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)

Rise of a Hero (Farsala, #2) – Hilari Bell

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Source: Goodreads

Kavi, Jiaan, and Soraya are struggling to find their places in the new world they have been thrust into since the arrival of the Hrum army. Soraya faces never seeing her family again, Jiaan inherits a role he was never prepared for, and Kavi attempts to play both sides to save his people. As the Hrum swarm the countryside, only one person could possibly bring Farsala’s people together in its time of greatest need: Sorahb. But has the hero of legend really been returned by the gods? Or is he the spirit inside all people that unites them as one entity?

 

The second book in The Farsala Trilogy moves slightly faster than the first, but very little actually happens. Rather than world-building, it focuses more on character-building. Kavi’s past is revealed, along with his deep-seated motivations. Jiaan, thrust into a leadership role despite the presence of full-blooded deghans who survived the battle of the Sendar Wall, matures into his own skin, no longer the scared page-boy from Fall of a Kingdom. Soraya learns to survive on her own, to drop her pride and accept the people around her on their own merit rather than the circumstances of their birth.

The character development is truly what kept me reading this time around. I hope the final book wraps everything up because at this pace we could go for another three books and still have months left on the Hrum’s timeline. I get the feeling that this series would sell best as an omnibus. If I didn’t already own all three volumes, I don’t know that I would continue with the series.

 

HHC Rating:  3 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Fall of a Kingdom
Book #3 – Forging the Sword (Review Available 10/17)

Fall of a Kingdom (Farsala, #1) – Hilari Bell

Farsala-Fall-Of-A-Kingdom-Hilari-Bell

Source: Goodreads

 

Jiaan is the eldest son of the high commander of Farsala’s army, but his half-blood status means he can never inherit, and he can never fight with the full-blooded deghans. His half-sister Soraya is a full-blooded deghass, but she will face sacrificial abandonment so that her people can win the oncoming war against the mighty Hrum. Kavi is a crippled peddler, but his slight shoulders hold the greatest weight. Will he choose to aid Farsala’s deghans, who have treated his people harshly for centuries, or the Hrum, who promise legal equality once Farsala is conquered?

 

This series is a re-read for me, but I remembered next to nothing about it aside from the fact that there was magic and a war. I also remember not loving the first book, but that the rest of them were better.

This first volume reads more like an introduction to the characters than its own story arc. There is some world building, but not enough that I understand the hierarchy of the deghans and the peasantry in any real way. There is mention of different languages, but not enough description to know who speaks which and what the differences are. There are also major time jumps. We seldom see what two characters are doing in the same timeframe. Overall, I finished the book feeling somewhat confused. Somehow, Fall of a Kingdom falls victim to what is typically a second book slump, even though it is the first book in a series.

Here is what I was able to understand of the Farsalan culture:
The kingdom of Farsala is made up mostly of plains, though it has swamps on the coast, and mountains, cliffs, and deserts as well. The Farsalan people are separated into two sects. The deghans (deghans and deghasses) are the nobility, who intermarry to keep the bloodlines pure. A sign of blood purity is straight, jet black hair. The peasants, on the other hand, often bear the bastard children of the deghans, who then go on to fight as foot soldiers in the army. The peasants all have curly light brown hair. Their main export is horses, and their cavalry is the strongest in the world. Their belief system is founded on Azura, the sun god, who keeps them safe from the wicked djinn, who use their magical powers to trick men into committing crimes. It is this belief system that sentences Soraya to be sacrificed so that Azura will bless the army with victory. Each of the Farsalan deghans’ noble families has it’s own animal sigil, and there are giant statues of them arranged in a line at the palace to show who is highest in the gahn’s (the emperor) favor. And that’s it.

I don’t have a recommendation either way for this book just yet, but I’ll come back and let you know after I’ve re-read the other books in the series.

 

HHC Rating: 2.75 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #2 – Rise of a Hero (Review Available 9/26)
Book #3 – Forging the Sword (Review Available 10/17)

Forest Born (The Books of Bayern, #4) – Shannon Hale

Books-Of-Bayern-Forest-Born-Shannon-Hale

Source: Goodreads

Rinna Agget has always belonged in the forest. Her family is vast, much like the trees she climbs. Then one day the trees reject her, and Rinna must leave their embrace to search for a new identity in the harsh city. In Bayern’s capital, Rin is known as Razo’s sister, and in her position as waiting woman to Queen Isi, she begins to unravel her own identity for the first time. When disaster strikes, it is Rinna’s wish to stay close to Isi that sends her on a dangerous mission with the girls she thinks of as the fire sisters. They travel deep into the neighboring kingdom of Kel, where someone from the girls’ past waits to seal their doom. Along the way, Rin begins to unravel Isi, Enna, and Dasha’s stories as well as her own, and in doing so might just heal her rift with the forest.

