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 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 Twentieth Book Review: “Swerve” by Vicki Pettersson

“Swerve” by Vicki Pettersson is a book that I received directly from the author per a recommendation by Taylor Stevens who writes the Vanessa Michael Munroe series. Since I tend to avoid reading the back cover of books, all I knew going into this book was that Taylor Stevens gave her endorsement and that it is similar to Dean Koontz’s thrillers but with a female protagonist. That was enough for me.

The novel starts out with Kristine and her fiancé Daniel driving to his parent’s house in California. After spilling her iced coffee all over the place, Daniel pulls over at a rest stop so Kristine can change her clothes. Within minutes her world is turned upside down when she is attacked and Daniel is taken. Kristine is left with a treasure map of instructions she has to follow to get Daniel back alive. I found myself hooked from the beginning. We knew only bits and pieces about Kristine and as the book progressed the layers of her past were peeled away, hinting at something terrible.

“…I can’t even imagine what I could have done to deserve this. / Okay, maybe except for that. That one thing. / But that’s long past, and besides, everyone has something in their history that makes them flinch. My memories just happen to spring up like poisonous mushrooms, mealy and rotted and contaminated by my mother’s voice.” (Swerve, pg 55). I loved this quote. I think it is a great example of the texture that Vicki Pettersson’s writing takes on. Her words come to life on the page.

I think that Kristine is a very intriguing character. At the beginning she is just a frazzled woman on a drive to see her fiancé’s mother, whom Kristine knows disapproves of her. Then she is thrown into this impossible situation, where being disapproved of is the last thing on her mind. She needs to pull from deep within her and find the strength the save those she most cares about. Throughout this rollercoaster of a thriller, Kristine is pulled in so many different directions and needs to continue to dig for that strength to get through the horrible challenges she is currently facing. Despite the helplessness that she feels, and the weakness, she keeps fighting. “I feel the old anger well up inside of me, a flash flood of roiling heat, and for a moment I don’t stop it. Instead of fighting the situation – the man in front of me and my helplessness and my anger at both – I let myself feel it, fury so primal it burns everything from existence. I can live in this white space without pain. I can hate everything with a completeness that flattens meaning into dust, and I know I’ll be safe. I’ve lived here before.” (Swerve, pg 259).

Would I recommend this book? Yes – but not to everyone. I was warned by the author beforehand that it is a violent book and the violence was intense, even for me. It is not a book for everyone. “Swerve” is the first thriller that Pettersson has written, however she has two book series that she wrote before this novel. I am definitely intrigued by her writing and plan on reading her other works and would most certainly pick up another thriller by her.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Fifteenth Book Review: “Echo Burning” by Lee Child

“Echo Burning” by Lee Child is the fifth book in the Jack Reacher series. My biggest problem with this one was the fact that it was based in Texas. The way that Lee Child described the horrible heat there – well I found myself relating a little too much to it even though I’m in the northeast. Reading “Echo Burning” made me feel physically hot.

At the beginning of “Echo Burning” Reacher finds himself wandering on the side of the highway in an attempt to duck out of a confrontation with some hot-headed cops. To his surprise, his hitchhiking in the Texas heat is successful when he is picked up by an attractive woman in a nice car. Once in the car, Reacher is fed a sob story. He learns that Carmen is a victim of domestic violence and that she wants his help to get away from her husband. When divulging all the details of the abuse that she has had to endure, Carmen makes it clear that she wants her husband out of the picture – permanently. Reacher refuses. “He paused a beat with his mouth halfway open. It was true. He would do it for Jodie Garber, but he wouldn’t do it for Carmen Greer. Why not? Because it comes in a rush. You can’t force it. It’s a hot-blooded thing, like a drug in your veins, and you go with it. If it’s not there, you can’t go with it. Simple as that. He’d gone with it before in his life, many times. People mess with him, they get what they get. They mess with Jodie, that’s the same thing as messing with him. Because Jodie was him. Or at least she used to be. In a way that Carmen wasn’t. And never would be. So it just wasn’t there.” (Echo Burning, pg 72). I really liked this passage. It so clearly defines the way that Reacher thinks and behaves. Although he refuses to kill her husband, Reacher does agree to stick around for a few days and help keep an eye on things. I don’t want to give too much away; I’ll just say that Reacher does find his presence to be necessary.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely – I would probably encourage readers to pick this one up in the middle of winter so you can use the overwhelming heat of the book to warm up. Unless I’m alone in the over-relating to the environment my books are set in? I can’t be the only one. Even if you don’t read this book for the heat, it is well worth picking up. I mentioned during my review of “Running Blind” that part of what I enjoy so much about the series is how as a character, Jack Reacher is continuously being developed. By the fifth book in the series, you feel like you know Reacher, but Lee Child keeps things interesting. Reacher is a great character and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Becky’s Two Hundred and Fourteenth Book Review: “Dogeaters” by Jessica Hagedorn

