Dear Glen Rounds,

March 18, 2010

The Blind Colt – Glen Rounds – 80 pages

When ten-year-old Whitey discovers a blind colt amid a herd of mustangs and takes a liking to him, Whitey’s uncle forbids him to bring the colt home and says the colt probably won’t survive long, anyway.  He’s proven wrong as the colt adapts and stubbornly survives, and Whitey just can’t resist going against his uncle’s wishes and sneaking the determined colt onto the ranch.

I picked up The Blind Colt in a used bookstore somewhere or other, because I have a special fondness for horse books no matter the topic or reading level.  This one is a bit unlike the girl-and-horse, English-riding-stable love stories that I inhaled as an adolescent, but still entertaining.  Though I wonder about the political correctness of a white kid named “Whitey,” it was written so long ago that I can’t really fault you for that–instead, I’ll focus on what a kick I got out of the Western ranch-speak, and the tenacious colt’s antics, and the fantastic little sketch illustrations at the bottom of every page.  Nothing endears me more to a book than great illustrations, especially a book in that mysterious reading level somewhere between learning to read and middle-grade stuff, because though I might enjoy the plot, it’s still a bit too simple to be engrossing.  Anyway, your tiny sketches of the colt and his adventures are so funny and loose and adorable, and the story is a fast enough read that I could re-read it a bunch of times just for the pleasure of turning the page to a new sketch.

Some perusal of the internet tells me that there are a whole series of books about Whitey, so now I have something new to keep my eyes peeled for at library sales and used bookstores!  Four stars for this one!

Love,

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Dear Susan Cooper,

January 21, 2010

The Dark is Rising – Susan Cooper – 232 pages

“When Will Stanton wakes up on the morning of his birthday, he discovers an unbelievable gift — he is immortal. Bemused and terrified, he finds he is the last of the Old Ones, magical men and women sworn to protect the world from the source of evil, the Dark.

At once Will is plunged into a quest to find six magical Signs to aid the powers of the Light. Six medallions — iron, bronze, wood, water, fire, and stone — created and hidden by the Old Ones centuries ago. But the Dark has sent out the Rider: evil cloaked in black, mounted upon a midnight stallion, and on the hunt for this youngest Old One, Will. He must find the six great Signs before the Dark can rise, for an epic battle between good and evil approaches.”  –from Books.SimonandSchuster.com

Greenwitch – Susan Cooper – 148 pages

“The Dark has stolen an object of great power — a golden grail that holds a vital secret. Will embarks on a new quest to reclaim the grail, and to drive back the Dark once again. But first he will need the help of three former grail seekers: Jane, Simon, and Barney Drew.

Learning to work together, they must take back the grail and retrieve the missing manuscript that unlocks its mystical secret. But the manuscript is located at the bottom of the sea, and their only hope of obtaining both grail and script is entangled in the mysterious ritual of the Greenwitch….”  –from Books.SimonandSchuster.com

The Grey King – Susan Cooper – 224 pages

“With the final battle between the Light and the Dark soon approaching, Will sets out on a quest to call for aid. Hidden within the Welsh hills is a magical harp that he must use to wake the Sleepers – six noble riders who have slept for centuries.

But an illness has robbed Will of nearly all his knowledge of the Old Ones, and he is left only with a broken riddle to guide him in his task. As Will travels blindly through the hills, his journey will bring him face-to-face with the most powerful Lord of the Dark – the Grey King. The King holds the harp and Sleepers within his lands, and there has yet to be a force strong enough to tear them from his grasp…”  –from Books.SimonandSchuster.com

Though it might be a little overwhelming to read, I thought it might be more logical to write about these three installations in The Dark is Rising Sequence all at once (since I read them mostly in a row).

