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Book Review Blog

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About this blog

We don't just read fanfiction! Stop in here to check out book reviews written by the HPFT community!  ^_^

Entries in this blog

 

Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune by Frank Herbert
Science Fiction | T | 4.8 stars One of the first books I read this summer was Dune by Frank Herbert. Yes, I know, it was published back in 1965 but it's gotten popular again (I just happened to find it in Half-Price Books and picked it up and thought it sounded cool.) I literally could barely put this book down for longer than the time it took to eat meals and do required activities this summer, it was just that much of a page-turner that kept me up at night. This book has actually stood the test of time extremely well. The novel takes place in a foreign universe with very different planets but still has the echoes of modern-day capitalism throughout mixed with medieval titles like "Lord" and "Lady" because of the feudal setup of this futuristic world.  The book opens on Duke Leto Atreides of House Atreides being suspected as a threat to the emperor because he has favor with a majority of the other Great Houses, and is therefore sent to the desert planet Arrakis, which is controlled by their feuding rivals House Harkonnen. Arrakis is also the only planet that naturally produces the mind-enhancing spice, melange, which fuels higher-order thinking in all those that consume it. Arrakis is also home to sandworms and the native folk called Fremen, whom Leto quickly allies himself with.  There is a larger plot for Leto's son, Paul Atreides, whose mother, Lady Jessica, subscribes to the Bene Gesserit way. They wished to produce a male Bene Gesserit who could see the future in time and space, called the Kwisatz Haderach, whom Lady Jessica believes Paul can become.  As the stakes get ever higher for the Atreides family as the Harkonnens continue attempting to end their feud by ending the Atreides' lives, Paul has to make some significant decisions that could potentially affect the future of the entire planet of Arrakis.  Taking away the "new world" aspect, Dune is a pure science fiction novel done extremely well and it has also aged very well in the 53 years since its first publication in 1965. While Frank Herbert clearly wants you to feel for the Atreides family and the Fremen, it's hard not to have empathy and understanding for where the Harkonnen family is coming from, along with some of the plot twists that occur throughout the novel.  The only detractor that I found with this story is that it sometimes got hard to follow with the Arrakis-specific terminology because of reading too quickly and not fully understanding the meanings of various words. Also, there could possibly have been a bit more exposition in setting up this entirely new world system because it's something brand new to all of us readers.  A big bonus is that Frank wrote 5 more books for this series, so Paul's story doesn't end at the end of Dune, but is continued on in several following books. At the end of the day, this is such a great, fairly quick read and there's so much potential to be had with the rest of the books in the series, so I'd highly recommend this book to any science fiction lover. 

MadiMalfoy

MadiMalfoy

 

The Haunting of Maddy Clare, by Simone St. James

The Haunting of Maddy Clare, by Simone St. James
Horror, Historical Fiction, Mystery | M | 4 stars As is my wont when it comes to scary stories, I started reading this book just before I meant to go to bed. Instead of going to sleep, I was up for two more hours finishing it and had to leave a lamp on all night. When the book opens, it’s shortly after the end of World War I, and Sarah is trying desperately to make ends meet. When she gets offered a temp job as an assistant to someone claiming to be a ghost hunter, she takes it, though she doesn’t believe they’ll find any real evidence to support his ghost story. Once they start their investigation, she quickly changes her mind. The women who knew Maddy Clare say that something terrible happened to her when she was a girl, something which ultimately led to her suicide. The ghost of Maddy Clare is very real, unstable, and looking for vengeance. At its core, this is a classic, well-done ghost story. Sarah is a heroine that’s easy to relate to - she’s quiet and reserved, but she’s not really shy, and she’s certainly not timid. She’s strikes the perfect balance between having a nuanced and distinct personality and being sensible enough that you never want to scream “Don’t go in there!” at her. St. James also really sinks you into the time period through both her descriptions of the setting and the characters themselves; both Sarah’s new boss and his friend are clearly still struggling with the aftermath of serving in the war, and Sarah herself has significant struggles dating from that time as well. Additionally, there are a lot of small touches here and there regarding gender relations that felt very fitting for that era. And that’s just the backdrop. Maddy Clare herself is absolutely terrifying to both the characters in the novel and the reader; she terrorizes people in deeply personal and invasive ways, and she’s utterly apathetic about harming bystanders in her quest for vengeance. Every interaction they have with her reinforces the feeling that she’s wholly other - she’s so detached from the world that there’s absolutely no reasoning with her, which is part of what makes her so terrifying even as her backstory begins to come out. It does have its weak points; while Sarah’s clear attraction to her love interest does sell the romance overall, there are a few points in which it feels a bit rushed, and there’s one early sex scene in particular that’s a little unbelievable. I also wished that the two men had been developed a little more, and I didn’t feel like the malicious attention Sarah faced from people as a result of her involvement in the case always made sense. Those were fairly easy to overlook, though, and at the end of the day, it’s a very enjoyable and creepy book.

abhorsen.

abhorsen.

