Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic Press, 2005)

Genre: fiction, young adult (YA), fantasy, supernatural, mystery, suspense

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Book vs. Movie (i.e. Venn Diagram, Persuasive Essay), Reader’s Theatre, KWL Chart
  • Social Studies: Scale Diagram of Hogwarts, Map of Hogwarts, Timeline of Hogwarts vs. Real World…
  • Math: “Design Hogwarts” – based on information provided from the book, students create floor plans, diagrams or models of what they think Hogwarts looks like; “Potions” – students measure and record ingredients for the science part of this lesson (below)…
  • Science: “Potions” – students use correct measurements of ingredients to predict reactions between chemicals, create a set number of reactions, and record the reaction and observations in their science journals…

*Author’s Note: There have been numerous reviews of Harry Potter to date, and  Rowling has racked up many awards for her books.  I’m going to try and stay away from writing things that can be easily found in other reviews from years past. Note that I am now nearly 24 years old and this is my first time reading Harry Potter, which was published when I was in elementary school. I remember my mother reading them, and then my middle brother. I was into other genres, and for some reason I had an unfounded stigma toward Harry Potter. I have seen the first four movies; I didn’t really keep up with the latter movies. But I didn’t know what was going on because I missed out on so much that was in the books! I wish that I had read Harry Potter as I was growing up, instead of waiting – I feel that I’ve lost a lot of the magic in waiting, and also in seeing the movies before reading the books.

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SPOILERS from BOOK 4 & 5

We already know from previous books that Harry has had a couple throw-downs with Lord Voldemort, and being at Hogwarts is his protection. From the last book we now know he has a very dedicated group of people, The Order of the Phoenix, as well as dedicated friends. The Order is working to ultimately bring down Lord Voldemort and thwart his plans for takeover. Things got very dicey in the last book, and many Death Eaters are now in Azkaban, while others are out. As if Harry didn’t have enough hanging over his head, he hears the eery prophecy when it breaks at the Ministry of Magic. Interestingly enough, Voldemort thinks Harry’s retrieved it. I was sure that’s what this book was going to center around – the great prophecy….

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches … born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies … and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not … and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives … 

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Snape makes the Unbreakable Vow

Despite having committed, dedicated friends who have his back, Harry has not told Ron or Hermione about the prophecy. Only he and Dumbledore know what the prophecy says, although there is much speculation flying around in The Daily Prophet, which has know quite quickly changed its tune from Harry Potter/Dumbledore hater to Harry is the “Chosen One.” Dumbledore urges Harry to tell Ron and Hermione, but still is reluctant. He does so, but leaves out the part about the prophecy possibly being about Neville, and how Voldemort chose Harry, thinking that’s who the prophecy intended (based on his very limited information). Dumbledore has also returned to school with a blackened, shriveled hand that he continually puts off explaining…as well as an interesting ring that was a Slytherin heirloom. Dumbledore also instructs Harry to carry his Invisibility Cloak with him at all times…

I noticed straight off in this book that Harry is exuding more thought processing than has been shown in previous books, and it’s due largely in part to the fact that Hermione and Ron aren’t as concerned with what Draco Malfoy is doing, where he’s going, and they don’t believe Harry when he admits that he believes Draco to be a Death Eater. And another very odd thing happens: Snape has been given the green light to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, a post he’s been pining to teach for over 15 years, and rejected each year. He is also firm in his belief that Sirius’ death is Snape’s fault, due to Snape taunting Sirius’ inability to really contribute to the Order, being holed up at 12 Grimmauld Place.

JIM BROADBENT as Professor Horace Slughorn and DANIEL RADCLIFFE as Harry Potter - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Professor Slughorn returns to Hogwarts

Harry is taking private lessons with Dumbledore and learns some interesting history about Lord Voldemort. Through these lessons he learns nothing he really doesn’t already know about Voldemort’s character, but he does learn extremely valuable information regarding Voldemort’s past. Meanwhile, Dumbledore is not getting along well with the new Minister of Magic, who was previously the head of the Auror department at the Ministry. And for good reason to, as we find out. The new Potions Professor, Slughorn, is trying to collect student who have strong connections to powerful or famous wizards into an exclusive club….and Draco is quite trite that he’s not been invited to join and partake of all the activities.

During a Potions class, Harry is assigned a temporary book that has additional notes for potion-making and even some made-up charms, with a scribbling on the back cover that the book belongs to the Half-Blood Prince. There’s no indication who this Prince is, but I immediately thought it was Voldemort – given that he’s always lamented and cursed his Muggle father. Harry, however, thinks that the Half-Blood Prince is his own father, James. Hermione is irritated that Harry follow’s the Half-Blood Prince’s annotations and directions and is suddenly excelling in Potions class – even surpassing Hermione.

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Puzzled over the Half-Blood Prince

However, just as a rift occurred before between Ron and Hermione, another one does…over the same set of circumstances: matters of the heart. Ron and Hermione are secretly crushing on the other, but are at odds about it. Ron is quite mean to Hermione, who avoids being present like Ron’s carrying the Black Plague. And there’s another unsuspected crush going on for Harry, and he’s apt to keep it secret and quiet. And the icing on the cake for the first semester is Katie Bell being cursed by a mysterious necklace that she mysteriously came into possession of and needed to deliver to someone…at Hogwarts. The very same necklace Harry say Draco Malfoy looking at years before in Knockturn Alley. She gets sent to St. Mungo’s.

