Tag Archives: J.K. Rowling

Friday Faceoff – Wrap your mind around my thoughts as I wrap my soul around your heart… #BrainfluffFridayFaceoff #FridayFaceoffWraparound

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week is a WRAPAROUND cover, so I have selected Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling because it’s just lovely. I hope you like it, too😊

 

FILM REVIEW of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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This long-awaited spinoff from the Harry Potter franchise with a screenplay by J.K. Rowling and David Yates, director of four HP films, at the helm has finally hit the screens. And we were in the cinema last Friday at 10 am to see it. Was it worth the anticipation?

fanbeastsOh yes. Rowling made the smart decision to take the time and place well away from Hogwarts and has set this adventure in New York during 1926. So we are treated to wonderful 1920s fashions, vintage cars and New York in its heyday before it became gridlocked by traffic. Into this setting shuffles a very diffident Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander fresh off the boat from England, clearly not comfortable dealing with New Yorkers. He is carrying a rather battered suitcase – and it is when the contents of said suitcase inconveniently escape that it all starts to kick off. At the worst possible time, too. For there are increasing tensions between the Maj and Non-maj communities, forcing Madam President of the US wizarding world to get ever more hardline in dealing with forbidden interactions between the two.

There is much here that is comfortably familiar for HP fans – intriguing settings, quirky characters fanbeasts1both human and otherwise, fantatical/wrong-headed/power-grabbing antagonists and plenty going on. With the cream of British actors appearing in the extensive cast lists over the years, the acting quality has always been very high – and Redmayne’s portrayal of a shy, sensitive soul fascinated by magical creatures and scoured by years of bullying and/or misunderstanding certainly ticks that box. He is ably supported by Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, along with Katherine Waterston as Tina, a witch-policewoman and her memorably beautiful mind-reading sister, Queenie, played by Alison Studol.

fanbeasts2We see the divided nature of the society, with feelings running high as something large and lethal is laying waste to buildings and killing people. The MACUSA, (the Magical Congress of the United States of America) are in a spin with Chief Investigator Percival Graves desperately trying to track down the cause of all the damage. The special effects are amazing – seeing swathes of New York come crashing down in showers of rubble was impressive, but more so was watching them magically go back together again.

All of the above are fabulous – the film wouldn’t be what it is without those components. But for me, the scene stealers were those fantastic beasts. Vicious, naughty, lovelorn or despairing – the creatures look wonderful, the special effects are amazing and I found myself with tears in my eyes over a creature that doesn’t exist at the thought of its extinction… Redmayne’s interaction with them is impressive – he must have spent hours chatting to and stroking green screens, but it was certainly worth it. Halfway through, I recall gripping Himself’s hand and hoping the film wouldn’t end for a very long time and the last time I felt like that about a movie was during The Fellowship of the Ring. Both films took me to another time and place, making me both laugh and cry during the journey and providing me with plenty to think about afterwards. Highly recommended.
10/10

Review of Career of Evil – A Cormoran Strike novel by Robert Galbraith

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I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the previous offerings of J.K. Rowling in the guise of crime writer Robert Galbraith – read my review of The Cuckoo’s Calling here, and The Silkworm here. But would I like this third book in the series?

careerofevilWhen a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg. Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality. With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…

While I wouldn’t call the previous two books cosy mysteries, Galbraith really takes the gloves off in this particular grime-crime storyline, where violence and abuse is doled out on a daily basis. Not, I hasten to add, between our two protagonists, who are thoroughly decent people struggling to do the right thing in difficult circumstances… In fact, during this book we learn some vital facts about Robin’s past that impacts on her upcoming wedding and her wish to become a private investigator alongside Strike.

I have to say that curled up in bed with the worst cold I’ve endured during the last decade, it was this particular story arc that kept me reading. While it is well written and vividly depicted, I wasn’t really up for facing the full consequences of Man’s inhumanity to Man while feeling so ill and depressed. So I’m aware that it is probably my own mental and physical circumstances that mean I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the previous two reads. During this investigation, Strike and Robin trudge through the backstreets, interviewing a succession of people coping with poverty, poor education and ill health, whose lives have been smeared by violence.

