A Bit About Harry Potter…

Recently, I’ve been reading back through the Harry Potter series.  I’ve decided against reviewing each of the volumes separately – I just feel like there really isn’t much more I can add that the internet hasn’t analyzed a million times already in far more depth that I could ever hope to attain.


But what I can add is my own personal opinions (which, let’s be honest, is all this blog really is), so I thought I’d throw a few of those out there.


I first read the series when books 1-4 had been published.  That July, I was housesitting about thirty miles from home, which was far enough away that I pretty much stayed there and didn’t go home much.  Translation: an entire week of reading.  It was glorious.  I was also super close to the main Columbus library, which is gigantic and beautiful and amazing and magical.  I went there almost every day, especially since it was only taking me about a day to get through each HP book!  After that, I housesat for those same friends pretty much every summer.  I found myself returning to the HP books every July, reading them all through to include the newest volume.  While everyone seems to think of them as Christmas books (why do all the movies play every Christmas?  They aren’t remotely Christmasy!), for  me they always bring back memories of lazy, humid days, reading on  my friends’ screened-in back porch, with their funny little black-and-white mutt, Henry, snoring on the rug, cicadas chirping and the distant sounds of children playing in a sprinkler.


As for the books themselves – well, they’re brilliant.  If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know that I’m a simple reader: I read what’s written, and enjoy the story for what it is.  I don’t spend a lot of time analyzing a turn of phrase and trying to pull hidden meanings out of thin air.  All that to say, I think these are good stories – excellent stories, even.  They’re well-written and engaging with great characterizations.  I really enjoy watching the three main characters grow and mature throughout.  And while there are times that I get annoyed with all them (especially, let’s be real, Harry), they come through as realistic and relatable.


One thing I really appreciate is how I feel like the characters are also true to their ages.  While yes, they pull off some impressive stunts as 11-year-olds, their actions, language, and thoughts are consistent with someone that age (in my opinion), and that continues through the books.


I also love the snarky humor.  The Weasley twins are easily my favorites – funny, witty, intelligent, and kind.  Overall, the dialogue makes these books worth reading.  Rowling gives us natural and interesting interactions between characters, and with a seven-book range, she’s able to develop relationships with a lot of depth.


Really, the main thing I don’t like about these books is Rowling herself.  I’m of the opinion that a writer should write her books and then leave them be, or write some more of them.  I don’t like the way that Rowling just says random things, making them canon, even though they aren’t in the books.  The whole thing with Dumbledore being homosexual – that isn’t in the books at all.  Dumbledore being gay doesn’t annoy me – what annoys me is Rowling come along years after the books are printed and just tagging it in there as a thing that’s a thing even though it’s not actually a thing.  (And, side note, thanks, Rowling, for devaluing yet another friendship by telling us that obviously Dumbledore and Grindelwald were gay because they were “too close” to be “just” friends.  Because obviously it’s impossible to have a close friend of the same sex, and later in life to not want to have to kill that friend, and not actually be involved in  a sexual relationship of some kind.  Arrrrgggghhhh But that’s actually a rant about the devaluation of friendship in fiction in general; Rowling just gives us a classic example.)


Anyway, I also don’t think any author should come back later and say that she actually “wanted” to change a huge part of the stories – e.g., have Hermione end up with Harry instead of Ron.  If that’s what she wanted to do, that’s what she ought to have done.  She really annoys me because so often it’s obvious that she’s coming up with stuff just to keep people talking about her books, not because she’s actually adding anything useful or even interesting.  (And really?  Harry and Hermione?  I could write an entire article about why Hermione and Ron are perfect, and why that’s one of my favorite things, and why I felt like that really added a lot of depth to the story – so thanks, Rowling, for making it appear as though one of things I was most inclined to give you credit for was actually just an accident.)


But as long as I avoid Rowling’s press releases and interviews, I enjoy reading these books every summer.  The world-building is amazing and the story gripping.  It’s fantasy at its best, and I think that these books deserve their admittance to the “classics” category.

