Twenty Years of Harry Potter

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone.

Twenty years is a long time. Twenty years ago, Bill Clinton was US President; Tony Blair stormed to victory in the UK General Election on a mandate of things only being able to get better; Katrina and The Waves won the Eurovision song contest. And a book by unknown author, J.K Rowling, called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published.

albus-dumbledore-harry-potter-quotes-favim-com-2040949It’s impossible now to imagine a world without Harry, Ron and Hermione, and it’s impossible to let this twentieth anniversary go by without a moment of reflection on the impact of the franchise. In 1997, Bloomsbury ran an initial print run of 1000 books for their new release. In January of this year, the seven books of the series had sold nearly 500 million copies worldwide. So what is it about the series that has made it so successful?

When you listen to people talk about Harry Potter, the first thing you notice is a sense of belonging. The books resonated with people on a personal level. They taught us that it is ok to be yourself, to be different, and that people are incredibly complex. Fred and George are class clowns, but also successful entrepreneurs, and incredibly brave. Luna Lovegood doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. She is completely true to herself. Neville Longbottom is terrified most of the time, but it doesn’t stop him fighting to save the world. The women are smart and daring, and unashamedly so. Readers found heroes and friends within the pages, and it kept them coming back for more.longform-original-19888-1424711210-4

In the way that good fantasy fiction does, it shone a light on our own world. The slavery of the house elves, the complexity of good and evil. This isn’t just a series about witches and wizards, it’s so much more complex than that. And it doesn’t shy away from it. It was children’s fiction which didn’t talk down to children. No wonder they loved it. It generated a passion for reading in children and young adults who had never picked up a book before. How magical is that? Who could forget the lines of fans queuing up outside bookstores on publication days, dressed up as every conceivable character. And it spoke to adults too. As I alluded to in our review of The Philosopher’s Stone, it is a nostalgic read. But it’s also dark, challenges preconceptions, and generally makes adults think about the world around them, just like it did its younger readers.

tumblr_static_tumblr_static_3yzvk95xx76s8wsgcs8c0sg8k_640And it still has the power to bewitch. Last year, I volunteered at an event run by Felixstowe Library on Harry Potter Night. Actors were dressed up as Hagrid, Snape, Professor Trelawney and Dumbledore, and the entrance was made up to look like Platform 9 3/4. AS we were preparing for the influx of children, Hagrid walked past the doors, and a boy of about seven gasped “It’s Hagrid!”. The magic lives on in the next generation.

The franchise is now so much bigger than the books. The films have been some of the most successful of all times, grossing over $8.5 billion at the box office. And with further films yet to be released, including a sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, due out in 2018, they aren’t done yet. What I find incredible when I re-read the books is how the actors have become synonymous with their characters. It’s difficult to picture Harry without thinking of Daniel Radcliffe, or think of Severus Snape without imagining the late, great Alan Rickman. Currently in the West End, Harry Potter and The Cursed Child is pulling in the audiences, with tickets harder to grab hold of than a snitch on a particularly stormy day. Meanwhile, you can tour the studios, walk down Diagon Ally, see the Hogwarts Express, drink Butterbeer, eat Every Flavour Beans (including the ear wax ones), even buy 4 Privet Drive (for just shy of £500,000). Who could have imagined this in 1997?

Who knows what the future holds for the franchise. If pottermore.com has taught us anything, it’s that JK Rowling has an unlimited supply of stories, myths and legends. One thing is for certain. Harry Potter will still be read and loved, not only by those of us who love it now, but by future generations too. Always.

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting "Naughty Amelia Jane" by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

Harry_Potter_and_the_Deathly_HallowsAnd so we come to the end of our reread and review of the Harry Potter series to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of The Philosopher’s Stone… The Deathly Hallows.

It’s often considered to be one of the best books and it is certainly a fan favourite. Equally the film version(s) is considered to be one of the best of the series…. it’s certainly one of my favourites. So how does it compare?
Deathly Hallows is a pretty hefty book at 607 pages and was split into 2 films, a slightly controversial decision at the time but fairly standard for book to film adaptations (Can we mention The Hobbit yet?!)

By and large the film did a pretty good job of parsing the epic story into a manageable time frame although it did necessitate leaving out a lot of the sub plots, for example, Dumbledore’s family background. I actually thought that the plots that were left out were chosen well, and the film series had been leaving out bits and pieces throughout which meant you couldn’t have everything a fan might want!

One of the things I loved about the book was the focus on the friendship of the central Trio. It really highlighted that friendship can be everlasting and yet still take work. Ron’s abandonment of Harry and Hermione, although hurried along by the Horcrux, had been foreshadowed in every book and I thought Rowling dealt with it beautifully- both from understanding Ron’s point of view and also dealing with the burden it placed on Hermione. The film added an extra dimension to this with the addition of the dance scene with Harry and Hermione. It’s difficult to get across the deep friendship between Harry and Hermione on film, particularly when so many other film adaptations have a love triangle at the heart of their romantic plot and I thought this scene, although not in the book at all, did an excellent job.
Ron’s return rewarded my faith in the friendship between the Trio and again, I felt the film covered the situation equally as well as the book. I remember feeling very relieved when I read that scene in the book… of course JK Rowling wouldn’t split up the Trio… not now, not when they need each other all the more!!

neville childMy favourite character in this book (and film actually) was Neville. Oh Neville, you who could have been the Chosen One, how I love your bravery! From book 1 where you stnland up to your friends to book 7 where you stand up to the most evil and dangerous wizard, you prove over and over that you are a true Gryffindor! In both the book and the films, little hints are dropped about Neville’s brave deeds- trying to steal the Sword of Gryffindor, refusing to obey the Carrows and protecting younger students, undergoing the Cruciatus Curse (particularly daunting for Neville given his parents’ fate) and finally going in to hiding to continue the fight. Once the action gets to Hogwarts, his bravery really ramps up. His standing up to Voldemort at a time when hope was lost was braver by far than his dispatching of Nagini but both events showed just how far Neville had come from the boy who lost his toad (whatever did happen to Trevor?). I was really pleased that they didn’t cut Neville’s bravery from the film, although it was a tad altered. (On a side note, my dad always thought that it would have been a much better story had Neville turned out to be the Chosen One rather than Harry- views??)

