Tag Archives: recommended

Avatar The Last Airbender: The Promise – (3 Volumes)

avatar(originally posted on 9/20/2013 on just vol. 1 — updated to include all three)

The story of two “nations” occupying the same land where one is now being demanded to remove itself mirrors eerily contemporary conditions in our current world. I’m delighted that almost all the important characters make their appearances here and their personalities consistent with the show. The artwork is definitely true to the show as well — for the most part.  Of course, the fight scenes are slightly less epic or thrilling presented in still frames and not movements, but fans of the show can probably fill in the sounds and sequences. I know I read it with the actors’ voices in my head!

The story arc is convincing and the ending is satisfying.  My biggest complaint might be that Zuko (the new Fire Kingdom King) is not quite what he looked like on the show — his features in the books are less defined and with less angsty charm that I so enjoyed from the show.

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Lockwood & Co #1: Screaming Staircase

screamingstaircaseby Jonathan Stroud

I truly enjoyed Stroud’s narrative tone, characters and world building in this first volume of a new fantasy/horror series.  In Lucy we find a fresh, sharp-minded, slightly paranoid and self-doubting, but in the end completely lovable main character/narrator.  Lockwood and George are also interesting and multi-faceted characters who maintain the flavorful exchanges between these young people.  The premise also provides a new world for the author and the readers to venture into and explore — The Problem, consisting of ghosts, hauntings, and the solutions of using special child agents trained to deal with them, with all the life-threatening dangers that could befall anyone at any moment.  I’m in awe of Stroud’s talent.

So why didn’t I absolutely love the book?  Probably because I figured too many things out too early so the wait for the reveal seemed a bit long and drawn out?  Or perhaps there were just a few repetitive descriptions/scenarios too many?  (How many times do the readers need to be told how the first hints of haunting feel or look like?)  Do I still want to see what unfolds in book 2?  Yes.  If the Bartimaeus trilogy is any indicator, the sequels will give us more layers and nuanced interactions.  The story will only evolves into something grander and hopefully the ending will be as satisfying — and perhaps unexpected, too?


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The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit (Ninja Detective #1)

NinjaDetective1by Octavia Spencer

I usually approach books written by celebrities with a bit of trepidation. More often than not, I don’t even bother reading them — just waiting for others’ reactions. But for some reason, I got a positive vibe from the galley. Perhaps because its multi-ethnicity cast portrayed and neatly presented on the cover? My gut feelings proved to be not that wrong. Much like what Spencer enjoyed reading as a child (Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown,) the story is just complex enough to keep the readers’ interest without too many confusing layers and the solutions are somewhat on the easy and happy side — which are thoroughly appropriate for its intended middle grade readership: both entertaining and comforting.

Do I sense that Spencer tried too hard to “balance” the cast with the inclusion of a hearing-impaired Hispanic kid, a black kid, and a Chinese house-keeper/friend? Yup. I sense that. But I’m ok with it because she actually created solid characters whose identities and friendships ring true and whose ethnicities are not the focal point or the plot driving elements. For the most part, the ethnical references are cringe-free. (Except for when Mei-Ling says, “Ni Hao” for a quick morning greeting to those she knows well… instead of the more appropriate “Zao” – for early/morning.) I will have no problem recommending this book to my students and hopefully they will enjoy this mystery with its positive message of community building.

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume One

leagueofextraordinarygentlemenby Allen Moore, Kevin O’Neill, Ben Dimagmaliw and Bill Oakley

The concept of bringing a lot of 19th century literary characters together to solve a mystery is definitely a fun one — although not unique, at least, not any more in an age of mash-up stories. I enjoyed spotting literary allusions and also learning more about characters or original stories that I was not familiar with. The art is superb. The section with all the Chinese dialog is actually fairly accurate. Kudos! I think I’ll go over all the panels more than once just to enjoy the artists’ talents. Another aspect that’s extraordinarily fun is how the whole thing is done in an 1898 serial publication style. All in all, worth my time!

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duneby Frank Herbert

I was much more impressed with the book during the reading of the book than after having finished it — largely due to my expectations of having something transcendent, something heart-felt, something truly world shattering that the journey might have led to than what actually transpires at the end.  I definitely liked the world building, the presentation of technology and training of various warrior/assassin types, and the drawing upon non-Euro-centric traditions in constructing the beliefs and social structures within the world of Dune.  (And the Sand Worms… are such cool Desert Dragons!)

