Becky’s Two Hundred and Eighty-Seventh Book Review: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” by J.K. Rowling

I’ve mentioned before, there are certain books that I will reread over and over again. Reading books that I’ve read before is a comfort. I love being in a familiar world where I know and love the characters. That is the case with Harry Potter.

SPOILER ALERT
There are some spoilers below if you’ve never read the Harry Potter series. Beware!

The Prisoner of Azkaban is the third book in the Harry Potter series. By this point, Harry has become comfortable with life as a wizard. He’s come up against Voldemort twice since he’s rejoined the wizarding world and walked off a little the worse for wear, but alive. When he is at Hogwarts, Harry is immersed in a world that understands him. He has things he loves, things he’s good at, and friends – good friends. This almost makes it worse when at the end of the school year he has to return to life at the Dursley’s. The life he leads in the muggle world is an unhappy one. We also learn – more and more – that Harry has a temper. It’s almost as if he is so angry with being thrust back into a world he doesn’t belong to that he boils over at the injustice of it. He has finally found where he belongs and every summer he is forced back to the place where he belongs the least. So when he is forced to interact with his uncle’s bitch-of-a-sister, Harry loses control. It is after this explosion of rage that Harry leaves his aunt and uncle’s home and goes out on his own. His life as an outlaw is short-lived when he runs into a significant authority figure that was so glad he is safe that there are no repercussions for using magic on a muggle. Harry soon learns the reason behind this is that a prisoner escaped from Azkaban and is assumed to be coming after Harry. Sirius Black is the first person to ever have escaped from the wizard prison Azkaban.

The wizard community is taking no chances with Sirius Black’s escape and so the creatures that guard Azkaban – Dementors – come to Hogwarts. Harry, having faced so much tragedy his entire life, is greatly affected by these horrible creatures. They suck all the happiness out of people they’re around. Their presence along with the added pressures that Harry, Ron, and Hermione find themselves under going into their third year makes for yet another adventure.

There is so much going on in this book. I feel like J.K. Rowling started to really get a feel for who she is as a writer and how Harry reacts to different situations. This is probably my favorite book in the series. Harry starts to show just how strong he is in this book. We learn more about his family and we meet people from his past. Harry is so self-reliant throughout the series and a large part of that stems from his behavior in this book. He is really starting to grow as a character. As he grows, so do his friendships with Ron and Hermione.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, most definitely! Although I feel like it is important to read a series in order, I think the way Rowling writes these books you could pick up quickly the general idea of what is happening and if you didn’t want to start at the beginning, this would be a good one to start with. The first two books in the series are geared more towards a younger audience; it isn’t until the third and fourth books that Rowling moves towards writing for an older crowd. I think it’s great how this series appeals to such a wide audience. If you haven’t given the books a chance yet, I highly recommend that you do.

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Becky’s Two Hundred and Eighty-Sixth Book Review: “The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman

What I really like about following and participating in the Wall Street Journal Book Club is how a lot of the time, books are chosen that I’ve never read before and would typically not pick up on my own. It widens the breadth of what I read and that’s amazing. Even more fun sometimes though, is reading a book that I’ve read before. That was the case with “The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman. I actually read this trilogy for the first time back in high school, so it had been awhile and I was curious to see if it had held up to my standards as an adult. Much to my delight, not only did I enjoy the reread, but I found that the book affected me differently now that I’m older.

When we first dive into this world that Pullman has created we meet Lyra, hiding in a forbidden place and fighting with her dæmon. In this world, a dæmon is kind of like an external soul. This can take many shapes before a person comes of age, and then it picks a permanent form. This whole concept is pretty fascinating to me. The idea of having a companion always with you is pretty cool. Lyra is arguing with Pan (her dæmon) about the dangerous consequences if someone were to catch them. This conversation between them is a solid example of how they balance each other out. Lyra is not one to be afraid of breaking rules or of getting into a little trouble. Her bold spirit is part of what makes her such a fun character. Pan is the voice of caution to Lyra’s adventurous spirit. And it doesn’t take long for Lyra to embrace the adventure when her best friend goes missing. There had been rumors of a group of people nicknamed “the gobblers” kidnapping children. Just what exactly for is unknown, but Lyra refuses to let Roger’s disappearance go unnoticed and uninvestigated, and thus her adventure begins.

