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

Yep, I’m reading the Harry Potters.

Not for the first time. But in a way, it’s my first time, reading them as a teenager.

The last time I read the whole series was second grade. I read the first four in fourth grade for their massive number of AR (advanced reader…it’s a school/vocab/tedious thing) points.

But now…I’m revisiting them.

I’m curious. They’d always been a part of my childhood. I was afraid I wouldn’t like them as a teenager.

But guess what? I do.

Usually for series, I read the every book and then review it together. But since Harry Potter is more widely read than most books I read, I’ll review each book separately. Which opens the door for spoilers. (This will become a bigger deal in the later books. You have been warned.)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is really good. Even with the more middle grade tone of the narrator, I was sucked into the story. J. K. Rowling did a fantastic job introducing the world and the characters. She effortlessly painted the unique characters of the Hogwarts students and built their relationships. The friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione is slow to form but quickly solidifies, setting the stage for the rest of their adventures together. The entire book lures you into the series, making it impossible to not read the rest of the stories.

I read the book in a day, which kinda weirded me out because in my mind they were infamously long (again with the I read them in second grade). Actually, it is a fairly light, enjoyable read. There are middle grade elements, stemming from the young age of the protagonists, such as youthful actions and suspicions, innocent complaining about teachers and the childish ease of friendships. Basically, J.K. Rowling manage to pull of writing a young voice that appeals to older audiences–which is incredible. The MG elements are charming, instead of tedious. They actually helped to draw me into the story. And the young voice promises to mature with the characters, reassuring the reader that the story isn’t actually middle grade, but young adult (YA) waiting to reveal itself.

And now for a comment some die hard Harry Potter fans will probably skin me alive for (and I know, one of my friends already did):

Diagon Alley has a distinct steampunk-esque feeling to it. Not traditional steampunk, but hints of the feeling driving it. And more of the version of steampunk seen in costuming that in novels (because authors today–from what I’ve read–have not figured out this genre yet).

I know J.K. Rowling probably didn’t know about the steampunk  genre when she was writing Harry Potter. I don’t think it was really a anything until recently. But I noticed that they were similar and it added to my enjoyment of the story (cuz I really like steampunk).

Before you yell at me for not understanding Harry Potter…let me explain myself:

Daigon Ally

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) (Screengrab)

A storefront is seen in "Diagon Alley" during a media viewing tour of the set of the Harry Potter films at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Leavesden

reminded me of steampunk in general–old, rusty objects transformed into modern, mystical contraptions

hp steampunk room

hp steampunk arch

And the Gringots scales and carts

hp gringots scales

ph gringots cary

reminded me of the gears/mechanisms involved in steampunk

hp steampunk

 

Okay…so yeah. Diagon Alley=steampunk. Vaguely. And I thought that was cool. Did anyone else get this feeling from reading the books?

 

Off to the next book. I can’t wait.

 

 

Book Review: The Wrap-Up List by Steven Arnston

I would like to preface this by saying: I never do this.

Except that I did.

I stopped reading The Wrap-Up List thirty pages in.

Usually, even if I don’t like a book, I try to tough it out. There have been some books that got really good halfway through and I try to honor that.

But I couldn’t this time.

I didn’t buy the book for myself. I probably wouldn’t have, but it was a gift, so I decided to read it. And then all of this happened:

The world Arnston built was at first interesting but became unrealistic. It wasn’t quite dystopian, but there was a world war around the corner, and the year was implied as to be a few decades into the future. But normal life seemed almost outdated, sort of 2005. COMMIT TO A GENRE, or blend genres well.

Then there was the concept of Deaths and their Nobel Weaknesses. Deaths were creatures that sent a letter to you if you were going to Depart (read: die), and then would let you have a certain amount of time to wrap up your life. You sent them a wrap-up list of things you wanted to accomplish and they would supernaturally help them happen. On the list, you could ask for a Pardon, which would give you a hint to how you could get out of departing–the death’s Nobel Weakness.

At first, this concept was intriguing. However, as I learned more about the Nobel Weaknesses, I started to get annoyed. Each Death’s Nobel Weakness was a form of generosity; the Pardon gave you a clue as to what act of generosity you had to preform and if you figured it out and did it wholeheartedly (or promised to) you wouldn’t depart.

This really bugged me. Sometimes I feel like authors sacrifice their (awsome) plots to TELL YOUNG PEOPLE A THING. There are themes descretely woven into novels, and then there are these books, where the reader is hit over the head with A MESSAGE about life. In this case, it was generosity. But really? You have death deities walking around that could have personalities and good/evil conflicts and a complex riddle for a Pardon that would inspire more good/evil life/death conflicts in the protagonist and you choose–generosity? Seriously? It just didn’t make sense to me and I really got tired of the feeling of an author using their book to shout criticisms at my character (being a “teenage girl” because we all NEED TO BE TOLD WHY WE SUCK). If you don’t mind that (it would probably help if you are an adult) maybe you could have finished the book.

