Ranking Harry Potter Books!

I saw this over on Mystery Date with a Book’s booktube channel and just thought it would be good to do for this time of the year, because I always  😊 Now, many of you will already know my complicated relationship with Harry Potter (and consequently be able to deduce this) but I thought it would be fun to spell it out 😉 As much as I’ve been all over the place with this series, but the order always ends up the same. I honestly can’t believe I haven’t done it before! Obviously, no disclaimers are needed that this is just my personal opinion, yada yada yada… (if you want my full opinions, all reviews are linked to covers)… onto the rankings!

Harry_Potter_and_the_Order_of_the_Phoenix

Order of the Phoenix– because Harry Potter loses it and story sags for a few hundred pages. Still, THAT DEATH made me the most emotional, sooo it still has its upsides 😉

Harry Potter and the deathly hallows

Deathly Hallows– like Order of the Phoenix, this one makes me cry too. Normally, that would make me love a book- but that should tell you something about the quality of the rest of the series. To be honest, I was disappointed by the ending. I know it’s hard to round off a series like this, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the copycat Aslan Harry’s resurrection scene. Despite all the deaths, it just seemed a bit tamer than I’d been looking for. Then there was the epilogue- which I’ve always been on the fence about. Now, I’ve made my peace with it (more or less) in the last few years- especially after rereading it more recently. Needless to say, it’s still not my favourite ending.

harry potter and the half blood prince

Half Blood Prince– I went into quite a bit of depth with this when I reviewed it, but quite simply I’m not crazy about some of the ways it tackles the topic of evil. I just really dislike anything that leans into BORN EVIL for starters. It also ended up conflicting with some of the (better) ideas from earlier in the series. The awkward romantic subplots really don’t help either. So, not my favourite, though there are some interesting plotlines (love where Rowling takes Draco’s story).

goblet of fire

Goblet of Fire– it feels really strange putting this in the middle of the list, because I’ve always loved this book. While there are a couple of plot points that I don’t like as much, like SPEW, this book *wowed* me by taking the series to an unexpectedly dark place. To me, this is where the overarching plot peaked. It was also the first book I read when it came out- so I have magical memories of anticipating it as well 😊

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_Cover

Philosopher’s Stone– there’s no reason for this being in spot three, other than the fact I like others more. It’s still great on its own and I always enjoy the reread 😊

harry potter and the chamber of secrets

Chamber of Secrets– I just love book 2- which is weird, because it always creeps me out. Normally, I’d avoid anything like that, but in this case it’s just such a strong mystery and entertaining book. I love how it builds on the characters and it’s just perfect!

Harry_Potter_and_the_Prisoner_of_Azkaban

Prisoner of Azkaban- I spent a huge amount of time agonising over which book was my favourite, cos I’ve never been able to decide (which is probably why I’ve never done this before 😉 ). Yet, in the end it was easy: I just thought of the one which makes me feel all *warm and fuzzy* inside. Reading this is like being  hit with a Cheering Charm. I adore this book. Sure, Time Turners aren’t the best- creating plotholes galore- but I DON’T CARE! Not only is it the introduction to Hogsmeade, but we also get to meet the Marauders (my favourite characters). For me, this is the most magical book in the entire series.

And that’s it- we’ve run out of books (unless you count Cursed Child, which I don’t 😉). Clearly, I’m a bigger fan of the first four, but I am really curious to hear what your rankings would be? I know a lot of people have the exact opposite opinion and I wanna hear from all of you! Let me know in the comments

Fantastic Beasts and Where It Went Off the Rails…

monkey at the movies 2

*With spoilers*

Well, look at me being late to the party as usual. By now, if you’re at all interested in Crimes of Grindelwald, you’ll probably be aware that a lot of people have been saying that this movie was a mess. They say it was poorly structured and pointless- and they’re totally, unequivocally, inarguably right- buuut… I was surprised to find I still enjoyed it. Perhaps this was fuelled by my nostalgia, perhaps it was because I had such low expectations going in- but honestly I think this film does have a fair number of qualities to make the viewing experience a good time:

Compelling characters- check tick box

Stunning visuals- check tick box

Great story- ehh not so much… cross box clipart

I will freely admit that there were interesting parts to the story to keep me engaged- mostly stemming from the fact that the characters work well. This is particularly true of Leta Lestrange and Newt Scamander, who I love, and who demonstrate that not all heroes have to be sword-wielding Gryffindors (though a little more Ravenclaw love in these movies wouldn’t go amiss 😉). I also particularly liked the way Crimes of Grindelwald examined Leta’s view of herself as evil. And as someone that’s spent a long time asking for subtler villains, I can say I sort of got my wish… but more on that in a second. Cos before I go ahead and say anything else, I want to give this movie 3/5 bananas:

hand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-banana

are we the baddies nazisNow you have proof I didn’t hate this movie- let’s go ahead and see why it’s such a monstrous muddle. We can start where I left off: with the baddies. Once again, Rowling has embraced the Nazi metaphor- because no one else in history was evil like the Nazis. While the imagery is strong, I do think Rowling’s view of Nazis comes across as a little confused. There’s supposed to be this scary implication that Grindelwald’s followers hid behind “we’re better than that” slogans and were allegedly claiming to be pro-freedom. Problem is, Nazis were openly for state control and beating people up for being on the wrong side before they got into power. They also weren’t hiding their genocidal tendencies as people like to believe. So, no, people saying they’re pro-freedom is not code for Nazism and does not have the sinister undertones this implies. And while I’ve been begging for better villains, there is such a thing as being too subtle.

