Book Review: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown


Author: Jeffrey Brown
Title: Jedi Academy 
Publication Info: Scholastic Inc., 2013
Summary/Review:

Jedi Academy is a story set in the Star Wars universe about 200 years before the movies, and features Roan Novachez, a farmboy from Tatooine selected to attend the Jedi Academy on Coruscant.  Drawing on elements of Hogwarts and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, this richly-illustrated early reader book follows Roan through his misadventures and struggles to fit in with more advanced users of the Force.  I think I was a kid I would’ve been annoyed by the many references to schools in our universe, but as an adult I’m less attached to pure canon to let that interfere with my enjoyment of some silly gags.  This is a good book, and the start of a series, for the young Star Wars fan in your life.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White


Author: E.B. White
Title: Charlotte’s Web
Narrator: E.B. White
Publication Info: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group [Originally published, 1952]
Other Books Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

Charlotte’s Web is a book I loved as a child and still love revisiting it as an adult.  And it’s quite the weeper! It’s a simple barnyard fable of a piglet who is the runt of the litter saved by a girl named Fern and named Wilbur.  As Wilbur grows and thrives he is faced with the reality that he will be butchered for pork. His life is saved by his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte who weaves words like “Some Pig” and “Terrific” into her webs. Wilbur grows to become a celebrity pig which saves him from the butchering block.

The natural response to this story is that Wilbur actually does nothing and it is Charlotte who should be recognized as a remarkable spider.  The farmer’s wife, Mrs. Zuckerman, says as much in the story. What I never noticed about this story as a child is how it is a social satire of how gullible humans are to the messages of advertising. But it’s also a story of friendship and how Charlotte dedicates her naturally short life to preventing the unnatural end of Wilbur’s life.  As a result, Charlotte’s legacy is ensured with Wilbur telling her story to generations of her descendants.

The book also features Templeton, a funny rat, who I loved as a child and who still cracks me up now.  Charlotte’s Web is a well-regarded classic and I can’t help but throw my praise onto it’s heap of plaudits.  Have you read Charlotte’s Web, and if you have what are your thoughts?

Favorite Passages:

“…A miracle has happened and a sign has occurred here on earth, right on our farm, and we have no ordinary pig.”

“Well,” said Mrs. Zuckerman, “it seems to me that you’re a little off. It seems to me we have no ordinary spider.

Final Lines: “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

Recommended books:

  • The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
  • Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
  • The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Rating: *****

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling


Author: J.K. Rowling
Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Narrator: Jim Dale
Publication Info: Listening Library, 2007
Summary/Review:

In 2007, expectations were high for the final volume in the Harry Potter series.  I believe it’s safe to say that J.K. Rowling stuck the landing.  I remember I was traveling home from Los Angeles the day the book was released and since the book was not available at the bookstore near my gate, I actually walked to another terminal to get a copy.  And then I read most of it on my redeye flight to Boston.

It felt like a huge change to have Harry, Hermione, and Ron skipping their final year at Hogwarts to search for horcruxes.  The familiar structure of Harry Potter novels was disrupted. Instead we get a novel with two distinct sections.  The first is kind of a mystery as the trio search for clues to find and destroy  horcruxes.  The second is a war story as the forces of good face Voldemort and his Death Eater for a climactic battle.

What’s impressive is that so many of the themes, places, and characters established in the previous six stories are worked into the story.  Griphook and Mr. Ollivander, for example, are people Harry met in his first encounter with the Wizarding World and they each play a vital role in this novel.  These throwbacks are natural though and all click into place in a satisfying narrative.

While still a large book, The Deathly Hallows feels more narratively straight-forward and moves faster than its predecessors.  Obviously a lot of work was set up for this book by its predecessors, especially The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince, that did a lot of the scene-setting and explanation, whereas The Deathly Hallows is more about piecing that knowledge together. There are some parts that didn’t work for me.  Harry meeting Dumbledore in a heaven-like Kings Cross rather than dying felt like a cop-out to me at first, although I’ve softened on that over time.  The epilogue is something I see a lot criticism about, and I agree that it is unsatisfying, probably because it is unnecessary.

The Deathly Hallows was the only book that came out after I started this blog so you can also read my initial impressions from 2007.

 

Rating:

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling


Author: J.K. Rowling
Title: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Narrator: Jim Dale
Publication Info: Listening Library, 2005
Summary/Review:

Rereading The Half-Blood Prince made me realize that more than I any book in the series, I had plum forgotten what had happened in this book.  I remembered that Harry gets an old textbook that helps him succeed in class that turns out to have once been Snape’s.  I remembered Dumbledore spends much more time with Harry and they traveled together to hunt horcruxes (in fact they only travel once, although the due look at many memories in the pensieve).  And I remembered that Dumbledore dies, killed by Snape on the astronomy tower.

