Bilbo Baggins is a typical hobbit. He likes tea and smoking his pipe in front of his fireplace and has no intention of going on an adventure. Gandalf the wizard has other plans. So it comes to pass that 13 dwarves barge into Bilbo’s home, eat all of his food, insult his abilities as a burglar (of which he has none, anyway), and then leave for an adventure without him.
While the story itself was intriguing, the overly parental way in which Gandalf basically dragged everyone where they needed to be and the subsequent whining that went along with it from the other 14 adventurers was eye-rolling levels of exhausting. I loved the world-building, especially Tolkien’s descriptions of of forests. I just can’t help but feel that there would’ve been less whining if at least one of the party had been a woman. There were exactly zero female characters excepting the odd villager, and it definitely affected the plot.
****Also **Spoiler** but I very much did not like that the whole book was about how the dwarves were going to kill Smaug and take back their mountain and then Smaug was ultimately killed by a white male chosen-one type character who we really didn’t need. ****
I am glad I didn’t read this as a kid because I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed it due to the sheer amount of telling > showing, and again, the whining. If you’re going on an adventure of your own volition, you have forfeited the right to complain about how terrible, boring, and hungry the trip is. Suck it up, buttercup. Overall this one was meh for me, but I think a lot of that was due to the fact of it being written in much the same style as Peter Pan, which I also did not really enjoy. Here’s hoping The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Silmarillion go much better for me.
May Bird is adjusting to life in the land of the living just fine. Her particular brand of fame means that she’s part of the popular crowd in her middle school, and she works hard to stay there. But sometimes she misses exploring her imagination, wandering around the woods of Briery Swamp, and she especially misses her friends from the after-life. But ever since the lake dried up, she hasn’t been able to find a way back. Just when she’s ready to give up hope of ever being able to save her friends, Briery Swamp gets its first snow storm in history and May is swept off on another adventure into The Ever After – only this time, it’s the fate of the universe on the line, not just the land of the dead.
I really enjoyed how this story was told. At the end of book two, May had the choice to return home or stay and fight… and she chose to return home. But now that’s she’s back, she’s ready to take Bo Cheevil head on. Everything is on the line, and May refuses to fail this time. The three year gap between the second and third books allowed May to mature as a human and also weigh all of her options. Her interactions with her classmates and family helped the reader see her as a regular person, and her actions in The Ever After showed her to be a true hero, full of heart, and ready and willing to put the safety of others before her own. This series ended up being 100% delightful, one I got used to the creepy ghouls, zombies, and vampires. There is always something new to discover in The Ever After, and that is always one of my favorite parts of books – especially in middle grade books.
May Bird is stuck in the land of the dead, but for the first time in her young life she doesn’t feel alone. She has Fabbio, and Bea, and Pumpkin, and Somber Kitty. They survived the bogey’s wild chase, and have made it to the train to North Farm, where a letter claims a lady can help them. The road to the north is strewn with the downtrodden, the fearsome, and downright petrifying, but May is determined to get home to her mother in Briery Swamp, West Virginia.
This second book in the May Bird trilogy, rather than being struck down by the sophomore slump, used its time to build up May’s character. Leaping off of May Bird And The Ever After‘s set-up of the world of the dead and May’s presumed destiny, as well as some of the obstacles she will face, May Bird Among The Stars helps May along the path to growing up and becoming who she was meant to be, willing or not. As she pushes to get home, May is unable to put on blinders that would prevent her from being influenced by the world around her. Deserted towns, refugee encampments, souls kept live slaves… It all has nothing, and everything, to do with May Ellen Bird. Word has spread quickly about her entry in The Book of The Dead – That she will vanquish the evil Bo Cheevil and safe The Ever After from certain disaster – but May would rather blend in and stay hidden until she can get home. As she approaches her destination, May must come to terms with what it means to be “The Chosen One”, and how she can only blend in for so long, when she was born to stand out.
Princess Cimorene of Linderwall has very proper parents. She is nothing like her six elder sisters. Her hair is black and unruly. She avoids her dancing classes to fence with the castle armsmaster, learn magic with the court magician, practice economics with the court treasurer, or bake in the castle kitchens. Bored out of her mind, she summons her fairy godmother, who is no help whatsoever. So she runs away. Cimorene takes up the perfectly acceptable life of being a dragon’s princess, but she is nothing like the other captive princesses. She finds a place where her abilities (math, declining latin, cooking, baking, cleaning, magic) are welcomed and even useful. Now if only the knights and princes would stop showing up trying to fight Kazul and carry Cimorene off to live happily ever after.
