Fiction: “The Lies of Locke Lamora” by Scott Lynch

locke lamoraBefore I get into the meat of this, AN UPDATE on: THE FRIEND’S CAR

You may not be aware, what with the terror incidents, the indictments, and all the other shit circulating in the news right now, but Sunday night, Maine was hit by a particularly hard windstorm. Gusts over 60 mph, driving rain, and from the southeast direction. Generally speaking, when Maine gets hit with storms, they come from the northeast. (A “nor’easter,” if you will.) But with this one coming from the southeast, it hit trees at particularly weak spots, and … yeah. It was gross.

My house lost power early Monday morning. I’m writing this paragraph just before 8 p.m. on Tuesday night, and I’ve been told I shouldn’t expect power before Thursday. (Thank goodness for generators.) We’ve got an actual state of emergency up in here, so … things are rough.

[NOTE FROM THE FUTURE: I’m posting this entry after 10 p.m. on Friday, November 3. We just got power back a little after 7 p.m. We were without power for nearly five full days. I have done so much reading this week – I also have two reviews stored up to post, so, silver lining, I guess.]

So anyway, on Tuesday, I returned my friend’s call tonight to see how he’s doing, and …. he tells me, that on Sunday night, during the wind storm from hell –

a tree fell on his new car. right through the moonroof.

ironic smirk.gif

Like, I can’t even, you guys. I can’t with this. I just. I am laughing so hard at this, again, some more, five days later. I mean, karma, you guys – CARMA.

I guess the only good news is that this car can’t be abandoned in a parking garage, because he’s payments on it? I just — *sigh* it’s too good. It’s hilarious.

Needless to say, however, I won’t be covering his still-abandoned vehicle with Jerry Maguire VHS tapes anymore. That would be beyond the pale; I’d practically be pouring salt into the wound at that rate.

Okay. So that’s the update. Thank you for indulging me in my “horrible person” persona. And now, a poorly-written review.

When I get bored with the endless circle of Facebook, Twitter, and now, the Washington Post, I’ll check out Buzzfeed. Up until what feels like very recent times, Buzzfeed would occasionally post book recommendations. (Unlike last week, where an actual post is titled “Pick Six ‘90s Foods, Then We’ll Correctly Guess Your Age.” I picked Toaster Strudel, Dunkaroos, Handi-Snacks, Capri Sun, Flintstone’s Push-Up Pop, and Lunchables. Buzzfeed thought I was 22 to 25. I am 34.)

Back in 2015, Buzzfeed posted a list of the 51 Best Fantasy Series Ever Written. I’ve ventured into the fantasy genre on occasion, but never more than a title here or there. I’ve wanted to read more fantasy lately, and so I browsed the Buzzfeed list, and came across the description for the “Gentlemen Bastard Sequence” by Scott Lynch:

Thieves, pirates, and a beautifully planned series of heists that are a delight to watch unfold. This series is not without its share of heartbreak and loss, but the tribulations of its protagonists are tempered with a joyful sense of mischief, cunning, and a fair amount of swashbuckling. Oceans 11 meets Pirates of the Caribbean meets Robin Hood.

DUDES. That is right up my alley! Ocean’s Eleven? Pirates? HEISTS?! I love all of those things! On one of my lunchtime trips to Barnes and Noble, I found a copy, purchased it, and forgot about it – until January, when I needed to read something on the plane from Boston to Vegas and back. The book is over 700 pages long, and I thought it would keep me occupied.

I slept through all the flights. I read maybe sixty pages? It was weird – it was one of those books that felt like it took forever for action and plot to start, but I’d think it was “starting too slow” and look at the page number and found I was on page 145 or something. If I can make it past page 50 I’m in it for the long haul.

So what’s The Lies of Locke Lamora about? Uuhhhh….

Look, I’m sorry: this is a dense book, and there’s no way I’m going to do it proper justice. I read it almost ten months ago. I can give you what details I can remember, but please know I’m not being very good at it. What I can tell you is that if you like fantasy novels (or, really, epic novels) and sarcastic thieves with hearts of gold (or at least plated with it), chances are you’re going to like this book.

The story takes place on the island city of Camorr, which is made up of the thievery class and the rich upper class. There are sects in the thieves as well. When Locke is a little boy, he is sold to Father Chains of the Gentlemen Bastards, and taught to be a thief along with the Sanza twins, Calo and Galdo, and Jean, a young ruffian and excellent fighter. The Gentlemen Bastards grow up to be great Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich through crazy schemes (like, counterfeiting whisky from another island, and then asking for investment money).

Meanwhile, there’s a character known as the Grey King, who has been killing the capos of the thief gangs in Camorr in an attempt to consolidate power. (He is not actually a king.) And the Grey King ensnares Locke into his plot: Locke must pretend to be the Grey King and have a conversation with Locke’s good friend (and boss, of sorts), Capo Basarvi. Well, that plan goes tits-up pretty much immediately, and Basarvi and his family are murdered by the Grey King’s army, and Locke only just manages to escape with his life.

The rest of the book is Locke and Jean going for revenge on the Grey King. They succeed (spoiler alert? I mean, there are more books in the series, guys), but not without losses.

The book also jumps back and forth between present-day and the past, showing us how Locke came to be in the employ of Father Chains and the Gentlemen Bastards, some of their earlier escapades, and other tales.

Locke is a very sarcastic and witty character (after my own heart), but he uses his sarcasm to mask his emotions and seem detached. It allows him to do terrible things when necessary. But always for the good of the Gentlemen Bastards.

It was an interesting story – very dense, and not a lot of magic. There is someone called a Bondsmage, who is able to illusion people to do his bidding – or, actually, the bidding of the Gray King, who is the Bondsmage’s boss. But there aren’t wizards or other races (like Orcs or elves) to deal with – all the characters are human.

I wish I could remember more about the plot (or at least, had internet right now so I could look up the Wikipedia entry), but at the same time …

My Dear Friend Sarah and I had a discussion last year, driving back from New York late at night. I can’t remember how we got onto the topic – I think we started talking about Breaking Bad again and then spoilers – and what came out of that discussion was that she and I read books (and watch TV) differently than I do.

She views authors as telling us a story. And she puts her faith in letting the author develop that story enough to draw her interest. In relation to Breaking Bad, she couldn’t really get over that she was not interested in the story at all. Whereas I let my curiosity take hold and that was what propelled me through the series: I knew what was going to happen, and I wanted to see how the story got there.

When Sarah was growing up, she read primarily from the fantasy genre. Game of Thrones, the extended Star Wars universe, and others. Meanwhile, I was reading Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, and eventually graduated to Kinsey Millhone and other mystery novels. She was reading books that took you on a journey; I was reading books that led to an answer or solution. And I think that’s why we came at Breaking Bad differently – she wanted a journey to enjoy, but I was looking for the solution.

Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t know how I feel about Breaking Bad, other than that I know I’m never going to rewatch it.

So I struggled reading The Lies Of Locke Lamora a bit – I’m not used to being taken on a journey like this. I think the modern parlance of the characters helped me enjoy it more than if I had been reading Tolkien or something. I’ll probably read the next book in the series, but it probably won’t be any time soon.

Anyway. That’s The Lies of Locke Lamora. I’m sorry I did a shitty job reviewing it, but I’m going to try and get better.

