Series Rating: 4/5
Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence is beautifully mythical, with a dash of British adventure that reminds me of C. S. Lewis and E. Nesbit. Cooper strikes a nice balance between the mythical aspect of the series and the more “natural” aspect so that they flow smoothly from one to another, although at times things can get a little strange.
One thing that puzzled me throughout the series was Cooper’s attempts to distance her symbolism from its obvious place in Christianity. She does this by brushing aside the significance of the crosses in the Signs, by having Merriman state that there’s no “second coming,” and by making everything centered on the importance of man and the charity and good that stems from man, rather than from the Light. What was so puzzling to me is that she ultimately fails to distance the two, even with her not-so-subtle attempts: she has a line in Silver on the Tree which talks about hope not lying dead in a tomb and has blatant symbolism lying in the Signs that can drive back the Dark and in the entire concept of the Light versus the Dark, good versus evil–with good ultimately winning and completely driving back evil. If the series was a person, it would be basically saying, “No, no, don’t read too much into this. Crosses don’t mean Christianity. Look, this is how the Light and the Dark actually work,” but while saying that, it’s wearing a T-shirt that reads “Look at all the symbolism that’s rooted in reality and Christianity!”
Puzzlement (and quibbles about the representation of the Light and the Dark) aside, I do really enjoy this series. I would probably enjoy it even if it didn’t have that odd back-and-forth between “this is Christian symbolism” and “no, this isn’t Christian symbolism.” The books are beautiful fantasies that, yes, are slightly odd at times, but have a nice grounding with the presence of Simon, Jane and Barney. And although they all read a little similarly and Will and Bran sound much older than they are, the books stand out as unique, classic fantasy for their audience.
As always, my favorites, ranked from most to least:
1.) The Grey King
2.) Silver on the Tree
4.) The Dark is Rising
5.) Over Sea, Under Stone
Next week I’m back to my normal schedule of Tuesday and Thursday, with fairy tales on Friday!
Series Rating: 3/5
It was a long journey, but I finally made it through all 22 Redwall books! Here’s a series that follows that old rhyme about the little girl with the little curl in the middle of her forehead: when it’s good, it’s really good (or at least pretty good), but when it’s bad it’s horrid. Jacques recycles plots and character types like mad, resulting in stale and predictable stories, sometimes with forgettable heroes and useless villains.
However, there are also times when Jacques spins a wonderful yarn, with engaging characters and subversions of his own formulas. He also can pull at your heartstrings with the deaths of sweet, innocent characters (the most notable example is Rose) or the deaths of awesome warriors (Clary and Thyme!). The entire Redwall series revolves around a strict Black and White, Justice Prevails system, which can be quite refreshing–and makes the books with more “grey” characters stand out from the rest, in a good way, as subversions of his own theme. His best books are those that have most or all of these good things, coupled with a focused plot and a decent villain.
I must admit, though, that it’s not necessary at all to read all of the Redwall books. The top four on my list below, and the first book Redwall, are the ones I would recommend reading from the series. Redwall and/or Mossflower are sufficient to get a look at what the series is about, but the other three feature the most unique (in my opinion) plot and characters (Taggerung); the most heart-wrenching story (Martin the Warrior); and the best Invasion/War plot (The Long Patrol). I’ll even go a step further and name the books to read for specific categories:
For Best Puzzle Quest, read Pearls of Lutra (although Redwall has a good one).
For Best Villain, read The Sable Quean.
For Best Redwall Story, read “In The Wake of the Red Ship” from The Legend of Luke.
These are all entirely based on my opinion, of course.
Speaking of opinion, here is my list of favorites, from most to least:
2.) Martin the Warrior
4.) The Long Patrol
5.) Rakkety Tam
6.) The Sable Quean
7.) The Bellmaker
8.) The Legend of Luke
9.) Pearls of Lutra
13.) Lord Brocktree
15.) High Rhulain
18.) Mariel of Redwall
19.) Outcast of Redwall
20.)The Rogue Crew
Thanks for sticking with me for this enormously long series!
