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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Review: Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

Feb
24
8 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 5 stars, Steampunk

Book: Airborn
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Publisher: Eos
Release date: May 11, 2004
Source: Borrowed from library

Summary from Goodreads: Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the Aurora, a huge airship that sails hundreds of feet above the ocean, ferrying wealthy passengers from city to city. It is the life Matt’s always wanted; convinced he’s lighter than air, he imagines himself as buoyant as the hydrium gas that powers his ship. One night he meets a dying balloonist who speaks of beautiful creatures drifting through the skies. It is only after Matt meets the balloonist’s granddaughter that he realizes that the man’s ravings may, in fact, have been true, and that the creatures are completely real and utterly mysterious.

In a swashbuckling adventure reminiscent of Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Oppel, author of the best-selling Silverwing trilogy, creates an imagined world in which the air is populated by transcontinental voyagers, pirates, and beings never before dreamed of by the humans who sail the skies.

First impressions: Be still my beating, swooning heart! Kenneth Oppel wastes no time jumping into the action of this story, and it completely sucked me in. I so love when books do that.

Lasting impressions: Absolutely pitch perfect. Full of excitement, adventure, and mystery, this one grabs you and never lets go.

Conflicting impressions: None. Seriously.

Overall impressions: If I learned one thing from this book it’s that airships are so my thing.

Fans of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series will love this book as much as I did. Matt Cruse, our confident protagonist, is very similar to Westerfeld’s Deryn Sharp. He is so comfortable in the air he feels as if he could fly. He lost his father to a horrible airship accident. He has to take a post as a cabin boy to help pay the bills, but he also really and truly loves working on a ship. If there’s anyone who has found his place in the world, it’s Matt.

On a routine flight across the Pacific, Matt’s ship encounters an adrift hot air balloon with a few secrets contained within the pilot’s journal. On the next flight, Matt meets the pilot’s granddaughter, Kate de Vries. Kate is precocious, intelligent, stubborn, and a bit of a princess. She comes from the upper class and has a hard time taking no for an answer. Matt, as a lowly cabin boy, soon finds himself dragged into Kate’s exploits as she pursues the mysterious creatures her grandfather had discovered.

But Matt is not all passive. Part of his journey is finding his voice and learning to exploit his own capabilities in the face of hardship. Through the course of the book, Matt faces pirates (several times) and crashes and strange flying cats (oh my!), and still manages to keep his brain on straight. Younger readers will chew through this one!

If you’ve never tried steampunk, this is a superb place to start. It’s light on complicated gadgets and heavy on interesting characters and setting. Matt is brave and quick, and his story will capture your heart.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system



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Review: Wisdom’s Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Sep
29
4 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 3 stars

Book: Wisdom’s Kiss
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Release date: September 12, 2011
Source: ARC for review from NetGalley

Summary: (from Goodreads) Princess Wisdom, known as Dizzy, longs for a life of adventure far beyond the staid old kingdom of Montagne.

Tips, a soldier, longs to keep his true life secret from his family.

Fortitude, an orphaned maid, longs only for Tips.

These three passionate souls might just attain their dreams while preserving Montagne from certain destruction, if only they can tolerate each other long enough to come up with a plan. Tough to save the world when you can’t even be in the same room together.

Magic, cunning, and one very special cat join forces in this hilarious, extraordinary tale by the author of Dairy Queen and Princess Ben. An incredibly creative tale told with diaries, memoirs, encyclopedia entries, letters, biographies, even a stage play, all woven together into a grand adventure.

First impressions: The short chapters and 8 POVs made it easy to get into this book. I was so anxious to see what style was coming next that I breezed through huge chunks of this novel in each sitting.

Lasting impressions: Though the book seemed gimmicky at times, it was a cute story with a fun ending.

Conflicting impressions: Some of the narrative styles made it more difficult to follow the action, and I had to read certain sections a couple of times to know what was happening.

Overall impressions: I’m not usually a middle grade reader, but something about this one drew my eye. I liked the idea of a special cat, and the POV structure appealed to me as well. I wanted to see what Catherine Gilbert Murdock (sister to Eat, Pray, Love‘s Elizabeth Gilbert, by the way) could do with all of the styles – memoir, play, letters, etc.

Unfortunately, the varying styles didn’t always serve the story in the most effective way. The alternating perspectives tended to be a bit jarring with their frequency, even if they made for quick reading. The letters did give us nice glimpses into well developed characters, but the play script, in particular, didn’t tell us much we couldn’t have gotten from other points of view.

The story itself was interesting, with a cute reveal at the end that adds a little something for fairy tale lovers. I enjoyed the characters, but some added backstory would have helped me understand the political games beyond the superficial. I think this is a great book for younger readers looking for a unique narrative and an adventurous plot.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system



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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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