Every year when International Women’s Day rolls around, I think of Cimorene. Wrede didn’t write her as a feminist. Equality is something that Cimorene takes as a given, not something she has to fight for. Anything that isn’t based in equality is just absurd, regardless of what is deemed ‘proper’ by the governing bodies. Cimorene is strong, smart, curious, and stubborn. She is, in short, my favorite literary character ever created and I hope I can write characters half as cool as her someday. I read this book at least once a year, usually more, and it is one of the biggest inspirations in my writing, equal to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted. I bring a copy with me any time I babysit and read it to my charges regardless of age and gender because it never fails. This book is pure magic.
Dealing With Dragons is not a romance. It is about Cimorene finding her place in the world and turning it into her best life. When life gives you lemons, make fresh-scented soapy water. Trust me, it can solve most of your problems.
Princess Amy is the youngest of seven princesses, and her parents are sure she will be the most beautiful… until the court advisors insist that all of the local fairies should be invited to the christening, and then no one bothers to provide adequate transportation for the eldest fairy, Crustacea, and she gives Amy the gift of being ordinary. When her parents begin to despair and the court advisors begin to get desperate for her to marry, Amy decides to run away and live in the forest. The approaching winter pushes Amy to get a job as a kitchen maid in order to afford new clothes. Little does she know that the man-of-all-work she quickly befriends is really the young King Algernon, who is just as ordinary as she is!
This book holds a special place in my heart as the first story I have memories of reading all on my own. I’m sure there were others before it, probably the Little Golden Books versions of Cinderella and The Little Mermaid, maybe even some other beloved books, but I don’t remember reading them like I remember reading this. I remember loving it so much I immediately started it over from the beginning.
Amethyst (Who’s name I distinctly remember pronouncing as “Azmyth”) was ordinary, with mousy brown hair like my own, and she ran away and made a life for herself. She was never a princess that needed to be rescued. She fell in love the way normal people do, slowly, and she lived happily ever after with a gaggle of children and the love of her life.
This book showed me that there was magic to be found in the mundane, that you didn’t need to be “the chosen one” to have an adventure – that life was the adventure – and that everyone has their own path to take to get where they’re headed.
Princess Amy and Prince Perry’s story might be the one that started my writing. If someone like Amy could find adventure and love, then so could anyone. And if adventure was a possibility for anyone, than writing was possible for me. It gave me permission to be myself instead of the cookie-cutter images of perfect little girls I saw on television and in other books. I could pursue my interests, chase my curiosities, have my adventures, and still someday find love. I’m happy to say that since that day, at maybe 6 or 7 years old, I’ve never looked back. I’ve chased my dreams and let nothing hold me back. And I’d just like to thank Queen Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne (originally of Phantasmorania) and King Algernon (+7 more names, one of which is Peregrine) of Ambergelder for showing me that being myself was the best thing I could ever wish to be.
Lucy and Oliver Tinker live with their father at his clock repair shop, scraping by selling antiques ever since their mother passed away. When the rich Mr. Quigley walks in at closing one day and offers Mr. Tinker a fortune to fix a giant clock at his home in Rhode Island, they can’t say no. Blackford house is situated in the middle of nowhere, falling apart at the seams and without electricity. The forest around the house is barren and quiet despite it being the height of summer, but Lucy is determined to make Blackford house home. Then the wooden animal statues she finds around the house start talking, and Oliver meets a mysterious boy who lives in the dark woods. Before long the Tinkers are drawn into a centuries old war between light and dark, and the fate of Blackford house hangs in the balance.
I received an ARC of Watch Hollow from the author in exchange for an honest review, but this is something I would have eventually picked up anyway. The characters are lovable and yet complex for a middle-grade book, and I love how the world itself is alive. The plot moved well and I was quickly swept up in the Tinker’s adventures. Funaro plans a sequel, making this a duology, and The Maze of Shadows is sure to be just as good when it comes out next year.
My favorite part of this book was definitely the clock animals. The whole idea of light and dark being incarnate in them, balancing the powers and powering the clock and providing electricity for the house, not to mention the naming conventions – Torsten Six, Fennish Seven, Tempest Crow – Everything about them is just fantastic. My second favorite part was obviously the shadowood vs. sunstone debate, and the ash-acorns. At ~250 pages, this book was the perfect length to get wrapped up in. I would have loved to read this as a child, and it’s still great as an adult! I will definitely be picking up the sequel next year.
Available from January 12th wherever books are sold!
HHC Rating: 5 Stars.
Other reviews in this series: The Maze of Shadows(Available 2020)
Struck down by an unknown illness, Old One Will Stanton is sent to stay with his aunt and uncle in Wales to recover. In his unhealthy state, Will is not aware of much that has been going on besides the weather, and indeed it is not until he meets a boy named Bran that his memories of being an Old One return to him. Bran has been visited by Merriman, and together he and Will begin the search for the harp with which to wake the sleepers.
