Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Creating Cormoran and his "Career of Evil"

The Blue Oyster Cult and a severed leg.  These are the only two clues that face Cormoran Strike in a perplexing mystery that will force him to examine his past and potentially lose his future.  Strike is back for the third installation of Robert Galbraith's hit series featuring the veteran-turned-detective and his clever, resilient assistant, Robin Ellacott. Career of Evil is the latest installation in the seven part series by British author, Robert Galbraith (what a magical name!).  This is perhaps the most twisted book in the series so far; Cormoran and Robin are directly targeted in a mystery that will reveal both Cormoran and Robin's inner demons and force them to reevaluate their lives and each other.

Staying true to form, Career continues Galbraith's gritty, edgy style, with crimes that turn the stomach and suspects that come from all walks of life but all have twisted inner demons and leanings towards evil.  A severed leg is delivered to Robin; this sets off several alarms for Robin, who is convinced that it is not the work of a random psycho but someone who is targeting Cormoran and mocking his amputation.  Cormoran, although slow to agree, comes to the conclusion that there are three main suspects who would have enough resentment towards Cormoran to target him. Cormoran and Robin begin to track down and investigate the three men, discovering that all three have the potential to descend into madness and all three having a burning hate for Cormoran Strike. The novel culminates in a fall that leaves readers anxious and waiting for more.

This might be the best novel of the series so far.  The whodunit was a bit obvious as the novel went on; however, a surprise twist packed a punch so fierce that the reader is almost forced to flip back and read specific passages again.  The journey was definitely the best part about this novel. A lot is revealed about the mysterious Cormoran; these revelations about him force Robin to examine her relationships with him and in doing so, Robin's character is developed to resemble the strong female characters from Galbraith's past works. The Cuckoo's Calling was a refreshing appearance on the mystery scene in 2013, a lackluster year for the genre, and promised a lot more to come from this brilliant author; Career of Evil delivers on that promise and leaves enough cliffhangers to entice readers to anxiously await next year's installment.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

"The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane."

Courtesy of
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the final installment in the series that captivated the world and changed children's literature forever.  By this point, the movies had been smash hits, the series had reached rock star levels of fame, with the midnight book premier being more of parties and celebrations than just a book release. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at universal Studios in Orlando, Florida was already being rumored (it was true!) and the last book was heavily guarded, with only two people in the world knowing the exact reasons for everything (JK Rowling herself squealed to British actor who played Severus Snape, Alan Rickman).  The world was hooked.  The Harry Potter series had become so real for so many people that it was hard to imagine a book that would not only satisfy the masses, but that would wrap up everything that had happen in the last six books.  Yet, Rowling delivered. 

Deathly Hallows encompasses all that made the series great: action, mystery, suspense, love, wit, and an ever present sense of hope.  It is needless to say that this book is dark; Voldemort has taken over and the good guys are running out of time (and people) to find the way to defeat him. Rowling creates the deathly hallows, a mystical fable of objects that would overcome death (seriously, the movie version of this part is better than the book).  These objects,  along with another set of darker, more evil objects, drive the story forward. This is the book that, in my opinion, finally showcases Rowling's ability as a fantasy writer.  She has created her own canon of magic, not borrowed and tweaked previously known items; she solidified a new idea of magic in literature.  Deathly Hallows is difficult to classify.  It is not the best book out of the series; there are parts that seem choppy and out of sorts, almost like Rowling was postponing the end herself.  Nonetheless, this is the book that makes the series, that makes the world black and white, and illustrates to the reader Rowling's overall message in the series: redemption, forgiveness, love, and honor will triumph even in the face of the darkest foes.  
Chapter 33 "The Prince's Tale"

There are several things simply wrong with this book.  Several  things made readers cry, rage, throw the book down in disgust.  Things that broke our hearts.  Things that were paramount to reveal the ugliness of war, the brokenness of evil, and the heartache that accompanies taken the hard road, the righteous road.  Rowling did not make a mistake with this book, despite what readers still debate.  The things that seemed wrong, seemed awful, were realistic and relevant.  War and death are not rational, which Rowling stressed to point out.  She took a war (wars are not all that different, even in a magical world) and showed us that divided along good and evil, people die, places get destroyed, lives are changed forever, and things that people dread can happen. Yet, in this book, in life, good triumphs.  There will always be someone to stand up for what is right,  even in the face of death.  Those least likely will be the heroes.  Love conquers all. Always. 

"All was well,"

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

“It was nearing midnight and the Prime Minister was sitting along in his office, reading a long memo that was slipping through his brain without leaving the slightest trace of meaning behind.”