I can’t write a review of The Deathly Hallows without mentioning the epilogue. It’s a particularly controversial aspect of the last novel with some hailing the chance to see what happens to everyone, and some deriding it as an example of fan fiction tropes of the worst kind. I fall somewhere in the middle. I do like that the series doesn’t just end with the fall of Voldemort but I can’t help wishing that we could see some of the immediate aftermath, it would interest me much more than knowing what Ginny and Harry’s kids are called (FYI, dreadful names….). It did raise a couple of questions- why exactly was Draco forgiven and not sent to Azkaban, being the one foremost in my mind! I quite liked the scene in the film, but I actually felt it was more out of place in the film than it was in the book. The ending of them on the bridge would have been perfect.

It’s a 5 biter for the book from me (and actually for the film but we’re not a film review site!)

 

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption. I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Harry Potter at 20- Fan Fiction Galore!

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_CoverIt’s a little hard to believe that the Harry Potter series is twenty this year… twenty!! It can’t possibly be that long… and yet it feels weird to try and remember a time when the bespectacled boy wizard wasn’t enchanting millions of children and grown-ups alike!

Kelly and I have been rereading and reviewing the books over the past few weeks for you but I wanted to address something else about the Harry Potter series… Fan fiction. I’d never really come across fan fiction before Harry Potter- it wasn’t really something that had crossed my radar. I think that’s partly due to the fact that the release of the first couple of books coincided with the burgeoning popularity of the internet and so I didn’t really have the opportunity to before. The main reason however, was my friend Clare. I met Clare at university and one of the things we bonded over was our love of Harry Potter books. She introduced me to the world of fan fiction and away I went!

Fan fiction is a little hard to get your head around at first… after all, if you love the books why would you want to read something that the author hadn’t even written? But people did… there were numerous websites, some dedicated solely to Harry Potter fan fiction, some covering fan fiction of all sorts of books, tv shows, films, and weirdly some real life stuff too!

Digging a little deeper into it, fan fiction becomes much more explainable, particularly in the case of Harry Potter.
JK Rowling had done a marvellous job of creating the fictional world of Harry Potter. The wealth of little details she has is testament to how much she dedicates to building a plausible world within which to frame her stories. Even the characters with the smallest roles to play, even the ‘walk on’ parts are well rounded and fit into the overarching story line. She drops in little details about people and places that seem completely innocuous and yet turn out to be pivotal in future plots. Her world building is on a truly epic scale.
And so, when it comes to writing the stories, there is a lot that she just can’t address. She can drop hints of back stories but never tell them, lay a foundation for a character’s motivation but never completely explore it and this is where fan fiction comes in.

IMG_1642So many of the fans want to know more. More about their favourite side characters, more about what happens when Harry and co aren’t around, more about the grownups at Hogwarts and how they got there. More more more!

Some fans decide to write this ‘more’ for themselves, some decide just to read (I fall squarely in the latter category) but Harry Potter fanfiction usually ends up having something for everyone.

The most popular types of fan fiction when I was reading tended to fall under certain categories.

The Maruaders- telling tales of Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs, these types of stories focused on Harry’s father and his friends when they were at Hogwarts themselves. Creating the Map, becoming animagi, James’ romance with Lily were all popular themes.

The Founders- harkening back to the formation of Hogwarts itself, these focused on the four Founders- Rowena Ravenclaw, Helga Hufflepuff, Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin- and the whys and wherefores of creating a magical educational establishment. Often they featured romances between the founders.

AU- Alternative universes, often featuring the resurrection of a particular character (usually Sirius), or focusing on a world where Voldemort triumphs and Harry and co become freedom fighters.

Filling in the blanks/ alternative POV- These stories focused on minor characters and either told the story from their point of view, or told part of the tale unseen in the real books. Neville and Ginny’s resistance against the Carrows in the final year was a popular one, Colin’s POV of The Chamber of Secrets was pretty hilarious too.

Post Victory-  a hugely popular type was to write about what happened next. What happened when Harry had defeated the Dark Lord, grown up and faced other trials and tribulations contributed millions upon millions to the fan fiction databases  and covered all sorts of possibilities.

 

I’m certainly not saying that all Harry Potter Fan fiction was good, in fact huge swathes of it were absolute drivel, but every so often you would come across and sharply written take of Rowling’s world and it felt a little bit like knowing more…

 

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption. I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling

IMG_1643We are fast approaching the 26th June, which is officially the 20th (!!) anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone. And our fond review of the series is coming towards the end as well. We have made it to the penultimate book, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and once again we have turned to fellow fans to give their feedback. Why not join in the conversation and let us know what you thought! Warning: spoilers below!

This book certainly seemed to polarise the people we spoke to. “I didn’t love Half Blood Prince. It felt like something I had to get to the end of just because I needed to know what happened,” said Clare.
“I thought It was all too angsty,” said Rachel. “I know that was the point of it, but it reminded me too much of stroppy teenager stuff that I’d experienced or seen. I suspect I wouldn’t have minded if I had been an actual teenager.”

Heather disagreed, seeing the angst instead as further demonstration of Harry’s growing maturity. “He is battling with his contending feelings of isolation and fondness for his friends,” she said. “This book is pivotal to the series and supplies an intense and dramatic read.”

“It’s definitely more of a grown up book than the rest of the series, but that makes sense seen as though Harry and co are in their 6th year at Hogwarts,” said Lauren. “I though it was a rollercoaster of a read; will Draco survive, let alone complete his mission? I couldn’t read it fast enough to find out! I finished the book having been through so many emotions I was exhausted but in a good way.”

“This is my favourite book of the series for a number of reasons,” said Claire. “For me it was a coming of age book, bringing together the whole reason for the tale. Harry finally realises what his destiny is and what he must do. He finds out exactly how Voldemort has bemuse so powerful and what a huge task it will be to find and destroy the horcuxes, finally defeating him. It also has the heartbreaking moments when Dumbledore dies, killed by Harry’s perceived enemy Snape, who turns out to be the eponymous half blood prince. I remember reading that passage twice as I couldn’t quite believe that Dumbledore was dead. I found this to be the most gripping book of the series, but unfortunately the biggest let down of the film franchise!”

