Archive for 3 stars

Mini-Reviews: The Dark is Rising Sequence

Jan
15
2 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 2 stars, 3 stars, 4 stars, Fantasy

Book: Over Sea, Under Stone
Author: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Originally published: 1965
Source: Purchased ebook from Amazon
Series: The Dark is Rising Sequence #1

 

Summary from Goodreads:

Throughout time, the forces of good and evil have battled continuously, maintaining the balance. Whenever evil forces grow too powerful, a champion of good is called to drive them back. Now, with evil’s power rising and a champion yet to be found, three siblings find themselves at the center of a mystical war.

Jane, Simon, and Barney Drew have discovered an ancient text that reads of a legendary grail lost centuries ago. The grail is an object of great power, buried with a vital secret. As the Drews race against the forces of evil, they must piece together the text’s clues to find the grail — and keep its secret safe until a new champion rises.

I read the first three books in this classic children’s series last week, both for Bout of Books 6.0 and my book club meeting over the weekend. It was refreshing to visit some books that people treasure from their childhood (I hadn’t read them before). I’ve been so caught up in reading the latest new releases that I was neglecting the classics!

This first book was so much fun. The Drew kids are sucked into a mystery while on vacation in Cornwall, England – searching for the grail of King Arthur! Does it get any cooler than that? I loved the battle of these three kids against several shady adults from the Dark trying to get their greedy hands on the grail, which will tell them how to defeat the rising of ancient and perceived lost King Arthur. 

Helping them along the way is their great-uncle Merriman Lyon, who functions in a mentor type role. He guides them and encourages them as they discover a secret map and go in search of the deciphering tricks that will help them interpret it to find the treasure. The action ramps up nicely, leading to a final showdown that truly delivers and leaves us with plenty to look forward to in the sequels.

Rating: 4/5 stars 

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 

Book: The Dark is Rising
Author: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Originally Published: 1973
Source: Purchased ebook from Amazon
Series: The Dark is Rising Sequence #2

 

Summary from Goodreads:

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.

The second book in the series is a marked departure from the first one. With the exception of Merriman Lyon, there are no common characters, and even takes place in a different town (and later, magical world). Given how much I loved the Drew kids in the first book, this was a bit disappointing.

This book I found to be confusing, with many jumps through time that left me uncertain from paragraph to paragraph where we were at any given moment. Will is on a quest to find six magical medallions, and he has to move through time and space to get them, often without requiring a whole lot of foresight or planning. Instead, he seems to just stumble upon them in overly convenient ways. There wasn’t a lot of tension as a result, since we just assume that the next part of the plot will deal with him getting the next medallion, and that he will do so with some ease.

The good thing to note is that the first two books do not need to be read in order, since they are so different, but they both provide vital plot elements for the third book so must be read before moving on in the series. The other good thing is that the third book was much more entertaining than this one.

Rating: 2/5 stars

 

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 

Book: Greenwitch
Author: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Originally published: 1974
Source: Purchased ebook from Amazon
Series: The Dark is Rising Sequence #3

 

Summary from Goodreads:

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.

The third book in the series combines the Drew children with Will Stanton, and they are tasked to return to Cornwall to retrieve the scroll lost in book one and the grail that has newly been stolen by the Dark forces. I was very happy to see the Drew kids back in the story, as they are light, comical characters that are a joy to read.

This book zips along in pace, and is the shortest of these three books at only 144 pages. The kids are again battling the Dark, trying to uncover the mystery of who stole the grail, where it went, and how they can get back the scroll that disappeared into the sea the last time they were in town. The magic of the second book comes alive in this book, with eerie scenes playing out in the streets and lots of mysterious interactions with undersea creatures and the strange Greenwitch. 

I absolutely intend to finish the last two books in this series, as overall it was a lot of fun to read. Though I found Will boring, the Drew kids are so cute and clever! I want to see where the grail takes them next and whether the Light can succeed in bringing King Arthur back to life. 

