Always – Harry Potter Series J.K. Rowling

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It may seem like I have been slacking with my reading goal but I haven’t I promise. I started re-reading the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling. I can’t tell you how many times I have read this series or how much I adore it. I actually wrote a collage essay about it. (shown below) I love all the underlying themes, the characters, the plots, the creatures, the imagery, the message. I love that when I read it as a teenager I felt one way and now, reading as a mother I feel a completely different way. I love that each time I read it, I feel happy, sad, triumphant, and thoughtful. I love that I find new things each time and I love that no matter how many times I read it, it still leaves me wanting more.

There isn’t much to say about the series, most people have read it, watched the movies (please read the books too the movies do nothing for them), or have at least heard the general plot. If you are so inclined – read my essay about how I feel it should be a classic. If you haven’t read the series yet, I implore you do to so. It may not be for everyone, but I feel like this series is for most. If you enjoy fiction, fantasy, adventure, love, magic, interesting creatures, humor, good vs evil, family, friendship, mystery, and more, than I think you will love this series. My husband sometimes asks if I will continue reading this series year after year and I respond to him, Always.

Creating a classic

 

“This above all: to thine own self be true” (Shakespeare 22)

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” (Dickens 1)

“Not all those who wander are lost.” (Tolkien 170)

Famous words by some of the greatest masters in literature. Shakespeare, Dickens, and Tolkien, all masters in their craft. One could ask, why? Why after hundreds of years, do scholars seek out their pages, searching for wisdom? Why do educators continue to use them as teaching tools? And, is it possible for others to be added to this elite list? Is it possible that a new author can join the club and become as sought out as those before them. That is what I would I like to answer today. One author, I believe, has done just that. I also believe that this author’s works will live for hundreds of years, be searched for by scholars and used for teaching, if it hasn’t already. I am talking about J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter Series.

People can laugh that a children’s series has no place among great works like Macbeth or Lord of the Rings. What possible comparison could be made of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and a Tale of Two Cities? Some might even find it insulting to compare such books to the tomes of the past. However, I hope to prove that J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter Series deserve a place among them.

When people think of great works in literature, they think of authors such as the ones listed above, or others Jane Austin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Homer, Herman Melville and Mark Twain. Really the list goes on. Why do these stories stay with us long after the last page is turned? Why do we discuss them in dark coffee shops over herbal tea and expensive espresso? Why, when we reference something happening in our life do we compare it to them? I believe it is because the tales they tell are universal and fluid. No matter the age or time period people will always experience love, anguish, joy and discord. We will always feel some sort devotion whether to family or country or something else entirely. That is one of the main reasons these stories live on. As many times as you read something, you will always find something new. You are never the same when you read something a second, third or even the hundredth time. Each day brings new challenges, new experiences, new thoughts, dreams, etc. Some of the people, who started reading Harry Potter when they were children, are graduating college or starting families. Worlds away from where they were when they were first reading them. Characters that mean something to a person might change or evolve when you pick it up again years a later. Someone who might have wanted to be Harry’s friend may now side with Molly or Dumbledore.

Each of the Harry Potter books has its own theme, its own life so to speak. That has all the elements of the classics from the past.  In The Philosopher’s Stone, you see a boy that has been abused his whole life to find out that he is in fact a wizard. A giant man comes and tells him of his true identity, of another world that he is a part of. Harry walks through the door of a run-down shack in the middle of the ocean, trusting this stranger more than he trusts the people he has lived with for 10 years. He walks through that door and into his future adventures much the same way the Bilbo Baggins walked through his hobbit hole door and followed Gandalf on their grand adventure. In the Chamber of Secrets, Harry and his friends discover a part of the castle that had been searched for by many. In this story, we see Harry risk his life for his best friend’s sister. We see Harry who, despite being abused and mistreated in his early life, has amazing compassion, empathy and love. He would throw his life down for a little girl and never think twice about it. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry is ever so briefly offered a better life than the one he has experienced so far. He could live with his father’s best friend, only to have that taken away from him. Yet again though, we see Harry’s resilience and compassion. As the books go on we see darker themes emerge. Death of school mates, death of loved ones, and the rise of an evil villain who seems to only care about the destruction of Harry. Harry, thinking that he will be taught or shown some particular way of destroying this monster for good, is told that they only thing he possesses that Voldemort doesn’t, is love. It takes Harry until the final book to realize that love is a lot more powerful than hate. Love is something you die for, something you live for, something you sacrifice for. Love is everything while hate is nothing. Harry goes and meets his death for his friends, his loved ones, and all the people who died before him. It is in that moment that as a reader, we realize that love and the human condition are really driving themes of this series. Love showed Harry the way in the mirror of erised, love was prevalent in the chamber of secrets when Harry sacrificed himself for Ginny. Love was finding a new link to his parents in Prisoner of Azkaban. Love was risking his life to bring a classmate home after Voldemort killed him in Goblet of Fire. Love forced Harry to again risk his life to save a loved one in Order of the Phoenix. Love was Harry avenging the death of mentor in Half-Blood Prince and love was what almost destroyed him in Deathly Hallows.

