Paladin of Souls

Monday, June 22, 2020

Paladin of Souls

Lois McMaster Bujold, 2003

Hugo Winner - 2004

Premise: Ista’s children are grown, and the kingdom of Chalion is relatively safe (after the events of the previous book). Why does she feel so dissatisfied?

I know I read this book before, both it and The Curse of Chalion, but I have little memory of either book.

I didn’t feel at a disadvantage, though; I definitely picked up everything I needed to know along the way and none of the exposition felt overbearing. This was a fascinating book to come back to essentially cold. I loved it.

I loved Ista. I loved that she’s a grown woman, with mature attitudes, but not immune to a bit of romance. I loved her attitude toward everyone’s expectations for her and the way she slowly forges her own path.

There were moments where Ista reminded me strongly of Cordelia from the Vorkosigan series, but the world can only be better for more wise, strong, practical middle-aged women in its genre fiction.

The world and the relationship between the gods, demons, and humans is relatively unique and clear without needing tons of explanation. There’s a glossary in the back of the book, but I never needed to consult it - the terms are always clear from context.

I definitely want to revisit the other Chalion books at some point. This was simply a fantastic read start to end: a compelling and comforting tale spun by a master.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Monday, June 8, 2020

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Aimee Bender, 2010

When Rose is 9, she develops an ability to sense emotions through food. The first and most lasting effect is that she discovers how thoroughly unhappy her mother is.

About two-thirds of the way through this novel I was thinking, yeah, I should give literary fiction a chance more often. Then I finished the novel.

The ending isn't bad, per se. It's just not much of an ending in my opinion. It kind of ties up the plot, sort of. But it's just not satisfying.

I found this frustrating because I was enjoying the book. It straddles that line between literary fiction and magical realism. I would call it fantasy but those who sell books and look down on genres wouldn't.

Rose struggles with her relationships with her family throughout, partially through her talent and partially not. It's a book about a group of people who are technically a family, but they are each traveling in their very separate lives. The descriptions of emotion are very realistic, and the whole book is just so sad.

Again, it's very well done, but I'm left not necessarily the better for having read it.

3 Stars - A Good Book

Mrs. Martin's Incomparable Adventure

Monday, June 1, 2020

Mrs. Martin's Incomparable Adventure

Courtney Milan, 2019

Premise: Violetta is just trying to make ends meet, but wealthy widow Bertrice Martin sees in her an opportunity to teach her Terrible Nephew that he won't inherit her money without a fight. Neither of them expect to find someone to love.

I almost decided not to review this novella at all after reading KJ Charles's brilliant description on Goodreads.
A thoroughly enjoyable light-hearted frothy romance which is also a howl of pure screaming rage. We don't get enough of those.

That says almost everything, but I will add a few things for my own records.

I loved this. I loved the description of the beauty of the older characters. I loved Bertrice's confidence and the vulnerability under it. I loved Violetta's ethical struggles and her practicality.

Maybe some of the commentary is somewhat on-the-nose but that doesn't make it less powerful. The tension is more than plausible and the end supremely satisfying.

All that and a sweet romance from a master of the style. What's not to love?

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Six of Crows

Monday, May 25, 2020

Six of Crows
Leigh Bardugo, 2015

Premise: A mysterious drug that affects people with special abilities could change the world. Young thief and gangster Kaz Brekker takes on an impossible task to change his life and the lives of his crew.

I don't remember why this book was on my library hold list, but it had been there for a while. It's ... good, maybe? Although I was unsatisfied by the end.

Overall, the book has a brisk pace; the world is interesting. The individual characters are mostly neat. The fantasy element of people born with control over matter or weather or the human form is intriguing, if not that special. Their status as a persecuted and enslaved minority made for some uncomfortable passages, particularly around one of the core character relationships.

The book tried to explain the obvious romance growing between Nina (one of the powered people) and Matthias (a soldier trained to believe it was right to commit atrocities and genocide against said powered people), but his redemption came far too late for me. I thought there were also some other character choices that seemed based on where the characters would be at the end of the book or in the next book and not where they were right now.

The plot concerns a caper. It tried to include several unexpected reversals and twists but I thought most of the reveals were poorly handled.

But it was fine. Rather standard modern fantasy, really: grim urban fantasy world, minor LGBT characters, one badass chick and one femme fatale. I don't know. I enjoyed it fine for most of the time.


