Return to Hogwarts: Prisoner of Azkaban

Sorcerer’s Stone
Chamber of Secrets

This is one of my favorite books of the series. The things that happen make sense for the most part, they reveal more of the history of Harry’s circumstances, and they set the stage for things to get much, much worse. I love the mystery of Sirius Black and how Remus Lupin helps him. I love the idea of the Marauder’s Map and the magic of Hogsmeade (I gotta get in Honeyduke’s). I love that Hagrid gets to be a teacher in a subject that is 100% in his lane and he picks a book that chomps. This book lets each character shine and really cements who they are and what their purposes are.

There are also less places for me to quibble about in this book. There’s no Harry facing off with Professor Quirrel/Voldemort after facing a magical obstacle course or Harry fighting a basilisk after finding the entrance to a chamber that adults should have found years ago. Prisoner of Azkaban is just teenagers doing teenager things and facing above average danger along the way. It’s a really great story.

It’s also the first time Harry begins to form a found family. There is someone out there that knew his parents and is his godfather and wants to support him, plus one of his teachers ends up being one of his dad’s best friends too. He already has his friends but this is different, these are adults who care about him because they want to, not because they are a teacher or otherwise obligated.

This is also a book where Hermione really shines. Punching Draco, using the time turner, learning so many subjects – this is a book about how essential Hermione is to Harry’s story. Dumbledore absolutely knows how important she is, hence the permission to use the time turner to take more classes to learn more than she normally would. She also comes out of her shell a bit in terms of following the rules. Where before she was a stickler, she’s starting to see that the world isn’t black and white, that sometimes to do what’s right you have to live in the grey.

Ron continues to be the most useless, terrible character in this entire series. He has one bright moment in the Philosopher’s Stone where he’s good at chess (?) but then we forget about that and he just continues to be poor and dumb with very few redeeming qualities. He’s the every man that’s there to ground Harry maybe? Pressure him into just being a normal kid that doesn’t like homework and messes around instead of growing into his birthright as the chosen one and being awesome at everything? I’m not sure, but I’ve never liked Ron and this book did not help his case.

I love this book. I love that rereading it only confirmed that it was one of my favorites. Now onto the largest book in the series and we’ll see if it holds up as one of my favorites as well.

Return to Hogwarts: Chamber of Secrets

HP & the Sorcerer’s Stone (#1)

The movie based on this book is the worst one of the bunch, and I maintain that the book is only slightly better. Similar to the first installment, Chamber of Secrets is a book for young children. Nothing is too scary, the chapters are short and easy to digest, and a very small cast of characters to keep track of.

I’m never quite sure why I dislike this story so much, but I think it lies in the fact that these three young kids are never in class, always looking for trouble, and rarely if ever caught. Why are three young wizards solving the mystery of the Chamber of Secrets right now when even a cursory look at the evidence should have led any of their teachers to come to the same conclusions? Dumbledore at least should know Moaning Myrtle, the ghost that haunts the bathroom where she died and where the entrance to the chamber is concealed. Dumbledore is supposed to be the most powerful wizard and extremely clever – he never thought to ask Myrtle what she saw once he knew she was the girl that was killed? He was there! Not to mention the people that kept being petrified – no one thought to brainstorm things that could cause people to become petrified and then maybe settle on a basilisk as being linked to Slytherin, who even the teachers know created the chamber himself? I just…I don’t know, I feel like asking me to believe that three 11 year old kids would solve all this when the adults around them never even investigated is asking a bit much.

But this is a kid’s book after all, and if I was a kid reading this it would probably inspire me to ask more questions and to want to be smart enough to solve a mystery like this. I think it’s important to view it from this perspective because at this point in the series Rowling is still writing children’s books. It’s problem solving and standing up for what’s right and fighting what’s wrong no matter how old you are, and that’s a good lesson to learn.

I am reviewing it as an adult though, and for me this book is the weakest of the seven. It does introduce the first Horcrux, which makes it important, and for that I give it a pass. On to the next one.

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)

I know, I know, I’m two thousand and late with this one but lately starting a new book I’ve never read has been difficult. I’m re-reading the Harry Potter books and I decided to revisit The Hunger Games trilogy as well. I’ve never actually read Mockingjay (the third book), only seen the terrible movies, and this will be my chance to see if the book is better.