Grade for The Lies of Locke Lamora: 2 stars

Advertisements

Fiction: “Egg & Spoon” by Gregory Maguire

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

Erica (of NYC Bookworm) and I finished reading Egg & Spoon early last month, so at least I’m within the 30 day mark for being behind.

egg and spoon

Egg & Spoon is the story of Elena and Cat, two Russian girls from very different lives. Elena is the youngest daughter of a very poor family, whereas Cat (short for Katerina) is the daughter of very rich parents who leave her with her very old aunt, Sophie. Cat, Sophie, and the rest of her retinue are traveling to St. Petersburg to meet the prince when their train comes upon a broken bridge that needs repairing, just outside of Elena’s village. Elena, who had never seen a train before, goes to see the spectacle and meets Cat, and the two become … not friends, but they share things about each other and tell each other stories.

One of the stories comes from a book of Cat’s – one about Baba Yaga, the mythical witch. Elena has her own opinions of Baba Yaga, but Kat dismisses them. In return, Cat shows Elena a Fabergé Egg that she and her Aunt Sophie are going to present to the Prince.

Well, one day, they’re sitting in the train – Cat’s holding onto the Fabergé Egg, Elena’s holding Cat’s storybook – and then the train jumps to a start. Cat falls off the train, leaving Elena behind.

And here is where the two characters make the first of many defining decisions. Elena decides to remain on the train instead of running after her friend – because the train is going to St. Petersburg, and now she has the opportunity to ask the Tsar to release her brothers from military duties and return to their home in the village. But instead of identifying herself and her needs right away, she instead decides to take advantage of her physical similarity and pretends to be Kat on the rest of her journey.

Cat, meanwhile, decides to follow the train tracks to St. Petersburg so she can return the Fabergé Egg and reunite with her Aunt. Except that on the way there, she gets chased away from the tracks and ends up in a strange hut that walks on chicken legs with a talking cat and owned … by Baba Yaga.

Now, Baba Yaga is not, at first sight, a hideously scary creature as the fairy tales would have us believe. Erica’s vision of her as Mad Madam Mim from The Sword in the Stone is so on point, I can barely stand it. As I said in my tweet to her (which I will now paraphrase because it’s been so long, my tweets during the Tweetversation have disappeared into the ether, only to be discovered five years from now after I get tapped as the next host of The Daily Show), I knew I saw Baba Yaga as something like that in my head, but as soon she said that, it immediately clicked and that’s exactly how I pictured her; I just hadn’t found the right words.

I liked that the plot didn’t devolve into a rote Prince and the Pauper-esque routine. In fact, the way the characterization went, the reader was made to feel sympathy for Elena – think that she was going to be the protagonist, that we were going to root for her journey – but as the book progressed, Elena became less sympathetic: more sarcastic, sullen, and not quickly willing to revert to Elena as opposed to Cat. Whereas Cat quickly became very sympathetic – she worked with both Baba Yaga and the Prince in order to rescue Russia.

Because yes, Russia is dying – there’s a whole subplot about Baba Yaga, the Firebird, an Ice Dragon, and the Fabergé Egg. The Egg is decorated with the above-mentioned items, but halfway through the book the Firebird disappears from the Egg. So then Baba Yaga, the talking cat, Cat, Elena, and the Prince journey up to Siberia and find out that the Ice Dragon has been awake longer than he should be, because Russia’s seasons are determined by when the Ice Dragon sleeps and when the Ice Dragon is awake.

The novel is written in a very specific style – Mr. Maguire definitely holds to the tone of a typical fairy tale or myth story. There are mystical elements – namely, the Firebird – but overall, the story doesn’t descend into a typical supernatural story. I’m not sure whether to put this into a fantasy genre or the young adult genre, because it’s not really either. It was pretty good, however.

Ugh, I have got to get better at this! It’s been so long since I’ve read it that I can’t really compliment it the way that I want to. I’ve been fascinated by Russia since watching Anastasia (no, you shut up, this is my warped childhood, not yours!), and I really liked the descriptions of St. Petersburg and the Ice Dragon. I loved the conceit of making Baba Yaga an anachronistic, humorous version of what Mother Russia should be; I loved the talking cat. I liked the relationship between Cat and Prince Anton, and I liked how both of them wanted to subvert their traditional roles and pursue their own dreams.

Oh my god – I just now realized that if I had been better at this, I would have been able to make a whole analogy between Elena and Cat and Elena and Katherine from The Vampire Diaries. I mean, I haven’t watched that show in two years, but I’m sure I could have made something out of it.

Okay, I’ve now finished watching the fourth season of Bob’s Burgers, and Mad Men returns in a hour and a half, and I have ruined my chances of making deadline on That Thing I Keep Obliquely Mentioning, but rest assured, That Thing is what’s coming up next, and it will be a doozy.

Grade for Egg & Spoon: 3 stars

Fiction: “Redwall” by Brian Jacques

Okay, so I’m going to try and write this in-between my daily tasks at work, because dudes, this program we use?  Super-slow.  I hate it.  I can write entire paragraphs in the time it takes to look a customer up.  Also, the boss is out of the office.  I love when the boss is out of the office, because that means when I do decide to work, I can get all sorts of shit done (for the record, I started writing this at 8:30 a.m.  I’m writing this half of the sentence at 12:55 p.m.  In that span of time, I’ve written about a third of this entry and solved approximately seventeen problems.  I haven’t had lunch yet.  And now the phone’s ringing!).

(1:00 p.m.: Eighteen problems solved!)

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

I was finally able to finish Redwall on Sunday, and last night Erica and I had our Tweetversation about it.  She liked it much more than I did, which is fine; and I’m not saying I hated the book, the length of time it took me to complete it notwithstanding.  At the end, I found that there was not enough suspense to propel me through the book as fast as I would have liked.

redwall

Redwall is a young-adult fantasy novel, and the first book in a very long series, first published in 1986.  The cast is made up of woodland creatures, ranging from mice and squirrels to stoats and sparrows.  They all live in the peaceful area known as Mossflower, and they live in Redwall Abbey.  Matthias is … for lack of a better term, the “Maria” of this Abbey – he’s a novice, but doesn’t quite fit in.  He has big dreams that don’t fit within the Abbey’s walls.

But then, Cluny the Scourge – a bilge rat with an eyepatch – and his horde of marauders come upon Redwall Abbey, and because they’re evil and pirates and just want to conquer everything (much like Alexander the Great, only more evil and less blond), they decide they are going to attack the Abbey.  Matthias goes against the Abbot mouse and wants to defend the Abbey, much like Martin the Warrior Mouse, the mouse that founded Redwall Abbey.

But Matthias needs the sword of Martin the Warrior in order to truly defend the Abbey!  So he sets off on a quest to find the lost sword of Martin, and along the way he makes friends with Basil Stag Hare, a jackrabbit that talks as fast as he runs; Warbeak, a Sparrow warrior princess; and Log-a-Log, the head of the Shrew Army.

Dear God, I am not making any of that up.

And look, the book is very well-written; I am not denying that.  My main point is that, for me, there was no suspense and there were no surprises.  I knew what was going to happen going into it (SPOILER ALERT: ANDY ESCAPES SHAWSHANK AT THE END OF THE MOVIE) and I’d never read any of it before:

– Young character goes on a quest of discovery: ostensibly to find [the MacGuffin; in this case, a missing sword of a warrior {a totem, if you will}], but ends up discovering his true character;
– He meets interesting people on his journey, who he must either band together with or outwit in order to continue on his quest;
– Meanwhile, the villain shows how he is surrounded by idiots and he has much hubris that we know is going to be his downfall;
– And in the end, the hero defeats the villain, there are a couple of casualties to make the victory bittersweet, but everyone (except for the dead ones) live happily ever after.