It ends in a serious cliffhanger, and I just don't have the patience for those right now.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics
Olivia Waite, 2019

Premise: Lucy Muchelney goes to London out of the desire to work in the science she loves, but also to forget her lover's decision to leave her to get married. She doesn't expect to find the solution to both problems in the person of Catherine St. Day, Countess of Moth.

About halfway through reading this book, I thought, I feel pandered to... and it feels really good. This book was a frothy delight with a powerful heart.

I adored both Lucy and Catherine. Their concerns and attitudes felt both right for their time and inescapably modern. Lucy had been assisting her astronomer father for years, but when he dies, at first she doesn't realize she's lost the only person who believes she can be a scientist. Catherine accompanied her late husband on several research trips, which gives her a somewhat jaded view of scientific pursuits, especially as conducted by "great" men. She has serious skills in embroidery and fabric design, but has never been allowed to think of herself as an artist.

Add to all this Lucy dealing with the emotional fallout after being left by her first lover and Catherine trying to reconcile her fear of remarriage or commitment with her desire for love, and neither the romantic nor the scientific plotline lack depth. It's inspired by the actual women who have always, always worked in the arts and sciences despite disapproval and obstacles, and also stands in its own right as a paean to women (and other marginalized populations) supporting each other.

Just a joy to read.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

A Bittersweet Garden

Monday, May 11, 2020

A Bittersweet Garden
Caren J. Werlinger, 2019

Premise: Spending the summer connecting with her roots in Ireland is already an adventure for librarian Nora before falling in love... and discovering her rental cottage is haunted.

I've been on a bit of a romance kick. Relatively fluffy and light happy-ever-afters are just what my brain needs right now. This one combines just enough paranormal and historical touches with a lovely sweet story of a young woman who comes seeking to know more about her family history and ends up falling in love with both the place and one particular Irish girl.

Said paranormal element involves an unsolved mystery from the past and a ghost with unfinished business. It isn't the distant past, just a few generations back. There are a few chapters about those characters that give a fuller picture of what life was like during the potato famine.

This is a very women-centric book, which shouldn't be surprising. Nora and her sweetheart Briana are the main characters, but there's also a wise woman with supernatural abilities as well as many supporting female friends and relations.

I really enjoyed both the modern romance and the family drama that played into the ghost story. I thought the elements blended well, and the book was an easy read.

3 Stars - A Good Book

You Look Like a Thing and I Love You

Monday, May 4, 2020

You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It's Making the World a Weirder Place
Janelle Shane, 2019

Premise: A romp through the foibles of modern AI.

I heard about this book on a podcast and was extremely intrigued. However, I didn't end up getting much more out of reading the whole thing than I did from hearing the initial interview. I am probably an outlier, however, as I read about AI constantly for my job.

This is an extremely accessible explanation of how modern machine learning algorithms work and why we are very far away from anything resembling an actual "intelligent" system in the science-fictional sense. I would have personally preferred something a bit more either in-depth or wide-ranging, but I definitely understand why this book is structured as it is.

It is a lot of fun to read. The examples are funny, there are little humorous cartoons that emphasize some concepts, and the writing is friendly and clear.

Most of the things I learned from the book were very specific interesting quirks. For example, AI researchers have a lot of trouble training an AI system to beat the second level of the original Super Mario Brothers because of one spot where the player needs to move left instead of right. The book is full of fun little factoids like that.

So it's a good, solid read, but not quite what I had wanted.

3 Stars - A Good Book

The Lightning-Struck Heart

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Lightning-Struck Heart
T. J. Klune, 2015

Premise: A magician's apprentice balances his growing power with his ridiculously huge crush on the captain of the guard.

I read this book on a friend's recommendation, and if I hadn't, I might have quit halfway through the first chapter. As it was I did finish reading the book, and I did somewhat enjoy it by the end, but it's really not my thing overall.

Mostly, the humor is really not my style. I hesitate to call it unrealistic because it is the way that, in my experience, some flamboyant gay men speak to each other. Specifically, the dialogue is often almost entirely composed of superficially cruel teasing, sexual innuendo, and extremely graphic sexual humor. I found this especially distracting because it wasn't just a characteristic of the main character and his friends, but nearly all characters at one time (or at most times) spoke this way. This included the main character's parents, politicians, villains, and the king. This meant that most of the characters sounded much the same.