Straight from the get-go, Harry  Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is probably the most entertaining and most mesmerizing book of the series.  The other books build up the story, enticing you to keep reading to find out what happens next and to continue the journey to the climax of the story;  Half-Blood Prince draws you in by sheer force of storytelling, by the way Rowling weaves the story in a way that you are in the moment, not wondering how this is all going to come together, not wondering what is going to happen next,  but just simply interested in the story plot at hand.  Everything has lead up to this book; all the unanswered questions, not yet solved problems, and the gray areas of loyalty are all made painfully clear in this book.

The book opens with one of the most realistic, most darkly enjoyable  scenes of the series.  The Muggle Prime Minster is in a near panic from all the inexplicable disasters occurring in Great Britain. While in a state, he is visited by the recently sacked Minister of Magic, who explains that all the disasters are related to the revitalized power of the most powerful dark wizard of all time.  This meeting does not go well. Yet, this opening leaves reader caught up with the events since Voldemort's going public at the Ministry of Magic.  We meet Harry once again at Privet Drive; the Dursleys haven not changed much, but Harry sure has.  Quiet, often brooding, and still simmering with the agony of Sirius's death, Harry is quite startled to be relieved of his time at Privet Drive by Dumbledore himself.  A whirlwind manipulation of a former teacher later, Harry is reunited with his friends and they off to Hogwarts for harder classes, complex love affairs, general shenanigans, and to be faced with a plot so simple, so driven with fear, that it entirely changes the course of Hogwarts and of the mission to defeat Voldemort.

Chapter 27-
"The Lightening-Struck Tower"
There are several points of humor in this book (which is turn led to a highly entertaining movie) that balance out the dark forces that are simmering under the surface. The dialogue is more natural and more mature.  For the first time in the series, Rowling finally makes use of flashbacks; however, it is not your typical flashback, since the scenes are memories stored in a Pensive (most useful item in the series after wands!)  When not written correctly, flashbacks can seem campy, unnecessary, or can throw the plot off completely.  This is not the case for Half-Blood Prince; some of Rowling's best writing in the series are these scenes.  They are almost separate narratives in a story, all contributing to the present day situation.  Rowling weaves in tragedy, determination, evil, madness, beauty, and mystery throughout the stories.  The flashbacks propel the narrative forward, revealing Voldemort's past, present, and future. Rowling writes her more mature teen characters with witty dialogue, amusingly accurate portrayals of love, angst, and everything in between, and, most importantly, a near-complete revealing of what exactly is going on.  Why does Harry have to return to the horrid Dursleys every year, what happened to Dumbledore's hand, how was Voldemort able to cling to life, and much, much more, including the revealing of several characters' true intentions.

As I said in the third post about this series, this is the second best book, in my opinion.  It has the elements that made this series great; ingenuity, adventure, fantasy, family, love, great dialogue, and historical intrigue.  This is the most heart-pounding book in the series, the book that ushers readers to the beginning of the end.  The beauty of Half-Blood Prince is that it leaves you sad, hopeful, and completely immersed from beginning to end.  You question gray areas of characters and sitautions: what would you do?  That is the question Harry is asking himself in the beginning; by the end, he has his answers and is preparing to face his greatest foe.

“His hand closed automatically around the fake Horcrux, but in spite of everything, in spite of the dark and twisting path he saw stretching ahead for himself, in spite of the final meeting with Voldemort he knew must come, whether in a month, in a year, or in ten, he felt his heart lift at the thought that there was still one last golden day of peace left to enjoy with Ron and Hermione.”

The end is coming. Wands ready!

Monday, August 17, 2015

“The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive.”

Courtesy of
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix could be called the turning point for the series.  It is completely gloomy, dark, and our wizards and witches are growing up.  I will tell you right now, it is not a feel good book.  It signals the now darkness that the British wizarding world is enveloped in and now the gray areas of loyalty are becoming black and white.  The good guys and the bad guys are distinguishing themselves and the underground war is just getting started.

We had been left on a depressing cliff the last book, and we now meet our wizard hero being 15, bullied by his cousin, and blossoming into an angst filled teenager. After being attacked by dementors in Muggle London, Harry is whisked away into hiding with the Order of the Phoenix, the revived group of wizards and witches dedicated to fighting Voldemort.  There we learn more about Sirius Black and his past, the new members of the Order, and what exactly are the odds of success against Voldemort and his growing number of followers.  At school, Harry is faced with new challenges: a teacher who is down right evil, a vengeful Severus Snape, his raging hormones and emotions (angst being the absolute worst part of this book- yet, Rowling masterfully manages to fully annoy the reader with Harry's teen drama, exactly like a real teenager), a sad Cho Chang who needs a shoulder to cry on, upcoming O.W.L.s, and the creeping darkness of Voldemort's forces closing in.

