On Re-Reading The Chamber of Secrets

On Re-Reading The Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter #2)

The Dursleys were so mean and hideous that summer that all Harry Potter wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he’s packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.

And strike it does. For in Harry’s second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor, Gilderoy Lockhart, a spirit named Moaning Myrtle who haunts the girls’ bathroom, and the unwanted attentions of Ron Weasley’s younger sister, Ginny. But each of these seem minor annoyances when the real trouble begins, and someone, or something, starts turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects: Harry Potter himself?

My Thoughts on Re-Reading (not really a review…)

I can’t even remember how long ago I first read this book — I think it was close to the time when it came out, and I haven’t re-read it since. But this year my local library is doing a Book Geeks Book Club for adults and we are reading all of the Harry Potter books. Last month was The Chamber of Secrets.

Again, I was blown away by how much pre-planning Rowling did when she wrote her books. She really knew where they were going as was able to pepper in details that become important in later books.

One of the things I loved about this book was the change in tone. The Philosopher’s Stone was full of discovery and magic and everything (pretty much) was wonderful. But The Chamber of Secrets shows a darker side to the wizarding world: we find out about house elves, Azkaban, Kncckturn Alley, the prejudice against mudbloods and squibs, and the history of the Chamber of Secrets. This is also a book where Harry doesn’t feel at home at Hogwarts anymore. He is miserable at home and now he is miserable at school with people avoiding him and making fun of him. This is a fantastic turn of events and adds more depth to the wizarding world.

I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this book and can see again how kids (and grown ups) fall in love with this series — and how current it is twenty years later.

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Book Review: The Bone Labyrinth

The Bone Labyrinth (Sigma Force #11)

A war is coming, a battle that will stretch from the prehistoric forests of the ancient past to the cutting-edge research labs of today, all to reveal a true mystery buried deep within our DNA, a mystery that will leave readers changed forever . . .

In this groundbreaking masterpiece of ingenuity and intrigue that spans 50,000 years in human history, New York Times bestselling author James Rollins takes us to mankind’s next great leap.

But will it mark a new chapter in our development . . . or our extinction?

In the remote mountains of Croatia, an archaeologist makes a strange discovery:  a subterranean Catholic chapel, hidden for centuries, holds the bones of a Neanderthal woman. In the same cavern system, elaborate primitive paintings tell the story of an immense battle between tribes of Neanderthals and monstrous shadowy figures. Who is this mysterious enemy depicted in these ancient drawings and what do the paintings mean?

Before any answers could be made, the investigative team is attacked, while at the same time, a bloody assault is made upon a primate research center outside of Atlanta. How are these events connected? Who is behind these attacks?  The search for the truth will take Commander Gray Pierce of Sigma Force 50,000 years into the past. As he and Sigma trace the evolution of human intelligence to its true source, they will be plunged into a cataclysmic battle for the future of humanity that stretches across the globe . . . and beyond.

With the fate of our future at stake, Sigma embarks on its most harrowing odyssey ever—a breathtaking quest that will take them from ancient tunnels in Ecuador that span the breadth of South America to a millennia-old necropolis holding the bones of our ancestors. Along the way, revelations involving the lost continent of Atlantis will reveal true mysteries tied to mankind’s first steps on the moon. In the end, Gray Pierce and his team will face to their greatest threat: an ancient evil, resurrected by modern genetic science, strong enough to bring about the end of man’s dominance on this planet.

Only this time, Sigma will falter—and the world we know will change forever.

