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.

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 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-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 Fifty-Ninth Book Review: “Clockwork Prince” by Cassandra Clare

“Clockwork Prince” by Cassandra Clare is the second book in the Infernal Devices Series. The more I read Cassandra Clare, the more I admire what she has created. The Infernal Devices Series takes place in the same universe as the Mortal Instruments Series, but about one hundred and fifty years in the past. I was once again swept away by Cassandra Clare’s words.

 

SPOILER ALERT – There are some spoilers regarding the first book of this series “Clockwork Angel

 

Diving once again into the world of Shadowhunters and other magical forces, “Clockwork Prince” picks up shortly after the first book ended. We know that Nathan was the cause of Tessa’s initial capture and subsequent torture by the Dark Sisters. We know that Mortmain is the one with evil plans in the works, but his motivation and location is unknown. And as she continues to live at the institute, Tessa is working towards understanding who or what she is while helping out as much as possible.

Tessa is a great character. In the first book she discovers that she is not 100% human and has this gift that the Dark Sisters forced her to embrace. Then when she is saved from them and brought to the institute, Tessa tries her best to be helpful and use the gift for good. She goes above and beyond what anyone would ask of her and for entirely selfless reasons. Plus, she’s an avid reader and to me that makes her remarkably relatable.

There is a love triangle that comes to light between Tessa, Jem, and Will. Despite the attraction that Tessa feels towards Will, he has verbally attacked her so many times that she refuses to allow any fantasizing about him. Unbeknownst to her, Will is struggling with his feelings for her as well, not believing that he could love her without putting her in mortal danger. Then Tessa’s friendship with Jem slowly blossoms into more and Tessa is left wondering how it is that her (self-proclaimed) plain features could possibly attract the attentions of one man, let alone two. “She hated that Will had this effect on her. Hated it. She knew better. She knew what he thought of her. That she was nothing, worth nothing. And still a look from him could make her tremble with mingled hatred and longing. It was like a poison in her blood, to which Jem was the only antidote. Only with him did she feel on steady ground.” (Clockwork Prince, pg 35). On the one hand, I can’t help but want things to work out between Tessa and Will. The way that their relationship developed in the first book built up that expectation. But his behavior towards Tessa is too awful and she finds herself leaning towards Jem, who is a wonderful character that we know is doomed to die young. It is hard to cheer for a relationship that is pretty much guaranteed to have an unhappy ending. All the while, there are much bigger things going on in this magical world that Tessa has to prioritize. There were so many interesting things going on in this book; it was a real page-turner.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think this is a great series for anyone interested in fantasy young adult. Even if you don’t usually gravitate towards fantasy, this book is so entertaining that I think most people would find themselves swept away by Cassandra Clare’s words. I look forward to reading the next and final book in the series and I’m excited to devour whatever else Cassandra Clare writes next.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Fifty-Second Book Review: “The Tombs of Atuan” by Ursula K. Le Guin

“The Tombs of Atuan” by Ursula K. Le Guin is the second book of the Earthsea series. I normally do not gravitate towards fantasy novels. When I was first given this series by my husband, I placed it on the shelf with plans to read them someday. When the WSJ Book Club picked the first book in the series “A Wizard of Earthsea” I found myself enjoying it quite a bit and fully intended to read the rest of the series soon. All it took was three weeks at home recovering from knee surgery for me to actually pick up this series again! Warning – there are some spoilers ahead.

“The Tombs of Atuan” begins with a death. The high priestess to the Nameless Ones dies. Whenever she dies, she is reborn, and so a search begins for a girl born the same night that the high priestess died. After many months of searching, the wardens and other priestesses found Tenar. At five years old, she was taken from her home and brought to the Tombs to be Eaten. This ceremony stripped her of her name and any ties to her family, and she became Arha: the Eaten One.

