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Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

The book in one sentence: As Harry begins his third year at Hogwarts, he is warned about Sirius Black, one of Voldemort’s supporters who has broken out of Azkaban prison and is looking for revenge.

Rating:  Island collection

Long story long: Rereading the Harry Potter series has been both thrilling and nostalgic. It’s incredible how well the stories have held up over the past 20-something years, and how much of our lives they continue to influence (I mean, I still haven’t given up on my Hogwarts letter).

Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite book so far because it marks a turning point in the seven-book series. It has some of the darkest material we’ve seen– what with an escaped convict, an execution, the return of Voldemort’s servant, and all the Dementors– and more importantly, it connects Harry’s life in Hogwarts to the larger wizarding world outside.

We get glimpses of this world in the first two books, but we start to understand it better in Prisoner of Azkaban. It introduces us to Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, and to the Dementors who guard Azkaban prison, both of whom become important figures in Harry’s story. We learn about Peter Pettigrew’s betrayal and the subsequent deaths of Lily and James Potter, and we meet Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black, who is one of the few people who intimately knew his parents.

Continue reading “Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling”

Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

The book in two sentences: Harry is excited to start his second year at Hogwarts, but a mysterious, half-forgotten monster begins to terrorize the school. Harry, Ron, and Hermione attempt to stop it before Hogwarts is shut down for good.

Rating:  Island collection

Long story long: I realized after publishing my Sorcerer’s Stone review that that was less of a review and more of me just feeling good about re-entering the magical world (which is totally valid and I don’t feel bad about it at all). I could have talked about more literary things (like all the foreshadowing, character development, etc) but it felt nice to “turn off” the part of my brain that likes to analyze everything (everything) and let myself get swept up in the magic.

Chamber of Secrets, on the other hand, is a great place to start thinking more critically about the story: we’ve had a solid introduction to the wizarding world, gotten to know some of its characters, and we can now focus on the actual storytelling.

My amateur artistic rendering of Harry (who admittedly looks a lot older than 12 here)

Similar to Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets is inward-facing, having more to do with Hogwarts than the rest of the wizarding world. Like all books in the series, it gives Harry more insight into Voldemort’s identity and ethos. If the first book serves as an introduction to Voldemort, the second is where we start to see the real implications of his return. A memory of him is powerful enough to manipulate a student into petrifying her classmates…just imagine what Voldemort at the height of his powers could do.

Continue reading “Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling”

Currently reading: Corazón by Yesika Salgado

Review: The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser

The book in two sentences: Devoney Looser explores Jane Austen’s long and lasting legacy as one of the most brilliant novelists to ever exist. In this book, we see Austen illustrated, dramatized, politicized, and schooled in ways that give voice to Austen’s lesser-known authorities.

Rating:  Travel companion

Long story long: I made it through a whopping four pages of Pride and Prejudice the first time I picked it up. I was in sixth grade and figured it was about time I started reading “the Classics” (whatever that meant). I wouldn’t end up finishing the book until two or three years later.

Since then, Pride and Prejudice has become my favorite novel. I have read it nearly 20 times, listened to the audiobook version almost twice as much, collected fan-fiction and spin-off books, and been to a number of stage adaptations.

There are many reasons I love Pride and Prejudice—Austen’s biting social commentary on class, marriage, and wealth, to say the least—but the most meaningful to me is that it has helped me track my growth as a reader, and as a person, over the past 18 years. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I’ve either learned something new about myself, or something new about the book and the author; it never ceases to surprise me!

Devoney Looser’s novel The Making of Jane Austen is a wonderful continuation of this tradition. Her book explores the legacy of Austen in four parts through lesser-known historical figures. In the first part, she wonders how “illustrations seen by Austen’s first generation of readers shaped then-developing understandings of the author and her fiction” (15). A number of artistic choices made in the 19th century carry weight even today, and have influenced early stage and screen adaptations of Austen’s novels.

