Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by various parties

911Xmhn9+rLHarry Potter and the Cursed Child

by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne; based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling

Being a late-blooming Harry Potter devotee (I only finally read the HP series a couple of years ago), I was ambivalent about reading The Cursed Child for various reasons.  But, like four million other readers, I got the book as soon as it was released.  Unlike a lot of those readers who read the entire book in a couple of hours, though (two of my kids among them), it took me a week to get through it.  And it wasn’t a very enjoyable week, either.

The plot in a nutshell:

The Cursed Child opens exactly where The Deathly Hallows closed: with Harry and Ginny, and Ron and Hermione at Platform 9 3/4, sending their firstborn off to Hogwarts.  Harry and his eldest son, Albus, have a strained relationship.  Albus is a sullen teen, tortured by his father’s fame, blah blah blah.  Albus becomes besties with Draco’s son, Scorpius while at Hogwarts.  They get ahold of a Time Turner and decide to mess with the past.  We get lots of flashbacks to scenes in the original (real) Harry Potter books, mainly The Goblet of Fire.

I’ll just be blunt: I hated this book.

First of all, it’s actually a play (as if you didn’t know), not a novel like the previous Harry Potter books.  Plays are great!  I adore theater.  But plays are not fun to read.  Reading a play is reading a script – and stage directions.  Unlike a novel, there is no narrator – no first person, third person omniscient, or any other type of narrator who allows the reader to get inside the minds and hearts of the characters and become intimate with setting and plot.  A play reads rather like a robot.

Furthermore, the plot of this particular story is confusing (it involves a Time Turner, and so there is lots of going back and forth in time, and I found it hard to keep track of when in time any particular scene was).

The storyline is also contrived.  It was just … meh.  I felt no suspense, no drama (both of which I think I was supposed to feel).  The plot just cranked along on this weird track.

The characters!  They feel like imposters!  I understand that they’re all 19 years older, and people (sort of) change as they grow older, but Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Draco all seem completely reimagined to me.  And I didn’t like any of them!

Probably the biggest problem – and the cause for all of its other failings – is that this story was NOT written by J.K. Rowling, and it shows.  Oh, I know her name is on it, but what it says on the cover is “BASED ON AN ORIGINAL NEW STORY BY J.K. ROWLING.”  It’s no secret that what this story actually is is fan fiction.  My understanding is that Rowling wanted to promote British theater, and lent her name to the project mainly for that purpose.  Had this story – or any eighth installment to the Harry Potter series – actually been written by J.K. Rowling, it would have undoubtedly looked, read, and felt much different.

I’m all for theater, but I wish this particular story had never been published.  And as a HP purist, I cannot accept it as a genuine part of the Harry Potter canon.  So Ima just pretend it doesn’t exist, and the story ended with The Deathly Hallows.

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

51hy+GbenKL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Career of Evil

by Robert Galbraith

J.K. Rowling – er, I mean Robert Galbraith – is hitting her/his stride in the detective/crime novel.  Career of Evil is the third installment in the Cormoran Strike crime series, and I loved it.

A man is on the loose in London, murdering and hacking women to pieces.  Career of Evil opens as a woman’s severed leg is delivered to Strike’s office, addressed to his partner, Robin.  Whomever the killer is has Robin in his sights, and seems determined to ruin Strike’s business and reputation by attempting to direct suspicion at him for the grisly crimes.  What ensues is, similar to Galbraith’s previous two Cormoran Strike novels, Strike and Robin following obscure leads and hunches trying to catch the killer, while the police department bungles the official investigation.

Meanwhile, Robin becomes more and more conflicted about her upcoming nuptials to her handsome but jealous and condescending fiance, Matthew.  To complicate matters further, Robin’s and Strike’s working relationship continues to evolve, and there are now, not surprisingly, growing feelings of affection on the part of each of them.

Despite the grisly subject matter that actually gave me nightmares at least once while I was listening to the audio version (which is excellent, by the way; check it out on Audible), I thoroughly enjoyed this whodunnit.  I was pretty sure I had the identity of the killer nailed as soon as he was introduced, but it was still fun to watch the clues unfold.  As for Cormoran and Robin, it’s of course predictable that when there are a male and a female lead character, certain feelings will develop between the two.  However, Galbraith/Rowling is doing a superb job of demonstrating restraint in the evolution of that relationship, and not allowing it to overpower the story.