To show off his fame (by association), Slughorn invites many to a Christmas party. Draco is found trying to sneak in, and an odd moment is exchanged between him and Snape. Harry secretly follows them and overhears a conversation that is quite questionable – and once again brings the matter of Snape’s loyalties and trust to the forefront. This information is of course brushed off by Ron, Mr. Weasley and Remus at Christmas, when a very unexpected and unwelcome visitor (by everyone but Mrs. Weasley) shows up at the Burrow: Percy – with the Minister in tow! The Minister essentially wants Harry to make the Ministry look good, and he wants privileged information of Dumbledore’s comings and goings. He gets quite angry when Harry refuses:

He raised his right fist. There, shining white on the back of his cold hand, were the scars which Dolores Umbridge had forced him to carve into his own flesh: I must not tell lies.

“I don’t remember you rushing to my defense when I was trying to tell everyone Voldemort was back. The Ministry wasn’t so keen to be pals last year.”

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Harry’s homework task – collecting a memory

This is quite a risky move, given the power the Minister of Magic holds and Harry’s shaky past with the Ministry. Even riskier, Harry openly admits that his is “Dumbledore’s man, through and through.” He has definitely declared his allegiance.

Upon the return to Hogwarts, Harry begins religiously hunting for Malfoy on the Maurader’s Map, hoping to catch him up to something…but at times, Harry can’t find Malfoy on the map! How can he be leaving the grounds? Other revelations continue to pop up for the remainder of the book, setting Harry on edge and making him continually wonder and ponder – and possibly jump to conclusions. Dumbledore sets him what seems an impossible task, but it is the final piece of the puzzle explaining how Voldemort came to be what he is  – and the secret to possibly toppling his crudely-built empire of power.

This book will definitely leave you shocked, wondering and questioning just as Harry has always done. It will completely throw readers, and it leaves the fate of Hogwarts up in the air. I said of the last book that it was set apart from the rest of the series because it was setting some big things in motion – and this book has definitely shown a glimpse of that. I expect Rowling to go no-holds-barred for the final book of the series.

If you’ve never read the Harry Potter series, I highly encourage you to do so. It is truly an enjoyable (and easy) read. Check out what Harry, Ron and Hermione will run into in the next book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

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

Genre: fiction, young adult (YA), fantasy, supernatural, mystery, suspense

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Book vs. Movie (i.e. Venn Diagram, Persuasive Essay), Reader’s Theatre, KWL Chart
  • Social Studies: Scale Diagram of Hogwarts, Map of Hogwarts, Timeline of Hogwarts vs. Real World…
  • Math: “Design Hogwarts” – based on information provided from the book, students create floor plans, diagrams or models of what they think Hogwarts looks like; “Potions” – students measure and record ingredients for the science part of this lesson (below)…
  • Science: “Potions” – students use correct measurements of ingredients to predict reactions between chemicals, create a set number of reactions, and record the reaction and observations in their science journals…

*Author’s Note: There have been numerous reviews of Harry Potter to date, and  Rowling has racked up many awards for her books.  I’m going to try and stay away from writing things that can be easily found in other reviews from years past. Note that I am now nearly 24 years old and this is my first time reading Harry Potter, which was published when I was in elementary school. I remember my mother reading them, and then my middle brother. I was into other genres, and for some reason I had an unfounded stigma toward Harry Potter. I have seen the first four movies; I didn’t really keep up with the latter movies. But I didn’t know what was going on because I missed out on so much that was in the books! I wish that I had read Harry Potter as I was growing up, instead of waiting – I feel that I’ve lost a lot of the magic in waiting, and also in seeing the movies before reading the books. Also note that there are spoilers in this review toward the end.

We already know from the first book that Harry is going to encounter a scary, dangerous situation while at Hogwarts – and it is all about him. (Cue Voldemort and his minions.) Each subsequent book in the series brings additional characters into the life of Harry Potter. And with them come more knowledge, more mystery and more story lines.

The fourth book of the series doesn’t start out with Harry. Instead, we get a glimpse of the life of the Riddles – all who mysteriously die in the night of no determined cause. But each had a “look of terror on his or her face” and the long-time gardener overhears a plotting conversation and Harry awakes with his scar hurting. Oh boy.

Difference of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.

Harry is looking forward to the end of his summer and the Quidditch World Cup, between Ireland and Bulgaria. Mr. Weasley has scored the best seats in the house for the Weasley clan and Ron’s two friends. However, Harry takes note of some odd things Ron’s older brother Percy (now working at the Ministry of Magic) says about some peculiarities at the Ministry, as well as some other abnormal things about two heads of Ministry departments, Crouch and Bagman, and the odd disappearance of  Ministry woman in the last known location of You-Know-Who. Although the Quidditch match is quite rousing, something goes horribly wrong…

Death Eaters (Voldemort’s strongest supporters, cloaked and hooded) are storming the place seeking Muggle blood – and Harry, Ron and Hermione are in the wrong place at the wrong time when Voldemort’s Dark Mark is cast into the sky. Ministry officials are overwhelmingly suspicious of Harry, Ron and Hermione, until they find Crouch’s house-elf Winky standing in the spot where the Dark Mark was cast…with Harry’s wand! Crouch immediately dismisses the terrified Winky, but raises the question in everyone’s mind: Why did Crouch send Winky to save him a seat in the Top Box, where the Weasleys, Harry, Hermione, the Malfoys and other Ministry officials were seated, if he wasn’t going to show up for the Quidditch match? Harry knows he has to tell Sirius, still in hiding.

The Goblet of Fire
The Goblet of Fire

Harry and Ron learn before setting off for Hogwarts that there won’t be any Quidditch matches or a Cup to be won – something quite different will be happening this school year. At the feast, Dumbledore explains all: a Triwizard Tournament!