Continue reading “Review: The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser”

Review: Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat

The book in two sentences: This collection of short stories centers around the lives of Haitian women, across space and time, in a dialogue about identity, autonomy, suffering, and strength. It is a thematically “heavy” conversation, and gives the reader an opportunity to sit in their discomfort.

Rating: ✈  Travel companion

Long story short (no spoilers): What I enjoy most about short story collections is trying to figure out how each story connects to the others. Sometimes these connections are obvious, and other times they are more obscure.

At its core, Krik? Krak! is about the lives and deaths of Haitian women, their communities, whether real or imagined, and their relationship with violence. There are times when characters from one store appear, however briefly, in another, or when a character in one story alludes to a character in a another story. There are also a number of crosscutting themes throughout the book—self-preservation, how identity is strongly tethered to a place, the power in ancestral lineage—that surface frequently.

One theme that stood out to me was the rendering of time. It is difficult to know when exactly Danticat’s stories take place and over what period of time (e.g., days? weeks? months?). This gives a sense that these stories (and subsequently the violence, pain, suffering, and hope) are both eternal and fleeting. I haven’t quite decided what that means yet, but perhaps in my next reading of Krik? Krak! I can tackle that question.

Have you read this book or another by Danticat? What did you think? Comment below!

Review: Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros

The book in two sentences: In Woman Hollering Creek, Sandra Cisneros weaves 22 tales of passion, pain, and longing that describe life along the U.S.-Mexico border. They take place in different times and follow different people on different paths, but all are centered around the identities and experiences of Chican@ and indigenous womxn.

Rating: 🌴 Island collection

Long story short (spoilers): What I enjoyed most about this collection was the writing. Cisneros’ prose is lyrical and enchanting. She often lapses into these long, run-on sentences, where one word just flows into the next, and like a wave they slowly draw you in before crashing into you.

Continue reading “Review: Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros”

Currently reading: Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros

Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

Rating: ✈ Travel companion

Long story short: I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. The concept is something right up my alley, both interesting and enthralling, and featuring strong characters, but the pacing is too slow and the story doesn’t really go anywhere. There are some great action and suspense sequences throughout the book, places where I could feel my heart pounding and goosebumps forming, but the ending left me feeling adrift.

Annihilation is the first in the Southern Reach trilogy, but I’m not motivated to read the next two books. I watched the movie and have mixed feelings about it, too. Have you read or seen Annihilation? What did you think? Does the rest of the trilogy flesh out the story some more? Is it worth reading?

Review: Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui

Brief synopsis (back cover): When prototype models for a dream-invading device go missing at the Institute for Psychiatric Research, employees soon learn that someone is using these new machines to drive them all insane. Brilliant psychotherapist Atsuko Chiba—whose alter ego is a dream detective named Paprika—realizes she is in danger. She must venture into the dream world in order to fight her mysterious opponents. Soon nightmares begin to leak into daily life and the borderline between dream and reality grows unclear. The future of the waking world is at stake.

Rating: ✈ Travel companion

Long story short: Science fiction and mystery are two of my favorite genres, and I really enjoyed the way they intersect in this book. Other things this book does well:

  • It is convincing. The new technology that allows people to enter each other’s dreams is legitimized in the book in the form of buy-in from the scientific community. Even without their endorsement, the concept is weird and “out there” enough to be believable. Also, considering the book was first published in 1993, it has aged well.
  • The plot moves along. Though a little slow at first, it picks up about a quarter of the way in and is a thrilling ride till the end.
  • It offers some social commentary. While it focuses on the challenges of scientific research, asking questions like Who is research for? and Can you have research for research’s sake?, it also explores the way in which we treat mental illness and therapy.

Some minor critiques:

  • There is some sexual exploitation and violence. However, it is not necessarily gratuitous; that is, it speaks to characters’ mindsets and serves as an explanation for their motivations.
  • There are a lot of characters. Not quite Game of Thrones style, but at times still distracting.

My next step is to watch the anime movie based on this book that came out in 2006. Have you read the book or watched the movie? What did you think?

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