Fan’s average: 4 Bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting "Naughty Amelia Jane" by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling

IMG_1642The problem with reviewing Harry Potter, is that most people have already read the series. Most people already have their favourite moments and characters, as well as a favourite book. So instead of writing about what I love about the next two books in the series, I’ve turned it over to some fans to share their thoughts. Today it’s Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix and it’s fair to say, there were fairly mixed views on this one.

“Phoenix was pretty shouty,” said Rachel.
“It was a depressing read. Quite a negative book,” Beckie said. “I enjoyed it, and how it progressed the story, but there wasn’t much to lighten it. There wasn’t as much humour as the rest of the series,”
“I agree that Harry seemed quite petulant and shouty the first time I read it,” said Giles. “But then you read it again and you realise how traumatised he is from the events of the last book. He is suffering from PTSD, and to make things worse, no one outside the order believes that Voldemort has returned.”
Heather thinks this traumatic encounter changes all the characters we know and love. “We definitely see an increasing maturity and grounded dimension to the characters. As a result, Harry, Ron and Hermione encounter internal struggles and endure a new dynamic.”

The idea of an increased maturity within both Harry and the series itself is a popular one.
“I thought it really showed how the series had grown up. Much more than the end of Goblet of Fire did,” said Rachel.
Carolyn agreed with this, and felt the book showed us a new side to Harry. “To be able to examine the meaning behind Harry’s change in personality, the book has to be read very carefully. However, when you examine the truth, you discover how beautifully Rowling has described Harry’s thoughts and feeling and how they have affected, not only him, but those close to him,” she said. “It also shows how he deals with his past in order to protect the ones he loves from the dangers he is about to face. I would say the Order of the Phoenix is my favourite book in the series.”

But it’s not just the main characters who make an Impact in this book. “This is where we first meet Nymphadora Tonks who is one of my favourite characters,” said Mai. “She’s not only rockstar cool, but she’s a real romantic heroine in the Cathy/Heathcliff tradition.”
“Sirius Black,” said Clare. “I can’t forgive because I can’t forget.”
“For me it was all about Sirius,” Giles said. “Realising that Sirius was a sad and lonely wizard who missed his best friend, and thought he could get him back through his best friend’s son.”

“Delores Umbridge,” said Lauren. “I loved her yet hated her all at the same time. Surely only possible due to Rowling’s brilliant writing.”

“I loved how much more of the wizarding world we got to see,” Clare said. “Each book made it richer and deeper. But every book post movies suffered greatly from a lack of sharp editing, possibly because it had become such a genuine sensation by then.”

“The biggest book of the lot so far, yet I read it just as quickly as the others,” said Lauren. “I finished this one smiling!”

Fan’s average: 4 Bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting "Naughty Amelia Jane" by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

Warning: Contains spoilers!

Harry_Potter_and_the_Goblet_of_FireYesterday, Rachel eloquently stated her case for Prisoner of Azkaban. Today it’s my turn to explain why I think that the Goblet of Fire is the best book in the Harry Potter universe. I’ve had many conversations with people over the years, and a lot of them have described the book as “filler”. But for me, the Goblet of Fire is where everything changed.

The book begins, not on Privet Drive, but in the village of Little Hangleton and the Riddle House. This was the first book of the series to move away from Harry and Little Whinging, and as a result we are thrown straight into the action. As Frank Bryce steps into the house, describes the figures who are trespassing on the estate he has vowed to look after, it is clear he is doomed. Voldemort, Pettigrew, Nagini and the killing curse, all before the end of chapter one. JK Rowling had thrown down the gauntlet. This book was going to be dark.

For me, Goblet of Fire delved further into the minds of the characters than any other book before. Ron’s reaction when Harry’s name is pulled out of the Goblet of Fire is so real, perfect for someone who has lived for three years in his friend’s shadow. It is the book in which Harry is able to experience what it is like to have family, albeit one who is on the run from the Dementors. Future events will make this a bitter sweet experience.

We also learn a lot more about what the wizarding world thinks of Harry. Rita Skeeter and her ‘fake news’ are believed, because it compounds what people already believe: that Harry enjoyed his celebrity and would do anything for the attention. Even Ron fell into the trap of believing this was true. How else could Harry’s name have ended up in the Goblet of Fire?

But there is such fun within the book as well. The Quidditch World Cup (up to the bit where things start to go wrong), was brilliant. I would totally enjoy camping more if I had a tent like the Weasleys! I loved learning more about the other magical schools, and the descriptions of the Yule Ball. And I LOVED Mad Eye Moony, up until….well, you know.

I would like to clarify, for those who have just watched the film. Dobby gave Harry the gillyweed.

And then the ending. The death of Cedric Diggory made us realise that no-one was safe. Voldemort was back, and he wasn’t going to let anyone get in the way of his ultimate goal. Goblet of Fire was different to the books that had come before it. And after it, nothing was ever going to be the same.

5 Bites (obviously!)

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting "Naughty Amelia Jane" by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

IMG_1641And so we come to the third installment of the Harry Potter series. And my favourite. Book or film, number 3 always hits the top of the charts for me. I think it’s brilliant! I own three physical copies and a ebook. It’s on my wish list for audio-books to own but I have listened to it from the library several times.

I just feel that The Prisoner of Azkaban is where Harry Potter really branches out and shouts to the world that here is a story for the ages.

Rowling herself said that writing POA was her best writing experience- her money worries were at bay, the press attention wasn’t too overbearing and she felt comfortable. I think that shows in her writing throughout. The little additions to the wizarding world she drops in, those little details that make it so easy to immerse yourself in a world where broomsticks and hippogriffs are perfectly legitimate ways to fly, and chocolate is the cure to abject despair!

Prisoner of Azkaban has the reputation of being the point in which the series becaomes darker, and in may ways that’s true. It’s certainly the book where you realise that Harry’s life will never be easy. In other series, the offer Sirius makes to Harry to come and live with him would mark the point at which he gains a trusted guardian and adviser and can really grow into his role as a hero. In Rowling’s world, it marks the point in which we realise that Harry has to overcome so much more than Lord Voldemort… he has to overcome everything life throws at him. I actually think that having Sirius make this offer, moments after Harry believes his story, and moments before he has to go on the run again, is the cruellest thing Rowling does to Harry over the whole series.

