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Thursday, November 30, 2006


Author: Lois Lowry
Reading Level: 4th - 6th

Pages: 140
Publisher: Hougton Mifflin/Walter Lorraine
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

Since so many people love this book, I was unwilling to read it, afraid that I'd find it undeserving in some way. But, I, too, fell in love with it right away. My admiration of the author's skill in telling a simple and yet complex story sustains until the very last word on the very last page. What a refreshing experience.

The characters, major or minor alike, have such depth. Many things are unsaid about them, but the reader senses a strong "knowing" of their souls from the few key moments in life Lowry chooses to present. The elegant text, deceptively simple, reminds me of my favorite Dickinson poems: a few words, arranged just right, describing the most common personal experiences, can encompass the immensity of the collective human minds -- conscious or subconscious.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Endymion Spring

Author: Matthew Skelton
Reading Level: 4th - 6th grade

Pages: 392
Publisher: Delacorte
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

A book about the Book of All Books (All Stories) and set in the labyrinth of Oxford Libraries, highly atmospheric and not lacking in the action department... how could I resist! It was definitely an entertaining and gripping read. I wanted to find out what's going on both in the 21st Century and in the 15th. All the highly imaginative magical elements are very enjoyable, as well. However -- as the end of the book approached and finally arrived, my anticipation of an illuminating resolution which would have raised Endymioin Spring high above the other "fantasy outputs" now saturating the children's book marketplace is sadly unrealized. With the singular villain out of the way, the parents' happy reunion, and the easy explanation of everything else, Blake Winter's story is a solid, although still just run-of-the-mill, fantasy read, no more.

Will Skelton write a sequel to this volume? The last pages seem to be testing the water. I imagine it all depends on the readers' reaction and the market demand.

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The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea

Author/Illustrator: Anne Sibley O'Brien
Reading Level: 2nd - 5th grade

Pages: unpaged
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

This picture book in comic book style is near perfect in every way. The narrative is fluid, the story is exciting, the cultural details are accurately portrayed both in text and illustraion, and the pictures are expertly rendered. I am impressed at how O'Brien effectively conveys varied moods by simple changes of each facial feature.

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The King of Attolia

Author: Megan Whelan Turner
Reading Level: 6th grade and up

Pages: 387
Publisher: Greenwillow
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

Such an intriguing, subtle, and exciting book! Since I did not read the first two in the trilogy (The Thief and Queen of Attolia,) the first chapters of this one are somewhat confusing because all the relationships between characters and the political complications are presented in the most ambiguous way. I know this is Turner's style and became appreciative of this ambiguity as the tale unfolded in front of me. I learned to just sink into the story, follow the lead of the narrator and let go of my impulses to make sense of everything, trusting that all will make sense eventually. And it delivered: all the threads are gathered at the end and the knot is tied up neatly, very satisfying! And I couldn't help but falling in love with the characters -- all of them, but mostly, of course, with the King and the Queen, whose love for each other rises out of the page and grabs hold of me, almost physically. This read is quite an "experience."

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Wait for Me

Author: An Na
Reading Level: Junior High

Pages: 172
Publisher: Putnam (Penguin)
Edition: Hardcover (Galley), 2006

Mina's story is told with such quiet power by An Na that it's almost unbearable to read. So much stuff is laid on the shoulders of this one child: her mother's expectations, family secrets, lies, her sister's wellbeing... It is almost unrealistic. But it does feel real -- her relationships with all people in her life, from the former childhood friend to the new boyfriend, from her helpless sister to her dominating mother, all ring true. Suna's story is not as fleshed out, although she is given her own chapters -- they are all quite dream-like, which I believe is An Na's intention, and yet, I'm left with a sense of dissatisfaction at the incompleteness of her story, especially toward the end.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Harsh Cry of the Heron

Author: Lian Hearn
Rating: - for the first 300 or so pages
Rating: - for the last 200 or so pages
Reading Level: HS and up

Pages: 528
Publisher: Riverhead
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

If I hadn't wanted so much to finish the series of Otori tales, and hadn't heard that the ending is truly worthwhile, I would have put down the book at page 215 or so. The first half of the book needs so much editing! Hearn's static character descriptions (a long paragraph on the appearance and the personality of each major and minor character), while charming in small doses, become an annoyance when too many new (or old but forgotten by book 4) characters are introduced this way. And the repeated explanation of "The Way of the Houou" leaves me feeling that Hearn cannot trust her readers' intelligence to have grasped the philosophical underpinning of the way of peace. The plot development is also painfully slow.

I have no problem with the fact that this is a story of Takeo and Kaede when they are adults -- but it really would have been better for me if there has been a better balance of politics and tribe skills (up the fantasy element, down play the political struggles). Someone mentioned on Amazon.com that it is disappointing how Kaede is reduced to a plain character troubled by traditional prejudice (against the twins), the lack of a male offspring, and other petty feelings. I can agree with that -- Takeo continues to be a fully drawn character but Kaede becomes quite shadowy. Her feelings are told without the possibility of deep understanding by the reader. Her final actions, however, are in keeping with her passionate nature. Her old coolness in facing adverse situations sprang from her love and trust for Takeo. Thus, she cannot possibly keep her cool when that foundation is destroyed.

But... the ENDING -- the last 150 pages or so... MY GOODNESS. I often shed tears over incidents and characters in books, but the violent sobs and non-stoppable stream of tears are uncommon, even for me. Two days after closing the book, the sorrow still tinges my mood.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Pish Posh

Author: Ellen Potter
Reading Level: 4th grade and up

Pages: 166
Publisher: Philomel Books
Edition: Hardcover 2006

Ellen Potter really knows how to build upon the utterly unbelievable scenarios and make them seem oh-so-plausible. Her New York City apartment buildings (as in the Olivia Kidney books)expand into wonderlands that even the lovers for Carrollian twists and turns will find tantalizing. The mystery, the unique characters, (11-year-old Clara Francofile who owns nothing but simple black dresses and a keen sense of the social standings of each celebrity coming through her parents' restaurant and her co-star Annabelle Arbutnot, pre-teen master burglar, for example) and the satisfying resolution all just WORK! A truly fun read.

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