Apologies

Dear Readers,

Apologies for the delay between posts! Being a full-time news writer/editor has (lately) left little time for reading, but I have some good reviews (Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, Kim Edwards’ The Lake of Dreams) coming soon!

Thank you for your understanding,

Caroline

Mary Shelley, “Frankenstein”

Cover illustration, Paul Bachem; http://www.randomhouse.com/book/202365/frankenstein-by-mary-shelleyThe nature versus nurture debate may be tired and old, but in the right context, couldn’t it be fascinating? Take the example of Frankenstein: he’s hideous, a monster who frightens small children and adults alike. But if he was born, let’s say, innocent and uncorrupted, couldn’t the argument be made that society – the screams, fires and condemnations – molded the man into the monster he became? Would that debate describe a horror story, one ideal for dark and stormy nights? Or a tragedy, reflective of society and man’s failings?

Plot Overview: Humanism, Romanticism and Compassion

Spurred by the death of his mother and his skill in university classes, Victor Frankenstein creates a being from cobbled-together parts. The creature, however, is 8 feet tall and horrific in appearance, and Victor, so horrified, abandons him. Devastated by the rejection, Frankenstein’s monster disappears.

Over time, the creature and Victor’s paths cross, again and again, while both deal with grief and longing. At a final confrontation, the creature asks Victor to create a companion for him; Victor refuses. In response, the creature embarks on revenge, causing Victor as much pain as he himself caused.

Criticisms and Compliments

Although he’s portrayed as a zombie-like monster in popular culture, Frankenstein is a tragic literary figure who tugs at the reader’s heartstrings – at least in the beginning. He’s a victim of circumstance; he has no control over his appearance or others’ reaction to him. To look like a monster, be treated like a monster, be feared like a monster would warp any tender-hearted, somewhat romantic figure into the horrifying figure he appears; if anything, Frankenstein is the embodiment of having his inside match his outside (and not vice versa). Shelley intended for Frankenstein to be a horror story, but Frankenstein’s devolving from sensitive being to a tortured beast hell-bent on revenge is just sad.

Victor, like his creature, is equally as pitiable. In his own way, each is a without control: Frankenstein cannot control his appearance or the responses he receives; Victor cannot rein in his creation and protect his own loved ones from becoming collateral damage. To take it to an allegorical level, Victor and his son, so to speak, are, in many ways, reflective of the Biblical God and Jesus, though while Jesus certainly suffered, he didn’t engage in a path of destruction and punishment. Still, it’s an interesting parallel, though Shelley never overtly points to the symbiotic relationship between father and son.

Aside from the fact that Frankenstein is an evocative tale (though Shelley is arguably not the strongest writer), any story lover – regardless of preferred genre – should read it, if only to see how the literary figures deviate from the movie versions.

Source:

  • Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Random House (Reprint edition), 2013 ISBN 9780394848273

Madeleine L’Engle, “A Wrinkle in Time”

Square Fish; http://us.macmillan.com/awrinkleintime/MadeleineLEngleMeg Murry is the victim of the dreaded “p” word: potential. She’s brilliant and on the verge of blossoming but has yet to embrace who she is; she’s the quintessential outsider in school and at home. With the help of space and time – literally – however, Meg taps into a store of bravery buried deep to come to the rescue of her beloved family and live up to every teacher’s buzzword. Potential.

Plot Overview: Mystery, Self-actualization and Family

One dark and stormy night at home, Meg wanders downstairs for a midnight snack with one of her younger brothers, Charles Wallace, and her mother. Shortly after, Mrs. Whatsit, the family’s new neighbor, disrupts the cozy family meal. Over the coming days, Meg, Charles Wallace and Meg’s crush, high school student Calvin O’Keefe, find themselves interacting with the mysterious woman who lives in the haunted house down the street and her acquaintances, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which.

