Return to Hogwarts: Sorcerer’s Stone

The first novel in the series is undoubtedly a children’s book. The chapters are short and simple, the characters easy to remember. The story is easy to follow and the ending is clear and final with a hint of what’s to come in the next year.

I enjoyed watching Harry escape the Dursleys and discover his new world at Hogwarts. His initial shopping trip with Hagrid to get his supplies is always a favorite scene for me, either to read or to watch in the movie. Back to school shopping is exciting, whether it’s in the real world or the wizarding world.

I’m familiar with the troublesome characterizations, especially the goblin bankers. But if I am a young child reading this book, I don’t have a deep analysis of anti-semitism waiting to jump out and criticize this aspect of the book. I’m just a kid in a fantasy world where there are giants and goblins and dragons. Problematic once you realize what it all stemmed from in the author’s mind? ABSOLUTELY. Does a kid realize that? Probably not.

Given that it is a children’s book, I was surprised at how the villain is introduced. Voldemort’s spirit is attached to another person’s body, and he speaks to Harry from the back of their head. Again, as an adult who has seen the movie many times I have a frame of reference. If I am a kid reading this for the first time, I feel like I would have trouble imagining the final confrontation scene without something to go by. I know there are illustrated versions of these books now, but an illustration near this scene would probably do kids a world of good in their understanding of what is happening.

Something the husband complains about a lot and I kind of have to give it to him is the idea of the houses. Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. The house cup idea works and I like that the Sorting Hat lets kids have a say in where they go, but here it’s the issue of stereotypes that raises its ugly head again. If I’m a kid though, I see it as teams. As an adult I see it as “pushy and bold,” “fat with perseverance,” “smart and bitchy,” and “UGLY AND EVIL” and it’s hard to shake that. Every single Slytherin is written as bad and is shown that way in the movies. If ambition and single-mindedness is the Slytherin thing, there has to be a balance in there someplace. And if the house was all evil kids, why not do away with it and stop inviting those kids? Something about this idea seems unbalanced and unfair, and it rose to the fore here in the first book for me.

It’s a cute first book that a kid would be able to read and enjoy. As an adult there’s a lot going on here that is…questionable? but all in all it holds up. Sometimes in society and schools things are so ingrained that it’s easy to criticize from the outside but affecting change from the inside is impossible. I don’t mind criticizing the magical world set up here but I understand that the universe Rowling has set up has been around for hundreds of years and tradition that deep would be defended at all costs, whether right or wrong.

On to the (worst) next one: Chamber of Secrets.

Return to Hogwarts: A HP Review Series

I have no memory of reading most of the Harry Potter books when they first came out. The only one I can remember is that I ordered Deathly Hallows when I was in Arizona, I went to the midnight release, and then stayed up the rest of the night to read it cover to cover. I was only partially on my way to learning that staying up late has never and will never work for me, but that’s a different story.

Lately I have been relying on routine to keep my anxiety at bay. I get up at the same time, I go to bed at (roughly) the same time. I try to keep my mealtimes around the same time every day. When I go to bed I read a chapter of a book and listen to a Headspace meditation followed by a Headspace sleep session (shout out to Night Strings). Predictability helps me stomach the high levels of uncertainty that are waiting for me when the school year finally starts.

I wanted to add a non-screen element to my evening routine, but I didn’t want to read a book that was new or too deep to process when I’m trying to wind down to sleep. I decided that in light of all the J.K. Rowling TERF bullshit I would re-read the HP books to see if they were still good, and decide if I could separate the work from the idiot.

I just finished HP and the Sorcerer’s Stone a couple of nights ago, and I am working on Chamber of Secrets now. I only read one chapter each night and once I finish, I’ll share my thoughts. No set day for them, but when I’m ready, they’ll get posted.

Hideaway

Nora Roberts remains one of my go-to romance authors. Her books are mostly story with the romance being well woven into that story. Other romances I’ve tried seem to be sex focused, which I totally understand, but I’ve always liked how Roberts gives you more than you expect.

This book had a different structure than those I’ve read by her in the past. It was a lot longer than previous Roberts I’ve read too. This book follows Caitlyn Sullivan from her kidnapping at the age of ten, to her early adult years around age 18, to her adult years which I think was mid- to late-twenties if I remember correctly. She journeys through obstacles that ask her to redefine fear, family, and love, so that when she finally has a chance to be with the guy she should be with, she’s ready intellectually and emotionally.

I was surprised that there were very few sex scenes. In a book of this size I expected more, but as the first third was basically her as a ten year old, then the second half was her just out of high school, it stood to reason that you shouldn’t expect hot and heavy scenes until she’s a full fledged adult. Even in the last third of the book we only get two intimate moments, and she wrote such a hot, patient love interest that I could have stood a few more.