If you look even deeper into the series you will see that it isn’t all about Harry and his compassion and his ability to love either. J.K. Rowling shows us the complexity of humanity in multiple characters. How love could make Hermione erase her parent’s memories so they would be safe.  Hermione also showed us amazing strength of character, her fierceness, her heart, and her strength in the face of all that she faces in this series.  Love destroyed Snape, turning him into the villain we loved to hate, until we knew the depth of his suffering. Snape’s character is one of the more complex in the entire series. How unrequited love can literally destroy a person, turning them into a shadow of who they were. Love, compassion and a decent sense of humor drives the Weasley family in so many ways. Each character could really get their own paper because each one has a story to tell.

In an article from the Wall Street Journal Oona Eisenstaedt’s has this to say about why Harry Potter was a classic, “Insight into the human condition” ( De Visa, Daniel), and that is exactly why I think Harry Potter deserves its place among the great works of literature. It shares that common theme that Romeo and Juliet had, that Great Expectations and Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn were famous for. Insight into the human condition. A theme that never grows old.

If the content of the books wasn’t enough, I believe the fans of Harry Potter have turned it into a classic. A story that, because of their devotion will be passed down for generations and generations. Even if the books themselves don’t get the prestige of “classic”. There have been stories about Harry Potter saving people’s lives, people finding strength they didn’t know they had because of Harry or another character in the series. The series deals with some heavy stuff; bigotry, bullying, love, hatred, revenge, death, and acceptance; each of these are things children and teens experience. They identify with Harry and the rest of the characters, find comfort and strength and the will to keep going. If one needs evidence of how deeply the Harry Potter series has touched its fans, I ask you to read an article written in the Telegraph shortly after the awful tragedy that happened in an Orlando nightclub. One of the kids that was murdered worked at Harry Potter World. A eulogy was held and fans turned out to pay their respects. They raised their wands like the wizards did after Dumbledore died, until the dark mark was no longer visible. A quote from Dumbledore was repeated there and in twitter and Instagram feeds that covered it: “”Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” (Alice Vincent)  Another testament to the fans devotion came upon the news of Alan Rickman’s death, the man who played the iconic Professor Snape; fans all over the world raised their “wands” to pay tribute. (Megan McCluskey)

Whether it is the stories themselves, or the way the people who read them relate to them, there is really no denying that Harry Potter has truly become a classic of its age. The reoccurring themes of all manner of human emotions is evident in all the classics from the past. From love destroying Romeo and Juliet, to compassion saving an old man in A Christmas Carol or simply finding friendships in the oddest of place like in Lord of the Rings. The Harry Potter Series possesses all those qualities and more importantly, insight into the human condition. That is why I believe it deserves to sit with great works from the past.

 

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Moment of Truth – Lisa Scottoline

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I suck at Clue, or any of those murder mystery movies, novels, plays…I am always shocked at the end when it was really the butler with rope in the conservatory. So, it was with some disappointment that I was right the whole time while I was reading this book. It definitely wasn’t Ms. Scottoline’s best. I loved some of her other books, Look Again, Keep Quiet, Accused  – to name a few…this one just fell off its mark somehow.