This is the best of the series thus far.  I’ve become pretty invested in the characters now, and felt that familiar twinge of sadness and disappointment common to bibliophiles when the last page of a much enjoyed book comes to an end.  I want more!  I hope we don’t have to wait too long for the next installment.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

8582761 The Silkworm (A Cormoran Strike Novel)

by Robert Galbraith

This, the second book in J.K. Rowlings’s new series, again stars private detective Cormoran Strike.  Eight months after solving the Lula Landry murder case (and making asses out of the police), business is rolling in.  Strike no longer sleeps in his office but now has a real bed in an attic flat above his office.  Okay, still humble, but it suits the gruff bachelor just fine.  Most of his clients are suspicious boyfriends and divorcees looking to serve their own personal gain in some way.  One day, though, a mousy middle-aged woman with no money to speak of arrives unannounced in Strike’s office and asks him to find her missing husband.  Strike is moved by the purity of her request; she’s not after money or revenge, she just wants her husband to come home.  She believes him to just be in hiding, as the egotistical writer is sometimes wont to do.

And so begins an investigation the likes of which Strike has never seen, and when the missing writer is found dead, the victim of what appears to be an elaborately carried out, almost ceremonial murder, the stakes become much higher.  The police quickly settle on the writer’s widow as his murderer, and Strike’s determination to find the real killer is hampered by the police and the fact that he actually has no real standing to continue an investigation into a matter which the police has decided is closed.  Besides, the police are none too happy with Strike after he showed them up in the well-publicized Landry case – they’re not about to let that happen again.

Meanwhile, Strike’s assistant Robin is determined to become more than just Strike’s secretary.  Detective work is her calling, she feels – but the very fact that she works for Strike is causing a great deal of friction between her and her fiance, Matthew.  This friction is giving Robin pause about whether marrying Matthew is what she should do after all.  She laments the fact that Strike doesn’t appear to see her real potential.

Although I enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling, I liked this book more.  I think Rowling is finding her voice as a murder mystery writer, and this story seemed a little more honed than the last.  She introduces the reader to a cast of suspects who each very well could be the killer, leaving the reader guessing.  As with The Cuckoo’s Calling, I did not expect the killer to be who the killer was.  Although the murdered, when revealed, suddenly seems a little like a ridiculous caricature, it still made for a satisfying surprise.  Strike and Robin have definitely grown on me – I enjoyed the developing dynamics of their relationship.

I’m looking forward to the next whodunnit Rowling has up her sleeve.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

16160797 The Cuckoo’s Calling (A Cormoran Strike Novel)

by Robert Galbraith

Gah!  I have been having such a hard time finding time to read lately!

This book, written by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith (my understanding is that she wanted to see if she could write something that would sell without the benefit of her famous name; she could.  The book apparently sold very well before the cat was let out of the bag as to the real author) and published in 2013, is a classic private-eye/murder mystery novel.

Private detective Cormoran Strike, Afghanistan war hero and amputee, recently thrown out by his long-time girlfriend and living in his office, is in a bad place personally and professionally.  He can’t pay his bills and has no clients to speak of – until John Bristow arrives in his shabby office one day offering Strike a load of money to reinvestigate the death of his super model sister, the famous Lula Landry – “Cuckoo” to her friends – deemed a suicide by the police.  Strike is hesitant to take the case because it does appear so clearly to have been suicide, but the promise of sums that might dig him a long way out of the financial hole he’s in convinces him to accept Bristow’s offer.  What begins as mostly humoring the dead woman’s brother quickly turns into something else altogether.  What really happened that cold, snowy night when the ethereally beautiful and young Miss Landry fell to her death from a fourth story balcony?

As Strike works his way through interviews of relevant witnesses and interested parties, everybody begins to look like a possible suspect; everyone seems to have had a motive to end Lula’s life.  The story takes some interesting turns, and although I found the conclusion to be somewhat unlikely, I still found the story to be engaging and enjoyable.  There were some holes in the story, I thought, although I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t read it, so I’ll leave it at that.

