Tag Archives: fantasy

[Review] The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

29 May

(This post was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Prosper and Bo run away to Venice to escape their aunt and uncle who want to separate them. Unable to survive on their own, they join a street gang led by the Thief Lord, Scipio, who is really only a child himself. As the gang tries to steal a wooden lion’s wing for a wealthy customer, Victor Getz, a detective hired by Prosper and Bo’s aunt and uncle, is hot on their trail.

This is a fun romp that injects a touch of fantasy into an almost realistic modern-day orphan story. The fantasy bits come as a pleasant surprise at the end, but not in a deus ex machina type of way.

A discussion guide is available on Scholastic’s book page.

[Review] Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer

22 May

(Part of this post was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Eleven-year-old Jack is a farmer’s son who works hard while his father lavishes attention on Jack’s five-year-old sister, Lucy. Just when Jack is apprenticed to Bard and starts to learn magic, Vikings attack their village and kidnap Jack and his sister. This leads to an adventure filled with action, magic, and of course, trolls that will change Jack’s life forever.

In Sea of Trolls, Farmer creates a setting that mixes history, mythology, and magic for her story of a boy who has to take on adult responsibilities too soon. Vivid characters fill the pages with their flaws and their heart as the reader follows Jack on his quest. The appendix includes notes about the Anglo-Saxons and Old Norse, pronunciation of the Icelandic words used in the book, and the origins of some of the creatures and characters from the book. The book also includes a list of sources.

A reading group guide with discussion questions and activities can be found on the publisher’s website.

I liked this book enough to buy the rest of the trilogy, which is at the top of my to-read pile. :)

[Review] Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

15 May

(Welcome to the first of my weekly scheduled reviews! I chose Thursday arbitrarily because May started on a Thursday. This post was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

The first in a series of eight books, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer introduces readers to Artemis Fowl II, who is twelve years old, the son of a crime lord, and an evil genius. Artemis tracks down a holy Fairy book that reveals the secrets of the fairies–secrets not meant for human eyes. Armed with the knowledge inside the book, Artemis hatches a plan to rebuild the family fortune and make his wishes come true.

The fast-paced adventure filled with fantasy and technology shines when Colfer takes the time to show Artemis in moments of humanity, allowing the reader to relate to him and his desire to be loved. A wonderful combination of fantasy with technology.

 

[R] Runemarks by Joanne Harris

21 Apr

(Happy late Easter everyone! I was so busy yesterday that I forgot to schedule my posts… Anyway, here’s another post that was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Maddy is an outcast in her village because of a rune mark on her left hand. Her only friend is One-Eye, an old traveler who has been teaching Maddy about runes and magic, heresy in the eyes of the Order that controls the world in which she lives. When Maddy discovers her magic by accident, One-Eye sends her on a quest that reveals her destiny.

Runemarks might start off slow, but it has the heft and feel of an epic fantasy with an exciting adventure in a rich world that is part Norse mythology, part Christian tradition, and all imagination.

This review refers to the eBook version of the book.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter R.

[Q] Quidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Whisp

19 Apr

(This is the first post this month that I didn’t pre-write, which is pretty good, considering it’s been almost three weeks! :D)

I remember when Quidditch Through the Ages first came out. I was so excited to get another Harry Potter-related book before the next book in the series came out. The book itself is a very thin volume that almost gets lost on my bookshelf (so thin that its companion book, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is lost somewhere…).

I love how the details of the book, from the author and reviews to the scuff marks and fake library check-out list, make us feel like we’re holding a piece of Hogwarts (excluding the quality of the book, which feels like a cheap paperback, especially with its yellowed pages). There’s even a fictional publishing house (Whizz Hard Books) and an alternate price (14 sickles 3 knuts) to add to the illusion.

At the time, it helped whet my appetite for more Harry Potter, but now, years after the final book was published, I don’t really feel a desire to read the little snippet of the world I don’t quite remember. It’s like how I feel when I try watching the Harry Potter movies but don’t remember much of what’s going on. I loved the series while it was going, but with seven books, it takes a long time to get back into them. Until the last book, I reread all the previous books right before the release of the newest book in the series in order to remember all the details (I couldn’t with the last book because I was in Japan at the time and didn’t have all the previous books with me).