This is only a minor nitpicky issue though, particularly when taken with the fact that I do think the line “the greater good” is sufficiently shiver-inducing. What will be more troubling to general movie-goers is the way mystery and plot twists are handled. Holding this up against HP’s/Agatha Christie’s standard, it falls short. Largely because in those mysteries, the clues are such that everything can be worked out, even if it’s challenging to do so. Take the Sirius Black Easter eggs from chapter 1 of the Philosopher Stone. You get so many hints early in the series that tell you *exactly* where it’s going. It doesn’t mean you can work it out (like RAB) but that when it all comes together you have that OHHH moment (like Snape’s story). Here, the twists feel cheap, because there’s no way of knowing where it’s going before you get there. For instance, this plot point:

Leta’s brother is dead, we’re told he’s dead, except maybe he’s Credence… oh no way he’s definitely dead because Leta switched him with another random boy on the boat.

dumbledore confused.gifNothing has actually changed in terms of the original information and we’ve got no clues as to who Credence is from that snippet and the audience *shrugs its shoulders*. When it is revealed that Credence is Aurelius Dumbledore, it feels even lousier. There are only two clues for this- that aren’t really clues at all: the talk of a phoenix earlier in the movie (which feels more like a movie tie-in) and Dumbledore talking about Credence needing a sibling (which only stands to reinforce the Credence Lestrange theory at that stage). These really just point to it not being a Grindelwald lie, rather than feeling like earned hints at a larger plot. More importantly, in my view, it contradicts existing canon- you know, where Dumby allegedly told Harry everything?! If this whole brother thing was so integral to that story, how come he never came up?! And couldn’t he have had a joke at Rita Skeeter’s expense, something along the lines of “that incompetent bint didn’t even know about my secret brother!” Ultimately, this feels like an inferior way to connect the two series and is something I will never be fully on board with. It’s such a curveball that I’ve found myself embracing ridiculous theories- not only to make sense of it but also cos these theories would at least make for an entertainingly bonkers story.

mcgonagall confusedSpeaking of ridiculous things that can only be made sense of with bad theories- WHAT THE HELL IS MCGONAGALL DOING IN THIS MOVIE!?!? And don’t try to say this is possible when a) it contradicts the fact that she says *in the books* she’s been teaching at Hogwarts 39 years. Now it doesn’t take a genius to calculate that HP was written in the 90s and that this is the 20s- so THIS DOESN’T ADD UP- GAH!) and b) they deliberately went to lengths to remove her age on Pottermore to cover up this error. The only theory that can make sense of this blunder is time turners- and we all know how well that works in HP fanfic *coughs* Cursed Child *coughs cough*. My personal opinion is that this is lazy retconning from Rowling- ie “McGonagall was over a hundred all along”. Naturally my response is ughhhh. This, together with making Dumbledore teach defence against the dark arts, is just a lazy addition that didn’t need to be there. Especially since it’s designed to make fans all fuzzy and warm inside… but will likely only succeed in driving us to *oblivate* this detail from our too-well-versed in Potterlore memories.

And, yes, this may seem petty, but the reason this is so frustrating is cos for the most part this film seems designed just for real fans. My sister didn’t know what was going on half the time and my mum gave up. I had to keep filling them in. And that’s with the confusion caused by *all of the above*. What’s ridiculous is that some of the deleted scenes can make sense of the story- eg how Credence came back, what Credence’s relationship with Nagini was etc. This is most likely due to the modern trend of trying to force movies to fit run time- regardless of content- and it’s such a huge mistake when it comes at the cost of coherent storytelling. The original opening was vital information- DON’T CUT IT! (cut one of the less important, rambly chase scenes or something)

hermione bitch pleasePossibly *the worst* new addition, however, is the magical gizmo that means Dumby and Grindlewald can’t fight. The original version- and what JK implied- was that Dumbledore didn’t want to fight because he didn’t want to find out who killed Ariana. Plus had some conflicted feelings about it cos he used to be “friends” with Grindelwald. While this change can make sense of how Ariana was killed by accident, this doesn’t make up for the fact that this ruins a meaningful, moving element of the original series. Really, it doesn’t make sense to me to trample on what already existed in order to make this sub-par movie.

Forgive me if this review’s been all over the place- the truth is it’s hard to discuss a sloppy structure in a linear fashion. I hope there’s more rising action in this post than there was in the movie 😉 Again, I’d like to reiterate I had fun watching this, but that doesn’t mean I’m oblivious to its faults. And honestly it wouldn’t surprise me if this series is dead in the water.

So- dare I ask- what did you think of this film? Do you agree with any of my points or am I being a bit harsh? Let me know in the comments!

Quote Challenges – Favourite First Lines: Day 3

Hello all! In case you missed my last posts, I’m currently doing the quote challenge- here are the rules:

Rules

  • Thank the person who nominated you
  • Post a quote for 3 consecutive days (1 quote for each day)
  • Nominate three new bloggers each day

Except I’m doing it for more than three days (also it’s on a “favourite first line” theme 😀 )

Thank you so much to the awesome Sam @Modern Witch’s Bookshelf– she’s such a friendly blogger and I always appreciate her fantastic recommendation posts and awesome reviews! Definitely recommend you check her out! And cos I know she’s an awesome modern witch, I had to pick this quote for her…

first line of harry potter.png

Well, I wouldn’t be a proper millennial if I hadn’t been massively influenced by the infamous Harry Potter. Of course, reading this line for the first time as a seven year old, I couldn’t have been more hooked (I incidentally went on to read the first three books in a row- alas the fourth was not out yet).

I tag:

Kat, Raistlin and The Cozy Pages

And for those of you that have read it- that were your first memories of Harry Potter? Let me know in the comments!

Excavating the Deathly Hallows

*Spoilers for this one may prove fatal 😉 *

harry potter review

Harry Potter and the deathly hallows.jpgWoohoo, I’ve made it to the end! Before I get started, I have to make some serious confessions: I used to not like Deathly Hallows… I didn’t hate it, but I had a number of issues with it and after years of anticipation I was pretty disappointed. I mean, as much as I’d enjoyed figuring some of the plotlines out between books, I felt like some of them were resolved fairly quickly and I’d hoped for something slightly different.

