Book Review- The Hunger Pains

Book: The Hunger Pains

Author: The Harvard Lampoon

Published: 2012

Publisher: Simon & Shuster, Inc.


When Kantkiss Neverclean is unwittingly volunteered to be the female contestant for the Hunger Games, she can’t believe her luck! She gets to compete for fame and glory…and her life too. Thrown into the unknown, she must now rely on her great skills as an archer (she can hit a cow at point blank range!), her mentor, and her new friend Pita, to make it through this harrowing experience and discover which of all of her boy toys she truly loves…and make it home alive. So will she make it? Who will she choose? Will she ever get President Bernette’s autograph for her mother? Find out in the raucously farcical book:  The Hunger Pains.

There is a fine line between good satire and bad. This book takes a running leap, clears that line by at least 10 feet, and lands flat on its face while laughing like an idiot (aka, the main character). Don’t get me wrong, I love a good satire and in the spirit of making the most out of this book, I read it as all good satires should be read – caffeinated, sleep-deprived, and with a steady stream of sugar coursing through my veins. None of it helped. Given that it was based off the wildly popular Hunger Games, the authors had great deal of fodder to work with. Unfortunately, it all seemed to fall flat in the end. Instead of mocking the original story they rewrote the story based off the questions “what if we make every single character a complete Neanderthal?” “What if we gave the characters stupid and sometimes unintelligently crude names?” “What if the best character in this book is a raccoon that shows up for all of two pages?” While there were some good lines in there, mostly in the form of sociopolitical jabs, they were often overshadowed by yet another brainless line directly afterwards. The characters were one-dimensional and annoying; in fact my favorite scene was when the main character was knocked out with a vase. Where a satire should be creatively snarky The Hunger Pains was painfully bland and mind-numbing to the point where I had to restrain myself from throwing the book across the room.

Maybe I expected too much, after all, this is the Harvard Lampoon. I will say it is palatable if you are looking for something to completely numb your mind after a long day of underwater basket weaving, or some other such tedious event. In fact, there are points that are almost enjoyable if you check your brain at the door and do not let anything more than air pass through the open cavity in your skull where said brain used to be. Due to this, I give it a 2 page rating; if, however, you are looking for something snarky and witty, with more intelligence than a pill bug, then move along, this is not the book you are looking for.

Writer Wednesday – Patricia L. Beaudin

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Tell us (briefly) about you…
I’m a born and raised Michigander. When I was in high school, I was into art and didn’t think I’d ever be able to write something decent. In my mid-twenties I decided to write down a story I had been thinking about for fun. The floodgates were opened with that story and I haven’t stopped writing since.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
I love writing young adult. The stories always have some paranormal or fantasy elements.

…and what you’re working on right now.
A short story related to my debut novel, Being Human, called Sunlight. It takes place after Being Human and is in Jamie’s POV.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
I remember being in love with Clifford The Big Red Dog books. I had them all and reread them all the time.

What are your three favorite books?
Just three? Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, Willow by Julia Hoban, and The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I only read one book at a time and usually from start to finish which means nothing gets done until I reach The End. I’m actually not reading anything right now. I have some stories by friends I need to beta.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
get lost in another world.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
I don’t reread often, but only because I have so many new books I want to read.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Not likely. Goodreads has book recommendations and I have people recommend books and I rarely pick those books up. It’s not that I don’t think the books would interest me, it’s more I already have a giant TBR pile that I’m trying to get through.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
I do it a good bit. If I read a book that I really like, I’ll review it on my blog and that’s pretty much me recommending the book.

What do you look for in a good book?
I never really thought about it. Usually if I pick up a book it’s because the cover caught my attention and the back sounded interesting enough to open.