I had totally forgotten about Horace Slughorn and his importance not just in this novel, but to Voldemort and horcruxes.  I’d forgotten that Ron dates Lavender Brown.

So reading this again was full of personal discoveries.  The interesting aspect of this book is that after the oppressive nature of Hogwarts under Umbridge, it feels like a world that’s a bit more relaxed and cozy.  Harry and his friends have time to engage in typical teenage drama.  It’s all a feint, of course, and it heightens the feeling of horror when Dumbledore is murdered.

I remember the first time I read this, I was angry that Dumbledore was so foolish to recognize Snape as a threat.  As the weeks passed, I thought more on it, and wondered what if letting Snape kill him was all part of Dumbledore’s plan.  This proved to be correct, so at least my mind was good at some things, if not always at memory.

Here’s the “review” I wrote in 2005:

It’s predecessor kind of plodded along at points, but this book is more crisply written and has a good share of adventure and intrigue. I found the ending disappointing, not because a Dumbledore dies (I guessed correctly who would die), but because his death is futile and comes as a result of uncharacteristic stupidity. There are a lot of loose ends at the end of the book and it’s going to be a big challenge for Rowling to tie them up all satisfactorily in the final book (without the book being 2000 pages long).

On second thought, Dumbledore’s death makes more sense as a sacrifice to save both Malfoy and Snape, and possibly even arranged with Snape as a plot to fool Voldemort. I still find it hard to believe that Harry Potter can (convincingly) find all the Horcruxes and kill Voldemort in book 7 without Dumbledore and without the book being an endless tome.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling


Author: J.K. Rowling
Title: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Narrator: Jim Dale
Publication Info: Listening Library, 2003
Summary/Review:

The fifth book in the Harry Potter series is by far the longest novel, and one that may have benefited from judicious editing and abridging.  I think this book has the most pages before Harry and his friends even arrive for their first day at Hogwarts!  Having said that, I have to admit that actually enjoy the novel’s many tangents and subplots. I like reading Hagrid’s long tale of visiting the giants.  And at the conclusion of the novel when Dumbledore finally explains what he’s been trying to do for 15 years, it’s a major information dump, but these are details I’m eager to suck up.

This novel may also capture Harry at his lowest ebb.  Harry is angry and angsty for much of the novel, apropos to teenage behavior.  But Harry has reason to be angry, having witnessed the murder of Cedric, suffered the insults of a Wizarding World that calls him a liar, and seemingly been abandoned by his mentor, Dumbledore.

The formation of Dumbledore’s Army is really a great moment in the development of many characters who have been supporting characters for much of the series but begin to come into their own.  This novel also introduces one of my favorite characters, Luna Lovegood, which is amazing since she’s such a significant person in the series.  But hey, I met some of my closest friends my senior year of college.  I also like that Luna, Ginny, and Neville join Harry, Hermione, and Ron when they go to Ministry of Magic, again really expanding the story beyond just the core 3. The inclusion of Snape’s memory of being bullied by Harry’s father James and his friends is also a signficant addition to the backstory and how Harry understands his place in the Wizarding World.

The book does feature the major heartbreak of the death of Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black, a character I feel we never got to know well enough.  I’m also curious why the Ministry of Magic keeps a giant arch that causes people who passes through it to die, because that was just a weird plot element, and something that really confused me about Sirius’ death when I first read this book.

So, yeah, this is a long book that doesn’t exactly flow narratively.  But I enjoy wallowing in a few whirlpools along the way.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling


Author: J.K. Rowling
Title: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Narrator: Jim Dale
Publication Info: Listening Library, 2000
Summary/Review:

Just before midnight on a July night in 2000, I was walking through Harvard Square and saw lines of children and their parents extending from three different bookstores.  The release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was my first exposure to the Harry Potter phenomenon as a childless person in his mid-20s.  I heard the name “Harry Potter” before but for some reason I’d gotten it into my head that was the author of the Goosebumps series (I know now that’s R.L. Stine!). By the end of the next year I would binge read all four of the Harry Potter novels to date and be invested in finding out what comes next.

This fourth novel represents a big jump in page count from the previous book in the series, but also a broadening of Harry Potter’s world and a darkening in tone for the narrative.  As opposed to the more self-contained earlier books, The Goblet of Fire ends with the return of Voldemort to corporal form and begins the ongoing story of the Second Wizarding War that will continue until the end of the series.

