June MiniReviews – Part 1

Have I mentioned that my life is pretty much just peaches right now???  You all really just can’t understand LOL  In the meantime, here are a few books that I read all the way back in June…

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Horse & His Boy by C.S. Lewis – 5*

//published 1954//

Growing up, this was one of my least favorite books in the series (along with The Silver Chair), but every time I reread it, I enjoy it more.  There’s a lot to soak in here about providence and why bad things happen to people and how that all works together for good, plus it’s just a fun story.  Narnia is always a joy to me.

Kitty’s Class Day & Other Stories by Louisa May Alcott – 3*

//published 1882//

I’m a huge fan of Alcott, and some of my all-time favorite books were penned by her.  However, I’ve had this collection of short stories on my shelf for literal years and somehow never read it… and when I did, I honestly wasn’t that impressed.  The subtitle for this one is “Proverb Stories” and each tale has a little saying/proverb at the beginning and then the story goes on to illustrate it.  Consequently, these came across as a little on the preachy side.  Alcott is always a fan of making her writing somewhat moralistic, but I feel like that works better with her longer-form writing, as we are able to see characters grow and mature organically.  Here, with only a few pages per story, the lessons felt a bit too in-your-face for my tastes.  Perfectly fine but honestly not particularly engaging.

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling – 4*

My reread of the Potter books also continued in June with a chapter a day of the fourth book.  I think this is where the series really starts to take off, with a lot of connections being made.  It’s a chunkster of a book and sometimes does feel a little ponderous, but overall I still find this series plenty entertaining.

Written in Starlight by Isabel Ibañez – 3.5*

//published 2021//

In May I read Woven in Moonlight and found it to be a decent enough read that I wanted to pick up the sequel, Written in Starlight.  It’s hard to tell about this one without giving away some spoilers for the first book, but basically there is a character from the first story who ends up being sent away into the jungle as a punishment at the end of the book.  It honestly felt a little jarring, so reading the second book felt like reading the other side of the coin.  Although the main character is different, it really ties in with the first story and, I felt, tied up a lot of loose ends.  Overall, I think I actually liked this one better, even if the main character was super dense from time to time.

Led Zeppelin: Heaven & Hell by Charles Cross & Erik Flannigan – 3.5*

//published 1991//

My husband is a huge Zeppelin fan, so we have several nonfiction books about the band.  In my quest to read all of the books I own (LOL) this one was the next stop.  Published in 1991, it was written at a time when there was still a lot of chatter about whether the band would get back together, with John Bonhome’s son, Jason, as the drummer.  This book read more like an extended fanzine, with a lot of information about band paraphernalia, concerts, albums, concert memorabilia, etc.  If you already love Zeppelin and are just looking for some random tidbits, it’s worth picking up for the photographs if nothing else, but if you don’t know much about the band, this isn’t really a great place to start, because the authors definitely assume that you already have foundational knowledge about the band members and the trajectory of the band itself.  I definitely preferred Flannigan’s sections to Cross’s – I find Cross’s writing to be somewhat condescending, something I also noted when I read his biography of Kurt Cobain, Heavier Than HeavenUltimately, Cross felt like it was super important to spend a great deal of time hating on Hammer of the Gods by Stephen Davis (which I haven’t gotten around to reading yet), which, whether or not his claims were justified, just came through as rather petty.  A moderately enjoyable read, but not one I’d particularly pick up again.

April Minireviews

Heck yeah, now we’re talking!! I’m also down to only 1250 unread emails, so I’m really making progress LOL

I actually read three series in April, so here are all the one-offs, and I’ll be posting some series reviews hopefully soon!

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis – 5*

Another enjoyable reread, I’ve always been fond of this one, maybe because I absolutely LOVE the name Caspian. So perfect.

A Lady’s Guide to Mischief & Mayhem by Manda Collins – 3*

//published 2020//

This one was a read for the traveling book club, although it’s also one that was on my TBR, so score.  In the end, it was just a little too “sassy independent women are the only kind who get anywhere in the world” for me.  I don’t mind sassy independent women as characters, but when it’s combined with an attitude that all other women are just sad little victims of the patriarchy, it starts to grate on my nerves, especially in “historical” novels.  The timing also felt weird in this one – the main character meets a woman and they hit it off and start hanging out – then literally two weeks later they’re just going on and on about how they’re BFFs and basically inseparable and it just felt odd.  It was the same with the love interest, who goes from a complete stranger to the most important person in her life in about five minutes.  It was also a book that would have benefited from deciding what it wanted to be – either a romance OR a mystery, because in the end it was just pretty muddled.  It wasn’t a bad story, and I can see why some people really like it, but it wasn’t a good fit for me.