The trio of supernatural beings explains to Meg that they have landed on earth through a tessaract, a fold between time and space that the Murry patriarch had been exploring before his disappearance. Thrilled to learn their father is alive and can be found, Meg and Charles Wallace, accompanied by Calvin, embark on a journey that takes them across planets and into a battle against the “Black Thing.” When they finally return home, each is irreparably changed – and more mature.

Criticisms and Compliments

Although her novels were published more than 50 years ago, Madeleine L’Engle’s writing has a universality unparalleled by other young adult fiction. Her approach to fiction – taking complex issues (tessaracts, spirituality, self-actualization and acceptance, love, familial relationships, emotional turmoil) and portraying them in a simple, but not oversimplified way – is evidence of remarkable storytelling skills. And more than her clever elements (who can’t appreciate the “Happy Medium” in A Wrinkle in Time?), L’Engle’s writing is gently philosophical and thought-provoking. For that reason, her novels play a pivotal role for adolescent readers; when teenagers are looking for answers, L’Engle provides the important questions: What do I believe? What is good? What is evil? Who am I?

What’s interesting about L’Engle is her approach to religion. Much like C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien, both of whom were deeply religious and whose Christian beliefs played out in their novels, L’Engle does include Christian elements – angels, good versus evil, light versus dark – but her beliefs don’t seem limited to just a Judeo-Christian narrative; her scope is wide and accepting (which could explain the backlash L’Engle has received and why her books occasionally fall on banned book lists). Overall, L’Engle’s stories are refreshingly open-minded and provocative, and they are certainly not limited to teenage readers.

Source:

  • L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time. Square Fish, 1962 ISBN 9780312367541

Emma Darwin, “The Mathematics of Love”

Cover design, Betty Lew; http://www.harpercollins.com/books/Mathematics-Love-Emma-Darwin/?isbn=9780061140273It’s too easy to anthropomorphize a childhood home, but the place where a person spends his or her most formative years, or the longest time of his or her life, can assume a special kind of existence. Kersey Hall, though it saw fleeting glimpses of those at their most vulnerable, most lost, is one of those homes.

Plot Overview: Rebellion, Fulfillment and Stability

In 1819 Stephen Fairhurst returns home to Kersey Hall from the Battle of Waterloo with one less leg and one less love. Although he is an eligible, if perhaps emotionally unavailable bachelor, Stephen is, thanks to his wounds, no longer a valuable prospect. When Hetty Greenshaw rejects his offer of marriage, Stephen merely absorbs the blow, unsurprised and barely hurt. What he doesn’t expect, however, is his attraction to Hetty’s sister, the lovely, artistic and free-thinking Lucy Durward. She is provocative and intelligent, years ahead of her time, but Stephen, ever the gentleman, maintains a discreet distance. It’s only after escorting Lucy, as well as Hetty and her husband, through the battlegrounds of Spain that Stephen begins to reach out, little by little. And Lucy takes his hand.

In 1976 Anna Ware, 15 years old and rebellious, is reluctant to be confined at Kersey Hall for the summer. The Hall, which was a boarding school in a previous life, is now relatively abandoned, and Anna quickly finds herself bored and resentful. Being housed with her cruel, alcoholic grandmother doesn’t help. Anna, spurred by boredom and thirsty for change, finds solace with Eve and Theo, who introduce her to art, photography, free love – and pain.

Criticisms and Compliments

Darwin’s The Mathematics of Love is a beautiful piece of work made more impressive by Darwin’s differing and evocative writing styles. For a writer to assume one voice is accomplishment enough; for her to take on two – one historical, one current – is proof of talent. Of course, all flattery aside, The Mathematics of Love, though poignant, tragic and a seeming meditation on love – has a pace that tends to crawl. Ironically, for a novel that also explores the dimensions of time, both in an individual’s past and future and between generations of those linked by a home, The Mathematics of Love requires readers to invest in time.

