Reviewing the Pages: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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The war against Voldemort is not going well: even Muggle governments are noticing. Ron scans the obituary pages of The Daily Prophet looking for familiar names. Dumbledore is absent from Hogwarts for long stretches of time, and the Order of the Phoenix has already suffered losses. And yet …

As in all wars, life goes on. Sixth-year students learn to Apparate, and lose a few eyebrows in the process. The Weasley twins expand their business. Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love. Classes are never straightforward, though Harry receives some extraordinary help from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince.

So it’s the home front that takes center stage in the multilayered sixth installment of the story of Harry Potter. Harry struggles to uncover the identity of the Half-Blood Prince, the past owner of a potions textbook he now possesses that is filled with ingenious, potentially deadly, spells. But Harry’s life is suddenly changed forever when someone close to him is heinously murdered right before his eyes.

With Dumbledore’s guidance, he seeks out the full, complex story of the boy who became Lord Voldemort, and thereby attempts to find what may be his only vulnerability.

Probably the darkest entry in the series, Half-Blood Prince is a gritty look into the darkest times of the Wizarding world. With Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters finally out and wreaking havoc again in this edition, the now sixteen year old Harry struggles with balancing post-OWLs schooling with Quiddich, friends, extra lessons and his own blossoming internal feelings. The description of the “monster” within Harry in terms of his feeling for Ginny is accurate.

This book will pull at your heartstrings, as it caused me to tear up at the very end, even after having read this book at least once or twice. That’s how you know that a book is good. It gets deep inside of your soul, and never lets go. Rowling is a masterful storyteller, and while there are some moments that will irritate you, it works to get you invested in the story.

If you haven’t gotten into this series by now, this would be a BAD book to jump into. Go read the others first before coming back to this one. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

For those of you who haven’t read this yet, than this ENTIRE review series has been a spoiler, and with that, I’m sorry.  That being said, the actual death of Dumbledore didn’t move me to tear up.  What did was Fawkes’ lament afterwards.  The sorrowful song that I imagined in my head would have probably caused me to cry if I would have heard it in person.

Also, the end of this book sets the stage for the final book.  Throughout the entire thing, we keep getting mentions that Harry is the ‘Chosen One’ to take down Voldemort, once and for all, or fail trying.  We also get an incredible amount of backstory through moments in the Pensieve along with corresponding tales from Dumbledore.  It makes the inhuman monster human, almost.

Harry continues to frustrate me with his single-track mind once he finally sets his mind to it.  This time, it’s trying to catch Malfoy in the act of doing something…Dark.  Yes, I did just use the term “dark” in that way.   ‘Cause that’s what Harry keeps going on and on about.  That Malfoy is up to no good and Harry REALLY wants to catch Malfoy in the act, to prove himself right to others for a change.

However, the other major story here is love, and how it does take awhile to blossom.  In this case, it’s both Ron and Hermione going on their separate journeys in possibly finding love.  While it’s clear to the reader that Hermione does like Ron in more than just a friend way, Ron’s a bit more thick-headed about it.  Then again, when hasn’t he been thick headed about Hermione? Then, there’s Harry and Ginny finally getting together.  While Ginny has always been infatuated with Harry, Harry has only now found feelings for Ginny.  As I said in my Goodreads review, the description of Harry’s monster within is surprisingly accurate.  Love feels that way sometimes.

I hope that you have continued to enjoy these books well after you have read them the first time.  I’m loving the dive back into the series, and I’m anxiously awaiting diving into Deathly Hallows.  If you’re reading through the series folks, and are starting this book, then you might want some tissues…you’re gonna need them.

Reviewing the Pages: Devil in the Countryside

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Devil in the Countryside is a story about the most famous werewolf investigation in history, brimming with intrigue and war, love and betrayal, and long-kept vendettas.

It’s 1588, the height of the Reformation, and a killer is terrorizing the German countryside. There are reports that the legendary Werewolf of Bedburg has returned to a once-peaceful land. Heinrich Franz, a cold and calculating investigator, is tasked with finding whomever — or whatever — the killer might be. He’ll need all the help he can get, including that of a strange hunter who’s recently stumbled into town. Though they’re after the same thing, their reasons are worlds apart. And through it all, a priest tries to keep the peace among his frightened townsfolk, while a young woman threatens his most basic beliefs.