The heart of the novel is the Triwizard Tournament which brings in students from two other wizarding schools.  My biggest frustration with this book is that the rules clearly state there are three champions and they must be at least 17 years old, and yet when Harry is selected, all the adults claim to be powerless against not allowing Harry to participate.  I mean, there’s a lot of child endangerment in the Wizarding World, but I still feel there should’ve been a more convincing way for Harry to be drawn into the tournament. Nevertheless, I do enjoy the tournament tasks and Harry’s clever ways of approaching them and how Harry and Cedric work together despite being opponents.

The book also introduces Rita Skeeter, who I think is the first of a series of horrible adults in the Wizarding World who are not also Death Eaters.  And Hermione exposes the enslavement of house elves, which is another interesting challenge to the goodness the reader assumes about people in the Wizarding World, although I wish her campaign got more traction with the characters in the book.  Finally, there’s the debut of Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody who is one of the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers yet and a mentor to Harry, which is ironic since its revealed he’s Death Eater in disguise.  That’s probably one of the best twists Rowling ever writes!  Nevertheless, the clues I missed on my first reading are all there.

As the middle book of 7, The Goblet of Fire serves its purpose as the hinge of the entire series. More importantly it continues to be an engaging and thoughtful read.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkeban by J.K. Rowling


Author: J.K. Rowling
Title: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkeban
Narrator: Jim Dale
Publication Info: Listening Library, 2000 [Originally published, 1999]
Summary/Review:

The third volume in the Harry Potter series may be my favorite of them all.  It’s hard to compare since the later books are so different from the earlier books that they’re almost a different genre.  The Prisoner of Azkeban is the last of the shorter, self-contained novels and the most well-plotted of the three.

In retrospect, it’s really impressive how well Rowling sells Sirius Black as a villain, knowing that he will become Harry’s mentor and father-figure.  I also like how this book establishes the background of the Marauders which sets the stage for the return of Voldemort and the Second Wizarding War in book 4.  But mostly it’s a ripping yarn, a mystery that somehow ties together a werewolf, a magical map, time travel, and Dementors, Rowling’s creepiest creatures of all.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling


Author: J.K. Rowling
Title: Harry Potter and the  Chamber of Secrets
Narrator: Jim Dale
Publication Info: Listening Library, 1999 [Originally published, 1998]
Summary/Review:

The second novel in the series is a delightful stand alone story that shows Harry facing challenges as an outsider in the Wizarding World at the school he loves, as well as introducing metaphors of racial prejudice regarding non-magical people.  This book introduces several elements important to the whole series including: Dobby the house elf, Parselmouth, polyjuice potion, Aragog the spider, and the first horcrux (albeit not named as such in this book). Most significantly, we learn about Lord Voldemort’s past, with Rowling cleverly introducing the young Tom Riddle by way of the diary. Professor Binns, the ghost history professor, also plays a key role in this book, and I, for one, am disappointed he never appeared in the movies. While I’d remembered that Gildroy Lockhart is a fraud, I’d forgotten that he was also villainous in how he stole people’s memories.

Rating: ****

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


Welcome to Harry Potter Week! My daughter became a huge fan of the Wizarding World this year so I’ve spent the past several months revisiting the books and watching the movies (some for the first time). I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the books and movies over the course of seven days.

Author: J.K. Rowling
Title: Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone
Narrator: Jim Dale
Publication Info: 1999 Listening Library
Summary/Review:

My wife read all the Harry Potter books to my daughter, so I had Jim Dale read them all to me (and what a charming reader he is). I am impressed at how much of the full story is established in the first book.  I mean Sirius Black is mentioned on the first page, for starters.  But the basics details of Hogwarts and the Wizarding World are all very well established in this book.  This novel is also a good stand-alone story (IIRC, so are the 2nd and 3rd books, while 4 through 7 are more of an ongoing story).  It’s hard to remember what I thought when I first read this book around 15 years ago, but I have to say it holds up well.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste


Author: Tracey Baptiste
Title:The Jumbies
Narrator: Robin Miles
Publication Info: Prince Frederick, Md.: Recorded Books ; [Distributed by] OneClick Digital, 2015
Summary/Review:

Rooted in Carribean folklore, The Jumbies is a classic story of children forced to call upon their wits to contend with magical beings. Corinne La Mer is a brave 11-year-old whose visit to the forest accidentally draws out the ancient beings who inhabited her island before humans arrived.  One of these jumbies takes the form of a woman named Severine who enchants Corrine’s father.  It’s up to Corrine and her friends and a reluctant witch to save their island from Severine.  There’s a lot of creepiness in this story as well as good character and relationship moments.  Robin Miles does an excellent job narrating the audiobook.

Recommended books: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, and Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Rating: ***