Becky’s Two Hundred and Eightieth Book Review: “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” by J.K. Rowling

“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” by J.K. Rowling is an entertaining sequel. Despite this being only the second book in the series there are some rather dark undertones throughout. That being said, this is probably my least favorite book in the series. Funnily enough however, in “The Chamber of Secret” we are introduced to one of my favorite characters in the series – Dobby.

We meet Dobby when he tries to sabotage Harry from returning to Hogwarts. He is a very sweet character and really has the best intentions. Dobby wasn’t the only great thing about this book. I think there was a lot of good layering that takes place in “The Chamber of Secrets”. We are learning bits and pieces about Harry’s world beyond just his existence. Trying to learn more about the legend of the Chamber of Secrets brings to light new information about some of Harry’s friends. And when we meet Dobby the house elf, we learn that Harry Potter is famous among not only witches and wizards but also other creatures. His triumph over Voldemort made the world a better place. “The Chamber of Secrets” fills in a lot of background to the Harry Potter world, and for that reason I think it is an important part of the series.

A big problem I have with this book is the timeline in it. There is a lot of buildup at the beginning and then it is over. There are so many other avenues that I think could have been explored a little more. My personal theory is that at this point in the series, J.K. Rowling was still a little intimidated by her writing. It almost seems like instead of allowing the story to unfold naturally, she tempers it so as to keep it accessible for children. Or maybe I am a little greedy and my biggest problem with books is almost always that they are over too soon.

Would I recommend this book? Yes – not as a standalone though. And if you hadn’t read the first book I would push you to go back and read that first. Not just because it is the proper order in which to do things (and why would you read the second book in a series before the first on purpose?) but because there is so much more to these books when you view them as an entire series.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Seventy-Ninth Book Review: “Life on the Mississippi” by Mark Twain

There are times when my stubbornness gets the best of me. That was the case with regards to reading and finishing “Life on the Mississippi” by Mark Twain. You see, I hate abandoning books after I dedicate so much time to it, especially when I spent a great deal of the book enjoying what I was reading! In the end though, it took far too long to read this book.

There is a reason that so many people know the name Mark Twain. He undeniably has a way with words. “The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book – a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day.” (Life on the Mississippi, pg 73). I felt the way that Twain described his education on the river was beautiful. There were many passages such as this that I was fascinated by. This was what really captivated me while reading, you can easily get lost in his prose. The challenge for this particular book, since it was a non-fiction, I felt that there really was no plot or focus to the story. Twain would just go on and on about how much of his life was affected by his time on steamboats. A great deal of the time, Twain drifted off in whichever direction he felt like going. Frankly, I got bored. There was no drive to this book and despite the quality of the writing I just did not want to pick it up anymore.

I’m glad I finished the book. There is a big sense of accomplishment to finishing something with which you struggle so. But I would not pick this particular book up again. Would I recommend this? No, not really. The big take away I have from the huge process and struggle of reading “Life on the Mississippi” is that I like the way Mark Twain writes. I will definitely pick up his fictional books in the near future. I disliked the book overall, but it wasn’t so bad that I don’t want to read Twain again. I think, however, that I’ll avoid any books for the foreseeable future that focus around steamboats. One was enough.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Seventy-Eighth Book Review: “Gone Tomorrow” by Lee Child

“Gone Tomorrow” by Lee Child starts off once again, with Jack Reacher refusing to behave as a civilian. He sees a woman on a subway car and can’t help but start analyzing the situation. Trouble always finds him, but his inquisitive nature and his need for justice guarantees his involvement whether or not he is wanted. This woman appears to Reacher to be a suicide bomber. And so he runs through the list that he was taught back in the army. “Twenty years later I still know the list. And my eyes still move. Pure habit. From another bunch of guys I learned another mantra: Look, don’t see, listen, don’t hear. The more you engage, the longer you survive.” (Gone Tomorrow, pg 1). And so of course, he engages. He can’t help himself. And that is the beginning of his trouble in the thirteenth Jack Reacher book.

It’s interesting, the way that Jack Reacher sees the world. He spent so much time being told where to go and what to do that now that he is on his own he does whatever he wants. And because of all he has seen, he doesn’t discriminate against bad guys. Or bad people as was the case in “Gone Tomorrow”. The mystery in this book is finding out not only who the bad people are, but what it is that they really want. And what the lengths are that they will go to get it.