I’ve also mentioned a few times that I wasn’t crazy on how the later books treated evil. And, while I’m not going to repeat my arguments about Voldy’s origins, I did still have some issues with how it invoked the Holocaust. For one thing, this comes back to my whole “it wasn’t dark enough” problem. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any issue with books that symbolically represent Nazi Germany, I just thought that if it was going to draw such parallels, it could have been a bit more extreme than a few broken wands and Snatchers. And at the risk of opening a can of worms, if we are doing comparisons between historical monsters, Voldemort reminds me more of Charles Manson than Hitler, so I’m not convinced that the comparison completely works anyway.

HOWEVER, this time round I wasn’t so interested in seeing such a grim presentation of reality. In fact, my teen self would curse me for being so forgiving. Nonetheless sometimes opinions change with age, like a well brewed potion, and that isn’t such a bad thing 😉 . I did of course have some sticking points, but what would be the charm of these reviews without them? 😉

What was especially cool is that I haven’t reread Harry Potter 7 *ahem* as much as the others. So I didn’t remember nearly as many of the details for this one and enjoyed them as if they were fresh– like Hermione modifying her parents’ memories and the ghoul in pyjamas. Not only was the new addition of the Tales of Beedle the Bard fascinating, but there were also elements hinted at from book 1- which is quite a feat- like robbing Gringotts that gave the whole book a fantastic sense of payoff. And who doesn’t love the fact that they flew a dragon out of there as well? All of these were such wonderful editions and as usual the experience of reading Rowling’s work was entirely immersive. Meaning, as usual, I didn’t take as many notes as I should have and there’s so much more to this book than I have included in this post. So I apologise in advance for that- my only excuse is that I was way too busy enjoying myself!

I have to admit by the end of book 7, I didn’t like Dumbledore very much. It’s not that he kept things back- I get why he kept things to himself here- it’s that his shudder inducing fight for the fascistic “greater good” is realllly creepy when you think about it. Oh I know he told himself he’d be a benevolent ruler, but YIKES! In the interest of being honest, I’m a bit repulsed by his power hungry side and how far down that road he actually went. I freely admit that everyone has faults and all that Wizard Rock, yet I can’t help that I’m put off by people who think they know what’s best for everyone else and seek to control them. This isn’t a criticism of the book by the way or of how the character is written– I think it’s perfect for the book and works very well in every sense. Only I can’t see Dumby as a cuddly old man after this.

But to talk more about characters I did like, I have to say the Snape twist is *brilliant*. I never saw it coming when I first read it and don’t think I’d have ever figured that out on my own- even though it’s threaded through the entire narrative. Also it delivers such an intense emotional blow– I sobbed from the death scene through all the pensieve memories.

Unfortunately, I don’t think some of the other character deaths are given enough space. I still wish that we’d had a chance to see Lupin’s last moments. He was a great character and deserved more than just ending up on a slab (I get that you can’t see everyone fall, but even a second-hand account would have been better than nothing).

That said, all the other side characters are given their chance to shine in this. So many stand out to me! I absolutely *love* McGonagall and Molly “not my daughter you bitch” Weasley’s roles in the final battle. But more than importantly, can I just hear a *Go, go! Gryffindor go, go!* for Neville?! I’ve read other people saying he’s the real hero of Harry Potter and I think they’ve got a point- he’s not cool early on, but he resists peer pressure anyway, always makes the right choices, and puts his neck on the line despite missing out on being the chosen one. I think I seriously undervalued this character before.

I do appreciate Harry’s sacrifice though. While I originally wasn’t keen on the Narnia resurrection tacked on to the ending, I’ve changed my tune on that as well. Returning to King’s Cross makes the narrative feel like it’s entering the eye of the storm. I don’t know how it works, because pausing the story here should detract from all the thunderous excitement, but somehow it feels like a natural lull and builds the sense of the ending. Somehow it fills the reader in without ruining the tension of the climax– I swear there must be some magic at play here 😉 It’s also a trippy, but quotable experience. And despite my reservations about Dumbledore, I’m glad he came back for this moment.

And now for the grand finale! First of all, I’m gonna come out and say it: the death scene/finale is *so much better* in the book than in the movie. Yes, there’s fewer explosions and dramatic posing, but the words exchanged are so powerful. The “try for some remorse” part hit me like a killing curse, showing Rowling giving Voldy a choice and the chance for redemption (which correlates rather nicely with the whole Malfoy sort-of-redemption arc). I also admire the moment when Harry strips Tom of his silly title, once and for all. While I will always find the “love conquers all” message a bit cheesy, I think it’s fantastic that Harry gets to wind Voldy up that he has another weapon at his disposal (eat slugs Voldy!) And yes, the fact that Tom “hit the floor with a mundane finality” shows that Rowling doesn’t have much love for her main villain (perhaps why I was not as compelled by him) yet what hits the perfect note is that he’s killed by his own rebounding curse, showing that his own hubris brought him down.

Now the epilogue can be quite hit and miss with people. I have a rather funny story about how my brother read only the last few pages and told my sister, who told me the last word while I was reading it, then tried to insist the last sentence was “Harry fell down a well” (this is what happens with siblings *sigh*)… Anyway, the point is, aside from taking a massive amount of tension out the story, I’ve always been a bit cranky about that last word and is part of the reason I’m on the fence about this part. On the plus side, I do really like how it gives closure (no need for any plays 😉 ) and is really sweet. Still, I’m not all that sure it fits with the series or that I’m not (objectively or subjectively) that fond of the last sentence.

