Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (2000)

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The Goblet of Fire at HP World.

As I have mentioned before, several times, on this blog: I am a Harry Potter fanatic. I love the books, — they remain my seven favorite books of all time — I love the movies, I love The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And I am not alone in my HP fandom: my husband, all our sons, and many members of my extended family are fans as well…this is why we have had not one but TWO family reunions at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Recently, my husband, our two oldest sons, and three of our neighbors formed a team — GO TEAM EXPELLIARUMS! — to compete in a series of Harry Potter Trivia contests. Last Sunday, our team placed fifth overall in the competition and we have advanced to the finals in March. The competition is not for the causal Harry Potter fan but rather the super, Super-Fans and the questions are obscure and complex. In preparation for this next round of trivia questions, our entire team is doing a deep dive into the Harry Potter books and films. My first assignment was to re-read and take detailed notes on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Year Four at Hogwarts). Over the past few days I have done just that and, being reminded once again of my love for this book, decided to blog about it.

For those of you who might not have read the Harry Potter books yet I must ask: what in the world are you waiting for? Go out right now and read the first book and have the second book ready…once you finish Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone you will want to immediately begin the second book. However, if you have not read the books yet, read no further as this post contains many spoilers from the book!

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the book in the seven-book series in which the wizarding world that Harry has become a part of expands exponentially — in size, in scope, in complexity, and in danger. The events that unfold in the fourth book force Harry to look beyond the small corner of the wizarding world that he has inhabited for the past three years and begin to seen just how vast it really is. Over the course of the year, Harry comes to understand that Hogwarts and the UK represent only a fraction of the global wizard and witch community, along with a menagerie of magical creatures that exist as well. There is an entire universe of magic — with its differing customs, laws, and practices — that Harry discovers exists and his world-view bursts wide open.

This expansion of knowledge begins in the opening chapters with Harry’s trip to the Quidditch World Cup Finals; an international sporting event that witches and wizards from across the globe come to England to attend. His experience at the match — both traveling there, attending the game, and the experience of being around 100,000 wizards — reveals the complex underpinnings of the wizarding bureaucracy which, until that point, Harry had only a vague sense. He realizes that the Ministry of Magic has a huge job keeping the wizarding world a secret from muggles under ordinary circumstances, and it faces an almost impossible challenge of keeping their world a secret under extraordinary ones. Harry is amazed the learn of the magic needed to make the Quidditch World Cup happen — to build the stadium, to repel muggles from the area, coordinate visitors from around the world — and is thrilled by the new kinds of magic he sees while at the World Cup.

The events that take place during and after the Quidditch World Cup match also expose Harry to the complexities within the Ministry of Magic. Various departments exist with unique and difficult jobs — from regulating magical creatures to enforcing laws to protecting muggles — that are all critical to keep the world Harry loves so much running smoothly and safely. The Ministry is revealed both through its successes and its failures during the novel and Harry learns that while it is a necessary institution, he cannot rely on its officials to always act in his best interest — he must do that for himself.

Also of note in this installment is the expanding world of magical creatures that co-exist with the wizards. Not only does Harry meet more magical creatures than ever, he also learns about the complicated relationships many of them — house-elfs, goblins, giants, and others — have with humans. Exploitation, racism, ignorance are all very real threats for these non-human creatures and Harry must face the fact that wizards often chose to oppress their counterparts, rather than embrace them.

When the action moves back to Hogwarts castle the spirit of international competition continues when it is announced that the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a seven-hundred year old tradition, will be held at the school. Immediately, Harry and his classmates embark on a year that is unlike the previous three. Not only will castle host students and teachers from two other European schools for the duration of the year; but the three tasks of the Tri-Wizard Cup competition will be a central focus for students. These disruptions seem thrilling at first, but when Harry is chosen — in violation of all the rules — to be a fourth champion in the Cup, he suddenly finds himself in the middle of an international scandal. Soon Harry is caught up in whirlwind of espionage, cheating, deception, and danger.

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Tri-Wizard Cup at HP World, Universal FL.

