Friday, May 22, 2015

Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Why did I pick it up?

Again, continuation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I'm still loving the last few books more than the first few. It's like Rowling's writing matures as her characters mature and it's cool.

So, I started this one on Feb 15 and finished it sometime in the beginning of March. I kind of forgot to write the blog post once I finished it and yeah. New time slot at work, yadda, yadda, bleh. Anyway, the book itself is 607 pages, at least my copy is so, around the same page count the last few have been.

The Review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling:
The first chapter with the Prime Minister meeting the new Minister of I think it could have been dropped. Sure it was kind of cool to know the Minister of Magic talks to Prime Minister and what not but as a chapter itself? Not worth 24 pages. Next up came Snape, Bellatrix, and her sister who's Malfoy's mom making a pack. This was cool. We get to speculate why Snape needs to take over for Draco in the task Voldemort's set him up for.

After 42 pages we get to see Harry cleaning his room and leave Privet Drive. Dumbledore comes to pick up Harry and they head off to see the potential new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher.

What's cool in this novel is Harry learning about the Horcruxes and how Voldemort managed to survive the backlash of the killing curse which should have killed Harry. I also like how Slughorn is weaved around the backstory of Voldemort and the Horcruxes and how Harry is slowly learning about Voldemort's life.

What I didn't like? Dumbledore not telling Harry what he's doing or why. Dumbledore knows the liquid in the basin is horrible but drinks it anyway. Then well, Dumbledore dies. All he tells Harry is that Harry must destroy the other Horcruxes so Voldemort can be killed once and for all. Doesn't tell Harry how to get to them. Doesn't tell them what they are but does speculate with him what they could be. Doesn't even give Harry any indication of what's to come in the next book information wise (I'm writing this blog post after reading the 7th book...ooops) and just...doesn't do a lot of things.

Now, there is the whole rumour around that was confirmed about Dumbledore being gay. I didn't see it. Like, AT ALL. Did I need a sparkly banner hanging over him announcing he's a gay character? Nope. All I needed is somewhere in all these conversations Harry and Dumbledore have is for Harry to have asked something like: "Why has there never been a Miss Dumbledore?" And for Dumbledore to say he wasn't interested in women.

Hell, I would've liked Harry to ask about Dumbledore's past in general. I mean, yeah, great, have him regret asking about Dumbledore's past after Dumbledore is dead but in general when you start to get close to someone you tend to ask where they came from.

I mean yes, Harry's got a lot on his plate but you would think he'd have thought to ask Dumbledore something about his past. I mean Dumbledore's obviously lived a long rich life full of secrets. Why wouldn't you?

Dumbledore's death scene and funeral were perfect. The emotion, the shock, and Harry's announcement not to go back to Hogwarts: excellent in their execution. There are a lot of little bits left unanswered for Book 7 and I love how everything gets tied up in the final book. But, more on Deathly Hallows in the next post.

What's kind of fun is the potions book Harry's "cheating" from turns out to be Snape's. The panic when Harry uses the made-up spell and almost kills Malfoy: awesome. Also, I totally get where the "wand fight in the bathroom" memes come from now. Bonus. :P

Also: life went on for the students of Hogwarts. The sixth years learn to Apparate, there's some romance, heart-break the Muggles begin realizing something bad may be happening in the world.

And, do we all remember the piece of mirror Harry kept from his god-father's gift breaking? No? Well, remember it. He keeps it. And yes, it does come up in the last book.

Oh and I love Fleur's line: "I am pretty enough for both of us!" Taken out of context it doesn't sound like much but it says a lot about her character and who she is as a person.

The Negatives:

Again, lots going on. This isn't horrible in the slightest as I do enjoy a book with complex happenings. What happened in prior books starts to make sense the further on you go in the series which is especially true between books 6 and 7. You CANNOT skip book 6 in anyway or you'd be totally lost in 7.

The formula has been done to death and the threat of Hogwarts closing is an empty and unneeded one. We know it won't close. Why? Well where the Hell else is Harry going to have his final battle with Voldemort? It won't be in the middle of some random street or in a place with lots of people. It's going to be a place where the two orphans (Harry and Voldemort) found home for the first time.