Despite loving Reacher as a character, it is hard sometimes to justify what he does. He meddles. He can’t leave things alone. Especially when there is an injustice, even more so when that injustice is against him. It makes you wonder why he hasn’t started a career as a private detective or gone into police work or something. But at the same time, he is a loner. And he likes not having to answer to anyone else. That much is clear. His personality is so blunt, and he stands out so much that to work for someone else – even as a private detective would be stifling. So he does his own thing. He answers only to himself. And listens only to himself. A dangerous combination for anyone that crosses him.

Would I recommend this book? As a Jack Reacher book, of course I would recommend this. Anyone who is already addicted to the series will quickly tear through “Gone Tomorrow”. I wouldn’t however, recommend it to anyone that had not started somewhere else in the series. Most of these books could be read as a stand-alone despite being part of a series. This one might not get a reader hooked as well as some of the earlier books. And there are some aspects of Reacher’s personality that would be difficult to understand if you hadn’t already met him. That being said, I am writing this review while on vacation so that I can go start the next book in the series. So if you haven’t already started the series I strongly recommend that you do – and start at the beginning, it is always the best place to start.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Seventy-Seventh Book Review: “Sleeping Giants” by Sylvani Neuvel

“Sleeping Giants” by Sylvani Neuvel was such a fun read, a big thank you needs to go out to the guy at work who gave me the perfect book to get into the sci-fi genre – “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. Enjoying that book as I did led me to choose “Sleeping Giants” as my book of the month a few times back. The only disappointing part of this book was that it was on the short side and the sequel isn’t due out until April 2017. Cue my sad face. But in the meantime, I am eager to continue my foray into science fiction and convince as many other people as possible to participate in that journey.

“Sleeping Giants” was told not as a narrative, but as a series of discussions much in a Q&A fashion. There is one consistent character, which is never identified, that interrogates all the other characters in this book. I think this was an especially successful way to write this book because it was focused around a monumental discovery. “Sleeping Giants” opens with young Rose sneaking out of the house after her birthday party to take a spin on her new bike. She ends up wiping out and falling into a huge hole. When she is rescued, we learn that she landed in a huge metallic hand. Flash forward seventeen years later where Rose has been recruited to study this one piece in a very large puzzle. The more answers that are found however, the more questions that arise – including if this is a force that should be tampered with. “That also scares me. Am I ready to accept all that may come out of this if it works? It might also have the power to kill millions. Do I want that on my conscience? I wish I knew where this journey will take us, but I don’t. All I know is that this is bigger than me, my self-doubt, or any crisis of conscience. I now truly realize how profoundly insignificant I am compared to all this. Why does that make one feel so much better?” (Sleeping Giants, pg 81)

There were a lot of philosophical questions brought to light in “Sleeping Giants” as you would expect when dealing with scientific discoveries that prove there is something bigger out there in the universe. It was really interesting to see how different characters react to the different developments and obstacles that come up as the story progresses. Although I think the style in which the book was written is intriguing, there are some drawbacks, mainly the fact that you are only privy to the surface level of each character. You don’t get to see into their minds and learn about the characters beyond the dialog that is exchanged.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that there is a wide range of reader that would enjoy “Sleeping Giants”. This is a science fiction novel that is accessible and interesting. I am eager to see where the series goes and cannot wait for the next book to come out.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Seventy-Sixth Book Review: “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things” by Bryn Greenwood

What does love look like? In “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things” by Bryn Greenwood, we follow Wavy as she tries to find her way in the world. Her parents are useless – negligent at the least but ready to shell out abuse whenever they take notice of her. The only family she has left after her parents are thrown in jail are her grandmother and her aunt. When thrust in with her extended family, Wavy refuses to follow any rules. Her mere presence puts a tremendous strain on her aunt and the fact that she refuses to talk, refuses to eat, and will not allow anyone to touch her, especially contribute to make Wavy a challenge.

Wavy comes to realize that the people in her life try to make her fit in one particular space. When she finally meets someone that doesn’t spend his time trying to change her in any way, is there any surprise that they build a relationship? “After Liam and Butch took Kellen away I thought about how he left spaces for me when he talked. If I saw him again, I decided I might put words in those spaces.” (All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, pg 28).