But, this is why I was excited while doing a quick search on this book to see that Warner Brothers is making movies of the companion books, starting with Fantastic Beasts. I think having a trilogy of short, self-contained movies will be better at this point in the life of the story, giving people like me a chance to revisit the world without the burden of having to remember all the plot of the previous parts…

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter Q.

[O] Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris

17 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

This review refers to the Overdrive version of the audiobook of Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris, read by Carrington MacDuffie.

Christian was raised by a troll, but that didn’t stop him from longing after Princess Marigold. They become pen pals by carrier pigeon, and one day, Christian decides to make his fortune and find work at the palace. There, he must save Marigold from her mother’s schemes and prove that he is worthy of her love.

This is a cute story that is pretty funny, although younger listeners may not get all the references to fairy tales and pop culture. MacDuffie’s voice took some getting used to at the beginning, but her performance is funny and draws listeners into the story.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter O.

[X] xxxHolic Vol. 1 by Clamp

27 Apr

In the first volume of xxxHolic, Kimihiro Watanuki, a high schooler with strong spiritual powers, walks into a strange shop that grants wishes. He ends up working for the owner of the shop, who goes by the name of Yuko, in order to have his wish to get rid of those powers granted. While he’s working at the shop, he meets a few of Yuko’s customers and watches as she grants their wishes. Some parts are creepy, and the customers are kind of “monster of the week”-type stories, but Yuko is sarcastic and cool enough and Watanuki plays the grumbling assistant well enough for the series to be entertaining. Clamp’s art is amazing, as usual, especially their designs of Yuko and her various outfits.

The manga was localized by Del Rey, and the translation generally stays true to the feel of the original Japanese (at least what I remember of it). There one or two places where the English didn’t quite flow right, and one place where the Japanese characters were left in unexplained (they were translated right after, but it wasn’t clear that the next line was the translation), but I am probably just being picky because I work in the industry (though on the anime side mostly, these days). There were also some uncommon Japanese words that were left in untranslated and romanized that seemed like they would have been confusing to non-Japanese speakers, but there were notes in the back explaining everything. I’m not used to reading manga in English and I wasn’t paying enough attention to the table of contents, so I didn’t see them until the very end, but it seems like something readers used to reading Del Rey manga would figure out sooner.

The first thing I saw when I opened up xxxHolic was that it crossed over with Tsubasa (another manga by Clamp) volume one. Even though I’d read xxxHolic volume one before in Japanese (and seen the anime, where I remember the crossover), I’d forgotten that the crossover happened in the first volume of both. I happen to own the first volume of Tsubasa (Reservoir Chronicle) in Chinese, and when I flipped through, I saw that I’d stopped reading right when the crossover with xxxHolic started. I’d bought the first two volumes in Chinese on a trip to Taiwan during college, when I was taking Chinese and wanted to practice reading, but I hadn’t even heard of xxxHolic then, so I think I had gotten too confused and stopped in the middle of the first volume. (I’d gotten them because it was the sequel to Cardcaptor Sakura, which I liked from watching “Cardcaptors” on TV. I owned a bunch of the DVDs so I could watch the Japanese versions, but Tsubasa was so different that I thought I’d gotten a Chinese rip-off at first…)

The crossover doesn’t happen until the end of volume one, so I picked up where I left off in Tsubasa after I finished reading xxxHolic. My Chinese is super rusty, but with my newfound kanji knowledge from learning Japanese (my Chinese had been better than my Japanese when I bought Tsubasa, but now my Japanese is way better) and more context from the xxxHolic anime and manga, I was able to get through the crossover scene in Tsubasa and understand more of what was going on than I did before. I still prefer the original Cardcaptor Sakura series to both xxxHolic and Tsubasa, but at least xxxHolic is funny. Even though Tsubasa is the direct sequel to Cardcaptor Sakura, it’s really serious, so I’ve never liked it as much as the other two.

