Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Written by J. K. Rowling, Narrated by Jim Dale

Reason for Reading: Re-reading the Harry Potter series in audio format. 


Review

(Contains spoilers from earlier books in series)

The Ministry of Magic has finally admitted that Voldemort has returned, and Dumbledore has returned as Hogwarts Headmaster. Furthermore, Dumbledore has realized that it was a huge mistake to leave Harry in the dark for so long. He and Harry become much closer in Harry’s sixth year at Hogwarts, as Dumbledore reveals much of what he knows of Voldemort’s history and motivations to Harry. Harry is also kept busy with his new obsession that Draco Malfoy is up to new levels of “no good.” Ron and Hermione poo-poo his suspicions and keep themselves busy with escalating romantic tension. 

Altogether, this book has a LOT going on, yet it’s more compact than the previous two books. Overall, I think this is Rowling’s best written book in the series, even if my favorites are the first four. I really enjoyed this re-read of the 6th book in the Harry Potter series – it’s only my second time reading this book, and I had forgotten a lot of it. The romantic tension between Ron and Hermione is my favorite part of the book, since it’d been building for SO long and was finally let loose terrifically. 🙂 

Jim Dale’s reading, as usual, is excellent. It took some getting used to, but after the first or second book it really grew on me. I know all his voices for the characters, and that really ads to my enjoyment of the story. 

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Written by J. K. Rowling, Narrated by Jim Dale

Reason for Reading: I’ve been going through the Harry Potter books by audio now. This is my first time reading straight through the entire series, and by “straight” I mean I finish one every one or two months. 😉

Review (WARNING: Contains unavoidable spoilers from earlier novels!!!)
Voldemort has recently returned, and Harry Potter has spent the entire summer listening to the muggle news for some sign of terror. But it turns out that most people don’t believe Harry and Dumbledore that Voldemort has risen, and Voldemort is using that ignorance to his advantage.  Furthermore, the Ministry of Magic has decided that Dumbledore isn’t stable, and they’re interfering at Hogwarts with the addition of a new teacher – the throttle-worthy Dolores Umbridge. *Yes. I wanted to throttle her EVERY time she entered the narrative. That shows excellent caricaturization by Rowling.* This year, Harry must battle the disciplinary hand of the Ministry and skepticism from his fellow students, without losing focus on his upcoming OWL exams. Will he pass Potions?!

This is one of the more complex books in the series (which wins it bonus points with me), but it is also the angstiest book. Harry spends the entire book angry at his friends, angry at Dumbledore, angry at the Ministry, angry at Umbridge, and just plain pissed off in general. His confusion is compounded by his interest in Cho, who is still mourning the death of her dead boyfriend Cedric. Overall, it’s a good book because it advances the story and develops character, but I got a bit tired of angsty Harry. This is my least favorite (though still highly enjoyable) of the Harry Potter books.

Jim Dale’s narration is quite enjoyable now that I’ve gotten used to it. He has recognizable voices for each of the characters, and his voice is entertaining and engrossing.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J. K. Rowling

2012 Book 162: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Written by J. K. Rowling, Narrated by Jim Dale

Reason for Reading: Harry Potter Read-along hosted by Lost Generation Reader.





Review

In this fourth installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry is thrust against his will into the Triwizard Tournament – a competition for which he is his underaged and underqualified. Is someone trying to get him killed? Furthermore, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are experiencing the first pangs of teenaged angst. They all feel misunderstood and a bit angry at times. Will they be able to overcome their emotions in order to quash the rising power of Lord Voldemort? Well, at least they’ll have a lot of adventure while they’re trying. One of the highlights of this book is meeting the students of the two other large wizarding schools in Europe: The dark and broody students from Durmstrang and the too-formal sissies from Beauxbatons. (Ok, maybe they’re not ALL sissies.) 😉 This is my favorite book of the series because it has *swoon* Viktor Krum. It is also the first book in the series with “mature” content. It’s longer, moodier, and more dangerous than the first three. And, it’s the first book in the series to leave significant strings untied – leaving room for more plot development. I’m SO glad Rowling knew what to tie up and what to leave open though. She’s managed to leave a reasonable opening without cliffhangers. I really appreciate that. Thank you Ms. Rowling!


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J. K. Rowling

2012 Book 155: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Written by J. K. Rowling, Narrated by Jim Dale

Reason for Reading: I read this for Lost Generation Reader’s Harry Potter Readalong. On which I’m falling catastrophically behind. But at least I’ll get some of them read before the end of the readalong.