“Dogeaters” by Jessica Hagedorn was a Wall Street book club pick last year. It took me awhile to get through it and I was left with unclear feelings for the novel, hence the extreme delay in writing this review. Even now I’m struggling with what I really want to say about the book and the overall reading experience.

On the one hand, I think that Jessica Hagedorn has a very interesting writing style. The characters were so diverse from one another, and yet they all had something or other in common. I didn’t love the fact that the chapter titles did not reference which character was narrating; I found that to be confusing. I would get a few pages into a chapter and realize that it was a completely different character that was narrating from what I originally thought.

Maybe it is just because it took me such a long time to get through the book, or that I finished it so long ago and am only now writing the review, but I don’t really remember much about it. I remember not enjoying parts of it and then finding other aspects of the book very entertaining. I know that I didn’t like most of the characters in the novel – they were just bad people for the most part. I remember one of the characters killed a dog, and that never goes over well with me. I get extremely turned off from a novel when the dog is killed, especially in a violent manner.

Would I recommend this book? Probably not, I certainly would not pick it up again. I think that while it is something that would appeal to a certain type of reader, I’m not that person. I enjoy the fact that following the WSJ book club that I am branching out to books that I would otherwise never have picked up. That being said, I do not love all the book club picks and I wouldn’t pick up another work by Jessica Hagedorn.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Thirteenth Book Review: “The Fraud” by Brad Parks

“The Fraud” by Brad Parks is the sixth installment in the Carter Ross series. For me, this one started out a little on the slow side, and I was worried that Brad Parks had lost it, but within a few pages I was hooked as per usual and I even found myself all choked up with tears in my eyes and goose bumps down my arms.

SPOILER ALERT – DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU’RE NO UP TO DATE ON THE SERIES (unless you like to live dangerously…then by all means continue)

At the end of the last book “The Player” we learn that Carter Ross is going to be a daddy after a leg massage he gave Tina got a bit out of hand. In “The Fraud” Carter’s editor and baby mama is well into her third trimester and he is struggling with their relationship dynamic. “Since then, we have returned to our historic roles. I keep pressing for a committed relationship. She keeps putting me off. I realize this sort of makes me the girl in this whole scenario. Yet I’m secure in my manhood and have not let her hesitance deter me from thinking we’ll eventually be together. The way I see it, I beat out roughly thirty million other guys on the night I was conceived. I’ve had a winning attitude ever since.” (The Fraud, pg 64). This is one of the things that I like about the Carter Ross novels – there is some level of humor throughout the novel, sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious, and other times we get into full-blown sarcasm – my favorite (no, seriously).

One thing that I was really excited about in “The Fraud” was the return of Sweet Thang – a former intern first introduced in “Eyes of the Innocent”. I think that the interns are one of the most entertaining aspects of the Carter Ross novels, a point I’ve made before. I know that Sweet Thang was a fan favorite and I’m glad that Brad Parks brought her back for an encore. I think that the various supporting characters in the Carter Ross books are part of the charm. Whether the intern plays an integral part in the book or is more in the background than anything else, they are entertaining. The interactions between the interns and Carter Ross are what really sells me on them. He tries to teach them about the newspaper world and more often than not finds that his words of wisdom are falling on deaf ears. More often than not, when I laugh aloud at these books it’s during some intern interaction.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I enjoyed “The Fraud” and I think overall the series is a great read. I like that in this book we built more upon Carter Ross growing as a person into a different role – that of a dad-to-be. Brad Parks writes a blend of drama and comedy with a touch of mystery that keeps readers reading. You can’t help but cheer for the guy that one way or another finds himself saved in the nick of time by the girl. Carter Ross has a charm that keeps the readers coming back for more. Plus there are passages like: “But for those of us who are infrequent bedfellows with patience, the liberty of movement more than compensated for the extra mileage we put on our automobiles.” (The Fraud, pg 75). I mean, anyone that has driven in New Jersey can relate to that!

