Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance – Ruth Emmie Lang

Beasts-of-Extraordinary-Circumstance-Ruth-Emmie-Lang
Source: Goodreads

 

Weylyn Grey was raised by wolves. Ever since, he’s been a little bit different. He’s never sure why, but mysterious things tend to happen around him and his horned pig, Merlin. Through his friends Roarke, Mary, Meg, Lydia, and Duane, we learn about Weylyn’s life and its challenges.

 

I was granted an ARC of this book from NetGalley, and I purchased a finished copy as part of my Book of the Month box for October 2017.

This book was marketed as an American fairytale meets magical realism. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it either of those, it does have the same sort of feeling as Big Fish. Weylyn’s presence is often associated with strange occurrences in nature, but he assigns all of the magical talent to his horned rescue pig, Merlin, not realizing that it has been him all along.

It was especially interesting to see how Weylyn adjusted to his strange life as he grew up in midwestern America in the 70s and 80s. I didn’t know how far into his life the story would take us, and it brought a surprising amount of closure to the end of the story. It’s rare that we get to see someone’s adventures through more than a single stage of life, and Lang’s take was refreshing. The characters are all original, flawed, and wonderfully human. Weylyn’s talents in no way detract from who he is a regular person – they just present extra challenges he must face as he grows up.

I enjoyed the story, and I hope they make a film version someday because I’m sure I’ll enjoy it as much as I enjoy other multi-part stories such as Big Fish and Forrest Gump.

 

 

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

Greenwitch (The Dark is Rising Sequence, #3) – Susan Cooper

 

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Photo by Amanda_HHC

 

 

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.

 

 

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Over Sea, Under Stone
Book #2 – The Dark is Rising
Book #4 – The Grey King (Review Coming Soon!)
Book #5 – Silver on the Tree (Review Coming Soon!)

Forging the Sword (Farsala, #3) – Hilari Bell

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

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 Trilogy brings 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.

 

 

 

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Fall of a Kingdom
Book #2 – Rise of a Hero

 

The Dark is Rising (The Dark is Rising Sequence, #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 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!)

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

Farsala-Rise-Of-A-Hero-Hilari-Bell

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

Over Sea, Under Stone (The Dark is Rising Sequence, #1) – Susan Cooper

 

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Photo by Amanda_HHC

 

 

Simon, Jane, and Barnabus Drew have just arrived in Cornwall for a summer holiday with their parents and great uncle when they discover a mysteriously hidden passageway to a long-forgotten attic in the house they are staying at. Among the relics and dust, they find what could only be a treasure map. In following the ancient clues, the Drews attract the attention of other treasure hunters, determined to get the prize for themselves in the name of an evil known only as the Dark. As Simon, Jane, and Barney unravel the secrets of the map, they realize the treasure is more important than they ever could have dreamed, and might even be related to the true history of King Arthur.

 

I was gifted The Dark is Rising Sequence as a Christmas present from my parents over a decade ago and loved them. When I set out to re-read all of my childhood favorites this year, I knew this series needed to be on my list. Cooper’s writing is simple enough that my young mind could comprehend it, but it is also complex enough to still make the story enjoyable as an adult.

Admittedly, I don’t remember much from my original reading of the book beyond that it had a theme about King Arthur and Merlin, and that I liked it, so re-reading these is nearly as entertaining as it was back then. I have always loved anything to do with King Arthur and Merlin (Guinevere and Lancelot not so much), so those themes in the story are my favorite. As a child, it was fun to read about people near my own age getting in on the adventures, rather than reading about yet another 16-year-old protagonist who needed to go save a princess or a kingdom or slay something. The Drews are not ‘special snowflakes’ in any sense. They make mistakes, and that is what allows the story to wander where it does and come to the conclusion Cooper had planned. The book does move a little slowly, and the characters’ minds wander so that we get more description than is strictly necessary. Most of these descriptions help build other characters in the reader’s mind, however, and for younger readers, it would make perfect sense that these descriptions would be needed. After all, we can’t all have ready-made villains in our heads to slap names on at the drop of a hat. What I am trying to say here is this: There is a lot of description, but it is not altogether unwelcome.

The scenery, seen through Cooper’s world-building, is wonderful. No matter where I picked up in the book, I could almost feel the Cornish winds whipping across the headlands and hear the sea slamming against the rocks of Kemare head as the tide rushes in. The characters each have their own personalities and accents, making each an interesting little nugget of eccentricities to mine for.

I have no idea where the rest of the series will take me, but I look forward to diving in!

 

HHC Rating: 3.5 Stars

P.S. The covers featured are from a reprint of the 1986 box set edition. The edition was printed in 2000, but as far as I can find, these covers are no longer available.

Other reviews in this series:
Book #2 – The Dark is Rising
Book #3 – Greenwitch 
Book #4 – The Grey King (Review Coming Soon!)
Book #5 – Silver on the Tree (Review Coming Soon!)

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
Book #3 – Forging the Sword