July 30, 2016

Book Review - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

by J.K. Rowling

Is there anything not to love about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? Harry's one-on-one lessons with Dumbledore and the friendship between them as they press forward in the fight against Voldemort is simply fantastic. It is evident from the beginning of the novel when Dumbledore arrives at the Dursley's and takes Harry with him to visit Horace Slughorn, that readers will get to see more of this teacher-student camaraderie than ever before. Even though Slughorn's so-called Slug Club is annoying and ridiculous--as is Harry's dependence on the Half-Blood Prince's textbook to cheat his way through Potions--Slughorn's presence brings with it the presence of the Felix Felicitus potion and the horcrux memory so crucial to knowing how to fight Voldemort. Though some readers find Slughorn as annoying as they found Gilderoy Lockhart, I find him far more interesting and necessary of a character.

Even though I've read this book a few times, I find myself slowing down and having to set it aside once Harry rushes to grab his invisibility cloak, tells Hermoine and Ron he's about to set out with Dumbledore, and advises them to distribute and use the remaining Felix Felicitus potion and to be on alert for an attack. [Spoiler alerts from here on out.] I love the conclusion of the series so much and yet I love/hate reading it. I find myself putting the book down, then picking it up and reading a few pages, then putting it down again, and the cycle repeats. So much occurs that it's difficult to take it all in stride: the journey to the cave, the inferi, Dumbledore drinking the water to get the locket, the locket being a fake, the Death Eater's mark above Hogwarts, the scene with Draco and Snape on top of the tower, Dumbledore's death and Snape's escape, the battle inside the school, Hagrid's house being set afire and when learns of Dumbledore's death, Fawkes' song mourning Dumbledore's death, the funeral, Harry saying goodbye to Ginny, and then Hermoine and Ron volunteering to leave Hogwarts and join Harry in his ultimate battle to kill Voldemort. I can't handle it. It's so great and so sad and so exciting and so awful and so wonderful.

Here are five wonderful quotes from the book before I conclude with some thoughts about Dumbledore:

(1) Albus Dumbledore's words to Harry within Tom Riddle's cave: "There is nothing to be feared from a body, Harry, any more than there is anything to be feared from the darkness...It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more." Considering what happens thereafter, it's perfect that some of the last words Dumbledore uttered to Harry in a relative moment of peace before the storm were about setting aside fear of death and choosing to embrace bravery.

(2) Harry speaking about Album Dumbledore's departure from Hogwarts: "He will only be gone from the school when none here are loyal to him." I like this line not just because of Harry's loyalty to Dumbledore, but because it creates a full-circle moment between this experience and the foreshadowing within Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Harry likewise declared his loyalty to Dumbledore and was rewarded with the appearance of Fawkes, the sorting hat, and the sword of Gryffindor. His reward here is less tangible, but no less significant.

(3) Severus Snape to Harry: "DON'T CALL ME A COWARD!" A round of applause to J.K. Rowling for the masterful characterization of Severus Snape. While readers don't learn his full story until the final pages of book seven, I love how complicated his character is. He isn't good, he isn't bad, he's completely messed up in this liminal space between the two and I adore Rowling for making him this way. 

(4) Luna Lovegood to Harry: "I liked the DA too. It was like having friends." Does anyone else's heart completely break for Luna? Like Snape, she's so important to the storyline even if she has a smaller role to play. I adore her. So many things about her are endearing: the loss of her mother, the bullying she endures, her sweetness, her loyalty to her father, her ready willingness to join the DA and fight alongside Harry regardless of the cost, and the fact that she and Neville continued to carry the DA coins in their pocket long after the meetings ended. Three cheers for Luna! I think she shows children that it's okay to be different just as it's essential to be kind.

(5) Harry's thoughts at the conclusion of the novel: "But he understood at last what Dumbledore had been trying to tell him. It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew—and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents—that there was all the difference in the world." If you're not crying at the conclusion of this book, what is up with you?

If you're reading this review, then you're likely team Harry and you find the banning of the book ridiculous. While the books are certainly not appropriate for all ages, the messages within them are beautiful. Those who call the books anti-Christian must be unfamiliar with basic literary concepts like metaphor, analogy, and allegory, among others. Perhaps this is nowhere as clearly evident as it is within the scene in the cave as Dumbledore submits to drinking the water cup by cup. It's such a powerful scene and testament to sacrifice and courage. More importantly, this moment resounds with readers regardless of religious belief and background because it speaks to the depths of love, a power to which we can each relate.

What's your favorite element of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? I'll be posting my final review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on Monday followed by my reaction to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child late next week. I can't wait to hear what each of you think as you read it yourself!

