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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”

Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

The book in two sentences: Harry Potter discovers that he’s no ordinary boy as he begins his training at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In his first year he will form deep friendships, make several enemies, and begin to find his place in the larger wizarding world.

Rating:  Island collection

Long story short: I’ve been wanting to reread this series for a while now, and since I won’t be starting school this September, I thought this would be a fitting time to imagine myself at Hogwarts instead.

I first read The Sorcerer’s Stone in fourth grade– I bought a copy through the Scholastic Book Fair because I liked the drawing of the boy on a broomstick– and it wasn’t long before I was entirely consumed by the wizarding world. I’m sure this story sounds familiar to many.

It took about a page and half of The Sorcerer’s Stone to transport me back to Harry’s world. I was clutching Archimedes (my Kindle) and sitting wide-eyed with my heart beating faster and faster. I actually got goosebumps. It was incredible, really, how quickly the same feelings I had the first time around– excitement, apprehension, wonder– came flooding back.

Continue reading “Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling”

Review: Anne with An E

I am so excited about Anne With An E that I started writing this review before finishing the series (I have since watched all seven episodes). But before I get started, I should admit that I have not read the books (I know: blasphemous). However, I am a huge fan of the 1985 Anne of Green Gables mini-series, which I understand was a faithful reproduction. Any comparisons I make will be to the 1985 series, and not the books.

To be honest I was pretty nervous about seeing Anne With An E. I needn’t have worried. It is an exceptional rendition of everyone’s favorite smart, bold, dramatic, red-headed girl, and I highly recommend you watch it.

In this version, the general storyline is the same, apart from a few enjoyable twists. The characters are wonderfully fleshed out and have a depth that I don’t remember seeing in the 1985 series. Amybeth McNulty plays a fantastic Anne; she is spunky, fiery, and so authentic. I am really looking forward to knowing her better.

This adaptation is darker and more melancholy than its earlier counterpart, which has rubbed some people the wrong way. Certain flashbacks and subtle dialogue make the narrative grittier and not the same kind of wholehearted fun that was the 1985 version. I think this is a necessary and brilliantly inventive retelling of the classic story. To think that Anne was not traumatized and troubled by her past is a disservice to her character; we cannot truly appreciate her lightheartedness without understanding her sorrow and heartache.

One poignant quote in the first episode points to this compassion:

Continue reading “Review: Anne with An E

wildwood

Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. The ‘tributes’ are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.

When 16-year-old Katniss’s young sister, Prim, is selected as District 12’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives. , she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story short (no spoilers): On the whole I thought this was a very enjoyable read. The premise was equal parts intriguing and horrifying, making me very curious to know more about it. After reading this I’m eager to find out what happens in the next book.

So, let’s get into it!

What I liked:

  • A complex female character takes center stage. I always find it refreshing to see a female protagonist be the hero of a book/TV show/movie that would usually fall under the “roles for boys” category. While representation is getting better, there still aren’t very many leading action roles for women, so it’s still an important achievement to celebrate. In particular it’s Katniss’ complexity I like; not only is she a match for her adversaries in the Hunger Games, but she is more than just a “strong female” archetype. She is also resilient, empathetic, lonely, and disillusioned. And that makes for a much interesting protagonist.
  • Themes in the book are (sadly) relatable. Voyeurism, materialism, desensitization, wealth inequality, tyrannical oppression…I’d go on, but it’s too depressing.
  • Good pacing, good action. The amount of time spent on each stage seemed fitting. The book is divided into two parts: the first comprises Katniss’ introduction, the Reaping, and getting ready for the Hunger Games; the second follows the actual Hunger Games and is almost three times as long as the first part.

What I didn’t like:

  • The limited perspective. A minor vexation, but it would have been nice to know how other characters were dealing with their respective circumstances, specifically Peeta, Gale, Prim, and Haymitch. It would have added to their development throughout the book as well as allowed us to get a more complete understanding of Katniss through their eyes.

Keep reading for a spoiler book and movie review!

