Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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4 stars

The final chapter in the Harry Potter series does an excellent job of completing the story.  Often with a longish series of books like this, the author will seem to get lost and leave us readers with an unsatisfying feeling at the end.  That was not the case with this book, and after reading it I felt quite satiated.

I am not going to go into any story details, as it won’t make sense except to someone who has read the series and knows what’s going on anyway, but I will touch on some generalities.  I like the way this books seeks to tie up and explain all the loose ends that popped up throughout the series, without getting tedious about it.  The flow is nice an natural, not depending on characters making obviously stupid decisions to create drama.  I also dig the fast paced, non-stop action that this volume featured.

As far as the overall series is concerned, I never did get much interested in the plight of Harry, specifically.  I was, however, quite enthralled by the witty humor, and intriguing mysteries, and grand adventures.  And the setting, with the magic schools and wizard/muggle interactions et cetera, was positively top hole!  Even the length of the series was excellent–any more than seven books and I probably would have gotten tired of the repetition, whereas these stories managed to stay simultaneously familiar and fresh.

If only the movies weren’t so god-awful…

ben

See Adrienne’s review of this book!

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Published in: on July 31, 2007 at 10:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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3 1/2 stars

I just finished Harry Potter 6! I know, I know… “Harry Potter 6?” you ask. “Why have you just read that? It’s Number 7 that just came out.” Well when we got Number 7, at first Adrienne was reading it, and then Dean was reading it, and I figured, having just watched the awful movie version of Number 5, that I would ramp up to Number 7 by reading Number 6. Which I have just done.

It was a fun book to read. Harry has tuned down the Frodoesque self-pitying that was so annoying in the preceding volume, and gets down to the business of defeating You-Know-Who. But Big V. shows why he is so feared by the good wizards of Great Brittain, and the book ends with darkness on the horizon, along with a great big cliffhanger. More than any other Harry Potter, this book left me fienin’ for the next installment.

ben

Published in: on July 31, 2007 at 3:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Alice in Wonderland

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2 1/2 Stars

Ah, classics. You know, it’s interesting to look at stories in context–there are those that were amazing or revolutionary when they came out, but they spawned so many new areas of imagination that the subsequent writings outstripped the original. I think that is what happened with Alice. I’m sure when it was first published, the images and situations were beyond fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, they still are amazing, but there are so many things “pushing the envelope” that are obviously based on Wonderland, that it’s just not new anymore.

I did like the story…maybe I have just been exposed to it so much in so many different forms (musicals and songs and movies and video games and analogies and essays and sermons and lectures and television shows and whatnot) that reading the original was just mediocre. I am embarking on studying the author and his work, so perhaps in actual context I’ll love it more.

–Adrienne

Published in: on July 30, 2007 at 9:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Abel’s Island

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3 1/2 Stars

You know what I love? Reading a book that I suddenly remember reading when I was in grade school. I distinctly remember reading this book in 5th grade and then having to make a diorama of the island. I didn’t put much effort into the project–mom and dad left me home alone for the afternoon to “get my work done” which translated into “watch TV.” Ah well. On to the book!
This is a Newbery honor book (1977), and it seems this Newbery board preferred the younger-type books in the late seventies. Abel’s Island is a cute little story about an aristocratic mouse who gets blown away in a storm and ends up stranded on an island for a year. There he learns to take care of himself for the first time in his life, and discovers he has a talent for sculpture. I think of it as a self help book for third graders–you know, kinda like how-to-survive-and-become-your-best-in-the-process, but with cute furry animals (and a frog). Of course everything turns out great in the end, and everyone lives happily every after.
This was a quick and easy read, although not something I’d recommend for those looking for an interesting adult story. This is definitely for younger children. I liked it, but then I had a idea as to what to expect.

–Adrienne

Published in: on July 30, 2007 at 8:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

His Magesty’s Dragon

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4 Stars

Our friend Brad recommended this book, and it is his copy that I read. While I have noticed an obscene number of dragon books out there, I have never read any of them, so I cannot say how this stacks up as a dragon book. But I sure did enjoy it.

His Magesty’s Dragon inhabits a rather ironic sub-genre of science fiction called alternate history. In this case the setting is 19th century Europea, where Napolean is trying to take over the world, and people sail around in wooden ships with sails and cannons. And nations have air forces compromised of dragons. The plot is pretty simple, but the characters are excellent, and it is very clever the way dragons are incorporated into the story.