The first book in this trilogy goes so fucking hard. Honestly the speed with which Collins moves you through the absolute, gut-wrenching trauma of this universe is really spectacular. The first chapter manages to familiarize us with District 12, Katniss, her family’s history, her survival skills, her love for her sister, and the 74th Hunger Games reaping all in one short chapter and it’s simply amazing. I’ve read this book before and I was still hooked immediately and couldn’t stop reading.

What I like most about the story is the bright elements of humanity scattered throughout. In the midst of teenagers murdering each other for the entertainment of the entire nation, we still see friendships, empathy, support, grief, and love. I would argue that these elements are made even more stark when staged against the bloodbath and terror of the games. They give you a moment to breathe before you’re watching Katniss or Peeta fight/run for their lives again.

The trilogy as a whole (again, I’ve never read the third book, only seen the movies based on it) tracks Katniss’ journey from having no choice to being able to choose and claim agency. In this first book her survival skills and management of her family’s day to day operations is not her choice, it is essential and necessary if she wants to keep them all alive. Her inclusion in the games may seem like a choice, but again keeping her family alive and safe isn’t a choice, it’s duty to her. There was no other option but to volunteer in Prim’s place. Even in the Games she has no choice but to act like she is in love with Peeta because their “star crossed lovers” routine earns them sponsors and gifts in the arena, and she has promised Prim to try to win. Everything in this first book is something she must do, not anything she chooses to do.

This is a book that speaks to me on many levels. The idea of an obligation being disguised as a choice happens to people who are on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder all the time. Just because we are presented with options does not mean that they are all viable choices we can make. The choice Katniss has between poaching and death, learning safe, edible plants or dying, volunteering for the Games or having Prim go and die – none of these are choices between this or that. They are obvious directives.

Right now we are in the middle of a global pandemic, and school districts around the country are boasting about offering parents a choice: online or back to physical school. Aren’t we magnanimous to offer these options! Parents get to choose what is best for their families! In reality more well-off families, or parents who work from home will be able to keep their students SAFE, while other parents must send their kids back because they have to go to work and while they are given options, they don’t really have a choice.

Even farther down (further down? fuck it, I’m not looking it up) teachers were given options too! Come back to physical schools, teach a combo of online or in-person, or teach online only from home. If none of these worked for a teacher, they could resign, retire, or take a leave of absence. The only trick was that the availability of online only or the combo options depended on the responses from the parent survey. So, for example, if a school had 100% of the kids say they were coming back, no teacher assigned to that school would be able to teach safely from home even if they chose that option. Even if they had cancer. Even if they had asthma. Even if they had any number of conditions. Even if they were simply scared to work in unsafe conditions. Teachers had no choice at all – their preference was left to the mercy of however many kids came back or not.

Is it The Hunger Games? No, but the spirit of the Games is present here in America in 2020. No choice, fighting for survival and resources, and lining up to see the case and death numbers rise without doing anything to stop it. At all the state and federal Capitols they sit in their money and glamour and watch as we fight and try to survive, and it doesn’t even touch them. They have no concept of what living in America costs, whether those costs be financial or emotional, and even if they do they do not care. It’s more entertaining to watch us fight for scraps.

Reading this book right now is so necessary, it’s so relevant. If you haven’t read it before, you should. You might recognize more themes from our own reality than you expect. Go get you some.

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.

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.

The Shadow Glass (The Bone Witch #3)

The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch #1)

The Heart Forger (The Bone Witch #2)

Something that I truly believe about books is that they have the power to grab hold of you and not let go. When I first read The Bone Witch, I thought it was pretty good and returned it to the library. But then my mind kept coming back to it and thinking about what I had read, and then I decided I might as well find out what happened next. I got my hands on The Heart Forger and cried harder than I have cried in a long while after reading a story. These books were so sneaky! How did I come to care about this cast of characters in such a short span of time?