British author J.K. Rowling takes pains to signal that the series is now departing from the feel-good, whimsical first book.  Order is angrier, edgier, and much more adult than the previous books. There is new magic introduced, but is either dark magic or defensive magic.  New characters are also introduced; several of them are endearing, but their very presence is evidence that Dumbledore is padding the ranks with highly trained, deadly, and morally good wizards and witches, preparing for the eventual grand showdown.  On the flip side, we are introduced to a new villain that is most definitely worse and more anger-inducing than Voldemort himself: Dolores Umbridge. American author Stephen King (who knows a thing or two about villians and evil) summed her up perfectly: “The gently smiling Dolores Umbridge, with her girlish voice, toadlike face, and clutching, stubby fingers, is the greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter.”  She is mind-numbingly terrible, dripping in pink, cats, and hate for Harry Potter.  She is possibly the best part of the book.  Any interactions with her are written sadistically and cruelly; Rowling's writing genius shines through Umbridge in that any interaction with Umbridge will fill the reader with anger, indignant rebellion, and a realization that sometimes, the real evil is in the weaker people who flock to the powerful.

Chapter 36: The Only One He Ever Feared,
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
In what has become the most horrifying, terrible, tragic part of the series, Order ends with a death that literally hurts.  I have no shame in admitting that my mother and I cried throughout our entire vacation after reading the book (much to my father's chagrin!)  The final blow in the book is devastating; many still criticize Rowling for it.  However, it was necessary.  It warned the reader that war is not for the faint of heart and that good people, people who you love, die.  Fans hated it, but it was the perfect way to initialize what was to come.  This book divided the men from the boys, women from the girls, among the Harry Potter fans.  Order of the Phoenix tested your ability to love the series despite the tragedy, the hurt, the pain, the angst, and Cho Chang.  If you could excuse this book, you would make it to the end.

“Instead he smiled, raised a hand in farewell, turned around, and led the way out of the station toward the sunlit street, with Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Dudley hurrying along in his wake.”

Only two more to go!  Check back for Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (my second favorite!)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

“The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it “the Riddle House,” even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there.”

Courtesy of
I will admit, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the third best book in the series.  It also gives me the most anxiety.  I tear through the other books, not being able to put them down until I triumphantly finish and then throw it aside to militantly start the next book; this one usually takes me about two weeks to read.  I obsessively read through the beginning and then trickle down to a couple of chapters a day, and then, at the end, I am putting the book down every few pages to reel from the shock (the shock which never gets old.)  By the time I am finished with the book, I am stunned all over again.

Why? Goblet of Fire is perhaps the most critical book in the series. It not only signals a shift in the narrative, but also a shift in Rowling's writing style. The narrative is darker, most complex, with more twists and turns. Rowling's writing is more mature, more detailed, and her crafted plot twists and characters were much more refined and succinct. However, probably the most distinct departure from the previous books is how little Rowling focuses on the school aspect of Harry's life.  Instead, Goblet focuses more on the expansiveness of the magical world beyond Hogwarts, the deep political tension growing due to seemingly truthful whispers of Voldemort's return, and on secrets that threaten many characters.

Goblet opens up with a murder of a Muggle by Lord Voldemort, letting the audience know immediately that he is back (thanks to a rat traitor...).  He is on the hunt for Harry. Harry, on the other hand, is snug (and miserable) at the Dursleys', awaiting news about the impending Quidditch World Cup.  Tents, snitches, Morsmordre, and accusations all accompany the international event and it is in a somber attitude that our favorites magical people return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  However, the previously fatal Triwizard Tournament is being held at Hogwarts this year and two other European magic schools will be staying at Hogwarts to compete in the event.  Things are not as simple as they should be though, and Harry is once again the target of a murky, but dangerous plot, one that will have cataclysmic consequences and will forever change everything that Harry knows and threatens everything he loves.