Rating: 4/5 stars 

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 


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Discussion: MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche

Oct
18
3 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 3 stars, Nonfiction

Book: MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend
Author: Rachel Bertsche
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release date: December 20, 2011
Source: Borrowed from library
 
Summary from Goodreads: When Rachel Bertsche first moves to Chicago, she’s thrilled to finally share a zip code with her boyfriend. But shortly after getting married, she realizes that her new life is missing one thing: friends. Sure, she has plenty of BFFs – in New York and San Francisco and Boston and Washington, D.C. Still, in her adopted hometown, there’s no one to call at the last minute for girl talk over brunch or a reality-TV marathon over a bottle of wine. Taking matters into her own hands, Bertsche develops a plan: Meeting people everywhere from improv class to friend rental websites, she’ll go on fifty-two friend-dates, one per week for a year, in hopes of meeting her new Best Friend Forever.

I have a confession to make. I love nonfiction books of the “try some wacky task for a year” variety. L-O-V-E love them. I think it’s fascinating to watch people attempt sometimes challenging, oftentimes ridiculous activities for an entire year. You get to see the ups and downs, as well as the overall growth, that come from learning how you adapt to a given goal that plays out for such a lengthy period of time. This is no flash in the pan – this is a commitment.

MWF Seeking BFF takes this concept and applies it to adult friend-making. Rachel Bertsche moves to Chicago and is not satisfied with casual work acquaintances or people you only see for planned events. She wants a local friend that she can call spontaneously and invite to brunch. As a married woman in her late twenties, she finds that this is harder than one would expect.

The thing that I connected with the most is the fact that adults looking for friends is a pretty taboo topic in our society. In general, we are comfortable, if not encouraging, of people on the hunt for a significant other. But a friend? That’s something only losers need to do. One of the best things about this book is how Bertsche turns that idea on it’s head. 

I am not a lonely or pathetic loser…

Needing a friend isn’t anything we should be embarrassed about, and we certainly shouldn’t judge anyone who is looking. As Bertsche ultimately discovers, we all need many types of friends to fill different roles in our army of support. We shouldn’t require our spouses or significant others to fill our best friend role, any more than we should expect our best friend to be the sole person we rely on for all other emotional support. Plus we are more mobile than ever, and with all of that moving around is it any wonder that people need to form new connections?

As someone who moved to a brand new city after college, I really connected with her struggles. When I first got to Chicago I did everything I could to meet new people. I hung out with coworkers, I went to MeetUps, I scoured Craigslist for all of the “Seeking SATC pals! Be my Miranda!” posts. I joined social sports clubs and went to bars. But do I have anything to show for it all these years later? No. My lasting area friendships all came from work.

Making friends is hard, and it’s harder because of the stigma that comes with seeking friendship. I’m certainly guilty of it, and it has definitely kept me from putting myself out there in the ways that Bertsche does. Even reading this book in public made me slightly uncomfortable. What if the people on the El see the title and assume I’m a weirdo with no friends? 

It really made me stop and think about why that concept is so bad. I think it’s safe to assume that if a woman wanted to hang out with me, she’s just looking to meet new people. And I would be happy she asked. This, too, is what Bertsche finds as she moves from coordinated events to simply asking potential friends to have drinks or attend a yoga class together. They’re excited to reciprocate! Imagine that!

Don’t be so timid…

The book really inspired me to be more proactive about coordinating schedules with people I’d like to elevate in the friend department. I don’t know that my introverted nature will ever allow me to master the art of the female friend pick-up, but I can definitely be better about scheduling get-togethers and following through on plans. Recently, a friend (that I had basically written off because I’d been so terrible about making our friend dates) texted me after over a year of radio silence. We made brunch plans and met up last week. And it was great. Why did I let my insecurities keep me from reaching out through all this time? She clearly was still thinking about me, and I was thinking about her, but I psyched and guilted myself out of contacting her and almost lost her entirely. 

That’s not okay. I will be better. Thank you, Rachel Bertsche, for inspiring me to be confident in approaching acquaintances and for taking some of the heat off of women who just want some new friends. I mean, we’re not all weirdos.