After Over Sea, Under Stone, I was intrigued but still not entirely certain I was going to love this series as much as people said I should.  Still, I tried to keep an open mind, and was rewarded reading The Dark is Rising.  I found I liked Will much more than I liked the Drew children–he had more of a mind of his own, was a little less childlike and, being an Old One, was rather more precocious than the Drews.  I always enjoy that in protagonists, and Will was very endearing.  I liked his spunk, and this book kept me on the edge of my seat much more than the first.  I also found that I didn’t mind the sensation that I was reading well-used fantasy tropes; again, perhaps at the time this was written, they weren’t so well-used, but in any case Will’s strength as a character cast the whole plot in a more enjoyable light.  Five stars for this one, yay Will!!

Greenwitch was something of a mix for me.  The presence of Will in the story again was delightful, though I found myself wishing it were told from his perspective; still, from a writing standpoint I understand why it was told instead through the eyes of the Drew children.  I liked them better in this one–perhaps because they got smarter, got used to danger and the mysteries surrounding them, and perhaps because I found the plot of this book to be especially intriguing.  The Greenwitch itself was fascinating; the bit about its construction reminded me a bit of the sort of sacred, nature-oriented magic and mystery of The Mists of Avalon and its many companion books, and the parts that happened underwater brought to mind Diane Duane’s Deep Wizardry.  Overall,  think that since the Drews finally started to grow on me in this book, it gets five stars.

Of course, I should have known that a series this famous and well-loved would only keep getting better, and The Grey King proved it to me.  I mean, wow!  Talk about suspense.  And Will is fantastic in this book, I love him even more than before.  You’ve succeeded in creating danger that felt really real to me, too, which is sometimes hard to accomplish.  Sure, I can get invested in fantasy danger, but it takes a special kind of threat to make me actually get nervous and rush through pages because I have to know if the protagonist makes it out okay.  That’s what this book did to me.  I’m actually sort of putting off reading the final book, because this one was so enjoyable, and it’ll be nice to go back to this series after reading some other stuff to draw the experience out a little!  Five stars once again, and I look forward to reviewing the final book!

Love,

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Dear Nahoko Uehashi, Cathy Hirano and Yuko Shimizu,

January 14, 2010

Moribito II:  Guardian of the Darkness – Nahoko Uehashi, trans. Cathy Hirano, illust. Yuko Shimizu – 272 pages

“For many years, through countless fights, Balsa has survived. The evil King Rogsam tried to kill her when she was only six. Eight assassins pursued her in the long flight that followed. But her mentor, Jiguro, protected her until his death, and then Balsa became a bodyguard herself, helping other people survive the challenges they face. When she returns to her native country of Kanbal, she hopes to see Jiguro’s family and her own for the first time in many years. But what should be a simple visit of truth and reconciliation becomes a fight for her life when she learns that King Rogsam framed Jiguro for the deaths of the eight assassins—as well as a crime that threatens the very existence of Kanbal. With the help of two Kanbalese children, Balsa must unwind the conspiracy surrounding Jiguro and the mystery of the Guardians of the Darkness, before it’s too late.”  –from ArthurALevineBooks.com

Ever since I picked up the first Moribito, Balsa has been a personal heroine who remains very close to my heart.  I think part of it is that though Moribito and now Moribito II are definitely YA, Balsa herself is very close to me in age.  She’s a young woman who isn’t old enough to settle down with the childhood friend who loves her, and who still has a lot of journeying to do before she figures out what she’s doing with herself, but she also isn’t young enough to be carefree.  In the first book, she started as a bodyguard to a runaway child prince, and wound up a little more maternal than I think she might have planned; in Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness, she must face her past and shoulder the responsibility of redeeming her family and her dead sensei and guardian.  She walks the line between typical YA heroine and grown-up really nicely, in a way I can really identify with.

Anyway, I love Balsa, and I think by writing through a nearing-30-year-old protagonist, you’re capturing a kind of story that wouldn’t necessarily happen otherwise.  I read YA partly because I love stories of teens saving the day and doing things on their own and being capable, but this has a different (and entirely pleasant) feel.  That said, I wonder how Balsa comes off to a teen audience–do they care that she’s almost thirty?  Would someone who isn’t 27 herself not find it different?  I wonder.

