Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: J.K. Rowling (illustrated by Jim Kay)
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Classics
Pub. date: 1998 (read Nov. 2019)

My re-read of Harry Potter continues! For some reason Chamber of Secrets seems to be one of reader’s least favourite of the series, but I’ve always enjoyed it for the mystery element, and later for it’s heavy foreshadowing of Voldemort’s horcruxes.

Chamber of Secrets builds on the magical world Rowling created in the first book. I do always find it a bit annoying to have to be re-introduced to ‘Harry’s world’ at the beginning of each of the earlier books, as if someone would read it without having read the books that came before. But I guess it did serve as a good refresher of the previous book back before the whole world became infinitely familiar of all things Harry Potter.

I do love how Rowling’s writing style and narrative evolve over the course of the series. Chamber of Secrets (and book 1) do very much read like middle grade, but as Harry is only 12 in this book, it’s not really that surprising. We get the introduction to some more great characters in this book – Dobby, Ginny, Colin Creevey, Lockhart – and we get to learn more about the characters we already know – Hagrid, Dumbeldore, Malfoy, and Voldemort. I said it in my last review, but I have to re-iterate again, I love how Rowling is so good at developing her side characters and keeping them consistent throughout the entire series.

Rowling is also genius at integrating just enough humour and lightness into her stories. While each book has it’s own central plot, I’m still Immensely interested in the day to day of life at Hogwarts. I was genuinely disappointed when quidditch was cancelled and I realized I wouldn’t get to watch Harry square up against his opponents on the field. Rowling’s world is magical and interesting enough to be engaging on its own, yet she never wastes a scene. We attend all kinds of classes with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and everything they learn or experience always fits into the plot or is later applied.

The other thing Rowling does wonderfully is make you feel just the perfect amount of indignation at what happens to her characters. She finds the perfect blend of injustice that makes you angry at how characters are treated, while still being believable (I’m thinking of plotlines like Hagrid being shipped off to Azkaban and Harry being misunderstood to be Slytherin’s heir). Rowling gives us just enough information that we could conceivably have guessed who was opening the chamber of secrets and what the monster was, but still keeps us in the dark until the critical moment, which of course thrills us when all is finally revealed.

Mostly, I just love how this book is so full of foreshadowing and the greater meaning that it will have to the series later on. Rowling’s forethought is what keeps her series so interesting and why I keep coming back again and again for more.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: J.K. Rowling
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Classics
Pub. date: 1997

I’ve never written a review for Harry Potter before, but I guess there’s no reason not to start now. I’ve probably read the 1st book at least a dozen times over the years, so there’s no pretending it’s not my favourite series.

When you look at the series as a whole, there’s no denying that the first book doesn’t really stand out from the books that come after, but it is still a wonderful example of world building and how much more depth a story has when the author is organized from the very beginning in where she plans to take the story. Whenever I re-read Harry Potter I am always impressed with the scope of Rowling’s vision. She didn’t rush into the creation of her world and gave time and thought up front to the complicated relationship that would exist between Harry and Voldemort. Even from the first book, it’s obvious the forethought that she gave to each character and storyline.

One of the things that I think makes Rowling such a successful author is her ability to extend her mystery elements beyond just a single book. She’s always balancing multiple storylines. There’s the immediate mysteries that get answered within the book (what’s the philosopher’s stone, who’s trying to steal it, what’s protecting the stone); and then there’s the greater mysteries that extend across the series (can we trust snape, why did Voldemort care so much about Harry). The question of what Snape did to unequivocally gain Dumbledore’s trust and whether that trust is misplaced is an element that spans the entire series. Rowling strikes a wonderful balance between sating her readers by asking the more immediate questions, but holding back just enough to keep us enthralled throughout 7 books.

The other thing that I think makes Rowling a great writer is her characterization. Harry Potter is filled with a huge cast of characters, yet it never feels overwhelming. She doesn’t rush the characterization and lets her characters develop naturally over the course of the series, but she still spends a lot time letting them grow. At a certain point, her characters do start to write themselves in that you begin to understand them so well that you can almost anticipate how they will react. But what I also love is her attention to the details when it comes to minor characters. We’re introduced to lots of other students and characters throughout the first book, but each character still has a distinct sense of self and I love how she dedicates time to this minor characters over the course of the books.