A friendly competition between the three largest European schools of wizardry: Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang in which in the past the death toll mounted so high that the tournament was discontinued. YIKES!

The tournament has been restricted to wizards age seventeen and older so that unprepared wizards are not at risk. It will be judged by the three headmasters of the competing schools, as well as a few other objective judges including Crouch. One representative from each school (Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang) will be selected by the Goblet of Fire to be the “champion” of their school and compete in three tasks. Yet…Harry’s name is chosen as the fourth competitor! And he must compete – it’s the rules! No one believes him that he didn’t submit his name, and it sets a huge rift between Harry and Ron. A lot of anger lies between them, and Hermione is trying to bring them back together. Meanwhile, the whole school is angry at him, taunting him with ridiculous lies from a reporter’s article, flashing POTTER STINKS buttons. Everyone’s turned on Harry, and he’s definitely got the feeling of being and outcast. Sirius and the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Moody, are on alert: someone put Harry’s name in the Goblet of Fire – because they want him dead!

CONSTANT VIGILENCE!

"Mad-Eye" Moody
“Mad-Eye” Moody

Hogwarts gets a new, but rather old, Professor for Defense Against the Dark Arts. Indeed, “Mad-Eye” Moody is quite qualified: he used to work at the Ministry as an Auror (a Dark wizard catcher). Snape avoids Mad-Eye (as well as Drumstrang’s headmaster). He goes against Ministry restrictions for teaching: he wants students to be prepared for danger, and teaches students how to recognize the three Unforgivable Curses (one of which killed Harry’s parents), and how to combat them. And he also highly embarrasses Malfoy in quite a humorous way. He is obviously Harry’s secret champion, a fresh delight in the quite ugly and nastiness that is Snape.

They get a weird vibe from Durmstrang’s headmaster, Karkaroff. They’re on even higher alert when Karkaroff bursts into the dungeon during a Potions lesson. Harry fiddles and spills things to stay and overhear their conversation, with Karkaroff showing Snape something in great fear, who shushes him. And Harry finds Crouch himself ransacking Snape’s office from his magical map, which he hands over to Moody. If Crouch is so sick, as the Ministry and Percy Weasley are insisting, why is he sneaking into Hogwarts? Things are not adding up….

Hermione helps arrange for Harry to meet Sirius in late November in the Gryffindor common room. And boy does Sirius have a lot to say! He shares some scary information about Karkaroff, connecting him to Voldemort, and perhaps the reason Dumbledore wanted an Auror at Hogwarts…to keep Harry safe. Sirius is very strict in asking Harry to notify him of any strange happenings, which actually happens quite frequently.

Triwizard Tournament
Triwizard Tournament

Harry and Ron do make up; being boys, they leave things unsaid but Harry is more mindful of Ron and his feelings. The gang work together to help Harry complete the last two tasks. Harry gets in the good graces of Beauxbatons champion Fleur, and Karkaroff, is continually unfair in his judging marks for Harry’s tasks.

All the while, Hermione is hellbent on advocating for house-elves, who are basically slaves. But they’re delighted about their work, which Hermione doesn’t understand. Dobby and Mr. Crouch’s formerly employed Winky come to work at Hogwarts, and Winky reveals that Crouch has some rather dark secrets. Winky upholds that she won’t reveal them, and insists that Mr. Bagman is a bad man….but toward the end of the book we find out that Bagman and Crouch are kind of enemies and exactly what kind of secrets Winky has been keeping.

During Voldemort’s powerful time, Crouch was an avid prosecutor of his supporters – he was definitely on a manhunt. Harry gets the full experience of Crouch coldly sending his only child, his only son, to Azkaban without a trial, without an explanation as to how he got swept into the Dark Arts. Some insisted he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, which even Harry has been accused of…and which a young Bagman was also accused of. But his popularity as an England Quidditch player roused sympathy and support, which eliminated his connection with Voldemort. Crouch was none too happy that his peers let Bagman walk free. Indeed, throughout the entire book, play goes back and forth between Bagman and Crouch making readers think one is connected with Voldemort, who we learn some interesting information about. Harry also finds out who some of the other Death Eaters are, and is very surprised to find one of them is a professor at Hogwarts!

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Even Dumbledore was fooled…

During the final task, Harry saves Cedric’s butt a couple of times…and they find that Durmstrang’s champion is not what he seems. Harry is badly hurt, and he and Cedric make a monumental decision as to the outcome of the winning champion. And what they get is not at all what they expected, as Harry comes face to face with Voldemort again. And this time Voldemort’s out for blood – Harry’s – and death.

The ending is QUITE twisted – readers will definitely be thrown for a loop as all comes together and is explained. It is quite a lot, but brings Sirius to Harry’s side…and dually he reveals himself to Mrs. Weasley and Snape. Snape and Sirius unceremoniously agree to disagree over their tangled past at Dumbledore’s urging, and to help Harry and the wizarding world.

You are on the same side now. Time is short, and unless the few of us who know the truth stand united, there is no hope for any of us. 

Dumbledore sends Snape off on a covert task, that will be revealed in a later book. Sirius is sent to rally “the old gang.” Mr. Weasley is called upon to reach out to contacts in the Ministry who won’t turn a blind eye to the fact that Voldemort is back – and many within the Ministry who were cleared so many years ago are indeed still supporting the murderous Dark Lord.