I just … I couldn’t get into it.  I read it because I vowed to Finish! Everything!, but if I hadn’t taken that vow and was reading it on my own, I would have put it down.  As I read, I kept wanting to put this on the Murtaugh List:

murtaugh

The Murtaugh List is a list that Ted Mosby makes on How I Met Your Mother, and it is a list of things he’s too old to do.  Some of the items on that list include: get his ear pierced; crash on a friend’s futon; and help a stranger move in exchange for pizza.  I am adding “reading a book involving anthropomorphized mice” to my Murtaugh List.

And again, that’s not a slight to the book.  And, hopefully, not a slight to my imagination.  The book is, again, wonderfully written – I’m just above its comprehension level.  While I don’t want to be too old to read about warrior mice, I couldn’t enjoy it like Alaina at 12 probably would have.  I kept going, “Are they walking on their hind legs or all fours?  Is the sword really that dangerous, or is it more like a splinter?  How do the animals all speak the same language?  Are all hedgehogs drunks, or just Ambrose Spike?  How do they get medals?  Who makes the medals? How did they build the Abbey, were there mouse slaves like in Egypt?”

That’s probably an exaggeration.  [1:57 p.m. – Three more problems solved, but the boss walked in.  Crap.]  I mean, it’s not that I don’t have imagination – I just couldn’t lose myself in this fantasy world where mice could talk.  And I feel like I might have been able to if there was any weight to the story.

[And here’s the part where my boss actually let everyone go home early because there’s a blizzard dumping quite possibly a literal fuckton of snow on the Northeast quadrant, so I hastily hit publish so I could get the fuck out of there, and now I’m finishing this at 9 p.m. and I still haven’t shoveled because it’s cold out there and have I mentioned the possibly-literal fuckton of snow?  I AM SO OVER WINTER I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING]

For me, the characters didn’t have nearly any depth.  And before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, I don’t mean to say that the characters weren’t fully-formed within their universe; I just didn’t feel that there were any underlying stakes that propelled the characters forward outside of the needs of the story structure.  (Matthias as the hero needs overcome obstacles in order to fulfill his quest; enter Recapturing the Banner, Defeating the King Sparrow, and Working With the Shrews to Kill Asmodeous.  Or: Cluny the Scourge is the Villain; Therefore, He Must Kill Without Empathy or Discretion.)

Again, these feelings I have towards Redwall do not mean that I outright hate the book; far from it.  If I hated the book, you’d be hearing a whole different rant up in here.  What I’m trying to say is that, for the right reader, the story is going to be fantastic: full of swordfights and different animals working together towards a common cause; enough humor and pathos thrown in to keep the emotions balanced; and a struggle against pure evil.  I just know I didn’t get what I wanted from this book, and I feel it’s because I’ve grown past its age bracket.

That’s not a slight against Erica, who loved the book – she was able to let everything go and she jumped right into the story and fell in love with it.  That’s awesome – I’m very glad you enjoyed the book and want to continue reading the series!  I will not be joining you.  I’ll be at home, playing Donkey Kong 64 and reading about Hannibal on the internets.

(What?  It’s a snow day and HOLY CRAP TEN MORE SLEEPS UNTIL NEW HANNIBAL OH MY GOD)

Erica and I did agree, however, that for a book that focuses on a typical male struggle (hero vs. villain; hero on journey of self-discovery), many of the supporting characters are not only female, but contribute enough to the story that if they were not there, the hero would not have succeeded.  Jess the Squirrel, Constance the Badger, and Dunwing and Warbeak the Sparrows (I might be wrong on Warbeak’s mother’s name, but the book is in the other room and I’m saving my strength to go shovel so I’m not looking it up right now) were all very integral to Matthias succeeding in his quests and saving the Abbey.  It was refreshing to me to read a young adult novel that had a male protagonist, strong female supporting characters, and no love triangle.

HOWEVER.  This brings me to the final point I want to make.  Throughout the book, Matthias has flirted with another mouse, Cornflower.  At the end of the book, after Matthias has defeated Cluny the Scourge and has been named the hero of the piece, the Abbot pretty much gives Cornflower to Matthias as his bride.  And actually, I am going to go get the book for this, because I feel people won’t believe me unless I quote it:

“Now, Cornflower.  Where is little Cornflower?”

The young fieldmouse came.  She stood by the Abbot waiting upon his word.

“There you are, dear Cornflower,” the Abbot smiled.  “A warrior needs a good wife.  You are the beauty that will grace Redwall and rule the heart of our Matthias.  The old gatehouse will be extended into a proper home.  It belongs to you both.  Guard our threshold wisely and well.” [348-349]

WHAT THE HELL.  I almost wish Cornflower had pulled a Princess Jasmine and stormed out yelling I AM NOT SOME PRIZE TO BE WON, but I again have to guess that this book wasn’t written with me in mind.

Tune in in the next six weeks for our next Collaboration – and I do believe it’s my turn to choose.

OH GOD HE'S SMILING AT ME I'M GOING TO BE MADE INTO A VERY FANCY DINNER

Grade for Redwall: 1.5 stars

Fiction: “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister” by Gregory Maguire

Confessions of an Ugly StepsisterSo, true to form, Erica finished reading this before I did.  I managed to finish it not that far behind.  And then she was the one tweeting at me to get me to talk, because hi, my name is Alaina and not only am I Pinky, but I’m Pinky la procastinatór.

(Um, I should apologize right now for two things: Numero Uno, yet again, if y’all are here from NYC Bookworm, I’m the Jesse Pinkman of the group. [HA! PINKY! *PLEASE* TELL ME THAT WAS INTENTIONAL, VINCE GILLIGAN!]  Numero Dos: I am struggling with a tremendous need to finish Breaking Bad.  I know I can finish season 4 tonight, and then between Netflix and OnDemand I could will — will, watch the series finale at the same time as the rest of the country.  Because I’ll be damned if I’m going to be left behind when everyone else is vomiting over themselves at the fallout.  Uh, anyway.  The reason for the apology: Jesse and Gus are currently in Mexico, and so you might find some Spanish being thrown into my thoughts.)

SO ANYWAY.  Erica and I had a really good conversation over on Twitter — well, as much as 140 characters at a time would allow — and so here is my version of events.  Also, I should mention: I know Erica has finished her review, but I am spoiler-free for that one.

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is written by Gregory Maguire, he of Wicked fame.  The main character is Iris, the younger of the two; her elder sister is named Ruth, and the story begins when their mother, Margarethe, brings them to Holland after bolting in the night out of England.  In order to make ends meet, the women end up working for The Master, a painter in Haarlem who is besieged with indecision: his heart and soul tells him to paint religious scenes, but the economy and demand is for household scenes.  The buyers of art are not looking for religious drama; they wish to put pretty pictures in their homes.

Over the course of a few weeks, the Master paints Iris with some wildflowers.  When she finally sees the painting – because Iris is drawn to the art world, for both inspiration and because subconsciously, she wants to be an artist.  Anyway, when she finally sees the Master’s work, she is horrified – he has painted her to truly reveal her ‘ugliness.’  He plans to use this work to win a commission to paint the wealthy Heer Van den Meer’s daughter, Clara.

Clara, we will soon learn, is to become Cinderella.  True to the fairy tale we all know, Margarethe insinuates herself into the van den Meer household, using Iris as a companion for Clara.  When Clara’s mother dies, after an appropriate mourning period, Margarethe marries van den Meer, and Clara, in increasing fits of depression and almost willful isolation, turns herself into Cinderella.

There is a lot I could talk about — GODDAMMIT NETFLIX, I HAVEN’T DIED, KEEP PLAYING, I’VE ONLY GOT TWO MORE EPISODES TO GO!! — sorry.  Anyway.  I could talk a lot about this book — and in true #Collaborators fashion, I can talk a lot more now that Erica and I have had our tweetversation.  (That’s a word, right?)  But since I haven’t read Erica’s review yet, I’m going to do what I do best – fly by the seat of my pants and talk about the things that interest me.

