51. Sovay by Celia Rees (404 pages) Sovay becomes a highwayman in order to test her betrothed, but, instead, soon finds herself embroiled in political intrigue involving class struggle, the Illuminati, a plot to throw England into revolution, and even the French Reign of Terror. Rees is a capable writer, weaving her characters and historical events into an exciting adventure plot that is a mix of The Three Musketeers and The DaVinci Code, but, unfortunately, lacking in mystery, suspense, or character. The plot and adventures meander and wander too long for young attention spans (the book ends abruptly, and yet, should have ended hundreds of pages sooner), and the flat side characters tend to blend together. Sovay herself lacks any sort of depth beyond her beauty and brave actions. Rees is daring in her writing and her premise is strong, but she isn't quite able to carry it off. Grade: B-
"I want to commit the murder I was imprisoned for."
"You think the dead we have loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don't recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble?"
"You haven't got a godfather!" "Yes I have," said Harry brightly. "He was my mum and dad's best friend. He's a convicted murderer, but he's broken out of wizard prison and he's on the run. He likes to keep in touch with me, though…keep up with my news…check I'm happy…"
52. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (317 pages)
Eleventh time rereading.
Sorry, Charles Dickens, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Diana Wynne Jones, Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, but JKR's The Prisoner of Azkaban
is my favorite book of all time.
There is so much about this book that I love, I can't even really put it into words. Mostly, though, it's that this is the book where the kiddoes have a seat and the three greatest characters of JKR's creation--Sirius, Remus, and Severus--strut and fret across the stage and royally fuck everything to shit. The intricate plot is woven with perfection thoroughly with the most beautiful tragedy. This where Harry loses his innocence, and where Sirius regains his own. With their love for each other, both a redeemed.
Upon this rereading, naturally, in knowing how the series ends, I was struck by Severus Snape, and how now we all know why he was acting like such a demented looney pop. The irony is that Snape would like to kill Peter as much as Sirius would. This is, of course, because Snape is the combination of Peter and Sirius. All along, he was the mirror of Sirius, but on Lily's side rather than James'; he was the beloved and loving best friend, desperately trying to save her. But, like Peter, he betrayed her to her death. So, Snape is living with both Peter's incredible guilt (and the guilt that Sirius feels), and Sirius' hatred and thirst for revenge and desire to protect Harry, the last living memory of the Potters. It's not just that Sirius tried to once have Remus eat him, but that Sirius betrayed and murdered Lily, and--in his mind--is trying to do the same to Harry. This is why Snape is absolutely beside himself throughout the Shrieking Shack scene.
And, of course, Snape's whole fucked up relationship with Harry is beyond any sort of reason. He's such an utter fucking bastard and really is only protecting Harry for Lily's sake. But, I do believe that Snape does love Harry. I don't think he wants to, but I think he has to. Again, it's in the same way that Sirius loves Harry; he is the embodiment of his parents, and both Sirius and Snape have to cling to him for their own salvation. Harry is their lost innocence regained. Sirius and Severus both killed their best friends, and Harry is what they were able to salvage from that wreckage. And that is a great deal.
Of course, now, whenever I read the Shrieking Shack scene (my favorite scene of any of the books, the scene wherein my three boys get center stage), all I can think is that these three men will give their names to Harry's children (James Sirius, Albus Severus, and Teddy Remus). Because, after death, Severus will be as Sirius was to Harry. Severus, what a fucktard he is. He is a good person, who could have been so much better, rather than being a victim of himself and being such a colossal ass. He allowed himself to become a bully because he was bullied. But he so loved Lily that he was able to be redeemed.
Because that is the major theme of Harry Potter: love is more powerful than anything, even death. It seems so cheesy, but JKR treats it with such depth and deftness. The reason that Harry Potter is a hero that can save the world is because his parents so deeply loved him, and they, in turn, were so deeply loved by others. It is what gives Harry everything that matters: goodness, kindness, bravery, strength. Grief, the place where love and death meet, is soaked into the pages of Harry Potter, and JKR treats it with such intensity, poetry, and truth, that it moves the reader beyond tears. The sorrow and pain of death and loss is absolutely portrayed, and yet, realized that there is something much worse: betrayal, the loss of innocence, and, always, that there are things worth dying for: those we love. Love is the most important, most powerful thing of all, even though it is the very thing that gives death its sting.