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Durmstrang champion and Hermione

One thing of great note that’s different from the other books so far is that readers get more exposure to Harry’s inner thoughts – he wants to enter the Triwizard Tournament, he wants to cast an Unforgivable Curse on Snape, etc. This is probably due in large part to the volatile amount of anger Harry has, especially toward Ron, and feeling as if everyone at Hogwarts hates him.

Also of important note is the growing crush of Hermione and Ron. Ron is extremely jealous of Hermoine, how she spends her time and who she spends it with. It will be interesting to see if this continues throughout the series or if Hermione decides she’s had enough of Ron’s oafish ways.

No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it. What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does. 

Of the series so far, I think I enjoyed this book the most. It was quite a bit longer, but I loved the entire idea wrapped up in this book – Rowling did some thorough planning and dropped hints at just the right times. If you’ve never read the Harry Potter series, I highly encourage you to do so. It is truly an enjoyable (and easy) read.

Check out what Harry, Ron and Hermione will run into in the next book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Book Review: The Keeper of Dawn

The Keeper of Dawn by J.B. Hickman (Shadeflower Press, 2012)

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Genre: YA, fiction

*Nominated as a finalist for Young Adult Fiction by the Midwest Book Awards.

*Awarded “Reviewer’s Choice” for Midwest Book Review.

*Contender in Round 2 of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest 2013.

I received a digital copy via Smashwords in return for an honest review.

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Symbol and Theme, Reader’s Theatre, Reflections
  • Social Studies: Scale Diagram of Raker Island, Map of Raker Island, Timeline
  • Math: “Design the Island” – based on information provided from the book, students create floor plans, diagrams or models of Wellington Academy

This is Hickman’s debut novel, and I found it interesting that he shared how pieces of this book came to be, including the title and some of the research he did. If you are a budding writer, you may want to check it out.

They had become a stain in my memory, the letters bleeding indeterminably together. But their impact lingered. 

Hickman most definitely hits the proverbial nail on the head, in so many ways in The Keeper of Dawn. Rebellion at its finest. It rips away the prestige of privileged boys and exposes what lies behind them, both in their personal lives and their school/career lives. The Raker Island lighthouse is both a symbol and a motif in this novel about four young boys sent to boarding school. I could not put this book down, and thought I’d finish it in one sitting. But life interrupted, and I had to finish in a few installments late at night which I think detracted from the momentum of the novel, and also the emotional connection between the characters and I. I’ve tried to capture all that I could in this review without spilling the beans, but let me tell you two things: Hickman’s written a stellar novel, and you won’t be disappointed! This book belongs alongside other award-winning young adult novels about coming of-age, life lessons and facing demons of the past.

Nothing stays for long. Nothing but that lighthouse.

Oh, how true this proves to be…

Sons of great men are sent to a belly-up island resort turned prep school, Wellington Academy, off the coast of Rhode Island. Rebellion is in the minds of adolescent boys, especially the flashy Governor’s angry son, Chris, who detests his father’s attitudes and tries to be everything his father is not. He acts out extremely to bring a glaring light onto Governor Forsythe.

Jacob Hawthorne, the main character, is a serious 15 year-old son of privilege. Yet he is nervous to meet his father, the “great vanisher” who continually disappears out of his life, on the celebratory parents’ day at his school. His mother professes that he’s a great man, but she’s not entirely convinced herself. Indeed, Jacob is sent to Raker Island to Wellington, the same resort island his parents honeymooned on. He’s been sent there so he won’t follow in his older brother’s footsteps, and he’s determined not to enjoy a moment of it. He yearns for his father’s approval – would even settle for acknowledgement – and has stolen a photo of his father from his mother’s wedding album. His father stands on the very same island he is now imprisoned on, and he often finds himself gazing at the photo.

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Mr. Stanley Roper (Normal Fell)

Benjamin Bailey, Jacob’s roommate, is the overweight kid who’s always left out, and swears he plays fair. Although he is a pessimist – or rather, because of it – he keeps his “unfavorable opinions to himself.” However, that quickly changes when popular Chris cozies up to him for a covert mission after lights-out. It goes terribly wrong for Ben, who then avoids the boys even though they rescued him. Things continue to get horribly worse for Benjamin at Wellington, forcing him to leave. 😦

Derek Meyhew is the equivalent of Mr. Roper from Three’s Company: the nosy neighbor, always butting and barging in. In the very first chapter, he’s telling Benjamin how to do up his tie with the eerily foreshadowing comment: The secret to a proper noose is you need just enough length to hang yourself. 

After a run-in with the ill-fated Chris and his sidekick Roland leaves them all with the punishment of helping the maintenance man, Max, restore the buildings and grounds, and another run-in with a group of upper-classmen and two quite accidental plays on the football field during an intramural game between halls, Jacob’s in for it. There will be no more “flying under the radar” for Jacob Hawthorne at Wellington…but a bond grows between him and the school’s maintenance man, Max, that will prove invaluable.

Looking for Alaska | John Green
Looking for Alaska | John Green

These boys band together for mischievous purposes at Wellington, breaking quite a few rules. The old abandoned lighthouse, rumored to be haunted, serves as a place that makes these young men face the the not-so-well hidden realities of their lives, their families, and ultimately their destinies, serves to leave the buried secrets and fears in the dark…and incites them to grander adventures. It reminds me starkly of the barn scene (The Best and Worst Days) in Looking for Alaska in such a way that both makes me happy as a reader, but sad given what I know will eventually happen.