In a time when life is cheap and secrets run rampant, these four divergent souls find themselves entwined in a treacherous mystery, navigating the volatile political and religious landscape of 16th century Germany, fighting to keep their sanity — and their lives.

Based on historical events, this book gives us a look into what may have been happening in Bedburg leading up to the events of the trial. I liked the four different points of view in this story, with each of them giving a slightly different point of view to look upon, even if Dieter and Sybil’s become kind of interchangeable towards the end of the book.

Mr. Barclay does a wonderful job of setting up the atmosphere and setting for this story. Keeping true to the religious and political turmoil of the times, he weaves them in wonderfully with the story of trying to catch the Werewolf. There are times where I forgot that it was the late 1500s, and I could see some of these conversations and scenes come up during a read in the modern day.

Be warned fellow reader, there are some heavy themes alluded to in here. While the details are not alluded to within the pages, one only has to read between the lines to figure out what is going on. I highly recommend diving into this read when you get a chance reader. Step back into the past, and chase down the Werewolf yourself.

Well, there’s a lot going on in this book.  Yes, most of this read is fictionalized.  But, the author had to do so with the lack of information on the subject.  It’s not like there is a surviving diary or journal from someone back then.  But, then that would have been too easy.  Cory Barclay does a wonderful job of weaving all of the known factors of the time period for that region into the fictional aspects that he had to create in order to tell this wonderful tale.

The biggest problem that I came across while reading this was at the end, where we got a merging of points of view of sorts between Dieter and Sybil.  I wish that they could have been separated out a bit, by keeping feelings of the event that was happening relegated to that character.  But that’s my only negative criticism of the book.  The characters that I hated, or mistrusted, were written that way for a reason.  Even the motivations of the characters were realistic, and something that wouldn’t be out of place in that time period.

As to the themes that I alluded to in my Goodreads post? They’re there.  While most of the violent acts are brought up after the fact or presented as they are happening, they are there in their gory detail.  There are also some more sensitive topics that get brought to light, including rape and abuse.  I do request that you heed my warning: do not go into this read lightly.  While I highly recommend it, know your limits fellow reader.  Yes, all of those are light, and most of the story is steeped in political and religious turmoil, the underlying darkness is there.  Don’t let the darkness sway you from reading this book, fellow reader.  Enjoy the read and let the mystery suck you in.

Reviewing the Pages: Opening Atlantis

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Atlantis lies between Europe and the East Coast of Terranova. For many years, this land of opportunity lured dreamers from around the globe with its natural resources, offering a new beginning for those willing to brave the wonders of the unexplored territory.

It is a new world indeed: ripe for discovery, for plunder, and eventually for colonization?but will its settlers destroy the very wonders they had journeyed to Atlantis to find?

Opening Atlantis is an intriguing book that pretty much takes a reimagining of the settlement of the Americas and throws it on this island. All for a third of a boatload of cod. Either way, this book covers a whole lot of ground, picking up three specific time periods primarily following the Radcliffe family as they first sail over from England, then defend their new home. I do like that we do get some of those historic themes like slavery and nationalistic loyalty, but some of the individual character motivations leave a lot to be desired.

For those of you who like reading alternative history, with a little bit of speculative ideas thrown in, then you should check out this read. Just be sure to be in the mindset to do so, or else the read will be slow going.

Ok.  This book is divided up into three sections.  The first one take place in the 1400s, where we first start getting settlers on Atlantis.  The biggest struggle that they have is the sudden arrival of a Duke, which kills the English settler’s patriarch, and sets up a minor war.  The second section takes place in the 1600s, and it’s a small war between “family” (using that term loosely here as they are distant cousins), and the last one takes place in 1700s, where we get a war before different nationalities.  And this section is where my problem lies.