Why do you write?
I write because it’s fun and I like creating. I’ve always been creative so it’s a good outlet for me.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
I honestly can’t say. I’d probably just be working at a restaurant as a cook or baker, but those jobs wouldn’t be my passion.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
All over. Things I see or hear, other writers, my imagination.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
I can do things I didn’t think I could do. I always thought I was an awful writer, but I gave it a shot and it worked out. I know not everyone will like my stories, but they are good.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
My grandma is beyond proud and tells me all the time. I figure my parents are too, but we don’t really discuss my writing too much. I’m not much of a talker, even with my family. Usually, I thinking, “Don’t ask me about my writing. Don’t ask me about my writing.” when I’m with family.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
Not that I can think of.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Getting noticed. There are so many books being released each day now. Self publishing really opened the doors for writers, but it also means that you have to work twice as hard to get noticed.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
My first paperback of Being Human I forgot page numbers. When I was formatting for e-book, the guide I used said take out the page numbers, you don’t need them. Then when I started on the paperback, I forgot to add them back. It took me a few months to finally put the page numbers in because I thought I needed to buy a new ISBN number and I didn’t have the money. Turns out I didn’t.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
I’d like to have a story in an anthology, but I’m horrible with deadlines. A friend asked me to be in one she was putting together and she said the deadline was Christmas. I couldn’t write a single thing for the story idea I thought up because all I could focus on was the deadline. Deadlines are my Kryptonite.

How do you deal with your fan base?
By being really excited. My fan base isn’t very big yet, so when I have a fan talk to me, I act like a fangirl and jump and squee. LOL

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
I’m a lot more anti-social than they think. Talking online is super easy because I’m hiding behind a computer screen, but if any of them met me in real life, I wouldn’t be half as chatty.

Anything else we should know?
This is the kind of question you don’t ask me. I always say nothing, even when I have a lot of new things happening in my life. I can’t help it though, I’m anti-social and an introvert. You have to drag me kicking and screaming and then I say things like, “This was so much fun. Let’s do it again.” Not even kidding. It has happened multiple times.

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Book Review – Time Enough For Love by Robert Heinlein

Title: Time Enough For Love
Author: Robert Heinlein
Format: Paperback
Written: 1973
Published: 1975

Time Enough For Love is a chunky science fiction novel about a man who has lived for more than 2000 years. It is set in a futuristic universe, and details his life and accumulated wisdom from the centuries. A variety of storytelling techniques are used, and the common theme of the various passages is an exploration of what it means to love another.

This book came highly recommended to me, which is the only reason I slogged it out. I kept waiting for it to get to the point. Any point. It is a frame narrative, playing with ideas of the Arabian Nights. Unlike the stories of Scheherazade, this one is lacking in thrilling cliff hangers that keep the pages turning.

Some of the incidents that are detailed in the book would be interesting as standalone stories. The chapters about Lazarus’s relationship with Dora are genuinely moving, and I am certain this is because it is one of the few times when the frame is distant enough that you are not reminded of it every two pages.

I was constantly irritated by the protagonist’s name. He changed it whenever he took on a new persona to hide his longevity, which was fine, but use of the chosen name was so inconsistent that I occasionally became lost about which person did what. The frame narrative would also impose on the individual narratives with alternative explanations and names as footnotes, which just confused things even more.

Because the theme of the book was love, the benefit of having such an old protagonist was severely curtailed. Two millennia is a long time to do a lot of amazing things. At one point the narrator was a slave, but we are only told this to justify why he intervened in a particular situation. Being pressed into slavery and escaping it would have been much more interesting than the story we did get about how he bought a young couple and then sold them a restaurant.

One of the best aspects of the book, due to its love theme, was the exploration of alternative family models. Many types of family were only alluded to in passing reference, but it was refreshing that our current cultural idea of the best family being the nuclear one was not supported in this text.

Aside from the occasional humorous passage, and Dora’s final scene, nothing in this book managed to stir more than a casual intellectual curiosity. I have no sense that my life has been enriched by reading it. I feel so little emotional resonance that I can’t be bothered hating it. If you have read this book, and understand why it was so highly recommended, please throw in your two cents in the comments below. Until someone convinces me otherwise, I am rating this book 1 out of 5 pages.

Book Review – Road to Marvel’s The Avengers

Title: Road To Marvel’s The Avengers

Created By: Various/Multiple Authors and Illustrators

Format: Paperback/Comics bound as a graphic novel

Written: 2010-2012

Published: 2012 (this binding)

This book features four ongoing comics – “I am Iron Man!,” “Iron Man 2: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” “Iron Man 2: Public Identity,” and “Captain America: First Vengeance” – and runs at least a hundred pages (they’re not numbered, I’m totally guessing).