As she encounters all different manners of people and beasts Lyra hears many things that she doesn’t understand and it becomes clear that a lot of adults don’t know what is going on either. Science, mythology, and religion are caught up in the mysteries of what is referred to as Dust. Although still just a child, Lyra has an understanding of the world and how things work, better even than some adults. When she is given a tool, it is her unique abilities to see the world that allow her to use it: “The idea hovered and shimmered delicately, like a soap bubble, and she dared not even look at it directly in case it burst. But she was familiar with the way of ideas, and she let it shimmer, looking away, thinking about something else.” (The Golden Compass, pg 293). This kind of open-mindedness is a large part of what makes Lyra such a unique and compelling character.

Would I recommend this book? Yes – and to young and older readers alike. I really enjoyed this book when I was younger, and I still found myself swept up in Lyra’s adventures as an adult. There are some really interesting concepts in this series and it is a lot of fun to read. I am eager to tackle the second book in the series and see if it holds up as well.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Eighty-Fifth Book Review: “Tricky Twenty-Two” by Janet Evanovich

“Tricky Twenty-Two” is the twenty-second book in the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. I have to say, this is one of those guilty pleasure book series. There is a certain comfort that comes with these books, knowing the dynamics between Stephanie and the different men in her life – that makes it so much fun to read these and revisit characters I know and love. When at the bookstore recently, I saw “Turbo Twenty-Three” and realized that I had somehow missed the release of “Tricky Twenty-Two”. Don’t worry though; I immediately solved the problem by purchasing both books.

SPOILER ALERT – There are some spoilers for those that haven’t read the first several books in this series.

We once again open this book following Stephanie Plum as she tries to scrape by in her job as a bounty hunter. At the beginning of the book she is in the “on-again” part of her relationship with Morelli, but that soon changes. As she tries to work through things in her personal life, she is spending time making money by chasing down bad guys. It’s what she does. There were a lot of the same things happening as we have seen in the past books. Destroyed cars, lusting after and sort of pursuing a different job, an excessive amount of ridiculousness… and far too much indulgence in food. But that is part of the fun of these books.

What I really enjoyed about “Tricky Twenty-Two” was the slight shift that came over Stephanie. Instead of getting herself into heaps of trouble and fully playing the part of the damsel in distress, she actually tried to solve the problem herself this time. I was impressed. After all those times of needing rescuing, Stephanie decided to stand up and help herself. It was a nice change of pace. There was another character in this book that surprised everyone by getting in on the action. But in a series where there is seldom a surprise, I don’t want to give too much away.

Would I recommend this book? It was certainly a fun way to spend an afternoon. I really do like the main characters that Evanovich continually brings back to the table with these books. Lula is always a source of amusement and the dynamic between Stephanie, Morelli, and Ranger continually leaves me entertained. Is the series a little overdone? Sure. Am I still going to keep reading these books? Probably. As long as Evanovich keeps writing them, I am going to want to know what fresh challenges are going to arise in Stephanie Plum’s life. Luckily for me, the next book in the series is right upstairs and ready to go.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Eighty-Fourth Book Review: “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” by Anne Brontë

There is something about the Brontë sisters and their writing that I simply cannot get enough of, so when the Wall Street Journal Book Club chose “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” by Anne Brontë several months ago, I jumped at the chance to read it. It’s a longer book, but highly enjoyable with two main characters – Helen, the tenant, and Gilbert, one of the people that lives in the village near Wildfell Hall.

In a town where everyone knows everyone, a new arrival at Wildfell Hall cannot pass unnoticed. When Helen comes to this quiet place, she initially pushes everyone away. In general, she ignores all typical manners and expectations and is generally thought to be rude. Gilbert meets her and finds himself fascinated. Not just by the woman, but the story he knows she is hiding, and so he pursues her relentlessly until she makes him promise that he is after no more than her friendship, only adding to her mystery. The interactions between these two characters are quite entertaining. He of course knows nothing of who she really is and that makes him all the more determined to befriend her and gain her trust. This interaction happens in the first part of “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall”. In the second half, we learn a great deal more about Helen and how and why she came to Wildfell hall. It is a very intriguing story and it only adds to the strength of Helen as a character.