Meanwhile, other boys are taking notice of the group, begrudgingly dubbed The Headliners, in honor of their morning ritual of pouring over the news headlines searching for news of their fathers, when one day all of their fathers make headlines: Chris looking for Governor Forsythe’s next ridiculous act for attention to get voted back into his cozy seat; Derek seeing how his father’s home security company is faring financially; Roland perusing his four-star general father’s new post-Vietnam military strategies, and Jacob catching up on the court rulings so he doesn’t hear his judge father’s decisions from someone else. The Headliners take it upon themselves to help Jake out when it comes to his arch enemy, “Loosy-Goosy” by playing a few pranks on him.

Dead Poet's Society
Dead Poets Society

Wellington’s new “absent-minded” history professor, O’Leary, from a rival school, is much like Mr. Keating in Dead Poets Society. He invokes the students to question, to think, and he also pursues Jacob in an effort to provide some guidance and support. At their first meeting, he assures the students:

It is my job to present the facts. It is your job to decipher them. There will be no fence-sitters in my classroom. To not have an opinion is to not be informed. 

A few grand schemes lead to some very unplanned and unexpected scares and injuries, separating all the boys. Long hidden secrets are revealed; all but one. Hype and the outside world is brought to the secluded island when Wellington hosts the 1980 Senatorial Debate – and things go horribly, horribly wrong, as planned by the boys. This begins the unmistakable scrutiny of both Wellington and Chris’ governor father. But as the book progresses and nears the end, you find that things are not quite as they seem with Jacob and his father, and a long-buried, painful memory is brought into the light of day in the newly renovated and serviceable Raker lighthouse.

Denial can lie very thick in a child’s heart.

But if certain events are edited, perhaps even omitted altogether, how much trust can we put in the printed word?

I had forgotten most of it, or made up lies to decive myself into believing something less hurtful than the truth. 

The three quotes above are the essence of this book. We can’t talk about it – buy you can find out what I mean by reading the book. 🙂

The title of this book comes from a quote by a Coast Guard man whose grandfather was a lighthouse keeper:

They started a movement to preserve their profession. They wanted to go back to the way things were. All those years lighting the night sky, of preserving at least a glimmer of the dawn, and they didn’t know how to live without it. Something very dear had been taken from them, and they fought with everything they had to not let it go.

They were the Keepers of Dawn…just as Jacob will become.

The prologue is a bit disjointed, and it’s not clear in the divided section where he is. From vague comments, the first seems to be his initial trip to boarding school, while the second is back at his often deserted home. The fact that nothing looked recognizable to him suggests some amount of time has passed. The disjointedness of the first few chapters and the confusion in the last few will all be revealed – and explain these peculiarities (and in this case, tools) of writing.

Jacob’s memories don’t match up with the physical appearances of the present, but he is always pressing on … because of David. His parents hold his grandfather responsible for what happened to his older brother, David, and the reason behind why he left. Jacob seeks out his estranged grandfather to find out exactly what kind of hand he had in David’s leaving, and ends up forging a new-found bond that endures while he is at Wellington. It stays unchanged and keeps him grounded when everything else in his life is going one speed: hellbent.

The first chapter is noticeably jumpy from the first to second paragraphs, creating the same disjointedness as in the prologue. This appears again throughout the novel, juxtaposing the present with the past. It’s not clear why this is until it’s occurred few times. His flashbacks of the times spent with his grandfather are indeed juxtaposed in a sequence creating a parallel of his relationship with his grandfather and his experiences at Wellington: when he recounts first meeting his grandfather after all the years (and the David business), it directly follows the new start at Wellington; becoming familiar and less formal with his grandfather also follows an event of The Headliners in which it is apparent that they are indeed friends.

His grandfather is remarkable in that he has a lot of metaphors and similes about life, such as the following about bonsai trees:

*in reference to him, his son (Jake’s father), and David (and even Jake himself)….

Like most of us…they’re set in their ways. It’s taken years for their branches to grow to where you see them today. They have to be guided when they are young by wiring their trunks. Then the sunlight takes things from there. For most of them, it would be hard to change their location. The young ones could handle it, but the older ones like Julius here wouldn’t much care for it at all.

*in reference to his son’s absence from most of Jake’s life (and probably David’s too)….

Their name is a reminder that their life is in your hands….And they’ll know if you neglect them.

Being a good caretaker requires more than just performing the day-to-day chores. Perhaps most important of all, a bonsai needs to be loved. 

*in reference to himself and his son, and their behavior to their sons….

I meddle too much. I either cut too far back, or trim too often. That’s the mistake of an amateur – to try and do too much. You don’t want to smother them, but it’s human nature to tamper, to try to mold them into a particular image. It’s a mistake made innocently enough, but one that can have disastrous consequences. 

spoiler-alert

One of the many sad parts of this book was at the end of the chapter with the bonsai trees. Jake adopts one from his grandfather and eventually takes it home. The sight startled his own father and “sealed [his] fate to Raker Island” he was later to discover….and SO SO much more that I wish I could spill because I’m dying to gush about this book, but I don’t want to ruin it. I was saddened to see the progression of the bond between these boys (and the reasons for it), followed quickly by the disintegration of the boys’ friendship, as predicted by Mr. O’Leary in his warning to Jacob in the very beginning:

Are you part of it, Jake? Or are you caught up in it?….In adolescence, boys are clannish. Girls are intimate, but boys are more tribal. They’re like wolves – they socialize in packs. They’re loyal to those in their pack, but suspicious of outsiders. When a boy comes to boarding school, he is alone for the first time in his life. As a result, he loses his identity in the group. But it is also in the group that he truly finds himself. Forget about education, forget about the Ivy League and that six-figure job at the end of the road. A boarding school’s real mission is to give boys good tribes with good elders. If this is done properly, they will prosper and grow. But give them no tribes, and they will create their own without elders, and they will become irretrievably lost.