Although The Mathematics of Love could bleed into the romance genre, particularly with its explicit love scenes (though those set in the ’70s are presumably symbolic of the era), Darwin doesn’t seem to include sex for sex’s sake. Rather, each scene serves a purpose, as it should. The character in question is affected by the actions, which also serve to strengthen his or her development. In other words, love adds depth. Although using romantic scenes could seem calculated, Darwin writes in such a way that every move her main characters make seems natural and inevitable, which creates a nice, rolling (if slow) narrative.

Overall, The Mathematics of Love is a fascinating story, but readers should carve out a chunk of time for this one.

Source:

  • Darwin, Emma. The Mathematics of Love. HarperCollins, 2006 ISBN 9780061140273

Nora Roberts, “Whiskey Beach”

Book design, Meighan Cavanaugh; http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780399159893,00.html?Whiskey_Beach_Nora_RobertsIt’s the nature of an accusation: once tossed out, the stain remains. It’s unfair. It’s infuriating. And it’s human nature to judge, and judge easily. Eli Landon, a man deemed guilty in the court of public opinion, knows he is innocent of any crime other than plain foolishness. But proving it and wiping free the ugly smudge of guilt? It’s next to impossible.

Plot Overview: Family, Suspicion and Faith

Eli, a blue-blooded Boston criminal attorney, was preparing for a bitter divorce with his cheating wife, Lindsay; the battle he got, however, was entirely unexpected. Coming home hours after a vicious confrontation, Eli found Lindsay murdered, her head bashed in with a fireplace poker. He quickly became the prime suspect, and though the circumstantial evidence was strong, Eli was never charged.

One year later, he slinks back to the family home, battered and wounded, a soldier returning from a war he never wanted to fight. Bluff House is a balm on his wounds, as is the housekeeper, Abra. Despite his best efforts, Eli continues to fight for his innocence, even as he struggles to reconstruct his shattered life. No one, it seems, is safe around him, at least until he and Abra come up with a plan to snare the man determined to take Eli down.

Criticisms and Compliments

At first glance, Whiskey Beach doesn’t seem that interesting; a scarred man escapes to the beautiful family home on the beach to lick his wounds and recover. Naturally, he falls in love with the dusky, exotic and vulnerable housekeeper. The end. Judging a book by its cover, however, is absolutely the wrong way to go with Whiskey Beach. Yes, it has the typical and expected elements of a romance novel, but such is the nature of the genre. Eli Landon is also surprisingly complex, and while it’s not the first time Roberts has created a character who is a writer (just check out Grayson Thane in Born in Ice), Eli’s emotional journey is reflected in his own novel’s development. It’s a nice parallel.

The only disappointing part of Whiskey Beach is that Roberts doesn’t hold back the identity of private investigator Duncan’s murderer, though Lindsay’s murderer is left to be exposed at the end. The problem, aside from the killer(s) being predictable, is that Roberts is so skilled at surprising the reader with the antagonist (Montana Sky is a great example) that the reader can’t help but feel a little let down that she didn’t wait to reveal the whodunit in spectacular, shocking fashion.

Whiskey Beach is a good read, but it could have been better. Still, the pacing and writing is excellent, and Eli and Abra make for a believable couple.

Source:

  • Roberts, Nora. Whiskey Beach. Putnam Adult, 2013 ISBN 9780399159893

Carole Radziwill, “What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and Love”

Design, Kyoko Watanabe; http://books.simonandschuster.biz/What-Remains/Carole-Radziwill/9780743277181Carole Radziwill is a woman whose reputation spans generations: Gen X knows her as part of the Kennedy clan, a princess and an Emmy-award winning journalist; the younger crowd recognizes her as the smartly tongue-in-cheek columnist of Glamour and the calm, cool and collected woman who manages to stay above the fray on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New York City.” Radziwill is an amalgamation of all of these pieces, and the whole is somewhat enigmatic. In What Remains, however, Radziwill jumps from more pervasive media (television, magazine, newspapers) to the intimate pages of a memoir and opens up.