The main character, Mary Di Nunzio, is a rookie lawyer who gets thrown her first murder case where the alleged murderer has already confessed to the police. Jack Newlin, another attorney, confesses to killing his wife, but Mary and one of the detectives on the case don’t buy his story.

The whole book revolves around Mary uncovering layer after layer of lies only to finally uncover the truth that the reader knew  from the beginning of the book. Which in a way, I guess is kind of nice. As I said, I usually have a hard time guessing who done it so the whole time I am thinking it was the person who did, but convincing myself that it couldn’t be them. So I maintained a little mystery after all.

This is a good book for anyone who wants a quick mystery or court room drama read. A good rebound book after a series one. It requires no thought and it won’t keep you up at night.

The Gunslinger -The Dark Tower Series – Stephen King

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So first I must tell you, in case you didn’t know, Stephen King is one of my favorite authors. I have a few whose books I will devour whenever new ones come out, and I am always searching for older ones I may have missed. My first journey with Stephen King was Pet Sematary – to this day I look under my bed before sleeping. Kidding, but you get the idea. I have read everything I can by Mr. King, and have thoroughly enjoyed most of work. My favorite will always be The Stand; however, each book is like finding a long-lost friend.

It is because of my love for him and his works that I write this with unwilling fingers. The Dark Tower series, for me, just isn’t interesting. I tried and failed to read this book many times over the years, and just couldn’t get into it. I finally finished it, and to be honest, don’t think I missed much. However, I am told it all makes sense and it all comes together when you read the rest of the series. Since I know Mr. King, and have had a hard time with some of his earlier work (Salem’s Lot comes to mind), I will continue to try this series out.

To the review though:

It starts with Roland chasing the Man in Black. Anyone who has read any novels by King will instantly recognize the Man in Black as Randell Flagg or the Dark Man. Roland is the last of his kind, a Gunslinger and from what I gather, his home has been destroyed. The world they live in is like our world, but it is either a parallel world, or many years in our future. They know things like Bible and the Beatles, but don’t have any knowledge of skyscrapers for example. King never comes out and says parallel or future, but I am sure the next books divulge deeper into that.

Along the journey to meet the Man in Black and in his search for the Dark Tower, he meets some colorful characters that sometimes confuse more than help the plot line. It spans a massive dessert and goes into pitch black caves. The descriptions were great, as was the character development. I personally just didn’t care if Roland ever met the Man in Black. HOWEVER, I feel this is all me and not Mr. King’s writing or the story itself. I must emphasize that because as I said, I love his writing and most of his stories, so when I come across one I don’t like I know it must be me.

Anyway – this got off tangent – I would recommend this book (and series) to anyone who likes adventure, science fiction, alternate universes, maybe even westerns. I think it could be a very enjoyable book to anyone familiar with his work.

 

Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

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It is no surprise that I enjoy reading dystopian fiction. I like it for many reasons, but mostly I enjoy reading what other people think of humanity. You can tell how positive or negative they feel by the world they create when the world as we know it ends.

This novel reminds me a lot of The Stand by Stephen King. The Georgia Flu has taken out 99% of the population. (Capt. Tripps or Project Blue – a man-made super flu – killed off 99% of the population) Society must put itself back together. Instead of having a good/evil that puts the society that is left in two camps. It follows the more likely Glenn Bateman theory of a bunch of little societies popping up and being led by different forms of government. From Socialism to Dictators and everything in between. The way we can experience this, is by following the Traveling Symphony. The members of the group preform Shakespeare plays and play music while traveling around the mostly deserted landscape that used to be America. For 20 years they have done this, but of course, the good people aren’t the only ones that survived and as such, they run into problems trying to find some friends of theirs.

The whole novel sweeps back and forth through landscapes and over time, from before the flu to the present, going from one character to another and bringing the reader into a world where everything is gone. The internet, modern medicine, TV, cold food from the fridge, cooking on a stove, going to drive through for food, flying across great distances, getting in your car and traveling hundreds of miles in only few hours. Families, friends, jobs, useless degrees all gone in the blink of an eye and what remains is only what we are. Musicians, doctors, mothers, fathers, electricians, trying to find ways to find meaning in the new normal.