That’s what a scare is. A reminder that once upon a time you were hurt bad enough to be changed by it. 

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

hp3
Book #3 cover art

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (1999)

Genre: Fiction, young adult (YA), fantasy, supernatural

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Book vs. Movie (i.e. Venn Diagram, Persuasive Essay), Reader’s Theatre
  • Social Studies: Scale Diagram of Hogwarts, Map of Hogwarts, Timeline of Hogwarts vs. Real World…
  • Math: “Design Hogwarts” – based on information provided from the book, students create floor plans, diagrams or models of what they think Hogwarts looks like; “Potions” – students measure and record ingredients for the science part of this lesson (below)…
  • Science: “Potions” – students use correct measurements of ingredients to predict reactions between chemicals, create a set number of reactions, and record the reaction and observations in their science journals…

*Author’s Note: There have been numerous reviews of Harry Potter to date, and  Rowling has racked up many awards for her books.  I’m going to try and stay away from writing things that can be easily found in other reviews from years past. Note that I am now nearly 24 years old and this is my first time reading Harry Potter, which was published when I was in elementary school. I remember my mother reading them, and then my middle brother. I was into other genres, and for some reason I had an unfounded stigma toward Harry Potter. I have seen the first four movies; I didn’t really keep up with the latter movies. But I didn’t know what was going on because I missed out on so much that was in the books! I wish that I had read Harry Potter as I was growing up, instead of waiting – I feel that I’ve lost a lot of the magic in waiting, and also in seeing the movies before reading the books. The basic premise of Harry Potter is about Harry Potter himself, and discovering who and what he is, where he came from and his quest to becoming what he’s destined to become – a great wizard, with a bond not seen before in the wizard world of magic (i.e. Voldemort).

spoiler-alert

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read the first two books, this may give some things away. Read at your own risk.

We already know from the first two books that the books is aligned with the school year at Hogwarts: it begins with Harry in the last few days or weeks of his summer stay with the Dursleys, and ends with him returning home on the train. We also know that through a little disobeying and curiosity that Harry (along with Ron and Hermione) will end up in some troubling situation, so far involving Voldemort. But Book #3 is a little different. Voldemort never makes an appearance, but  someone thought long dead does. This book involves a lot of history about Harry’s parents, James and Lily, and exposes the truth of their death and who really betrayed him.

Harry’s done it now: he’s on the run from the Dursleys AND the Ministry of Magic (he thinks). He is greeted in Diagon Alley by the Minister of Magic himself. He doesn’t care so much that Harry’s broken a law (performing magic in the Muggle world), he just wants Harry tucked away safe and sound in the Leaky Cauldron until school starts. Not long after the Weasleys follow suit, and Harry overhears a very scary conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. Sirius Black, Voldemort’s biggest supporter back in the day, imprisoned for 12 years in Azkaban for killing 13 people with one spell, is on the loose…and he’s coming for Harry!

Not only is Sirius after Harry, but so are other “death omens,” as always. On the train Harry runs into Dementors, vile life-sucking creatures, and is saved by a new professor. With Black on the loose, they are posted all over Hogwarts – and they keep coming after Harry, making him relive the death of his parents.

The new professor for the Defense Against the Dark Arts is truly a teacher, bringing new life to his students and much more applicable knowledge. He’s the best they’ve had, and he’s agreed to help Harry learn how to fight off the Dementors. But something odd happens once every month…he disappears for a while around the full moon.

Halloween night, Gryfindors are in for a shock when they return to the portrait hole and the Fat Lady has flown the coop, absolutely terrified – and the ravishes of the intruder’s anger left behind for all to see. None other than Sirius Black! The castle goes on lock down mode, with Black nowhere to be found.

There are some close calls for Harry and Ron (and Scabbers) as Sirius Black has snuck into the castle undetected again. Harry comes into possession of a special map, with secret passageways that he uses to travel from Hogwarts to the nearby wizarding town of Hogsmeade, using his Invisibility Cloak of course. But this map also shows people, and the direction they are going….

Unbeknownst to Harry and Ron, Hermione has been time traveling to take extra classes. She and Harry end up using it, at the hint from Dumbledore, to save two lives…and in turn, make Snape go a little mad. Needless to say his hatred of Harry is much more evident.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book since it explores and exposes the truth behind Harry’s parents’ deaths, we see Harry quite uplifted, and and we see yet again Dumbledore bending some rules and his amusement. Not to mention the whirlwind of  possibilities now that er, Scabbers, has escaped. If you’ve never read the Harry Potter series, I highly encourage you to do so. It is truly an enjoyable (and easy) read.