Plot Overview: Love, Friendship and Tragedy

Radziwill was waiting at home for her best friend, Carolyn, and Carolyn’s husband, John F. Kennedy Jr., to arrive that night. Summer was coming to a close, and Radziwill’s husband was nearing the end of his five-year battle with cancer, though no one wanted to mention the inevitable. Everyone knew he would be the first to go in their close-knit group of friends and family. But then he wasn’t.

In a span of three weeks, Radziwill lost her closest friends to a plane crash and then her husband to the disease that crept its way into their marriage and slowly ate away at it. Saying goodbye – or not getting to say it all – can be devastating.

Years later, in what must have been both painful and cathartic, Radziwill sat down to craft the story of her life, of the childhood spent in Suffern, New York, with a sprawling Italian family, of the tough years where the diminutive twentysomething steadily climbed the ladder in broadcast journalism and picked up Emmys here and there, to the climax: the deaths of her nearest and dearest. It’s a tale both heartbreaking and refreshingly honest.

Criticisms and Compliments

With some novels, the reader needs time to absorb the story and its emotional impact after finishing the last page; What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love is that kind of book. Radziwill’s unflinching look at the tragedies that altered her life is more touching, more effective even, because she approaches them without sentimentality. Rather, she provides the reader a raw view of her feelings, many of which were conflicting and representative of a woman enduring the kind of stress only long-term illness can bring. Add to that a lyrical prose and details of an idyllic childhood where a bohemian kind of simplicity reigned, and the final product is fascinating. Radziwill is a top-notch writer and an inspiration for any journalist hoping to make the leap to full-time novelist.

The only downside of What Remains is Radziwill’s tendency to name drop without any context. She mentions a friend here, a friend there, but the reader only knows the friend by first name and his or her minor role during the years of Radziwill’s marriage to Anthony and her friendship with Carolyn and John. Regardless, Radziwill’s Cinderella-like story tinged with tragedy is a wonderful read.

*Update: To put my two cents in on #bookgate, I do not think that Carole Radziwill used a ghostwriter. She has a unique voice and rhythm to her writing – including in her Bravo blogs – and it is obvious that she wrote What Remains herself. (And on that note, I did check out Aviva Drescher’s Leggy Blonde, but it just wasn’t a good read for me; I gave up after the first few chapters. As mentioned in Smashed, a memoir works best if the writer can look back on his or her experiences with some degree of self-awareness. Leggy Blonde, unlike Smashed, doesn’t detail self-destructive tendencies nor does it have to, but the cardinal rule of memoirs, in my opinion, is to impart a lesson, or at least some intelligent reflection. Drescher fails to do that; she, in writing, seems unaware of her narcissism or skewed perspective on life. Obviously, tragedy can change a person’s life in many ways, but Drescher’s book is uncomfortably pretentious. Also, in the idea of full disclosure, I am a HUGE fan of RHONY – it’s my favorite reality show of all time – and I love Carole, but I’m not a fan of Aviva. Maybe I’ll finish Leggy Blonde one of these days in order to give it a fair shake, but my initial impression is that it is not worth wasting precious free time on. What Remains, however, is.)

Source:

  • Radziwill, Carole. What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love.” Scribner, 2007 ISBN 9780743277181

John Grisham, “Sycamore Row”

Book design, Maria Carella; jacket design, John Fontana; jacket illustration, David Ridley/Arcangel Images; http://knopfdoubleday.com/book/223785/sycamore-row/Seth Hubbard lived a life of risk and disappointment; his two failed marriages did little to boost his faith in himself – or in lawyers – and his careless parenting ensured selfish children just as disinclined to maintain a relationship as he. With nothing to lose and no regrets, Seth spun into a business whirlwind, selling and buying companies as fast as he could, and within 10 years, he had millions. When he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, however, Seth decided to remove himself from one storm and stir up another guaranteed to turn Ford County, Mississippi, and his children’s lives upside down.

