Library Haul

I finally went to the library!

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And look at all the lovely new books I got!  They are Fear by Michael Grant, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Cathrynne M. Valente, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, and The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence.

Now we’re going to play “Let’s see how many of these I can read and review by next Tuesday!

Wish me luck!

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Potterview #3: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is where these books start to get really good. It’s darker, it’s more interesting, and we’re starting to leave behind the simple mystery plots and enter into the more complicated ones.

One reason I really like this book is the introduction of Sirius.  I really love Sirius as a character.  To Harry, he is both a good friend and a role model.  Like Harry, Sirius is a rebellious Gryffindor with a love for danger and adventure.  I love how Harry can relate to Sirius because he sees himself in Sirius.

I also really like Lupin as a character.  I like his calm intelligence and his willingness to take Harry under his wing.  He is, of course, discriminated against for being a werewolf, which is a great, subtle way for Rowling to introduce the concept of discrimination in the wizard world.  Wizards, as we see time and again in the books, are very discriminatory and quick to condemn.  Even though it may be detrimental to their children’s educations, the wizard world will not allow a werewolf to teach at Hogwarts.

On the subject of Sirius, this book is where we really see the emphasis Harry puts on his father figures. While sweet, this trope is a bit misogynistic. Throughout the course of the book, Harry strongly prioritizes his male role models. He has several father figures, while the only mother figure I can think of is Molly Weasley. This is probably subconscious on Rowling’s part, since it’s common in our society to prioritize male role models.

Some very dark concepts are played with in this book. The idea of Azkaban is, obviously, terrifying. The dementors, who can suck out all happy feelings and memories, are fantastic antagonists. The fact that Sirius is innocent makes the time he spent there seem even worse. I felt terrible for Sirius for the entire book.

As I reread the series, I am finding that I like Ron a lot less. In this book, especially, he’s horrible to Hermione. Hermione, being very bookish, has probably not had very many friends besides Ron and Harry. Added to that, she’s under a lot of stress from her extra classes. Ron really had no right to turn on her.

Overall, the book was great. On to Goblet of Fire!

Potterview #2: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, from what I have seen, is considered to be one of the worst books in the series. And yes, it’s one of the earlier books, so the plot is a simple mystery and not very deeply involved with the larger overarching story. But I thought it was better than Sorcerer’s Stone at least.

I liked the plot of this book a lot better than Sorcerer’s Stone’s. The mysterious monster and the Petrified victims were very creepy, and definitely grabbed my attention when I was a kid. When Hermione became a victim, and when Ginny was kidnapped, emotional incentive was added. I cared a lot more about the outcome of this book when I was a kid because characters I knew and liked had been threatened. And of course, the diary and the basilisk tie into the overarching Horcrux storyline.

The characters are also developing a bit more. Hermione is a particular standout. Her suggestion to brew Polyjuice Potion in the girls’ bathroom is a defining moment. We already know that it is uncharacteristic for her to suggest breaking rules, but this event teaches us that she’s willing to do so in order to protect others. It’s also nice to get more background on Hagrid and the reason he was expelled from Hogwarts.

I am, however, starting to notice some plot holes. Magic that is used in later books is not used here in cases where it would be applicable because Rowling has not come up with it yet. For example, Harry is suspected to be the Heir of Slytherin, and it causes him a lot of trouble. But couldn’t Dumbledore just use Veritaserum to find out whether or not he’s guilty?

I love seeing the books get darker and more complicated, and I’m excited for Prisoner of Azkaban.

Potterview Number 1: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I’m going to assume that everyone who likes books enough to follow a book review blog has already read the Harry Potter series. So I’ll be skipping the plot summary and diving right in!

The thing I noticed the most about this book was that it was very markedly a book for children. Most of the story is full of descriptions of Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and comedic moments with the Dursleys. While it’s very whimsical and fun, the actual plot felt a bit thin.

The climax also felt a bit underwhelming. It was very exciting the first time I read it, of course. And the twist ending was very clever. But considering what I know about the stakes of the climaxes of the other books, it felt small.

On the upside, I loved seeing all the characters again. It felt good to see Harry full of awe and innocence, with no knowledge that within seven years, almost everybody he loved would be dead. Ron was funny, and I loved tiny, bossy Hermione. It was even fun to see Neville try to fight Malfoy, knowing that soon, he would fight Voldemort.

This review is short, but the book didn’t leave much of an impression. I love the whimsy of this book, and the world Rowling has created, and I don’t want to disrespect it. But compared to the others in the series, it was a bit dull and hard to get through. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series, though!

Wednesday Recommendations!

Hey, I’ve started doing these again!

Here, have a clever and succinct review of Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2!

http://zanyzacreviews.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/the-twilight-saga-breaking-dawn-part-two/

Also, Halfway Decent Fanfiction has updated!  If any of you are reading my Gone Series fanfiction, Part 2 is up!

I’m reading The Mark of Athena right now, so I might try to write a review this weekend!

Plague: Why, Exactly, Does This Exist?

It's totally not related to race at all

Why is Astrid on the cover? Why is Dekka NOT on the cover? And who’s the other guy?

What happened to Edilio’s crush on Lana? What happened to Sam’s post-traumatic stress? What exactly is Astrid’s mutant power and why is it not making any appearances? Does the town council ever actually do anything? Does Astrid have a job? If she does, what is it? And most importantly, why exactly is this series so long? These questions and many others bounced across my mind several times as I read Plague by Michael Grant. Needless to say, I am very disappointed.

In Plague, the FAYZ is running low on water, so Albert sends Sam, Dekka, Computer Jack, and Taylor to try to find another lake. But while Sam and some of the town’s most powerful mutants are gone, all hell breaks loose as Drake escapes, a deadly plague breaks out, and flesh-eating bugs attack the town.