Plot wise, it’s a pacy book and I think the last of the streamlined books in this series. 4, 5 and especially 6 I find prone to bloat and it always makes me appreciate the efficiency of story telling in Prisoner of Azkaban so much more

I also love the characters in this. Lupin is a fabulous character, flawed and kind hearted, struggling with his inner demons and his principles. I do love him.
I also love the interplay between harry, Hermione and Ron. Their friendship endures despite the trials and tribulations of life.

It’s a 5 biter for me!

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting "Naughty Amelia Jane" by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Harry_Potter_and_the_Chamber_of_SecretsAh, the difficult second book… Scrutinised and pored over mercilessly. Is it as good as the first? Is the author a one trick pony? Can the magic of the first novel be repeated?

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets was one such book. The Philosopher’s Stone had been such a success that anticipation was high and scrutiny expected.

So did it hold up? What did the critics think?

The book was released on the 2nd June 1998 to a rapturous reaction. Critics were overwhelmingly positive citing Rowling’s strong plotting, her well-developed characters and her unflinching approach to the scarier elements of the story. They almost all gave the glowing commendation of not only being a book that adults would enjoy too, but more importantly, a sequel that was as good as the first!

Nearly two decades on and with the advantage of being able to look back on The Chamber of Secrets as a part of a completed series, reviews have generally become more measured and often it is not considered the stand out book of the series. In fact, a cursory search on the internet will often show COS as sixth or more often seventh in ‘Which is the best Harry Potter book?’ surveys, polls and votes.

In some ways, this position is deserved. The similarities in plot structure are glaring and occasionally distracting in a way that is not apparent in later books. The timely arrival of Fawkes in his dues ex machine role is a little too miraculous and too much is unexplained (if Fawkes knew where Harry was, then he clearly knew where the chamber was all along!)

But in many other ways, the release of the following five books has done COS a disservice. The central theme of tolerance of others and integration within a community are important topics to address within a children’s book and it is well done here. The continuation on addressing the idea of a person’s choices making them who they are furthers the overarching theme of the story and adds extra dimension to later stories.

I also feel that the more disturbing elements of the story announce to the world that JK Rowling is not scared to go dark, is confident of the ability of children to adapt to the harsher realities of life. And I think this is a good thing.

So Chamber of Secrets…. You’ve done a good job. You proved that Rowling wasn’t a one trick pony, you showed that strong characters and plots can be sustained, and you revealed a lot about the series overall that we just didn’t appreciate until later on!

4 bites

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption. I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_CoverI can remember exactly where I was the first time I read The Philosopher’s Stone. I was eighteen and in Mexico on a month long trip with schoolfriends. In a burst of teenage pretentiousness and a desire to bring a book which I wouldn’t read too quickly, I only had on me Dante’s Inferno (I know, right!) Shockingly, I found that this wasn’t the book to cosy up with in a tent after a long days hiking. So a friend lent me her copy of Harry Potter. It was three years since its release, and at the time I hadn’t heard much about it. But I do remember taking a train through Mexico’s Copper Canyon and thinking I was like Harry on the Hogwarts Express. Except for the scenery. And the country. And the fact that I hadn’t just discovered I was a wizard. Apart from that, it was exactly the same.

We all know the story: An orphan child is being brought up by his Aunt and Uncle in circumstances that should have had Social Services hammering on the door; discovers he is a wizard and that his parents were killed by an evil wizard (so far, so Luke Skywalker); manages to defeat evil wizard with his mates. And we all can guess why children loved it so much: it’s fun, it’s exciting. It’s got a giant dog with three heads. But why were there so many copies of it being read by commuters on their way to work?

Lets face it, it’s not the best writing in the world (please don’t hurt me!) It has all the ingredients of a children’s book- some cliches, a lot of adverbs. In short, not the kind of book that millions of adults would normally take to. But it’s got something so much more. It’s the hero’s journey: orphan boy discovers there is so much more to him than he thought, that he is a celebrity. We have Dumbledore as the wise mentor, Voldemort as the villain. It is nostalgia. Who amongst us didn’t want a letter from Hogwarts to arrive for us? It harks back to rose tinted schooldays, full of adventure and friends. It is warm and funny. I cheered when Hagrid gave Dudley a pig’s tail, celebrated the come-upance of the Dursley’s. I loved it when Harry met Ron on the Hogwarts Express, his first true friendship. And Christmas morning when Harry is overwhelmed with gratitude after receiving Mrs Weasley’s knitted jumper.

But there is a little hint of threat through it all, a warning that in this Mallory Towers- esque world, all is not safe. It drives the book forward. As adults, the magical world thrills us and we are desperate to be a part of it.

5 Bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting "Naughty Amelia Jane" by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas

img_2363

Effie Truelove is skipping school – she’s only just started at the Tusitala School for the Gifted, Troubled and Strange so now isn’t the best time for it, but her beloved Grandfather is in hospital after a brutal attack. Besides, with its twisted grey spires and an English teacher so frightening she gives the class nightmares it’s not the most welcoming of places.

Then her Grandfather dies, he’s the last link to her mother, the only person to have vanished during the WorldQuake. Effie has promised to look after his magical books no matter that her father doesn’t want her too. He’s organised for a book-collector to buy them but what harm could come to the world if they fall into the wrong hands. its time for Effie to trust her magic. She must travel to the mysterious Otherworld, unlock the hidden meaning of an old book called Dragon’s Green, and brave the terrifying Diberi, a secret organisation with plans that could destroy the entire universe.

I made a strange squealing noise when I first laid eyes on this! As you may know I’m a bit of a fan of Scarlett Thomas’s work and to see she’d thrown caution to the wind and written a children’s fantasy novel was the best present I could have received! And to get a free copy to review just before Christmas was the icing on the cake. In fact I got it at the end of November and saved it for my Christmas reading as a treat to myself – so no pressure on this to live up to big expectations then!!

Thankfully, after building it up so much, I loved it! This is perfect for fans of Harry Potter and Inkheart.

