Book Review – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (HP5)
JK Rowling
US version Hardback – 2003

There is something especially quaint (ahem) about checking a children’s book out of the library that is so big and heavy you almost need somebody to carry it for you. But alas, here is the longest of the HP novels. Especially when there’s very little content in the book to talk about (side note – this is the shortest movie of all 8, which is saying something since its the longest book at 870 pages [US version]).

For Harry’s fifth year at Hogwarts, the book starts out with Harry and his useless cow-of-a-cousin Dudley walking down the street when Dementors attack them just around the block from Privet Drive. He’s whisked away by a group of magical people that he knows mostly from school to the super-secret hideout of the Order of the Phoenix – Sirius’s house – where he discovers that he’s been watched all summer long, and of course his friends know more than he does.

We get to learn a bit about the Order, courtesy of Fred and George (or is it George and Fred?)’s magic ears invention, a bit about the Black Family courtesy of Kreatcher, a particularly annoying house elf, and the Black Family Tapestry – complete with shrieking Mother of Sirius, and more than a bit about the Ministry of Magic and Albus Dumbledore courtesy of Harry’s visit to the ministry on the matter of having called forth a patronus to get rid of the dementors trying to kill his cousin.

He should have let Dudley die, just sayin’.
Also, the ministry is corrupt, but we already knew that.
Oh, and Harry *must* be lying because there’s no way that dementors are out and causing trouble because Don’t-Say-Voldemort can’t *possibly* be doing anything whatsoever. Excuse me while I roll my eyes.

The kids go back to Hogwarts just in time to find out that they’ll have to take their OWLs at the end of the year, and for all hell to break loose at the hands of one Dolores Umbridge. We have a lot of her being cross and Harry getting in trouble – to the point that he’s banned from Quiddich forever. After all, he’s just a little freak who makes up stories.

Hermione still goes on about her stupid SPEW campaign (seriously, NONE of my friends like the SPEW story lines).
Umbridge’s insistance that you can learn defense THEORY and never practice it and be able to save yourself is not what the students want to hear, and so Harry and his friends start their DA practices (Dumbledore’s Army, which is a stupid title, but right up the alley of what a young teenager would come up with) in the Room of Requirement, which Dobby points out to them.

Oh, and Harry starts having bad dreams that aren’t dreams but a super-special connection with Voldemort and he gets to see what’s happening as it happens. Which means he then gets to train with Snape, who he of course doesn’t trust, to close his brain off to those attacks.

Ron’s Dad gets attacked, we learn about Longbottom’s parents, and meet Luna Lovegood.

Oh, and we spend way too much freakin’ time at the Ministry of Magic where we learn all kinds of things and fight the powers of evil. Also, Harry’s godfather, who he’s barely just had in his life, dies. But we sort of expected that because nothing good ever happens to Harry.

And love. LOVE is the reason why Harry goes back to being abused at Privet drive once a year.

*sigh* I’m bored writing this review. Which is sort of telling because, you know, I was bored reading the book. For the most part, NOTHING HAPPENS, and even though stuff happens, there’s not that much that happens, and there are seventy bajillion words in this book that we have to suffer through for very little. You could almost skip the book and be happy with yourself.
Also, I don’t like comparing these to the movies, but I’m going to for a short sec – all the emphasis on “educational decrees” and all that crap and there are only like four of them in the whole book. As opposed to the movies which have them hand over fist. It’s really weird.
I was annoyed with Hagrid’s giant brother, but the more I read, the more I’m annoyed with a lot of Hagrid’s story lines anyway. He’s not a bumbling idiot, but the more Rowling wrote him, the more he became a caricature of himself. I love Hagrid in, say, the first three books, but I’m starting to think that giving him the same stuff time and time again is getting old.
While the room of prophecies is kind of cool, having to slough through descriptions of half the damn BUILDING for the Ministry got old, too. Yeah, some of them were neat (I did love the fountain), but really. I haven’t complained yet about Rowling having a copy editor and not a content editor, but I should. Because, seriously, there’s like three pages in this book about Harry getting in a phone booth and talking into the receiver.

Really, the only things that happen in this book are: 1. OWLs, 2. DA, 3. Oh, Look, Voldemort’s back (which we’ve known for five books now, thanks), 4. Cho is cute, 5. Sirius dies. There you go.

So, when I say “book 5” to my friends, you get a table full of full-grown women complaining about how much they hated this book and how stupid it was and whatever else. I can’t put my finger on why, but I agree with them for a few reasons. Boring, like I said, unnecessarily long, like I said, and seriously, you really could skip it and continue with the series no problem. And because of *that* I’m giving it a 2/5. This book could be 200 pages and you’d get everything out of it you need to. So skip it if you don’t care that much, and certainly the only reason you’d need to read it is if you’re hell-bent on reading the entire series.

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.

Book Review – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – JK Rowling

Title: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (UK/Original title) – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (USA)
Author: J.K. Rowling
Illustrator: Mary GrandPre
Format: hardcover
Written: 1995
Published: 1998

I was going to save this one for a little bit, but in honor of Banned Books Week, I thought I should do it now, seeing as though this is one of the most banned books of the last decade.

I first read the book several years ago, and I’ve seen most of the movies. But I was a little grumpy when I read these the first time, so I decided to give them another go. See, here’s the thing, Eoin Coiffer wrote an incredible book called Artemis Fowl that came out right around the same time, and I spent a lot of grumpiness on the fact that JK just got better marketing than Coiffer did. This is why Universal has the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in its theme park and we have all gone out and tried Botts Every Flavor Beans, even if it *was* earwax flavored.

I still think Artemis Fowl needs a huge franchise like this.

Anyway, back to Harry Potter. The gist is this. Orphan Harry Potter spent most of his first 11 years living at 4 Privet Drive, with a crazy Aunt and Uncle who treat him like crap (hello, he lives under the stairs) while his cousin Pugsly (Okay, his name is really Dudley) gets everything he’s ever wanted. (If this isn’t a call for Children’s Protective Services… anyway). On his 11th birthday, he gets invited to Hogwarts, where he gets to study wizardry, meets a couple new friends (including Ron, the youngest boy in a family of gingers – ooooh, redheads *swoon* – and Hermione, who he wasn’t friends with until his (and his friends’) taunting sent her crying to a bathroom where she was then locked in with a troll and he had to save her [troll bogies included]), turns out to be awesome at everything and the best known wizard ever, even though he knew nothing about his past.
The book is well enough written, although JK is a bit slow in spots. Really, for RL5 (that’s 5th grade reading level here in the states), I thought the book would be a little faster to read.

And I still don’t get the mania that is this book. When HP mania picked up a decade ago, my high school somehow managed to get this book in as senior high school English curriculum. “Mrs. Wickstrom had to speed up her lesson plans because none of us could put it down!” my best friend gushed. Jee, really? I mean, you were reading a book geared towards people half your age; I can’t imagine why you all went through it so fast. </sarcasm>
Anyway. Now that the hype has died down a bit, I can say this. If you like witches and wizards (and don’t care that this is a totally commercial and uneducated view of what a witch could really do), then go ahead and read it. If you’re one of the psycho Christians that try to ban this because it’s supposedly promoting witchcraft and the dark arts, get over yourself. Real witches are nothing like this.

If you’ve made it this far and haven’t read any of the series, I’d say to go ahead and read the first one. This one I’ll give four out of five pages to, but I won’t be as nice later on.

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