This is turning into a very long ramble, but it’s because I really like this book, I love Balsa, and I find the translation really interesting.  I’m sure I’ve said this before, but there’s a certain quality of storytelling in YA I’ve read translated from Japanese that I find different from American YA lit, and I don’t know if it’s just the way any Japanese prose is when translated to English, or if it’s specific to what I’ve read…but it’s always a really different experience, sort of distant but still totally engaging at the same time.  Also, let’s not forget, the art was just as breathtaking in this volume as it was in the first–the whole design of the book is beautiful, and I want to shove it in the faces of everyone who owns a Kindle and say “here, look at this, can you get this on a machine?”

So, without a doubt, five stars again for you three and for Balsa!

Love,

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Dear Blog Readers,

January 7, 2010

Happy 2010!  It’s a new year, and that means it’s time for some year-end summation here at Let(t)’er Rip.  Holiday craziness has kept me from catching up with reviews of everything I read in 2009, but this post is a way for me to round up the year’s best, total some statistics, and give you readers a sneak peak at upcoming reviews.

So let’s get started!

First, a round up of my top 9 of ’09 (meaning books that were new in ’09, though I had lots of backlist faves this year too), in no particular order:

Two Parties, One Tux by Steven Goldman (reviewed here)

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The Goblin and the Empty Chair by Mem Fox, illust. Leo & Diane Dillon (reviewed here)

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The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness (reviewed here and here, and I know having two books of a series listed as one entry in my top 9 is sort of cheating, but I don’t care)

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Ash by Malinda Lo (reviewed here)

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When the Moon Forgot by Jimmy Liao (reviewed here)

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Life Size Zoo by Teruyuki Komiya, Toyofumi Fukuda, Makiko Oku and Kristin Earhart (reviewed here)

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The Snow Day by Komako Sakai (reviewed here)

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American Jesus vol. 1: Chosen by Mark Millar & Peter Gross (review to come)

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Big Frog Can’t Fit In by Mo Willems (review to come)

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Now, a little (or big, actually) preview of 2009 reviews to come in the new year:
That Book Woman by Heather Henson, illust. David Small – 32 pages
Black Orchid by Neil Gaiman, art by Dave McKean – 144 pages
Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan – 336 pages
There’s Another Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone, illust. Michael Smollin – 32 pages
Moribito II:  Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi, trans. Cathy Hirano – 272 pages
Some of Tim’s Stories by S.E. Hinton – 160 pages
Fade by Lisa McMann – 256 pages
Greenwitch (The Dark is Rising Sequence #3) by Susan Cooper – 148 pages
The Grey King (The Dark is Rising Sequence #4) by Susan Cooper – 224 pages
The Blind Colt by Glen Rounds – 80 pages
The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa – 208 pages
Cat Burglar Black by Richard Sala – 128 pages
American Jesus Vol. 1:  Chosen by Mark Millar & Peter Gross – 72 pages
Adventure of Meno Book 2: Wet Friend! by Tony and Angela DiTerlizzi – 48 pages
Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott – 176 pages
Big Frog Can’t Fit In by Mo Willems – 16 pages
Death Note:  L:  Change The World by M – 174 pages
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – 384 pages
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins – 400 pages
Blood Song: A Silent Ballad by Eric Drooker – 312 pages
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne – 240 pages
Birches by Robert Frost, illust. Ed Young – 32 pages
The Pet Dragon:  A Story About Adventure, Friendship, and Chinese Characters by Christoph Niemann – 40 pages
The Little Yellow Leaf by Carin Berger – 40 pages
Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman, illust. Charles Vess – 32 pages
A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na – 24 pages
Let’s Go to the Capitol by Bernard Rosenfield, illust. Gustav Schrotter – 45 pages
Prayers from the Ark by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold, trans. Rumer Godden, illust. Jean Primrose – 75 pages
Totty by Paola Opal – 24 pages
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illust. Michael Martchenko – 26 pages
Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert – 16 pages
Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats – 32 pages
Fullmetal Alchemist novels 1-5 by Makoto Inoue – 1084 pages total