Continue reading “Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins”

Review: The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall

Brief synopsis (back cover): When the four Penderwick sisters find themselves staying on a beautiful estate called Arundel for their summer holidays, they can’t wait to explore the wonderful, sprawling grounds. And even more wonderful is Jeffrey, son of Arundel’s owner—the perfect companion for their summer adventures. But Jeffrey’s mother is less than thrilled with the Penderwick sisters and warns the new friends to stay out of trouble. Which, of course, they will. Won’t they?

Rating🌴  Island collection

Long story short: This book made me feel ALL THE FEELS. It reminded me of the summer vacations I took as a child, of days where I had no other responsibility than to have fun. It’s a short book and I don’t want to ruin anything, so I’m going to go for the bullet points:

  • There were more than ten characters and each one had a distinct voice and personality. By the time I finished it felt like I had known Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty my whole life.
  • The Penderwick sisters had wonderful chemistry. They laughed, cried, fought, and problem-solved together, and it was so fun to see them in action. I also loved their father and thought he was an awesome parental figure.
  • The book addressed mature themes (death, love, parenting) in a non-patronizing way.

The best children’s books are ones you can enjoy as an adult. The Penderwicks definitely falls in that category and I look forward to reading the rest of the series. Have you read anything by Jeanne Birdsall? What did you think?

Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Brief synopsis (back cover): Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than her tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex-Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair-bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and he is not interested in exploring a new one. Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, Lou sets out to show him that life is still worth living. Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart? 

Rating🏡  Left behind / ✈  Travel companion

Long story short: This book is a little tricky to rate because some parts I liked and others…not so much.

I loved the insights Moyes offered into quadriplegia and assisted suicide because these are two topics I know very little about and the latter has become quite contentious over the years. I have no experience in these areas so I can’t say how accurately either were depicted (the book has been criticized for romanticizing suicide), but it was a change from what I usually read and I enjoyed learning something new.

Through Louisa we’re introduced to caregiving and all the difficult and wonderful moments that come with it. She is spunky and kind and always trying to do the good thing, the right thing, for other people. There is a particular instance in the novel where we get to see the root of her personality—why she is who she is—and it’s a vulnerable time for her. While the set up was done well I wished Moyes took more time drawing Louisa out of her shell. She was definitely my favorite part of the story.

Continue reading “Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes”

Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Brief synopsis: As a child Jacob was fascinated by the stories his grandfather Abe told him about growing up on a remote island off the coast of Wales. Orphaned during World War II, Abe was taken in by a foster family where he made some unusual friends—a girl who could levitate, a small boy who could lift large boulders, and an invisible child to name a few. As Jacob grew older he saw the stories for what they were: a coping mechanism his grandfather used to forget about the horrors he witnessed during the war. But when Jacob starts to see strange things in his neighborhood, he begins to wonder what if

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story short: Overall I enjoyed this book, but I’m probably not going to read the sequel. It started off well, I liked the premise and the pace (it’s another story that gets off the ground pretty quickly, which is something I like); but there wasn’t enough depth to the characters or the action, which deflated my enthusiasm for the rest of the series.

The things I enjoyed:

  • Ransom Riggs does this cool thing where he juxtaposes real photographs he and others have collected with the narrative, which totally enhances the creepy factor of the novel (big brownie points there)

  • The descriptions were so vivid that I felt like I was actually there, something I don’t get from a lot of books

The things I didn’t enjoy:

  • The first half of the book was about a mystery that Jacob was trying to solve. Instead of working out the clues on his own, things just happened to work out for him. Sometimes he figured out what the clue meant after he stumbled on it, other times he was just in the right place at the right time. As a reader who likes to figure out things alongside the protagonist, I didn’t get to do a lot of deducing, which ruined the mystery part for me.
  • In the beginning Miss Peregrine’s had a great creepy vibe going. However, towards the end it turned into one of those Scooby Doo chase scenes that left me disappointed.

It was entertaining, but unless somebody hands me the sequel, I don’t see myself reading it. Have you read the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series? What did you think?

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