I absolutely love Pixar. Their movies are some of my favorite movies of all time, and definitely some of the best computer-animated films of all time (the How to Train Your Dragon movies, especially the second one, and some of Disney’s films are also on the list). I recently watched all of their animated films, in order, and decided to give them my own ranking. They’re loosely ordered from “most favorite” to “least favorite” but other factors affected my ratings, too, such as technique/animation, plot, setting, and story. Many of the middle films on the list (the ones with the 4 rating) are interchangeable.
What are your favorite Pixar movies?
Who knew a movie about robots with barely any dialogue (at least in the beginning) could be so charming and sweet? I absolutely love the opening music and the beginning exposition—the newspapers, holograms, advertisements, little snippets like that. The nonverbal exposition completely matches the nonverbal nature of the (first part of the) film. The choice of music from Hello, Dolly! is utterly perfect; it embodies that element of nostalgia that just would not have been as powerful with a more recent film. And yes, Wall-E does not go home before he kisses the girl. 5/5
The Incredibles is my favorite Pixar movie, but stylistically I think Ratatouille is superior. And it stands out even more after the lackluster Cars (the movie that came out the year before). It’s a film about food and cooking, but its simplicity is fleshed out into a wonderful story, with some beautiful scenery and great moments—like the rats taking out the health inspector and Chef Skinner. 5/5
3. The Incredibles
This may be my favorite Pixar movie. Not only is it a fun, action-filled superhero movie, but it also has a fantastic message on the importance of family and on not living in the past. We all have some sort of “Glory Days” of our own, but, like Bob, we have to learn not to dwell on them so much that we ignore the people around us. We need people, and we need family. 5/5
I think I might like Brave better if it wasn’t a rebellious princess story (and those who regularly read my blog know that I don’t like rebellious princess stories) and if the message was less generic. However, the animation is gorgeous (Merida’s hair, oh my goodness), and Queen Elinor is awesome. Walking through a room and making fighting people get out of her way, her hilarious time as a bear, and that fantastic bear fight with Mordu…definitely the best character. 4/5
I know, I know, you’re probably wondering why Up isn’t higher up on the list. Let me just say, first, that Up has a fantastic story—it punches you in the stomach in all the right places, it makes you cry, it’s about family, letting go of the past and of unimportant belongings, and letting people into your life. It’s visually gorgeous and Russell is a gem. However, I’ve always found the premise of this movie a bit hard to swallow. It just feels unrealistic to me, and most of what happens in the last quarter of the movie is extremely over the top as to be farcical. 4/5
6. Finding Nemo
To be fair, I’m not sure if I like Finding Nemo or Monsters, Inc. more. I like the message behind Finding Nemo more (family, not stifling your children, letting them explore and figure things out for themselves, overcoming tragedy) but I like the world of Monsters, Inc. more. Anyway, one of the things that stands out the most to me in Finding Nemo is how colorful it is. It’s a visually beautiful movie, and the different character attributes of the different ocean species (especially the seagulls (Mine! Mine!)) are so memorable. It’s also a very quotable movie, with dialogue that just sticks in your mind. 4/5
7. Monsters, Inc.
This movie has a fantastic world as its premise. Building the concept of “monsters in your closet” into a literal world is amazing; the added twist of monsters actually being scared of children at heart is genius. The rollercoaster of doors is still something that I wish to see implemented in real life at an amusement park. Also, Billy Crystal as Mike Wazowski makes this movie. And Boo is adorable. 4/5.
8. Toy Story 2
Toy Story 2 takes everything good about Toy Story and expands it, making a hilariously fun, rootin’ tootin’ adventure that has toys running through airports and driving cars. The Star Wars references are slightly random, but extremely memorable, and the Toy Story films in general are very good at poignancy and with the overall theme of friendship and sticking together. This movie, I think, is really when Pixar starts hitting its stride. 4/5.