July 29, 2016

Book Review - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

by J.K. Rowling

I'm going to jump into my review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix straightaway with four favorite quotes before I give some thoughts on my mixed feelings about the book as a whole.
(1) Dumbledore's advice to Harry: Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.” As with so many of Dumbledore's words of advice, this statement applies to so many situations: bullying, friendship, forgiveness, relationships in general, politics, and on and on.
(2) Dumbledore's guilty confession to Harry: “Youth can not know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.” Even though Harry's being quite a pill, he's justified in his frustrations with Dumbledore--Dumbledore does avoid and detach himself from Harry through much of this novel in order to keep the separation from Voldemort as clear-cut as possible. When Harry throws his tantrum, Dumbledore keeps his cool but expresses some regret and apologizes for not divulging everything to Harry. In part, Harry wouldn't have been ready for those words (the revelation about the prophecy is such a huge burden for Harry to carry), but Dumbledore is right that Harry needs to hear it and he needs to hear it all now. Knowing when you've made a misstep and being willing to own it shows Dumbledore's maturity. I don't believe that Harry actually ever apologizes for destroying Dumbledore's possessions.

(3) The cruelty of Dolores Umbridge etched into Harry's skin: "I must not tell lies." Just wretched. I wonder if Harry had told Dumbledore about Umbridge's corporeal punishment if anything would have changed at Hogwarts? The Ministry had such a strong grip on education there that I wonder if it would have just forced Dumbledore out of his office even earlier. I've seen people with this tattoo and I wonder what exactly they're attempting to tribute or remember with it? That Umbridge is a cow? That sometimes you're punished in unfair and cruel ways? That they are like Harry? That they truly must not tell lies? I'm not sure, but I admire Harry's grit in bearing through detention after detention as best he can. Perhaps he could have lessened the number of detentions by behaving more, but as many of his outbursts are his attempt to defend Cedric's memory and testify to Voldemort's existence you cannot blame him.

(4) Fred's parting words to Peeves as he and George ditch Umbridge and Hogwarts on their broomsticks: Give her hell from us, Peeves.” And some of you thought it was impossible to tell Fred from George! I'm telling you when you reread the series, they are slightly different and Fred is completely awesome here. Yes, they are both joyful troublemakers but this line from Fred is entirely fantastic.

As I mentioned above, I do have mixed feelings about this book. The first three hundred pages are my least favorite pages in the entire series. Harry is so moody and annoying all the time! While I appreciate J.K. Rowling's accurate depiction of teenage mood swings, that doesn't mean I enjoy reading about them or reliving them. Who wants to relive junior high? *shudder*
Remember in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when Hermoine slaps Draco after a Care of Magical Creatures lesson? While I don't want to promote violence, I have to admit my jawed dropped at that bit of her sass. I feel like it would have been equally merited for Hermoine, Ron, McGonagall, or anyone for in the beginning of this book to push back against Harry's constant tantrums. People will hate me for saying that and I get it: Harry's in mourning for Cedric, he's confused, he's a teenager, he's frustrated and burdened, etc. I don't believe, however, that any of those reasons are excuses for behaving like a total git all of the time to the people who love you. He repeatedly yells at Ron and Hermoine and lashes out at them as if they're complete jerks, when in fact they're doing as much as they can to support him. Even though I read the book in silence, Harry's constant yelling makes my ears hurt.
That being said, once you get past that section of the series, the book picks up when Hermoine suggests that the students form Dumbledore's Army. Their meetings in the Room of Requirement are such a wonderful way of using their time to better their skills in fighting Voldemort. I really enjoy these scenes and particularly love Neville and Luna inclusion. Plus, how can you not love a novel that has Fred and George's booming business, their grand exit, the revelation of the prophecy, students uniting to fight against Death Eaters, and seeing into the Department of Mysteries?

What do you love about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? Is Harry's relationship with Cho entertaining or a complete waste of his time? Isn't it nice to see Ginny become more confident and independent? [Spoiler alert] Did Sirius' death make you cry or are you made of tougher stuff than I am?

July 28, 2016

Book Review - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire really propels the drama of the series onto another level. If you were ever a fan of the TV show LOST, you knew that part of the appeal was that even main characters were at risk. It's not that you enjoy seeing your favorite characters eliminated from the storyline, but rather that the story line itself isn't sacrificed to save a character.

Don't get me wrong [spoiler alert], I totally cried the first time I read about Cedric's death. I still get a bit misty-eyed when I read about his ghost asking Harry to take his body back to his parents. I didn't like that Voldemort kills Cedric--of course not, I'm no Death Eater--but when I read that scene, I knew that J.K. Rowling would stay true to the good-vs.-evil-battle raging within the wizard world of Harry Potter. I knew that Harry wouldn't somehow defeat Voldemort with a bit of luck or trickery. I knew that it would be a real fight with real sacrifice and real consequence. For me, book four marks the series' transition from children's literature to young adult or adult literature and I loved that.