My Review *****
Harry Potter thinks he’s in big trouble when he accidentally blows up his aunt, but luckily for him the powers-that-be are distracted by the shocking escape of Sirius Black from the wizard’s prison Azkaban. Black is purported to be “You-Know-Who’s biggest supporter.” (Though I’m not certain what made everyone decide that Black was the most dedicated supporter, rather than the one who’d made the biggest bang? But let’s not question the Rowling.) With the dementors out in force – ready to snatch Black up the moment he rears his unkempt head, Harry, Ron, and Hermione don’t have much chance to misbehave. Will they catch Black before Black kills again? I loved this book more this time around than I did the first time. (Mainly because I have a fondness for the entire story now, whereas when I read it, I was just continuing a series that I’d started.) I DID notice, however, a few snafus that made me chuckle. Just little inconsistencies here and there. I didn’t notice anything like that in the first two books. Usually I ignore little inconsistencies in YA lit, but these surprised me because I’d always thought Rowling had done an amazing job tying up all the loose ends. I suppose inconsistencies are almost impossible to avoid this TIME around though. 😉 I remember reading some comments a while back that said that Rowling’s writing developed from a bit amateurish to more skilled as the series progressed. Now I see what they mean. I’ll keep an eye out for loopholes in the future, now that I know she has them. :p I’m curious if she gets a lot better at avoiding them in the later books. Overall, though, excellent stuff. I’m enjoying Dale’s narrations more and more now that I’m getting used to his style. 


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J. K. Rowling

2012 Book 152: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

written by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale

Reason for Reading: I’m rereading these books along with Lost Generation Reader

My Review*****

Harry hopes his second year at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry will be calmer than last year’s. However, even before the school-year begins, Harry meets a house elf who is determined to keep Harry from even STARTING his school year. Harry perseveres, however, and delves into trouble yet again when the Chamber of Secrets is opened and some stealthy beast begins to petrify his classmates. Will Harry and his friends be able to stop the beast before it manages to kill someone? Harry also gets his first taste of xenophobia in the wizarding world, when he learns a new naughty epithet (the m-word). And I bet you’d never guess which bratty little villain uses the word? I’ll give a hint. He’s blonde. 😉

This second installment of the Harry Potter series is just as delightful as the first. It, like its predecessor, is aimed at the younger end of the YA spectrum, which suits me just fine. The narration by Jim Dale is quite enjoyable–in fact, I liked this narration better than his narration of the Sorcerer’s Stone. He’s got different voices for each of the characters, and his voice definitely engaged me. 

The entire Harry Potter is a popular book on the “banned and challenged” lists released by the ALA. Personally, I didn’t see anything objectionable in this book. Accusations of “satan worship” and “encourages interest in the occult” are silly. There isn’t any language or objectionable morals that I can see–other than the fact that Harry, Ron, and Hermione steal, lie, and generally disobey rules. Of course, they do these things with the best intentions, and often because they feel the adults don’t listen to them. Also, they don’t hurt anyone with their antics (though they certainly endanger themselves). But let’s be honest with each other. Would YA books be interesting to ANYBODY if the protagonists were perfect little angels who allowed the adults to take care of all the important stuff? Of course not. 




Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling

2012 Book 142: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


Written by J. K. Rowling, Narrated by Jim Dale






Reason for Reading: This is my third book for Book Journey‘s blog tour for Banned Books Week, and this time I decided to try something familiar. Since Lostgenerationreader is having a Harry Potter readalong, I decided to join in and read the first HP book for Banned Books week. 🙂 This is probably my third time reading this particular book, but it will be my first time reading the series “in one go.”


My Review:
Harry Potter has been living with his neglectful and emotionally abusive parents ever since his parents died when he was a baby. But on his 11th birthday, everything changes. He finds out that his parents were a witch and a wizard and that he, himself, has been accepted to Hogwarts, a school for witchcraft and wizardry. He is thrilled to feel comfortable and welcome for the first time in his life, but he soon discovers that not all the teachers at Hogwarts are looking after his best interest. Can Harry and his adventurous friends save the Sorcerer’s Stone from being stolen and used for nefarious purposes?

