Saturday, December 31, 2016

loopyker's #CBR8 Review #05: Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper

Silver on the Tree is the final book in the Dark is Rising Sequence.  Here, all the important characters from the Light and the Dark come together for the final battle.

I'm not sure if it was because both times I listened to this, it was too late to give it my best attention, or if it was the story itself, but this was my least favourite of the series.  Alex Jennings returns as narrator, along with the other characters adding a sense of unity to the series.

However, I got confused by a lot of time jumping with Merriman and Will and with the Drew children.  It gave things a disjointed feel and made references to a lot of things in history that I wasn't very familiar with.  In a printed book or ebook, I could have stopped and looked things up.  But that is much more difficult with an audiobook.  I had looked up some of the myths and legends in the previous books, but that was just harder here with the historical periods as well.

We first get to know Will's family a little bit.  There was an all-too-relevant little side-story about racism being a part of the Dark and the Stanton family show their good character.  Then the setting returns to Wales for the most part, similar to The Grey King and including the characters from that 4th book too.  The Drew children join Will and Bran there.

Again, Jane is used to connect to the feminine power of The Lady of the Light, but otherwise is mainly being motherly to the others. The Lady herself is only a very minor character, passing on some cryptic phrases for them to figure out through the story.  There is a minor Dark woman near the end of the book, but again, a distinct lack of real female characters.

Bran and Will get separated from the others and are on their own quest to find a crystal sword in "The Lost Lands".  A place that has sunk into the ocean a long time ago.   Meanwhile the Drews get to know John Rowlands a bit better and generally get tortured by the Dark a little.  I wasn't trusting what Merriman had said through the other books - that the children would never be in danger and wondered if he was just using them for the greater good.

At the end, everyone is gathered together.  All of the Old Ones and all of the Dark, with Bran, John Rowlands, and the Drews in the last race to the special tree.  Whichever side gets the magical flower on it, will control the destiny of the world.

I was captivated, but everything felt rushed and some of it felt forced. And the ending was one that I hate.  It is used all too often in fantasy.  I try not to do spoilers in my reviews but I am making an exception here.  The children were heroes and got their memories wiped of everything about the Old Ones and the Dark forces and magical things.  I think they deserved to remember more.   Although, I do think it was a mercy for John.  But, I also get stuck thinking about the logical implications - like what exactly would they think happened during those trips.  Would they forget everything or just certain parts.    Grrr!!!!

This is a powerful speech at the end (even if tainted by the memory wiping since some of it would make less sense without that larger context).

Merriman says to the children (and that this is all they will remember),
“For remember, that it is altogether your world now. You and all the rest. We have delivered you from evil, but the evil that is inside men is at the last a matter for men to control. The responsibility and the hope and the promise are in your hands-your hands and the hands of all men on this earth. The future can not blame the present, just as the present can not blame the past. The hope is always here, always alive, but only your fierce caring can fan it into a fire to warm the world. 
For Drake is no longer in his hammock, children, nor is Arthur somewhere sleeping, and you may not lie idly expecting the second coming of anybody now, because the world is yours and it is up to you. Now especially since man has the strength to destroy the world, it is the responsibility of man to keep it alive, in all its beauty and marvelous joy. 
And the world will still be imperfect, because men are imperfect. Good men will still be killed by bad, or sometimes by other good men, and there will still be pain and disease and famine, anger and hate. But if you work and care and are watchful, as we have tried to be for you, then in the long run the worse will never, ever, triumph over the better. And the gifts put into some men, that shine as bright as Eirias the sword, shall light the dark corners of life for all the rest, in so brave a world.” 
I really hope he is right!

3.5 stars

Title: Silver on the Tree (The Dark is Rising Sequence, Book 5)
Author: Susan Cooper
Audible Audio Edition
Narrator: Alex Jennings
Duration:  9 hours and 26 minutes
Publisher: Listening Library (August, 2007)

Other Formats: paperback/Kindle ebook
Print length:  274 pages
Publisher:   Margaret K. McElderry Books, Reprint edition (December 1, 2000)
(First Edition: 1977)
ISBN-10: 0689840330
ISBN-13: 978-0689840333
Kindle ASIN: B003R0LC0M

Rating system:
1 star (didn't like); 2 stars (OK); 3 stars (good); 4 stars (very good); 5 stars (favourite)

Also check out Cannonball Read for a variety of book reviews from many others.

Friday, December 30, 2016

loopyker's #CBR8 Review #04: The Grey King by Susan Cooper

The Grey King book cover
Ah!  Where did Alex Jennings go?  After listening to the same narrator for the first three audiobooks in the series, I was initially jolted to hear a different voice for The Grey King.  I thought nobody would do as well with this book as Alex Jennings had been doing.  But happily, I soon accepted Richard Mitchley's voice and as the story unfolded, it made a lot of sense to have a different narrator.