That said, the stakes are high and when we are in the viewpoint of the creepy protagonist as he stalks Robin, there is real tension. The story ratchets up to a suitably climactic denouement that also echoes the tumult in Robin’s personal life as her on-off relationship with long-time fiancé, Matt, also reaches a resolution. Galbraith’s writing packs a punch and I will reading the next one, because I want to know what happens to Strike and Robin. But I can’t help hoping the investigation won’t be quite so gritty…
8/10

My Top Ten Literary Villains

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Being a fan of lists and having recently covered my favourite heroines here and my favourite heroes here, I thought it was about time I produced a list of my favourite villains. There is a caveat to this list – I avoided wandering into Spoiler Territory by divulging a villain that isn’t immediately apparent at the start of the book or series, so there are one or two omissions that I would have otherwise included. To make this list, the character in question has to be opposed, at least part of the time, to the aspirations of the protagonist(s). In no particular order, here they are:-

1. Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Yep. I know everyone cites Voldermort, or He Who Must Not Be Named. And I’ll agree that he is dislikeable and Harrypotterclearly opposed to Harry. But he is also utterly unredeemable and behaves so outrageously obnoxiously, I keep waiting for him to twirl a moustache and cackle evilly. Rowling packs her books with plenty of antagonists, ranging from Draco Malfoy through to Gilderoy Lockhart. But Severus Snape, the horrible Potions Master is outstanding, both in his blatantly unfair behaviour and the heartbreaking backstory that explains his feelings towards Harry.

2. The Vogons from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams hitchhikersguideThe Vogons certainly tick all the boxes regarding sheer unpleasantness. These nasty aliens decide that Earth needs to be destroyed to make way for a new hyperspace by-pass – and are completely unmoved by the fact that the humans inhabiting our planet were unaware of their intention. In addition to vaporising the planet as per their planning regulations, they then compound their hatefulness by inflicting their atrocious poetry on everyone. They are truly memorably horrible villains.

3. Saruman from the Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkeinreturnoftheking I regularly read that Sauron is the Big Bad in the Lord of the Rings. But as a villain, his threat is very diffuse and while he makes Sam and Frodo’s life hellish while they are carrying the ring, it is The White Wizard who causes a lot of the actual chaos they have to deal with. Initially he is working alongside Gandulf to keep the forces of Mordor at bay – until he is bribed with the promise of greater power to turn to the dark side. So he is not only a villain, he is a traitorous villain, who is also responsible for the scouring of the Shire – and don’t we love to spit on those rascals?

4. Heathcliffe from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte WutheringheightsYes, I know – his reputation is as the starcrossed lover who is claimed by the ghostly Kathy, mostly thanks to the fey song by Kate Bush and the 1939 film adaptation starring Laurence Olivier as Heathcliffe. But if you go back to the book, Heathcliffe comes across as a boorish, embittered bully who makes his ward and his child’s life hell. Ellen, the servant telling the story, deeply dislikes him and as she recounts the story, the prickly boy who is picked up on the streets has a dire impact on the family who take him in. Catherine may have run wild on the moors with him and she may have even loved him, but she knew he would make a really bad husband, which is why – I think – she latched onto any excuse not to marry him…

5. President Snow from The Hunger Games series by Suzanne CollinsHungergames_poster And isn’t he a really nasty piece of work? While there has to be a very large organisation at his beck and call to run this autocratic, unfair system of government, President Snow is the public face of this system. And the private despot who arranges killings for those who fail to carry out his wishes. It is President Snow’s dislike of Katniss that influences what happens to her after her initial win, with ultimately catastrophic consequences…

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6. Steerpike in The Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake This gothic series, set in Castle Gormenghast, is something of an oddity in that although it is often described as a fantasy novel, there are no magic or paranormal elements. It’s an examination of what happens when those in power get complacent and far too steeped in tradition, allowing a villain like Steerpike to worm his way in and wreck far too many lives.

7. Mrs Coulter in His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip PulmanNorthern-Lights The beautiful, accomplished and very charming Mrs Coulter is a deadly villain who only spares Lyra because she is her daughter. It doesn’t stop her imprisoning other children and torturing them in the name of science, though. Time and again, throughout the various adventures that befall Lyra, Mrs Coulter pops up to try and thwart the scientific investigations into Dust by any foul means she can.

