Read, Rate, Review, Re-Read

Melanie, 22, Australia. I swear my mother taught me to read before I could walk. I like reading to procrastinate, and to live in fictional worlds which are so much better than the real one. 

BookTube-A-Thon: If I Stay

If I Stay - Gayle Forman



Brief Background: Mia is a seventeen-year-old, talented cellist who has a promising musical future ahead of her. She has a loving, albeit slightly eccentric family, a steady boyfriend and a supportive best friend. That is, until she is the victim of a horrific car crash one inconspicuous morning. Stuck between living and dying, Mia then finds out that there is a decision to stay or go.


What I liked

1. The social commentary on loss and bereavement: Although I struggled to connect with the protagonist (more on that later), I did find the prose very profound in exploring the way that all the ancillary characters dealt with the death here. The different approaches of Adam, Kim and Mia's grandparents were particularly interesting because they all contrasted with each other. Kim and Gran turned to communication, even where Mia wasn't conscious to respond. Adam turned to music. Kim's mother turned to tears. There were varying ways of coping and grieving with both death and the stress of Mia's condition. 


2. The memories/flashbacks: I loved that this novel wasn't about the here and now. It wasn't purely a commentary on loss, choices, death and dying. It tied in the stories of all characters through the flashbacks and Mia's memories. It developed the characters extraordinarily well and also served to explain some of the character's beliefs and coping mechanisms (i.e. Gran's belief in angels). I like also how the flashbacks served to build the relationships between characters - I particularly liked the development of Kim and her relationship with Mia. 


3. Mia's parents: It was fantastic to see the construction of a family which was loving and whole, yet eccentric and interesting. Too often in young adult literature or contemporaries do we see the broken family trope or the my-parents-dont-love-me trope in order to lend sympathy to the main character. Here, we have a set of flawed, yet very likeable characters as parents, with their own traits. I thought Gale Foreman's characterisation of Mia's father was fantastic. His quips throughout the prose made him easily my favourite character.


What I didn't like:


1. Mia's perception of what it is to live: In many ways, I drew parallels here with another young adult contemporary - Before I Die by Jenny Downham. Now, the protagonist in that novel (Tessa) and the one here are obviously experiencing different aspects of the difference between life and death. Tessa looks forward into the future to her near-approaching death, whereas Mia reflects retrospectively on her life. Yet, I found Tessa's voice and wishes so much more raw and realistic than Mia's and I think that really influenced my ability to connect with the main character here. Both girls are in their teens, and yet to experience much of life. Mia, to me, seems content with the life that she has had thus far. Yes, she has Juilliard, but she fails to see beyond the reality she is currently living. Yes, Tessa looks to behaviours and experiences which perhaps aren't entirely healthy, but it was real. Sex, drugs, boyfriends, travel etc. scream youth to me in a way that Mia didn't. Yes, I realise that perhaps Mia is a different personality, but it just didn't seem realistic that she wouldn't at least reflect on these potentially lost opportunities. She was a bit naive and pure in a way, and such a benign character that I just couldn't relate to her, and thus, felt no real value to her life or death decision.


2. Mia's interpretation of life and death: From the second after the car crash, I struggled to connect with Mia. I think it's the way that she accepted her parent's deaths (in gruesome detail nonetheless) so quickly and really reflected very little on that loss in comparison to other things. Yes, they were rich in her memories, but there wasn't a feeling or connection to loss or very heavy bereavement. Although Mia lamented the loss of Teddy very intensely, I just failed to get the sense that she was really connected to the realities of losing her parents. Instead, she was more interested on her own decision and how her parents were absent from supporting her or being able to make that choice on her behalf.


3. The ending: I thought it was very contrived how Mia was intent on stepping away from life right until the final moment when Adam played her music. Yes, I understand that music was a very important mechanism in the plot. However, to go from one extreme to another in a very grave decision in a split second just didn't seem very realistic. It kind of reminded me of insta love (even though it wasn't insta love), in the sense that the resolution of the complication occurs very quickly, instead of really being built toward. I think the memories could have better supported a plot line which showed Mia gradually growing to accepting one choice over another - not quickly switching her decision at the last minute.


Overall, I think the hype killed the book again for me. This had the potential to be a very poignant novel, however the lack of ability to connect to the protagonist undermined the experience for me. 


BookTube-A-Thon: Crown of Midnight

Crown of Midnight - Sarah J. Maas



The structure of this review is going to be a tad rambly, and I apologise in advance.


wanted to like this book, just as I really, really wanted to like this series. Everyone raves about it across all corners of the internet concerned with reading and books and it just makes me yearn to understand why the Throne of Glass series is so incredible. I had some serious misgivings with the first book in this series, but I'd heard from many a discerning critic that Crown of Midnight was far better than its predecessor. In some ways, it was. But it wasn't that radical, game-changing departure from the flaws that I saw in Throne of Glass which made me push myself to finish it. That was probably the most disappointing part of my reading experience - although I can appreciate the good parts of this book, I just can't understand what makes some people froth at the mouth over it.


Let's start with the fact that I consider myself to be a very good Mary-Sue spotter, and all through Crown of Midnight, I saw a serious Mary-Sue arising. Yes, although I admit I like the fact that Celaena is a kick-ass, bad-girl heroine, she is far too good at everything (and far too attractive to all male characters) to be safe from the Sue-label. Add in the fact that on the front of the American covers, the cover art model looks uncannily like Sarah J Maas and you have all the elements for suspecting that something could be afoot in the protagonist's characterisation.


One of my major gripes with Throne of Glass was that the reader was constantly being told how Celaena was so good at killing, and yet, she barely killed anyone. Celaena loved to tell us how amazing she was at being Ardalan's assassin, and yet, we never got to see her skills. At the beginning of Crown of Midnight, with the confession that the protagonist has been helping her would-be kills escape, I internally groaned at the thought of having another round of arrogant-assassin-who-never-assassinates. Yet, Maas actually showed us that Celaena lives up to her killer instincts in this book. She is a talented murderer, and although it can edge into the distasteful at times, it lent the prose and characterisation the authenticity it lacked in ToG. Big tick here.


The first half of the book I found dreadfully slow. The point of the narrative was lost on me as the main arc was thrown in amongst the tedious love triangle trope that seems compulsory in all YA fiction. Although I didn't care much for Chaol in the first book, I found him slightly more than one dimensional here. But it still wasn't enough to make me a) like him or b) feel at all drawn to the romantic relationship between him and Celaena. I didn't care if they had sex, it slowed the story down, complicated the plot which became stagnant and made me yawn. Celaena, as we have established, is a badass female. She don't need a man, honey. Why bog her down in this unrealistic relationship? And why make Chaol's one really good character attribute (his loyalty) seem very flimsy as he switches his previously narrow-minded, no-questions-asked loyalty over to a girl he previously showed very little affiliation for in a matter of weeks/months? Does it take that little to stray the King's captain? Maybe the castle is built on sand rather than glass.


Once again, Maas' world-building is fantastic, and with the expansion of the reader knowledge into the background of Ardalan, the surrounding territories, the Fae, the witches and the Wyrdgate, I found myself very much more invested in the second half of the book than the first. The pacing was much better here, the emphasis on the brutal killing, the mystery and the passion behind each of Celaena's decisions. I liked the dual narrative with different character POV's. I loved looking into the King's eyes, even just for a few pages. I found myself surprisingly drawn to Dorian's perspective and his relationship with magic. 


Speaking of characters, why why why why did Nehemia have to be killed off? She was undeniably my favourite and most interesting character. She was ballsy and beautiful, and wasn't afraid to tell it like it was. She felt like a guiding presence, and was the one character in this book who seemed to be able to put Celaena in her place. Unbridled by Nehemia's influence, Celaena became increasingly Sue-like...


Which is where we end this review. My fear that, as the story progresses, we will engage a growing Sue with more power and influence than ever before. I'll admit, an unrealistically drawn character is more than enough to stop me from reading a series. Which is partially why I am so confused why I want to pick up Heir of Fire. I think it must be the plot (which is actually very good) and world building. I want to see what it's like outside of the castle and the city. I want to travel across the water and see Maas do what she does best, and expand her already fantastic world. However, one cannot deny that Celaena is getting a little bit unrealistic. 


So first, she's stunningly beautiful (from the very start despite coming out of the mines of Endovier and apparently looking like a sack of bones). Every male character bar the king and his right hand men seems to fall head over heels for her (despite her lethal capabilities). She's a talented assassin who can take on pretty much any adversary in any number and kill them. She can go through a laborious battle in two different dimensions and come out of it with enough energy to track down and kill another assassin with similar talent and skill. She is a powerful Fae. She is also the lost Queen of Terrassen. She cares for animals even where she should realistically be thinking about saving her own skin. She can work out complex riddles to find objects which barely anyone else has managed. She can open portals with her knowledge of the Wyrdmarks which she learnt in a very short amount of time. She is inherently "good" despite killing so many people (because she only kills when she has to and everyone she kills is "evil"). She manages to find secret places in the castle which apparently no one else has managed to find without help even though she's only been there for a comparatively minuscule amount of time.