I think what I enjoyed most about this book was the other reason I like dystopian novels. I feel like most of humanity (not all) is stuck in rut. We live each day going about our business with very little thought to our futures, or even our present. We work, we sleep, we eat, we repeat and for what? Is that living? Or just existing. Two parts of the book stick out for me that make me feel like the author feels the same way. There was a monolog in the middle where a woman is describing her boss and she describes him as: “High-Functioning Sleepwalker” Deep. Because I look around and see a whole lot of “high-functioning sleepwalkers” every day. The second reason is a recurring phrase: “Because survival is insufficient” which is apparently originally from Star Trek. Again – isn’t it true? Just because you are alive doesn’t mean you are living.

Another thing that stuck with me is the way she would make you think about morality – one minute here, the next gone. There was one reflection where one of the characters was remembering making snow ice cream with his mother and brother. “Frank standing on a stool on his wondrously functional pre-Libya legs, the bullet that would sever his spinal cord still twenty-five years away but already approaching” again – deep. Thinking about it makes you think about your life, what events have shaped where you are and what events are still to come.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even if it took me a long time to read it. I would highly recommend this to anyway one wants to read as good dystopian novel.

 

The Chemist – Stephenie Meyer

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I had a hard time writing this review. I liked this book; and subsequently read through it in just a few short days. However, I can’t seem to tell you why I like it. I would definitely describe it as a fluff book, and similar writing style to her book The Host. (Which I also liked)It is a very quick read, with likable enough characters, and decent plot line. I guess the problem for me, is when reading a mystery, I never trust anyone, so I spend the whole time thinking, “It was her! She is behind it all.” Then I will switch once someone does something shady like go to the bathroom, “Oh my gosh! He is a double agent!” That kind of thing… So, I have hard time warming up to the characters when I think they are all evil. That may just be a personal issue. But, I did feel like I wouldn’t have cared so much had anyone turned out evil. It wasn’t like I would have been devastated. So that in of itself might be telling of the character development.

The story is about a girl who used to work for a special secret part of the government. She handles…getting information out of people, using a variety of interesting chemical compounds. And of course, she is very good at her job. When the government decides they no longer need her they set out to kill her, forcing her to go on the run and keep running and hiding for the rest of her life. She is contacted by a former colleague and offered a way to stop running. Do one more job.

The job isn’t so clear cut as she is lead to believe and now she is in even more danger than before.

The book is half romance/half mystery, I guess and although I am doing a poor job reviewing it, it is a decent book.  Unfortunately, no lines stood out to me on this one. I think this would be a good book to read when you are between intense books, or on vacation. Definitely not something I would bring up to your book club.

Doing Harm – Kelly Parsons

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Doing Harm by Kelly Parsons was a  very quick read. It was a wonderful told medical/murder mystery. The main character, Dr. Steve Mitchell is on set to be one of the greatest surgeons at the hospital he works for. He went to all the right schools, he works hard, is smart and cool under pressure.. He also has a little family that he loves more than anything. It all changes when someone murders one of his patients and warns him that if he doesn’t play in their sick game, more will die.

In a story that could play out like any other story, Mr. Parsons manages to weave an engaging and unique tale that keeps you reading way past your bedtime. I think what I liked most about it was the medical terminology. In his bio, it says that he is a board certified urologist – so the detail involved, from the medical rooms to the instruments, from the femoral artery to the effects of potassium overload…every detail is thought out and feels authentic. That is a good if not critical part to a good medical drama.

As always, lines stick out to me and one at the very beginning almost had me discard the book all together: “No more than your typical locker room talk.” In reference to a new hot medical student that had just started with team. After our current…president…decided to defend rape culture by saying that locker room talk is innocent, well it just hit a little close to our current issues. However, I have never shied away from a book just because the subject matter, choice of language, or context has made me uncomfortable. So I continued reading and I am glad I did.

I think people who enjoy murder mysteries, fiction, mystery or medical dramas will enjoy this book.

You don’t have to take my word for it though! From that master himseslf: “Best damn medical thriller I’ve read in 25 years. Terrifying OR scenes, characters with real texture.” ―Stephen King

You can’t get a higher honor than that!