Rowling/Galbraith does a wonderful job, as always, of creating vivid characters that come to live on the pages.  I love that Cormoran Strike is not strikingly handsome nor debonair, but flawed in his physicality and psyche; these qualities make him likeable and real.  His assistant, Robin, who literally stumbles into her job with Strike, is also an admirable and integral character.

I’m looking forward to the second installment in this series, The Silkworm.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Kkhp7-lg Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)
by J.K. Rowling

You’ll have to excuse me; I’m in mourning.  You see, I finished the final installment of the Harry Potter series last night.  With tissues in hand and tears streaming down my face, I turned the final page.

In this, the seventh installment, Harry and company are seventeen and should be entering their final year at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft.  But there will be no seventh year at Hogwarts, because the wizarding world is at war with Voldemort and his Death Eaters.  The Ministry of Magic has been infiltrated and taken over by the Dark Lord’s soldiers, and Harry is on the run – frantically trying to fulfill the mission left to him by Dumbledore, after a surprisingly somewhat touching parting with the Dursleys.  All Harry has left in the world is what he has learned at Hogwarts and through his own trial and error, ingenuity, and perseverance – and the love and loyalty of his friends.  Is it enough to see him through to a victorious end?  Well, I won’t give it away.  I will say that, with six books behind me, I couldn’t imagine any more twists or turns to Harry’s odyssey, but I was left with my jaw hanging once again.  The final battle scene is intense, and although in the end, the story wraps up neatly, I felt a little emotionally drained – in a good way.

I am left with a number of questions, which, I’m sure, either don’t have answers, or whose answers probably could be found with a little digging:

  • What ever happened to Harry’s grandparents – why didn’t they raise him rather than his aunt and uncle?
  • Who pays Muggle-born students’ tuition to Hogwarts?  It’s not as if Muggle parents budget for the possibility of their children being witches or wizards and therefore requiring magical education at a unique and prestigious magical boarding school.
  • For that matter, how did the Weasleys afford tuition for SEVEN children at Hogwarts?  I mean, they barely made ends meet.
  • How in the heck do the powers-that-be convince Muggle parents that their child is, in fact, a wizard or witch, and needs to be taken away by strangers to go be educated at a far off magical boarding school?
  • Who pays the salaries of the teaching staff at Hogwarts?
  • Why are none of the professors at Hogwarts married, and why do none of them appear to have children of their own?
  • How is it that once witches and wizards reach eleven years old, they are immersed in magical education but cease “traditional” education – no more math, literature, geography, spelling, etc.

I also have to say that with everything Harry went through – with all the terrible losses he sustained, the torture and injuries, there is just no way he wouldn’t be completely and utterly tweaked, am I right?  But I know, it’s just a kid’s story, and we prefer our heroes resilient and well-balanced.  Also, after seven years of high adventure and danger, I don’t think there is any way Harry Potter could have gone on to live a sedate, steady life with a wife and kids.  I can’t picture it.  At the very least, he would have become Minister of Magic . . . or Headmaster of Hogwarts.

But we, the readers, are left to imagine Harry’s future for ourselves, I suppose.

In any case, I grew far more attached to the characters populating these books than I ever imagined possible – and I truly loved the adventures and the story from beginning to end.  I am serious when I say that I feel a sense of loss to have finished the series; it feels like saying goodbye to old friends.  Part of me wants to take up the first book again, just to bring it all back.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)
by J.K. Rowling

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this, but for years I steered clear of the Harry Potter series.  My oldest son, now 17, started the series when he was in second grade and has since read the series in its entirety probably a dozen times, and for years he urged me to read it, and I resisted.  I resisted even when all of my grown-up friends were reading it and raving about it.  I had ZERO interest in a children’s fantasy series, and honestly couldn’t understand why everyone and their brother seemed to be so enamored with a kids’ book series which I vaguely understood to be about wizards.  It wasn’t until I read J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy last summer (and loved) that I decided that reading Rowling’s other work might be worth a shot.  And even then, when I finally picked up the first book in the Harry Potter series, I could not have imagined how invested I would become in the characters and story of Harry Potter.  I get it now.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince takes us back to Hogwarts once again.  Harry, tortured but ever resilient, is sixteen years old now, and Voldemort and his Death Eaters are on the loose.  Something fishy is going on with Draco Malfoy and Professor Snape, and Harry is determined to find out what, exactly, they are up to – but nobody, not even Dumbledore, will take Harry’s suspicions seriously.  Quite by happenstance, an old, marked-up textbook lands in Harry’s hands that allows Harry to excel at Potions; this old textbook claims ownership by a mysterious self-proclaimed “Half-Blood Prince.”  Who was the Half-Blood Prince, and how and why did he create the secret spells and potions contained in the margins of this old school book?

