Thursday, December 29, 2005


Author: Christopher Paolini
Reading Level: 5th and up

After finally getting past the first few chapters of rather clunky writing and derivative plot details, I suddenly understood why the book has been so popular with young readers. This is a book that, young readers of fantasy stories would have written themselves: the surprising but not really complex plot twists, the relationships between major characters, and the resolutions are all very young-person-like (as opposed to childlike.) The actions flow quite quickly and there is definitely enough excitement to uphold reader's interest. Now, I might actually go and read The Eldest.

Mortal Engines

Author: Philip reeve
Reading Level: 5th and up

This scary, ugly world of the future (thousands of years away) is so well realized and extremely chilling. The story is exciting but oh, so very sad. Almost every single one of the characters, major or minor, dies along the way. So bleak -- most of the deaths are justifiable, but some seem a bit gratuitous. Definitely not a book for the weak of stomach. After closing the book, I can still hear the grinding of the city wheels and gear and feel the pain from so many different kinds of wounds inflicted to the various characters.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Dolores: Seven Stories about Her

Author: Bruce Brooks
Reading Level: 6th and up

I definitely liked the character very much and enjoyed a few stories tremendously: especially the first story when she was 7 and the story about her first romance. However, it does not quite feel that all the stories are connected, and I can't quite figure out how each of them builds on the previous version of Dolores. I think that is the intention -- to show how she becomes the Dolores of the next stage. But, it might be just me as a reader who failed to see the connection between one set of characteristics to the next. It also seems very unrealistic, fairy-tale like almost -- although I do know young women who remain true to their inner-selves and are accepted and even admired for their fierce loyalty to their own hearts. So, maybe it is not quite a fairy-tale!

The Fountainhead

Author: Ayn Rand
Reading Level:

Edition: Audio Book

After hours of listening, I am now finally done with this famous work. So many of my friends read this when they were younger and told me how this book "changed their lives." At this stage of my life, I definitely did not feel that the ideology or situations presented in the work have that much impact on my life as a whole. It is a gripping story with completely unforgettable characters, for sure.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Pet Shop of Horrors Vol. 1

Author: Matsuri Akino
Reading Level: 5th to 7th

This reminds me of some of the best and most horrifying mangas I read as a teenager, fitting the serie's title. Whoever wishes to read it, must proceed with caution -- and a strong appetite for the graphically gory scenes.

Criss Cross

Author:Lynne Rae Perkins
Reading Level: 6th and up

Even though it took me some effort to get into the main part of the story, once I adjusted my own mood to fit the text's, the characters came alive and all the little scenes brought quite a bit of enjoyment: from their humor, insights, or authenticity. Definitely a book speaking for a specific audience -- and there is no predicting whom it might attract.

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)

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

This is bound to be popular with anyone who loves action-packed adventure stories. Vastly accessible due to its simplicity both in prose style and in its explicitly directive explanations of Percy's emotional reactions to events. For me, there were simply too many repeated and predictable patterns (and some scenes thrown in simply for thrills) and not enough layers for contemplation to warrant deep satisfaction.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

October 2005 Reads

A Game of You (Sandman No. 5)

author: Neil Gaiman
audience: Adult

Like all the other Sandman graphic novels in the series (of 10 books,) this one is exquisitely designed and the story is the usual Gaiman-esque oddity: illogical and yet completely sensible, if one thinks with one's heart, not one's head. Some images are really quite gory... they even bothered me! (The severed, reconstructed Head of George which flapped its tongue and talked...hmm... really disturbing..)

The Clique (book 1)

author: Lisi Harrison
audience: 5th-7th

Wow... pre-Teen Soap Opera to the top level! My goodness. The girls are so mean and there does not seem to have any remorse after all their misdeeds... Yes, I wanted to read to find out what comes next, a guilty kind of pleasure, but am so appalled by the lack of any "moralistic" view that I simply won't endorse this series. I am curious, though, as to why this is such a popular series and what the young readers (as young as 4th grade in my school) see in these books and how they view these girls.

The Year of the Dog

author: Grace Lin
audience: 3th-5th
I am reviewing this one for the Horn Book so I won't post my opinions here! (Horn Book 2006 March/April issue)

Lionboy: The Truth (book 3)

author: Zizou Corder
audience: 4th-6th

The rip-roaring conclusion of the adventurous and exciting trilogy did not disappoint me. Although so many threads are dealt with, the story line keeps pushing forward and the climax is quite satisfying. The blend of quality prose and very very childlike details remains the most charming aspect of this story.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

September 2005 Reads

Anansi Boys

author: Neil Gaiman
audience: Adult

Definitely enjoyed this light, weird, fun, fantasy... Gaiman is so good at creating parallel worlds inhabited by slightly "off" characters -- and they tend to be some form of magical/godlike beings. The images are so vividly presented that even I, the non-visual-reader, can picture the scenes, the settings, and the individual characters. It's definitely a story that leaves a long-lasting impression.