This book, like all I’ve read from her, is full of atmosphere, her world-building is exquisite. Although she is used to writing for adults she’s got the balance here spot on – she’s not patronising younger readers or trying to make it obviously easier for them, there’s still darkness in the shadows, but somehow both the darkness and the light are more ethereal, more dreamlike.

The characters are great too, they’re flawed and believable but brave and wanting to be better all the way through, it’s impossible not to root for them. The story itself is great, I mean every time I think that every kids fantasy plot line must have been done by now something like this comes along. I won’t tell you anything too much about it but it might have some ‘BookEaters’ in there … !

This is the start of a series and I am itching for the next book!

5 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

BOOK BATTLE! The Cursed Child

Who would ever have thought it would come to this?

image
Two BFFS, Bookeater Kelly and Bookeater Rachel, at odds over The Cursed Child!
Kelly loved it, Rachel hated it- how will they ever reconcile their friendship?

With a BookEater Book Battle of course! The literary version of a corridor death match pistols at dawn duel!
Who will open up a can of literary whoopass and emerge victorious?!

(We made efforts to keep it spoiler free but failed miserably towards the end… you are duly warned!)

 

Rachel: So, I didn’t like it. To start with, I didn’t particularly like the format. The difference between the richness of the Harry Potter books and this bare bones play was stark

Kelly: I agree with that, but it was never trying to be a book. It was published as a screenplay so it was always going to be different.

Rachel: That’s true but I didn’t consider it a positive difference

Kelly: I think it depends what you wanted from it. I loved the idea of finding out what happened to the characters afterwards, the “living in your father’s shadow” theme and the impossibility of living up to being the son of the boy who lived. For me, the characters made up for any lack in description.

Rachel: That’s interesting because I thought the characters and the theme were pretty terrible

Rachel: The characters didn’t seem to be in line with how they were portrayed in the books and I found the theme of living in your father’s shadow to be depressingly mundane

Rachel: I wasn’t expecting them to have been the exact same as in the books but I felt the fundamentals of their characters were different

Kelly: But we grow up and change. We aren’t the same people we are at school. I mean- you and I are awesome still, but for different reasons!

Kelly: And a lot of the actual stories in the original series are mundane, just set in a magical environment- like this one was.

Kelly: Although if you delve into Harry’s personality more, he was always filled with doubt about his wizarding skills, it’s just that now he doubts his parenting skills.

Kelly: I loved Scorpius!

Draco and Scorpius from Pottermore
Draco and Scorpius from Pottermore

Rachel: We do grow up and change but we aren’t witches nor are we the focus of an entire franchise of books devoted to making magic out of the mundane. That is what made JK Rowling’s stories so wonderful and that isn’t what happens here. Here the magic is burdened, is dragged down and is overwhelmed by the ordinary, the boring, the mundane.

What does The Boy Who Lived grow up and do? Erm, well actually he has a pretty boring desk job, three kids and a severely middle class, suburban outlook on life.

Wow what an exciting sequel. #snooze #evaporatedmagic

Rachel: Scorpius wasn’t bad. What did you like so much about him?

Kelly: I can’t help but feel that the play is much different and pulls on the magic more. Again, because it’s a screenplay we lose some of the description and background that makes it more magical. We only have the dialogue, and that’s never going to be able to incorporate all the magic.

Kelly: I thought Scorpius was a wonderfully funny character. He’s so the opposite of what you expect a Malfoy to be. I kept waiting for him to do something evil!

Kelly: I found it quite nostalgic. I can’t expand on that because of spoilers. Did it give you that feel at all?

Rachel: Not really to be honest. I felt a bit betrayed (or something slightly less dramatic!). I felt a bit like I did when I found out Father Christmas doesn’t exist (is that a spoiler too?!)

Kelly: (What do you mean? Father Christmas is real- I’ve met him!!)

Rachel: I agree with you on Scorpius actually. He was pretty funny and loyal, and I could see him being in the original extended gang. He made up for my disappointment in the neutering of Draco Malfoy

Rachel: Which to be totally honest was a process begun by Rowling

Rachel: (Oh, yes, OF COURSE he is real…..)

Kelly: It was- it began in the last book. When you are on the losing side, you are going to be neutered. But there is still the distrust between him and Harry.

Kelly: (Thank goodness! You had me worried for a bit!)

Rachel: Which I didn’t find believable. But again, this is really Rowling’s fault. He didn’t seem to have suffered any consequence in her epilogue for having been essentially evil albeit in a flawed manner so why would he here?

I found the family aspect of his storyline to be a bit affecting (although think it clashed with stated facts from the epilogue)

Kelly: Affecting in what way?

Rachel: I felt sorry for Draco because of what happened to his family (close to spoiler territory!). And his reactions felt real

Rachel: Which unfortunately just contrasted with how unaffecting I found Harry

Kelly: I agree with your comments on Draco, but disagree about Harry. I thought his actions were realistic and he made me react emotionally throughout the screenplay. I felt angry with him, a bit disappointed in his reactions (which I think was the point) and sad for him. Can I say that the bit I was most disappointed with was how small a role Ginny had.

Harry, Ginny and Albus from Pottermore
Harry, Ginny and Albus from Pottermore

Rachel: Yes! It was as if she was totally erased as a proper character!

Rachel: And they had such a good opportunity to show how the two characters had grown together and complemented each other

Rachel: Wasted

Kelly: Exactly. She was purely there to give Harry and Albus a sounding board, and to give them advice that they ignored. Such a shame.

Rachel: She could have easily been a brand new character for all of the emotional attachment I had to her

Rachel: Wasn’t massively impressed with Ron or Hermione either. The Trio felt missing. I couldn’t find that amazing connection and camaraderie they had

Rachel: And don’t tell me that it’s because they’re grown up and friendships change because we’re living proof that friendships can be just as marvellous, if not better, decades on!HHR CC

Kelly: Ha ha! We are living proof of that! But not everyone is as lucky as us, and doesn’t Hermione admit that work has gotten in the way and they haven’t been as close as they once were? Or did I make that bit up? I’m sure it was part of the story.

Kelly: But less of the decades please. We’ll stick to “years on”. It ages us less!

Rachel: Maybe I am biased because even when work and life gets in the way of us, we still managed to get through the, erm, several years on (!) with our closeness still intact.