There were so many weird parts to this book. On the one hand, Wavy is the main character and throughout the book we are learning more about her and how she is treated and what expectations others put up for her. It isn’t surprising that she does her own thing. So when she starts to fall for Kellen, you can’t help but cheer for them. That is, until an outsider observes them. And you realize that it is weird. That if your niece was in a similar situation that you would fight tooth and nail to protect her. That this relationship is for lack of a better word – icky.

Would I recommend this book? Yes and no. It was really well written and I liked the different characters. And it was definitely a book that made me think. But it is a little messed up. There are plenty of ugly things that come into play in this book and I was a little uncomfortable at times. So I wouldn’t recommend this book to the public at large. But I am glad that I read it and I would definitely pick up another book by Bryn Greenwood.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Seventy-Fifth Book Review: “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was an enjoyable read that was clearly geared towards children. That being said, it was a fun introduction into the magical world that J.K. Rowling created and there were several times that I found myself laughing aloud. This happened despite the fact that I had read this series before.

The book starts off with an introduction into the Dursley family. It is quickly established that this family does not like anything out of the ordinary and that they are snobs at best. This family contains some of the worst people. When their nephew is left on their doorstep they very reluctantly take him in where he is raised in an appalling manner. Maybe I’m just naïve, but it seems to me that if your sister and her husband are murdered that you might try to take slightly better care of her newly orphaned son. Just maybe. But instead, Harry is treated like dirt and forced into an almost Cinderella-type servitude in his family’s home. But Harry is special and soon a whole new world is opened to him when he learns he is a wizard on his eleventh birthday.

The story is fun, but what really makes “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” stand out is the characters that we meet. Dumbledore is a quirky, wise headmaster and one of the greatest characters that I’ve seen in a long time. “The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.” (HP and the Sorcerer’s Stone, pg 298) This is just one tidbit of wisdom that Dumbledore shared with Harry in what promises to be a noteworthy relationship.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely – anyone looking to get lost in a book for a little while would enjoy “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling. It is written with a younger audience in mind, which makes it a quick read. At the same time, there are a lot of adult topics that are touched upon. We barely skim the surface of what is to come and it is a great way to whet the pallet in preparation for the rest of the series.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Seventy-Fourth Book Review: “The Runaway Princess” by Hester Browne

“The Runaway Princess” by Hester Browne was a really fun read that kept a smile on my face for most of the book. Sometimes a lighthearted read is just what the doctor ordered after reading too many edge of your seat thrillers. My other reading experience with Hester Browne was The Little Lady Agency series. Books that I highly enjoyed, but overall felt a little frustrated with, not to mention slightly disgusted at the behavior of the main character’s family. I was hoping that “The Runaway Princess” would stand alone as a separate book and not follow a formula that so many authors seem to fall into these days. I was pleased that this book did not go in the direction I was expecting and that the main character’s parents were good people.

Amy Wilde was a fun main character that I felt myself relating to quite a bit. More of an introvert than her roommate, Amy is way outside her comfort zone at the heaven/hell party Jo throws at their London flat. After promising to not spend the whole party hiding in the kitchen, Amy reluctantly finds herself in the midst of the festivity being chatted up by a mysterious stranger. “I guessed this was how a rabbit felt, shortly before being swallowed whole by a boa constrictor, scared but oddly flattered at the same time.” (The Runaway Princess, pg 27) I liked this quote because it made me laugh and it gives a good sense of who Amy is; she’s the kind of girl that doesn’t expect to be the focus of a sexy stranger’s attention. This sexy stranger turns out to be Rolf – a prince that has sort of dated Jo. What Amy doesn’t realize at the time is that the guy who talked Rolf down and got him to behave (sort of) was Rolf’s brother, Leo who is also a prince. And thus, we move into the love story.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, it was a fun read. It isn’t one that is going to really stimulate your intellect, but it is nice to sometimes allow yourself to get lost in a junk food read and that is exactly what “The Runaway Princess” delivered. I’m glad that Hester Browne’s stand alone novel was a fun read and I will definitely continue to read her books!