dialogue” really threw me — because the “dialogues” are mostly monologues and there are plenty of descriptions of settings and musings of emotions to make this a successful “dialogue” novel. The voices are also not very distinct from person to person. That said, there are many many strong elements going for the novel.   One being the underlying story itself: it is powerful and I can see young readers taking this short tale to heart and understanding the theme and events deeply for its emotional impact.  Another is the strong and effective portrayal of many of the characters and their relationships.  And of course, the imagery of tears/rain, consistent throughout the story, reflecting the mood of the characters and the readers.

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