I know it fits well within the plot, but still...can we not see how the author has given the main character a bunch of very desirable and powerful traits, whilst giving her very few weaknesses? Yes, Celaena is vain and arrogant, and she does misunderstand the power of opening the Portal. But alongside all of these good and powerful traits, do these flaws really create a realistic character? I'd argue not.


I really would love to see the emphasis switch to Dorian who has just revealed himself to have magical ability. I think that it would be very refreshing for Celaena to just calm down a bit with the amazing character traits and let someone else jump into the spotlight. Like mate...I know you're the protagonist, but it gets boring being so perfect, right?


I probably will pick up the next book, purely because this world and plot has piqued my interest. But I probably won't buy it just in case I can't stand the Sue which may lie within its pages.

BookTube-A-Thon: Stolen

Stolen: A Letter to My Captor - Lucy Christopher



Brief Background: Gemma is a sixteen year old British teen, kidnapped by Ty, a young adult who has stalked her since her childhood. Taken to a particularly uninhabited area of Australia she is faced with the possibility of no escape and living forever with her captor. This book, written as a letter from Gemma to Ty, explains the complexity of emotion dealing with such horrible circumstances. 


What I Liked

1. The second person narrative - written as a letter from Gemma to Ty, this book feels so raw in it's form. The writing style is perhaps a little too complex for a girl of sixteen, but you can almost forget that because it is so beautifully constructed. The prose is reflective, emotional and very touching in a very weird way. The feelings that Gemma has for Ty, despite the clearly disturbing nature, are spilled out onto the page in such an eloquent way, that coupled with the use of 'you' and 'I' feels like she really pours her heart into this letter. The letter format also meant this had an air of 'stream-of-consciousness' about it, which surprisingly, didn't bug me. The lack of chapters actually assisted the flow of the novel, and there were sufficient page breaks to avoid the prose becoming convoluted.

2. The emotional manipulation - Lucy Christopher very cleverly uses the second person narrative to sway the reader into feeling something for Ty. He's clearly a very disturbed individual, and yet, it is easy to fall into the trap of sympathising with him as the book goes on, much in the same way that Gemma's feelings toward him begin to develop. Although personally I never reached the stage where I believed that Ty and Gemma should be together, I nonetheless had the feeling that Ty didn't deserve the ending that he got - until I realised that this entire book is built on manipulating the reader's thoughts much in the same way that Gemma's are. The fact that Ty lead Gemma to believe certain things about her friends and her family was mindboggling because, right until the end of the book, I (as the reader) also took them to be fact. But then, thinking back, you realise that Ty could have lied about any of that, and (as this book is written from Gemma's perspective) there is no way of testing the veracity of those claims. It is very cleverly written in this regard.

3. The setting - although there were some things that I didn't like about the setting (see below), the fact that it was in Australia was beautiful. The use of the red, raw desert mirrored the desolation and hopelessness that Gemma feels. It mirrors the isolating nature of being captured and taken away from everything that she knows. The spiritual context and the use of indigenous culture, as well as the natural elements of sun, sand, animals and earth were very beautifully encapsulated by the prose. It was a familiar setting for me, and I enjoyed that.


What I didn't like

1. The setting - although I loved where the book was set, I didn't like the common misconceptions of Australia thrust into it. Although obviously the isolation and existence of poisonous creatures was crucial to the plot-line, I feel like this is so over represented in everyone's expectations of Australia. Yes, a lot of this country is desert and virtually uninhabitable, and yes, we have poisonous snakes and spiders. But this land is so much more than that, and although I think the indigenous culture was well used to represent the sacredness of middle Australia, the novel did feed into certain preconceptions that so many foreigners have about Down Under. Additionally, there were some things which the author perhaps didn't research adequately enough which irked me. For example, we don't have a High Court in Perth (or anywhere else in Australia other than Canberra), so Gemma's trial would have been in the Supreme Court of Western Australia. 

2. The implausibility of the circumstances under which Gemma was stolen - If we think about the strictness of airport security, particularly in Australia, the possibility of getting a young, virtually comatose girl in and out of international border patrol is virtually nil. In Australia, we have extremely strict border control and customs owing to the fact that, as an island, the possibility of keeping dangerous diseases and pests out of our country is much better than countries which aren't. We additionally have very, very strict migration regulations (a bit of a sore point at times but nonetheless true). Even as a British citizen, Gemma would have been subject to questioning at the border as a foreigner. If she was drugged, there would have been very little possibility of her being able to answer these and slip past. Although I overlooked this point as it was crucial to the plot, its implausibility did irk me right until the end of the novel.


Owing to these last two points, I think I had to knock a very strong contender for four stars down to three and a half. Without the implausibility part, it could definitely be higher rated purely due to the beautiful and addictive prose. I found this very hard to put down, which for someone who isn't usually a fan of young adult or adult contemporary pieces, was a rarity. I would recommend this book, but perhaps make sure for the next couple of days you don't venture out of the house alone, because it does tend to creep you out a bit.

BookTube-A-Thon TBR!

I definitely shouldn't be taking on another readathon but oh well, it's happening.

August 3rd - August 9th


1. A book with blue on the cover

The Tales of the Beedle and the Bard.


2. A book by an author who shares the same first letter of your last name

The Course of Honour - Lindsey Davis.


3. Someone else's favourite book

Alif the Unseen - G. Willow Wilson - I'm not sure if it's my friends favourite but she did give it to me to read and I feel like I should read it now.


4. The last book you acquired

Crown of Midnight - Sarah J Maas.


5. Finish a book without letting go of it

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - Newt Scamander


6. A book you want to read

Stolen - Lucy Christopher


7. Seven books

If I Stay - Gale Foreman


I think I've got a good mix of historical fiction, fantasy (read: JK Rowling), contemporary and popular books. I'm excited to read all of these and I think most of them are short enough that I can whip through them in a day! 

Happy Birthday Harry - July Reading Challenge Wrap Up

In honour of my recent re read and Harry Potter/JK Rowling's birthday, I thought it would be appropriate to finish off my little series of reviews with the Ultimate Harry Potter book tag - courtesy of WhyMermaids on youtube.




Favourite Book

Would have to be Deathly Hallows, purely because I love how it ties the whole series together. It answers so many open ended questions and finishes the series off so beautifully. I loathe that so many of my favourite characters died, but in the end, I think JK Rowling did what was best for the series and made the danger/sacrifice element a lot more believable by doing so. After re reading the series, I have such a renewed appreciation for all the books though; it's difficult to say they're not all my favourite.


Least Favourite Book

A bad Harry Potter book does not exist! I don't think I could possibly write one of the books off as my least favourite so I think I'm going to have to say: Philosopher's Stone. Before you come at me with pitchforks and torches blazing, I say simply because it's not long enough and I want more of magic that the first book brought everyone - the introduction to the wonderful world of Harry Potter, Hogwarts and magic.


Favourite Film

As much as I adored Prisoner of Azkaban (marauders yay! Sirius yay!), I would have to say that Half-Blood is my favourite. It has some amazing comedic relief despite the dark tone of the books. Also, Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) does an incredible job with the character development in this film; the film makers really hit the nail on the head with his casting. 


Least Favourite Film

Definitely Deathly Hallows: Part 2. I know, I know, it was epic and the cinematography was amazing, but you'd think by splitting the last book into two movies they could have included a bit more of the Dumbledore backstory! I really didn't like the Battle of Hogwarts (I mean WHAT, Harry and Voldemort clinging onto each other in a weird hug zooming around the castle in the middle of the battle?) it wasn't true to the book at all in some respects and I just didn't think it did an amazing final novel the justice it deserved. I mean come on! Deathly Hallows would have been an incredible movie with its original battle scenes! 


Favourite Quote

Anything by Albus Dumbledore. Probably: "There will come a time where we must decide between what is easy, and what is right." I do also love the motto for Ravenclaw - wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure because I do think that's a truism.


Favourite Weasley

Fred and George definitely. I couldn't choose between them.


Favourite Female Character

So many incredible female characters to choose from! I think Hermione would have to be my favourite, not only because I can relate to her extremely well, but because she is so beautifully created and developed as a character. I love her intelligence and how she's not ashamed of being smart or bookish. 


Favourite Villain

I would say Draco Malfoy, but I just don't think he's bad to the bone enough to be a villain. I would have to say Bellatrix Lestrange. So crazy, evil and dedicated to the cause it's creepy. You can't help but sort of be in awe of her.


Favourite Male Character

Harry. Before my re read I definitely would have said Sirius, but I think I have a renewed appreciation for Harry after going through the books again. He definitely has some serious flaws, but in the end he develops from child to angsty teen to mature leader so well I can't help but feel so attached. 


Favourite Professor

Lupin, for sure. No need to explain why, Remus Lupin is so awesome.


Would You Rather: Wash Snape's Hair Or Spend A Day With Lockhart?

Wash Snape's hair. He's a greasy git but at least I'd be doing him a favour. 


Would You Rather: Duel An Angry Molly Or An Elated Bellatrix?

An angry Molly. I think if you didn't threaten her family, she'd actually have mercy.


Would You Rather: Go To Hogwarts Via Flying Car Or Hogwarts Express?

Hogwarts Express definitely! 


Would You Rather: Kiss Voldemort Or Give Umbridge A Bubble Bath?