Yes, I get that is more speculative than alternative, but still.  This is more or less taking the overarching themes of the development of the United States, and throwing them into this new and uncharted world.  But we get one of the strangest characters in Roland Kersauzon, a descendant of the original Kersauzon that settled their part of Atlantis.  He doesn’t like the English because he thought that his ancestor was a fool for trading the location of Atlantis to the English for a massive amount of fish? Doesn’t quite sit well with me for that.  I could see that of a great-grandson that has a wild hair up his butt…but for someone 300 years down the line? Feels kinda forced to me.

All criticism aside, this is a story that those who are interested in alternative/speculative history should check out.  I had a hard time getting into the book, and even though that might have been burnout talking, there were some days where I didn’t want to read this book because I just wasn’t into it.  But, it might be for you.  Just don’t get seasick along the way over.

Reviewing the Pages: The Shadow Fabric

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A dark fantasy novel of demons, devices, and deceit.
 
Leo remembers little of his past. Desperate for a new life, he snatches up the first job to come along. On his second day, he witnesses a murder, and the Shadow Fabric – a malevolent force that controls the darkness – takes the body and vanishes with it.
 
Determined to get answers, Leo has no idea where to turn. Revelations come in the most unlikely places, and secrets of witchcraft and ancient artefacts unfold. In particular, a device used in the 17th century to extract evil from witches proves key to his discoveries. With these truths long hidden from humankind, his memory unravels. Not only haunted by the past, a sinister presence within the darkness threatens Leo’s existence and he soon doubts everything and everyone…including himself.
 
The relentless and destructive power of the Shadow Fabric compels Leo to fight not only this growing darkness, but also the entity beneath the Fabric’s surface. While these supernatural horrors rage and his world crumbles, Leo must confront his past before he can embrace his future. But the future may not exist.
 
Bringing witchcraft and demon fiction into the 21st century
THE SHADOW FABRIC is a British horror novel revealing the unknown history of the witch, the paranormal, and demons. With a slice of occult horror and an insight into the true cause of the Great Fire of London, the story opens up history and spreads it raw.

The evil contained in this book is relentless. Seriously, just when you think that something good has happened, it snatches it away. With fury too. This read takes you through a journey through a somewhat-unreliable narrator, and the all-too-mysterious Shadow Fabric and the revolving world within. I’m pretty sure that there are mysteries that are still left unsolved, even with everything that get explained.

All the characters are distinct, and though each one of them have their own motivation (which may or may not be their own), it certainly is a fun thing to read such a varied cast of characters. There are some moments where I didn’t want to know about a thing for the 50th time, but that’s just because it had been repeated so many times that my brain went “enough already!”

For those of you who like supernatural horror, and want something to keep you on your toes, then you should check this one out.

Well, this one certainly kept me on my intellectual toes anyway.  Trying to figure out where all the information about the Fabric, or the Witchblade, or anything else in general was going to lead me kept my brain moving.  Which is a good thing.  I feel like I still don’t have all of the pieces of the puzzle, and with all the people that were handing out puzzle pieces now dead, I’m just as lost as Leo was for most of the book.

And this book makes sure that you stay lost.  And in despair too.  Just when you think that something good is finally happening to our characters, the rug gets pulled out from underneath us and we fall back down into that hole of despair again.  There are some things that concern me about the ending of the tale, primarily when it came down to the stitching.  Yes, he was holding a shadowleaf, but, how could the effect of the pure white leaf do any good when he was wearing a glove? Maybe he did take it off and I just missed that line.  I’m not sure.  Or maybe it’s just the fact that the white leaf was counteracting the effect of the black leaf? Maybe that’s it.  Either way, left me a bit puzzled.  Also, I don’t know if there is a sequel in the works, or it just continues on in short form, but the ending left me wanting much, much more.

Seriously, check this read out.  I promise, it’ll make you think more about light and the darkness it battles in a slightly different way.

Reviewing the Pages: Relic

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Just days before a massive exhibition opens at the popular New York Museum of Natural History, visitors are being savagely murdered in the museum’s dark hallways and secret rooms. Autopsies indicate that the killer cannot be human…

But the museum’s directors plan to go ahead with a big bash to celebrate the new exhibition, in spite of the murders.