So tonight, we will have minor discussions on the following two subjects: Dutch art history, and the nature of beauty.

The Dutch Golden Age turned away from religious set pieces and statuary and turned to more mundane subjects.  Still-lifes abounded, and then with Rembrandt and Vermeer, we see more family portraits and everyday scenes.  The Master is a contemporary of Rembrandt and Vermeer, and I’ll be honest, when I first read the book cover years ago, I misread van der Meer as Vermeer, and I was almost expecting a crossover between this book and Girl With a Pearl Earring, which I can guarantee you all that I’ll be reading that book within the next few weeks.

ANYWAY.  The Dutch Golden Age tried to capture life as it truly exists.  Still lifes, portraits, not exemplifying beauty, but just showing life the way it was.  Tour through some of Rembrandt and Vermeer’s galleries online and you’ll see that while they didn’t paint unpleasant subjects, they didn’t necessarily beautify them any.

So the fact that Maguire chose to set his Cinderella story – a story with three characters who are described in unfavorable terms: one evil, the other two ugly – in a time and place that promotes realism in its art?  That is just super significant to me.

Because Maguire does make a big deal out of beauty as a concept.  We learn that Clara is startingly beautiful – so extraordinarily beautiful, that for the greater part of the book Iris believes Clara to be a changeling, not of their world.  Iris is told that she isn’t ugly, but plain.  Compared to Clara, she could be considered ugly; compared to Ruth, she is merely plain.

HOLY SHIT SPEAKING OF UGLY DEAR CHRIST ON A CRACKER WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED TO GUS FRING THAT IS DISGUSTING

(although it’s not as bad as the Columbian Necktie from Hannibal)

(full disclosure – I almost typed “disgusting” as dis-GUS-ting, trying to emphasize how I would pronounce the word in my horror, but then I realized I’d make a really shitty pun, so I stopped.)

(Breaking Bad, man — what the hell happened to me?)

ANYWAY.  There are other discussions of beauty not linked to art.  There are discussions throughout the book about the consequences of beauty.  And this raises a point: in this day and age, everyone desires to be beautiful.  Speaking as a woman, I am barraged constantly by the ‘ideal’ of beauty, and ways to achieve it.  Makeup, wrinkle cream, diet, exercise, eight hours of sleep every night, drink water, don’t drink water, eat this berry, don’t eat any berries.

Everyone wants to be beautiful.  But what happens when someone becomes beautiful?  Or, what happens to the beautiful people?

The Master says:

“The true consequence of beauty — tell your mother! — is devotion.” [24]

And isn’t that the truth?  What do we do to our ‘beautiful people’?  The plain ones worship them.  We idolize them.  Iris certainly places Clara on a bit of a pedestal because of her other-ness.

Clara says:

“Oh, […] mercy, there is nothing monstrously ugly about [Iris.]  Ruth may be unpleasing, but you are merely plain.  If anything, it’s my beauty that’s monstrous, for it sweeps away any other aspect of my character.” [238]

So true!  For once we assign the category of ‘beautiful’ to anyone, so rarely do we venture to delve further into the character of that individual.  Check out a girl at a party – she’s ‘hot.’  Doesn’t matter if she’s stupid or a surgeon – the only category she receives is ‘hot.’  All other aspects of character get stripped away, for characters fictional and real.

Iris says:

“And what about the kind act, as my mother said?  My mother the crab, the irritant in the oyster, what about what she said?  The small gesture of charity?  Isn’t that sort of beauty more beautiful than any other?” [313]

Because charity is a selfless act – an act to better someone else’s life with no thought of how it would influence their own.  True grace and selflessness is more beautiful than physical beauty – it is a beauty that derives from the soul.

Three more quotes, and then the most esoteric of reviews will be over.  (PS, I can’t believe I’ve watched four episodes of Breaking Bad tonight.  What the hell happened to me?)

There is a minor character that Iris calls the Queen of the Hairy-Chinned Gypsies.  Sue me, but I like to believe that she’s also Carol’s Gypsy Woman.  (“Just like the gypsy woman said!!”)  And she says:

“Beauty has consequence, but I’m ugly as sin, so I don’t care.” [164]

Because who watches the not-beautiful?  Nobody.  And no one strips the ‘plain’ of their character; they are allowed to have other facets.

Something that has nothing to do with beauty.  When Iris apprentices herself to the Master, this is what she feels when she first starts to draw:

She assumes that skill will guide her fingertips, that shapely lines will uncoil out of the pencil the moment she starts.  Surely talent is a thing curled deeply inside, just waiting to be exercised, and at the slightest invitation it will stretch, shake itself, make itself known?

Talent, it seems, is not so insistent. [221]

God, have I felt that and wished that.  So much.  And yet writing remains elusive and hard.

My second-to-last note should hopefully tie a few things together.  Firstly, look!  I learned how to embed Tweets!  (Somedays I still feel super-new to this whole technology thing):

That was originally taken from how Erica interpreted (or, in her own words, ‘over-interpreted’) the front cover.  I admitted I didn’t give it much thought, but much like Maguire’s other works, the frontispiece can give the reader clues as to what happens in the story to readers that pay attention.  Erica interpreted the clues different from my brief glance, and I felt that these tweets tied into that discussion, and, looking back through my notes and quotes I wanted to mention, this line from the Master about his painting of Iris:

“A painting is in the eye of the beholder,” says the Master.  “You could look at the painting of Iris with wildflowers, and you could ask yourself this: Did the Master see me with repugnance, or did he see me with my own beauty?” [180]

And I absolutely love that sentiment.  I love the fluidity of art.  I love that I can look at a painting and see something, and focus on something, and the person I’m with at the museum (or reading the same book) can focus on something else, and he/she can find meaning and beauty in that one thing that I missed, because I was busy looking at this other thing.

And, in true Pinky fashion, let’s talk about one of my ADD moments:

This was a fun adventure, and I look forward to Collaborating with Erica and NYC Bookworm again!

Grade for Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister: 3 stars

(Oh hey, PS: apparently the Disney Channel made a crappy movie version of this book starring Stockard Channing as Margarethe?  If that shows up on Netflix, I smell a tie-in!)

Fiction: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by J.K. Rowling

And with that, I am complete and up-to-date. Sure, maybe it was a little bass-ackwards with watching Deathly Hallows Pt. II before I even finish reading Order of the Phoenix, but in the grand scheme of things, who cares? The end result is the same: the 2011 re-read and re-immersion in all things Harry Potter is complete.

So. Where do we go from here? What on earth is there still to talk about when it comes to Harry Potter?

1. All the times Alaina cried
Dobby’s death. Harry burying Dobby. Ron coming back and saving Harry’s life. Ron and Hermione kissing (finally). Snape’s death. “The Forest Again.” (I bawled here, and I bawled during the movie theatre. I couldn’t help it!) Fred’s death.

2. The time that Alaina cried that actually surprised her
Percy’s return! For some reason, that just effing hit me this time around.

3. Dumbledore’s a cunning bastard
I think I really liked how it was finally hit upon the fact that Dumbledore was waging a war, but I don’t like how Harry just accepted it and moved on. I mean, yeah, Dumbledore was planning for Harry’s death the entire time, and while Harry thought about it before heading out to the Forbidden Forest, I expected him to go all CAPSLOCKY or something. But then again, Harry experienced a shit-ton of growth during this seventh year, and while he may not have liked it, he went to face his death anyway.