Some agreements I have with the 1-star reviewers: The word "snog" really throws me for a loop. I realized the book was written in England but...snog. It sounds gross, not this loving thing you do with your SO of choice. Also, when the Hell did Harry ever decide he liked Ginny? Where's Voldemort? What happened to Dumbledore's hand and why won't he explain?

What I would have agreed with if I didn't know most of the plot: Dumbledore pleading for death from Snape. As stated: I've all ready read Book 7 and even before I kind of knew why Snape did what he did so Dumbledore wasn't pleading when I read his death scene. He was telling Snape to do as Dumbledore had requested.

There is A LOT of information packed into this book. It's dark. There's death. Bill gets mauled by a child-eating werewolf (you read that right) but there is a lot of emphasise on love in this sucker.

It's basically a huge set up for Book 7. Could it have been done in less pages? Yep. Did there have to be so much focus on love? Eh, probably not. Was Dumbledore's death needed? Yep. Why? You have to knock out the ONE PERSON who everyone relies on in time of war to create better conflict. It's just how it works.

Again I do have to note: I would have a lot more negatives here and be in agreement with everything the 1-star reviewers are saying if I didn't all ready know some plot points going into the series and hadn't read book 7 before this review.

Final Review: 2/5 for children and heavy readers. The children wouldn't be enjoying the much darker world of Harry Potter and the adults might be suffering from "omg-mushy-immature" romance issues.

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Writing Tip #14: Reviews

We've left the mini-series in this series of writing tips behind. Yes, we've gone through the basics of setting and world-building, plots and subplots, characters and minor characters. Now we'll head back to some tips, tricks, and other fun stuff having to do with writing.

If you don't all ready know: I get inspired to write a lot of what I write based on real events and this blog is no different. The inspiration for this post about reviews came from something that happened to me in January. So, STORY TIME!

I submitted Best Friends: Body Part Fairy to this horror anthology back in December. The people for the anthology said they'd tell me what was wrong with the story and why they hadn't accepted it if that was the case but never did. Side-note: if you say you're going to do something: DO IT. Don't tell an author you'll give them a reason as to why you didn't accept their story then don't. Because guess what? That author will remember you.

Sorry. ANYWAY. Said anthology didn't accept Best Friends but I knew it was supposed to be out around this time so I went to check it out. I then stumbled upon an author who shall not be named but we'll call him Volty. Yes as in a corny adaption of Voldemort. Stay with me. ;)

Volty has other books out. He has one book in particular with a rather crude title which turns out to be a collection of short stories. The reviews were good all except one. The interesting thing about this review is it had originally been two lines to the effect of "this is not a brilliant work of fiction and nothing makes sense."

Okay, why is this all important? Volty responded to said 1-star review by saying something like "My book got it's first 1-star review and the person said I don't make sense. They don't make sense." What happened? Said reviewer SAW the tweet Volty posted then WENT BACK and edited his review, not to make it better, oh no, to PROVE HIS POINT FURTHER.

Said 1-star review is what made me read Volty's book. I also agreed with said 1-star reviewer and did not end up purchasing Volty's book. What have we learned from this tale? DO NOT RESPOND DIRECTLY TO ANY REVIEWS GOOD OR BAD.

You can (and should) give general thanks to your readers for reading your book or leaving a review in the sense of "thanks everyone for reading and reviewing! Stay tuned for my next book!" You SHOULD NOT say what Volty said or anything near it because you WILL prompt a response and if the person started negatively, well, they're going to get more negative.

While any publicity is good publicity, it's not a good thing to be known as the "bad writer." You don't want to be known as the hack who doesn't make a lick of sense. You don't want people to buy your book to see what steaming pile of crud you made now. Generally speaking you want most people to like you.

The problem with reviews (like in Volty's case) is that ONE negative review is the one we tend to take personally. It's the one that prompts us to respond negatively and the one the keeps us up at night. Does it matter if we've got six 4 or 5 star reviews? Nope. It's the one 1-star that'll stay with us.