I would recommend this book to anyone, and I look forward to reading its sequels.

ben

Published in: on July 23, 2007 at 8:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Spoiler free)

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5 Stars

Just under 12 hours ago I received a box in the mail…a box our mailman insisted on putting into my hands only (despite the best efforts my husband. Our mailman will be getting a Christmas present this year). I have spent the last 12 hours lying on our couch, listening to symphonies and burning lemon-scented candles while I devoured the final chapter in this series. I will not spoil anything for anyone here, though. It is impossible to write a comprehensive review, in my opinion, without going into detail about the story, so my full review will be posted in about a month. That should give most Potter fiends plenty of time to read the book and discover all the secrets for themselves. Until then, here is my abbreviated opinion:

This book was very, very good…easily my favorite of the series. Maybe it was the nonstop action; maybe it was the attention to detail; maybe it was the obvious way Ms. Rowling crafted the entire series to climax perfectly around page 679. Whatever it was, I loved it.

–(a very tired) Adrienne

See Ben’s review of this book!

Published in: on July 22, 2007 at 3:03 am  Comments (2)  

The Golden Compass

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5 Stars

It’s not often that a book comes along that you can sit down and read over and over again, and still be as fascinated the 50th time as you were the first. This is one of those books. I stumbled upon this book several years ago when I was looking for books on tape to listen to while I worked on my thesis research. I picked up the abridged version of The Golden Compass in the children’s section, and found that I just couldn’t stop listening. I couldn’t even work on mindless tasks while listening–I was that into the story. So I looked it up on Amazon and found it is part of a trilogy named “His Dark Materials” and there were two more fabulous books to be read! What a happy day! Anyhow, I bought the set and I haven’t looked back.

This is the first book of the trilogy, and introduces the first main character: Lyra. Lyra is a 12 year old girl residing in a parallel universe. She lives in Oxford in Jordan college, raised by the Scholars who study there. During a visit from her powerful and elusive uncle, Lyra disrupts an attempted assassination and gets sucked into a fascinating adventure involving missing children, armored fighting bears, a band of gypsies, and rip in the sky leading to another world. Oh, and did I mention the daemons? In this universe, a person’s soul is embodied in a companion animal that cannot leave the side of its person. The daemon has the ability to change shape while its person is a child, but as the child matures, his daemon takes on its permanent shape, which just happens to be a reflection on the true personality of its person.

This book (and, incidentally, the trilogy) has a very strong theme of religion running through it. The central aspect of the story involves the struggle of the church against new notions, and its attempt to silence other gods. I generally don’t like these types of themes, but Philip Pullman has the ability to craft the religion in such a way that it works beautifully with the story, and the action would suffer without it. I want to write many, many more pages explaining the story, but I really can’t do it justice. Besides, I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet–it’s that good of a book. This is the fourth time I read the book, and I still found myself just sitting and reading for hours on end (and even busting through deadlines and missing dates because of it. How sad am I? It’s such a good book!!). I’m currently reading the next book in the trilogy, The Subtle Knife; at least, I’m reading it until my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows shows up this morning, so it may take me a bit longer to finish the trilogy this time around. Stupid Harry Potter!

–Adrienne

Published in: on July 21, 2007 at 11:35 am  Leave a Comment  

Artimis Fowl Eternity Code

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3 Stars

This book was mostly great. Here’s the thing–I hate Artemis Fowl. If you read my other review of this series, you know this. For those of you who don’t know, this series is centered around a pompous young boy who uses evil ways to run the family’s illegal businesses. Now, I love evil protagonists…that’s not the issue. If an author is able to create a character that is a murderous, vile villain and still make me love him, then that author deserves an award. Artemis Fowl is not such a character. He’s just hateful. When I read a book and want to smack the main character, that does not bode well for the rest of the story. Anyhow, I picked up Eternity Code with trepidation, convinced I’d hate it. I didn’t. Well, I didn’t until the end at least, but I’ll get back to that in a moment. This series has several books, and Eternity Code is the latest. In this story, Artemis gets in over his head with an American businessman, and Artemis’ bodyguard gets shot in the chest. Artemis realizes he actually loves someone like a father and has to figure out how to save the bodyguard’s life. Throughout this quest, he calls in some favors, realizes that he has to act like a decent human being to get some things done, and actually acts like a friend to his so called loved ones. It was great! He was still an evil mastermind who could plan and execute complex, multifaceted missions that are a treat to read. He was still the smartest 11 year old on the planet. He still had lots of money. But he wasn’t a bastard, and that was fabulous. This is what the rest of the books should have been but weren’t. Now, this kept going until the last chapter. In the last chapter, Artemis has his memory erased and he goes back to his stupid, hateful self. Damnit! How could the author do this to us? I was willing to believe that the author just had to figure out his character, let him grow, before he perfected him. I thought that Eternity Code was the ‘coming of age’ story of Artemis and we’d be able to read about his manipulations while actually like this anti-hero. But no…that couldn’t happen. He had to succumb and put Artemis back just the way he was in the stupidest manner possible. Gah!!!