Give Umbridge the bath so I could drown her at the same time.


Would You Rather: Ride A Broomstick Or A Hippogriff?

Broomstick! I want play Quidditch!


Is There A Character You Feel Differently About In The Movies?

Definitely Dumbledore. I feel as if the Dumbledore in the movies is less flawed than the Dumbledore in the books and I sort of like him less for it. The movie Dumbledore is very commanding and almost angry in some ways. I love how the book Dumbledore is calm, collected and not afraid to show emotion. He is a very flawed character and that makes him realistic and relatable. 


Is There A Movie You Prefer To The Book?

No way.


Richard Harris Or Michael Gambon As Dumbledore?

Richard Harris - He was far more true to the Dumbledore I envisioned in the books.


Top Event Or Person You Wish Was In The Movies?

More Dumbledore backstory! More Fred and George! More marauders! More everything!


If You Could Remake Any Movie Which Would It Be?

Deathly Hallows! Especially the battle of Hogwarts!


Which House Did You First Feel You Would Be In?

Ravenclaw, because I value intelligence so highly and I also think one of my greatest flaws is being a bit too superior and sanctimonious. 


Which House Were You Actually Sorted Into?

Gryffindor! Which was so weird because I thought if not Ravenclaw, then definitely Slytherin because I am fairly resourceful and career driven. So being in the house with the brave at heart, I was very shocked!


Which Class Would Be Your Favourite?

Charms or Transfiguration. 


Which Spell Do You Think Would Be Most Useful To Learn?

Expelliarmous! So useful for getting rid of your opponents weapon! Or Finite Incantatum to stop any of those nasty spells carrying on forever. Or Stupefy. I can't choose.


Which Character Would You Instantly Be Friends With?

I would love to be a marauder. Imagine having James, Sirius and Remus as mates - you would have the best time at Hogwarts. Never a dull moment!


Which Hallow Would You Want The Most?

The cloak! The wand is too dangerous and the stone only really temporarily brings back the dead! The cloak is definitely the most useful and safest Hallow.


Anything In The Books You'd Change?

The epilogue. I don't love who the characters all ended up with. I also would change the Ginny/Harry relationship because I think it's possibly the only thing in the books which is a bit contrived.


Favourite Marauder?

100% Sirius Black.


Which Character Would You Bring Back To Life?

100% Sirius Black. Although, Fred comes a close second.


Hallows or Horcruxes?

Is this a joke - Hallows of course.


HBH: Part 7 - Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré

Disclaimer: Were it possible to give a book more than 5 stars, I would have done it for this one. This is not only my favourite series of all time, but my favourite book of all time. I have therefore been rendered completely incapable of even structuring a proper review or commenting about literary devices or character development coherently. It is really just a collection of thoughts regarding how amazing Harry Potter is and how much I adored (and still adore) Deathly Hallows. Aside from the epilogue. Because Harry never ended up with Ginny in my mind ;)


The the most highly anticipated book of my childhood, and arguably most people's childhoods (for those born in the late 80s or 90s at least), Deathly Hallows was the one which ended it all. Up until the start of this book, there were so many unresolved questions as to the nature of Harry's power, how Voldemort could possibly be defeated without Dumbledore around, and what would happen to all our favourite characters (with the knowledge that at least some of them probably wouldn't make it to the 607th page). Here, JK Rowling (in my mind) resolved so many of those questions by tying up an entire seven book series in a way which was neat, premeditated and meticulously planned. 


I hear you nagging critics, yes, for the first half of this book there is quite a bit of camping. But it isnt boring, because it's packed full of character development alongside gripping side trips to Godrics Hollow, Malfoy Manor, the Ministry of Magic and Gringotts for Merlin's sakes. The planning, the trials, the tribulations of the golden trio as they venture into the dark world of magic under Voldemort's control are not only action packed and absolutely thrilling, but are cleverly planned. There is no question that although the best laid plans never seem to go the right way, JK Rowling has an explanation for how Ron, Hermione and Harry manage to evade capture. And yet, they don't even always evade capture. Sometimes they stuff up (when Harry broke the taboo I hit myself on the head multiple times - stupid Harry!) and they pay a heavy price. The stakes are far higher now, after all. I love that the trio, although ultimately successful, aren't bulletproof. They make mistakes, they abandon each other, doubt each other and argue incessantly. And yet, they make it work because they are fighting for far more than their own safety or well being. They are fighting for the ideological belief in freedom and equality, and I think that message goes far beyond just a fantasy world of magic.


One thing I loved in regards to character development in Deathly Hallows was that all major characters were faulted. Dumbledore took a significant topple from his pedestal in this book with the revelations about Grindlewald, Ariana and Aberforth (both the true and the fictional). He is revealed as far from the perfect, guiding mentor which he had been built up to represent in previous books, and when Harry and him meet in what Harry perceives to be Kings Cross, we see for the first time a meeting of equals. Harry is, in some ways, far better a man than Dumbledore. Yet, it is through Dumbledore's mistakes that we see his true wisdom - learning from his mistakes and his application of cool logic and magnificent emotional intelligence in reading others. These qualities portray him as the true leader that he was, and yet, his imperfections bring him down to a level which the reader finds much less intimidating and in a way, far more likeable.


Another example of faulty characters is Ron, who abandons Hermione and Harry on the quest. His hot head and under exposure to hardship leave him temporarily cast off as a weak character. However, Ron's redemption was in his desire to return, see his mistakes and rectify his shortcomings. In the end, he appears just as valiant and brave as Hermione and Harry in the defeat of Voldemort.


Another theme running through Deathly Hallows (and the series in general), is the idea that very few of us are bad to the bone, and that in the most cases, dark and light exist in everyone. A clear example of that here is the Malfoys - clearly on the wrong side of the fence with their loyalties, they begin to understand the ramifications of the choices they have made, even if it is mostly due to their own fall from grace. The familial relationship which bonds the three however, set them as redeeming in their own way. Despite their chequered history, the power of love still exists in Narcissa, Draco and to a lesser extent, Lucius. This enables them to be set apart from characters such as Voldemort and Bellatrix, who have seemingly lost almost all ability to empathise, love or relate to others.


Again, JK Rowling shows her proclivity for empowering female characters by her choice of Harry's unlikely allies. If not for Narcissa's desperate desire to protect her son and risk her own safety at the expense of it, Harry would not have been able to return to finally vanquish Lord Voldemort. It is again, a woman who appears as a quasi-hero. Interestingly, it is also a very flawed female character who does this. Rowling also displays that despite women such as Narcissa and Molly fulfilling day to day duties as housewives and mothers (as compared to Aurors, Ministry officials or other "powerful" figures) they nevertheless harbour the power and strength to do extraordinary things which change the course of the entire plot. Despite the protagonist being a male, the Harry Potter series has its foundations firmly set by the women who support it. Molly, Lily, Hermione, Minerva, Tonks and now Narcissa are just a few of the powerful female influences and game-changers.


We couldn't talk about Deathly Hallows without speaking of the Prince, and his backstory which takes centre stage in some ways. The story of Snape, his enduring love and ultimate sacrifice may seem convenient to some critics, but really ties in a lot of the open questions regarding his true nature and loyalty. It explains the open disdain for Harry, and yet an overwhelming commitment to serving the light.  Snape is more than redeemed in Deathly Hallows, but is revered. The hero without the acknowledgement that he truly deserved, and potentially the most tragic figure in the entire series.


If you truly love Harry Potter, I bet you will/have cried reading this book. It is full of death and loss, as well as redemption and love. It has to be at least the 20th time I've read this book, and yet, I can't hold back the tears for Dobby. It's an example of how poignant this book truly is as the end of the series. The death of some of the best characters are so tragic, but in some ways necessary. There couldn't have been a war without loss and I have to admit, I kind of liked how the marauders were all killed off by the end - it gave a sense of finality and progression (although I did really love Lupin and if JK had never killed Sirius off I would have been far less emotionally traumatised). 


Finally, you can't review this book without talking about the Horcrux hunt. Clever, thrilling and impeccably tied into both Voldemort's personal history and the history of Hogwarts, this was an enthralling aspect of the book. I loved the links to the houses, the introduction of the Hallows and the tale of the three brothers. It was absolutely beautiful and very creative. Although I had always suspected Harry would be victorious, I would never have guessed, even halfway through the final book, the reasoning for his victory. The story was woven with the utmost care and consideration and I think that fact alone will will always stay with me. Rowling is the master and this really is a masterpiece.


And so, the day before Harry's (and JK Rowling's) birthday, I have completed my re-read of the entire Harry Potter series. Happy Birthday to the boy who lived! I have thoroughly enjoyed this re read and I hope to do it again at some point because it really got me out of a reading slump and back into the best fictional world ever created (in my humble opinion). 


*Ten million stars, and I hope anyone reading this has enjoyed it as much as I did*



HBH: Part 6 - Half Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré

Disclaimer: If you want a real, (relatively) unbiased, critical review, wait until I'm not writing about my favourite series of all time. 


