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. 

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

Reason for Reading: Group read on LibraryThing’s Green Dragon 

Review
When a unicorn realizes that she may be the last remaining unicorn, she leaves her peaceful home on a quest to find out what happened to all her brothers and sisters. Along the way, she picks up bumbling magician seeking his talent and a dour cook looking for her lost innocence. The unicorn soon discovers that the world has changed since she last ventured out. Humans have lost their youthful innocence, and they are no longer able to see things as they truly are – humans have excelled in the art of deceiving themselves. 

When I originally picked up this book, I’d expected a cute young adult tale, but never expected such depth. The Last Unicorn is a multi-layered allegory: about lost innocence, self-fulfilling prophecies, and self-deception. But these cynical themes aren’t the main point. The main point is that only in fully understanding humans can the ethereal unicorns save themselves. Only by sacrificing a piece of their ineffable essence can they form a closer bond to humans. And this closer bond can lead humans to do wonderful things. 

Yes, it is a Christian allegory by my interpretation. But I think it’s amazing the way Beagle didn’t just throw in a Christ Figure and be done with it….The allegory of Beagle’s unicorn isn’t uniquely Christian – it defies religious boundaries. It is a story of love and innocence that mixes cynicism and hope. Quite extraordinary! 🙂

I was also a HUGE fan of the bumbling wizard Schmendrick who (in my opinion) was only fooling himself into believing he wasn’t a capable wizard. He’s like the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz – just the fact that he wanted so badly to be a wizard made him into one. He could laugh at all the people who deceived themselves, as he unconsciously deceived his own self. He reminded me of myself when I’m in a glum mood thinking I’m not capable of anything when, of course, I’m quite capable if I’d stop expecting so little of myself. 😉 This book was a good reminder to have faith in yourself and think about the consequences of your beliefs. 🙂

Midnight Riot, by Ben Aaronovitch

Midnight Riot 

Written by Ben Aaronovitch, Narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

Reason for Reading: Real-life Book Club

Review
Peter Grant is a bumbling, easily distracted constable on the fast-track for a paper-pushing job. His luck unexpectedly turns when a ghost approaches him at a murder scene. Apparently Grant does have a talent – he can see dead people. Suddenly, he is adopted as the sole apprentice of Detective Chief Inspector Nightengale, who heads the supernatural division of the police. Grant is up to his ears in weirdness as he tries to solve the murder while learning the ropes in the unexpectedly supernatural world. I mostly enjoyed Midnight Riot for its interesting world-building and a lot of dry humor. The character of Grant was likable enough – even if he was bumbling – and I suspect I’d grow attached to him after a few books in the series. The plot tended to stray a bit more than I prefer, though. Nothing too bad, mind you, but there were a few moments where I wondered if we were still trying to catch the murderer or just enjoy the scenery. I prefer a little more focus. But these passages were never very long, and the book was, for the most part, quite enjoyable. I’m sure I’ll pick up the next in the series some day.

As for the narration by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith…I think his cadence, tone, and delivery was done perfectly for our character. He was so dead-pan with the dry humor that I sometimes only caught the humor by delayed reaction. Which made it funnier. 🙂 On the other hand, he was a rather loud (and wet) breather. I figured at first that this was put on for the character effect – but then I realized that such breathing would be difficult to fake unless he narrator was really congested. So…the loud breathing wasn’t enough to put me off, but it might be enough to put SOME people off. 

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 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? 




The Storm Dragon’s Heart, by David Alastair Hayden


2012 Book 95: The Storm Dragon’s Heart, by David Alastair Hayden (6/26/2012)

Categories: Young Adult, Speculative Fiction

Reason for Reading: This book was provided by the author in exchange for a review. The ideas, of course, are my own. I am not compensated for a good review. 🙂

My Review: 4/5 stars
Turesobei is the High Wizard-in-waiting for the Chondra tribe, but he dreams of dropping his boring lessons and going on adventures with his father. Then he is given his chance: his father takes him on a quest to retrieve an ancient and powerful artifact that is also being sought by a dangerous cult. Turesobei must learn to be an independent wizard and to trust his companions on this dangerous mission. The Storm Dragon’s Heart is a good-old classic high fantasy for children. It was cute and fun, with lots of adventure and young romance. It was a complete story in itself, but left me curious about how the series would continue.