No matter how much it hurts: DO NOT RESPOND. You won't even have to. Why? Because the six other reviewers who gave you four or five stars will be the ones who will defend you. AND LET THEM. Don't even mention a 1-star review on your social media in any way that can be seen as an attack on the reviewer. You can however turn it around: "My book got it's first 1-star review. Check that off the bucket-list!"

Not everyone is going to love your work but you can't please everyone. As hard as it is: don't let those bad reviews get you down. Remember, a lot of famous authors were rejected and had bad reviews about their books but they're still writing.

And for the love of all that exists in every plane of every world: do not retaliate. If they're outwardly mocking you on social media: block them. If they're leaving bad reviews for the sake of bad reviews: report them.

How you respond to bad reviews is criticized as much as your writing. How you respond to praise is as criticized. Remember, you're in the public eye and how you present yourself will make an impression on your readers. Make sure you don't become a train wreck people only look at because of morbid fascination.

As for Volty? Eh, I won't make an effort to go looking for his books or reading his work. That response to one bad review was my first impression of him and I didn't like it. My second impression was his Twitter account in which there were 12 tweets that were being rotated through. Yes, 12 tweets over and over and over again which means he's got nothing interesting or detrimental to say.

You have to sell yourself. How you act on social media and how you respond to fans good or bad is a IMMENSE part of selling yourself. Don't crap on yourself before you even get started.

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Why did I pick it up?

Continuation of Harry Potter and the TwiWizard Tournament, pardon, Goblet of Fire. There are two books left in the series and I'm disappointed. I'm starting to like Harry Potter as a whole. Yes, a whole. I could do without books 1-3 but 4 and 5? These are where JK Rowling starts to shine.

I started Order of the Phoenix on February 9th and finished on Feb 14th, so five days. I had more time to read it during work breaks, waiting for the e-test on my car, and what not. The book itself is 766 pages which is up 100 from Goblet of Fire. Yes, massive so don't let my five day read time fool you.

Actually funny story. So, I'm reading Order at work and one of the people in my training class asks: "Which one are you reading now?" So I show him the cover and he says "Wow, you're going through those quick." And being me I say: "It's only around 600 pages." Him: "Only 600 pages...*shocked look and leaves*" I need to come with signage proclaiming I'm a voracious reader once I get into it...

The Review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling:

Same formula and yes, new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher is introduced. Can't one person stick around longer than a year? I mean really.

Anyway, Harry has his bad summer but this time Ron and Hermione aren't telling him anything. When he's finally picked up it's after facing down Dementors in his muggle-foster family's world. He has to save his cousin then because he uses magic, faces expulsion from Hogwarts (which we know isn't going to happen), is then saved by Dumbledore's interference, almost thrown out of the muggle-house, is saved by a mysterious letter and his aunt (who hates him but has to keep the promise the person in the letter is shouting about), and is then taken to a secret place by a dozen wizards. The kid never have a dull summer, I'll give him that.

The threat of expulsion is weak simply because Harry's defending himself against Dementors but so much emphasis is put on Harry being nervous and it's a bit tedious. The secret place is the home base of the Order of the Phoenix who Sirius, Lupine, Mad-Eye, and many more are a part of and who's job is to protect the uninformed wizard community against Volty's return.

I knew something bad was going to happen when the Black (Sirius') house-elf appeared on the scene. The concept of the house elf (Brownie) is disturbing. They're slaves, plain and simple but are forced to like being slaves. They love serving their masters so much they find it insulting when Hermione knits hats and scarves to give them to set them free. The entire concept of freedom is an insult. That's just...wrong.

Back to the plot. So Harry has some horrible nightmares and it turns out he's seeing and feeling what Voldemort sees and feels because of the scar connection. There is a lot of anger in this book, mainly from Harry, and I have to admit about half way through I wanted to reach through and give the kid a chill pill. Of course that's around where we find out Voldemort's affecting Harry's emotions, so hey. Plus Harry's 15 so it makes sense his first emotion to something not going his way is righteous anger, pardon, teenage anger but this is over the top. Speaking of over the top...