Although, Will Stanton was in the previous two books, The Dark is Rising and Greenwitch, in this book he loses part of his mind to illness for awhile and travels to family in Wales to recover.  So here, Welsh is the language for the landscape and native language of the other characters.  Having never heard Welsh, I have to assume that Richard was doing a good job with the difficult pronunciations and accents of Welsh people speaking English.  Richard gave it a different feel that complemented the new setting.

At first it is a bit of a disappointment, that Will is on his own.  The Drew children are not in this book at all and Merriman only appears in a minor role.  But we are introduced to interesting new characters, mainly another boy Will's age, Bran Davis.  Bran is an albino with a strict father and a somewhat magical dog, Cafall. Dogs and dog-like creatures have major roles in this book, for both the Light and the Dark.  But, sadly, still no significant female characters.

The Grey King is a Dark lord whose power is in the mountain and fogs in the area.  Will and Bran must overcome his attempts to stop their quest to find a harp of gold and "wake the sleepers", as told in rhymes of prophesy found in the previous book.

I felt more deeply for the characters in this story.  Will and Bran are old beyond their years, so more mature than the Drew children. There is more danger, and less innocence.  I also enjoyed the mixing of Arthurian and Welsh legends.  This book had me looking up a lot of interesting things I hadn't heard about before.  Since The Grey King also won the Newbery Medal in 1976, I assume some others felt that way too.

Like Greenwitch, I listened to The Grey King three times this past year and enjoyed it as much, or more each time.  I just wish it didn't end so abruptly.  It is hard to choose, but I think this is my favourite in the series.

Something to think about in the current political climate.  It is a theme continued in the next and last book, Silver on the Tree.   Will is having a serious talk with a fully-human, adult friend, John Rowlands.

“Will picked a single blossom from a gorse bush beside him; it shone bright yellow on his grubby hand. "People are very complicated," he said sadly. 
"So they are," John Rowlands said. His voice deepened a little, louder and clearer than it had been. "But when the battles between you and your adversaries are done, Will Stanton, in the end the fate of all the world will depend on just those people, and on how many of them are good or bad, stupid or wise. And indeed it is all so complicated that I would not dare foretell what they will do with their world. Our world.”

5 stars

Title: The Grey King  (The Dark is Rising Sequence, Book 4)
Author: Susan Cooper
Audible Audio Edition
Narrator: Richard Mitchley
Duration: 5 hours and 40 minutes
Publisher: Listening Library (April 12, 2007)

Other Formats: paperback/Kindle ebook
Print length:  224 pages
Publisher:   Margaret K. McElderry Books, (October 1, 1999)
(First Edition: Chatto & Windus, 1975)
ISBN-10: 0689829841
ISBN-13: 978-0689829840
Kindle ASIN: B000FC0PEE

Rating system:
1 star (didn't like); 2 stars (OK); 3 stars (good); 4 stars (very good); 5 stars (favourite)

Also check out Cannonball Read for a variety of book reviews from many others.

loopyker's #CBR8 Review #03: Greenwitch by Susan Cooper

It will be a surprise to nobody that I came up short of my book review goal again.  At least this year I have a good excuse.  I jumped through a lot of immigration hoops and moved a big truck full of stuff from Canada to the US, all while planning a wedding.
It went more or less as planned, but of course everything took more time and work than anticipated.  Fortunately, I have a great husband and in-laws to help make the transition to my new home and country all go smoother.

Greenwitch bookcover
With so much on my mind, my memory for books hasn't been so good.  But, I really wanted to finish The Dark is Rising Sequence this year properly at least.  I already wrote a review for Greenwitch - twice! On paper, and lost them both during the packing and then the moving.  I listened to the audiobook three times over the year, which should say a lot about how good this series is in itself.  The third time was just as entertaining as the first and made me continue right on to the 4th book, The Grey King, without stopping to do the review properly.

Greenwitch is the shortest books in the series at just under 4.5 hours.  The characters from the first two books, the Drew children in Over Sea, Under Stone and Will Stanton in The Dark is Rising, finally meet through Merriman, back in the same village from the first book.  This nicely brings the books back to a more connected series as they all work to recover and understand an item stolen by the Dark.

I didn't fully understand why Merriman decides it is better not to explain anything about Will to the Drews.  They resent him at first, thinking that they have to keep secrets from him but then a friendship progresses.  Maybe they think better of him coming to this conclusion on their own?  Or maybe it is better for Will that he has some distance from them?

Happily, Jane has a more active role in Greenwitch.  But, I found it very frustrating that this only seems to be because a female was specifically needed to interact with the Greenwitch.  While she has an important role, her brothers and Will still have their own more dangerous adventures and roles to play without her, so it isn't entirely "her" book either.  The only other feminine voices are very minor characters or magic forces.

Again, this book is more magical than the first, so now the Drew children are more aware of the real situation of the Light and the Dark and also learn of the Wild Magic of the Greenwitch, but are still not told everything.  I feel they could handle knowing more and was annoyed when they had their memory wiped at one point.  But, it all worked out in the end.

The Narrator,  Alex Jennings, is feeling like an old friend by this point.  I would happily listen to this series many more times.  Two books left to review.

