Love That Dog

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Okay, confession time. This one made me cry.

It’s a kid’s book. A kid’s poetry book. Well, sort of. It’s a kid’s poetry journal. It’s a story told through a kid’s poetry journal for his English class, and he doesn’t want to write poems (because boys don’t write poems, girls do), but he does it anyway and ends up writing some really good poems.

And also, his dog died.

Sharon Creech made it sound a lot better than that, okay? I cried. That poor dog. He loved that dog so much.

Seriously, though, Love That Dog is a fantastic book. I still feel a little silly crying over it (I’m tearing up now. Stupid yellow dog.) – but I still hold that this is a wonderful book, especially for someone who’s not that into poetry, or a kid just learning about poetry. It’s wonderful. You should all go read it. But maybe grab a Kleenex. ♦

Silver On the Tree

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This is rare, folks – but I’m pretty sure the series finale was my least favorite part of Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising.

The series overall gets a two enthusiastic thumbs up. Loved it. It was great fantasy, great children’s adventure, well-written, almost poetry in an action-movie plot line. It was great. But the thing is, it just got progressively weirder.

Over Sea, Under Stone: A great children’s adventure, with a splash of magic.

The Dark Is Rising: Magic-based children’s adventure.

Greenwitch: Magical, a little weird, but definitely worth the ride.

The Grey King: This is getting weirder, but I trust Cooper. She’ll pull it all together in the end. (And she does.)

Silver On the Tree: Wait – did I take drugs? What is happening? I feel like I just waded through a literary drug trip, and then ended with the good guys winning predictably, and then about two paragraphs of preaching about how human beings need to solve their own problems from here on out. And then all the main characters forget it ever happened, so we might as well be back at the beginning. Ugh.

I realizing I’m being really polarizing here. It wasn’t all bad. It’s just that the other ones were so good, and then this happened. I just didn’t see it coming. I was reading a fantasy series, and then I got blindsided by surrealism. Or maybe it all makes perfect sense, and I just don’t understand enough English and Welsh mythology to get the obvious literary references in here. Maybe someone in the UK is reading this, thinking, “Stupid American. She missed the whole point!”

Sadly, though, I did miss the whole point. If you’re a good reader, it’s worth the time to finish the series – but if you can’t burn through the book in a few hours, I wouldn’t recommend it. ♦

The Grey King

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Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence continues (after Greenwitch) with The Grey King, possibly the most confusing but also inexplicably well-constructed book in the series so far. While this book has had less to explain than any of the other books (since I’ve been reading this series for about four books now), it still manages to have bafflingly new elements to it.

Welsh, for example. I don’t know who invented this language, but I’m really glad Cooper decided to sneak in a pronunciation guide of sorts within the first few chapters.

Memory loss – Will Stanton spends the first few chapters unaware that he’s an Old One, due to a rather nasty bout of hepatitis that left him with some amnesia. So for a bit, he’s just wandering around Wales, wondering why he has these silly rhymes beating about in his head.

An albino boy with a mysterious past, a mystical dog, and an arch-nemesis.

Oh, and a cameo from King Arthur. Also, hints that Merlin and Merriman Lyon might just be the same person. (But can we be sure?)

As Will goes traipsing around Wales with his new friend Bran, he has to find a magical golden harp that will help the Light in the final battle against the Dark. And he has to find it in a specific place that he hasn’t figured out, and it has to be on Halloween. Also, the Grey King, an ancient spirit who lives in the hills of Wales, is pretty determined that Will not get said harp. Apparently, the Grey King is a lord of the Dark. Who knew?

Most of these books, you spend some time wondering what’s going on, guess fairly well who the bad guy is, and get a few surprises. This one, you can guess fairly well who the bad guy is, and spend most of the book trying to figure out who exactly the good guys are. And by that, I mean you know who the good guys are, you’re just trying to figure out who they are, really. And sometimes even they don’t know. So it’s the most confusing so far to read, but the most impressive when it all somehow makes some sense and all the loose ends are tied up in the last few chapters.

Overall, I was impressed with the writing and story. I was even more impressed with the characters and their complexity, and now I just keep thinking how much I need to learn about British mythology and folklore. Apparently, I don’t know diddly-squat. ♦

Greenwitch

Greenwitch

Greenwitch is my next book in The Dark Is Rising sequence, by Susan Cooper. It was a fast read, and an engaging one – so it only took a matter of a day or two.