So I won’t say that I was dead wrong to be let down the first time round, but what I can say is that it’s really grown on me this time round and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this reread. I think I’ve finally outgrown the growing pains I had with this seriesAll was well (hey, if JK can use that as a sign off, I certainly can 😉 )

Rating:  4½/5 bananas

hand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-banana half-a-hand-drawn-banana

So what do you think about Harry Potter’s finale? Agree or disagree with anything I’ve said here? Let me know in the comments!

Not Fully Behind the Half Blood Prince

*Arresto Momentum, which is wizard code for “stop a moment”, there’ll be spoilers*

harry potter review

So I’m going to do this review slightly differently, because while I have some significant philosophical differences with this book, I did actually enjoy it. That’s why, before I start, I’m giving it:

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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harry potter and the half blood princeI found it so much more gripping than the last one and whizzed through it. I actually loved opening, both the part with Snape and with the muggle PM, because they were both good for context. I also liked a number of the subplots, including the Slug Club and I have to admit reading this without exam stress was much more relaxing.

I can also forgive it for not being as dark as I wanted it to be when I was a teen. I wasn’t particularly sated by a few bridges collapsing, because it didn’t feel all that scary to me. I mentioned in my complicated relationship with Harry Potter post that I had wanted it to be darker back when I was a child, yet now as an adult I feel freer to like it for what it is. I simultaneously like the lighter touch and, with the theme of death and presence of inferi, I do see it as somewhat more grim.

I also liked that Harry is less of an idiot in this one- since he’s bang on the money when it comes to Malfoy. It would be infuriating that no one listens to him… except that he’s cried Death Eater so many times, so it makes complete sense.

Speaking of people I didn’t expect to feel sympathy for, I think it’s rather remarkable what Rowling does with Malfoy’s storyline. I do like how the mystery of what he’s up to is built up and it feels more “classic Potter” in comparison to Order of the Phoenix. I can even grudgingly admit that I could see where Dumbledore is coming from when he holds back specific information– especially as he no longer feels the need to keep Harry in the dark about everything and there are particular points he doesn’t have permission to tell. Also with regards to the mysteries posed, I very much liked cracking the RAB code in between books when I was younger.

But what were those aforementioned philosophical differences I had with it? Well, this is the book that explores Voldy’s backstory. And while I did like getting this part of the story, I had some issues with it. Particularly in that it makes villainy here a question of nurture vs nature- coming down heavily on the nurture side and forgoing choices altogether. While Tom Riddle Jr doesn’t like to be seen as ordinary, hinting and pride and resentment, a combination of in text clues and Rowling’s view that him being conceived with love potion made him incapable of love, implies that Voldemort is bad natured from the start. I’m especially perturbed that this is a result of who his parents are (ie Harry has nice parents and therefore even though he’s brought up in an abusive household is inherently good; meanwhile Tom Riddle Jr comes from bad stock and is effectively the product of date rape, therefore is bad). It’s also worrying that Dumbledore, seeing the disturbing behaviour of Tom as a child, never acted on that knowledge, merely acted prejudicially and never gave him an opportunity to redeem himself- if nothing else, this is irresponsible. It seems that he too believes that someone can simply be born wicked. This is the crux of my issue with the depiction of Voldemort and I have to admit, I have always been disappointed that a series that started out as being about choices (as clearly defined in book 2) became so definitive in its characterisation of evil.

The reason I did not on balance dock loads of bananas for this was because, while I’m not pleased with this choice, it could be viewed as a somewhat accurate portrayal of a psychopath, particularly in regard to his torture of animals and inability to love. Of course, rather obvious disclaimer here: not every psychopath is a killer and this still does not line up with the reality that “Ordinary Men” are capable of doing terrible things (as described in my review yesterday).

Regardless, I did not find Voldemort the most psychologically interesting baddie in the series. I would have preferred far more complexity or, barring that, for it to have been left ambiguous, because for me the answer to this particular mystery was unsatisfying. Villains, in my view, should provide an insight into humanity and this did not work for me on that front. However, ignoring the notion of Harry’s noble lineage, I think the line “Voldemort himself created his own worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do” provided an excellent link to the hero’s journey. Also, this nice little hint at Voldy’s hubris is a part of his characterisation I can get behind.

One last thing I had trouble with in this book, which will probably get me in more trouble than my view of Voldy, was that I did not buy Hermione and Ron’s relationship. And while I did think it was cute when Ginny and Harry got together, lines like the “monster in his chest purred” were… well I’d rather hang out with a Blast Ended Skrewt than Harry in a romantic mood. And since we’re on the topic, I may as well go in for a sickle in for a galleon, I was meh about Tonks and Lupin. For some reason, the sweetest relationship that I saw was Fleur/Bill.

So what do you think of Harry Potter 6? Are you a fan of Voldy’s characterisation? Let me know in the comments!

The Order of the Phoenix *Just About* Rises from the Ashes

*Or, ALL THE SPOILER WARNINGS, how to get an innocent man killed*

harry potter review

Harry_Potter_and_the_Order_of_the_PhoenixHello all! It’s finally time for my most controversial Harry Potter review. Yup- we’ve made it to book 5 and I’ve so far managed to survive the wrath of fans… but I think this one might just do me in 😉 As I mentioned in my complicated relationship with Harry Potter piece, I have never been the biggest fan of this book (and for those that are gonna get offended by that statement- either muffliato a minute and hear me out or, you know, just don’t read this). Because of that, I was extremely strategic this time round and made sure to read it fresh, at least I wouldn’t in the hope I wouldn’t dislike it as much as I have in the past. And you know what? It kind of worked… kind of.