Museum researcher Margo Green must find out who-or what-is doing the killing. But can she do it in time to stop the massacre?

Oh how I missed Pendergast. I don’t know how I picked up this book to start with, but once I finished it the first time, I really wanted to read more about our mysterious Southern gentlemen with the FBI. But I never picked the series back up. Now, after re-reading the introductory novel to Pendergast, I realized quickly that I really should. Pendergast is an enigma, and I want to know about him.

This story gives us a fascinating look into ideas on evolution, and whether they are working theories or not, is a different story altogether, but I still enjoyed the tale. I’m one for reading books that help expand my brain with wide amounts of knowledge. Usually, it comes in the form of scientific information, like evolution, or paleobiology, or astrobotany. Maybe that’s why I like The Martian so much…it taught me a lot of plausible ideas. Which is where this book comes in…that there are still things that we as human beings have not explored. Things like bridging the gap in the evolutionary record. Science changes and adapts in every way, and I hope that, like this “little” discovery in this book shows, one day just might change the world.

This book is also a really good mystery, because while it gives you some information outright, the bulk of the information; the story that is getting woven here gets slowly revealed with each new revelation that the characters make. And I like that. Even with reading this book again, it gives me great pleasure in following along with the mystery. If you enjoy reading books heavily steeped in mystery with deep tendrils of science fiction, that I urge you to check this book out. And maybe, you’ll just might find yourself wanting to follow along with Agent Pendergast on his next adventure.

Alright.  Big spoilers here.  The ending is a very nice setup to getting us into the next book.  So the creature has been vanquished, and our heroes are celebrating their success, not only in taking down the creature, but their individual successes in life.  Which is good for them.  Bad for the rest of the world.  While they realize that the creature had a humanoid-like facial structure, the latecomer to the party holds the actual key as to what happened.  Which is dangerous.  Especially for someone like Kawakita.  I didn’t like his character.  Not because he’s poorly written or anything like that, but because he’s a character type that I don’t find appealing. The highly-motivated, almost world-conquering personality that won’t stop until he gets exactly what he wants using any means necessary.

There is so much more that I want to learn about Agent Pendergast.  We get that he’s Southern, to the point where he was raised almost in a more traditional Southern manner.  He’s very particular about how he dresses (to the point where he shows disdain for having to use his jacket for a trap).  He also seems to have a problem with people being nasty, especially towards him.  I love how the authors describe D’Agosta after a couple of Pendergast’s verbal lashings.

While I listed above that this is science fiction and mystery, there is also a great deal of horror involved in it as well.  It take you for a wonderful, brain-pleasing ride that, at the very end, will leave you wanting more. Just, keep all body parts and organs inside the ride at all times.

Reviewing the Pages: Croak

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Fed up with her wild behavior, sixteen-year-old Lex’s parents ship her off to upstate New York to live with her Uncle Mort for the summer, hoping that a few months of dirty farm work will whip her back into shape.

But Uncle Mort’s true occupation is much dirtier than shoveling manure. He’s a Grim Reaper. And he’s going to teach Lex the family business.

She quickly assimilates into the peculiar world of Croak, a town populated by reapers who deliver souls from this life to the next. But Lex can’t stop her desire for justice — or is it vengeance? — whenever she encounters a murder victim, craving to stop the attackers before they can strike again.

Will she ditch Croak and go rogue with her reaper skills?

Oh my goodness the tone of this book. It is one for the main character to have a lot of snark in her soul; it’s another entirely when the narrator has a good amount of snark to them as well. (Let’s be honest here. Do third-person narrators have a gender? Or are they just a mist that follows characters around like a creepy stalker?). Anyway. This book is wonderful when it comes to setting up characters, and developing them into their own unique beings. Most of all Lex (which, by the way, is a horrible name to befall a child. Lexington? Really?)

When I was first told about this book, I immediately fell in love with the premise. And I was not disappointed. Croak is fun, snarky, and full of awkwardness and anger that would make your blood boil. There’s a character that I wasn’t a fan of early on, and her actions only made my hate for her increase. Which is good. There are times where I don’t want to have a character that I started out hating end up redeeming themselves at the end.