Check out what Harry, Ron and Hermione will run into in the next book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Chamber of Secrets
Chamber of Secrets – Book #2

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic Press, 1998)

Genre: Fiction, young adult (YA), fantasy, supernatural

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Book vs. Movie (i.e. Venn Diagram, Persuasive Essay), Reader’s Theatre
  • Social Studies: Scale Diagram of Hogwarts, Map of Hogwarts, Timeline of Hogwarts vs. Real World…
  • Math: “Design Hogwarts” – based on information provided from the book, students create floor plans, diagrams or models of what they think Hogwarts looks like; “Potions” – students measure and record ingredients for the science part of this lesson (below)…
  • Science: “Potions” – students use correct measurements of ingredients to predict reactions between chemicals, create a set number of reactions, and record the reaction and observations in their science journals…

*Author’s Note: There have been numerous reviews of Harry Potter to date, and  Rowling has racked up many awards for her books.  I’m going to try and stay away from writing things that can be easily found in other reviews from years past. Note that I am now nearly 24 years old and this is my first time reading Harry Potter, which was published when I was in elementary school. I remember my mother reading them, and then my middle brother. I was into other genres, and for some reason I had an unfounded stigma toward Harry Potter. I have seen the first four movies; I didn’t really keep up with the latter movies. But I didn’t know what was going on because I missed out on so much that was in the books! I wish that I had read Harry Potter as I was growing up, instead of waiting – I feel that I’ve lost a lot of the magic in waiting, and also in seeing the movies before reading the books. The basic premise of Harry Potter is about Harry Potter himself, and discovering who and what he is, where he came from and his quest to becoming what he’s destined to become – a great wizard, with a bond not seen before in the wizard world of magic (i.e. Voldemort).

The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir, beware.

We already know from the first book that Harry is going to encounter a scary, dangerous situation while at Hogwarts – and it is all about him. (Cue Voldemort.) After Voldemort’s quick and mysterious exit yet again, it’s no doubt that he will return at the worst possible moment and be behind it all. And, seeing as how he used a Hogwarts professor as a means to an end to get to Harry, who’s to say he won’t do the same thing again? Or will he, since he’s already played that card?

Each subsequent book in the series brings additional characters into the life of Harry Potter. And with them come more knowledge, more mystery and more story lines. Young Ginny, Ron’s little sister, comes to Hogwarts as first year…and she has a terrible crush on Harry. It’s quite cute if you’ve ever had a mad crush before. In the latter half of the book, we learn Ginny and Harry unknowingly share an item that belonged to the student who first opened the Chamber of Secrets so many years ago.

The new Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts is a pansy, to say the least. Gilderoy Lockhart is a pretentious narcissistic bully. How did he even become a professor at Hogwarts? Ohhh, that’s right! Buddy, old pal Voldemort scared any potential candidate away with the stunt he pulled the year before. The man flies off the handle any time some grubby first year even mentions Harry, has to make sure he’s getting the limelight…and yet, he can’t even seem to perform the easiest of magical spells. I smell a rat (or chicken) in mauve robes.

Harry really begins to question said chicken’s credibility when Hagrid makes negative comments about him, and Hagrid isn’t one to criticize professors. Interesting.

Another interesting thing is a new ghost who joins Peeves, Nearly Headless Nick and the Bloody Baron at Hogwarts – Moaning Myrtle. She haunts the girls’ bathroom…and every girl avoids her and her depressing antics. She is integral to discovering information about the Chamber of Secrets. My burning question: where was she last year? She just all of a sudden pops up in the second book, but you’ll find she’s been around for a while.

With new characters also comes new terminology…but this applies to those we already know.

  • Mudblood: It’s the worst of insults to someone of a non-magical background. It means someone who is born to Muggle, non-magic parents. Not so bad, right? Well, the insulting slur is that they have dirty, common blood and are not pure-blooded. There is definitely a hierarchical structure in the magic world, with the “pure breeds” at the forefront. Malfoy throws this highly inflammatory degradation in Hermione’s face, and this is the main premise behind the entirety of the Chamber of Secrets.
  • Squib: A dud. A person who is born “pure bred” to two magical parents, but isn’t magical. It’s highly embarrassing.

The run-down: Dobby makes a few surprise appearances, sharing some valuable and thought-provoking information. Harry and Ron get punished for some grievous infraction with Malfoy at the center. Harry is sequestered with Lockhart for punishment and he hears a chilling voice. Not only would the words uttered stop you in your tracks and send you running and screaming, but Lockhart can’t hear it. And neither can Ron and Hermione later…which lands them in an empty corridor with some bad juju and incriminating evidence: The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir, beware. 

Heir? What heir? And then we find out – the heir to Slytherin. Who the heck is that? … Oh, wait. Remember when Harry first came to Hogwarts, and had to get sorted into a house by the Sorting Hat? It wanted to put him in Slytherin. But…is it Harry?

And not only do Harry, Ron, Hermione and the usual professor gang see the threatening message, but the whole student body does so as well. Now the cat’s outta the bag! They are all bent out of shape trying to find out about the infamous Chamber of Secrets. Hermione has naturally gone on the Nancy Drew sleuthing streak, but comes up empty-handed. And in the meantime, we learn something interesting and embarrassing about Filch, which explains his apparent hatred of the students, and that the Chamber has already been opened.

Turns out Hogwarts was founded by four great witches and wizards – Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, Salazar Slytherin. They built the castle, and of course, Slytherin turned into a bad apple: he wanted only pure bloods to attend. He didn’t get his way, and he sealed the hidden so-called Chamber of Secrets until the true heir came to the school – to “unleash the horror within.” Horror, Professor? Yes, horror. This thing goes around petrifying any who cross its path. They can all be saved, but they could have died as one did before when the Chamber was opened.

Harry discovers a diary of a former student in Myrtle’s bathroom. And this diary is different. Harry meets the owner of the diary, and goes back in time to the night when the Chamber of Secrets was first opened and a Hogwarts student died. This stranger shows Harry who was expelled for opening the Chamber, which is someone Harry (and Dumbledore) trusts. And then it disappears….