Have you had a hard time making friends as an adult? Do you think it’s strange to admit that you want more friends? Let’s talk!

Rating: 3/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system





Discussion: The Selection by Kiera Cass

Aug
08
7 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 3 stars, Discussion, Dystopian

Book: The Selection
Author: Kiera Cass
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: April 24, 2012
Source: Borrowed ebook from library
 
Summary from Goodreads: For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in the palace and compete for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself- and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

I’m trying something different today. Instead of straight-up reviewing this book, I want to open it up for discussion. I’d like to try focusing less on dissecting a book and more on analyzing my experience of reading it. Please join me in the comments!

**As this is a discussion, please be aware that there will be some slight spoilers!**

Let me start by saying this – I liked this book. But I recognize that this book has a capital-H-History, particularly on Goodreads. I was not expecting to like this one because of some of the reviews I read by people who I find to be trustworthy.

Yet. It’s YA! It’s dystopian! It has a Bachelor-like competition! What could there possibly be not to like? So when I saw it available through the library, I figured I’d go for it.

And I liked it. Really liked it, in fact. The writing was breezy, the characters were interesting, the competition was heating up…so I started to wonder what the big deal was with this book. I texted my sister, who also loves a good YA dystopian, and asked if she could read it if I bought her a copy. She could, and she did. Hooray for discussion! We texted about it for a while (much like we had with Divergent), and I started to realize that though I recognized many of the book’s flaws, I still liked the book. Thus the need for a discussion post.

The love story

Putting aside the bad names, I found America and Maxon to have good chemistry. A good love interest will carry me pretty far through a series (Twilight, I’m looking at you, kid), and I found the scenes with America and Prince Maxon to be delightful and full of the intense awkwardness of teen love. It’s that kind of realism that I connect with as an avid YA reader, and it took me back to thoughts of my own first kisses and first dates.

My sister didn’t find the America and Maxon love story believable, however. It irritated her that America could act like the horrible wench that undoubtedly makes it on The Bachelor every year, and yet we (and Maxon) were expected to not want her to get kicked off. She treats Maxon like dirt, is still in love with Aspen back home, and is staying in the competition for the food and money. She’s in it for all the wrong reasons, but Maxon agrees to keep her around. In my sister’s view, this makes America unlikeable and Maxon a fool.

I, however, appreciated that America was up front with Maxon. On The Bachelor, we only ever despise the girls keeping secrets about former boyfriends or illicit affairs with producers or who are in it for the wrong reasons but keep playing the game. America’s not hiding anything – she admits she has feelings for an old boyfriend at home, and that she needs to stay to help out her starving family. That Maxon lets her stay, while also hoping to win her heart anyway, is a nice gesture. America is more real with him than any of the other contestants, so why not let her stay? In my view, Maxon was simply grasping at anything that had substance over superficiality. Does that really make him a fool?

Root, root, root for the…

My two major complaints with the book were that A) the world history didn’t make a lot of sense and was thrown in without much context; and B) that there was no conclusion to the story. I would have liked more information on the growing conflict outside the palace walls (and sometimes within the palace walls). What do the rebels want? Who do we, as readers, want to win? I needed a cause to root for, other than just hoping that the poorer castes get a better life. I also really, really wanted to see the competition through to the end. I felt the ending of this book did not have a natural or satisfying conclusion.

So yes, there were some problems, but I still found America and her situation to be a cool way to explore young love. It’s fun to watch these strangers try to navigate their forced camaraderie, and discover that they both care about their country and doing what’s right. I want to see what happens next, and how America deals with her feelings for Aspen and her growing feelings for Maxon.

Have you read this book? Did you find the love story believable? If you haven’t read it, do you plan to? Let’s talk!

Rating: 3/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system



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A lover of words and sparkly things.

A fan of historical, dystopian, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, mystery, steampunk, and young adult fiction, as well as any book that thinks smartly and imaginatively.

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