The Dark is Rising (The Dark is Rising, #2) – Susan Cooper

 

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Photo by Amanda_HHC

 

 

All Will Stanton wants for his birthday is snow; something that never arrives in time for Christmas or his birthday, just three days before, in the south of England. Until it does. But the freak snowstorm isn’t the only thing that’s arrived in the Thames Valley. A homeless wanderer, a dark rider, and a man with a very distinctive white beard are all laying in wait for Will’s birthday. With Christmas fast approaching there isn’t much time to worry about the forces of evil, and that’s fine because Will has another mission to worry about: he must combine the six ancient signs for the Light before the Dark rises to power forever.

 

In this second installment of The Dark is Rising sequence, we head to a new part of the British Isles, with new characters and old (pun intended), and new mission.  Will Stanton is tasked with finding the second of the ‘things of the Light’, the first being the grail found by the Drew children in the first book. To complete his quest, Will has to gather the six signs, all made from different natural elements, to complete something called ‘the circle’. Along the way, the Dark seeks to trick and distract Will in many ways and test his loyalty to the Light. The danger factor in this book is definitely taken up a notch from the previous installment. Where the Drew children were chased by scary people with guns, Will is attacked by ravens, tortured with the simulated screams of his family among other emotional attacks, and chased down by horses and tornadoes. Oh, and everything takes place over the course of about two weeks, from Will’s birthday to Twelfth Night.

I’m still unsure if I like the time jumps in these books – days when nothing exciting happens are just skipped, but you don’t usually know there’s been a time jump for a few paragraphs – but the short time-spans of the novels is quite interesting. Most YA and MG books that are coming out today like to wrap everything up at the end of every book in a series, and leave the overarching storyline to be mostly a mystery. In this series, however, everything seems like tiny little steps towards facing the BIG BAD DARK ‘someday’. They finally explain in this one that there are four ‘things of the light’, and since there are five books, I assume we’ll find the other two things in Greenwitch and The Grey King, and then we’ll have our big fight scenes in Silver on the Tree. Just saying. It’s a lot more information than we had after Over Sea, Under Stone, which gave away nothing about the plot of the series except at the very very end when Barney is all like, ‘You know, I think Uncle Merry is a lot older than we think he is,” because Barney rules.

I’m going to try to finish the series and reviews for the books by the end of the year, despite the fact that I totally missed posting this last week. Grad school is hard, okay? I’m also starting to get sick and I’m starting a new job (more on that in the October Update post on Thursday), so there’s been a lot going on. Who knows if I’ll get to NaNoWriMo this year. So, this has been your chatty book review for the week. I’m going to go finish a rough draft of a paper now before getting five hours of sleep and then going to work training for eight hours before my four-hour class where said rough draft is due. You’ll find out on Thursday if I’ve survived. Until then, leave me a comment about your favorite use of timelines in a book series!

 

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Over Sea, Under Stone
Book #3 – Greenwitch (Review Available 10/31)
Book #4 – The Grey King (Review Available 11/21)
Book #5 – Silver on the Tree (Review Available 12/12)

Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine

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Source: Goodreads

Ella is cursed at birth to be obedient: any order given to her must be obeyed. Up until she is fifteen, her mother and Mandy, their cook, have kept her safe from harm. That all changes when Ella is sent away to finishing school, where she must learn to brave the world and all of its occupants. Ella’s life is further complicated by the attentions of Prince Charmont, who’s love and friendship she desires, but whose life would be in constant danger if it were to become wrapped up in hers.

 

This book was my favorite as a child and has always held a special place in my heart. There are few books that are more important to me than the Harry Potter series, and this is one of them. Ella was one of, if not the very first strong female lead character I ever read about, and she has stuck with me through thick and thin. I think I’m on my third or fourth copy of the book because I love it so much that I used to lend it out (which I never do anymore), and people kept losing it for extended periods of time. So now I just buy copies for everyone and give them as gifts.