One thing I really liked in this book was the strength of the supporting characters. Grant has shown quite an aptitude for character development. Dahra, Dekka, Lana, Sanjit, and Orc were especial standouts in this book. He even managed to make Astrid somewhat interesting. In fact, the supporting characters are so strong, I would argue that the series is not Sam, Astrid, Caine, and Diana’s story anymore (although the covers are still trying to tell us it is). It is the story of the people in the FAYZ, specifically the dozen or so who narrate or figure prominently in the books. And that makes the story stronger, because we see everything through so many different perspectives and get to know so many great people along the way.

The book also brings up some very interesting themes. There’s been a lot of religious symbolism and discussion in these books (although it’s sometimes incorrect. For example, the Catholic church no longer considers suicide a mortal sin). I feel like this is the first book that actually did something with it. Astrid’s struggles to apply her faith to the desperate circumstances in which she lives are very compelling. Catholic moral philosophy states that the result of a wrong action never justifies that action, but the choices Astrid is forced to make show the flaws in that philosophy. Grant effectively makes the point that there are no true moral absolutes.

Britney’s transformation also makes a point about religion. Britney has a tendency to completely devote herself to certain people or causes. We saw this in her unwavering loyalty to Edilio in Hunger, and her belief that she is God’s messenger in Lies. In some ways, this complete loyalty was a very good thing. For example, in Hunger, she stayed and tried to defend the power plant when no one else would. But this book shows the reader how dangerous that fanaticism can be. Britney believes the gaiaphage is God, and this leads her to attack Astrid, Orc, Jack, and Little Pete with an army of flesh-eating bugs. Britney’s transformation points out the fine line between faith and fanaticism.

Grant also tries to make a point about fear and prejudice. In previous reviews, I mentioned how much I liked the Human Crew as villains. In this book, they return, but now, they aren’t only targeting the mutants. They’ve noticed that many of the people on the town council are people of color, and they feel that it is unfair that the “normal people” are not represented. In the FAYZ, there are no socioeconomic inequalities stopping people of certain races from succeeding, so it is possible to become successful simply by working hard. The people who are working hard happen to be people of color in this universe. However, racial biases are still present. The members of the (mostly white) Human Crew literally cannot accept a world in which white people are not dominant. This is a startling parallel to certain reactionary movements that are developing today as a response to feminist, anti-racist, and gay rights activism.

On that note, as has been the case for the entire series, the racial representation is very good (even though the publisher seems to be deliberately avoiding putting any characters of color on the covers). Yes, Howard, who is black, is a drug dealer. However, people of color are also portrayed as leaders, fire chiefs, doctors, sassy teleporters, happy-go-lucky helicopter pilots, nurses, bitter healers, pessimistic little brothers, and powerful, stoic mutants, which balances out the problematic portrayal of Howard. The female characters are also getting better. Astrid, Lana, Dahra, Dekka, Brianna, Diana, and Taylor all have agency in their stories. They use their particular talents to get what they want, make their own decisions and are generally not defined by their love interests. The only exception here is Lana, whose story in this book focuses more on her relationship with Sanjit than her personal healing process. Unfortunately, while Diana taking advantage of her sexuality to try to stop Caine from hurting people was interesting, she is now pregnant with what will probably be an evil mutant baby. Like most other Mystical Pregnancies, I’m sure this will reduce her to a be-wombed plot device.

Now, those are the parts of the book I enjoyed. But there were definitely parts that I did not enjoy. And the one that bothered me most was that Caine is now an important part of the plot again.

I hate Caine. He is probably one of my least favorite villains ever. The other characters I disliked in the first book have since grown on me because Grant developed them and gave them more depth. Sam’s responsibilities as a leader forced him to grow, Astrid’s struggle with her faith has been compelling, and Drake’s egregious evilness is justified now that he’s been possessed by the gaiaphage. Caine has no depth. His emotions are not realistic. We are told that he desperately wants power, but why? Why is this teenaged boy so obsessed with world domination? He is unrealistically creepy and analytical about his relationship with Diana. Whenever he makes a speech, he sounds corny, pompous, and cartoonish, and yet he somehow is able to win everyone in the FAYZ over. Caine is a terrible villain and he brings the quality of the series down.

Also, the continuity is becoming a bit weird. I mentioned some plot holes at the beginning of the review, but I’d like to focus on one which particularly bothered me. In the last book, Sam was struggling with post-traumatic stress from his encounter with Drake. I liked where Grant was going with that, and enjoyed reading about Sam’s healing process. But in this book, it was completely gone. I’m no expert, but I don’t think post-traumatic stress just goes away like that. This and other plot holes really threw me off.

I attribute the series’ plot holes to the length of the series, which brings me to my next point. This series is unnecessarily long. This book, in particular, seemed unnecessary. The overarching plot of the series is the characters finding out how to defeat the gaiaphage and escape the FAYZ. There was no forward motion in this plot at all. I still have no idea what the gaiaphage is or what its motivation is. I still have no idea what’s behind the FAYZ wall. I still have no idea how they’re going to escape. Sure, there was a battle with the gaiaphage, and Perdido Beach split into two separate towns, but neither of those things are going to make that much of a difference in the long run.

So, although I did enjoy reading this book, I found it completely unnecessary. I’m not happy about Caine’s return as a villain, and I’m not happy about Sam’s character regression. I’m ranking this Good, and I turn, with a heart heavy with dread, towards Fear.

Other Opinions:

http://cuddlebuggery.com/blog/2013/04/04/review-plague-by-michael-grant/

http://charlotteunsworth.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/review-hunger-lies-and-plague-by-michael-grant/

http://overflowingheartreviews.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/book-review-plague-michael-gran/