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

October Summary

I totally killed it this month, setting a new PB for most pages read in a month. I have Sarah J. Maas to thank because I’ve been re-reading her Throne of Glass series and those books are monsters. Plus, I flew through her 1,000 page finale! Here’s my summary:

Books read: 10
Pages read: 5,077
Main genres: Fantasy
Favourite book: Kingdom of Ash
Favourite Re-read: Empire of Storms

October and November have to be some of the best months for new book releases. I have so many anticipated reads spread over the last month and into next month that it’s hard to keep track. I started off the month with one of my most anticipated reads of the last 3 years with JK Rowling’s new book in the Cormoran Strike series, Lethal White. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this book forever and it did not disappoint. I love the balance Rowling strikes between the mystery investigation and Robin and Strike’s personal lives. My only regret is reading this one too fast.

Also new this month was the companion novel to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, similarly named The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy; the new graphic novel Check, Please! #Hockey; and a novel about Boko Haram, Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree. The latter was probably my favourite of the three. Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree is a tough read about the atrocities Boko Haram is committing  in Nigeria, but important, I would recommend to everyone.

Check, Please! #Hockey is an absolutely adorable graphic novel about freshman hockey player Bitty’s first year in college. He’s gay, loves nothing more than baking, and has a huge fear about being checked. It’s a great book about friendship and the pressures of college and sports. I really liked it and can’t wait for part 2 to come out next year! Unfortunately I didn’t love The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy quite as much as it’s predecessor. It was still a fun read packed full of meaningful observations about 17th century women, but it wasn’t quite as funny and I thought the plot was a little lacking. All Your Perfects by Colleen Hoover was my one romance read of the year and I was pleasantly surprised by it. It is a romance novel, but it packs a punch by addressing several other little talked about issues in the plot.

My book club pick of the month was Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows. I decided to listen to this as an audiobook and ended up loving it! It wasn’t a favourite at my book club, but I thought it was a really fun read that actually packed a really meaningful punch about traditional and modern culture. My other audiobook of the month was The Woman’s Hour by Elaine Weiss, which is about women’s fight for the right to vote in America. I’ve been working on this audiobook for several months and while I liked that this book exists, I struggled with the audiobook being really boring. I wrote a brief review on my goodreads page, but I haven’t decided if I will share it on my blog or not because it’s hardly a review.

Finally, I re-read Queen of Shadows and Empire of Storms in anticipation of Sarah J. Maas’ new book and epic series finale, Kingdom of Ash. I have been loving my re-read, but thank god it is now over because it was so emotionally draining at the end and now I really just need to read anything that is not fantasy. Surprisingly I didn’t love Queen of Shadows quite as much as I remembered on my re-read, but I think I may have loved Empire of Storms even more. I finally pinpointed what I liked about it so much, which is that the main characters are actually all together for most of the novel. I’ve gotten used to them being separate for the last few books, but it was great seeing them all come together in Empire of Storms. It made for a much faster paced book, and boy was it ever intense!

Kingdom of Ash is finally out there in the world. Despite actually quite liking the finale, I did write a bit of a critical review of it. I thought there were a few problematic elements and parts that I didn’t like, but overall it was a pretty fast paced and emotional finale. I liked the ending and I feel mostly satisfied with how the series finished.

I’m thrilled now for November because it is my favourite reading month! The Goodreads Choice Awards were just announced yesterday and I love challenging myself to read and vote in as many categories as possible, so I just added a ton of books to my TBR!

Lethal White

Rating:
Author: Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pub date: Sep. 2018 (read Oct. 2018)
Series: Cormoran Strike Book #4

Wow, I feel like I have been waiting for this book FOREVER… pretty much because I have been. I know Rowling’s busy making movies and writing plays, but I love her writing so much, I always crave more books from her (not screenplays – totally doesn’t not count in my opinion).

Okay, so I obviously loved this because I love everything Rowling writes and I’m obsessed with both Robin and Strike, but I do have one compliant about this novel. It’s nothing unexpected, but I’m kind of tired of Rowling’s style of mystery reveal. I do think she is genius at writing mystery. Harry Potter has some of the best mystery elements and I love the way Rowling can carry a story arc (and mystery plot) through several novels. Prisoner of Azkaban is the favourite book of so many Harry Potter fans and most of what it made it so beloved for me is Sirius’ storyline. Rowling does a wonderful job misleading us to his notoriety throughout the entire book, only to completely blow everyone’s minds with like 3 chapters of plots twists at the end.