4. Snape’s Memories
In which Alaina finally proved victorious in the “Snape’s Good” discussion. This was the only teary edition of the “I Told You So” dance I’ve ever performed.

5. Dear Steve Kloves: You Suck. Love, Alaina
*ahem*
HARRY WAS THE ONE WHO DECIDED TO TAKE THE DRAGON OUT OF GRINGOTTS, NOT HERMIONE, YOU FUCKER. HERMIONE IS INDEED AWESOME, BUT LET OTHER PEOPLE BE AWESOME TOO.

6. Oh right, that other part where I cried

“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”

Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry’s ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” [723]

And so, until the next time: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Severus, Albus, Molly, Minerva, Fred, George, Ginny, Crookshanks, Sirius, Remus: we’ll miss you. And to J.K. Rowling: thank you.

Grade for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: 6 stars

Fiction: “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” by J.K. Rowling

It’s going to be hard for me to discuss this title, because there was a lot of supposition and theory that came out after its publication, and of course, now we know how it all ended. But when I first read it — hoo boy, the fights my sister and I would get into, the theories I’d read online, the wondering how it could possibly end …

And it’s that feeling (along with a couple of other things that happen) that makes this one of my favorite books in the series.

Obsessed!Harry
Thank goodness we’re done with Whiny!Harry. But what takes its place seems even more out of character, in my opinion: Harry’s obsession with what Draco’s doing. Because here’s my question: who cares? So Draco’s sneaking off and doing weird shit in Knockturn Alley, so what? So he wouldn’t let Madam Malkin touch his arm — big deal. Dear Harry: you are supposed to be wondering what Voldemort is up to; a student who may or may not have taken the Dark Mark shouldn’t be of any concern to you in the long run. I realize that this metaphor is most likely going to run away from me, but I think it fits: let’s say you’re on a hunting expedition in Africa, and you’re hunting lion. You shouldn’t be, because they are awesome and possibly endangered, but let’s say you’re hunting them anyway. If you’re tracking the biggest, most evil lion on the Serengeti, are you going to say “Hold on, that gazelle’s looking kind of dodgy, let me stop worrying about that big ass-lion and focus on that stupid gazelle for the rest of my time here”? NO YOU’RE NOT BECAUSE YOU PAID TO HUNT LION DIPSHIT.

… Yeah, I knew that metaphor wouldn’t work. I apologize.

ANYWAY. I mean, Draco’s always been a prat to Harry, but it seems like, all of a sudden, Harry thinks Draco’s up to something, and because Harry not only has a saving-people complex, but also has a buttinsky complex, he wants to know what he’s up to. Again, who cares? Focus on the lion!

And yeah, Harry turns out to be right, and it’s a huge sign of growth in Harry that he doesn’t go into the “I Told You So” dance in front of Hermione and Ron, but that is probably only because Bill is turning into a pseudo-werewolf in the next bed in the hospital wing. So, progress?

But, before I go into other themes, let me talk about the whole Sectumsempra thing. And let me take it from this perspective: I’m a girl. And, as a girl, I would occasionally run into girls crying in bathrooms. Hell, to this day I will try to avoid being dragged into a conversation with a stranger with running mascara. But here’s the thing — if I enter a bathroom and see someone crying, I don’t hang around. I go in, do my business, flush, wash my hands, and exit, usually without saying a single word. Now, granted, usually the crying person isn’t accompanied by a ghost, but still: the principle should apply in both the normal and the wizarding world. So, as a parting shot to Harry: DON’T SPY ON THE CRYING KID, EVEN IF IT IS DRACO. BE A MAN AND DUCK OUT AND CONFRONT HIM WHEN HE LEAVES. Geez, it’s only Etiquette 101 I’m talking about here.

Harry & Ginny
To that end, when did Harry fall in love with Ginny? I mean, last I knew, he was still brooding over Cho, and now all of a sudden, he smells the Amortentia potion and -boom!- insta!love for his best mate’s sister? Don’t get me wrong, I adore Ginny (and the entire Weasley clan, save Percy for obvious reasons), and I think Ginny is an excellent match for Harry — able to talk to him like a normal human being, not about to treat him with kid gloves, and above all, has also been violated (in a sense) by Voldemort — but the whole development came on quite suddenly, in my opinion. That’s all.

Quirrell
I know what you’re saying — “Quirrell? Did you go back in time? This year’s Defense teacher is Snape, dude. What’s Quirrell got to do with anything?” Well, if you’re like me, you were reading the chapter about when Voldemort asked to become Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, and Dumbledore reveals this:

“Oh, he definitely wanted the Defense Against the Dark Arts job,” said Dumbledore. “The aftermath of our little meeting proved that. You see, we have never been able to keep a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher for longer than a year since I refused the post to Lord Voldemort.” [446]

And here’s what I did when I read that this time: “But, weren’t Percy, Hagrid, and the Twins both familiar with Quirrell before Harry began at Hogwarts?”

So I did what any good scholar would do — I returned to Sorcerer’s Stoneto learn the situation. And here’s what Hagrid said back in that book about Quirrell’s post:

“Poor bloke. Brilliant mind. He was fine while he was studyin’ out of books but then he took a year off ter get some first-hand experience …. They say he met vampires in the Black Forest, and there was a nasty bit o’ trouble with a hag — never been the same since.” [SS, 70-71]

And there’s a nice essay over on the Harry Potter Lexicon (which is the best thing ever for HP geeks, might I add) that insinuates that Quirrell used to teach Muggle Studies before his sabbatical, and it wasn’t until his return that he taught the Defense post, which would be Harry’s first year. So apparently, that is not a mistake.

Luna and Neville
Again, Neville takes a backseat in this edition — it’s all about Harry, Voldemort, what’s Draco doing, and the Half-Blood Prince, but Luna Lovegood has some lovely moments. For instance, this moment involving both neglected parties:

“Are we still doing D.A. meetings this year, Harry?” asked Luna, who was detaching a pair of psychedelic spectacles from the middle of the Quibbler.

“No point now we’ve got rid of Umbridge, is there?” said Harry, sitting down. Neville bumped his head against the seat as he emerged from under it. He looked most disappointed.

“I liked the D.A.! I learned loads with you!”

“I enjoyed the meetings too,” said Luna serenely. “It was like having friends.”

This was one of those uncomfortable things Luna often said and which made Harry feel a squirming mixture of pity and embarrassment. [137-138]

To that end, I am always ecstatic when Harry invites Luna to the Slug Club Christmas party.

Foreshadowing
Before we get into the meat, let’s check off some foreshadowing bits we’ve talked about before. Remember that Vanishing Cabinet, and the Opal Necklace, all the way from back in the Chamber of Secrets? Yeah, so did Draco. (Maybe he read the books too? Like in Spaceballs, where they’re watching the movie to try and figure out what happens? oh god I just compared Harry Potter to Spaceballs)

And before we get to the next book: Marvolo Gaunt’s ring has the Peverell crest, and Harry hides his Potions book in a spot marked by a bust wearing a tiara. You’re welcome.

The Prophecy
The prophecy states that neither Harry nor Voldemort may live while the other survives. Pretty straight-forward, for a prophecy. It shows that one of them has to kill the other. And one of the things Harry struggles with in this book is: is he really the Chosen One? And while yes, he totally is, all because Voldemort overreacted (based on false knowledge) and went ahead and marked him instead of Neville because he thought Harry was going to be the bigger threat, it does bring up a question:

What if Neville had been the Chosen One? What would Harry’s life had been like? Would they have switched places in the lore? For instance: Voldemort goes to kill Alice and Frank Longbottom. Would Alice have stood in Voldemort’s place, insisting that he kill her and to spare Neville, thereby giving Neville the same protection that Harry got from Lily? Or would Voldemort have managed to kill Neville, too? And then, if that was the case, would that still leave Harry as the one to defeat Voldemort, thinking that the Potters would be the next logical choice?