 

When I read these books as a child, Forest Born had not yet been published, so it wasn’t until this re-read of the series that I had the chance to enjoy it. The final book in Shannon Hale’s The Books of Bayern series highlights a new character, Rin, the younger sister of Razo, whom we followed in the previous book, River SecretsForest Born picks up a few months after the end of River Secrets, but being told from Rin’s point of view makes this story nearly a stand-alone. While you don’t have to read the first three books to understand what’s going on, you definitely won’t get the full effect of everything that happens unless you’ve read them.

I’ve read a lot of reviews for this book in particular that say it doesn’t mesh with the rest of series, doesn’t make sense, etc. etc. I’m here to tell you that’s a lot of rot. This book adds so immensely to my love for this series. I absolutely adored the first book, The Goose Girl, and while the war seemed to drag on forever through Enna Burning and lingered in River Secrets, I still enjoyed them. Forest Born had the same feel and energy as the first volume and really brought me back to why I loved this series so much as a child.

Rinna fits in…until she doesn’t. She spends much of the book feeling like an outcast, trying to be invisible, trying not to hate herself. These are all things that people can particularly identify with. Whenever Rin discovers something and gains one bit of confidence, the reader does as well. The story is a lesson in self-love and understanding while showcasing some of the most interesting gifts we’ve seen in The Books of Bayern. We still see our favorite characters: Isi and Geric, Enna and Finn, Razo and Dasha, Conrad, and baby Tusken; but we get the chance to see them all through Rinna’s fresh eyes that know nothing of wars or magic or betrayal. It was quite enchanting, and I had a hard time putting it down.

This particular cover was released in 2011 as a special edition to match the original three covers. The book was originally released in 2009 along with new covers for the whole series, each featuring a heroine on the cover. While I love the trend of putting characters on covers, it broke my heart not to be able to complete my collection of the beautiful original covers, which resemble antique paintings. When I was getting ready to start my re-read, I found this special edition cover and ordered it immediately, so now my collection is complete and I can enjoy the books for years to come without looking at my bookshelf and grumbling because the covers don’t match.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

 

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – The Goose Girl
Book #2 – Enna Burning
Book #3 – River Secrets

River Secrets (The Books of Bayern, #3) – Shannon Hale

Books-Of-Bayern-River-Secrets-Shannon-Hale

Source: Goodreads

 

Razo, Finn, and Enna have been chosen to accompany Captain Talone and the new ambassador into Tira, the land to the south Bayern. The war is officially over, but whispers say the Tiran Assembly will vote to start up the fighting again at the end of the summer. Ambassador Megina’s job is to work with the Tiran people to convince them of peace, but her task becomes nearly impossible when burned bodies start appearing around the palace grounds. Desperate to find the culprit before they all end up dead, Razo must use all of his talents and put his trust in someone he never thought he would: a Tiran.

 

The third book in Hale’s Books of Bayern series follows our heroes into enemy territory, where tensions still run high after the end of a war won by magic. Unlike the first two installments, this one doesn’t follow a magic user. The beginning is slow, as it catches us up on what’s been happening since Enna’s trip to Yasid, and sets us up to follow a sneaky little fellow named Razo on his journey to find purpose in his tumultuous life.

I personally love Razo, who up until now has been the comic relief in the often tough situations Hale’s characters find themselves. With this book, he really takes shape and becomes his own man, not just a background friend. The latter three-quarters of the book flew like a shot from Razo’s sling, hitting upon the exact things I needed from this book.

Overall, it was a fun read, and for once I didn’t remember what was going to happen from when I read it as a child. Hooray!

 

HHC Rating: 4.5 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – The Goose Girl
Book #2 – Enna Burning
Book #4 – Forest Born (Review Available 8/15)

Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine

Ella-Enchanted-Gail-Carson-Levine

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

The-Chanters-Of-Tremaris-The-Tenth-Power-Kate-Constable

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