In the midst of learning to apparate, trying to solve the mystery of the Half-Blood Prince and Malfoy’s suspicious activities, and meeting with Professor Dumbledore for private trips into the past via the Pensieve to learn everything he can about Voldemort, Harry is also very much a typical teenager who is feeling the first stirrings of romantic love.  Can he betray his best friend to go after the girl he wants?

Rowling does a fabulous job of taking the story line down more mature paths as the characters mature.  The story has become darker and more sinister, more grown-up, and more adventurous.  The end of this book left me reeling – and bawling my eyes out.

Harry Potter And the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

harry-potter-order-of-the-phoenix-kazu-kibuishi-coverHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)
by J.K. Rowling

This, the fifth book of the Harry Potter series (which I was never going to read), might be the best so far.

Harry and his cohorts are fifteen now, and full of teenaged piss and vinegar.  I am very much appreciating the character development as the series progresses, with the characters growing and maturing along with the original readers of the series.  I’m also appreciating the fact that for a hero, Harry is in most ways a typical, angsty teen prone to fits of temper and acts of rebellion.

The Dark Lord is back, but the Ministry of Magic is in complete denial about it.  Instead, Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic, is convinced that Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of WizardryIMG_3455 and Witchcraft, is conspiring to push Fudge out and take the position of Minister of Magic himself.  Fudge installs one Dolores Umbridge at Hogwarts to ensure that the school is being run up to snuff in the eyes of the Ministry, and under her direction, Hogwarts goes to hell in a handbasket.

The power struggle between Fudge and Dumbledore – purely a product of Fudge’s imagination – is, unfortunately, a terrible distraction from the real problem at hand – the return of Voldemort.

Meanwhile, Harry is painted as a lying, attention-seeking, addle-brained adolescent by the Ministry and the Daily Prophet newspaper, and Harry suffers being treated more and more like an outcast by his peers at Hogwarts.

The bonds forged between the characters is a beautiful thing – between Harry, Ron and Hermione, between Hagrid and Harry, between Sirius and Harry, between Dumbledore and Harry.  Though more and more an outcast, Harry has some big supporters.  Still, he is a boy in adolescence, a boy in a suspended state of grief, a boy with no real place to call home.

I loved this book.  Hopefully it won’t be too long before I can get to the next one, although I’m already finding myself sad that there are only two more books left in the series.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

kkhp4 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4)
by J.K. Rowling

Things are getting heavier at Hogwarts in this, the fourth installment, of J.K. Rowlings’s Harry Potter series.  Harry and his cohorts are now fourteen-year old fourth years at the school of witchcraft and wizardry, and their adventures are becoming more mature, and laced with not a little teen angst.

The story rolls out with the Weasleys appearing in the Dursleys’ fireplace to retrieve Harry in order to attend the Quidditch World Cup – and you know how the Dursleys feel about magic and magical people.  The guests are not well-received by the Dursleys, to say the least.  But Harry is, as ever, glad to make his departure from his aunt and uncle’s house after another tortuous summer break spent with them.

At the World Cup game, a melee ensues after the Dark Mark appears in the sky, warning of Lord Voldemort’s imminent return.  Is it a hoax?  Nobody seems to know for sure.

Back at Hogwarts, an announcement is made that a Triwizard Tournament will be held for the first time in many years – and will be hosted by Hogwarts.  The Triwizard Tournament is a contest of three tasks, spread over the course of many months, in which the contestants – traditionally three students, one from each of the European wizarding schools – must exhibit bravery and skill to win the Triwizard cup.  Because of the dangerous nature of the tasks and the level of wizarding know-how necessary to compete, students under the age of seventeen are prohibited from entering their name into the Goblet of Fire – the magical goblet that chooses the contestants.  Somebody puts Harry’s name in the goblet, however – somebody who wants Harry dead.  The goblet chooses the three contestants from the different schools . . . and then also chooses Harry to compete (of course – you didn’t think this whole book would just be about Harry observing the contest, did you?).