Umbridge, the Dark Arts teacher has been Ministry Appointed for the sole purpose of taking over the school She's who the bad guy is for this novel and my god is she a terror. She has a quill that when you write something with it, carves it into your hand which she makes Harry use. She bans Harry, Fred and George Weasley from Quiddich for life after they attacked Malfory. Yes, they did deserve punishment but not a lifetime ban. She tilts the favor to the Slytherin house and doesn't even bother teaching Dark Arts. This last point is what makes Ron and Hermione get Harry to start Dumbledore's Army, AKA: Defense of the Dark Arts. Why Dumbledore's Army? Because the Ministry of Magic wants Dumbledore sacked for saying Voldemort's come back.

There was a lot going on in this book and a major fight scene at the end. Another character dies but again Harry is kind of an idiot. Sirius gave him a gift and said "If you ever need to contact me, use this" but of course Harry doesn't open it because he doesn't want to tempt Sirius out of hiding. If Harry had opened it then he would have avoided half the issues in the book. The big one is being caught by Umbridge and being tricked by the house elf. Oh and the character dying. Yeah, that would've been completely avoided. ENTIRELY. The death itself wasn't even needed though.

But if it had been avoided then we wouldn't have found out Voldemort was after a prophecy dealing with him and Harry which basically reveals Harry's birth, that Voldermort would mark Harry as an equal and the only person who could defeat Voldermort for good was Harry. One of them must die...but we kind of knew that. I do find it cool Neville also could have fit the prophecy. Not cool that the mains found out what happened to his parents the way they did.

Luna Lovegood is introduced and let me say: YES. I love the quirky characters and she fits the bill. She's also competent magic wise and ends up being a huge help in the novel. I adore Fred and George as characters too and in here they became a bit more than comic relief. They provided Harry with a means to contact Sirius (even though he had a safer way and was an idiot about using it, re: the gift) as well as gave Umbridge a helluva run for her money. I also love their exit. If you're going to leave school: turn a hallway into a swamp and cause absolute chaos. *claps*

The Threshal's were an interesting concept...and of course they can fly at supersonic speeds to transport the gang to the Ministry when they needed it. Everything happens for a reason and sometimes it's a bit too convenient. But I'm sure every writers has done sometime similar at least once.

A few plot holes: Krum's just not mentioned after the whole TriWizard thing besides Hermione writing to him. And what about Harry's Firebolt? And why the Hell is Malfoy still allowed at school when he's the son of a Death Eater who's now in jail? And yes, another Dark Arts teacher bites the dust. Just give it to Snape all ready...speaking of: total drop of the ball here. He's such an interesting character and...nothing.

One thing I really liked? Harry realized how stupid he was in going after the character who died and not paying attention to Snape's extra lessons. Too bad it took someone close to him dying and his two BFFs being injured horribly.

Would I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix again?

Yes. There was a bunch going on which makes for an interesting book. I'm probably missing a bunch plot devices, holes, or whatever and now I understand why people re-read the books so often.

The Negatives:

Good God the formula! I understand Harry has to go back to his aunt's to keep the spell going, yadda, yadda, but can we have a summary page then just move on? And can we keep a Dark Arts teacher for longer than a year? There are all ready a lot of characters in the book, why add more?

It irks me beyond belief the people helping Voldemort were simply imprisoned or let off. You would think with all the spells and potions wizards could tell who's lying and be able to do the bad apples in. It's common sense NOT to keep the enemy alive and well and to finish off all his supporters when he's gone. But, kid's book so...

So far all the reviews are saying this is the weakest book. I can agree there was A LOT going on (probably too much) and the death occurred (though great on Rowling killing a Darling) didn't do anything but to further throw Harry into misery. And yes, he did go from a fairly optimistic boy to an angst-filled teen in the course of two weeks or less. He did start to perk back up in the end.

I also agree the book was released too soon and could have done with another round of editing. And seriously, was the point of Sirius' gift to Harry just to stab Harry with a knife again? That was cruel.

Final Review: 3.5/5 for both voracious readers and kids. The fight scene was good, confusing but good, and the books are becoming darker which is generally a no-no for the kid's in the age bracket this book is for.

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.