Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling (2000)

During the past week, with its snow and rain and cold, everyone in my house has been reaching for cozy, comforting books to read in front of the fire. My youngest son wanted to listen to an audio-book as a whole family and he picked Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire read by the incomparable Jim Dale, in my opinion the best audio-book narrator of all time. This review was originally posted in February 2017, but it bares re-posting. Enjoy!

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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 fourth book in the seven-book series in which the wizarding world that Harry Potter 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 exists and Harry’s 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 (with wizards flying on brooms scoring goals) 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 Orlando. (My photo)

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 himself and 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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Of Blood and Bone by Nora Roberts (2018)

Chronicles of The One series, Book #2. Book #1 reviewed here https://wp.me/p6N6mT-32W

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In this sequel to Nora Robert’s Year One — both part of her fantasy series the Chronicles of The One — readers return to post-apocalyptic America. Of Blood and Bone takes place twelve years after the Doom as killed most people on earth, revealing the presence of magical beings living alongside humans. Survivors have returned to living off the land, scavenging for the few supplies left after the outbreak, and protecting what precious resources are left. To make their situation even more precarious, the survivors have splintered into factions — communities of magical and non-magical beings who coexist; religious extremists who want to exterminate magical people; dark magical beings who want to kill humans and peaceful magical people; a violent gang that kills all non-members for sport; and a brutal “government” that wants to experiment on magical beings — which are all engaged in a violent war with one another.

Hope has been placed in a prophecy that tells of the coming of a warrior, a woman and witch who will be called The One, who will unite all of the peaceful people of the world to overthrow their enemies and start the rebuilding of civilization. The One is Fallon Swift, a girl born in the first year after the Doom. Now a teenager, Fallon leaves her home and family to travel with her protector and teacher to study for more than two years to become a warrior. Using magic and might, she slowly works to gain the broad set of skills she will need to fight her enemies.

Once she is deemed ready, she sets out to build her army one person at a time. Hindered by her age and her sex, she must painstaking convince survivors she is The One and she is capable of leading them to battle…and to victory. With her family now at her side and her growing army of survivors ready to fight for a better world, she returns to New Hope the town established in book one, Year One, to ask the men and women there to join her as she prepares to take on the world.

Roberts has written an engaging fantasy novel that has elements you world expect from the genre: magic, drama, intrigue, mystery, and even romance. It seems worth sticking with the series to see how Fallow Swift and her army fairs in the battle of good verses evil.

Look Alive Twenty-Five by Janet Evanovich (2018)

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I hate to admit it, but Stephanie Plum is showing her age. Twenty-four years* after her debut in Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money, not much has changed for our well-meaning but inept bounty hunter. She still lives paycheck to paycheck, she still bungles most of the jobs she takes on, and she still in relationships with two men (who show exquisite patience in her stringing them both along.) That said, I did read Twenty-five \all the way through and found a few things to chuckle about along the way and I still root for Stephanie and Lula to get it right this time: solve the case, catch the bad guys, and make the money.

Installment twenty-five finds Stephanie the unwilling manager of a deli that has been the scene of three mysterious disappearances. She agrees to both work in the deli and act as bait for whoever is kidnapping employees. When she is not hoping to get snatched by a lunatic, she and her side-kick Lula are searching for criminals who have skipped out on court appearances…always poorly and mostly unsuccessfully.

In Twenty-Five, Stephanie seems to be fatigued to still be living this dead-end life. She longs, wistfully, for days that do not involve criminals or dead bodies. More so than in past books in this series, Stephanie’s lethargy and unhappiness clearly resonate.

Reading this book, I cannot help but feel that it is time for Evanovich to change the formula of the series and for Stephanie to change the formula of her life. It would be invigorating for our heroine to chose to do her job better. Why not have Steph hit the gym, get buff, and start kicking ass on her own? Why not have her learn to take down the bad guys without relying on men to do it for her?

At the very least, it seems time for our heroine to be bold: chose a new job, pick a man, and make some permanent decisions that allow the series to grow and change. I doubt she can survive another stale retelling of essentially the same story.

*Note to readers: Stephanie has not aged twenty-four years in the story-line, but rather closer to ten years.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny (2018)

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One of my favorite book characters of all time, Armand Gamache, is back for his fourteenth  adventure in and around the picturesque Quebec village of Three Pines. The novel opens with Gamache answering a mysterious letter that asks him to travel to a nearby home to meet at notary public. Curious what the man could need, Gamache braves a winter storm to travel to the meeting place — a condemned house. Once there he is shocked to learn Myrna Landers, a fellow Three Pines villager, has been summoned as well.  It seems that they have been named executors of a will of a elderly woman who they have never met.

Before they can decide whether to accept the responsibility, the snow storm blows into a blizzard and they must make a dangerous drive to Three Pines to hunker down for the duration. Out of the cold, the notary explains that the will is extremely unusual. Beyond naming strangers to carry out her wishes, it seems the deceased woman —  a cleaning woman before her death — claims to be an Austrian Baroness who has millions and owns property across Europe.

Intrigued, they agree to handle the will and begin their own investigation into the life of the Baroness; including interviewing her children and examining Austrian history. Their search into the woman’s past starts as a simple curiosity, but takes a serious turn when the woman’s oldest son is found dead.

Gamache remains on suspension following the violent and deadly end of a drug war take down in Glass Houses https://wp.me/p6N6mT-36v , which means bringing in Jean Guy Beauvoir and his Sûreté du Québec officers to assist.

While trying to untangle the complexities of the will and related the murder, Gamache is also witnessing the down-fall of a young woman he had mentored through the police academy. After being caught selling drugs, she is expelled and returns to the streets, letting Gamache down spectacularly.  She begins to push drugs on her fellow addicts: not just any drug, but carfentanyl, which is by far the most deadly opioid to ever enter North America.