With such a rich and realized world, in the end, the book is just a fairly standard story of a hero that’s born with amazing abilities who cannot escape the paths set up for him and who walks all the way to the end as destined and even though losing a few precious things along the way, there seems to be little to no effect on his person. Much of the plot is propelled and explained away with mysticism and basic political maneuvering. At a certain point, I muttered, “Paul’s better not succeeded in accomplishing this as he has planned…” — but, as always, he did. He managed to achieve all that he set out to do, from outwitting enemies, to changing the ways of a tradition, to earning back trust easily from his old pals. Yes, he did lose a son in the whole process — but his reaction? They would be able to create more heirs and the heirs will inherit the world.

The volume ends as the two generations of concubines having a short exchange where Paul’s mother assures Chani (his true love but not the proper empress) that even though they would never have the title during their lifetime, they will be remembered in history as “Wives”!! Woop-dee-doo! What an achievement!

Granted, it was created in early 1960s and perhaps Herbert was not trying to question science or future worlds as harshly as we might these days — I still couldn’t help but putting a 2013 lens on it.

I know I will not be reading the sequels any time soon.   I searched and read some book summaries of the two sequels — it seems that the question of lineage and political power play are even more centralized in the next two books. Definitely not too exciting for me!


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All the Truth That’s In Me

allthetruthby Julie Berry

I couldn’t put the book down, especially toward the end — really wanting to know how everything played out. I don’t want to spoil it for other readers so won’t say how the plot/romance/mystery/fate were handled by the author — suffice it to say that I was quite impressed.

The most impressive aspect of the book, to me, is the author’s ability to maintain the inner voice, authentic and powerful, of Judith.  Every thought and emotion felt raw and genuine.  Did I sometimes wish that she had thought or acted differently because I wished all the best for her at the moment? Definitely.  But did I want her to act completely rationally — definitely not — because then we would not have had this very readable and more importantly, for a school librarian, “sellable” book to my middle school readers.   I already know that those who enjoyed Scarlet Letter and The Crucible would find this a much easier but nonetheless as gripping addition on their reading list!

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room by Emma Donoghue

I definitely was expecting a slightly different book after hearing about it from many students who were enthralled by the book, describing it as a “psychological thriller” and very creepy.  It turned out to be more about the process of socialization of a semi-feral child and the power of persisting maternal and familial love.  The strength lies in the author’s deft encapsulation of the inner and exterior voices of a five-year-old (super intelligent) child.  I do question the utter success of the escape and the short time it takes for both the boy and the mother to adjust / readjust to the Outside — with the understanding that this is not a psychology textbook but an author’s imagined world.  I listened to the audio book version and the voice actors are simply superb!  

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mastiffby Tamora Pierce

I did not read this one when it was first published in 2011 because I kind of “fell” out of love for Beka Cooper and her escapades after Terrier when Bloodhound did not quite deliver the punch that I was hoping for — even though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.  (I vaguely recall that I didn’t like how she resolved, or didn’t resolve the relationships with the men in her life and also didn’t find the crime or investigation of the crime gripping.)

But, boy, am I glad that I went back to Beka and was not disappointed!!  It’s not that the pacing of this volume is so breathtakingly fast, and it’s not that there is more heart-wrenching romance, somehow, Mastiff just seems more mature and deeper than the previous one, fittingly so, of course, since Beka has matured herself.

This time, the whole kingdom of Tortall is in danger.  The little prince was kidnapped and mistreated.  Evil and powerful mages are setting traps and murdering innocents.  The stakes couldn’t have been higher!

This time, the newly introduced mage, Farmer, also couldn’t have been more entertaining or full of promises — AND he IS so powerful and So very clever!

This time, the mysteries keep me guessing and guessing wrongly a few times!

This time, the conclusion is both sad and satisfying.  Everything works out logically and I enjoyed the Epilogue that brings this story to the very first story I read by Tamora Pierce, Alana.  It brought a content smile to my face.

A most excellent read!

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Smoke and Mirror

by Neil Gaiman – read by Neil Gaiman

This is a short stories collection from 1998.  As I love Fragile Things and especially love how Gaiman reads his own tales — he is quite a voice actor, changing his tones, inflections, accents — all dexterously and effortlessly and all quite fitting the characters, the advantage of having the author (who is a good storyteller) reading the stories.

