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-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 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-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.