But let’s say that what happened to Harry happened to Neville — he goes to his gran’s, and Harry grows up with Mom and Dad and Uncle Remus and Uncle Sirius. Would he have been the same kid in first year, or would he have ended up more like Draco? Would he still have been friends with Ron and Hermione?

It’s interesting to think about. But now, back to the prophecy. Essentially, Harry is still able to operate using free will. He doesn’t have to fight Voldemort because of the prophecy, or even for revenge against his parents or even because it’s just the right thing to do. But because Voldemort put so much into the prophecy and believes the bit he heard to end up coming true, Harry keeps getting drawn in because he’s who Voldemort believes will be the one to try and kill him. It’s knotty.

Dumbledore’s Man
And even through the prophecy talk, Harry still trusts Dumbledore. It’s a quick question for me — why has Harry always been faithful to Dumbledore? Because here’s my experience: in the first two books, Harry sees Dumbledore for all of ten minutes by himself, but admits to having huge faith in Dumbledore’s abilities down in the Chamber with the Basilisk. Why? How does he know to have that much faith in a man he’s barely spoken to?

I think it took a lot on Dumbledore’s part at the end of Order of the Phoenix to reinstill that much faith, trust and loyalty back in Harry. And that’s why, to me, it seems just quick for Harry to proclaim to Scrimgeour that he’s Dumbledore’s man, through and through. (Although I do feel it’s completely appropriate for Harry to not want to work with the Ministry, and how awesome is the scene where Harry shows Scrimgeour his scars from the lines Umbridge gave him?)

Snape
Before we dive right into this topic, allow me to set the scene: It’s mid-July, 2005. I was working as Concessions Manager at the Maine State Music Theatre, and the president of the board’s children had all been to Bookland one fateful Saturday at midnight to pick up their editions of Half-Blood Prince. I was supposed to pick up the copy for my sister on Monday, which was my day off.

So that night, I’m down in the green room brewing coffee, and one of the girls leaves their copy on a table. And I look at it, then back to the coffee. Look at the book, then back at the coffee. Finally, after at least a pot of coffee’s worth of that type of back and forth, I tiptoe over to the book and specifically choose a part in the book that’s close to the end, but nowhere near where the action usually blows up.

I specifically remember saying to myself, “It’s only one sentence — what harm could I possibly do?”

The sentence I magically turn to:

“Don’ say that,” said Hagrid roughly. “Snape kill Dumbledore — don’ be stupid, Harry. Wha’s made yeh say tha’?” [607]

Just … just breathe that in for a second. Imagine if that was you, and you had always proclaimed yourself to be Snape’s Girl. And that sentence is the first sentence you read from this book.

Yeah. My head exploded. Fast-forward to Monday, where I’m sitting on the couch, skimming through the book furiously before my sister comes home, my dad teasing me for reading Missy’s book from halfway through so that I’d know what happens before she does (including throwing a rolled up paper or something at my head — I remember that, Dad). My only hope was that somewhere, in either the section before or the section after, that there would be a spark of hope — that Snape was acting on Dumbledore’s orders, that Dumbledore wasn’t actually dead. Something. Anything.

Missy couldn’t be right about this.

(If you know me in ‘real life,’ you know that this mania is similar to bets I’ve had with my friend Brad about Lost: They can’t be dead already, because Brad can’t be right about this [he wasn’t])

As soon as she was done, I took her book and read it in record time, and I’ll never forget reading Dumbledore’s funeral for the first time: I was sitting cross-legged on the floor in my bedroom, and I was listening to U2’s Greatest Hits Volume I. I know this, because “All I Want is You” began playing as I began reading about the funeral. And that was the first time I’d cried reading a book.

And then this happened:
Me: I don’t care, I trust Snape to be good.
Missy: ARE YOU KIDDING ME
Me: I trust him. I know you don’t, but I think he did it for the right reason.
Missy: HE KILLED DUMBLEDORE
Me: I’ll bet he did it on Dumbledore’s orders to protect Draco!
Missy: What?!
Me: Or his Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa kicked in, forcing him to kill Dumbledore when it looked like Draco wasn’t going to do it.
Missy: No, you dumbass, he KILLED DUMBLEDORE because HE’S A FUCKING DEATH EATER.
Me: He’s still pretending to be a Death Eater!
Missy: Even Harry said — Snape’s not that good an actor!
Me: HOW DOES HARRY KNOW HOW GOOD AN ACTOR SNAPE IS, HE’S ONLY SEEN SNAPE FUCKING ACTING
Missy: SNAPE’S EVIL
Me: SNAPE’S GOOD and will BE REDEEMED in the last book!
Missy: THAT’S BULLSHIT
Me: YOU’RE BULLSHIT
Dad: WILL YOU TWO NERDS SHUT UP IN THERE I AM TRYING TO WATCH THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

My final thought, and it’s about the movie: I really wish they had allowed Alan Rickman to go full throttle in his final scene in Half-Blood Prince. I mean, Snape rarely gets the chance to go all CAPSLOCKY, and he’s afforded the chance when he CAPSLOCKS at Harry to NOT! CALL HIM! A COWARD!! And it would have been a perfect bookend to the scene in Spinner’s End, where Bellatrix accuses him of not going through with the Unbreakable Vow because she believes him to be a coward.

And that’s why I should be a director.

Grade for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: 5 stars

Fiction: “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix presents a difficult problem for me: Harry Potter burnout. I am now well over the hump, so to speak, of the Harry Potter mania in which I have been immersing myself, and I have already begun contemplating the order of books I will attempt to get through next. (Hint: there are two re-reads in a beloved series; the next title in that same series; the last title in another, hated series; the first title in a series [with a movie coming out in December that stars my favorite pretend boyfriend]; and finally, a couple of beloved treasures that I have not yet reviewed. In other words, stay tuned.) And while my hope was to complete the entire series before going to see Deathly Hallows, Part II, rest assured that did not happen. The final consequence of all this immersion is that it is now harder for me to slog through Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince than I would like to admit. And it’s not that I don’t love that entry in the series (and I’ll discuss that entry later, obviously); I’m just … I’m at the place where I want the next thing.

As Order of the Phoenix is the longest title in the series, I have attempted to create some coherence in an entry that would otherwise be at risk of being all over the map. Also, I would like to warn certain friends that have skipped around in the books, and, recognizing that there are some elements that were not in the movie, before I get too in-depth with this analysis, I must put a SPOILER ALERT on the whole proceedings.

That is all; proceed at your own risk.

Whiny Harry
Let us begin at the beginning – namely, the title character, and oh look, he brought his angst along for the ride this time.

I recognize that, in this entry, J.K. Rowling was attempting to show teenage angst from the viewpoint of her main character. I get it; show me a teenager that did not experience some level of angst during those years, and I’ll show you a future serial killer. Everyone goes through it. And as the Harry Potter series was, in some way, originally created as a young adult series, I can understand why it’s so important that the main character, as extraordinary as he is and in such extraordinary circumstances, goes through the same things that you or I did when we were fifteen. It’s another way in which we, the reader, can see our own problems in a character we admire. It makes us – and Harry – more human; more approachable.

Having said that – Jeebus H. Kristoff, were we reallythat awful? Did we really sound that entitled, that selfish, that … that bitchy? Really? Wait, you mean we actually sounded like this at some point?:

“Maybe [Dumbledore] thinks I can’t be trusted,” said Harry, watching their expressions.