I won’t pretend this book cast a Cheering Charm over me- especially since you could reallllly feel the length of this one. More of the plotlines felt unnecessary and while I conceptually like the idea of the beginning and end centring on the Ministry, it took far too long to get to that point. It took 20% of the book, which in a book this huge is *150 pages* to get to the school and consequently the actual plot- and the fact that I spent a large amount of time calculating the pages should tell you how bored I got with it. I’m sorry to say this, but some of the fat should’ve been trimmed here.

I also spent most of the book with a mild case of irritation. Part of that came down to the repetitive and pointless conversations about the “secret weapon” that go nowhere fast. So many of the conversations about it just went in circles- which, if you compare this with conversations in the Philosopher’s Stone, where every time Flamel is brought up, we learn something new, made it all the more irksome. Just dropping in the occasional “we still don’t know what the secret weapon is…” doesn’t build the mystery in quite the same way.

Some of this can be blamed on how infuriatingly little Harry is told. For some reason, most of the adults in his life (like Molly Weasley), seem to think the most dangerous thing for a boy that’s nearly been murdered on multiple occasions is… knowledge. WHAT?! This is why I use the term “the Dumbledore” to describe the wizard who refuses to give information for *reasons*. Doofus Dumbledore (yes, I am going there… maybe I should’ve imperio’ed fans not to read this review) doesn’t seem to understand that *truth* is the most powerful weapon (which is funny, cos the whole book seems to be about the baddie *SEEKING INFORMATION, so he seems to get it). I understand that secrecy is important for plot development, but you can still have a character die without it being for reasons this dumb. One of the reasons I think this whole issue comes about is because Dumbledore just knows too much from book 1. I get that this is supposed to be because “he’s the best wizard” and all that jazz, yet it actually comes across as though he’s got far too much power in comparison to Voldemort (which definitely comes out when he whoops his ass in the last fight scene 😉 ). In fairness, a lot of this can be put down to *serious character flaws*– ie Dumbledore is too proud/stupid to tell Harry the truth and Harry is to proud/stupid to go and ask. Which don’t really excuse them- just makes sense.

harry potter how dare you
Pipe down Harry!

Speaking of Harry’s character, this is the HELLO PUBERTY book. And the thing is, I was just coming into that magical time of hormones when I first read this book, and I’m pretty confident to say that it doesn’t get turned on and off like a faucet. Either way, I didn’t like his temper and thought he spent way too much of this book jumping down everyone’s throats. And I know some people are going to say “oh but this reflects trauma”- ermmm no, there’s more to trauma than shouting and the occasional magically induced nightmare, sorry. Also, hitting the CAPS LOCK for paragraphs on end to express anger is annoying.

And since this is a theme, I was annoyed by Ron again (I don’t know why anyone’s surprised at this point, I’ve been saying it since book 1). First of all, why is anyone surprised he gets off from weird trumped up charges at the beginning of the book? And secondly, Ron saying “you always get away with stuff” made me legit yell at the book so do you!!!! I also don’t get why he ever thought it made sense for him to be a prefect– he’s definitely got the same disobedient streak as Fred/George (just to add insult to injury in my criticism of Dumbledore, I’d have just made Neville prefect- cos, why not?)

Okay, you may not think I’m justified in my dislike for Ron, but I think we can all agree that Umbridge is the MOST LOATHSOME Harry Potter character. I HATE Umbridge. I have to say her characterisation, from that early “silvery laugh” is magnificent. But again, it makes me seriously scratch my head at Harry’s actions. I genuinely can’t decide if I admire Harry’s restraint for not cursing Umbridge or wanting to throttle him for not standing up to her more (I probably lean towards the latter, though I understand why people feel the former). At least have the good sense to go to another teacher! I can’t believe that most of them would have stood for it and there were so many ways to catch her out. Evidently, Dumbledore stopped her shaking Marietta- so why assume that they’d let her basically stab children in the hand. McGonagall would have probably stabbed her with the quill if she’d have known.

Incidentally, I’ve been remiss in not mentioning Minerva thus far. She’s one of the few sensible adults in Harry’s life and I just love her “Have a biscuit, Potter” line. Though she’s not the only adult looking out for Harry. For all his rashness, Sirius definitely has Harry’s best interests and *has the most logical views*. There is an ongoing theme in the book of Sirius comparing Harry to James- what’s infuriating in the film adaptation is that he mistakes Harry for his father in his final moments. Which, not only takes the sting out of his death, but also ignores the fact that book-Sirius grows into his godfather role and ends up coming to his rescue in a fatherly fashion. The film version is also poor on multiple accounts, as it ignores the fact that Sirius is basically right the whole book- you’ve got to learn to defend yourself with a sociopathic cult leader on the loose.  

And I know that I shouldn’t have liked it, but I always have fun with the Snape vs Sirius rivalry- honestly, anything that gets us closer to a Marauder’s story makes me happy. Speaking of which, Snape’s memories are *traumatic*- yet again, I don’t like the film’s version, because to my mind neither is the good party- especially in the larger context of them both antagonising each other. Still, even if you want to go with the view that James was the bully… Snape’s basically the equivalent of a racist here, so…

Anyway, this is part of one of the *many* aforementioned subplots. It makes some sense to me that Harry isn’t keen on the Occulemency lessons- given the poor choice of teacher- yet even when he’s given the reasons why, he still has little interest in learning (cos of course Harry knows best…). Honestly, I get the feeling that a longer book just gave Harry more opportunities to be an idiot. And to sulk- exemplified by the fact Ginny has to tell him “hey, no, you’re not possessed” because he won’t leave his room.

What saved the book for me was how much the book picks up from the point when Fred and George stage their epic exit. While I don’t like how we got to the end point and got irked with Dumbledore, I can’t deny that “he’s got style”. I actually liked the addition of Grawp and some of the imagery that came with it. And finally, finally, Hermione gets to play the hero in getting rid of Umbridge!