Anyway, all this to say that while the story of the manga wasn’t new to me, it was my first time reading it in English. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I don’t read a lot of manga in general, and even less in English, but since I’d been requesting so many books for my youth literature class anyway, I thought I’d add the English version to the queue and give a proper review.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter X. (It took me so long to get through the Chinese that this post is pretty much written in real-time, i.e., not scheduled in advance, but posted at exactly 27 minutes after midnight because it’s Day 27 of the challenge.)

[V] The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket

25 Apr

I’ve read a few books in The Series of Unfortunate Events, and while I don’t dislike them, I’m not a huge fan of them. This particular book I actually checked out once to read for last year’s challenge, but I ended up using The View from Saturday instead (RIP E.L. Konigsburg :(). I ended up with the ebook this year in a bundle of three Unfortunate Events books because that was the only thing immediately available from the library.

The Vile Village is the seventh book in the series and follows the three Baudelaire orphans to a village full of crows in an attempt to find a place for them to live. The evil Count Olaf is still after them, and they need to save their friends, the two surviving Quagmire triplets.

All of the kids I know who have read this series really enjoy it, and if I had first read these books as a child, I think I would have liked them a lot more. Daniel Handler (the man behind Lemony Snicket) does a good job of introducing hard words and writing about what they mean, teaching vocabulary in context while being entertaining at the same time.

However, for an adult who already knows what the words mean, all the explanations make you feel like you’re reading twice as many words for the same amount of content, and it slows down the pacing of the story. Also, I’ve only read a few of the books, but they all seem to be pretty similar, and because they are “unfortunate events,” they pretty much all have bad endings, which doesn’t make it a very satisfying read (and according to a student who has read all the books, the series itself also has a bad ending).

It’s all right if you like that kind of thing, but I got kind of tired of the “author” telling me to stay as far away from the book as possible every time I picked up one of the books in the series. I can ignore it if the book captivates my attention enough, but in this case, I think I might just listen to him.

Great for kids who like to learn big words, but maybe not for cynical adults like me. ;)

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter V.

[R] The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger’s Apprentice Book 1) by John Flanagan

20 Apr

(#69 on School Library Journal‘s Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results from 2012.)

I had to check this book out twice before I managed to actually read it (since it’s so near the end of the alphabet, I had other priorities), and then I almost didn’t because I wanted to find a non-series book for “R” (I was afraid I would want to read the other books once I read the first one). I was right… I just finished reading the 6th book…

The first book is about Will, an orphan who desperately wants to be in the Battleschool but is too small to be chosen for it. Based on the title of the series, it’s pretty obvious that he will be chosen to be a Ranger’s apprentice, but common people (like Will) are afraid of Rangers. They are mysterious people who are believed to dabble in magic because of their ability to move silently and blend into the background, making them seem like they appear out of nowhere. From what I’ve read so far, their work is part spying, part law enforcement, part military strategy. They’re strong, cunning, and have a strong sense of justice. Kind of like a modern-day superhero with the backing of the government.

The books were fun adventure books with a lot of action and enough character development to keep me interested in how they would work out. The plot twists were pretty predictable, though, and most of the hints were a little too obvious for me. The world-building was also a little obvious (Scotti = Scottish, Celtic = Celtic, “fake foreign language” = French, as far as I can tell, although I don’t know French). Also, while I appreciate the fact that this series was written for the author’s son, I couldn’t decide how I felt about the portrayal of girls in the series.

On the one hand, there are plenty of strong girl characters who are not annoying or helpless, but on the other hand, they were all beautiful and attracted to the main character. There didn’t seem to be a place for unattractive women in this universe unless they were old and motherly (at least not in the books that I’ve read). The other side to this, though, is the fact that the books are basically being told from the point of view of the main character, an adolescent boy (and later young adult). In his eyes, and in the eyes of most of the male characters in the book, women seem to be attractive even if they are not perfectly shaped, which could also be taken to mean that women don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.