It also took a long time for the main romantic plot to grow on me. The book spends a lot of time assuming that you will accept that the main character deserves the love interest because he is attracted to him. It later becomes clear that they are attracted to each other, but it takes a long time for anything more to grow there. Also everyone, and I mean everyone, is attracted to the main character for no discernible reason. And comments on it. At length.

The plot doesn't go anywhere unexpected, but if you're mentally categorizing this as a romance, that could be fine. But it kept bothering me to think of it as a romance, and it took me a while to figure out why. It's because we never get the love interest's point of view. This is also why the central romance felt so one-sided and unapproachable to me.

The book is meant to be a somewhat farcical romp, but the fact that I didn't enjoy the humor meant that my brain was constantly considering questions and plot holes. Questions like why in a country that completely accepts homosexuality and gay marriage would you still have a hereditary monarchy, especially where the heir to the throne must marry but does not apparently need to produce children?

There are some poignant scenes and some character growth by the end of the book - enough to keep me reading to the end. However, I doubt I'm going to read anything more by this author. It's not necessarily badly written (although I would argue that the dialogue sameness is an issue); it's just really not my taste.

2 Stars - an Okay Book

Baby Books: Surprise Stars

Monday, April 20, 2020

I registered a few mild complaints last week (don't misunderstand, I still like all those books), but I also wanted to give a shout out to some other board books that I think are especially impressive in unexpected ways.

I Love My Bunny

The story of this book is very simple - Anna and her toy bunny have a tea party. However, the interactive bits on each page are very effective. The fluffy bunny tail was an obvious source of fascination, and a flap that's easy for my little one to work meant that this book became an early favorite. There's a scratch-and-sniff panel that hasn't come up yet, but the sparkles on another page and the soft blanket on the last page are also lots of fun.

(Side note: This is part of a series, but I was less impressed with I Love My Puppy, the other one I tried.)

Usborne Very First 1 2 3

I know, it's a counting book (up to five), like a hundred other counting books. That's what I thought at first, too. On second look, though, each page not only contains the labeled item, but a bunch of others to notice and count. For example, the page for "2" says "two cars." But the picture also shows two houses, two trees, two bunnies, two butterflies... The page for "4" doesn't have as much detail as the others, but the variety in the illustrations makes this more fun to read and explore than other counting books I've seen, and I anticipate it will give the book a longer useful life.

Home for a Bunny

While not anywhere near as popular as Goodnight Moon, this book is also by Margaret Wise Brown, so you'd think I wouldn't be surprised at its quality. (Also, I apparently had this book as a child, but I have no memory of this.) But the first few times I flipped through it, it seemed just fine. Cute, fine, nothing special. However, for my little one, this book has the perfect balance. Not too long, not too short. The text has rhythm, but also story. There's an opportunity for some special voices, but they blend in easily. The illustrations are detailed, but clear enough that each element stands out.

Starlight Sailor

I picked this book up for two reasons: rhyming couplets and pretty art. When I brought it home, my husband was skeptical at first, because reading the text to yourself as an adult highlights some weird choices and inconsistencies. However, once you start to read it aloud everything falls into place. It's like a dream - lush, detailed illustrations and lilting text that flows like the waves in the pictures. I freely admit the text is a bit odd in spots, but the pictures have so many subtle details to spark interest and imagination that I'm still finding new things to look at after many readings.

Baby Books: Objections and Quibbles

Monday, April 13, 2020

Some quick thoughts, because I haven't been reading too many full-length adult novels recently. I have been reading many, many board books.

Most of these are fine. Some of them are great. However, I do have a handful of small criticisms I would like to lodge.


Never Touch a Dragon

This book is a hit with my nine-month-old. The bright colors and especially the textures on the cover and on every page make it excellent baby bait. I have two small criticisms though. The fonts are so whimsical that I think it'll be hard for her to read as she gets older. And the first page.

The first page is different from every other page in that the part of the dragon described in the poem on this page is not the part with the texture, plus the poem on this page does not rhyme properly. Disappointing.

Dear Zoo

Lift-the-flap books are very popular with my little one so you'd think this would be a hit. However, these particular flaps are a little hard for her at this age.

In this book, the zoo sends the reader a series of inappropriate pets that they return for various stated reasons. This is where my actual criticism comes in, as one page says the snake is "too scary."

This is clear anti-snake propaganda, and I feel the need to mention the fact that snakes aren't actually scary every time we read this.

