Tolkien in his preface to LOR #1 says that this is NOT a trilogy, but a single book broken into several volumes. I certainly agree. Unlike other series books, he wastes no time at all at the beginning of LOR #2 with backstory or catch-up or reminding the reader of where he had left off. I can see how this might be difficult for readers that have not just finished LOR #1, but I found it amazingly refreshing not to have to muddle through a recap.
LOR #2 is also clearly, not a book on its own. It is the middle. It is simply the part that happens between the fight on the beach and Frodo's kidnapping. There is action (clearly it is a plot driven action story), but nothing is resolved in this book; it is just the middle parts. In order to follow suit, I'm gonna just pick up my review from here and not really mention much about LOR #1; if you wanna know what I thought about that or about The Hobbit, read those reviews.
I have a few picky beefs with the story. I did not like that Aragorn was constantly bursting into song. I know that there are lots of verses and that the characters frequently make up songs to pass down the stories through oral tradition, but this guy can't even see a sunset without composing verse. I didn't remember that and found it to be slightly annoying.
I also wondered who was older: the Ents or Tom Bombadrill; in LOR #1 Tolkien claims Tom was there at the beginning of time, but here he claims the Ents were the first creatures.
I was annoyed that the Palantin had the same effect on Pippen as the Ring on those that beheld it. Clearly it is another magical device, but couldn't Tolkien find some other way to make it appealing. Pippen wants to hold it and then looks in it and sees Sauron; just like when Frodo puts on the Ring and sees Sauron. Along with this (but quite different), Sam puts on the Ring and hangs out in the corridors of the tunnels near Cirith Ungol for HOURS and yet Sauron does not notice him or cannot find him. Really seemed rather contrived and convenient plot-wise.
I was once again struck by Rowling's pilferings: where oh where have I also seen a giant spider? Oh yeah, in the woods surrounding Hogwarts.
I did have one interesting quote; I found the discussion a bit trite and forced, but I liked Sam's definition of adventure: "I use to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were excting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually---their paths were laid that way, as you put it."
Overall it was more compelling and entertaining than LOR #1. This might be a function of my reading style (with all books I note that the first 25% is slower than the last 75% and that the middle 50% is the quickest), or it might be because there is a lot of introducing going on in LOR #1, or it might be because the Ents are my favorite characters and a large portion of this book is devoted to them. Either way, I'm looking forward to continuing the story.