Plot Overview: Family, Estrangement and Morality

Three years after the Carl Lee Hailey verdict, Jake Brigance can only count a $900 payment, a destroyed home and a practice just as flourishing (or not) as it was in 1985. Lucien Wilbanks is taking an increasing interest in the firm, which is pause for concern for the meticulous and self-disciplined Jake, and Harry Rex, up to his same old vicious divorce tricks, is ready and willing to give unsolicited advice. Not unlike his future client’s, Jake’s life could be seen as one of risk and disappointment sprinkled with accomplishments.

On what appears to be a routine morning, Jake finds a letter written and mailed by Seth Hubbard just days before his suicide. Included in the letter is a holographic will that leaves 90 percent of his estate to his housekeeper, Lettie Lang, five percent to his church and five to his brother, Ancil. Lang, who stands to inherit upwards of $12 million after taxes, is not only African-American, a fact that is unsettling to some in Ford County, but she also toes the line of poverty, leading many to question the nature of her relationship with Seth.

With millions of dollars at stake, greedy children and distant Lang relatives coming out of the woodwork with hands open, the issue of Seth’s will is complicated, dramatic and just the kind of legal meat that Jake has been craving.

Criticisms and Compliments

As a follow-up to A Time to Kill, arguably one of Grisham’s best – if not the best, plot-wise – Sycamore Row makes for a welcome reunion. Readers are immediately ushered back into the lazy scandals of Ford County, and Jake’s entourage of quirky characters, plus a new (and naturally female) associate, is as brilliant and comical as always. Lucien, in particular, takes on a heavier role, which allows Grisham to delve further into the twisted and boozy mind of one of his most eccentric characters.

While Sycamore Row is a terrific read just for the update on the cast of A Time to Kill, it isn’t necessarily Grisham’s best written novel, and it lacks the humor of The Litigators and The Brethren. That said, the plot of Sycamore Row is riveting. A contested will, at first glance, wouldn’t make for an obvious plot point, but Grisham pulls at enough strings to keep the reader engaged until the last page. Out of all of his books, Sycamore Row is the hardest to put down.

Thankfully, Sycamore Row isn’t one that requires a reading of its predecessor, though it certainly helps in understanding character motivations; rather, it is a book for the every reader –  there’s not one person who couldn’t enjoy this story.

Source:

  • Grisham, John. Sycamore Row. Doubleday, 2013 ISBN 9780385537131

Nora Roberts, “Midnight Bayou”

Cover design, Honi Werner; http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780515133974,00.html?Midnight_Bayou_Nora_RobertsSweat equity can serve many purposes, the least of which is scrubbing, sanding and building. For Declan Fitzgerald, his rehabbing of Manet Hall is perfect therapy while the Harvard-educated lawyer moves on not only from the law, but also from his ex-fiancee and his neatly crafted, upper-crust, insular Boston world. What Declan finds as he digs into the Hall, however, is a store of memories, histories and ghosts – both real and imagined – that knock the otherwise confident bachelor off-kilter.

Plot Overview: Ghosts, History and Romance

New Orleans, with its dripping trees, hints of mysticisms and Cajun culture, would not, at first glance, be the ideal settling spot for a blue blood Boston boy. Declan, however, finds himself at home, especially in his dream house, but his life is far from peaceful. He rips up board after board in the decaying, if gothically beautiful mansion, but the detritus, seen and unseen, of former owners piles up around him. Declan begins to hear a baby’s cry echoing throughout the crumbling rooms, and he hears voices, one of which he deduces to be the baby’s mother, Abigail.

Abigail Manet, a woman whose tragic fate stained the walls of Manet Hall, lived and died in the early twentieth century. Her spirit, however, stayed behind, and Declan is hopelessly linked with her; the grief and pain he experiences is overwhelming. His only escape? A budding relationship with Cajun bar owner Lena Simone.

Lena, however, has secrets and her own link to Manet Hall. As the couple’s relationship grows deeper, Declan struggles to find his balance and regain the sanity that, in his mind, is slowly seeping away. It’s only when the two both discover the truth of Abigail’s and lay bare their feelings that they can fully restore Manet Hall and their romance.

