Tag Archives: series

The Merchant of Death (Pendragon #1)

Author: D.J. MacHale
Reading Level: 4th to 6th

Pages: 374
Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks (Simon & Schuster)
Edition: Paperback, 2002 (2002)

Bobby Pendragon describes events as Bazzario, his friend and uncle as Coolio, something sad is always going to “break his heart” and when facing death, he cannot help himself but uttering “Whoa!” I can’t believe the kind of drivel that is kept in this published work. At least half of the description, statement, and revelation is redundant. MacHale is a master of stating, restating, and overstating the obvious. It’s as if there is no trust in the reader’s ability to make sense and emotional connection or interpretation of the events.

There are life-or-death situations throughout the story but if one thinks twice about it, it is apparent that a tighter, more powerful story can emerge from beneath the jumble and rambling of words. Show, Mr. MacHale, show, and don’t tell!

I also couldn’t suspend my disbelief to accept that Bobby could scratch with a crude pen-and-ink-set on FOUR sheets of parchment, almost 50-printed pages worth of “journal entry.” Ok, he has to write “everything down” but if he only had a few hours (as it is the case) and a limited supply of parchment, it just does not make sense for him to record every single last word in the dialog or for him to make side mental comments on the situations. It simply does not follow logic — and in works of the fantastic and the wonderous, logic is more important to keep the fabric of the tale together.

So, I am forced to finish this book because my students keep asking me to read it because it is “GREAT”! Now, I have to start questioning how and why this book is great…. I need help! But I’m just happy that I’ve finally finished the book (what a painful week it was!) and can now move on to the new Neil Gaiman short story collection, The Fragile Things

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Sandman: The Dream Hunters

Author: Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano
Reading Level: 7th and up

Pages: 128
Publisher: Vertigo
Edition: Paperback, 2000 (1999)

Beautifually haunting, both in text and illustration. Typically Gaiman. And I am a sucker for his style. The tenderness of a tragic love is revealed with poetic, dream-like prose. Gaiman is masterful in conjuring up not only paradoxical phrases, but paradoxical imagery and emotions: we find beauty in the macabre, humor in the tragic, hope in the despairing…

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The Sea of Monsters

Author: Rick Riordan
Reading Level: 4th – 6th

Pages: 279
Publisher: Miramax / Hyperion
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

Much like the first book of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians/The Lightning Thief, it is mildly amusing, light, full of cameo appearances from the Greek mythology: some work very well and others are a bit forced. The “guest stars” scenes work a little better in this one: they contribute to, rather than detract from, the momentum of the plot. The stake gets higher here and I presume, like many fantasy series, this one probably will progress from light to dark as the series progress. (Think Harry Potter.)

Riordan’s decision on using Percy’s first person narrative voice that is light, self-deprecating, and ironic has been effective but might make it more difficult to darken the mood. Of course, he (Percy, not Riodan) can grow up and mature a bit and hopefully we’ll see that his “voice” grows along with him. I was reminded of the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, with Percy gaining companions of various talents along his quests. But the similarity stops there – Alexander’s style differs drastically from Riordan’s.

The explanations of some modern day phenomena are actually funny: Chain stores sprouting due to the new birth of each monster; Internet being invented by Hermes, the Messenger God, etc.

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Ramona Books

Author: Beverly Clearly
Reading Level: K-3rd

Publisher: William Morrow / Yearling / Dell
Edition: Mixed, 1955 onward

This has been a favorite bedtime story series for the last 3 months. I read it to Lily when we were in Taiwan and David has been reading it to her every night for the last 2 months. The titles in the series are

Beezus and Ramona (1955)
Ramona the Pest (1968)
Ramona the Brave (1975)
Ramona and Her Mother (1977)
Ramona and Her Father (1979)
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (1981)
Ramona Forver (1984)
Ramona’s World (1999)

We have finished all but the last two. I’m constantly amazed and reminded of Cleary’s uncanny talent at capturing the inner workings of a small child as I listen to David’s affective reading and watch Lily’s complete emotional involvement with the story.

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Cam Jansen Series

Author: David Adler
Reading Level: K-2nd

Pages: around 60
Publisher: Viking / Puffin
Edition: Mixed

This is really Lily’s first series. She’s finished 24 of them and is now tackling the 25th Cam Jansen and the Valentine Babies Mystery.

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Beyond the Deepwoods

Authors: Paul Stewart & Chriss Riddell
Reading Level: 4th to 6th

Pages: 278
Publisher: David Fickling Books/ Random House
Edition: Hardcover, 2004 (1998 in UK)

So. I couldn’t wait to finish this book! Not that I was so thrilled by it that I wanted to know how it all pans out. Nope. I basically could guess (there are quite a bit of not very subtle hints throughout the book) how Twig’s journey is going to end. I simply wanted the book to end so I didn’t have to keep reading chapter after chapter after chapter of descriptions of some form of gross, fantastic creatures who put Twig in mortal danger and, of course, from whom Twig eventually gets away. I even guessed the Gloamglozer part (which just shows how jaded an adult reader can be when reading a children’s book.) Their existence serves little to actually advance the storyline but a strong sense of self-indulgent from the co-authors/illustrators.

The writing is solid and fine. The illustrations are definitely fabulous and incredibly detailed: when I skimmed the creatures chapters, they tell me exactly what happens and how each creature looks like. Very helpful indeed.

To be absolutely fair, there are some good chapters and a few unexpected turns: the Banderbear’s demise is definitely sad. I can see young readers who enjoy imagining their own creatures find great examples and kindred spirits in the authors. I only wish that the binging of “creature presentation” is either curbed a bit, or serves some better purposes: as part of his self-discovery and growth, maybe? Time passes in the story, but the sense of Twig remains the same from the first page to the last. Even with the loss of his beloved companion, I do not feel that Twig has altered his sense of the world or of himself. It just got tiresome: like eating too much at a passable buffet dinner, just because I have paid and started the meal, not because I savor the many dishes.

I wonder if the following volumes, for this is the first of The Edge Chronicles series, are better or does the super-indulgence continue?


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Ptolemy’s Gate

Author: Jonathan Stroud
Reading Level:

Pages: 501
Publisher: Hyperion
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

Warning: Plot Spoiler Below

I’m still trembling minutes after finishing the final scenes of this ever-better trilogy. Shed much tear at the end. The nobility of the three main characters, growing more obvious as each moment passes, is both so cleansing and so real. My mild delight at seeing Nathaniel becoming more like his old, idealistic self in the middle part of the book turns into the gigantic admiration toward the end, when he calmly sacrifices himself and protects all that he loves. I’m still in shock! Stroud is gutsy in constructing this unexpected and utterly convincing ending. No wonder so many readers have told me how great this book is. Indeed.

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