I adore this structure in Prisoner of Azkaban and I liked it at the start of the Strike novels, but I find she relies heavily on this structure in all of her mysteries, with the exception maybe of Career of Evil, which I found very refreshing in that she only had 4 (I think?) suspects for the serial killer. Lethal White reminded me a little bit of The Silkworm in that I knew I was never going to guess the mystery. There’s such a large cast of characters and their relationships are so intertwined that I knew there was going to be a huge convoluted reveal at the end that I was never going to guess (same as The Silkworm). Because I knew this, I put little effort in trying to even guess at the mystery, which takes a bit of the fun out of it. I was never going to be able to guess this one and I was just a little tired of the format of the multi-chapter reveal at the end of the book. I wish Rowling would give us a little more to go on. She always indicates when Strike has a revelation, but she almost never reveals it, leaving us in suspense until the very last minute. I would rather experience the discoveries with Strike in real time. It still leaves room for last minute reveals of motivation, but I’d prefer to get bits and pieces of the puzzle throughout rather that as a huge info dump at the end of the novel. It doesn’t work that well in a 650 page novel because that’s a lot of mystery to try and keep your reader engaged in without ever throwing us a bone.

So that’s my beef with this novel and Rowling’s writing style in general, but let’s talk about what I like about this book, because there was a lot that I liked too. Disclaimer, there are minor spoilers ahead about some of the characters, but nothing about the mystery element.

First of all, I adore Robin and Strike, as individuals and as partners. In previous novels, Strike has been the one slowly falling apart, pushing himself too hard, failing to take care of himself, making desperate decisions and poor romantic choices. He still pushes himself too hard and is as emotionally unavailable as ever, but I feel like he finally got some of his shit together. He acknowledges that he’s a bit of an asshole and that he treats his body like shit – he even takes a case for monetary reasons instead of moral ones, but he ultimately is still looking for the good in people and to set things right by exposing the truth. He also acknowledges some of his repressed feelings for Robin and I liked that he really looked out for her and her best interests.

In contrast, Robin is the one falling apart in this book and it’s about damn time. I like Strike, but Robin is definitely my favourite character. I love her passion and compassion. She’s intelligent and clever and I really felt this came across in this book. Strike gives her much more challenging assignments and I liked watching her pursue her own means of investigation. The conflict with Matthew finally comes to a head and good riddance, it’s about time. I love Robin’s anger in this book. Women are always taught to be amenable and nice no matter what the circumstances, but I loved watching Robin finally say enough is enough and finally get mad. Robin and Strike’s character development is really what makes this such as a great series. In my opinion, the mystery is only half of what matters, creating complex, flawed, but likeable characters is what makes a book great.

While I do have my complaints on the mystery structure, I love the amount of thought that Rowling puts into her plotlines. There are no throwaway comments. Every detail matters and you never know what minor comment may turn out to be a plot point of huge significance. Every character has a role to play and Rowling does a great job a crafting a complex cast of characters. This was a bit on the long side for a mystery novel, but I was pretty much on the edge of my seat for the entire second half of the book. I love that there’s just as much character drama as mystery. My only regret is that I read this way too fast and who knows how long it’s going to take for Rowling to give us another book. At least no cliffhanger this time!

Fall 2018 New Releases

Okay, the number of new releases that I can’t wait to read coming out this Fall is A LOT! There are so many new sequels coming out, I can’t wait to read them all!!

September 18th

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) – I have been waiting for this one for YEARS and it recently has a release date in September, which is pretty much the most exciting news ever! I need to know what Robin and Strike will get up to next!

Wildcard by Marie Lu – I read and loved Warcross last year, so I’m thrilled this series is getting a sequel so soon!

Check Please! #Hockey by Ngozi Ukazu – Okay, I admit I only recently discovered this one, it’s a graphic novel, coming of age story about (gay?) hockey players. It has wonderful reviews already and I am super intrigued to read it!

October 2nd

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee – If this is anything like The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, it will be a hoot! Can’t wait to read more about Felicity! (I don’t think the first book is required reading for this one)

Saga, Volume 9 by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples – I’m literally always ready for a new Saga installment.

October 9th

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak – That’s right, the author of The Book Thief is finally publishing a new book!

October 23rd

Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J Maas – Sarah is finally publishing the final book in the Throne of Glass series. Empire of Storms ended on the most outrageous cliffhanger and then I got a whole book about Chaol forced on me that I didn’t need, so I can’t wait to finally read this last installment.

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend – I only just read Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow a few weeks ago and I am totally obsessed with it! So glad I only have to wait until October for the sequel.

November 6th

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix by Julie C Dao – The second (and I believe final) installment in the Forest of a Thousand Lanterns series. The first book was surprisingly dark and juicy and I’m really interested in this follow up retelling of snow white and the evil queen.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan – I’m not sure why this new fantasy caught my eye over the million other new fantasy’s coming out, but I heard it has mature themes and a strong protagonist, so I really want to read it.

December 4th

All the Wandering Light by Heather Fawcett – I haven’t been seeing too much hype about this series, but I really liked the first book, Even the Darkest Stars, and I was really sad when the release date on this one got pushed back a few months, but this is set in the frigid, snowy mountains, so it’ll be the perfect atmospheric read for December!