Harry’s world, although never ordinary or boring, suddenly becomes much more sinister and the distant threat of death at the hands of his enemy, Lord Voldemort, grows into a much more real possibility as the year passes. Book four marks the first time that Harry must face his battles — real and imagined — on his own. As a Tri-Wizard cup competitor he is barred from receiving help from anyone and he must compete alone. It is brought home for Harry that he must shoulder the very real, very adult responsibility of taking care of those around him. He must be careful not to reveal his godfather’s whereabouts to the Ministry; he must reach out to the other competitors to warn them of danger; he must represent his school and his country in the competition; and he must protect the relationship he has built with his best friend Ron when it is threatened by rumors and jealousies. All of that pales in comparison, however, to the responsibility Harry must face in the book’s concluding chapters: he must face Lord Voldemort and his supporters and fight for his life. When he is successful, he must shoulder the burden of telling the world of the Dark Lord’s return…even when no one wants to believe it can be true.

I would be remiss in not adding one more concluding sentiment: Hermione Granger once again establishes herself as one of the most influential characters in the series. Her role as an advisor, an advocate, a caretaker, a researcher, and a brilliant teacher is critical to Harry’s success in the tournament and, it has to be argued, his ability to escape Voldemort with his life. Although Harry, as the titular character, is alone when he battles hand-to-hand with Voldemort and his supporters, it is the knowledge he learns from Hermione that allows him to survive. She is, in my opinion, the single most important factor in Harry’s many successes.

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Hermione’s dress to Yule Ball, at HP World, Universal.

All the photos are from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, in Orlando, Florida.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2016)

By J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

AUTHORS NOTE: As a long-time super-fan of the Harry Potter (HP) books, movies, and indeed the entire world surrounding them, I am very aware that writing about this book before fans have had a chance to read it for themselves is risky. I do not want in any way to spoil the story (which I have gone out of my way below to avoid, so much so that the post seems incomplete) or to in any way dampen the enjoyment of readers who are still waiting to complete it. JUST IN CASE, SKIP THIS POST, SUPER-FANS!

Before I discuss my thoughts on Cursed Child, I would like to make the case for not reading the book at all, even though it was enjoyable to once again be allowed inside the magical world of HP. If you are a patient fan, please consider waiting to see if Rowling releases a novelization of the story, because the lengthy stage notes and production information included in the text of this book greatly interfere with the story, almost to the point of complete distraction. Furthermore, if you are both a theater enthusiast and an HP fan, wait (and save up your money as tickets in the UK are going for thousands of dollars each!) and go see this stage production live! The book contains not only the story, but all of the stage directions as well, which will surely dilute the magical spectacle that the play will no doubt be. AGAIN, YOU CAN STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT TO RISK ANY SPOILERS!

 

platform 9 34Harry Potter and the Cursed Child takes place nineteen years after the final chapter of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; its opening scene parallels exactly the epilogue “Nineteen Years Later” from Deathly Hallows. From here, the play picks up the stories of Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny and, now, their children, who are beginning their own years at Hogwarts. From this opening scene on Platform 9 3/4, the story sets off on its wild, winding, path filled with plenty of familiar components to please fans, including familiar characters, locations, spells, and plot lines. Somehow, despite the fact that all of the elements of the HP books are present, nothing quite seems to come together and that breathless wonder of the original books is missing.

 

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Hogwarts Express at Universal Studios, FL.

The story quickly establishes itself as frantic and fragmented, veering wildly from story to story, crisis to crisis, profound to mundane. The end result is a series of stories that struggle to be compelling because they are all competing with one another and with the lengthy and intrusive stage directions. Even though the writers have tried to give us another HP story, Cursed Child feels more like a distant relative to the original books than the next generation. Indeed, I struggled to find much of JK Rowling’s signature voice in the story at all. Rather, it seems that she has lent her stories and imagination to the other authors, who attempted to craft a story in her style. According to a review by Kristina Grosspietsch on Mashable.com, “Whether you loved Harry Potter and the Cursed Child or wanted to stab it with a basilisk fang, it’s obvious right off the bat the tale is not really J.K. Rowling’s.”

All of those criticisms aside, I enjoyed reading the story. However, I did not enjoy reading about the story in the form of a play script; it was distracting and seemed to lessen the excitement of the story to see the “behind the scenes” information, not to mention that the format serves to steal the back-stage magic for fans who will be lucky enough to see the stage production in the future.