These are supposed to be the lead up to the Avengers movie (and movie cannon).  The first part was written after the movie and based totally on it.  The other two Iron Man parts are sort of a lead up to the second movie.  Captain America is a lead up to when Rogers was chosen to be Cap –so the first bit of the movie.

Here’s the thing, I tend to like comics for their artwork.  (There’s not enough substance to the story for me to justify them otherwise.)  The artwork in here was –dark.  It sort of lost a little for me.  Most of the backgrounds are dark, there is hardly any white, etc.  I think that it would have benefitted from brighter artwork.

And the story lines are meant to be related to the movies, but the drawings don’t exactly look like the Tony Stark or Pepper Pots that we’ve seen so many times on the big screen.  If this was really done as a way to bridge comic fans and the movies…  what did they draw?  A hybrid?  Whatever they wanted?  I’m not familiar enough with the comics to know if they kept that aesthetic or started a new one.  But for what it is, I sort of expected Tony Stark to have an uncanny resemblance to Robert Downey, Jr., instead of just sorta looking like they could pass for the police sketch. Nevermind Chris Evans – he doesn’t look a thing like the drawings of Captain America.

Which brings me to another issue that I have with this.  There’s like one page that mentions something about old magic and shows a drawing of Odin.  Not even Thor.  If this is really the road to the Avengers, why don’t we have a Thor story of some sort, something about Hulk, etc?  There’s a bit about Natascha (Black Widow), since she goes undercover to keep tabs on Stark, but that’s it, and not a single word/mention/nod in Hawkeye’s direction.  I would have liked to see it a little more rounded.

In fact, I think that if it weren’t for the Captain America/Daddy Stark connection that they would have considered discluding him, too.  (And yes, I probably made that word totally up.)  This also opens my rant that they did stuff bass-ackwards and I would very much have liked to see Cap before Iron Man, just so you get the chronology and Iron Man’s history in the right order.

In the end – if you’re a fan of the Iron Man movie franchise, go ahead and pick this up.  If you’re psycho into the Avengers, you should have it because I’m quite sure you have everything else.  But if you’re a casual fan, you can watch the movies, skip this entirely and not have missed anything at all.  Not sure where that fits on the pages scale, I guess a three?

Book Review–Below Stairs by Margaret Powell

Title: Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir That Inspired “Upstairs, Downstairs” and “Downton Abbey”
Author: Margaret Powell
Format: Electronic–Kindle
Written: 1968/ 1968
Published: 2012


If you’re half as mad for Downton Abbey as I am, you’ve probably seen this book mentioned as one of the inspirations for that show.   And if you’re half as mad for Downton Abbey as I am, you’ll read pretty much anything that says “this has something to do with Downton Abbey.”

First, let me explain what this book ISN’T.  It is NOT a novelisation of the TV show.  You won’t see the Granthams and the Crawleys and their many dramas in these pages.

First written in the mid-60s and published in Great Britain in 1968, this book was all the rage, sort of the way _Eat, Pray, Love_ * was here in the US a couple of years ago.  On the heels of the book’s popularity, actresses Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins conceived of a show about housemaids that would capitalize on the revived interest in that vanished way of life. Much of Britain was undergoing shrinking pains as the Empire turned into the Commonwealth and the prosperity of earlier generations vanished under crippling war debts. Nostalgia for the bygone days was tempered with the memories of those for whom the good old days weren’t do good. So this book, and by extension the TV show, were perfect.    Marsh and Atkins were able to interest the networks in the show once they expanded their stories to include the wealthy employers as well as the maids, and Upstairs, Downstairs was born.

Julian Fellows, the creator of Downton Abbey, was an “Upstairs” fellow all the way.   He was one of those who was living the Upstairs lifestyle in the 60s as Below Stairs was released.   The stories and anecdotes in Powell’s successful memoir stuck in his head to be resurrected years later as the “Downstairs” storylines in Downton Abbey.   

Now that we have the Downton Abbey pedigree out of the way, let me explain what this book IS.