 

Circle of Magic series, by Tamora Pierce

Circle of Magic series, by Tamora Pierce
Fantasy, Young Adult | T | 4.5 stars Tamora Pierce has written more than thirty books. I’ve read almost all of them, and while changing standards for YA books has meant that many of her more recent books are longer and more detailed (including the sequel series to this one), this unassuming little series continues to be one of her strongest pieces of work. The four books - Sandry's Book, Tris's Book, Daja's Book, and Briar's Book - revolve around four children who each find themselves in need of a new home following some truly heartbreaking tragedies. One is abandoned by her family and exiled from other temples because she's suspected of being possessed by a demon; another is exiled from her insular society after being the lone survivor of a shipwreck that kills her entire family. A mage finds each of them and brings them to Winding Circle temple, where they ultimately discover that they have magic, too. At its core, the Circle of Magic quartet is a refreshingly humanizing set of books. There aren’t really any larger than life villains; there are certainly people who the children and their teachers clash with or who even put them in danger, but none of them (with one possible exception) are really portrayed as evil at their core. They’re immature, selfish, judgmental, reckless - but not evil. That doesn’t excuse their faults, and Pierce generally doesn’t go out of her way to redeem them, but she keeps the tenor of the series rooted strongly in the complicated, messy thing that is humanity. That makes the characters some of the most absorbing that she's written. While the ages of the children’s teachers aren’t all explicitly stated, I don’t think that more than one or two of the central characters are within a decade of how old I am right now, but I see myself and my own struggles in them as clearly as I did when I first picked these books up. There's someone for everyone to relate to - the characters are incredibly diverse by virtually every measure. There's a noble girl related to monarchs in two different countries, and a boy who spent most of his life homeless and in a gang. There's a girl who's physically attacked on multiple occasions for her race and cultural background, and a girl who's bullied over her weight. Some of the characters are prickly and defensive, where others are conciliatory and kind. There's someone for everyone, and while Pierce doesn't belabor the point, but she doesn't brush over these differences, either. Many have a direct impact in how the characters interact with the world and how the world interacts with them - sometimes in obvious ways, and sometimes in ways that are more subtle. My biggest complaint about these books doesn’t really have anything to do with them at all; it has to do with the sequels, which didn’t always quite live up to the wonderful groundwork Pierce laid here and which were part of why I dinged the rating a bit. If we’re just looking at this series, I can’t recommend them highly enough.

abhorsen.

abhorsen.

 

Graceling, by Kristin Cashore

Graceling, by Kristin Cashore
Fantasy, Young Adult | T | 4.5 stars Heterochromia is the trademark of a graceling - someone born with a supernatural talent. Some of those talents simply elevate fairly normal activities - fighting or swimming, for example. Others defy logical comprehension entirely - mind reading is particularly noted as something that the main character, Katsa, is deeply uncomfortable with. Regardless of the talent, gracelings are both very rare and somewhat stigmatized. Katsa’s killing grace announced showed itself when she accidentally killed a cousin at the age of eight. Her uncle, the king of the Middluns, saw potential to increase his own power, and rather than send her away, he allowed his spymaster teach her to control her powers. When she turned ten, he started using her to kill and main subjects who offended him. The novel opens when Katsa is eighteen, and she’s gotten tired of being used as her uncle’s muscle. There’s so much to like about Graceling. The overarching setting is a classic one - most of the rulers in the seven kingdoms, including the Middluns, are deeply selfish, corrupt, and at times downright inhumane. Katsa’s attempts to break free of that, as well as come to terms with her grace and what it means about her humanity, provide a creative lens for that struggle - as do her relationships with the people she cares about. But where Graceling really shines is in Cashore's characterization of both Katsa and the supporting cast. Katsa is not necessarily likable (M) - her reactions sometimes seem disproportionate, and at times, she comes off as both resentful and ruthless. She patently refuses to consider marriage or motherhood as acceptable paths for herself, to the extent that she'll pick a fight at any suggestion of it... and that makes her compelling, especially to girls and women who (like me) have been called abrasive or stubborn or angry for not deviating from strict gender roles. The supporting cast is no less wonderful. Katsa’s cousin Raffin is nothing like his father, and though he's the heir to the kingdom, he'd like nothing more to meddle with herbs and potions all day with his lover, Bann (their relationship is strongly implied in Graceling, but not confirmed until the sequel). Prince Po of Lienid's fighting grace makes him and Katsa become fast friends when they meet at the beginning of the novel, and the trust and support that follow their daily training fights is absolutely wonderful. The first time I read Graceling, I reached the last page and immediately flipped back to chapter one to reread it. It’s the only book I can remember reacting to in that way, and there’s a reason for it. Cashore does a wonderful job with her debut novel.