Arha was an interesting character. On the one hand, she accepts what she has been told her whole life that she is the high priestess reborn, and on the other hand, she is a young girl learning about herself and the world. And instead of growing up with her family in a village, she lives the life of a high priestess in near-isolation. She was responsible for worshiping and honoring the Nameless Ones in various ceremonies and traditions, and the tediousness eventually gets to her. “Her boredom rose so strong in her sometimes that it felt like terror: it took her by the throat. Not long ago she had been driven to speak of it. She had to talk, she thought, or she would go mad. It was Manan she talked to. Pride kept her from confiding in the other girls, and caution kept her from confession to the older women, but Manan was nothing, a faithful old bellwether; it didn’t matter what she said to him.” (The Tombs of Atuan, pg 24). I like how Le Guin describes the boredom that encapsulates Arha and the struggles she faces daily as she forces herself to suppress her child-like instincts and be the high priestess.

There are moments when the serious façade that Arha wears slips. Most often this happens when she is socializing with the other priestesses at The Place, some of who are her age. “But there was something underneath Penthe’s words with which she didn’t agree, something wholly new to her, frightening to her. She had not realized how very different people were, how differently they saw life. She felt as if she had looked up and suddenly seen a whole new planet hanging huge and populous right outside the window, an entirely strange world, one in which the gods did not matter. She was scared by the solidity of Penthe’s unfaith.” (The Tombs of Atuan, pg 41). I liked this quote for several reasons. It illustrates well how Arha was raised to believe in one thing. She was told that she was the High Priestess reborn and she was told everything that she was required to do and to think. For the longest time, it never occurred to her to have an individual thought. She believed wholeheartedly in the gods and the faith and in her part of the worship, that to have someone else express doubt threw her off. She no longer was confident about everything; there was that shred of doubt that had seeded in her mind. You slowly see a change come over her where she stops being Arha and begins to rediscover Tenar.

It isn’t until about a third into the book that Gar, the Wizard from the first book, comes into the picture. It was interesting seeing him again and from such a different perspective. No one comes to the Tombs of Atuan – not even to worship, and so when the Wizard comes to the Place of the Tombs, he is not welcome. He forces light into the darkness of Arha’s world and it frightens and confuses her. He also ultimately helps her become Tenar.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that Ursula K. Le Guin is a great writer and she creates a world that you love to get lost in. Her writing isn’t overly complicated, so I believe it would be accessible for a lot of people, especially those that tend to steer clear of anything labeled fantasy.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Thirty-Seventh Book Review: “Clockwork Angel” by Cassandra Clare

“Clockwork Angel” by Cassandra Clare was a really entertaining book. I almost don’t want to tell you what it is about just because it is so absurd that it might turn some people off from reading it. Had I read the synopsis, I may not have picked up the book – that’s how crazy it is. But it was really good. It is the first book in “The Infernal Devices” series, which is set in the same universe as “The Mortal Instruments” series was set in, and this is a prequel to “The Mortal Instruments” series. “Clockwork Angel” starts off in 1878 where we meet Tessa Gray.

Tessa we learn has just lost the aunt who raised her and her brother Nate after their parents died, and she has traveled across the sea to be with Nate in England. “Without him, she was completely alone in the world. There was no one at all for her. No one in the world who cared whether she lived or died. Sometimes the horror of that thought threatened to overwhelm her and plunge her down into a bottomless darkness from which there would be no return. If no one in the entire world cared about you, did you really exist at all?” (Clockwork Angel, pg 17). I really liked Tessa as a character. Despite the lack of self-esteem and self-worth that she feels, Tessa finds a great deal of strength from inside. She is suddenly confronted with a world where demons and vampires are not fantasies in a book, but part of reality and she pulls from her inner strength to cope. She learns things about herself that she never knew were possible. I also really liked that she is kind of a book nerd. ““But the books are all behind bars.” She said. “Like a literary sort of prison!” / Will grinned. “Some of these books are dangerous,” he said. “It’s wise to be careful.” / “One must always be careful of books,” said Tessa, “and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.”” (Clockwork Angel, pg 87). I couldn’t agree more with this quote – or relate to it any stronger.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! It is so well written, Cassandra Clare has real talent. Her books would be considered young adult, but I think that they would appeal to a much wider audience. If you’re willing, Cassandra Clare’s novels will take you on an adventure unlike any other. I never thought that I was all that interested in fantasy novels, but Cassandra Clare has opened me up to whole new worlds – literally – in her fantasy novels. I cannot wait to read the next book in the series.