Disney Baby: Peek-A-Boo Winnie the Pooh

The "Disney baby" art style is a little bit disconcerting, but the flaps in this book are very sturdy and easy for her to work with. The simple sequence follows the various Hundred Acre Wood pals finding each other in sundry hiding places.

However, on one page the reveal is that Tigger is "bouncing behind the tent." That is clearly not a tent, that is clearly Eeyore's house. Who writes these books?


Monday, March 9, 2020

Robert J Sawyer, 2002

Hugo Winner - 2003

Premise: In two universes, an experiment, and then a neanderthal falls through an unexpected rift into a world of homo sapiens. (Content warning: rape)

There's a lot to be intrigued by in the premise of this book. The different structure of neanderthal society is interesting at first, and it's well presented, slowly cluing in the reader without infodumps. At least, it is at first.

But then it devolves into a series of clunky, boring conversations about systems of morality, in which the humans are left feeling self-conscious about how terrible their world is. Even though the story set on the other world (much more interesting) starts to hint at the ugliness of their system by the end, the imbalance is striking.

By the time it got to fully explaining the neanderthal world, which seems awkwardly similar to modern China (secular, communist, heavy surveillance state, repressive reproductive control) but adding (possibly enforced?) ubiquitous bisexuality and definitely enforced eugenics, the book had lost me. (Weird choice there. This society was presented as positive in most ways - they don't drive creatures to extinction, little crime, etc.)

The book had lost me early on, in fact, because just a few chapters in, the main human character is introduced and immediately subjected to a graphic, brutal rape. A stranger-in-the-bushes rape, even, just to be as repulsively cliche as possible.

Why? Why would massive trauma possibly be a good way to introduce this character? I kept reading only because of my read-the-Hugos project, but the few chapters before were intriguing enough that I thought maybe it would be justified by the end. Nope.

I mean, it could have been handled much worse, the author says all the "right" things, but it's like a pamphlet about dealing with rape (shame and struggle, trying to reject self-blame, etc.), not like a real character with real feelings. And by the ending... It seems that the structural plot reasons for the attack are 1) to give the woman a reason to accept the neanderthal's argument that his surveillance state is worth it and 2) to give her a reason not to hop directly into bed with him in the few days the story takes place.

Which. Really. They're not even... Arrrgh!

That's not even mentioning the completely ridiculous stuff around quantum mechanics and connecting conscious choice (only for humans/neanderthals. No animals make choices, apparently) to multiple world theory. Admittedly, I was skimming by that point, but I'm not about to go back and spend time investigating in more depth.

I didn't have any problem with the religion-bashing, but Wikipedia tells me that at some point in the series it's revealed that the neanderthals physically can't have religion because of their brain structure? Reeeaaalllyyy. All their societal stuff seems based strictly on their physicality to an absurd degree.

In the end, I'm going to say this book held some interest for me at the very start, but squandered it quickly and never recovered.

1 Star - didn't like it much.

Index of Hugo Award Winners

American Gods

Monday, February 24, 2020

American Gods
Neil Gaiman, 2001, revised 2011

Hugo Winner - 2002

Premise: Shadow is out of prison, but the life he thought he was returning to is gone. In its place, he is swept up into a shadowy world of arcane plots and gods living among mortals.

So I re-read American Gods, and it was... fine? I guess?

I first read this book either in college or shortly thereafter, and I remember liking it, but nothing else about it. I remember at the time I was reading quickly without thinking about it, so some of the character identities may have come as a surprise. But I don't know that there are many people in 2020 who can see a mention of "Low Key Lyesmith" in the first chapter and not know what they're in for.

This was the tenth-anniversary edition, which is apparently a bit longer than the original. I'm not sure that's a good thing, it definitely dragged at points. Shadow floats along, witnessing but only occasionally being affected by the bizarre things happening around him.

The world is intriguing, and a lot of the side characters are interesting, but the plot just falls flat for me. I like the little side stories about how various gods came to America. I mostly like the dream-like style, it works for the subject matter. But sometimes the whole thing just got too pretentious, Shadow is boring, and the story and world would probably be more interesting in a visual medium.

That transfer to visual and more exploration of the new gods (which the book is sorely missing) are apparently what worked so well about the television adaptation, but I haven't seen any of that.

This joins Green Mars, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, The Diamond Age, and others on a list of Hugo winners where I would guess the award was given primarily for the inventive setting rather than the story set there.