Chapter 28, "The Madness of Mr. Crouch"
Most series struggle to keep up with themselves in the middle of the series. The middle usually signals a turning point, with the conflict already being introduced earlier.  However, Rowling chose to do things differently.  She used the first three books to set up the scene.  The readers receive the first major plot whammy in Goblet:Voldemort has returned and it is definitely not good.  With this new development, Rowling takes the reader away from the smaller details of a magical school (readers are in the classroom less and are more involved in the going-ons of the larger magical world) and plunges Harry and the readers into a plot line that had been threatening to explode since the first book.  Rowling is at her absolute best in this book; she manages the flow of several different plot lines beautifully, all while keeping up with witty dialogue, quirky new characters, unique magical elements, and, in the end, tying everything together so surprisingly and so deftly, it will leave the reader shocked (this lack of the element of surprise is what made the movie inferior).  Goblet just has a different feel to it than the previous three books.  It is markedly more mature than the previous three; this is the first time the series seems more geared towards adults than kids.  Rowling masterfully wrote a type of slow building suspense that builds the narrative all the while keeping up with Rowling's concepts of magic. The twists and turn throughout the plot seem to blend in perfectly, and do not hit you until one tell-all chapter towards the end.  Only then does the reader see the entire picture; only then does the reader realize that this is the real beginning of the series, the introduction of the main plot that will drive the rest of the books.  

Goblet of Fire is a force to be reckoned with as far as books go.  There is a fun, albeit slightly apprehensive undertone throughout the entire book, only to be quickly extinguished by horror, tragedy, and a looming power of evil.  Rowling leaves both the characters and the readers heartbroken but with a renewed sense of good and determination.  Goblet is the start of something big, and Rowling does not spare the readers the angst of what Voldemort's return means.  The future looks bleak and the ultimate war against Voldemort is beginning.

"As Hagrid had said, what would come, would come … and he would have to meet it when it did."

Stay Tuned for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

“Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways.”

Courtesy of
There is a character in every successful series that pulls at your heartstrings in a way that no other character does.  That character will have the love, admiration, and adoration of the readers.  There are several of these characters in the Harry Potter series, but none quite wooed the audience like Sirius Black.  A bad boy with a heart of gold, a dog with unending loyalty, and the fortitude to stand up for what's right no matter the consequences to himself; this is Sirius Black and readers met him for the first time in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  The third book in the series, Prisoner is, without a doubt, one of the two best books in the series (the other being Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, which we will be reading about soon!)  Prisoner introduces us to new characters, new magic, new places, and begins to crack open the larger story line arc of the series.  It gives us a history that had been previously just a blank slate to both Harry and the reader; these revelations start the turn the machine that will propel the rest of the series.

Prisoner finds our now 13 year old hero counting down the days until he can return to Hogwarts.  However, a magical disaster shortens the countdown, and Harry finds himself staying in Diagon Alley while people whisper about the prisoner breakout from the wizarding prison, Azkaban.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione's third year at Hogwarts is marked by Firebolts, hippogriffs, crystal balls, a dying rat, and the infamous Sirius Black.  Sirius Black is a criminal on the run, accused of blowing up a street full of Muggles, killing the heroic Peter Pettigrew, is now on the hunt for Harry... and was Harry's parents' dearest friend.  Harry struggles with this knowledge throughout, only to be startled by the revealing of a more sinister plot at hand.  Readers are finally treated to a more concrete backstory of what happened during those last weeks before Voldemort's fall; this backstory makes all the difference for the story and sets the stage for the ultimate showdown to begin.

It is evident that Rowling had finally found her definite writing style by this book.  Her descriptions still remain vivid and concise; yet, the development of the story and the flow of the events are much, much better.  She departs from the formulaic story line of the past two books.  Rowling takes the reader away from the everyday classrooms and Great Hall that the majority of the last two novels took place in; Prisoner is jammed packed with Quidditch matches, intrigue, wanderings throughout Hogwarts, and a new location (Hogsmeade).  The dialogue is much more realistic and the emotions of the characters seem more engaging and, perhaps, indicates more maturity on their part.  Prisoner also sees Rowling blossom with magical ideas of her own.  Before, we had seen new ideas mingled with cliche ideas of wizards and witches.  Now that the story has moved past those introductions to wands, brooms, spells, etc., the reader is shown new aspects of magic.  There is a
great deal of magical creatures, many Rowling borrowed from lore and made her own.  However, what makes this book not only just a great story, but also a great showcase of Rowling's talent, is the flawless weaving in of the past with the present.  She does this without using flashbacks, a literary device that (in my opinion) is vastly overused.  Not only is the idea of past and present clashing rarely used in children's literature, but to be done so well is unprecedented.  She introduces characters that turn on a dime; Sirius Black goes from being vilified to glorified in a masterful (and heartbreaking) chapter.  Rowling manages to create a hero out of someone who she spent the entire book making terrifying.  The introduction of Sirius Black and Remus Lupin now ties the reader to the past; they are living remnants of Harry's past, and that alone romanticizes them and their interactions with others.  The reader is now confronted with just how deep the terror and tyranny of Voldemort ran, foreshadowing how future books will grow darker and darker as Voldemort's rise gains traction.