Part of what makes this a good read is the depth of Helen as a character. On the surface, she seems to be a very rude woman that wants simply to keep to herself, and indeed that is how she comes off to many of the villagers. But as the story unfolds and we learn more about why Helen is the way she is, it becomes clear that she is not only a fascinating character, but also a strong one. The general attitude towards women in this novel is from a time when women were expected to serve their husbands and that was that. This was reflected well when Gilbert’s mother was talking to him: “Then, you must fall each into your proper place. You’ll do your business, and she, if she’s worthy of you, will do hers; but it’s your business to please yourself, and hers to please you. I’m sure your poor, dear father was as good a husband as ever lived, and after the first six months or so were over, I should as soon have expected him to fly, as to put himself out of his way to pleasure me. He always said I was a good wife, and did my duty; and he always did his – bless him! – he was steady and punctual, seldom found fault without a reason, always did justice to my good dinners, and hardly ever spoiled my cookery by delay – and that’s as much as any woman can expect of any man.” (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, pg 54). Having that attitude so prominently displayed also allows for the strength of Helen to shine through so much more. A strong female protagonist is what you will often find in the novels of the Brontë sisters.

Would I recommend this book? Not to everyone. There are some readers that do not have the patience for Anne Brontë’s prose. There are times when her writing goes on about a subject and could be difficult to digest. That being said, I think she writes beautifully. Her characters are intriguing and well developed. I would certainly read this again. But her writing is not for everyone. Still, if you’re looking for a book to push yourself I highly recommend “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” by Anne Brontë.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Eighty-Third Book Review: “Luckiest Girl Alive” by Jessica Knoll

If you’re looking for a really fucked up book to read, look no further than “Luckiest Girl Alive” by Jessica Knoll. This book is not for the squeamish, not for the sensitive, and not something you can easily put down or forget. That being said, I enjoyed this fucked up book.

To some people, being the popular girl in school is the whole point of high school. At whatever price that may be. This is a mindset that Ani carries over into her adult life. When the book starts out, we meet Ani as she is engaged to the perfect guy – smart, attractive, rich, and from a good family with proper lineage. And Ani is a fake-it-until-you-make-it kind of girl that spends all her time projecting this image so no one guesses where she really comes from or what horrors occurred in her past. Even with regards to her perfect fiancé, she keeps her darker thoughts tucked deep down. “I told Luke about that night at a time when he was enamored with me, which is the only time you should ever tell anyone something shameful about yourself – when a person is mad enough about you that disgrace is endearing.” (Luckiest Girl Alive, pg 89).

With a totally unsympathetic mother, it isn’t hard to understand the attitude that Ani takes on life. Ani was a very interesting character. We see her first as this successful woman in New York City, and just have hints about what happened in her past. But then we learn bits and pieces about what happened and how she rose up to be one of the popular girls just to have it all come crashing down. Her ability to cope despite the complete lack of helpful and available adults is astounding. The one teacher that tries to help her she pushes away because she is so unused to kindness that to accept his help seems to her to be a form of weakness. Ani learns that the only person you can count on is yourself. And that is what she builds her life on. “I saw how there was a protection in success and success was defined by threatening the minion on the other end of a cell phone, expensive pumps terrorizing the city, people stepping out of your way simply because you looked like you had more important places to be than they did. Somewhere along the way, a man got tangled up in this definition too. I just had to get to that, I decided, and no one could hurt me again.” (Luckiest Girl Alive, pg 288). In some ways, Ani is one of the strongest characters that I’ve seen. She certainly refuses to let tragedy defeat her, no matter what form it takes.

Would I recommend this book? Yes and no. It isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure. There is a lot of brutally raw and upsetting experiences that Ani lives through in “Luckiest Girl Alive” that those who do not have a strong stomach would likely not enjoy this book. It could also serve as a trigger to those with tragedy in their pasts. But if you can stomach it, I don’t think this is a book you will soon forget. I liked the brutality of Jessica Knoll’s writing and I would be interested to see what else she writes, however, I’m not sure I would pick this up for a reread anytime soon.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Eighty-Second Book Review: “61 Hours” by Lee Child

“61 Hours” by Lee Child is the fourteenth book in the Jack Reacher series. This series can suck you in for sure. Jack Reacher is a great character and it is especially fun to watch him when he puts himself on a mission to protect. His ability to forge connections with all sorts of people is pretty astounding when you consider his general dislike for most people and his rather intimidating stature. But under that hard exterior is a guy that just wants to see justice prevail.