2 Stars - Fantastic Premise, But Just an Okay Book

Index of Hugo Award Winners

Two Girls Down

Monday, February 10, 2020

Two Girls Down
Louisa Luna, 2018

Premise: When two young sisters vanish from a parking lot, a private investigator and a retired cop might be the best hope of finding them. (Content warning: graphic violence, discussion of sexual assault and murder, including of children)

I borrowed this book from the library on a whim, based on an article that recommended it for fans of the show Broadchurch. Although l can see some superficial similarities and I think the book is well written, reading it mostly affirmed my previous belief that I don't really like thrillers.

I was pretty bored by the first main character. A single dad and former cop forced to retire under complex circumstances, he's warm and practical, pretty uncomplicated and predictable. Alice Vega the PI is much more interesting.

She's distant and analytical except when she's itching for a fight. She's good at manipulation and focused on results. It was only when l was writing this review that I realized she sounds a bit like some versions of Holmes, but she didn't feel very similar while reading. In any case, she was intriguing, and I enjoyed reading from her unique perspective.

The book as a whole though... not my cup of tea. I actually found it bizarre how (mostly) okay I was watching the first two seasons of Broadchurch (which deal with investigating child deaths) while on maternity leave, but this book, in which (spoiler) the titular kids are both found alive, was too upsetting. The descriptions of violence (toward Alice, mostly) were so tactile and the villains so deeply revolting and horrid that the pleasure I got from Alice as a character was overshadowed by the end. I also wasn't into the implied possibility of a future romance between the two main characters.

I did find the book compelling and a fast, gripping read. But the largest takeaway for me was a reminder to stay out of this subgenre!

No Rating - Can't be fair. 1-2 for my own enjoyment, maybe 4 for actual quality?

Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North

Monday, February 3, 2020

Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North
Blair Braverman, 2016

Premise: A memoir about survival, independence, and dogsledding. Content warnings for sexual assault, rape, and animal injury and death (sheep).

Blair Braverman was always drawn north. Always drawn to snow and ice, to the aurora and the darkness of the Arctic latitudes. This is her story.

I had a little trouble following the narrative at first, but I think that's more a function of my scattered reading time and attention than a problem with the book. It flips back and forth between the "present" - an extended summer visit to a rural town in Norway - and all the adventures that lead up to it.

Blair's determination leads her to take on great things, but it also causes her to not seek help: first when she's subject to unwanted attention while an exchange student and later in a toxic relationship. Ultimately, the book is about how she is able to balance her desire for independence and a physically demanding life with building good and loving relationships.

The description is extremely vivid and it never shies away from portraying the unsavory or the gruesome, almost to a fault. She also spends a lot of time on everything that surrounds her, often only implying her own perspective. I think both these choices are fair and interesting, but it did mean the book didn't resonate with me personally as much as other memoirs. I think it's extremely well-written, but it didn't completely land for me.

3 Stars - A Good Book

Brother Cadfael's Penance (Brother Cadfael, Book Twenty)

Monday, January 27, 2020

Brother Cadfael's Penance (Brother Cadfael, Book Twenty)
Ellis Peters, 1994

Premise: News comes to Shrewsbury that brings Cadfael to a crisis with his vocation.

I put off reading this one for a while because it's the last one. This series has been reliably enjoyable throughout, but the personal nature of the plot elevates this one to greatness.

Many of the books are about love, some about duty or society. As I expected, this one is about parents.

It's about Philip FitzRobert, who publicly breaks with his father when he switches his loyalty. It's about a mysterious murder in a city at truce that turns on a secret relationship. It features more directly than any other in the series the Empress Maud, daughter of the late king.

Most of all, it hinges on the most emotional recurring plot point of the series: Cadfael's son, Olivier.

Cadfael is faced with a hard choice between his oaths as a Benedictine and a quest to find Olivier, taken captive after a battle. He finds that it is no choice at all, although he fears what will come of it.

For many of these books, the Anarchy is background or only tangentially affects the plot. It is interesting to see the major players close up in this one.

Like most, it's full of excitement and heart, but the emotion runs high in this one. I loved it. I loved seeing all Cadfael's goodness and bravery laid out for a personal cause. It's a delightful capstone for the series.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make The Most of Their Time

Monday, January 13, 2020

I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make The Most of Their Time
Laura Vanderkam, 2015

Premise: Insights into how real women in high-profile, high-powered jobs balance their lives.

I took a long break in the middle of reading this book. A two-month-long break, in fact, that covered multiple illnesses and holidays. I had gone so long that I almost didn't go back to it. I had forgotten what I was reading, and I thought I had gotten what I was going to get out of the book - a way of charting time to think about it more clearly.