4.5 stars

Title: Greenwitch  (The Dark is Rising Sequence, Book 3)
Author: Susan Cooper
Audible Audio Edition
Narrator: Alex Jennings
Duration: 4 hours and 23 minutes
Publisher: Listening Library (April 12, 2007)

Other Formats: paperback/Kindle ebook
Print length: 131  pages
Publisher:   Margaret K. McElderry Books (November 30, 2010)
(First Edition: Scholastic Inc, 1974)
ISBN-10: 0590433180
ISBN-13: 978-0590433181
Kindle ASIN: B004A90BQ0

Rating system:
1 star (didn't like); 2 stars (OK); 3 stars (good); 4 stars (very good); 5 stars (favourite)

Also check out Cannonball Read for a variety of book reviews from many others.

Monday, January 04, 2016

loopyker's #CBR8 Review #02: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

When The Dark is Rising started I was very confused.  It was supposed to be the second book in a series, right?  But, it starts with completely different characters and in a different village than Over Sea, Under Stone.  Only as time goes on, do we see the connection.

The Dark is Rising audiobook cover by Susan CooperWill Stanton is the seventh son of a seventh son and just about to turn 11 years old.  Up until that point, he is a normal kid who has no idea there is anything special about his eleventh birthday.

Where Over Sea, Under Stone was subtle with its magical hints, this books throws you right into it.  On his birthday, Will finds out he is an "Old One".  This is some kind of immortal force of the Light who can travel through time and protects the world from the Dark.  Will is the youngest Old One and he is set on an important quest for a weapon to help the Light in what will be the final battle with the Dark. 

When Will learns all about what he is, we get all the explanation that was only hinted at in Over Sea, Under Stone.  It sets things up nicely to start bringing the bigger story together and it becomes clear that the series will draw on a lot of myths and legends from around the British Isles, not just the Arthurian ones.

Friday, January 01, 2016

loopyker's #CBR8 Review #01: Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

Over Sea, Under Stone audiobook coverI don't know how I hadn't heard about this series before now.  It seems exactly the kind of thing that someone would have recommended to me, or I would have picked up in the library if I had seen it growing up, but I didn't come across it until browsing my online library in my 40s.  Fortunately, that wasn't too late to enjoy it.

Over Sea, Under Stone is the first book in a series of five called The Dark is Rising Sequence.  

Simon, Jane and Barney Drew are siblings vacationing in Cornwall with their parents and Great-Uncle Merriman (Merry for short), in a little fishing community by the sea.  The parents are mostly absent from the story, letting the children play on their own in a way that was probably more common for that time, but happens less often now.  While exploring, the children find something in the attic that starts them on a treasure hunt. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Wrap-up and Some Mini Reviews

Again, I fell short of my Cannonball Read 7 goal, but am happy that I at least made it to double digits with 10 proper reviews in 2015.  I've signed up for only 13 for 2016, so even with planning a wedding, I may get there.

Looking back at my book list for 2015:

My favourites of 2015:

The Martian by Andy Weir, closely followed by The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper.  I just finished that, so I will do reviews for those books as my first of 2016.
The Martian cover
I have now also seen The Martian movie, which I enjoyed.  As expected, they had to leave some parts out, but it kept the feeling of the book.  I enjoyed both, but, unsurprisingly, I recommend reading the book first.

My worst of 2015:

The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare.  There was a lot of excited buzz about the first books when they came out.  I didn't pay much attention and just put them on my wish list.  I really regret not having paid more attention.

I have a lot of artist friends and I think maybe some of them liked that art plays a significant role in the beginning.  There were moments of cleverness, so I could see potential and hoped things would get better as it went on.  No, it got worse.  The characters didn't develop, and instead seem to get even more flat and repetitive. I wanted to yell at them for being so stupid a lot of the time.  I don't think they learned one thing through all of their many life and death experiences, except perhaps Simon at times. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

loopyker's #CBR7 Review #10: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

I can't remember how this book got on my wish list.  I haven't read anything else by Meg Wolitzer.  I generally stay with young adult books and she is more known for her adult books than this YA one.

Belzhar audiobook cover
In any case, I put Belzhar on my list at some point and it became available recently.  I had no idea what to expect, but was quickly drawn into a world of troubled teens.   The story is told from perspective of a high school student named Jam.  After the loss of her boyfriend, she has trouble coping and is sent to a boarding school in rural Vermont called The Wooden Barn.  Here she is placed in a class called "Special Topics in English", with a handful of kids, who are each dealing with their own post-traumatic issues.

Nobody knows what the class is or how people get into it.  They only study the life and work of one author for the year and this year it is Sylvia Plath.  I haven't read any Plath myself to comment on the interpretations of her work and the influence on the students.  But with her history of mental health issues, it seemed plausible that the students could relate to her.

As the students reluctantly start their homework, they being to discover something special about the journals they have been given to write in and the class itself.  Could the journals really be magical?  Or is there something even more wrong with themselves than they thought?