Criticisms and Compliments

Like the In the Garden Trilogy, Midnight Bayou is a quintessential Southern ghost story with a little extra something; Stephen King advises in On Writing  that a writer should take a typical plot (girl falls in love with boy, boy resists, girl pursues, boy resists, girl flees, boy realizes girl’s value) and turn it on its head, and Roberts does exactly that – plus she includes reincarnation and past scandal to take her plot to the next level. The result is one of her more creative stories, though it is, like all romance plots, predictable (happy endings for all!). Midnight Bayou is also equally as spooky as the In the Garden Trilogy (the Harper Bride, however, probably takes the cake with mental instability), but the flashbacks and secondary period plot line are similar and fascinating, almost more so than the present-day plot.

Lena is an atypical romantic heroine, much in the same vein as Phoebe MacNamara in High Noon. She is neither needy nor overemotional, and she is resistant to commitment, a surprise given women (both in and out of literature) are more often painted as wanting a committed, exclusive relationship followed by marriage, stat. The fact that Lena is not concerned with defining a relationship within certain boundaries – and Declan is – is a welcome role reversal.

While more intellectual, thought-provoking and heavy books and movies can be nice, sometimes a light-hearted, entertaining and fluffy read is just the solution to life’s many stressors. It would be easy to look down on romance novels, but Nora Roberts can spin a good story that can be a much-needed escape. Read Midnight Bayou (or watch the Lifetime movie) when the time is right.

Source:

  • Roberts, Marie. Midnight Bayou. Jove, 2004 ISBN 9780515133974

John Grisham, “A Time to Kill”

Cover design, Marc Cohen; cover art, Carlos Beltran; http://www.randomhouse.com/book/72132/a-time-to-kill-by-john-grishamRacism in Clanton, Mississippi, is, like Jacques Brel, alive and well (though perhaps not living in Paris). Despite the decade (the ‘80s) and the cultural and social advancements in civil rights, Clanton remains largely segregated, and race is omnipresent. When a heinous crime mars the town, tempers clash and violence ensues as justice remains (partially) blind.

Plot Overview: Racism, Homicide and Justice

Pete Willard and Billy Ray Cobb, a couple of drunk and high rednecks, are cruising through the streets of Clanton, primarily in the African-American section. They happen upon 10-year-old Tonya Hailey, whom they rape, torture and attempt to murder by wrapping a rope around her throat and dragging her behind Cobb’s flashy yellow truck. Tonya survives, but not before sustaining serious injuries.

Although local sheriff Ozzie Walls quickly apprehends the two, Tonya’s father, Carl Lee Hailey, has his own brand of punishment prepared. Carl Lee confides in Jake Brigance, struggling Canton lawyer, that he plans to kill the two rapists. Jake brushes off the claim, but his wife, Carla, urges him to tell the sheriff.

Following a court date with Willard and Cobb, Carl Lee bursts out of a courtroom closet brandishing an M-16. He kills the criminals, and inadvertently shoots Deputy Looney in the leg. The traumatize father is subsequently arrested and charged with capital murder.

As Carl Lee’s lawyer, Jake puzzles out the case with the help of his motley crew of lawyer friends, including the unscrupulous Harry Rex, brilliant and sexy law student Ellen Roark, and alcoholic Lucien Wilbanks. While the four huddle behind closed doors to strategize, the KKK is plotting revenge for the death of the two white men, and the NAACP is gearing up to provide Carl Lee with the best support possible. Only Jake, though, has his pulse on the heart of the issue, and everyone is watching and waiting to see if he can free his client.

Criticisms and Compliments

According to his foreword, Grisham felt A Time to Kill was one of his best works; it is the most complex and most layered of his novels, and he spent three years polishing it. Unfortunately, A Time to Kill didn’t sell well at the time. When The Firm came out not long after, it flew off the shelves; Grisham had found his niche: legal thrillers. But his heart, it seems, stayed with the more literary (but arguably still a legal thriller) A Time to Kill. It was only recently that Grisham, now well established in the book (and movie) world, has taken the time to revisit his memorable characters – Lucien, Jake, Carl Lee, Ozzie, Buckley, Row Ark, Noose, Harry Rex – in Sycamore Row. For Grisham fans who have not read A Time to Kill (or who may only have seen the movie), this book is an absolute must read before embarking on Sycamore Row; to do otherwise is an injustice to the characters.