The bottom-line is this: for a family of super-fans, it seemed next to impossible not to read this book; we all agreed that it would be unimaginable to pass up a chance of reading about these beloved characters one more time. Despite the things we disliked about Cursed Child, my husband, children, and I decided that we would, as my son put it, “take what we could get,” as we are unlikely to be able to afford tickets to the stage production if it ever makes its way to us.

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Hogwarts Castle at Universal Studios, FL. All pictures taken by my family on our vacation in January 2016.

Read Kristina Grosspietsch’s fhttp://mashable.com/2016/08/17/harry-potter-cursed-child-female-characters/#u44nU9lgQGqz

 

 

 

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (2012)

 

“Pagford Parish Council was, for its size, an impressive force. Any attempts to cut its budget, annex any of its powers, or absorb it into some newfangled unitary authority had been strenuously and successfully resisted for decades. Of all the local councils, Pagford prided itself on the the most obstreperous, the most vocal, the most independent… Yet this amicably appointed body was currently in a state of civil war. An issue that had been causing fury and resentment in Pagford for sixty-odd years had reached a definitive phase, and factions had rallied behind two charismatic leaders.”

Despite previous, failed attempts to read The Casual Vacancy, I have found myself under its spell for the past few days. It is a gorgeously written novel that really allows Rowling’s mastery of fiction writing to shine. However, I can understand why fans of J.K. Rowling have shied away from the book, especially following her tremendous success with the Harry Potter series. While the book’s writing is undoubtedly among the best I’ve read in years, the story itself is challenging to delve into, both because of its very adult content (very adult: these characters dig down deep and show their very darkest, scariest selves to readers) and the fact that the plot centers around a very dry subject, namely city-level politics and small-town dynamics. After reading Rowling’s writing as Robert Galbraith in the Comoran Strike novels (the three most outstanding murder mystery novels I have ever read http://wp.me/p6N6mT-1l ), I find it is much easier to delve into and appreciate the talent on display in this novel. Readers willing to set aside their potential discomfort for the subject matter will undoubtedly be rewarded with an outstanding novel.

Rowling presents all sides — interior and exterior — of her characters to the reader and, as a result, paints an extraordinary portrait of each of them. She exposes everything, holds nothing back, laying each character bare: their every impure thought is exposed, every deep hatred and long-held jealousy is revealed, but along with these flaws, readers are also shown their heartbreaking vulnerability and life-long struggles. No matter the character, Rowling expertly presents them, down to the tiniest detail. Whether she is narrating the perspective of a self-loathing teen, an desperately unhappy housewife, a shell-shocked widow, or a mentally-ill man losing his grip on reality, Rowling never gives readers any reason to doubt their authenticity; she completely embodies each and every one of them perfectly. It is these character portrayals that make the story soar.

Using these many, varied narrators to paint a portrait of the town of Pagford, England, Rowling is able to get under the sheen of British decorum that each character attempts to present and to expose the simmering race and class tensions that threaten to ignite at any moment. At first small resentments, most centering around local politics and issues surrounding nearby residents who live on government assistance, begin to grow and quickly unravel into full-fledged battles between the town’s residents. No one is willing to relent, nor are they willing to discuss openly the real issues that underlie their fury.

These tensions lead to consequences that change the lives all of the book’s characters, some in large and other in small ways. Readers are left with the clear impression that recent events have left the town scarred but possibly able to redeem itself.

If you are a fan of J.K. Rowling, or simply a fan of wonderful, intelligent writing, you should absolutely read this novel.

JK Rowling Casual Vacancy

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling

Illustrated Edition (2015) Artwork by Jim Kayhp 1

On the eve of my family’s departure to Universal Studios Orlando to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I thought it only fitting to blog about the incomparable Harry Potter books, specifically Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Illustrated Edition.  For Christmas, we received new edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and it is absolutely gorgeous. One of our family’s most beloved stories seems fully renewed in this illustrated edition. In addition to the beautiful pictures by artist Jim Kay, the book also boasts a much larger size and has exceedingly high-quality presentation: gorgeous heavy duty high-gloss paper, well-bound hard back, and with enough heft to seem very important indeed.

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This book is one to be curled up and read aloud, to be handled delicately, and to be treated as an heirloom rather than just another paperback to jam on the bookshelf. In fact, we did just that, we bundled up on the couch and started reading it as a family on Christmas night.