It is a memoir written by a woman who was highly intelligent and won a scholarship to college to become a teacher.  However, back in those days of no student loans, she couldn’t afford to go and instead had to go to work at 14 to help support her family.    Margaret Langley was a natural storyteller, a passionate reader, an autodidact and a keen observer of people.    When her sons went to college she went with them, got a degree in her later years and wrote several books about the way life was before the sun set on the British Empire and the Middle Class came into its own.

A lot of what happens in Below Stairs is unhappy stuff.  People are treated unfairly, harshly and sometimes with great cruelty.   But Powell’s skill at weaving the narrative makes it all go by in a pleasant and compelling read.   If you’ve seen either of the shows that use this as source material you’ll recognise Powell’s stories as having happened to this or that TV character, and the shout-out is a bit of a treat.   If you haven’t seen the programs, reading this witty, interesting and fascinating book will have you hunting them down on Netflix.

I love this book nearly as much as I love Downton Abbey, even though there is no Isis.

The only drawback, and that drawback is what costs it a worm, is that there are certain stories you come to expect after awhile–such as how she met her husband–that just never appear.    I would have liked more detail about that part of her life, especially as much as it figured into the narrative about her years on staff.

I’m rating this as a solid 4- bookworm read and hope you’ll seek out a copy for your enjoyment.

4 bookworms

Book Review – Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon 8 by Naoko Takeuchi

Title: Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon 8
Author/Illustrator: Naoko Takeuchi
Format: Paperback Manga
Written: 1991
Published: 2004
Translated: 2011
In a long standing series such as the Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, one would expect there to be books of transition and that is the case with Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon 8, it is a book that transitions from one plot arch to the next.  I mentioned in my review of volume 7 that this was the Pharaoh 90 plot arch which wasn’t one of my favorites.  I very much liked the passion and pain expressed from some of the characters when it seemed all hope was lost, particularly as there was a focus on Sailor Saturn who is my favorite outer Senshi and there was a good bit of Tuxedo Mask as well who is my second favorite character in the series over all (just behind Sailor Star Fighter).

Once the story of Pharaoh90 and Sailor Saturn was told, I was excited to see that story picked up right away with the plot arch of the Dead Moon Ciricus and the Amazonians which is a rather fun story to tell.  Having only watched the Anime, I was surprised to see how involved the Amazonians were from the start and I look forward to learning more!  Of course the start of this plot arch was the main focus and so there was a lot of set up going on in this book but I’m not too bothered by it as it was an enjoyable read all the same and I am looking forward to the end of the month when the next book should be available as it left off at a very interesting plot point of Sailor Moon and Sailor Chibi-Moon switching places.  It was rather fun to watch in Anime and I think it will be fun to read in maga how these girls deal with being age swapped, and continue to fight evil in the name of the moon!

Over all, I am giving this book a three page rating.  I liked the book and I enjoyed reading it.  I do after all love Sailor Moon but it was a bit weak and very heavy on the images with sounds for the ending of the Pharaoh90 plot arch and there were no translator notes inside the book which is something I very much enjoy reading.  I find the translation notes help give clarity, and I was sad to see them not present this time.  Hopefully the next book will be better for having a very fun plot arch and having a translator section in the back.

Book Review- Treasure Island

Book: Treasure Island

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Written: 1883

Published: 1998 (Oxford World Classics Paperback Edition)

Publisher: Oxford University Press, Inc


Jim Hawkins is an average boy who spends his days helping his mother and father run the Admiral Benbow, the family inn. He has no reason to suspect that when an unruly seaman, no doubt a former pirate, takes up quarters, his life will soon be changed drastically. The seaman, Billy Bones, has a map, one that his former shipmates will stop at nothing for – including attacking the inn. Left with the map, Jim solicits the help of Dr. Livesey and Squire Trelawney in order to set off after the treasure. Before long their voyage is under way and Jim is taken under the wing of a one-legged sea cook. But their adventure has hardly begun, as unbeknownst to the travelers, the pirates are closer than they could ever imagine.