–Adrienne

Published in: on July 19, 2007 at 5:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Cirque du Freak

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2.5 stars

I enjoy creepy stories–those ones with the slightly disturbing covers and the uncomfortable premise that stick with you during the dark part of the night well after you closed the back cover. This looked like one of those, and I’ve noticed that creepy tales directed at the teen set are much better in imagination terms than those who target adults. Have you noticed this? Most every adult horror story involves a serial killer; a nearly human monster who is a serial killer; a supernatural being that looks and acts a lot like humans that is a serial killer; or an unknown hostile energy from the great beyond that kills lots of people, like a serial killer. It’s like adult stories work within the parameters of perceived reality, and place the embodiment of horror (read: serial killer) in that reality, or bring to life a character from human mythology that has historically embodied horror and places it in reality. I’ve read countless books about vampires, ghouls and goblins, and evil spirits that prey on the living. But even in the books from the supernatural being’s point of view, I find that a rigid set of physical laws must be followed to make the book “realistic.” After all, if it’s not “realistic” no one will “buy it” in any way, shape or form. I hate this philosophy.
You only really find stretches of imagination in children or young adult literature, and even then it can be iffy. There is a much higher density of good, imaginative horror that takes you completely out of reality and into a whole new world. Isn’t that the point, after all? Well, this is what I was hoping for when I picked up Cirque de Freak. The front cover was suitably creepy with a distorted and screaming face superimposed over a rotted out theater; the pages were decorated with images of spiders, and the title was compelling. The story, however, didn’t quite live up to the hype.
I’m not sure where it fell flat; the premise was good: a group of boys find a flyer advertising a banned freak show taking place at midnight in a rotted out old theater. Only two can go, and these two witness terrible and amazing things. After the show, one boy hangs back to blackmail a vampire (I know!) and ends up rejected, while the other boy plots to steal a deadly spider and ends up begrudgingly becoming the vampire’s assistant. Interesting, no? For some reason, the story just didn’t gel. The characters seemed to constantly act in stupid, unreasonable ways (which I just hate! Hate, hate hate! Honestly, if you’re going to bother to set up a character in a particular way, why have him act out of character constantly? If I can’t imagine myself making those particular decisions given the predefined characteristics, then the character rings very, very false. Forcing a character to act strangely for the sake of the storyline smacks of plot-driven, uncreative writing. In my opinion, of course) and the plot twists themselves, while compelling, just seemed like a prequel. It was almost as if the author wanted to do a series of books (which I later found was true–I think he’s on book 11 of this series now), and simply needed 200 pages to begin the whole thing so he could get started on the real story telling. I don’t like that. Each book should be good in and of itself, regardless of the series to which it is related.
There were some fine points to this story, I must admit. This book is the first in a series about a vampire and his young assistant as they travel the world and have vampiric adventures. This set up also played with the question of what happens when someone becomes a vampire and they have to leave their previous life behind? I’ve noticed in all the other vampire-based books I’ve read, this issue isn’t really confronted. All vampires-to-be either have no ties to the earthly plane, hate what ties they do have, or are in a family that doesn’t mind the thought of an undead relative. This book looks at a normal twelve year old, with a loving family, good friends, and years to go in school. He plays soccer, he does homework, he picks on his little sister…and he makes a deal with a vampire to save the life of his best friend. Once the deal is made, the boy must turn part vampire and become an assistant, thus effectively ending his life. He fakes his own death, but must suffer through his own funeral as he lays comatose in his coffin waiting for the effects of a drug to wear off. It’s an interesting premise, especially as the boy hears the pain his family is going through, and thinks about all the things in his life he will miss. So that was good, but not quite enough to save this obvious attempt at the beginning of a series. I hope the next books make up for it.

