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

Never lets you down

Rereading this for the first time after twenty years (I’m not a huge rereader), I can say that there were scenes I’d very much forgotten, and other scenes that have stuck with me, but mostly because of the film. I now have Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid permanently in my head every time he appears. Which isn’t necessary a bad thing, but does show how much film can affect reading. Of course, all the other main characters have their images in my mind because of the film, too. Although Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry actually didn’t deviate so much from the cover images, anyway.

Some particular scenes that were now easier to visualise because of the film were when Harry spoke to the snake at the zoo and “helped” him escape. Yet I can’t believe I had totally forgotten exactly how Hagrid found Harry! Oh, and the pig’s tail – how on Earth could I forget that? Less important scenes, of course, I really forgot about Vernon’s obsession with drills. But little things like that just disappear so quickly when you get into the bulk of the story – Harry.

It’s hard to imagine the shy boy wearing over-sized hand-me-downs turning into the trainee wizard that defeats Voldemort once again… And how that pale skinny boy next to him at the fitting turns into a school bully with a lineage that openly supported Voldemort, claiming they were “brainwashed” or something similar.

We’ve got a book with quite a cast of characters, who’ve become our neighbours and friends throughout the years. Yet when rereading it’s easy to see what enticed us into the pages in the first place – a complex but fun story that, despite the bullying, is so easy to understand and connect with. There is so much going on here, yet it’s so easy to read! It doesn’t matter if you’re a child or adult, because the story is so engaging, you just don’t get bored.

But back to the bullying for a moment – it actually shocked me a little how much of it there is. Dursley uses Harry as his favourite punchbag… Kids are like that, but it is somewhat frightening it being so visual like that.

Good and bad aside, you just can’t help but love it anyway. A three-headed dog, that sleeps to music. Trying to save Hagrid from his pet dragon (and the consequences of obtaining the egg in the first place). Wizard’s Chess, life size! It’s like these kids were born to get into trouble, and are adept at doing it, without too much trouble, all with Dumbledore’s sly encouragement (he did, after all, give Harry his father’s invisibility cloak).

Really, many have said other things, and I guess I could go on forever. But, best stop here, and ready myself for the next adventure.

Final rating: ★★★★★ – Loved it/couldn’t put it down

Behind Picketwire by M. Day Hampton

Not your usual love story

This book is going to be complicated to review, for the simple fact that it is too easy to give away spoilers. Indeed, especially towards the end, even the tiniest detail is a spoiler!

But I will start with this – as soon as Red had his fall, this was one of the few times that I wanted to skip to the end, to see what happened to him. I resisted the urge and in many ways I’m glad I did, as the ending is too strong and would have spoilt the rest. Instead, I stuck with it, with Red and the dog(s) (minor spoiler), on their journey through the wilderness.

In some ways, this could be classified as Dystopian – a world where people, law, order, the modern world, has all disappeared. It’s like a One Man and His Dog version of The Land Before Time. There’s just the wilderness, with all of nature as it once was and could be again.

So, considering it all, even before starting, we know that Red has to be in some dream-like state. Is it a coma? Is he already dead? Will he wake up? All those questions are hard to tell, as the book trundles slowly on. And yes, I did find it a slow read. I think probably because for the first part of the book, it did move slowly. It makes it hard in that the only dialogue is between Red and his dog, or random into the wilderness, or memories. Yes, there are many flashbacks, that help us understand Red better as he starts to understand himself better, too, from his childhood to more recent memories. He sees his triumphs, but he also sees his faults, and wonders why he couldn’t have been a better person at the moments when it mattered. He knows that he cared in those moments, yet was unable to show it better. Regrets, yet rediscovering the love that he moves forward to refind.

Not everything goes to plan in the wilderness. When he does finally set off, with such certainty of where he has to go, where he will find his wife again, between disasters and durability, he somehow finds his way forward.

Once you get into the final thirty percent of the book, the ending can be seen coming. Yet, somehow, you still hope for more.

So, we know what happens to Red, right at the end, yet what about Jake? And who was his coyote companion, he named Lady?

Another note is that there are Christian elements throughout, but in such a casual way as to not be overbearing. I appreciate a book that can give insights into someone’s religious, or semi-religious life, without trying to preach to you or force it down your throat (unfortunately I’ve had a few of the bad kind of late). This is pretty safe for anyone, no matter their spiritual- or non-beliefs.

On the whole, this is a book that deserves forbearance. When the emotional moments come, they are overpowering. In between is a journey that is far more than it first seems.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

Burn the Dark by S.A. Hunt

Poor Start to Near-Epic Finish

This book started off with a bunch of bad sayings, that made no sense whatsoever. Well, it was a review copy, so may have been updated by the time the book was released, but there is nothing more off putting (well, perhaps there is) than a bunch of author-created nonsensical sayings.

But, once I got into the book, despite the horror edge to the story, I actually quite enjoyed it. A few laughs, a few gory moments. A few excellent characters to top it off, with a few interweaving storylines.

The witches themselves are devious. And there is just something not right about that house… Yet Robin manages to go back to where she grew up and find out more about her past than she could have wished for, gaining a handful of trusty sidekicks along the way.

I might not understand much about the background or culture (typical Brit trying to watch US TV dramas and failing to get the context), but all in all it wasn’t bad at all.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*