I did not love all the tales — not even most of them.  Of the 31 tales and verses, I think I only really enjoyed about a dozen or so.  Something felt lacking — quite a few seem to be character sketches or exercises in painting imageries and building atmosphere, for something bigger and more complete — but not deep or polished themselves.  I often enjoy Gaiman’s somewhat dark or even brutal (and honest, perhaps?) depictions of sexual acts in his writing for adults.  But, I found myself slightly appalled by certain gratuitous passages, shaking my head, gently whispering in my mind, “Neil, you did not have to resort to this — the story itself is strong and intriguing enough…”  — but, of course, many of these stories were meant to be slightly pornographic (light erotica) — I just didn’t quite prepare myself for so many of them being this way.  Now I’ve listened to it once, I’ll be able to go back and pick out the tales that I want to listen to over and over again (like quite a few of those in Fragile Things) and also figure out why some of the stories did not work for me the first time.  (They might grow on me upon repeat listening.)


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A Study in Scarlet

sherlock-_-a-study-in-scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
I never got to read this original story that has inspired so many other renditions. I loved “A Study in Emerald,” a short story by Neil Gaiman in the collection Fragile Things and thoroughly enjoyed the BBC Sherlock episode entitled “A Study in Pink.” So pleased to report that this is indeed a fascinating mystery. Now I think I’ve read all the Sherlock Holmes tales: short and long. Happy about it.

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Hokey Pokey

13642591by Jerry Spinelli

This new book by established author Jerry Spinelli has sparked quite a bit of conversation in the children’s lit. circle.  And at my Children’s Literature Circle (a monthly book club that I host for faculty at my school,) our teachers (and one student) had quite a bit to say about the book as well.  So, here’s a short synopsis of what we discussed last Friday (April 19th.)

We were lucky enough that an 8th grade boy, hungry and in need of some sustenance wandered in to the classroom where some yummy chicken fingers called to him.  We said to Z (his initial) that we’d love to give him this book to read and get some feedback, since one of the common sentiment was, “Who would read this book?  Whom is this book for?”  But Z surprised us by saying, “Oh, that book?  I read it.  I really liked it.”

So we fed Z, asked him to stay for the beginning of our discussion and share with us his reaction.  He told us that the book was easy to read and he really enjoyed it.  These are some of his own words. “It resonated with me.”  “How the author describes it gels with my own childhood.” “I was confused at first.  Thought it was purely fantastical world… until it became clear that it was a childhood… it felt tribal.” ” It feels like a new fantasy world.”  “It would have felt sadder if I had read this earlier.”  Or, as we agreed, for a younger reader, it might not speak to him/her at all!

After Z left, we had a short moment of collective reflective silence — hmm… so this book IS for someone, and at least for this one 8th grader, everything WORKS beautifully.  Z also told us that he read the book in one day — which we all agreed that is the way to go.  Not a book to read in piece-meal, putting down and picking up again.  But we also all agreed that it was NOT an easy book to get in to – not by a long shot.  Anyone staying with the book until the end appreciated it so much more than they had originally thought possible.

We thought that it is daring for Spinelli to create such a unique world and he did quite a great job maintaining it.  Not an easy task.  Some of us felt that toward the end, there’s a bit redundancy in reviewing all the areas of “childhood” (Hokey Pokey) and that tightening it up more would have been  emotionally stronger.  Someone in our group suggested that the book should have been a short story.

We thought that this book will speak most directly and effectively for those who have LEFT Hokey Pokey.  (So, early teens, teens, and adults.)  And it probably will only speak to those who actually lament or miss their childhood.

Is the Allegorical land too obvious for some readers?  It is, somewhat, for me and a couple of other adult readers.  But it seems to have worked quite well for the 8th grader and there is a sense of revelation and pride in being able to name what Hokey Pokey is!

I grappled with the view points somewhat — if this is supposed to be the internal landscape of Jack, why would we be able to see so clearly some of the other characters’ internal journeys?  Especially that of Jubilee’s?    Or perhaps this is NOT an internal landscape but a SHARED Childhood Experience of those who live through it together?  Some leave earlier than others and some want to leave while others want to hold them back.

I wish that the strong dividing line of “BOYS are this” and “GIRLS are that” is less clearly stated to allow for better enjoyment by me with a 21st century sentiment.

I also think that the comparison of Spinelli to Joyce (by plenty of people) is quite off base and that this is not an example of “stream of consciousness” style!

This was definitely a conversation propelling book!  I’d love to hear more opinions for young readers!

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Sisters Grimm #1: The Fairy-Tale Detectives

sistersgrimm by Michael Buckley

I read this series not in order but it didn’t hurt the enjoyment since each story has its central conflict to resolve and there’s a nicely tied up ending for each one. This first story sets up the backdrop quite nicely, explaining how the fairy tale creatures (the Everafters) got to Ferryport Landing and how the sisters came to assist their grandmother in playing the detectives to capture the culprits in magical crimes. It’s all very clean, imaginative fun and beloved by many of my young readers.