Harry's growth over the course of the series is just one testament to Rowling's skill as an author. So many series' main characters change very little; in essence, they have the bravery within them from day one they'll need on the final page. Harry, however, does not. The Harry Potter who lives under the stairs may be destined to face-off with Lord Voldemort, but he's not destined to win--he has to grow into that person. Even though he fights him at the end of book one, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who'd disagree that the encounter in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is somehow equal to that in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The stakes rise as both the good and the bad increase. Ah, such a great story!

Here are four favorite quotes, followed by one of my chosen contenders for the most heart-warming passage of the entire series:

Sirius Black: "If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals." This line is so fascinating because it's not only profound truth, but it's uttered by Sirius when he's condemning Bartemius Crouch for his abuse of his house elf, Winky. Sirius, however, is equally guilty of mistreating his own house elf, Kreacher. I think this is significant because it shows that we are often guilty of pointing out the guilty in others without recognizing it within ourselves.

Albus Dumbledore: "Remember Cedric. Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory." Dumbledore's rally cry reminds every Hogwarts student that Cedric was innocent and murdered nonetheless. As the fight between Voldemort and the wizard community grows, they can't be passive and not take a side. Ignoring evil can lead to condoning evil. We often think about this in the context of World War II and it certainly seems as true as ever today in the fight against global terrorism.

Albus Dumbledore: "[I]t matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be!" Preach, Dumbledore, preach.

Albus Dumbledore: "We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided." *sob*

Without question, my favorite element of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is Mrs. Weasley's love and concern for Harry. Ever since she first spotted him alone on the train platform in book one, she has had motherly concern for him. Her care grows into love and she even defends herself when she states that he's as good as one of her own sons. I love that. At the conclusion of this novel, after everything Harry's witnessed, after everything he's experienced, he lies in the hospital ward completely heartbroken. It is at this moment that Mrs. Weasley's maternal hug that comforts him: "He had no memory of ever being hugged like this, as though by a mother." Cue rain on my face. This line gets me every single time.

What's your favorite part of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? At what moment in the series did you feel the shift from children's literature to young adult literature? Isn't the opening chapter super creepy? The tent! I want the Weasley's expandable tent from the Quidditch World Cup. Where can I get one? Cedric forever or Krum for the win?

July 27, 2016

Book Review - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

by J.K. Rowling

For years, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was my favorite book in the Harry Potter series. This last year, however, I decided that I cannot decide--I love parts of each of them for different reasons. If I could take my favorite sections from each and mash them together, I'd have a thoroughly enjoyable though completely messed-up plotline: (#1) Harry learning he's a wizard and meeting Hagrid and the wizard world, (#2) Harry spending time at the Burrow with the Weasley family, (#3) Harry's conversation with Sirius Black about being his godson and his new hopes of leaving the Dursleys to live with Sirius instead, (#4) Harry and Cedric traveling by portkey to the graveyard, Harry's battle with Lord Voldemort, his scenes in the hospital wing and his conversation with Dumbledore thereafter, (#5) the forming of Dumbledore's Army and their meetings, (#6) Harry's lessons with Dumbledore, journey to the cave, and the battle on the Hogwarts tower, and (#7) Harry's times with Hermoine and Ron setting up camp around England and the entirety of the final battle. Ahhh, what a wonderful read that would be.

That being said, you now know my favorite part of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the book up for review today. The entire conversation in the Shrieking Shack is so fantastic. I love how Lupin takes the time to listen to and talk to Harry as if they were just having an ordinary lesson in class, in part because as readers we're soaking up each word. I loved learning more about Harry's father, James, and his days at Hogwarts as one-fourth of Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs. I loved that everyone was wrong about Sirius and that when given a chance, he offers his home to Harry without hesitation. The glimpse Harry had here at forming a new family was so exciting, and then devastating when it was taken away.

Here are just three of my favorite quotes from book three:

(1) The passphrase to using the Marauder's Map, invented by Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs, but nicked by Fred and George Weasley: "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good." And how!

(2) Remus Lupin chiding Harry for his thoughtless actions: "Your parents gave their lives to keep you alive, Harry. A poor way to repay them--gambling their sacrifice for a bag of magic tricks." To most fans, this line may be a bit of a downer and certainly not one they'd love. They'd prefer it if Lupin gave a sheepish grin and turned a blind eye to Harry's tomfoolery, the same way he did as a teenager with his best friends James and Sirius. But Lupin isn't a teenager anymore, he's grown up, lost many of those closest to him, endured painful decades  as an outsider unable to secure work and settle down, and when he thinks of losing James and Lily he speaks the words Harry needs to hear, the words of a parent. I love Lupin so much, but more on that in a bit.

(3) Not necessarily a quote, per se, but the section of dialogue I mentioned above where Harry speaks with Sirius about leaving the Dursleys and coming to live with him instead.