I just felt that these three saved the world together; they wouldn’t let work get in the way

Rachel: Particularly as their friendship was SUCH a core element of the original story

Kelly: I do get what you mean.

Rachel: So I think I could have forgiven or got past most of my concerns (not really to the extent of thinking it was a good book/play, but at least to the stage of not regretting I’d read it) if it hadn’t have been for the plot. Not so much the main plot as I thought that was fairly decent. It was the addition of that character and their origin… You know the one I mean

SPOILERS APPROACHING!

Kelly: I do. I understand what you mean, but again I feel it draws on the themes of the play. Without giving too much away, you have Scorpius who is forging a path away from his father and is a good guy, Albus who is struggling to make a life away from his father’s shadow, and then the other person who just embraces their father’s character. It provides contrast.

Rachel: It provide contrast but in a way that completely undermines the character of the father, and as such, undermines a central concept of the original series. It’s difficult to not spoil things but this new character’s very existence contradicts a central aspect of the father’s core belief and the actions they take on those beliefs.

If they were going to introduce this new character, they could have done it a different way. They didn’t actually need to be that character’s progeny

Kelly: I don’t know how to reply without spoiling the book. I would say that I disagree and think that we don’t know completely that this would be against the characters core beliefs. In fact, it’s in keeping with the characters actions.

AND HERE IS WHERE OUR ATTEMPT AT A SPOILER FREE BATTLE GOES COMPLETELY OUT OF THE WINDOW!! BE WARNED!!

Kelly: But wouldn’t Voldemort have created her as another horcrux? There was nothing to suggest love between them

Rachel: The idea that he would feel enough human emotion to actually have sex with Bellatrix is baffling to me, but more importantly, it’s a distraction from his main purpose

Rachel: And it’s totally unrealistic that no-one ever found out

Rachel: And why did she confund Amos except that otherwise the rest if that story makes no sense

Kelly: But we don’t know Voldemort as well before he tried to kill Harry, there may have been aspects of him we don’t know.

Kelly: Maybe it was a turkey baster?!

Rachel: Ewwwwwww!

Rachel: I think it was sensationalism. Delphi would have worked better had she been the child of Bellatrix and Rodolphus and was trying to live up to her mother’s legacy and restore Voldemort for her

Rachel: Still fits in with the theme

Kelly: I do get what you mean, that’s a good way around it and makes just as much sense

Kelly: (Is it ok that this isn’t a battle, more a polite discussion of views?)

Rachel: (Yep, we’re bffs, we aren’t going to let a book bring us to fisticuffs!)

Kelly: I still really enjoyed this book, as a screen play. It works as that, it’s not a novel and shouldn’t be treated as one. I completely got your beef with “that” character and feel your solution is much better. Maybe you should write to JK?!

Rachel: Kelly hasn’t swayed me although I do concede that I’m perhaps too harshly punishing the cursed child for being a play rather than a novel. However, it was billed so much as the continuation of the original series, the ‘what happens next’ and I think it just gets so many things wrong. And the new character tipped me over the edge! (Seriously, I have SO many beefs with it!)

all-cursed-child-cast

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption. I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

In Celebration of Mums- 5 Great Literary Mums!

It’s Mother’s Day in the UK on Sunday- Quick! Get your cards sent!

In honour of my mother, who is the most fantabulous mum in the whole world (yes I checked!), I would like to present a small round up of literary mums who are super brilliant too…

Now, these mums were chosen because they are more than just good fictional characters, they would actually make rather marvellous mothers if they were real. So for example, Mrs Bennet from Pride and Prejudice has not made the list. She’s a completely marvellous character in literary terms but I’m pretty sure that most of us would agree that her attempts to sell off all her children, and the multiple ‘quiverings and flutterings all over’ would drive us all batty!

In no particular order….

MWMolly Weasley (The Harry Potter Series)

I’m pretty sure that Mrs Weasley would top, or come close to topping any poll on literary mums.

Her Christmas jumpers, her excellent cooking, her steadfastness in looking after her seven children all combine with her willingness to take in Harry and care for him as one of her own to show off her kindness and compassion.

She’s always ready with a hug or a decent scolding when needed and, although her protective nature sometimes feels smothering to her children, her badassness is legend.

‘NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!’

 

MDMrs Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility)

Although Mrs Dashwood isn’t without her flaws- she’s often too romantic and emotional, and too governed by the whims of Marianne- she is kind-hearted and very affectionate towards her daughters.

There is a lot of love in the Dashwood household as signalled by Marianne’s fevered fixation on her mother when seriously ill, and her mother’s subsequent dash to her side.

Unlike many mothers depicted in Austen’s novels, Mrs Dashwood cares more for the happiness of her daughters than for what advantageous matches they might make.

 

MM

Marmee (Little Women)

Almost too good to be true, Marmee, as Mrs March is known to her children, is a highly principled, progressive woman for her time.

She doesn’t insist her daughters marry for money and in fact makes sure that they are educated and able to stand up for themselves at a time when the opposite was expected. She’s non-judgemental, and believes in all sectors of society.

She’s hard working, sets a good example, is available to console her daughters and be confided in, and has a huge amount of love for her children.

She’s able to protect her children whilst letting them make mistakes and learn from them.

 

ap

Amelia P. Emerson (The Amelia Peabody Series)

A truly formidable woman, Amelia Peabody’s world is turned upside down on her first visit to Egypt where she meets her soon to be husband, Radcliffe Emerson.

Their union produces a son Walter Peabody Emerson, known to almost one and all as Ramses. Her maternal experience later includes Nefret Forth, a girl they rescue from the Western Desert at the age of 13.

Very progressive for her time, and yet in some ways the epitome of a Victorian lady, Amelia instills a liberal viewpoint in her children. They do not treat people differently due to their race. They are kind to animals and compassionate to people less fortunate than themselves (which is, frankly, most other people in the book)

She is fiercely protective and has been known to go into a ‘berserker rage’ if someone threatens Ramses, most notably when Ramses is physically threatened as a youngster.

Woebetide those who cross the Sitt Hakim and her magical parasol!

 

MF

Mrs Frisby (Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh)

Noone who has read this book or seen the adaptation The Secret of Nimh can fail to be moved by Mrs Frisby’s bravery.