For those who enjoy fun reads, and want something different involving Death (as a character), then you should check this one out. Me? I’m itching to get book 2.

“Then something happened in the next two seconds, but neither Lex nor Driggs would be able to recall exactly what. All they knew was that after it was over, their eyes met once again, this time in horror.

“Why did you just kiss my ear?” Lex asked nervously.

Driggs winced. “Because you turned your head.”

“I thought that tree . .  . moved.”

“Oh.”

Another moment of silence.

Driggs bit his lip. “Do you mind if I try again?”

She swallowed. “Okay.”

Then something else happened, and this time both Lex and Driggs would remember exactly what it was.”

The quote above is some of the awkwardness I was referring to in my Goodreads review.  Then…

“Momentarily forgetting how wind works, Lex tried spitting at him. This failed”

This shows just how snark comes from the NARRATOR! Seriously.  I enjoyed the narrator just as much as I enjoyed Lex and Driggs.  Can I even use narrators as a thing? Anyway.  I did feel like there were some things with this read that needed to have a little bit of an adjustment to it.  Like all we see a particular pair of characters doing when they aren’t Killing/Culling is making out.  That’s it.  No real life to them.

Then, there’s Zara.  The character I didn’t like to start the read, mainly because she was a buzz kill.  But, then I got further into the read.  And my dislike for her grew.  Once the story hit the climax, and the Killer of Grims revealed, my hate meter spiked into the “loathe entirely” zone.

Speaking of hate…the gruesome twosome of Norwood and Heloise are very loathsome, and I’m really interested to see what will happen in the next book with the two of them.  Speaking of the second book, I can’t wait to pick up a copy of this book and dive back into this world.  Hopefully I’ll enjoy it as much as I did with this one.  Trust me, you won’t regret picking this one up.

Reviewing the Pages: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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Harry Potter is due to start his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His best friends Ron and Hermione have been very secretive all summer and he is desperate to get back to school and find out what has been going on. However, what Harry discovers is far more devastating than he could ever have expected…

Suspense, secrets and thrilling action from the pen of J.K. Rowling ensure an electrifying adventure that is impossible to put down.

Oh Harry. Angsty, teenage Harry. I forgot how bad your mood swings get in this book. Order of the Phoenix is the book that really sets the stage for the rest of the series. We now know that there is an end game for the fight for good versus evil, and that there is nothing that will stop evil from conquering good.

There are some scenes in this that could have greatly enhanced the film more, as good as the film is. Mainly scenes involving McGonagall. Her interactions involving Umbridge, particularly the one in her office as she is trying to advise Harry about his future schooling plans. In fact, McGonagall was quite sassy when it came to her inactions with Umbridge, which made me adore her much more than any other point in the story.

There are a lot of themes here that this installment touches upon, from loss to puberty; politics in schools to discrimination. All are handled well, and some topics are so deep that this book only scratches the surface. I can’t tell you to jump into a series while we’re this deep into it, but if you haven’t made it this far into the series, I highly recommend it. Just make sure you can put up with a lot of teenage angst.

Ok.  Not much to spoil here.  All things considered.  If you haven’t read this book, either you aren’t into this series, or you’re getting to this point.

Harry was quite a loathsome character in this book, going rapidly from angry to not in a matter of a paragraph; the constant lashing out at those who are the closest to him was rather irritating.  Not nearly as infuriating as Umbridge.  Her character’s devolvement from one who is willing to do the Ministry’s bidding to flat our psychopath (or is it sociopath, I can never remember the distinction).  Either way, it’s the little things here and there that really make Umbridge stand out as a character here.

One scene that I really want to point out is the very end, as Dumbledore is talking to a grief-stricken Harry.  As Harry’s rage increases, not only at Dumbledore, but the entire world, Dumbledore seems to slowly, and quietly break down.  And that speaks volumes.  A man, who tried to help Harry as best as he could, could only watch as the boy that he had been watching over since he was really little go through this heart-breaking event.  The tear that Harry notices at the very end speaks volumes.

Really, I could go on and on about this book, but if you haven’t done so, or haven’t visited this year in a long while, should do so.  Dive back into the magic.