The book which spawned my favourite film, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is fantastically refreshing considering that it's the sixth book in a series. Despite the undeniably darker tone of the last three books, this one stands out to me as one of the more enjoyable, not just because it uses snarky, well placed humor, but it's also full of relationship development and sees a lot of ancillary characters come into their own. The overarching guidance of Dumbledore begins to strip away as we see Harry begin to realise his own destiny as the "Chosen One." Additionally, the plot line of the Half Blood Prince runs delightfully parallel to the Voldemort-is-rising arc, but gives the book that youthfulness associated with attending school and continuing educational development. By contrast, the events in the Deathly Hallows seem very much more mature, and I believe it is that linkage to school-days which Half-Blood successfully ties in with the wider plot lines.


Carrying on from the misgivings Dumbledore reveals in the end of the Order of the Phoenix, this year at Hogwarts sees a closer mentor relationship evolving between Harry and Dumbledore. It appears now that Harry is growing more emotionally mature and aware, and Dumbledore fosters this by letting him engage in the theories he holds about Voldemort and his past. Worlds apart from the relationship we saw in the first four books particularly (which was one of teacher/student and very much bent on protection and nurturing), we now see Dumbledore treating Harry as almost an equal, in the sense that even the conjecture that Dumbledore has regarding the Horcruxes is not withheld from Harry. We know, of course, that there is more to the story that Dumbledore doesn't let on in this book, but it still shows a marked development in their relationship, and really binds Harry as "Dumbledore's Man." Additionally, this engagement gives off the notion that Harry is succeeding Dumbledore as the vanquisher of Voldemort. Through Dumbledore's tutorship, Harry is being adorned with the weapons which will enable him to take on the Dark Lord after his departure from Hogwarts.



In terms of emotional development and maturity, we see two very stark contrasts appearing in this book. Harry, who spent most of the Order of the Phoenix struggling to close his mind, control his emotions and being tortured by Umbridge due to his frequent angry outbursts, turns a corner here. Harry is a great deal more mature here. He doesn't take Snape's bait when he is forced to do detention looking through his father's files or when he is late to the start of term feast, he doesn't lash out at his friends when he feels the slightest bit misunderstood, and he doesn't appear to be as concerned with what others think of him (i.e. taking Luna to Slughorn's Christmas Party). He is, in turn, given far more respect and spoken to more openly by his elders and teachers, and even manages to strike up a relationship with Ginny, miraculously without offending Ron (whereas he was virtually incapable of speaking coherently to a girl in book 5). 


By contrast, we have Draco Malfoy, a character who has seemingly had a personality transplant from Order of the Phoenix. No longer the cocky, arrogant and proud figure he cuts in the first five books, Malfoy now suspiciously draws back into the shadows. He is given a task which he is incapable of successfully carrying out, and it takes its toll on his demeanor. Unpredictable, depressed and conspicuously absent from many of the day-to-day activities is a remarkable change for Draco, who usually appears as the relatively benign (although annoying) antagonist. Unlike Harry, who has gained the respect and trust of others, Draco is shown at the very first part of the this book is mollycoddled by his mother and Madame Malkin against his wishes, before being tailed by Snape, and then later taunted by the Death Eaters. His mission is clearly designed not to assist his development but to punish his father.Voldemort, a serial loner and uninterested in the development of others, shows Draco a very different leadership and mentor-ship than Dumbledore does to Harry and it makes for a fantastic contrast, building elements of all four characters. 


In terms of character development and backstory, surely the most interesting would have to be that of Tom Riddle/Voldemort. The delving into various memories regarding the man who would become the Dark Lord is a fascinating venture, and absolutely crucial for peeling back the layers of fear surrounding him. The memories of Riddle as a child display his tendencies for being alone, his firm belief that magic could cure all (and conversely, that anyone who was prone to human weakness or mortality lacked magical power) and his overarching fear of death. He is shown to be cunning, uncannily intelligent and goal-driven, skills which proved to serve him well in his ultimate pursuit of power, and to master his own human fragility. And yet, we begin to understand what Dumbledore is on about when it comes to Voldemort's weaknesses - he underestimates others, particularly those whom he perceives as beneath his skill and intellect. He is incapable of opening himself up to others, meaning that he can never develop real relationships or true friends. He consistently fears his own weaknesses, that he is human, that his body can be destroyed, and that he could be rendered weak.


The power of words is also incredibly potent as a theme throughout this novel. The use of names - Tom, Voldemort, Riddle, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and the Dark Lord all refer to the same individual, and yet it is indicative of power relationships between him and all others. Fearing normality and mortality, Tom Riddle rejects his name as one which symbolises not only his muggle father, but because it isn't "special" and that "there are a lot of Tom's." He clearly has a desire to be extraordinary, since being ordinary is something which ought to be feared. 


Dumbledore, who doesn't fear Voldemort and in fact, even in death, is revered as being a greater wizard, calls Voldemort by Tom Riddle - indicative of the power relationship between them. On multiple occasions, he refuses to call Voldemort by anything else, and thus solidifies that power play with what Voldemort perceives as open disrespect. Harry, who doesn't fear Voldemort, but nonetheless lacks the power relationship that Dumbledore has over his foe, calls him by his fashioned name - Voldemort. His peers, who fear Voldemort and feel as if they have to (in fear) respect his power, refuse to say either his real name, or his fashioned name. Finally, those who revere and worship, call him the Dark Lord - a clever play on perhaps a quasi-religious zeal which his followers afford him.


Ginny enjoys a great deal of character development in Half Blood Prince also. Refusing to let her older brothers dictate her relationships with others, she emerges as yet another finely crafted female figure. Loyal and self-aware, Ginny seems far more mature than her age suggests, and perhaps this decisiveness is what Harry finds attractive in her. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to buy the Ginny-Harry relationship - predominately because prior to this novel there was really no romantic ties to Ginny at all, Harry thought nothing of her when he was chasing Cho Chang, and little attention was paid to her character aside from the role of damsel in distress in Chamber of Secrets. It sort of appears out of nowhere, the feelings which Harry suddenly suffers in relation to his new girlfriend - jealousy, anxiety and affection seem a little contrived and it's possibly the only thing I don't like in the whole series. Personally, I think Harry would be much better suited to another, or the relationship needed to built slowly, with far more interaction and interest. Put bluntly, Harry just didn't seem to care much for what Ginny did prior to this book, and now, it's suddenly all he can think about...when he's not thinking of Draco Malfoy that is.


"Harry, however, had never been less interested in Quidditch; he was rapidly becoming obsessed with Draco Malfoy."


"You're becoming a bit obsessed with Draco Malfoy, Harry."


- the two lines in Half Blood Prince which prove Drarry is real.




ahem, apologies.


The end of this book of course sees the death of Dumbledore - an arguably extraordinarily pivotal character. It also sees Rowling depart from her plot device of using Dumbledore to explain the more intricate parts of the mysteries behind Voldemort's power and the relationship he has with Harry. It in some ways is handing the reigns over to the trio to now embark on that discovery alone. Without the moral guidance of Dumbledore to guide him, Harry now sets out on the path of hunting horcruxes a little blind. Whereas we always had a feeling that Dumbledore would be there to save Harry, it is now evident that Harry must take the responsibility for his own destiny and the power which he holds against Voldemort.


Dark, sad and deeply foreboding, the last pages of this book differ very much from the start of it. It indicates the reader stepping into the realm of the Deathly Hallows where much more is at stake, and the dangers are far higher.


Do I need to say it? Five stars. 




HBH: Part 5 - Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J.K. Rowling

Disclaimer: Not a real review, just some partially intelligible gushing. The love for Harry Potter is so real.


Standing at 766 pages (in my edition, apparently the US edition has in excess of 800), this book feels like a massive commitment. It also, unfortunately, looks like a commitment, and I think that's why a lot of people tend to shy away from the reread of Order of the Phoenix and cast it off as the worst of the Harry Potter books. You have to remember though (as I was reminded), a LOT of stuff happens in this book. It is very dense with action, and a variety of smaller plot lines run along the main arc. For example, Dumbledore's Army (in my opinion, the best part of this book), Umbridge, the Order, the Ministry, Grawp, Harry being almost expelled etc. It's not like it ever gets boring, and the pacing is actually quite good. For me, the size definitely did not equate to a laborious read, and I think I should have reread this book more often. PLUS this book is littered with marauder references and insights and Merlin's beard, that gang should have their own spin off series or prequel or something because James, Sirius and Remus are amazing and I would love to see more of their lives.


But I digress. Onto the Order of the Phoenix.


First up, we have the overarching theme of this book which, despite being evident in a lot of Harry's interaction with other characters is somewhat confused with his mind being tampered with by Lord Voldemort. I am, of course, speaking of Harry's change of attitude this year, and the way it affects his interactions with others. Harry appears to be caught in this limbo between child and adulthood that he struggled with in Goblet of Fire, except that now he's also dealing with the prospect of Lord Voldemort's return, and the fact that half the wizarding world seems to think he's crazy, a liar or both. The result is an intense frustration and anger, which we see bubble to the surface quite often. Harry seems to have developed a desire for self-determination in this book which he desperately wants to achieve - to be able to plan a course of action for himself dependent on the facts of Lord Voldemort's return. However, a lot (at least initially) is being kept from him under the pretense that he is not old or mature enough to handle the truth. Understandably, being the individual that comes across Voldemort most often in recent years, Harry feels this is unfair and lashes out at those who he perceives as keeping the truth from him. The anger and frustration is undoubtedly stoked by the connection of his mind to Lord Voldemort, who we know is filled with hatred, anger and otherwise negative and dark thoughts. The extent to which this influences Harry's frustration is unclear, however it is perceivable to think it has impacted upon him in some way.


