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 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 One Hundred and Seventy-Third Book Review: “A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula K. Le Guin

“A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula K. Le Guin was the most recent book for the Wall Street Journal Book Club. I very infrequently find myself picking up fantasy novels although there are three fantasy series that I can remember reading (Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and Alosha by Christopher Pike). So when I realized that the book that had been picked for the WSJ Book Club was a fantasy novel, I was a bit skeptical. When I looked more closely at the title I realized that I already owned the entire series but had never got around to reading it. And I knew the author too, she has written poetry also and I remember really enjoying some of it. To add to the list, Margaret Atwood is the author that picked this book and as I love her work, I found myself looking forward to reading “A Wizard of Earthsea”.

The book is short but powerful and in my opinion, one of the more complex and intricate novels that I have read. It was definitely an interesting read. “A Wizard of Earthsea” follows the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea: Ged, before he comes into his power and gains the knowledge necessary to harness that power. It was very interesting to read about Ged navigating his way through life, while trying to learn the strength and danger of his powers. One of the themes that is stressed throughout “A Wizard of Earthsea” is the dangers of power and more so of using said powers frivolously. Ged’s first interaction with magic happens when he observes a witch as a child. “There is a saying on Gont, weak as woman’s magic, and there is another saying, wicked as woman’s magic. Now the witch of Ten Alders was no black sorceress, nor did she ever meddle with the high arts or traffic with Old Powers; but being an ignorant woman among ignorant folk, she often used her crafts to foolish and dubious ends. She knew nothing of the Balance and the Pattern which the true wizard knows and serves, and which keep him from using his spells unless real need demands. She had a spell for every circumstance, and was forever weaving charms.” (A Wizard of Earthsea, pg 5).

Even in Ged’s first glance at magic, the foundation is set for the readers that using magic for everything is dangerous and that Balance is important. The consequences of allowing yourself to be seduced by power is repeated again and again in “A Wizard of Earthsea”. There are warnings expressed to Ged multiple times, but he lets his pride overshadow his sense and he faces dire consequences because of this.

Another warning that he is given is about change, and again – balance. “To change this rock into a jewel, you must change its true name. And to do that, my son, even to so small a scrap of the world, is to change the world. It can be done. Indeed it can be done. It is the art of the Master Changer, and you will learn it, when you are ready to learn it. But you must not change one thing, one pebble, on grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on that act. The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard’s power of Changing and of Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power. It is more perilous. It must follow knowledge, and serve need. To light a candle is to cast a shadow….” (A Wizard of Earthsea, pg 44). I really liked this quote as it paints a picture of how Ursula K. Le Guin writes and is a good example of the warnings that Ged is given.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely – I think that there is great appeal in this novel for a wide range of readers. I would never label myself a fan of the fantasy genre, but after reading “A Wizard of Earthsea” I may have to broaden my horizons even more. I am very glad that I already have the rest of the series in my possession. I may even have to try reading “The Lord of the Rings” now.

Becky’s One Hundred and Twenty-Second Book Review: “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling

Some authors write in the same world for so long that they are unable to break out and write a new story. When J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series, she spent so many years with the same characters. I was very curious to see if she could break away and write a different story – then came “The Casual Vacancy” which was so bad that it seemed to confirm my suspicions. Then she wrote under a pseudonym and “The Cuckoo’s Calling” came into being. It blew me out of the water.

“The Cuckoo’s Calling” is about a private detective, Cormoran Strike, who is struggling in his life. He and his long-time girlfriend broke up which has left him homeless, he is behind on all his bills, and the PI business is on its last legs. In addition to all of that, Strike had his leg blown off when he was in the war, so adapting to living in a tiny office is not the easiest thing for him. Robin comes into his life as a temporary secretary and together they make an interesting team. Strike is surprised when the first piece of business he is given in awhile is from an old acquaintance, John Bristow, who’s brother Charlie was good friends with Strike. This guy comes into Strike’s office asking him to look into his sister’s death which was ruled a suicide and although reluctant, Strike takes on the case. He is by no means convinced that Lula Landry, beloved supermodel, did not kill herself but Strike needed the business. “Suicides, in his experience were perfectly capable of feigning an interest in a future they had no intention of inhabiting.” (The Cuckoo’s Calling, pg 27). Together, he and Robin start piecing together what really happened to Lula Landry.

One thing that I really liked about “The Cuckoo’s Calling” was how well J.K. Rowling was able to get in the mindset of a completely different set of characters. It really didn’t feel like she wrote this, it felt like Robert Galbraith was the author. I think she did a great job with it. I personally couldn’t put the book down and there were several moments in the book that came as a complete shock. It was fun being surprised and I really enjoyed observing Cormoran Strike in his everyday movements. He is a strong, well-developed character that you can’t help but feel for. “He had lost the army, and Charlotte and half a leg; he felt a need to become thoroughly accustomed to the man he had become before he felt ready to expose himself to other people’s surprise and pity.” (The Cuckoo’s Calling, pg 166). 

During his investigation into Lula Landry’s suicide, Strike meets a lot of interesting characters including some of Lula’s friends who were models. “It was difficult for him to decide whether she was sincere, or performing her own character; her beauty got in the way, like a thick cobweb through which it was difficult to see her clearly.” (The Cuckoo’s Calling, pg 317). It was fun to see into the different lives that each character led. Lula’s model friends seemed to be good people whereas her regular driver seemed to be a bit off. Everyone had their own theory about Lula and whether she could have possibly done what everyone believed her to have done. It was clear that Lula had a difficult life, but the more Strike looked into her last days, the less likely it seemed that she had killed herself. The whole time Rowling kept the story interesting with different twists which I couldn’t stop devouring. 

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! “The Cuckoo’s Calling” was a fantastic read. The pace was great, the plot was fun and exciting and there were definite twists that I didn’t see coming at all. Cormoran Strike is a fascinating character and I really hope that Rowling continues writing about him and his world. I definitely can see this book becoming a series and I will be there to read it.

 

Becky’s One Hundred and Nineteenth Book Review: “The Casual Vacancy” by J.K. Rowling

There was a lot of anticipation for the release of J.K. Rowling’s first novel geared directly towards adults, “The Casual Vacancy”. I am fairly certain that no one enjoyed it. I very rarely will put down a book without finishing it. I push myself to read books. Sometimes I will take a break, but a book has to be utterly terrible for me to not finish reading it. That is exactly what I got when I tried to read “The Casual Vacancy”.

I think I read about 220 pages from “The Casual Vacancy” before I decided I couldn’t take it anymore (this was over months of reading when normally I can finish a 500 page book in two weeks). The bones of the plot are focused around a ‘casual vacancy’ – basically a guy dies. The community goes nuts, people want to replace him, time is spent learning a bit about younger characters. Honestly, I couldn’t even keep my mind focused on the pages. It seemed like in an attempt to get away from the Harry Potter books, Rowling attempted to write an adult novel by inserting a lot of crude language and sexual topics. Thanks, but we don’t need to hear about a boy’s sexual thoughts about the girl getting on the bus.

I know this is a very short review, but this book barely deserves a review anyway. It was terrible. I do not recommend “The Casual Vacancy” in any shape or form. The publisher should give people their money back – the book was that bad.