I have been neglecting Hermione this review, because I’ve been saving this point for the end: Hermione is right- about everything! Well, more specifically that Harry has a saving people thing. Indeed, his hero complex is KILLER- because, frankly, I genuinely believe they all got Sirius killed. And no, I don’t blame him for being rash and going to the ministry to save a bunch of kids- that’s the time to be rash. Not, say, when you’re an arrogant teen that thinks your high school club can save the day without knowing what’s going on. I mean *prepare for some heavy sarcasm* don’t assume that the Order member is putting on an act for Umbridge’s benefit and wait for him to come back. And of course, why don’t you grab that big juicy prophecy while you’re at it?

Nonetheless, I can’t entirely blame Harry for feeling like he’s got no one to help him when all the adults in his life are useless – which is why I say they *all* got Sirius killed. And yeah I view Sirius as a martyr to their stupidity. His death is devastating, not just because he’s a great character, but because, my goodness, Rowling does his death well. He gets his hero’s death, protective to the last, and the grief pours in waves from that point. Other than a brief interlude of CAPS ruining the moment, I’d say this ending is done perfectly. Seeing other people’s reactions and the gradual overbearing weight of it gives the death the space it needs. Indeed, the subject of grief is handled beautifully for much of the series.

There was as usual a lot of set up for later books- especially with the prophecy. I can be iffy about such things, however it was sufficiently vague enough for me to not mind it *too much*. Although perhaps this was down to knowing how things turned out, because in the past that was another sticking point for me. Overall though, based on my enjoyment this time round, I gave it:

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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Phew- I know I probably pissed a lot of people off with this, but that felt like expunging a fifteen year old wound. How do you feel about book 5? Let me know in the comments!

Consumed by the Goblet of Fire

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*Spoiler Line: PROCEED WITH CAUTION*

goblet of fireSo I will admit that I didn’t write as much in the way of notes for book 4, because I was pretty gripped from the start. I know it sets a very different tone, but I’ve always liked that creepy opening and how it builds up the sense that this is going to be a very different book from what’s come before… although not too different, since it’s quickly followed by the humorous introduction of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and then flies into the Quidditch World Cup (who else was devastated that they never included that in the films?)

It’s not all fun and games though and things quickly take a dark turn (one could even say that moment of cheer was just a Wronsky Feint 😉 ) with a hint of all the grim  things to come. I’m talking, of course, about the Death Eaters- I mean, who wasn’t freaked out by them as a kid?!? Or even as an adult?! That injection of terror is incredibly powerful and seeing the mistreatment of muggles is a strong moment in the series, pushing the message of anti-racism very effectively.

I am always impressed with the plot of Goblet of Fire, although I did notice more kinks this time round. For instance, while Barty Crouch is an excellent villain and I love how he outsmarted everyone, I couldn’t help but wonder… how?! I mean, did it never occur to Dumbledore that Harry was put in the Tournament because someone wanted him to win it? Especially as it becomes apparent that he was never in any danger in the first two rounds and he seems to do remarkably well. But I guess child safety is never the Hogwart’s headmaster’s biggest concern and Harry’s happy to throw caution to the wind in an effort to win. Like I said, I really enjoy this plot and the dramatic showdown in the graveyard is dead epic, so it’s probably best not to think about it too much…

That said, Voldy is a moron– Wormtail points out to him that literally any wizard would have done and that abducting Harry seems like a waste of effort- but does he listen to his advisor? No, of course not, he has to go with the convoluted plan and gets lucky that Dumbledore’s not paying too much attention to all the strange goings on at his school. And then when he has Harry in his grasp he goes and gives him his wand back, affording him a chance to escape (but whatever, he’s obviously not checked out Peter’s Evil Overlord list, which Cameron Graham introduced me to yesterday).

Speaking of characters I’m not always so keen on, I liked Ron less and less in this one (sorry!). It started with him being touchy about Harry’s gift (who, to be fair, is splashing the cash about). But then he’s a *total* jerk about the whole champion thing and is the walking embodiment of jealousy… until he can bask in the glory of his friend’s success again. He only takes a break from that to complain about not getting a good enough date to the Yule Ball (just try that irl and see how attractive you are to women).

I’m not exactly under the spell of the romance in Harry Potter– but I have to say that the introduction of Cho Chang as Harry’s love interest is sorta endearing. Sure, it’s stupid and immature, but that’s kind of what you’d expect at that age. I personally think that Rowling got the trials and tribulations of first crushes down to a T here. Even if I think some of the pairings leave a lot to be desired.

Still there are other things that leave more of a sour taste in my mouth– namely that this is the year of the SPEW subplot. I’m not fond of it at all. Not only does it slow down the story and make the book feel a little overlong, but I find it makes Hermione a bit irritating. I get that it’s representing her as a mini activist and so it makes sense that she’s pretty oblivious to what the House Elves actually tell her they want, but maybe she could have just asked. Although, I do think it’s solid character development and ends up being another example of the ongoing Hermione is always right theme in the series. Whatever Hermione says is always a good metric of where the narrative is heading- which is why she gets to have such a central role in the Rita Skeeter plot. And I have to say, while I’m on the fence about some of the other storylines, I’m not even remotely bugged about how that part plays out 😉

Okay, so I know I’ve been hypercritical in this review, but I wouldn’t take it too personally, cos this is still one of my favourites. And like I said at the start, I was too absorbed to take notes (clearly most of what I wrote were all the parts I had a question mark over)Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it this time round as much as I usually do though, which is why I’m giving it:

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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So what do you think of book 4? Am I being a bit harsh? Let me know in the comments!

Captivated by Prisoner of Azkaban

*I solemnly swear that there will be spoilers*

harry potter review

Harry_Potter_and_the_Prisoner_of_AzkabanAlohamora! So I actually read the first three in a row- I didn’t intend to, it just sort of happened, can’t imagine why 😉

The first thing I love about Prisoner of Azkaban is the contrast of the good birthday with the bad birthday in the last book. It shows how well these books are interconnected.  