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For those who have managed to avoid reading the Harry Potter books so far — or for those who decided they would wait to read it to their children when the time was right — I strongly recommend starting with the illustrated version. The story comes to life not only through JK Rowling’s amazing words but also now through the pictures of Jim Kay. In it, we travel from Surrey to London to Hogwarts Castle along side young Harry Potter and experience the amazing world of magic with him.

You can find a complete review of the first Harry Potter novel here: https://www.nytimes.com/books/99/02/14/reviews/990214.14childrt.html

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These stories really are among the best books I have ever read and they have become a major part of the lives of my children, my husband, and I and we were thrilled to get this illustrated version and discover another way to celebrate that love.

I will be back to work posting on the blog in about two weeks!

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (2015)

Cormoran Strike Novel #3 Read my brief mention of the first two books in this series in my October 9, 2015 post here: http://wp.me/p6N6mT-B and there is a full review of The Cuckoo’s Calling on this blog here http://wp.me/p6N6mT-Xx

To say that I was thrilled when my husband picked us up a brand new copy of the new Cormoran Strike book, Career of Evil, would be a huge understatement. I was ecstatic! This series – British PI murder mysteries written by the incomparable JK Rowling, using the alias Robert Galbraith – is simply not to be missed by fans of the genre or fans of the author. (Forgiving her that awkward book, A Causal Vacancy, which displayed enormous talent but was populated with stories and character’s that were unlikable and almost all heartbreaking. A review of it can be found here: http://wp.me/p6N6mT-Md )

Before reviewing, I would like to point out that while you could read this book on its own — since Galbraith’s wonderful writing makes for a thrilling mystery even without the back story — you should absolutely read the previous two books in the series (in order!) Skipping those books would deprive you not only of the reading of two thrilling tales written by a master storyteller, but also of the chance to participate in the slowly unraveling stories of the series’ hero and heroine, Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott.

The story opens with the stalwart private investigator, Cormoran Strike, a self-described “fat bastard,” an ex-boxer with the body of a man “who smokes too much and eats too much fast food, who wears a permanent expression of crossness.” He is keeping afloat a small private investigation business with the help of his beautiful, savvy assistant, Robin Ellacott. Robin has eschewed a more profitable career in accounting to study surveillance, self-defense, and investigative tactics under Strike. The two work side-by-side solving their clients’ crises, keeping up their platonic relationship. However, there are undercurrents of attraction between the two (readers of the series will be thrilled to learn that Robin is still has not married that tosser Matthew at the start of this book.)

The newest case for the pair comes not from a client but from a gruesome package containing a severed human leg that is delivered to Robin at the end of Chapter Two. Although the leg comes addressed to Robin, Strike is immediately certain that the package is meant as a message for both of them…as a threat against Robin and a riddle for Strike to solve. The package and its accompanying letter lead Strike to zero in on four men he knows from his past, each a likely murderer. Reluctantly, he begins to sift through his past (time spent as a neglected child, an army recruit, a military investigator) for hints at the package’s sender. “His vague memories of the past had weakened, no doubt by his deliberate attempts to forget,” but the arrival of the package means “now the memories were rising to bite him as though he had trodden on a nest of sleeping snakes.”

Galbraith has once again delivered a novel true to its murder mystery roots while offering readers so much more than another formulaic read. Skillfully moving between Strike’s, Robin’s and the murderer’s points-of-view, Galbraith delivers us a modern story that is filled with wit and intelligence and populated with full-bodied characters that we quickly come to know so well. One beautifully crafted sentence follows another, sketching out in perfect detail the past and present lives of the characters – of large and small importance to the story – and the places they each inhabit.

Curling up with a book as good as this one is one of life’s greatest pleasures. There is nothing as euphoric as being unable to put down a fabulous book. Enthralled, I lugged the (not insubstantial) book everywhere for the two days, ignoring my errands, my work, and even my children — with in reason…they were playing on the playground or in their rooms with Legos) to find out how the story would end. Heavenly!

NOTE: This book, as is true of all murder mystery novels, contains graphic (although not gratuitous) depictions of murder as well as some graphic very sexual content. This story marks a much darker theme than the first two Cormoran Strike novels, but it is nonetheless outstanding. This is NOT a book for young adults, even though the author is JK Rowling.

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