Due to this internal anger, conflict and frustration, we see Harry grapple with friendship this year, even with those closest to him. Lashing out frequently at others and becoming somewhat of a loner is not only the result of being made a social pariah by the Ministry, but also due to Harry's own misgivings with his friends. Ron and Hermione especially find it difficult to deal with the Harry who has frequent mood swings and abrupt changes in temper, and find it difficult to deal with their friend who seemingly can't control his anger. Isolating as the experiences in his fourth year may have been, Harry struggles to accept help from those around him and furthers his own loneliness by choosing not to confide in others. The result is a sense that no one truly understands him, which Harry lets bubble away inside him for quite some time. Although he eventually does accept the help of others, JK Rowling is clearly indicating that friendship is an important part of social development, and that we shouldn't be too afraid of letting those close to us share in our worries or pain. Lord Voldemort, who is a twisted and evil soul and, by his own choice has no friends, fails to understand the power of this support and love (which is invariably one of his great weaknesses). Dumbledore, by contrast, supports Harry's confidence in his two closest friends, by encouraging Harry to speak with them even about issues which are clearly of great importance to keep secret (such as the contents of the prophecy). Another point of reference to friendship and abandonment is Sirius, who loneliness eventually becomes conducive to making rash decisions.


Despite the fact that the book starts off with a small portion dedicated to Harry-Dursley relations, we do see some important developments in the relationship between Harry and Petunia in particular. It is revealed that Petunia has more knowledge of the existence and dangers of Lord Voldemort than we previously thought, and she is revealed as a much more decisive character than just being the meticulous housewife we always thought. It's interesting here that despite Petunia's love for the banal, normal and completely non-magical, JK Rowling hasn't shied away from creating another strong female character. It is Petunia who decides Harry stays with them, and she prevents Vernon from throwing him out. Whether it's out of fear or otherwise, it is nonetheless a decision which (due to Dumbledore's charm), prevents Harry from being found and killed by Death Eaters on a daily basis. It is said in this book that the event of Petunia speaking of dementors with Harry enables him to finally recognize her as his mother's sister, and although this undoubtedly doesn't foster any more love between them, it hints at an air of understanding that Harry didn't know existed before.


I loved the explanation of the Black family tapestry in this book, and although it doesn't have any particular deep meaning, it's inclusion in the narrative is so interesting. It does serve to show that blood doesn't necessarily equate to a certain personality type or interests. Sirius has clearly struggled with feeling isolated from others his entire life, starting with his family. It may be an indication of his overt protectiveness of Harry and also his deep prejudice against Severus Snape, since his upbringing has taught him that those attracted to the dark arts rarely change their spots.


Objects which have particular significance in later books show the continual example of JK Rowling's excellent planning - the locket makes an appearance here as one of Kreacher's trinkets. The vanishing cabinet also appears as a device for whisking away members of the Inquisitorial Squad to unknown locations. Aberforth is mentioned again and also revealed to be an Order of the Phoenix member by Moody, through the picture that he presents to Harry.


Built in with the stronger themes of abandonment, friendship, growth and self-determination is the lighter theme of romance, and Harry's continual oblivion towards girls. His date with Cho and his interactions with her show absolutely no understanding of the inner workings of the female mind, and he resorts to Hermione's lectures as a method of trying to uncover the mysteries of it. He's awkward, tactless and completely out of his depth, and I can't help but wonder whether his growth in this area has been stunted so much by his preoccupation with keeping himself alive, or whether he would be much better suited as an asexual or homosexual character (sorry D/H shipper here, shoot me). Whatever the case, in canon Harry has a crapload of development to do here before he's ever getting hitched (although, to be fair, Cho is a very dramatic and overly sensitive character who I don't have much of an appreciation for).


When it comes to the connection between Harry and Lord Voldemort's mind, it's interesting how Harry first reacts to this revelation. Despite his desire to see what is beyond the door, Harry feels dirty and shameful in sharing anything with Voldemort himself. The distinguishing between light and dark is very clear here, and it is almost inconceivable to Harry that he may contain both within him. His hatred of Voldemort and the Death Eaters blinds him somewhat to the ability to a) put his health first and b) accept help in shutting out Voldemort's thoughts. Instead of understanding and blocking the connection, Harry's anxiety surrounding it only serves to implant the fear that perhaps he is being utilized as a weapon. The connection between them is something to be feared here, and not, as it is in later books, something to be used to his advantage. He also fails to accept that there are others with similar experiences to himself - Ginny for example, who was possessed by Voldemort in Chamber of Secrets. Instead, it only serves to further Harry's sense of isolation.


loved that we got to see the improved version of Professor Lockhart here - JK Rowling has said in interviews that he never gets his memory back and thank god because he is so much funnier this way! 


Harry also faces off unwanted revelations regarding his father and Sirius. Here, his perception of his parents changes from unwavering faith and adulation as heroes to a confused sense of disappointment. Following the results from seeing Snape's memory, it becomes clear to Harry that his father wasn't perfect or faultless, and that is a blow to not only his memory of his father, but also to the prospect of the immense similarities between them. This disenchantment with the parents he didn't know is something which forces Harry to accept that he is a different, and perhaps better person than his father in some ways, and it also perpetuates the belief in him that people (no matter how heroic) are not perfect. 


Finally, we see a shift here in Voldemort's attitude toward Harry. I found it interesting that instead of playing with his food, as he has in previous books, Voldemort is intent on killing Harry the moment he lays eyes on him at the ministry. I think this is showing a shift in the attitude towards Harry's continual existence - it is more than a mere blight on Voldemort's power, and I think in some ways, Voldemort has come to fear Harry and the powers of escape that he can't quite comprehend. 


The duel between Voldemort and Dumbledore, although highly interesting in itself, also portrays the importance of words in establishing a power relationship. Dumbledore, who has never shied away from calling Voldemort not only by his feared name but also by his muggle name, appears as a source of fear for the Dark Lord. It is Dumbledore's fearlessness in calling Tom what he is that we see a sense of authority and power. By contrast, those who cannot call Voldemort by his real name and fear the power that he wields, are shown to be weaker and incapable of being held on an equal level. 


That was a long review! If you made it this far, congratulations. I hope there wasn't 394820834 spelling errors.


I'm actually already 3/4 of the way through Half Blood Prince, so should finish this reread on time! Today I went and bought all of the spin off Hogwart's Library series (Quidditch through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and the Tales of the Beedle and the Bard) so I may as well finish them before July 31st too. You know, just in case I hadn't already got my fill of Harry Potter.


Five stars *****




Love: The Endless Pursuit of Normalcy

The Lover's Dictionary - David Levithan

I read this book in 55 minutes. It was exactly what I needed in between reading the thick, action-packed and young adult geared Harry Potter series. It is, in a very brief summary, a book which asks deep questions about a topic which is at the centre of human experience. 


I loved that this book is one of undeniable normalcy. The story here is far from farfetched. The characters are extremely familiar to the ordinary reader, and there is no real action or event which sets them apart from the experiences of love that the reader can probably see within themselves. At least I did. I think, what I'm trying to grasp at is that these two, nameless characters, were so relateable, and that's what really piqued my attention. It was because i could see myself in their struggles, and empathise with their feelings, however mundane or brief, that I really appreciated this book. It was simultaneously profound (with excellent writing), and utterly familiar. 


The themes of infidelity, cohabitation, familial relations, attraction, desire, comfort, death, self-worth and understanding were laced throughout this novel in dribs and drabs. Due to its structure as a dictionary, they were thrown together in an almost haphazard fashion - some letters and themes being spent far longer on than others. But it really worked. It was visually appealing, and kept my attention. I didn't find the mash-up of ideas confusing. Similarly, I didn't find the prose beneath the word being defined predictable. The little asides which made up the definition were charming and, despite being relateable to my own experiences, very imaginative. It was as if the author was drawing on his own, personal experiences, because it felt very raw and real. 


The definitions didn't shy away from the uncomfortable reality of love. For example, the theme of infidelity really hit home to me when reading the definition of fallible. It made so much sense to me that although being cheated on is ridiculously difficult to deal with, there is also that underlying sense of relief that you are in the right; that you don't have to be laden with guilt, because it wasn't your fault. I don't think I've ever heard anyone admit to that feeling, and yet, through my own experiences, I know it to be somewhat true.


I liked the use of the first person narrative. It drew me closer to the narrator and helped me sympathise with him, however, the namelessness of the characters simultaneously stopped me from getting too involved in the two distinct sides of the story. The namelessness left the reader able to be somewhat objective, whilst still feeling empathy for the narrator and his experiences. It drew you in, and yet somehow kept you that little bit aloof.


The intertwining of literature and love was fantastic. I loved that the narrator was very profoundly interested in the meaning and use of words. The way in which the words we use to speak of love or our loved ones can be construed in particular ways to mean completely different things. Or that the words we use to communicate can similarly lead to such ambiguities. The definition of yell was fantastic in this regard - displaying how an affinity for using strong, emotive language in an argument was just as capable of showing intense displeasure as the physical act of slamming a door.