Raven's Gate

author: Anthony Horowitz
audience: 4th-6th

Although I liked the gloomy and scary bits of the book, too many scenes simply did not work for me and the momentum kept being stopped by unnecessary descriptions of something that the readers already were told. At moments, it just seemed sloppy. Still, parts of the story work quite well and I imagine those who like both Alex Rider series and Cirque du Freak series will enjoy the blend of adventure and horror in this volume. I wonder whether the second book will be better than the first..

Fire and Hemlock

author: Diana Wynne Jones
audience: 6th-8th

I just love how Jones writes -- there is a distinct tone, witty, dark, whimsical, and wise all at once.. and the world is so out of kelter... dangerous and fascinating at the same time, alluringly alarming.. is that how best describing this strange and charming book? I can't wait to discuss it with the online pals who will start the discussion tomorrow -- the last chapters are very murky and I could not quite figure out what really happened. Hopefully, in a few days, I'll have some answers to my questions (and I don't even know what my questions ARE!) This cover art puts me off, though. I much prefer the version I read - darker and more mysterious, much less focusing on the main characters.

Something's Fishy, Hazel Green

author: Odo Hirsch
audience: 4th - 6th

Slightly entertaining and at times very funny, in an intellectual, quirky way. A really fast read with some interesting scenarios. I like especially Hazel's relationships with all those surrounding her -- from the fishmonger, to her best friends, to bullies whom she is not afraid to challenge. However, I did find the set of quirky characters appear a bit unbelievable and the mystery simply... not very mysterious?

American Gods

author: Neil Gaiman
audience: Adult

Fascinating? Brilliant? Fragmented? All-encompassing? I cannot quite pin down exactly how to describe this book, except that I really enjoyed reading it. All the legends, myths, characters are highly intriguing. Of course, Gaiman's ability to present the most grotesque, morbid, and gory images with utter beauty, total elegance, and an alluring charm is what truly attracts me. American Gods reminds me of Peter Greenaway's movies.


author: Chris Lynch
audience: 8th and up

Although this book can make one very "uncomfortable," I was impressed with Lynch's ability to maintain a very unsympathetic, unreliable narrator's view point throughout the book. What a sad story.. but I imagine, not a completely abnormal one. It's interesting how one can justify just about anything that one does -- no matter how external evidences all point to a very different conclusion. Thought-provoking, to say the least.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

August 2005 Reads

Marley's Ghost

(from galley)
author: David Levithan
audience: 7th and up
What an interesting idea... following the format of the well known tale by Dickens. But, the tone is too preachy for my taste and after a while, the familar format just becomes tedious. Too bad.

Margaux with an X

author: Ron Koertge
audience: 7th and up

The whole book is SUCH a delight.. until... the very last couple of pages. I know, it is incredibly strange to say that a book dealing with such heavy duty topics of child abuse and theft, violence and parental neglect (and betrayal,) gambling and fatal illness can be "delightful." But Koertge's use of language and the way he constructed the characters just make this reader "happy" about the artistry shown on each page. Unfortunately... I was bothered by the final resolution... it seems that Margaux has left the Fox's den into a Bear's cave and is happy about the change... maybe believing that she can somehow tame this new beast in her life... (I was reading it for the Fairy Tale institute so it was hard to not see this as a Beauty and the Beast story...) The last few pages just seem too slight and too swift for such an otherwise finely crafted tale...

The Little Gentleman

author: Philippa Pearce
audience: 4th-6th

What a gem! It might be that I was just in the right mood when reading it... but it is simply charming, in a most "sensible" way. The dry humorous tone mixed with such tenderness of Bet's friendships with both the Mole and Mr. Franklin absolutely transfixed me. I couldn't pull myself out of this make-believe world. David is almost done reading it to Lily and they both agree that this is quite a tale!

Ties that Bind, Ties that Break

author: Lensey Namioka
audience: 5th-7th
Another story featuring Foot Binding for children... I liked the tone of the story. It felt like the type of writings that I read IN CHINESE when I was young... mellow, quiet, some intense moments.. but there is never a strong story arch.


author: Glen Huser
audience: 7th and up

I like the assortment of characters and their quirkiness. But certain elements did not work completely for me -- maybe there are too many of these characters, from Travis himself, his mother, to Chantelle's mother and brothers... and somehow the quirkiness and almost humourous qualities in the story does not blend naturally with the devastating tortures from bullies that Travis has to suffer through. Maybe there are simply too many elements: theater, music, bullying, friendship, abuse, romance (including Travis' budding homosexual feelings,) physical disability, poverty, family secrets..

I felt "burdened" reading it -- but not quite transported into that world. (Compare to How I Live Now which is also dealing with quite a few heavy issues but presented through the prism of a very strong singular focus that simply works.) Maybe Travis the narrator who is supposed to be living those moments is too strong, too sure of himself, and too aware of his own feelings to match Travis the character who is vulnerable and unsure of himself -- although both are similarly intelligent.