God, so many scenes that I love. I love revenge-filled Harry looking at his godfather in his parents' wedding photo. God, I bawl every time at that. I love Severus and Remus catching Harry with the Marauder's Map, and both of them, essentially, guilting him about the death of his parents. And, of course, the masterful Shrieking Shack scene.
"[Dumbledore's] a trusting man, isn't he? Believes in second chances. But me--I say there are spots that don't come off, Snape. Spots that never come off, d'you know what I mean? …Got Potter's best interests at heart, have you?"
"Fulfilling my duty as godfather…don't worry about me, I'm pretending to be a loveable stray."
"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."
"Times like that bring out the best in some people, and the worst in others."
"You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow up to be!"
53. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (636 pages)
Blah, blah, blah, ninth time rereading, best fantasy series of all time, yeah yeah yeah.
But, after the magnificence that is Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire is a bit of a letdown. Quite boring, actually. Granted, there are some wonderful themes at play: the pains of poverty, the horrors of bullying, the bonds of family (Percy's greatest moment, which reminds me why he used to be one of my favorite characters, as well as the imploding Crouch family), the importance of an ethical code even when fighting the greatest of evil. The last of which is particularly important in GOF, where JKR illustrates the importance of love, forgiveness, and honor for the "good side", in the character of Barty Crouch, who is violent and cruel, uses torture and murder, throws people to a soul-sucking prison without a trial, and cares little or nothing for his own son, all in trying to defeat the Death Eaters. This is how JKR creates a brilliant, deep, and--despite the owls and the magical wands--very real world, a world true in a social, psychological, and human sense.
A lot of it is just dramatic irony after DH. Damn, JKR, all the funny bits with Fred and George are ruined because, all you can think is, FRED DIES!
Actually, there is a lot of character beauty to the book, and most of it lies with that brilliant Severus Snape. Poor Snape and all his shame and hatred of his past. That Egg and the Eye scene, where he screams about his second chance and grabs his arm. Snape in Goblet of Fire made me never doubt his goodness. Once again, we are reminded that Lily's love for Harry is what protects him, and it was Snape's love for Lily that allowed her to protect him. We are also remind how much of a flaming idiot Voldemort is to not understand any of this.
By the end of Goblet of Fire, I am bawling. And, this time, feeling very old. I was a teenager when I started reading these books, and now I'm a teacher of teenagers. And it is incredibly painful for me to watch a fourteen-year-old boy go through the things that Harry does, not to mention, to see a seventeen-year-old boy die. It's also why the Battle of Hogwarts at the end of the series is probably the most disturbing piece of literature I've ever read. It's also probably why I really sort of hate Dumbledore. I don't understand how he can do all that he does to those kids. Hell, even Snape is like, "the fuck, dude?"
54. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (600 pages) At the risk of sounding like a Hipster, after Twilight, Water for Elephants, Atonement, and now--Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I swear I will never read another best seller with raving reviews. Fricking Harry Potter, Dickens, and Christopher Moore got me all confused and thinking that the masses had good taste. Apparently not.
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has one major problem: editing. As in, there wasn't any. The book took two hundred pages to get going, the mystery was solved about a hundred pages later, but kept going for another three hundred pages. There were pages and pages of superfluous details about what people were wearing and what they were eating. Not exactly gripping stuff. Not to mention, all characters wandering around and doing nothing.
Actually, even if all that stuff were edited out, there wouldn't really be anything left. The mystery itself is completely and utterly predictable, boring, and unrealistic. I can't possible spoil anything because there's nothing to spoil here. And, with all the characters being utterly flat, boring, and even obnoxious, there are no twists, turns, or emotional investment in what happens to them.
So, my advice, toss this book away and curl up with a good old Agatha Christie. Shorter, but packing more twists and turns, more psychological depth, more intrigue, more humanity and more profound thought, in one page of one hundred, than this entire book. Grade: F
55. The Wish by Gail Carson Levine (197 pages) Poor, lonely, loner Wilma gives an old woman her seat on the bus and is granted one wish: the be the most popular girl in school. Suddenly, the prettiest and most popular girls are her best friends and she's got dates for the big dance. But the boy she really wants to go with his the dorky poet with a unibrow. And suddenly, Wilma realizes that the spell will break once they all graduate in three weeks. While Levine captures a sensitive subject, she does so without any finesse or particular insight. The fairy tale aspect is just pure kid's wish fulfillment, with no twist or originality. Definitely not one of her stronger books. Grade: C-
2011 Page Total: 15329