Review:
I really wanted to like this book — it hit a lot of the right buttons for me. I was in the mood for a thriller, the story involves archaeology and Atlantis, there is action and adventure, and Rollins is a highly recommended, prolific author. But, despite all of my expectations, I only found the book OK.
The characters were good, the kind of tough guys you would expect in a thriller. I like that not all of the tough guys were “guys” — some were women too.
And you can’t fault Rollins on his research. It is clear from the early pages that he has researched all of the science and archaeology behind the book. That part really was interesting, thinking of the possibilities of Adam and Eve, a historical leap of intellect, and the presence of Atlantis. Great stuff.
But then there were the other things. I actually felt uncomfortable reading parts of this book. The big antagonist was basically all of China. There was no redeeming quality of anything Chinese. The whole country was depicted as inhumane, cut-throat, and immoral. I know there needs to be bad guys, but vilifying an entire country is not OK.
The writing, for the most part, was good. There did need to be more editing, however as there were a few occasions when a paragraph or description was repeated practically word for word within several pages. And much of Rollins’ research was presented in an info dump format — a character would go to the library and research then come back and tell everyone everything for several pages.
And, I couldn’t figure out from a story point of view, why Sigma Force took the people they were supposed to be protecting to Ecuador and put them in harm’s way. There needed to be a better rationale for going against their assignment of keeping these people safe than curiosity. From the book point of view, it was interesting and they learned a lot, but from a plot point of view the officers of Sigma Force were not doing their job by putting their charges in life threatening danger when there was no pressing need.
Overall, there was a lot to enjoy in The Bone Labyrinth, but I’m not sure I’ll be picking up another Sigma Force book soon.
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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

(Harry Potter #1)

by J.K. Rowling

This isn’t exactly a book review — it is so hard to review such an iconic book. This is more about the experience of re-reading Harry Potter after so many years.
Our local library is an amazing place, and this year, they have started a Book Geeks reading club aimed at adults, where our goal is to read and talk about one of the Harry Potter books each month. We had our first meeting earlier this month and it was so much fun. There was a group of us, all who were excited to geek out about Harry Potter.
I was an adult when Harry Potter first came out and I decided to pick it up because I knew I’d never be able to talk to my niece and nephew again if I didn’t because all of their conversation revolved around it. Instantly, I was hooked and raced through the books as they came out.
Re-reading The Philosopher’s Stone now was so much fun. I could look at what Rowling wrote in the context of the whole series and see the brilliance of it. Not only is it an entertaining and exciting book in it’s own right, full of interesting characters and battles between good and evil, but it set up the whole series. I was so impressed by things I would never have noticed all of those years ago, like mentions of characters important in the next books, and themes and story arcs that are integral to the whole series. Rowling’s vision for her series is masterful. I’ve recently heard that Rowling wrote the end of the last book before she ever wrote the first word of the first book — an impressive feat, but this certainly is what unifies the series so beautifully.
What is there to say, really? The Philosopher’s Stone, even 20 years after it was published, is still one of the best middle grade books out there. It is timeless. My daughter recently started reading this series herself and she is as excited about it now as my niece and nephew were all of those years ago.

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Book Review: Coyote Blue

Coyote Blue

From Christopher Moore, author of Fluke, comes a quirky, irreverent novel of love, myth, metaphysics, outlaw biking, angst, and outrageous redemption.

As a boy growing up in Montana, he was Samson Hunts Alone — until a deadly misunderstanding with the law forced him to flee the Crow reservation at age fifteen. Today he is Samuel Hunter, a successful Santa Barbara insurance salesman with a Mercedes, a condo, and a hollow, invented life. Then one day, shortly after his thirty-fifth birthday, destiny offers him the dangerous gift of love — in the exquisite form of Calliope Kincaid — and a curse in the unheralded appearance of an ancient Indian god by the name of Coyote. Coyote, the trickster, has arrived to transform tranquillity into chaos, to reawaken the mystical storyteller within Sam … and to seriously screw up his existence in the process.

Review:

I love Christopher Moore’s sense of humour and Coyote Blue doesn’t disappoint. The other thing I love about Moore is that he does his research, which he certainly does in this novel. The story is about a man from the Crow nation and the details of the culture and stories feel authentic and respectful.

Coyote Blue follows the life of Sam, going back and forth from his time as an adolescent on the Crow reserve to his life in Santa Barbara as a successful insurance salesman, until the trickster god, Coyote, decides to wreck havoc through his life.

Moore takes us on a journey to imagine how the ancient gods exist in the modern world. Sam is a character we can sympathize with, just trying to live his life the best way he knows how under strange and, at times, terrible circumstances. Coyote is fabulous, an absolutely outrageous character with no moral qualms about anything.

And, like any good story, it is strewn with “truths.” Probably my favourite line in the book is when Sam is contemplating all of the upheaval in his life: “His life was back to normal, and normal wasn’t good enough anymore. He wanted real.”

Coyote Blue made me laugh, made me think, and kept me up late reading so I could see how it all ended.

 

 

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