I’ve also been tearing through tons and tons of manga in the last few months, and since reviewing them volume by volume would take me into 2011, I plan to tackle whole series at once.  Here’s a list of upcoming manga reviews (because you know you love them, or at least, I hope you do, because manga is a misunderstood little piece of amazingness):

Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa – 22 volumes thus far, 4256 pages
Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya – 23 volumes, 4850 pages
Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori – 13 volumes thus far, 2536 pages
Hero Tales by Huang Jin Zhou, illust. Hiromu Arakawa – 1 volume thus far, 176 pages
Love Hina by Ken Akamatsu – 14 volumes, 2724 pages
Negima! Magister Negi Magi by Ken Akamatsu – 24 volumes thus far, 4744 pages
Fushigi Yuugi:  Genbu Kaiden by Yuu Watase – 9 volumes thus far, 1752 pages
Absolute Boyfriend by Yuu Watase – 6 volumes, 1192 pages
Otomen by Aya Kanno – 4 volumes thus far, 800 pages

And now, more for my curiosity than anything else, some statistics:

Books read in 2009: 254

Pages read in 2009: 48,672

That’s an average of one book every 34 hours or so.  Geez, when I look at it like that, it sounds crazy.  Some of those are picturebooks, true, which take much less time to read than a novel, and some of them are manga and other graphic stuff, which takes a little less reading time than plain text for me, but even so that’s damn impressive.  Not that it’s any kind of contest.  (Becky, any chance you were keeping track of how many books you read this year?  Though I suspect you’d best me no matter what I do.)

Anyway, stay tuned for some more (and hopefully more frequent) reviews this month, and keep your eyes peeled for a post about the results of mock Caldecott discussion with the book group I frequently talk about.  I’ve got to record our picks before the actual awards are announced, just in case we turn out to have gotten it right!

Love,

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Dear Trenton Lee Stewart and Diana Sudyka,

September 27, 2009

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous JourneyThe Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey – Trenton Lee Stewart – 464 pages

“The Mysterious Benedict Society is back with a new mission, significantly closer to home. After reuniting for a celebratory scavenger hunt, Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance are forced to go on an unexpected search–a search to find Mr. Benedict. It seems that while he was preparing the kids’ adventure, he stepped right into a trap orchestrated by his evil twin Mr. Curtain. With only one week to find a captured Mr. Benedict, the gifted foursome faces their greatest challenge of all–a challenge that will reinforce the reasons they were brought together in the first place and will require them to fight for the very namesake that united them.”  – Little, Brown Kids website

I was completely delighted by the original Mysterious Benedict Society, and I’m happy to say that I was equally delighted by the second installment!  The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey was just as funny, charming, thrilling, and emotionally honest as its predecessor.  Mr. Stewart, I was moved by your descriptions of the kids’ friendship–they’re precocious in their understanding of their own feelings, but they’re precocious in other ways too, so it made sense.  They reminded me of myself and my closest friends (yay BMVCOE!) and I really enjoyed that.

Not to mention the fun I had trying to figure out all the little pieces of the mystery, and the ups and downs I lived vicariously as the tables turned for the kids time and time again.  This is one of those books that makes me feel like Bastian in the school attic reading The Neverending Story, and living Atreyu’s trials along with him.  Your prose is fantastic, your understanding of storytelling is superb, and I can’t wait to read the next book!  Of course, I’ve also got to give some credit to Diana Sudyka–the illustrations are unique in style and surprisingly evocative to me, and the book wouldn’t be the same without them.  All in all, another five stars for you both!