The scene of breaking up (?) carries through several of the definitions, each adding onto the next. It is never fully resolved and encapsulates how this book doesn't serve to give the reader concrete answers to the outcome of the two lovers within this book. It doesn't give a concrete resolution to many of the problems faced here, and a lot is left to the readers imagination, and their understanding of the characters. I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing, however for a reader that loves to know everything about the characters, the lack of an ending somewhat grinded my gears. But I think its a matter of appreciation - I clearly lack the ability to appreciate what isn't obvious on the page sometimes, and I think that's probably a reflection on my character rather than the book itself.


Overall I thought this was a fantastic, short read. If you can stomach the structure, which isn't bad at all (and is actually quite interesting and different), then its worth getting stuck into. The characters are fantastic and the prose is so blunt, getting to the core of the human experience with love, and yet so profound, mostly through the use of incredible language and literary devices. I love David Levithan's writing style and will definitely be back for more. 

HBH: Part 4 - Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire  - J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré

Disclaimer: I never claimed to be impartial towards Harry Potter, and the fact that I cannot be is undoubtedly obvious. This is not a real review because that would imply that I am competent of being objective towards this series, which I evidently am not. 


Being the book in the series I have probably reread the least amount of times (which is to say I've probably read it ten times), this was a fantastic book to pick up. I've seen the film adaptation for this book far more times than I've actually read it, and the last time I picked it up would have probably been four years ago, so reading it again was not only a little bit surprising, but far more suspenseful than the other six. I thoroughly enjoyed this installment of Harry's adventures. I think it is one of the strongest in the series - really acting as the glue between the child-friendly(ish - do werewolves and dementors count as child friendly?), comparatively juvenile first three books, and the darker, more adult or young adult last three. A plethora of character development occurs within this book, which is part of the reason I found it so rewarding.


Rowling really delves into the world of teenage development in Goblet of Fire. Marrying up the overarching story line of Voldemort and his gradual return to power with more ordinary, human experiences, Rowling displays that although there may be a war brewing, being a teenager can be damn hard too. Harry, in this book, grapples with the dawning adolescent emotions, desires and revelations, whilst simultaneously seeking to uncover the reason that he has been placed in a tournament which places him in mortal peril. It's really hard to say which one he finds more difficult because my god, Harry may be the "boy-who-lived" but his tactics around the females leave something to be desired. You'd think a Gryffindor would have used a bit of bravado but Harry is just so damn awkward. Someone get that boy a vanishing charm pronto because he is a struggler around Cho Chang and we've only had them interact a handful of times in this book (more on that later).


We also see Hermione transforming from the dependable yet completely un-romanticised best friend into something which is undeniably feminine and attractive to certain male characters. Ron and Harry learn some difficult lessons about how to treat their female classmates. I can't help but cringe at Padma Patil's bad luck in this book and sincerely hope that the Beauxbaton's boy was nicer to her than Ron at the Yule Ball.


Speaking of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang - when you read the book less than you sit mindlessly in front of the film, it's easy to forget the subtle adaptations which have occurred between the two genres, and its horrible cliche, but the films don't do justice to the novel. I, for one, had forgotten that boys even existed at Beauxbatons, and it pains me that this simple adaptation was taken at all - why couldn't both genders be represented in the slightly effeminate and beautiful characterisation of the French students? Why did it only have to be females who were classed as attractive?


Other adaptations which shocked me were littered throughout the prose: Aberforth making an appearance in the text was one that was particularly blaring. Since the films never mention Aberforth until it is undeniably necessary, he seems like a convenient plot device to strip away the untouchable nature of Dumbledore's integrity. However here, his mentioning opens our eyes to the existence of Dumbledore's family far before it is necessary, acting as a precursor to the events which are unveiled in the later books.


Themes of social injustice are also heavily explored in Goblet of Fire. Rowling draws the readers attention to the social acceptance of elitism and racism in relation to house elves - Hermione being the only character to even attempt to understand why they are treated as second class citizens. It is easy here to see the parallels between Hermione's championing of elf rights and her status in wizarding society being one of tentative acceptance as a muggle-born. It is clearly something which endangers her self-worth and sense of self, as the rise of dark elements challenges the belief that all wizards are equal. 


However it is also important to notice that Rowling has drawn attention to the wishes and desires differing between individuals in a group. It is necessary to see Dobby, however enlightened, as an anomaly and not necessarily representative of his class. I think themes of respect and acceptance are also tied into Hermione's valiant attempts to show the other elves that their freedom is worth asking for - she refuses to accept that their desire to remain in servitude is valid. This draws an amusing paradox between her portrayal of the elves as creatures worthy of self-determination, yet her inability to accept that remaining in servitude is what the majority of them would choose regardless of intervention.


The character development of the Weasley family is also of particular interest in Goblet of Fire. Ron, as the obvious contender for simultaneously best and worst friend of the century, is confronted with his feelings of inadequacy and jealousy, not only between himself and Harry, but also between himself and his family members. Ron is portrayed as a character who struggles to find himself in this book - recognising that he does not fill the mold of prefect and exceptional student, nor troublemaker and truant, nor thrill seeker or distinguished leader. It is difficult for him to find his own niche within the family unit, and with the additional pressures of being Harry's best friend, finds himself truly lost in the first portion of the novel. 


For Fred and George, the tension between their own desires and the expectations of their mother show a clearer separation of the family unit than before. Whereas previously the troublemaking nature of the twin's adventures had been somewhat of a joke, now Molly looks to them as academic failures and despite worrying about their futures incessantly, completely disregards their clear talent for innovation. Fred and George's efforts in this book do more than just provide the usual humor - they also show a more adventurous and determined side to the twins, who show just how business minded and dogged they can be to realise their entrepreneurial dreams. 


The inclusion of Neville's backstory was also an unexpected delight in this book. It shows an insight into a very significant character (particularly in the following book), and explores a boy who is far more than just clumsy and somewhat pathetic. Neville is shown to have significantly more redeeming qualities in this novel, which sets him up to be a dependable and competent leader later in the series. It also allows the reader to sympathise somewhat with Neville and recognise the clear parallels between Harry's experience and Neville's - both boys have a significantly scarring past, and yet Harry's celebrity status has lead him on a very different path of grieving and acceptance than Neville. 


Finally, the rise of Voldemort and the significance of his return provides fantastic, fast-paced action throughout the novel. The inclusion of the challenges alongside the overarching mystery of the Dark Lord's return created an enthralling book with plenty of twists and turns and revelations which not only explain aspects of Harry's past, but also set up the foundations for future challenges. It is phenomenal to think that Rowling constructed the entire series to fit together so well - with every new development I am reminded how brilliant her mind is, and how well it has constructed a world so different from the muggle world, and yet, the characters manage to maintain a definite human mortality despite their exceptional magical powers. 


Of course, the culmination of this novel results in a dark turn which is carried on throughout the remainder of the series. The death which concludes this book is the precursor for many deaths to follow, and allows Rowling to display not only the pure evil nature of the Death Eaters and Lord Voldemort, but also the fear which accompanies their return. 


One of my all time favourite quotes is also found within this book - something which just topped of a very enjoyable reread:


"Differences of habit and language are nothing if our aims are identical and our hearts are open."


- Albus Dumbledore.

HBH: Part 3 - Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban  - J.K. Rowling

Disclaimer: I love Harry Potter. So much. Please ignore these reviews if you want to see my actual, structured reviews which include useful literary analyses of prose. The following review is probably useful only to ignite everyone's love for my personal favourite books and to gush about how much these novels mean to me.


Question. What did I love so much about Harry Potter without Sirius Black and Remus Lupin? I mean, of course i must have enjoyed the hell out of this series or I may not have reached the Prisoner of Azkaban, and undoubtedly, there are some fantastic other parts of the novels but PLEASE - the marauders are just perfection. These are the people I dream of having as friends - cheeky, mischievous, intelligent and loyal (except for Wormtail, obviously). 


Lupin, in his tatty robes and understated appearance, outstripped the previous two DADA teachers by a mile. He's so impressive, so compassionate, so helpful to Harry it is hard to imagine that he could ever harbour the secret that he does. The interactions between Snape and Lupin are great for developing both characters, mostly just to make Snape look bitter and Lupin to look calm, rational and collected. He appears as a bit of a father figure to Harry in this book, which creates a kind of moderating character in between the "all knowing" (at this point, at least) Dumbledore and Harry's everyday life. 


Hermione, once again, never ceases to remind me of myself in school. Always biting off a bit more than she can chew, this year develops her character into a more resilient teenager - someone who isn't afraid to simultaneously take four times the amount of sensible classwork and yet doesn't have any qualms punching Draco Malfoy in the jaw. Fiercely loyal, she's also shown here to be a bit proud, especially in relation to her quarrels with Ron which appear at this point to be becoming more frequent. Harry is shown to be taking a less moderate position than he does in the later books.


The marauders map makes its first appearance here also - an absolutely crucial part in the later books.