The Shadow Glass moves a lot slower than the other two parts of the trilogy. Tea is often out of sight, and we’re watching her friends try to guess at what she’s going to do next. They all know that she is trying to make shadowglass so she can give her brother Fox his life back and supposedly end all magic forever. Her love, Kaden, is helping her achieve this goal. It’s all pointing toward a huge confrontation with an unknown Faceless. They once thought it was a person named Druj but the major twist of the book is that it was someone they knew all along! In my opinion, it could have been anyone and the twist isn’t as meaningful as the author might have thought? I’m not sure.

I won’t spoil the events leading up to the ending, but I will say that it ends just how you think it might, but with some interesting “what ifs” sprinkled in for good measure. This book wasn’t as exciting as its sisters, but it was a satisfying conclusion to a unique trilogy. If you haven’t read this series, you should put it on your summer TBR. Its a good’un.

Godsgrave (Nevernight #2)

Godsgrave

Nevernight (Nevernight #1)

If you’ve been a reader of AAB for a long time, you know that I tend to like a revenge story. Survival and revenge – the strength and intelligence it often requires a main character to have in order to achieve their goals is inspiring and makes for a good read. Nevernight also set up that assassin school/competition vibe a la Hogwarts for magic, which only added more tastes that taste great together.

Godsgrave takes a bit of a turn, which makes sense given the end of Nevernight. The Church is rebuilding its network, and one of the only remaining secret places in the world with a blood walk is, you guessed it, Godsgrave. Mia is assigned to its new watcher, her old trainer Mercurio, and he assigns her to find and kill a marrowborn woman, and intercept the map that she is scheduled to receive. SURPRISE! It’s Ashlinn and they have a good ol’ brawl during which Ashlinn implies that Justice Scaeva, one of the men Mia has sworn to kill to avenge her family, is a patron of the Church an knows about her and everything she’s been up to. She says that Mia has been kept busy to keep her from killing Scaeva because they are bound by honor to keep him alive because money.

We’re left, as Mia is, to figure out if Ashlinn can be trusted, but in the meantime she talks to Mercurio, who basically says that he doesn’t know about it but that logically it makes sense. He agrees to help her extend her search for the map as a ruse for her actually concocting a plan to murder Scaeva in secret so the Church doesn’t know it was her.

Here’s where the story goes a bit off the rails for me. Also spoiler alert, because I’m just gonna list some story details and roll my eyes while a type.

  1. She sells herself to a gladiator collector in an attempt to get entry into the biggest gladiator battle of the season, where if she wins, Scaeva grants her freedom directly as per tradition, and she can slit his throat when he’s close enough. THIS IS A TERRIBLE PLAN WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING.
  2. She is training as a gladiator FOREVER – I’m not going to lie there are like 150 pages that I skimmed because it was just training – cell – escape cell with darkness powers to fuck Ashlinn – cell – training – cell…you get the picture.
  3. SHE HAS SEX WITH ASHLINN – I just…I can’t. SHE MURDERED TRIC AND RUINED YOUR PLANS HOW WHY WHAT?? These kinds of story twists are what remind me that the characters are like 16 and have no fucking common sense. Her shadows Mister Kindly and Eclipse keep telling her she’s being stupid but she won’t listen – again with the teenager bullshit. In Nevernight I kind of forgot how young she was and this book slapped me in the face with it. Good YA, especially YA that Kristoff has repeatedly said is NOT for teenagers, should have characters that can handle their situations as young adults. Don’t give me a 16 year old protagonist that can’t tell her ass from a hole in the ground, especially after a first book that shows her to be cunning and calculating and powerful.

And I’m gonna spoil the ending for you because I don’t want you to get there and be as mad as I was about the dumb ass twist that throws everything off kilter.

  1. Her brother Jonnen is alive and has been given another name by HIS FATHER JUSTICE SCAEVA because he was basically a baby when everything went down.
  2. She’s told by a fellow gladiator (convenient) that her father was gay and her mom slept around with politicians for influence.
  3. Jonnen is also darkin, AND SO IS JUSTICE SCAEVA and so now her revenge for her parents requires her to kill her real father and she has to deal with that knowledge.

Jesus Christ I cannot with this. There weren’t nearly enough breadcrumbs along the way to lead to this twist. It feels really fucking convenient that she just happens to get put in the same cell as someone who worked with her father during the Kingmaker Rebellion that would know these things. And you can’t let us have one delicious moment, now Mia has to reckon with the reality of who her parents were and how that changes her situation and goals now. It’s too hard a left into a final book of a trilogy and I’m not happy about it.