And then, once again, Harry is caught at the wrong place at the wrong time. When Dumbledore asks Harry if anything is wrong, a million things fly through his mind (secret creepy voice only he can hear – that says he’ll be killed!, Malfoy being the heir…) …but he stupidly tells Dumbledore otherwise. WHAT!?! He could have saved you a lot of trouble!! Boys. Such tough things…

The attacks on students continue, and Daddy Malfoy brings down the hammer on Hogwarts. It’s a troubling time, but even more troubling without the headmaster, with your ally thrown in Azkaban and with your Nancy Drew petrified…but not before she finds the information Harry and Ron need to enter the Chamber of Secrets.

The most rewarding moment for me was when the professors ganged up (in professional style) on Lockhart to go do his thang in the Chamber of Secrets and save them all. They say and imply all the things that a reader wants to say. As it turns out, Lockhart is indeed a chicken…but Harry and Ron drag him down into the Chamber of Secrets.

And Harry discovers the real identity of this mysterious stranger who owns the magical diary.

It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

The shared item between Harry and Ginny, a diary, crystallizes Rowling’s style: she sets up a mysterious scenario, with the main characters involved, and a few suspects as well as some hints of evidence. (And of course the worries of an expulsion.) All of these hints and suspicions build up the plot (and undoubtedly cause other side problems for the gang) and give small flickers of light in this dark big picture. But we never see the whole picture until the pitfall, which is quite unexpected…yet, not really. (We know that’s the natural course of the book.) And then all is revealed, and we get that “aha!” moment when the light bulb comes on. I have the sneaky suspicion this is going to be the formula for most of the rest of the series, which is something I’m not a fan of. But, seeing as how I couldn’t figure it all out on my own, it’s nice having it explained. 🙂

The diary plays on Ginny’s feelings for Harry, as well as her insecurities as a young, adolescent girl. I can relate to that, and I can see how she could have been taken advantage of because of this. Harry has grown in his bravery and his cunning, as well as battling even bigger internal conflicts. That moment in Dumbledore’s office exemplifies most of us – during hard times we are immensely torn, we weight the ramifications of our actions, and we question, Am I doing the right thing? The Harry-Ron-Hermione gang has become more confident as a whole. The interactions between various students, which reveal loyalties and animosities, is very real.

Overall, I enjoyed this book (as I did the first, and probably all to come), with the exception of the light bulb idea above. Rowling, give us some more options! If you’ve never read the Harry Potter series, I highly encourage you to do so. It is truly an enjoyable (and easy) read.

Check out what Harry, Ron and Hermione will run into in the next book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone… what’s left to say, really?

Book Cover (U.S.)
Book Cover (U.S.)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic Press, 1997)

Genre: Fiction, young adult (YA), fantasy, supernatural

I rated this book a 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. This is basically how I reviewed the book on Goodreads, with just a little extra fluff here.

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Book vs. Movie (i.e. Venn Diagram, Persuasive Essay), Reader’s Theatre
  • Social Studies: Scale Diagram of Hogwarts, Map of Hogwarts, Timeline of Hogwarts vs. Real World…
  • Science: “Making Potions” – using the correct measurements of ingredients to cause a reaction, what kind of reaction when mixing different ingredients…

There have been numerous reviews of Harry Potter to date, and  Rowling has racked up many awards for this novel.  I’m going to try and stay away from writing things that can be easily found in other reviews from years past. Note that I am now nearly 24 years old and this is my first time reading Harry Potter, which was published when I was in elementary school. I remember my mother reading them, and then my middle brother. I was into other genres, and for some reason I had an unfounded stigma toward Harry Potter. But I have seen the first four movies; I didn’t really keep up with the latter movies. I didn’t know what was going on because I missed out on so much that was in the books. I wish that I had read Harry Potter as I was growing up, instead of waiting – I feel that I’ve lost a lot of the magic in waiting, and also in seeing the movies before reading the books. The basic premise of Harry Potter is about Harry Potter himself, and discovering who and what he is, where he came from and his quest to becoming what he’s destined to become – a great wizard, with a bond not seen before in the wizard world of magic (i.e. Voldemort).

Harry Potter comes to live with his relatives, the Dursleys, on Privet Drive. They are a snobbish, rude lot (I would use stronger adjectives, but this is kid-friendly) who dote on their simpleton, bully of a son. Harry is treated horribly by the family, and I honestly don’t know why he stayed. I would have found myself on the doorsteps of the Child Protective Services agency.

Since this is a coming-of-age  novel, we know there is going to be a drastic change. This change comes in the form of a letter from Hogwarts School of Wizardry, where Harry is accepted. Harry has no clue what this is or that it even exists. He does not know the difference between those born with magical powers, and those born without magical powers (known as Muggles). And in that, he does not know that he is extremely famous in the world of magic, or why. Harry embarks on this journey to Hogwarts and magic, and meets a lot of new friends along the way.

Rowling creates a world that is easy to understand, especially for younger ages. I would recommend this book to any average reader of about age nine or ten. She uses language unique to the world she has created, and her writing style is easy to interpret. The story is developed with a strong plot, and a spattering of characters. All of the characters are interconnected and play integral roles in the plot and development of the main problem, and other minor problems (excluding characters briefly mentioned or those who simply have one line).

Rowling develops characters with dynamics  with realistic characteristics that we can relate to: Hermoine is extremely bossy, Ron is a worry rat, Hagrid is kind and gentle, Dumbledore is wise, etc. Some seem to have their own motives (Snape, Quirrell) that are not known to the reader, and those motives are the umph behind the plot and the problem. But in the end Harry and his gang have not got everything figured out quite like they and are in for a surprise. The first book in the Harry Potter saga ends with the conclusion of Harry’s first year at Hogwarts, and returning to Privet Drive and the dreaded Dursleys for the summer.