I also really enjoyed how Harry could experience the thrills and utter abnormality of a year at Hogwarts without having to face Voldemort. I mean, the series would have been rather predictable without the introduction of new characters and challenges. If the reader was forever waiting for Voldemort to predictably pop out at the end of every book it would have made the world far less intriguing. This book, instead, weaves a back-story not only to Voldemort, but those who fought him and those who support him. 


Rowling also uses Remus and Sirius' characters to portray themes of prejudice and discrimination. Although evidently in different ways - Sirius being an innocent man accused of a horrific crime he never committed and Remus being a feared entity which humans and wizards cannot understand and therefore fear - it is clear to the reader that more meets the eye with these two men. Similarly, threaded throughout the prose is the idea that the whole story must be understood in order to judge good or evil, and that (in the words of Sirius Black himself) the world is not split into two, opposing ideas of black and white. Instead, there is good parts and bad parts in all of us, but it is the choices we make and the aspects of our personality that we choose to nurture which show our true colours. 


The only real issue I had with Prisoner of Azkaban was the timeturner. I know it is a complex wizarding artifact and that there is a limit to what can be changed since one cannot expose themselves to their past self (or other past people in the vicinity of the present self) whilst using it. However, it just seems a bit convenient that Hermione got rid of the timeturner at the end of the third year. If she hadn't, think about all the future challenges Harry could have potentially avoided by using it to turn back simple decisions which preceded catastrophic events! However this is a small issue and one which I am definitely prepared to overlook in respect of the book as a whole which was one of my favourites.


Cinque stars. Of course.


HBH: Part 2 - Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré

Disclaimer: I am a Harry Potter fanatic and may or may not be incapable of giving unbiased reviews on my favourite books of all time. Siriusly. Insult Harry Potter in front of me at your own peril.


Diving into book number two after finishing the Philosopher's Stone was so easy. The progression between the first two novels is fantastic - they have a similar tone and pacing, the length is very reasonable and isn't daunting. Unlike the last four books in the series, the first three feel like reads you could pick up and peruse whenever - they don't seem like such a commitment. I think this is also why these first few books, including Chamber of Secrets, are much more child friendly and appropriate. They capture the audience attention right from the beginning and keep a consistent pace which enables even those with short attention spans to become engrossed in the magical world of Hogwarts.


I'll be honest. I read this book purely for enjoyment, and wasn't really analysing certain aspects of it with the intention of giving an in depth review. However, there were some things I noticed.


1) Hermione as a character is developing in Chamber from her strictly law abiding, teacher's pet demeanor in book one. She actually engages in highly illegal activities in this book, brewing the polyjuice potion, and manages to both perfect it, and mess up its application on herself. I appreciate that Rowling didn't make Hermione infallible. Yes, she is the brightest witch of her age, and yes, she is unashamedly talented, but she still makes mistakes and develops as a character. 


2) I thought it was a great deviation from the original character blocking that Rowling decided to leave Hermione out of the final discovery of the Chamber of Secrets itself. Yes, her hints lead the boys in the right direction and provide crucial information, but in the end, she is incapacitated from putting all the puzzle pieces together. It is actually Harry and Ron who manage to work it out for themselves through a combination of surprising intellect, and also being incredibly nosey. I think its great that although Rowling has constructed Hermione as undeniably intelligent, she doesn't play into the trap of constructing characters such as Hermione for the specific purpose of putting her into the box as "the one with all the answers" whom Harry and Ron will forever rely on to resolve their problems.


3) The detail of the backstory of the Chamber of Secrets given by Professor Binns was highly relevant (he is the history of magic teacher), and was much better executed in the books than in the film adaptation. I love that in this book we get to see a bigger focus on the history of Hogwarts (although, in all seven books there is some guarantee that Hermione will pipe up with a reference to Hogwarts: A History), and in particular, it's past students (including Voldemort's past itself), the secrets of the castle and the history of its founders.


4) The brilliance behind I-am-Lord-Voldemort/Tom Marvolo Riddle . Did Rowling really create this before the first book was published? If so, that is some fantastic planning.


Some people say that this book is the least favourite of the series. I couldn't disagree more! This book reveals some of the cornerstones that build the Harry Potter series as a whole! The identity of Voldemort, the nature of the "racism" between purebloods and muggle-borns, Hagrid's expulsion, PARSTLETONGUE, elf magic etc. Not to mention that Dobby and Lockhart are hilarious characters. 


No surprises here - 5 stars.

That Ending Though

Golden Son - Pierce Brown

After finishing the last page of Golden Son I was too paralysed with shock to even consider formulating a coherent review of this book. One and a half weeks later, I think I'm finally capable of constructing something half decipherable, but it's definitely not going to be in the pretty, logical structure I usually review in. This novel was a roller coaster ride comparable to the feels of Deathly Hallows and I've spent the last couple of weeks continually asking "why, Pierce why?!" Simultaneously of course, I had to give this book five stars. It had engaging action, beautifully constructed characters and such a rapid pace you couldn't possibly be bored. I struggled to put this down, and it only ended up taking two days to finish the 442 pages.


How is it that a second-book-in-a-trilogy cinch the top place (so far) in new books I've read this year? I'll admit, I definitely wasn't expecting it. I was praying to the gods of literature that I wouldn't regret starting this trilogy and instead, found myself comparing Golden Son to Red Rising and lamenting that it was just so much gorydamn better. Almost all the issues I had with its predecessor were addressed in this book. It was as if Brown had actually listened to his critics and made something that was already very good, into something almost flawless.


First, lets talk about Darrow. So some readers pointed out that in Red Rising, Darrow was a rather heroic figure. Sure, he had faults, but there was a lot of other Gary-Stue like qualities which seemed to hang around our main man like a bad smell. Personally, I liked Darrow. I didn't connect with him as I did with, say, Katniss. But I didn't see him as an infallible/unbelievable character either. In Golden Son, the complete opposite happens. People around Darrow appear to be making all the smart decisions, and Darrow appears to be fucking it up quite constantly. In fact, it is humbling here to see that Darrow relies quite heavily on the assistance from others, and damn, he needs it. Because stuff goes down real bad for Darrow in this novel, and it all happens so fast you'd miss it if you skipped a couple of pages. 


Then we get to the pacing. Fantastic, action-packed, the opposite in every way to boring. I noted that in Red Rising I had a bit of an issue here in terms of world building. Again, that would be my only real criticism of Brown's writing - that in the pursuit of being so rapidly progressive with plot, the reader can sometimes be left behind. I did have to re-read a few pages in order to grasp what had really happened. I think perhaps for the author, the world is so concrete and cemented in his head he may forget the rest of us don't have the privilege of having such an amazingly imaginative mind. During the most fast paced of action I did feel left behind, and I was even slightly confused about how the Jackal knew about Darrow's past...if someone could clarify how Darrow revealed himself to the Jackal that would be very much appreciated.


The characters. Oh, the characters. From Augustus to the Jackal to Sevro and the Howlers. How beautifully constructed they all were. We knew that Darrow shouldn't have been so trusting with some of them, and yet, as a reader it's hard not to get drawn into the little sub-plot lines which run alongside the main arc. Sevro's backstory was absolutely enthralling and fitted together so well with the plot. This was a definite highlight for me as a reader, and it made possibly my favourite character even more appealing. At the same time, Brown never constructs flawless characters, and by delving into Eo's story we see another side of her that is sort of glossed over in Red Rising. It is ultimately left to the readers discretion what they think of Eo - making the ultimate sacrifice or selfish and manipulative? Personally, I think misguided, but I love that there is that ability there for the reader to take a different approach depending on their moral viewpoint.


And finally...the feminism. I don't know if such a controversial word should be used here, but I definitely felt as if the female characters kicked ass here, and in a way which empowered them far more than in the first book of the trilogy. Mustang, for example, no longer the weakened/defeated damsel, became the mastermind strategist behind some of Darrows best military moves in Golden Son. She was calculating, at times ruthless, and very self-sufficient. Mustang doesn't need Darrow to exist, that is clear. Whatever happens in the ultimate book, it is clear that this fearless character will write her own destiny. Eo, manipulative or misguided, is shown to be a driving force behind Darrow's actions. She shapes his worldview and becomes a sticking point for him as he continues to weave his way in and around Gold society. Victra, faithful and headstrong, as loyal as anything and just as deadly. Octavia au Lune, formidable and regal, her muscle Aja (who reminds me in my imagination as Enobaria from the Hunger Games Trilogy) incredibly vicious. I loved all of them, and cannot wait for more.


Lets not talk about the ending. I can't without spoiling it, but it reminded me of something out of a George R.R Martin book - so much death, so much excitement, so much unexpected twists and turns! I honestly cannot wait for the third book in this series, as Golden Son is by far one of my favourites of 2015. 

No Strong Feelings

Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell

Brief Background: Eleanor is a new transfer student into the classic American high school in the 1980s. She's got unfashionable clothes, wild hair and a dreamy nature which leads to her being picked on by the popular girls. But Eleanor has more to worry about - her step-father who hates her, her three brothers and sister who live with her in inhabitable proximity and the constant ebb and flow of poverty which makes her life difficult. Then she meets Park - part ethnic Korean and unfortunately short, Park wishes to get through school life quietly and unnoticed by his loudmouth next door neighbour and the popular kids. Reading comics on the bus is his escape, a time to be by himself and relax. Until Eleanor sits next to him on her first day, and then slowly, things change for both of them.