Like Chamber of Secrets, there’s also a strong connection between the hero’s journey and the villain’s. In fact, in this one I’d say it’s even more pronounced, with the so-called baddie being a troublemaker at school and the added bonus of this being about Harry’s father. From beginning to end, it’s a deeply personal story.

In fact, this book explores his childhood trauma in both explicit and symbolic ways. The dementors, possibly the scariest of all Harry Potter creatures, are fantastic at showing how some people are more susceptible than others (not in a way that shows weakness, but that accounts for differences in personality and experiences).

Speaking of symbolism, I also love the use of boggarts- especially the idea that ridiculing something reduces your fear of it. I think Rowling is exactly right with this perception- it takes things much further than the idea that “Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself”- because mocking something scary reduces the reverence you might have for it. So I do somewhat like how fear his handled here- although I don’t consider it especially wise to be afraid of fear. I know, I’m simultaneously disagreeing with both FDR and Lupin, but given how rash Harry is as a character anyway, someone should have told him that a) there’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of fear if you don’t want to rush in blind to stupid situations (*cough* book 5 *cough cough*) and b) bravery is actually about overcoming fear.

But whatever, that doesn’t detract from how awesome this particular book is. Like the second book, Prisoner of Azkaban beautifully builds on the wizarding world. Best of all is Hogsmeade, made even more satisfying for having to wait for it. And I also love the use of self-references in the writing, like “could have produced the world’s best patronus” when Gryffindor wins the Quidditch final, which is pretty dang cool.

I also loved the characters- both new and old– especially Crookshanks and Buckbeak 😉 Okay, they may be animals, yet they are so full of personality! Plus they serve a great purpose, not only for the plot, but also for Hermione’s increasing interest in activism. Her development as a character takes such an interesting turn and shows what a huge heart she has. Basically, I think Hermione kinda rocked in this book.

Even better than that for me, this book introduces my favourite character in the whole series: Sirius Black. Now, I know this might be a funny thing to say considering I’ve not bothered with any of Harry Potter spinoffs, but I would love a Marauders book (not play/film/slam poetry event mind, a book written by Rowling). I am so emotionally invested in their story and I *adore* how it’s done. It’s why I can never pick between book 2 and 3. As horrible as it is to hear Sirius’ story, it’s also amazingly well done and I don’t think I’d ever have guessed the *plot twist*.

Sirius’ escape is, in the end, bittersweet. There’s a sense of Harry’s hopes of a normal family relationship flying off and my heart aches every time I reread that. At the same time, the book leaves behind the message that Harry has found his father in himself, and that those who are gone never truly leave us. Right now I am typing and retyping this sentence trying to put into words how perfect that moment is and I just can’t do it justice!! I think my feelings around it are something like: awwwww-arghhh-so-good!!

Once again, the book comes full circle, from Owl Post to Owl Post Again, making this structurally flawless. It’s no wonder I flew through it faster than the speed of a Firebolt.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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*Mischief managed!* So what did you think of Prisoner of Azkaban? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!  

(Re)entering the Chamber of Secrets

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*Somewhat spoilery*

harry potter and the chamber of secretsLet’s get straight back into the world of Potter with the Chamber of Secrets. I love the start to this one- specifically because it is so horrible. Okay, that sounds wrong, but the dreadful Dursleys and Dobby’s cruel-to-be-kind schtick always make me feel so sorry for Harry. And while there is a recap, which I’ve never been crazy on, this was such a strong start.

In fact, book 2 takes everything that was awesome about book 1 and builds on it. The details are *amazing*- especially since we get to go to the Burrows and see what a wizarding household is like. I adore the immediate contrast between the rigid order of the Dursleys with the healthy bit of chaos at the Weasleys. Most notably, I love that moment when degnoming the garden is described as “boring work”- which expresses a gulf between what’s normal for wizards and what’s normal for muggles. Plus we get so much more in the way of world building thanks to this visit to the burrows, such as the use of Floo Powder, which ends up contributing to the Harry’s-suspicious-of-Malfoy subplot (I love how he’s both right and wrong on that score).

Everything about this plot is watertight and well thought out. With the introduction of Lockhart, there’s an expansion on the theme of celebrity, which really sets things up nicely for later books. Even more importantly, Chamber of Secrets adds to the topic of discrimination in a chilling way. I know that a lot of people view the later books as much darker, yet for me personally, this one is twisted in a way that makes me somewhat queasy. And normally that would make me dislike a book, but here it only enhances how I feel about it. There’s just something phenomenally on point about a narrative that focuses on the beast in the belly of the school rising up to create chaos (again, thanks Dr Peterson for that). It can be exceptionally fun to do a psychoanalytical reading of the basilisk and the clever messaging of “see no evil” (or at least don’t look directly at it), which it carries.

And as you might have guessed from my last review, I enjoyed psychoanalysing the characters too. A lot of the characters are expanded so well here. One thing that leapt out at me this time was how resentful Filch was because he’s a squib. I did make a note that Ron laughed at him for that- which definitely gives an insight into wizarding attitudes. On the flip side, he does stand up for muggleborns for the whole “mudblood” thing, even though he doesn’t get anything out of it (in fact he gets to eat slugs for his trouble), showing a more noble side. Still, I couldn’t help but love Hermione more for her principled stance in this one, coming up with sophisticated and brilliant plans to take on the heir of Slytherin.