I have been trying to read this book for over a year now. I kept picking it up and getting about 10 pages into it, and never reading any farther; so after pushing past the first 10 pages and not being able to put the book down, I can honestly say this is a must read! It has pirates, treasure (thus the title…), adventure on the high seas… my inner child was dancing in glee (not to mention swinging a little cardboard sword at imaginary buccaneers). Oh, and did I mention the scenes/songs  from Muppet Treasure Island playing though my head as I read various scenes?  The book was, is, and always will be a classic, and it is a great story for adults and older children (young children might be a little frightened by some of the scenes). I had very few issues with anything in the book with the exception of the wording/vocabulary. Some of the terminology was a little difficult to follow, as I am not a sea-faring girl of the 1800’s, though in context it was not hard to get the gist of what was being said. Also, the way things were worded made it a bit difficult to follow who the author was talking about in a couple of scenes. Finally, the biggest caveat, and again, chalk it up to the use of a differing vocabulary in a different era, was that there were a couple of words used that have innocuous meanings, yet sound incredibly similar to some rather unacceptable words by today’s standard.

Overall, I give this book 5 pages. It was awesome beginning to end, and I look forward to reading it again. So go out, have an adventure, and read this book. Arrrrrrrrrrgh.

Writer Wednesday – Candy Little

Let’s start with the basics.  Who are you?
Candy Little

Tell us (briefly) about you…
…and a bit about what you’ve written…
…and what you’re working on right now.
I write Christian romance and general mystery novels. I live in Michigan with my husband and two grown kids. I have three books out right now. The Unwilling Bride is a Christian, historical romance. Unforgiving Ghosts is a Christian, contemporary romance. Death By Broken Heart is my general, cozy mystery novella.  

What are your earliest book-related memories?
When I was a teenager my mother would read romances then give them to me to read. If they made a movie out of the book we’d watch it together. My aunt is an avid reader and we got most of the books from her. So reading was a family affair!!

What are your three favorite books?
Come Love a Stranger by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
A Wedding For Maggie by Allison Leigh
And, The Bible

How many books to do you read at any given time?  What are you reading now?
Unfortunately I haven’t read much in the past two years. I’m lucky if I get the book read for my book club. I did read a Christmas novella, The Angel Song by Marry Manners a few weeks ago. Not reading anything at the moment.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
like a good glass of wine and some romance!!

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
I have re-read a few books. However, since I don’t have much time to read I usually have a huge pile of new books to read so I don’t get to re-read my faves.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
It depends on the other person’s taste. I have read books recommended by friends and hated them. Our tastes were too different. So I’d guess it’s about 50% chance I’d read a book based on recommendation.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
VERY likely. I do it all the time.

What do you look for in a good book?
Vibrant characters.
Good paced plot – it doesn’t necessarily have to be fast paced but it shouldn’t drag either.
I also love adjectives that described the characters, clothing and setting.
And, multiple POV’s so I can understand what other characters are thinking and feeling. When I read a novel that has 1 POV I get bored. You might as well just watch the movie if you have to read body langue and pick up emotion cues from dialogue. Pull me into the story by putting me into the minds of other main characters!!   

Why do you write?
Obviously from my comments above, I love to break the rules!! But, seriously, I wrote my first novel, Unforgiving Ghosts, after I had a stillborn daughter. I was able to express myself in a fictional way. Writing is more therapeutic for me. I love expressing my feelings through the thoughts and actions of my characters.  

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
A teacher.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
All my inspiration come from God!!

What has writing taught you about yourself?
That I’m unorganized and undisciplined, working on both of those. J
But it has also shown my creativity and dedication. I self published after 10 years of rejection and having my family give me no support. I was determined to show them all how wrong they were. And I DID!!

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
My husband and kids think it’s a hobby and I don’t really work. Thankfully I have some supportive friends and neighbors who always encourage me.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
I don’t think writers are as shy as they have been portrayed. I’m certainly not shy!!

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Understanding how to market in this digital age. Also, they need to learn the business and understand that book covers and editing are the most important investment they can make.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Yes, editing!! I had a few friends help go over my manuscript early on. Then a friend who is a retired English teacher helped do the final edit, but we still missed so much and The Unwilling Bride -paperback- is full of errors. I’ve corrected the mistakes in the ebook but nothing I can do for the print copies. I hired a professional editor for Unforgiving Ghosts. I learned that editing is best done by a professional and not friends!