Honestly for me this wouldn’t change anything. Family is who takes care of you, not who contributed sperm to your egg so you could burst into the world. Justice Scaeva still murdered her parents and stole her brother and brainwashed him – knowing he is her biological father changes nothing.

And Ashlinn better get dealt with. This weird romance thing between them doesn’t make any sense and I still want Ashlinn dead for what she did. I’m hoping Mia has other plans and is just fucking her to keep her thinking she’s close so she can deal with her at the right moment.

I was intrigued, then I was mad, then I was bored but hopeful, then I was shocked and mad that Jay Kristoff thinks he could just throw that many twists into the last 50 pages and no one would be like “WTF Jay, this feels too convenient.” I’m going to finish the trilogy because I bought the gorgeous UK edition and got it signed and it’s just waiting for me to crack open. I just hope that Darkdawn is the finale Mia deserves.

The Queen of Nothing (Folk of the Air #3)

The Queen of Nothing

The Cruel Prince (FotA #1)
The Wicked King (FotA #2)

There are lots of reasons I put down a book. Chief among these are uninteresting characters, slow-moving story, and predictable plot/twists. If my mind begins saying “I don’t care” or “I’m bored” or “Ugh, I already know what’s going to happen” then that’s the clock ticking on a did not finish work. I can usually live with one of these if the others are up to snuff. Characters I don’t care about don’t matter as much if the story is the focus, for example. It is very rare that I open a book and find myself on a fast train to everything I ever wanted with no compromises. Holly Black has brought me three such trains, and I have gladly ridden them to the end of the line, my head hanging out the window of my sleeper car like a dog on its way to the park.

Too many analogies? Who cares, these books are amazing.

Jude is in exile after the crazy events that concluded The Wicked King. She is the High Queen of Elfhame and is stuck in an apartment complex with her half-sister Vivi and her brother Oak, who is in the line of succession. Her twin sister Taryn shows up at her door, begging her to go to an inquest to lie on her behalf because she has murdered her new husband Locke and is forced to stand trial. Jude agrees and returns to Elfhame where her foster father Madoc is making a play for the throne and her husband Cardan is fighting to keep the kingdom intact.

I am in absolute awe of Black’s ability to have so many characters in play all at once and have you care about all of them. I have no trouble keeping track of who is who and where they are from and where their allegiances lie (although that last one can be troublesome). She’s also a champion of intrigue – you will read a mile a minute just to find out what happens next, and then you’ll have more questions than answers but just enough answers to make you feel like continuing is justified because WHAT HAPPENS NEXT GODDAMN.

The ending (which lasts about 50 pages) is too good to give away here, even under a spoiler warning. It’s a lesson in power, relationships, what’s worth giving away, and what’s worth sacrificing. It makes you question whether change or the status quo is more valuable. You’ll ponder the true meaning of trust and love. On the surface this trilogy is a beautiful fantasy story about magic and elves and how humanity interacts with that. Deep down this trilogy is a story about the roots of cruelty, love, and how we can overcome even the darkest expectations that others have for us to carve out a life that we can be proud of.

I love this trilogy, and you will too. Please go get you some.

 

The Guinevere Deception (Camelot Rising #1)

The Guinevere Deception

Kiersten White’s writing is one of my favorite things. Her feminist retellings of old tales and historical figures are enjoyable and instructive. I still owe whoever suggested And I Darken to me an Edible Arrangement. So when I saw the retelling of Arthurian legend in her hands, I preordered immediately.

I have read some of the other reviews that have been published, and I believe that the criticism is well founded, but perhaps too harsh. The story is slow going, and even at the end we don’t know who “Guinevere” is or where she came from, or why two of the most dangerous magical beings (the Dark Queen and the Lady of the Lake) want to get at her and the third most dangerous (Merlin) kept her in seclusion, training her until the time was right. The real Guinevere died and Merlin, who has been exiled from Camelot, put this new girl in her place to marry Arthur and defend him from magical enemies in Merlin’s stead.