This is by far my favorite book.  I was in love with the series before Prisoner.  However, after Prisoner, I was properly bewitched (pun totally intended.)  The writing was captivating and the characters were seemed more realistic.  The action was enthralling and the history of before Voldemort's fall was breath taking.  As a history major, I cannot help but love a good back story.  Rowling provided just this.  Things are starting to slowly fall in place and, for the first time, it becomes obvious to the reader that Voldemort is not going to be a thing of the past.  The novel has a dark tint and that alone lures the reader to continue on.  I cannot sing enough praise for this novel.  I have went through three paperback versions (my hardbacks are untouched of course) of this book; it is always my go to.  Prisoner is the gateway for the real story and is a wonderful example of what yet is to come.

"And, grinning broadly at the look of horror on Uncle Vernon’s face, Harry set off toward the station exit, Hedwig rattling along in front of him, for what looked like a much better summer than the last."
Can't get enough?  Check out Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, coming soon!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

“Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four, Privet Drive.”

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By the time Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets arrived on the scene in 1998, the formerly unsure readers were ready.  The book skyrocketed to the top spot in bestsellers in both the UK and the USA; Rowling became the first author to win the British Book Awards Best Children's Book of the Year two years in a row (Philosopher's Stone winning her first award); and Harry Potter fever was officially here to stay.  Movie rumors were being confirmed and, arguably the sign of a great book, people were challenging the series, due to witchcraft.  However, no amount of protests could slow the rampant Harry Potter craze.

The beginning of Chamber of Secrets finds Harry miserable and lonely with his Muggle relations.  A series of mishaps later (a flying car! a mysterious elf! a tree that fights back!), Harry, along with his friends, are back off to Hogwarts.  They endure tougher classes, dive deeper into the history of Hogwarts, and once again are thrust into a battle of good and evil.  The reader is introduced to everyday magic; the Weasley home alone is enough to make you wave that pencil around JUST ONE MORE TIME to make sure you're not magical, to make sure you cannot hightail it to the magic world. The conflict between the good and the bad that was only touched upon in the first book is more widely revealed.  The reader is left at the end of the first book to believe that Voldemort is a thing of the past, but Chamber reveals that idea to be misguided.

When I first read this book, I did not like it.  It was structured almost exactly the same as the first book and the action in it seemed almost forced and too convenient to make sense.  Overall, it is the weakest book in the series.  These flaws still ring true, in my opinion.  However, once a reader has read the entire series, Chamber can be much more appreciated.  Chamber introduces us to a facet of the overarching story that is absolutely crucial for the series; however, the reader cannot possibly know that by the end of this book.  It is not until book 6 that the ah-ha moment arrives, which will send you diving for your copy of Chamber to dust up on the past.  Chamber is that book in a series which is critical; it drives the plot along and begins the slow process of delving into the more foreboding side of magic.  Chamber first introduces the darker elements of the series, which becomes darker and darker as it progresses.

The Heir of Slytherin, Chapter 17 of Chamber
One of perhaps the best thematic elements in the series stems from this book.  The topic of magical racism and elitism arise with the clashes between the different groups of people and creatures in the magical world.  The very real debate of the pure-blooded magical folk and the 'Mudblood' folk (those with Muggle blood) is introduced and quickly elevated to a serious problem.  The blood status is a wonderful parallel to our world and can be related to by readers.  Rowling uses blood status as a crux between the good side and the bad.

After all is said and done, we could not have a Harry Potter series with Chamber.  It is slow going at times and very cookie cutter style wise.  However, the information that is given throughout the book plays into the series so much that it is hard to not reread it.  We are introduced to characters that will be incredibly important later on.  We are also treated to more magic than in the previous book.  The descriptions are more interesting and the ideas are wonderful.  The dialogue is mediocre... but what else could we expect from 12 year old wizards and witches?  Rowling's best talent in this book is the absolute flawless way she ties the entire novel up in the end. Everything has a place in the end and it makes absolute utter sense, just like this book ties in with the entire series perfectly.

Check back for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (my favorite!!!!!)
“And together they walked back through the gateway to the Muggle world.”