–Adrienne

Published in: on July 18, 2007 at 11:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Johnny and the Dead

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4 stars

So I’m perusing the children’s section of the library this morning (stop laughing! This section has some of the best literature ever, and all without having to step around the newest biography by the presidential candidate-of-the-moment. But then I’ve gone on this rant before, so I’ll stop myself) and I stumbled upon Terry Pratchett. I’ve reviewed several Terry Pratchett books, most of them (or all of them? I’ll have to look that one up) in his Discworld series, and while he is a very clever author with oodles of talent, I can only read so many of his books without getting bored, and getting them all mixed up in my head. On the “P” shelf in the children’s alcove, however, I found a story with that same clever writing and irreplaceable humor that had nothing at all to do with that disc-shaped world carried on the back of four elephants riding on a turtle. Nope, this story took place in the here and now (well, in the here-and-now of 1993) and was about a twelve year old boy who suddenly is able to see ghosts…no, not ghosts, as the book so tactfully explained… “chronologically advanced persons” or “post-senior citizens.” I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The story dealt with some heavy stuff–life after death, heaven and hell, Judgement Day, but did so in an innocent, non-political fashion perfect for a child. (In the children’s section! Who knew?) Our young hero knocks on the door of a mausoleum one sunny afternoon only to have the door answered by the occupant. Hilarity ensues. Well, more precisely, funny-yet-compelling circumstances involving the true nature of the universe and what happens to the soul after the body dies ensue. But in a truly funny fashion. Johnny saves the day, as one might imagine, and in the process breaths life into a dying town while giving the dead permission to move on.
I love this type of stuff–alternate explanations for human mysteries make some great stories, and reading an especially well-crafted one brings me sheer joy (and some teary-eyed page turning). What’s really nice about this type of story is its ability to linger. I know I’ll be thinking about the obvious theories about the afterlife presented in this tale for a while, and while they may or may not ring true in the long hall, I do so love a story that makes me ponder.

–Adrienne

Published in: on July 18, 2007 at 10:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Death Dines In

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3 Stars

This is a group of short stories by a variety of mystery writers that all center around food of some sort. An interesting collection, and at the end of each story there’s an interview with the author and a recipe for the food that was featured in the story. Some of the stories are really good, some not so much. So I guess this is like all other short story collection except this has a SLM flavor.

–Adrienne

Published in: on July 18, 2007 at 5:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Afternoon of the Elves

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3 1/2 Stars

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you’re just in the mood for a simple, child-like read? No? Just me, then? Well, I was, and this book hit the spot. It’s a story about a 6th grader who lives next door to the weird girl in class. She makes friends with the weirdo, and they play at having elves in they yard. It’s a tale of friendship and gives a nice lesson about being kind to people and not pulling normal little girl crap. I liked it.

–Adrienne

Published in: on July 18, 2007 at 5:54 am  Leave a Comment  

Baked to Death

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4 Stars

I just love this series. I think I’m really into vampires…this particular vampire I like a lot. He’s a gay historian in the UK that is able to go out in sunlight due to heavy-duty sunblock and a good hat. He gets involved in a Ren Fair type of thing where a murder takes place. He figures things out while advancing his relationship with his handsome assistant. Ah, love, murder and dress-up. What more can you want?

–Adrienne

Published in: on July 18, 2007 at 5:53 am  Leave a Comment  

Firethorn

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4 Stars

I think this falls into the historical fantasy genre. This is about a red headed woman who lives in the forest for a year after her mistress dies, and comes out to fall in love with a soldier on his way to war. She joins him as his lover on the trail and ends up becoming a natural healer. Very dramatic at times, you learn to love most of the characters and hate the villains. Lots of sex in this book.

–Adrienne

Published in: on July 18, 2007 at 5:52 am  Leave a Comment  

In the Forrests of Serre

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3 1/2 Stars

This was my first real fantasy book in a long time. In this story, the princess of a kingdom is betrothed to the crazy prince of a neighboring kingdom. She must travel through magical forests to her wedding and has various adventures along the way. Magicians, talking animals and visions abound.

–Adrienne

Published in: on July 18, 2007 at 5:52 am  Leave a Comment