Re-reading it yesterday on my 25th birthday for what is probably the 30th or 40th time, I noticed a number of things I’ve been overlooking in the story. Growing up I always saw Ella as the epitome of a strong female character. I saw her as selfless, romantic, and kick-butt. Yesterday, I tried to pay attention to the little details, possibly for the first time since my initial reading all those years ago. Mainly what I realized is that there are no 100% good characters in this story. Mandy and Lucinda each have ways in which they can help Ella, but they decline to use their talents. Prince Charmont readily admits that he has anger issues and holds grudges for years – rather like Mr. Darcy’s ‘my good opinion once lost is lost forever’ nonsense. Even Ella is quite selfish. The story is told in the first person, occasionally delving into Ella’s mind and often into her intentions, and typically reveals that she is at her core a human teenage girl, not the kind of hero/heroine to be placed on a pedestal. Ultimately, it is her selfishness and the opposing need to be selfless that results in breaking the curse – in a very odd, somewhat confusing and relatively anticlimactic scene that made perfect sense to my younger self but now seems a little lack luster.

Over the years, I often picked up Ella Enchanted as a comfort read. If I was stressed then I could read about how Ella defeats her demons and gain the courage to fight my own. But this time around it was like looking at one of my heroes through fresh eyes or new spectacles, and realizing they were as much of a selfish brat in their early and mid teens as I was. Up until more recently, I deeply identified with Ella’s character, and growing out of her feels like I’m finally, just maybe, growing up.

This book is not perfect. I can admit that now – maybe for the first time – but it will always be especially dear to me. I may even love it more because of its imperfections. I definitely recommend this book (not the film. PLEASE NOT THE FILM) to LITERALLY EVERYONE, because there are just so many lessons, adventures and discoveries to be found in its pages.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

The Tenth Power (The Chanters of Tremaris, #3) – Kate Constable

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Source: Goodreads

Her songs silenced, Calwyn decides to return to the mountains she once called home. The sickness she finds there propels her into a quest of unimaginable consequences, pitting her against an evil the likes of which she never thought to face again after Samis’ death.

 

Constable’s third book in The Chanters of Tremaris is noted mostly for the ‘return’ of its master villain, hinted at near the end of book two. While initially, I found the idea ridiculous, the storyline played out pretty well. The book crosses a little more into YA territory, with some war and some odd couplings romantically, but for the most part, the strange bits will go over Middle Grade readers’ heads (they did mine when I was 11, so..).

The story develops the characters in new and interesting ways, and we finally learn the origins of the Chanters and the Tree People. Basically, this book fills in all of the holes we’ve been feeling in the world history for two books now, which was very kind of Constable to do. As you learn everything, it becomes ever more obvious why all of the information was withheld in the first place.

I will say that you should prepare yourself for some very unwarranted characters deaths. As far as I can tell they served little to no purpose other than to prove that Constable is able/willing to kill off characters, but that could just be my opinion. If you somehow understand why they died, please let me know. Also, the plot twists are pretty great in this one. Readers can see with their own two eyes how Constable has grown as a writer since the first book.

Overall, this book was a wonderful ending to the trilogy. It wrapped up all of the loose ends and set the world back on its feet. Sometimes, that’s all we hope for.

 

HHC Rating: 4.5 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – The Singer of All Songs
Book #2 – The Waterless Sea

A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic, #3) – V.E. Schwab

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Source: Goodreads

The third book in the Shades of Magic series picks up where A Gathering of Shadows ends, with a familiar darkness spreading across Londons and our protagonists in peril.

I really wanted to love this book, but when I picked it up soon after finishing the second volume, I found myself burned out by the constant action. Book two was fairly fast paced, and A Conjuring of Light is a continuation of that same situation. I ended up having to put the book down for three months before I could pick it up without feeling completely drained. I don’t see this as a problem for the people who read the series as it came out because the books were released a year apart, but going forward, it’s important to note the potential for burnout if you plan to read the books back-to-back.