8. Mr Teatime from Hogfather by Terry Pratchett hogfatherJonathan Teatime is the assassin hired by The Auditors to kill the Hogfather – Discworld’s version of Santa Claus. He seems a quietly spoken, mild mannered young man who insists his name is pronounced “Te-ah-tim-eh,” and gets very bothered when they don’t. And you really don’t want to upset him, because he is very, very casual about killing people, even when the Assassin’s Guild recommends they should be left alive… Terry Pratchett’s villains often have a redeeming feature or a thread of humanity about them – there are a select few that are beyond redemption and Mr Teatime is one of those few.

9. Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verneverne-20000 I read this book more years ago than I care to recall – but it has always stayed with me. Mostly because of Captain Nemo, whose wonderful submarine took his captors to parts of the planet they had never seen. But this depressed visionary is also an early template for all those mad geniuses who kept cropping up in James Bond films, building empires of incredible beauty and vision that would advance their own craving for power so that Bond was able to destroy them in a welter of death and fiery destruction with impunity.

10. Queen Jadis/The White Queen from The Chronicles of Nania by C.S. Lewis themagiciannephewQueen Jadis initially appears in The Magician’s Nephew and very nearly conquers Earth when she follows Digory and Polly back to their own time. And when she reappears in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe she has managed to become ruler of Nania, condemning the land to everlasting winter and being the cruel, capricious ruler that had depopulated her first conquered state of Charn, whose inhabitants all were killed by Jadis, rather than be ruled by anyone else. Truly, a very, very villainous character – and don’t let’s start on what she did to Aslan…

The near misses include Madam Mumblechook from The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, whose casual cruelty towards the animals she tortures and deforms is truly shocking; the Grand High Witch from The Witches by Roal Dahl who takes a lot of beating for plain sheer nastiness and would definitely have made the list, but for the fact that I’d already mentioned her in my article about who I’d snog, marry or kill here; Alec D’Urberville from Tess of the D’Urbevilles by Thomas Hardy, whose initial rape of poor Tess causes such havoc in her life; and Satan from John Milton’s Paradise Lost – the depiction of the beautifully patterned, upright serpent who manages to charm Eve into disobeying God is mesmerising and chilling. So there you have it, my top ten choices for the bad’uns that crop up in books. Do you agree with me? Who are the villains you love to hate?

Review of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

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Frankie asked if I could read this book to her, as some of her classmates are now tucking into the series. It’s a while since I was engrossed into the doings of Harry – would I still find this first book as readable as the first time I encountered it?

harry potter1Harry Potter is an ordinary boy who lives in a cupboard under the stairs at his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon’s house, which he thinks is normal for someone like him whose parents have been killed in a ‘car crash’. He is bullied by them and his fat, spoilt cousin Dudley, and lives a very unremarkable life with only the odd hiccup (like his hair growing back overnight!) to cause him much to think about. That is until an owl turns up with a letter addressed to Harry and all hell breaks loose! He is literally rescued by a world where nothing is as it seems and magic lessons are the order of the day. Read and find out how Harry discovers his true heritage at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, the reason behind his parents mysterious death, who is out to kill him, and how he uncovers the most amazing secret of all time, the fabled Philosopher’s Stone! All this and muggles too. Now, what are they?

That’s the blurb. I recall reading this book to my Year 5 class back when I was teaching – and how it grabbed every one of them. Frankie was similarly enchanted. I read until my voice was hoarse and had to cry quits – only to have her wander back an hour or so later and ask for some more… I’d forgotten the constant little touches of humour and how deftly Rowling builds the world. The pacing and narrative drive are pitched perfectly and she is also very adroit at giving us a range of colourful, memorable characters with some wonderful names.