abhorsen.

abhorsen.

 

A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L'Engle

A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L’Engle
Young Adult, Science Fiction, Coming of Age | T | 5 stars This has been one of my favorite books for about as long as I can remember. It’s ostensibly a coming of age story for young adults, but that’s not quite an accurate characterization of it - pretty much anyone of any age from any background could read A Ring of Endless Light and take something meaningful away from it, because it explores spirituality and the human experience in a way that's simultaneously optimistic and unflinchingly realistic. The book (which is part of L'Engle's Chronos series, but can be read as a standalone novel) revolves around a teenage girl named Vicky Austin. She and her family are visiting her grandfather on Seven Bay Island, just as they do every summer - but this time, they’re staying for several months, because Vicky’s grandfather is dying of leukemia. It opens on a heartbreaking note: Vicky is attending the funeral of an old family friend, who died while trying to rescue someone who went out sailing in a storm. Death is a pretty significant theme throughout the book - Vicky spends the novel navigating what death means throughout the novel, and it’s never easy or simple. But while A Ring of Endless Light is heart-breaking at points, L'Engle doesn't focus exclusively on pain when it comes to life or death. The same scene can address the specter of death and be very life-affirming, because while people's pain and suffering is never minimized, neither is their capacity for joy and love. Vicky’s summer is spent reconciling those two impossible sides of the coin and coming to terms with how she feels about it - and how she fits into the world in general. There's a fantasy/science fiction element to the story as well: Vicky spends the bulk of the summer assisting her older brother's friend with his research on wild dolphins, including attempts to psychically connect with them. While it's a significant part of the book and strongly influences how she processes her experiences, it's not presented as an escapist gateway to a world of magic. Instead, it's woven seamlessly in with the rest of the narrative, and her experiences with the dolphins - and with her brother's friend - ultimately reinforces her grasp on reality, rather than luring her away from it. It’s a beautiful, comforting book - and for me, at least, never more so than when I'm grappling with people I care about getting sick or dying. I can't recommend it strongly enough.

abhorsen.

abhorsen.

 

The Rules

Welcome to HPFT's book review blog! We've found that while there are places on the forums where fanfic recommendations are visible and well-organized, that's not really the case for book reviews - and many of us loved reading long before we discovered fanfiction. Now that we have blogs, a blog seemed like an excellent place to put them! Right now, only staff members and prefects have the ability to submit entries to the blog, because we can't give people submission privileges without allowing them to manage the blog as well. However, all HPFT members are very welcome to contribute to it - if you have a review you'd like to post and you don't fall into one of those groups, please PM a staff member. FAQ Is there a specific format we should be using? Yes! We don't want this to be overly structured, but we do ask that you use the following form as a guideline: We also ask that you tag your username, the book's author(s), the genre(s), the rating, and the stars you give it. Use all lowercase for the author(s), genres, and rating, and use numbers for stars (e.g., 1, 3.5).   Is there a limit to what sorts of books we can review? Yes, but not many. Books that champion overtly prejudiced ideas (e.g., a book defending conversion therapy) or books written by members of hate groups (e.g., Mein Kampf) shouldn't be submitted, because we don't believe in giving a platform for hate and bigotry. We also will not accept books that explicitly endorse dangerously unhealthy behavior (e.g., pro-eating disorder books). Content doesn't have to fall exactly with the parameters of our archive, but please use your best judgment, and be sure to mention any potentially sensitive content that could trigger someone or otherwise detract from their enjoyment of the books. If you have any questions on whether a book you would like to review is allowed, please PM any staff member.   That's about it! Enjoy!

abhorsen.

abhorsen.

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