Her son Timothy is ill with pneumonia just at the time they would normally move to their summer home- the spring plowing is about to begin and their home will be destroyed.

Mrs Frisby’s bravery and courage in finding a solution to this is indicative of the sacrifice that so many mothers are willing to make to protect their children.

With no thought to her own safety, she does what she needs to to get the help to move her house.

 

 

These are just a few of the great mums out there in the world of literature- who would you have picked??

And thanks Mum! You’re ace!

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption. I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

By the Pricking of my Thumbs…

Hallowe’en has arrived. The pumpkins have been carved, sweets have been purchased and sit by the door waiting for the arrival of trick or treaters. But tonight isn’t about chocolate: it is a night when malevolent spirits roam amongst us. We BookEaters have gathered around the fire to tell you about our favourite type of evil creature: the witch!*

*Warning: Not all witches will be scary, some will be strong, brave, and others just generally not very good.

Charlotte:

img_1552Professor McGonagall is my favourite fictional witch. She is the perfect Head of Gryffindor House because she is brave, staunchly loyal to Dumbledore, and incredibly protective of her students. It is McGonagall who spots Harry Potter’s talent for quidditch, gives him the benefit of the doubt when he breaks school rules, and calls upon the defensive magical powers of Hogwarts in preparation for the final battle with Voldemort. She subverts every stereotype of the spinster cat lady. She is always strong-minded and fiercely independent. If you met her, she would look you in the eye and tell you the unvarnished truth.

Kelly:

img_1551My first real encounter with a truly terrifying witch was whilst reading The Witches by Roald Dahl. What could be scarier than witches that hated children? Bald, with clawed hands and toe-less feet, they have created a new way to rid the world of children, who smell to them like dogs droppings. Their plan? To turn the children into mice, which the adults will then kill. Making parents unwitttingly kill their own children! Horrific! It’s up to our hero narrator, who has overheard their plans during their annual meeting in Bournemouth, and his Norwegian grandmother to stop them. I don’t think I will ever forget the terror I felt when the Grand High Witch first reveals herself. A book that lives long in the imagination!

img_1553My all time favourite witch, though,  has got to be Granny Weatherwax. For me, she is one of the best characters from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and no list of the best witches would be complete without her. Granny is strong willed, fierce and not to be messed with! She’s a mentor for the younger Witches in Lancre and The Chalk, including Tiffany Aching and isn’t afraid to tell them exactly what she thinks. Fellow witch, King, Vampire or general mortal, Granny treats everyone as an equal- one who knows less than she does!

Gem:

WitchesI’ve almost finished reading about New York in 1880 – home to two young(ish) witches. Adelaide Thom can see the secrets of the soul and Eleanor St. Clair is a healer and keeper of spells. They run a Tea Shop catering to Manhattan’s high society and when Beatrice Dunn arrives at their door seeking employment, it soon becomes apparent that she has magical talents of her own. Eleanor wants to tread lightly and respect the magic manifest in the girl, but Adelaide sees a business opportunity. But though there are men like Dr. Quinn Brody, who respect the talents and intelligence of the three women there are also men convinced they are evil. When Beatrice disappears they must decide if she has simply fled or if something more sinister has happened.

I love the time and place that this is set in – in the background there are women fighting for the vote and men exploring science. The old world and the new are colliding but through this turmoil the characters still shine through. It’s hard to pick a favourite witch out of these three, I’m just hoping it has a happy enough ending to open the door to a sequel!

 

Rachel:

I do love a good evil witch! Particularly those witches who actually aren’t evil! Given the problematic treatment of ‘witches’ throughout history, it’s always nice to see portrayals of witches as not inherently evil.

I couldn’t decide on my favourite witch so have opted for two.
manon-blackbeakFirst up is Manon Blackbeak whom can be found in Sarah J.Maas’s Throne of Glass series. A member of the Ironteeth witch clan, she has long white hair, gold eyes and, disturbingly, retractable iron teeth and claws. She’s also totally badass. Like, seriously. A fascinating character who is vicious, cruel, thoughtful and reflective, her questioning of her motives, actions and moral compass make her a flawed and multi-layered character. And she rides a dragon*

*not actually called a dragon in the books but near as makes no never mind!

 

mildredSecondly, Mildred Hubble! Oh Mildred, they call you The Worst Witch but you really really aren’t. You’re marvellous. You’re very clumsy but you mean well and you can’t help but get in to all sorts of pickles! I particularly enjoyed it when you turned your headmistress’s sister into a snail! You’ve got loyal and kind friends, an entertaining rivalry with another witch and you’re nice to cats! You’re definitely not the worst!

 

 

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting "Naughty Amelia Jane" by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Pottermore Presents… by JK Rowling

ppThere is usually much excitement and slight hysteria when JK Rowling releases Harry Potter books- midnight fancy dress parties, bookshop activities and huge media attention.  So it was a bit surprising at how low-key yesterday’s release of the three Pottermore Presents collections was. In comparison to the firework extravaganza of The Cursed Child only a few weeks ago, these three short reads were a bit of a damp squib (pun intended!)

And there is a reason for that… in my opinion at least!

pp2The three collections of information, biographies and short reads are mainly compiled from the content already to be found on the Pottermore website but with the addition of new writing from Rowling herself and promise to give extra insight and a new dimension to the existing Potter series.

pp3Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists, Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide and Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies cover a range of topics including PolyJuice Potion, Professor McGonagall, the Ministers for Magic, the Hogwarts Express, and Remus Lupin.
All in all, it sounds like three books of delight for any average Harry Potter fan…

So why am I strongly implying that there is the distinct aroma of damp squib hanging around these mini tomes of knowledge….?

Simply put, these three books contain very little in the way of new information and the vast majority of the writings can be found on the Pottermore website itself or, for the more motivated fan, in numerous interviews, web chats and Twitter posts with Rowling.

Yes the information that was included, and yes it was a delight to dip back into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (I expect that’s trademarked somewhere!) but it feels a bit like cashing in to have released these books when they contain so little that is new and undiscovered. Given that the marketing of these books included substantial mentions of the ‘exclusive new content’, I feel a more appropriate phrase to use would have been ‘elusive new content’.
I have actually dropped my bite rating by two because of this- had the marketing information been more clear about the proportion of Pottermore content to new content, I would have been happier.