We interact with a limited number of characters and while the pace of the book is to be expected given how many people we have to meet and the world-building that has to occur to match our ideas of Camelot with White’s, the action is low-key until the very last 30 pages. Most of it is Guinevere sneaking around the castle dropping knots all over the place because that’s the magic that she knows: different knots for different spells. We see a small romance bloom between her and Arthur, and whispers of a forbidden romance with Arthur’s cousin Mordred, but nothing gets too serious. Lancelot appears as well, but I’ll let you discover that underwhelming twist for yourself. I enjoyed her friendship with her lady’s maid as well as a knight’s sister, Dindrane. The final twist that spurs the fast-paced conclusion and cliffhanger is also painfully obvious, so much so that I actually groaned out loud. Overall the story is well-written, but lacks in the suspense you might expect from a story with hidden identities and magic.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that this book is targeted at a much younger audience than even And I Darken or her retelling of Frankenstein. All of the twists were SO OBVIOUS and the writing seemed to flirt with the edges of middle grade in its simplicity. Arthur is 18 and Guinevere is 16: can an angry angel get a story like this but with the girl at the age of consent at least? That’s what made me feel like this was for a younger crowd, because I know full well that YA can stretch into the late teens, early twenties. Even Sarah J. Maas has her heroines at 18 years old, but to be fair there is so much sex in her books that she would have to make it that way. It was not uncommon for young women to marry that young in these times, so I guess I won’t hold this one against White too much.

I found The Guinevere Deception compelling in the same way that The Song of Achilles and Circe were compelling; it was a good story that didn’t ask a lot of my imagination. I didn’t have to stretch my belief too far because I was already familiar with the story. The new elements added to the Arthurian legend were interesting enough for me to want to know what happens next. I am worried because the second book of any trilogy is usually the red-headed step-child, and with this first installment so slow to bloom, the second book will need to be much more exciting to carry me through to the trilogy’s finale.

It’s Kiersten White, so it’s good, but don’t expect the excitement and fire that we have found in prior books. Bring your patience, perseverance, and fresh expectations so that this will be an enjoyable, if slow, fantasy read.

Ninth House

Ninth House

When I heard that Leigh Bardugo was coming out with an adult novel, the speed with which I pre-ordered Ninth House could not be measured by any mortal instrument. I don’t want to spend my review summarizing what happens in the book, so please click here to read the synopsis.

This book was amazing from start to finish, but I did not devour it quickly. Some spots were so disturbing that I needed a few days to process what I had read. Also it would probably be a good idea to not make this bedtime reading if you value dreams over nightmares.

Ninth House is for desperate women who just need a leg up. It’s for women who constantly get eaten up by and then spit back out into the world. Ever felt like an imposter? Oh man this book will speak to you as well. Have you been wronged by someone, especially physically, and wanted to exact revenge? *tents fingers* Excellent.

The underlying theme throughout this book is that desperate women are constantly used, abused, and put away wet. They are seen as a means to an end, and that the ends justify the means, even if it means the death of girl after girl. Perhaps what I appreciated more than anything is that Bardugo not only illustrates the usual male involvement in this abuse, but also sheds light on how women hurt each other to get ahead too.

Alex is in a world where she doesn’t belong, for reasons that benefit anyone but herself, and yet she tries to earn her place there. For anyone who has found themselves someplace where everyone around them knows they don’t belong, reading the first third or so of this book will put that sharp taste of hope and desperation in your mouth – the thrill of simultaneously having an unimaginable opportunity and needing to prove you deserve it.

When things go terribly wrong only Alex embracing all of the events that have made her who she is allows her to push forward to find justice for her friends and to claim the title of a daughter of Lethe, a defender of the normal against the winds of magic, a knight in shining armor. Even if that armor is tattooed on her body in whorls, wheels, and snakes. She becomes the walking embodiment of the old saying that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…and dangerous.

As I always do when I finish a Bardugo book, I can only sing in my clearest Ariel voice:

source

Please my darling Leigh, I know you’re busy with the Netflix series Shadow and Bone but I’m gonna need the next Nikolai book and the next Galaxy Stern novel stat.

Stat means now. Please.

Love, Amanda.