I enjoyed all of the characters, but much like the first volume, I found it hard to be invested in them when I couldn’t personally identify with any of them. The storyline was good, the fabric of the plot woven tightly, with nearly all of the ends getting bound up neatly in the conclusion while leaving room for universe expansion both forward and backward. Some bits, such as the history of Kell’s coat, would be entertaining to explore in the future.

While I was taking my reading break from A Conjuring of Light, my sister borrowed and devoured the series in its entirety while studying for finals. I feel that I must add that she loved all of the characters and never experienced the burnout that I did.

Overall, I enjoyed it, and it was a fitting end to the trilogy. I would definitely recommend it to fantasy readers of all kinds for its plot, its diverse characters, and its beautiful world building. V.E. Schwab has done great things with this series, and I only wish I hadn’t gotten burned out and had been able to enjoy it to its fullest potential.

 

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – A Darker Shade of Magic
Book #2 – A Gathering of Shadows

 

 

 

 

The Waterless Sea (The Chanters of Tremaris, #2) – Kate Constable

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Source: Goodreads

Half a year has passed since the crew of Fledgewing defeated the evil chanter Samis, but trouble still lurks in Tremaris. A man named Heben arrives on the secluded island where Calwyn and her friends have built their home. He is looking for help: chanter children are being kidnapped and only other chanters stand a chance of finding them. The harsh deserts of the war-torn Empire of Merithuros will test everyone’s strength, and the price of peace is higher than anyone could have imagined.

The Waterless Sea is the second novel in Constable’s Chanters of Tremaris series, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. With Darrow absent from much of the action this time around, we see Calwyn stepping up to plate to lead our band of heroes. She becomes much more confident in her decision making, even while she fights her ever-growing skill in learning the nine powers. Of course, that doesn’t stop her from wondering where Darrow is all the time, but hey, no one is perfect (especially Darrow).

The range of characters is much wider in this installment, but the storyline is also more straight forward, which I quite enjoyed. Character development was also on point. Given that this was a re-read for me, I wasn’t sure nearly 25-year-old me was going to love it as much as 12-year-old me did, but I needn’t have worried. IT’S STILL GREAT. I enjoyed this book so much that I’m not even mad anymore that Thriftbooks sent me an ARC copy instead of the actual copy I ordered. And as soon as I finish this review I’m going to start the third book instead of finishing the book I need to read for next week. My plan is to read The Tenth Power in about two days and then take next week’s review book, A Conjuring of Light, with me on my vacation Tuesday.

The Waterless Sea, for being so short, didn’t miss out on anything. It doesn’t suffer second-book-syndrome, which often affects middle books of trilogies and forces them into allowing absolutely nothing to happen. In fact, many things happen. Multiple people die. Calwyn grows up and takes charge. Darrow is still the weirdly jealous dude forcing himself to stand in the corner instead of partaking in everything life has to offer. New characters are painted into the story. It’s all very interesting but I can’t go into anything without spoiling everything, so I’ll have to leave it at that.

You should go read this series. It’s really good. I’m literally only taking points off because of Darrow.

HHC Rating: 4.75 Stars

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – The Singer of All Songs
Book #3 – The Tenth Power (Review available 6/27)

The Magnificent Flying Baron Estate (The Bizarre Baron Inventions, #1) – Eric Bower

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Source: Goodreads

Waldo Baron’s parents are amazing scientists who invent things like super speed horseshoes and contraptions that pull people out of wells. W.B. is a little overweight, clumsy, and completely friendless. The friendless part is because his parents are so strange. The overweight part is because he loves food. Rather than getting involved with his parents’ experiments, none of which he actually understands, W.B. would rather sit in his room and read his Sheriff Hoyt Graham novels, living vicariously through the stories about his real life hero. On the day when W.B. is finally going to see Sheriff Graham in person, he wakes up to find his house floating 1,000 feet in the air, about to be whisked out of Arizona territory on a race around the country.