China Dolls



by Lisa See

Published 2014

So I’ve been reading a lot of books set in the first half of the twentieth century.  One of these days I’ll move past World War II in my (very very very slow) study of twentieth century history, but there is just so much about the world wars and the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression, and I keep finding books that look so interesting from those decades so…….

I picked up China Dolls in hopes of reading about a different culture in the 1930’s leading into the war.  From the dust jacket:

San Francisco, 1938:  A world’s fair is preparing to open on Treasure Island, a war is brewing overseas, and the city is alive with possibilities.  Grace, Helen, and Ruby, three young women from very different backgrounds, meet by chance at the exclusive and glamorous Forbidden City nightclub.  Grace Lee, an American-born Chinese girl, has fled the Midwest with nothing but heartache, talent, and a pair of dancing shoes.  Helen Fong lives with her extended family in Chinatown, where her traditional parents insist that she guard her reputation like a piece of jade.  The stunning Ruby Tom challenges the boundaries of convention at every turn with her defiant attitude and no-holds-barred ambition.

The girls become fast friends, relying on one another through unexpected challenges and shifting fortunes.  When their dark secrets are exposed and the invisible thread of fate binds them even tighter, they find the strength and resilience to reach for their dreams.  But after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, paranoia and suspicion threaten to destroy their lives, and a shocking act of betrayal changes everything.

The book is told in first person (thankfully past tense!), but the narrative is split between all three of the main characters.  For  me, this didn’t work for two reasons.  The first was that even though these three girls are very different in personality, goals, and background, their voices sound incredibly similar.  And I think the reason for that is my second reason for not liking the narrative style – all three are very reserved.  Usually, the point of a first-person narrative is that we get to hear the thoughts and ideas and prejudices and dreams of the narrator.  But See gives us very little of that.  I think that this book would have been much better written in third person.

A slightly spoilery reason is that someone in this book is not actually Chinese, but Japanese.  After Pearl Harbor, many Japanese were put into camps (a horrible blot on our history, and one I’ve been interested in learning more about since I read Concentration Camps USAand part of the reason I picked up this book to begin with), so when one of our three  narrators is betrayed, it’s a big deal.  We don’t know who the betrayer is, but one of the other narrators is blamed.  To me, this is a classic example – the tension of the book could have been much, much higher in third person.  As it is, we already know that the girl who has been accused isn’t the  betrayer, so the tension is gone.

None of these girls were particularly likable for me.  All three are rather ruthlessly ambitious, and the lack of personal thoughts means that, as a reader, I don’t really understand a lot of what drives them.  Plus, I’ve never been any kind of performer, so the intensity of the desire to be dancers is lost on me.

While there were interesting glimmers of American-Chinese culture, See also seems to assume, at some level, that we already know a lot of about what’s going on.  As someone who knows virtually nothing about this culture, I could have used a a few more explanations – but, once again, the first-person narrative prevents that from being a natural part of the story.

There’s also this whole weird love-triangle situation that seems pretty unnecessary and strange to me.  Because the boy involved is not Asian, I think we could have had plenty of drama by just focusing on how taboo it was for a “white” person be romantically involved with, well, anyone not considered white.

Overall, it felt like there were a lot of really intriguing cultural issues that could have been explored, but instead we ended up with a novel that basically could have been about three white girls, except for the part where one of them gets thrown into a concentration camp (and even that part of the story is really glossed over – I was hoping, since I was stuck listening to three narrators, that I would at least get some intriguing material of daily life inside the camp, but instead we basically don’t hear from that voice the entire time she’s in the camp so).

While this was a fine story, and I’m sure many people love it, I have found more and more that I rarely enjoy a book that has “A Novel” printed on the front.  They end up covering far too much time, with depressing undertones, little redemption, and not a lot of creativity or challenge.  China Dolls fit the basic novel-writing premise.  Instead of pursuing intriguing cultural differences and helping the reader to understand what it was like to be a Chinese (or Japanese) American leading into the war, we got a tired love triangle in impersonal first-person narration.  The story was meh and the character development weak, leaving me with a 2/5.