I found I, too, wanted to read on and that I cared every much for poor Harry the second time around – although knowing what I now know, I find I really dislike unctuous, double-dealing Albus Dumbledore, despite the fact that his Machiavellian schemes are for the right reasons. The gothic darkness that emerges in the films and later books is also there, lurking under the light-hearted quips, where wandering the corridors at night will result in expulsion – because there are things at Hogwarts which will make short work of young, semi-trained wizards… The trek into the forest as punishment duty hails back to a former time, when our children weren’t protected from all possible danger – but endured it right alongside the adults. A responsibility that modern children greedily lap up in their fiction.

This book was the start of a phenomenon that swept the playgrounds, seeping into staff rooms and classrooms by word of mouth – my copy of this book was an end-of-year present by one of my pupils, after I’d been asking the children in my class how many of them had read it. While the prose isn’t particularly elegant, Rowling’s stories have an energy that bounces off the page – and reading it aloud sucked me back into Harry Potter’s world and wouldn’t let go until we’d finished it. If you have a youngster in your life who hasn’t yet encountered the books – sit down and start reading them aloud. It’s a lovely bonding time, as well as being great fun.
8/10

Review of EBOOK The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

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I’d heard quite enough about J.K. Rowling’s latest foray into adult fiction – so downloaded the Kindle version to make up my own mind. Do I feel particularly outraged at her attempt to write under another name? Nope – after reading only a fraction of the snidely hostile reviews she accrued for The Casual Vacancy, it seemed an intelligent move to try and avoid the same bru-ha if she could. And authors writing under different pen-names for different genres is hardly ground-breaking stuff – so the big fuss it caused was just so much synthetic puff designed to fill column inches, it seemed to me.

cuckooCormoron Strike, ex-soldier with half a leg missing, is on the ropes. Homeless and heartbroken as his destructive relationship with his fiancée finally comes to an end, he also faces financial ruin. Until the brother of a dead childhood friend walks into the office, desperate for him to look into the death of Lula Landry, his step-sister and celebrity model. The police are satisfied that her fall from a balcony window in Mayfair was suicide, but John Bristow believes otherwise. He pays Strike double his normal fee to uncover the truth, which is enough for him to keep the latest temporary secretary, Robin, who seems to be working out really well.

Rowling’s strength is making us care about her characters, while spinning a page-turning story and these talents are aptly demonstrated in this entertaining, enjoyable whodunit. I rapidly bonded with Strike – whose attention to his personal hygiene in difficult circumstances I found very endearing. As he painstakingly tracks through Lula’s life, building up a picture of a beautiful super-model and the price of fame – as well as the trappings. The pressure of paparazzi hounding her every move and hacking into her phone leaves her depressed and isolated in a smart flat that she hates. As with the best crime thrillers, I found I increasingly cared about the victim as Strike unearths more details about her character and life, so that her death feels like a genuine tragedy by the end. Which is exactly what a reader should be feeling in this genre – and so often doesn’t.

I particularly relished the cast of characters, along with their unfolding backstories. There are a variety of interesting people in the frame for Lula’s murder – and I had no problem that Strike got there before me. If Rowling had been writing in limited first person viewpoint, I would have been quibbling about it, but she didn’t. Did I see the denouement coming? Although several reviewers have claimed that they guessed early on exactly who had done it, I didn’t. Not that I was bothering to try too much, as I was fully engrossed in the story. I happen to think that endings are something that Rowling does particularly well – and this time is no exception. There is a real sense of poignancy at Lula’s death that could have been avoided, if only things had been slightly different. Strike’s own character progresses well throughout the story, with a couple of dangling plot-points to keep us wondering and eager to read the next book in the series.

Any niggles? The prologue seemed a tad clunky, but once Strike appeared the pace picked up and Rowling  quickly settled into the story. I do wonder whether we actually need that awkward piece on the front of the narrative. The other issue I have is that the scene setting is patchy. In places it sings off the page. I could smell the scruffy office Strike inhabits and the glittering, ostentatious Mayfair flat was pin-sharp. However, the best writers in this genre also depict London with a similar cinematic clarity, and this is missing in The Cuckoo’s Calling. Though there is far too much to enjoy about this book to let such relatively minor weaknesses bother me – and they are noticeable is because the overall crafting of the book is so solid. I will definitely be buying the next one, whether Rowling chooses to continue using Robert Galbraith as her pen-name, or not.
8/10