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
Can’t think of anything.

How do you deal with your fan base?
I love talking with my fans and I’m thankful for each one!! I guess FB, Twitter and Goodreads is how I stay connected to them.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
that I have a racy mystery coming out with a very sexy love scene.

Anything else we should know?
Only that I love you all. Thanks so much, Mandi for helping me promote myself and my novels. Praying that you and everyone have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!!




Book Review – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Title: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Author: Philip K. Dick
Format: Paperback
Written: 1968
Published: 1972

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a science fiction novel set in the future world of 1992. Colonisation of our solar system has been accomplished, which is fortunate due to the devastation that war has brought to Earth. Part of the colonisation effort involves providing a free android to every colonist who migrates away from the dying mother planet. Unfortunately, the androids in question are not always happy with the arrangement. Our protagonist, Rick Decard, is a bounty hunter charged with tracking down escaped androids and killing them.

This book improves dramatically if you ignore the proposed timeline, which was ambitious given the 25 year window between when the book was written and when it was set. Technology has reached impressive heights. Space colonisation is successful, machines regulate mood according to the programming of the user, android technology has progressed to the point where it is almost impossible to tell the difference between man and machine, and hovercrafts are the main form of transport.

The writing style is easy to settle into, and does not get in the way of the story. We are immediately introduced to the personality of the main characters, the values of the world, and the general premise without any info dumps. It is an excellent grounding for the story, which makes it easy to race through the pages.

Both sides of the conflict are well represented as the novel explores concepts of humanity and empathy. We are able to meet characters before we know whether they are human or android, which gives us the ability to make our own judgements first. In many ways the sequence of this novel is representative of the world. This episode is significant in the protagonist’s experience due to the size and complexity, but the underlying power balance remains the same.

While the quality of being just another few days in an incredible life lends a peculiar type of suspense that works well for the novel, it deprives the ending of a resolution to a subplot. I won’t go into many details, because spoilers are unnecessary, but I will agree with the advertising on my novel that the book ends “in a jolting climax that leaves the reader very thoughtful indeed”. I have been thoughtful for days, coming up with dozens of ways that I would have fixed my biggest gripe with the ending.

I had hoped that the unresolved thread was intended to be addressed in a sequel. Unfortunately, the only subsequent work on this world appears to be a result of its adaptation into the movie Blade Runner. The sequels were authorised but written by someone else many years later. I don’t believe in novels written decades later after a movie has been released count for this purpose.

My copy of this book is 183 pages long. I give the first 169 of those pages 5 out of 5. If you haven’t guessed by now, the conclusion to this novel was unfortunate in my opinion. Therefore, I give this book an overall rating of 3 out of 5 pages.

Yes, I averaged the numbers; the ending irritated me that much.

Book Review – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Title: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Author: JK Rowling
Format: Hardcover
Written/Published: 1999

The re-reading of Harry Potter finally continues with book two of the seven part set.

After spending most of summer at the Dursleys’ with none of the owls from his friends getting to him, the Weasleys finally liberate him in a flying car that their father had charmed.  He spends a couple blissful weeks before the obligatory Diagon Alley stop – where Harry uses floo powder for the first time solo and ends up one street over in the bad part of wizard town, where he of course sees Lucius Malfoy being sneaky and evil – and then off to Hogwarts (Hoggy, Warty Hogwarts).  Except that Harry and Ron can’t get on platform 9 ¾, and actually smash head first into the wall when they try.  With no other options, they do the only logical thing that 12-year-old boys can come up with, and steal the flying car, which they crash most spectacularly a bit before the school, and have to walk the rest of it, heavy trunks in tow. They’ve missed the sorting ceremonies, lost the car, and, of course, are in trouble even before the school year begins.