Becky’s One Hundred and Sixty-Eighth Book Review: “Shopaholic & Sister” by Sophie Kinsella

SPOILER ALERT: THIS IS THE FOURTH BOOK IN THE SHOPAHOLIC SERIES AND THEREFORE THERE ARE DETAILS THAT MAY BE REVEALED ABOUT THE EARLIER BOOKS IN THE SERIES

“Shopaholic & Sister” by Sophie Kinsella is the fourth book in the Shopaholic series. This book once again follows Becky Brandon (neé Bloomwood) on her many adventures. The book picks up with Luke and Becky on the tenth month of their yearlong honeymoon. After ten months they are starting to feel a bit homesick and so they change their plans and come home earlier than planned. They make one more stop before returning home – Milan.

Once in the fashion capital of the world, Becky gets a little irritated at Luke for his comment to control herself while they are in Milan. In an effort to show her dedication to soak up the culture rather than go shopping, Becky tells Luke to take her purse to prove that she doesn’t need to go shopping. He actually takes it and leaves her in a rather challenging situation. “As the door closes I feel a tad disgruntled. Little does Luke know. Little does Luke know I was actually planning to buy him a present today. Years ago, when I first met him, Luke had this belt which he really loved, made of gorgeous Italian leather. But he left it in the bathroom one day and it got hot leg-wax on it.
Which was not entirely my fault. Like I told him, when you’re in total agony, you don’t think “What would be the most suitable implement to scrape burning wax off my shins?” You just grab the nearest thing.” (Shopaholic & Sister, pg 29). I thought this was pretty funny. Having dealt with hot wax before, I can completely understand her reaction. After Luke left, Becky decides to venture out with the small amount of cash she had on her. Of course she also had her emergency credit card glued to the inside of a compact mirror. She stops at a leather goods store to find the belt for Luke and meets a man that helps her out: Nathan Temple. He helps Becky acquire an angel bag – the must-have item that is impossible to get. Elated at her new bag, she doesn’t even consider the ramifications of owing a debt to someone she had never met before.

Luke and Becky head back to London after she gets her fabulous bag completely unaware that her exchange in Milan was the beginning of a bigger issue. Once they get back they happily head over to her parents’ house with big plans of a tearful reunion. Instead, Becky finds that her world has changed quite a bit. In her absence, a woman has surfaced and made contact with her parents – a sister. Becky also finds that things have changed with her best friend, Suze. Everything seems to have turned upside down in her world. Becky tries to cope with all of this and at the same time survive on a budget enforced by Luke and deal with the many, many purchases made during their honeymoon.

I really enjoyed reading about all these extra challenges that Becky has thrown at her. It’s interesting how much has changed in her life. She doesn’t have a full time job at this point, so Becky has to amuse herself (on a budget) while Luke is at work all the time. Then there is the issue of her family and friends becoming alienated from her when she was gone for such a long time. Becky is also coping with having a long-lost sister and is pretty ridiculous about the whole situation. Jess is the complete opposite of Becky. This becomes perfectly clear when she spells out that she hates shopping. Part of what I really enjoyed about the addition of Jess’s character in the Shopaholic series is that Becky is thrust into a situation that she cannot exactly talk herself out of. She has to work through her own selfish ways in order to make room for a relationship with a sister that she never knew she had. It’s nothing short of entertaining. Throughout all this mess, Becky also has the interaction in Milan come back and bite her in the ass. You can certainly count on Becky to bury her head in the sand and hide from all her problems.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think it was yet another fun read in the Shopaholic series. It brings a lot of interesting issues to light, the challenges that you would face coming back from almost a year long hiatus: trying to find where you fit in other people’s lives now, how you would react and deal with a newly discovered family member, and also the additional challenges of meeting a new relative and having nothing in common with them. Not to mention coming back to reality after being on honeymoon for so long. It was really fun reading about Becky and how she dealt with these new challenges. As hilarious as ever, the fourth book in the Shopaholic series is well worth reading. Look below for a funny excerpt.

“But that’s so…narrow-minded! Most people have probably got a criminal record these days!” I gesture widely with my arms. “I mean, who sitting round this table does not have some kind of criminal record?”
There’s a short silence.
“Well,” says Luke. “I don’t. Gary doesn’t. You don’t.”
I look at him, taken aback. I suppose he’s right. I don’t.
That’s quite a surprise, actually. I’d always thought of myself as living on the edge.” (Shopaholic & Sister, pg 166)