Love,

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Books this year: 96

Pages this year: 18,906


Dear Lois Lowry,

September 23, 2009

GossamerGossamer – Lois Lowry – 176 pages

“Littlest One is a tiny creature slowly learning her job of giving dreams to humans. Each night she and her teacher, Thin Elderly, visit an old woman’s home where she softly touches beloved objects, gathering happy memories, and drops of old scents and sounds. Littlest One pieces these bits together and presents them to her sleeping human in the form of pleasant dreams. But the dreaded Sinisteeds, dark fearsome creatures that plague their victims with nightmares, are always at work against the dreamgivers. When the old woman takes in John, an angry foster child with a troubled past, the Sinisteeds go after him with their horrifying nightmares. Can Littlest One, and her touch light as gossamer, protect John’s heart and soul from the nightmare of his dark past?”  -Random House website

Gossamer is just one of those perfect books for curling up and reading in bed or under a blanket or somewhere else cozy.  It has just the right proportions of sweetness, gentle humor, real-life troubles, danger and fantasy–a recipe for loveliness!  Littlest One is just so earnest and cute that I can’t resist her, and Thin Elderly is a delight, and the whole thing has that slightly distant fairy-tale feel to it while still laying the characters hearts bare through their actions.  It has the same sort of feeling to me as Season of Ponies and The Sleep of Stone, even though it resembles neither in plot.  Your prose is simple and clear, the story is quick and satisfying, and it’s delightfully clever.  I absolutely love it, and I expected no less from the woman behind The Giver and Number the Stars and Anastasia Krupnik (but what’s up with Anastasia’s new cover?  YUCK!).  You totally rock.  Five stars!

Love,

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Books this year: 94

Pages this year: 18,154


Dear Holly Lisle,

September 21, 2009

Moon and Sun Book 1:  The Ruby KeyMoon and Sun Book 1:  The Ruby Key – Holly Lisle – 384 pages

“Human and Nightlings are never to meet, but when Genna and her brother Dan venture into the old forest at night, they encounter a Nightling slave who reveals a terrifying secret: Genna and Dan’s village chieftain has made a dangerous deal with Letrin, ruler of the Nightlings, offering the lives of his people in exchange for his own immortality. To save the villagers and themselves, Genna and Dan strike their own bargain with the Nightling lord, but the stakes are even higher. Now, the siblings must embark upon a journey along the Moonroads, and bring back the key to Letrin’s downfall.”  –Scholastic online store

I’ll be totally honest here–I picked up The Ruby Key because the cover art was appealing, particularly the waifish fairy girl.  Covers really do matter!  I judge books by them all the time!  At any rate, it looked like something I would enjoy, and I was totally right.  You’ve pulled together this really interesting mood that starts out sort of The Village-or-Forest of Hands and Teeth-esque, and then it sort of morphs into this slightly weirder Campbellian journey.  The Moonroads reminded me a little bit of the Abhorsen walking around in Death, or perhaps of the path through the clock to the Red Bull’s lair in The Last Unicorn.  Still, though it reminds me favorably of other things, the idea of traveling roads that most people can’t see is mysterious and thrilling in its own unique way–a nice twist  on the traveling.

Also, as one might expect from the first book in a series, it had an unfinished feel to me.  I think there wasn’t quite enough time between the solving of Book 1’s main conflict and the beginning of the new conflict that I presume Book 2 will tackle.  I needed a little more time to feel relieved, and like the story had ended, before you sprung the next problem on me.  Of course, that didn’t prevent me from groaning aloud and then scouring the internet for news of when the next book would be coming out!  I think you’ve got a good mix of fantasy elements here without the story feeling like it’s been done before, and also a great mix of characters and a lot of confusion and suspense about who to trust.  I like that quite a lot!  Well done, you get a solid four stars.

Love,

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Books this year: 93

Pages this year: 17,978