As winter rages on, Gamache and his fellow neighbors and officers explore both of these complicated cases: one that takes them into the darkest corners of Montreal and the other to the pre-WWI Austria and a family feud that is still reverberating 130 years later.

Blue Monday by Nicci French (2011)

Book #1 in the Frieda Klein Series

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Frieda Klein is a gifted psychoanalyst living in London seeing patients in her private practice and in a free clinic. She is presented to readers in very small doses, with the vast majority of her thoughts, feelings, and past kept from us as the story unfolds. This novel, it seems, is not the time to share Frieda’s story, but rather to share Alan Decker’s.

Alan Decker is a patient that is thrust upon Frieda when a colleague of hers finds himself in the midst of his own mental crisis. Displeased to have to take on a client without warning, and knowing she must tread carefully because Alan Decker is a volatile man who was deeply hurt by her fellow doctor negligence, she nonetheless agrees to see him.

Alan is a man whose life has been suddenly controlled by crippling anxiety attacks, mood swings, and terrifying mental images. He is obsessed with becoming a father, which Frieda originally assumes is related to the stress that he and his wife are under trying to conceive. Quickly though she realizes that his obsession is not with becoming a father generally, but with becoming the father on one, very specific, five-year-old boy. Alan has visions of a boy that are crystal clear: what he looks like, what toys he favors, his personality and his exact age: five and a half.

The clarity of these visions startles Frieda, but it is not until a small boy who fits the exact description of Alan’s yearned-for son goes missing from his primary school, that she becomes alarmed. Tormented by thoughts that Alan may have taken the boy, Frieda goes to the police.

Frazzled and under enormous pressure to find the missing boy, the lead detective on the case, Karlsson, lashes out of Frieda for bringing him these unsubstantiated claims about Alan. He is on the verge of throwing her out when she mentions that Alan had a similar “attack” 22 years earlier, but that time, Frieda tells Karlsson, he had been obsessed with being the father of a five-year-old girl.

This stops Karlsson in his tracks. The only case in all of London that police analysts have linked to the missing boy was a 22-year-old cold case of a missing girl named Joanna. Although largely unsure how Alan’s visions, Frieda notes, the cold case and the missing boy all fit together, Karlsson feels convinced they connect and are currently his only lead. He makes an agreement with Frieda, if he investigates Alan, would she be willing to analyze Joanna’s sister — Rose, now 30 — who was with the little girl when she went missing, to see if a repressed memory of the abduction is lingering in her subconscious.

Everything about this agreement is unsettling to Frieda, the missing boy, Alan, and the non-traditional therapy with Rose, but she agrees with Karlsson; there really seems to be something connecting these people and events and she cannot turn her back.

 

 

 

Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich (2009)

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Stephanie Plum series #14.5 (an in between the novels, novel)

Just in time for Halloween, I packed my battered paperback copy of Plum Spooky to read on vacation. I am a unabashed fan of Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels: even though the are anti-intellectual, irreverent, and often down-right ridiculous, I cannot resist reading (and re-reading) them. They are always great fun!

In Plum Spooky, the largely inept bounty hunter and trouble-magnet Stephanie Plum is back for more hilarious attempts at bringing Trenton, New Jersey’s low-rent criminals to justice. This Halloween, however, things are more complicated than usual. Along with her usual side-kicks — a prostitute turned file clerk, an Army Ranger turned security expert, and her sassy grandma — this time Stephanie is paired up with Diesel, a mysterious (and possibly magical) man who needs her help to find out exactly what is happening in the Jersey Pine Barrens. Oh, Stephanie and Diesel bring a mischievous monkey along with him, just to keep things interesting.

Reluctant to get involved in a wackier-than-usual situation, Stephanie finds that she cannot resist helping solve this extra spooky mystery. It doesn’t hurt the Diesel is super sexy and definitely interested in Stephanie. The rag-tag team of misfits heads into the autumn woods determined to solve whether the Pine Barrens really are haunted once and for all…and hilarity ensues.

 

Leverage In Death by JD Robb (2018)

Book #47, Eve Dallas In Death Series (Several of which are reviewed in this site, search tag “Nora Roberts” to see them all.)

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When a bomb is detonated during a high-stakes business meeting, Eve Dallas and her partner Peabody respond, assuming that a disgruntled and vengeful employee has targeted his bosses. The explosion killed twelve, injured many others, and appeared to have been work of a company VP. A closer look into the murder leads the two detectives to the suspect’s home, where his wife and daughter have been kept captive for days. These two witnesses tell a much different story from the one the police assumed to be the case.

This was not the work of a man bent on killing his co-workers, but rather a man who was himself a victim. He exploded the bomb only after being forced to watch his beloved wife and daughter beaten for days on end until he had agreed to carry out the bombing. The wife and daughter, along with some bombing survivors, give Eve and Peabody key pieces of information that help the two women begin to see the bigger picture.

Two men targeted the victims and used the husband to blow up the office a valuable company, kill their CEOs and then — in the chaos that followed — buy up valuable stock and make millions when the stock prices recovered. The detectives are making slow progress on the case when, just days later, another almost identical bombing occurs.

The second bombing targeted an up-and-coming artist and his art work, killing six more people and (it is soon learned) causing the value of his remaining art pieces to skyrocket in value.

Now it is clear that the two masterminds of the bombings are ruthless and greedy terrorists willing to kill as many people as they like, all while cashing in on illegal gambling schemes. Or that is their plan anyway, but Eve Dallas and her team are not going to stop until the men are in jail and their money seized.