9. Toy Story 3
One thing I noticed while watching this is the precision and exactness of the animation for each toy. The toys move exactly how you think they would, and I think this is especially noticeable during Ken’s “fashion show.” As for the plot, the prison break is hilarious and so is Spanish Buzz; the ending makes me cry; and it’s a great way to end the “trilogy” with the continued theme of “getting back to Andy” with the addition of a message about growing up. This might have ranked higher on the list, but I like Toy Story 2 better. 4/5
10. A Bug’s Life
For some reason, A Bug’s Life seems to be on the bottom of people’s lists when referring to Pixar films. It always seems to be referred to in some negative fashion. I don’t understand this, personally. As a child, I watched A Bug’s Life more times than I can count. The soundtrack is so wonderful and memorable to me, and the world of the film itself is so much bigger than that of Toy Story’s. The film is also hilariously funny and has some quite memorable bits of dialogue, in my opinion. 4/5.
11. Toy Story
I don’t think Toy Story was as revolutionary as Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, but it was still the first computer-animated feature length film (I think) and received a ton of critical acclaim, and its story and animation makes Pixar stand out. It also shows how much further animation in this style has come since 1995 (the year the movie came out). The plot is fairly simple, but the story itself is heartwarming and the scenes with Sid continue to be some of the creepiest I’ve seen. 4/5
12. Monsters University
The main problem I had with this movie was that it was completely unnecessary, not to mention Pixar actually retconned Monsters, Inc. A whole movie based around whether or not Mike Wazowski is scary? Come on, Pixar. You can do better than that (Okay, yes, I understand that it’s also about how Mike and Sully became friends, but even that’s not necessary, especially since it just led to retconning Monsters, Inc.). I did, however, love the animation, the college references, and the awesome moment when Mike pauses before opening the door to see his roommate and it’s not who the audience is expecting. 3/5
Cars isn’t a bad movie, but there’s definitely something missing when you compare it to the movies that come before (and after) it. It doesn’t have that extra oomph that movies like Finding Nemo or The Incredibles have. I do, however, love the ending. It’s always nice to see arrogance turn into compassion. 3/5
14. Cars 2
I can’t even begin to describe how boring, mediocre and just plain bad I thought this movie was. This is not a Pixar-worthy story. Sure, it has its fun moments, but the simplicity of the message just screams “kids movie,” while the rest of Pixar’s films are much more nuanced. I actually found this movie painful to watch. 1/5
Series Rating: 4/5
Diana Wynne Jones has created a wonderful world (technically worlds) in the Chronicles of Chrestomanci, and she utilizes it in different, fresh ways for each book that just give the whole series such great charm. I have yet to meet a fantasy author like Jones, with her ability to create complex plots, unique magic, and interesting worlds in each book she writes. She can also be hysterically funny if she so chooses.
Besides worldbuilding, plots, and magic, Jones also has the knack for making remarkable, memorable characters. As much as I don’t like it, Witch Week has quite a cast of characters, and they don’t blend together; they all stand out as separate and unique, which sometimes can be quite a feat with “ensemble” characters.
Charmed Life, next to Howl’s Moving Castle, is THE Jones book for me. The rest of the series is good, but Charmed Life was, I believe, the first Jones book I read and it is near and dear to my heart because it introduced me to the world, and to Jones, and to many other books that I love, all of which I will most likely review on this blog eventually because I enjoy them so much.
Here are the books, ordered from my favorite to my least favorite:
1.) Charmed Life
2.) Conrad’s Fate
3.) The Magicians of Caprona
4.) The Pinhoe Egg
5.) The Lives of Christopher Chant
6.) Witch Week
I’ll be back to my regular schedule with Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde tomorrow!
Whew, sorry for the long wait! But finally, here it is: the wrap-up of Harry Potter!
Series Rating: 5/5
Let me just reiterate how much I love this series. I think doing these reviews just made me more appreciate the genius of Harry Potter. I took a philosophy class this semester, and apparently there is a lot of ancient philosophy in the Harry Potter books. Who knew? It’s basically the hero myth with magic. There are also some fantastic themes all throughout, especially in the seventh book, and these are possibly some of the best themes in any children’s book–or ANY book in the children’s to YA range, if I may so boldly state.
Plus, the plots in the first four books are so incredibly complex (especially for children’s books) with such attention to detail, worldbuilding and foreshadowing that it really just elevates the books above and beyond a lot of other children’s books. The character development is also superb, especially Harry’s and Neville’s. And have I mentioned the worldbuilding? Rowling created an entire society and culture for these books. That’s pretty impressive for a children’s book.