Okay, so I’m going to stop right there.  Mrs. Weasley doesn’t get on the train with Ginny.  The boys missed it by about five seconds.  So shouldn’t she have been right back out there looking for them?  Why is such an obvious plot hole missed?  Also, back to the floo thing, why, exactly, is Harry flooing on his own to somewhere like Diagon Alley?  Couldn’t they have done a test run somewhere?  And why, for somebody so into muggle studies and everything about them, doesn’t Mr. Weasley ever remember that they have to explain everything to Harry?  I’m likening the scene to telling a country boy that you’re taking the subway through New York and telling him to get off at lower Broadway without pointing out which of the many Broadway subway exits you really need.  Just guess, you’ll be fine.  *obligatory condescending pat on the head*

So back to the summary.  At Hogwarts, the new Defense against the Dark Arts teacher, Gilderoy Lockhart, is a celebrity – you know, flashy smile, perfect hair, girls swoon – and utterly annoying.  A first form, Colin, thinks Harry’s a celebrity and follows him around taking pictures and making sure to speak to him every time he sees him.

The only thing they learn in DADA is that Lockhart is an idiot, and he can’t even control the pixies that he unleashes on the class early on.  So of course, the dark arts once again attack Hogwarts, and of course, being totally unprepared, the kids have to figure it out on their own.

The attack is bizarre.  A note painted a wall of the school tells that the chamber has been open.  And the cat has been petrified, right there next to it.  Taking refuge in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, Harry, Ron and Hermione all set out to figure out what’s going on.

Until Hermione gets petrified, too.  And Colin, and a couple others and…

Also somewhere in there is Tom Riddle’s diary, which Harry uses to write back and forth to Tom until it’s stolen from their room.  Of course Harry doesn’t mention the theft, so the relatively simple answer doesn’t ever get explained until the very end of the book when the villain reveals way too much.

We also, at several points in there, meet Dobby the house elf, who does very little but try to repeatedly save Harry’s life, in several wonderful manners that make Harry want to just chance things.  (It’s Dobby, for instance, that stops all the letters from Harry’s friends, and stops platform 9 ¾ from letting them in.)  And Harry, of course, tricks Dobby’s owner, Lucius Malfoy, into freeing him in the end.

There’s also a ridiculous scene where the boys end up in the forbidden forest (they seem to think the word forbidden means please, come in), talking to a bajillion spiders, the two large ones, of course, trying to decide if they should eat them, even though they’re friends of Hagrid’s.  I mean, surely Hagrid wouldn’t have suggested they go into the forest if his really-creepy creature friends were going to eat them, right?  *sigh* Hey, at least we find the car that’s been missing since this point, has now gone a bit feral (is it a cat?!), but saves them, because apparently we need an action scene now, so Rowling gives us one.

And even though the book is over a decade old already, I’ll ease up on the spoilers. By the time the book is over, we’ve learned great big secrets from Hagrid, Lockhart and Ginny Weasley.  We’ve also been introduced to Mandrake, which looks remarkably like little potato people with plants coming out of their heads, and we learn that the plant takes a maturing course much like humans (when you plant the saplings, the babies cry, and when they try to move into each other’s pots, you know they’re mature).

We also get to learn a few more plot holes.  For instance, why don’t Ron and Harry visit Hermione in the sick wing any time sooner than they do?  Whenever Harry or Ron need the sick bay, their friends are always at their side as soon as they come to.  But when Hermione went, it was quite a while before they went to see her.  Why?  Besides the fact that Rowling wouldn’t have had a book otherwise, of course.

Also, why was there nowhere else anywhere in the wizarding world that they could get mandrake without growing it in the greenhouse?  Besides the fact that Rowling wouldn’t have had a book otherwise, of course.

Another question that bothers me – why don’t muggle-born Hermione’s letters ever come via post office?

In the end, of course, Harry (with the help of Dumbledore’s Phoenix), saves the day, everyone gets unpetrified, Hagrid gets his name cleared, and Harry returns back to Privet Drive, where he can be a miserable, abused child again until the next book.

So, here’s the thing.  Because the boys are doing everything they shouldn’t be doing, they miss the sorting/welcome feast, Quiddich gets canceled halfway through the book, etc.  The problem I’ve ever had is that the stories themselves are a lot of hype for an okay story, and it’s only because of the world she built that they’re so big and popular.  So in this book, we get none of the world, several plot holes, and not a lot else.

I’m only giving this a three out of five.  Don’t bother if you’re not reading the whole series.

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