Series Week VIII: Wrap-up of The Chronicles of Prydain

Series Rating: 3/5

Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain mix of medieval fantasy and mythology doesn’t always hit all the right notes, but when it does it hits them well. Taran’s character development, the heroism in The Black Cauldron, and the general awesomeness of The High King are all what make this series stand out to me.

Some things make less sense to me, such as how the entire plot of The Castle of Llyr hinges on Magg snatching Eilowny from the castle in broad daylight, the occasional stiltedness of the dialogue, and Eilowny’s presence as the only female young adult living in Prydain. But those are not large enough black spots to ruin the good things, at least in my opinion.

I do think my speculation that Alexander was influenced by Tolkien is correct, or at least hints at the truth, since Prydain is so LOTR-esque in every respect. In fact, lovers of LOTR will probably enjoy Prydain if they keep in mind Prydain is a lesser being than LOTR.

The Chronicles of Prydain is not a series I find easy to reread, but it is one I enjoyed coming back to after eight or more years of not reading it. It definitely has its own place in fantasy and is memorable because of it.

As always, my favorites, ranked from most to least:

1.) The High King

2.) The Black Cauldron

3.) Taran Wanderer

4.) The Castle of Llyr

5.) The Book of Three

Tomorrow I’ll be posting a review copy, then I’m back to my normal schedule of Tuesday and Thursday, with fairy tales/2015-2016 books on Friday!

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Series Week VII: Wrap-Up Of The Dark Is Rising Sequence

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

3.) Greenwitch

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!

Wrap-Up of Redwall

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.

For Best Female Warrior, read Mariel of Redwall and The Bellmaker, because even though I didn’t like Mariel much, Mariel and Bellmaker also feature Hon. Rosie, who is awesome.

These are all entirely based on my opinion, of course.

Speaking of opinion, here is my list of favorites, from most to least:

1.) Taggerung

2.) Martin the Warrior

3.) Mossflower

4.) The Long Patrol

5.) Rakkety Tam

6.) The Sable Quean
7.) The Bellmaker

8.) The Legend of Luke

9.) Pearls of Lutra

10.) Marlfox

11.) Redwall

12.) Mattimeo

13.) Lord Brocktree

14.) Doomwyte

15.) High Rhulain

16.) Loamhedge

17.) Triss

18.) Mariel of Redwall

19.) Outcast of Redwall

20.)The Rogue Crew

21.) Salamandastron

22.) Eulalia!

Thanks for sticking with me for this enormously long series!

 

Series Week VI: Wrap-Up Of The Chronicles of Chrestomanci

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!

Series Week V: Wrap-Up of Harry Potter

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 Week IV: Wrap-Up of the Underland Chronicles

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!

 

Series Week III: Wrap-Up of A Series of Unfortunate Events

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 Week II: Wrap-Up of The Edge Chronicles

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:

1.) Rook

2.) Quint

3.) Twig

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:

1.) Freeglader

2.) Clash of the Sky Galleons

3.) The Last of the Sky Pirates

4.) Vox

5.) The Curse of the Gloamglozer

6.) Midnight Over Sanctaphrax

7.) The Winter Knights

8.) Stormchaser

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!

Series Week I: Wrap-Up of Little House

Series Rating: 5/5

And so the first ever Series Week draws to a close!

First of all, I have to say that I appreciate Wilder’s writing style a lot more than I did when I was little. I found that it very skillfully wrapped up the reader into the storyline and it matured with the characters. The difference between Big Woods and Golden Years is quite noticeable. Wilder became more experienced with writing and used that experience to improve the series. Usually when I read a series, I’ve noticed that it takes a downward plunge; the first book is usually the best. However, the opposite is true in this case. Little House is an upward slope, each book significantly better than the last. That’s what I love about the series. Each book just gets better and better.

As I promised, here is how I rank the books, from most favorite to least:

1.) Little Town on the Prairie

2.) These Happy Golden Years

3.) Farmer Boy

4.) The Long Winter

5.) By the Shores of Silver Lake

6.) On the Banks of Plum Creek

7.) Little House in the Big Woods

8.) Little House on the Prairie

Little Town and Golden Years are very close, but Little Town wins out because almost all of my favorite scenes are in it.

I hope all of you enjoyed my reviews of the Little House books; I know I enjoyed reading and writing about them! I’m returning to my regular schedule (Tuesdays and Fridays) starting on Tuesday with The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. See you then!