Favorite characters: Snape, natch. Also Luna and Neville.
I could also go into my favorite ‘ships (that’s “relationships”), but that’s heading into fanfiction (and potentially strange) territory, so I’m going to let this one slide and just say that, although 95% of Harry Potter fanfiction is awful or just plain weird, 5% of it is amazing (also, the only reason I’m bringing this up is because I was very involved in the Harry Potter fanfic community in high school). There are awards and things given out for HP fanfiction, you guys. There are entire sites dedicated to HP fanfic. It’s that legit. People care about good HP fanfiction. If you want to tread into the world of HP fanfic, be careful. Try Googling phrases like “best HP fanfic” and narrow it down from there depending on what you want to read. I’ll throw out a recommendation: if you want to read a fantastic Snape-adopts-Harry (like I mentioned earlier, fanfiction is so great for potential. Also, Rowling’s world and story is so completely good for things like AU, or alternate universe stories, things like “What if this didn’t happen?” or, alternatively, “What if this happened?”) fic, try A Year Like None Other by aspeninthesunlight. If the notion of Snape adopting Harry skeeves you out, see if this wins you over. Or not. Actually, it’s probably better if you don’t get pulled into the world of fanfic. You might never come out.
Favorite books, from most to least:
1.) Prisoner of Azkaban
2.) Half-Blood Prince
3.) Goblet of Fire
4.) Deathly Hallows
5.) Order of the Phoenix
6.) Sorcerer’s Stone
7.) Chamber of Secrets
Yes, I enjoyed OotP more than SS. OotP is superior in writing and development.
Coming Up Next: Something new! I’m planning a new “series,” of a sort, for the blog that is less book-review and more application/opinion. Stay tuned for the first “Why You Should Read…” coming up hopefully next week! Then it’ll be back to Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.
Series Rating: 4/5
Reading through these books again was fun. I spotted a few things on this read-through that I missed before, such as foreshadowing and other clues. The prophecies are always interesting to read and to try to decipher, and the fact that they always mean something beyond what is taken at first-glance means that the reader is figuring things out along with the characters. Most of the action scenes were well-done in terms of excitement and suspense, and there were a few scenes that were downright chilling.
Gregor and Luxa are probably the two characters that developed the most throughout the series, although both delved into stupid and annoying territory far too often when they should have known better. Their relationship at the end of the series is not something I enjoyed reading at all, and I thought it was unnecessary and completely wrong–Gregor and Luxa should not have had any sort of romance at all, not at their age. However, I thought that their connection was well-developed and so it made their parting at the end so much more difficult to read about.
The overall issue of war and hatred that the series deals with has some good points to it, and Collins delivers the message quite well throughout the books, but the ending laid it on way too thick, diving deeply into “preachy” territory, and left the characters in a sort of limbo where the reader does not know how things will be resolved and finished. Moving the family to Virginia would have been the perfect ending for this series–but the fact that Collins refused to answer that question gives the series an unfinished feel.
As always, here is my book ranking of this series:
1.) Gregor and the Marks of Secret
2.) Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods
3.) Gregor and the Code of Claw
4.) Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane
5.) Gregor the Overlander
It was really easy to rank these, all things considered. It helps that there are only five books in the series as opposed to, say, ten or thirteen.
Coming Up Next: I will be taking a couple of weeks off, but I will be back in September with The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima!
It’s been one year, folks! One year since I started reviewing YA books!
Technically, it will be one year tomorrow (May 11), but I’m posting this today since I graduate from college tomorrow and so will be busy all day. It’s been a fun, wonderful time so far. When I started this blog, I felt a bit lost at sea, but now I’m more comfortable and can now start thinking of more ways to improve these reviews. I added an age range, categories, and a list of my reviews, and I’m approaching my 100th book review! Also, in celebration of my one-year anniversary, and because I think my reviews need it, I will be implementing a Rating System! Starting in the next few days, I will be giving every book I’ve reviewed so far a rating. The ratings will range from 1 to 5, with 1 being terrible and 5 being amazing. To further explain, 1’s will be books that I feel are boring, terrible, poorly written, etc. and that I would not recommend to anyone. 5’s are books that I feel are amazing, wonderfully written, and that really stand out and that I would definitely recommend to someone. To accompany the ratings system, I will be adding another page with my book reviews listed by rating, so I’ll have my book reviews by author and then my book reviews by rating.