Of course, you all know the answer to that question. If you don’t, then you probably aren’t interested in the answer and I’m surprised you’ve gotten this far into my review. Any comments I make about my appreciation for this book will fade in the wake of the raving of others. Therefore, I’ll only comment on the Jim Dale narration (which was the narration released in the US, but which is apparently no longer for purchase–I’m not sure if they intend on putting out a different narration? Releasing the Stephen Fry narration in the US would be a kind, generous, and profitable move!) Jim Dale did a pretty good job on the narration–If I didn’t already have a very set impression of what all the characters should sound like, then I’d have been much more happy with this rendition. Unfortunately for Dale, however, most anybody who would listen to this audiobook today already has a very set impression of how a centaur should sound and how to pronounce “Voldemort.” This isn’t Dale’s fault, but I suspect his reading has been taken off the market because of these issues. However, I was quite able to ignore this rather amusing issue and enjoy the audiobook. 🙂 I will continue with the rest of the Dale narrations.


My comments on book banning

Harry Potter is #1 Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009 AND #48 on 100 most frequently challenged books: 1990–1999.  As several people commented, Harry Potter was banned for similar reasons as The Headless Cupid, which was my first Banned Books Week review. Parents are concerned that their (apparently not-very-bright and way-too-malleable) children will be driven to the darkside of the occult and Satan worship by this book. I’m afraid I have to disagree and say “that is hogwash.” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had a very clear good vs. evil message. Loyalty, bravery, and camaraderie are emphasized as important traits in the characters of Harry Potter. Love stands out as pretty much THE most powerful force of good available to humanity. That seems to be a pretty healthy message, even to a fundamentalist Christian. On the other hand, “doing ANYTHING to succeed in life” is portrayed as an undesirable characteristic. Killing or taking advantage of the innocent is touted as the most sinful act possible. People whose views of good and evil have faded away to “there’s-only-the-weak-and-the-powerful” are portrayed as demented. Again, the views of “evil” that are communicated in this book are in fitting with Christian views. This is NOT a morally ambiguous book! So why are the fundamentalists so worried? Just because their kids might use their imaginations a little bit? 




Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause

2012 Book 141: Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause

Reason for Reading: This is my second post for Book Journey’s Banned Books Week 2012 blog tourBy reading banned books, I feel that I’m expressing my freedom of speech (or in this case, the author’s freedom of speech), but I’m also interested in learning more about WHY people ban books. I don’t approve of banning most of the books on ALA’s top banned books lists, though for some of them I can empathize with the objections. In the case of this particular book, I understand the objections, though I think banning it only gives the book added attention. Blood and Chocolate is #57 on the ALA’s list of Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books 2000-2009.

My Review 

Vivian is a 15-year-old werewolf living happily with her pack in the country when a murder destroys the world she loves. In tragic disarray, her pack moves to the suburbs and tries to get reorganized. In the midst of this chaos, Vivian has an identity crisis and falls for a human “meat-boy.” Her experiences trying to fit in with meat-people teaches her a lot about herself. Meanwhile, the grisly murders continue, and the pack must hunt down the killers before they, themselves, become hunted. This book was very engaging. It was interesting and suspenseful enough that I really wanted to know how it ended, despite the fact that I disliked all the characters. Vivian was manipulative and conceited. Her mother had little character other than expressing concern for her daughter and being obsessed with sex. Vivian’s meat-boy boyfriend seemed likable enough at first (though not particularly alluring), but then his qualities took a nose-dive towards the end of the book. Honestly, I’m not sure why this book gets such good reviews, but I suppose it’s simply because the narrative is so engaging. 


My feelings about why this book was banned

I had the feeling while reading Blood and Chocolate that Klause intended this book to be a slap in the face to prudish book-banners. For me, that took a lot of the enjoyment out of the book because I felt like I was being beat over the head with a Message. Even if I agree with the Message, I think a novel’s MAIN objective should be to tell a story. If the story is told well, the message comes through in a smooth allegory. This book seemed like Klause was going for shock-value to pump up her sales. The reason I believe that this slap-in-the-face was purposeful and not simply part of the story is because Klause included a conversation between Vivian and her boyfriend about adults that objected to certain types of behavior and wanted to burn his books. 


Klause included almost all of the qualities that our book-banners of America hate: explicit sexualization of everything, the occult, disrespect for religious symbols, obscenties, violence, age-inappropriate relationships, and an entire page musing about different ways to commit suicide. None of this was bad enough to scar a child or young teen. However, I feel she REALLY overdid it with the sexualization. You’d think from this book that the defining characteristic of werewolves is that they were unabashedly and continuously horny. This seems to be the defining trait of teen-aged boys and middle-aged men as well ;). It was a bit obnoxious. The randiness of every character was SO overdone that it distracted from the story. So in the end, no, I don’t think this is subversive literature. But I have no respect for Klause’s ability to portray a message with finesse.