Harry Potter, on the other hand… man, he can be a bit of an idiot. I know it was Ron’s idea to fly in the car, but on one level he certainly likes the idea of getting attention and is a very show-off move. Even if it does look great on the cover of the book, there were far better solutions other than, you know, casually breaking the law for no good reason. This may sound like an odd thing to say if you haven’t read/don’t remember the book, but it’s almost like he’s not smart enough to be the villain. The reason I mention it is because one of the best parts of this one is where Harry spends a huge amount of time worrying if he’s the heir of Slytherin. What I love about that is not just the friction it creates in the story where everyone (including Harry) is wondering whether he’s evil, but how it resolves with him proving his Gryffindor credentials once and for all. Even better, it undermines Voldy’s view of the importance of lineage (in fact, people who’ve read the rest of the series know exactly how it came about), because he has the capabilities to be the heir of Slytherin. And yet he chooses not to- in the wise words of Dumbledore: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”. As far as I’m concerned, this is exactly right and is the perfect messageif only it had stuck with that *sigh*.

But rather than getting bogged down with what is to come, I have to say that this is quite possibly my favourite of all the books (though it’s pretty hard to choose). Yes, it may be spine-tinglingly scary at times, but there’s something to be said for a story that has me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. Frankly, as grim as it gets, it reminds me why nothing makes me happier than books.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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So what do you think of Chamber of Secrets? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one!

Musings on the Philosopher’s Stone

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Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_Cover*Possible spoilers for later books*

As I mentioned in my last post, I had so much fun with this reread! It was such an emotional and nostalgic journey, retracing Harry’s steps from the cupboard under the stairs to Diagon Alley to Hogwarts hero, that I was completely swept up in the magic of it all! Even though I’ve said my relationship with Harry Potter can be quite complicated, if you’re thinking this will be full of serious griping straight away, I’d say you’ll be sorely disappointed with this review 😉 (but also don’t expect pure gush- expecto patronum the unexpected 😉 )

I adore the writing in the earlier books. From the first line, the subtle humour comes across, there are lovely elements of foreshadowing and so much personality in the characterisation. My exact words in my notes were: gosh that’s how you write a children’s book. And while there’s some things I’m not crazy about, like the use of ALL CAPS to express anger (I’m an everything-is-italicised person- JK 😉 ), it’s used minimally in book one, so I didn’t mind it.

Rowling’s precision in this book allows for the most wonderful world-building. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you all about how much I love the idea of owl post or how much I still dream of playing Quidditch (on a broom, not a spacehopper). There are so many glorious details- everything from the Mirror of Erised to the Chocolate Frog cards- that it would be impossible for me to cover everything! Not only is it incredibly vivid, but there’s a trunk load of secrets packed in- it’s no mystery why this captured the hearts of so many children!

Speaking of which, I realised recently how brilliantly coded Harry Potter is and what a master Rowling is at creating a thrilling plot. There are so many hints for things that happen wayyy later in the series- like Sirius getting a mention or Hagrid saying about Gringotts “Yeh’d be mad to try and rob it” (*wink wink nudge nudge*)- which are all that more satisfying for knowing where it’s headed. It’s no wonder I spent so much time between books combing through for hints of what was to come.

This also came into play for the characterisation– for instance there is plenty of set up for Hagrid’s role in later books. There isn’t as much for Dumbledore here- he’s somewhat more distant- but that adds a wondrous layer of mystique to his character. I do question him being careless with Harry’s life, while not trusting him with the truth- but I figure that comes more from my attitude towards him in later books than anything in this book (or perhaps is just more evidence of Rowling’s mastery with foreshadowing).

I absolutely *love* the moment the Golden Trio become friends– it’s probably my favourite part in the whole book. It allows for Hermione’s character to develop *so much* in a really short space and I love getting to know her more here. I’m a bit iffier when it comes to Ron cos I’ve always liked him the least- but I have a good friend (hi Jenni if you’re reading!) who ingeniously broke down why Ron actually makes total sense as a character. She basically pointed out that everyone knows someone who’s basically average across the board and doesn’t really stand out- and personally I prefer that to the “he’s got hidden depths argument”. That said, once I saw him as more of an everyman, I felt a bit freer to think of him in terms of the “Big Five” personality traits (yes I’m a dork- what of it?) and considered that one of things that grates on me is that his disagreeable temperament makes him somewhat rude, but more importantly competitive, which doesn’t balance out with his lack of conscientiousness, consequently leading to his lack of productivity and the development of his resentful side (told you I was a dork 😉 ).

Anyhoo, he’s basically a mini version of his later self- much like Harry. Draco Malfoy’s very obvious goading to go to a midnight duel totally works because he’s incredibly rash and doesn’t think of the consequences of his actions. Incidentally, while Draco comes across as a snotty nosed git here, I have to admit I was pretty impressed with his scheming and love how he used Harry’s weakness against him at the age of 11. I may not be a Slytherin, but that’s smart as hell. And like everything else, there are a lot of clues for later books about things that might cause a problem later on– like the whole subplot around saying Voldy’s name.

In terms of Voldy’s introduction, I have such mixed feelings about the “Dunno if he had enough human left in him to die” line. I mean it’s so awesome in the ahh I know where that’s going kind of way, but it also nods to some of the attitudes towards evil that I had issues with the later books. I did however think the symbolism of killing something as pure as a unicorn only leading to a cursed life was SO PERFECT. I also liked how believable the Dursley’s cruelty was, partly thanks to its specificity. Plus, I loved the obvious (to all of us now) misdirection with Snape- who really does seem irredeemably evil in book 1.

The one real downside for this book is that it’s the one I’ve read the most, so I never get as fully excited about it and always feel a little fatigued by the end. Because of that I have trouble rating it- given I usually give it between 4 and 5, I went for an indecisive…

Rating:  4½/5 bananas

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Phew- first review done! I hope you liked reading it (and I didn’t make anyone too mad with my analysis). What do you think of the Philosopher’s Stone? I’d love to hear your thoughts!