The Grey King Susan Cooper
The second best book of the five, but isn't as good as The Dark is Rising b/c it's sloppier, and is really starting to raise questions that the series doesn't answer. It was fine in TDIR, which was so much more of a mood and pageantry piece. So is Grey King, but, perhaps b/c she was less versed in the ritual and pageantry of Wales, it feels a little thin on top. There's much more atmosphere, much less layering.
The human drama that underlies the magical conflict in this book is more ambitious and melodramatic, and therefore doesn't entirely succeed the same way it did in TDIR. Frankly, TDIR is a smaller book, and therefore more perfect. With the greater ambition and scope of Grey King, there was more chances to screw up.
On a political level, Grey King is disappointing. It's that stupid thing all over again where someone has a heroic personality because he is born to it, and does things because they are foretold. In this case, it's a function of royalty--magical royalty--and Will is suddenly given a subordinate role to Bran because Bran SPOILER! is the son of King Arthur, not because Bran has done anything special. This didn't matter as much in TDIR because Will was shown making mistakes and struggling to accept his role. This isn't as successful in Grey King.
Silver on the Tree Susan Cooper
A frankly rather boring book. This is the one where all the characters were brought together for the one and only time. But Cooper couldn't keep them together for very long. They fought too much. The fighting felt real, but was pointless to the story. So she split them up and sent them on their various ways.
It becomes terribly apparent in Silver on the Tree that the Drew children don't really have a role in this series, although they appear in two other books of it. They're there for the readers to identify with. Basta. Jane, again, plays The Girl, whose only role is to pass a message to Will and Bran from The Lady, who, for some reason, can only give a message to a girl, and not one of the boys. Argh. It's so condescending, almost as if Cooper said to herself, well, they're here, better give them something to do.
So the Drews go off and get into trouble, and Will and Bran go off to the Lost Land and get other stuff, and then they all end up somehow on a train and cut off some mistletoe and ... God, this book was a mess. There were so many settings and so many times, and so many rituals of unknown provenance. TDIR was successful because all of the magic that happened was based in real and well-known myths and rituals: the hunting of the wren, caroling on Christmas Eve, the myth of the Wild Hunt, etc. So all the unexplained weird and magical moments had a grounding in some sort of reality, or continuity outside the book.
But SOTT, felt like Cooper was just making it up as she went along. It was random, and lightweight.
Altogether, though, I'm glad I read the series again. TDIR really held up, and made me shiver, and love it again. I'd still recommend the series, although I wouldn't recommend that anyone write such things now. We've moved past most of the content, and can only learn from her style.
My Sister's Keeper Jodi Picoult
This is the YA about a 13-year-old girl in the near future who was conceived in vitro to be a placental beta-cell donor for her sister with leukemia. As she grew older and her sister got sick again and again, her parents started having her donate more and more material from her body. The book starts when the sick sister, now sixteen, is about to die of kidney failure. The hospital ethics committee can't even decide if she's strong enough to risk a transplant surgery on, but the protag's mother wants the protag to give up a kidney anyway. And the protag gets a lawyer to sue her parents for medical emancipation so that she can't be made to undergo the surgery.
It was good. Solid. It kept me reading. The conflicts inherent in this situation are devastatingly interesting.
BUT, there were two major problems with it. The lesser one was that Picoult chose to write in first person from the alternating points of view of the protag, the mother, father, older brother, lawyer, AND the court appointed guardian ad litem, who also happens to be the lawyer's long-lost love. Everyone, in fact, except the sick sister.
The PsOV don't alter AT ALL from character to character. They all have the same voice, the same wit, the same tone, the same concerns. The competing concerns of these different characters don't come into play at all.
The greater problem is that Picoult is simply a coward. She didn't dare to give any of her characters a bad moment. Not one of them did anything unforgiveable or said anything unjustified. Even the older brother, who is an arsonist and nearly kills a homeless man by accident, is only acting out. Deep down, he's full of love. All of them act only out of love. There's no selfishness, there's no blindness, there's no partiality. Nobody loses their cool because they're so tired.
And, worst of all, after setting up an impossible situation--a damned if you do, damned if you don't--she chickens out TWICE and backs away from the impossibility of it. SPOILER ALERT!!! First, she reveals at the very end, during the courtroom scene, in fact, that the sick sister instigated the lawsuit in the first place. Tired of her poor quality of life, but unable (out of love, natch) to let down her parents, who had been fighting so hard for so long, she convinced the protag (who would give up the kidney without a second thought, natch) to refuse. Retch!
Secondly, even after this revelation, when a decision would still have to be made, Picoult has the protag get into a fatal car accident and wind up brain dead! Argh! Pathetic. I'd let pass even the former bad decision, but forcing the protag into brain dead donorhood is unforgiveable! It's not irony, it's lead-y! As in balloon!
And if that weren't bad enough, the sick sister then gets well! Argh!
Picoult understands the shape of narrative, the pacing, and how to string you along from situation to situation, so that you must keep reading. But she doesn't reward your coerced attention, and in fact, slaps you in the face at the end. I'd recommend this because of the questions it raises, but warn you that it doesn't even attempt any answers.
Briar Rose Jane Yolen
A retelling of "Sleeping Beauty" into a Nazi death camp. This came out around the same time as Schindler's List, Hitler's Willing Executioners, and that whole nineties Holocaust revisitation, so reading it now it seems a bit pale. I think it would have have more of an impact in 1992.
It also had that have-to-know-what-happened drive, but the characters weren't terribly strong. I'd recommend it as a good read, but not a wonderful one.