The content itself is well written, is interesting and really does help to enhance your understanding of some of the characters (although never those that are central to the stories!) and their motivations. It also really shows just how much world building JK Rowling did when she was writing- lists of Ministers for Magic, recipes for potions complete with why each ingredient was chosen, origins for even minor characters.

1 bite from me today- be honest, marketing people. That’s all we ask. (3 bites for content )

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption. I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark, Book 1 by Dave Rudden

I had to laugh when I read the first line on the title page of the kindle edition

Dave Rudden enjoys cats, adventure and being cruel to fictional children

‘I’m in for a good one here’ I thought …. and I wasn’t wrong!  In my opinion adults and youngsters are going to love this.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark

Thirteen year old Denizen Hardwick has been raised in an Irish orphanage and knows nothing about his parents. He loves reading and is very good at frowning – in fact he has mastered a remarkable number of different frowns. He has no known relatives and no expectations so he is extremely surprised when he finds a note from Director Ackerby informing him that at 6pm he will be collected by his aunt. At 6pm a car does indeed arrive, a Jensen Interceptor, strangely though it arrives in the dark with no headlamps on and instead of a woman a tall and mysterious man gets out. Denizen is both curious and wary – after all even an orphanage can feel like home – but he willingly gets in the car  to be driven him to Dublin where he is told he will meet his aunt. A monstrous event occurs on the journey and fortunately Grey reveals himself to be rather more than just a chauffeur.  However the response  to everything that Denizen asks is merely that the aunt will explain. Bursting with frustrations and questions when Denizen finally meets his aunt he discovers that she is a Malleus, a warrior and a leader among the Knights of the Borrowed Dark who fights the tenebrous creatures that breach our world. Furthermore he discovers that he is not thirteen as he believed and that he too is possessed of unusual powers.

Clockwork creatures, monsters that shape themselves from objects, iron that runs through the body as well as the soul. Rudden has envisioned new magic and new enemies. This isn’t a Harry Potter rip-off; it is fresh, exciting and humorous.  The cost of wielding magic and the price of superpowers is skilfully portrayed and thought provoking. The writing is witty and sharp, and the action moves along swiftly but still allows for character development. The quality of the writing is excellent and the variety of imagery used for even simple events is delightful, these two particularly appealed to me.

“He ran gloved hands across the steering wheel the way you’d ruffle the head of a beloved dog” or

“A conversation with Simon had the soothing effect of a cool pillow”

This is Rudden’s first novel and the first of a series. Puffin Random House are publishing it and I fully believe that they have picked a winner because it is going to appeal to children and their parents, indeed I couldn’t put it down. I am so looking forward to book 2 for as Rudden wrote in his afterword “Onwards and downwards, to misery unending”.

5 bites and I want more!

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Today’s tragic teenagers

I was witness this week to a display of such utter ignorance of the unique magic of books that I was left wondering whether I had been sucked into a parallel universe where everything I hold dear is perceived as worthless.

It’s reading week at our tertiary college and one vibrant and passionate teacher has set about transforming an area into a book junkie’s delight. Colourful copies of a diverse range of extracts, shocking, amusing, saddening or uplifting have transformed a wall and virtually shout “Read me!” as you walk along. Tables are laden with books and magazines for borrowing or browsing, blind dates with the literary world lie discreetly packaged in brown envelopes for those who like a random pick and copies of brand new give away books are piled high.

I drew these goodies to the attention of my class of 16 year old students and said I would delay the start of our maths lesson just so they would have an opportunity to assess what they might want. There I was, anticipating the glee of children let loose in a sweet shop, so imagine my horror (if you can) when none of them even left their chairs!  Thinking they had misunderstood I repeated that all the books were free and that they could grab one immediately. No-one moved.  With a growing sense of bewilderment I tried again “Well when did any of you last read a book?” – general silence greeted me- “You must have read a book once” I tried. Finally one student piped up “The last time I read a book was in year 7”. A chorus of “yeah me too” comments echoed around the room. vicki pollard

Gobsmacked !!!!! My first emotions were sadness and pity for these girls who are missing out on one of the greatest pleasures life affords. The second wave of emotions was a combination of frustration and dismay. It is almost as if  the parents and  the education system believe that once a child has been taught the fundamental mechanics of reading then their responsibility is discharged.

In the USA the proportion of teenagers who “never” or “hardly ever” read has tripled since 1984 and a third of 13-year-olds and 45% of 17-year-olds say they’ve read for pleasure less than twice a year. Nielson books found in the UK that the percentage of non-readers in the age range 11 -17 grew from 13% to 27% between 2012 and 2013 . Yet research and analysis carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have identified that reading for pleasure at the age of 15 is a key factor in determining future social mobility, infact, it was shown as the most important indicator of the future success of the young person.

Surveys amongst teachers have regularly produced lists of the top 100 books they believed a child should read before leaving school. Time and again the same books are repeated. Many of these books and plays are classics but boy are they old. 35 years ago more than half of them were required reading when I in school and it seems little has changed; from Romeo and Juliet, via Pride and Prejudice to Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies. Pride and prejudiceThe books are frozen in time but our teenagers are not; their expectations, their learning styles, their environments have all changed. In this media savvy, technological age confident enthusiastic readers may stick at books they find challenging or irrelevant but those who are less confident or who find it hard work are hardly going to engage in them by choice.  I know loads of young people who never read the set texts for an exam, instead they rely on the reading notes and a brief skim of the first and last chapters. The books simply don’t excite them and forcing them to study books they can’t engage with risks poisoning the whole magic of reading for pleasure. I say let’s stop imposing middle-class interpretations of what should be read and instead encourage all youngsters to read for pleasure before we expect them to read for education!

I asked my fellow bloggers for some thoughts on what they would like to see on a GCSE reading list and these are some of their suggestions.

Girl at War, Sara Novic

The Palest Ink, Kay Bratt

The Fault in our Stars, John GreenNeil Gaiman

The Harry Potter series, the Northern Lights trilogy, and just about anything by David Walliams, Neil Gaiman, or Roald Dahl.

What would you like to see as curriculum reading and exam material from ages 12 to 16?

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.