But the biggest issue for me was the voice. I love voice. It is what makes me fall in love with a story, remember a story, recommend a story, reread a story–everything. A good plot without voice is next to useless for me. But this protagonist’s voice confused me. It didn’t feel like a teenage girl who just realized she’s going to die. It felt like a poor attempt to capture that voice. There was no strife. There was practically no emotion. Her actions seemed out of character. Her one girly personality point (a crush on the school hottie) was overdone and heavy-handed and ended up coming off flat and boring. Again, it felt like an adult putting words in a young character’s mouth. She was (in my personal opinion) weirdly patriotic/militarily minded for a teen, Catholic in a tell-young-people-about-God way (as opposed to it actually driving the plot), and otherwise…empty. The only things she ever really said were about the military or about religion, which doesn’t make sense for a teenage girl voice. I’m not saying authors should use the cliche (and horrible) oh-my-god-I-broke-a-nail-ooh-look-a-hot-guy voice for teenage girls. They don’t have to. Other authors hvae figured out how to craft deep, strong, complex female characters that still read as teenage girls (e.g.  Libba Bray, Maggie Steifvater, Rachel Hawkins, Ally Carter, and so many more). But this voice didn’t do anything. She didn’t really have any emotion. A lot of her actions were out of character for a girl her age. And one more thing–I never felt the friendship. This is a book whose plot centers around one girl using her last wishes to help her friends. But in the few scenes her friends showed up–there was nothing. They felt like strangers, or people who had just met. There was none of that addictive, incredible friendship that makes so many other books amazing. This only made the main character seem emptier. From my point of view, her character was a male author’s first attempt at using a female voice, but an author who used the voice to talk about generosity, the military, and religion instead of telling a story.

It could have been done better.

So I stopped reading. Which left me feeling weird. The last time I did that was at least six months ago. I really don’t like doing it.

But (as you can hopefully tell) I didn’t enjoy the book.

(Maybe it got good farther in, but it annoyed me too much before then to get me to it, so I don’t really care.)

So there. Maybe you’ve read this book? Maybe you liked it? Please comment. 🙂

I started reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay in it’s place. I like it so far but it is REALLY LONG and I have a little thing called school on my plate right now. So apologies–no review for a while. I’ll probably come in and review series I’ve already read to keep posts coming.

Book Review: Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead

I read Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series and LOVED IT! (But the movie looks like it pales in comparison, from the trailer I watched). Mead has a talent with world building, going past the obvious physical features of her worlds and characters that most authors focus on and creating a culture for the characters to exist in. (An examples from VA is the concept of blood whores.) This was present in her new book, Gameboard of the Gods.

This book was an enjoyable read. Good characters, conflicts, plot. Mead set up a detailed web of backstories and hidden agendas to last her a long series (something she specializes in). It was a good book, plain and simple.

But some things about it bothered me. From the cover, synopsis, and knowledge of Mead’s other books (which are all YA),  I was expecting this book to be exaclty that: young adult. Mead’s VA series had some sexy scenes, but it was still YA. This book is not that. The characters are in their late twenties and one of the first scenes is them sleeping together. Very not YA. However, the rest of the plot could be YA, and there is even a sixteen-year-old character. Genre-wise, it is on the border of paranormal, dystopian, and fantasy. This was confusing too–I couldn’t decide what it was. Not that books have to fit into a genre–some of my favorites don’t–but this time it didn’t work as well as I wanted it to.

If I didn’t know that Richelle Mead has written at least a dozen other books, I would say that this book was a debut author’s confused first attempt at writing a story, not yet sure what genre or age range she wants to write for. But she isn’t, which makes this even more confusing. I expected something great, which left me oddly disappointed.

Not to say that this book isn’t great. It really is, especially near the end as some of the set-up turns into actual plot. From any other author I would be giving it a stellar review. But I expected more from Richelle Mead.

2014 so far

To get this blog started I thought I would jot down a list of all the books I’ve read so far this year. Reviews and comments on these books will come as I write them. The list is basically in the order I read them, adjusted so that books of the same series are together.

Burn for Burn — Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

When the World was Flat (and We Were in Love) —  Ingrid Johach

More Than This —  Patrick Ness

The Darkest Minds —  Alexandra Bracken

Out of The Easy — Ruta Sepetys

The King of Attolia — Megan Whalen Turner

Blackbirds — Chuck Wendig (book 1)

Mockingbird — Chuck Wendig (book 2)

The Cormorant — Chuck Wendig (book 3)

Under the Never Sky — Veronica Rossi (book 1)

Through the Ever Night —  Veronica Rossi (book 2)

Into the Still Blue — Veronica Rossi (book 3)

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown — Holly Black

Cinder — Marissa Meyer

Daughter of Smoke & Bone — Laini Taylor (book 1)

Days of Blood & Starlight — Laini Taylor (book 2)

Exposed — Susan Vaught

First Comes Love — Katie Kacvinsky

Code Name Verity — Elizabeth Wein

Gameboard of the Gods — Richelle Mead

 

If you’ve heard of any of these books, you know one thing: I don’t stick to a certain genre. Just on this list alone I have historical fiction, contemporary romance (or as I call it Chick Lit), paranormal romance (hold in the shudders, this is better than Twilight), dystopian, cyberpunk, and a lot of things that don’t nicely fit into genres. Sometimes I get in the mood for one thing, but usually it changes every book I read. This blog won’t just be about one genre of literature, though most of it will be YA (young adult).

A few shoutouts before I write up reviews: More Than This is amazing; Code Name Veritywill make you laugh and weep; and the Laini Taylor books are gorgeous works.

 

So that was 2014 January-March. Only nine more months to go!