It’s summer time for me, which means that I’ll be getting a lot more reading done, which means that the blog will once again be updated twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays! As an added bonus, here’s what to expect for the future: books by Cassandra Clare and Diana Wynne Jones (my favorite author), the Divergent series, the Hunger Games trilogy, and lots more! As for future Series Weeks, I’m still considering several options, including Harry Potter, Gregor the Overlander, and the Chronicles of Chrestomanci. Stay tuned to see what happens!
As a celebration of both my one-year anniversary and the ratings system, here’s my top five favorite and least favorite books that I’ve reviewed (the first 5’s and 1’s; not including any Series Weeks books (although all of those will be getting individual ratings, as well as a series rating)).
The moment I read this book, I loved it. The humor is great; I’ve never laughed out loud so much reading a book before. When all I can say is “Go and read this book right now,” you know that I really liked it.
This is probably my favorite Robin McKinley book. It doesn’t have that flowery, lengthy prose that she uses a lot in some of her later books and it’s an absolutely masterful retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I’d recommend this as both the one McKinley book to read as well as one of the best retold fairytales.
I loved this book and the two that came after it. It has similar humor to Entwined, which is probably why I liked it so much. It’s just laugh-out-loud funny, and it’s a really good mystery, as well.
It has a great concept and the mystery is really well done. It’s also not very obvious; or, at least, it doesn’t do the obvious things. This is my favorite of Jessica Warman’s novels, and what I would consider her best. The other two were dull and boring (her first was so boring that I couldn’t even bring myself to review it).
I really liked Matched when I read it, which is why I was so disappointed in Crossed and Reached. But Matched has some important things to say about eugenics, and it’s beautifully written. It’s the best book in the trilogy by a long-shot.
This book was so hard to finish. It dragged on and on, and then there was STUPID DANNY. The best part was when it ended; I was so happy that I could go and do better things than read that boring, annoying book.
2.) If I Lie
While not a terrible book, it was not even close to being good. The characters’ behavior is so over-the-top that it becomes almost unrealistic and Quinn’s angst just gets really annoying.
3.) Ashen Winter
I read the sentences on the page. I turned the page. First I read the left page; then the right. Then I turned the page again. This is how reading Ashen Winter felt. Action’s no fun when you can’t feel it.
Willow was annoying, but personally, I think this book just has an awful message. Have sex with your boyfriend and your problems will magically go away! No, there’s nothing wrong with that at all.
5.) Snow in Summer
I almost put Eona down in this spot, but then I looked over my reviews and I had more positive things to say about Eona than this book. This book was just creepy and the omniscient narration deflated all the tension and suspense. Not a fairy retelling I would recommend.
So there you have it! Take a look over the next couple of days at the ratings I gave the books and stay tuned for more reviews, as always! Tuesday will be Sapphique by Catherine Fisher!
Series Rating: 4/5
It was so much fun to reread this series again. Its strongest point is definitely the great absurdist humor that Snicket/Handler employs. This is a series that is genuinely funny to read and really just sucks you right in from the first page. There are so many memorable moments; not just from the actual story but from Snicket’s asides as well. Before I started rereading the series, I distinctly remembered Snicket’s pages-long list of “nevers” in The Reptile Room and the two pages of black that he uses in The Ersatz Elevator. So much of this just sticks with you because it’s so funny and memorable. I will probably never forget “the bears bear hard hard yarn yarns” or the long list of “I love you like…” from The Beatrice Letters. This series just give so much enjoyment, even if it is unfortunate (and frustrating).