This charming middle-grade adventure set in the historic wild west was just released on May 16th, and I was lucky enough to get an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. W.B., who goes by his initials because he thinks Waldo is a horrible name, is a slightly overweight kid who just wants to read his books and daydream about going on daring adventures with his hero, Sheriff Graham. He is blessed with two parents who somehow are able to create amazing inventions and withstand being stuck by lighting multiple times a year without dying. He calls them M and P. W.B. has no interest in science, mostly because it doesn’t make any sense to his 10-year-old brain.

The plot follows the Baron family on their around-the-country adventure, fueled by the appearance of Rose Blackwood, the younger sister of the notorious enemy of Sheriff Graham: Ben Blackwood. Rose needs the prize money from the race to hire some thugs to break her brother out of jail, but the Rose and Barons quickly develop much bigger problems.

A lighthearted and fun read, I would recommend this to every 10-year-old I know. The quirky characters help fuel the needed suspension of disbelief, and the H.E.A. ending sets up the family for even more entertaining adventures across the world in the 1800’s.

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

The Singer of All Songs (The Chanters of Tremaris, #1) – Kate Constable

The-Chanters-Of-Tremaris-The-Singer-Of-All-Songs-Kate-Constable

Source: Goodreads

Calwyn has only ever known a life inside the great impenetrable wall of Antaris. She knows there is more to the world – after all, where else would the traders come from? but she is content with her quiet life as a priestess to the ice goddess. Then one day a man appears claiming the impossible, that he has flown over the wall. Worse yet, he claims another is coming after him who seeks to rule all of Tremaris, and who holds the power to become the master of all nine magics – The Singer of All Songs. Now it is up to Calwyn, who must summon all her wits and courage, to brave the unknown world with the help of a stranger in order to stop an evil that could destroy not just Antaris, but all of Tremaris.

 

The first book in Kate Constable’s Chanters of Tremaris trilogy is deeply satisfying and wondrously spellbinding. Her magic system is powered by song; different notes and octaves having entirely different effects, from general elemental control to animal speaking and ice forming, to illusions and healing. The world of Tremaris itself is amazingly diverse and nuanced, especially for something published over 10 years ago now.

When I read this book brand new in 2004 during a Harry Potter dry spell, it captivated me, and I probably read the whole book in a day knowing my 12-year-old self. Rereading it a dozen or so years later was just as magical, even though I had to space out my reading a little more because I no longer have the luxury of summer breaks in which to devour six months worth of books.

Calwyn is a complicated heroine. She yearns to understand herself and her place in the world, which of course is in constant change because of the adventure she embarks on, but she also has more basic desires. She wants love, she wants family, and she wants peace. Her courage is always simmering just below the surface, ready to leap to attention at the slightest provocation. As the main character, Calwyn is a bit of “Chosen One” or “Special Snowflake”, but she also contains the vast mysteries of her unknown past, her mother’s life journey, and her clearly missing father.

The Singer of All Songs is on the fence of a Middle-Grade/Juvenile or Young-Adult label. Nothing overtly sexual takes place, but there are quite a few hints dropped as to what goes down during the festival of shadows, and relationships in general. The ‘romantic relationship’, if it can even be called that, between Calwyn and Darrow is pretty much only them looking out for each other and thinking about whether they like one another or not while being slightly possessive. That’s as far as it goes in the first book anyways. I’ll need to finish my re-read of the rest of the series before I can give you an accurate report. The storyline itself lacks the ‘lesson’ which most middle-grade books contain, so I would push this one a little closer to young-adult because of that, but otherwise there’s no objectionable content for the under 14-year-olds.

The only reason I would take stars off is that I think including some of the words or tunes for the magic system would have been extremely cool. I know that’s a ton of work to create and remember, but when books come out alongside Harry Potter, readers start wishing everything was just as immersive as J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World.

 

HHC Rating: 4.5 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #2 – The Waterless Sea
Book #3 – The Tenth Power (Review Available 6/27)