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Fairy's Return and Other Princess Tales

fairysreturnby Gail Carson Levine, a collection of six Princess Tales

I enjoyed pretty much every single story in this collection.  Each one is inventive and fresh, with a lot of humor and just the right kind of twists from the original tales to maintain a high level of interest — even from this veteran fractured fairy tale reader.  I only wish that the design and the title are not so incredibly girly because I believe like all Grimm tales, these stories can be equally appreciated by both genders, even if the focus on the tales is the yearning and seeking of that one and perfect match.  The way Levine presents the relationships of the main characters stresses more on personalities and character compatibilities than some external or shallow physical attraction makes these tales solid choices for young readers.

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Grimm Legacy

grimmlegacyby Polly Shulman

For a librarian, someone who has worked for the New York Public Library system and toured the underground (deeply underground) stacks of books and objects, and a huge fan of fairytale reinventions, this book is a perfect match.  I thoroughly enjoyed the capers and the many magical aspects of the storyline.  This is another one that I can easily recommend to readers who want fantasy stories firmly inserted into their real world experiences.  The clean high school romances, the school basketball games, and the use of electronic devices will speak to contemporary twin readers.  The threads of the mystery are intriguing the first 2/3 of the story.  The last 1/3 becomes a little less skillfully laid out: once all the red herrings are eliminated and the true villain is identified, the story loses a little bit of momentum.  But thanks to the few super fun elements (Elizabeth’s losing her sense of direction, the bottomless box, and the whole idea of all those people turned into figurines for centuries, for example,) I was not bored.  It is, however, a little of a let down to see that the author could not seem to come up with a better or really clever way to get rid of the villain and had to employ a deus ex machina in the form of one of the minor characters and a realm that was never introduced previously in the story.  Nonetheless, I am still excited about the companion book that is to be released this June, The Wells Bequest. I can’t wait to go back to this fantastic library and see what the imaginative mind of Polly Shulman has concocted for the readers.

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mindwinterblood15794941by Marcus Sedgwick

I put up two covers for this book because I found it so strikingly obvious that the UK edition and the US edition attempt to appeal to different readers.  The UK edition has the back of a man in robe holding a gleaming dagger while we are stared at by a beautifully young woman with mysterious patterns overlaying her skin.  Even the type choices are different (not to say that in the UK Sedgwick’s name is the selling point while in the U.S. he has to be “explained” as a Printz honor recipient.

The two design of the title are even different where the UK version Midwinterblood is one word but the US edition the title reads Midwinter Blood.

I have to confess that I was not all that impressed or emotionally invested at the beginning of the book.  It’s that darn high expectations syndrome again: high and enthusiastic praise and push from Monica and the publisher.  Both of them compared the book to other titles I loved — and especially titles that have what I consider “beautiful” writings (such as Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch.)  When I didn’t see the sparkling prose that I was expecting, my eagerness dwindled.  And, the US ARC proclaims that there are Seven Stories of Love and Passion which I interpreted as each story would be an incredibly passionate romance  (again, in the vein of Lips Touch.) Perhaps it’s my close-mindedness, but perhaps this description is indeed misleading.  And from hindsight, I could see how each tale IS a story of passionate love, just not all romantic love.

I am so glad that I stayed with the book.  As it is really clever and original.  The seven stories going back in time, each interconnected in some way, and each containing some unsettling elements (which I adore in short stories,) piece together a whole picture that is powerful and affecting.  Sedgwick even granted my wish by bringing us all back to the first tale, the first characters, and giving us closure.

I’m still left with a couple of questions, though: 1. Are we to interpret the characters ask speaking a Scandinavian language and that everyone of them is from the same linguistic cluster (the Journalist, the Archeologist, and Airman, specifically)  They all seem to have no problem communicating with each other, no matter the time periods and whether the encounter is within the community or with outsiders; and 2. I want to know more about the Orchids and their origins and powers and perhaps stories of greed and desire because of their special qualities.

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Out of the Pocket

OutofthePocketby Bill Konigsberg

The best adjective I could think of to describe this book is perhaps “earnest.”