I know that Sirius is beloved, but I've always favored Lupin. Always. (See what I did there?) His illness and what he symbolizes as a rejected, misunderstood man is so heartbreaking. This was always readily evident within the character development and plot of the series--his werewolf status, the judgment he endures, the physical pain of the transformation and ill health, his gray hairs far beyond his years and shabby clothes--Lupin! Hang in there! We are rooting for you! He lived in James and Sirius' shadows and was relegated to the fringes of society but he never becomes bitter. While there's a moment in book seven where Harry doubts Lupin's abililty to love and sacrifice, he's quickly proven wrong. When I first read J.K. Rowling's additional details about Lupin on the Pottermore website, I just nodded my head in agreement and adored that he too is is one of her favorite characters in the entire series.

What's your favorite or least favorite section of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? Are you a Sirius fan or Lupin fan? Ugh, isn't Wormtail just the worse? Ick.

July 26, 2016

Book Review - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

by J. K. Rowling

I've heard some Harry Potter fans say they don't enjoy Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as much as some of the series' other installments. I like it quite well, particularly when Fred and George show up with Ron at Harry's bedroom window ready to rescue him from the Dursleys. Say what you will about the Weasley twins, but I am fully convinced that Fred is the funnier of the two. I mentioned this to someone and they looked ready to take a swing at me. The last time I fully read the series (I am a book nerd, so you've been warned) one of the things I was particular to take mental note of was the difference between the twins. I wanted to see how they were different from one another. Though I would never suggest to real-life twins that one is "better" than another, I definitely believe Fred is slightly more proactive in the rebellion, humor, and tomfoolery than George. Those are my two cents.

Along with my afffection for the humor the Weasley twins bring into the story, the section at the beginning of this novel where Harry spends time at the Burrow is perhaps my favorite within the entire book. The Burrow and the lovable chaos of the Weasley family is absolute perfection and reminds me of some of the large families I used to enjoy spending time with when I was growing up. Anytime Harry gets to be with the Weasleys, he gets to meld into a family dynamic and enjoy days when it's not him versus the world or even him versus the Dursleys, but time when he's just one of a group. The love, acceptance, and friendship he so quickly finds in the Weasley family is awesome. Besides Percy's rebellion that occurs later in the series, how could you not want your own family to be like the Weasleys?

To me, the rest of the story is enjoyable as well. I like Gilderoy Lockhart's vanity, though as with my previous review of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, I prefer the mental image I had of him to the film's version (sorry Kenneth Branagh, though I adore you in anything Shakespeare-related). The plot thickens with the polyjuice potion (Hermoine's intellect for the win!), there are new characters including Moaning Myrtle and Dobby, and the Chamber of Secrets itself and the danger the students at Hogwarts feel made for an adventurous ending. I liked learning more about Tom Riddle and life at Hogwarts, including the students ever-expanding studies (yes, I am a nerd). One rather serious question, why don't they study literature, humanities, or the arts at Hogwarts? If you say because they're not important, beware the wrath that will follow. I'm particularly disheartened by this since Rowling herself was a student of these subjects. The novels don't have to be perfect, but a nod to these subjects would have been nice. If you're trying to encourage bravery, confidence, creativity, and intellect in youths, these subjects are invaluable.

As far as some of my favorite lines in the novel, I've chosen just three:

(1) When Harry's at home with the Dursley's before the school year begins, Harry enjoys scaring off Dudley with some fake magic: "Jiggery pokery!.... Hocus pocus-squiggly wiggly!" Dudley's a bit of a bully and a dolt at this point, so he has it coming. This line also makes me laugh because it makes me think of all of the people who think the Harry Potter series should be banned because it promotes evil. *eye roll* If anything, the series promotes bravery in the eye of evil, but if that's what you believe then jiggery pokery, hocus pocus squiggly wiggly on you!

(2) When Hermoine rushes off to the library believing she may be onto something about the monster kept within the Chamber of Secrets, Harry and Ron give her a hard time. When Harry asks why she's going, Ron sarcastically responds, “When in doubt, go to the library.” It's not Ron's sarcasm I like here and perhaps not really the line itself, more the fact that Hermoine is smart and studious and her efforts save the day on numerous occasions. Is she obsessive about her grades and an annoying know-it-all in classroom? Absolutely, both traits she needs to learn to control, but her intelligence is a key resource throughout the series and Harry would be hard-pressed to succeed without her.

(3) Finally, lest I ignore the most powerful line in the book said by the dude at the helm himself, when Dumbledore speaks to Harry about the difference between he and Tom Riddle, he is quick to assert that there is a difference and everyone has power to influence their own path in life:  “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Oh, Dumbledore, you are so wonderful.

What do you love (or not love) about Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets? Do you have a favorite Weasley or Weasley twin? Are you on my side that the Hogwarts curriculum could use some additional options? Just a few days left until the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!