“Don’t be thick,” said Ron, looking highly disconcerted.

“Or that I can’t take care of myself –”

“Of course he doesn’t think that!” said Hermione anxiously.

“So how come I have to stay at the Dursleys’ while you two get to join in everything that’s going on here?” said Harry, the words tumbling over one another in a rush, his voice growing louder with every word. “How come you two are allowed to know everything that’s going on –”

“We’re not!” Ron interrupted. “Mum won’t let us near the meeting, she says we’re too young –”

But before he knew it, Harry was shouting.

“SO YOU HAVEN’T BEEN IN THE MEETINGS, BIG DEAL! YOU’VE STILL BEEN HERE, HAVEN’T YOU? YOU’VE STILL BEEN TOGETHER! ME, I’VE BEEN STUCK AT THE DURSLEYS’ FOR A MONTH! AND I’VE HANDLED MORE THAN YOU TWO’VE EVER MANAGED AND DUMBLEDORE KNOWS IT – WHO SAVED THE SORCERER’S STONE? WHO GOT RID OF RIDDLE? WHO SAVED BOTH YOUR SKINS FROM THE DEMENTORS?”

Every bitter and resentful thought that Harry had had in the past month was pouring out of him; his frustration at the lack of news, the hurt that they had all been together without him, his fury at being followed and not told about it: All the feelings he was half-ashamed of finally burst their boundaries. [65-66]

I mean, really? We did that? Burst into loud yelling fits with no apparent reason – oh, we did, huh? Really, Mom? Oh.

Sorry.

But – as if being a teenaged wizard with abandonment issues and a god complex weren’t enough, Hermione later brings up another one of Harry’s psychoses that really paints a picture:

“You … This isn’t a criticism, Harry! But you do … sort of … I mean – don’t you think you’ve got a bit of a – a — saving-people-thing?” she said. [733]

If Harry Potter has a fatal flaw (and right now I can’t think of the term – it’s from Aristotelian drama or something), it has to be the need to save people. Be it the Sorcerer’s Stone from the hands of Snape, Ginny from the Chamber of Secrets – even saving Cedric from losing the Triwizard Tournament – Harry has to save people. And yes, all heroes have, to some extent, a saving-people thing. In a way, that’s what makes them heroes. But, in another way, that’s also what makes them crazy.

Professor Umbridge
Holy crap on a cracker, do I hate this woman. And I recognize that I am supposed to hate this woman. So, in a way, thank you, Ms. Rowling, for creating a character so uniformly hated by the entire populace who interacts in this fandom. I can’t think of a single person who actually likes Umbridge.

Aside from Voldemort, Umbridge has to be the best villain in the entire series. She’s a scorpion masquerading as a fluffy bunny. Even her kitten plates in her office are evil. She takes absolute glee in causing pain and suffering, and what’s worse, is that she knows what she’s doing is wrong. But for her, that’s what makes it that much better.

I mean, I cringe every time she issues another Educational Decree. I can feel the oppression that Umbridge is trying to create at Hogwarts when another Educational Decree is … well, decreed. I can only imagine that, given enough time and power, Umbridge could turn Hogwarts into something that resembles Auschwitz.

She’s that evil, guys. And that’s how much I hate her. That’s right – I just compared Umbridge to the Nazis.

Uh – moving on.

Professor McGonagall
On the other hand, there’s Professor McGonagall. She’d always been there, in the background in the previous books, but in Order of the Phoenix, she comes into her own as a character. And not just a character – a badass character. She is, as they would say on the interwebs, a badass motherfucker (BAMF).

Let’s look at the progression. Sure, there’s another smidgeon of the repartee between herself and Lee Jordan:

“And it’s Johnson, Johnson with the Quaffle, what a player that girl is, I’ve been saying it for years but she still won’t go out with me –”

“JORDAN!” yelled Professor McGonagall. [406]

But let’s also look at her interactions with Umbridge. From her inspection in which she blatantly ignores the High Inquisitor:

Hem hem.

“I wonder,” said Professor McGonagall in cold fury, turning on Professor Umbridge, “how you expect to gain an idea of my usual teaching methods if you continue to interrupt me? You see, I do not generally permit people to talk when I am talking.”

[…]

“Very well,” [Umbridge] said, “you will receive the results of your inspection in ten days’ time.”

“I can hardly wait,” said Professor McGonagall in a coldly indifferent voice, and she strode off toward the door. “Hurry up, you three,” she added, sweeping Harry, Ron, and Hermione before her. Harry could not help giving her a faint smile and could have sworn he received one in return. [320-321]

She’s so confident in her badass-itude, she’s sharing a smile with Harry in their rebellion against the evil bitch.

And then there’s this gem:

“Potter has no chance whatsoever of becoming an Auror!”

Professor McGonagall got to her feet too, and in her case this was a much more impressive move. She towered over Professor Umbridge.

“Potter,” she said in ringing tones, “I will assist you to become an Auror if it is the last thing I do! If I have to coach you nightly I will make sure you achieve the required results!” [665]

And finally, my most favorite Professor McGonagall moment ever:

Indeed, a week after Fred and George’s departure Harry witnessed Professor McGonagall walking right past Peeves, who was determinately loosening a crystal chandelier, and could have sworn he heard her tell the poltergeist out of the corner of her mouth, “It unscrews the other way.” [678]

Every time I read that line — every time — I put the book down so I can laugh. And then I cry a little bit, because Chris Columbus decided not to include Peeves in the first movie, which meant that that moment would never be seen on film.

Fred & George
And that provides an excellent segue into my most favorite scene from the entire series (thus far): Fred & George’s departure. As I said in my review for Goblet of Fire, Fred and George provide the humorous counterpoint to the drama surrounding Harry and his quest. But their first scene of true gravitas is, of course, their epic departure from Hogwarts:

“You two,” [Umbridge] went on, gazing down at Fred and George, “are about to learn what happens to wrongdoers in my school.”

“You know what?” said Fred. “I don’t think we are.”

He turned to his twin.

“George,” said Fred, “I think we’ve outgrown full-time education.”

“Yeah, I’ve been feeling that way myself,” said George lightly.

“Time to test our talents in the real world, d’you reckon?” asked Fred.

“Definitely,” said George.

[…]

“We won’t be seeing you,” Fred told Professor Umbridge, swinging his leg over his broomstick.

“Yeah, don’t bother to keep in touch,” said George, mounting his own.

Fred looked around at the assembled students, and at the silent, watchful crowd.

“If anyone fancies buying a Portable Swamp, as demonstrated upstairs, come to number ninety-three, Diagon Alley – Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes,” he said in a loud voice. “Our new premises!”

“Special discounts to Hogwarts students who swear they’re going to use our products to get rid of this old bat,” added George, pointing at Professor Umbridge.

[…]

Fred looked across the hall at the poltergeist bobbing on his level above the ground.

“Give her hell from us, Peeves.”

And Peeves, whom Harry had never seen take an order from a student before, swept his belled hat from his head and sprang to a salute as Fred and George wheeled about to tumultuous applause from the students below and sped out of the open front doors into the glorious sunset. [674-675]

HOW FUCKING COOL IS THAT. And look, I’ll admit: I have quitting fantasies. There are days when I go in, thinking maybe today’s the day to bust out the Lester Burnham speech [warning: not safe for work, language]. Or, possibly, maybe I just toss my nametag down and bust open my uniform shirt to reveal my soundtrack shirt, at which point I’ll queue up “Eye of the Tiger,” or possibly “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi, or something equally as appropriate and sweet. But there are days when I wish that I were a wizard and, on my way out, could turn to someone and say, “Give ’em hell for us, Peeves.” Or some sort of equivalent.