What made this story especially interesting were the additions of Bran and his dog, Caval, as companions for Will instead of Merriman. In fact, Merriman hardly made an appearance. The secondary characters really carried this story, with Will just tumbling along headfirst into danger among them because he can’t understand Welsh. This small fact truly holds the entirety of the plot together, as Will knowing Welsh would uncomplicate his journey significantly.
The start of this book was rough and sharp. We are never given any description or name for the illness which Will had, just that it clouded his mind and weakened his body, making him forget all about the Old Ones for a time. It is never even expressly stated where he caught the sickness or if it was caused by the Dark. It’s as if Will woke up one day from a bad dream, realized he had been asleep for a few months, and just kind of had to guess what to do next to help the Light. The majority of the plot surrounds Bran and Caval anyway, and I felt as if Will was simply an avenue for explaining their presence. Overall, the story was good, but it felt disconnected from the previous three.
Barnabus, Jane, and Simon are returning to the small town of Trewissick for a week away with their favorite great uncle – and to recover a priceless artifact the evil Dark has stolen from a museum. With them on their vacation is a mysterious young boy named Will Stanton. Unsure whether to trust Will with their secret or to forge ahead alone, the Drews will learn the difference between an outsider and an enemy as they race against the hourglass turned by mother nature herself to stop the Dark from rising.
This third installment in Cooper’s pentalogy is the shortest, yet the most chock-full of character development. Barney comes into his own talents, Simon learns to tone down his temper, Jane finds her inner strength, and Will learns how to balance being a boy and an immortal. As the trio grows to a quartet, the bonds of the light grow stronger and the Dark is pushed back yet again. Cooper does an excellent job of taking a general storyline – darkness vs light – and creating it anew. With two books left in the series, I can’t wait to see where this series goes.
My favorite parts of this book involved Jane. Sure, she’s basically the only girl, but Cooper sets it up so this aspect gives her special access to knowledge and events that the boys are not privy to. This, combined with her open mind, allows for greater understanding of the implications of Will and Uncle Merry’s powers, and the truth about the fight against the Dark. While Barney and Simon only know that magic is playing a role in this fight, Jane can see and sense that this fight is bigger than four kids and an old man against a few unsavory people. Jane, without having it explained to her, understands that this is for all the marbles, and that while she isn’t the chosen one she’s still part of the fight. She actually reminds me of Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series in many ways. She’s smart, she’s brave, and she’s unafraid to be herself. She doesn’t always know why things happen the way they do, but she’s here for it, and her good heart – like in a Grimm’s fairytale, almost – leads her in the right direction.
Lady Soraya and Commander Jiaan have formed a tentative alliance with the multifaceted Kavi. The young commander will direct the army, the last remaining deghass will navigate alliances, and the peddler will rouse the people and forge the first Farsalan sword to be made of watersteel – the same formula the Hrum have been using to decimate the Farsalan resistance. Together, they are Sorahb reborn, and only together can they hope to defeat the Hrum nation before their time runs out.
The final installment in The Farsala Trilogybrings all the pieces together. Although it still moves a little slowly, there is a lot of ground to be covered, opinions and allies that must be shifted into just the right places – almost like a chess match – before Sorahb can fulfill the destiny he was created for. The combination of magic, wit, strategy, and weaponry was very cool to watch. Every step in the trio’s plan to take back their homeland was inspiring to watch and filled me with pride. Jiaan, Soraya, and Kavi have developed so much since Fall of a Kingdom and it was truly a pleasure to see them shine in their big moments.
This story is not without its losses, as no war goes without casualties, and the losses are steep, both in the present day and in Sorahb’s time. But the making of a legend is no easy feat, and Hilari Bell succeeded wonderfully in her endeavor to lift the curtain on the ‘real’ story of Sorahb and the rise of Farsala.
Overall, this book touched my soul. I can’t resist an underdog story. Given how the first two books went, however, I think this entire series would read better as a compilation – all three books bound together – because of where the endings occur. It would make more sense if they were sections of one book than each as a stand-alone. Just thinking about our heroic trio makes me a little weepy with pride, but there is so much world-building and background to be shared given the story of Sorahb, that it can be disheartening to finish a book and feel lost. I think a compilation would alleviate this issue.
All Will Stanton wants for his birthday is snow; something that never arrives in time for Christmas or his birthday 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 probably for the best 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
Book #4 – The Grey King (Review Coming Soon!)
Book #5 – Silver on the Tree(Review Coming Soon!)