Parker Pyne Investigates by Agatha Christie – 3.5*

//published 1934//

This is a collection of short stories based around the character of Parker Pyne, who isn’t a detective at all but someone who says he can make people’s lives happier.  While these were fairly entertaining, they were also a bit ridiculous.  Not a bad read, but not a particularly strong collection.

Mansfield Park Revisited by Joan Aiken – 3.5*

//published 1985//

After reading Mansfield Park in March, I read a few MP variations that had been on my TBR in April.  In this one, Aiken writes a sequel that focuses on Fanny’s younger sister, Susan, who comes to live at Mansfield Park towards the end of the original story.  This wasn’t a bad story, it was just kind of boring.  Aiken also ruthlessly kills off Sir Thomas in the first chapter and since he’s actually pretty much my favorite character in the original story, I was sad to see him go haha

Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling – 4*

//published 1999//

Not my favorite in the series but still a decent installment.  I’m really enjoying reading the British edition of these books as well.  I’m a strong believer that if a book is written by someone who is British, and set in Britain, there should be no “translation” into American English.  It’s just silly!  So it’s fun to read these with their original British slang and terms.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis – 5*

//published 1952//

This is probably the most episodic of the series, with each chapter or two being its own little adventure.  I really do love the redemption of Eustace, and while Reepicheep can be a bit much, I still can appreciate his valor.  There are a lot of interesting little tales here, some better than others, but on the whole a delightful revisit.

A Bit About Harry Potter {Part 3}

Part I

Part II

So I finished this series (again) a couple of weeks ago.  Per usual, Deathly Hallows kind of ruined my life for a couple of days because I really can’t get anything else done when I’m reading that book beyond reading the book.  Even though I know how it ends, it still completely engages me every time.

For my final discussion, I’d mostly like to talk about Snape.  In the Harry Potter fandom, I frequently come across people who are die-hard Snape lovers.  They laud him for his faithfulness, his willingness to risk his life, his ability to walk the dangerous edge of being a spy.  They quote his famous “Always” line as though it is the most romantic thing anyone has ever said.

However, I disagree with pretty much all of that.  In  my opinion, Snape was a selfish and cruel man with an obsession for an idealized woman he had created in his mind.  Nothing that he did was truly altruistic.  He never really matured or changed as a person, other than to become more twisted and bitter.  Snape lived his life as could-have-beens that never really could have been, and blamed everyone else for his own failings.  When given the opportunity to truly do good, he never did.

It’s obvious throughout the story that Snape never really loved Lilly for who she was.  He never truly appreciated her skills, talents, beliefs, or dreams.  While he acted as though James never deserved her, it was Snape himself who chose to walk a path completely different from the one Lilly was following.  Where James matured, Snape stagnated.  In the end, Lilly married the man who had actually become a man.  I think that their patronuses illustrate this mostly clearly – James and Lilly’s are a matching set – different, yet complementing.  Snape’s becomes the same shape as Lilly’s – obsession, rather than love.

Throughout his career at Hogwarts, Snape does nothing to show that he has changed or developed as a person.  He is cruel and taunting towards students he doesn’t like – the same sneering bully that he ever was.  Given the opportunity to help Harry, he does a bare minimum, just like he always did with Lilly herself.  He’s unwilling to see Harry as a unique and talented individual.  Instead, Snape only sees Harry as a product of James.  While he agrees to keep Harry alive for Lilly’s sake, he hates Harry for James’s sake.  That is not the mark of a man who has truly changed his stripes.

In short, Snape’s so-called love for Lilly is not romantic.  He is not faithful.  He always did what he wanted to do, no matter what it hurt or cost Lilly.  The fact that he still obsesses over her doesn’t make his character compelling – it makes him a fool who can only look at the past with regrets over Lilly’s choices, not his own.

Beyond Snape…  let’s see…  well, I actually like Dumbledore.  A lot of people are down on him and say that he used Harry, etc.  I say that he was only a man who was doing his best.  He never forced Harry any step of the way; everything that Harry did was of his own free will.

Also, side note, I really, really tried my best to read a homosexual relationship into the friendship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, and it just was no soap.  It makes zero sense.  Really.

I love the development of relationships between Harry, Ron, and Hermione – as a trio, and as each pair.  Personally, I think that the fact that Ron and Hermione end up together is perfect.  I also think that Harry marrying Ginny is excellent.