The MC comes from an acting dynasty and has a lot of privilege both financially and career-wise, and Roberts addresses that in the book through Caitlyn’s friendships. The first boy she dates is a black man in New York City when she moves there after high school, and he’s beaten on the order of one of her kidnappers who is serving time and using his connections to punish those who were involved with the botched kidnapping and ransom. It’s brief, but the complexity of racism in relationships and in the world at large was dealt with very well.

A theme I love to find in the books I read is the theme of found family, especially if it comes attached to the idea that just because someone gave birth to you, it doesn’t mean you are obligated to love them or even keep them in your life. Caitlyn’s mom Charlotte is constantly being an asshole in this book, and watching Caitlyn slowly let her go is something I really enjoyed.

I am not a big fan of pushy love interests, but Roberts wrote one of the most patient men I’ve ever read here. He’s just doing what he does and when Caitlyn returns to the house in Big Sur where she grew up, he’s already there helping her grandparents, who have connections with his mom and grandmother from when they helped Caitlyn get home safely after her kidnapping so many years prior. He’s also very close to his mom and grandmother, and they all run a ranch/farm/dairy business together and whenever they were all together my heart smiled. Unconventional family themes here too, just a little different but no less fulfilling.

The only area I was really disappointed with was the ending. The thriller side of the story just fizzled out. There was no satisfying punishment or evident resolution of the antagonist, we’re just asked to take for granted that they are dealt with because reasons? All the way up to the last 50 pages of the book you’re like “omg I wonder who is doing this to her (spoilers!) how are they managing it I need to know!” but when you find out who and how you’re going to be like “This feels too convenient” because it is.

Overall it was a heart-warming story/thriller about family, the costs of fame, and how to recover from betrayal. I really enjoyed it and read it in only a few sittings. You should read it too. Go get you some.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

I thought that when I finished Where the Crawdads Sing I had used up my excellent book karma for the entire year. Oh boy was I wrong. Grady Hendrix has spun a yarn here that is so vibrant and arresting that by the end I actually had to go lie down to slow my speeding heartbeat.

I felt so many emotions. Horror and fear of course, but anger at how badly the women of the group are treated by their husbands. The eighties and nineties really suffered from a 1950s hangover in terms of how wives and housewives were treated (although I would argue that married women/mothers are still not treated well or equitably, but this book takes place in the eighties and nineties so that’s the context for now).

I was heartened by how the women supported each other. Whether it was childcare, cleaning, elder care, carpools, you name it and the women were a closely knit team who had each other’s backs.

Hendrix wove racial differences between communities into the story seamlessly. Mrs. Greene, the black housekeeper that the MC hires to take care of her elderly mother-in-law that comes to live with them full time, brings the vampire activity to the women’s attention showing them how the black children were falling prey to him and because they were from the black community it never made the papers and anyone outside the black neighborhood didn’t notice.

First the vampire came for the black children, and the women tried to do something but were thwarted by the men, and so Mrs. Greene was left out to dry, her beliefs about white people reaffirmed.

You will hate most of the men by the end of this, but it will be a hatred of their own making. Everything they do is 100% realistic and you’ll recognize all of them. You’ll be frustrated that the women threaten to break apart because they feel a stronger allegiance to their husbands than to each other. All you will want is for the women to forget about their husbands and get together to destroy this leech and keep everyone safe. I found myself continually returning to the rallying cry of today: Believe the women!!! If only the men had believed them from the start, but then we wouldn’t have been given the entirety of this amazing book.

This is an amazing, original take on the vampire story. If you have the time you will read it in one sitting. I was disappointed when I had to put it down to go to sleep or do other things. If you can stomach a little gore and horror, this is a tale that illuminates so much more than good versus evil and you will want to read it. Go get you some immediately!

In The Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1)

I have been enjoying mystery/thrillers lately and In The Woods by Tana French kept popping up on the lists of best police procedural mysteries so I placed that hold at the library.

The buddy cops Rob and Cassie are super adorable and I loved them immediately. Watching their banter and interactions made me laugh out loud more than once, and it was refreshing to see a true male/female friendship in a book that had no romantic undertones at all. It was more like a sister/brother dynamic if I had to compare it to anything at all, but really they were best friends and good partners.

Aaaand that’s where what I liked about this book ends. It wasn’t enough to keep me reading to the end, which disappointed me because I was hoping to get into this series. Everything took forever to do, almost half the book was just walking around a small Irish town talking to people and it was boooorrrrrriiiiiiing. When I got close to halfway and I realized I didn’t care about the story or what was happening, liking the two main characters wasn’t going to be enough to make me keep reading about the boring things they were doing. This was a did not finish and I was glad to put it down.

I think that Louisa Luna has ruined me for all other police procedurals, so I’ll take the next Alice Vega novel now, thanks. 🙂 But Into the Woods should be skipped. Go read Two Girls Down or The Janes instead if you haven’t yet.