I might be reading too much into it, but it was the first fantasy series I had read by a male author in a long time, and I think the only series I’ve read by a male author published recently that didn’t take place in some semblance of the modern world (like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series or The Alchemyst by Michael Scott). So it was interesting to read a book that was built completely out of the imagination of a man (albeit there were many references to European nations and cultures, and I’m assuming Nihon in the title of the 10th book refers to Japan).

Despite its faults, I enjoyed reading the series and liked the characters enough to want to keep following their adventures. I think the difference between this series and the Warriors series is that I can actually tell the characters apart (I’m getting too old to try to keep all the cats with similar names separate in my head). I also appreciated that the author used some words that I hadn’t heard before, so I even got to learn some new words (like “tonsorial” for things relating to a barber).

A great book for boys and girls who don’t mind a little romance to go with a lot of fighting. The main character starts off around 15 and is 20 by the sixth book, so it may be hard for younger readers to relate to him, but there’s nothing inappropriate (just a little kissing and hand-holding).

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter R.

[D] Dawn (Warriors: The New Prophecy Book 3) by Erin Hunter

4 Apr

(This was first written for my History of Youth Literature class.)

If you’ve ever seen the books with pictures of cats in the middle of the covers, you’ve probably seen the Warriors series. My cousin’s husband (who introduced me to the Percy Jackson series) has been trying to get me to read this series for a long time, so I thought I’d give it a try for the series reading assignment. I downloaded the first volume I saw available on L.A. public library’s OverDrive site starting with the letter “D” for my A-to-Z blogging challenge, trusting that I would be able to pick up the series from any book and be able to follow what was going on. I ended up with Dawn (2005), the third book of the second set of books in the series. I had a hard time getting into the story at first, but by the end of the book, I was starting to be able to tell the cats apart (although some of the names are confusing because they’re so similar). I was also able to figure out which parts of the story were probably referring to previous books and storylines.

I will admit that I skimmed the first chapter of the first book in the series (although I doubt I will go back and read it now), so I knew a little bit about how far the story had come with the third book. The first book starts with a prophecy that gathers a group of warriors from the four Clans of the forest, sending them off on a journey to save the Clans. This book picks up after they return from their journey with instructions to relocate the Clans in order to ensure their survival. The newly-returned warriors realize that “Twolegs” have been taking over, cutting down trees and trapping cats that get in their way, and their Clans are starving because of the human interference. By the end of this book, the Clans make it to their new home, which they don’t get to settle into until the next book.

I was surprised to find that the books were set in a universe with humans because I’d expected the cats to be off in their own world where they acted human but just happened to be cats. It seemed a little preachy about environmental issues, but it was interesting to think about the human world from the cats’ point of view. The story itself also focused more on the power struggles and fights between the different clans and less on the humans except in how they impacted the story.

The book reminded me a lot of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series, except with cats instead of owls. And both series reminded me of a modern take on the Redwall series (a childhood favorite), written for kids with shorter attention spans…  The one thing all these books have in common (other than the fact that they’re all about animals) is that I would read the next book if it was available, but it wouldn’t stress me out too much not to be able to continue with the story. For me, that’s what separates it from the more “literary” series books—even though I care about the characters and I enjoy reading them, none of the stories themselves really “stick” (as in, the plots all feel very similar, and I don’t really remember what happened in any of them).

I don’t know why I was surprised to learn that the Warriors series was actually written by a number of different authors, given what we’ve been learning in the class, but for some reason, the Warriors series seemed more like the type to be churned out by one author rather than four or five. I guess because I’m used to fantasy authors being extremely prolific, and all the other series I know like it were written by a single author (as far as I know, but I haven’t looked too carefully into it…). But the name “Erin Hunter” just seemed to fit too well with the theme of the series for it to be real, so I looked it up, and sure enough, it was a pen name. It was interesting to learn that the authors actually chose “Hunter” as a last name not just because it fit with the cat theme but also because it would place them near the Redwall series, written by Brian Jacques.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter D.

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