Things I Liked:

Park: Park's character development and way of life was immaculately built and sustained by Rainbow Rowell. I found it easy to be sympathetic to his character, and felt adequately exposed to his life experiences to be able to relate to his teenage moodiness, longing and reclusive nature. From his Korean mother to his strict father, Park's life in all aspects seems normal(ish), but from his experiences we see a great desire to be different from the person he is - taller like his brother, more confident, and ultimately, less insecure about Eleanor's situation. Despite not necessarily being an exciting character, Park was a reliable and consistent point of reference throughout the novel.

Depictions of Young Love: The unreliable and ultimately incomprehensible nature of Park and Eleanor's feelings toward each other may not necessarily be entirely believable (in terms of how quickly the "I love you" pops up or the drastic change between derision and attraction), but in some ways, first love never is. I think that's what Rowell is trying to get at here - perhaps as adults it is difficult to understand that very fine line in teenagehood. Relating back to my own experiences, the courting process is definitely worlds away from the school-yard romances of youth, and I think as a younger person I probably would have found Park and Eleanor to be acting far more reasonably, than I did now. However, I do understand what the author is trying to do here - yes, it may not be logical, but I don't think many experiences of first, heart-achingly real love are.

Pop Culture References: Relevant to the 1980s and strongly laced through the narrative, these gave some embellishment to the story. From the Smiths to Walkmans, it was never an issue forgetting the time period in which this book was set.


What I Didn't Like

The Hype: This book was massively overhyped for what it is, and I think that's why I under-appreciated it when I actually got around to reading it. Many portray this novel as a revolutionary, break-your-heart-into-a-million-pieces romance. It really doesn't stray too far from the classic, contemporary YA romance in reality. Social stigma and pressure are common themes in many of the aforementioned novels, and it's no different here. Perhaps if it hadn't been so overhyped I may have enjoyed it more, which is a shame.

Domestic Violence/Romance: The entwining of Eleanor's home life with her romantic life was a little putting for me. It's not that I can't read scenes of domestic violence, in fact, I think these are very informational and important to include in a book whose themes are riddled with alcoholism and an unstable family life, but I didn't appreciate how Rowell used this to make Eleanor and Park's relationship as one of "forbidden love." In some ways, I think it would have been far more effective to deal with Eleanor's living situation as a living situation and a family situation, more than simply something which would ultimately serve to divide the lovers. I wanted to see the implications of Eleanor's departure on her family, particularly her siblings, and I think Rowell really rejected them here, instead focusing on the love story.


Overall, I think Eleanor and Park were well rounded characters, and the story was pretty well entertaining. However, I think a lot more could have been done with certain themes in the book, and I was left disappointed that these were not really resolved. 

HBH: Part 1 - Philosopher's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré

To kick off my July challenge of reading the entire Harry Potter series by Harry Potter's birthday on July 31st, I have the book that started it all - the Philosopher's Stone (NOT Sorceror's - I still can't believe anyone calls it anything but its original title). 


Just a brief review here, since:

a) This is possibly the book I have re-read the most, and thus, the amount of love I have for it has completely transcended my ability to give an unbiased and coherent review and;

b) I don't actually know if I can review impartially when it comes to Harry Potter - it is so entwined with my childhood and development, and means so much to me and my personal growth that I can't look at it as simply a book I read once for enjoyment. I really would give all of them five stars, which tells me that I'm completely blind when it comes to Harry and the series that completely changed my life.


J.K Rowling gave me an unbridled passion for reading, an limitless imagination and a love for fantasy which I never had before. I know I'm not the only one who owes their love for literature to this amazing author and I really have difficulty comprehending how much I adore this series - the characters, the world, the writing, absolutely everything. The only thing I wished for whilst re-reading this was for it to go on for longer. The pace in Philosopher's stone is certainly different from the consequent books - it is much faster, less detailed and less pensive than the darker and longer fifth, sixth and seventh novels in particular. 


Right off the bat though, J.K Rowling challenges the reader to delve deeper into their imagination. The Dursleys - the epitome of unmagical, unimaginative and boring suburban life contrast perfectly with the world of magic. Rowling challenges the reader to accept that normality is something which is to be avoided - that being exceptional or imaginative or fantastical is far more alluring and interesting. 


The characters constructed are beautifully thought out and brought to life. Hermione will forever be one of my favourite literary eleven year olds - bright, unafraid of her intelligence and unashamedly in love with books and reading, she was my childhood inspiration. There will be a little part of me which will always be wishing I could be more like her. It doesn't matter, Rowling says through this character, if you're not perfectly pretty or likeable. You should never be ashamed of your intellect.


I forgot how hilarious Fred and George were in this book, and how much better it is reading about these characters than simply watching them on a screen. Sure, the actors in Warner Brothers movie franchise are attractive and fantastic at their jobs, but they don't have the replica nature of the carefully crafted characters that Rowling set up in this first installment. The world here feels so much more real to me, even though it isnt a visual representation.


Finally, having read the entire series and going back to re-read it again, it is incredible to see little hints of things which tie into the arc of the series and become apparent in the later books. When Harry laments (p. 162) that Snape is keeping such a close eye on him that he wonders whether he can read minds, my thoughts immediately jumped to the revelation in Order of the Phoenix that Snape was an accomplished Legilimens and the ensuing Occlumency lessons. 


Overall, I could gush for days about this series, but that would incredibly dull and unusful for most people. Lets just leave it at the fact that my reading challenge is going well, and by the 7th of July I've already completed two of the seven books in the series (Chamber of Secrets coming soon and not nearly as long, I promise).

Overhyped and Underdeveloped

The Winner's Curse - Marie Rutkoski


From all the hype on booktube, to the very favourable book reviews on goodreads, I was beyond convinced that purchasing the first book in the Winner's trilogy would be a worthwhile endeavour. As it turned out, I scored the Winner's Curse as a birthday present in late June, and aren't I happy I didn't waste my pitiful student savings on this novel. Although it was just one in the large birthday stack I received (I pretty much only asked for books this year), this was one of the first novels I picked up to read. Disappointingly, by the final pages, I was still waiting to see what the hype was about.


This book was entertaining, there's no denying. It was a page turner in the sense that although I became irritated by the characters and frustrated by the underdevelopment of what had the potential to be a very interesting world, the plot was intriguing enough to keep me reading. Furthermore, the relatively short nature of the book (it has small pages and only tips 300 words) made it a one-day read for me, despite being at work for a good eight hours.


The thing which irritated me beyond the fanciful character development, was the world. The fantastical history of the Herrani and the war against the Valorian invaders could have been so much better. I yearned to know more of the backstory - how the battle proceeded, what the traditions of the Herrani were, why they appear to be a Roma-esque group and their family units/bonds/cultural experiences etcetera. Unfortunately, we get to know very little of Arin's backstory and instead are treated to pages upon pages of Valorian-born Kestrel's privileged upbringing. Which, brings me to my next point.


Kestrel wants for very little, is doted on by her father and loved by her friends. Yet, she is constantly bemoaning her future as a military figure or bride. As an allegedly "brilliant" strategist, you would have thought Kestrel would have pursued the path of diplomacy with her father in his pursuit to see her married or otherwise, however, Kestrel instead resorts to complaining incessently about her misfortune (despite being surrounded by poverty and slavery). The novel attempts to make her appear sympathetic to the slave-class of Herrani, and a kind and thoughtful master by freeing her childhood slave, yet aside from this one example of mercy, Kestrel is shown to be indifferent to any other form of injustice. Indeed, the very premise of the book is that she engages in slave trading by buying one. I didn't find her amiable or sympathetic in the slightest, and her poor-little-rich-girl consciousness didn't win her over any more than her otherwise dull-nature.


And speaking of dullness, how on earth is the reader supposed to believe that Kestrel is so brilliant strategically? Her ability to think of obvious schemes that have somehow escaped the notice of other trained military personal doesn't serve to make her look brilliant, but it does beg the question as to how exactly the Valorian conquerors have maintained their control of the land. Other than the last quarter of the book Kestrel is shown to be remarkably unobservant (failing to arouse suspicion in regards to Arin's unusual requests to have free periods of wandering in the city with a very vague explanation, his perfect Valorian and his expert knowledge of weapons which should ring alarm bells for any slave master). Additionally, her intellect is attempted to be supported by the tired, protagonist-is-intelligent-bescause-she-doesnt-like-girly-things trope, which is offset against Jess, the hopeless and unintelligent best friend/sidekick who, coincidentally, loves dresses. 


The only positive part of this book was perhaps the delicate dealing of the love interest between slave and master. Although the love story wasn't entirely believable, at least it wasn't a clear and creepy power imbalance. Arin is constructed as a slave who unusually doesn't seem to act as an obedient slave should (yet another example of the apparent lack observation by Kestrel), and thus, he doesn't appear to act outside his free will.


Overall, I found the story lacking in world building, even though there was a great opportunity to delve into an exciting and believable fantasy universe. I found this novel to be one of disappointing lost opportunity, and for this reason (despite a fast-paced plot) cannot justify a rating of over two stars. 

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