The ending of this book is amazing.  Harry’s sacrifice, followed by the way that Voldemort is no longer able to touch the people for whom Harry sacrificed himself – the fact that Neville pulls Gryffindor’s sword from the hat – the way that Voldemort dies like any other mortal human – all excellent.

Not excellent?  Rowling’s haphazard killing of loads of people just to try to make an emotional impact.  It really wasn’t necessary, and it kind of annoys me.

Overall, though, I really enjoy these books.  Per usual, any time there’s a huge series like this, there are lots of continuity questions (like if Harry saw his mom die, how come he couldn’t see the thestrals all along??), but I don’t really get fussed over things like that.  These books are a thoroughly good read, and more books set in this world would indeed be a fantastic thing.

A Bit about Harry Potter {part 2}

So I mentioned the other day that I’ve been reading the Harry Potter books again.  Usually I blast through this series like a dog scarfing a hamburger, but this time around I’ve been reading them as a part of my round-robin reading style (usually library book, personal book, library book, series, library book, mystery series, and then around again), which means I’ve had a bit of contemplation time between each title, and that’s been kind of fun.  All I have left is the final book in the series, so my most recent reads were my least favorite of the series (Order of the Phoenix) and my favorite (The Half-Blood Prince).

As I mentioned before, I really enjoy these books.  They have loads of plot holes and plenty of discrepancies, but so do most epic series, so I just go with it.  However, as I also mentioned before, what I don’t really enjoy about these books (besides Rowling herself, who really, really gets on my nerves) is the fandom.  I’m an avid tumblrer, and I find myself rolling my eyes frequently at oh-so-clever Harry Potter books that really aren’t clever at all.  So, for today’s personal opinions about Harry Potter:  Why Harry Potter Isn’t Stupid and a Bit About Teenage Angst.

So one of my pet peeves is posts that go on about Harry is really quite dumb.  The one that irritates me the most (probably because it’s always pronounced with such a smug, self-satisfied attitude) is that Harry is so stupid that he couldn’t recognize Snape’s handwriting in his potions book in The Half-Blood Prince because, DUH, Harry has been watching Snape write on the chalkboard for years!  What a dummy!  Really?  That’s the best you can come up with?  First off, any time there is any mention of Snape putting something on the board it’s with a “wave of his wand” or something along those lines:  Snape doesn’t stand there and writing out the potions recipe – he puts it up there by magic.  It could be anyone’s (or no one’s) writing, not necessarily his own.  Secondly, does your writing on a chalkboard really look exactly like the writing you use to scribble notes?  And thirdly, does your 16-year-old handwriting look the same as your 40-year-old handwriting?  Egads.

The point is, Harry isn’t stupid.  However, he is a kid.  So yes, he makes mistakes.  Yes, he sometimes misses the obvious.  Yes, he has lots of regrets.  But they aren’t because he’s dumb; they’re because he’s young.  Not only does Harry illustrate his intelligence by getting top grades and, you know, defeating multiple dark wizards in his spare time, he also proves it by acknowledging that he can’t complete his mission on his own.  He has friends who complement him and bolster him where he is weak.

I think that Rowling does an excellent job writing to the age of the characters – the points where they are unreasonable or ridiculous are times that they are most acting like one would expect someone their age to do so.  Is Harry super obnoxious in Order of the Phoenix?  Yes, yes he is.  Why?  Because he’s 15 and thinks he knows everything, like the majority of 15-year-olds.  There is a great quote from Phineas, a portrait of one of the old headmasters at Hogwarts –

“You know …  this is precisely why I loathed being a teacher!  Young people are so infernally convinced that they are absolutely right about everything.  Has it not occurred to you, my poor puffed-up popinjay, that there might be an excellent reason why the headmaster of Hogwarts is not confiding every tiny detail to you?  Have you never paused, while feeling hard-done-by, to note that following Dumbledore’s orders has never yet led you into harm?  No.  No, like all young people, you are quite sure that you alone feel and think, you alone recognize danger, you alone are the only one clever enough to realize what the Dark Lord may be planning.”

To me, that quote perfectly summarizes youth.  Youth always thinks that it is the only one to have suffered in this way; Youth assumes that Age does not understand and can never understand the agonies of Youth.  And I think that part of the reason I enjoy this series is because Harry learns that his youth is not always a strength.

Like I’ve said, there are plenty of weaknesses in the series.  But Harry’s intelligence is not one of them.

Final thoughts will probably include a lot about Snape, so be ready!  :-D

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.