But I’m not going to quit, which is why they remain fantasies.

Sirius and Lupin
Before we get into weightier matters, let’s discuss the relationship between Sirius and Lupin. Because look: you can swear up one side and down the other that Lupin and Tonks fall in love and get married and have a baby (whoops – uh, spoiler alert?), but there ain’t NO WAY you are convincing me that Lupin and Sirius weren’t an item beforehand.

I mean, take a look at these pieces of evidence and try and tell me that they were ‘just friends’:

“Yes, but the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters,” said Sirius with a wry smile. “I know she’s a nasty piece of work, though – you should hear Lupin talk about her.” [302]

Sirius and Lupin had given Harry a set of excellent books entitled Practical Defensive Magic and Its Use Against the Dark Arts … [501]

“Here,” said Lupin quietly, and pointing his wand at Neville’s legs he said, “Finite.” The spell was lifted. Neville’s legs fell back onto the floor and remained still. Lupin’s face was pale. “Let’s – let’s find the others. Where are they all, Neville?”

Lupin turned away from the archway as he spoke. It sounded as though every word was causing him pain. [808]

See?

Aunt Petunia
I think Aunt Petunia is a revelation in this book. Before, she’d just been a shadow to Vernon, going along with everything he said to Harry and causing him equal amounts of misery. But here, she’s shown as a person with a history, and more importantly, more knowledge of Harry’s world than even she knows.

“A couple of – what’s this codswallop?”

“De – men – tors,” said Harry slowly and clearly. “Two of them.”

“And what the ruddy hell are dementors?”

“They guard the wizard prison, Azkaban,” said Aunt Petunia.

Two seconds’ ringing silence followed these words and then Aunt Petunia clapped her hand over her mouth as though she had let slip a disgusting swear word. [31]

When I read this passage, I do the same thing: read through it, and then shake my head and reread to ensure that yes, that was Aunt Petunia who spoke.

Even Harry recognizes this new information as a revelation:

[Petunia] was looking at Harry as she had never looked at him before. And all of a sudden, for the very first time in his life, Harry fully appreciated that Aunt Petunia was his mother’s sister. He could not have said why this hit him so very powerfully at this moment. All he knew was that he was not the only person in the room who had an inkling of what Lord Voldemort being back might mean. Aunt Petunia had never in her life looked at him like that before. Her large, pale eyes (so unlike her sister’s) were not narrowed in dislike or anger: They were wide and fearful. The furious pretense that Aunt Petunia had maintained all Harry’s life – that there was no magic and no world other than the world she inhabited with Uncle Vernon – seemed to have fallen away. [38]

And we, the reader, also remember here that Petunia was in fact related to Lily. It’s hard to remember in the first books that Petunia was related to a witch, but this little moment does a lot to remind us of that information. And, in a way, it also makes Harry’s world a little smaller. Just as the world isn’t truly divided into good people and Death Eaters, so the world is also not truly divided between wizards and Muggles.

Snape and his Memory
I don’t even know where to start. I mean, I have been Snape’s Girl since the beginning, since reading Sorcerer’s Stone and yelling at my sister that Snape was good, he was going to be a good guy and fight on the side of the light. Regardless of who was cast to play Snape (though I still thank God that He created Alan Rickman, because I can’t imagine anyone else who could have done that character justice), I would have trusted in him to the ends of the earth. I know a trope when I see one, guys, and Snape Being Good was proclaimed from the turrets in the first book.

But Snape’s Worst Memory – and the entire business about Occlumency – showed the more human side of Snape. That he was a person, that he had feelings, and that there was more to him than what he had shown Harry.

But before we get to the memory, we also learn that Snape is hiding fear:

“How come I saw through the snake’s eyes if it’s Voldemort’s thoughts I’m sharing?”

Do not say the Dark Lord’s name!” spat Snape.

There was a nasty silence. They glared at each other across the Pensieve.

“Professor Dumbledore says his name,” said Harry quietly.

“Dumbledore is an extremely powerful wizard,” Snape muttered. “While he may feel secure enough to use the name … the rest of us …” He rubbed his left forearm, apparently unconsciously, on the spot where Harry knew the Dark Mark was burned into his skin. [332]

This scene shows how fearful Snape is of Voldemort, regardless of what role he is currently playing. (We learn more about this role in the next book, so I won’t get into it here.)

And then, there’s the memory. And, being Snape’s Girl, I cringe every time Harry makes the decision to peek into the Pensieve. I want to yell, “Come on, you berk, don’t do that! That shit’s private! How do you feel every time Snape sees Dudley bullying you in your memories? He’s a person too!” But that doesn’t matter to Harry, because he doesn’t think Snape’s hiding anything personal; he thinks he (along with the rest of the ‘grown-ups,’ if you will) are hiding stuff about the Department of Mysteries from him, because he’s a baby and nobody tells him anything and oh look, it’s Whiny McWhinerson reporting for duty again.

But then when he sees the memory, there’s elation at the fact that he gets to follow the Marauders around for an afternoon. He gets to see Sirius and James in action, and of course Harry’s going to hang around with them at any chance he can get. But when he sees James for who he really was back in ‘high-school,’ flipping Snape upside-down just because he could, Harry feels legitimately awful. And I hate Sirius a little bit for smoothing over the whole thing later, by saying James and Snape just hated each other and that was that, because that alleviates Harry’s huge guilt over what he shouldn’t have seen in the Pensieve.

And as much as I enjoyed the movie, I still say that Snape’s Worst Memory was not done justice in either Order of the Phoenix or in Deathly Hallows, Part II. And I’ll touch more on that later.

The Prophecy
This topic was hugely discussed once everyone had read Order of the Phoenix. What did that mean? Maybe Harry wasn’t the Chosen One, maybe it was someone else who had to kill Voldemort? I mean, yeah, Dumbledore explains that because Voldemort’s an impatient prat (and the fact that Voldemort only heard the first part of the prophecy) he went ahead and marked Harry as his equal in trying to kill him, thereby naming Harry as the other person in the prophecy, but what if it had been someone like Neville?

But before I get to him, let me take one moment to talk about Dumbledore. He says this, when leading himself up to telling Harry about the Prophecy:

“Do you see, Harry? Do you see the flaw in my brilliant plan now? I had fallen into the trap I had foreseen, that I had told myself I could avoid, that I must avoid.” [838]

Dumbledore had a brilliant plan. And the way I interpreted it on this go-round, having read Deathly Hallows before, is that he had a plan, and Harry was a part of it. To me, this revealed a cunning, manipulative side of Dumbledore that we hadn’t previously seen. In essence, he’s admitting to using Harry as a pawn in a larger game of Wizard’s Chess than he had anticipated.

Makes you think.

Neville Longbottom
And now, my final topic (yay!): Neville. Neville, who we have seen in the background throughout this series so far, is now coming into his own. Punching Malfoy when he makes a snide remark about St. Mungo’s (I’m unsure if Malfoy knows the significance of that ward to Neville; I’m inclined to believe he doesn’t, and that, even amongst enemies, some things are left sacred), devoting his time and energy to Dumbledore’s Army so much that he almost becomes equal with Harry (and much better than Ron) at some of those jinxes and anti-curses. Who’s to say, if Voldemort’s spy had heard the last half of the prophecy, would Neville have become Voldemort’s equal?

Thus concludes my longest entry ever. I think it’s fitting, as this book is, I believe, even longer than Gone With the Wind. But, even if it isn’t longer, I think the true testament to how awesome the series is (in the true sense of the word awesome) is how much this book makes us think and imagine.

Thanks, Ms. Rowling.

Grade for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: 4 stars