Speaking of frustrating…that’s it? That’s the end? What the sugar bowl? Why was the sugar bowl so important? Did it just contain horseradish? Why was it so important to save it if the Baudelaire parents had done the whole tree thing on the island? Did the Baudelaire parents really kill Olaf’s parents? What’s up with him and Kit? Was Dewey the father of Beatrice? Was Lemony that cab driver who took the sugar bowl? What about the underwater library? What about the Snicket file? Why did Snicket say that the Baudelaires should have gone to a fungal ditch/should have read the chapter on fungal ditches? Why is Beatrice looking for the Baudelaires ten years later? What was that ? on the sonar? What happened to Hal and the Quagmire triplets after they fell into the sea? Do you see why I don’t like unresolved endings?
Don’t get me wrong, this is still a great series to read and you should definitely read them if you haven’t. Just be prepared to not have a lot of the mysteries cleared up. On a related note, Snicket is writing another related series. The first book is called Who Could That Be at This Hour? and it’s about Snicket’s apprenticeship in V.F.D. I think it’s also supposed to clear up some of the mystery about the Great Unknown (the ?).
Here are my favorite books, from most favorite to least favorite:
1.) The Slippery Slope
2.) The Penultimate Peril
3.) The Hostile Hospital
4.) The Ersatz Elevator
5.) The Wide Window
6.) The Reptile Room
7.) The Bad Beginning
8.) The End
9.) The Carnivorous Carnival
10.) The Austere Academy
11.) The Miserable Mill
12.) The Vile Village
13.) The Grim Grotto
That was harder than my list for The Edge Chronicles. The top three are definitely my favorites, while The Grim Grotto is probably my least favorite. The middle is a bit rough: 5-9 can probably shift around a bit, and so can 10-13, but this is roughly my general impressions from reading each book.
I’ll be back on Tuesday with my regular weekly updates! I’ll be looking at Sunshine by Robin McKinley.
Series Rating: 4/5
Thus ends the second Series Week!
I think the thing I like the most about The Edge Chronicles is the continuity of the books, how characters and places are introduced and then brought back again in later books, giving everything a familiarity that brings a deeper connection and response to the books as a whole. This is truly a series and not simply ten books set in the same world. It’s funny that the Twig series, which serve as the first three, are lacking in the continuity of characters that the rest of the books have, and so essentially the Twig series can be seen as the most alien. However, what the Twig series has is a lot of fantastic world-building, which is another thing I like about The Edge Chronicles. The world it is based in is so imaginative and, in a way, magical. It is some of the best worldbuilding I’ve seen in a middlegrade/young adult fantasy series. And all that worldbuilding comes to a fantastic end with that last picture in The Immortals that I mentioned in my review of that book. Speaking of pictures…Riddell’s illustrations are amazing (if at times disgusting and/or creepy). They really add a lot of depth to the world and the characters as a whole because it allows the reader to see what people and creatures look like, bringing them deeper into the book.
The only weakness the series really has is the dialogue. The dialogue can get very over-the-top in all of the books. Also, the villains in the series could have been fleshed out a little more. It can be a little hard to read the books because of this.
Time for favorites! This is how I rank the trilogies (so, leaving out The Immortals) overall, from most to least favorite:
Sorry, Twig. Your trilogy suffers for being the very first one, before Stewart really hits his stride with Rook’s and Quint’s.
This is how I rank the books, from most to least favorite:
2.) Clash of the Sky Galleons
3.) The Last of the Sky Pirates
5.) The Curse of the Gloamglozer
6.) Midnight Over Sanctaphrax
7.) The Winter Knights
9.) Beyond the Deepwoods
10.) The Immortals
Whew, that was tough! The first three were easy, as was the last, but in-between it was hard to rank them. 6, 7, and 8 are pretty much tied, as are 4 and 5. The reason I ranked Beyond the Deepwoods so low is because it is quite different from the rest of the series as it is the first book, and it is a bit mediocre in comparison. However, in my opinion, it still beats out The Immortals.
I hope all of you enjoyed my reviews of The Edge Chronicles; it really is a great fantasy series that I would recommend reading. I’ll be back next week on Tuesday with The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson. Also, I already have plans for the next Series Week and I’ll tell you what the series is going to be: The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, one of my all-time favorite book series.
See you next week!