When “61 Hours” opens, Reacher is on a bus that is driving though South Dakota on a slippery road. His fellow travelers are older folks and when the bus swerves to avoid another car on the road, Reacher steps up and takes charge. He recognizes the situation as precarious if action isn’t taken. After all, it is winter and the bus is full of elderly people. It is this take-charge attitude that leads Reacher to fall into his latest role of unofficial security for a witness. The witness, Janet Salter, that Reacher begins protecting is one of those genuinely good people, simply trying to do the right thing. Which is rare. The relationship Reacher develops with Janet is quite entertaining and at times, endearing.

The different people Reacher encounters in “61 Hours” are on two opposite ends of a spectrum. There are those that grew up in this small town and have spent their whole lives here, and then there are the newcomers. The once small town has been faced with a unique challenge when they have a prison built right up the road. Suddenly they have increased traffic and there are strangers in town. And when dead bodies start showing up, the police force that is already divided between the old and the new are now faced with an even bigger situation that they haven’t had to deal with before. And then Reacher comes to town. “They frighten people. Simply by being there, I think, and by being different. They are the other. Which is inherently disturbing, apparently. In practice, they do us no overt harm. We exist together in an uneasy standoff. But I can’t deny an undercurrent of menace.” (61 Hours, pg 131). This quote is referencing some of the bikers that have come to town since the prison was built, but I think it is an interesting perspective of how people in a small town would feel towards anyone that is a newcomer. It illustrates the prejudice that Reacher faces whenever he comes to a new place. He is the other.

I think it’s impressive how Lee Child is able to write fourteen books following this one character and still capture his readers from the first page and keep that grip until the very last page. He leaves you wanting more too. Thus far, this series does not feel formula, which is no small feat. I continue to relish his writing.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Reacher is an amazing character, as I’ve said before. And the fact that these books keep you wanting to come back for more is a true testament to the quality of Lee Child’s writing. I’m very eager to pick up the next book in the series.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Eighty-First Book Review: “Horns” by Joe Hill

What would you do if one day you woke up and discovered you had grown horns? Not only that, but your horns had a strange psychic kind of power and influence over other people. You suddenly have the ability to hear the worst things people think. And you can push people with your horns to do the terrible things they want to do in the darkest parts of their minds, but normally would never actually go through with. That is the strange situation in “Horns” by Joe Hill.

Ig, our main character, wakes up the morning after drinking very heavily and pissing all over the memorial to his dead girlfriend with such horns. The girlfriend that everyone thinks he murdered. At first he is resistant to the idea of interacting with anyone and then he realizes that this newly discovered power could be the key to solving Merrin’s murder. Is it a gift? A curse? Or a bit of both? “It did no good to tell himself that it was all in his head if it went on happening anyway. His belief was not required; his disbelief was of no consequence. The horns were always there when he reached up to touch them. Even when he didn’t touch them, he was aware of the sore, sensitive tips sticking out into the cool riverside breeze. They had the convincing and literal solidity of bone.” (Horns, pg 24). I like the way that Ig starts to roll with the punches in this book.

Ig is an interesting character. He’s not exactly a good guy and it’s a little difficult to tell if that is who he always was or if Merrin’s murder is what really led to him becoming this bitter person. The addition of horns is more understandable the more we learn about what Ig has been through and how he views the world. I do enjoy the way Joe Hill writes. He is talented and his mind goes places that are intriguing to say the least. I enjoyed the way that we learn bits and pieces about the other people in Ig’s life. Mainly we get a peek at what Merrin was like and we learn about his unlikely friendship with Lee. Everyone it seems has a secret to hide. Hill certainly has a talent for developing disturbing characters with multiple layers. Just when you think you know what a character is about, they do something to surprise you.

Would I recommend this book? Not to everyone, but yes. For those that can appreciate the dark humor that is prevalent in Joe Hill’s book would certainly enjoy “Horns”. It was a real page turner; I could not put it down. I look forward to reading whatever Hill comes up with next.