Black and White

author: Paul Volponi
audience: 7th and up

I'll say that my strongest reaction to this title is "appreciation"= appreciating the author's choice of subject matters (friendship/crime/racial tension/sportsmanship, etc.); appreciating the honesty in presenting these matters; appreciating the completeness of the story, nothing left unresolved although there are also no easy solutions; I appreciate how the boys' futures are left open and how Marcus and Eddie do have different personalities and views on the same events.But I was not mesmerized or taken by the story. There was always an awareness that these characters and events are made up to echo reality and to teach a lesson -- well done, nonetheless! I can see many young adult readers loving this book.

I Was a Rat

author: Philip Pullman
audience: 3th-5th

This is such a great read, and a great read-aloud. Pullman is such a skilled storyteller -- just the right combination of dark and light, heart-aches and comfort, advanture and mystery, and of course, a final, satisfying solution. The language just flows and it made me wonder how some people GET the cadence of language and put it down on paper so effortlessly (seemingly, of course) to create their own unique brand of tones, and yet others simply cannot make words and sentences do their bidding.

W Juliet (vol. 5)

author: Emura
audience: 5th and up

Just found out that the "W" means "double." Double Juliet... now, it finally makes sense. Same funny, romantic, dramatic -- this volume seems faster-paced. Really enjoyed it.

How I Live Now

author: Meg Rosoff
audience: 7th and up

This book has one of the most honest teen voices I've ever read. However, I almost did not give it a FIVE-pen mark, because the harrowing nature of the story - it is a story about WAR and its many many horrors. It is also a story about LOVE and its many many powers. The way Rosoff writes is simply magical -- the descriptions, dialogs, scenes, actions -- all flow and blend together organically. I will not hesitate to give this to any teen reader who is ready to receive a powerful punch in the (emotional) guts. Its Printz Award for best YA book of the year is well deserved!

Project Mulberry

author: Linda Sue Park
audience: 4th-6th

I admire Park's straightforward treatment of the subtle racial tension between one Korean American and one African American characters, and the honest reaction of the main character's discomfort with such situation. It rings true and feels brave!The dialogs between the main character and the author serve as chapter breaks and challenge the readers to think more deeply about the deliberate nature of fiction writing -- and some surprising turns and twists despite the deliberate planning, too.Although the 7th graders in the story seem a little young (6th? even 5th?), the friendship is warm and the conflicts are strong enough to hold readers' attention.


author: Donna Jo Napoli
audience: 6th and up

Reading this retelling of the "Chinese Cinderella" story was a painful experience for me. I could not even tell if it is well told, as stories go, because I was so distracted by all the inaccuracies in Napoli's portrayal of Chinese cultures, customs, characters, and philosophies.Here are some examples of my understanding that does not coincide with Napoli's text. Granted, I need to do more research and see if maybe my understanding is not universally correct.. A second wife of a man is not the "Stepmother" of his children by the other wife. She is the "auntie-mom" or "second mother." A stepmother is the wife of a second, separate marriage after the first wife is no longer around.

Napoli's misunderstanding of Chinese words is glaringly annoying: A Carp (li 3rd tone) and the word Advantage (li the 4th tone) look and sound completely differently -- yes, in English, you see them both sound as "Li" -- but their tones are different, and thus a Chinese speaker will not confuse these two at all. There is no way that Xing Xing (the main character) can paint/carve one of these two words to set up a "pun" in the ceramics she made.And would a Chinese native speaker say something like this, "'Ming means 'bright' with a second tone. The word for 'destiny' sounds the same but with another tone."????? If they are speaking Chinese (which they are supposed to be doing in the story,) there will be no need to point out the tonal differences because by SPEAKING them, the different tones are already aparent.

Also -- homophones are the most common in Chinese language. All the following are of the same pronunciation (and it's only 5 out of a possible 20 or so homophones): Ming = bright, Ming = name, Miing = bird call, Ming = rememberance, Ming = hell/world of the spirits. Yes, the Chinese do have word plays, and much of such plays relies on the confusion of homophones... but, the way Napoli wrote it, you can just tell that she does not really GET this language. This is the same throughout the book: reading it feels like reading a Chinese History 101 text, with pieces of a tale stuck uncomfortably on the margins.A most painful experience...

Thursday, July 21, 2005

July 2005 Reads

Howl's Moving Castle

author: Diana Wynne Jones
audience: 4th-6th
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)

author: J.K. Rowling
audience: 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)

author: kazuya Minekura

audience: 7th and up

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

The Story of the Treasure Seekers

author: E. Nesbit
audience: 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.)


author: Jhumpa Lahiri
audience: 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)

author: Jonathan Stroud
audience: 5th-7th

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)

author: Gary D. Schmidt
audience: 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)

author: Emura
audience: 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)

author: Kazuya Minekura
audience: 6th and up (Manga)

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

author: Hilary Bell
audience: 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

author: Mordicai Gerstein
audience: 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

author: Shannon Hall
audience: 5th-7th
Shannon Hall Goose Girldelivered 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

author: Suzanna Clarke
audience: 7th and up

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

author: Lynda Barry
audience: 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

author: Julius Lester
audience: 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. However, the underlying story itself 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.