The reluctantly outed celebrity quarterback’s story is told with such sincerity and truth that the reader cannot but root for the main character.  Along the way, there is just the right amount of suspense and uncertainty — how everyone might react to the news and accept or disapprove of his sexuality or decision  making — to maintain a high interest level to continue reading.  I read through it quickly because I truly wanted to know what happened next.  The football play-by-play scenes are described with lucidity and are quite exhilarating.  So even this football layman could form clear mental pictures and follow the games with all the thrill a spectator at the games would possess.  That is one of the strengths of this book.

I cannot not quite decide whether Bobby is flesh and blood and completely realized or is a courageous face on the cover of a magazine or national campaign poster, whose story is told to and not quite lived by this reader.  Perhaps he is both — at different times in the telling, depending on whether he is put in the middle of a scenario and reacts, or he is being cool-headedly examined by himself in one of his many his internal monologues.

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V for Vendetta by Alan Moore art by…

5805V for Vendetta
by Alan Moore
art by David Lloyd

I really appreciated the intricate storytelling and some of the truly dark moments in this complete collection of the V stories. It’s great to finally know what this classic graphic novel is about and to have read something by the famed Alan Moore. At the same time, I’m not sure that I bought all the philosophical and political views underpinning the characters and the plot line: it seems to run too straight and too narrow down one singular line and everything worked out all according to V’s plans. That said, it is a rewarding read that demands quite a bit of focus and now I have to ponder hard about the ending: is it a brilliant treatment or does it too abrupt and unresolved? I’d love to hear others’ opinions on the series’ ending…

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February 8, 2013 · 6:20 pm

The Darkness Dwellers Kiki Strike #3 Galley by…

8680025The Darkness Dwellers: Kiki Strike #3. (Galley)
by Kirsten Miller

Finished. The first 2013 children’s book that I got to read. A whole bunch of girls (5-8 grade) have been waiting for this to come out for a long long time! Hurray for its final appearance AND happy that they will definitely enjoy it. They will find that the plotting is as adventuresome and surprising as the previous two installments and the tone is as sassy. It’s also delightful to read Ananka’s TIPS for girls that encourage kindness and level-headedness throughout the story.

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February 5, 2013 · 10:14 pm

The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card Fantasy…

The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card, Fantasy
With really fresh (although 30-odd years in the making from the first kernel of the ideas for the book) takes on some old magic: elemental magic, beast magic, etc. and the inventive “Gate Magic” (no, not quite like Star Gate, more akin to Pullman’s Subtle Knife and the windows between worlds,) Card created yet another entertaining story. I was very happy for the whole ride — and didn’t find the ending forced (as some critics feel) or that the main character unlikable. Actually, I think Danny is definitely a convincing teen who is a modern day version of Loki the Trickster God. And the episodes of the “other world” politics, pure love, and cruel betrayal also are engrossing.

I did find myself wonder (this is because I know a bit too much about Card and his religious and social politics) why it seems that all Danny is every warned about of living on the street Danny is homosexual pedophiles — as if that is the ONLY danger he would be facing when leading a life of crime (not jails or violence.) I felt the slight clouding of my mood when those passages/messages came up once too often.

The Gate Thief, #2 of the Mithermages series, is to be published next spring. Looking forward!

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July 19, 2012 · 6:54 pm

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

I absolutely enjoyed the many separate pieces in the book — thinking that each chapter can be treated as a short story since there is always a beginning and an end and not too much set up is needed to comprehend most of them. There are some really intensely gory and cringe-inducing scenes and a couple tales border on horror. Some are heart-warming, too.

One thing that I couldn’t quite get over, though, was the unevenness in keeping to the rules that the author set up for himself: That, supposedly, each piece in the book is a “translation” of something the “narrator” gathered from a massive electronic archive with audio, video, text, etc. — recorded history of various participants in the Robot Uprising and the global warfare afterwards. However, instead of using a 3rd person, observational tone, Wilson chose to tell many of these heroes’ stories from a first person point of view — EVEN if the recordings themselves are from an exterior angle. (And I just noticed that the first few stories are more in keeping with this framework — some stories are from a third person viewpoint while others are supposedly “narrated” by the participants themselves as interviewees or writers, etc. — but that consistency gradually fell apart and at the end there is a lot of “I” and how “I” felt even though the gathered records couldn’t have provided those perspectives.) And some of the voices are not quite in keeping with the characters themselves — or at least, not quite distinctive to be discernibly different from each other, even though some of these characters are drastically different in backgrounds and should probably have different tones. — Although I guess I can accept it because many of them are told from the reporter/archivist’s “voice.” (However, then why are they told from the “I” perspective?)

Still, I can see many readers enjoying the stories and gobbling up the scenes with relish!  And, I am so enamored with the cover design!

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