But I decided to jump back in and give it another chance, and I ended up devouring the rest in two days.

So, yeah, I'm glad I went back to it.

This book (and, apparently, much of this author's work) strikes an interesting and inspirational balance. Yes, it's about time management. But it's not about how to multitask more efficiently or get up earlier - although those topics are touched on. It's about recognizing that your time is yours, and you probably have the time to build a great life.

The book is based on 1,001 days' worth of time logs completed by working mothers earning over six figures. The logs provide the data foundation, and interviews provide the nuanced pictures. The women in this book are busy, but when they actually wrote down what they did every day for a week, many realized that they were making time for family and for themselves, more than they realized.

The author calls the logs the Mosaic Project to illustrate the principle that your time is made up of all these different pieces, work and family and personal time, client meetings and sleepovers and lazy weekend breakfasts. How you assemble them creates each day or week or year. A lot of the book is about busting open myths and assumptions about how busy/tired/etc. people are. These assumptions become self-fulfilling when we buy into them too far.

On a personal note, I paid particular attention to a short section about being aware of patterns when kids are very small that can cause parents to set habits around leisure and housework such that they don't recognize opportunities to adjust as the kids grow.

The message of the book is that you have the time, even if it doesn't look like what you expect, or it's not in the perfect shape you want. I found the stories full of encouragement to use the time you have - not by applying organizational gimmicks, but by realistically keeping an eye on your priorities.

The book says that sure, you physically can't be a superstar at a high-profile job AND a full-time parent AND a world-class romantic partner AND maintain a spotless home AND have time for yourself. But would you really want to try? Because if "all" is defined as a happy, loving family, satisfying and remunerative work, and time for personal growth? You can have it all. The stories in this book are living proof.

I really liked it, and I'll definitely bookmark this author for the next time I need some encouragement.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Monday, January 6, 2020

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
J. K. Rowling, 2000

Hugo Winner - 2001

Premise: ... It's Harry Potter.

Throughout this project to read all the Hugo-winning novels (moving into its ninth year!) I have tried to read and review these books with care. I try to explain when I hit a book that I don't like but I can understand its importance. I try to bear in mind the books' historical and cultural context; in fact, understanding each book's context is a lot of the pleasure in this quest to read them all. At the same time, I try to take each book as a unique work of literature and evaluate what I see as its merits and flaws for today's reader.

I was stumped by this book.

Harry Potter is too ubiquitous. I know too much about the characters, the world, fan commentary, meta analysis, etc. to be able to read it with anything resembling an open mind.

And I don't even seek out Harry Potter content. I just hang out on the geeky parts of the internet.

Although maybe I would have been skeptical about this book no matter what. After all, I've never actually liked Harry Potter that much. I quit the first book partway through and didn't go back until after the first few movies came out. I used to say that I thought people should just watch the movies until at least book 4. I liked book 5 when I read it, but then (in my opinion) book 6 was all setup and book 7 was a tedious slog. (Something the movies, unfortunately, re-created faithfully.) I deeply appreciate the way the series made reading cool, but I have never really enjoyed it.

I hoped that maybe rereading one would change my mind, but I spent the first three-quarters of this book frustrated and bored. Some random thoughts:

  • How would it have been different if the Dursleys were more than feeble caricatures and fat jokes?
  • There's got to be a better balance between writing realistic child characters and writing absolute morons who insist on creating problems for themselves.
  • Oh, all that business with Hermione and the house elves is so, so much worse than I remembered.
  • Also, she lies to a teacher so she'll be magically made more attractive. (Realistic behavior? Possibly. Kind to young readers? No.)
  • It's so dumb that the tournament is stretched out over a whole year but only takes like a few days total.
  • I just don't empathize with or enjoy reading characters being low-key terrible to each other/idiots because they're young.

So at this point, I'm just speeding through, and thinking why the heck did this win the Hugo?

Oh right, the ending.

The whole book turns on a freaking dime and the stakes shoot through the roof.

Now, the book nearly derails it all with several long villain monologues that belabor every last detail in ludicrous depth. But at the end, you're still left with a world that is fundamentally bleaker, a glimpse of what the adults are working on behind the scenes, and a bunch of teenagers who were just told they better grow up in a hurry if they want to survive. And that's really impressive for where this series started out.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

Index of Hugo Award Winners