Well, I won’t spoil the rest for you, in case you haven’t read it.  Suffice to say that high adventure abounds, and the adventures are growing darker.  In this book, Harry definitely turns a certain corner of maturity – thanks both to his age and the events he is subjected to.

I’m not ashamed to say that I turned the final page of this book with a few tears.

I’ve got quite a few other books to read over the next few weeks, but hopefully it won’t be too long before I get to the fifth Harry Potter book.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Harry_Potter_and_the_Prisoner_of_Azkaban_(US_cover) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
by J.K. Rowling

Okay, I’m hooked.  Satisfied?

In this, the third installment of the famous Harry Potter series, Harry enters his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – but not before another dramatic exit from his Muggle family’s home, involving the blowing up of an aunt.

Harry is yet again the target of evil forces – this time the evil forces are embodied by one Sirius Black, former best friend of Harry’s deceased parents, believed cohort of Lord Voldemort, and thrown into Azkaban – the hardcorest of hardcore prisons – twelve years ago after allegedly killing thirteen people with a single curse.  Now Black has escaped Azkaban and is believed to be on the hunt for Harry.

Meanwhile, Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper, has been installed as a teacher at Hogwarts of the Care and Keeping of Magical Creatures class.  Only, something goes awry during the very first class he teaches, setting off a chain of events that will culminate in . . . well, you have to read it for yourself if you haven’t already.

Two things:

1.  Harry is a bit of a pain in the ass!  His life is constantly in danger, and all these people are constantly going to great lengths to keep him safe, and he thumbs his nose at all of them in the name of seeking adventure and having a good time.  Don’t get me wrong – I like Harry, and I know he’s a good egg whose character will grow and develop over the course of the series as he matures, but sometimes I want to smack him upside the head.

2.  I am completely smitten with Hagrid.  That is all.

I enjoyed this book immensely, although I felt the last third of it or so dragged a bit – but overall, a rollicking good story.  I’ve been watching the movies with my two oldest boys as I finish each book, and this particular movie is my oldest son’s favorite of all of them, apparently.  I thought it was well done, but somewhat disappointed in how much of the story was left out.

In any case, I probably won’t get to the fourth book for a while, as I am currently committed to reading several other books over the next month or two – but I will get to it as soon as I can!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

9780439064873_p0_v1_s260x420 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book 2)
by J.K. Rowling

Okay, I get it now – the appeal of the Harry Potter series.  All these years, I’ve thought, “I’m not interested in a children’s series.  I’m not interested in wizards and fantasy.”  But I get it now.

The first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, left off with Harry and his Hogwarts friends returning home for summer break after their first year at the school of wizardry and witchcraft.  In this, the second book of the series, the story opens with summer break coming to an end – and not a moment too soon for Harry, who has spent a miserable few weeks with his adoptive Muggle family, the Dursleys.  Harry is visited in his bedroom by a house elf, who warns Harry not to return to Hogwarts – but returning to Hogwarts is what Harry longs for more than anything.  After a dramatic rescue from the Dursleys by the Weasleys in an enchanted car, Harry does return to Hogwarts and embarks on a new year of wizard education, and a new adventure.

Residents of Hogwarts keep turning up petrified – the first a cat, which is found under the ominous message scrawled on the wall of the corridor:


And so the rumors and questions begin swirling: Slytherin . . . Where is the Chamber of Secrets?  Who is the Heir?  Who is petrifying Hogwarts inhabitants?

When Harry becomes a prime suspect, he is determined to get to the bottom of the Chamber of Secrets – and get to the bottom of it he does.

Told with humor and just the right amount of suspense and intrigue, I was hooked, and finally closed the book feeling satisfied.  I’m eager to get back to Harry and his friends at Hogwarts – but, as I’m committed to several other books at the moment, they’ll have to wait.  Hopefully not for too long!