This was my first time reading the illustrated edition and it made for a wonderful reading experience. I do wish there were more illustrations though because they are so beautiful and at times felt a bit sparse, but I understand you can’t illustrate everything without having this be a beast of a book.

As usual 5 stars to this awesome book and 10 stars to Mr. Neville Longbottom

Lord of the Butterflies

Rating: ⭐
Author: Andrea Gibson
Genres: Poetry
Pub. date: Nov. 2018 (read Nov. 2019)

Poetry can be a bit tricky to review sometimes, so more often than not I don’t write a full review for it. But I was so impressed with Andrea Gibson’s anthology, Lord of the Butterflies, that I have to make an attempt at a review.

Poetry is definitely not for everyone and it’s something I’ve only recently started reading. I’d read the occasional novel written in prose and started easing into poetry a few years ago with Rupi Kaur’s anthologies, which are pretty easy reading if you’re new to poetry (which I am). Then I discovered Robert Service when I read The Great Alone last year and I am totally obsessed with his style of poetry. I’m still working my way through a few of Service’s anthologies, but I haven’t been able to find any other works of similar style or subject, so if anyone knows of any poetry that centres around a love and reverence for the outdoors, please let me know!

Anyways, Gibson’s poetry is a whole different kind of beast than Robert Service of course, but equally as enjoyable (for me) in a whole different way. I dabbled in some other poetry this year, reading Danez Smith’s, Don’t Call us Dead, and Ocean Vuong’s, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, but to be honest, both were a bit over my head. I really liked Gibson’s poetry because it had an incredible amount of depth, but wasn’t filled with so many metaphors that it was a slog to wade through.

Gibson’s poems focus on our sorts of topics, from gender and sexuality, to mental health and depression, to politics and reform. They’re not afraid to be honest and vulnerable and even though me and Andrea are so different, their poetry was so relatable. Apparently Gibson is a pretty well known poet in the LGBTQIA+ community and beyond and they won the very first World Slam Poetry competition in 2008. They have published 4 anthologies as well as a ton of spoken word albums, all of which I am definitely planning to check out. I went through a brief obsession with slam poetry last year after I heard Zariya Allen’s “Somewhere in America” poem, but I didn’t really know where to look for more slam poetry, so I’m thrilled to have discovered Gibson.

It’s hard to pinpoint specific poems that stood out from this anthology because they are all fantastic, but a few memorable ones for me were Orlando, which is about the club shooting in Florida, Black and White Angel, which is about Gibson’s sister awaiting trial in jail for petty crimes she committed while suffering from substance addiction, and America Reloading, which is about America’s lack of gun control and its impact. But what’s make’s all of these poems so powerful is Gibson’s vulnerability and their courage in holding nothing back. They’re not afraid to go to some very dark places, but are so perceptive of how closely entwined everything is in our society and how the system continues to oppress and work against those who do not fit the status quo.

If you’re looking to dabble in poetry and are at all interested in gender politics, I would definitely recommend this anthology!

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

Rating: 
Author: Jessica Townsend
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pub date: Oct. 2017 (read Aug. 2018)

I’ve been seeing Nevermoor pop up on Booktube and for some reason decided I didn’t have an interest in it. But I recently heard it labelled as the “next Harry Potter” and that there were a lot of comparisons that could be made between the two, so of course I finally had to pick up a copy. Best decision ever because this book was so much fun from start to finish!

Morrigan Crow is eleven years old and has the unfortunate bad luck of being born on Eventide. As a result, she’s considered a cursed child in the Wintersea Republic and is blamed for every bad thing that happens in her village. But her real bad luck is that cursed children always die on the eve of the next Eventide, which happens to be the day after Morrigan’s eleventh birthday.

Morrigan just wants to be remembered, but when the next Eventide is announced, it’s obvious her family is already preparing to move on and forget about her. However, before death can catch her, Morrigan is whisked away to Nevermoor, the free state, by the enigmatic Jupiter North, who selects Morrigan to be his first ever candidate for the Wundrous Society. But in order to be admitted to the Society, Morrigan must complete her trials and be selected by the judges.