As Grisham’s first foray into fiction, A Time to Kill doesn’t have the style and more obvious humor of his later novels (The Litigators, The Brethren, Calico Joe), but it has the three greats: plot, characters and setting. The standout is, naturally, Jake Brigance; out of the myriad attitudes toward race and the trial, Jake is the only one who does not consider the color of a person’s skin to be a factor. He rarely mentions it in trial, and he is noncommittal to friends and family. Justice is the only factor that consumes Jake’s thoughts. It’s an admirable quality.

A Time to Kill is one of Grisham’s best. Read it now.

Source:

  • Grisham, John. A Time to Kill. Dell, 2009 ISBN 9780440245919

J.K. Rowling, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”

Arthur A. Levine Books; http://www.arthuralevinebooks.com/book.asp?bookid=130Harry Potter’s quest started at age 11, the year “The Boy Who Lived” left the cupboard under the stairs for the grandiosity and warmth of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Seven years later, Harry, now experienced in the ups and down of a rigorous academic environment, puppy love and hormones, popularity and unpopularity, and true friendship, is ready to fight for his own life and those of his loved ones. He’s faced down his nemesis, the increasingly powerful and malicious “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,” more than once, and his magical skills are refined. The only tool the powerful wizard-that-be is missing is faith –  in himself.

Plot Overview: Determination, Strategy and Closure

(Note: The plot overview will not be long so as to avoid any spoilers.)

At the age of 17, Harry is, by all accounts, nearing adulthood. The protective spell over his muggle aunt and uncle’s house on Privet Drive is about to be lifted, and Harry will be at his most vulnerable to attack from Voldemort and his henchmen of Death Eaters. To foil any potential plots against his life, Harry unites with the Order of the Phoenix and escapes to the Burrow to strategize (though not all of Harry’s friends involved in the getaway survive).

As his allies hatch plans and gather forces, Harry sets out on his, at times, solitary mission to destroy the remaining horcruxes, pieces of Voldemort’s soul split into animate and inanimate objects. Battles, meanwhile, start to rage in and around Hogwarts, and the school endures the collateral damage of war, death and grief. Only a final showdown between Harry and Voldemort can end the bloodshed.

Criticisms and Compliments

As the long-awaited conclusion to the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows delivers. It’s an engrossing, epic read, and as the final book, it is satisfying for the reader to get one last immersion in the world of wizardry. The length, however, has been a bone of contention for many critics. Some writers, like talkers, enjoy the sound of their own words, and only ruthless editing can cut down a novel to something crisp, clear and unburdened by superfluous prose. J.K. Rowling could arguably be one of those writers who needs to cut down on characters, side plots and extraneous dialogue. For the Harry Potter fan, though, the more, the better.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is, more than the other six books in the series, the most archetypal. Harry, the storybook hero, faces two typical battles: one external (with Voldemort), the other internal (with his own desire to fight and his dwindling belief in himself). Despite the story’s setting of the mystical and magical, Harry, now one of literature’s most popular characters, ranks with Gilgamesh, Arthur, even Odysseus as a person for whom the journey to victory is long and overwrought with emotional and physical battles; the boy becomes a man (or transforms from struggling man to wise older man) and ensures his honor. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows can be read superficially as just a children’s book, but Rowling is a clever writer who not only keeps the plot twists turning but also builds layer after layer of potential symbolism (what would she have to say about the journey of Neville Longbottom, the boy who narrowly escaped becoming the renowned and infamous Harry Potter?).

For readers, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is simultaneously a page-turner but also a disappointment – because it is the final in the series.

Source:

  • Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009 ISBN 9780545139700