Greenwitch is a wonderful fantasy that makes you want to go traveling through Cornwall. This book combines the Drew siblings from Over Sea, Under Stone with Will Stanton from The Dark Is Rising, throws them together, and pits them against the forces of evil in a search for whoever it was who stole the Holy Grail from the museum the Drews left it in. Aided – and haunted – by the Greenwitch, a traditional offering to the sea made of hawthorn branches, the group fights off a shadowy painter and races to get the decoding manuscript that will tell them the secrets written on the grail.

I give it a 5/5, and move on to The Grey King. ♦

The Dark is Rising

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Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising is the first in a sequence of four: The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King, and Silver on the Tree (with a connected prequel, Over Sea, Under Stone). I mentioned the books to Ethan a while ago, remembering how much I enjoyed them as a child. I can’t say I remembered much about them, but they were good. Ethan bought them behind my back and surprised me with the series!

The Dark is Rising follows an eleven-year-old boy, Will Stanton, as he discovers that he is the last of the Old Ones, a race of immortals bound to protect the world against the forces of the Dark. While little is explained outright, the reader (and Will) gradually comes to understand how the Dark works, what is expected of Will, and how he can collect the Signs he needs to keep the Dark at bay as it tries to overcome him.

The book is a wonderful fantasy, especially for a young child hoping to be able to feel like the hero of the story. As an adult, however, I find the book just as enticing as it was when I was little. Susan Cooper does a great job of weaving the known and the unknown, the fantastic and the real, and makes common mythology come to life and gives it a spin of her own. While many of her ideas seem to come from Pagan traditions, she doesn’t seem to argue against any religious beliefs except ignorance or selfishness, and the result is a rich supernatural fantasy epic.

Another thing I really like about The Dark is Rising: it leaves me wanting to read Greenwitch, but not needing to. I don’t like click-bait. I don’t like feeling manipulated. I don’t want an author to make me feel like I have to go buy the sequel. But at the end of this book, I feel enough closure to stop there, but just enough excitement that I don’t want to. I want to read more. As such, you can probably expect a review of Greenwitch within the next few weeks. ♦

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

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E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a childhood classic and a Newbery Medal award winner. It’s a classic tale of growing up and coming to know yourself, with a little adventure.

I found this book pleasantly dated: it’s a story about a boy and girl running away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. And maybe it’s the history geek in me, but I just kept thinking, “Wow, inflation has skyrocketed since then!” The book took me back to the late 60s, a time when I wasn’t even alive, let alone reading, but the book itself still appeals easily. The cost of living is different: the internal struggle is not.

The book follows Claudia Kincaid as she faces the “injustices” of her family life: taking out the trash every Saturday, taking care of her little brother Kevin, and getting by on a small allowance, for a few examples. She runs away, thinking she’s looking to teach her family a lesson, but slowly realizes she’s looking for more than that: she’s looking for some way to be different from everyone else. Along the way, she and her brother Jamie unravel the secret of a statue of an angel, supposedly carved by Michelangelo.

While this isn’t an action-packed book, it’s a good, lighthearted adventure story, and it’s friendly for all ages. I recommend it to kids and adults alike. ♦

The Two Towers

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Even after reading all the books, I still think the elves are pansies. Sorry, Orlando Bloom.

This review is going to be short, because this book really shouldn’t be treated as its own book. For those of you who didn’t read my review of The Fellowship of the Ring (or are generally unfamiliar with Tolkien), you should know that the Lord of the Rings series was written as one book. Tolkien just wanted to publish one epic novel, and his publishers were like, “Dude. No. Nobody reads that much.”

And Tolkien probably just raised one sage eyebrow at them and said, “Oh, really?”

But the publisher was in charge of the publishing, and he sent Tolkien into a corner until he could find a convenient place to split the thing up into thirds. Hence, the trilogy.

The Two Towers is the dead middle of the series/book, the filling in the novel. The peanut butter in the PBJ. The meat in the meatloaf. The cheese in the cheesecake. You get it. This is where all the action builds up, but doesn’t really resolve. Also, since the assumption is that you’ve already read The Fellowship, you’re not going to get much explanation, either. So don’t – I repeat, don’t –  try to read this as its own book.

As long as you’re reading this as part of the series, it’s delightful. This section is an action movie of epic proportions, with battles and skirmishes peppering the pages in blood (but mostly ink). It will take a while to wade through, because it’s Tolkien, but it’s well worth the wade, and you’ll be left hungry for The Return of the King. ♦