What made this book fantastic was that it had so many layers. It’s been a long time since I read a book like this and it made me realize how much I miss clever fantasy stories with a strong mystery element. This has obvious parallels to Harry Potter with the 11 year old being whisked away to another world, the magical elements, her wise mentor figure, the foreboding unnamed villain, and the humourous moments woven throughout the story. But it’s the larger mystery of this story and the complex world building that made this such a good book and worthy of being compared to Harry Potter.

This was a 450 page book and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of this world. It was a brilliant debut with just the right balance of world-building, character development, and whimsy. Townsend doesn’t give up all her secrets and I know there’s so many more surprises and quirks to be developed in this series. I don’t really know where the author plans to take the plot, but I get the feeling that it will have a lot more depth than what we’ve been introduced to in the first book.

I really wouldn’t change anything about this book. I have so many questions, yet I was still satisfied by the ending. I can’t wait to find out more about the Wundrous Society and what mischief Morrigan and Hawthorne will get up to in the next book. There were so many intriguing characters in this book and I can’t wait to learn more about Jupiter, Jack, Fen, Cadence, Noelle, and of course, the Wundersmith.

Book 2 can’t come soon enough! Everyone should read this!

Not That Bad

Rating: 
Author: Edited by Roxane Gay
Genres: Essays, Non-fiction
Pub date: May 2018 (read as audiobook Jul. 2018)

I listened to Not That Bad as an audiobook on audible and thank goodness I’ve finally found a new book that translates well to audiobook! I really should just stick to non-fiction when it comes to audiobooks because they translate so much better when read aloud than fiction (from my experience anyways). I read Bad Feminist, a series of essays by Roxane Gay, as well as her memoir, Hunger, and loved them both. This collection is edited by Roxane Gay; she’s not featured in any of the essays, but it was wonderful!

Not That Bad represents a diverse collection of stories about rape culture and how women condition themselves to hide their experiences or tell themselves their experiences aren’t valid because they “weren’t that bad” in comparison to other stories they’ve heard. How women brush off street harrassment because it’s not as bad as getting raped, how we’re taught to always be nice at the expense of our own comfort and safety, how a certain level of harrassment should be expected because of what we wore or how we acted, how we should be flattered instead of offended if we’re still getting catcalls when we’re older.

I’ll admit, because I listened to this as an audiobook over several weeks, I’m already struggling to recall a lot of the essays, but there are two that stick out for me.

The first was an essay about a girl in college who was pressured into attending a party (on a boat/island) with a guy who she obviously didn’t like and was afraid of – and how she spent the whole night hiding from him because she knew he expected sex and she didn’t want it. She watched him from a far as he angrily stormed around the island looking for her, asking “where’s that f***ing b***h”, and how she waited until she felt it was late enough to safely go back to their room, only to be woken from sleep to him raping her. “They will wake you up to rape you.”

It’s enraging that women can never win and can never really be safe. That many men feel they can expect sex for taking a woman out or buying her something, or in this case, taking her to a boat party. That they feel entitled to call women horrible, derogatory things if they aren’t interested in having sex and that they feel in any way entitled to a women’s body without her consent. In this case, the author later sees her rapist and he makes jokes about her rape and legitimately doesn’t think that he raped her. I’m not sure why this story stood out to me more than any of the others. This to me is very obviously “that bad”, just as all of the other stories are, but women still condition themselves to keep quiet about these horrible, invasive things that happen to them and are even forced to interact with their rapists after the fact. Some of these stories are about rape, some are about harrassment, some are about rape culture, but they are all “that bad”.

The second story that stands out to me is that of another woman who was raped and when she tells other people about it, she is routinely told, “you’re lucky he didn’t kill you”. I can’t even imagine having this response to a rape victim, but I can imagine it in a million other scenarios. He catcalled you? You’re lucky he didn’t touch you. He touched you? You’re lucky he didn’t rape you. It goes so well with this idea that as women we are responsible for the things that happen to us and not the people who actually perpetrate them. If you go drinking wearing a short skirt, you’re lucky if no one touches you. If you walk home alone a night, you’re lucky if no one bothers you. If you stay with a person who hits you, you’re lucky he doesn’t kill you.

This logic is so obviously flawed and yet it’s so pervasive in our society. This is a hard collection to read, but so important. I especially loved that many of these essays were narrated by the writers. I love when audiobooks are narrated by the writers because no one can convey tone better than the author. I only talked about two of the essays, but they are all meaningful and important in their own ways. A great collection!